A Ryan Carpenter Production

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Ryan’s Great Adventures

Volume 19: Sun Aug 4, 2002

Last Tuesday, at 6:17pm, I got to feel an earthquake! It wasn't too long after I sent my last mass mailing. It was so much fun—even if it wasn't enough to knock a book over. However, being in a rather primitive country where I have doubts about the safety of buildings during an earthquake, there's certainly an extra thrill I otherwise wouldn't have had.

Coffee is a major crop for Central America, so they have a statue representing baskets of freshly picked coffee beans in downtown San Jose

The next day I picked up a newspaper to read more about this earthquake. As it turns out, it was a pretty good-sized earthquake measuring 6.2, but the epicenter was so far away (off the coast of Panama) there wasn't much punch left by the time it reached San Jose. The newspaper said a few people were hurt and four buildings destroyed in southern Costa Rica which got a much bigger jolt than I did. (Sorry, no deaths!)

It's nice that Costa Rica scheduled their earthquake during hours I'm typically awake, because it seems I slept through two of them while in Guatemala. In Antigua I showed up at school and my teacher asked me if I felt the earthquake. "What earthquake?!" Strangely, none of the students I talked to felt the earthquake—only the teachers. Actually, come to think of it, that isn't really very strange because most of the teachers were probably up at 3:00 in the morning watching the World Cup. (Those people are fanatical about watching the World Cup, regardless of the time of day or night it's on. Haven't these people heard of TAPING games at 3:00 in the morning?!)

And again in Quetzaltenango, I showed up at school where all the teachers were asking everyone if they felt the earthquake the night before. WHAT?! I slept through TWO earthquakes now?! *rolling eyes* Later I asked my family if they felt it, and they said heck yeah, it woke them up! I must be a deep sleeper, because it certainly didn't wake me up.

So it was quite a thrill to actually be awake for this last earthquake! =) I saw a bug scurry away, which might have been because of me trying to kill it, but it might have been trying to get cover from the earthquake as well. I can't be sure!

So that's my earthquake story. Nothing fell over. No buildings damaged that I could see. Rather boring by California standards, I suppose, but it was still a thrill for me. =)

I'd also like to vent a little about the currency here in Costa Rica. It's called the colon, where 360 colones is about one US dollar. The bills are absolutely beautiful—the prettiest I've seen so far in Central America. The 2000 colones bill has a mural with hammerhead sharks and a dolphin. The 5000 colones bill has toucans and jaguars in a colorful jungle setting. It's very pretty. But pray, tell me WHY does this country have TWO DIFFERENT types of 20 colones coins? Different size, different color, different everything? Then, they have a 500 colones coin AND a 500 colones bill? What's up with that? I never know how much loose change is in my pockets anymore—it's too much to keep track of. The cash registers don't have enough slots for all these coins and bills, so the largest bills like the 2000 or 5000 bills they stick under the register. I'm convinced that if these people get rid of about half their coins, the country would run 50% more efficiently.

But I digress.....

Just off the coast of Playa de Coco, I intended to find sharks and rays, in the wild, roaming free

The next day I jumped on a bus heading to the grand town of Playa de Coco, which claims to be the best place to scuba dive in Costa Rica. The waters there are filled with sharks and sting rays, and I wanted to see some! Actually finding the bus was something of a challenge, since nobody here seemed to know where the bus station was.

It was clearly marked in my guidebook, so I first head off to there to buy a ticket, but there was no bus stop. Confused, I wandered around the area looking at other bus stops hoping one of them might have buses going in my direction, but no. Finally I go back to my hotel to check their list of bus stops, and it gives the same address my guidebook did which obviously wasn't right. I asked the guy there if he knew where it was, and he didn't. So I asked if I could call the number provided and ask THEM where the bus stop was, but he told me just to get a taxi to take me there. The taxi drivers always know stuff like this.

Which is finally what I did. It was quite a ways away too, so I'd have needed a taxi anyhow. And at long last, I boarded my bus to Playa de Coco—the Beach of Coconuts.

The place was miserably hot and humid, similar to the weather of Tikal and Honduras, but that was okay since it probably meant the water would actually be warm to swim in. =) I checked myself into a nice little bed and breakfast (without the breakfast).

This is a very small, very slow town. It's the off-season too, meaning even fewer people were around. Frankly, it was boring. I looked into scuba diving where it would cost $45 for two dives. (My guidebook says it was going to cost $70 for the dives, so I was quite thrilled with the significantly reduced price!)

