Tag: Costa Rica

What’s next?

Now that the nights are dark and cold and temperatures have dropped to the point where hats and scarves are required, the mind starts to wander towards holidays and getting away.

I have to admit, seeing Christmas decorations and TV adverts in mid November is also adding to my desire to get away too!

I have a number of trips planned:

  1. A trip to Preston coming up to see Jon Richardson, that should be fun.
  2. A trip to York to catch up with Titchy Feet’s family from Australia.  That will get me thinking about warmer climes too!
  3. I have committed to running a half marathon in Las Vegas next November, a place I have never been to and somewhere that I never really had any desire to go to but, now that I am pencilled in, I am quite looking forward to the idea.

For the family holiday next year my thoughts are jumping between:

  1. I promised Titchy Feet that I would take her to New York one day.  The pressure is on on this one as my daughter’s friend was taken to New York by her family and absolutely loved it.  She bumped into the filming for one or my daughters favourite TV shows, Impractical Jokers, and so the pressure really is on to beat that!
  2. I have always fancied going to Italy for a holiday.  I know that I didn’t really enjoy my time there when I did my grand tour, but I think I just picked the wrong ,industrial areas to drive through.
  3. As I work with a lot of people from Costa Rica, I have a load of options to stay there and the diving  would be great for my daughter who recently passed her PADI tests.
  4. A Greek island trip as it may be great value and it I bloody love gyros.

What do you think?  Any recommendations?

Farewell Costa Rica

So here I am sat in the departure lounge, gate 2 of Aeropuerto Juan Santamaria in San Josa, Costa Rica.    I’ve already written up all of my adventures and my thoughts of the last two weeks but I wanted to finish it off with an overview of sorts.  I came out here without a clue what to expect.  If I am honest, I would say that I was expecting it to be a little dirty, a little backwards and a little bit scary.  How wrong I was.
I am leaving with a very heavy heart.  Yes, I am delighted to be getting home to see Titchy and my kids, but I feel that I am leaving here a different person.   I thought that the term ‘Gringo’ out here meant any Caucasian but it turns out that it refers exclusively to Americans.  One of my workmates told me that if anyone had called me a gringo while were out, he would have corrected them and told them I was English.  That was a big thing in their mind.  They would have, most likely, apologised and corrected themselves.  Being British, to them, is the mark of quality, something to be proud of and revered.  They consider us exclusive, something to work towards and admire due to the way that we act, the way that we behave and the way that we are seen as fair, honest and good.

We shouldn’t forget that as a country.  We may have split from Europe, but that isn’t the end of the world.  We have partners still in Europe, but we have friends all over the globe.  Range Rovers and Minis are all over the roads here and each one proudly displays the Union Flag.  It means something here, and to means quality.
I will go home and tell my kids all about my adventures and share with them my photographs and the gifts that I have bought them, but the most important thing that I will give them, without a doubt, is a life lesson.  When they are old enough, I will ask them to travel as far and as often as they can while they can.  Speak to different people.  People of different beliefs, different languages, different colours and different creeds.  Leave not to judge before you sample or experience. Learn to love people for who they are and how they act, not what they do and what they look like.  Be open to new things, try things, learn things. Make the most of life and live it to the very end at the maximum speed that you dare.

Who knows where my/our next adventure will be to and when, but I know that I will return to Costa Rica one day and I will be welcomed as a friend and I will feel, in a weird way, as if part of me has come home.

One night in heaven (with a mosquito)

One night in heaven (with a mosquito)

In my last entry, I left you at Barragona beach, enjoying life and the paradise that I found myself in.

Over dinner one evening I was talking with one of my new work mates about his home country, Costa Rica.  He informed me that it is the safest and most developed in Central America as many of the other countries, such as Mexico, Honduras and Nicaragua  are ravaged by gang warfare, chiefly around the drugs trade.  Costa Rica on the other hand is relatively gang free.  I have to say that in the two weeks I have been in the country, I have never once felt unsafe.  When I asked why that was, he explained that the country had abolished its army in 1948 and instead, focused the funding on education.   This has resulted in a very skilled and motivated workforce and has seen huge multinationals such as P&G, HP, Intel and Oracle set up in the country?.  With an educated population and good career prospects there is not the pull of gangs for desperate kids and so it hasn’t faced the problems of the rest of the region.

