By Vicki Barnes
We made the trek to Alajuela – a few dozen kilometers from San Jose, the capitol of Costa Rica, so that our traveling companions for the first leg of the journey could catch planes back to the US.
An upscale (by Costa Rican standards) city of 85,000, Alajuela is made up of a large city center surrounded by barrios (suburban neighborhoods). The small hotel where we set up camp for a couple of days is in the barrio of Coyol, west and a little south to Alajuela Central (downtown).
Unless you’re up for a long hike, the best way to get to San Jose is by bus. First the local bus to Alajuela Central and then a larger “Tico Bus” to the center of the capitol. The task seemed a little daunting at first, but with a little coaching from the young woman at the front desk, we march a few hundred meters up the road to the covered bus stop and waited for the next bus downtown.
There is never more than a 10 minute wait for the local bus, which lurches its way along the semi-paved road at a medium clip, stopping every few blocks at first and then less frequently as we get closer to downtown.
The trip is 40 cents per person. As a woman, I am pretty much guaranteed a seat in a country where men stand gladly to allow a woman their place. Steve more often than not stands, hanging on to the hand rail above his head, having offered the seat next to me to a female passenger. (Sorry, honey!)
Teens text and take “selfies”. Parents hold their babies closely, the side-to-side motion of the ride rocking the wee ones to sleep. One young woman tries, with little luck, to apply her make up. An old man stares out the window, but smiles when we pass a restaurant where a traditional band is playing on the sidewalk outside.
Past the Super Pali (a subsidiary of WalMart, we are told) , the bus skitters to a halt in a gravel lot and disgorges the passengers who scatter to other buses in that lot, to a lot across the street or into the crowds heading to hundreds of small retail stores, restaurants and other businesses. Several branches of the National Bank of Costa Rica are nearby as well.
We scamper a few blocks to cue up for the bus bound for San Jose. Buses are clearly marked, so it’s easy to find the appropriate line. If you’re unsure just ask. Even a poor attempt at formulating the question, brings several partially bi-lingual Costa Ricans eager to offer assistance.
The bus into the capitol costs about $1.10. It is more like a Greyhound bus in the US with oversized seats and room for your stuff. There are overhead bins, but it is recommended that you hang on to whatever bags you have rather than put them over your head, under your seat or even in the cargo hold below the bus. While there is little violent crime in this country, crimes of opportunity are more common. If you do not keep a watchful eye on your property, it will probably take an unexpected and permanent vacation of its own.
The low cost and comfort of the buses make it an extraordinary value in Costa Rica. It’s a great way to meet people, get where you’re going and keep your budget in check.
Steve and I have taken several practice runs on these buses and feel we are ready, now, to take a bus across the country. We checked and double checked the on-line schedules and have mapped out a plan.
Tomorrow after a traditional breakfast, we’ll trudge to the bus stop with all our gear, ride to Alajuela Central, switch buses and head to San Jose where we will switch buses again.
We had better have it right: we have reservations at a hostel in Liberia – in the northwest part of the country – tomorrow night.