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michael@mwesselphotography.com

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Bus troubles in Costa RicaWhen your traveling abroad there are going to be those days where you need to get somewhere else. Unless where you’re going is just down the road expect the trip to take the whole day, especially in third world and developing countries. No matter how developed the transportation system something is bound to go wrong, or at least take longer than expected. Delays, breakdowns, you name it, they happen all the time.

My bus was going to be leaving at noon for Manzanillo, all the hostels in Cahuita in my price range were booked and I didn’t know if I wanted to visit Puerto Viejo yet. Manzanillo is the southernmost city on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. A little north, maybe 6 kilometers is Puerto Viejo, and 8 kilometers further north, Cahuita, so all the cities are pretty close and in a line.

Most of my morning was taken up by prep…figuring out what I wanted to do, talking with other people to see if they’d been there and what they suggested, and packing. It’s surprising how long that process can take. I left my hostel just after 10am just to be sure I had enough time.

Two hours to get across town? Slightly excessive? Not really. I was carrying my full pack and had a couple of stops to make. The sandals I had gotten at the dollar store in the U.S. sucked, I needed better ones, and sunscreen was a must-purchase item. In the last hours of packing I hadn’t been able to locate my bottle and there was no way I was going to be chilling on beaches without some protection. Not to mention I needed to grab some lunch before the trip. Online it said it would take 3.5-4 hours to get there. A rough estimate I knew…but how rough I didn’t understand until later.

Shopping on the streets of San Jose is easy. Keep walking and eventually you’ll find what you need. Picking up some sandals was easy, finding sunscreen took a little longer. They don’t have Walgreens or CVS like in the States, you actually had to look for a pharmacy. The first place I stopped in didn’t have any, but the second did. Let me tell you, buy it before you come, it can get pricey here.

Streets of San Jose near bus stationFinding the bus station wasn’t too hard. It wasn’t exactly where it was supposed to be but luckily a local noticed me looking at a map and pointed me in the right direction. Two blocks later I was buying my ticket. The estimated time for travel as posted in the station, about 6 hours. Nowhere close to what the website said…might have to contact them about that.

As with all long distance bus rides you either make friends with the people near you or immerse yourself in a book/music. I was in the mood to talk so I made a friend of the New Zealander sitting across the aisle. The people you’ll meet, if you really open up and don’t try and hide in a bubble, can be really awesome, and he was. A younger guy cut from the same cloth of traveling spirit he was something like 3 months into a 6 or 8 month trip stretching from Mexico all the way into South America. His group had split up a week ago to go different directions and he was still getting used to the solo bit, very different then groups.

When you travel in groups, responsibility, stress, the need to achieve certain goals, is spread amongst everyone.  No matter where you go you have the people you are with and they have you. Not sure about something, borrow courage from someone else. And so on. But by yourself there is nowhere to hide. Everything rests on your shoulders and sometimes that responsibility can be pretty heavy. You decide where to go, you decide what to do, you decide who to talk to, you take responsibility for messing up, you do everything. It’s hard, but fun.

Midway through the trip our bus came to a halt. At first I thought it was a stop, then I realized we were in the middle of nowhere. At first no one noticed, we were all in our own little worlds talking or chilling. Then, like a cascading waterfall people started getting off the bus to see what was what.

Costa Rica Bus problems 2Apparently a flat tire, from the horrible misshapen rubber shape on the front left end of our bus. The driver and a couple guys were hard at work trying to figure out how to get the spare out and jack the bus. Of course a large group of us travelers gathered around to gawk. A few actually helped out, as well they could. I stayed out of it because my Spanish sucks and I’m no good at car repairs. I’d be a hinderance rather than a help.

I guess you could have gotten angry or impatient at the delay, but that’s the way it goes when traveling. Always keep that in mind when making plans. Traveling any distance past the next town will take time. In the end it took about an hour and a half to get everything right and as the guys who did the work got on the bus we all gave them a round of applause. They deserved it. Changing a bus tire in the rain is no easy feat.

All said and done it was something like 7 and a half hours before I got to my hostel just outside Manzanillo. It was pitch black, I was tired and hungry as hell. Stepping off the bus I realized I definitely wasn’t in the city any more. The jungle around me was almost oppressive and you could have cut the humidity with a knife. Birds, insects, frog, all were making their evening calls. Me, I just wanted to put my pack down and get settled in.

Selvins in Manzanillo Costa RicaIt was 7:20pm and the only thing open that didn’t require a $10 cab ride was a restaurant about 200m from the hostel. I was warned it was expensive, which didn’t make me happy, but I needed something in my stomach. A couple that had also been a passenger on the ride invited me to join them so I figured, why not? Sometimes you’ll be in those situations where you have to spend more money than you want to, the alternative being severe discomfort. You just have to roll with the punches and deal with it. I’d rather have a full belly, some good conversation, and be relaxed than stressed, hungry, and a few dollars richer. Wouldn’t you?

The food was delicious, by the way, and well worth the $8 I paid. My day was pretty much over. I could barely keep my eyes open. After some upkeep on my blog and some quick editing I was off to bed. As I drifted off I couldn’t help but chuckle that, here I was, in Costa Rica, just a stones throw away from Panama. Who would have ever thought I’d be here…

Selvins in Manzanillo Costa Rica 2

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