Yesterday one case of Coronavirus was confirmed in Atenas. Many of our local people commute to both Alajuela and San Jose for jobs, a natural way for it to spread from the two cities with the most cases. Country-wide Costa Rica has 75 cases now and one death. This is a real pandemic!
You spoiled Americans may say, “So what?” but this is a really big deal here in Costa Rica! For years Ruta 3 was the only route from San Jose to the west coast, a narrow, 2-lane, winding mountain road that went right through downtown Atenas (when travelers got to see this charming little town) and then over another set of mountains & one-lane bridges to Puntarenas and Jaco Beaches.
Ten+ years ago they finished an outdated toll road called Ruta 27 from San Jose to Puntarenas with a side branch to Jaco Beaches, much straighter through the mountains but unfortunately most was still just 2 lanes and all the bridges are 2-lane! 🙂 There are 3rd lanes or “passing lanes” on many of the uphill sections to help get around slow trucks, but that is it! Poor planning for the long-term future! See the operator’s video on Ruta 27.
Now it seems the legislature has approved a coming upgrade to widen Ruta 27 to 4 lanes all the way to Puntarenas and Jaco – a huge improvement for those who drive this busy route when it is finally finished, though they are not even starting until 2021! Read all that I know about it on the “Live in Costa Rica Blog” article.
And for those fewer people like me who really like the Atlantic Coast or Caribe as we call it here, you probably know that the widening of Ruta 32 from San Jose to Limon (the flat part beyond the big mountain range) was approved a long time ago and is being widened to 4 lanes right now. It is an easier, quicker job after you get through the mountains of Braulio Carrillo because of the flat land between Guapiles & Limon and I assume they will eventually widen it through the mountains too. Both of these widened routes are important not only for retirees and tourists but especially for commercial trucks delivering goods from our two big shipping ports of Limon & Puntarenas to warehouses in San Jose.
In smaller, poorer countries like Costa Rica this kind of “progress” is slow & expensive, but sure as in this case. I don’t want us to become “too big” or “too developed” but one main highway from coast to coast is a good thing for everyone, though you will sure miss seeing a lot when you zoom by! 🙂 And it passes on the outskirts of Atenas just like the old coast to coast train did in a previous century. 🙂 ¡Así es la vida!
Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything. ~Charles Kuralt
Alma de Café in the National Theater, downtown San Jose, was chosen by a British publication as one of the best coffee shops in the world. I’ve been there and it is a wonderful “Old World” coffee shop that would be at home anywhere in Europe and has fabulous coffee and pastries! I highly recommend it! Read about it’s new honor on Christopher Howard’s “Live in Costa Rica” Blog.
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 Group Page Costa 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):
- To and from Tranquilo Bay Lodge, Bocas del Toro, Panama
- To and from Bijagua and Celeste Mountain Lodge at Tenorio Volcano National Park.
- To and from Orosi & Tapanti National Park
- Day Trips to Nearby Towns of San Jose, Zarcero and Palmares
- 3-Day Visit to San Jose
- Rancho Naturalista, Turrialba
- Multiple times to Zoo Ave in La Garita and once to Tarcoles River
- 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 just realized that I did a similar post in 2017, Seeing Costa Rica by Bus 🙂
Even though I am a legal resident of Costa Rica with a residential card or “Cedula” and thus a national ID number (which I have memorized), I am not a “citizen” which takes longer, is more complicated and is not one of my goals with no particular advantages for me (vote & CR Passport).
Thus I must retain my citizenship in the U.S. and that requires a valid U.S. Passport if “living abroad” (says the U.S.) though I no longer have to have a Costa Rica Visa stamped in it as a legal CR Resident. It just declares where I am a citizen (everyone must be a citizen somewhere), required by both countries, AND is required to travel internationally or even buy an international airline ticket. While I can travel domestically in Costa Rica with only my ID number or resident card, I used my U.S. Passport on those 3 trips I made to Nicaragua and Panama. A U.S. Passport is good for 10 years with my current one obtained in 2010, thus expiring in 2020, this year, on my birthday in July. And most countries require at least 6 months left on your passport to enter, thus needed now! Not as confusing as it may sound. But . . .
