Costa Rica 2003
My nine-day trip to Costa Rica started out with a very simple phone call. I was living in Arlington, Virginia at the time - just across the river from Washington, DC - when I checked my voicemail and found a message from my friend, Jerome, in Denver. Famous for his long, rambling voicemails, Jerome left me with some words that were so funny and profound that I transcribed them right then and there, knowing that they were something I wanted to keep and remember. Here is what he said:
“Hello, Jarrett. This is Jerome. I would like you, tonight, to go against all Jarrett-isms that possibly exist, go against your complete philosophy, and I would like you to take just about a week off work, June 5th through the 13th, and go to Costa Rica with me. I want you to get on your computer, go to Orbitz, and buy a ticket – round trip ticket to San Jose, Costa Rica – and go travel and get fucked up and meet Latin women with me for, you know, about a week and, you know… ticket from Denver’s four-hundred dollars. So, you have a credit card. I know you’ve got a good little limit on it. I want you to go against all Jarrett-isms and just say, ‘You know what, why the hell not?’ And, you know, put your time in at work and buy yourself a plane ticket to Costa Rica. Put some clothes in a backpack and go fucking party, man. Let me know.”
For the sake of clarity, it should be noted that Jerome's primary source of amusement on this planet is derived from my frugality and general attention to detail. He's completely fascinated with my ability to stretch a dollar, and then scrutinize the exact breakdown of that dollar. This, then, explains what he meant by "Jarrett-isms." Basically, he was asking me to stop being such a cheap bastard, and pony up for some crazy adventure in Costa Rica - which, I should say, is my primary modus operandi for being so cheap and OCD in the first place. So, really, it all worked out.
Anyway, later that evening, after calling him back, we both had tickets to San Jose. (map: www.govisitcostarica.com)
NOTE: After looking at these photos, one might come to the conclusion that I spent the previous six years feasting, primarily, on beer and fudge. Sadly, that's not too far off.
JUNE 7 :: SAN JOSE (WASHINGTON, DC & NEWARK)
The Costa Rican adventure began early in the morning with a flight from Washington to Newark. There, I spent several hours hanging out with my cousin, Lenny, who lived in nearby Kearny, New Jersey. Later, he drove me back to the airport where I met up with Jerome as he walked off his flight from Denver. We quickly slipped into a bar to catch up over a couple white Russians - Roger Clemens was going for his 300th win on the TV. Soon, Jerome and I were on our way to San Jose. Once we arrived in this bustling city, we cabbed it to Hostel Pangea, unloaded our things, and hit up a bar by the university for a foam party with some of the other hostel people. It sounds like more fun than it actually was, but still managed to be a healthy, immediate dose of the local energy. (photo: www.esrs.wmich.edu)
Jerome had heard from friends back in Denver about the Hotel Del Rey and its Blue Marlin Bar. So, we ditched the foam party and cabbed on over to gringo-haven. Basically, this place is a hangout for American men, as it offers gambling, sports on tv, booze, and hookers. We settled down to a table, ordered some beers, ate some nachos, and tried to avoid the prostitutes as best we could. Of course, they're working hard, so they saddled right up to us at our table. It's not that we were the two biggest studs in the whole bar - we were simply fresh meat. Anyway, we hadn't been in San Jose three hours when Jerome discovered that one of those tramps stole his wallet (and he laughed at my money belt). Needless to say, the trips was off to a wonderful start. (photo: www.1-costaricalink.com)
JUNE 8 :: JACO (SAN JOSE)
The original plan was to check out of our digs at Hostel Pangea, cab it to the airport, rent a car that we had reserved, and drive to our next destination. When we got to the airport, we found that our car, a RAV-4, already had three flat tires. "It is no big deal, sir. This is what happens when a car sits for a week." He tried to pump the tires full of air and send us on our way, but I cancelled the reservation. It was definately for the best - all the cars were stick, so, sadly, only Jerome could have driven. Unfortunately, thanks to some prostitute, he no longer had a dirver's license. When it was all said and done, we decided to cut our losses, call a cab, and pay out for a lift to Jaco, an hour and a half away on the Pacific coast.
