Hanging out in San José

This is one of a series of posts on our 2012 trip to Costa Rica.  If you like, you can start with the first post.

At breakfast this morning, I committed my first faux pas. When the waitress came around asking if we wanted coffee, I asked for decaf. I got a jar of Sanka. The coffee is excellent in Costa Rica, and you can get decaf in the stores, just don’t ask for it in restaurants.

We took a taxi ride to the center of Alajuela, the largest of San José’s “suburbs”, although really a small city in its own right.  It looked like this was a big market day for Alajuela, with buses from all over the region disgorging natives from the hinterlands to do their weekly shopping.  We went into one of the big grocery stores next to the bus station so CVH could check out the food situation.  Lots of rice and beans.  This grocery store looked to me like an American grocery store of fifty years ago; a lot of basics, and not two dozen varieties of every single item.  But then, it became clear that we were not in the most properous area of Costa Rica, either.

supermercados-pali3We visited the not-over-air-conditioned Supermercado Palí; I was surprised at the number of processed items which were made in Costa Rica.  I figured they’d have to import all that stuff.  So very many of the items in the store come in “green” or environmentally-friendly packaging, biodegradable pouches and the like, to minimize waste.  This is just another reflection of the “greeness” of Costa Rica.  It does make one wonder why we don’t do the same here in the states.

Going to the bank here is interesting  It’s a time-consuming process.  Not because the clerks are particularly slow, but for some reason it appears that everybody has to go to the bank.  Lines are very long at every bank; you wait outside the bank until there’s enough room for you in the not-overly-air-conditioned lobby on the inside and then you wait there.  I never did figure out what all those people were doing.  Whatever it was, it was obviously important.

empty_pocketsToday we also discovered that travelers should check the expiration dates on their ATM and credit cards before leaving the country, just in case the cards have expired and the bank didn’t send you new ones.  We found ourselves a long way from home in a country not fond of credit cards with little cash and no good way to get it.  It turns out that you can rectify this situation (and we did), but it will cost you time and money.

A delicious pizza

A delicious pizza

For lunch today we went to the considerably more upscale suburb of Escazú and had pizza with a marinated octopus appetizer.  When we sat down, I checked to be sure the “VISA” sticker was on the front door, and whipped out my card as soon as the check arrived.  The place seemed to do a good business in delivered pizzas; young folks on small motorcycles (whom you see everywhere in San José) strap the pizzas to the back and zip through the ubiquitous traffic jams by riding between the lanes. There were a number of different families enjoying pizza there with us, including a children’s birthday party. Pretty fancy pizza for a kid.

After pizza, we walked over to the POPS, a local ice cream chain. They have very good ice cream, although during our time in Costa Rica I discovered that plain vanilla is not very popular. They like fancy flavors there.

About this time we also noticed how clean places were San José. Tiled floors are the standard, and it seemed like someone was always mopping them. Clean, clean, clean.


Typical housefront

After lunch we walked around the nearby neighborhood.  Lots of nice looking townhomes and haciendas, and lots and lots of burglar bars and razor wire.  Reminded me of the French Quarter, except quiet and with lush landscaping on outside.  (I think the bigger places have courtyards too.)

Then we hopped a bus downtown.  There appear to be a number of bus companies operating in San José, and they charge different prices.  I did notice that the cheaper buses were more crowded, but they were all inexpensive, especially compared to the cost of operating a car in Costa Rica.  The center of downtown is a large retail area and here the week before Christmas, it was a hustle and bustle.

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