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International Journalist? Who, me?

Cartago Costa Rica Have you ever been referred to as an international photo journalist? Well, I can now say that I have and let me tell you what doors it can open up for you. When I first heard myself being referred to as such I had to laugh, but as I thought about it more I realized how it was true. Sure I may not be published in Time or a major travel journal, but my work has been and will be put into print again. But still, an international photojournalist…the tittle seems so grandiose for what I do.

It was Tuesday morning and I was trying to figure out my plans for the day. This is the way I love to travel, planning on the fly and going with the flow. Making a schedule locks you into things and cuts of a lot of options that usually arise. Frameworks are good, goals of what to achieve are good, but other than an entrance and an exit date from a country is too much for me.

So getting back to the morning. Coffee in hand I was doing like most in the hostel were doing, checking the net to figure out that and the next couple days. Everyone talking amongst themselves trying to get a grounds-eye view of what was going on around the country and what was the best thing to do for the time. Tripadvisor.com was being somewhat helpful. Cartago was my destination for the day…chosen back while I was drinking a cup of coffee at Spyhouse in Minneapolis. Basilica de los Angeles, some ruins, a bunch of parks, a neighboring volcano…cool stuff. Then I came to something I didn’t expect…a craft brewery.

Cartago Costa Rica 2I stopped, looked again, clicked on the link and read the whole article. Seriously? Craft beer in Costa Rica. I need to check this out. Paula, the owner of the In&Bar hostel where I was staying knew of the place, loved the beer, and pulled up their Facebook page for me.

“You really need to go!” she was saying as she scrolled down the page. “Wait a second…” she paused. “Oh no, it shut down yesterday and they don’t say when they’ll reopen…” ‘Yesterday, seriously?’ was the thought that ran through my head. Talk about crappy luck. “Let me give them a call and see what’s up and when they’re going to reopen.”

Insert high-speed over the phone conversation in Spanish here. Only words being understood were, international, reporter, photographer, journalist.

“Well, you’re in luck,” Paula started, “here, talk to Fabiana and sort out the details.”

Insert conversation in English full of thanks, confusing directions with random cityscape references, and arranging of a meeting time at the brewery.

“Well, I guess this international photojournalist is heading to a brewery today” I chuckled at Paula. It looked like I had some material for the article series I am writing for a magazine. Completely unexpected…completely.

Cartago Costa Rica 3The trip to Cartagas itself was nothing too special. I just grabbed a bus that said Cartagas on the front window and sat until the end of the line. Well, not all the way until the end of the line…a couple stops before. I had to get off and check out one of the landmarks for getting to the brewery (a giant green soccer field that was impossible to miss thank god), which took about 5 minutes after which I walked in the direction of the Basilica, which seemed to be the main attraction of the city.

Cartago had a completely different feel than San Jose. The rush of people…not so much. Even those most people were moving at a fast pace, no one seemed to be hurrying. It was just, relaxed. As I travel more around the country I’m going to have to start comparing and figuring out where the most relaxing places are, hehe. It was like Sunday at a shopping mall, with less people and a lot more culture.

Getting the the Basilica was easy. Streets are super simple to figure out…you have a street and an avenue. Avenues run E-W and Streets run N-S. Odd numbers and even numbers depend on which side of the Central Avenue and which side of the city center. Look at a map and you’ll figure things out real quick.

Cartago Costa Rica 4The Basilica seemed pretty cool from the outside, very distinct architecture and the white stuck out beautifully against the blue sky. I felt it kind of odd, though, that out front there were a bunch of venders hawking lottery tickets, shouting numbers at the top of their lungs to try and get some customers. Other than that it was really peaceful. Come on a Sunday and the place is probably completely different.

Cartago Costa Rica 5Stepping inside I have to say my jaw dropped a bit. Other than a couple annoying photographers at the entrance with tripods taking up the center and a bit of the side aisles, it was pretty empty. A few worshippers, people crawling down the aisle on their knees, some soft classical music playing from speakers hanging above, police inconspicuously hanging around the corners to make sure no one broke the rules…all very solemn. But the insides…wow. The light was perfect giving everything distinct shape, form, and color. It was so simple, yet complex enough to entertain the eye for a long time. I could take paragraphs to describe it…or just have you look at the photos, hehe.

I had had a late start so time was short. The meeting was scheduled for 2pm and it was approaching 1230 and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. My breakfast of pancakes and fruit was wearing thin and walking out my eyes were on the lookout for somewhere to eat.

Cartago Costa Rica 6Just a block up is where I found a place. A small soda (local restaurant with a single cook/server) was just opening. Bright, clean, with a friendly person behind the corner, I figured why not give it a try.

Not knowing much Spanish hasn’t been a problem (yet). Like I said before, most people will make an effort to understand you. The menu was simple, cheap, and as I finished eating my burrito con carne, I decided, very tasty.

This is where I’m going to cut out a large chunk of my day. The story of the brewery and what happened there is likely going to be part of my upcoming articles with Alcoholmanac Magazine, and I don’t want to give anything away. When the articles come out I’ll be sure to let you all know.

Getting back home, though, was a fun adventure. The bus back to Cartago was straighforward…as there is only one route from where I was. But finding the bus back to San Jose, that was a little more fun. At night, in the dark, cities take on a new form. Cartago wasn’t scary, but the energy changed. From sleepy Sunday afternoon to masses of people going home from work and school. That end of the day release that gives off a certain vibe that we all love so much. Not to forget the really cool sunset that was going on. My bus station was actually hidden behind a train station, and Google maps wasn’t quite accurate, which led to wandering several blocks until I decided to ignore the map and pay attention to the street numbers.

At about the midpoint of the ride back home I suddenly got the feeling I was on the wrong bus…this happens a lot when you’re traveling in unfamiliar territory and don’t speak the language. All the landmarks you unconsciously marked on the way out seem to not exist on the way back…and being in the dark doesn’t help. All you can do then is take a deep breath and trust you did the right thing in the first place. Imagine the worst outcome possible and realize that would just mean finding somewhere else to stay for the night and heading back in the morning…or spending a bunch more time on the bus to get to the right place. Eventually you will recognize something and the calm will return.

I think I’ve put together enough from the day. It was full, fun, and at the end of it I was completely drained. New faces, new experiences, new places…the works. And the great thing is I get to do it all again tomorrow :)

Cartago Costa Rica 7

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