Costa Rica: The First 24 Hours

The final twelve hours in Vancouver were not exactly how I imagined them. I was not excited. I had started getting pre trip jitters a few days before but they had settled down for the most part. I had been worrying about how I would fair on my first solo trip. I knew once I got into the groove, I wouldn’t have an issue. I had backpacking experience and I have always felt I was a good instinctive traveler by nature. On the other hand, I was overly emotional over other things.I was second guessing why I was going on the trip and thinking of how my family would be worrying about me. But the biggest thing on my mind was that I was going to be leaving a special girl behind. I would see lots of alone time and was hoping that would help clear my head.

I like to mix up my travels with some touristy items, off beaten roads (if feasible), and time just time spent getting to know the place. Naturally the amount of time you have can determine how you travel. For most people, they go on vacations and for me, vacations are not traveling. If you have less than 2 weeks (like many people) in a place, you will be speeding around to see and do as much as you can. Most people will seek out some sort of luxuries given the short time frame.

Traveling is a unique experience. It’s a chance to see, interact and understand other parts of the world. While you will see incredible sights and do amazing activities, traveling should allow you to walk away with a better understanding of cultures, environments and people.

When I arrived in San Jose, I was tired from the 17 hours of travel. But given the hectic reputation of the San Jose airport, I knew I had to be alert. Chaos greeted me as I left the airport. The shuttle I booked told me that they would have a sign with my name on it. I walked past all the greeters. There was nobody holding a sign with my name. People frequently try to take you places in Costa Rica. It’s a common scheme for unofficial taxis to take tourists to specific hotels that pay them a commission. If I couldn’t find my shuttle, I had to find a legitimate cab (which is also confusing as people continually tell you to get in their vehicle)

I waited near the exit as I weighed my options. A few people asked me if I needed a ride and I declined. After awhile, another man asked me where I was going. I was hesitant to tell him where so I told him the company I was waiting on. He perked up and whipped out a piece of paper out of his back pocket. “Which one are you?” He said. I scanned the list and saw my name on it. It was oddly suspicious. The man didn’t have a board with my name on it. It actually said Alvin something. I pointed to my name. “That’s me”. He asked me where I was going. I checked the destination to see if it had the right place. It did.

I guess this was it I thought to myself. He made a call (apparently to the shuttle company) and he told me the shuttle would be coming soon. I was really hoping this was the right guy and I wasn’t about to be ripped off. I mean, what were the chances that the one guy I talked to happened to have the listing of pickups for the day. In my mind, I was hoping he didn’t acquire that list through shady means. Paranoid thoughts can run through your head when you travel alone in foreign country in which you don’t speak the language.

After what felt like an hour of waiting, the shuttle showed up. It had the name of the company on the outside of the shuttle so it turned out to be the real shuttle. Why they weren’t there waiting when I arrived, I’ll never know. I didn’t ask. I was just glad that I was finally on my way.

I had decided to “splurge” by staying in a budget hotel for my first night. The usual noisy hostel doesn’t mix as well after a long day of traveling. The hotel also came with a delicious buffet breakfast too! When I finally arrived and sorted my things, it was starting to get dark out. I went out to find some food. I found a soda (the name of small Costa Rican diners) and immediately started running into some language difficulties. I didn’t remember much from the book regarding food translations so I tried to ask what foods were on the menu. After some language barriers, I ordered some chicken platter and waited at the table for my food.


Tico buffet breakfast to start my Costa Rican adventures

A sketchy looking guy outside seemed particularly interested in me. The first thought that crossed my mind was “I hope I don’t get robbed on my first night here”. I decided to get my food to go but had trouble getting the message across. An older gentleman was able to help me out by translating for me. He told me to pull up a chair while he ate his dinner and I waited for mine. I ended up eating some of my meal while listening to my new friend tell me about Costa Rica.

While not a resident Costa Rican, the older gentleman (now referred to as Jim), had been living in San Jose for the past 7 years. Our conversation during the meal was fairly brief and he recommended I stay in San Jose awhile as there is so much to see. It was funny to hear a “local” say that as most travelers tell you to get out of San Jose as soon as possible.

After dinner, he suggested we go for a stroll around the neighbourhood. My instincts said I could trust him so we went for a walk around the area and he showed me landmarks and talked mostly about San Jose. Jim knew an impressive amount about the history of the city and the country. I later learned that he knew the landscape well and he seemed to know the people of the neighbourhood too. I found out later that  it was in just in his nature to greet everyone as a friend. He was also probably the nicest stranger you could meet.

My first 24 hours had greeted me mostly with chaos and confusion. Through good fortune, I met Jim who would go on to teach me much more about Costa Rica than I expected. A little luck to start the trip never hurt anybody.

You never know what traveling will bring.

– C

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