Monday, March 17, 2008

Costa Rica 41

Early the next morning we were in downtown Monteverde at the bus station. By early, I mean early! Like 5:30 IN THE MORNING! Our bus for San Jose was to leave at 6:30 and we wanted to try to get coffee and some kind of breakfast before that. Also, we had to purchase tickets. It is a first come, first serve for seats and we did not want to miss this bus!

The only place open was the bakery that is kitty-korner from the bus station. We satisfied ourselves with big cups of coffee and some “sweet” roll concoctions. L went over and purchased our tickets and then returned to the curb where B and I were sitting…sipping our coffee and inhaling as many cigarettes as we could before the long bus ride. Long by Costa Rican standards. It was only supposed to be 3 hours.

As is usually the case in Central America, the bus pulled out of the station promptly at 6:30 AM. The lesson is to be there or get left behind! We wound our way out of town and immediately started to ascend into the tall hills surrounding us. Cement buildings began to become scarce and we started to encounter the wooden houses I like to call shacks. Then they stopped and we only occasionally saw a homestead for quite awhile. But the scenery, like on every other bus trip so far, was stupendous.

We were climbing very high. Not sure what the altitude was, but it was a long way down! Again, sometimes great panoramas of rolling green hills and other times the hills only stopped because a road had been cut through them. Sometimes I could look out my window and see no road at all, it was just pure straight down! We were traveling all this time on a gravel road. With hairpin turns just big enough for the bus. And steep embankments with no shoulder on most of them. A lot of my joy at the watching the countryside on this trip was taken away from me by the uncouth bus driver.

He had another driver hitching a ride with him and he was sitting on the console next to the driver. They spent the entire time chit chatting away. Of course, this meant that our driver had to keep looking at his guest and using his hands a lot to drive home some point he was trying to make. I felt he should have had his eyes glued to that treacherous road! I swear, we would approach some of the most dangerous curves and at the last minute the driver would grab a hold of the wheel and give it a mighty twist, sending us pall mall around the curve and narrowly avoiding plunging off the side to our deaths below. Such a pity. It was beautiful country but I was so overwrought by this dangerous way of driving, I could not concentrate on it. I was sure we were going to die here. Sounds dramatic and it was!

We finally descended onto flat land and I was very grateful! It had taken us 1.5 hours of nerve wracking, gut wrenching riding to get to our first stop. We stopped at some roadside restaurant so that the bus driver could get breakfast. Not a word about how long we would be here or anything. He just pulled into the parking lot, opened the door and got out without a look behind.

I find this behavior very rude but all the bus drivers do it. When it’s time to eat, it’s time to eat!
We all grabbed some kind of snack and loitered around outside, not knowing how long it would be. We certainly did not want to get left behind. I did find a special treat here though. LifeSaver Butterscotch Rum candy! I hadn’t had those since I was a kid.

We finally got under way again and just a mile down the road came to an intersection of paved road and the driver turned to the left and San Jose. We had left the hitchhiking driver behind at the restaurant.

The rest of the way into San Jose was pretty uneventful. At some point, we turned into a local bus and would stop to pick up or discharge people. Twice we picked up some interesting ones.

The first was a man with 1.5 legs. He was on crutches. The people in the front seats tried to give up their seats to him but he just kept motioning for them to sit down. We soon found out why. Once the bus was rolling again, he started talking. I didn’t catch a lot of it, but enough. His was a tale of woe, of how he lost his leg, then his family and now could not get a job because nobody wanted to hire somebody on crutches. Could we help out with just a little money for food and stuff? This was actually a 20 minute monologue. None of our group gave him anything. In fact, I was appalled that the driver allowed him to panhandle to a captive audience like that. Call me cold hearted, but I think he had somehow latched onto the moving gravy train and that was his job! After he had made his way to the back of the bus and to the front again, he cheerfully thanked us and the driver pulled over to let him out. Just a few miles down the road, we picked up another strange fellow.

This one had all of his appendages and was rather clean. He also carried a box of something. His story was so sad. (insert tongue in cheek!) He was an ex-druggie, just out of rehab and had found a new beginning. But he didn’t want anything for free, oh no. He had a box of BIC pens and was willing to sell them for 20 cents US each. Guess whether or not I bought one! When he left, he reached into his box and gave the driver two free pens. I guess that was the going rate for being allowed to harass all of us.

This was not the first time that this happened on a bus ride but I really resent it. They really try to play on your sympathies and guilt (of which I have none!) and you can’t just say no and walk away. Different culture and one just has to roll with it.

We finally pulled into the depot at San Jose but not before passing through one of the sleaziest parts of town. I have never seen so many homeless people in my life. The lucky ones had cardboard to sleep on. L warned us that this station was in a bad part of town and that when we got off we should stay together, get our luggage and get away as fast as possible. Because of the high crime and stuff, we had to walk several blocks away from this station before we dared hale a cab. Cabs in that area are not always safe and don’t always take you where you want to go. At least not before lightening your load by taking all your valuables.

We made it safely back to our original hotel, through our stuff on the beds, collected ourselves and then headed out for lunch and afternoon of shopping.

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