Cindy, Gary and their tres hijos [trace EE-hose, three sons] have been planning a trip to Costa Rica for many months. And I mean planning, leaving no stone unturned. Secretly harboring a thought or two of giving up the stinking Canadian rat race and transplanting to this beautiful warm country. The best laid plans and all that…
Cindy contacted me early in her quest for information and we got to be friendly. I joined her unschooling yahoo group. (Man, those women are intellectuals… I could hardly keep up!) When Cindy & Co. finally arrived, they came to our house for dinner. We had a great time, they did, too… But their exciting Costa Rica vacation definitely went downhill from here. Literally from my house… So downhill, their five weeks turned into less than three. One unexpected disaster after another.
The story of their trip is on her blog. If you are thinking of visiting or moving here, their adventure is a must-read. Cindy encountered stuff I never even considered warning someone about! Perhaps, there were appropriate warnings in the guidebooks or on websites and blogs. But the amount of information on Costa Rica is overwhelming and so much of it opinion. What do you pay attention to? Who do you listen to? Besides me, of course. But there’s nothing like coming here to really get a "feel" for what it’s like…
Hers is a new blog and she doesn’t have the "traveling" links worked out yet, so here’s how you read it: Go to this link
and start reading posts from the bottom of the page. You have to give
it a minute for the pix to load. When you’ve read the last post on that
page, scroll back down to the bottom and hit "Previous page." Let the
photos load, then start reading from the bottom again. I think there
are three pages.
My new cover-everything-warning is Expect the Unexpected. Right up there with Develop Patience and A Strong Sense of Humor. Pura vida!
I also met Cindy (virtually) through yet another Yahoo group, and we both had been planning a trip for quite some time. Her ordeal – and much of her trip can only be described as such – was terrible to read about. Her experience was pretty much the opposite of mine. While we had been aware of a lot of the negative possibilities – like being a target for theft with the Obvious Rental Car – we didn’t come close to the negativity she experienced. Reading about her experience is definitely an eye-opener, and I feel fortunate that we came away from our experience with nothing but good vibes.
That being said, who to trust is probably the crux of the issue. I think the best thing to do is to join Costa Rica Living, spend several months or more there and read EVERYTHING – especially the different points of view. And especially if the topic is something unpleasant. Like the GI Joe motto – knowing is half the battle.
Talk about unexpected: I never expected you to know the GI Joe motto!!!! Yes, who to trust…
I went to the link for her blog and read some of her experiences in Costa Rica. It obviously was a horrible experience for her. What I can’t understand is, she seems to have done a lot of research before flying to CR, yet they didn’t really follow a lot of the advice most people have repeated again and again.
But, again this is an eye-opener for those dreamers that thinks CR is paradise on earth.
“Paradise is exactly like where you are now…only much better”
The Discovery Channel is popular in North America. Many people develop romantic notions about exotic places like Costa Rica from the comforts of their North American living room sofas. Whether or not they are able to prevent the negatives of the reality of Costa Rica from overwhelming and blinding them to the incredible positives depends entirely on their character. I think some people are simply predisposed to value the comforts of the familiar over the value of adventure. They will forget about or miss entirely the beauty of the morning mist rolling across a valley because they can’t take their eyes off the huge beetle crawling across the floor or the ugly hovel of a small Tico house on the roadside.
Perspective depends on priorities. If, as a North American, what you are most interested in is the comfort of familiarity, then your opinion of Costa Rica is liable to be negative. If, on the other hand, your priority is adventure and beautiful scenery, you will love the place. Adaptability is a key quality to success in just about any endeavor.
I don’t wish to sound too critical of anyone’s opinion of Costa Rica but I am almost offended by what seem to me to be trivial complaints. Big bugs in the jungle? People who walk in the streets rather than drive cars like they’re supposed to? There is plenty to see in North America and this lovely Canadian family should probably spend their next vacation closer to home.