Almost right away, the stress from Jerome's stolen wallet and the fiasco with the rental car fluttered away in the wind as we cruised down the highway listening to Bob Marley. Our driver, Eli Valdez Yanez, spoke great English, and pulled over along the way so we could buy a few beers for the ride. We were definately on easy street, cruising past gorgeous hillside coffee plantations... all for the low, low price of $55. Well, it wasn't as low as simply taking one of Costa Rica's infamous buses, but it was definately faster. And, really, that's what we needed - a quick escape from our rocky start. (photo: www.xscd.com)
We arrived in Jaco with baited anticipiation after spying the ocean earlier in the drive. We couldn't wait to walk around the small, friendly town, tasting the salt-air and surrendering to the ocean breeze. To be honest, Jaco is somewhat touristy - especially with the surfers. That being said, it's still a great little place to hang out. We checked into a two-bed room at the Copa Cabana Hotel for $50 a night. Jerome had also heard positive things about this place from his friends... I only hoped that my wallet wasn't next. (photo: www.mycostarica.net)
The Copa turned out to be a great hotel with a terrific location. We were literally on the beach. Finally finding ourselves nice and relaxed after Jerome called his credit card company, we spent some time by the ocean, had a meal in town, and became friendly with a firefighter from Boston named Fred. Fred would become our third amigo for the bulk of our trip, and Jerome and I found him to be a constant source of amusement. He was in Costa Rica for the relaxation, but he was also in a constant, lustful search for one of his "workhorses."
JUNE 9 :: JACO
Meet firefighter Fred. The next morning, after a night of hitting up the famous Beetle Bar and other watering holes in town, the three of us decided to do a jungle tour with Waterfalls Canopy Tours. The cost was $45 dollars, and it included a ride out to the jungle, professional guides, equipment, and an amazing construction of tree houses and zip lines that allowed us to explore the treetops. By the way, nice white sunglasses... idiot.
Our group consisted of maybe fifteen individuals from several countries. Once we began, we found ourselves zipping from tree to tree, having an absolute blast within this lush, green mountainside. I believe that the treehouses and ziplines were designed by some crafty Canadians, but whomever completed the project did a remarkable job of creating a safe, and fun atmosphere. Unfortunately, we didn't manage to see much wildlife. However, we would find more than enough later on during the trip.
We quickly learned that the only thing Fred enjoyed more than sleeping with hookers was smoking pot. This was something he took quite seriously, and made sure to stick to his regiment of being somewhat toasted throughout the day. All the thrills and chills of the ziplines were apparently just enough stimulus to remind Fred that it was probably long past time to spark up a doobie.
After the canopy tour, we returned to the hotel and found THIS stunning site. Yes. Very nice. So, anyway, we relaxed for a bit, had rice and chicken dinner at the hotel, and set out, once again, for the Jaco bars. Life is pretty simple in this town... hang out by the ocean, eat a little food, kick back at the bars, and go to sleep.
This was our regular bartender, Sasha. A true Tico from the city of Limon on the Caribbean side of the country, Sasha was great fun to hang out with whenever we hit up Beetle Bar. Just for the record, she's not missing teeth. I know that the photo sort of makes it seem that way, but it's only a tongue ring. Ahhh, Sasha.
JUNE 10 :: PUERTO VIEJO (JACO & SAN JOSE)
As much as I was enjoying the peace and easy of hanging out in Jaco, I was interested in seeing a bit more of the country, specifically the other side. Few travelers I had spoken with had bothered to explore the Caribbean towns, leaving me rather assured that there was some hidden beauty to be found. Somehow, I managed to convince Fred and Jerome to join me in trekking across the map to see what we could see. We decided, then, to split a cab - again, time was not on our side. This driver agreed to take us way down to Puerto Viejo, a village close to the Panamanian border. Along the way, shortly after leaving Jaco, we stopped along the side of a bridge so the driver could point something out to us down below.
Sitting around in the muddy waters was a large group of crocodiles. We watched them lounge in the sun for a short bit before heading back out on the road for San Jose. There, we hit a bank so Jerome could restock in cash. This was sort of a pain in the ass, as can be expected in some Central American country, but eventually we were back to cruising down the highway. Stopping only for lunch, the whole ride took us about 7 hours and cost a little over two-hundred dollars. We pulled into Puerto Viejo shortly before sunset.
We checked into Cabinas Casa Verde, a pleasant little hideaway just off the main strip. After dumping our bags in the rooms, we took off for a little walk through this very Jamaican-esque town, eventually settling down at Restaurant Bambu for a couple rounds of Pina Coladas. They were surprisingly expensive for Costa Rica, but after watching the delicate care taken by the bartender to make them just perfect, we were quite pleased with our beverages. The sun was starting to sink lower in the sky, so we mellowed out on some chairs by the lapping water, resting our toes in the warm sand.
