COSTA RICA
DECEMBER, 2004 & JANUARY, 2005
SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA
December 21 - 27 2004

After receiving several messages from Grandma and Grandpa Castro to call them at Mike's cousins in San Jose, Costa Rica, we put in a call from the International Airport in Mexico to let them know that we would arrive at 10:30pm that evening.  Since it was so late, we told them we would call them the following morning from our hotel.  While we were on the phone with them, Mike's cousin, Olga Marta, graciously insisted on coming to pick us up at the airport with Grandma and Grandpa, and further insisted that we stay with her that evening.  Of course, as luck would have it, since we had people coming to pick us up, our plane was delayed by 30 minutes on the runway in Mexico (so we had no way to call and let them know), and then it took us almost an hour and a half to get through customs.  All in all, we did not get outside the terminal to Olga Marta and Grandma and Grandpa until just after 12:30 a.m.  We felt terrible! But it was very nice to see friendly faces waiting for us, and to finally meet Olga Marta. 

When Mike's family first insisted that we stay with them in Heredia (about 15-20 minutes north of San Jose), rather than in downtown San Jose, we thought they were just being worriers (as Mike's family in LA is prone to worrying).  Turns out that they were not worriers at all.  Instead, they just realized we might not enjoy staying in San Jose very much since there really is not much going on there - most travelers use it as a hub to get to Costa Rica's beautiful countryside and beaches -  and, on top of that, it is a bit noisy, crowded and polluted. 

Meanwhile, Mike's cousins live on a beauitful piece of land surrounded on all sides by coffee plants, views of beautiful mountains, and family.  There are five homes on this huge property, all of which are gorgeous.  Grandma and Grandpa stayed with Emilia (Grandpa's first cousin and the mother of the four children who live in the other four homes).  We spent our first few nights at Olga Marta's and Dr. Tin's (aka Don Carlos), and the last three at Miguel's (two of which we had the house to ourselves because Miguel and his girlfriend went to Chicago for their vacation).   We were so excited to have a house to stay in for a few days that we went to the local grocery store (it was like a Gelsons Market) and made a big Christmas dinner for Grandma and Grandpa and Emilia, as well as french toast and eggs the following morning for breakfast.  We also took advantage of the cable tv to watch silly movies until late into the night.  It was great, and a nice treat after being on the road for five weeks!

Back to Mike's family - everyone was very warm and nice, and they were excellent hosts.  Not only did they share their homes with us, but they also went out of their way to arrange trips for us to take, one to Arenal with Grandma and Grandpa, which was a lot of fun.  They also picked us up and dropped us off places, shared countless bottles of delicious wine during long, lazy lunches, and opened their homes to us on Christmas Eve (where we ate tons of excellent food and 'kareoked' until all hours of the morn!)   Mike even squeezed in a morning of basketball with his cousin, Rudolfo, Machi's son, who is our age, and was home from studying in Brazil.   In short, we had a great time getting to know them and hope they come visit us in LA at some point so we can try and return even a fraction of their hospitality.

As for San Jose, we spent several fun afternoons and evenings wandering around town, managing to catch a few festivals that take place just before and after the Christmas Holiday every year.  The first apparently occurs for a few weeks leading up to Christmas Day and the second takes place the day after Christmas.  Unfortunately, we cannot remember the names, but do remember that the first involved tons and tons of 25 cent bags of tiny white paper-punch-out-holes (kind of like paper munchkins or doughnut holes).  People bought  bags and bags of these little bits of paper and threw them on each other on the main street in town, Avenida Central, which is kind of like the Third Street Promenade in LA, but without the flagship stores.  The entire street was covered with these white bits of paper (as was everyone in the street from kids to grandparents), making it look like it was snowing.  It was fun, although we were finding the little white circles of paper everywhere for the next few days! 

The other festival, the one that occurs the day after Christmas, took place drunk and on horse back.  There were hundreds and hundreds of people riding horses down the main streets in San Jose, some of whom were dressed in traditional attire, and most of whom were carrying beers.  Throngs of people lined each side of the street watching the parade of horses go by, and of course, drinking, hooting and hollering. 

Aside from these two festivities, we checked out the two churches in town, and the Teatro Nacional, which we learned one of Mike's great grandpas had a hand in building a few hundred years ago, the local artisans market (overpriced, but amazing pieces, especially the woodwork), and another local market, although it somewhat paled in comparison to Mexico's markets.  We also went to an awesome local bar with Jimmy and Nikki in downtown San Jose, and, on our way out of town via the Coca Cola Bus Terminal - which incidentally appears to have nothing to do with Coca Cola - dined at a local Soda (cafe) across from the bus terminal, where we ate typical Costa Rican dishes - Casado - which consists of rice, beans, your choice of meat, and a salad.  Not only was the food great, but it was very cheap, and we realized this might be the way to go in Costa Rica from now on, since we otherwise did not find the food in Costa Rica to be all that great (we may just be spoiled from all the great cheap food we found in Mexico).

One other interesting fact about San Jose worth mentioning (and this is actually true in all of Costa Rica)  is that there are no addresses and sometimes no street names.  For instance, the street on which Mike's cousins live does not have a name.  Three different cab drivers told us it was called something different and several told us it did not have a name at all.   Directions are given using landmarks, even ones that no longer exist (like a tree that apparently got chopped down years and years ago, which people still use when referring to places near the spot on which the tree stood).  As another example, to get to Kalley, Michael, Jimmy and Nikki's hotel to meet them on the 27th, when we said the name of the hotel (and it was a nice, big, prominent hotel in the area only a few miles from where Mike's cousins lived), no one had any idea what we were talking about until we said that the hotel was 300 meters southeast from another big hotel, and that it used to be called something entirely different; then, and only then, did the light go on!  It was pretty funny and certainly made it interesting trying to find our way around town!
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