I have to admit, I don’t quite get it either – as Mike pointed out – they simply ignored all that research and advice about being careful, or do anything about it when something happened (ok, the gas station guy shorted you on the change, why didn’t you say something? Now he knows he can get away with it with future gringos…), they made assumptions about stuff that anyone with a lick of sense when traveling ought to know better (what car rental contract doesn’t require you to be responsible for damages if you don’t take the insurance – especially if you do something like take a standard drive car on an off-road trip, yeah, that was bright – and, if you want to fight them, you have to do it the country where you rented the car? That’s standard pretty much anywhere), how terrible they didn’t have an internet connection out in the jungle, and oh my, there were bugs and other animals. If they’d wanted a sanitized experience that let them have their coffee in bed and silk pajamas and what not, they should have booked into a resort. And as you, yourself, have pointed out many a time, real estate advertising is not to be believed…
Okay, I’m having a cranky Saturday morning, but I must admit I’m getting tired of reading whiney tourist blogs and commentary about how when visiting a third world country it doesn’t live to their first world fantasies. Somehow or other, pepper in between the complaints, it looks like if they’d relaxed and just pretty much “gone with the flow”, they’d have realized they were having an adventure in a far off land, their kids look like they were enjoying the hell out of it all, and maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t quite so bad after all…
I agree…what a bunch of whiners, and what a shame that they feel so strongly to squash others dreams about visiting Costa Rica.
Bugs…yes there are bugs in the rainforest and jungle. All information on Costa Rica advises you to wear pants when hiking. It only makes sense. Also if you are low on b vitamins you will get bitten when mosquitoes dont touch others around you. For me I take Thaiamin (b1) and mosquitos dont come near me…I could be in a mosquito filled room and not one will come around. This is also common knowledge and even the US armed forces use this as protection from bugs biting. Using repellent, etc if you are having problems also stops the problem. The other things they mentioned…just make me angry that they were looking for negatives to write about, rather than embracing the uniqueness and beauty of this country. Too bad for them.
Jeez. Lighten up guys. Whining works. Cindy and I exchanged emails this morning, she hears you. In her defense, some of the advice she got was very misleading. Here’s what I wrote to her:
“It’s scary to be suddenly so incomunicado, especially after being so in touch all day everyday, then go cold turkey. When my family goes off-line for a day, we all suffer anxiety just from that! We don’t even have to add strange bugs/scenery/people to the mix!
And especially with three small children in the woods. And once you are anxiety-ridden, thinking clearly goes out the window.
The amount of advice, reading, suggestions is too overwhelming. If there was a mistake made on your part, it was going too far afield too fast… but how could you know? When I first arrived in Dominical, I had NO IDEA it was a dirty little surfer town! I expected a million dollar Carmel-like place supporting all those million dollar homes under construction with all those fancy brochures and websites…
Even on the CRL group, one guy’s advice was that you didn’t need to rent a car to go down there, certainly not a four wheel drive, that you could just go down there and “stroll around the town of Ojochal.” He didn’t even know there is no town to stroll around, and here he is giving you that advice! He surely didn’t know the ONLY road is the main highway, that everything else is rutted goat-track, and that you absolutely needed 4x to get around at all.
Anyway, I could go on… You got a short intense burst of culture shock… but everything works out for the best, you learned a lot. I’m sure the boys had a GREAT time. Costa Rica is a little boy paradise – all those mystifying bugs.”
Call me naive… ok, call me stupid, but even when it says “no cell phone service, no internet”… I could never imagine just how remote REMOTE could be. That’s why they call it culture shock. Intellectually, you know. Emotionally, you can never be really prepared.
I’m sure Cindy is not alone in this experience and hopefully she can save someone from the same naive, terrible experience… it really IS a jungle down here! The literature sugar coats it. Or maybe our norteamericano minds do: just gloss over because we want the adventure.
Cynthia, I never heard of b vitamins for mosquitoes. I take them, eat tons of raw garlic and I still get bitten. And those annoying little black fly-gnat looking things go after me like white on rice, leaving big whelts that ooze and itch. Pretty. I have to be completely covered to go out in my yard unless I have skin so soft.
Dan: I meant to tell you I did the EST training, Sept B 1978 or thereabouts. That’s why I’m so cool.
For the b1 to work you need to take 100 to 200 mg per day. It takes 8-12 days for you to see a difference and then you must keep it up, at least as long as you are having the problems. The pharmacy (ask you favorite pharmacist) they all know about this. The normal pill they carry is 500 mg so I just break it up and take half a day but you could take less as 1/2 is 250 mgs. Doctors at Cima who work with infections bites, dermotology etc all recommend it.
