Sunday, March 30 2008
setting: somewhere over the Carribean Sea
Gretchen and I had both taken Sleepinol (which we jokingly think of as "Sleep an' all") so we'd sleep on the airplane, and indeed we did (without, I should add, the assistance of any alcohol). Gretchen used me as a pillow, which kind of pinned me down, but somehow I was able to sleep for most of the flight with my head against the window. At some point I looked down and saw nothing but water, but then I saw the landmass of Central America (where the coast turns 90 degrees at the border between Honduras and Nicaragua) and was awake from then until we landed.
The international airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, is clean, modern, small, and bustling. There appear to be a lot of Americans there, and one can overhear nearly as many conversations in English as in Spanish.
Our next destination would require another airplane flight, and this required walking to another airport named Sansa. Fortunately, it was only a short walk away, actually sharing the same runway.
Our flight was a couple hours away, so Gretchen and I sat in some comfy chairs outside in the shade while zillions of honeybees cast gyrating shadows on the parking lot in front of us. Eventually the high tropical sun flushed us from these seats to a the other side of the parking lot, where there were no chairs, only a cyclone fence to lean against. There we played most of a game of Travel ScrabbleTM. I looked back at the airport entrance (a humble alleyway over a makeshift French drain made of welded rebar) and could see a swarm of honeybees on its roof. This being the third world, I assumed nothing would be done about the bees (though airport passengers had to walk directly through their flight path). Eventually, though, a firetruck arrived and a couple bomberos came out, suited up in ridiculous aluminized fire-fighting outfits, and then stood around wondering what to do next. Over an hour passed and they still didn't know what to do except to reroute passengers through a different entrance. By that point the swarm of bees had mostly dispersed. I suspect they had found a new place to set up a hive somewhere in the airport's attic, accessible via voids under the corrugated metal roofing.
Our next destination was Tambor, and to get there we'd be flying in a tiny high-wing plane, one whose passenger space wasn't much larger than a shuttle van. It was so small that we actually had to give our weights to the airport staff as condition for receiving a boarding pass. Security, by the way, was cursory. There was no x-raying of anything; we were manually scanned with a metal-detecting wand. You'd have to be a terrorist of modest ambitions to hijack such a small airplane. It had a crew of two and no amenities.
The "airport" in Tambor was nothing but a dirt strip in the jungle, although we still had to pay an airport tax of $1 each. In touristy places such as this, the preferred currency is the US dollar, not the native (and inflationary) colón.
Our ultimate destination was the Ylang Ylang Beach Resort, and a driver from there was at Tambor waiting for us holding a cardboard sign having some misspelling of Gretchen's full name. For a half hour he drove us up and down twisty dirt roads through the jungle, past various settlements. These all had an improvisational and provisional quality to them, as though they'd yet to reach (and probably never would reach) an understanding with the landscape. Typical of the third world, their front yard were cluttered with random objects and materials, although the buildings themselves were solidly built with seemingly high-quality materials.
Eventually we came into the cozy little village of Montezuma, whose streets bustled with deeply-tanned and bedreadlocked hippies and more than a few statuesque blondes, many of whom strode about in bikinis. Costa Ricans themselves appeared to be a fairly homogeneous population ranging from mestizo to caucasian, with the rare Carribean black on occasion. In terms of non-humans, there were a fair number of dogs, always off-leash, usually with collars, usually intact, and seemingly happy. Costa Rica appears to have a better handle on its stray dog problem than other Latin American countries I've visited.
Our driver drove us along a half mile of beach to Ylang Ylang, which a place we immediately recognized as paradise. It had the palm trees, the restaurant-bar, the happy-hour, and even a pool set among a landscape of faux rock (similar to the hippo exhibit at a zoo). One of the many nice things about Ylang Ylang is that you can purchase things like massages, boogie board rentals, and various fancy drinks without ever using any cash. You just live your vacation the way you want and pay for it all at the end.
Our "room" was called a "jungalow" - it was a well-screened permanent tent complete with a porch set beneath wide eaves. Inside, it featured a king-sized bed, a ceiling fan, a sink with running water, a small refrigerator, and various lighting options. There was also a small safe for us to lock up our cash, wallets, and passports.
Our driver continued to give us a tour of the various things we needed to know about Ylang Ylang, but at this point it was equivalent to 4:00PM Eastern Time and I'd yet to have any coffee, so I desperately wanted the tour to end.
Soon enough, though, Gretchen and I were seated in the Ylang Ylang dining room (which was room only insofar is that it had a roof), and I was drinking coffee and eating a delicious guacamole veggie burger sandwich. Gretchen was leafing through the menu and was astounded to find a whole page devoted to vegan options. There was another devoted to "live foods" and still another to sushi. Gretchen was impressed to find that the creature most closely-related to human on the menu was chicken.
At Ylang Ylang, guests get breakfast and a dinner entree for free, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. Happily, though, our lunch was late enough in the day to overlap happy hour, and I soon transitioned from coffee to the sort of boozy drink one normally associates with a tropical beach vacation.
Eventually we frolicked in the surf, whose powerful waves reminded me of San Diego, though the water was much warmer and surprisingly salty.
Later enjoyed a candlelit dinner of yet more incredible gourmet food. Even when it's the sole criterium, it's hard to find a restaurant that serves truly inspired food, and yet Gretchen had found this place simply by doing a Google search for vegetarian-friendly Costa Rican resorts.
That smudge is a swarm of bees on the roof of the Sansa airport in San Jose, Costa Rica.
The makeshift rebar French drain entrance to the Sansa airport. Those chairs, though somewhat ratty, were comfy until the shade moved.
Me and Gretchen playing scrabble outside the Sansa airport.
In the San Jose area (which, being on a high plateau, has an unexpectedly cool climate), roads and civilization stick to the ridges and many valleys remain forested.
The view from the Ylang Ylang "dining room."
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