You Don’t Have to Go Crackers Going to Costa Rica

Eric Green


I’ll start by saying I was at first bewildered and then exuberant by the best thing that happened to me during my recent visit with my wife to Costa Rica.


I have been to Costa Rica often for work and pleasure. This visit, however, was the first time in years, and I wondered how the country had changed.


I went there as part of my ongoing physical therapy for health problems I have been dealing with for about a year. Costa Rica, with its glorious warm sunny weather, natural beauty, and welcoming folks is supposed to be the ideal tonic for people in physical and mental pain.



Before even landing outside the capital, San Jose, I noticed how those aboard our flight might feel as if they were starring in the 1930 Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers -- they might not know what delights lay in store for them. Meaning that for those of us sitting in economy class, our meal consisted of our choice of beverage and a complimentary package of little cookies that tasted like an animal cracker. If you asked, you could go hog wild getting two packages. But since we hadn’t eaten all day and were starving, my wife and I agreed that snack tasted delectable.


When we arrived at Costa Rica’s international airport, it was apparent that it had become truly international. It was much bigger, speedier to go through security and customs, and far easier to claim your baggage. Previously, the airport couldn’t seem to handle the large number of travelers passing through its gates. Now, with even bigger crowds, it was a breeze.


The airport had also created an orderly new central location to grab a taxi, hotel shuttle, tour bus, or rent a car, while before it had been a madhouse once you stepped outside the terminal. It was a battlefield, everyone out for themselves to find ground transportation.



On our second day in Costa Rica, my wife and I rode a bus into the always frenzied downtown San Jose for what I called a business trip.


I had previously written a paperback book about Costa Rica and wanted to hand out copies to the Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center’s library and several bookstores to possibly sell it.


We accomplished that mission after wandering confused around the streets for almost an hour looking for the right city bus to get us to the cultural center. Then we searched in vain for the supermarket, where 10 years ago and on previous trips, I used to buy my dinner of crackers, cup-a-soup, and bananas.


Memory is a tricky thing. The supermarket wasn’t where I thought it was supposed to be. Neither was the hotel where I used to stay that was to serve as my guidepost for finding the grocery store. We asked several policemen on the street where they were located. Maybe because of my rough Spanish, and the fact that we looked like typical tourists, the cops thought we were asking where we could find a bathroom. At least, that’s what I thought they said.


As it turned out, we stayed far too long downtown and though it was only about 2:30 in the afternoon, rush hour had already started, even if in the manic San Jose street scene, rush hour seems to start before lunch. We caught a taxi and it wasn’t long before we could see the driver having his own version of going crackers muttering choice obscenities in Spanish while trying to negotiate a way out of the city.


Finally, after an hour where we thought he’d purposely smash his taxi into a brick wall in utter frustration and $40 in cab fare, he delivered us to our destination. After his maddening excursion, the driver looked as if he too needed therapy at a health spa for jangled nerves.


The next day we signed up for a group tour of the famous Arenal Volcano in northern Costa Rica, followed by soaking our tired old bones in natural volcanic mineral water at the nearby Baldi Hot Springs Hotel Resort and Spa in the town of Fortuna. Maybe we should have invited that taxi driver to go with us, after his frustrating trip around San Jose’s version of Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell.


Unfortunately, it was raining and cloud cover obscured our view of the volcano. No matter, lying in over 100-degree water at that spa did wonders for easing my bodily aches and pains.


Medical professionals say thermal spring water provides anti-inflammatory, soothing, and even probiotic benefits. No exaggeration, I could have spent the rest of my days wallowing in it. But it might not be smart to bathe too long or your skin might curl up and soon, you will resemble a creature from outer space. After an hour or so, 45 minutes longer than advised, I reluctantly dragged my cleansed and restored torso from the water.



I thought lying in those thermal springs would highlight my trip to Costa Rica. Now I have to rank it as only one of the best.


That’s because on our last day there, my wife and I were walking along a road from our hotel on our way to the bus stop to the nearby town of Alajuela, when a car suddenly skidded to a stop alongside us. The window opened. The driver and his passenger asked in Spanish if could we help them.


They wanted to know where they could find the major highway to the airport. They were asking us, of all people? We had to look like tourists holding our cameras, supposedly know-nothings about these foreign parts.


But yes, not only did I miraculously know the way to the highway, but I explained the directions to them in Spanish, which after years of struggling to learn the language, had to be another miracle.


They profusely thanked me with a heartfelt “Muchas gracias, senor,” and headed off. My only concern was that they might have misunderstood what I said because of my American accent and ended up going in the opposite direction from the airport on a wild goose-chase to nowhere. I guess we’ll never know, will we?

My wife concurred that helping those lost souls find their way to the airport must rank as the highlight of our Costa Rica trip. In fact, still glowing about that episode on our flight back to the U.S. made it seem as if the trip had been well worth the expense.



If nothing else, we didn’t have to feel cheap even as we sat in economy class and the flight attendant plopped on our tray tables another package of those darned complimentary little cookies. Since we were both starved, we could only offer our compliments for said cookies in that perhaps they helped us from going crackers.


Author Bio:

Eric Green, a Highbrow Magazine contributor, is a former newspaper reporter, U.S. congressional press aide, English-as-a-second-language teacher, and now a freelance writer in the Washington D.C. area. His articles have appeared in various newspapers and websites, including the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun.


For Highbrow Magazine


Photo Credits:; Rose Green.



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