San Jose, Costa Rica--Spiders on Acid
I hope you are happy and healthy.
It is the beginning of the full blown “monsoon” or cloudy/rainy season here in Nepal. I like rain as much as the next guy but this is ridiculous!
Costa Rica certainly has its own severe rainy season, but I remember a lot of sunny days there. From the new book in progress, here is a report on the capitol city.
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San Jose, Costa Rica—Spiders on Acid
Did you ever see that National Geographic episode about the effects of drugs on wildlife? One very impressive experiment featured a lone spider. Researchers gave the unsuspecting little arachnid a bit of LSD and waited to observe behavioral changes. They got their show. The web spun from this wedding of spider and hallucinogen resembled an Escher staircase after a visit from a psychotic bulldozer.
Welcome to San Jose, Costa Rica—the city that appears to have been built by spiders on Acid! It is home to a bizarre architectural schizophrenia unparalleled anywhere in the known universe. An average downtown street can house a white stately-columned mansion next to a dilapidated red, yellow, and black Rastafarian restaurant next to a rococo masterpiece of a building in powder blue that neighbors an orange grocery store that shares a wall with a soot-charred auto repair shop that borders a massive post-modern glass-front high-rise office building adjoining a cemetery that is fenced in protectively by shiny barbed wire while the ornate church on the same grounds sits with doors wide open and its gold crosses unguarded against possible thievery.
A fellow traveler from America struck up a conversation with me while we waited in the immigration line at the airport a few days ago. He was making his fifth trip to Costa Rica. I asked him for the most important fact he would tell a first time visitor who had nine months to spend in the Land of Pura Vida (Pure Life). He replied, “Stay out of San Jose. It’s the asshole of Costa Rica. The rest of the country is beautiful.”
Of course, he didn’t know that I was death-deep into a fun-loving withdrawal and reincarnation experience, making San Jose the perfect place for me to be. There are plenty of great opportunities to die here, and just as many wonderful opportunities to be reincarnated. (***This is explained in last week’s chapter post. If you missed it, it is available at the Fearless Puppy website blog section.)
There is discomfort in this withdrawal experience, but no major problem! I’ve certainly had more severe withdrawal experiences in much less hospitable places. Quitting a half dozen mildly addictive substances in a cozy apartment will be a lot easier than quitting heroin as a homeless person was thirty years ago.
Things felt pretty bleak upon entry to San Jose but by the third day, the Tico (that’s what Costa Ricans call themselves) hospitality has me feeling good. The Passion Flower/Saint John’s Wort herbs and stepped-up meditation time has helped as well. The assorted withdrawals are already starting to lighten up a bit as they run their course.
The landlord couple seem, for the most part, like very nice people. He works for the Costa Rican government’s foreign service. She comes from a rich family of successful clothing manufacturers. This couple adopted a pregnant street dog whose back legs were destroyed by a car. They built the crippled dog a set of strap-on rear training wheels. The couple take the dog, Bonita, for regular wheel-walks. They kept one of Bonita’s pups and got the rest farmed out to good homes. Knowing that these people do things like that makes it hard to think ill of them for owning (what should be) a criminally excessive number of cars. I still don’t like the lord-of-the-hacienda tone they use with their laborers or the way they flaunt their privilege and entitlement. The gap between the social and economic classes is more severe here than it is in America. It seems that even the nicest of rich folks treat the help like shit. I’d rather not get used to seeing that, so I hang out with the help. That slows down the damaging overdose of self-esteem that too often directs Mr. and Mrs. Bossypants. They are more polite to my friends when I am present.
Looking around San Jose for a few days reinforces my first impressions. It seems an odd mix of hip, pretty, small-city bits thrown into a blender with what the less inviting neighborhoods of post-apocalyptic Cleveland will probably look like. Some sections of San Jose seem like a lovely little country town at first glance—but not for long. Watching the bizarre traffic flow that is responsible for the barely breathable air makes it hard to think of any part of this city as a country village.
But the East End of San Jose comes close. It rocks! There are Japanese, Argentine, Italian, and Caribbean restaurants within two blocks of my apartment on Fifteenth Avenue. The Caribbean place has live Calypso music on Thursday and Friday nights. There is a community Cultural Center featuring a large theater nearby. The neighborhood also houses an architectural university, a language school, a Brahmin meditation center, a kindergarten school, a bowling alley with pool tables, a public elementary school, several eateries serving local cuisine, and a vegetarian tea house/restaurant featuring freshly squeezed fruit juices. The latter has a yoga and massage school attached to it.
It is likely that I will be less clever than usual for a few weeks while the initial withdrawal poisons move out and adaptation to new environments take place. Today is no exception. I try to give the juice-bar lady 20,000 Colones (@$40 US) for a juice. She insists on only 2,000 Colones (@ $4) and takes fifteen minutes to explain the monetary system to me in Spanish with sign language. The same friendly honesty may not be available throughout the city, but the folks in this neighborhood are wonderful. My relatively high rent is just as much a payment for being in this area as it is a payment for the apartment itself.
