The Way to San Jose San Jose, Costa Rica, Feb 1999

I did it on Orchard Road in Singapore, and lived to regret it. Now, I just had to do it in San Jose (that's San Jose Costa Rica), despite much verbal and written advice to the contrary. I rode my bike from Zapote, south east of the city, to the Saatchi & Saatchi office in Sabana Sur, pretty well west. If that wasn't enough, I rode back, in the dark. What follows is the first chapter of my new book entitled "Suicide Rides: Cycling for the Sheer Terror Of It". My Bike Friday was looking somewhat arthritic folded up like Houdini in its suitcase, so I decided to show it around San Jose. Trying not to fill my pannier
with could-be-useful-but-probably-won't-see-the-light-of-day paraphenalia as I usually do I rolled the bike down the drive and promptly got an attack of disorientation. This, despite almost 2 weeks mooching around the neighbourhood in search of base camp after mundane sorties to the local shop and post office. After carefully rotating the map several times and shaking the smarts out of my Bata-Scoutish compass (much to the bemusement of the pedal-powered policeman languishing on the opposite corner) I gingerly turned left into a service lane and rolled along a couple of hundred metres. Still embarrasingly disoriented I bailed up a woman to ask, ahem, do you know the way to San Jose? I was on the right track, or should I say pothole. The road can only be described as all-terrain. The traffic was mad, but not as mad as I was led to believe; at least the Ticos drive in vague lanes, unlike the Parisians whirling around the Arc de Triumphe or the Asians driving anywhere in Asia. There was a cacophany of tooting horns, although the timbre was more subdued and polite, as if muffled by some governmentally-decreed regulator. My first difficulty was dealing with riding on the right; I always found myself on the wrong side of the road when trying to cross. My rear-vision mirror, now strapped on the other handlebar gave me a spectacularly useful view of my left forearm. And for the thousandth time in my cycling career, I managed to gouge my shin on the pedal. I long for those clunky rubber pedals of my childhood days whenever this happens. Rotundas, or roundabouts, are designed solely for beings with a pair of furiously spinning wheels below their knees. I had to negotiate two sides of a skewly-sited park - this always gets me; I came out not knowing which way I was facing despite a simple left then left. By now you must realize how crap I am at direction and you probably wonder how I've even got this far. San Jose is organised in a grid system. Avenues run east-west and are numbered 1,3,5 north Ave Central, and 2,4,6 south. Similarly, streets run north-south with 1,3,5 to the east of St Central, and 2,4,6 to the west. The problem is that this seemingly well-construed lattice exists only in patches. I found the sequence went a bit spare in many sections, terminating abruptly and restarting somewhere else with the flow of one-way traffic changing at whim. All the while I endured shouts from los chicos (young lads) yelling out "China Psssst!", which I am told is done in appreciation but it certainly don't sound like it. Apparently, anyone with slanty eyes is labelled such. My first stop was a travel agent to see about extending my visa. Australians can stay only 30 days, most others get 3 months. God knows what we did to Costa Rica. To renew, the easiest way is to to leave the country for three days. In practice many people simply overstay, sometimes for years, and on deciding to leave, simply purchase an exit visa which costs $45 plus a fine of $1.40 for every month overstayed. Next stop was the Saatchi & Saatchi Costa Rica outpost. I limped into the office, sent some emails, then prepared for the ride back. Several map consultations later (in some disturbingly underlit parts of the city) I made it home, dirty, sweaty and tired. The only positive was that I managed to make it through the day without spending a single colone, because I declined buying 2 mandarins from a street stall for 100 colones (about 36 cents), after all, I got four for that price last week didn't I? The downside was, I now didn't have my mandarins. Serves you right, turista.

Copyright 2003 Lynette Chiang All Rights Reserved