Feb 12, 2008 Costa Rica

Costa Rica...Central America part one

On January 3, 2008 we went from the snowy and icy Iowan weather to the 80-100
degree sunny conditions in Costa Rica. Ahh...the tropics. One of our purposes in
Allajuela, Costa Rica (a suburb of San Jose) was to do some work for Trek Travel. We had 33 bikes
to overhaul for their upcoming 2008 tour season. I was the professional bike
cleaner and Ward was the professional bike mechanic. We worked at the small warehouse that
Trek rented which really was the garage and porch area of Tomasita Chavey's personal
residence (a woman in her 70s). We literally camped in her lawn for a week
which enabled us the great opportunity to experience typical Costa Rican food and family
Tomasita was really like a grandma to us and insisted that we eat all of our
meals with the family and have afternoon coffee. Her cooking was stupendous. Ward fell in
love with her pinto (combo of rice, beans and cilantro). One Sunday she made us their
delicacy..."cow stomach" with tomato sauce and garbanzo beans. We always say we will try
something once...but we never said we had to try it twice! It was the texture we didn't
particularly care for...kind of like a hunk of fat. The only way we could repay her for her
kindness was to buy food and bring it to the house for them to use for the next meal. Later
we found out from her niece that Tomasito referred to us as "the poor little ones". I
guess she thought we couldn't afford food. Was it because we were camping in her yard?
Or was it because we always wore the same clothes?

The family dynamics are special. Family members come to the house every morning
to eat breakfast together and help with chores that need to be done around the house.
We were able to meet Tomasita's children, nieces and grandchildren. Ward became friends
with Maurio (a son) and they would go on morning bike rides together. So, we had an
excellent opportunity to integrate ourselves into the Costa Rican culture.

The landscape in the Allajuela area is very beautiful and lush this time of
year. On our daily bike rides we experienced the grueling grades of the mountains (much
steeper roads than what we have in the US), breath taking valleys and waterfalls, banana
trees, coffee plantations and rain forests. One of our rides entailed a 10,000 ft climb to
the top of a volcano. It took us 4 hours to climb to the top and 1 hour to descend!

The roads are in very poor condition and we were very thankful that Trek let us
use their full suspension mountain bikes while we were there. They were needed! The
roads did not have a shoulder. In fact, they had deep cement ditches. You sure didn´t
want a bus to push you off the road! You constantly had to have a "heads up" because the
roads had many deep potholes and wide grates that came without any warning. Some of the
roads were made of dirt and very rocky as well making bike shocks a must. The
vehicles drive very aggressively. It seems that they see us on the road but don't give us much
room. They pass each other at any time so it is not unusual to have a car heading
towards you in your own lane. Biking at night is suicide (don't worry mom...we don't do it).
Motorcycles and cars drag race at this time.

We are quite sure there are no emission standards here. Some people remove
their mufflers so they can make more noise and others just have vehicles that are that
old that they just plain fell off. In either case it creates an environment of very
loud noise and black exhaust spueing out. Its really bad when you are biking next to one of
these vehicles and they are going the same speed as you. I'm not sure, we may have
black lung disease by now. The semis love to use their jake brakes at any hour.

Directions are difficult....they don't have any street signs! We asked someone
to write down the address of where we were staying and this is what they wrote:
500 metros oeste do la Iglecia del Coyol Frente taller de buses,
casa roja de 2 plantas, Jorge Fuentes

Translation: 500 meters west of the Coyol church in front of the Taller
buses, the red house with 2 plants. Home of Jorge Fuentes

So, if they don´t know who you are or if someone paints their house, you're

The locals said that Allajeula used to be very safe and you could walk any where
at night but since the Nicaraguans and Colombians have moved into the area crime has
increased, mainly do to drugs. When a local says don't walk after dark...we don't walk
after dark. We listen closely to the locals and we don´t have any problems. All the houses
have security gates and/or dogs. When we were getting a ride to the bus stop we placed our
luggage in he back of the truck. The locals said, "no you shouldn't put them there". We
replied, "they won't blow out". They said, "no, people will come up and steal them when
we come to a stop sign." Hmmm, I hadn't thought of that. I mean, it was broad daylight.

One of the reasons crime is so big is because their prices are similar to ours
but their minimum wage is $300/month and an average professional makes $400-$500/month.
That's poverty level in the US! They have 48 hour work weeks also. When they
buy a house they have to put 25% down. Big Mac indicator: $1.80 per Big Mac in Costa
Rica compared to $1.79 in the US. Something has to give.

Even though these people don't have alot of money they have a lot of self pride.
They keep their homes and cars very clean. Every day we would see people scrubbing
down their cars, porches and driveways. Maybe its because most people don't have
lawns to care for. They also take alot of pride in how they groom themselves. The woman
are very stylish with very tight shorts or jeans and tight tops. They are not afraid to
show some skin! They are very beautiful. We estimated that only about 20% are

Even though we traveled thousands of miles south from Iowa we still felt we took
the Midwest with us. I was able to have dinner with my sister, Connie, and her
family one evening. It just happened that they were vacationing in Costa Rica the same
time that we were there and only staying 1.5 miles away from us in Alajuela. It was so good
to see them. It was fun to hear my nephews tell of the unusual animals that they
encountered and all the exciting experiences that they had. We were also able to meet up
with Jim and Jane Kirchner, biker friends from the GRABAAWR. They were vacationing with
their family and we had a nice dinner with them. On the Pacific Coast, Cocoa de Playo, we
met up with Gina and Doug Mello who were vacationing at their southern home. They brought
with them other friends from Decorah...Teresa and Tom Bockman and Jody and Dale
Ellickson. We had such a great time with them enjoying the sun, swimming, telling lies and
being the blue drink martini samplers at a bar that hadn't opened up yet and needed
connoisseurs. I guess Costa Rica is the place to go in January.

Bus transportation is cheap in Costa Rica. It only cost us seven dollars each
to ride the bus for 6.5 hours to the Pacific Coast. However, these aren't luxury cruisers.
There wasn't a bathroom, it was packed with people and some were even standing in the aisle
and it was ninety-seven degrees in there...quite a sweat box.

For our last week in Costa Rica we were able to stay at an apartment. Get
this...kitchen, big bathroom, a wall of windows, pool, sauna, whirl pool, free clothes washing,
and the best part....cable TV for only a total of $15 a night! This meant that I could
watch the last Packer Playoff game! Yahoo! Sunday night we were planted in front of the TV
with chips, salsa, beer and Packer earrings. It was a good game to watch. Too bad we lost
in overtime.

That concludes our experience in Costa Rica. From here we went to Panama City.
That e-group will be next. We are currently in Tierra del Fuego, South America and
towns and internet are VERY far and few between so we don't know when we will have
internet access again.

Take care everyone.
Jacky and Ward