Some of the new friends that have come into my life in Costa Rica are “seasonal” or some say “Snow Birds” who come to our tropical climate as an escape from the snow & ice up north during the coldest months. One, who has in the past stayed in Roca Verde just up the street from me, is Margaret from British Columbia, Canada and like me, a birder in her 80’s.
This year she decided to go beyond Atenas and see the birds and other sights of many areas of Costa Rica and brought her friend Pat with her. Here’s the diary or journal of their very economical adventure by public bus and staying in local B&Bs, like I did in my early years here . She included 45 photos that I could not copy with the story and adding all individually to this blog post would greatly slow it down, so I chose 4 to scatter throughout the story. And her good “storyteller” way of reporting their adventures makes her words the “illustrations.” Her third person references (you and yours) are to Jill, one of their first hostesses she was writing much of this to. The sub-headings are my addition to indicate the general area of Costa Rica they were in at that time of their trip. Enjoy! And plan your own adventure! 🙂 ¡Pura vida!
Members of the ARCR (Association of Residents of Costa Rica), an organization formed to help expats get to and live better in Costa Rica get a subscription to the bimonthly magazine El Residente and I hope this link to the March/April 21 issue works for non-members! 🙂
The first main article in this issue is titled “Adventure by Chicken Bus” which is actually one chapter of a book by the same title, this chapter about the Canadian family traveling Central America while homeschooling is specifically about their efforts at helping Costa Rica save the endangered sea turtles on our east coast. A great story for nature lovers and wildlife preservers that will make you want to visit Costa Rica.
And in case you don’t know, “Chicken Bus” is the nickname for the small, rural, cheap buses (Used U.S. school buses painted bright colors) found all over Central America for cheap rural or out of the way places of travel. We do have big, modern buses in Costa Rica between major cities and towns and major tourist attractions, but these are common all over rural Central America and yes, they do carry their chickens on these buses. 🙂
Going to Alajuela the other day I snapped a cellphone photo of the mask-requirement sign and the markers on the sidewalk to make sure we stand in line 1.8 meters apart (the same as 6 feet), but failed to snap the hand-washing station you must use before going in bus or in the little coffee shop.
Mask-wearing is required in public by national law now and almost everyone wears a mask. I only occasionally see a man or young person cheating but they usually have a mask in their hand or in their pocket.
My rent house is on the side of a hill above a residential street inside the Roca Verde development. I can look down through the trees and other plants to the street if I wish – not my favorite view! 🙂
A week or so ago I heard a crash below me and a car driven by one of my Tico neighbors had gone into the concrete ditch made for rainwater going down the hill. No curb or barrier or guardrail along the rainwater ditch. Here’s 3 shots on my cellphone of the guy in the ditch, the flatbed truck preparing to pull him out and the guys helping the truck by pushing on the car (which they always do here!). The car was all scratched up and probably had some wheel, axle or alignment problems, but he drove away it away without needing the big truck to take him into a shop. Pura vida! 🙂
Daily I thank God for not owning a car! 🙂
“Walking is the only form of transportation in which a man proceeds erect – like a man – on his own legs, under his own power. There is immense satisfaction in that.”
― Edward Abbey
Someone recently asked me about getting around the country by bus and I think I referred them to the Bus Schedule website which lists all of the option when you type in the “From” and “To” spaces on that website with all bus companies included.
Well, I forgot about an even better help beyond schedules, the Facebook GroupPageCosta Rica by Bus on which you can post a question (may have to join group first) and some of the many people who travel by bus will share their experiences and advice. And of course they also recommend the bus schedule site above. And by the way, that bus in photo above is the one I took to Turrialba.
I plan to go to a birding lodge near San Isidro del General in May, so anticipate my report on that bus experience then. I use the bus almost weekly to go from Atenas to Alajuela for many different reasons and have gone to San Jose by bus many times. Some of my other bus adventures have been (with links to photo galleries):
And with local retirees on charter buses many time, while the above are public buses of different companies.
All of this was to simply say that you can travel on a “shoestring budget” and see a lot of Costa Rica whether you live here or visiting. Buses are cheap here! That is the way most Ticos travel! And you can do it without the Spanish language, though much easier and a richer experience if you speak at least a little Spanish.