Process Before Going to Embassy
So, the first week of January I got on the U.S. Embassy Website to make an appointment for the renewal of my passport which they gave me for 28 January. No one can just walk into the embassy here – you MUST have an appointment first. It is like a huge military fortress of paranoid American bureaucrats surrounded by high concrete & steel walls and razor wire. Once you get in with an appointment, you are checked by dozens of armed guards, remove everything from your pockets and enter with no bag, purse, cellphone or anything but the cloths on your back and required paperwork. My two other experiences there were that once you finally get in, they are fairly efficient and rapid with whatever service you need. For us expats there are even IRS and Social Security offices inside the embassy. Passports are by the Department of State.
Required Paperwork Before Appointment
When I made the appointment on the embassy website I also downloaded and printed a 2-page form to fill out along with the 4 pages of detailed instructions (good grief!). I filled in the form with ink and went to a local Atenas photography shop for my passport photos, attaching one of them to the form as instructed. All of the above was before the actual appointment on 28 January and I will continue this saga after my appointment for which I’m hiring my local driver Walter to take me and wait on me while in the embassy, which shouldn’t take more than one hour. Then I will write the next paragraph and post this to the blog.
The Appointment – 28 January 2020
A Comedy of Errors
Walter picked me up at 8:30 AM this morning, saying that we would be early for my 10 AM appointment because it never takes him a full hour to get to San Jose (but I insisted on 8:30). Well, we zoomed up Ruta 27, our semi freeway to San Jose until about 5-7 km outside the city and we screeched to a halt or slow crawl of bumper to bumper traffic, assuming a wreck ahead and sure enough, about 45 minutes later there was a wreck on the opposite side of the freeway! Good grief! It was “rubber necking” or people slowing down to stare at the huge multi-car pile-up on the other side going in opposite direction! Whew! Then we sailed right into town pulling up in front of the embassy at exactly 10 AM, my appointment time! 🙂
But did I go straight in? No! The armed female guard with bullet-proof vest at door asked if I had a cell phone or any other electronic device? I said, “A cell phone which I expect to put in the locker inside.” (like I did last time there) She then tells me that they no longer have lockers, it was too much trouble and they have too many people entering. Walter was already gone and is not allowed to park near the U.S. Embassy, thus he goes somewhere else until I get out and call him for a pickup.
So I helplessly look at her and ask “There is no one here to give my phone to, so that means I cannot go in and renew my passport?” THEN she tells me that the Catholic church a half block down the street has lockers I can rent. So I hike down the street and after asking someone, find the little church building and go in among statues of Mary, pay my 1 mil colones and get locker #13 key (lucky 13!). I put in my phone and at her suggestion my coins and belt with big metal buckle, but keep my wallet because you have to pay for a passport! 🙂 By then this frustrated foreigner was feeling his two cups of coffee from breakfast and had to pay 600 colones to use the baño! (But my coins are in the locker!) Ohhhhhhh! I hate the American Embassy!
I rush back to the embassy, late for my appointment, feeling like I was entering the embassy in Afghanistan or Iraq with armed guards and bullet-proof vests, and finally, after a severe security check, I get inside and make it to the correct window for passport renewal (not labeled, just window 15), passing crowds of other people there for visas, and who knows what else? But I had an appointment! 🙂
Wow! No one else at the passport window! (In fact the worker there looked bored!) I give him all my paperwork and passport photos (left) which he stared at for a few moments and then said “These will not do. The photographer zoomed in too close to your face.” and he showed me how it was suppose to look. Then he said, “No problem! You can go back out into the lobby to the photo booth and get your photo made properly.” (Grrrrrrrrrr.)
So back out among the throngs of people in the huge open-air lobby with others, mostly Ticos getting U.S. Visas, also waiting to have their photos made. I finally get it and pay the dos mil (about $4 compared to $2 for the Atenas “zoomed in” version).
I take them back to the guy behind the passport window and he asks me, “Now aren’t these much better?” I wanted to say “No” but rather used the local non-committal “Mas o menas.” (more or less) and then asked “Cuanto cuesta?” And he says $110 and I give him my MasterCard and it is basically done. . .
