Carts and crafts Helen, a handcart.

Let me get this out of the way first: most photos in this story were taken by Helen.

I'm going to stop calling this jet lag. We're just early risers and early sleepers while here. There's no nightlife to speak of anyway, and being up early enables us to do great things in the best weather of the day. So there.

After the leisurely composition of yesterday's post, we got up and had yet another nice breakfast. We're still working our way through the menu, so this time Helen had the scrambled eggs variant of the American while I opted for the omelette, which was surprisingly much smaller than previous meals but no less delicious.

I had shower grief again, finally figuring out why my experience was so different to Helen's. Left tap is cold water, she said. Right tap is hot water, she said. Yet when I go in there, left tap spews out scalding hot water. The reason? She goes first: it takes time for the water to get hot, so it seems cold from the left, via a quirk of timing, and by the time she adds just a little bit of the right tap to "warm it up", it's the left that's hot and the right that's tempering it. So when I go in second, the left tap is primed for heat and I realise that the right tap actually is cold.

You lot love excruiciating detail, right?

Anyway. Out and about at 0830, we think there's a huge queue for the ATMs but in actuality there's only a small one; the long line is for the bank proper. This is repeated at the next bank along. Why are so many people queueing up to go into banks?

We're heading to the bus stations again, for another day trip. Deliberately less strenuous than the volcano, it's a jaunt to a village named Sarchi, which specialises in furniture, arts and crafts, and a world record. We have no idea where to get the bus from, as usual, and after walking around all the stops and not finding Sarchi written anywhere we ask two random women by pointing to the word Sarchi in our pad. They point us up the way, back towards town.

At this point a random man starts shouting at us. I think he says something like "go up there, there's a guy who speaks English" and he's pointing the same way as the women, so that's good. About 20 yards up we stumble across yet another bloody bus station, the poshest one yet. We enter it, and the shouty man is following us, whistling after us and gesticulating wildly. We think we're either following his instructions, or losing our tail. Either way is good.

There's still no Sarchi bus. A man cleaning windows of a bus tells us to go one block back and then right, or something? We gingerly walk that way and shouty man is still there, still shouting. GRECIA! GRECIA! No, no, Sarchi. We think he's trying to bundle us into a cab or something. SARCHI! OK! SARCHI! BUS! BUS! SI! AQUI! AQUI! And he walks us up to a bus, then a second bus, points out it says Sarchi on the front, and fucks off. I've got a few hundred colones ready to hand him but he doesn't even wait after getting us where we want.

So then, we're on a nice bus with leather seats and more comfort than the previous two. It leaves almost immediately and we debate what the fuck just happened. I think we ran into yet another nice Costa Rican who just wanted to help out some lost tourists. He showed no interest in taking money, wasn't shouting at anyone else, didn't head back to the bus garage(s) for more "victims", and had been pointing and gesticulating to exactly where the bus departs all along. Yet we had thought perhaps he was the first bit of hassle we'd seen. Feel a bit sorry now.

Anyway, here's yet another very picturesque bus ride. It takes about an hour, hour and twenty maybe, moving through numerous villages and one proper town - Grecia - along with a lot of hill climbs and descents and river crossings. It's pleasant. All the football pitches are immaculate, and all the shop logo chickens cheerful.

Grecia has, according to our book, just one interesting thing for tourists: a big church made of metal, after the wooden one before it burnt down. Thankfully we drive right past it so there's really no need for us to stop here.

A few minutes beyond Grecia we enter Sarchi, but don't yet get off. Sarchi is split into two by a river: Sarchi Sur, which we drive through first, is one long street lined with as many furniture shops as Alajuela has shoe outlets. Sarchi Norte is our real destination.

So, just after crossing the river we get off. We know exactly where we are thanks to an offline map I finally thought about downloading over breakfast, and destination number one is a world record. I do love a "world's biggest <thing>" trip.

It's not hard to find. One block north and there's a big park in front of a big cathedral with a big ox cart in it.

Pretty damn big ox cart that. Though, like, not so big as to make me laugh at its preposterousness. Not like that huge sheep in Australia, the Big Merino. I'm impressed, like, and it's pretty and that, but surely this is not a hard record to break? Sorry, Sarchi. I should be more appreciative.

Anyway, priorities. Done the record, now let's nip into a cafe to buy a drink and use the loo. A friendly woman interacts with us entirely in Spanish, which isn't hard when all she has to say is "OK" and gesture for us to sit down. We consult the map for the second and third places to visit and set off, first to a place where you can see the local crafts being made: Taller Eloy Alfaro.