They found it very hard to understand that the United Kingdom, with its overseas dependencies such as Gibraltar and The Falklands, couldn’t go without an army but the idea is an interesting one.  How much more developed would the world be without conflict I wonder?  Or, maybe the question should be, how much less developed would it be?

Our host was keen to show us a hidden beach at Samara and, after driving over a bridge that he told us had crocodiles under it, we found the dirt path down to a beach, It didn’t look too hidden to me, but then we had to follow him around the corner of the bay on the volcanic rocks.  Unfortunately the tide was already in, and coming in even further and fast, but it looked amazing.  We were told that when the tide was out, the volcanic rocks became a natural swimming pool above the sea, but a very calm and tranquil one with an infinity pool feel about it.  It was stunningly beautiful as it was, but we only had a few minutes to enjoy it for risk of being cut off by the tide.  On the way back, literally my last step before being back safe on the beach, I lost my footing and ripped a hole in the bottom of my foot on the sharp rocks.

I didn’t cry, I’m a bit tough like that, but was a bit worried that the scent of my blood would bring sharks to the bay so I made a quick exit back to the car.  On the drive back to the main beach in Samara, my driver did something that was typical of the Costa Rican way of life.  He stopped his car in the middle of the main street, wound down his window and started chatting with his friend that was working in one of the bars.  He was holding up traffic but having a good old chat then a guy in the car behind peeped his horn at him.  The look of shock on his face was priceless.  He looked at me and said with shock and surprise  “This guy must be from out of town, what the hell does he want me to do?”  I didn’t have the heart to respond “move out of the way?” it just didn’t seem like the right thing to do!

The main beach, unsurprisingly, was beautiful and I ate nachos and supped a cool beer while watching the sun gently slide below the horizon.  The surf board gangs were slowly giving up and walking home; each of them looking like underwear models and putting me to shame with their bronzed and toned bodies.  I bet they can’t handle a spreadsheet like me though, so think about that and cry yourself to sleep boys!  The whole place was relaxed with the whiff of magic smoke in the air adding to that relaxation. It really didn’t need it.

The only problem, if you can call it that, was sleeping out

in the open air.  I was going to say that the local mosquitos really enjoyed eating me, particularly around my joints, but I prefer to think of it as one very satisfied mosquito that couldn’t get enough of me.

One evening, our host had paid some of the local lads to arrange a fire on the beach for us. It was made of three tree trunks, maybe 6 feet in length, arranged into, what looked like, a funeral pyre.  The area Inside the three trunks was filled will smaller logs and branches and, the most flammable item in the world, dried palm leaves.  As a special treat the lads has also put a few coconuts in there too, just for devilment.  Once they heated up they exploded like hand grenades.  All good fun.  Someone had brought down a bluetooth speaker and there were mystical tunes being played and  a lot of mystic dancing going on around the fire.  Not by me though.

I just stood and watched and wished I had some marshmallows.

Pura Vida

Pura Vida

What do you do in Panama City Airport for two hours twenty?  Very little to be honest.    I didn’t leave Newcastle dressed in full winter wear on the assumption that it was going to be pretty warm.  My stunning intelligence and vision paid off.  It was 5pm when I landed and even at that time of day the close, humid air was a warning for what things were going to be like for the next two weeks.

As a terribly nervous traveller, I always like to walk straight to my departure gate as soon as I can so that I can get used to the area and know where I need to be.  I have a morbid fear of being late. I know it’s not healthy but I can’t change!  By the time I walked to the gate, maybe a 15 minute walk, I realised that I had walked from one end of the airport, through the busy section, and out to the other side.  The idea of walking all the way back to the heart of the airport just filled me with sadness.

I sat at the gate, well next to it at least as there was nowhere near enough seating, and abused the free Wi-Fi.  Eventually, the time came to board and the second I sat down, I was asleep.  I missed two things as a result:

1) The inflight meal
2) The chance of seeing the Panama canal (all be it in the black dark)

Maybe it was the long flight and the fact I was so tired but it really did upset me more than I thought it would.  I hate missing out on free food.

Once we landed in San Jose, after what felt like 5 minutes due to my sleep, it was time for customs.  It was all going so well, no other flight arriving and so straight to the front of the queue. Then the customs guy asked me where I was staying that night.  I had no idea!  My new boss and his wife were picking me up from the airport and I was staying with them at their home but where that home was, I had no single clue!

