13. Big City Shopping

Thursday 6/10- It’s an even day, that means driving day. Thursday, that means the big feria (farmers market) in San Isidro. What both of these things together means that today will be a big provisioning day for us. Since we’re always up early (both by our nature and those dang howler monkeys) we didn’t have to worry about waking up especially early today, but we did want to get on the road pretty early. It is about an hour drive to San Isidro in the best of conditions, and if you get stuck behind traffic it could take significantly longer. The drive to San Isidro is about 35 miles through long windy mountain roads, a single lane in each direction (and sometimes not even that… down here there are actually bridges that only a single car can fit across, so you have to stop and wait if there is oncoming traffic). It is a beautiful drive with overlooks where you can see for miles, going through small villages, and sometimes driving through the clouds. This is a great drive, as you pass through the non-touristy towns and get a feel for what Costa Rica is really like. These small villages/towns are all self-sufficient, with restaurants, bakeries, meat shops, and other small family business (sometimes even operated out of their homes). We have driven this way only twice before, once there and back during our trip last February, and again during our adventure when driving from San Jose to Uvita last week (If you haven’t read that blog post yet, make sure to go back and read about that adventure!)


One of the single lane bridges

You may not be able to tell but this probably a 20-25% grade and we are going downhill

Waiting our turn

During our previous stops in the city, we only stopped at Walmart (yeah, I know—who goes to Walmart when you’re in Costa Rica?! But it’s not ghetto like the Walmarts in the US & it really may be the only place you can find certain things here) and the big feria. During today’s trip we would be stopping at a few other stores that were recommended to us for various household goods that were on our shopping list. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we wanted to check them out before we went to Wally-World.
The first few stores on our route were downtown, in the heart of San Isidro. After the capital, San Jose, this is probably one of the biggest cities in Costa Rica. As many of you know, neither Ramie nor I are “city people”, we hate driving in it, we dislike the crowds of people, and we would overall just prefer to be away from all of that hustle and bustle (hence settling in small town Uvita). Now throw in not knowing the area at all, not knowing the language, and only having a small grasp on their customs and driving styles here… oh boy were we in for an adventure! Oh, and another thing of note—there are VERY few street signs down here, and even when they are there, they are probably so small or covered by something and you wouldn’t even notice them. So—when google maps tells you to turn right on Avenito Nueve (9th Avenue) … Well, just look at the screen and count how many more rights that is before you’re there because you won’t find the sign.
So, here we come into town.
Google tells us to take a sharp right. Is that a one way?? Are we going down the one way the wrong way? I don’t know—let’s just keep going. Yes, we have done this a time or two. Believe it or not, but people actually will just pull over and let you go by. Ok, well, this time… Let’s maybe turn around and go around the block.

Alright, here we are, now where do we park? Is there even anywhere to park in this city? Let’s go around the block again to look for parking. Still no parking, let’s find a different block. Can we park here? No, that curb looks yellow (Don’t EVER park in the yellow, instead of just getting a ticket, they will take your license plates). Is that actually yellow? It looks worn off... (even if it’s REALLY worn off, if there is even a hint of yellow, DON’T PARK THERE!!) That sign says something about parking permit only… Really, where do people park when they go shopping? We probably drove around the city center at least 5 times looking up and down various streets for a parking spot. The tricky part is you see cars parked on the streets, but they have a permit. Which we could acquire, IF we knew which business on that block gave them out. Finally a few blocks away—good enough, we found a pay public parking lot. I don’t care, I’ll walk… How much does it cost? I don’t even know, kind of don’t even care right now, I just don’t want to drive through this city anymore!!!!
After leaving home around 7:40, we made it to our first store around 9:20. Well, that’s not terrible considering how many times we went up and down the city streets looking for parking!
We went to 4 stores downtown; all were very large and had a huge variety of items. Everything from clothes and shoes, to toiletries, household goods, and so many other things. Some were like department stores. Kind of like Macys but without anything high-end. (More like K-mart when those were around?) Other stores where a mish mash of various goods. We picked up a few things but didn’t want to buy a ton since we had to walk around to other stores and then walk all the way back to our car. At least we got a good idea of what was here in case we ever needed any of it (and come back some other time when we aren’t so stressed from the parking situation).
Walking around downtown was also very interesting with all of the people. I mean a lot of people, (where they all parked I have no idea). You will be walking down the sidewalks and people have a small table set up selling lottery tickets. On another street corner there is a bookie/loan shark waiting for his clients to show up and pay him. We found this out from others that on such and such a day they will be there waiting for their money. You will have people walking the streets selling baked goods or sunglasses or what not. All mixed in with the various stores that line the streets. It is very interesting and if we had more time, there were a lot more streets to explore, but maybe next time.

