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Losing Track of Time
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Losing Track of Time
  San Jose Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

costa_rica_resort210.jpg Foreigners who make their home in Costa Rica either by starting a business or retiring there are the country's best ambassadors. And my friend Raquel Atencio is no exception. Ever since she bought property in Costa Rica and developed it into a first class resort, she has been urging me to come and visit. I did. Now I understand why.

For a week, I'd wake up to singing birds outside the window and paddle off to the patio by the pool for a bowl of the sweetest fruit this side of the equator. I mean, I have never tasted sweeter papaya or mango or cantaloupe or bananas anywhere in this world. Raquel and I would sit there -- basking in the warm sunshine, sipping our Costa Rican coffee -- and talk about our good fortune. Later she'd tempt me with freshly ground corn tortillas that she whipped up the night before. Mm. Delicious.

What can I say? It was difficult for me to rush off ( and I seemed to be the only one rushing in the whole country ) to the rain forests and jungle river tours arranged for me by the tourist board, so that I could explore the rest of Costa Rica and not just do a story on Villa Raquel Country Inn Resort -- as lovely as it is.

costa_parrot210.jpg Costa Rica, sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, is a small country, not quite twice as big as Vancouver Island, but because of its mountain ranges, the weather varies from rainy and cool to warm and sunny to hot and dry within a small boundary. The vegetation changes accordingly, from thick and tangled rain forests to dry tropical bushes to banana, pineapple, and coffee plantations. The beaches are not quite as impressive as I've seen in other countries, but then, I only had time to visit three, so don't quote me. Maintenance on the highways -- pot holes, cracks -- could be better, however, if I understand correctly, funding is low.

I spent a whole day in the bustling capital city of San Jose, taking pictures, stopping to enjoy a street concert, and walking in and out of hotels. The Hotel Herredura Resort and Conference Center was the most elaborate. I liked the open airy atmosphere of the convention center and the greenery around the pools. Many of Costa Rica's outer lying resorts are isolated. Guanamar Beach Resort on the Pacific Coast, for example, is in the middle of a dry tropical jungle that's inhabited with more birds and wild monkeys than people. The grounds are landscaped with bright blossoms and shade trees and like most of the resorts in Costa Rica, from the simple to the most luxurious, the look is natural. And because there's nothing but jungle and beach for miles and miles, the guests are forced to laze around and do absolutely nothing, unless, of course, they want to go fishing ( in season ), or hiking or horseback riding.

Costa Rica is reasonably tidy. I often saw sanitation trucks, and workers picking up litter off the highways. In fact, some towns, such as Atenas, were exceptionally clean. However, the port city of Limon was very different from the rest of Costa Rica -- garbage everywhere, drunks staggering in the streets -- I could hardly believe it was part of the country, let alone part of our tour.

Manfred Cyrmam, a very capable guide from Vic-Vic Tours said, "This too, is part of Costa Rica. If it's bad, we should do something about it, not try to hide it from our visitors."

It is this type of attitude that most impressed me about Costa Rica. The people, nicknamed Ticos, are proud and confident that visitors will accept them for what they are, like a good friend would. Sure, they have their problems, in fact, a visiting foursome was accosted in a national park and robbed of their possessions ( I mention this because it was in the local newspaper and you know these types of stories are so common in New York and LA they never see print. ); however, I only saw one beggar, and children did not confront me in the streets. This is probably largely due to the government policy of a compulsory education system resulting in a literacy rate of over 93%.

Another admirable policy is the country has no army. The constitution forbids it. A national guard serves as a police force. They are visible, in their attractive uniforms, usually two by two, in the parks, on the beach, and in the cities.

I didn't have time to hike up to the volcanoes or to swim in the ocean at Flamingo Beach. I didn't have time to participate in any local festivals. ( I'll just have to go back, right? ) I did have time to attend an earthquake.

Thursday, March fifth Raquel and I went out to dinner. It was a corner cafe with no walls facing the street. We, along with Raquel's son Rick and four other guests, were in deep conversation when I felt the earth move. I knew that Costa Rica experiences tremors, but I blamed it on a dizzy spell. It happened again. I looked around at our companions. Nobody seemed to notice. Thinking it was me, I relaxed. About five minutes later, the floor beneath my feet began to tremble. The table shook.

" Stay calm, Lorry, it's just an earthquake," said Raquel. Okay, I thought to myself, I won't panic, but isn't there something I should do? Crawl under a table? The top was made of glass.

The quake subsided, almost disappeared. We smiled at one another. Then another tremor began, this one much more severe. The power went out and a woman screamed. I stood up and walked rubber-legged to the archway. The floor dipped and shook violently. It was like walking across a jittery trampoline. Finally, it was over. Six on the Richter Scale.

The next day I joined a bus load of Canadians on a chartered tour. The greeting was " Hello- where-were-you-when-the-earthquake-hit?" They were excited and eager to talk about it. Would it keep them from coming back? No way, was the majority response.

The morning of my departure, relaxed and carefree, I sipped fresh guava juice and helped Raquel design the perfect ad for the local paper about her new establishment. ... quiet, elegant, secure ... tennis court, swimming pool ... . We mulled over the words as if I had all day and didn't have a plane to catch.

Uh huh. I was stricken with Tico time. The symptoms are "a sort of whatever will be will be" attitude. For example. If you have to be somewhere at three, or someone says they'll be at your place at three, forget it. It'll never happen. Late taxies, bus stalls in traffic jams, bumping into an old friend, an unexpected errand to run, all these things will surely come up as you or they proceed toward the appointment. Not to worry. No-one's upset, or offers an excuse when late. The only way to get around this affliction is to set your clock ahead an hour if you want to be on time and back if you're the one who's waiting.

And here I was lolly gagging as if I had forever. Turns out I did. I arrived at the airport late. Twenty-four hours late to be exact. I still can't figure out how I lost a day.

" It's simple, Lorry, " says Raquel. " You didn't want to leave. "

For information on Costa Rica write National Tourist Bureau, Plaza de la Cultura, Calle 5, Avenidas Central y Segunda, San Jose, Costa Rica.

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