I arrived at San Jose International Airport yesterday afternoon, and my first impression is that my Spanish is not nearly as good as I thought it was. All I can say is thank God bathroom gender symbols are pretty much universal. Otherwise, the airport is reminiscent of Laguardia– a bit of a mess, but still functioning. Luckily, I had arranged for some free local transport, which requires some explaining…
While researching budget travel options I stumbled across a pretty interesting site called, CouchSurfers.org. Basically users can build a typical profile– age, location, a paragraph or two autobiography and some pictures. Members can then choose if they either have a couch for travelers to use or if they are a traveler in search of a couch.
Obviously I selected the later, and a few days before my trip I searched for open couches in San Jose. Within a few minutes I was reading the profile of what sounded like a very hospitable host I’ll call Pepe. The site allows other users to leave reviews that cannot be moderated by the reviewed, and this particular host had about 20 reviews from other travelers over the last year– all very positive. I should also mention that the service is free, and members cannot ask to be compensated.
I said what the hell, and sent an email/couch request. The next day I awoke to a prompt affirmative response from Pepe, and he even offered to pick me up from me Airport– typically a $29 cab ride. We exchanged some emails about flight times and my purpose for coming to Costa Rica, and just like that it was all set.
For most Americans, this concept probably sounds incredibly dangerous, and there is a certain amount risk involved. However, if I wanted to play it safe, I wouldn’t be backpacking around Central America by myself. If my mom ever learns to how navigate to this post, I’m sure she’ll have some sort of cardiac infarction. Sorry mom!
Ok, where was I? The airport… Yes… so I make it through customs without any issues, and work my way to baggage claim where I assume Pepe will be waiting for me. I’m nervous when I get downstairs because the baggage claim area is pretty much empty other than a few passengers grabbing their bags. My fears are realized, Pepe flaked, and now I need to find a hostel online before grabbing a cab. Fail…
I took a seat by the exit, and broke out the iPad hoping I could pick up some free wifi. Before I had the chance to search for networks, someone walked passed me through the main exit, and when the doors opened the spectacle I saw outside was shocking. There was literally a mob of people yelling and screaming, pressed shoulder to shoulder, all being held back by a metal barricade. Holy crap, the Costa Ricans have assembled to protest the insane cost of flights in Central and South America… They are storming the airport, and from the looks of it, they are about to take over the whole place!
Actually, after watching the crowd from the safety inside, I realized these weren’t protesters… they were cab drivers and family members meeting travelers as they exit the airport. Apparently in Costa Rica they don’t let just anyone in the airport. Unless you are a shuttle driver with one of the major hotels, you wait outside. Apprehensive, I walked outside to see if I could spot Pepe among the crowd.
Immediately, a man runs up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “good looking man, good looking man.” I wonder if this is someone Pepe has sent to pic me up… He obviously knows me as he ran right up to me. I know, I’m so naive, but in the states taxi drivers don’t run up to you, put their arms on your shoulders and shower you with compliments… In Costa Rica this is called marketing and it nearly worked. I was about to go with him, when the real Pepe yelled my name. This makes more sense, as the Pepe yelling my name actually looked like Pepe. We made our introductions and headed to the car.
Crisis averted, my tensions ease just a bit, but now I’m in a foreign country in a stranger’s car headed for who knows where… This is exactly what I wanted, an adventure!