16-17 September El Salvador to Costa Rica
Rosa took me to the station at 2.30am. She was very kind but wanted to make sure I was safe. She felt the taxi drivers couldn’t be trusted at this time. We formed a strong friendship and I feel we will be in touch. I jumped on a quality bus as advertised, it was a big bus with DVD players and onboard toilet. For a 24 hour trip we will need it.
I found an English speaker just as I was boarding. She was from California, an archeologist. She had apparently been in this part of the world for around 18 years doing her research. She was an interesting character, had quite a cynical attitude towards NGO’s (non government organizations) as she felt they did more harm than good. When I asked why she said that they didn’t know the culture. That made sense. She told me she worked for an NGO but I guess as archeologist their role is to dig up the past and make sense of it, they would have to know the ancient and current cultures. I spoke to her about peace and I felt she may think I am religious as she went on to tell me the problem with the Quakers. She said they tried to introduce pain killers to the people. She said the problem was there were no instructions on how to take them, she was amazed by that. So she saw mistakes made by foreigners attempting to do good. I did try and talk about Byron Katie’s work but she was quick to dismiss it. I found her beliefs quite fixed. I decided don’t go there, just live with the differences. She was a pleasant person and I spent the time listening to her thoughts, she wasn’t ready for mine. We talked about a range of topics. She mentioned the natural environment it seemed covered with a beautiful lime green landscape of trees that were quite bushy. She told me it used to be all forests, the loggers came in and cleared it out. Wow I thought, so much damage to the natural ecosystem. The drive for profit has been a very destructive force on the planet as it divorces people from wider responsibility for nature, of which we all belong, and the consequences of those actions ecologically and for future generations. This for some would be the beauty of capitalism, just make money and it is all ok. Corruption is helpful there as you can just pay to get what you want, no moral barriers blocking you. She went on to say that El Salvador and Nicaragua are dangerous countries. She also brought up cancer and said that many people from the States were coming for treatment to Nicaragua as it was cheaper. I thought about the health system in the US and felt real concern for American people. I had just watched some footage from a right wing conference in the US whereby they were arguing against the universal health care legislation in the US, they said that people should not be told by government, that the private sector is better. I listened to much of the rhetoric and I found it had not changed in decades. So little imagination outside of conservative and liberal ideologies. The arguments obscure the real discussion. This involves questioning the unquestioned beliefs that argue that economy produces security. That profit maximization is the most efficient means of allocating resources and creating incentive, that working for money creates happiness. We need to look at the fundamentals of the way we think and what brings real security and happiness to nations and indeed the world. So far looking at the environment and social decay none of the current systems today are functioning sustainability or promoting a healthy social fabric. We are individualized and competitive and we have definitely forgotten community and our responsibility for pre-serving the planet. The American lady stayed on the bus until Managua, Nicaragua then got off. I was planning to stay in Nicaragua but having a look at Managua I am glad I chose Costa Rica. Although I was told later that it was good, but really poor.
As the bus went along I observed many people on horses in Nicaragua or with horse and cart, they live a very simple life. Many homes peppered in amongst the bushes and palm trees, the natural world embeds homes. It must be wonderful to grow up in these fresh and natural areas. The bus drove along a grass lined route with many trees and homes sunken into the landscape. To my amazement I saw two volcano’s side by side, it was spectacular, unfortunately couldn’t get my camera out fast enough. I thought about the volcanic eruptions and the fertilization on the land, very rich and fertile. I saw corn growing along the side of the road, no real organized cultivation, just small farmers growing what they need it seems. I also saw young boys collecting wood, I don’t know if it was for themselves or to sell. In the towns and cities tuk tuk’s were evident, I now associate them with the poorer countries, as they are a cheap form of transport as they run on gas. On the bus I have to note that we are inundated with war movies, at one point I remember the police getting on board, Nicaraguan I believe, at the same time gun shots from the DVD are ringing out. I wonder if they can see the connections between their entertainment and the reality on the ground, does it promote peace? I doubt it. We still glorify war and fighting as exciting, until we step away and see the reality of what violence actually promotes and the little educational value in it, we continue to repeat the past.
