There was a clear strategy involved when it came to Costa Rica. That strategy involved skipping as much of it as we could, which we hated doing. Life ain’t fair sometimes. This country, known for its “pura vida”, was punching way above our weight class when it came to cost. One day we hope to return and give it another go.

The main draw in Costa Rica is the staggering amount of unique flora and fauna left over from when the North and South American continents fused together here. Throw in beaches, zip lines, coffee farms, hot springs, white-water rafting, hiking, surfing and fishing, and you see what we missed.

That “pura vida” comes along with a prosperity, environmental vision and commitment that makes it an outlier here in Central America. This is a world-class destination with prices, while affordable, just too far beyond our little reach.

We visited Costa Rica twice on this trip, once moving South and again returning North. Both stays involved the capital city of San Jose, which is really only on the radar of travelers due to it being a likely port of entry on an airplane, or as a point of connection while on a bus.

Our first visit saw us staying for two nights in a pretty sketchy area handy to the bus stations, as is almost always the case with parts of town where bus stations are located. Our plan was to swiftly move on to Panama the next day, yet something told us to give the capital a bit of a lookie. The next morning we hit the “Mas x Menos” supermarket and purchased snacks and “Imperial” beer, which we knacker-drank while sitting on a wall in the supermarket parking lot.sanjosecs002

Next to our hotel was a great little lunch counter called “Soda Calle 14”. It was there where we ate huge plates of food for about $3 and had our 2 interesting moments. During our meal we were approached by a very proper looking man with a doctors coat on. Around his neck was a stethoscope, and he was offering to take blood pressure with the cuff he had in hand.

This part of town was so bad that someone was making a living checking to see if people were in a state of hypertension or not! Or perhaps the cooks behind the counter were notorious for going heavy on the salt. This guy had pamphlets and everything! We kindly let him know we just each received a physical at breakfast, but in hindsight we wish we would have at least asked what his rate was.

In Central America there are plenty of people who make their living in the informal economy. Buses are often boarded by individuals – colleagues of our white coated man, perhaps – selling all sorts of potions, lotions and poultices. This tiny little unassuming lunch counter, where the staff was fine with a man coming in to apply medical devices to their patrons, would offer up another very interesting scene about 9 days later.

After about a week in Panama, we returned to head North. Again we wound up in San Jose, this time in a marginally better hotel in the same dicey area. Our old haunt for lunch was just up the street a bit, and we had another meal there. I would have gone for the blood pressure check this time, for I suddenly left my plate of food to chase down a thief running down the street with the bag of another backpacker cradled in his arms!

Just next to the lunch counter was the bus station for a regional line. As the backpacker waited for his bus, so did the thief wait for his moment. The freshly robbed backpacker chased him down the street, yelling for help along the way. I jumped to my feet and sprinted after them, hoping to shove the robber off his feet.

The two men disappeared into a crowd after a few blocks, and I gave up the chase, for my breathing was in a serious state of failure. On the way back to my lunch, I did see the thief, surrounded by his cronies and minus the stolen bag. Did someone else intervene? Did the victim catch the creep and whip his ass? We asked the staff behind the counter if anyone ever came in here offering oxygen. Those 2 or 3 blocks where I joined the chase were all up hill!

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