Mostly travel, a bit of culture

The last few days have been mostly travel, with a little bit of culture on the side.

On Monday I allowed myself a bit of a late start, and spent some time meandering around Manuel Antonio making sure that I hadn't missed anything. My Interbus pickup arrived a few minutes before the scheduled 1.15pm, and after a brief stop to pick up another family going to San Jose we hit the road.

The journey passed uneventfully, and I was checking back in to the Best Western Irazu a little bit before 5pm. Handily, this was right around Happy Hour at the local bar, which included a free drink.

Scott from Package Costa Rica caught up with me, and we spent a bit of time over a drink talking what had and hadn't worked on the vacation, and he gave me the promised refund for the abseiling that wasn't. I'd cheerfully recommend them to anyone else who's considering a Costa Rica vacation and wants local experts to handle the itinerary.

I retired back to the room, and discovered a small problem -- the walls were exceedingly thin. It seemed to be a double room (with connecting door) that had been converted in to two singles. To make up for it the WiFi was marginally less intermittent in this room than last time, so after catching up on a bit of e-mail it was time for bed.

Tuesday was overcast, with rain threatening but never actually appearing. My flight was at 6, so I had some time free in San Jose. Reading through guide books had recommended the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum to me, so after a quick breakfast in the Denny's attached to the hotel (!) I jumped in a taxi and paid 5,000 colones to get there.

It turns out that the same building also houses the National Coin Museum, so I started there.

As well as (obviously) having a large number of samples of Costa Rican currency over the years the museum also has displays on the history of currency around the world, exhibitions that showcase the various categories of designs that have appeared on Costa Rican coins and notes over the years (animals, national symbols, plants), and background information about the types of scrip that coffee plantation owners used to use to pay their employees.

Considered to be one of the most beautiful bills in the world

I moved in to the gold musuem section, and quickly realised there was more to this than just gold.

Arranged over three floors the museum covers the history of the people of the area, how they moved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more setteld agricultural one, and where gold first started to figure in to their culture.

There are thousands of examples of gold work on display; human representations, animals, jewelry.  Detailed displays also show how these were made using the lost-wax casting technique.

It's not all gold though. As part of putting this in the wider context of cultural evolution there are videos and dioramas reproducing what's believed to be the lifestyles of the population at the time.

And even a few artworks that aren't made of gold.

Just when I thought I'd exhausted everything the museum had to offer I discovered a section set aside for an art exhibition, and ended up being captivated by a video display showing musical animations from Rather than describe it, just watch this video.

I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours poking through the museum, and can heartily recommend it to other visitors to San Jose.

With some time still spare I wandered out on to the streets of San Jose in search of lunch. I wasn't paying a huge amount of attention to exactly where I ended up, eventually choosing a restaurant based on the facts that first, it didn't seem to be part of a chain, and second, there was a healthy number of locals eating there.

With that I jumped back in a cab to the hotel and then to the airport. To leave Costa Rica you have to pay a US $26 departure fee before checking in. This was straightforward to pay at the airport, but on trying to check in I bumped in to a problem. ESTA.

More specifically, the fact that although I'd filled out the ESTA forms a couple of years ago I didn't have a copy of the form with me, or my reference number. I'd never needed it before. This seemed to cause the Costa Rican authorities some consternation that I might not be admitted in to the US.

Eventually a combination of pointing out the numerous US entrance stamps in my passport (the most recent being less than four weeks old) and filling out a green visa waiver form placated them.

The flight itself was uneventful, arriving at LAX 10 minutes or so ahead of schedule. I could have done without the one hour queues at immigration on arrival though.

After queuing for the shuttle bus to La Quinta LAX I finally arrived at about 12.30am local time, and set about crashing out. The hotel was a perfectly serviceable place to stay. Mid-size room, decent breakfast, 10 minutes or so by bus to LAX, and not too much noise despite the proximity of the airport.

Wednesday was another early start to fly to SFO, and then drive up to Tahoe for the last few days of vacation. Fog at SFO meant that we took off an hour later than planned (the only flight delay so far, not bad given there have been six so far on this trip). I picked up my car from Hertz, and headed out to Tahoe.

This is a pretty boring drive, right up to the point where you enter Eldorado national forest about an hour out of Tahoe, at which point the view becomes much more scenic. It's a very different kind of beauty to the forests of Costa Rica (or the mountains of Switzerland for that matter), the range of plants and trees on offer is much reduced, and there's more bare earth to be seen than Costa Rica.

I checked in at the Seven Seas Inn, which is a lovely little place just by the California/Nevada state line, a couple of blocks from the beach and the main strip through the town. After drinks at McP's and a browse around the casinos over in Nevada I'm back at the Inn surrounded by leaflets for local attractions trying to figure out what to do tomorrow...

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