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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010
You could say Layne and I were part of a small miracle today: we took the bus from San Rafael de Heredia into San Jose and back, without a hitch! But in truth, the credit goes to a Tica woman named, strangely enough, Candy. Here’s the way it went.
We decided it was time to get out of our pristine Gringo enclave and make our way down to San Jose, figuring out on our own which bus to take and where to catch it. No easy task, believe me. The bus system here is excellent, once you figure it out. The challenge is that the streets are not named and buildings and houses have no street numbers. Go figure. How does anyone learn to get around? Trial and error, we assumed, and we set out to make our mistakes and hopefully learn from them. Besides, Ticos are friendly and helpful people, we’d been told, but little did we know how true that might be and how valuable to us.

So with umbrella in hand (even though it’s the dry season and the sun was shining), we walked the few blocks to the major bus stop in our little town of San Rafael about 10 a.m., pausing long enough for a quick photo in the park.
At the bus stop, I asked the driver of a bus marked “Heredia” if he went to San Jose. I have no idea what he said, but it was clear that the answer was No. We stepped back and as I consulted my Palm Pilot Spanish program to see if I could find another path to communication, a woman stuck her head out of the bus window and said to us in quite good English that this bus would indeed get us partway to San Jose, that she would show us where to change buses in Heredia and that we should come aboard. So we did, paying 300 colones, or about 75 cents for the two of us.
Her name was Candy and she explained to us that if we waited for the “San Jose” bus, it would stop at every small village and would take forever to arrive. We learned from her that the best buses are the “amarillo” ones, that is, yellow in color, not red or rojo. The yellow buses are express and make fewer stops.
So off we went down the hill, Layne and I watching the landmarks as closely as we could for future reference. In short order we arrived in central Heredia, a hectic area of shops, restaurants, pedestrians and lots of traffic. We exited the bus, the last ones off, and found Candy waiting patiently for us on the sidewalk. As we started off together, almost like old friends, she pointed out the spot where we would catch our bus to return to San Rafael. Then we walked about three blocks down, past another park and church (they are obligatory here) as Candy explained that she is married to a Gringo and spent some time in the States. As we turned right at a corner store, Layne and I just happened to note the rare but fortunate marking of “Avenida 8” on the store front. After another couple of blocks, the street became lined with buses, one of which, Candy said, was her bus. But instead of stopping, she walked on with us another block or so to the San Jose bus that we were to take. As we boarded, Candy informed the driver in Spanish of our destination and bid us farewell, only then heading back up the street to her own bus. I don’t know if we will ever see Candy again, but we are so grateful to her for her kindness and good directions!

As the bus headed into San Jose, Layne and I began to recognize landmarks and soon realized that we were passing by the area where we had stayed on previous trips, which was only a few blocks from our destination, the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR), an expats’ organization that provides support and information to transplanted North Americans and other foreigners. So we jumped off a few stops early, over objections from the driver who thought he knew where we should disembark, and made our way to ARCR, where we took care of some business and picked up a good map.
By then we were hungry so Soda Tapia, a popular corner restaurant, seemed a good choice. (Soda means something like “casual restaurant.”) For about $10, we had two large hamburgers and 2 bottles of water. A short walk back to the bus stop and we were on our way home. Thanks to Candy, we found our transfer stop in Heredia with no problem.

After arriving back at our villa, we realized we had failed to take pictures of the buses for my blog post. So we walked back into town, shot our photos and sat down in the park outside the big Catholic Church to people-watch in the late afternoon sunshine. One man, resting beside his bicycle on the bench outside the church, caught Layne’s attention. He pointed out the good photo opportunity and I surreptitiously zoomed in and caught the shot. So I get the photo credit!

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