Now, as a retiree who has made seeing all of Costa Rica my main activity, I do not do everything the budget-way and love to go the longer distances on Sansa Airlines or to places less than 3 hours from Atenas by my favorite driver here in Atenas, but I do not have a car and have basically quit renting cars because of the high insurance cost, thus seeing Costa Rica by bus is one option I still use when I consider it the most practical way. The next bus report comes in May! 🙂
“Live with no excuses and travel with no regrets” ~ Oscar Wilde
I encourage you to follow the above link to his original article and maybe get acquainted with his blog. BUT, I wanted to “update”or add my comments to the list in dark red thathe copied from Tico Bull below:
The following list is a generalization, though, so obviously doesn’t apply to all Americans and Canadians.
Not being able to pay a bill by mail (send in a cheque). In the past, you had to go to a particular business to pay a bill, now it can be paid online or at the bank or supermarket, but no check in the mail. Through my local bank I have all my regular bills “auto debit” paid automatically except my rent because my landlord uses a different bank.
Not being able to receive mail at your home, six days a week.
Not being able to send mail from your home, six days a week.
There is periodic home mail delivery in Atenas (and some other towns), but if you are not home the carrier will often just stick it in the gate and wind can blow it away, thus I have a moderately priced post office box for my mail address to avoid worrying about being home when the mail carrier comes. Plus I have a U.S. Address in Miami through Aeropost.com for some mail which I pickup at the Aeropost office in Alajuela when I am notified by email. Going there on a free bus.
Not having Amazon Prime. Similarly Netflix is hugely different here with not nearly as many movies included because Hollywood wants each country to pay some outlandish fee to “license” the showing of their movies in that country. Here you get lots of Spanish language movies with a limited number of usually older American films plus lots of TV shows and fortunately a lot of nature shows, Nat Geo stuff, etc. Some of it is in verbal Spanish with English subtitles available, though more is in the original English with Spanish subtitles available. My personal default setting on Netflix CR is verbal English with Spanish subtitles which helps me a little in learning to speak Spanish.
Knowing that even if you order something online, there is a good chance that someone in customs will decide they want it and confiscate it. Using a service like Aeropost.com for internet orders solves that problem as they walk it through customs and have insurance on your orders. It is expensive, but most of the cost is the customs charges or import taxes. Worth the cost to me. I order everything on the internet sent to my Miami address at Aeropost.
Having to pay very high import taxes on any package that gets through, including items confiscated out of it. Import taxes & Sales Taxes are high here, but there is no income tax nor much property tax, so it kind of evens out for most people.
High priced cars. I have no car here and walk or use taxis locally and buses to other towns which are free or discounted for a senior adult. I go to Alajuela regularly by bus totally free!
Towns and villages that have either dirt or gravel roads. This is changing rapidly! i.e. Atenas Central is all paved, though a few rural roads out of town are still gravel. “Backwoods” or out of the way places are still not paved and the popular tourist town of Monteverde is one example, but they are paving the highway to there as we speak! 🙂
The necessity to have very good home security, either through iron bars at the windows, high walls, dogs, security guards, or all of the above. Americans and Canadians typically don’t wall their properties; dogs are pets; and enjoy large, plate glass windows with no need for security bars over them. I’m in a “gated community” called Roca Verde with an entrance gate and 24 hour guard service and we rarely have a problem. I’m in a “casita” or little rent house on the fenced & gated property of a big house and I have no bars on my windows and no dog and have never activated the built-in burglar alarm. I used to leave everything open and unlocked even at night, but one evening someone walked into my house while I was there and grabbed my cell phone and left. That and a backpack being taken from the floor of a touristy sidewalk cafe in Puntarenas my first year here are my only two robberies. Common sense helps, like I lock my doors by nightfall now and hang on to my backpack.
The need for women to hold their purses at all times, never putting them on a bench or a chair beside you or it might get stolen.
The assumption that if a repairman comes to your home, he will speak to the man of the house, rather than the lady of the house—even if she knows more about what needs to be repaired than her husband. This is changing now with so-called chauvinism frowned upon by all generations, especially the younger. There is a high respect for women and all older people.
The extreme caution one must take before letting someone (repairman, employee, new acquaintance) into your home because he/she might come back and steal from you later.
