Guatemala City (Guatemala) to San Jose (Costa Rica)
20. April: Today we bid Guatemala farewell and fly onward and say hello to Costa Rica.
We wake up in Chalet Suizo, pack our backpacks and go out for breakfast.
Beforehand, I have trouble paying our hotel bill, since the receptionist doesn't seem very experienced and he refuses to accept the US$ traveller cheques for the 30$ I'm trying to pay. It seems that it's the first time he has handled them. He says something about waiting sometime till he can take them, and my bad Spanish doesn't help. Luckily Annewien joins me and convinces him with her trustworthy manner that it's ok to accept them ("muy seguro").
We find a fast-food place nearby, and have a "traditional" local breakfast in the likes of "Uevos Ranchero" with black bean paste which looks like sh.. We then go shopping to find deo, soap and painkillers for Annewien.
When we return to the hotel, the owner is there. For him traveller cheques are no problem. We just have to sign in the appropriate places. The owner is definitely not Guatemalan, since he speaks broken German and I can't help thinking he or his parents must be originally from Switzerland. Why else would he call his hotel "Chalet Suizo"?
We'd decided to find a taxi to the airport on the street, but the receptionist offered to call us one. Annewien accepted, although I thought it would have been quicker outside, since we were already running a bit late for the flight. The receptionist was so friendly and said it would take only "5 minutos", that it was hard for me to refuse.
Of course, it does take a lot longer than 5 minutes and I'm a bit jittery about the whole affair and woefully watch empty taxis pass us by in the street. Eventually the taxi does arrive, it took so long because of the midday traffic jam. We agree to 50Q for the fare.
At the airport, the Copa Airlines counter demands a 30$ departure tax. We're running low on US$ bills (as opposed to US$ traveler's cheques; we used only cash in Cuba) so I'm off to find a bank which would change cheques to cash.
I wait in a line at the first and it takes ages till my turn comes. The cashier lady says that they only accept American Express, not Thomas Cook. Darn! She tells me that there is another bank upstairs on the other side of the building.
It's the same situation there, Amex only.
So I'm back at the Copa desk and we pay the departure tax in cash. We still have a few Quetzales to burn before leaving the country and we quickly check the local souvenir shops to find a Tocado for Annewien or some other small souvenir. No luck, the few that they had were not very pretty. In the end we just bought a film.
Flight 111 to San Jose is early. We almost sneak on board, since we don't find the departure gate and the gate we do find leads directly to the aircraft without any checks! I notice someone checking boarding cards nearby, so we hand over ours. I don't want to risk being late or getting in trouble with authorities trying to locate "missing passengers" or us explaining how we got onto the plane without showing our passes. No problem.
We get a sandwich en route and have a short stopover in Managua, Nicaragua, where we stay on the plane. The stopover is billed as "15 minutes", but it is more than double that.
San Jose has finger docks. At passport control I take the wrong (slow!) queue which has Annewien out and waiting for me to get through.
We have to wait for our baggage anyway, and it's always a relief to eventually find our two backpacks and to see that they are still in one piece. San Jose has a modern airport with money changing facilities, which I decide to take advantage of immediately. My Traveler Cheques get paid out in "Colones".
We leave the building and wait just outside near the taxis. We get pestered by all sorts of taxi drivers offering us rides. We must have had very searching looks on our faces, scanning for would-be Madeleines, since we had no description of her and I suspected any woman looking somewhat European to be her. I was convinced more than once that one of the ladies would be her, and I even assigned Annewien to go and ask one. She walked around her a number of times and eventually did ask her, and from afar I knew by the shaking of her head that I'd been wrong.
It took all of 45 minutes till Madeleine eventually arrived, carrying a white board with 'Roman Virdi' written on it. She's in a huff and puff and there with her mother Hannelore, who is driving. It seems there was quite a traffic jam and they had ages till they could make their way to the airport.
It is gets quite funny, since Madeleine (who I guess to be in her early thirties) is pregnant and stressed, and has a Costa Rican husband. Hannelore is a real old German woman of about 65-70, has lived in Costa Rica for thirty years and criticizes everything about the country. She drives with ñlan in her small compact car, the ladies in the front and us both in the back. She previously lived in Spain. Hannelore and Madeleine speak Spanish together, and even though my Spanish is not too good, I hear that they (especially Hannelore) speak with a strong European accent.
We would like to wash some clothes and they say they would drop us at a laundry. It's quite a long ride from the airport to Madeleine's place and I wonder where exactly we are going. On the map, we see that they live not in San Jose City, but in it's suburbs.
Unfortunately, the laundry shop is already closed by the time we reach there, so we stopover at Madeleine's place. She explains that her place is full and that she would accommodate her in her mother's place. Well, that's news! She said would come down and meet us later in the evening.
So we're back in the car with Hannelore and drive on. She really does live in a nice house, and has quite a passion for dogs. She has three black Dachshund dogs and proudly shows us pictures of her dogs, and one old one is called Helmut. (Remember Helmut and Hannelore Kohl?!) There is a dog contest the next day and she is busy preparing them for it. She has a local maid called Martha to help her with the flat.
Hannelore's house is in a residential area and there are no shops nearby. She writes down the directions to a large main road on a piece of paper, which has all the fast-food restaurants we could think of. The directions are quite incomprehensible to me, looking something like "right -> 2nd left -> right -> right". Well, yes, a small hand-drawn map would have been much easier to follow, but that didn't seem to be her way of communicating directions. Walking there would be no problem at this time of day, she says, but we should take a taxi for safety when we return.
We set off on foot and eventually DO find the main road. We decide to go to Pizza Hut which served meals which were good enough. We share a pizza and beer. They even have computers to access the Internet for their customers, so we check our mailboxes after eating.
The taxi back to Hannelore's was 320ñ which was cheap enough. Madeleine arrives with brochures to help us with our stay. It's great that she gives us a timetable for buses going all over the country from San Jose. She seems to be selling two different trips to 'Tortuguero National Park', a place only accessed by waterways and famous for it's turtles. She advises us against going to Corcovado National Park, which we had also planned to visit. She tells us that the rest of the country would be quite easy to travel by using local buses. We thank her for the brochures are tell her we would contact her as soon as we had decided which trip to take.
I take a shower, unfortunately there seems to be no warm water (it turned out that this might have been due to my incompetence in operating the shower-mechanics), but I go for it anyway. Brrr!!
The room is quite pleasant, in a colourful, modern, fresh and elegant way, a nice bed with a beautiful bedspread and a wicker rocking chair. The room door opens into an inner courtyard. The dogs bark at times but Hannelore's very good at controlling and soothing them. We slept well.