I sent massages to my boss, thanks to the free Wi-Fi, but he wasn’t responding as he was parking the car. Eventually, I was the last guy in the security area.  Border control guys were getting tired and they wanted to go home and so they called me back to the desk asking me what the problem was.  “Your colleague told me that I can’t get into the country until I can confirm where I am staying.  I am just waiting for him to call me back” I explained.

“Who is this guy?” they demanded.  I showed them my bosses profile picture on Facebook so that they knew that I was talking to a ‘local’ and they said, “Ah, fine, that will do”.  They didn’t need an address as in a postcode or house number, they just needed a region.  Well, by that time of night they did anyway when they wanted to go home!

My boss and his wife were waiting for me when I walked into the airport and it was great to be with friends again.  Twenty minutes later I was in the house and freshening up ready to go back out again.  A whole hour after clearing customs, there I was sat in an independent brewery in the hipster area of San Jose eating a burger and a bloody good burger at that! I had a quick beer and then we headed home, by this point it was maybe midnight local time.  As soon as I got in the car it hit me like a wet fish over the face, I was instantly the most tired man on the planet.

Once back to base, I climbed into bed and that was me out like a light, ready for my 8am wake up call for a 8.30 departure to be at the office for 9.

The next morning, I got my first understanding of the Costa Rican idea of time keeping.  The 8am wake up call never came but I was already awake due to outside noises, chiefly dogs barking.  I was all set and ready to go at 8.30 and sat, and sat and sat.  At 9.30 we left the house and got to the office at 10.30….I immediately began to panic about the time keeping for my return home flight!

The next morning, literally as I was getting into the back of the car to be driven to the office, I was told that I was going the beach for a team building day and so to make sure that I was packed.  I quickly ran back to the house to pack a bag with my shorts, t-shirt and beach towel.  As I threw it in the back of the car, my boss called me a light packer.  I asked what he meant and he said that it wasn’t much for 2 days staying over. Balls!  So I grabbed two more t-shirts and another pair of shorts and off we went to work.

The office was cool and I met more of my colleagues and, two hours after starting my day at work, off we went for lunch.  We walked over to a ’Soda’ which is what they call a greasy spoon cafe.  The food was typical, rice and beans with a sort of Caribbean hot sauce.  When we came out, we jumped straight into a little 4×4 and I left my boss behind and travelled to the beach with two of my new workmates.

I just assumed that San Jose was on the beach, just from the way that the guys had been talking.  When the lad that was driving set off his sat nav, it was four and a half hours ETA!  San Jose is, I later found out, right in the middle of Central America.  Instead of heading east to the Caribbean coast, which is where I assumed we were really close to, we were heading west to the Pacific coast.  I know that I am totally ignorant, judge away, but I never even thought of a west coast!

We were on the road for two hours when we got to a bridge in an area called Guanacaste.  The lad driving told us that it was known officially as the Taiwan Friendship Bridge but is known locally as the “Back Stab Bridge”.  It turns out that having completed the bridge in 2003, thus connecting the major west coast deep sea port and the capital city, the president of the time turned his back on Taiwan in favour of Taiwan’s hated neighbour, China.  He then went on to have the Chinese build the national sports stadium. What a bad ass!

As we got closer to our destination the sun had gone down and the roads got worse and so the car got slower.  It was hot and dusty sat in the back of a small 4×4 and I was getting tired.  Eventually, after fracturing at least half of my vertebrae by hitting pot holes at speed, we ended up at the co workers house near the beach in Nicoya.   I say house, it didn’t have walls or, in most places, a roof.  It was more like a travellers hostel with open bedrooms, a shared kitchen and a single toilet/shower that had never been cleaned.  Ever.

I sat on the balcony, just watching the moon rise from behind the mountain and listen to the sea that was clearly close, but how close I couldn’t at that point tell.  I was offered a double airbed and settled down to sleep with no blanket, no pillow and no bedtime story.  I was out like a light though, only to wake at 2 am feeling deflated.  Well, the bed was anyway.  It looked like I was the tasty filling in an airbed themed taco.  So I got up and moved onto the hammock instead and had the worst night’s sleep I had ever had.  No more than 30 minutes sleep at a time.  I gave up and instead watched the sun rise over the palm trees that only just hid the gentle waves of the Pacific onto the golden beach which couldn’t have been more than 500 meters away.

