Posts Tagged ‘costa rica’

I love looking through my passport. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine- seeing the stamps and visas that I’ve collected, remembering all the boarder crossings that I’ve walked through, fruit/veg check points that I’ve lied my way past and random light-hearted (or bawling) conversations I’ve had with the customs officials.

I remember the time I was stuck at the Costa Rica boarder trying so hard to figure out what to do. The lack of signs made me think I had already gone through the line, only to be turned around at a random check point and told I had to walk back and get stamped in.

I cried a lot that day.

My Canadian work visa is a constant reminder of one of my biggest failures and hardest lessons of my life. I found a stamp for February 2008 and was transported back to leaving “short crunch” (90+hours a week) to go to NYC because my (step) grandma had died. I wasn’t so sad about her death as I was about my Grandpa. Widowed twice- both after 29 years of marriage- the first was my name-sake and I had never met her. I remember seeing him and having lunch at the deli right by his apartment. He and I didn’t have a great bond as I rarely got to spend time with just him- but sitting across from him, that day, I saw all of the familiar mannerisms that my dad uses: using humor to pass off his sadness or to try to not talk about difficult things by diverting the conversation to mundane topics like “how about dem Yankees?” . I tried so hard to have a deep and emotional with my Grandpa that day- to try to get to know him (what was he like? What did he think about? What was his favorite color? His favorite ice-cream flavor? What games did he play growing up?)

But nothing I tried worked- which just reminded me more of the big epic failure I had waiting for me back in Canada (my job).

Months of frustration and no sleep resulted in me getting fired from that job- which was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Years later, during my Grandpa’s shiva, I had this moment of clarity where I couldn’t be in that industry anymore- Working one last contract, I managed to save enough to set off on my travels.

The Vietnamese visa reminds me of trying to check into my flight in the glorious Singapore Airport for Ho Chi Minh City, only to realize that I had to pre-apply for a visa. (My hair had become more blonde during my trek through the middle of Australian Outback and the only defense I have is that it must have been a blonde moment thinking I was exempt from getting a Vietnamese visa before boarding the plane.) Luckily! I could apply online (with the expedited 50$ fee!) and receive my visa at HCMC’s airport.

The .35$ Saigon Greens made up for it in the end.

I have 3 “fake” stamps. One for the Galapagos, one for Machu Picchu and a shark stamp. The shark stamp I received at the Houston Aquarium when a little kid asked me for my passport. I have it to him and he stamped it with a shark stamp. What I didn’t realize at the time was that there was a special “shark stamp passport” that you could get that the curio shop and the stamps were to mark all the different sharks that existed in the Gulf.

Now, having a fake stamp is kinda illegal. If you meet a hard-ass-no-fun official he could decline you entry/exit and then you’re basically hosed. This fear came when I was at the Copenhagen Airport trying to leave for my flight to Dublin. He turned to the page with the shark, pointed and grunted. I sighed and started to explain the story of the little kid and the aquarium. He rolled his eyes in this “stupid Americans!” way, stamped that page and off I went!

I’ve never had another problem with it since then.

Then there was the time when the bus was told to not make any conversation with the custom officials at the Namibia boarder because they were notoriously skeptical of American foreigners and may hold up the whole group. The day before I had gone zip-lining in Vic falls and had sharpie marker symbols on my hand. The customs official asked me about it.

“Oh, I went zip-lining. They wrote this on my hand as proof of payment or something.”

“Was it fun?”

“Hell yea it was fun!”

“Weren’t you scared?”

“You know the feeling you get when you like a boy and you think he’s going to kiss you- but you aren’t sure. And then you do? You know that feeling in your stomach- we call it butterflies. That scared feeling and then the thrill of excitement? It’s like that.”

She just smiled, stamped my passport and let me go.

The rest of the bus, behind me, just shook their heads, in complete disbelief that I:
A) disobeyed orders by having an actual conversation with the official and
B) that I just compared zip-lining to kissing a boy.

I stand by my statement and regret nothing.

So, basically, my passport is my greatest souvenir that I could have. A constant reminder of how much money I’ve invested on travel and small memories of specific times in my life.