‘Go with the flow’ was the motto Trish and I reminded ourselves constantly as we started our trip. I think I had the advantage of spending a lot of time in India as a kid and I have strong recollections of how slowly anything took to get done. So whenever a hired driver or taxi arrived on time, we were pleasantly surprised. I think the ‘go with the flow’ attitude made a big difference for us.
I personally think that most of it has to do with personality. When we first arrived in the jungle, I went through a momentary emotional crisis. For a North American going to the jungle the first time, that’s no real surprise. But whether or not you bounce back and embrace things, that all depends on your personality. You have to have a high tolerance for the unfamiliar, and for the relentless bites of bugs. Bugs can be nerve wracking at first – it takes some time to dull the response.
OK, I finally read most of her blogs. My take is that this lady would not be happy anywhere. I thought she was just critical of eveything she saw, even judging how others handle their kids, everyone was mistreating her, etc. Maybe its a canadian thing.
I’ll be the first one to say I’m pretty sure the emotional intensity of any one person’s experiences are very unlikely to translate well by pixels. Even reading my own blog, I don’t quite understand the depth of anxiety we felt in Ojochal.
“Go with the flow” is how we hitched up our rubber boots and made drastic changes in our itinerary when Plan A wasn’t working. All the commenting about my personality and character, one would almost guess you all have actually met me! In absentia of that — actually meeting me and, say, knowing me for a while — condemning me as a silk robe wearing delusional fantasizer is a bit harsh, eh?
Our challenge, as Arp articulated nicely, is the challenge of any traveler to Costa Rica: knowing who to trust. We hedged our bets, made some erroneous decisions, and did the best we could. It’s cozy to be an armchair critic from whereever your comfort zone is; I don’t deign to ask you to transport yourself into the pit of my stomach during those moments my children found themselves at close encounter with lethal.
And, just to demonstrate how easily one can be confounded by conflicting information: the “extra” insurance one can purchase on vehicle rentals in Costa Rica does not preclude one from covering damages out of pocket and then later traveling back to the country to hope to settle on the “insured” losses. Slapping a whiney label on us for noting this fine print clarification is, well, I don’t own that gift, for Confuscious aficionados.
To the ‘just use repellent and take your vitamins’ insight. Yup. Did that. Neither commercial nor naturopathic nor deet repellents nor B1 warded off my attackers. And hey, we’re a family who loves our mosquitos enough to send them on their way with our donation of blood, vibing in compassion for their mother’s hearts: you know it’s only the females who bite, and the males are important pollinators, right? And, I don’t think I ever saw a mosquito: that wasn’t the culprit … in fact, I never did see the culprit … could have been little spiders for all I know. Wasn’t the bugs I minded … was my body’s reaction to them that left me too swollen to walk that was my problem: and who could have predicted that?
The boys did have a blast. All the critters to poke and ooh over, even the ones that could have killed them, were an endless source of fascination they haven’t stopped talking about since. And, in case you skipped those parts, we did marvel, in real life, and in our blog, at the abundant, diverse beauty of Costa Rica: one would have to be blind and deaf and without sense of smell to miss it. We’re glad we had the courage to travel to Costa Rica. It was an adventure to tell stories about for the rest of our lives.
As for the extenuating contributory circumstances about which we didn’t — and won’t — blog, well, suffice to say in this story, as in all stories, there are wheelbarrows of details to which a jury of peers would need to be privy before any of the above judgements could hold one ounce of water.
Sally, thanks, as always, for your crystal clarity and, as ever, your honesty and compassion.
At least she tried…… I had a friend come down and I told him it was the rainy season when he came etc. I also asked had he ever traveled to a third world country etc. Well his trip lasted 48 hours and he ran home. He did not want to leave the Best Western and when he did he had a panic attack and booked the next flight out the following day. Reason being the bars on windows and trash………… This is a grown man that works on oil rigs and has traveled to Poland etc. Talking about a joke……
I was disturbed by Cindy’s blog. I thought about it last night, I sat here this morning thinking about my response. I read the comments above, agreeing with most. I read Cindy’s comments. She’s right; much of what transpired is not in her blog so may be unfair to make judgments without a fuller story. However, any comments readers might make have, of necessity, to be based only on what they hae read. I expected to read about disasters. I read about a series of what I would consider unexpected irritations that obviously had a cumulative effect that was greater than the sum of its parts.
