First Day in Costa Rica- San Jose

There was a slight turbulence as we descended down to land in San Jose.  The city lights outside our window wove down the hillsides like a river.  Customs was very simple, at 8:30 pm there weren’t any lines except the wait for our luggage.  They checked our luggage by just throwing them on a belt and sending them through an x-ray machine.  Since we were tired we took a taxi to the hotel.  I had reserved this hotel, Taormina,  through the SW airlines site because it gave me points, and said there was a shuttle.  I thought it would be near the airport.  It was not, it was 22 minutes away in downtown San Jose.

Our room is nice, just like any American hotel, with an excellent shower.  We collapsed into beds and awoke to tropical sunshine in the morning.  The view out of the window showed a narrow busy one-was street, rusted roofs, and beautifully painted wall.  The trees were covered in blossoms:


We got dressed and went down to get our free breakfast.  In the restaurant, a buffet was set up with toast, some granola, yogurt, orange juice, and bacon. We thought perhaps that was the free breakfast, yet the patrons were eating luscious-looking fruit: papayas, watermelon, and pineapple.  My brother asked them “Where did you get that?”

“From the waiter.”  We didn’t see a waiter, but my brother went searching for one.  He came back and soon the waiter showed up asking if we wanted eggs, rice and beans, and fruit.  It was a wonderful breakfast.

Our goal in the city was to change out our SIMS cards and get local phone service.  After much research on the internet, I discovered that the best phone service for the whole country was the government phone Kolbi.  We needed to pay for it in local currency.  There was a Kolbi store within walking distance, but first, we needed an ATM.  We asked at the front desk, the receptionist spoke excellent English, “You can exchange money here in the  Casino for 5%, or walk four blocks and use the machine across the street from the Holiday Inn .”

Oh, “muy gracias,” I said trying to politely use my limited Spanish from Duolingo. We proceeded up the narrow street.  A huge building loomed ahead of us, I looked up, on the top, it said Holiday Inn.  This was going to be easy. Across the street from the Holiday Inn was a park, no cash machine there.  We continued up the street, thinking we’d see a familiar machine, but nothing that looked like a cash machine.  My brother went and asked in a store, speaking in his polite friendly English.  They pointed up the street.  We went there still nothing.  We went around the blook and saw a bank.  I approached the door.  A nicely dressed man was letting people in one at a time.  I thought perhaps they were workers and the bank wasn’t open yet. I decided to ask him if he had a cash machine, but I didn’t know the Spanish for that.  I asked in English and he pointed around the corner, saying “outside”.  We looked outside and didn’t see anything, but there was a line of people standing by a glass door.  I looked through the glass and there were two cash machines inside.  We got in line. The line moved quickly and my brother and I stood in front of our machines.  I put in my card and asked for 50,000 colones which is less than $100, three times but it refused to work.  “I can’t get it to work,”  I said to my brother.

“That’s strange it worked just fine for me, he said turning to get his card.  “Oh no, it ate my card.”

He tried and tried, but he couldn’t get his card back.  “This machine belongs to the bank, let’s go in the bank and they can get it.” I said.

We spoke to the man at the door, he nodded his head and said, “Passports.”  We showed him our passports and he pointed to a seat where other people were seated.  We sat down and waited and watched.  When one person was called up to the teller, everyone stood up from their chairs and moved over a seat, just like musical chairs without the music.  One person refused to move another person told him to move, but he refused, then the bank guard told him to move, so he stood up. We followed the crowd, grateful for the movement as we sat and waited and waited.  I worried that maybe he didn’t really understand since no one seemed to speak English. Finally, we got to the last seat and were motioned to go up.

We sat down in front of a very pretty young woman.  I asked, “Do you speak English?” not sure how to explain our situation in Spanish.

The woman answered in perfect English, “Just a little.”

I pointed to my brother and said, “The cash machine ate his card.”  She nodded yes and asked for his passport.  He gave her a passport, and she stood up and walked to the back of the bank.

I got out my passport and open it up preparing to ask for her to see if she could get me cash from my cash card.  I stared at the passport, the picture was my brother.  I stood up and waved the passport hoping to catch her before she got too far.  No, she’d disappeared.  Finally, she returned smiling holding out the passport.   “He doesn’t look like Patricia,”  she said in excellent English. I gave her the correct passport and we all laughed.

She gave my brother his cash card and then I crossed my fingers while she processed my card and got me 60,000 colones.

“Now we can go to the Kolbi store,”  I said trying to bring up the directions on my phone.  I couldn’t access any internet, so the phone couldn’t give me any directions. We walked back to the hotel to use there internet.  Seated in the hotel lobby I brought up the directions, and we started out on our quest for the Kolbi store.  I’d written them down in case they stopped coming through on my phone, but luckily they stayed up because there were lots of stores yelling from their signs that we should stop there instead.  I wanted the official Kolbi store, not some knockoff, or some other phone service.  At 700 meters from our destination people were lined up outside getting signed up for something, my brother asked, “Is that it?”

“No, it should be a store, not just a window,” I answered and we continued on until finally, we saw a store, that looked more like the bank than a phone store.  At the door a gentleman asked what we wanted.  “A Sims card and Kolbi phone service.”  I answered.  He brought us over to a short line, next to a very long line.  I was relieved thinking maybe this won’t take long.  I was thirsty and had a sore throat, apparently my grandson’s cold was trying to take up residence there. The line moved quickly, but instead of help, we were handed a cue card he pointed to where many people were seated. We sat down and waited at least 45 minutes, not sure how we would know when we were supposed to get service.  There weren’t any signs in English anywhere.

A man came and asked us to come to his window.  He asked what we wanted saying he needed 5,000 colones.  I handed him the colones and he changed my SIMS card and got a local phone number for me.  I called my cousin to make sure the number worked.  My brother did the same with his phone.  We were set, except I’d lost my voice.  I was hungry and thirsty.  We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant where we got chicken, a salad and  beans for 2,500 colones or $4.50.  We walked back to the hotel and I went to bed to fight off my cold. Room service at the hotel provided us with a wonderful dinner.


Taormina Hotel and Casino San Jose, Costa Rica


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