Back to the U.S. of A.

JULY 28, 2011

Ken and his 2 bags and a pack enter Juan Santamaria International Airport, San Jose, Costa Rica

@ San Jose airport

Leaving Jaco today was pretty straightforward, aided by my friend Jack. He came over in

the morning and we transferred all the usable stuff I still had left to his SUV, including the flat-screen. I had already finished packing my two suitcases and backpack. I ended up not selling three items I thought had been sold, including the recliner, which I left for James, my landlord, as a “gift.” The other two items were also left in the apartment.

Jack came back to pick me up around noon and we were on our

Ken leaves his Jaco apartment

way to San Jose. Jack had to bring his camera to a camera repair shop in the center of town, so I got my first, and last, look at downtown San Jose. Glad I didn’t opt to locate there when I moved to Costa Rica. Took some good pictures, though. Jack’s camera problem

turned out to not be as bad as he expected. We parked his car in a public lot ($1/hour) and walked to a restaurant, El Patio, where we could eat and watch the stream of people outside. Food was okay but relatively expensive ($10 for fried chicken filet w/fries or a thin steak with onion

The streets of San Jose

rings). Had to endure an old man’s unceasing conversation about his life and troubles from the adjoining table for awhile.

We then went to the airport at about 4 p.m., through very heavy traffic in tight city streets, with lots of pedestrians crossing the street everywhere. Quite chaotic. At the airport, a sad parting of friends and I was off with my two bags and a pack. Well, not quite.

Once inside the terminal, I discovered that the Spirit Air people would not arrive until 11

Ken at some monument in downtown San Jose

p.m., (my flight leaves at 1:15 a.m.) meaning I had to hold onto my bags for six hours, since there was no bag check-in. There also was no restaurant or bar in the airport. You could buy pre-made sandwiches at one souvenir shop. I had brought some cookies and bottled water with me to tide me over, just in case. The terminal also is so cold I had to change from by shorts to jeans. Luckily, I did find power outlets for my laptop and a reasonably comfortable seat to sit in. The terminal, however, did not have Wi-Fi service, a bummer, so I began this report, still freezing and still sitting in the terminal, by creating an OpenOffice

Building in San Jose

document to be cut and pasted to this blog later.

Did find the currency exchange location in the airport, quite by accident. Had to walk all my gear outside and downstairs (the elevator and escalator were not working) to find a restaurant I was told was there (it was not) but found the exchange – except I had to walk through an exit I was not supposed to go through, prompting a policeman to stop me. He let me go through when I told him I just wanted to exchange some colones for dollars.

Another San Jose building

(Truth be told, he wouldn’t have understood me if I had said that much. I just said “currency exchange.”)

Also had to pay an “exit” tax of $26, which I did just before I pulled my jeans jacket from one of my bags, where it has sat since I packed it in Sarasota 14 months ago. Never used in Costa Rica until I found myself the Tom Hanks of San Jose’s airport, and freezing like crazy. I’m warmer now. They have this big sign behind the eight teller spots for collecting the tax that detailed what the $26

Jack helps unload my bags at the airport

was used for, down to the pennies. It was titled “Distribution of the Airport Tax Proceeds.”

10:30 p.m., still July 28. Spirit staff showed up and I got in line to check in. Very slow. When I finally made it to the baggage check-in, I was told I hadn’t paid for my bags yet. I did this online six weeks ago so I could take advantage of their online bag check-in discounts. This was especially important since Spirit also charges you for carry-on baggage ($40). After some discussion, I paid $43 for my first checked bag and $50 for the second. They said to try to get through the gate with my backpack and computer bag but I may have to pay another $40 there for the backpack. And if the checked bags weighed more than 40 pounds, there would have been another fee. Luckily, mine were just under the limit. For those counting, that’s $133 just for my bags. $289 for the privilege of getting on their plane, $20 more to have a seat on the plane and $133 for my bags to come along for the ride. Priceless!

UPDATE: It’s now Saturday morning and I’m waiting outside the motel, sitting on a picnic bench under a tree waiting for my daughter to arrive from Asheville. She called and said she’d be here in a couple of hours. Let’s catch up.

