Story Hour In the neighborhood /Hotel Aranjuez/ San Jose, Costa Rica

    Towards the end of any visit, many travelers sort through high points, low points, things that didn’t work out, things that went well. If you keep a journal, write a blog, take photos, or go with someone, you have a way to remember what you saw,did, thought during a domestic or international sojourn. Traveling solo is tricky because you get off the beaten track, waste time and energy, spend needlessly, don’t see or do things you should. You miss the pleasure of other’s company and chances to share memorable experiences. This morning, on a wall in a local San Jose coffee shop, just under the  cash register, is comic strip wallpaper. The wallpaper is a series of square boxes with pictures and words in each square. This comic strip features a hard boiled detective narrative and has gangsters shooting each other when words fail to change behavior. Each little square, on the wall, advances the story towards a dramatic end. Scotttreks tells its quiet stories the same way as this comic strip, one post at a time, one square at a time, a hundred to three hundred words maximum,building a little encapsulation of each travel locale, it’s people. places, things and happenings. When I look back at the places I go and things I do, they don’t always remember the same. My memories, it is clear, don’t always change in the same direction as my mind wanders. Costa Rica is far from a prosaic gangster story.  This country is much more a nature poem.  

Hemingway Inn/ San Jose, Costa Rica Barrio Amon

    In walks, I see other places I might like to stay in San Jose, Costa Rica. This Inn has been passed before and always merits a second glance. From the outside, it appears Hemingway really might have resided in one of the upstairs rooms and composed at a little desk with an old typewriter and pages of manuscripts edited and reworked with handwritten notes in the margins. From the outside, I have always thought this place would be expensive but a yard sign says rooms start at forty dollars a night. As much as I like the Hotel Aranjuez, this little Inn, even by peeking through the front door at a winding stairway and a front desk with photos and paintings on the wall behind it, seems grand. The Hemingway Inn requires research, so, on line, back at the Hotel Aranjuez, I do my study.. Reviews of the Hemingway Inn go from enthusiastic, to lukewarm, to cold. You always find that, but somewhere in the middle you find that this Inn is clean, old, the staff is helpful and accommodating, the decor is quirky and the location is close to things to see and do in an older part of San Jose , rough around the edges. Reading reviews, its owner is mentioned as a writer and a room inside is named after Hemingway. Some night, when I lodge here, I can sit at the bar late and listen to stories of other travelers, then go upstairs to bed and wake in the morning to the sounds of sparrows and roosting birds in the trees outside my window. If Hemingway didn’t stay here, he should have.

Rocking and Rolling The Earth shakes

    Tourist season is blooming and booming. Tour companies pack avid nature lovers into Costa Rica’s National Parks, visit rain forests, hike deep into volcanic arenas, provide vivid sights for photographers, bird watchers and naturalists. You can do zip lines, ride up and down aerial trams, trek up steep mountainsides, or river run to your heart’s content in a natural paradise. Yet, there is trouble in paradise too. This morning, early, my bed moves unexpectedly. . Earthquakes also visit Costa Rica throughout the year. Some call Costa Rica a Garden of Eden. When my room shakes, I don’t think about Paradise. I think about finding the closest exit.  

Rainbow outside Hotel Aranjuez/San Jose No one out except those who got up early

    This rainbow is out early.  It is Sunday and two tourists with big cameras are walking in the middle of the street ahead of me with lens in the shooting position,  talking French. This rainbow is beginning to lose its colors but you can still see its bands; yellow, blue, green and pink semicircles. It is difficult to see the precise end of the legs of the rainbow’s arc with the city in the way. If you were a cowboy you would just lasso the rainbow, climb up,ride, and then slip off with a whoopee. This rainbow is gone in a half hour, and a little man in a green suit and bowler cap, ahead of me, carries a bag of money in each little hand. I hear him laughing as he clicks his heels down the street looking to buy a round of drinks for everybody at his favorite pub.  

National Museum, San Jose Jail exhibit

    The Costa Rican National Museum is not world winning architecture. It is a renovated Spanish fort, and, for that reason, has little frills. Inside you see thick walls, peer through lookout holes in towers, pass through heavy wooden doors with huge iron hinges and visualize old days of conquest. From our guide, we learn that Spanish dominance in Costa Rica was limited because there wasn’t much gold. The gold that did exist was placer gold from rivers and streams, not the huge deposits mined in Peru or Mexico. There was no Inquisition here and the Costa Rica fight for independence was short. Costa Rican life revolves around weather, nature, rain forests, co-operation, community, family. There is no standing army and the police force doesn’t disappear people.There are over a million students in the free University system, the population is literate,their government provides a safety blanket. One of the exhibits in the fort is an old Spanish jail, where misfits and law breakers, political prisoners, and trouble makers were confined. When you want to hurt someone, you take away freedom of movement, put them in a non-stimulating environment, control the food they eat, when they sleep, who they see. You are always going to need jails but graffiti on the cell walls say you won’t  ever be able to shut people up by locking them up. Even Ancient Rome, powerhouse of the ancient world, couldn’t stop dirty jokes and rude pictures scratched on public bathroom stalls. Hearing just what we want is not always what we need.

San Jose, National Theatre Tour Points of interest

    Checklist traveling has advantages. You go to guidebooks, visit sites and attractions, book  tours with an English speaking guide, get familiar with places deemed newsworthy by those in the know. You see five to seven points of interest, stop and walk, listen to an oral history given by your guide, get picked up at your hotel and dropped off. You don’t worry about driving, parking, fees. Often, you find places you want to return to on your own time. One of the stops on this city tour is the Costa Rican National Theater that was built by coffee growers in Costa Rica in the 1800’s to showcase their progressive country. Coffee has been the heart of this economy,forever, but it now shares importance with tech, banking and tourism. It takes more cards than one to make a good poker hand and most successful people and countries have more than one revenue stream. An expedition moment that stands out is a young man holding an umbrella over his significant other’s head while she checks her cell phone in the rain. Which sex is boss is a question with plenty of wiggle . Looking back, as we turn a corner and head for the next tour attraction,I see the young man still holding her umbrella, patiently, gently. Men talk to their stockbrokers. Women talk to their hairdressers. Patience is a good quality to have when there are women in your life.

Tour Day at Hotel Aranjuez Just waiting for the bus

    Half of the world is in winter with temps in the teens, or worse. Here, it is seventies with humidity but the sun shines more often than it hides. Jose, at the front desk, says it is busy in San Jose most of the year and his hotel has more visitors from France than anywhere else.This morning there is a large French group departing, part of a tour that will get on a bus and go somewhere else for a few days, then a new location, then another. Being a low cost provider, this hotel fills a need for tour generators who need to keep prices down to capture travelers and market share. There is no reason this hotel formula wouldn’t work anywhere. You buy a few houses next to one another, plumb in bathrooms and other refinements, and presto – you have a hotel that is like staying in a house. The furnishings and decorations are colorful, indigenous, typical of Costa Rica. Even if you wouldn’t want to live in an old wooden house at home with bright paintings and door handles from the twenties, it makes perfect sense here. If I could take this hotel home in my suitcase and get through Customs, I surely would. It is simpler though to leave it and come visit when I have a hankering. The perfect trip is where you return with less than you left with, have a full stomach, and don’t start something you don’t intend to finish. If the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else, the weather is better.

Handstands Friday afternoon

    The Temple of Music belongs in a different time and place. This edifice is in a downtown San Jose, Costa Rica city park where music is performed and people congregate. This afternoon there is a group of young gymnasts practicing handstands under the temple dome, entertaining those who are passing through. A young man with tattoos seems to be the leader, and, while I am watching, he is instructing another young man who is practicing handstands with wooden blocks set on the ground directly in front of him. While doing a handstand, the student lifts his right hand off the right block and supports himself with his left hand. Then, he drops his right hand back to the right block, supports himself, and lifts his left hand in the air, off the left block. It takes practice to learn to stand on one hand. Passersby take pictures and one girl says she only wishes she could do half the things these gymnasts are practicing. Pigeons, roosting on the outside edge of the dome, an upside down bowl, are nonchalant. They don’t have to work on their balance and keep people below them on their toes.

Namu Folk Art Gallery, San Jose Masks, arrows and color

    This little gift shop is not far from the Holiday Inn in Old San Jose, a hop skip and jump from the Municipal Square, a stone’s throw from the Gold and Jade Museo’s, several blocks from casinos. Browsing, I come across an authentic bow with arrows with hard wood points and bird feather quills for stability and distance. Woven baskets from Panama and crazy masks peer down upon me as I shop the shop.There are imitations of pre-Colombian pottery on the higher shelves, safe from little hands, and carvings of birds and animals made from the Tigua nut. I buy the bow and  arrows and make arrangements to have them shipped home, paid for with my credit card. It is rather amazing that someone in a foreign country would give credit to someone they just met and will most likely never meet again. Combining trust with money has always been a touchy job.. How the hell did those ancient hunters hit running animals in rough terrain, in questionable weather, with these questionable weapons? Their dreams were lots deeper than mine, all about life, death, spirits and Gods. I’m going to hang the bow and arrows on one of my living room walls to remind me how easy I have it. There are some days I can’t even hit the ground with my hat.  

Eating for Eatings Sake Breakfast Buffet, Hotel Aranjuez

    One of the draws of this San Jose, Costa Rica hotel is a serve yourself buffet breakfast. It is not only a buffet breakfast with choices, but you get famous Costa Rican coffee, deep, dark, flavorful, in a big cup. The breakfast runs from seven to nine every morning. Guests pick up their meal pass at the front desk, present it at the dining room door, and bring their appetites. There is just about anything here a picky breakfast eater could want. You have rice and beans, omelets cooked on a grill with your favorite ingredients, papaya, pineapple, bananas, bread and sweetbreads, ham and cheese slices you can turn into sandwiches, fried banana slices, juices, hot coffee or tea, and other chef specialties to fill gaps on your plate. You can go back multiple times. The times I have stayed here, in past visits, the menu has been different each day,but always with an eye on basics. Travelers need a good breakfast. Growing hungry in the morning, halfway up a rain forest mountain trail, is not where you want to be. This morning is gratifying because food in Uruguay was not one of its stronger points.. Knowing what you are going to get at the Hotel Aranjuez buffet, and getting it the way you like it, is worth getting up at six thirty in the morning.  
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