On March 1st we were up before 6am to catch a 10am flight from Mexico to San Jose, Costa Rica. John had calculated we would be at our most vulnerable by then – considering jet lag – and organised for a driver to meet us. What a relief to walk out from the San Jose airport and see our names on a sign….
As we drove to our hostel, our driver had the radio on in the background. Amongst the jumble of Spanish words we discerned ‘Australia’, ‘Canberra’, and ‘George Pell’. And with our limited Spanish, pregunta, meaning question… An understatement to say George Pell is global news.
We stayed at Hostel Casa del Parque in Central San Jose, directly opposite a park called the ‘National Park’. A ten minute walk into the city centre.
The hostel is an old two storey art deco mansion dating back to the 1950s. Staff and management are extremely helpful and speak English fluently, which we found to be quite common in San Jose. All rooms are huge – generally speaking, the size of two standard bedrooms, or more, at home. Only two rooms have an ensuite – think classic pink or green tiles and fittings of that era. A delightful paved courtyard contains numerous pot plants, and vines fight each other to climb the tall brick walls. The red flowering passionfruit is particularly attractive. We watched a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird flitting between various flowers.
Interior – Hostel Casa del Parque
Friday nights are P.A.R.T.Y nights – big time here in Central America! Our delightful room had an atrium with louvered windows, a glass door and a wire security roof open to the sky. On the other side of that wall is a public car park – an empty block of land. Noise tumbled in over the wall and constantly disturbed us – the noise of car alarms being set off, people talking loudly, women laughing and screaming in high pitched voices, cars driving in and out at all hours, and loud motor bikes entering and departing. Consequently we did not sleep. The following morning we moved to the other room with an ensuite. Originally we rejected this room as it was directly behind the staff reception area, which is a circular table with a few chairs – all very laid back. However, this room was slightly better noise wise. But during our four night stay we did not manage a decent sleep. Someone ringing the front doorbell or phoning the hostel in the wee small hours of the morning – the buzzer and phone being right outside our door. Then, on Sunday morning around 6am I thought I heard drums beating – I told myself not to be ridiculous! Go back to sleep! When we headed out to visit a local park on the other side of town a fun-run was taking place – yes, drum beating and even dancing girls in bright coloured skimpy outfits. We have been told is is almost impossible to find a quiet room in central San Jose, unless you are paying serious money of course.
San Jose lies in a valley at an altitude of 1,172 metres surrounded by mountains. The weather during our visit was pleasant – sunny mornings, and generally cloudy afternoons with a refreshing breeze. The population of Costa Rica is 4.87 million, and the adult literacy rate is 97% ( Lonely Planet, 13th Edition, Oct 2018). Approximately sixty percent of Costa Rica’s population reside in and around San Jose. Initially we were unimpressed with the city, and I feel our total exhaustion and jet-lag coloured our attitude. I felt the city had a ramshackle run down back water feel. People sleeping rough on the streets…as in any capital city unfortunately.
San Jose is not a ‘grand’ city like Buenos Aries or Santiago with numerous large ornate buildings. However, our attitude altered with the time spent there, and I have to say I love the fact there is no siesta! San Jose, or Costa Rica, is just so sensible when compared to other South American countries. Restaurants here open at sensible hours such as 5-6pm, and close around 9-10pm. Whereas in other countries they are only opening at 9-10pm… Restaurants are open for lunch at times we are accustomed to in Australia, such as noon, and generally speaking the lunch crowd eases off around 1.30pm.
I also appreciate the numerous malls without cars, discovering unusual sculptures, the simplicity of streets being called first street, second street, third street and so on – not original, but very practical – the lack of high rise buildings, and the numerous parks and plazas with trees and park benches. While on the subject of parks, the park opposite our hostel was particularly productive bird wise. Some highlights were: Crimson-fronted Parakeet, Great-tailed Grackle (as common as Silver Gulls), Baltimore Oriel, Hoffman’s Woodpecker and Red-billed Pigeon amongst others. We enjoyed watching the Hoffman’s Woodpeckers coming and going from their nest with insects and grubs for their young.
Sculpture by Edgar Zuniga in Park National opposite Hostel Casa del Parque
Sculpture by Manuel Vargas M.
San Jose, as part of the city’s cultural activities, is showcasing sculptures by Jimenez Deredia. Twenty-seven large sculptures in either bronze or marble were situated throughout a car free mall stretching over a number of city blocks, as well as two plazas. The exhibition continues until 14 July 2019. Crowds appeared to be impressed with the sculptures; numerous people were taking photos of the sculptures, or themselves standing beside the sculptures. The following words are from a brochure explaining Deredia’s concepts:
‘A series of genesis that narrate time and space through the transformation of matter.
An idea of environmental sculpture to describe cosmic participation.
A spherical-circular vision of human beings.
An organic, symbolic-transmutational sculpture that describes cosmic participation.
A sculpture that makes us aware that we are stardust in transmutation’.
Here are some photos of Deredia’s sculptures:
On a Sunday morning walk to Parque Metropolitano La Sabana we walked along a major street that was being closed off for a fair. At 8am they were only setting up, but the skate boarders were already having a great time orienting the numerous jumps. The park turned out to not be as productive bird wise as we had hoped – I should mention we saw numerous Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Muscovy Ducks on the lake shore.
However it was very busy with a dirt bike competition and numerous groups of people just out enjoying the day. We met a German man with his son who told us he married a French woman and they had lived in San Jose for thirteen years. We commented about the fair along the main street, and he said the local government puts on free events for citizens every two to three months. On our return walk we discovered it was a fair for children – jumping castles of various shapes and sizes; a zip line – with a very long line stretching high above the crowd; a boxing ring; numerous games such as hop scotch; and of course the skate boarders were very busy. We noted no young female skate boarders, but saw young female boxers.
Our next destination is Guadalupe.