How difficult was it to leave heaven to head for San Jose? Mentally difficult, because you’ve been ruined for the ordinary, even the extraordinary. Physically difficult for J-M who had to pry my fingers off the door frame and hoist me to our vehicle. Please just one more dip in the hot tub? One more massage? One more nap on the four-poster bed? Must we leave? Must we?
But John-Mark was eager to head out to our next and final destination, the capital city of Costa Rica, San Jose. If I’d admit it, I was looking forward to it too, for a number of reasons. I really wanted to see if there would be people there, because, besides attendants at the hotels or roadside stragglers, we couldn’t find the populace. People are my favourite. Also, we hadn’t done any souvenir shopping. We were getting dangerously close to the end of our trip and hadn’t yet purchased the items for our children that we’d use to soothe our guilt for leaving them behind.
Some of the people we had met, including proprietors and servers at the hotels, were questioning why we would spend time in San Jose, saying that it’s not so nice, especially with places like heaven around, hello! All those 11 guidebooks J-M had read also gave strong cautions about spending time there, citing pickpockets and danger after dark. It painted a picture for us that was a little unnerving. So after seven long hours of driving – which included a lunch stop-n-shop and some poor navigation onto more unpaved roads, for which I fully blame our GPS – we arrived in San Jose, at dusk, during rush hour. We were not at our best. How quickly we were undoing the good that had been done at Rio Celeste.
Coming into San Jose, we saw the “reality” of the city. Here were the people! Of course this is where they would be, on the paved roads. But the area we were driving through was rough, really rough, with slum-like dwellings and an air of desperation. My eye is somewhat attuned to poverty because of our time in Ghana. In fact, I saw small cabins here in Costa Rica in the mountains where we travelled near Blue River Resort that I thought were quaint and well-kept… that put other tourists into tears. But these lean-tos in the street, this broken glass, this graffiti on the walls, this look of the people on the streets, those who weren’t lying drunk or exhausted in them anyway, it all reflected hopelessness.
The GPS said we were just a couple of kilometres from our destination, which worried me. I didn’t like my reaction. I was angry with myself that the streets repulsed me instead of producing compassion to see people living here, like this. I had been so excited to see people… only to want to run away from them. I can only attribute it to fear – considering my own interests too much to care for others. I was reminded how human I am and how much I need God. I’ll admit, I said a prayer for the people I saw on the street while I locked my door. Then I prayed for me, take this fear away, replace it with love. This may not be a mission trip we’re on, but there is always, always a mission. Give us the courage to see it.
Central San Jose is a combination of one-way streets with confusing signage, if any. We were two blocks from our hotel and it took us ten minutes and three tries to get there. We might have received, and thereby learned, a few Spanish expletives from other drivers along the way.
It was dark by now, so we didn’t get to see the hotel in full, just the small doorway that said, “Ring doorbell for entry.” Where are we anyway?
We were at The Mansion Del Parque Bolivar, a top-rated boutique hotel known for its historical building and location to central San Jose and its markets. So said J-M, who had been told by Trip Advisor.
The male concierge opened the door and led us up a small stairway to a sitting room where techno music was playing loudly. I saw the Trip Advisor’s awards from 2010-2012 hanging on the wall, which put me at ease, somewhat. The concierge led us to our room, which was tiny and stuffy, with no windows or air-conditioning. But what magnificent baseboards!
At that point, I hardly cared about the inconveniences that were becoming less significant while I was becoming more exhausted. Although, I was curious about what features the hotel promoted. They all have their good points, right? J-M said, “Well, they mentioned a glass shower.” That report was absolutely true, they had an all-glass shower, which may or may not be a selling feature depending on one’s timidity. Did they also mention the water doesn’t flow from time to time in this all-glass shower? No, they did not. The light fixtures, however, charming!
We had to find somewhere to eat. J-M went downstairs while I pretended to have a shower. He came back up and said that the hotel restaurant was the best option according to the concierge. They were really pushing it on us and so we acquiesced. We rather enjoyed the open air balcony and the small cafe tables where we sat. We were the only two in the small room. Our server was full of tattoos and piercings and facial hair and flair. I guessed that he was French. I was right!
We couldn’t understand his Spanish and he couldn’t understand our English, so we both agreed to try French. Did you know that Canadian French is considered very proper and dated? This isn’t the first time we heard it on this trip. We’d met another French couple at the Blue River Resort who insisted that we spoke 18th Century French! Quelle surprise! In essence (I imagine), we were saying, “Please, sir, canst thou quench our thirst and quell our hunger? We beg of thee.” To which he was replying, “No probs, dude.” We managed.
His name was Gerald. He had lived in Costa Rica for four years, managing a restaurant up the road, but moving recently to this location. He left France because of their taxes, their ridiculous taxes.
He was very eager to serve us, checking in on us constantly mostly because there were no other patrons. Often he would just stand and watch us devour our vegetarian lasagna, and what we learned to be French cuisine… because it was cooked by a French person. Through our staggered conversation we learned he was not only the waiter, but the owner. He then asked if he could take our picture. Why not?
“Pray tell, kind sir, for what wilt thou use our portraits?” we asked.
It was to record his very first customers on his opening night at the Mansion.
The next morning, everything looked different. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep on a full stomach can do, and how grateful you become when deprived of them, even for a short time. The shower still wasn’t working properly, so while there was water, it wasn’t hot. That was OK. We were going to explore the streets of San Jose…