Tuesday 19 October 2010

Image is not all...

Jardim Botânico de São PauloImage via Wikipedia
I've been looking at images of Costa Rica, while trying to set up a template for the blog.....an attempt doomed to failure given my general incompetence with anything involving pressing buttons combined with Blogger's unwillingness to recognise anything other than its own templates.

What do I find?

Toucans, turtles and youths in crash helmets hurtling through the treetops on ziplines.

I'm fine with toucans....they breed in the telegraph pole up behind the house where they perform antics I would have thought unbelievable outside of a cartoon animation.
The length of the toucan...bill to tail.... is greater than the width of the telegraph pole.
Going home for the evening they fly straight for the nest hole...and disappear within as if some magic hand has seized them!
Every evening I expect to see one crashing right through the other side, bill surrounded by splinters, but ..no.
They know what they're doing.

Turtles I have yet to encounter. We don't frequent the beaches much.
Long gone are the days of turtle soup, the callapash and callapee served at the Lord Mayor of London's banquets, though you can see turtle eggs on sale all over Costa Rica...fishmongers, general stores...you name it...despite all the legal restrictions on collecting them except under controlled circumstances.
Various types of turtle come to lay their eggs on the Costa Rican beaches, both Caribbean and Pacific, but with the rise of the luxury resorts on the Pacific coast which are illegally enclosing public beaches for the benefit of the few who can afford their astronomic prices, the  turtles face a greater risk to their survival than from the egg collectors and the mass of predators which await the babies on their long run to the sea once hatched.
The baby turtles head for the brightest light...which is under normal conditions, the sea. The bright lights of hotels, restaurants and entertainment areas lead them off their path.....and away from their already slim chance of life.

And as for these goons hurtling through the treetops on ziplines....usually shouting in exhilaration....who on earth thought that this was an appropriate tourist activity for a country which sells itself to the tourist trade as 'green' and respectful of the environment!
There can't be a self respecting bird, animal or insect within miles of the things!

I see that the Costa Rican tourist industry paints as misleading a picture of the country as does its French counterpart....for whom France consists of the Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge and croissants.
In both cases, the publicity is there to sell things...restaurant meals, hotel rooms and tickets for entertainment...and a lot of what would be really interesting to the visitor is ignored.

The trouble is that you don't start to find out about those things until your holiday is nearly over....when you've met some of the people who live outside the guarded enclosures of the fancy hotels and the seclusion of the guided tour bus.....when you've gone shopping for food, not for souvenirs...when you've taken local transport...when you've got lost doing any or all of the above!
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Wednesday 13 October 2010

It all began badly....

RER - Charles De Gaulle AirportImage by JKleeman via Flickr
It was our first trip to Costa Rica.

We were due to leave from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, which meant that friends had to get up at some godless hour to take us to catch the milk train up to Paris....here....where for some wonder everyone was not on strike...except that the lifts at Charles de Gaulle railway station did not work, so I had to hump the suitcases up two flights of stairs to get to the shuttle bus that runs round like a demented hamster serving the various terminals.

Charles de Gaulle must be the most unpleasant main airport in existence. Badly laid out, dirty almost to the point of being squalid and decidedly expensive, it was almost a relief to get through to the departure gate in some far flung annexe for our long flight, which involved a change at Houston.

The 'plane was late, we had to walk miles while empty transport vehicles passed regularly, picking up no one, until we eventually arrived at the hour long queue at immigration.
I was struck by the discourtesy of the staff organizing the lines....whatever their training had involved there had been no place for manners, evidently....but the final blow came as our 'planeload approached the checkpoints.
It was one of those periods when the French government were being uncooperative in the view of the U.S. and as the sound of French became audible to the staff, more than half of them closed down their desks.

Well, welcome to the U.S.!

We were in transit, we had no intention of staying in the country, but were still subject to this absurd process, not to speak of having to retrieve our baggage and go through customs!
I think 'subject' is an appropriate word.
The U.S. government appears to think that all foreigners are 'subject' races with only one aim in view...to get into the U.S.A. and stay there.
Given the reception, the reaction all around me was the same as mine....
If that's the U.S.. they can keep it!

Then through 'security' again as the departure time for our flight to Costa Rica did not so much as creep closer but gallop fast enough to win the Derby.
Bossy women snatching our travel documents....and the final delight...taking off our shoes to go through the security gates.
Well, Mr. Fly cannot balance to do this standing, so I asked for a chair.

'If he isn't fit he should be in  a wheelchair. If  he isn't in a wheelchair he's fit.'

So he stood in front of the gate, blocking it, until a chair was brought.
I think it was a near run thing between the arrival of a chair and his departure in handcuffs.

The 'plane was small and crowded.....but at least we were out of the U.S.!

As we approached landing time, the plane ran into violent thunderstorms and circled for an hour over the main international airport at San Jose, Costa Rica.
From the window I had close ups of mountain peaks and searing bolts of lightning, while in the seat behind a loud American voice announced that it was often like this and no doubt we'd be diverted to Panama, where, as Americans need a visa, nobody would be allowed to leave the plane!
Eventually, the pilot announced that we would be diverting to the holiday airport of Liberia, in the north of Costa Rica...but from there...what?
Would we be bussed down to San Jose?
Would we have to stay in the plane at Liberia until conditions improved?
No news.

At Liberia, the plane landed and eventually the stewardesses announced that it would be refuelled and would then take off again for San Jose.
It was a long, hot wait and Mr. Fly, exhausted, needed somewhere to stretch out.
I asked a stewardess if he could go through to the front of the plane.
But he was ill.
He hadn't paid first class, he didn't get first class.
But he doesn't want champagne, caviar, pole dancers or whatever else goes on up there..he just needs to stretch out.
He hadn't paid first class, he didn't get first class. There's water in the galley if you want to help yourself.

I was getting worried.
Mr. Fly was suffering from heat and exhaustion.
We had arranged a pick up to take us to our destination.....but by the time we had been  refuelled and taken off again, we would be five hours late arriving.
There was no way our pick up would still be there.
I started looking at the travel guide, looking for somewhere to stay near the airport, and found a couple of options, planning to take a taxi to one of them, get some sleep, and ring our contact number the next day to sort out what to do.

The voice from the seat behind was declaiming that this was always happening in this country...you got used to it...he was going to ring his wife to pick him up...too bad for anyone else...

Then we landed.
Immigration was fast.....we were the only 'plane.
Customs was fast, with a charming man who helped me load the suitcases through the machine.

And miracle of miracles....our pick up was there!

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Sunday 10 October 2010

At least the airport's open...

Earthquake at 5.9 on the Richter Scale, the Panamerican highway closed down by landslides, the capital cut off from the Pacific coast likewise and the dockers threatening to strike.

Lucky I'm arriving by air......

I am making the move from France to Costa Rica, leaving my house unsold behind me, in need of a fresh  blast of air in my life.

I am not looking for an ideal...I am certainly not about to 'live the dream'...and I know that Costa Rica is no paradise, but it will give me what I need for the moment.

A breathing space. Time to take stock. Recovery time.

Then we'll see.

At least, that is the idea, but I know from experience that that is not what will happen.
I'll get caught up in things, life will start winding tendrils round my ankles and I'll soon find it hard to distinguish the rainforest from the trees.

Still, welcome to my discoveries in the land of the plastic bag.....the one in Central America, on the thin bit, just north of the one with the canal.....Costa Rica.