Thursday, June 10, 2010

blue skies turn grey

I'm sorry if you've been waiting a while for the next installment in our Central American travels. It seems that we've hit a bit of a bump in the road and blogging has been the last thing on my mind. Let me tell you about it.

After leaving hot and humid Colombia by plane, we arrived in the very Las Vegas-style Panama City where we spent a couple of days exploring the streets that all seem to have an American-like flair and enjoying some seriously strong a/c in a nice hotel. We witnessed the passing of huge freight ships in the Panama Canal, strolled around the somewhat restored old city, watched the Kun people in awe (that was mostly me) & drove through the areas that the US invaded with our trusty taxi driver, Feliciano. It was just the kind of change in scenery we had hoped for.

From Panama City we boarded a 10 hour, uncomfortable, over night bus trip to Bocas del Toro, a group of islands in the Caribbean sea. Arriving super early in the morning, we met up with Jenny who showed us to our home for the next couple of days, a beachy chic cabana with an obviously sloped floor. It didn't take long for us to feel at home, exploring Bocas town by bike and day-tripping to other nearby islands. We had an up close encounter with the poisonous red tree frog, hung out with some monos perisosos (lazy monkies otherwise known as sloths), chased dolphins around the bay, snorkeled in colorful coral and chowed down on fresh fish, all before arriving at the deserted island beach of Zapote. Bocas was definitely a highlight of our trip!

Wishing we had time to stay much longer, we sadly left Bocas for another long bus ride to San Jose, Costa Rica. Not exactly a vacation destination, we used San Jose as our more than halfway point on the way to Santa Elena and National Park Monteverde. After a couple of icky hostel stays, we ended up at paradise in the cloud forest - Hidden Canopy Treehouses, where Jenn, her boyfriend Chris, and their lovely staff, treated us like royalty. We took a morning walk through Monteverde with the extraordinary birding guide Koky, witnessing and photographing at least 5 different quetzals, a major goal of mine. I was so psyched! We also blew way more money than it was worth on an afternoon's worth of suspension bridge walks (be warned, Costa Rica knows how to get your money!). Definitely ecologically aware and tourism friendly, Costa Rica is a beautifully green country, but just a bit too "American" for our liking. If you're looking to get away from it all on your vacation, this is not the place, but if you just want to enjoy nature and don't mind doing so while listening to excitable Americans squeal while whizzing through the trees on a zip line, Costa Rica is the place for you.

Ready for change, we again bussed to Liberia, Costa Rica and rented a car, excited to finally have the freedom of the road we are used to. Upon waking up Thursday morning we found ourselves with 2 real choices. We either check out the beach for a day or two or visit National Park Rincon de la Vieja. Since the weather was looking like it may rain later in the week, we decided to beach it and headed to the pacific coast, first stopping for some snacks to fill our cooler up with! Withing a few hours we had arrived and checked out a few beaches, but unfortunately the rain came despite the favorable news reports, so we thought it would be best to make our way over to Tamarindo, the large very touristy town nearby. We had been trying to avoid it at all costs, but a rainy day at the beach isn´t so fun and at least in Tamarindo we could grab some good food, shop, spend the night and hopefully wake to brighter skies in the morning. Upon our arrival we took a short stroll on the beach and then saught out to find a hotel. After seeing one that was out of our price range, Ben recalled seeing a sign on the main road with a room rate special, so we went to check it out. We parked the car out front on the busy main street and started in, but realized that a nicer looking hotel on the other side of the street had a similar deal. Inside at the front desk, we were directed to climb a little pathway where someone would be waiting to show us a room. All in all it took less than 5 minutes. Deciding to think about it over lunch, we returned to the car and headed down the street in search of a restaurant. I turned around to grab something out of the back seat when I saw it. All of bags were gone. Yes, gone. COMPLETELY MISSING. We had been robbed.

We raced back to the hotel and questioned the guard to see if he had seen anything. At the same time local police were passing by on motorcycle. Waving my arms and screaming at them in spanish like a crazy person, they continued past, simply staring and me. The guard, who had just come on duty (ironically the one who was there when we entered the hotel had left) said that he had seen a newish silver pickup truck with 3 men inside parked next to our rental vehicle. We shared this information with the police and encouraged them to call ahead to see if anyone had spotted a similar vehicle. In absolutely no hurry, the police acted as though they couldn´t help us since we didn´t have the license plate number. This pretty much sums up our next couple of hours with the Tamarindo police. God help anyone who has an emergency in Tamarindo that does not speak Spanish, because even with our fluent language skills, these guys didn´t do much. They were friendly, but certainly not helpful. Fortuantely the hotel manager lent us his computer and we were able to call and cancel our credit cards and alert the embassay (yes the passports were taken too). He also gave us a free room and free local and international phone calls for the night.

After speaking with a potty mouth, good for nothing, after-hours soldier at the embassay, we learned that they would be closed for the weekend, so unless we wanted to spend the weekend (with only the clothes on our backs) in Costa Rica, we´d need to get to the embassay first thing Friday morning. Waking at 2 am, we make the 5 hour drive back to San Jose. Our original plan had been to return the car in Liberia and board the Tica bus to Nicaragua, but that was no longer an option. So there we were at 8am at the American Embassay in San Jose, applying for emergency passports, something that we had done a mere 9 months prior in Guatemala. Sadly we were only 2 in a rather long line of tourists who had incurred a similar loss. With tourism comes crime - keep that in mind. By 10am we had our new passports in hand and spent the rest of the day arranging a flight back to Guatemala. Who wants to travel 60 hours in bus without a change of clothes or a book to read?

So there it is folks - our ¨bump in the road.¨ Our first real travel freedom in a town that we didn´t even really want to visit and look what we got. Thousands of dollars worth of stuff gone, including our laptop and 2 cameras. Lucky us.

Obviously blogging will be a challenge from this point on, but we´re doing our best to recover our lost items and thankfully our renter´s insurance will cover our losses (so they say). Of course, the seasoned traveler´s that we are, we´re not going to let this interfere with our plans for a trip home, but we are a bit hesitant to purchase a new computer for a drive through Mexico.....but whatever we do, certainly trip insurance will be a must!

So I apologize for this blog without any photos. Boring, I know. I swear I had some amazing shots of the Panama Canal, Bocas, and the illustrious quetzal, but now the only people enjoying them are those @$$holes who stole our stuff. Take up your complaints with the Costa Rican tourism police. I´m sure they´ll be real helpful.

PS: And just in case you were wondering all the rest of our photos (trip aside) are safely backed up......with the exception of my photo books that I had been working on all year long. Boo hoo.

PPS: Costa Rica sucks (regardless of this incident or not).


Canopy tours said...

Thanks for visiting Costa Rica and even more for sharing your experiences. You should have tried the Superman Zip line Tour since it is definitely one of the most popular activities in Costa Rica

Natalie said...

Oh Krista,
That really, really, really sucks. I can only imagine how violated you must feel. Being robbed is always one of my worst fears, when traveling or otherwise. My mom and dad took a cruise through the Panama Canal last December. They have amazing photos from the trip. If you're ever interested I could share their pictures and you could pass them off as your own. (Not the same, I know.)

aaron said...

what a BUMMER!! so sorry that happened to you guys. hopefully it wont take away any more joy from the rest of your trip. cuidense!!

SparkleGirl3348 said...

I am so sorry Krista! Don't know if this is any consolation, but we had everything stolen out of our car when it was shipped from BA back to Florida...we feel your pain. Hopefully your renters insurance helps you out - ours was surprisingly helpful.