. . . until he gives me a little slip of paper written totally in español explaining how it will be mailed to my Atenas Correos (Post Office), but only after I go first to that post office and prepay them the equivalent of $7 for their postal services and email to the indicated U.S. Embassy email address a photo copy of the receipt I will receive, saved as a PDF file only. Then he explains in English that it takes them 2 weeks to get the new passport made and the post office 2 days to get it to Atenas. Then I can go pick up my new passport and the Post Office MIGHT even call or send an email when they have it. The embassy will not send it to my PO Box. I guess afraid of theft.
Oh Lord-y was I glad to get out of that place! I go directly across the street to a tiny coffee shop (Coco Cafe) and get a cup of coffee and 4 miniature cinnamon rolls, los rollitos de canela. I call Walter and by the time I’m finished, he is there for me. All total an hour at the armed fortress and about 2.5 hours on the road! But almost done! And Walter dropped me off downtown where I took care of the post office payment today AND I have already emailed the PDF photo copy of post office receipt to the embassy. Waiting is all that’s left to do.
One less thing to think about for the next 10 years! 🙂 So in 2030 I will do it again as a 90-year old (wiser & more experienced) for the passport that will get me to age 100! 🙂 Then I may need someone to go with me in 2040, but the embassy only allows one extra person who is not the applicant! 🙂 And who says retirement is boring?
Retired in Costa Rica
I was thinking of doing a Costa Rica Map on a cork board with map pins showing where I’ve been – which is a lot more places than most people I know here among both Ticos and Expats. Then suddenly in my electronic mailbox appears an email from Google Maps titled: Google Maps Timeline 2019 Update. Yep, it included the feature photo map above and some other stuff that seems to go back to 2015, my first year here when I began traveling Costa Rica. It seems I approved them tracking me (my cell phone) back then and this is what I get! Should I be afraid of Google or send them a thank you note? 🙂
The big red blob in the middle is the space between Atenas & San Jose that includes Alajuela and all the places I go there including the big SJO Airport. I cannot explain the red dot in the Pacific Ocean, but if you study the map more you will see the large green area in the south-southeast above Panama that has no red spots for my visits. One main reason is that it is the Talamanca Mountains, much of which is indigenous reserves with no public roads going through there plus protected national forests not allowing travel. My May trip will put me on the Western edge of that area at Chirripó and my visit to the Bribri Yorkin Reserve had me on the eastern edge. And that is it! 🙂 So just 17 more parks/reserves to go! 🙂
After 37 national parks & reserves are visited, I will do a photo book like I did with all of Tennessee’s State Parks in my photo book A Walk in the Woods Through All 54 Tennessee State Parks. There are technically only 28 national parks here! But the nine reserves count as equals and for my nature photography purposes especially, so I’m saying 37, with only 17 more to go! I don’t have a car which slows me down a little! But I will get there! 🙂
See links to the photo galleries of the 20 National Parks & Reserves I have already visited or for all of my travels over Costa Rica browse through the family of galleries:
Costa Rica Trips (80) which is the best collection of my photos here!
“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.”
The clear skies from my terrace on today, December 1 (feature photo above), hint at what the next 5 months could be like as the rainy season slows down and stops for no rain in the Central Valley Dec-Apr. But like weather everywhere, there are sometimes exceptions and as a gardener I happen to like rain! 🙂 Either way, I will adapt!
The above shot is a single shot on my cell phone.
Below is a composite shot on big camera yesterday with clouds.
This Article Title link is to an old newspaper article that still holds true today as the government here is not yet ready to spend billions of dollars on a new airport (25 minutes west of Atenas) which would be in a lower, flatter, larger valley of farm land for much greater expansion than the current international airport in Alajuela (45 minutes east of Atenas) which is basically land-locked with expensive developments, though closer to the capital of San Jose. The new one would be closer to the Pacific Coast beaches and resorts.