I also noted down the duties that were imposed on travelers going through countries. In Honduras had to pay US$3 and then in Nicaragua we had to pay $13 on entry and $3 on exit, I thought this was expensive as well given we didn’t step foot in their country, just transiting through, the countries make it up. I don’t see the difference between someone holding out their hand on the street to a customs official holding out his hand officially. This is arbitrary around the world I noticed.
There was a point on the journey where I saw large wind turbines they were huge. I also recall seeing on television the wind turbines in the sea, that seems really sensible to me. I got very excited when I saw them and it gave me some hope for enlightenment.
We stopped at the border of Nicaragua and Costa Rica. We got out and stretched out legs, there were some people selling shoes, food and other goods. I spoke to a El Salvadorian man and his daughter. They told me their names were Alex (girl) and Arnold (father). We had a discussion about journalism. I told her there are problems in journalism as it reports on violence and negative activities in the community, this creates more fear. I explained the importance of promoting positive peace and the good that is done in the community. The father felt that negativity sells papers, I said I think people are tired of the same rhetoric and many, certainly in Australia, are switching off. People are seeking inspiration these days. He looked at me twice I felt, and I then went on to tell him of gandhi’s work and the importance of truth. He said if she works for a boss she has to do as he said. I said no she doesn’t, I left and went out on my own. You have to make choices and integrity is important. I wanted to impress on Alex the importance of positive journalism before she becomes indoctrinated. I found out later the reason she was going to attend university in Costa Rica is that she had been held up at gun point twice in San Salvador, clearly her father was worried. Again, another link to why we want positive peace in this world. The violence and fear affects us directly.
We got on the bus and went to customs and had our passports stamped then our luggage checked. I noted on all check points, never have they really checked the luggage properly. In some ways that was good as there was nothing to check for and made it faster, I guess the reality is there are too many people to do a thorough job, so I guess the officials are observing.
We continued on the journey and it became dark. I noticed more tollways in Costa Rica and there was a lot of forest with mist hanging around it, really beautiful. The rain also pours down a lot as it is so humid in this part of the world. Although better than further north.
I did manage to sleep on the bus. The seats leaned back and there was a foot pillow that came forward so you could put your legs over it, bit like a lazy chair. So it was reasonably comfortable.
I had no idea where I was going to stay in Costa Rica, I was told we would get in around 2 am and knew this was tricky. The bus terminals are not open, so you can be left in the dark. We actually got in at 11.00pm. I spoke to a few Australian’s as I disembarked from the bus. They were talking about a hostel but I didn’t fancy sharing a room with 6 other people. I wanted somewhere better. Arnold then turns up and I ask him to ask the driver to recommend accommodation. He says do you want to pay US $40 per night. I said yes to get a sleep. He said come to my hotel. He was like an angel whisking me out of there. I couldn’t believe my luck. He had the taxi there, lifted my bag which had totally fallen apart by this stage. No handles top or sides and the main handle to pull the bag broke in transit. So basically you had to carry the bag and it is bulky with all my clown gear in it. He picked it up threw it over his shoulder. We then jumped in the cab and headed to the Hotel Sura. It turns out it is 10 minutes walk from downtown. He then invites me to dinner with he and his daughter. So we go to a nice place and there are thousands of cups hanging from the ceiling, quite unique. I brought a soup and coffee and it cost US$12 very expensive, more so than Australia. After dinner headed back to the hotel and went to sleep.
I liked my room it had TV and en-suite. There was a nice table and chairs outside and a place to hang washing. So it was really nice. There were American Indians hanging from the wall. I forgot to photograph these men, so noble, you could see it in their eyes. I liked this hotel it had a good feeling.
The next day I was tired but got up for breakfast. Unfortunately I was given eggs and bacon and had to eat it as it was scrambled. Being a vegetarian I’ve had to eat meat on quite a few occasions, mostly I go with the flow. The breakfast wasn’t that nice but it was good to have Alex and Arnold there to translate.
They decided to go into town and see a film. I was on a mission for two things. One was to replace my luggage I was worried about this as Costa Rica is so expensive. I also had to fix my computer screen, this is an essential on this trip given the blogging and photos. So through Arnold I found out there was a flea market 10 minutes down the road and an internet café. I thought I could check emails to see if I had any couch surfing. I could go to the flea market for the luggage. So off I went and found the internet café first did my emails and then headed to find luggage. I found some pretty quick, good size and seemed strong. It cost 29,500 colonas which equates to US$60. I figured this was good given in Australia I was probably looking at $150-200 for same bag. That was good. I wheeled it around as my next task was to find an IT shop.
