Here are some life tips I have learned while riding the bus in Costa Rica.
Waiting for the bus
It all starts with catching and getting on the bus. You might start at a rural stop (parada) which may or may not have a shelter like ours pictured below. Or the parada may simply be marked by a painted stripe on the road. If you are going in the opposite direction, wait across the street from the marked stop or shelter.
Sometimes in town, you need to pick up the bus at a beat-up sign on the side of the street. Don’t get discouraged, but think of it as a scavenger hunt and rise to the challenge.
And sometimes you will have a modern bus terminal with seats, shops, and good lighting like this one in Palmares.
Here is the new $10M bus station in San Jose that I can not wait to visit.
If the bus stop is by the side of the road, many people will simply put their stuff down to mark their place in line. Here you can see from our red grocery cart that we are third in line. Once marked, I can retreat to the shade to wait on the bus. I have never seen anyone bother anyone’s bags, but you should still remain vigilant and don’t mark with obvious valuable items like computers or cameras and keep an eye on your belongings. It is just common sense while traveling.
Here is another example at my local station in San Ramon of people marking their place in line.
Costa Rica confuses me. In the states, being exposed to the people on public transit meant getting sick. Sure, I washed my hands and covered my mouth and nose in the States, but it never helped and I would invariably catch cold. The only conciliation was I thought maybe my immune system was getting super charged from exposure to so many germ variants. Since riding the bus in Costa Rica, I haven’t been sick. In fact, I don’t get the impression others are often sick either. You know the image I have in mind of a crowded bus or train in the US with hundreds of people sneezing and coughing on each other. Maybe it is because US buses are air conditioned so the windows are always closed and everyone is locked in a petri dish passing germs. I have been very healthy since moving to Costa Rica. Since there are no major temperature changes in Costa Rica, the US winter cold phenomena in the winter does not pertain. Maybe it is the sunshine or the fresh air or lack of cold weather that makes germ transmission lower? I say all this because, if you have been one to avoid pubic transportation because of possible contact with germs, all I can say is I am not seeing the rampant transmission like I experienced in the US.
Here is a great article that may explain what I experienced. It appears the flu strives at 40 degrees which is when season change in the State, added to returning to school and being inside all make germ transmission easier.
On many of the buses, there will be simple sliding windows to get fresh air as seen below. I have been surprised that many times when I board a bus the windows are all closed and the bus is stuffy. Why? I think the behavior might be due to frequent monsoon rains that would otherwise come in the window and soak everyone so it is not a habit to open all the window wide.
What I look for is regular departures since they make my life easy. Notice the schedule below for buses leaving from San Jose going to San Isidro del General. Notice the schedule show three bus companies – Musoc, Transp. Blanco and Tracpoa – all servicing San Isidro. But what catches my eye is Musoc hourly departure (7:30, 8:30, 9:30). The reason is because I know with regular departures I have plenty of slack if something goes wrong. Given, I have to get to San Jose initially by a combination of local / long distance buses and taxis, I could get very anxious if my schedule depended on a making a connection with infrequent departure times. Think of all those people you remember running frantically through the airport. That feels too much like when I was traveling for work and I had to constantly monitor the time, looking up the gate, etc. With regularly hourly departures, I can sit back knowing if the traffic is bad, there is a wreck, a protest, or a volcano erupting, I can eventually just catch the next bus leaving.
One of the difference between my old life working for a living and being retired is that life has slowed way down. I use to schedule my day in five minute increments and now I do it in one hour blocks and sometime daily blocks. So, in my mind, when we travel slowly, I visualize catching the 6:00am bus to San Ramon, 7:00am from San Ramon to San Jose, and 9:00am bus from San jose to the beach. Typically, the result is that I spend 30 minutes to 2 hours cooling my heels waiting in a bus station. That can be very frustrating to people who are on a schedule and who think “Time is Money”. That difference in outlook is the main reason I enjoy riding the bus and many others with real or perceived time constraints hate it. So, what to do with all the down time – read, people watch, learn Spanish, etc. Once you think of the bus ride as part of the adventure, it changes the experience and makes the time waiting enjoyable.
I initially worked very hard optimizing my trips such as trying to catch buses mid-route or trying to never backtrack. It was a lot of work fraught with potential failure and it started to be less fun. Now, I have accepted the inevitable and I am running with the rule to always get to San Jose as my starting point. I really hate traveling one hour east to retrace the route west but face it, San Jose is the countries transportation hub. It just goes against my sensibility but sometimes, “A man’s got to know his limitations” (Clint Eastwood, Magnum Force) and make the best of things which I am doing by planning my trips to originate from San Jose.
Be aware that the bus drop off may not be the bus pickup point. Our local bus into San Ramon terminates a few blocks from the place we line up to return. It works really well getting everyone off the bus so that when the bus pulls around the corner people can start getting on. It is not a big deal now but when you are brand new, a few blocks can be scary. So, first be aware and do not assume. Second, ask everyone who you think can assist from the bus driver to passengers.
I discovered a new information resource at the bus station … Mormon Missionaries. They are easy to pick out of the crowd, speak English, don’t have cars so walk and take the bus. They were very helpful yesterday find the right bus.
Another great resource are the vendors who sell fruit at the bus stops. They work the location every day and know when every bus comes through and where it stops.
What you do not see
Once I was standing on the steps to get into the bus and the bus driver politely asked me to move. I did not understand at the time but later noticed that some buses had an optical counter they probably use for accounting to make sure the receipts match the passenger count. By me standing where I was, I probably made the counter go wild cause a headache for the driver at the end of the day when he reconciled his accounts. So, be aware and patient and quickly move past the scanners when your time comes to enter the bus.