San Jose’s “asshole of Costa Rica” reputation is only relative to the extreme beauty of the rest of the country. It is no worse than any other big city in any other nation. Much of it is pleasant, some of it is culturally wealthy, and certain parts are beautiful--but the the core downtown area known as El Centro defines hell as a street corner. It has all the nasty dilapidated buildings, broken glass, garbage in the streets, rats, and fractured sidewalks of the worst neighborhoods anywhere. It also has a large assortment of dangerous looking characters that keep tourists and residents alike a little nervous.
The city has many monuments of historical interest as well as several great little parks featuring pretty flowers, an assortment of trees, and some interesting people to watch. I saw one of these interesting people reciting a poem to a dog and another attacking a tree with its own dead branch.
The National Museum on Second Avenue houses one of the most amazing pre-Columbian artifact collections anywhere. Housed in a restructured military fort, the building itself says a lot about Costa Rica’s peaceful temperament. Jade, carved stone, very well-preserved wooden and gold pottery, jewelry, rare antique musical instruments, and other cultural treasures trace the Tico people’s history back through time into an era long before European conquest began in the West.
The Plaza de Cultura in the museum area can be the most entertaining spot in town. Street musicians, artists, and other assorted characters including soap box preachers and prophets entertain the public with 1960s Greenwich Village style free expression. Coincidentally, the main action is on Fourth Street—as much of it was in 1960s Greenwich Village. One animated man on Fourth Street worked very hard to convince me of something. I told him that my Spanish language skills were not at all good enough to follow his monologue. This preaching prophet or Amway salesman or political candidate or whatever he was refused to believe that. He kept rambling on. His other-worldly eyes, possessed tone of voice, tattered formal dress, and a body odor that would scare rats out of a dumpster were all wasted on me. I thought better of my instinct to remind him that cleanliness is next to godliness and left quickly. It guess I will never get to find out what he was so excited about.
Several casinos are available to the gambler. These are usually in the same buildings as the whorehouses, for those interested in that type of gambling.
Costa Rica is a consistently religious and sometimes spiritual country. Catholicism is the main religion and cathedrals are spread throughout the capitol city, as they are in most of Latin America. But Costa Rica also has the highest concentration of Buddhist activities in all of Central America, noticeable Brahmin and Jewish presences, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and several other factions of Christian. Herbal spiritualism akin to the Wicca tradition is strongly present. There is also a good deal of New Age activity here. Yoga centers, Pilates, and various other forms of spiritually related exercise systems are very popular. Legitimate massage and acupuncture are available. There are even tiny smatterings of Goth and Satanism.
San Jose’s central market takes up a few full city blocks and offers every type of meat, fruit, vegetable, clothing, and medicinal herb available in the country. There is a much smaller organic market on Saturdays at Collegio Mexico.
The National Theatre is the architectural pride and joy of San Jose, and the nation. It is definitely worth a visit. Belgian architects did the structural designing and Italian decorators put the flourish into this masterpiece of a building. It seats a thousand people and still hosts live performances. There are Renaissance style paintings on high ceilings above large open interior spaces, cut crystal chandeliers, indoor fountains, museum quality sculpture, and furnishings fit for royalty. The whole building, both inside and out, looks more like a royal palace than a theater.
There is no end to the number of day-trips a person can take from the city. Within striking distance are hot springs, volcanoes, jungle canopy zip-line rides, beaches, and a beautiful, unique array of flowers and wildlife.
In spite of its problems and being referred to as “the asshole of Costa Rica,” San Jose can be a wonderful city that has as much to offer as any major city in the world. If you can stand to be in any place that has too many people living in it, you would enjoy parts of this one. If you are hallucinating and a bit dizzy from a metaphysical, metaphorical death and reincarnation of your own manufacture, I highly recommend adding San Jose to your cartoon for a week.
next week back to Nepal
Many thanks to our wonderful friends at Pema Boutique Hotel for their help and support. ***The books Fearless Puppy On American Road and Reincarnation Through Common Sense by this same author are also available through Amazon or the Fearless Puppy website, where there are sample chapters from those books. Entertaining TV/radio interviews with and newspaper articles about the author are also available there. There is no charge for anything but the complete books! All author profits from book sales will be donated to help sponsor an increase in the number of wisdom professionals on Earth, beginning with but certainly not limited to Buddhist monks and nuns.
***If you missed the Introduction to the new book that will be titled Temple Dog Soldier, or would like to see several chapters of it that are available for free online, go to the Puppy website Blog section. This is a book in progress. You will be reading it as it is being created! Just like you, I don’t know what the next chapter is going to be about until it is written. As the Intro will tell you, this is a totally true story—and probably the only book ever written by and about a corpse journeying completely around the world!