Turns out that it's a massive shop, first and foremost. Really massive. The car park has a single mini-bus in it, and a moody Chinese family are loitering outside. Inside, there are YOU BREAK IT YOU BUY IT and WE ONLY GIVE CHANGE IN US DOLLARS signs, and aisle after aisle of numerous crafts. It's pretty imposing.

There's wooden animals and wooden bowls and wooden kitchen stuff. There's glassware and tacky souvenirs and various sizes of ox cart. There's a whole huge room of t-shirts and ponchos and other clothing. There's masks and chests and bangles and jewellery and fridge magnets and bottle openers and trays. And, out back, there's people painting and decorating wood recently worked in the workshop, and you can go wander around freely so we do.

It's pretty fantastic, the workshop. There are 4 artists doing different things - one is painting a painting, if you get my drift - a leopard on canvas. One is painting patterns onto trays, another on ox cart wheels. Can't remember what the fourth was up to. We left some coins in a tip jar and got a small acknowledgement, but to my surprise this was not somewhere where an overbearing member of staff would shadow you constantly and put things in your hand with relentless pressure to buy.

Back across the courtyard is the woodworking shop, which you're also allowed to wander around. This place was founded in 1923, and most of the big tools were dated from around that era (I think in fact one of the saws was from even earlier, 1912 or something).

It's all pretty impressive. We're here not just to gawp at the artists and craftsmen though, Helen actually wants to buy things. This takes a rather long time, not least because of how much choice there is. Everything is priced in dollars, and as if it weren't apparent enough already it becomes plain as day, when we go upstairs to the restaurant, that this place's main business is having bus loads of tourists shipped in and out on regimented schedules.

Up there, we are obviously the first people to enter all day. They take the tops off the food at the counter and we point at things which get put on our plates, put the plates on trays, ask for a couple of beers, and go to the till where the guy is surprised we want to pay in the country's own currency. Then we turn and face the huge giant room with tables for 20 or so, several marked reserved.

There's a balcony, but nowhere to sit out there, so we stay hidden around the corner and eat our weird chicken and drink our beer and take stock. Oh, ha, it's not even midday yet. No wonder they weren't overly ready for us punters, especially ordering beer. Whatever!

We debate our plans for Thursday, having come to a late realisation that there's no bus there from Alajuela. Hmm. Guess we'll figure something out when we get back. But for now, let's sod off and skip the originally third planned venue - it's another craft market, but the bag's full now anyway and it will likely just be more of the same stuff.

Also here, I am startled by the plug sockets pulling faces.

There's more people around now, because a huge TURISMO bus has turned up. Also, more ox carts out front.

As we re-enter the main street we're surprised by the sight of a huge cathedral we somehow missed earlier. Yet, as we walk back to the world's biggest ox cart (and the bus stop opposite) it becomes clear that this is just excellent town planning and geography: it's the same cathedral next to the park that we saw earlier, that just happens to impose particularly well even from a distance.

I took this one! The iPhone SE can sort of match the Pixel in perfect lighting, it seems.

There's no obvious bus stops, but we'd read they stop by the park and across the street there's people hanging around outside a shop so we go join them. Sure enough, 5 minutes later an Alajuela bus comes along and we're on, this time squeezed in because it's really crowded. We stop virtually everywhere in Sarchi Norte and Sur but as on the way out, tons of people piss off at Grecia and we can relax and spread out again.

It's all still lovely and picturesque and comfortable. I alternate between dozing and playing Threes while Helen looks out of the window at nice houses and roadside meat stalls and a huge monastery. The bus boots us off a block or two earlier than we expect, and we walk through Alajuelan streets previously unseen yet still full of shoe shops, back to our hotel.

Seriously I'm not making this up. Here's a screenshot of Google maps when you search for 'zapaterias' (shoe shops) around here.

And that is nowhere near enough. It's missing 4 in the first two blocks by the blue dot! I really cannot emphasise enough how many shoe shops this place has, how funny I'm finding it and how angry Helen is at me pointing out every single fucking one.

We also saw an army surplus supplies shop. I'm familiar with such shops, but not in a country that has no army. What on earth? Either this shop shouldn't exist, or it should be the largest shop in Costa Rica because everything is surplus.

Anyway. Back at the hotel and it's only 2pm. We drop off the purchases and head back out, first via reception to ask for help. There's no public transport to tomorrow's destination but he reckons he can sort us out a cab, though there's no answer on the phone right now. Also yes, we can drop off clothes at breakfast and they'll do laundry for us. Excellent.

Now, to the museum. There's a big museum by the main town square. It used to be a jail, and tells the story of Costa Rica's continued independence by having an army back in the day and shooing off invaders from all sides. Half the displays have English translations but plenty do not. One of the first things is a big display of shoes, of course.

