It's Sunday, August 3, 2008 and we're in San Jose (just play along, okay?). According to the 'ABD storybook' provided for Pura Vida tour, today is Day 1 of the tour. Don't be fooled - today is Day 0 of the tour, for we're all on our own without any Disneyfied activities on the schedule.
It gets dark early in Costa Rica - by 6pm or so. Cruelly and predictably, it gets light by about 5:30am. As a result of awakening by 4:00am yesterday and coupled with the 2-hour time difference, I'm awake before the Costa Rican sun. Today is going to be difficult, and I'm pretty sure that I'll be testing the local coffee quite extensively today. The morning is bright and sunny - and I can see mountains out our window. Or maybe they're volcanoes. I make a mental note - albeit with very messy mental handwriting today - to find the travel book that clarifies this point.
We rouse the kids and hit the breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant. It offers a lot of the generic American Business Hotel fare: eggs, sausages, etc. I opt to go native from the starting line and load up on fruit (plentiful and tropical), rice-and-beans (peppery goodness) and tamales (something akin to mashed potatoes cooked inside a banana leaf and tasting excellent). And, of course, coffee.
Tico Tip: Waiters will arrive at your table with 2 jugs: one containing coffee and one containing warmed milk. If you answer in the affirmative about wanting milk with your coffee, you'll get half you cup filled with warm milk. Otherwise, you get rich, black coffee.
Bellies full, we take advantage of the morning sun by hitting the hotel pool. We do this immediately after breakfast rather than safely waiting 1 hour. When one of the kids points out this safety fact, Dee and I gently explain that the 2 hour time-zone difference from 'home' makes it okay to swim. We take the kids' eye rolls to signify grudging acceptance of this biological math.
Around 10am we're back in the rooms in time to answer the telephone. "Frederico!", I think. I'm close. It's our other ABD Guide, Rae, who's called to introduce herself and let us know when she'll be in the lobby for a meet-and-greet. She sounds very nice on the phone, and I'm at ease now that ABD has coming a-callin'. Down to the lobby we go to meet Rae - and Frederico. We chat a bit, and discover that Rae is good friends with our ABD guide from 2007, Alex! I feel like the world just got a little bit smaller. This, of course, conjures up small dancing dolls and a neverending song in my coffee-addled brain. I make another illegible mental note to avoid doing this again. We also learn that Frederico goes by the nickname Fico. With our lanyards and assorted brochures in hand, we are ready to meet the day in San Jose.
At the Concierge desk we inquire about the Coffee Tour - which has received great reviews on several websites. Alas, we're 15 minutes too late for the 11am tour, so we opt to take the 4-hour San Jose City Tour. The Concierge makes the arrangements and instructs us to be in the lobby by 12:45pm where we'll be picked up for the tour. Since we have a bit of time, we hit the Multiplaze (again) for a quick food-court lunch.
Sure enough, a small tour bus pulls up to the hotel by 12:45pm and a driver comes in to collect us. He also collects a few other families for the tour - families who will turn out to be fellow ABD Adventurers in the days ahead. Yes, this is foreshadowing.
I won't spoil the City Tour (too much) for anyone who may consider doing it. It's a good way to see a bit of San Jose - which is not really much of a tourist town to begin with. The Tour involves a pretty good historical dialogue as the bus drives through various areas of the city. To get to that dialogue, however, you may have to endure a bit of a 'milk run' as the bus stops at other hotels to pick up other interested souls. Since we were one of the first hotels on the route, we win a 1 hour tour of other hotels. To be fair, it should have been a 20-minute process, but the police were busy closing streets (in an already-gridlocked city) to make way for a Cow Parade. You cannot make this stuff up.
With extensive English and Spanish narration, we see old buildings, run down buildings, historical buildings, heavily-fortified buildings, and a few parks as the bus negotiates the narrow streets of San Jose. Normally, the tour includes a peek inside the National Theater, but we have to settle for walking around its outside since it was closed for the day. We then walk across the Plaza Cultura to the Gold Museum, where we receive a narrated tour of ancient Tico gold artifacts. Back on the bus - we make a few more stops.
First, the President's house. Yes, his house - in a nice subdivision. It's protected by a police car, a security camera, and a couple of plainclothes security guys. I'm pretty sure I see the curtains move, so I'm guessing the President is home trying to avoid tourists. Or maybe he owes the paperboy for a few weeks of Tico Times. It's nice to see people are the same wherever you go.
The final stop is the inevitable gift shop gambit at a place called Esmerelda's. To be fair, the place was actually interesting. They make various gold and silver pieces using pre-Columbian designs and methods. We're escorted inside by a very young fellow holding a police stick and an umbrella (over our heads). One inside, the doors are locked, we all take a seat, and a nice lady gives us a lecture about their products and methods. The lecture ends with a give-away of a small gold charm. We're asked (all 21 of us) to pick a number between 1 and 21. Dee, who is the second person to choose a number, wins the prize! Why the other 19 of us go through the tension-filled process of picking unique numbers remains a mystery. Afterwards, we are let loose in the store, where we actually buy a few things. The staff there are very helpful and never pushy - a refreshing experience compared to other 'gift shop stop' experiences we've had.
We're the second stop for the post-tour drop off, and by 5:30pm we're back in our rooms making dinner plans. By this time the rain has started in earnest, so we opt for the hotel restaurant (again). The evening ends with packing and organizing, for tomorrow morning the Disney Pura Vida experience really begins!