Behold, another perfect sunset. With the sound of raggae beats in the air, I was fairly certain that Jerome and Fred were pleased that we had decided to brave the long journey over to the Caribbean. The only thing breaking the peace was a local man named "Snoop," who kept coming up to us to sell weed. Fred informed him that he was just fine. Snoop, seeing that there was no chance of making a drug deal, tried to sell us his other item in stock: "hot bitches who play ping pong." Basically, he was referring to hookers who would go room to room for us like ping pong balls. We weren't interested in Snoop's "hot bitches," but we certainly appreciated the comedy of the ping pong idea.
Later, we ate some pizza and hit up the bars. There were very few travelers, or anybody for that matter. However, there was a film crew shooting some kind of music video. This created some brief excitement at the bar. We were all pretty tired, so we grabbed some beers and headed back to our bungalows... which were ready to go with mosquito nets and everything.
JUNE 11 :: CAHUITA (PUERTO VIEJO)
The breakfast of champions! Fred starts out his day with a joint. Later, we ate some propper breaky, swam around in the ocean off a secluded black sand beach, and explored the town a bit more. Once we felt that we had seen enough of Puerto Viejo, we hired yet another cab to drive us to Cahuita, another small town just a little further north along the coast.
We checked into the Atlantida Lodge, down the road from the main part of town and across the street from a small black sand beach. It was quite nice, really, and much better than our first choice, the very sketchy Hotel Jenny. After settling in, we walked into town and sat down to lunch at Miss Edith's. All the guide books say that this is the very best, most authentic eatery in town - a can't miss. The books also say that the service is painfully slow. Slow? This turned out to be the understatement of the year. However, even after we had been sitting there for what seemed like an eternity, we still declined to say anything about the whereabouts of our food because we had been warned that if you get testy, Miss Edith will just make you wait longer. Finally, our food came out. Verdict: WORST FOOD IN ALL OF COSTA RICA! It wasn't that just one of us didn't enjoy the meal, it was a mutual agreement that what we were eating was absolutely digusting. Everything was undercooked and, seemingly, not fit for human consumption. We hardly even touched our plates.
We decided to walk toward the main square in search of better food. Along the way, Jerome wanted to stop to check email. Amazingly, in this tiny little village, we found a place with a connection. This photo turned out to be one of my favorites from this trip - a little old shack by the water in this developing country with a hand-painted "Internet" sign out by the road.
After finding something worth eating, we took a stoll along the path of Parque Nacional Cahuita. Covered by jungle trees, the path moves right along the coastline, only about fifty feet from the beach. Finally, we decided to move off the path for a swim in the ocean. This beach along the national park was the finest I had seen in the country. Stretching out into the hills, was waded in the waters close to shore, enjoying the solitude of Cahuita.
Later in the day, before going out for the evening, we relaxed at the hotel for a bit while the rain came down. Eventually, we started getting hungry, but were still scared of local restaurants after the whole Miss Edith's fiasco. Fortunately, we found a great dinner in town at a place called Cha Cha Cha's. After that, we went to Rick's - which was totally dead and void of anyone who might resemble Humphrey Bogart. However, we lucked out at Coco Bar, where we were able to take in some live music with some of the locals. The atmosphere was totally laid back, and the drinks were cold. Really, that's about all we needed.
We walked back to the hotel, peacefully, with lighting and thunder in the skies... not to mention, this guy - a three-toed sloth. There were many critters in this town, but none of them managed to keep us from getting good shut eye. However, Jerome did. In the middle of the night, I woke up when Jerome started talking in his sleep. Though he had no recollection of the bizarre conversation, this is what was said: "Jarrett, where do I put the postcards?" "Huh?" "The postcards, where should I put them, dude?" "I don't know." And, with that, he fell back asleep. I still have no idea what postcards he was talking about.
JUNE 12 :: SAN JOSE (CAHUITA)
The next morning, we took one last walk around town and met this guy. I know this looks like the classic ugly American photo, but he said we should take this picture so we could tell our friends in America that "black man no kill white man in Costa Rica." I had to spot him a buck or two for his words of wisdom.
We swam in the waters off the black sand beach, and then walked over to Miss Edith's for this "after" photo. We waited for our shuttle to arrive to drive us back to San Jose for the night, and enjoyed ourselves just relaxing by the pool and having a few more island drinks. The ride into the capitol took forever as the main road was washed away by the storm. Once we got in, we checked into the Hotel Costa Rica Morazan - right by the Blue Marlin Bar. We had some dinner, checked out the scene, and called it a night. This was where we would leave Fred.