The debate will probably never end (seen in responses to above article) and it will never happen until both the president and the legislature make it a priority which they still have not done. I expect to die before it actually happens, if ever, and it really doesn’t matter that much to me. 45 minutes is close enough to a major airport! 🙂
And a “Profile” is on the CAPA Center for Aviation website.
Plus I’m happy with the new Domestic Terminal (my photo gallery) at the current airport, since my only flights now are short hops within Costa Rica on little local planes with Sansa Airlines. So if you’ve heard there will be a new San Jose Costa Rica International Airport, don’t expect it before 2030, if ever, unless you want to donate money to the government to build it and maybe get your name on it! 🙂
I think I forgot that they are on the Caribbean Slope – east of continental divide (their rivers flow into the Atlantic) meaning November is maybe the rainiest month! 🙂 As soon as the plane got out of Central Valley over the mountains it was raining and hasn’t stopped since. But I love the rainy season in general and have had some great experiences in the rain, like at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge, so I scheduled all my birding hikes and will do the best I can even if under an umbrella! 🙂 Funny thing is I tried to book this trip for Christmas week and they were already full nearly a year ago. I’m thinking about booking for Christmas 2121. 🙂
The best photos in this post (I think) are the “Plane Shots.” Enjoy and expect some wet reports this week!
Click image to enlarge.
Click image to enlarge.
I decided early in my visiting of Costa Rica to not live in the big capital city of San Jose because I wanted a more tranquil retirement life than most big cities can provide in their, busy, hectic, crowded, expensive and sometimes dangerous ways.
My first choice was always to live in the woods away from everything, but that would require an expensive 4WD car which I early decided I would do without plus in many cases it is actually more expensive, plus generally no where near the needed shopping and medical care a retiree needs.
Thus the “happy medium” or compromise location of the “Central Valley” of Costa Rica within easy bus or other transportation to the best shopping and medical facilities in the country (like most retirees to CR), yet still a somewhat easy trip to escape into the national parks and forests of Costa Rica which has worked well for me. And nature in the far corners of Costa Rica continues to be my focus. 🙂
BUT . . . sometimes there are fun reasons to visit the big city and especially an old, historic and artsy Latin-American city like San Jose (see my Trip Galleries below). Christopher Howard also explains it well in one of his latest blog posts:
And in that article you can see why I love the many parks in the city, plus the architecture, a tour I made of just the old colonial churches, the arts, the many museums, art in general and as shown here, as an example, some of the many public art sculptures in San Jose:
See my photo gallery San Jose and/or
My SAN JOSE TRIP GALLERIES:
- 2019 Feb 9-10 – DoubleTree Cariari, San Jose overnight
- 2018 Sep 22 – Costa-Rica-Dance-Fest, San Jose Convention Center
- 2018-March-4 – Little Theater, San Jose
- 2018 February 18 – Cirque du Soleil – San Jose
- 2017 Nov 14 – Atenas Expats Tour of San Jose
- 2017 October 15 – San Jose Cuban Ballet Performance
- 2017 February 16-18 – My Solo San Jose City Photography Visit
- 2016 Jan 27-30 – Healthcare Tour
- 2015 Mar 29 – San Jose with Kevin
- 2014 August – “Live in Costa Rica” Relocation Tour, part in San Jose
- 2010 December 29 – Day 10 Caravan Tour, Morazan Park Holiday Inn
- 2010 December 20 – Day 1 Caravan Tour, Sabana Park Barcelona Palacio
The Atenas Expats Men’s Club had another trip Saturday and I participated, the first time in several months. A bus load of us traveled to San Jose for a lunch stop at El Rodeo and then the afternoon at a portion of the two-day International 2018 Costa Rica Open Dance Fest, an annual event and contest (like “Dancing With the Stars”) that attracts contestants from most of the Latin American countries and the United States. We saw just a small portion or about 3 hours worth.
This time I’m asking you to go to my photo gallery on the event:
It was colorful and high energy with all ages of dancers. Go browse a few photos of children, teens or adults! You’ll be glad you did! 🙂
Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion. – Martha Graham
Above for more of my photos or
below for Facebook Videos:
And MORE VIDEOS on the Dance Fest official Facebook Page: