Saturday was a bittersweet adventure with taking the buses in San Jose because I could’ve only spent two dollars but ended up spending three dollars since the second bus I was on exploded.

Here’s what happened. On Saturday, after I dropped off the boy, I had some business I had to take care of in San Jose. The thing about NOT living in the big city is that you actually have to go to the big city to find stuff. In my case, I needed three items I couldn’t find at any of the local hardware stores.

And taking public buses in San Jose is awesome! I wish my Spanish was better, though, so I wouldn’t have any issues whatsoever. Although, it is kind of fun trying to guess if a bus is going to San Jose or not when it SAYS San Jose on the little plate at the front but that’s actually not at all where it’s going.

“San Jose?”
“No. Alejuela.”

So I caught the bus from the airport into San Jose, expecting to catch a taxi over to El Lagar, one of the big ferreterias (hardware stores) in Desamparados. However, on the ride into town, we actually stopped right in front of an EPA (which is the equivalent of Lowes or Home Depot in the US). So I got off. One minute into the store, the clerk who I tried to communicate with quickly found the resident English-speaking employee who helped me find exactly what I was looking for.

Items purchased, all done in San Jose. So now I just have to catch a bus downtown, buy a bus ticket back out to Jacó, and I’m done. Sat at the bus stop outside EPA and caught the next bus. About three stops down, more people boarded a mostly full bus. No empty seats but only a few of us were standing up. I was at the rear of the bus standing half-way into the handicapped spot. After a couple of minutes, almost simultaneously, everyone on the bus realizes we weren’t moving and that the bus was stopped. People are sticking their heads into the aisle to see what’s up.

Something was wrong. The bus driver was on the phone. Then he lifted the handle on this compartment to the right of the steering wheel (near dead center of the aisle) exposing some of the internal mechanics of the bus. And then?


A loud explosion and there’s some kind of liquid spraying EVERYWHERE at the front of the bus! People are jumping up, trying to run to exit out the back. Screaming. Freaking out. Just a harsh spray of something shooting straight up into the ceiling all over the front of the bus! It’s obviously not burning hot because nobody seems hurt. Just freaking out. Like it’s only seconds before the whole bus blows up!

I’m off to the side a little bit in the handicapped spot so I let everyone by and just watch. The bus driver is seriously bummed out. SOAKED in whatever liquid came spewing forth. He looks dejected, beaten down. I tried to take some pictures but I had my Nikkor manual focus 105mm on and couldn’t be fooling with changing lenses. So the photos were minimal.

Way to focus, Scott.

Way to focus, Scott.

You can see whatever liquid it was dripping down here onto the front steps.

You can see whatever liquid it was dripping down here onto the front steps.

Got off the bus. Another one pulled up. Some guy got off and yelled, “San Jose” so I hopped on it. And that’s where I paid that extra dollar. Doh! If I was presently fluent in Spanish, I could’ve reasoned my way out of paying that dollar, explaining that the other bus had just exploded and I didn’t think it necessary to pay the dollar. At a minimum, I could’ve argued my case until I reached my stop and then just hopped off the bus, darted into the crowd, never to be seen again! No, I wouldn’t do that.

Pura vida.

Seriously, I didn’t really care. I just got to be part of something excellent!!

The Bazaar

Got downtown, got money from an ATM, walked to the Coca Cola Bus Station (which I can now get to without getting lost – so that’s something), bought my ticket. Bought a drink, sat down, relaxed. The Coca Cola Bus Station is one of four primary bus stations in San Jose and the sketchiest of the bunch, sitting on the edge of Zona Roja (or the Red Zone). I would never go at night (it’s not advised by any reliable source) but during the day, it’s fairly tame, mostly filled with friendly people, the occasional panhandler, Policia standing around, and maybe some thieves but they don’t really announce themselves.

What’s awesome, though, is that the block across from where the buses are parked is basically a maze of shops. Mostly a grid, but it is this incredibly awesome bazaar, filled with shops and people. On Saturday, it wasn’t anywhere near as busy as when I’ve been before. And here, I’d like to list the exact items I had on my person:

  • 1 snappy laptop bag holding my camera and multiple lenses, all wrapped individually in cloths. My snappy laptop bag also contained…
  • 1 small plastic bag holding two small screws (purchased at EPA). And then I was carrying…
  • 1 4′ X 2′ wide sheet of acrylic glass (also purchased at EPA) which was almost too big to hold under my arm. That’s feet. Not inches. Pictured below.
Look like you belong: carry one of these around.

Look like you belong.

I realized something after I bought the glass and started toting it around town on the buses and on the streets: nothing makes you look less like a tourist than carrying some large, cumbersome, and completely obscure item under your arm. So there’s your pro travel tip of the day: to avoid looking like a tourist, visit a hardware shop, buy something random (like a plunger or PVC piping) and just carry it with you wherever you go. If it looks a little beat up, even better.

In my case, the protective covering was coming off the glass so I searched the little markets in the area around the bus station for scotch tape, found some, and then set about taping that bad boy up. Voila. I was blending in so well in that moment that I could’ve been a one-man band playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and nobody would’ve noticed me! Plus my tan. (Zach said I was looking particularly tropical while he was here. It’s a pretty dark tan. I’m not going to lie. Am I proud? Heck yeah!)

Anyway, after getting the glass taped up, I decided, “You know what? I’m totally taking photos of this scene.” While a lot of the time I’m pretty clumsy and uncoordinated, once the camera is in my hand I can balance on one foot, leaning backwards. And this place had to be documented. So I wrapped the camera around my wrist, adjusted the glass, and went into the belly of the beast. Spatially aware, I weaved, ducked, squeezed, and squatted like a pro!!

Zona Roja #139 (Box Set Edition)

Zona Roja #139 (Box Set Edition)

Apparently, a lot of gringos don’t walk through there with their cameras and a sheet of glass under their arm. I received a few glances. From everyone. A lot of the glances came with smiles since I was smiling pretty much the entire time. Because this was spectacular. And I was pretty happy being in there. You may recall I mentioned how it reminded me of my childhood. Now you can see what I’m talking about. 🙂

Clips #109

Clips #109

Frutas #206

Frutas #206

And, oh! Here’s a challenge for you: See if you can find the actual place in the photos where you purchase bus tickets. It’s IN the photos. Should you ever come to CR, get dropped off at the Coca Cola Bus Station and not speak a word of Spanish, you can refer back in your mind to this post. There, I’ve helped you twice now in one post!

Here you go. The photos! Enjoy!

About the Author

Hello, I'm Scott. I take photos. Do things. Whatnot. Mixed Digital Media Artist.

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