Beans may be good for you, but at what price?

Graffiti San José

After yelling as much ‘Pura Vida!’ as our, now tender, throats would allow in La Fortuna, we hit the road south. Having to buy a bus ticket at an office was a novel way to start our journey and if anything, was a little fancy for our tastes. Let me give this cold hard unforgiving cash to the driver in exchange for entry onto the bus, no pre paid bus ticket nonsense. Nicaragua, we yearn for your hectic, off the cuff attitude when it comes to nationwide transportation.

I digress.

The bus journey to the capital, San José, was a long one (5 hours) and right up there with the most picturesque journeys of my life. The first half of the journey was spent skirting large volcanoes on the flat fertile terrane but then we slowly wound our way into the clouds. Small villages clung to the verdant mountains with farmland filling the valleys swamped with cloud. It was incredible seeing everything through a misty lens. But then we were given the view of a lifetime. We immerged from the clouds and kept going up. The mountains just steeply dropped into the murky white which extended to the horizon. After admiring the view from within the confines of the bus, it wasn’t long until we reached the edge of San Jose.


Green fields above clouds
The best photo I could take from the constantly turning bus

San José


Once we arrived it was getting dark and we walked along the main road to our hostel, Costa Rica Backpackers. We were initially impressed with it. It had a pool, a large kitchen, bar and restaurant. There was one thing missing from our Costa Rica experience so far though, and that was beer. After the enjoyable experiences that we had under the influence of Toña and Victoria in Nicaragua (see San Juan del Sur and Laguna de Apoyo), we were totally were ready for something equally…effective… I mean…refreshing…

Imperial wasn’t quite what we were looking for. It was strangely European with its imperial eagle sticker and strong taste. That disappointed us but at least we could have a good night’s sleep and wake up fresh and ready to hit the town in the morning.

Ha. No. Not quite. There was a little problem with the beds. The beds weren’t so much creaky, as alive. I genuinely think these beds could have been the most delicate instrument for detecting human movement. Indiscernible movements produced a flurry of spine chilling metallic creaks. Combine this with two arguing German women and you’ve got a recipe for sleep deprivation and an even less amicable James in the morning.

Once morning had finally come, my weary brain was in dire need of sustenance, this came, as on many occasions, in the form of bread. We went searching for bakeries and found one down a road that had the strange aroma combination of freshly made bread and human urine. Not a scent I would strongly recommend (I hope you’re taking notes Febreze). The man in the bakery was wholly incomprehensible, I mean we had absolutely no clue what he was saying. Not a single word. We did get the bread though, which is all that really matters and it was heavenly. On top of that he gave us a chocolate éclair sweet for free. Can’t argue with free stuff, a lovely man by all accounts.

Graffiti in San José
The street may have had an unpleasant aroma but at least the graffiti was entertaining


Bakery in San José
Never has anyone looked this intensely at bread


Our cheesy bread was our fuel for the national museum which was to come. You walk into the big ol’ yellow building, pay your fees and you’re ready for some exhibits:


Butterflies feeding
A whole room dedicated to butterflies, not a bad way to start the museum


National museum San José dinosaurs
The man becomes a beast. The descent into savagery took but mere seconds. The conch shell is destroyed. Look out, Piggy.


Strange painting San José
Not sure what the artist was on when this painting was conceived but whatever it was I want some


After the museum, we wandered the city for a while, not finding much to see, but enjoying the centre of San José anyway. On our amble around the centre we decided that dinner would be whatever culinary delights we could muster up at the hostel kitchen that evening. We spotted our trusty supermarket Palí and decided rice and beans would be a good idea. You can’t do rice and beans wrong, we thought. We were evidently wrong. The beans needed to soak/cook overnight and we only had around 4 hours. We put them on to cook and then waited, our 4 hour wait was not without entertainment though. The two of us were just sat around in the kitchen chatting when, completely silently, an old man walked out of the torrential rain outside and into the room. He proceeded to do some press-ups and tricep dips before pacing around ominously and taking a keen interest in our beans, then as silently as he had come, he slipped away mysteriously into the night, never to be seen again. Like some sort of spectre.

Time flew and, as if by magic, 4 hours had passed. The old man’s presence had sped up time itself. Or, equally possibily, we had been in some sort of terrified wonderment at the sinister figure who, for a phantom, was overtly conscious of his physical health, that we hadn’t noticed 4 hours pass.