JUNE 13 :: JACO (SAN JOSE)
The Pink Palace! Early in the morning, we hired another cab to drive us from San Jose out to Jaco. Having seen the other coast, Jerome and I comprimised that we would just relax in a comfortable place until it was time to go home. So, we found ourselves back at the Copa Cabana and our new room. It wasn't completely finished, but it was more than enough for our needs. Later in the day, I walked over to Walter's Surf Shop and rented the surfboard seen in the corner by my bed.
Here's my question. Is it kind of obvious or PAINFULLY obvious that I'd never surfed before? Out on the water, Jerome was in comedy heaven as he watched me get knocked around by the huge waves. Trying to surf in Jaco without a lesson was like attempting to teach a child how to hit a baseball by making him face Nolan Ryan. Still, more than once I managed to stand for a few seconds before falling to my humiliation. Because I'm a good sport, for the rest of the evening I gave Jerome some added laughter by talking like Johnny Utah from Point Break: "Yeah, dude, waves were cresting at around six. Good swells. Breakin' real clean. Had a few good pulls, rode 'em real tight." Whatever. It was fun. I surfed in Costa Rica.
That night, at Beetle Bar, we met this guy. He was a total pervert, obviously in Costa Rica for one reason. Jerome and I ended up having a couple drinks with him and, as a tag-team duo, managed to get the whackjob all fired up about the crazy, disgusting things he wanted to do with the girls he planned to hire. I'm not sure that he ever caught on to the fact that, at that moment, he existed solely for our amusement, but Jerome and I reached a level of laughter where it became difficult to breathe. FInally, we did some shots with the poor bastard, and left the bar to see more of the strip before crashing out.
JUNE 14 :: JACO
As this was our last full day in Costa Rica, both Jerome and I decided to spend it doing absolutely nothing. Along the side of the hotel, we found hammocks - perfect for an afternoon of total relaxation. This position, with my legs stretched out to the sea, is how I spent the bulk of those last remaining hours. This was only interrupted by a few trips to the pool bar.
Go ahead... make this your computer's desktop background. I won't mind. I mean, seriously... look at that sky. Jaco may not have been the epicenter of Costa Rican culture, but it was certainly a pleasant place to hang out.
On certain nights, the manager of the hotel, along with a few other musicians, form as the Copa Cabandits. Anyone with musical talent, or something close to that, is invited to join them on stage. A few beers into the show, some of the other hotel guests finally pursuaded me to get up there. I performed two songs with the band. I cannot remember the first song we played, but they asked me to solo in the key of E... which was a lucky break for me, seeing as it is the only key in which I know how to solo. The second song, a song of my choice, was Southern Cross. It only sorta sucked.
JUNE 15 :: FLY TO DC (JACO & SAN JOSE)
In an attempt to suck as much fun out of our vacation as possible, Jerome and I risked driving from Jaco to the airport in San Jose the morning of our flight instead of lodging in the capitol the night before. I'm glad we did. Otherwise, we wouldn't have met this guy - Dick the Drunk. An ex-pat from Oregon, Dick was bellied up to the hotel bar getting nice and pickled while the rest of humanity was enjoying breakfast. Jerome and I found endless amusement in his alcoholism, and were sorry that we had just, that morning, made his acquaintance. Sadly, we had to say goodbye (I'm sure he was crushed). To get back to major civilization, we ended up sharing a cab to San Jose with two girls, making it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Of course, I did have a minor missing wallet scare - which Jerome was absolutely loving - but I was finally able to extract it from some dark corner of my pack before heading through customs.
Before we go, a quick lesson in karma... After Jerome and I parted ways at the endless customs line at the airport in Houston, I soon learned that I had missed my connection to Washington, DC. I was too relaxed from my vacation, however, to really care. So, I walked up to the Continental desk, explained my situation with a warm smile, and managed to score myself a late flight to Baltimore, free shuttle service to my apartment in Arlington, and food vouchers for the time I had to wait in the airport. Then, next to me at the desk, a girl was crying and yelling at the Continental people because she, too, had missed her flight to DC - the airport was a mess that day. This girl was very emotional, rather rude, and getting nowhere with her attitude. Finally, I turned to her and explained, like a Bob Marley song, that everything was going to be alright. I then managed to get her on my flight to Baltimore, a free ride with me to Virginia, and some added meal money on my vouchers. We had dinner at a Cajun restaurant in the terminal and sat next to each other on the plane. It was there, 30,000 feet in the sky, that we learned we were both going to see The Dead in Maryland that Wednesday... only, I didn't have a ticket. She had an extra. Karma is real, my friends. Believe it. (photo: www.dead.net)