If something is accidentally left somewhere, you can know that someone else took it. There is no going to lost and found to see if the item was turned in. Depends on the place or people there. I’ve returned to a business for an umbrella left and it was still there and once briefly left my wallet and got it back.
Each culture is different. American and Canadian culture has a few things that other cultures view negatively. But there are always reasons behind cultural differences.
As an Italian, for example, we are loud, especially among a group of friends. Americans and Canadians love their large personal space. Costa Ricans and most Latin Americans can’t understand stand. Nor Europeans for that matter.
In addition, the majority of Americans, Canadians and Europeans have a level of personal honesty and integrity not always seen in Costa Rica, despite Ticos adopting much of North American and European cultures. An example of that is eating at a mall food court, but ladies won’t hang their purse or he his backpack on the back of the chair.
Living in a home with huge windows with no bars is unheard of, unless living in a gated community, but even then it won’t be surprising that someone will put up bars. For example, as I write this, I am looking out of my big glass window onto my yard, about 30 meters from the street. The window has bars, but I refuse to put up razor wire on the metal fence. I have dogs.
In closing, generalizations can be helpful, but they need to be understood for their limitations. Each culture has beauty if you’ll take the time to look, adapt and adopt the “pura vida”. Maybe his most important statement!
Much of this sounds like a typical “negative American” who criticizes everything not American and thus really has no business living here. Most of the above is true to some degree, though the dishonesty and thievery by Ticos is greatly exaggerated and in my small town I find almost everyone to be honest and very helpful to or accommodating of foreigners. And remember that you are the foreigner, not them. 🙂
It is essential that one adapt to the local culture when they move to another place anywhere in the world and recognized that it is yourself that is “abnormal” not the locals. You try to speak the language and go with the culture and they will love you and help you in every way possible! I’m amazed at the many Americans who in the states expected Mexicans and Cubans to learn and speak English there, but they don’t even try to learn Spanish here! They become “The Ugly American” of the 1958 novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer. 🙂
One reason for choosing the “Central Valley” area to live in my retirement in Costa Rica was the weather and more specifically Atenas is the weather, which averages around 72° year around and a National Geographic article writer once stated that Atenas has “the best weather in the world.” Thus on the back of all our buses is the slogan: “Viste Atenas – Mejor Clima del Mundo.” (Visit Atenas – Best Weather in the World) No one here has air conditioner or heater in their house! I sleep under just a sheet or one blanket with all my windows open, year around. Header photo is view from my house terrace.
For example, today’s AccuWeather forecast has Atenas with a high of 79° and low of 64°: https://www.accuweather.com/en/cr/atenas/111860/weather-forecast/111860 I formatted it for U.S. English and Farenheit temps but if it comes up Spanish and Centigrade you can change at top of page. Compare that to the U.S. weather forecast! (Rain, snow, ice) Or here to other expat communities like cold & rainy San Ramon and Grecia or hot & humid coastal areas or smoggy San Jose .
I enjoyed visiting the ocean Christmas Week, but would not want to live there because it is very hot and humid year around. But some prefer that. And most expats who move to the coast have air conditioning in their house, a big additional expense, year around! Plus generally everything else is much more expensive there (think tourist prices) AND they are further away from the best medical care and the best shopping options.
Christopher Howard today posted on his “Live in Costa Rica” Blog an article that says even more than this about the weather here:
Orosi Scouts in Cartago (through a dirty bus window) These five teens are Scouts from Orosi who rode the bus with me to Cartago, for an event I imagine. Girls and boys are all in the same Scout program here, wearing bright blue shirts & navy pants + scout neckerchiefs. But note the two girls and one of boys have on jackets because it was in the 60’s farenheit this morning. And yeah, that is very cold here! And they got off the bus earlier than me is why the bus window shot. Cartago, Costa Rica
“Coca Cola” Bus Station in San Jose It is on the site of an old Coca Cola bottling plant and thus the name. I waited only about 10 minutes for this bus to load and no wait in Cartago! But the bus from Cartago went to the Lumaca Station and I took a taxi to here which was another 10 minutes! Note the row of pay phones, a disappearing sight, even here. San Jose, Costa Rica
Most working people in Costa Rica travel by bus rather than by car (only rich people have cars) and thus it is a good way to get to know people and culture here, not to mention the language! I used my rough Spanish a lot this week since not too many in Orosi cater to English-only North Americans.
