Hello from Costa Rica – Alajuela, Costa Rica

Hello from Costa Rica
Alajuela, Costa Rica

Carpenter ants parade along a low brick wall, every third or fourth one carrying a leaf sail, twice its height. Sometimes the wind catches the cargo and they tip over, but get right back up, not even loosing their place in line. One carries a leaf twice again as big as the others, gamely trying to follow along. One has picked up an open seed pod, which looks like a small flower marching down the path – my kind of ant.

When I stand up straight from my close examination, the whole scene is reminiscent of a picket line. Tiny green placards perhaps proclaiming, “Down with Anteaters”, or “Ant Hills for the People”, or could it simply be – all together now – “Leaf Me Alone” (With fronds like these…)

The Alajuela air is filled with caws and tweets, whistles and calls, the latter two from Ticos (native Costa Ricans, a nickname used with honor) calling to each other. The humid heat is not uncomfortable as there is usually a breeze and the gently swaying hammock at the guesthouse is exactly as comfortable as it sounds! There is even a jigsaw puzzle to do.

For once, I read the directions and it served me well. The guidebook led me to good food and prepared me well for the culture and city I was entering.

The food has been delicious, inexpensive, and diverse. The bakeries have all different types of breads, some sweet, some not, some braided, and all of which grab your attention with fragrant agility. Tico breakfast is rice, beans, eggs, fruit, and meat. This filling, gringo-friendly meal is one of the very tasty options included with the $25/night room at the Vida Tropical Guesthouse. Traditional lunch plate, called “casado”, is a combo platter also with rice and beans (red or black), this time with grilled meat, a small salad, fried plantains, and an amazing vegetable salsa fresca – lots of flavor, no spice.

Beverages range from fruity to alcoholic. Imperial brand beer is the favorite. While I did not try the beer, I am enjoying trying various fruit drinks and the guaro – sugarcane “firewater” – wasn’t bad either.

Travelers from all over the world stopover at the guesthouse, as do a surprising number of ex-pats now living in different parts of CR and passing through on business. Alajuela is not only the second largest city in CR and home to Vida Tropical, but it is also convenient to San Jose, the capital. Conversations in the social areas range from life in CR and places to visit, to comparative politics and the finer points of linguistic Tico and social customs.

Tuesday, I joined three fellow guesthouse residents (one from Australia) on a visit to one of the many local volcanoes. On our way up the hill, the other two guests delightedly exclaimed, “Schwarzenegger” when I sheepishly responded, “California” to their question about where I was from. We all laughed about their high ranking Hollywood Austrian countryman.

Poas volcano is now more crater than mountain and infrequently erupts. Its colors and steam are reminiscent of the paint pots of Yellowstone. Gorgeous Botos Laguna is a palate of greens, from the surrounding trees and brush to the deep topaz of the smooth water.

The trip was a bit more touristy and pricey than I was prepared for, but pleasant enough. Surprisingly, as booming as the tourist industry is in CR, there are few postcards available – my favorite way to photograph a trip. Even in the Poas shop most of the postcards featured animals and other volcanoes!

We were lucky enough to avoid the cloud cover, which often obscures the view, but were cooled along the tree canopied trail. Bromilliades seem to magically grow out of dead upright trunks, branches, and thin air. The three to four foot leaves of another plentiful plant are thick enough to have gained the nickname, “Sombrilla de Pobre” (poor man’s umbrella).

For me, successful travel seems to be made up of small victories more than attractions or even scenic vistas. The former are wonderful, but what joy in a brief, but friendly conversation in Spanish with a fellow thespian, or in finding and purchasing something tasty to eat, or even in navigating foreign language keyboards, different styles of plumbing, currency, or mapping. Generally, in CR, addresses are not numbers. The Vida Tropical, for example is “the tenth house on the right after the second speed bump, diagonal from the Academe” look for the huge cypress tree. See you there.

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