I have long been a fan of the day long layover. By opting for a 12 hour layover or day trips, I’ve been able to see some of my most desired locations at a fraction of the price. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is also the quickest way to exhaust oneself. Taking a 12 hour layover in Lisbon two years ago before reaching Romania left me staying up for 48 hours! I’ve never not been exhausted by one of these long haul mini-trips.
I thought for a while that I would never be able to do these types of trips with a child. I personally could pull through prolonged sleepless hours and crash on the plane, but a 9 month old? Let’s all laugh together, BAHAHAHAH. Even if you’re not a parent, surely you realize what hell this would be.
So, I did it anyway. We decided to explore San Jose, Costa Rica in one day! After a week on the Costa coastline, we spent 12 hours in San Jose before jumping on a red eye flight. San Jose has a reputation of being dangerous, gritty, and crime ridden. And if you know me, you know that is exactly why I went to see it. I love cities that have an edge to them. Most people do not visit Central America for its cities. The region is more known for its bounty of beaches. However, in the past few years since moving to Brooklyn, I’ve taken on the persona of urbanite. Therefore, we traveled to the city.
Long Layover Hack
A long day in a bustling city sounds painful when involving an infant, right? Not if you rent a hotel room for the day.
We paid exactly $48 dollars for a room at the Hotel Cultura Plaza. It was a walking distance to everything that we wanted to see. We paid this even though we would be leaving hours before check out and not actually staying over. Let me say, it was worth every penny. The room was pristine, modern, and was just enough space for the three of us and our belongings.
Having the room for the day allowed us to have a “home base”. We were able to go in and out of our luggage as we pleased. Its central proximity to sites allowed us to return to the room when we were too hot, needed to change a diaper, or wanted to change clothes. It was a Godsend to be able to shower and change into comfy clothes right before we left for the airport. The best part? At around 6:30 we were spent – we didn’t have the energy for any more sites. It was amazing for the three of us to lay in bed, watch movies, cuddle up, and sleep before a long five hour flight!
To recap, day trips with kids are possible, but book that cheap-ass room before you go.
The Jade Museum
I know what you’re thinking. Because it was exactly what I was thinking when I found out that the Jade Museum was a top attraction in San Jose. Jade? As in the stone? An entire museum…dedicated to…a particular type of stone? Like…a rock, kind of? Stick with me, I promise the Jade Museum is dope!
The Jade Museum boasts five floors of jade discovered in the Americas. It has the world’s largest collection. The historical significance of jade in early Costa Rican people is significant and trippy. The Jade Museum is one place that I could certainly have spent the entire day exploring. I say that without a shred of exaggeration. The words, “this is so cool” left my lips no less than a hundred times during my exploration.
I have an utter fascination with weirdly specific parts of history. I’m especially interested in the spiritual beliefs and traditions of ancient societies. In particular, I’m captivated by anything involving Shamanism. If you know anyone in need of someone to do investigative reporting in this area – I’m your broad!
I love the idea of connecting with nature, spirituality, and the occasional hallucinogenic as a form of healing both physically and emotionally. Shamanism seems so mystical and so pure. My mind blows wide open when I consider its role in a history that spans hundreds of years. In pre-Colombian Costa Rica – Shamans relied heavily on jade and believed in its potential for healing.
It was long believed that spirits could shapeshift and take on the form of various creatures, turn invisible, and manifest through instruments of the shamans such as stones and jade pendants. Spirits were thought to dictate nearly everything in life from illness to protection of nature, animals, and people. Spirits could be both good and evil simultaneously. This is why so many of the jade objects depict having two heads.
When a person in the tribe fell sick, Shamans used jade stones (considered magical) to communicate with the spirit of the ill person. In earlier days, people believed that Shamans could shape shift into animals particularly at night made possible through the stone.
Although much isn’t known, Shamanism was practiced by a small amount of females in Costa Rica. Mainly elderly women could be educated in the ways of Shamanism to hold priestess positions. Certain jade objects depict women in authority over ceremonial proceedings.
There were two rooms entitled “day” and “night.” In the day room you are able to see how Costa Ricans built their homes and used jade in their day to day living such as for jewelry and curing illness.
It is no surprise that my wild ass like the night room much better. It was full of stories of war, burials, sacrifice, and more Shamanic and spiritual uses of jade.
Teatro Nacional de…Costa Rica?
I’ve long been writing a novel set in Costa Rica. I’ve been working out a scene that takes place in the Teatro Nacional Costa Rica. Luckily, there are so many pictures on the internet to use as inspiration. However, it’s been a dream of mine since beginning the novel to see it in person. That was four years ago, on my first trip to Costa Rica where I decided to write my book. I finally was able to soak in every detail during my visit to the city. Seeing this theater was paramount to my experience of San Jose, Costa Rica in one day!
We arrived just in time for the last English speaking tour of the theater for the day. Talk about serendipity. Might have been a nod from the universe telling me to “soldier on” with my pursuit of writing. That’s what I would like to think anyway.
When one thinks of Latin America, the image of a classical European style theater house does not usually come to mind. However, the Teatro Nacional is one such place. It doesn’t seem as though it blends in at all with the overall aesthetics of the modern and somewhat gritty capital city. Afterall, it certainly has an old world look and is most certainly not modern. It definitely does not fit in with the graffiti clad streets of San Jose. It’s not inconceivable that the theater may be a transplant from another country entirely. However, San Jose is the original and only home of the theater. Although, Italy can lay claim to its many statues.
The affluent families of San Jose in the 1800s could afford to send their children to Europe to study. Their children would return with stories of grand performances that they witnessed in the most stunning of venues. The families soon sought their own venue for performances. Thus the theater was erected with inspiration from Europe.
