Saturday 2/28/09- Limon, Costa Rica.
We were up by 6:00 A.M. It was warm and humid out with a light rain. The ship had berthed in Limon, Costa Rica early this morning. We prepped for the day, breakfasted in the Horizon’s cafe and assembled in the Princess Theater by 7:15 A.M. for our day long tour to San Jose, high in the mountains of Central Costa Rica. It would be a three hour bus ride each way.
We followed a crew member off the ship to the wharf area where we got on to a large Swiss Tours bus for the trip. Our guide, Zelma introduced herself and her wheel man Bosco. It was the beginning of a day long narration of the country’s history, geogra[phical and social progress. Zelma kept us enthralled like a good kindergarten teacher who leads her class all day.
First “discovered” and named by Christopher Columbus in 1502, Costa Rica (Rich Coast in Spanish) had declared her independence from Spain in 1821. Populated by 4.2 million souls, the country is composed of seven provinces. Its ethnic mix is diversified. Native Indians had mixed with the Spanish, a sizable number of Chinese, who had been imported in the late 1800’s to build a rail road and a large population of Jamaicans, who themselves are a varied mix of peoples. It made for a melange of cultures and a gentler nature where all races and creeds are more readily accepted.
Physically, the country stradles Central America. Her Pacific Coast is sunny and warm and draws huge numbers of tourists. The Caribbean side is warm and wet. The central portion of the country is mountainous with peaks rising to three 8,000 foot range. Her Capital, San Jose lies in a mountain Valley in the center of the country at the 5,000 ft. level in the “”cloud forests.” The Caribbean side lies in a “:rain forest” and is much wetter. There are many volcanoes in Costa Rica, three of whom are still considered active.
Botanically, the country is a lush treasure house of plants and vegetation. Banana and coffee plantations abound. Orchids, pineapples and a variety of other agricultural products make Costa Rica comparatively prosperous among her neighbors.
As the bus emerged from the warm and humid drizzle of the rain forest, the air began to clear. Steep, heavily forested jungles carpet the landscape. Twenty five per cent of Costa Rica is set aside as National
Parks in a forever wild concept. The homes along the roadsides looked sturdy enough. Cars and trucks conga lined up into the mountains with us. The highway we were on runs from coast to coast, from Limon to Punta Reinas, and is sometimes called the “dry canal,” comparing it to the Panama Canal. Trucks are everywhere.
The scenery about us was almost primeval. Wisps of clouds drifted amidst the steep mountain valleys giving the countryside a “Jurassic Park” appearance. Everything was lush and green. Huge ferns bedecked the roadsides. Native used them for “umbrellas” when they were caught out walking in the rain.
Zelma’s narration was continuing and informative. The coffee plantations needed 45 pounds of beans to yield 5 pounds of the country’s highly prized coffee. The pineapples took 24 months to mature and had three distinct grades of quality depending on the amount of sugar in them at the time they were harvested. The bananas matured continuously and are sweet to the taste.
As we traversed the mountains at the 8,000 foot level, we entered Trillaurillo National Park. The ferns are dense along the road sides. The area hosts over 800 species of bird life, free roaming jaguars, three toed sloths and a whole host of jungle fauna. Though attractive to look at, one would not want to have to walk through these lush green jungles without being armed with a knowledge of them and sufficient armaments to fend off whatever came at you in the wild. It is pretty but potentially lethal.
We crossed over many good sized rivers. All had the stone river beds similar to those you see in Alaska, from heavy mountain runoffs. One river had a clearly discernible red rust running down one side. It was sulfur run off from the volcanoes high above. A Botanist and zoologist would be enthralled by this ride.
As we approached San Jose, the businesses and homes increased markedly. This is a city of one million people high in the mountains. Just North of the city, there is a substantial settlement of ex-patriot Americans attracted to the country's mild weather, political stability and relative affluence. Costa Rica has a 95% literacy rate and a substantial number of its students graduate from University and remain in Costa Rica to work. The natives like living here and are proud of their industry and level of success.
It was a cool 67 degrees out as We stopped first on Calle 2, in central San Jose. There, we toured the century old Opera House, the Teatro Nacional. The aging stone exterior cloaks a lush interior of polished
woods and marble that would do justice to any ancient European museum or arts facility. The plush seats and boxes are a source of pride to Costa Ricans. The upper seats or “chicken boxes, of the U shaped, three story collection of seats are reserved for citizens at no cost. Opera here is meant for everyone. The hall is also used for most large official gatherings
and presentations in San Jose.
