Kala and José

San Jose Travel Blog

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On The way to Granada, Nicaragua. Rest stop.
I have decided to skip Liberia in northern Costa Rica, as there is little there to interest me, and it would probably end up being a wasted day.  I was interested when it was just a provincial captial, but when I realised that there are now gazillions of flights coming from the states into this city as of a few years ago, I decided to skip it and head straight to Nicaragua, leaving the rest of Costa Rica for my last week when Garrett joines me.  The real story, however, is the people I met tonight.  I decided to go out again, asking for the recomendation of the hotel staff for a restaurant, and when I got there, it was empty and desolate, and one of my rules of travel is that you never ever ever eat in a place that is deserted.  That is just asking for dysenntry.
  So I walked and walked, into the heart of San Jose, and stopped in an expat bar for a beer, at the same time meeting the bartender, a young 'lady' by the name of Kala.  Now, Kala seemed nice enough, chatted with me and asked where I was from bla bla bla.  I had already figured out 'her' deal, and if you are at all astute, you have figured out 'her' deal already.  But I'm not judgemental, and 'she' was very nice, so we chatted as I drank my beer.  About 10 minutes into the drink, and old black man started to shout though the window. 
   He was dressed in a white fidora, with a red ribon around the base, a checkerd shirt, which was, despite the fact he had no tie, buttoned up to his neck, white pants, and a wool vest knitted out of bright colours.  José finished his ensemble off with a smart walking cane, which he clearly didn't need.  After asking me for change, he was dismissed quickly by the staff, who told me he was a 'watcher' -- a profession much like the squeege kids in Toronto, who provide a service which is not needed or wanted; José watches cars to make sure that nothing is stolen when the owner is shopping or whatnot.  Now, José manner was such that I was reminded of a southern preacher after too many whiskies, proud yet joking; saintly yet lewd.  I had to invite him in for a drink, especially when he told me that he was Panamanian. 
  The Panamanian part took me by suprise, because, well, to be honest I have never met a Panamanian, and we don't get much of that sort of thing in Toronto.  Also, I'm at the part in my book where the intreped travel writer is in Panama, and I wanted to know this old guy's story.
  José is 74 years old, and has been in Costa Rica since he was 19, around 1960 is what he told me, but that would put his age at 33 at the time of leaving, so who really knows.  He looked at least 65 or 70, so I decided not to argue.  He did a bit of construction, and speaks perfect english with a slight carribian accent, as his father is from St.  Thomas.   José reminded me of Mississippi John Hurt, with grace and dignity, yet not in the least bit stuck up.  When I offered him a drink, he gladly obliged, trotting in without the slightest need of a cane, and we sat down by the window.
  Jose asked me where I was from, and what I was doing in Costa Rica, but it was clear that José was not a man who was accustomed to listening, but rather to talking, and I was happy to oblige.  The underlying theme of the evening was that José was taking it upon himself to make sure that I was going to get lucky that night.  Everyone was a possible candidate, from the girls walking by, young and beautiful, to their mothers, who he would reach out a gnarled hand at, to the amusement of both mother and me, trying to coax them into the bar in his strange spanish.  He even wanted to get me together with the 'woman' working the bar, Kala, which I found rather amusing, not knowing whether he had figured out or would even care about that one, um, little detail. 
José talked and talked, he watched cars here in San Jose and in Putanaras, he had women all over Costa Rica, the one in San Jose kicked him out tonight for some sort of indiscression, probably to do with, of course, other women, though he denied it with a passion.  In the end, I shot José 2000 colones, about 4 dollars, to do with what he would, bought him his beer and said goodnight, and laughed at his spirit with Kala after he had left.  It's good to know that someone can be desprate and happy at the same time, because José was clearly both....