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Costa Rica (zombie survival) 41/70

The last time I was in Costa Rica was about 10 years ago with my family. A lot has changed since then. I don’t remember many details from that time (like what currency we used, how much things cost, etc) but I remember the people and the lack of “American things”.

Currently, Costa Rica is the new home to Ex-pats. With a McDonalds on every corner and a Starbucks on every other corner and people always in a rush to get somewhere (except to work), Costa Rica reminded me of an expensive Miami, Florida. In fact, I blew through more of my budget here than anywhere else in Central America—which makes my insides hurt. Why is a third world country so expensive? The mystery remains.

With all this said, this trip I stayed mostly in the middle (San Jose area) and hardly did any “toursty” things. Instead, I lived vicariously through other travelers who had more income than myself.

Overall, Costa Rica, in terms of the Zombie Apocalypse, would be a decent location to hole up. There is a crap-ton of fertile/plot-able land, lots of new highways being built along with anything commercial that you are missing in your life.

LOCATION: 8/10

Costa Rica really only has 2 seasons. Wet and dry. This means that they don’t have harsh winters or any weird/crazy climate issues. The dry season can get quite warm, but nothing too terrible. The wet season is where it rains every day for a few hours (apparently you can set your clock by this) and replenishes the land. Costa Rica also has a lot of mountains, rainforest and beaches— so if you’re sick of one thing, drive 30 minutes in any direction and the climate will change drastically.

WATER: 7/10

The city water is drinkable, but has a funny taste. I found this in a lot of locations, but it wasn’t harmful- just a little “chemically”. (Not chlorine, it’s something else. Bromine, maybe?) Aside from this, depending on where you are, the rain water (during the wet season) may or may not be enough to carry you through the whole year. Finding a river to do your washing may be the best option.

LODGING:  7/10

The houses vary depending on the class of person you are squatting from. There are mansions, simple “duplexes” (made out of concrete), shacks, etc. Also, it depends on where you are in the country. Because the climate range is so huge throughout all of Costa Rica, your housing could vary.

Almost all are water-resistant. None of them have heat (don’t really need it), nor are they insulated. This could pose a potential problem, depending on the apocalypse.

FOOD:  8/10

Costa Rica grows a lot of the typical Central American agriculture that one can find. There is also no lack of coffee here. (Picking it can be gruesome/tiresome… Maybe you can hire some zombies to pick/roast your coffee for you?) There seemed to be no lack of food in the markets except for spices (which is common around here). The only surprising thing was the lack of green in the city. Not a lot of people had personal gardens (that I saw/experienced).

SUPER STORE EQUIVILENT: 2/10

This is where Costa Rica kinda fails. I didn’t see a single “super store”… For anything. I found a lot of strip-mall-like things. A lot of people had guns, a lot of people had stuff- but it seemed that they had to go to many stores to get said stuff. A little inefficient, but it works for them. Will it work in the Zombie Apocalypse? Perhaps not.

NON-DEAD DANGERS: 5/10

Mosquitos, fleas, flies… the typical dangers that anyone has anywhere. Malaria exists- but I didn’t meet anyone who has known anyone personally who has gotten it.

Also, as far as I know, there are no natural disasters in this area. (some earthquakes, but nothing terrible, they have a lot of volcanoes, but most are dormant/not threatening if you plan properly. No hurricanes or big storms or anything like that.

LOCALS: 4/10

For me, the locals ranged from Ricos to Ex-Pats. So keep this in mind when the apocalypse happens. Both know the value of their land and both know that you (as a tourist) have money and are there to spend that money. So don’t be surprised if you meet a zombie that has their hand out wanting coins for something.

I haven’t done a proper workout in over 2 months. I knew I was getting rusty- but with all the hiking/running/hauling shit/machete-ing I’ve been doing, I thought I wasn’t terribly out of shape.

I was wrong.

I went to Crossfit Del Este and did my first WOD in Spanish. It was “Angie”. (100 pullups, 100 pushups, 100 situps, 100 squats).

(Funny tidbit) I want to mention that in 3rd-world countries you don’t sign waivers… For anything. (Do you want to sled down a volcano? GO AHEAD! Do you want to join a crossfit class? Come on in! Kinda nice– but a lawyer’s wetdream). They also don’t have the same equipment that we find standard. (like ab-mats, rowing machines or bands).

With this said- they counted down (tres, dos, uno, ya!) and we were off.

19 minutes and 38 seconds later, my hands were torn, I was beyond sweaty/gross, and I hurt everywhere.

It was a great (and much needed) workout and really made me fall back in love with crossfit. Thanks, guys, for helping me through a rough-patch in my week.

Back story: I’ve been finding volunteer work through a wonderful website called Workaway.info. My whole goal, while traveling, was to try all kinds of work/deal with all kinds of bosses (in exchange for room and board). So far, I have worked on farms, in hostels, at people’s houses, teaching, and cooking/cleaning. Light to heavy work, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, sometimes scams- but I’m learning a lot! Especially about what kind of boss/culture/people I like to surround myself with. Also, in doing this, I’ve managed to stay under budget of 20$ a day. (woot!)

This story is about my volunteer position at a Hostel. My first hostel job! Even though it didn’t provide food, I was actually really excited about it, because working at a hostel could be amazingly fun! You get to converse with fellow (frugal) travelers all day while dreaming about where to go next! What could be so bad? Well, let me tell you…

Scene: 2:30pm- just after waking me up out of my (well deserved) nap. Hostel’s main table, San Jose, Costa Rica.

Asshat: “you aren’t doing what you are supposed to do”
me: “I don’t understand.”
“It is very clear. It is written here in English. You speak and read English, yes?”
“si.”
“Then- it should be very simple for you to understand. We want you to hand out fliers.”
“Ok. On the sheet it says to hand out fliers on Monday and Thursday, when the maid is here to do the big-cleaning. I have done that. The other days I clean- as per what the sheet says.”
“You only cleaned 2 hours today.”
“It’s not my fault I’m efficient. Is there anything else that isn’t clean? Is there anything you want me to do over? Are you upset because something isn’t clean enough?”
“No. But you are supposed to work 4 hours.”
“But you’re punishing me for being efficient. Should I be inefficient? That’s not how Americans work.”
“Ever since we woke you up, you’ve had a bad attitude! Why do you have attitude?”

…..(I just blink a lot… What is the proper reply to that?)

Then- he says/screams “You come to MY country, TO MY HOUSE (business), and you don’t treat ME with RESPECT! I DEMAND RESPECT!!! You’re a woman! You are supposed to do the woman work, but you’re also a volunteer! You’re SUPPOSED to hand out flyers and get people into our hostel! This is what you have to do!”

When I (tried to) explain to him what he said was just super sexist and very insulting, he screamed at me more (getting up and throwing the chair at the table), saying how he is my boss and how he deserves respect because he has given me this opportunity and I should be grateful.

I then asked him:
“Ok- let’s shift. What did went to school for?”
“Business.”
“Did you finish?”
“That is no concern of yours.”(no)
“How many bosses have you had?
“2”
“How many jobs have you had?”
“3”
“How much volunteer work have you done?”
“That’s no concern of yours!” (zero)
“Have you ever gone down and handed out fliers? Have you ever cleaned?”
“That’s what we have you to do!”
“Hmm. Well, I’ve never been screamed at like this- especially when I’m working for free. And I’ve had some asshole bosses in my day…..”
This is when he slammed his hands on the table screamed “I WILL NOT BE CALLED AN ASSHOLE BY SOME GRINGA!” and threw me out. (While watching me pack and stewing because I was smirking the whole time).

With this said, I love volunteering! (Really! Honestly!) But I also get a kick out of cultural exchanges that take unexpected turns. It amuses me to no end. I actually feel like I’m learning something (business 101?) that my (mostly useless) college degree didn’t give me.

I’m also mentally adding “strong women that are allowed/expected to speak their mind” to my “things I take for granted” list.

Now excuse me- I’m watching the sunrise from my balcony suite at VistaDelValle.com

 

EDIT: Some have asked me what the name of the hostel was– I won’t reveal the name– but it translates to “The Demon” or something like that. (Look! A lesson in foreshadowing, too!)