Sunday, June 14, 2009

Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Monteverde?

It seemed that few travelers to Costa Rica ever stepped foot on the local buses. Sure this kept the prices low, but it also meant that info on how to get to points a through z was hard to come by. So we got up at 4am had some breakfast and set off to catch the 5:30-ish bus to Liberia, the only bus for which we had information on. But finding out where to catch this bus was a little tricky. Without a queue of backpackers to mark it’s departure point, we just looked for locals hanging out on street corners and asked them. Eventually, the third one nodded that we were in the right spot for the bus so we joined him as he waited.

At exactly 5:30 a bus pulled up but rather than the normal public transit bus it was a fancy coach but the sign says Liberia so we got on. But we didn’t pay which was odd for Costa Rica. Also odd was the number of gringos on the coach. However, the bus was taking the same route we took to get here so we didn’t think anything of it. As the bus continued down the highway, it stopped to let people on who immediately had tickets for San Jose. Now I was confused. I approached the ayudante and told him we didn’t have tickets. He asked us where we were going and I told him (I hoped – my Spanish is still questionable) Liberia to get Tilaran to get to Monteverde just as some websites had suggested. He shook his head. We were on the San Jose express bus that passes through Liberia. But he told me that we could get off at Cañas instead and take a bus to Tilaran to get to Monteverde. That was one bus less than my route so I thanked him and asked him how much. $10 each to Cañas. A bit more than I had hoped but the cost of clear directions on how to get to where we wanted was worth it. Plus it was still too early to care.

The bus was super comfy and we got to Cañas just after 8, or rather we got to the highway just outside Cañas. As the ayudante helped us get our bags he told us that the Tilaran bus would come at 9:30 and pointed down the road to where we could catch it. I thought he pointed to the gas station so we dropped our bags in front and both used the washrooms but when we came out one of the employees told us the bus stop was on the other side of the highway. Indeed there was a bus shelter and lots of people waiting and a line up of taxis next to it.

As we sat there waiting for 9:30 to come, an endless stream of buses passed by. San Jose, Liberia, Nicaragua, even San Salvadore. I occasionally asked the drivers if they were going to Tilaran just to make sure. As 9:30 comes and goes, the wait began to feel really long. Adrian bought some oranges off a lady at the bus stop and we ate those. But we’re both beginning to feel a little anxious. Our Lonely Planet mentions that the bus is supposed to come every hour and a half and we’ve now been waiting longer than that. I then began asking every bus if they were going to Tilaran as well as the passengers standing in line. As if sensing our fear, the taxi drivers who had previously ignored us came over and offered their services. We were quoted $40 to get to Tilaran which made it easy to shake them off. But when one of the waiting passengers tells us that we should be at another bus stop on the other side of town, Adrian and I begin to consider the taxi option. There was only one bus from Tilaran to Monteverde at 12:30 and it was now after 10am. One taxi driver approached us again and began to bargain hard with us. His price was now $20. As Adrian began to pull out his wallet, the gas station attendant waves at us from down the highway. He pointed to a bus on the horizon. It was the bus to Tilaran and the taxi driver just lost a fare. Phew.

Once we were on the bus, I was relieved not just because it had arrived but because the ride was less than an hour and definitely not worth $20 (let alone $40). We arrived with plenty of time to buy our tickets to Monteverde and have a coffee but without seeing much of the pretty little town in the hills. We would have to come back this way to get to our next destination so I made a note of the bus times and discovered we’d have a couple of hours between buses to check it out next time.

Although Monteverde is only 30km away the ride took 3 hours. The road was unpaved and quite treacherous. At one point the bus had to inch down a steep hill so it wouldn’t end up in a ditch, then backed up so it could turn with the road (photo above). The temperature got cooler as we went higher and we were soon in the clouds. I can tell we’re getting close to Monteverde because the road signs were now almost exclusively in English and advertised hotels, zip lines and other touristy adventures. I was now worried that Monteverde was going to be another built up resort town. But when the bus pulled in, I was happy to find a small town with more locals than tourists.

As the only gringos on the bus, the waiting hotel reps pounced on us when we got off the bus. They left us alone (?!) when I told them we already had a reservation and even gave us directions to the hostel. Thanks to them we easily found the Sleepers Sleep Cheaper Hostel (yup that’s the real name of it) and were greeted by the super friendly and helpful owner, Ronnie. As we checked in he almost overwhelmed us with info on activities and prices. We were still getting used to the sticker shock of Costa Rica so we just took the information pamphlet away to think on it. Luckily the room was only $20 US and includes a big breakfast. And it had a kitchen. Maybe we will be able to afford some of the activities. But that will have to wait until tomorrow.

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