Costa Rica 16 -- October 15, 2005
New plans

By Bob Corbett

It's a hot Saturday and likely to rain after while, seems to every day.

I'm staying at a very unusual and interesting place and it is a mix of top flight and less than so. Let me describe.

It is Casa Ridgeway, an old and huge home, run by the Quakers. It has many rooms, most dormitory style and at least one single room -- I have it. But all showers and toilets are communal. I have a very lovely room, facing the street with two large windows with good screens. One window was open the other closed. I opened it and let go and dang near shattered the glass as the window slammed down. I got out my least favorite book .... in case it rained on it, and opened the window again, sticking the book in. There is no fan and I wondered about that, but San Jose is about 3,000 feet up and the breezes last night we so strong I got up and put on a heavy wool blanket and wrapped up in it. Cozy.

I was very tired and had crashed by 6 PM and was sound asleep when someone banged on my door. I groggily opened it and it was the landlady (who speaks no English and me no Spanish) with an English speaking guest in hand. I had a phone call. A phone call, I was utterly astonished.

It was my friend Jeanne, checking to be sure everything was okay, she was quite surprised by my move here. We chatted very briefly with the landlady scowling and chattering at me the whole time.

When I got off the phone with Jeanne the most amazing communication took place. What was amazing was that it was of TYPE. I've had these sorts of conversations hundreds of times in many lands and in many languages where I don't know the language of the other and the other doesn't know a language I know.

It was a mix of words, often those words we each assume may be like our word with some change. Day and dia for example, month and mones, hey, I've learned some Spanish. Then, the key lays in facial expressions and lots of pantomime. This one was amazing.

However, I had been forewarned. When I'm in Austria and Ireland I have a local cell phone and it is cheap to use. I wanted one for here. I tried to get one before coming and finally called a toll free number in Chicago but ended up talking with some one here. This person assured me that while Costa Rica was ahead of much of Latin America in most things, the major exception was phone service which was utterly corrupt and completely out of date and out of control.

So this was the back drop. She made clear to me that I should receive no calls. The land line is LIKE our cell phones in that BOTH parties pay, and this once she had "given" me the call, but it's more than that, if her bill gets larger than X (I didn't get the numbers of amount) then her rate goes up rather than down as a good capitalist would think. So I got a real bawling out.

When I went into the common room the many Gringos there who also speak Spanish and English were in stitches and assured me this had happened often and it is the thing that really sets off this otherwise delightful and charming quite elderly lady.

The place, as I say, is huge. And there is a very large kitchen and reading room in my wing, and a double sized dining room. For less than I was paying in Quepos even, I get my room and a simple but lovely breakfast, served boarding house style, only when we are all sitting at table, over 20 of us this morning. Then down the hall is another wing of rooms and a library, extensive library but most of the books, more than half for sure, are Quaker and religion related, the others books folks have left over the years.

And next to that is the largest room, which, while it is the room for the Quaker community meeting room, is available to guests when not in use for that purpose. Then there are rooms and dorms I haven't seen on the second floor.

This was all so very different for me and two things, one I liked and one I didn't (despite the benefit I got) stand out. The positive is that in our wing there is one huge very comfortable lounge chair with a marvelous strong lamp at the side. This is the major thing I missed at Cabinas Hellen. I never had a good place to sit and read and reading is as important as anything else on my trip.

The mainly negative is that the place is utterly overflowing with Gringos. And English is the main language heard save from the sweet landlady. At Cabinas Hellen it never really occurred what I had. There’s is the family home which sits right in the heart of Quepos. In the backyard, only about 20 yards from the family home is this little string-like barn structure really, with four cabinas like horse stalls in a barn. Each has two beds, a single and double, some have two doubles. Each has a shower, sink and toilet and each has a refrigerator, a lovely addition.

The family is large, loud, kind, fun loving and very attentive to the guests. Papa seems to run things and is very mild mannered and friendly to all. A 20 something daughter, Angie, is the main contact person with the guests. She cleans the rooms daily and makes the beds and such, and must be a world class comedienne. She is a very large woman, not up, but around, and has a booming basso voice, so there is never a doubt of whose speaking when Angie is. When she speaks in the house, we in the cabinas and hear the utterly hysterical, falling down and rolling on the floor laughter from everyone in the place. I mean constantly. She must be really funny. Maybe it's all stories about us.