When the rest of the gang woke up, we wandered down the dusty track to the local Soda where we had, you guessed it, rice and beans.  Washed down by a cup of coffee, we were ready for the day.  We jumped into the four by fours, and set off for the beach armed with meat and a BBQ made out of an old car wheel.

We were told that the beach was on land owned by Mel Gibson.  He had tried to close it to the public but Costa Rican law states that every beach in the country belongs to the people and so he couldn’t have his way.  Nice idea I think.  The road to it was amazingly bumpy and needed 4×4’s to access it, not least for the river that had to be forded to get there.  Apparently local councils offer to make good on these dirt tracks to make access easier but the locals demand that they stay as they are, preferring to deter tourists from the quiet beach and feeling that the challenge of getting to the beach is part of the fun of being there.

Barrigona beach, the beach in question, means ‘Big Belly Beach’ which is weird as there was no one there with a big belly and not one single ice cream or fish and chip stall.  Instead, you had maybe two miles of golden sand, perfect blue skies and powerful waves breaking on the crescent bay.  I am not a good enough wordsmith to even begin to do justice to the beauty of the place. I hope that the pictures above go some way to help.

I actually fell asleep against a palm tree, I shit you not, and woke to see one of the guys excitedly waving his arms and pointing.  An animal, that I later learned was called a Pizote, was scurrying around the camp looking to pick through the bags of food. A cute little devil, looking like a raccoon but with a nose extension made out of cork, he spent maybe 4 hours probing at the camp.  In the end, he caught us all looking at the sunset and found a way in to take the coconut husk that had been holding up the BBQ.  Despite the fact that it was smoking and glowing red, he was trying to tear it apart with his little paws, burning them and his snout in quite a carefree manner.

There was an old tree trunk on the beach proudly displaying a very amateur slogan, “Pura Vida”. I asked about this and was told that it meant “Pure Life”. It is more than a phrase, more a mantra by which they live their lives and I am very thankful that they do.

No fuss, no stress, no worries (until you’re trying to catch a plane home!).


Costa Rica 2017

I, Itchy, ended my contract with my previous employer at the end of 2016 and so entered 2017 in a fog of uncertainty.  I was, informally, offered a position at a company in mid-December and had a call scheduled to talk further at the start of January.

My plan, my hope, was that I would be asked to start work in February or March so that I could take a little time out to travel before starting in my new position.  When the call came about, I was a little upset and surprised that they wanted me to start right away, my plans were scuppered.  The guy then explained why he wanted me so soon; they were having their 2017 planning session and wanted me to be a part of it.  The problem is that it was being held in Costa Rica.

I say problem, I actually felt like I had won the lottery of life!

I have travelled to Asia, Australia, USA, Canada and pretty much all of Europe, but had never really thought about South/Central America and had no idea what to expect.  Once this trip is over then I guess that leaves me with Africa and the poles to get the full house!

This entry mainly covers my journey out to Costa Rica. Give a man a 23 hour journey with no travel companion and a note book and it’s amazing what he can find to blather on about.

The flight out was Newcastle to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Panama City and then the short hop from Panama to San Jose, Costa Rica.  Economy class on KLM, flying in a Boeing 777 for the big leap of the Atlantic.

Me being me, I arrived at Newcastle Airport more than two hours early for the flight; 03.45 for a 05.50 flight.  That’s right, before the check in desks had opened and, even after taking into account the time I had to wait for check in to open up and then get checked in, I was still there before security checks were unlocked.  Still, it was better than being late, right?

Things were pretty quiet in Newcastle airport.  At that time of day there were so few people around that there was no one for me to actively hate.  I couldn’t go two hours without hating something though and the Upper Crust sandwich shop stepped in to save the day.  £2.40 they were trying to charge for a small bottle of orange juice (smooth, no bits).  I walked 15 meters across the way into Boots and the same bottle, EXACTLY the same brand and size, was £1.35.

Let’s be clear here, it’s not OK to charge £1.35 for a small bottle of orange juice, but that makes the £2.40 charge even more indefensible.  I love Boots in travel centres. The one in Newcastle Central train station is the same, they don’t change their prices for products just because they could.  Nothing tastes better to an accountant than a £1 plain cheese sandwich in an airport.

