Saturday, January 15, 2005

Costa Rican Adventures...Travel Karma

Lest anyone be too rash in ditching their jobs to follow in my globe-trotting footsteps, I feel it necessary to send another update since my latest update. Don't worry, I won't normally send these out so often, but under the circumstances...well, I've got time and $0.70/hr internet access.

It seems the travel gods frowned upon my excessive boasting in my last update and have exacted their vengeance upon me. Yesterday I left San Jose for Turrialba, Costa Rica's whitewater capital. Just before getting on the bus, I loaded up on colones (no, not colonies, I have no plans to extend my vast empire at the moment...colones are the local currency) since I knew out here in the bush ATMs might be a little harder to come by. Leaving the ATM I quickly stuffed the equivalent of about $250 into my wallet rather than putting it in my hidden pants pocket in broad daylight. So, naturally, travel karma seized its opportunity and I was pickpocketed while I was unloading my luggage from the bus in Turrialba. I even remember the guy who distracted me by "helping" me with my luggage. I'm 99% sure as he bumped into me to grab one of my bags someone he was working with grabbed my wallet from my front pocket on the other side. As Turrialba is a very small town and I remember his face, I've already prepared myself for if I happen to run into him again ("Donde esta mi billetera, punta?" = "Where's my wallet, b*tch?") :-)

Anyway, I've been working on figuring out how to get cash, canceling my credit cards, all that fun stuff. I've made an important discovery that everybody should remember when travelling. American Express ROCKS! I was able to call them collect from CR to cancel my Amex and they offered to ship another one to CR free of charge. I then spent a long time trying to get hold of my other cards (that don't have toll-free numbers) and trying to find out what I need to do to have money wired here. I eventually called Amex back to see if they could help with any of that and they wired money to the San Jose Western Union office for pickup later today, then transferred me to US Bank (all this at international collect rates, of course) and waited on the line for at least 20 minutes to make sure everything got cleared up there and then made sure there was nothing else I needed. Unfortunately, they weren't able to arrange a massage or deliver a beer to Turrialba. Other than those minor shortcomings, I was very impressed.

Lessons I hope you've learned: 1) carry Amex 2) never travel with me. Last time I went abroad I also found myself without cash or access to it. From now on, I'm only travelling with large quantities of cash duct-taped to my inner thigh. Not the most comfortable travel arrangement, but at this point I think the rash will be well worth it.

-no matter what state of disrepair the car is in, the horn is ALWAYS working. Ticos (Costa Ricans) apparently like to test their horns every couple of seconds. After awhile on the bus it starts to sound like a soothing lullaby.
-American addresses are so boringly uniform. Addresses like "faded brick building 200 meters south and 150 meters west of the Banco popular, across from the Public Garden and next to the yellow hotel" are so much more interesting and descriptive. Maybe someday I'll have the address "friggin' HUGE white mansion, on hillside overlooking Pacuare River, next to helicopter pad, 2 kilometers west of the beach"
-there is a tax on speaking english here. Not a direct tax of course, but there is a direct relationship between the cost of anything (hotels, restaurants, tours, etc.) and the amount of english spoken by the person providing service. I sort of expected this one and I'm working on my spanish to overcome that. For instance, I just filed a police report with someone who knew absolutely no english at all--it was free, of course.

More observations to come of course. But for now I'll close with one more way the travel gods have exacted their vengeance. I should be rafting the Pacuare River right now (my primary reason for coming to Costa Rica), but in the middle of dry season it's absolutely dumping rain here and the rivers are at flood stage and too high to run. It let up for a few days and the rivers were navigable yesterday. But, of course, when I arrived last night the rain started falling again :-)

Hasta la huega! Devin


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