Security and Mindfulness

Security while traveling is critical. We have learned a few things.

The first is mindfulness (tip 1). This means being aware of your surroundings and being present in the moment. At the point you are no longer mindful and your brain is thinking of something else, you have tuned out what is happening around you and you are vulnerable. This includes being on your phone talking or texting someone. Maybe you are reading. Whatever it is, stay mindful. When traveling with others, one of you can do other things while one is staying alert.

Lindie lost her wallet. While she had a wallet that hooked on a belt loop and could be inserted inside her pants, one day she did not do that because it was awkward. She lost the wallet or it was stolen. It is likely it fell out of what was a shallow pocket. If someone picked it there was no awareness at the time.

Fortunately the credit cards were not used and she was able to replace them and her insurance card fairly easily. The replacement Colorado drivers license is still in process. It will catch up to her.

As a result of this, we have added buttons to all pockets in our pants and shirts. This ensures that belongings stay where you want them and someone else’s hand cannot easily slip in (tip 2).

A very flat money belt is useful (tip 3). REI and Amazon both carry ones that are lined so that an electronic device cannot read them. It is an RFI impervious lining (tip 4). You can also get small sleeves that hold three credit cards. When traveling each day, we do keep enough money in our pockets to take us through or part way through the day (tip 5). This prevents flashing what we have.

A new friend recently traveled on the public bus from San Jose to Monteverde. She lost her backpack, including passport and credit cards. They were taken while on the bus. She knew as a seasoned traveler to keep things on her lap or to have her foot through the strap (tip 6). Her mindfulness slipped and her belongings were gone. It is strongly advised: Do not use the overhead bin (tip 7).

We took the same bus route several weeks earlier, and I was glad to see that the bus driver made everyone get off when we took a restroom/meal break. We did take the things we had with us in the seats with us (tip8).

On that trip I discovered that claiming luggage from under the bus was a potential place to lose luggage. Although there were luggage receipts to present, the person pulling luggage out was not checking that the numbers matched. For our next trip we got our tickets early so that we have the front seats behind the steps into the bus. This will allow us to be first off and first over to the luggage, so we can protect our stuff (tip 9).

We have decided that when we travel from place to place, that we will go directly to our lodging via taxi so that we are not carting a lot of things around in unknown places (tip 10). We will use a day pack otherwise (tip 11).

When traveling distances, our day packs contain enough daily essentials that if we were to lose our other luggage, we don’t have to rush to replace things (tip 12).

Since we arrived in Monteverde, we realized how hard it is to stuff our pockets with things we might use during the day. We bought fanny packs and use them for receipts, snacks, replacement camera battery, a little change and a few bills, etc. The fanny pack is worth much more than the things we have in it. This keeps us from digging into our pockets looking for something, only to have things fall out easily as our hand comes out (tip 13). We keep them across our belly, not our fanny.

When we have a choice, we now travel earlier so that our arrival is in daylight. Moving around at night adds vulnerability. Taxis will be used at night and they will be called, not flagged down (tip 14).

Here are two stories from friends.

One was in Bolivia or Peru and mustard was squirted on her. While distracted her backpack was stolen.

The other friend had a man with a bundle over his shoulder walk right into him. Suddenly he felt something at his pocket, reached down quickly, felt the hand and rapidly spun around, knocking the woman attached to the hand into an elderly man.My friend lost nothing, yet the woman yelled at him about how he caused her to fall into her grandfather. Yeah, right.

Living with the Ticos

We are on our second experience of living with a local person/family. (They call themselves “Ticos”.) The first was 3 days with Rosa who speaks NO English and doesn’t read. That didn’t stop this older lady who has mastered Google translate on her iPhone. She talks into it and has you listen to the translation. What a wonderful world we live in when someone with limited resources doesn’t have to be limited by language.

We have lived with Rigo and Esmeralda and various family members for several weeks now. They really are the epitome of contentment. They both work hard, Rigo outside the home, Esmeralda in the home. Their home is basic with the only luxuries being a stove/refrigerator they bought not long ago and internet which was added about 2 weeks ago.

Really everything you need is available in this house, just not in the way we might think about in the USA. There is no heating/cooling although the temperatures are not bad here. There are a few hours each afternoon now that it is very hot in the living room which doesn’t have good ventilation. Dan might be able to help that by adding a window. It was chilly some days when we first arrived and a small space heater in each room would have been nice but everyone got by fine.