As soon as we entered the theater, my imagination went wild. I saw visions of ladies in giant ball gowns and men in tuxedos laughing haughtily and checking out the other guests who arrived in their finest around them. The marble statues imported from Italy and gold trim in the lobby create an elegant aesthetic that helps embolden such visions.
A DNA test that I took claims that I share a bloodline with Marie Antoinette. Seeing as my heart skips a beat in any place that resembles Versailles, I concur. The regal, airy, high class charm of the theater does indeed remind one of the sun king’s palace.
After entrance, the tour moves into a vestibule. An unassuming, naturally pretty young woman introduced herself as our tour guide and discussed each statue around us. I’ll leave the detailed history to the photo captions. Instead, I’ll just say that things did not go as expected in all of the best ways. A man, who definitely had airs of importance looked assumingly at our guide. He began insulting her and saying he didn’t think she knew anything about the theater at all.
The tour looked around awkwardly at each other. I love an awkward moment just as much as anyone. Perhaps more awkward is my mistaking this man for Lin Manuel Miranda, the Hamilton creator and genius. Things made more sense when we learned that our tour guide and her associate were ACTORS. As such, they would take turns leading while the other dressed in period clothing. Both would assume the role of various important political people who were pivotal to the development of the theater.
We were able to tour the reception room where important guests and patrons would gather. The smoking rooms on each side allow the chance to fawn over impressive art. Most interesting was golden champagne fountains in each corner of the room. The best, however, was when Lin Manuel Miranda pretty much called us all garbage people/trash for wearing flip flops and jeans to the gala. I was really impressed with his ability to see me for who I am.
The views of the stage from the balcony seating took my breath away. We were able to see the box where the president of Costa Rica sits for performances. The seat is only for him. It is front and center in a special spacious box.
In the earlier days, important patrons would sit in these balcony seats. It was surprising that their view of the stage did not offer a favorable view of the stage. In a similar situation to the Globe, these seats intended purpose was to show off the patrons. They did not care about the performance so much as being the performance.
After looking at so many photographs of the Teatro Nacional for several years, it was surreal to see it in real life. I was able to run through so many scenes that I created against the backdrop of the actual theater.
Over-Ordering from a Menu – The Pride of Americans
I easily gained 10 pounds just from our meal during dinner. Nuestra Tierra boasts a ginormous menu full of various Costa Rican dishes. It’s heavy with tourists, but the menu seemed promising.
After a long day of exploring, alcohol is well deserved and to be honest – needed. I ordered a glass of the red house sangria. I have no idea about the ingredients- but half a glass was more than enough. Being a new mom has a lot of challenges, I’m not sure I’d count newly being a lightweight this as one. I think it’s more of a money saver.
We ordered a HUGE platter of food which included rice and beans, several types of meat, fried yucca, and plantains. I felt so guilty because we didn’t even make a dent in the damn platter. The only thing more American would have been finding a Krispy Kreme after dinner. I’ll be honest, the platter did not impress me. We both thought it would be much better. For the most part it was bland, and a lot of the meat was difficult to get through due to texture. There is also a real chance that the restaurant mixed up fried yucca with fried rocks.
The stand out dish, believe it or not was a side dish. SO, side chicks. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be number one. It was a banana that was fried and covered in cheese and it was EVERYTHING. The banana was naturally sweet and cooked in oil. The cheese covering it added even more grease and a fried, stringy, goodness. The two when mixed together formed a savory and sweet connection that shouldn’t have worked, but totally did. This is the ULTIMATE booze accompaniment or stoner snack. I can’t wait to try to re-create it at home.
Out of all of the toys offered to Henry, he only wanted to play with a piece of oily, battered, cheese. I took it from him several times, each of which he screamed. Other diners looked at us as though we were in fact beating him with the cheese. Exhausted from sightseeing and relaxed from booze – I let him have it. He spent the better half of half an hour breaking it up into pieces and smacking it against every surface imaginable. At one point he smashed it into my hair and face. Even at 9 months old you apparently have to pick your battles.
After he grew bored of that, he desperately needed a diaper change. There was no changing station and so I changed him (tipsy mind you) on the floor of the restroom. Yes, I used his changing pad obviously – keyboard warriors. The light was an eco light and would shut off every 45 seconds unless I stood up and jumped. The sight of my son giggling and trying to flip over, as I try to change his diaper in the dark while jumping up from a kneeling position every 45 seconds was a sight to be seen.
The Most Brilliant Moment
The universe and stars aligned to bring together the most miraculous experience of my time in the city. Arthur, Henry, and I scaled a hill not knowing what we would find up top. It was easy to see there were a lot of people at the top of the hill. It was not easy to see why.
Upon reaching the top we saw no less than HUNDREDS of locals were gathered around. I heard a familiar cadanced, spit fire, style of music coming from the middle of the crowd. Every so often the crowd would shout “OHHHHH!” in absolute approval. There was a rap battle happening, and it was fucking magnificent. I love hip hop and rap. I’m always astounded how the uniquely Black American style of music has made its way around the world as a popular style of music.
I have no understanding whatsoever of what was happening within the lyrics. However, in a sea of strangers who looked nothing like me – I felt blissfully at home. The rhythm and feelings generated by this style of music transcend language and culture. It was easy to feel the passion and energy from the performers and crowd. I was ecstatic to witness such a pure local event. We seemed to be the only visitors. It’s exciting to be able to become lost in a scene. I enjoyed every moment.
While nature is in vogue, I love cities. This is especially true for ones with a bite to them. I’m all about scouring through concrete jungles to find gems and getting lost late into the evening. While my wild nights aren’t typically so wild with baby in tow, I was able to explore an environment that I love.