Monday, August 11, 2008

Okay - Let's Do This

The Theater lights are on again - yellow lightbulb glow on fading red satin curtains. The floor has that familiar stickiness. The popcorn smell is all at once warm and stale.

I'm back.

But first, a little bidness. David, my congrats to you and yours on the arrival of your new bambino! Finally, the 4th controller has a set of hands. As others have undoubtedly made you aware, it all changes now. Kid Number 1 is no longer outnumbered. Be prepared, my friend.

Now, it starts - the Costa Rica trip report for all my friends over at Disboards.

Saturday, August 2, 2008. 3:35am came way too early this morning, but the alarm said I needed to get up and so I did. I never fight the alarm - it's bad karma. We needed to be out the door by 4:30am to catch our 6am flight out of London Slightly-International Airport. The plan: fly from London to Toronto Pearson. From there we'd push our loathing for Pearson Airport deep down into our guts and catch a direct flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. We'd spend the next 5 and 1/2 hours tempering our mistrust of Air Canada with the fact we were headed to sunny(?) Costa Rica for our Adventures By Disney tour: Path to Pura Vida (Spanish for Pure Life).

The trip to Central America was more or less glitch-free. Everything was on schedule. Air Canada has switched their in-flight entertainment over to personal video-on-demand, which affords hours of movies, TV, etc. via touch-screens built into each headrest. It was a little finicky to use, but it did allow me to watch a brutally editted version of Caddyshack and a few episodes of Big Bang Theory (a not-unfunny geek show, sorta). Once in awhile, I'd even read a few pages of Heart-Shaped Box.

We touched down in San Jose at 12:30pm local time as the clouds started delivering a light rain. The airport: smallish and modern. The Customs line was long but moved at lightspeed towards courteous officials who smiled as they stamped our passports. Being North American, I was immediately suspicious of any kind of good experience at an airport. It was obvious from the get-go that Costa Rica knows the importance of tourists to their economy (tourism is their number one industry these days).

As we passed through Customs we were immediately met by a nice fellow holding an Adventures By Disney (ABD) placard. We were on his list - and so he slapped some sticky-backed badges on our chests and propelled us towards Baggage Claim using Spanglish as fuel. All I could figure out was that (1) we needed to get our bags and (2) the stickers would magically get us some transportation.

Bags collected, another fellow materialized from the crowd to direct us to some kind of transportation. Either the badges were working, or we were about to be taken hostage. I put my fears aside and followed him. His partner materialized with a baggage cart and soon we were all following our luggage out of the airport to.... something. Just when it couldn't get any more bewildering, a nice lady wearing an ABD golf shirt appeared by our side. In a burst of friendliness she produced a van (oh, *snap* David Copperfield) that would take Dee, JediBoy, BandGeek, our luggage, and Yours Truly to the Real Intercontinental Hotel. Somehow, it all worked. I just don't know how, but I'm guessing there was math involved. Or magic.

The trip from the airport was an eye-opener. Poverty is not the right word - but whatever it was, there was way more of it than I had expected. Lots of shack-like buildings with rusted corrugated-steel roofing. Fences and bars protected everything. Those lucky enough to afford it would top off their defenses with razor wire. People went about their lives: waiting for buses, shopping, watching me watching them. It was a place so foreign. The narrow streets turned and dipped at crazy angles as small cars and brave motorbikes zipped through traffic. Eventually, old pavement gave way to newer, faster pavement - and we arrived at the decidedly more upscale environs of the hotel.

The Real turned out to be a standard-class business hotel. Except for the palm trees, Spanish signs, and frenzied drivers, the hotel could be just about anywhere. But this would be our home for the next 2 nights until the tour officially left the starting line. The ABD Golf Shirt Lady let us know that we would be met at the hotel by one of our ABD guides - Frederico. Sadly, there was no Frederico to be found, so we simply checked ourselves in with the expectation that ABD people would find us. The only bump we encountered was that the hotel had our 2 rooms on different floors (we had requested connecting rooms when we booked through ABD). Once we pointed out that the kids' room needed to be close by, they fixed it so that the rooms were separated by only one room. Good enough.

We lounged in our respective rooms for awhile. I floated in that semi-state that always finds me on a travel day. I marvelled that, in the course of 8 hours or so, I had gone from my bed in London, Ontario to a much more comfy bed, in the heart of Costa Rica, where I needed only to move my eyes the tiniest little bit to see palm trees and mountains. Amazing, although this kind of marvelling is, admittedly, far cooler in the Wintertime.

By 4pm, our bodies were sure it was 6pm (London time) and, therefore, ready for dinner. Being the Lonely Planet kind of travellers we are, we headed into the mall right next to the hotel (Multiplaza Escazu). The journey was interesting insofar as cars do not feel obliged to stop or swerve for anything - be it pedesterians, on-coming traffic, or confused baby bunnies. We bought our way across the road by being bigger risk-takers that the locals behind their steering wheels - running quickly with our kids held in outstretched arms all the while shouting. "We are tourists! We have tourist money!". It seemed to work.

We found some familar signs inside and a lot that were not so much. The basic mall-meme was there, however: stores, neon, kiosks, crowds, cinemas, food court, and semi-sit-down restaurants with vaguely Irish names. Since we're always up (or is that down?) for Gibson-esque juxtapositioning, we selected an Italian restaurant in the mall.

With the waiter's broken English and my broken Spanish, I was pretty sure I'd get served the wrong end of an exotic sea creature or end up buying the entire joint their meals. But it all worked out and the food was actually quite good. Of course, I was a tad jet-lagged and had a mild buzz from a couple of Imperials (the local beer). The price: 29,000 Colones or CRC - which is about $60 give or take.

After dinner, we shopped a little bit and made a stop at Cinnabon for a late dessert for the hotel. I made a mental note that the mall cinema was showing Batman with Spanish subtitles. That could be a cool activity - something that David Bowie would write a song about. I elected to keep keep that observation to myself since since I seldom seem to make any sense to my family. Digression!

Arriving back at the hotel, we found ABD 'goody bags' had been placed in our rooms. This was a good sign - they knew we had arrived. By 7:30pm we had eaten our snacks (for better or worse, they tasted like Cinnabon should) and we were all ready to power down. I wrote in my journal a bit while Dee flicked through channels on the TV - a melange of American stations, Spanish versions of American stations, and various local channels. It was dizzying seeing some shows in Spanish, some shows dubbed into Spanish, and some with Spanish subtitles. There's something patently kooky about watching Japanese anime dubbed into Spanish - so many layers of indirection.

Cognitive dissonance aside, it was a pretty good travel day. Tomorrow would be a free day to do as we pleased. We had ideas, but no plans. Our only goal - see something, and hook up with the mysterious and elusive Frederico.


David said...

Welcome back CL, and thanks for the congratulations, and the warning. The hard part is going to be convincing the dog that she has dropped a position on the depth chart. And yes, it is chaos so far.

Great trip report by the way.

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