There is one bathroom in a house that since we have lived here has had as many as 9 people sleeping here. The sink is outside the small room with the shower/commode. There haven’t been many times that someone has been in line to go into the actual bathroom, even with so many people here. Having the sink outside the room itself allows someone to wash their hands or brush their teeth without restricting access to the commode/shower.(Note the trash can next to the commode…toilet paper is never put in the toilet,ALL toilet paper in the Latin America countries that we visited goes in the trash cans since septic/sewer systems can’t handle that much paper.)

Faucets are what we would consider outdoor spigots with the handle on top. Not elegant but they get the job done. My picture didn’t come out good but here is the type of spigot or hose bib I am talking about.Hose bib from Home Depot

Hot water? Yes and no. The showers here use some type of on demand heating system that works best when you have a lower flow. I’ve had a bit of a challenge adjusting the flow some mornings and had a few invigorating showers as a result but not horrible. This is the only hot water in the house (or in Rosa’s as well) so that means you wash dishes and our hands in cold water. Not ideal from the culture we come from but we have stayed healthy so maybe it isn’t that necessary if you do a good job of washing.

Gollo Washing MachineBoth houses had washing machines with two sections: one for washing the clothes and a second section to take the water out by a centrifuge. I was surprised to see that these machines were about $300-400 USD new in the store. Both houses hang their clothes to dry. Even in the humidity here in the “dry season” they dry quickly because of the centrifuge. (Now that we are starting the rainy season (late April) it is taking 1-3 days for clothes to dry.)

There are no screens on any windows and in an area with so many insects one would think this would be a bigger problem than it has been. I have been getting bites by unknown insects on my arms and once on my knee. Not sure what is causing the bites and they itch for a couple of weeks but I have felt fine and zika isn’t an issue around here since we are so high up. No one else is getting bit…lucky me I always attract the biters!

Esmeralda loves the new stove and refrigerator she got not long ago. She has 6 burners on the stove plus the oven and she frequently has most of the burners going. The refrigerator/freezer replaced a much smaller unit she had previously. It has a cold water option on the door, thanks to a reservoir that she can fill on the inside of the door. I don’t actually see them using it much but it certainly is functional if they want cold water.

What strikes me most is how content and gracious everyone is. Rigo is always saying “Pura Vida”, a very Costa Rican saying meaning basically that life is good. He does seem happy. He works hard when he must and takes it easy the rest of the time. The house could use some “upgrades” (walls not finished out, wires insulated but not hidden in the walls, no matching door handles, etc.) but he has lived here 22 years and said he will get around to them in a few years. It has made me reflect on what is “important” in the US. Not saying I don’t want a nice, finished house when we finish traveling but I can see things a bit differently now.

Travel Thoughts

I knew traveling would have challenges as well as pleasures. I’m not sure exactly what my expectations were. I now know that

  • I don’t like doing more than one thing most days; 2 things if they are both short.
  • Using a guide is well worth the extra expense. When we have gone on hikes by ourselves (except when we could overhear other guides) we seldom see much since so many animals are well hidden by their camouflage or location.
  • Getting out of bed early is tough but it is the best time to see the most interesting animals.
  • I’m not an adrenaline junky. Someone explained to me that the people that like the zip lines, bungee cords, etc. like the feel of adrenaline in their systems. I don’t like that feeling so I am not tempted (not very tempted) to do those types of activities. Plus, while they are usually done safely, I don’t feel like any risk of injury is worth it to me…I have too many places to go, things to see, people to meet.
  • It’s really nice to have the luxury to spread activities out over a number of weeks. I know that isn’t usually the case but since we do have that option it allows us to take it in more, spend time recovering, and schedule the expenses over time.


Second Passport

We renewed our passports last year and they are good for another 10 years. That ought to be more than enough for this trip.

However, a couple of weeks before leaving, I discovered that the State Department allows for a second passport, limited to two years.

The value for us is that:

  1.  We have back-up passports in case we lose one.
  2. Some countries are picky about where you have been. Israel is an example of a country others don’t like.
  3. Should we need to present a passport for a visa and return later to pick it up or have it mailed to us.

