Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2006 Issue

Bookstores in Costa Rica

Quixote

Book carved above door; tiles depicting scenes from Don Quixote.


By Karen Wright

Hola! When we decided to go to Costa Rica, I told Mike Stillman, and he was enthused about an article on Costa Rican booksellers; "And pictures, too," said Mike!

We left Reno and arrived in L.A. about 8:30 PM. We had to hurry up and wait for another three hours in L.A., a portion of which was taken up by a chaotic double shuttle tour from one terminal to another. Let me just say that riding in a shuttle across lanes of bus traffic while humongous airplanes use the same routes as our little tiny bus, is a rather unsettling experience in the dark. LAX is bigger than the town in which we live. Of course, I had to scope out the latest pocket books in the over-priced gift shops in the airport. I had three unread paperback novels in my luggage, and later I was glad I had brought them, because, to tell the truth, there really aren't many bookstores in Costa Rica.

We finally boarded the AA flight about midnight, oh yay! We felt like sardines in a can, but, oh well, we were on the road again and giddy. Not so giddy, after seven hours in the stuffy sardine, but we were treated to coffee and a beautiful sunrise over the Cordillera Mountains that are the backbone of Costa Rica. The country is actually quite small by our western standards; you can see both coasts and several volcanoes from the plane on a clear day. It is slightly smaller than West Virginia, but has some incredible mountains, many of which we explored over the month we were there.

We caught a taxi, gave him directions to our hotel, and we were off! Hang onto your hat! I've been chauffeured by some wild-eyed maniacs in my life, taking cabs in Boston, New York, London, D.C., Toronto, Hawaii, and Charlotte Amalia, but this guy put them to shame. He hurtled us with white knuckle speed down the congested highway from the airport in jig time, screeching around an incredible array of tiny, one-lane streets ubiquitous with pedestrians, dogs, taxis, and buses. He courteously, but quickly, dumped us at the door of our hotel, then screeched off again to terrorize some other poor, unsuspecting tourists. We were so exhausted we went straight to our charming little inn and slept for three hours. We made a decision right then and there to take public buses so that we could actually see how the Ticos live and work (and save lots of bucks, and perhaps our very lives.)

One of the nicest things about Costa Rica was the little hotels, guest houses, inns, and cabinas where we stayed. The most expensive splurges were a couple of hotels in San Jose where the rooms were $40 a night; the least expensive were on the beach in Tamarindo and Manzanillo for $17-$20 a night. There wasn't a huge difference in quality, all were clean and comfortable. Most of them were painted bright colors, had interesting local artwork on the walls (not Holiday Inn "artist" sale stuff), and the people who ran them were friendly, helpful, and very hands-on when you needed to get laundry done, find a place to eat, find a bus stop, or plan any sort of outing to anywhere in the country.

Rare Book Monthly

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