Traveling in a strange land with a strange language with three small children is extremely stressful and tiring. Molly and I went to Puerto Vallarta 25ish years ago with our two small children (18 mos. and 3 years) – and a baby sitter. PV was much more geared to foreign travelers than Costa Rica seems to be today, and it was still stressful. The worry about small kids is going to color one’s experiences, no doubt about it.
For me, Cindy’s negative comments about American airlines and commercialism set my teeth on edge from the get go. It’s sort of like, I can criticize my mother, but you’re not partof my family, so you’d better not criticize her! I’ve flown US Air to Costa Rica once, and I think it’s a crappy airline, and hope never to fly with them again. I don’t think that has anything to do with “America”. In 40 years of flying coach, I may have been led to my seat once. I do admit with 3 small kiddies and carry-ons, it would have been a nice touch to have that gesture of caring. More to do with the individual than Candadian flight attendants are nicer people than Amercan flight attentdants.
Who leaves the small area around Alajuela without changing dollars to colones (which as I remember, Hotel Villa Bonita offers to do), or better yet, getting colones from an ATM with a debit card? Surely Cindy read in her year of preparation that outside of tourist areas, using dollars is not advised, and perhaps not even possible.
As to the gas station, I don’t remember seeing one with prices in dollars, but I can understand not arguing about the change, even when you’re pretty sure it’s wrong. It was one of your first money exchanges outside of the hotel, the attendant doesn’t speak English, and so on. And the attendant gambled on that and did take advantage of you. On the other hand, if you had changed money, you could have paid in colones without being overcharged. We have never had a problem at a gas station in all of our visits. As I remember, Hotel Villa Bonita has a very generous exchange rate. We flew into CR January 10, just a few days after Cindy, and the official exchange rate was 495 colones to the dollar, not the 510 posted at the hotel. The 15 colones difference would not have gone far to correct the amount the attendant cheated you out of, of course, but the varying exchange rate points out the need to change dollars to colones.
Gringo tax – we’ve never suffered it. We’ve shopped at dozens of pulperias and mercados, small to large, and the total rung up at check out matched the total we kept in our heads as we noted the prices (in colones) posted in aisles as we shopped. I am shocked that it happened to you so blatantly. In my humble opinion, you should not have let it pass, but as you said, there may have been circumstance you did not write about that colored your decision.
We ate dinner one night at an excellent Tico restaurant in Parritta (on the Pacific coast just north of Quepos) – and the prices on the menu were Tico prices, but we had to argue about the bill when we paid – we had been undercharged! Our waitress was surprised (but pleased) when she finally understood we wanted to give her more money. In resort areas, be prepared for higher than normal prices – and the quality of the meal often does not match the price. The $75 dollar meal Cindy spoke of – weren’t the prices on the menu? If they weren’t, that means Gringo prices and time to leave the restaurant.
Bug bites. I’m one of those guys who remarks, “Gee,there aren’t many mosquitos out tonight” when Molly is being eaten alive. This last trip, she had bug bites just as Cindy described (which she got before using repellent) while I had none, and used repellent on two times in two weeks. Knowing how much Molly suffered from her bites (and it sounds as though Molly had fewer than Cindy), I can understand how the bites alone could have ruined Cindy’s trip and made her want to get the heck out of their.
I don’t understand the fear of creepy crawlies, though. Even for kids, as long as you don’t run into poisonous snakes, I don’t think there’s much that’s lethal out there. North Americans have been taught that scorpions are very venemous, but everything I’ve read about Costa Rica scorpions say their sting is about the same as a bee sting. I still wouldn’t want my 3 year old to get a bee sting, though.
I’ve kind of rambled a bit, but Cindy seems to have seen a Costa Rica Molly and I haven’t seen despite a lot of traveling in. Perhaps it’s because they had unreal expectations, perhaps becaue we weren’t traveling with kids, perhaps we had better luck, perhaps our mind set is different. I don’t know. Expect the unexpected is a good admonition,Sara, as well as patience and a sense of humor. Cindy, I hope that you’re able to visit Costa Rica again sometime and see the Costa Rica that Molly I and see everytime we have visited, and the Costa Rica that will be our home this coming year.
What culture shock! I think the writer bit off way more than she could chew with this adventure and was still reeling from the shock of the experience well after it had ended.
