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Streets of San Jose Costa RicaThe first day out in a new city is always an adventure. The people, the streets, the atmosphere, it’s all different. Even within the same country each city usually has its own flavor. As I stepped off of the bus on to the bustling street just outside the Plaza la Cultura the sites and sounds hit me hard. Gone were the lazy streets of Minneapolis, gone was the cold, gone was the order that I had grown accustomed to.

People flowed by on both sides of me, sounds of construction mixed with hundreds of conversations, shop employees shouting about their wares, the honking of impatient drivers, the grumble of buses, the smell of exhaust mixed with thousands of people accented by random whiffs of food. Everyone was going about their own business, following their own lines, living life. And here I was now, standing among them, living my own life.

My list of things I wanted to do that day wasn’t long. I learned that trying to fit too much into one day is like eating too much at a buffet. It tastes good for a while, but you end up eating just for the sake of eating, and in the end it isn’t as great as you imagined.

More streets of San JoseThe bank was my first stop. Even though people and the internet had said I could use dollars everywhere, it seemed that the preferred currency was colones. From the keeper at my hostel I learned that only one bank in town apparently worked with American Express travelers cheques, Banko San Jose…the sign with the red lion. I guess that way of carrying around money while abroad is going the way of the dinosaur.

Cashing the cheques took a little time but in the end wasn’t so hard. All that was needed was my passport, the address of where I was staying, and my signature. Language wasn’t an issue, even speaking bad Spanish we were able to communicate what we had to. They even gave me a decent rate, a little below the daily value, but still good. And of course they needed their 5% for the transaction.

La Plaza Cultura San Jose Costa RicaStepping out into the sun again I had this feeling that something bad was going to happen. Things had gone too smoothly and life needed to balance itself out a bit. I shrugged, realizing what was going to happen was going to happen.

The Plaza la Cultura is a pretty cool place. Around it is the National Theatre, The National Cathedral, and close by there are several huge market streets. In the process of taking pictures I ended up talking to some local expats from the U.S. Apparently they had lived there for decades and I could tell they had picked up the lifestyle. I won’t go too into depth on this topic, but, there are certain types of people who seem to gather in poor and developing countries that are from richer places. They are friendly, talkative, but leave a certain taste in your mouth that isn’t the best.

Costa Rica National Theatre  1The websites about the National Theatre turned out to be mostly wrong, or at least inaccurate. There was no tour that I saw, and you can walk around the lobby for free or grab a cup of coffee in the cafe there, but the only way to see the inside is to see a show. Which, as of when I wrote this is pretty easy to do. During the week it seems there is some sort of performance every day at noon which only costs $4 (2000 colones). No matter what it is I recommend you check it out. I happened to catch an amazing guitar performance.

Costa Rica National Theatre Lunch was an interesting process. It’s always stressful trying to find somewhere to eat in a foreign country where you don’t really speak the language. Especially on the first day. A good way to figure out where to go is to find a place that is at least half full. That way you know it’s good enough for the locals. Trust me, the staff will always find a way to make sure you are able to order. It’s just a question of how patient you are, and how much stamina for nervous laughs, questioning looks, and uncertainty. I ended up getting arroz con pollo (chicken and rice)…Chinese style. It seems that there is a strong undercurrent of Chinese people in San Jose…and they run lots of restaurants.

The streets around the area were pretty cool. Full of people, full of shops, and full of a lively energy that strangely enough I rarely find in the west. Something that really killed me though was the prevalence of big brands. Denny’s, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, just to name a few. There was even a Carl’s Jr.. For people scared of trying the local food there definitely isn’t  lack of familiar tastes. I guess it’s inevitable but I’ve never seen such an abundance in such a small area. I guess I would have to travel to other central american countries to see if it’s just a Costa Rica thing, or a broader movement.

And this is where things started to go a little pear shaped. Exploring cities can be a fun thing, but it’s a good idea to have a map and an accurate idea of where you are heading to. It seems that I only had half of one of those two things. On my way back to my hostel I decided to take a side road, to see some different things, then, in the fun of it got all turned around. Let me tell you, it’s a truly interesting feeling to look all around you and realize you have no idea where the hell you are or where you need to go. It really is a true test of will what you do then. It’s also a true test of will later on when you realize that the direction you thought was the right one might not have been and you once again feel you might be lost. The fact that every where you walk in this city feels slightly suspicious didn’t help. Even though the city may be relatively safe, you never know if you’ve wandered into the wrong neighborhood or not.

Streets of San Jose 3After an hour or so of general wandering I did find my way back to the main roads and it turned out that I had been going the right direction about 80% of the time and the only time I ended up going the wrong direction was when I doubted myself. The one major wrong turn I made was done within a mile or so of where I was staying. That one wrong turned added something like 4 miles to my day. I guess that the way things go. In the end I made it back safely, so that’s all that matters. There was always some sort of safety net for those of you who might be worried about me. Taxis passed by often and I’m sure I could have asked any one of the people that passed by for directions.

Sitting down at my hostel with some truly sore feet and a beer in my hand I had to chuckle at what my phone told me. 10 miles…I had walked 10 miles, a new record for my health app. For a guy who really hasn’t done much exercise over the last 6 months I felt that was pretty impressive. The fact that I’m up the next day, not sore and ready to do it again is some kind of strange feat. It must be something in the water.

It was a day mixed with some awesome experiences as well as some more trying ones. So is the life of a traveler. Without the challenging you wouldn’t gain the strength or learn the lessons to deal with the truly difficult times.

Fruits vendor San Jose

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