And Friday morning, I showed up at the dive shop at 8:30am to do some diving. The dive shop isn't actually on the water, so I got a ride in the most rusted-up red pickup-truck I've ever seen in my life. The only window left was the windshield. You could actually put your feet through the floor—Flinstone style—and drag them against the ground as the truck drove down the dirt roads. In Central America, old vehicles never die. Ever. Oh, they'll break down a lot, parts fall off, and so on, but they ALWAYS get the vehicle back on the road again after performing the necessary surgery.

Yes, these ARE shark infested waters!

This two-bit town doesn't even have a real pier, so we waded through the surf to a small boat that would take us to a larger boat that we'd actually take scuba diving. There was one other person—whose name slips my mind—also diving. Originally from Oregon but currently living in Boston. Plus the dive master. We all suited up, jumped into the water, and we're off.

The water wasn't very clear, and I expected that since my guidebook warned the only reason the scuba diving in Costa Rica wasn't "world class" was because of the horrible visibility. But immediately upon getting my head underwater, you could see swarms of colorful fish swimming around. You just couldn't see them as well, and then only the closest ones, which was far worse than I was able to see in Utila. But swimming around and breathing underwater is thrilling, and this time they said there's a good chance of seeing beasts like sharks and sting rays, which I never got to see in Honduras. Sounded good to me!

Speaking of sharks, I told the dive master I'd love to see some sharks, but preferred viewing the woman-eating sharks rather than the man-eating ones. He thought I was pretty funny, or else he was laughing at my Spanish. I can't really be sure which.

On the first dive we found several sting rays. Most were maybe two or three feet wide, but one we discovered was a mammoth stretching a good six or so feet wide. And if you include the tail, it was a good 15 or 20 feet long. The thing was HUGE! Just resting on the bottom of the sea floor letting us admire it. The Boston guy tried to get close enough to take pictures with his underwater camera and scared it off. Wow do those things move!

I forget the name of this odd fruit, but they're like red balls covered with pointy spikes. You remove the pointy surface and inside is what looks like a clear grape that can be eaten. It tasted okay, but it seemed like a lot of work for very little food, so I didn't eat many of them.

And finally we resurfaced to babble on about the great beast that we saw. They moved the boat to a new place where we jumped back into the water for another turn, and this time we managed to find two honest-to-goodness sharks. Maybe five or six feet in length, just floating there slightly above the seafloor. Before we went underwater, the divemaster assured us that the sharks around here were vegetarians eating only plants and plankton and such, so we should be pretty safe from them. Seeing one face-to-face, I certainly hoped so! =) What a thrill to swim in shark-infested waters, though.

Upon running low on air, we returned to the boat and headed back to shore. Somewhere during this time, I discovered the tops of my feet became sunburned, and walking around with shoes on was more than slightly uncomfortable. I put sunscreen on the rest of my body, but it seems the tops of my feet were forgotten, and I still feel it whenever I walk around.

Later that afternoon, while hanging out in a bar drinking Pepsi and reading the paper, I learned there was another 5.5 earthquake—an aftershock of the quake I felt—off the coast of Panama and this time I hadn't felt a thing. Playa de Coco isn't too far from the northern boundary of Costa Rica, and it suddenly occurred to me that had I gone SOUTH instead of north from San Jose, I could have gotten a good jolt! =) Alas, shark-infested waters would have to do instead.

As it turns out, Friday was a national holiday—Virgen de Los Angeles. Nobody seemed to actually celebrate it, though, and I'm not sure what the holiday is for. In fact, the day I arrived, July 25th, was also a national holiday: Dia de Guanacaste. And as far as I could tell, nobody celebrated that holiday either. This is very bizarre to me. Based on my time in Honduras and Guatemala, people would use ANY excuse for a party or impromptu parade, and in Costa Rica they have had two national holidays in the time I've been here and I have yet to see a single parade or party because of them. It's very sad. Secretary's Day in the United States is a bigger holiday than these two were here.

And yesterday, I boarded a bus back to San Jose once again. Upon arriving, I got a taxi back into downtown San Jose where I once again asked the driver to take me to a 'cheap' hotel. (I'm not picky, I just want cheap!) So he takes me to this hotel where the cheapest room is $55. "WHAT?! ARE YOU CRAZY?!" I say. "Would YOU pay $55 for a single night in a hotel room?!" I swear, never ask a taxi driver for a 'cheap' hotel. They have no concept of cheap, and the only thing I can figure is they must get kickbacks to take unwary travelers to those overpriced hotels.

So I walked down the street a couple of blocks where I checked myself into a fairly nice $10/night hotel. Visited the local Taco Bell for dinner. (No fast food places in Playa de Coco. Not even McDonalds. I needed my fix.)

And that's where I am now, San Jose. I haven't decided where to zip off to next, but I'm sure you'll hear all about it later! =)

— Ryan

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