I walked around the flea market and ended up asking a woman. She advised me to use her IT man and said he was good. He turned up 10 minutes later, I got my computer and returned to the place. At first I got a bit lost, prayed for clarity to find the shop, thank god I found it. Anyway, I was taken to the IT repair place and left my computer there with the recommendation to ring at 5pm. I was told it would cost US$38 to fix or $80 for a new screen. Turns out at 5.15pm when I turned up it was an $80 job. I could buy a new computer but my feeling is to stick with this one. I try and save money as I go. He did vacuum the keyboard and offered to upgrade the memory, but that would be another $30 and I have to say no. Better to delete to make space. So that was a big spend but has to be done. I returned to the hotel deciding to stay another night. I am aware of the money clocking up. I had spent over US $200 in 24 hours. That is a lot for me. But has to be done.
I returned to the hotel and I couldn’t get wireless, so the guy at the desk spent the next 3 hours trying to get it for me. He downloaded a new wireless package and Google chrome. God knows what else he did but I trusted him and let him go for it. I tried again to get wireless but it was too slow. So I left it with him overnight. Very trusting aren’t I. I knew he was fine. Anyone with the tattoo of love on his arm can’t be too bad. I also invited Arnold to go for Chinese, he said better to have a pizza. Later that night, 2 slices of pizza turn up with Alex apparently on the house. So I was happy, as I felt exhausted. I feel so much is given me as I travel, so many people helping me out. I do feel myself supported on this trip and feel grateful for it.
The next morning I got up and was really tired. I did stay up late and listen to English speaking movies, missed hearing English voices. Get used to hearing Spanish all the time. So I enjoyed that and the music videos. Anyway, as a result I was very tired. Went down for breakfast, the only one there. I was given dried beans and toast. Really not nice food, the girl who is the cook was pretty bad. I asked if I could have lechee (milk) with my coffee she said no. Yet I knew that milk was in the fridge as I made the two men on reception cups of tea for helping me out. So I just let it slide by but felt curious as to why it was no.
I went up to bed and decided to rest. I knew I had to check emails as I need to know if I have a couch surf or whether the University of Peace, Quakers have offered to host me. I stayed in bed another hour. Then decided to get up. I went to the internet café as my computer and the guy were not around. I didn’t panic I knew he would return it.
I get to the internet café and check my mail. I find there is a response from the Quaker school in Monteverde. I look at a map online and this is north west and in the mountains. I had a look at their website. It is a bilingual school and they really focus on developing the whole person. I am very interested in their teaching methods and I am thinking to stay 2 weeks. I will see if I can negotiate some teaching for accommodation. I also need a rest and feel the need to work with children. That is a part of my trip I haven’t had much time doing. It is also the International Day of Peace on September 21, I offered to come to their school. They are excited.
So the decision is made I want to go today. I don’t want to spend another $40 on accommodation. I jump in a cab for the bus station. To my surprise the buses are stopped on a Saturday, he says everyone is having a holiday. I like the idea of that as we work too much, but I guess I am used to getting services when I need them. He said to me there was one option only to take the cab to the next town 25 km away and catch the 3pm bus from there for $6. He asserts the cost of the taxi is US$60, I said no way it is too much. I am better off staying here a few days. He then brings it down to $50, I say $40 and he says $45. So I agree, it was a lot for this part of the world. The greed is phenomenal. Imagine $6 to catch a bus for 4 hours compared to $45 for 15 minute drive, that is how exploited tourists are. So I decide to just do it. He drives me to the bus station and I get out. I have 1.5 hours to kill there. So I get a coffee and stow my bag at another shop (for free … yes). I walk up the street with my backpack and stop at KFC, I get out my computer and continue with my blog. Get some change with a potato gravey. Good to have the local currency as well. I laugh at how common fast food is. How many people like it. It is expensive by local terms though. Same price as Australia. Yet wages here would not be.