After a few hours of walking around downtown and looking at lots of things, we went to drop off our few finds in the car and head to the feria. We were both really excited about this. This is one of the largest farmers markets in the area. Even restaurants come here from miles around to buy their fruits and veggies. We were told that technically it starts at something like 6am, but don’t go that early, you’ll just get in their way. The restaurants come in buying cases of things, and if you go in looking to buy 2 pineapples and 5 avocados, you will just be a nuisance. By the time we got there it was after 11 (at this point I have lost all track of what time it is) but there was still plenty of produce and were still plenty of people around. I was prepared with my cloth grocery bags and ready to figure out what delicious fruits and veggies we would want for the next week or two. We walked down the first aisle and I was overwhelmed. I didn’t stop to buy anything. Many of the stands sell the same items, but some sell them at different prices, some have bigger items/quantities. Some sell per piece while others sell per kilo. Most don’t have signs for their prices. Ok, now that I had a chance to look at some of it, I’m ready to start buying. I found some chia and flax seeds that I knew I wanted (2 things I used a lot of back in the US) so started with those. Ramie also bought some plantain chips that we had bought when we were here last February. Well, this is not what we were here for though- lets buy some produce.
We walked the rest of the aisles, then walked the first one again. We weren’t very adventurous with our purchases this time, we just wanted to get some basics in the house so I could start cooking a little more like I had at home. After spending over an hour in the feria, we left with 4 large cloth grocery bags full of food, and we figure we spent less than $20. Now this is my kind of shopping! Plus- now I won’t have to eat the same meal 3x per week. :)
They do sell some meat, fish, cheeses, honey, hot sauces, and almost anything else you can think of that is homemade there also, but we didn’t look at any of that because we knew we still had quite a bit of shopping to do and a long drive back home. Meat and dairy wouldn’t last long in this heat, sitting in the car, even though we did have a cooler with us.

Ramie eating some homemade yogurt we found from a vendor

Our next stop was another K-mart type store called El Ray, but this one was out of town and in a small Mall type building that you would see back in the US. There was no clothing at this one like the downtown ones had, but lots and lots of other stuff. Since this one had its own parking lot and we didn’t have to walk far, we did buy some things here and felt pretty good about our purchases. Then, finally on to Walmart. Walmart has everything, just like it does in the US. I mean, it doesn’t have everything that they have in the US, but it has a big variety of better quality things and things that we didn’t see at all of the other stores!!! I estimate that we spent over 2 hours in Walmart. We walked up and down nearly every aisle, found more stuff that was on our list, and bought a bunch of groceries (pantry items and meat). The prices here were better than the grocery store in Uvita, they also had more selection on a lot of the items, and they had better prices and quality of household items than what we had seen in the downtown stores. They sell appliances and electronics here but those are many times more expensive than the same items in the US. (For example, a Play Station 5 that is about $600 in the US is over $1300, a cheap home printer here is almost $200). We ended up leaving Walmart with a cart full of stuff, spent about $300, but were satisfied because we now had some of the things we needed


By the time we left Walmart it was after 3pm, we were both exhausted and neither of us had eaten anything all day, so I pulled out some granola bars that we had bought for Ramie, and I had some snacks with me from the US (I’m going to have a hard time finding portable snacks that I can have down here), and we started our hour long drive back home. Meanwhile, sometime during the day, Karen (the owner of the house we are living in) messaged Ramie that the people to install the internet were in our area (the neighbor Mike had messaged Karen about it). Unfortunately, we missed them so we would hopefully be able to get their info from Mike and maybe, hopefully soon, get some internet at home.

As we pulled up to the gate, our new friend Jorge was outside. Once again, he came running down from his house and handed us 2 green coconuts. Green coconuts picked from a tree are different from the brown coconuts that have fallen from a tree. You can chop either of them open to get the coconut water from inside, but the coconut meat from the brown dry ones is what you are used to, kind of like a nut in texture. In the green ones the meat is slimy and soft, still edible but very little meat at all in it. The coconut water inside both are good to drink but tastes different and people really like the water from the green coconuts. Here in Costa Rica, there are roadside stands selling all sorts of things, and Pipa Fria is one of those things. Pipa Fria are cold coconuts (usually the green ones) whacked open when you order it, served with a straw for you to drink the coconut juice. We smiled at Jorge when he gave us the coconuts and said Pipa Fria, so he knew that we understood. He motioned like drinking it, and we nodded and smiled some more. We have only had Pipa Fria once down here and were excited to be able to open up our own. (In the future I will write a whole post about what we’ve learned about coconuts. Yes, there’s enough to write a whole post!!)

We got home a little bit before 5 still exhausted and hungry and had to unload the car, and oh did we have a carload of stuff!! We brought it all in, I put away anything that needed to be refrigerated or frozen, and then I tried to start putting some dinner together. I was very excited for a salad with our fresh veggies, so I cleaned only enough for what we were actually going to eat (did I mention hungry & exhausted yet?) and warmed up some leftover chicken & beans that were in the fridge from a different night and were eating dinner around 6. Time for a shower and to relax for a moment!
Oh- and Breeze. We don’t know if she was crying and howling all day while we were gone or not. I don’t know how we ever will really know if this separation anxiety of hers is getting worse, but she sure was cuddly and wanted a lot of attention again after we got home.
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  1. Enjoyed reading about your adventures!

    1. Thanks Doug! I love being able to share our adventures with everyone too!!


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