There are towns and cities in this world that I have visited and just instantly fallen in love with. Places that have left me feeling like, “Wow, I could see myself living here for a while.”
San Jose, Costa Rica was not one of those places.
Simone and I arrived there after a week working on a farm in the jungle, to meet up with our friends Amy and Cathy.
I’d already heard that there wasn’t much to see or do in San Jose and the couple of days we had there did nothing to change my mind. We’d only really gone there at all because that’s where the girls flew into and we were all happy to be getting out of the city and heading to the Caribbean Coast.
Walking out of the hostel, loaded with bags, one of the hostel staff members asked me, “taxi?”
“Yes please” I said.
Conveniently, waiting right out the front of the hostel, was a cab with a smiley, jolly driver. The hostel guy and the taxi driver had a quick chat then our taxi man started loading our bags into the cab. We four girls squeezed in and away we went. As we drove away I realised we hadn’t agreed on a price first. Rookie mistake.
I tried asking him how much, but he said something about clocks and drew circles on his hand. I had no idea what that was about so I gave up.
“Dammit”, I thought. “Now he is probably going to overcharge us, like ask for $10 instead of $4 ho hum.”
Our driver was all smiling and friendly. He asked us where we were going. When we told him Puerto Viajo, he recommended us many things.
“I recommend you keep pass-a-port close, like baby”
“I recommend you looking, no talking blah, blah to people at terminal”
“Keep money close, no in big bag, many dangerous peoples at bus terminal.”
“Here, see” he rolled up his sock and showed me an old scar, “for iphone, at bus terminal” then he made his fingers into a gun shape and said, “bang, bang”.
“No ATM near Caribbean, I recommend you get money now”
I sort of had doubts. No ATMs in a popular tourist are in 2015…… really? But I guess we don’t want to get stuck without money. He pulled up at an ATM and we all got out and withdrew a wad of cash. The moment we got back into the cab and started driving, my heart sank.
I suddenly just knew he was lying about there being no banks in the Caribbean. Now he knew we all had a few hundred dollars cash on us. I looked around the cab to see if his taxi licence was displayed anywhere, and saw none. My heart sunk a little further.
He got on his mobile and started talking in a low voice to someone.
“It’s going to be OK.” I told myself, but I felt a little bit sick.
He pulled up in some random area nowhere near the bus station and told us we had to walk a block to the bus terminal and that he couldn’t drive up that way.
He then asked for a fare of 68,000 colones, or, around $160.
“That can’t be right” I thought. I figured he must mean 6,800 colones, a rip-off for sure but I was happy to pay the equivalent of $16 or $17 to get away from him. I handed him a 10,000 note, expecting change.
He shook his fat head.
He drove forward a little.
I asked him to write it down, that I didn’t understand.
“That can’t be possible” I said.
He drove forward some more and the smile was gone.
He got back on his mobile phone. My heart rate went right up.
He then dropped the price to around 35,000.
I tried to argue some more but I was getting really scared, he kept driving forward, further from the busy street. Mr Happy Cabby was now Mr Pissed Off and Mr. Pissed off had us trapped and wanted his money now. I was waiting for his mates to pull up at any moment.
In the end he reluctantly lowered his price to 20,000. He gave me this look, as though I was ripping him off. A look that said, “the fare is $160 but I guess I’ll just take $50 because what more can I do you selfish woman”
I shoved the money at him as he kept driving along. “Stop, stop” I said, feeling a little panicky wondering where on earth he was going to take us.
He pulled up on the corner of Shady-As Rd and Shithole St in Downtown Ghettosville, then drove off.
There we were, with all our bags, our passports, our electronics and hundreds and hundreds of dollars in cash between us in some dodgy-arse part of San Jose.
There were groups of sketchy looking dudes huddled around on the corner, staring.
“Hey Lady,” one called out.
One started walking towards us.
Another looked at us and made some hissing sound.
Every single shop on the street was boarded up. I can’t speak for the others, but I was shitting myself. Up ahead was a busy looking street full of cars and people, “If we can just get there without getting stabbed” I thought, “we will be ok”.
After the longest hundred metre walk of my life, we made it to the busy street and my heart rate slowed just slightly. A young guy asked us where we were headed, and he was very nice and helpful. We were still a fair way from the bus terminal and he advised us not to walk because it was dangerous so we reluctantly got into another cab – this time agreeing on a price first. Our new driver took us to the bus station, without a drama, for 2,000 colones, or around 4 or 5 dollars.
I don’t like to think about how much worse it could have been, but it’s all behind us now and we are chilling in the Caribbean paradise of Puerto Viajo.