There are Gringos in Quepos, but Quepos stands out as 90% and then some, Ticos, with Tico food and customs and habits and conversation all in Spanish. The Casa Ridgeway, which is really nice in so many ways could just as well be in Jersey, with a couple Puerto Ricans working there and speaking the Spanish. It just doesn't seem like Costa Rica.

Having said that, I got benefits from it. These may be Gringos, but the bulk of them are Costa Rican veterans. One woman, can't recall her name, is an avid birdwatcher and comes here lots, also to the rest of Central America. I told the group I was headed to this cute little town on the Caribbean south coast and they all cracked up. They said, you'll be back in two days. I said, what it's not nice? They said, it's marvelous IN THE DRY SEASON. Right now they said it is brutally hot, hot-bath humid and clouds and clouds of mosquitoes just eat you up.

There is a more famous place on the northeast coast famous for its turtles and there are (quite expensive) boat tours of the turtle areas and reef, but one lady and her husband just came from there, having fled. She said those mosquitoes eat deet like it were hot fudge sundaes.

I asked; what's nice, and these folks unanimously recommended two places everyone I talked to in Quepos recommended too, over and over.

The first is La Fortuna, famous for its volcano and hot springs and some rainforest. I explained I wasn't much for either volcanoes and hot springs, but the birdwatcher and loud guy from New Jersey both went into raptures of the place and the rainforest and paths to walk and lovely small small town.

The birdwatcher sealed it by putting me onto Cabinas Gringo Pete where she stays and it has cheaper prices than here, plus a balcony of lovely rocking chairs and such for readers.

Then everyone said St. Helens and Monteverde where the famous cloud forest is. I was hesitant there too for two reasons.

  1. It seems much too expensive, and birdwatcher came up with Cassa Sissy, from which she came two days ago, and sounds exquisite, cheaper than here as well.

  2. While the tour of the cloud forest was a bit expensive, my worry was my fear of heights, since you tour on ropes hundreds of feet up in the trees and clouds. I'm terrified of heights. But, a very large woman, nearly my age, said she was too, and when they hooked her into the harness and she flew off like Tarzan on his ropes, she nearly wet herself. But, from then on she said it was the most exhilarating experience she'd ever had and so beautiful.

So, come Monday or Tuesday, I'm headed for La Fortuna and then when I tire of that, if I do, on to St. Helen's and the Monteverde Cloud Forests. You can look these up on the internet and they are really some beautiful places.

Why not Sunday instead of Monday or Tuesday. I'm relatively low on colones and all parties said, as the guide book says, have your money with you, these are not bank towns, nor credit card towns, at least not in the kinds of cabinas and sodas I want for food and drink. Today, I got out on the streets early, but the banks are all closed save one or two and the lines in them were a block long.

If there is a bus, later in the morning or early afternoon, I will try to be at the Scotia bank, or whatever it is called, and leave on Monday. But, if I'm not too bored, I may play it safe, do my check cashing on Monday and get my ticket and all and plan to leave on Tuesday.

Above I mentioned having colones cashed for the soda (a “soda” is a small mom and pop restaurant) and places I like and getting a drink and such as I do. That's a definite negative for Casa Ridgeway. No smoking (a huge plus for me) no drugs (fine with me) and no alcohol used on premises. Not so great for me. I have an unopened bottle of 18 year aged rum I'm dying to try, but, even though in my private room no one could ever know, I honor such things as house rules in cases like this. I can wait.

It's just afternoon here, which means 1 PM in St. Louis. I would imagine baseball is on TV today, so I'll see if I can locate a Gringo bar and watch it.

Ah, the landlady who so bawled me out last night, this morning was so sweet. I wanted to do laundry and she was very kind, I had asked first and got in first. It cost just 2500 Colones, just $5.00 to do a load and dry it. So, before 10 AM I had all my wash done. She couldn't have been nicer about that.

But, despite how much I will miss that chair and lamp for reading, I will be happy to get back into a primarily Tico world in a couple of days.

Bob Corbett




Bob Corbett