Lets just say right now that Brendan was not a fan of dinner. The beans, to be fair, were tasteless while being abnormally dry, flaky and somehow also soft. I didn’t mind the beans too much and in hindsight it was definitely better than our dinner of plain rice in Bocas del Toro. After battling through a dinner that was actually a physical struggle to eat due to the drying effect the beans had on our mouths, we reflected on our decisions. We thought we were being smart and cheap, beans don’t need 4 hours we thought. We believed our plan to be infallible. What we didn’t think of is that, we’d been thinking thoughts our whole life and look where that got us. A mouth full of plain rice and partially cooked beans.  Disappointment in a single sentence.


Dinner in San José
He’s smiling here but he’s dead inside

Puerto Viejo


Puerto Viejo is a tiny town next to the Panamanian border and was our next stop but only for one night. It was our first experience of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and we could quickly see the influences. We had our sights set on a certain Lionfish hostel for our arrival, but being lazy and not having had to book other hostels thanks to blind luck, we thought not to reserve beds. Turns out it was full and it also turns out the reason for this is that it’s the only cheap place in town, offering hammocks and army style beds to sleep in for some of the cheapest prices I’d seen. After wandering town and finding nothing cheaper than $15 we decided on the one we were standing outside (Kalunai hostel) purely because it looked decent and I was knackered. It was a cool set up, with an outside kitchen area under a roof and hammocks around the outside, the room was air conditioned and the shower was heavenly. 15 dollars was a small price to pay for a little luxury and very welcoming owners.

Food was the next priority and that was an easy decision. Outback Jacks was somewhere we’d spotted when we got off the bus and it looked interesting and the food looked good.

Granted some people don’t like throwing stuff away but not many people gather a collection of assorted items that have no semblance of relation to each other and then think: ‘You know what? this would make a brilliant restaurant if we hung all of this stuff everywhere’. This crazy Australian man did exactly that. It had some hilarious quirks. Actually, everything about the place was a quirk. The food was lovely but we ate a small meal each (not something I was madly keen about doing) because of the expense of the hostel. We listened to the brilliant drum band playing on the beach a few metres away and fended off the invisible sand flies with futile thrashing swipes towards our legs. After our meal and heading back to the hostel I was left wondering if Outback Jack, the man who set up this restaurant decades ago, is a genius restauranteur or a glorified hoarder.


A colourful restaurant in Puerto Viejo


Note: Our one regret of this town is not going out to the Jaguar rescue centre just outside of town, where they have numerous animals from the rainforests of Costa Rica. In the centre you can see them up close, unlike on our rafting trip through the rainforest. We did make up for it slightly in Bocas with some animal encounters but no jaguars unfortunately.


The Border  


The border to Panama was like maths. I didn’t get it. There was a man with a fluorescent jacket looking very unofficial telling us to bring our passports to get stamped at his hole in the wall next to a restaurant. Not dodgy at all we thought. So, fleeing the shouting man, we went up to the office where they obviously directed us back down to the man, who wasn’t best pleased that we thought he was a nutter. I know, shock. Thinking we were done we sauntered across the old bridge to Panama where some soldiers kindly told us we are idiots and we didn’t have anything we needed. Back to the office then, to fill out a form and sign some things. By this point the plantain crisps we had been munching on had gone, which was the basis of my sadness then there was all the signing and walking and the fact we had 3 buses and 2 boats until our next location, that just added to the plantainless sadness. If you haven’t gathered yet, food is pretty much the only controlling factor on my emotions. We then did the bridge again, this time passing the soldiers and coming to a booth where they told us we didn’t have a stamp. You guessed it. Bridge, office, stamp, bridge, booth, stamp no.2. Done? No. We lined up for an age to reach a grumpy man in a booth where he was faffing around with our passports and checking we had proof of onward travel. I loved standing there while he decided my fate, the reason? I could get the wafts of cold air from the air-con through the slit in the glass and it was glorious. That was the final step then we were off to Bocas.


The first bridge crossing before our enthusiasm and plantain crisps had gone.


Final thoughts

Please for the love of God, don’t buy vacuum packed kidney beans. It’s not worth the hassle or the weird clammy aftertaste/feeling in your mouth. If in doubt stock up on bread and plantain and you’ll be dandy.


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