verucasalt1976 says:
Soooo, I hope the earthquake didn't affect you where you are too bad...nor the Tsunami warnings. I see they were issued for Costa Rica, Colombia etc. Check in please!
Posted on: Aug 16, 2007
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    I have to buy a keyboard with that upside down question mark.  Ok, so, after being kicked off here last night I might have lost a bit of the flow, but here we go.  I think I just got to the part about my anxiety dissolving as I left the airport, my taxi ride taking me down the damp streets of San Jose toward my hotel.  The driver so kindly took me through most of the economic variations of the city, from a suburb with large, clean houses complete with wicked looking barbed wire on the top of the spanish-style latticed fences, painted either white or a pale salmon pink or a creamy lime green.  Every yard has trees and plants, unlike our sad subdivisions with nothing more than a dying twig in the front of most lawns.
   We passed a poorer neighbour hood where the main difference was the level of maintenence the houses recieved and then into an obviously poorish neighbourhood where men stood on corners looking constantly around, and a barefooted pregnant girl, about 19 years old, with her bulging stomach hanging out of her non-maternity t-shirt ran around out of a cafe and around a corner, allowing this latin scene to accend to a full-fledged stereotype.
  The thing is, I don´t think I would have felt unsafe, provided I wasen´t showing signs of affluance stupidly, had I been a pedestrian in that area.  The faces, while cunning and aware, were also not mean faces waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting traveler, but rather, faces which just seemed aware of the situation around them. 
  Getting to my hotel, I was showed to my room, a bargin in the capital city of Costa Rica with hot water and a private bathroom costing me only 28 dollars a night.  The same room, I'm hoping, will be about 1/3rd that when I get out of San Jose, and out of Costa Rica. 
  So I went out last night for dinner, at Cafe Mundo, down the street from my hotel.  It´s an old mansion converted into a restaurant, which caters mostly to tourists, or so I thought at first glance.  I decided to go there for dinner after walking by it at around 6pm, when people were just having cocktails, and when I returned, on a wednesday night, I had to wait at the bar for a table.  I thought that this place has the perfect concept -- offering high quality food, a mix between local fare and european favorites (pasta and steaks and such)  for about 30% above the price of most restaurants in San Jose, but not even close to being pricy for the average traveler.  To my suprise, thoughout dinner I realised that the clientel was about half Costa Rican, all young people with disposable income, going out on dates to the hot, hip restaurant--probably accented by the fact that the restaurant manager was an american--nervous but capable, maximizing the seating and managing the all Tico wait staff. 
  The food was, frankly, dissapointing, but I was expecting it to be, my pasta overcooked and the sauce typically uninspierd, but the need was filled for this comfort food, enjoyed by tourists as being good value for a 5 dollar pasta, and enjoyed by the locals as a sort of 'taste of america'.
  After dinner I spoke the the restaurant manager, Ray, about how difficult it is to open a place like this--that is, a place in another country, and how it does.  Ray confided that he was once a partner in the business, but that a few years ago he got bought out, but stayed on to make money.  He enjoys central america, and told me that the Tico business they do get helps them supliment their income during slow tourist months.  Other than the crappy food, which, by the way, Ray didn't ask me about, I think that this restaurant has all the makings of a sucess story, and perhaps what I would like to finally do with myself, somewhere in the world.  The formula is simple, you need people to get what they want to get, which is a mix of the exotic and the familiar, the latter probably being tough to get and a premium will be paid for it--reasonable wines, familiar meats and dishes, and so on. 
  I said goodbye to Ray, and wandered home, feeling more drunk that I was due to the uneven streets.  It occured to me then that the whole city reminds me of Panji, from the muted catholoism to the spanish architecture.  There are parallels in the easy-going nature of the people here, easy going, and yet political, with slogens of "no TLC" spray painted on the wall, which the owner of my hotel told me was the accronym for the spanish "central american free trade agreement".  Perhaps I'm just noticing a similarity between two similar former colonies, one Spanish and one Portugese, both in similar climates, a boring observation perhaps to some, but interesting to me...
Today I spend my morning wandering around the pedestrian streets, made my way down to the rough neighbourhood in the safety of the morning commuters and shoppers, wandered through the meat markets and fruit markets, and browsed a supermarket, one of my favorite pass times when traveling--it´s always interesting to see what other cultures purchase....but my entry is long, and I'm getting hungry, so,
so long
On The way to Granada, Nicaragua. …
On The way to Granada, Nicaragua.…
San Jose
photo by: Isoinspira