Saturday, June 20, 2009
WTF are you doing here?
Things we have learned on the road – when you arrive in a city on the weekend, always check the opening hours of places you want to see. What you plan to see on Sunday or Monday may not be open on those days. We learned this the hard way. So before we went exploring we cracked open the guidebook and made a list of things that were only open today. Connecting the dots on the map, we ended up with a nice little walking tour.
The hostel was located near the government buildings which were closed and empty of the weekend. At night this made the area seem a little dodgy. But during the day it was fine. We headed to the main shopping area for breakfast and then back to the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design. It was housed in an old distillery which had recently been turned into an art centre. It reminded me of the distillery district in Toronto – go figure. Besides the museum, the complex was also home to the national theatre and dance companies as well as some small art galleries. But we were there to see the Art Museum.
Despite being in a national arts complex, the current exhibit had nothing to do with Costa Rica. Instead it was called 300% Espana which was their clever way of saying that there were 100 chairs, 100 lamps and 100 posters from Spain on display. And not a single piece of Costa Rican or even Central American art. Kinda odd but the display was really interesting. I was particularly fond of the old travel posters while Adrian was particularly fond of the least practical chairs on display. When it comes time to replace all the furniture we sold, I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of arguing, I mean, negotiating.
When we were done, we had to wait before we could leave as it was pouring rain again. This is definitely the rainy season, although the tourist industry prefers to call it the green season. Whatever you called it, it was wet. Finally the rain let up enough so we could walk around the corner to a small gallery recommended by Lonely Planet. Amazingly it was still there and it was quite good. It was owned and operated by a man named Alfonso Peña who was very eager to show us all the work by local Costa Rican artists. So this is where all the local art was. Alfonso was an artist as well and very enthusiastic about all the pieces on display. They were mostly prints but at $300-3000 each they were a bit out of our price range. When we told him that, he showed us a special package that he had for sale: a book written and illustrated by a local author with a small print for $30. And maybe if we weren’t living out of backpacks we would have been tempted. But we had to decline again and headed out to continue our little tour.
We headed back towards the main square fighting our way through the throngs of people. We could hear cheesey hair metal coming from the square. It was coming from a band playing in front of the money museum beside the teatro. We stopped and listened as the covered Sweet Child of Mine, Back in Black and Smells like Teen Spirit. For some reason Central Americans love hair metal and the crowd was going wild, as did Adrian until I told him to put his devil horns away.
Our next stop was a complete 180 from hair metal and devil horns – el teatro. We walked up to the entrance to sign up for a guided tour when I was stopped by a familiar voice. It took me a moment to place it and it wasn’t until the scanned the crowd did I find the source. No it wasn’t anyone we’d met traveling but rather a voice from back home. Andrea (hi Andrea), a woman I used to work with, although she was in the Montreal office and I was in the Toronto office. I totally interrupted her conversation by standing in her personal space until she noticed me.
“WTF are you doing here?” she screamed in disbelief.
“Me? I’m been traveling around for the last three months. What are you doing here?”
“I just arrived yesterday to start a ten day tour tomorrow.”
“We just got here yesterday as well.”
Cool. We continued to catch up on old times in the lobby of the beautiful old theatre while waiting for the English tour to begin. We weren’t exactly quiet and people on the Spanish tour tried to shush our excited conversation.
Eventually, there were enough people assembled for the English tour. So we did our best to behave and take it in. Although the pointy breasts on some of the decorations were a little distracting. The theatre (photo above) however was beautiful and had some interesting history. It was used as an official receiving room by the government and back in the 60s when JFK visited Costa Rica was the location of the first assassination attempt on the president. I wonder if Oliver Stone knows about this. Of course it was thwarted and the details weren’t revealed until recently when someone got access to some files under the freedom of information act. As the tour wrapped up, the guide came up to the three of us, to remind us that we hadn’t paid for the tour. Instead he asked for a tip, which he pocketed. No worries for us as it saved us about $10. Maybe Costa Rica won’t backrupt us afterall.
“I don’t know about you but I could use a drink,” Andrea said as we were standing outside.
So could we. We had seen everything on our “only open on Saturday” list and catching up with a friendly face sounded awesome. We found a cheap bar unpstairs over looking the pedestrian mall and spent the next 6 hours chatting and drinking and laughing and fighting off the pirate dvd sellers.
Andrea had just arrived to start a 9-day Gap tour. Tonight she was supposed to go out for dinner with the rest of her tour mates. But she skipped it to hang out with us. So we ordered dinner at the bar. It was a locals place (we were 3 of only 5 gringos in the place) so the prices were good. Eating however was a little difficult. Rather than clear the beer bottles from the table, the waiter left them which after a few hours meant limited table space. I thought it was for easy bill calculation but the waiter told us it was so the servers could keep an eye on how much everyone had to drink. By 8pm our table was no where to be found. But a good time was had. And we took some shots to commemorate the moment. Then it was time to head back to our hotels. We made sure Andrea got safely into a cab then sped walk through the empty streets back to our guesthouse. After 3 months on the road it was awesome to have a little taste of home.