We wandered back and forth over the border with Panama, bored stiff.
It's so often the case, that borders which have such strict formalities
often forget the obvious. There was nothing to stop me walking over the
frontier with my suitcase full of drugs, and just depositing it in our
bus, which was parked some five hundred meters inside Costa Rican
territory. Alternatively I could have simply got in a taxi and driven
Instead, we all walked back to the interminable queue, joined the ones
who were keeping our place, waited our turn, and entered Costa Rica in
the official manner.
It looks like a nice place. One thing impressed us all immediately. The
vegetation was rampant. Everywhere we looked were trees burgeoning.
There were cocoanut plantations, there were forests. There was greenery
as far as the eye could see. The forests came right down to the beach,
and leaned over lagoons. The mountains were shrouded in cloud, the
lowlands basked in the tropical sun. Houses were hidden under trees.
Nowhere did we see anything approaching a tall building. Houses were
bungalows. I saw nothing over two stories high all along the main road.
I had initially thought this journey would be easy because I'd heard
about the Pan American Highway. In my naivety I had assumed this was a
modern dual carriageway that swooped down from Toronto to Tierra del
Fuego. Apparently it is merely a set of signposts. The road was like a
rutted village byway through most of Panama. It improved in Costa Rica,
but was still a small single carriageway, barely able to take large
Costa Rica had been my number one destination initially, but for the
best part of a day we motored through the country, and it seemed empty
of people. Trees were everywhere, maybe hiding small towns, maybe not.
I get the impression that the best of the country is in the coastal
tourist towns. I, unfortunately, was being taken by bus to the capital,
After the lushness of the countryside, the entry into what seemed to be
downtown San Jose was one heck of a culture shock. We were decanted at
some bus station, which looked like a chicken farm in Hicksville. I
looked around. We had to be somewhere in the suburbs, and clearly we
were on the wrong side of the tracks. This was a dump. I collared a
taxi and asked to be taken downtown to a hotel.
We drove through rough streets, alongside tumble-down shacks, past
scruffy inhabitants, with people sleeping on doorsteps, under bridges,
or simply on the sidewalk. There was rubbish strewn everywhere. I hoped
things would start to improve as we got to the town centre, but not a
bit of it. My driver put me down outside a hotel. The area looked like
"Is this the town centre?" I asked.
"Town centre down that street," pointed the driver.
"How far? How many kilometres?"
"Oh no," he said. "Five hundred metres."
I looked around. I am half a kilometre from the centre? Wow. I walked
down the street. I passed what looked like a bomb site, then came a
line of really low grade housing. They looked like two up-two down
shacks by the railway yards. I kept walking.
Next I passed what looked like a charity hostel for the homeless. There
was a queue a couple of hundred yards long down the street. On the
other side of the road were people sleeping on the kerb, under
cardboard, on doorsteps, and on patches of waste land. I am now
supposedly a couple of hundred yards from the centre of a capital city.
I kept walking. Suddenly I came upon what must be the centre. Everyone
I asked claimed it was indeed the centre. It consisted of half a dozen
blocks spread up a short hill, part of it pedestrianised. I asked a
policeman for directions to a hotel. He looked puzzled, and gave me
some directions which turned out to be false, and I just stood there
Is this really it? After asking half a dozen people for a hotel I was
led to what appeared to be the only one. It was a total dump, and cost
me $12 for the night.
I hassled the guy at the hotel reception. "This is the city centre.
Where the heck are the more expensive hotels?" I was trying to be
polite. It was clear the hotel I was in was only fit for a slightly
better class of down-and-out.
"The Americans dont come any more," he said. "They go to the sea. They
dont come here, so there are no hotels any more."
I was tempted to get a taxi to the airport right then and there, but it
was getting late. The walls were made of something approaching
cardboard. The lavatory had no seat. The sink had only one tap, and the
bed looked as if it had been sitting in a warehouse for fifty years. I
was loathe to get into it. I eventually slept on top of it, rather than
I was up at six a.m., went straight to the taxi rank and hired a cab to
take me to the airport. This has to be the quickest turn-round I have
ever made in a country. I couldn't leave fast enough. Obviously I
should have tried some of the tourist spots, but I had a bad taste in
The airport is rather nice. I had an excellent breakfast, and managed
to get a flight out to Managua within the hour.
All I can say is, dont ever go to San Jose. If you do. Stay at a hotel
by the airport, and get the hell out of the city as soon as you can.
Streuth, what a dump!
Next week I'll introduce you to Nicaragua.