Friday, December 11, 2009

Not lost in San Jose . . .

Today we took two busses down from the hills of San Francisco de Heredia to the capital of Costa Rica, the crowded, much maligned city of San Jose. I'm taller than the average Costa Rican, so I sit a little sideways in most busses.

As we walked down narrow and crowded sidewalks, acid rock blared from tiny shops to entice us in to buy T-shirts, colorful socks, or other intimate apparel. We found our way to Vishnu, a well respected vegetarian restaurant. This was a bigger feat that you might expect since street signs are a rarety, despite our trusty Lonely Planet map. Friendly passersby gave us directions, just a few blocks more, and so we came to Vishnu for a late lunch where some customers were diving into gigantic bowls of ice cream with fruit. We were disciplined and went for the plato del dia (delicious lentil soup, sweet watermelon drink, brown rice with carrots, cabbage, beets, black beans, and fried banana, and for desert, a fresh banana pudding).

We also found Seventh Street Books, where the bookstore lady was very helpful, especially after we started talking about our favorite Latin American writers. We went on our way with a Spanish grammar book, another on Tico culture (Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos), and a dual language collection of short stories. Ah, reading materials.

Refreshed, we hesitatingly made our way to the Gold Museum, doubting whether we had made the right choice for Lonely Planet noted the museum has "all the warmth and comfort of a bank vault" BUT we were pleasantly surprised as we followed the graceful stairways down underneath the central plaza. Somehow the three floors of the museum were spacious and the artifacts beautifully displayed.

The goldwork was exquisite (especially tiny frogs, hummingbirds, and alligators, some as small as 1" to 3"), delicate and refined, some a mix of copper and gold, as can be seen by the photo (more info available here). The entire lost wax process was illustrated. One case also showed these tiny bird and animal figures ritually damaged; these were often used in healing ceremonies. Many of the artifacts came from Guayabo, though I'm not yet sure we'll go to this largely unexcavated site, though it has many of the large and mysterious circular stones scattered throughout. A 4 wheel drive is required for the 45 minute drive off the main road.

We also saw an overview of the birds here and identified our backyard bird as a Tropical Kingbird, somewhat a cousin to the Kiskadee we saw all over South America). Our eyes filled with images of motmots, trogons, macaws, and hummingbirds, that we'll hope to see in January when we go touring.

Finally, we are adjusting to the 4,000 foot altitude (that means I'm puffing a little less when we hike up hills). We're moved into our apartment, know where to buy Pepsi and roastizadas, and are starting to feel somewhat guilty as we hear from friends back home about 28 degree weather. So, I wish you were here. 78 degrees tomorrow.

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