graffiti in San Jose

Our flight from Houston to San Jose had a large group of younger men being chaperoned by a group of older men. They were all wearing matching suit jackets and ties, and we (the Fiery One, his parents, and I) thought they might be a pack of Jehov@h's Witnesses. In Canada, when you see more than one man outside of church dressed in matching dark suits, it's a warning either to get naked and start bellowing or to prepare yourself for adamantly claiming that you already have a faith whether or not you actually do. It turned out that we had to do neither.

When we walked out of the airport, there was a parade, flags, singing, and huge crowds to congratulate their favourite Costa Rican soccer team, Saprissa. The terribly hot group of men were a team of soccer players! And I initially thought it was our tired and pasty mugs that the crowds were so thrilled to greet.

We stayed in a hotel that first night before we were to head up into the mountains, and the next day, our host took us on a tour through parts of San Jose. I took the above picture in a park next to a market in the city's downtown. I would love to go back there just to take pictures of the graffiti in that country, because it was, by and large, forward-thinking and intelligent.

park in San Jose

Then, it was onto a bus with the five of us to San Isidro, a town of over 200,000 people:

20 December 2005

We are on a bus heading out of San Jose and up into San Isidro, where the woman who has been showing us around has her farm. The roads are so narrow that I cannot see the edge of it when I look down out my window. Thank gawd our host had the forethought to feed us all Gr@vol before boarding, because if I wasn't too stoned, I would be white-knuckling the curtains hanging from the bus windows.

The air outside wafts in occasionally, smelling similar to the way my old girlfriend smelled.

When the airplane was circling San Jose during its descent last night, the spread of city lights rolled broad against black. The streetlights of Canadian cities are orderly and predictable. The downtowns follow a grid pattern on a north-south axis with neighbourhoods and suburbs snaking out circularly, smaller grids disrupted by crescents and culs-de-sac. San Jose is a spill of orange and white glass beads on rumpled black cloth, trickling out from the downtown, fingering their way into small pools of twinkling light.

We are high enough now that we are travelling through wisps of clouds. The refraction of sunlight through the mist means that although it is grey, it is still squintingly bright. The trees fall away on the mountainside to reveal white, a valley blotted out by the conditions of its altitude.

The travel nurse at home warned me that the roads here were "fair to poor", and so this trip up into the mountains was a scary prospect for me. Now that we are up here, this particular road looks no worse that the pot-holed country roads in Saskatchewan. It is obvious that the people rating foreign roads in travel books have not explored my home province. What makes these roads treacherous here is that they are so narrow and winding. We keep slithering past trucks and semis like a snake in heat, but I have seen the whites of too many truck drivers' eyes this afternoon to maintain my high level of fear any longer.

VELOCIDAD MAXIMA... We keep passing road signs that give maximum speeds I can't abide by.

PELIGRO... I don't know what this means, but damn, the roads have gotten bad. [I later found out that this means "danger".] It does not help that I just saw a shattered windshield on the ground playing the anchor in a tableau with a twisted car part in a tree and a small white cross marking someone's death.

ZONA ESCALAR... Who would freaking cross the road!

This trip has been made all the more surreal by ABBA, which the bus driver is playing at the front. We are the dancing queen on the side of this mountain. We just did the troika with a logging truck and an Isuzu.

DESPACIO... This sign commands us to slow down every couple of miles, but no one heeds its warning. Have I mentioned that this hairpin trip through the mountains of Costa Rica is nearly four hours long? It's madness.

The radio is freakishly on the mark. Either that, or the bus driver has a devilish sense of humour. Madonna's "Holiday", Gloria Gainer's "I Will Survive", and the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive" have all played in a row and just when we have entered a fog rendering visibility at two car lengths. Gulp.


We have arrived. We are solid and deep in the heart of Catholic country. I am going to have a cigarette and kiss the gravel I am so blessed to nearly twist my ankels on.

The worst thing was that later that evening, I realized I would have to take that same bus down again. What's funny now is that I had no idea then how bad roads could be.