I landed at the airport in Alajuela, just outside San Jose, at 2:30 p.m. on Friday. Everything went smoothly with the flight, and I was feeling confident with my plan to get to San Jose to take a 4 o clock bus which would deposit me in Puerto Viejo around 8:30. I’d already booked my hammock at Rocking J’s hostel, and was ready to get right to the beach in Puerto Viejo, on the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. I had tried to book a bus ahead of time, but had some trouble figuring out whether or not I could get the $8 Mepe straight from the airport, as opposed to the $45 shuttle. I ended up not finding much information about it so I waited until I got there to get a ticket. Turns out one can only catch the Mepe in San Jose, which meant I would have to take a bus to San Jose first, something I was trying to avoid. In an effort to save $35, I opted for going to San Jose to catch the Mepe. I was a bit nervous that I would be cutting it close on time, but the guy at the airport assured me that it was only 20 or 30 minutes to San Jose, and that I would have plenty of time catch my 4 p.m. bus.
Lesson number one: trust my instincts, and be wary of people’s concepts of time. Two hours later I was an hour late to catch the last bus to Puerto Viejo, and driving deeper and deeper into really sketchy looking areas of San Jose, a city I had been advised to avoid if possible, as I was more likely to get my stuff stolen there. Being a solo female with a huge pack on my back, a smaller pack on my front, and sub par balance and reflexes as a result of all the baggage, I started to feel a little nervous about being dropped off at the bus station (another hot spot for theft). The city was crowded and hectic, with a crazy amount of traffic. I spent a good 30 minutes hoping that the busses in Costa Rica run late (fyi, they don’t – a good thing generally, but not for me that day), but after that, I came to terms with the fact that I’d have to problem solve this one. I was pretty nervous about roaming around the city alone, but as soon as I got off the bus and started talking to people, my nerves were eased as people were friendly and helped me get a taxi to the bus station. After consulting my Lonely Planet: Costa Rica (great travel guide), and a few very nice people at the bank and bus station, I realized there were no connecting busses running that late and that my best bet would be to spend the night at a hostel in San Jose. Lonely Planet told me that Costa Rica Backpackers would be a good choice, especially since they offered free pick ups at the airport or bus stations.
Lesson number two: Things change OFTEN in this country. My guidebook was published three months ago, and in the time between whenever they were at the hostel (couldn’t have been that long as the guides are updated almost annually), and when I called the hostel, they stopped the pick up service. I caught a taxi to the hostel and made it there quickly and painlessly after being advised to tell the driver that the hostel was 150 meters from the supreme court. A good thing to know when travelling here: it’s much better to give and get directions based on landmarks, as people don’t seem to use street names much.
So I get to the hostel, which is $13 a night for a dorm (more for a double or private room), and the rooms and bathrooms are basic but clean. It’s a chill spot to hang out and seemingly popular with younger travelers. The staff are friendly and helpful, and there’s a restaurant and bar in the hostel. Check out the link to the website above if you want more details – I would definitely recommend it. As soon as I checked into my room I met Susanne from Germany, and her friend Fadi from Abu Dhabi/Canada (they had met a week or two before in Nicaragua), who became my travel partners for the next few days. We went to a pub near our hostel and got some food, had a few beers, played some foosball, and got to know one another. Turns out we were all interested in going to Puerto Viejo, so the next morning we caught a bus, which was pretty easy, aside from the fact that the bus was not where we were told it was. My Lonely Planet, the bus schedule, and the person on the phone at the bus station all said we could catch the Mepe to Puerto Viejo at Terminal Caribe, but when we got there, we were told that the bus stop had moved. Another example of Lesson Number 2; know that things aren’t always how they are advertised, so leaving extra time to catch transportation and asking for help is a really good idea.
The bus ride to Puerto Viejo was a little over three hours, with a stop in Limon to use the bathroom and get some food. Apparently, Susanne, Fadi, and I were a little too relaxed about the time, because after wandering around looking for our food, we returned to find our bus gone. At the moment I rounded the corner and noticed the bus was gone, the panic I felt was relatively strong. I didn’t care so much about missing the bus (though we were in the middle of nowhere) as I did about the fact that ALL of my stuff was there. We ran around for a minute and a couple guys tried to help, and ended up advising us to get a cab to chase the bus. We were a bit frazzled and wondering what the hell we were gonna do when a guy from the bus ran around the corner and waved us over. Apparently a couple of girls noticed that we were gone and told the bus driver. They made it clear that we were pretty close to getting left. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief that people were nice enough to get the bus to stop, and that we narrowly evaded what would have been a really shitty situation.
At this point, having had a few mishaps in the first 24 hours of my trip, it began to sink in that this travel would not at all be smooth, so I am resolving myself to roll with things as much as possible. I feel quite a bit of relief that despite some bumps already I am on my way to my first destination, and with two new friends to boot. People have generally been helpful and kind, and my Spanish is getting me pretty far. I feel like the next ten weeks will exponentially increase the speed with which I learn that things are always changing and that I have no way of knowing what the future holds. But I’m already starting to see that when things are seemingly falling apart, they’re often actually coming together as they are meant to. I have a feeling that this is going to continue to be proven true over and over, and I just hope that when things inevitably go really wrong, I can hold the faith that it’s all part of something that is continually unfolding exactly as it should.