Welcome to… Costa Rica.

Kids' Train at Central Park in Heridia Costa Rica
Kids' Train at Central Park in Heridia Costa Rica

Our story starts on a quiet flight heading to Central America. Imagine that it’s New Year’s Eve, only a few minutes before 2011. After 2 months of lounging around the beach on the Caribbean Sea side of Mexico it suddenly dawns on us that we were about to land in a different world. Out either side of the airplane we could see fireworks going off at regular intervals all across the valley of San Jose. As we jump off the plane and into the SUV of our driver and hotel owner Jose we were quickly whisked through lively neighborhoods filled with young Ticos preparing for the New Year. As we checked in at a quarter to midnight we found ourselves glad to be out of Mexico. Nothing against Playa but the place was starting to get a little too busy for us and we needed something new to sink our teeth into.

It wasn’t until we were unpacking our things in our room that the gong struck midnight and the city exploded in fireworks and firecrackers. The constant explosions went on for well over an hour. After having spent several Chinese New Year’s in Asia we never thought that we’d hear their equal but I have to hand it to Costa Ricans, I think they win the prize.

Two hours later we found ourselves wondering when the party was going to end. With two young ones and a late flight we knew it was going to be a long day to begin with but this was starting to push it. We finally nodded off well after 2. The kids had fallen asleep a good hour before us and we knew they’d be up by 8 regardless of what time they fell asleep.

You can imagine our surprise when the near by church started ringing their bells at 5 in the morning. The room practically shook with their gongs and everyone woke up with a start. The bells lasted for a good minute. When they finally all quieted down we all fell asleep again before being woken at 5:30 when the next set went off. This wasn’t starting off too well…

When we finally hauled our exhausted bodies out of bed later. We headed across the hall for our complimentary breakfast. Jose had whipped us up something local style. I have no idea what it was called but it was wrapped in banana leaves, was steamed and was gelatinous with chicken at it’s center. Micki had eaten half of it before realizing that it wasn’t vegetarian. Needless to say I got her share as well.

After some much needed showers and washing up we walked out of our hotel and down the street. We were really wondering why we had chosen that hotel at that point. It was in the middle of Heredia, halfway between the airport and San Jose. We figured that it would be better to start in a smaller center than the chaotic capital but we still wanted to be part of the action. We knew we were only in the central valley for 7 days and wanted to experience life the way the majority of the locals did before jetting off to a gringo playland.

As we walked the quiet streets we wondered what we got ourselves into. Every store, shop, restaurant and booth were shut down. Iron bars, steel gates and wire mesh curtains covered every closed off storefront. Graffiti and the lack of people added to the forlorn feeling. We had read that Heredia was a university town that was vibrant and never shut down. There was always something going on and something to do.

Since we figured we weren’t going to do much sight seeing that day that we would head to the Central Park. We passed a few people that looked like they had partied too much the night before and decided it might be better to cross to the other side of the street. More than a few people stared openly at us and we almost felt like we had intruded on them during supper or a private affair. In any case, we didn’t feel overly comfortable being there.

As we made it to the park we finally stumbled upon a pocket of civilization. The park was jammed with people. It wasn’t a park like we expected though. It was only a few blocks in size and there wasn’t grass or trees and plants everywhere. It was a large concrete park with tons of benches and statues and one of the oldest churches in the area next to it. There were couples and families and friends just hanging out. People actually looked happy and pleased.

They had no playground but there was a large blow up slide a dozen kids were using and a few clowns walking around. The clowns were blowing bubbles and there was a miniature train that drove around the park giving people rides. There was also a raised gazebo in the center where dozens of kids ran and played while a few people played music to earn a few bucks.

All that being said, it wasn’t until we saw the huge line of people at the corner ice cream shop that we started to realize that maybe this wasn’t that bad a place. Maybe the town was closed down because it wasn’t only a Sunday but also New Year’s day. Maybe the people that we had passed in the street really had partied too much the day before and the bright sun was making everybody squint and scowl. Maybe everybody wished the morning bells had taken a day off as much as us.

Maybe Costa Rica wasn’t such a bad place to be. I sure know that we all felt better after our delicious ice creams. I figure that any place where I can get good cheap ice cream, hang out surrounded by happy families and enjoy time spent with my family while wearing shorts in the middle of winter can’t be that bad. Maybe I’ll give the country a shot. Maybe I’ll stick around here for a few months. Maybe I’ll even grow to love it. Maybe…