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2008-01-28 - 4:31 p.m.

Today is the Australia Day public holiday, and I think I'm going to spend the rest of it downloading songs that featured in the Hottest 100 (mainly because I don't know the majority of them) and trying to write about Costa Rica.

So going all the way back to Thursday 3rd January, I left Jo's house for the airport at about 3.30pm, in quite heavy rain, and we got to the airport sometime after 5pm for a flight that ended up getting delayed until about 7.30pm. I didn't really do anything that day, but I've decided I like late night flights (I think the flight from LA to San Jose left at about 10.30pm), because by the time you're in the air you're actually ready to sleep. We touched down in San Jose at about 7am, and my impressions as we came in to land were of how mountainous and green the surrounding areas were.

Whenever I read about crime in cities, part of me wants to dismiss it as alarmist, while the other part of me becomes probably overcautious. In my two visits to New York, I've never ventured into the Bronx, and each time I went to Harlem I was very paranoid about taking photos and checking my guidebook. True, the paranoia surrounding guidebook checking is only partly because being an obvious tourist makes you a target for theft- the other part is that being an obvious tourist makes you a target for ridicule. The information I had was that violent crime is rare but rising, and that pickpocketing and snatch-and-run are extremely commonplace. As a result, when we first explored the city, I put both cameras, all our credit cards except for one of Jo's which would have caused the least inconvenience to cancel, our passports and most of my cash in the hotel safe and went for a walk still being paranoid about Jo's handbag. Once we had met our Intrepid Group and Tour Leader I was more comfortable taking photos, and by the time we were back in San Jose after the tour it was like walking around Sydney (lets face it, there's probably just as much chance of all that in Sydney, it's just a comfort zone thing). I think to truly let go and enjoy travelling you kind of have to accept that even the worst case scenario isn't that bad, and that if you're sensible it's unlikely to happen. If you get into an unmarked taxi in Mexico City you can end up being held somewhere for ransom, but it's not hard to make sure you only ever get official taxis from a taxi rank. If the worst case scenario is having your valuables stolen, you have to ask yourself- what's the point of having valuables if all you do with them is hide them in a safe. iPods are a godsend for long bus trips, and if you get halfway around the globe with one and then it gets stolen well, Que Sera Sera. I got some great photos on my trip, and I'm glad I was not so paranoid of theft that I never took it out.

So on our first day/night, we stayed at a fairly posh hotel by Costa Rican standards- and we stayed there again on our last night in Costa Rica, which was nice after some of the basic accommodation (an essential part of the experience of course) we encountered during the week. We slept a lot of the first day, but still managed to have lunch at a "soda" (very simple diner style place) and ordered in Spanish (we got very lazy with our Spanish very quickly when we realised that wherever we went there was always someone who spoke pretty good English around, and that even if we started a conversation in Spanish, we'd have no idea what they were saying back to us). At night we went to El Pueblo- which could maybe considered the Entertainment Quarter, in that there was a selection of restaurants, bars and clubs around. Had a really good meat plate (I learned quickly that cheap lobster was on a lot of menus but rarely actually available)and then we ended up at a pub playing everything from The Police to Britney Spears on a video jukebox, and it was pretty much just Jo and I downstairs, chatting to the bar guy who was super keen to practice his English, while upstairs there were a handful more people, but on the whole it was pretty quiet. We had 11 drinks between us (including cocktails, and all up I think it came to less than $35, which we were quite impressed with). I think we may have got back to our hotel at about 1am.

Sat 5/1: Initially our Intrepid meet-up time was midday at the Hotel Vesuvio (where we stayed on the Saturday night each week), but it was changed to 2pm at some point. We checked out of the Clarion, checked into Vesuvio and then went down to get some lunch and check out some markets before heading back for our rendezvous. Our guide, Silvia, was friendly, enthusiastic and I think younger than any of the people on the tour. Jo and I got along very well with her, but I think she had trouble dealing with some of the older, more opinionated members of the group. I guess when you're a guide you figure that the people who have signed up are more than happy for you to run the show and make a lot of the decisions and recommendations, but at least a few of the people wanted to make last minute decisions based on exactly how they felt at the time- a fair enough point of view when it's your holiday but kind of hard to work with.

So, the first two people we met were Robert- about fiftyish, from Melbourne, and he'd come with his father-in-law Bruce who was 78 (!) Bruce was a character- Aussie-as-they-come, and not a day went by when he didn't wear his national pride on his sleeve, either quite literally with an Australia patch, or the old cork hat and a t-shirt of the flag. It's refreshing that that sort of person can still be quite open minded and appreciative of the world outside his doorstep.

Next were Margaret and Michael, probably in their late sixties. I'd describe Michael as an over-opinionated philanthropist- he's done a lot of good with a lot of less fortunate people from all walks of life, but has opinion about why each and every one of them isn't enjoying the kind of things we take for granted, and will go on about it ad nauseum. Plus they had old person syndrome- never listening to what was being said and then seeming frustrated when they didn't know what was going on. Bruce on the other hand always needed clarification of what was happening next but was much more easygoing about it.

Catrina (actually Catriona, but it seems to be the done thing to shorten that name by just the one letter) was a solo traveller, I'm guessing late twenties, from Epping and in finance- she'd had a bad (or at least lukewarm) experience travelling in a tour group before but figured she'd give it another shot, seeing as there are a lot of places in the world that a single woman traveller won't feel 100% comfortable. Deb, mid-to-late thirties, from Perth, working in L&D, also travelling by herself, in the middle of a long trip that was taking her as far as South America and Antarctica. Both Deb and Catrina had significant others back home, and stuck together (not in an antisocial way or anything) for most of the trip. There were four other people on the tour that we were going to meet before setting off for La Fortuna the next morning.

Saturday afternoon Silvia gave us a quick tour of San Jose (her mother still lives there but it's fairly obvious that Silvia doesn't rate it highly as a tourist city, compared to her current home of La Fortuna and the natural beauty of the other places that the tour was taking us to). The older folk then did some shopping, while Catrina, Deb, Jo and I grabbed a coffee (and Catrina grabbed lunch), before doing some shopping ourselves and then heading back to the hotel.

We were going to go back out for dinner with Catrina and Deb, but they ended up being too tired, so Jo and I (after much difficulty communicating with a taxi driver) went to dinner by ourselves at a local hangout (good atmosphere, food nothing to write home about but by no means bad). We were probably home by 9.30pm, and after our late night the night before and the need to be up at about 6.30am the next morning we decided an early night was definitely on the cards.


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