San Jose Costa Rica is an In and Out city

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After visiting Cuba we flew from Havana to San Jose city, the capital and largest city in Costa Rica.

On the flight I learned a fascinating fact about Costa Rica. Costa Rica was the first country to formally abolish military forces. Using the money they save to rather spend on education and social services.

With the thought; "How cool is that? The world would probably be a lot better place if this was done by other countries".

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As I reflected on this idea I had a few more questions. Are armies not one of the most unproductive and wasteful elements of society? If their purpose is to fight how much time do they spend fighting?

Some may argue they are a deterrent to other nations … really? A human army seems to be a pretty puny option in the face of modern war technology or a swarm of drones.

Back to our trip. Our flight from Havana arrived in San Jose city on schedule … but minus one important item ... my wife Carol's bag. As you can imagine this was serious! We were travelling light and with over 6 months still to travel it contained all her clothing ... and her special hairdryer! 

The flight we took was with Cubana Air, a Cuban state owned company, run by very poorly paid and as we discovered later unmotivated and uncaring staff. A young Cuban later commented; “If I knew you were travelling on Cubana I’d have warned you not to!”.

Lost luggage

There are some countries where if you don’t get your luggage you feel that there is a good chance that it’ll be delivered to you. There are some others where you don’t feel so confident!

It was a Sunday. The baggage claim department in San Jose airport is independent of Cubana Air so they completed the mandatory form. They then advised us that the next flight from Havana would be on the following Wednesday. Despite a number of follow up phone calls on Monday and Tuesday and a number of promises to call back. 

There were none. Nada!

Eventually on Wednesday afternoon after another string of calls we got the news. The case was in Caracas in Venezuela. With the news that the revised earliest date for delivery being the following Sunday.

By then we'd planned to be in La Fortuna and moving on to Monteverde. Despite a number of emails to the sole available Cubana contact the solitary response was an email reading; “Whats the airport that we have to send your baggage? Tel Aviv?”

This wasn't looking very optimistic.

After many more calls we were told by the San Jose baggage department that the bag was being returned from Caracas. Some good news at last but that didn't last long. As they then informed us that it was Cubana Air policy that the luggage would not be delivered but must be collected by the passenger. 

At this stage we had no plans to return to San Jose as it was a city we'd been glad to leave. But we’d  have to make a plan and see what we could arrange once we knew it had arrived in San Jose.

Our few days in San Jose City

We walked around the city but not much else. My wife bought her essentials as it was going to be at least a week or two before she'd get her suitcase.

However after Cuba we were eager to experienc even the most basic shopping. In Cuba there is very little to buy and what was available was expensive. So any normal shops were a pleasure. The lasck of long lines was noticeable as the Cuban way is that you queue for everything!

The weather in San Jose city was chilly and very windy. We spent most of our time indoors catching up on admin. I was far behind in my writing and worked hard to get up to date.

We stayed in an Airbnb on the "other" side of town. A new condo block stuck in a slightly downmarket mixed residential and commercial area. There was another mismatched new development down the road with units selling for about USD70k.

Terminal 7-10 Bus Station

The day before we were due to leave we went to the Terminal 7-10 bus station to buy tickets. Guided by Google maps we were taken through down a road which looked more and more threatening.   

People were sprawled either drunk or drugged on the pavement so we moved out onto the road. There were others who looked more predatory. Their menacing stares made us feel very uneasy so we bunched up and quickened our pace. 

Only to be accosted by a man selling (or demanding we buy) his wooden back scratchers. We ignored him and strode on, glad to make the refuge of the bus station.

We later learned from a site that this area was  considered a "red" zone (i.e. not for gringo tourists!).

Google and Maps.me are great apps but they don’t give any indication of the tone or safety of the area.      

The terminal is new and well covered by security. With restaurants it is an oasis in the middle of a slum. Walking back to town on a road which looked slightly less threatening we saw an ugly confrontation in the middle of the street. 

There was a mean looking guy kicking a nearly prostrate man on the ground. As we got closer the man managed to stumble to his feet. He lurched towards the pavement and we could see that he was very crippled. Also quite drunk and bedraggled. A few young women were screeching in Spanish. Small groups were curiously watching but not getting involved.

We went walked past as quickly as we could. Not looking back. Pushing our way past vegetable and other vendors who took over much of the pavement.

Feeling more than relieved when we reached the calmer and more peaceful city centre.

We then made our way to what looked a better part of town for a Valentine's dinner at what turned out to be an expensive Italian restaurant. The food was good and afterwards we took an Uber back to the apartment.

The conclusion to the luggage saga

After being informed that the suitcase was at the San Jose airport we decided to change our travel plan. Initially we were to take a minibus taxi from Monteverde to Quepos but that had to be changed to a bus to the San Jose airport and then a minibus taxi.

Arriving at the airport building (which was under repair or renovation?) we were directed to a closed door. Eventually after a number futile attempts to find the right person he was eventually found. He then escorted my wife back into the airport building while I had to wait outside.

After about 15 minutes she appeared with the missing suitcase. We then sat around for a few hours waiting for the next minibus taxi to Quepos.

First Impressions of Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica is not a cheap destination.
  • There are some very “red” areas in San Jose.
  • San Jose is vibrant and there is a wide variety of shops (culture shock after Cuba!) and areas
  • Surrounded by mountains often covered by clouds the town has an appealing character.
  • Uber is a good option but the drivers are intimidated by the official “red” taxi drivers.

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