I return to the bus 40 minutes later, get my stuff out. I look for the bus and this woman approaches me. She asks if I have accommodation in Monteverde, I said no surprised at her hitting on the mark. She rings a friend at a backpackers and puts me on. She will charge me $15 with a toilet. A room on my own. I like that and am relieved it is cheaper. After being slugged by the taxi and the hotels, my money is dwindling fast. This lady gets on the bus with me and between me, my Spanish book and her intelligence we are able to have a conversation. Turns out she is my age and has had 4 children. She is divorced and works as a cook. She is working at Monteverde as a cook. She invites me to come out with her friends to a bar later to have a vino (wine). I agree and am excited to finally go out. I haven’t been out in along time, so curious to see what it is like. It was nice to make a friend. The bus climbed through sheer mountain ranges, bumped around on gravel and we found ourselves going up and down mountains. It was fun and I was amazed at the forests, so lush and full. I like the feeling of getting away from the city and as the dark descended you could see Costa Rica in the distance. We had moments of hard rain and then some clear skies. As we climbed the mountain it became misty.
My friend’s name is Maria Elana and she told me we must get off the bus. I thought we got off at the last stop. She got me off and walked me to the backpackers, helping me drag my ten tonne bag. I was grateful for her help and mindful of how lost I would be on my own. It is pure ignorance that allows me to just go for it. That is part of the fun, somehow the help comes to me. I am totally lost in a foreign country without the language, but I find I am confident enough to brave it. Must be my age and experience, got to learn something through life. Anyway, I am helped to the backpackers and I am shown my room. I like the vibe of the backpackers and realise I am in the middle of forest. Although the mist is everywhere it is not cold. This is a new experience, always in Australia it is cold when there is mist.
She arranges to meet me at 8pm, so I get dressed and await her. I meet the lady at the backpackers who I spoke to, turns out she was waiting at the last stop but Maria Elana didn’t tell her. She was going to go out with us, but she declined and went to another bar. Maria Elana and I went out to pizza. It cost me 6,000 colonas which is US$12 with a wine. Probably a bit better than in San Jose. Anyway, I try and make conversation using gestures and a bit of Spanish. She seems to understand some things, but is distracted. I met some other tourists in the pizza place form the US, Switzerland and NZ, so had a few chats whilst there.
We catch a taxi to the bar called Doringos. We go inside and they are playing Latin American music. I really loved watching the dancing, they are definitely expert, good to see men knowing how to dance. The only problem is only couples dance. I was asked a few times, but I have to say the guy seemed a little desperate and I can’t dance salsa, so I said no. He tried a few times, but no is no. I would have liked to dance by myself but I wasn’t sure if that was in harmony with the culture, so I sat there. I couldn’t be bothered buying a drink and to be honest became increasingly bored. A guy and two dances arrived. He was promoting the beer in the pub and had the girls dressed in skimpy shorts and they were swinging all they had. They then tried to promote the beer and removing gold foil from the necks of bottles, I think some prize was there. The guy that was after me in his 10 gallon hat, got up and he was given a hat and some pictures with sexy girls. They then did a contest where men had to dance and the audience all made lots of noise. The girls danced on and then they went around with a spinning wheel. It really wasn’t my scene as I can see the promotion for what it is, trying to encourage people to drink more, I find I really am not into these places. I look around the room and there is no real interest in being there. I am keen to get going. So I ask my friend to get a taxi. We find one and jump in. We didn’t travel more than 5 minutes down the road. I intended to pay her fair back to her place as well, as goodwill. It cost around US$4 which is 2,500 colonas. The guy said 2 then it turns out to be 4, so I was confused by that, this is a disadvantage of not having the language, I can’t sus out if I am being ripped off. So I just had to smile and go to my room.
I am not into the nightclub scene. To be honest I feel I am giving up on it all together. I find drinking boring and I do have an attitude about men standing around drinking. I find they are not very brave to approach and the expectation is to take a woman home. I find myself beyond these basics and wonder if there are any men who are into truth, who are inspiring to listen to, who see past a person’s looks and really want to know you. I just find myself not interested. I hope I am wrong, but the last 8 years appears to be the same. I think just get into the spiritual and peaceful life and forget about it. It is not for me.
So I am going to sleep to dream I am awake. I think of 2012 and know great changes are coming, that keeps me smiling, otherwise you could give up.
So hopefully I get some contact from the Quakers, cross fingers.