Wednesday, 20-08-2014. Day 1.
Mistakes Were Made
After three days of frantic last minute preparations (moving things to storage, selling off some worldly possessions, getting the house cleaned and painted and ready to rent [still available!]), we finally set off on our adventure.
Everything we will be using for an entire year fits into these three bags (plus we each have a backpack). Combined, they weigh 112 pounds (51 kilograms) total (37, 35, and 40). We were surprised that we didn't get hit with heavy bag charges, because they feel a lot heavier than that.
Our plane left LAX at 10:00 PM. The idea was we'd get some sleep on the plane, but that plan didn't work out as well as we wanted. So we arrived in Fort Lauderdale pretty tired. Jackie slept during the entire four-hour layover, but no one else did. Soon enough, though, we were on another plane, and after a two-and-a-half hour flight, we arrived in Costa Rica.
Clearing customs went very smoothly. We still had some American dollars, so we changed some of them at the Global Exchange, which is always a questionable idea. We knew we were going to get dinged (exchange rate was 13% lower than the going rate), but it made more sense to travel with a few colónes as well as dollars.
Our rental car, a Daihatsu Torios with four wheel drive (I took to calling her Dorothy), was more expensive than the initial quote. After adding liability insurance (not covered by the credit card), an additional $5 per day for an additional driver (which was silly because after rental we discovered it was a manual transmission and only I could drive it), and $65 for pre-paid gasolina. But still, with the tourist shuttle services at something like $39 per person from location to location, plus local shuttles at 3,000 colónes per person per trip, the rental car was still cheaper for a family of four. One or two travelers might be better off with shuttles, but for our family, it was more economical and gave us a little more freedom.
I prefer driving a manual transmission, but it's a pain in the stop-start traffic of Los Angeles, and a few years back I gave it all up to go automatic. So, naturally, I kept forgetting to push in the clutch white starting the car for the first day or so. But it was definitely better to refresh the memory here than New Zealand where (almost) everything will be in reverse (our camper van there will be manual).
Because the car was more expensive than we'd planned for, we opted out of the $15 a day GPS. This proved to be another questionable decision, because we didn't have the data roaming set up right on our phones with the T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan (that's been rectified), and, despite looking at maps of the area, didn't have the best idea where we were going.
Driving in central San Jose felt very familiar and was pretty easy to pick up, but once we got to the Santa Ana area, the roads were narrower with a good amount of traffic. We were glad we changed some dollars into colónes, though, because we needed 340 colónes for the toll into Santa Ana.
We drove around the Santa Ana section of San Jose looking for our hotel trying to find a location "50 meters north of the red cross." We saw a Hooters, a Walmart, an Office Depot, and a Backcountry store, but no hotel. We were regretting not getting the GPS. We were considering buying one at up at that Office Depot (likely cheaper than rending for eight days), but then Sam's brother started texting from Austin, Texas. So she asked him look up directions on Google and text them back. It was a crazy game of cartographic telephone.
After too long, we finally found the Studio Hotel, a nice place just 50 meters north of the red cross, as advertised. Once we saw it, that bit made perfect sense once we saw it.
After our initial experience with navigation, we decided to purchase prepaid (prepago) SIM cards may be a better idea than texting a relative in Texas. So we went over to the Claro store across the street and bought two rechargeable SIM cards with 1 GB of data each for 11,000 colónes (about $20), mainly so we could use the phones for navigation.At least I think they have 1 GB of data. My 80s era high school Spanish classes didn't cover such technology. In any case, it was cheaper than the $120 a rented GPS would have cost us.
By this time, we were all pretty hungry, So we made another mistake by eating lunch at Tacobar, a very tourist friendly restaurant. It had been one of our landmarks as we were looking for our hotel so we had a certain fondness for it, and it was nearby, but a light lunch was $42, pretty much what a typical Los Angeles restaurant would have cost. And that's how we realized, first-hand ...
Cost Rica is not Cheap
Despite the colón being a low-value currency (530 colónes is about $1.00 USD), many things don't cost any less than they do in the U.S. Later in the trip, a half tank of gas was 18,000 colónes (about $34), and the McDonald's value menu items are advertised on huge billboards for 650 colónes (about $1.25). And they have a 13% tax rate (impuestos) in San Jose (though we experienced 10% in some smaller towns).
Lessons learned, we all took a long nap after lunch. All of us, that is, except Jackie in a weird bit of turnaround. I woke up sometime later to the sound of the curtains opening and closing, she confessed that she had Googled "how to wake up your parents." One tip was to open and close the drapes. So that works.
Costa Rica does not buy into the whole daylight savings time business, and the sun sets about 6:00 p.m. So it was dark when we woke up. Feeling a bit sluggish, we (and when I say we, I mean the kids) went swimming in the chilly hotel pool (far too cold for the adults). Then we went back to the room, showered, and went to bed.
It had been a long day of travel, but our first night of this adventure, except for our navigation woes, wasn't too different from the typical family vacation experience.
Tomorrow, perhaps this would change.
- Hours flying: 8.5
- Hours in airports: 6
- Hours driving: 2
- Lost: 1 pair of sunglasses
- Almost lost: 1 Hello Kitty eyemask