Daily life in Costa Rica, is, on the whole, not much different from daily life anywhere in the world, even for a 23 year old expat girl trying to make a living as a travel writer. San Jose is full of people just trying to get from A to B, trying to work, trying not to work, trying to feed their families and live their lives. I’m sometimes struck by the normalcy of it all. I spend days utterly oblivious to the fact that I’m in COSTA RICA! But everytime I look at the mountains, I remember. I love the mountains.
SO anyway, I am getting used to the hustle and bustle in San Jose, but it’s still difficult at times. Although I do have my degree in Spanish, I reeeeeeally don’t know how much I deserved it. My Spanish is only so so. And the bus schedule is HARD. I commute about half an hour to my job, and to do that I take 2 different buses. I can’t take the same buses back, for some reason though. The whole San Jose local bus schedule is kind of a mystery to me, and they don’t have it up online. You pretty much just have to learn by trial and (grievous) error, which happened to me just last week.
On Tuesday of last week, I experienced a breakthrough. I took all the right buses. I made it home in record speed. So Wednesday after work, I was not only mentally exhausted, but cocky to boot. I was a bus-taking badass. I could take buses like a responsible adult! Anyway, I always take the Santa Teresa bus, and that Wednesday was no different. I vaguely recall the bus driver saying something to me in Spanish, but I chose not to pay attention. My commute is my “space out” time.
Sooooo when the bus turned in a completely different direction than it normally goes, I thought, “Hmm…that’s odd.” Lots of buses in San Jose go to the same places, but they can take millions of different routes to get to those places. It was only when the bus made a drastic turn in a definite wrong direction that I started to panic. The bus started to head up the mountain (directional sidenote* I live in the valley). So I huddled in my plastic bus seat, clutching my purse and looking around for a taxi, so I could go home. But the area was swiftly becoming more and more residential. Finally, the bus pulled off to the side of the street, and everyone got off. Including the driver.
It was starting to get dark, and I was stuck alone on a corner with an empty bus and no cell phone. Shit, shit, shit. Across the street, a man was tinkering with the engine of a teal blue car. I imagine I looked like a frightened rabbit at this point, and the man noticed. He called out to me in Spanish and asked me if I needed a taxi, so I crossed the street and went over to him. He had his cell phone in his hand. I asked him if he would call me a cab, and in reply he opened up the door to his car.
“No, no. Necesito un taxi,” I said. (No, no. I need a taxi)
And his friend standing nearby replied, “Es una pirata.” (He is a pirate)
Okay, here is a little tangential explanation. This is a picture of a certified Costa Rican taxi.
They are always red and not hard to spot. This man’s car was NOT like this. It was teal. And kind of beaten up. But pirate cabs are a common thing in San Jose and in other Costa Rican towns. They are usually cheaper than the certified taxis, and mostly they are safe to use. But they normally aren’t recommended for tourists or petite obviously-not-native-to-Costa-Rica girls who happen to be commuting with their laptops. But I didn’t really see another way out of my pickle of a situation. So I got in the back and told the man to take me to Escazu Centro, where I work. I figured I’d catch the bus from there.
So the man cheerfully starts chattering to me in Spanish. My worry was probably palpable, and he seemed to think asking me questions like, “Does your family live here?” would comfort me.
“No, they live in Chicago,” I said. Then, instantly realizing my mistake in mentioning that I have no nearby family and therefore no one to notice that I have disappeared/been mugged/ raped, I practically shouted, “B-but I have LOTS of friends here! And a ROOMMATE! I have so many friends here! Lots of friends!”
And the pirate just laughed at me and said, “No te preocupes! Eres bonita!” (Don’t worry! You’re pretty)
Oddly enough, that didn’t really ease my nerves. But the pirate was honest and I made it to Escazu Centro without being robbed or hurt in any way. At this point, he offered to take me all the way to Rohrmoser, where I live. I accepted, since I was pretty sure now that he wasn’t going to murder me and sell my laptop and passport on the black market.
He was asking me lots of questions and also giving me tourist info. I’m not exactly sure why. Just being nice, probably. I know I told him I have my certificate to teach English, and he asked me how to say “Quiero ser tu amigo” (I want to be your friend) in English. I was pretty sure he was flirting with me (even though he looked around 35, maybe older) ((READ: creepy)).I was glad to be sitting in the back seat and not the passenger side.
THEN, he offered to take me out dancing.
Fortunately, at this point, we had arrived at my chosen destination (the nearby grocery store. NOT my apartment building, thankfully).
So Mr. Pirate gave me his phone number “In case I ever need a cab in Escazu or want to go out dancing,” and I made it home to tell all of this to my roommate, who practically peed her pants when I told her about the “I have LOTS of friends!” moment.
Her response? “You should have told him you call me every hour! And if I don’t hear from you, I’ll call the cops!”
And that was how I met a pirate in Costa Rica.