Thrilling Flight on Sansa and Pleasant Experience Using Uber

Ever since one of the local airlines, Sansa, announced last December that they were instituting flights between our area's biggest town, San Isidro de El General, and San Jose International, I've been itching to try it out. Not only had I not been on a plane since around ought-9 but I was anxious to get a lay of the land in our part of Costa Rica that can only be seen from an aircraft. It is a satisfying feeling to finally have air service to our part of the country, which seems considered an unwanted step-child to the rest of the country at times.
Our terminal companion
An excuse to try the new flight arose when I  glanced at my passport a few weeks ago and found that it was already expired, which requires a trip to the U.S. Embassy in San José to rectify. So, I booked tickets online for Tamara and me for yesterday, the 11th.

They fly between SIG and SJO three times a week, with two flights each of those days. Tickets are not exactly cheap, being $70 each, one-way for residents however. Turistas pay $100.

San Isidro de El General airport runway
San Isidro Runway: lengthened, repaved a few years ago thanks to a grant from Germany

Arriving at San Isidro Airport

No parking at the San Isidro airport is available unless you want to leave your car on the road outside the fence. So, we dropped Sean at school, left the car at a downtown public parking lot and hailed a taxi to take us to the airport. Judging by the driver's perplexed look, it was clear there are not many requests to be taken out there. About 15 minutes later, through what passes for rush hour in San Isidro, we pulled up to the short cyclone fence surrounding the runway.

We'd arrived about 7:30 AM for the 8:40 flight, so had plenty of time to cool our heels. There was a changing of the sole guard at the tiny terminal shack as we waited. The new guard donned a 10-gallon hat that he stored in a plastic bag hanging in the restroom. He seemed especially fond of evangelical radio.

About half an hour before flight time, a young gringo with backpack showed up followed shortly by a couple about our age who were on a "fact-finding" mission from San Antonio, TX and were now heading back home (yes, the loved it here, by the way). That was the passenger complement, five people for a 12-seater Cessna Grand Caravan 208B.

San Isidro de El General airline "terminal"

Just prior to the plane gliding in, they pulled out a luggage scale, which they plugged in by running the cord through the window back into the shack. You are allowed 30 lbs. of checked luggage with a $1 surcharge/lb. over that limit. They then weighed each of us plus our carry-on separately.

The plane was about 10 minutes late, empty of passengers save the pilot and co-pilot. Of course, we had our choice of seats. After a short, unamplified announcement about weather conditions and flight time from the pilot as he entered the cockpit, we were soon rolling down the runway and lifted smoothly into the air.

The dual-screen LCD avionics were impressive as was the scenery. We were soon passing the San Ramón Valley on our right. It was easy at that low altitude to spot our house on the hillside. We also had terrific views of Cerro de La Muerte (literally, Mountain of Death), which is part of our view illustrated in this blog's header, the primary forest between our valley and the coast and the coast itself near Manuel Antonio National Park.

Suddenly, Costa Rica, which we had become accustomed to traversing painstakingly by car, had shrunk down to size.

Aerial view of our area NE of San Isidro de El General, Costa Rica
San Ramón Valley left, our finca center-left,  and San Isidro just off the right margin
Cerro de La Muerte (Mt. of Death) Costa Rica
Cerro de La Muerte, about 8 feet higher than Mt. Hood, Oregon
View of the Pacific Ocean near Quepos
Primary forest-covered mountain between San Isidro and Pacific Ocean
Volcan Irazu Costa Rica
Volcan Irazu as we approached Costa Rica's Central Valley

First Time Uber Users

We touched down at SJO less than 30 minutes from lift-off in San Isidro feeling a bit like we'd gone through a wormhole. We hiked out to the main turnaround outside the departure-arrival tracks and stood in a shady spot to hail an Uber cab on Tamara's smartphone. As you may know, Uber's arrival in Costa Rica has been a sore point to say the least among San José taxi drivers and the legality/illegality of the operation argued back and forth based on Costa Rica's naturally antiquated code in the area of public transportation.

Uber Controversy

Me, I welcome Uber as a welcome step forward in Costa Rica's modernization, but I am not without sympathy for the taxi companies, although that sympathy is well-tempered by their sense of entitlement, not infrequent ill manners, dirty vehicles and the occasional dishonesty. We had none of that with Uber on our introductory trips.

Whelmed by the Uber App

The Uber app I find annoyingly non-intuitive, but I love the GPS map that shows all the Uber cars in your area moving around like ants, the instant communication you can make with a driver who has picked up your request and the complete lack of a cash transaction. Everything is automatically charged to your credit card and no tip is expected. You can get fare estimates between any two points before committing to using the service.

The First Ride

Our first ride was to the U.S. Embassy of course and the driver arrived within 5 minutes or less. The car was practically new, the driver spoke fluent English and we had a great time discussing our mutual lives and his experience with Uber. He does get hassled by the red taxis taking his picture and supposedly reporting him to some authority, but nothing has come of it and there are now over 2,000 Uber drivers in San José. It's a movement unlikely to be curtailed. Uber drivers actually would welcome some regulation as that would put them more on par with the taxis and quell the controversies.

The Second Ride and Total Fare

After the uneventful embassy visit (for some reason, it's like a ghost town there now), we grabbed some lunch at a nearby café and after the meal, called up another Uber driver. Unfortunately, Uber had placed our location about six blocks north of actual, and due to the paucity of street signs it took us a while to realize the mistake as we watched the driver circling the pinned location but not seeing him on the street.

Once that got straightened out, we again were treated to an extremely courteous driver plus a comfortable trip in a spotless Renault to the Musoc bus station across town. In total, for the two rides, from the airport to Musoc, we spent 12 mil on cab fare, or about $22.50. I do believe that is way cheaper than the red cabs charge for a straight trip from SJO to Musoc these days.

Musoc to San Isidro

We arrived at the Musoc terminal and got two of the  few seats left for the 12:30 bus. There was just time for us to take a café americano (which was not bad at all) and eat a cream puff before getting in line.

I'm not sure if we got lucky or the ticket seller did my long legs a favor, but we got two of only three seats that have extra legroom all the way in the back. I pretty much snoozed the whole way to the halfway point high on Cerro de La Muerte, so it seemed a short trip to me. We were soon back in San Isidro, picked up the car across from the bus station and made it home before 4 PM.

I'll be keeping my eyes out for any can't-pass-up promotions by either Sansa or Nature Air in the future, so we can explore more of the country by air. It's really a great, stress-free way to get around and see the big picture. If we are taking trips out of the country, as we hope to do more often starting next year, the Sansa flight is the obvious choice for getting to and from the airport or for visitors arriving from the States.

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