From the Teatro Nacional, we rode our bus a few blocks over to the Museo Nacional. It i the sight of a former army compound. We could still see the bullet impacts on the cratered exterior. Cost Rica had abolished its army in 1948 after a defeated coup attempt. The low slung stone building now houses a collection of gold, jewelry and many artifacts from the the areas past. It has a feel of the old Getty Art Museum in Santa Monica , Ca. Some of the pre Colombian stone furniture and carvings were over 2,000 years old, bespeaking a sophicticated culture that had flourished here long before the Europeans arrived. We wandered the rooms and enjoyed Zelma’s narration. The women is well educated and a veritable font of cultural, geographic and social information on Costa Rica and her peoples. She had been a former air line stewardess and was married to a pilot. She much enriched the trip for all of us.
The central court of the museum is flowered with cacti plants and bougainvillea and has a vista of the mountains and valley beyond. In the center of the courtyard, sit several huge limestone and granite boulders. Enormous in size and perfect round, they have a series of stories attached to them, some believable some not. To me it looked like they had been spewed from the huge lava tubes eons ago. But I will think up a better story for them at some later point.
From the Archeological Museum Zelma took us into the city’s University district. Colorful graffiti on some of the areas rocks and bridges was an expression of student opinions on the issues of the day. Costa Ricans have a long history of freedom of speech and use it often to express their displeasure on any issue they don’t agree with.
We pulled up to an attractive two story building in the district. A former residence, it now houses the “Le Chandelier” restaurant. It was well ordered and affluent looking. We filed into an upper room where places had been set and a buffet laid out for us. We sat with Richard and Ann Brown, from Brighton England, whom we had formerly met on the cruise. An attractive feed of rice, salad and chicken or beef were both well presented and tasty. We had coffee or tea along with sparkling water. This restaurant is a keeper which we well enjoyed. I complimented the hosts in my limited Spanish as we left.
From the restaurant, we traversed the busy city streets, They were clogged with automobile traffic. We found a spot in the city’s arts district
where we spent 30 minutes shopping, at the La Rueda gift store, for very well made and attractive souvenirs. There were several arts stores in the area and NOT ONE STREET VENDOR. Mary and I walked the surrounding streets looking for an internet station. There were two, but the internet was down apparently for the whole area that afternoon.
We were enjoying seeing this very Spanish city high in the mountains of Costa Rica. At 2:00 P.M. we set off for Limon and our ship, It was already a long day for us and we were tiring.
The bus made its way from busy San Jose back up into the smoky cloud forests high above. We watched the exotic scenery pass by us as we traversed the mountain passes.
Zelma continued her pleasant narration. In Costa Rica a security force of 11,000 police has replaced the army. The country has over 45,000 teachers to educate her young. Salaries are good here and workers pay a 9% social security tax so that they can retire at age 68 with good old age pensions.
We heard of the history and harvesting of coffee beans, bananas and pineapples. Anything you wanted to would grow well in the country’s lush volcanic soil. The influx of wealthy foreigners had driven the price of land and housing very high. A hectare of land a good house would now cost almost $100,000 in U.S dollars.
The driver pulled along the roadside so we could all look up and watch a three toed sloth hanging from a roadside tree. It was an amusement for us. Next, We stooped at an actual banana plantation. It had a comical appearance. The banana trees sit on mounds of land with small ditches around them for drainage. Hanging from their limbs, the bananas bunches are encased in blue plastic bags to promote moisture retention and growth. The blue plastic bags hanging from the trees are an oddity. The driver brought back a large limb of a banana plant. In each pod, were rows of tiny lady finger bananas that would mature in different stages for a year round harvest. We sampled the small bananas and found them sweet and delicious.
As the bus descended back into the rain forest of the coastal areas, we could see large puddles where the rain had fallen. Finally, at 5:00 P.M. we pulled into the harbor area and the welcome sight of the Island Princess at her berth. We thanked our guide an driver and tipped them liberally for their wonderful days experience. They really had made Costa Rica come alive for us the entire day. These Swiss Tour folks hire some very competent and affable guides.
Aboard ship we made our way to the cabin to freshen up and get ready for dinner. At 6:30 P.M. we watched the huge liner Oceania leave port. She was berthed next to us. Hundreds of her passengers and ours waved back and forth to the European chant of “Ole, Ole Ole,” It was a nice tradition of tour ships at departure. We read for a time, showered and made ready for dinner. The Island Princess left port soon after and we watched the harbor and the many ships in port as we made our way into the Caribbean, bound for Jamaica.
At 8:00 P.M., in the Bordeaux room, we were again seated with Shelly and Susan from Toronto. We were joined by two coupes from the Cleveland area, Marv and Sandy, Ralph and Bonnie. We had a pleasant and wide ranging discussion of travel and touring with all of our dinner
Escargot, corn chowder, salad, pasta with mussels and an apple torte, accompanied with a glass of Cabernet, made for another pleasant dining experience. Princess feeds her guests well. After dinner we realized that we were tired from the day. We returned to the cabin to read ( Brass Verdict- Michael Connelly ) and surrender to the sandman. It had been a long but enjoyable day in Costa Rica. We would hope to return here anytime to further enjoy the country .