I set appointments with the embassy in San Jose and confirmed via email what they needed and that they could process the application. They responded and also said we could pick them up in 7-10 days and that they would hold them for up to three months.

Update: We picked them up May 23 and they are good for two years! We did have to remind them not to void our other passports.

Weather Shift

The trade winds off the Caribbean are pushing these clouds over the continental divide toward me. They are usually moving pretty fast and disappear quickly as the humid air is absorbed by the dry Pacific air. The rain we get is mostly mist and when we are close to the divide, we can see the rain moving over us, putting us into a rain shadow. This rain is what makes the rain forest here special.

On Sunday I noticed that clouds were moving in the opposite direction, off the Pacific.

In the picture above, you can see the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Now with the wind shift, the sun is out more and temperatures have risen.

We were spoiled with the cooler days, although most of the days are still very nice.

Banking and Getting Cash

Two friends in the states asked how we were going to get cash. I said that everything I had read made it simple. Go to a bank, use their ATM and withdraw the money. That said, it was not yet my personal experience, so doubt crept in.

I need not have worried.

There are a few finer points. We made sure that the debit/credit cards we carry have chips and require a PIN. Although some of the world does not require a PIN, so far I am glad I have one.

The first time we went to withdraw cash, it kept being refused. Finally, the nearby guard came over and told us that we were at a bank that would not accept the chip (a common problem I’m sure). We went to another bank nearby and had no trouble.

As an extra security measure, we try to only go to banks. This avoids the possibility of a camera or some other device tracking our transaction. Not all towns have a bank, so it is fortunate that our guidebooks warn about that.

First Stop Alajuela

We spent three nights In Alajuela to just settle in and make sure that we bought our bus tickets for Panama. The bus station is in San Jose.

We blew it going through customs. Lindie went into the restroom and I followed suit, but she did not know that’s what I did. Poor communication. While I waited outside the restrooms she went to find me in the customs line. Meanwhile two or three flights arrived and by the time we got back together we were way back in the line. Fortunately customs was easy and we went off to find our Uber ride which became a no show. A valuable lesson to reinforce early in our travels.

We found a taxi and gave him the directions to the Airbnb. Costa Rica names their streets but alas, there are hardly any street signs. Directions are from a known place with instructions like go to the bottom of the street, turn left, go 30 meters, it is the house with three garages next to the kindergarten. We did get there but the taxi driver took us up and down several extra streets.

We are happy with Airbnb. It really helps that visitors and owners leave reviews so that we can expect a place to be safe. Plus there is the possibility of visiting with others. I do like that.

Proof of Paid Exit Transport

There is the requirement that you have proof of exit transport when entering Costa Rica. I had put off dealing with until two days before our departure to Costa Rica.

I thought that I could get an online bus ticket from San Jose, Costa Rica to David, Panama. Nope. I could not even get one by calling the bus company. It has to be in person and you show passports.

My initial solution was to buy a plane ticket from San Jose to Panama City, Panama. This would at least move us in the direction we want to travel. What a surprise to find out that Travelocity would allow me to buy the tickets and then cancel them, at no charge, within 24 hours.

At the Southwest Airlines boarding gate desk in Houston, they did check our documents to verify that we had exit transportation from Costa Rica. At customs in Costa Rica, they did not ask for proof, so the airlines monitor it.

We flew to Costa Rica, cancelled the flight to Panama City, and the next day went to the bus station to buy our tickets in person.

In the future, I will figure things out a little quicker, as I do not expect to fly again until we leave South America. Panama to Columbia will be by sailboat or ferry as there are no roads connecting the two countries.


Finally…on our way!

Here we are, at Houston Hobby, waiting for our flight to San Jose, Costa Rica in an hour. I kept promises to my brother and sister to contact them before leaving.

I am nervous. All the rushing to complete last minute tasks is over, whether they got done or not. Now it is time to just relax and flow.

It works.

Our day was a mix of rushing and waiting.

We left Austin this morning after a final visit with our friend, Ruby, who is 104 and in hospice. She was glad to see us and sad to see us go, knowing it was likely our last visit.

I expect Costa Rica to be our shakedown country to find out what works and what doesn’t, and more importantly, to discover what we never considered.

Time to get on the plane!