The flight began it’s approach into San Jose International Airport and my palms began to sweat in anticipation. Instead of seeing the lush vibrant green landscape that I had heard so much about before coming, the sky was dark save the thousand twinkling lights of the city below. I couldn’t wait to be on the ground! I was utterly exhausted from my cold and the pressure of the descent wreaked havoc on my eardrums. But despite it all, I was excited to finally be here in Costa Rica, a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time.

I gathered my belongings, headed through customs and entered into the Arrivals lounge into a sea of black heads holding hundreds of white signs listing names of the passengers whom they’ve come to greet. I also find the Arrivals area in another country to be quite a stressful, disorderly place. You walk through the glass doors and there you are, voila, surrounded by hundreds of smiling, shouting people waving big white signs in your face. It is overwhelming to say the least. Especially when you are tired or jet-lagged (which I was not given only a two hour time change and a relatively short flight from Minneapolis).

I searched the eager faces, desperately hoping he was there. Then I found him, smiling and holding a sign that said Mrs. Melancon (so formal!) and was relieved that my driver had come. You never know for sure when corresponding and organizing all your travel details via email. Especially when there is a language barrier involved. Yet I was glad he was there to take me to my hotel. The last thing I wanted to do was have to haggle with an unknown driver in a language I wasn’t all that red hot at. Furthermore, it was almost nine o’clock and I was ready to relax.

The driver grabbed my bags, packed them inside the small, old sedan and sped off towards downtown San Jose. It was Saturday night and the city was incredibly alive. People were out, everywhere, walking down the streets, driving in cars, and going out to eat. I could feel the energy pull me in and instantly felt happy. It had been such a long cold winter!

My driver didn’t speak a lick of English yet that didn’t seem to faze him one bit. He talked boisterously and rapidly to me the entire ride, and was delighted by my second grade level Spanish. In fact, he encouraged it which was a relief and helped me let down my guard so I wasn’t so afraid of making my many mistakes. Somehow, like magic we managed to communicate and before I knew it, we were at my hotel, El Presidente, located right on the main drag. Gracias, I said cheerfully, glad that he got me there safe and sound and also put up with my terrible Spanish. I secretly cursed myself for majoring in French! The Ticos, as Costa Rican people are called, seemed extremely cool, gregarious people that I definitely wanted to get to know. It would have helped if I could communicate better in Spanish but I hoped that after a week long immersion, I would somehow become more proficient.

The hotel was large and quite modern. I had no idea at all what to expect so I was quite pleased to be in a clean, comfortable, safe place. The staff was overwhelmingly friendly and welcomed me with smiles. Despite my pounding sinus headache and sore throat, I had to get a drink before bed. I knew there was no way I could sleep so soon after arriving into a new country. Fortunately the hotel has a nice gringo bar that opens up onto the street, which enabled me, a blond American woman traveling solo, to have herself a glass of ice cold Sav Blanc and watch the world go by on a Saturday night. I was amazed by the people out on the streets. I had heard several times that San Jose can be dangerous, especially for foreign women and especially at night. The hotel staff reminded me gently to not leave the hotel at night alone. Period. Of course I didn’t. Thus finding the gringo bar was the perfect opportunity to explore my surroundings all under the comforts and safety of the hotel. Tomorrow I had the entire day to explore the city and I would talk with the front desk about where to go. I couldn’t wait to see for myself what all the fuss and fascination is about with Costa Rica. And, tomorrow was the day!

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