The plane trip was an ordeal. Had to do the usual strip down to go through security. Plane was full. I had not eaten anything since 4 pm except two small packages of cookies and some water. Spirit Airlines charges for everything on board, even water or coffee so I tried to sleep for the 2 1/2-hour flight. Not able to. Flight was fine but getting through the Fort Lauderdale airport was not.

First, about the airline. If anyone who reads this ever takes a ride on Spirit Airlines, they have only themselves to blame. Perhaps the worst flight experience I’ve ever had. First, if the person in front of me had decided to recline his seat, he would have broken my hip, as my knees were pressing up against the back of his seat the whole trip. On top of that, the seats were like sitting on wood. Then, there was the Fort Lauderdale experience.

I had a short time to make my connection, as did a lot of other people on the flight. Spirit had the wisdom of bringing at least three of its international flights into the airport at about the same time, meaning three plane loads of passengers trying to get through Customs at the same time, many of us stressed out that we weren’t going to make our connections.

Getting through the first phase, where they check your passport and Customs declaration was fine, except for the waiting in the long, snaking line. Then we had to go through a long, convoluted corridor to reclaim our bags. Then we had to go through Customs again, although by now it was getting chaotic and the Customs agents began rushing everyone through. Another long line.

Then we were sent to the baggage check in to recheck our bags, another walk that seemed like through a maze. Then, we had to get into another long line to go through security again – yeah, take off your shoes and belt and empty your pockets and hope you aren’t asked for a pat down. The TSA people were clearly overloaded with the sudden crowd that came in at 6 a.m. and everyone was rushed through. At this stage there was a lot of yelling and directing and people going every which way, people overwhelming the area where your stuff goes through the x-ray machines. Finally, I put my shoes and belt back on and still managed to make my connection. Even had time to grab a egg and bacon muffin, which was awful but needed the energy.

Plane was packed again and still had the same issues of legroom and very hard seats – plus, of course, now we’ve got a bunch of screaming kids riding with us. Once in Atlanta, things smoothed out. Asked a cabbie about the fare to my motel because I was very tired and just didn’t want to hassle dragging all my gear on MARTA. My motel was on the north end of town and the Atlanta airport at the south end. Cabbie said the fare would be about $70 so I decided MARTA was smarta.

It was a $2.50 train fare that took me from one end of the tracks to the end of the tracks at the north end. No problem, except I jumped on the wrong train and had to change halfway there. Then I was able to grab a cab to my motel ($22). I had booked the hotel so I wasn’t sure how good it would be for just $40/night. Turned out to be a nice, clean room. Still haven’t had a meal or slept since the previous day so went for a walk. Apparently, I was in a Mexican part of town. Decided on lunch at Wendy’s instead of Waffle House. The beef is so much better in the U.S. than Costa Rica, and Wendy’s uses Idaho potatoes for baking, which I haven’t had in 14 months.

Bill Gregory picked me up about 5 p.m. And we went to the poker game. We had a great conversation for about two hours. Bill had throat cancer a few years ago and I hadn’t known about it, so he filled me in. And he had lots of questions for me. The poker game was awesome. Pretty much all the original players attended, plus four guys I didn’t know. That’s a heckuva turnout for a game that sometimes struggles to draw 6-7 people. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chile, chips, potato salad. Then the core group settled outside and just talked for more than an hour. I mostly listened, not having heard so many voices at one time that I could understand. We played at two tables until almost 1 a.m. I won $15-20 and now have lots of change to get rid of. Marty gave me a ride back to my motel

UPDATE #2: My daughter picked me up at the hotel a couple hours late because of a bad accident on the interstate. We had lunch first at an Awful Waffle. Uneventful trip to Asheville except for some rain. We had a great conversation along the way. Finally made it to the end of the trip, tired but excited.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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One Response to Back to the U.S. of A.

  1. askewebb says:

    Right on, Ken! Ah, the infamous poker games.. I’m sure it’s good to be back to home base again after this latest excursion. And the next junket? Be sure to stay safe and have fun along the way!

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