BOB CORBETT'S TRAVEL JOURNAL -- 2005

Costa Rica 2 -- September 30, 2005
First day in Costa Rica

By Bob Corbett

These first journal notes come as Iím having my second Imperial beer, local San Jose beer, and await a grilled sea bass with salad, rice and potatoes.

My location is awesome, a second story balcony for one table overlooking a part of the huge walking mall which constitutes central downtown San Jose. Itís evening, rush-hour and, of course, no cars to be seen or heard, just hundreds and hundreds, thousands perhaps, people streaming by. The light rain of the last hours is now gone itís still light out and I am exhausted. My pedometer reads 5.66 miles already and I have a mile or more to walk back to my home, after this meal, a few more beers, some sinful dessert and my first Puerto Rican coffee.

Below me across the walk-way is a fancy jewelry store, kids clothes, shoes and as best I can see four more clothing stores and a yardís good store.

Up the street a few steps is the elegant Banco Nationale and directly across from me, on the second and upper floors the window reads ďŌnstituto Educativo San JoseĒ and the window says Ingles Conversacional. Itís a whole block long.

The waiter just told me itís 4 PM. I thought it was 3, but weíre on Eastern Daylight Time, not Central. I donít think Iíll even bother to change the clock on my pedometer, Iíll just remember (I hope) to add one hour. Oh me, there go lovely church bells from the nearby Cathedral.

The verdict is in: best sea bass Iíve ever had. No rice, but lovely mashed potatoes (the menu says mushed). Salad was a sharp slaw with sharp onions, and cucumbers on the side. The vegetable mťlange was carrots and two other vegetables light colored root crops. I recognize them from Haiti but donít know what they are in English. Readers from my Haiti list can help. In Haiti we call the one meliton. What is that in English?

Iíve ordered vanilla flan for dessert and cafe con leche. Iím at Mandoīs Restaurant in the Heart of San Jose,® It sure is the heart. Ave. Central and 2nd street, it doesnít get any more in the heart. This place is ancient in awesome dark polished woods, and my open air balcony over the walking mall is the only one. The other 9 window tables have open windows, but no balcony.

The vanilla flan was delicious, but the coffee rivaled the sea bass for the eveningís honors. It was coffee with milk, no sugar. It was so hot I had to be careful not to scald my tongue. Coffee with flavors so strong and rich my body sings out, wheeee, wheeeee. This is the kind of ďhotĒ I canít find in the U.S. anymore since some nitwit sued McDonaldís because he or she was so stupid to drive with hot coffee in car and them blame McDonaldís for getting burned. I hope Costa Rican courts will throw any such suits into the fire cooking that scalding but splendidly delicate coffee.

Itís beginning to get dark. Iíve been here a couple hours and just ordered a second coffee for which my doctor would bawl me out. Too bad. I havenít had such coffee since Vienna.

A man just walked beneath the balcony carrying a 4 ft. high mound of folded cardboard boxes. He was bent under the load, as hundreds of folks stream by him. It getting chilly too. My coffee arrived and the restaurant is beginning to fill up. Iíve even ordered the bill.

I am staying a second day and night in San Juan tomorrow. Iíll get my bus ticket to Manuel Antonio for Saturday. I may well eat here again tonight. Not sure. A day to look around.

I think I have some of the best luck of anyone I know in finding marvelous places to eat. But I watch and hunt and am patient. Iím always looking for great settings, modest prices and excellent food

I know those places in dozens of cities. Now Manoloīs of San Jose goes on the list.

Backing up a bit

I arrived in San Jose about 2 PM through Miami. I had the luck of arriving in Miami at gate C47 and had to fly out of C44, two gates down. Thatís unusual. Miamiís airport is gigantic and one often has to even ride a train to a second gate.

As I came out of the San Jose airport I was greeted by the bedlam of dozens of cab drivers. I donít speak Spanish and just said over and over ďbus to San Jose.Ē They then shouted in EnglishĒ ďToo far, too long, $10.00.Ē® But other people pointed across the street. I crossed to the parking garage, got directed around the parking lot to a busy street. It was teeming rain so I donned my rain coat and off I went. In about 2 blocks I came to a bus shelter.

I just kept repeating bus San Jose and people kept pointing. Moments later a bus came and for 80 cents I was off to San Jose.

I needed to get to Avenue 6 between Calles (street)# 13 and 15. The guide book I have warned there are virtually no street signs any where, and there arenít. The bus driver and an English speaking passenger tried to figure out where I was going and pointed me in the direction.

It was raining hard, so I tried buses headed down Avenue Central. Iíd say Calles and hold up 5 fingers 3 times. The drivers, one after another, would show me with a curve of the hand that they turned first.

Central Ave. is a very busy place and there are zillions of cabs, like in movies of downtown Manhattan, but these are red, not yellow. I finally gave up and hailed a cab. Even the cab driver had a terrible time finding the place I wanted but with a generous tip it only cost me $1.50

Okay, Iím DEFINITELY in the heart of the slums. Street people everywhere (today I was out early and had to step over a sleeping person on our door step). My place, Casa Leon is 5 feet from an abandoned railroad track and abandoned building and all that scene.

The host David speaks English. 6 people live in the one dorm and 5 were booked. It was tiny. It would have been $13.00 for the night. I asked about the one single room. He wanted $20.00. I thank him kindly and asked directions to Casa Ridgeway (another back packers dump) which is only a block away. He gave me directions, but then decided given my age, sleeping in the doom with the young Danes would have been loud, he would give me the single for $15.00 if I took it for two nights. I did.

And thatís how I ended up in this rather comfortable and adequate single room. Its very quiet. One bed, neither a single nor a double, but a 1 1-2 size. I know the size well from Europe.

In 1972-73 my wife Jane and I SHARED one of these for an entire year. Our 6 kids -- Brian wasnít born until 1975 -- shared 3 single beds. Two to a bed. That was an awesome year in Graz, Austria on Mandellstrasse 24, 3 blocks from the Opera House, and close to the wonderful Kaiser Joseph Platz, an outdoor market, second largest one in Graz. Graz itself is the second largest city in Austria and Universitat Karl Francis is Austriaís second largest university. My 1 1-2 bed in San Jose brought back floods of wonderful memories of that exciting year.

I have a shower and toilet in my room, but no sink. Thatís a first for me. Iíve had lots of rooms with just a sink, or rooms with sink and shower, but no toilet, and rooms with sink and toilet but no shower. But NEVER BEFORE this combination. No sink and thus no bathroom mirror. I think Iíll wait until Iím settled in Manuel Antonio on Saturday before I shave.

That brings me up to date until 7:30 PM on Thursday. Iíve very tired. I did see (this) email place yesterday and have found my way back.

Later folks....

Bob

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu