Costa Rica – Early Morning, Flight Out and First Day

Well, we’re off!

photo of Jack with Frankie on flight to Costa Rica

Jack with our seat-mate, Frankie, on the flight to Costa Rica

I assume we’re somewhere over the Caribbean right now, winging towards San Jose. It’s been pretty uneventful so far…which is fortunate, since about the only thing I can think of that would make a plane flight – even an international one – “eventful” would be a hijacking or engine failure. I don’t think I want that kind of eventful. I suppose Jack and I could’ve been seated next to a celebrity or something, but those folks would probably be up in first class, not back here in steerage with the rest of us air-cows. In fact, the person we did get seated next to was a student from the United States named Frankie. He was going to college in Costa Rica, and had been flying home visiting his family.

Anyhoo, I apparently forgot to set a special alarm this morning, so we woke up late – but not very late. We’d planned to get up at 6am, so thank heavens I was restless enough to get up at 6:30 naturally. Jack, however, didn’t. He cried and dragged his feet and for a moment or two I thought he was going to have an old-school meltdown. I think we must have just barely escaped it.

Eventually, he pulled it together, and seemed excited after that. Maybe a little too excited. I know this is his first really big trip since we went to Tahoe a couple of years ago, and that probably accounts for most of his spazziness, but it was like having a ball of electricity in the back seat of the car as we drove to the airport.

The flight? Well, I already said the flight was uneventful, what else is there to say? From the airplane window, our first glimpse of Costa Rica looked quite a bit more brown and less green than I was expecting, but that’s due in large part to the time of year, I’m guessing. At least that’s what everyone told us. We were visiting at the tail-end of Costa Rica’s rather short (only a few months) dry season. This was intentional, our coming at this time of year. It rains hard quite a bit, every day, during the summer/fall months here, and while I love the green, I don’t want it raining on me most of every day.

We got off the plane and had one of our only sour experiences of the whole trip almost immediately. Partly due to the stimulation of a new environment (we’re actually IN Costa Rica!), and partly due to language difficulties and maybe some to just plain missing it, we got in the wrong line off the plane to go through immigration (migracion). I wasn’t even aware that there were two separate lines: one was for visitors and the other was for returning citizens coming back to Costa Rica from abroad. Of course, we managed to get into the second line. That wasn’t the problem; the problem came when we realized our mistake, which wasn’t until we were near the front of the line (where we could see the sign that said “Nacionales” (citizens). We waited until one of the booths from the nearby visitors line was open and we walked up to it, thinking the officer would see that we’d come from the wrong line and figure it wasn’t a big deal.

Apparently not. Immigration Officer Unfriendly (“Migración Burócrata Hostil” en Español) did indeed see we had come from the incorrect line, but instead of checking us through, he asked us repeatedly why we’d gotten in the wrong line. I guess “it was a mistake” wasn’t good enough for him, because he said there was “nothing he could do,” and that Jack and I would have to go back through the other line – in other words, go to the back of the line for visitors. For a brief moment, I considered pushing the issue, but thankfully, I remembered the words of our travel agent, Eliot Greenspan (author of the Frommer’s guide to Costa Rica): “you’re in Latin America. Slow down.” Good advice. And slowing down means not only taking things at a slower pace, but not getting bent out of shape. So we just waited in the line again, and got through with no further problems.

Our agenda said Eliot had arranged for a man named Francisco Soto to pick us up at the airport. After waiting through the unusually long (though fairly fast-moving) customs line, we walked outside to see a group of those drivers holding signs. Looking around, I saw a youngish guy holding one with my name! Francisco* He drove us from the airport through central San Jose to the Hotel Grano de Oro, our first, brief destination on our trip before heading up into the mountains of Arenal.

* Or so we thought, until the very end of our trip. Turned out Francisco had sent his adult son to pick us up that day. When the real Francisco came to pick us up in Manuel Antonio at the end of our trip for the drive back to the San Jose airport, he never told us why he’s sent his son that first day; maybe he had a conflicting schedule, or something. But at any rate, although the son (Philip, I think) never told us he wasn’t his father, he was quite pleasant. Actually, they both were.