The short trip over the North Sea was perfectly fine.  There were sisters, as in relatives rather than nuns, sat in the row in front of me.  They laughed and chuckled the whole journey and were clearly very excited about wherever they were going.

It was pretty windy when we landed and the bigger and louder one of the two was clearly not a confident flyer.  She started shouting and yelping with every adjustment and had to apologise to the lady next her when we eventually put down.  The conversation continued and it turns out that they were heading to New York to celebrate her upcoming 40th birthday.  Not interesting at all, but the fact that I found out about them just goes to prove how friendly and chatty us Northern types are!

The thing about Schiphol is just the sheer scale of the place. Thousands of people walking around like ants, getting to where they need to be to get to where they need to go.  Every person with a story and an adventure that I was desperate to ask them about.

Yeah, the guy with a suit on and a laptop bag is pretty easy to guess what he’s doing.  But what about the little old lady wearing two hats?  Where are you going that demands double the normal amount of headwear to be worn?  What about you big American guy with full sports team tracksuit on? What made you decide that cowboy boots would be the perfect end to your acrylic wearing dream rather than trainers?

So many questions, so little time.

What about the lady that I overheard on the phone saying “Well, my Swahili is getting better now so that should help make things easier”?   That should be a GCSE English literature test; just finish that story off for 50 marks.

Just remember that part about Swahili, we will be coming back to it later!

The other thing that I noticed was the number of people hanging around the power sockets, topping up their electronic devices like a junky making sure they were getting their fix ahead of their flights.  I would hate to be a cleaner in an airport as you would constantly have to fight off desperate travellers to get your Dyson plugged in.

I judged them so harshly in my mind, but only because I wasn’t man enough to fight them off to get topped up myself.  I prayed that there would be a USB in the seat on the plane and, happily enough, there was.

Schiphol is much ‘cooler’ and trendier than English airports. It’s just stylish.  The swish seating makes it look like a posh business centre and they have greenery in the form of living moss walls and nice little ‘bits’ like phone charging stations and such like.  All of that effort and yet the toilet paper rips your arsehole open.  It makes it hard to get through customs without having a very suspicious walk.  Not well thought out at all really.

It was weirdly frustrating to be ‘in’ Amsterdam but not able to go and see it.  It feels like you have been invited to a party but have to stand in the garden and watch it through a window, but not a good window, an upstairs toilet window with funny glass.

Another question that worked its way into my mind is around free airport WIFI.  It was limited to four hours.  What could you possibly do after 4 hours and one minute that necessitates the deadline? In Panama, it was just 2 hours but in San Jose, unlimited……of course it was, the airport that I spent the least amount of time in!

Tired of people watching, it was time to head to the gate.  I know that it’s a tired discussion but, I think one that is worth stating again.  We English are bloody good at queuing, aren’t we? We know where to stand, where to join, where to leave space to allow people to cross through the line.  There must be a word for that feeling you must have when you walk right past the line of people to join in at the front and then get sent to the back and have to walk past hundreds of people tutting.  I say ‘there must be’ as I would never have had to use it as I can queue properly.

One group that got to legitimately queue jump was the pilot and cabin crew.  I couldn’t help feel a little concerned that one of the guys looks like Jack’s dad from the TV show Lost, of course being famous for being centered around a plane crash.

Once I was on the plane I turned right onto the cheap seats and walked and walked and walked.  Third row from the back.  It reminded me of a guy who I used to work with who, when he boarded a plane in the back row, said “it’s the safest seat in the house, you never hear about airplanes reversing into mountains do you?” Somewhat assured at this thought and by the fact that I clocked up my 10,000 steps half way along the fuselage, I collapsed into my seat as happy as Larry, whoever he is.

Remember earlier when I asked you to remember the conversation I overheard of a lady saying she was learning Swahili? Well, when I jotted down that note on my phone to write up later, I forgot the language that she said but knowing that it was locked inside my head somewhere, it would come to me one day.  Weirdly, one of the first TV shows that I watched on the in-flight entertainment contained the line “What, am I speaking Swahili or something?”.  Serious question here, what are the odds of that?

So, all settled in and ready to go, the next stop was Panama City…….