Costa Rica: a rocky start, Eduardo saves the day

After months of anticipation, planning, and booking flights, lodging and driver, we got up too late to get to Atlanta in time for the flight to San Jose. Our flight was scheduled for about 9, and we woke up around 5, which I thought would have been enough time, but we just couldn’t get moving fast enough to get to the airport. We reached the Continental counter about 8:30, and when we told the agent our flight time she smoothly shifted gears from a routine morning check-in to disaster control. “Well, I can route you through Newark, getting in about 8:30 tonight.” Good news, except that it meant we’d get to San Jose too late to make the 3 hour drive over dirt roads to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, our paid lodging for the night. We agreed to the change and started thinking through contingency plans. I called Leslie, our arranged driver, and found that it’s a lot harder to be understood over the phone than it is to repeat Spanish phrases while listening to Rosetta Stone. I was fairly sure that Leslie understood we’d be getting in to San Jose at 8:30 instead of noon (he kept saying “no problem, I’ll wait for you”), but I called Eduardo to ask him to confirm our arrival time with Leslie, and to ask for suggestions for an overnight in San Jose. He called me back in about 30 minutes with reservations at La Orchidea in Alajuela (close to the airport, see map) and we accepted with relief. Our trip had hardly started and we were already harried, desperate travelers.

We never went outside the Newark airport, but the dreary cold weather provided a vivid contrast to the lush tropics we were anticipating. Our flight got into San Jose on time, and we were greeted by a sign proclaiming Costa Rica “the happiest country in the world!”. Customs and immigration went smoothly (no crowds and a laid back attitude to the process) and we found our way to ground transportation, still slightly worried that Leslie might not have understood the change. There was no reason for concern: we quickly spotted a solid, tanned man holding a cardboard sign reading “Hilliard” in the crush of taxi and limo drivers just outside the terminal.

Our only photo of Leslie Corrales, our driver for the visit.

Quick introductions (“…and this is my cousin”), we loaded our luggage, and we were off through the dark, winding streets of Alajuela.

After a few twists and turns Leslie pulled up to a tall gate set into a high walled compound, spoke to the guard, and we were admitted into the parking lot of La Orchideas. For those used to the higher personal and property security standards found in large cities, the walls and barbed wire of Costa Rica probably wouldn’t seem that unusual, but coming from a small town in suburban Georgia it was a bit of a surprise. La Orchidea proved to be a comfortable small hotel: our room was simple, with tile floors, a bright orange bathroom, and A/C, and after the adventures of the day we slept well.

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