I won’t bore you with the details of the journey except to say that flying Continental was less traumatic than anticipated, and despite it not having lie-flat BA seats, the food was particularly good, the movie selection Oscars-fresh and the service attentive so, since airmiles beggars can’t be choosers, I’m not complaining.
I changed at Houston where the unfathomable island that is the United States insists you clear customs and immigration despite the fact you have only one hour and 25 minutes to spend in the airport let alone the country, they seem unable to process airside international-to-international passengers, although my luggage goes straight to Costa Rica and does not pass ‘GO’.
It was perhaps unfortunate my flight from London coincided with the arrival of the Emirates service from Dubai, a sixteen hour nonstop which decants 250 tired and anxious beard and burqa wearers into the ignorant hands of monolingual Texas redneck border officials with resultant misunderstandings, intolerance and delays to we less ‘profiled’ passengers waiting behind. Appropriately enough, the airport is named after George Bush.
On the connecting flight to San Jose I am seated in front of a pair of loud mouthed good ole boys on their way to visit their sport fishing boats and imported Brazilian girlfriends, an indication that a lot of the migrant population into Costa Rica consists of American retirees eking out their pensions. The overheard conversation runs to discussion of finances until the free liquor slugs them to sleep, but not before I learn the cost of living is rising to beat them and they must consider a further, cheaper, destination for their remaining days, possibly Nicaragua.
I’m always quite pleased with myself to arrive in a third world country, particularly late at night, and successfully negotiate sufficient currency and directions to get myself to my first hotel although it’s surprisingly uncomplicated as there’s a fixed-price airport taxi service and I’m soon on my way. The driver has other ideas, though, carefully questioning me about my accommodation before telling me the hotel’s full and he’d be able to find me another one. It takes a certain amount of firmness to insist we go where I know I have a prepaid reservation and he eventually dumps me at the rather elegant Hotel Grano d’Oro, an extended and boutique-ified colonial mansion in an area which seems otherwise reserved for plastic surgery clinics. Perhaps they’re expecting me.
It doesn’t take long to check out the small but charming room with its polished floorboards, iron bedstead, heavy French armoire and ceiling fan – the windows are open but its surprisingly bug-free and I chance it without insect repellent for the first urban night, since after taking a shower I realise it’s now 11pm Costa Rican time and therefore 22 hours since I left home so I am more than ready for bed.
As I drift off, I am aware of the most beautiful birdsong. And we’re not talking squawks and chattering, this is pure uplifted melody from the trees in the garden below my window, I believe from the national bird of Costa Rica, the clay-coloured robin which sings like a louder nightingale, and all night long.