The blog linked to is one of the most negative reviews of Costa Rica I’ve ever read (and yes, I live in CR with two children). I know Cindy said she did a lot of research, but perhaps she wasn’t looking in the right places or just chose to ignore that she was coming to a third world country.
I understand sharing the negatives of the experience (such as the shock concerning the plethora of bugs!), but the longer I read the blog, the more aggravated I got that the blogger complained about every little thing. Are the tarps on the drive to Poas really that much of a blight on the landscape? (I think there are amazing views of the valley from the road to the volcano.) Was the road on the way up really that treacherous? (I think it’s relatively tame as far as CR roads go and don’t recall any freaky drop-offs.) Even complaining about the airline employees not showing her to her seat. Really? Is it really that hard to find your seat on a plane? And is it really necessary to criticize “‘muricans” based on a lousy airline?
I’m not sure Cindy would have been happy anywhere outside her Canadian comfort zone, but she may have enjoyed her trip here more if she’d done better research and had more realistic expectations/knowledge of CR from the get-go.
Incidentally, I would be remiss not to mention that there is only one “o” in Wisconsin. A spell check works wonders for aspiring writers. (Yes I’m an editor!)
Bananas with chocolate…ummm. Sounds good.
All this post-trip ruminating is interesting for me! Thanks for the sharing and the perspectives!
One of the most significant reflections I know I didn’t blog about that most definitely coloured my trip — and my worldview ever after — was my personal experience of observing what I observed from the place of being a ‘first worlder’: by privilege of my birth, much of the labor and agriculture I observed serves me, thousands of miles and worlds away … and I still have a difficulty reconciling that. Something about my global social consciousness got off kilter, and I observed the stark contrasts of there vs here not intending to whine, but to document.
Ergo, much of what I observed wasn’t born of a place of criticism, rather, from a place of, ouch, my heart skipped a beat … for instance, to see little children my sons’ ages walking down the road with their empty harvest baskets after a day of labor on the coffee plantations so that I can enjoy my cuppa joe up in the frosty climes of my homeland. Well, if I drank coffee. But I do eat bananas, and I’m sure I’ve had tropical ferns in my home, bought without a thought for the real cost of my privilege to enjoy them. The walking down the road I observed in my blog wasn’t at all suggestive of that I thought cars were the more correct transportation. I simply observed what made there different than here … as my purpose was always to share our experiences with our friends and families from home — not to offend anyone who calls Costa Rica, (or the USofA) home, or loves her for any other reason.
If you’re still reading this to learn something, and not just because it’s fun to be an armchair critic, in terms of What Went Wrong: our biggest err was in renting the car instead of a 4×4. Hands down mistake. Our bad. In terms of what went More wrong: we suffered a trifecta of incommunicado in Ojochal: no phone, no internet, much too limited espanol. It was a mistake to go so far afield our first foray into the country … we’d anticipated more hand holding than circumstances ended up providing. Our feelings of isolation grew each time we brushed with fauna about which we weren’t educated enough.
I mentioned frequently enough how naive I felt … and I’ve done plenty enough self-flagellating over the unflattering view of myself I was offering up to the blogosphere as I found myself rendered unable to rise above the layering of unexpected circumstances we encountered. Up here, I’m a Rise Above kind of gurl! Everybody says so. Perhaps if there was less vomitting, or less pus, or a bbq on the premises … or our van hadn’t broke down the day before we departed home. Perhaps if we’d drank more wine.
As Sally extolls, “expect the unexpected” … .
I suppose my blog’s provided a bit of entertaining fun for a few of you to poke fun at. I hope in the end some bit of good comes to some future traveller as a result of my willingness to put myself out there.
Costa Rica is a fascinating place; Costa Ricans hardy and kind. I don’t think I’ve seen the last of either.
P.S. Tina, I am also an editor. With 20 years under my belt. How embarassing to have let that Wisconson slip. We are a petty, brooding lot of sods, aren’t we? (And oh, how I resisted the temptation to try brooding with one “o”, to compsenate, you know.) Sticklers of the world, untie!
Hey I’m a regular reader of the CR blogs, because I’m somewhat fanatical about all things Costa Rica. Thanks for the unschooling blog recommendation.
I love to read about all of the adventures everyone has in paradise!
And all these years we’ve been talking about the ‘ugly American.’ Hmmmm.
I’ll bite my tongue and say no more.