It's free to get in and the staff all seem to be police, which I later realise are the only police we've seen the whole time here so far. There are 6 rooms filled with artifacts, portraits, scene paintings, weaponry, and what seems to be a vicious torture device for crushing someone's head. It's a fairly interesting way to kill half an hour or so.

Leaving the museum we buy a couple of soft drinks and sit on a bench by the cathedral. Within a couple of minutes a man to our left says "Hey, are you guys American?" "No, we're..." "Ah European? OK. 'Cos if you were American I wanted to ask about that fucking buffoon of a president".

What follows is a long chat to this guy, a properly muscled-up New Yorker of 28 years but of Costa Rican heritage and down here for 15, about all kinds of stuff. Mostly about Trump being a fucking buffoon - his words, not ours. We briefly touch upon Brexit, then talk plenty about Costa Rica itself. He tries to dampen our enthusiasm by telling us actually there's loads of corruption and disaffection and the standard of living isn't that great and things are really expensive. But yes, the people are amazingly nice and friendly and peaceful and having no army is wonderful and the pace of life is relaxing. He recommends we visit plenty of parts of the country we're definitely not going to visit, and finishes off by telling us how amazing the women are.

We shake hands and bugger off, back to the hotel again. The reception guy has sorted out a price for the cab where the driver will wait for us and bring us back whenever we want, which is perfect, so we agree to that and he makes the call to arrange it. We spend a bit of time in the room, during which 9 Years Nick pops up on Facebook warning me off listening to his podcast if I haven't seen WWE Raw yet this week. I tell him I'm in Costa Rica, he says he knew I'd gone away but thought I was back already. This seems a pretty fair assumption; I'm not normally away for 5 days, am I?

Anyway, time for food. Since we've already eaten twice at the number one rated place in town we figure, why not try somewhere worse? OK that's unfair: of course other places are not guaranteed to be worse. It just happened to be so, in some ways.

Our choice was Chante Vegano, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant close by. We'd thought it was closed the day before, and Helen still thought so today, but it's just sleepy and unpopular. There's a sign on the wall saying "English spoken here!" but clearly our ability to say "Hola" and "Buenas" is now so good that we come across as fluent, because the brusque waitress hands us a Spanish menu and fucks off.

We're not that bothered. I know how to ask for an English menu but anyway we can translate most things. When she comes to take our order, I order for both of us and am apparently impressively good with my pronunciation of everything except the word 'quinoa', which is fine as I barely know how to say that in England (here it's "key-no-ah"). She asks a question and I'm flummoxed, but Helen - quick as a flash - recognises it's "potatoes or salad?" and we get potatoes. Next question I recognise as being a request for drinks, so I ask for dos cerveza. Honestly the whole interaction is pretty damn fluent and we feel awesome about it.

The food arrives - we both ordered burgers. Helen has hamburguesa hongo portobello, which is to say "giant mushroom in a bun" and mine is the aforementioned quinoa. It's actually bloody lovely, as are the super thin potatoes.

Another couple arrive, go inside, and leave immediately. Later, an old Spanish woman comes up to us from the street and says a load of stuff we don't understand. We just keep saying "no" after saying "Ingles" and she gestures and keeps talking Spanish, to no avail. She goes inside and talks to the staff, never to appear again. Odd.

Getting the bill takes an age, during which we are treated to music ranging from angry dubstep to Gregorian chanting. Someone's got Spotify on "most random ever". The waitress doesn't come outside for ages and I'm loathe to go in while the mad woman is occupying the staff, but just as it's looking like I'll be forced to step up an American lass arrives, goes inside, and grabs a seat outside. The waitress comes out to give her a menu so I ask for la cuenta. As it's handed over she asks (still in Spanish, mind) whether we liked it and I'm all like si, si, mucho gusto which brings out a smile. We get our change and bid buenos noches, thus concluding our entirely Spanish restaurant encounter. Go us!

You know what happens next. We walk down to the square and ... ha! No, you don't know what happens next! Fools, those of you who thought we would enter MegaSuper and buy a six pack of Imperial. Nuh-uh! We went into MiniSuper and bought a six pack of Imperial! While wondering why tins of sardines are an over-the-counter product. Anyone?

Back at the hotel and I put the huge CRT TV on for some American TV, rather than one of the 40 or so channels showing football. It's a show called Hunted, a game show where participants have to stay off grid and evade capture by some of the "world's best investigators". Said participants are shown doing dumb shit like using ATMs, calling their family members on mobile phones, and using laptops while signed in to Google or whatever. I get very angry at this. What part of "off grid" do these people not understand? For fucks sake.

The beer is nice, and we're awake a bit longer than usual, but since there's a lot to do on Thursday another early night makes perfect sense. I like this timetable anyway.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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