The flight from Los Angeles to San Jose, Costa Rica is a relatively simple 6 hour flight, the same amount of time it takes to travel across the country to New York City. But when your compass points south, your surroundings are transformed into this lush, green Jurassic Park-like destination that is Costa Rica. Passport? Check. Rudimentary knowledge of Spanish? Check. For a round trip ticket costing $230, I considered myself on my way to South America.
With a little bit of research under my belt, we booked a villa in the town of Escazu to stay in for a jaw-dropping $60 a night. So that made me think that if my excuse not to travel was that I couldn’t afford it, I was dead wrong. Escazu is known as the “Beverly Hills” of Costa Rica as home to some of the fanciest restaurants, the country’s only IMAX theatre and the most affluent artists and businessmen of the country.
The town reminded me a lot of the hills of Silver Lake in Los Angeles. On our second night in we ate at a restaurant further up the hill that overlooked all of San Jose. The view was much like what you would expect from Runyon Canyon or Universal Studios back home in California. It was hard to disassociate ourselves from the reality that we were in a completely different country. Most of our conversation circled around the fact that this place didn’t feel real.
Whenever we needed to go anywhere, we rang up Carlos. An independent cab driver who bounced around Escazu in a patchwork Volvo with no seatbelts. If you’ve ever taken a cab in Los Angeles from LAX, this experience might have given you PTSD. The roads were tight with cars both parked and in transit. The road dipped and escalated at alarming levels. But when in Rome you must do what the Romans do – and hold on for dear life. Granted everyone in Costa Rica seemed to drive like maniacs, so I entrusted Carlos knew how to navigate the madness.
On our final night we headed to Parque de Viva, a modern outdoor concert venue. Mind you, this is still South America and the route leading up to this 15,000+ capacity venue consisted of a singular two lane road running along to a cow field. Its odor was so strong that you could still get a good whiff of manure from your seat in the arena.
After the concert ended there was bumper to bumper traffic in every direction. We communicated with our driver thanks to Google Translate and decided it would be best to walk out of the heavy traffic and meet at a different location. We passed dozens of merch booths with illegal screenprints. Tail lights lit up the road and we were serenaded by the sounds of car horns and blasting stereos.
We must have walked a mile and a half before cars even started moving until we miraculously found the Toyota that had dropped us off earlier that day. On the way back there was a group of motorbike joyriders popping wheelies and revving their diesel powered engines. Recently I had seen a group of rogue bicyclists taking over Venice Blvd with their engine powered bicycles and I would again be reminded of the similarities between our modern city of Los Angeles and San Jose.
There are experiences that I know are always going to stick out in my mind about this trip: how quickly the fog would consume everything outside of our window and leave us with the feeling that we were living in a cloud; the local band at the farmer’s market that played a cover of ABBA’s Chiquitita on a pan flute while I drank juice directly from a freshly chopped open coconut. I’m not a stranger to world traveling but there is a difference when you get to experience something so completely out of your comfort zone for the first time. It definitely won’t be my last. Consider the traveling bug caught.