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Friday, November 19, 2010

Jaco Highway Blowout!

How to change a bus tire!

We seem to be learning about the bus system here in Costa Rica the hard way, through trial and error or occasionally accident and blowout. Trial and error is when you take what you thought was the San Jose bus from Atenas, only to find yourself heading into Alajuela. That happened a week ago when Layne and I were going into the city to see my dentist and to have my new computer glasses adjusted. Instead of making the turn onto the Panamerican Highway, which leads directly into San Jose, we kept going straight toward the city of Alajuela. Since we had an appointment with my dentist and the shuttle driver was due to pick us up at a particular bus stop, Layne and I looked at each other in dismay, wondering if we had boarded the wrong bus and might be late for our ride. But no, as we soon learned from another rider, the 11:00 a.m. San Jose bus is the only one that makes such an unexpected swing through Alajuela. Live and learn! Fortunately, we made it on time for our shuttle, with a few minutes to spare.
Yesterday, the excitement was even more dramatic. Along with our upstairs neighbor Linda and her friend Barb, who is visiting from California, we had gotten up early to catch the 7:30 a.m. Jaco bus for a day at the beach. As we headed up the hill out of Atenas, suddenly there was a huge bang from beneath the rear of the bus and once again, Layne and I turned to each other with an “uh-oh” look in our eyes. Blowout! But with double axles all around, there was no detectable swerve, just a gentle slowing down as the driver realized what had happened and began to pull over. He exited the vehicle, followed by several helpful (or curious) Ticos, and soon we heard the clatter of tools being hauled out and the noise of men getting to work. Linda, Barb and I got out to watch the action and take a few pictures and found that the Quepos bus had stopped behind us and that driver was now helping to change the tire. Fortunately, it was an exterior tire but unfortunately, the lug nuts were on tight. It took some time but with a “cheater” length of pipe for extra leverage and a couple of beefy Ticos giving it their all, we were soon back on the road. Of course, a blowout was nothing compared to the minor crash we lived through last spring. (See blog report for April 14, 2010) So we just roll our eyes at the occasional vehicular adventures and keep counting the money and stress we save by not having a car.
Our day in Jaco was a blast! After arriving at the bus station on the main drag of Jaco shortly before 10:00 a.m., having met with no further incidents, we bought our return tickets, then set off by taxi for breakfast at our favorite beachfront hotel, the Hotel Cocal and Casino. Layne and I have stayed there several times and always enjoy the grassy lounge area shaded by tall palms overlooking the ocean as well as the poolside bar with the petite bartender Claudia serving us afternoon cocktails. As we settled in for breakfast, Linda and Barb were delighted with the picturesque ocean view from the dining area. Our charming waitress Katiana was attentive and friendly, practicing her English on us as we returned the favor in our broken Spanish. Linda ordered Huevos Rancheros, Barb opted for Banana Pancakes while Layne and I chose the “Typical” Tico Breakfast of eggs, cheese and Gallo Pinto. Linda couldn’t resist an order of the Jalapeno Poppers to share with us all, but she soon found that her Huevos were hot enough to satisfy her “picante” tastes. The cafe con leche was deliciously strong and our cups were refilled with alacrity.

The Hotel Cocal has an interesting history, having been one of the first oceanside inns in Jaco, built long before the more recent influx of tourist-oriented hotels and surfing shops and knick-knack stores. So far I haven’t managed to fit in an interview with the hotel manager to learn more of that history but when I do, I’ll certainly share the information with you readers.

With the day still young, we headed out to the main street for a little shopping: some souvenirs for Barb, holiday gifts for her family for Linda and a pareu swimsuit cover-up for me at a cost of less than $6. Back to the hotel for a couple of hours relaxing in the shade of the palm trees and watching the surfers try to catch a wave. Our “thirst” soon demanded attention and refreshing cocktails were not far behind. Claudia makes a mean Mojito!

As we enjoyed the afternoon, vendors offering cigars and horseback rides and ceramic vases wandered by and soon a smiling young woman named Joanne stopped with some stunning handmade jewelry. Unable to resist at least a look, we three women joined her at the fence and were soon seduced by the gorgeous amethyst and turquoise, coral and pearl that she presented and claimed to have made herself. I opted for a spectacular turquoise piece, featuring a large oval pendant. Soon after, an older woman came by with similar offerings, which made us question the originality of the ones we had bought. But it turned out, upon questioning her, that Joanne was her niece and that, indeed, the family members had made the jewelry. I completed my ensemble with matching turquoise drop earrings from Joanne’s aunt, the entire set costing only $26.

But the grand finale to our day was an outrageous seafood feast at a sidewalk restaurant called, of all things, Pancho Villa. Unsure where to have dinner before our late afternoon bus ride home, we wandered along the main street, reading menus posted outside the restaurants. At Pancho Villa, a courteous maitre ‘d approached us pointing to a 2-person seafood platter on his menu, assuring us that he could make it for four and that we would love it. He was so right! What an incredible platter of delicious seafood we enjoyed, from a large lobster tail for each of us to mahi-mahi, jumbo prawns, calamari, clams, langoustines alongside mashed potatoes and perfectly steamed vegetables plus a delicious salad. We even had a wandering minstrel serenade us. The price? Less than nine thousand colones, or about $18 per person. Pancho Villa’s was a winner and is definitely on our list for a return trip. As you can see, we all wore our new jewelry to dinner! 
(Remember, you can click on photos to enlarge.)

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