It has been a good week and both bus trips were good and fairly easy. My biggest learning experience on this trip was that I will try to avoid B&B’s in the future. First because I prefer to have a “built-in” restaurant and/or close to good restaurants. Second, she had 3 big dogs and 2 cats and thus almost no birds and the animals hovered a lot when I was out of my cabin, wanting my attention. Plus she did not mop the bathroom the whole 4 nights I was there and provided only one hand towel and the one knife in the kitchen was not sharp enough to cut the peeling on all the fruit she provided for my breakfasts. Not my favorite lodging in Costa Rica, but the birding and local tours were great and I have a lot of photos! The Orosi area is a beautiful and great place to explore AND bird!
The two most important, most used for me are to Alajuela & to San Jose, at Atenas Bus Station:
CLICK TO ENLARGE
These printed schedules can be changed easier than the old painted ones. I go to Alajuela for Aeropost, Pricesmart, Walmart, movies, restaurants, mall But can’t stay too late, last bus back is at 10:30 pm! 🙂 Past my bedtime! 45 minute ride station to station either way
I go to San Jose less often for lawyer, US Embassy, government offices and sometimes museums, concerts, other cultural events. It is also the hub for buses to anywhere in Costa Rica. Next month I will go through San Jose to get to Orosi, Costa Rica. 1 hour ride station to station either way except rush hour is longer
I keep copies of these inside my closet door in case I’m going at an irregular time. The schedules are also posted on the website www.coopetransatenas.com Click “Horario” and then the dropbox down arrow to click the town you want to go to. “Buscar” after choosing the town will give you a full week schedule like the above. In Costa Rica thousands of people use buses every day to go to work or take care of business, medical appointments, shopping, etc.
SALE = to leave or go out of
L aV = Lunes a viernes or Monday to Friday
SAB Y FER = Sábado y ferias or Saturday and holidays
DOM = Domingo or Sunday
FOR BUS SCHEDULES BEYOND ATENAS you English speakers are lucky that there is one in English available at http://thebusschedule.com/EN/cr/index.php in which you fill in the form for where you want to travel, the date and time of day and they will give you a bus itinerary for your trip and often several options. It is what I use to plan my trips. It couldn’t be easier, but some Americans are still afraid to try the buses which go to almost every town in the country. This is the way local people travel! And yes, it is slower than going in your car but at an enormous savings and I would say generally safer plus more social with more cultural experiences and certainly more relaxing than driving. Where I do spend the money (still cheaper than a car) is to avoid some long bus rides I will take one of the local airlines to more distant places. Lazy old man!
One of the Coopetransatenas Buses leaving the Alajuela Station In San Jose there are lots of other bus companies to other towns and most have similar equipment, from Germany, China or Korea usually
Through the front window of my Alajuela bus is the line of people getting on the San Jose bus. Like I had earlier done for my Alajuela bus with all ages and all walks of life waiting patiently. Waiting in line is a part of life in Costa Rica; buses, banks, post office, medical services, etc. It builds patience and patience builds character. Pura Vida! 🙂
The bus broke down on the outskirts of Atenas today and in about 10 or 12 minutes another bus was there to collect us all and on to Alajuela. We arrived 15 minutes later than expected. Not bad! In more than 2.5 years this is only the second bus I’ve had to break down and both were replaced in minutes! Our buses are on time, efficient service, nice, large and modern equipment from different manufacturers. Some are labeled “Daewood” which I think is a South Korea company, but not sure. I think others are from Europe or other Latin American countries. Affordable and efficient transportation is necessary to get people to and from work, school, shopping, and in the case of one couple I met last Saturday on the bus, to go walk in the pilgrimage to the Cartago Church.
One of our Atenas buses leaving Alajuela. Yeh, I just missed it! But there’s one every 30 minutes in afternoon.
On our Atenas Costa Rica Info Facebook Group the other day a retiree considering a move here asked the question, “Can you actually live as a retiree in Atenas without a car?” And of course a bunch of us responded that we are doing it! I’m pleased to be going on to nearly 3 years without owning a car! And the excellent bus systems in Costa Rica make it possible to visit anywhere in the country or to other countries by bus! Plus walking is good for me.