Archive for May, 2009

The three smell bus ride

by Alex on May.30, 2009, under Blog

So I’m in Cali airport after my three consecutive flights for less than the cost of taking only the first one – no idea what that’s all about. Shocked at the cost of a cab, considering I’m in Colombia, I get a colectivo (like a minibus) into town for just over a quid – that’s more like it.

At first I thought I was bearing witness to the perfect fart. I guess that’d be a bit like the perfect storm only with a little less death and destruction, and no water involved – hopefully.
I knew though that the likelihood of me being present at an arsequake measuring 10.0 on the rectum scale was so very low, it had t be hydrogen sulphide – rotten egg smell, the stuff that stink bombs are, or at least used to be made of. I’ve no idea where it came from, I once heard that catalytic converters produce a little HS but shirley not on this scale – lovely.

Then came what must have been a dog biscuit factory, not wholly unpleasant but a little sickly, and quite doggy. We drove past a fully armoured water cannon cum troop carrier type vehicle – a reminder of where I was and what goes down here. And then something I’ve not seen for a long long time, in fact since the last time I was here – motorbike taxis. Now as you might expect, driving here is not the safest. People tend to make lanes for themselves and I’d guess that drink-driving is rife. I’ve no idea as to the average life expectancy of motorbike taxistas but I’d guess it a lot lower then the average for the country. I think you’d have to be mental to get on one, or actively seeking to put an end to it all.

Then the brewery, that lovely sweet smell of… what is it? Molasses? Hops? I really don’t know but find it quite a homely smell – I’m not sure why as I’ve never lived in or near enough to a brewery to smell it, maybe it’s my penchant for beer coming through…

And then the taxi debacle. Being a wise old traveler I asked three people how much I should pay from the bus terminal to the hostel, so as to try and avoid the almost inevitable gringo tax. But, apparently there was no need. For about ninepence the lovely girl at the taxi stand takes the address of where you wish to go, and gives you a print out of that address along with how much it costs to get there along with details of any night tariff or extras that you might need to pay. 3,600 pesos was to be my bill, a little over a pound. So I give this to the cabby and we eventually get there after going the wrong way a bunch of times. And he tries to charge me 8,000. What’s that all about? I show him the print out and I’m told that that is the minimum tariff. Oh great, good job that I’m stupid then. What the hell would be the point in giving you minimum tariff information to which the taxista could add at his leisure – that would negate the whole exercise of providing a service to ensure that you don’t get ripped off. He wasn’t really understanding this nor the fact that I wasn’t going to pay extra for him not knowing where he was taking me and driving all over the shop before getting here. With Germanic efficiency, Gunther, the guy who runs Hostal Pelican Larrys got on the case, backing me up and then calling some local transit agency to sort out the driver. Thanks Gunther. I still ended up paying 4,500 which included a night tariff that according to the print out wasn’t needed. Whatever, quite the shambles but again I’m not surprised – with all its beauty, cheapness and freedom from oppressive anti-litigative ‘health and safety’ legislation there is a whole world of shambleism to behold here in Latin America. Clearly I don’t care whether I pay a pound or a pound and a half (so long a it’s not of my flesh), it does bother me though when people try to rip me off…

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An utterly uneventful story

by Alex on May.29, 2009, under Blog

It’s much cheaper to fly to Colombia from Panama as compared to from Costa Rica so I got on a bus from San Jose that would arrive in Panama at about 4 am and bought a flight out of Panama for midday the same day. My plan was to wait at the bus station and get the first bus to the airport.

A Costa Rican girl on the same bus chatted to me at the border and after a while suggested that rather than hang out at the dodgy bus station in the early hours of the morning, I could crash in her hotel room and at least get a little sleep. And that’s what I did, we got to the hotel just after 5, went to sleep, I got up at 8 and am now at Panama airport. It was one of those simple examples of kindness.

But it needn’t have gone like that. I’ve heard many tales of theft and druggery and robbings at knife and gunpoint and, having just watched a film about tourists getting kidnapped in Europe, loaded with heroin and forced into prostitution, I started to wonder if taking up her offer was the breast of ideas. Did she do this trip regularly, befriending lone tourists and setting them up? Would she call ahead to a dodgy cab driver who would pick us up seemingly randomly only to pull up in a rough neighbourhood, hold a gun to my head and take all my stuff? She asked for a drink of my water, would she slip in some drug that would knock me out and I’d wake up in the street or in an empty hotel room sans all my kit and having missed my flight? We got to the hotel that she usually stays at, without incident, they’re fully booked so we go to a really dodgy place ’round the corner. Was this planned? Were we staying somewhere where nobody would hear, or at least take note of my screams? Would there be a knock at the door at 5:30 that she’d answer letting in two massive guys to beat me up and steal all my shit?

Well, as you already know, the answer to all those questions is no. But how do you know? How do you know who to trust and who not?. Of course you steer clear of those who look dodgy but that’s not going to protect you from the more accomplished con-artists and professional tricksters and robbers.You could be extreme and never trust anyone but then of course you’d never properly meet anyone and miss out on a massive part of traveling and indeed life. Adopting a ‘no locals’ policy won’t guarantee anything as there are plenty of travelers who’ll rob you and hiring a bodyguard would certainly put a dent in your budget as well as imply that you’re mental. I suppose all you can do is rely on your good sense and trust your gut instincts, and of course learn from your mistakes – some bloke that I chatted to one night, well until 10am the next day ended up robbing some money from me, and my shades, having done a pretty good job of convincing me that he was trustworthy. It was a good lesson learned though, cost me less than 10 dollars and I know now to be far more cautious…

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Electric shocks

by Alex on May.27, 2009, under Blog

The rain was torrential today in San Jose, I borrowed an umbrella from the hostel but of course my flip flopped feet were soon soaking. On returning to the hostel and reaching out for the light switch with a slightly damp hand I was greeted with a reasonable electric shock. There’s no point in saying anything to anyone as that’s kinda normal here, I simply put my trainers on before using the metal sandwich toaster.

It did though remind me of my best (or should that be worst) electric shock to date. I was staying with a family in Barranquilla (Colombia) in 2001, a city famous for Shakira and its carnival. On pressing the button to open the microwave one day I got a full on 110 volt shock sending spasms most of the way up my arm. Having never run through this scenario ever happening in my mind, as indeed why would one, I didn’t have any particular expectation as to the response I’d get from the family. I certainly wasn’t expecting laughter though.

Were this to happen where I and many of you grew up I imagine the response would be one of sympathy followed by the unplugging of the microwave with the intention to have it fixed. What I got was ‘what do you expect, you have wet hands and aren’t wearing any shoes’. My internal reply was ‘Well I don’t expect your white goods to be f’ing live!’ but then what’s to be gained by saying that.

It was interesting feeling indignant and knowing that, irrespective of the fact that to them this was normal, it was bloody dangerous (I’m sure strong enough to knock out a pacemaker or perhaps kill someone with a weak heart), yet at the same time recognising the futility of trying to impose my cultural norms on the situation. Feeling angered because of the discrepancy in our points of view, trying to internally demand that they saw it as did I would be silly, no matter how mental I thought their approach to be. I just learned the lesson and was careful to boot up before touching anything else that might electrocute me.

A few days later at a friend’s farm the same thing happened to one of the guys I was with. He’d forgotten that the electric stove was live and he got a full on shock when he touched the metal pan atop it. I was amazed that people are happy to live like this, laughing away rather than thinking ‘should I try to fix it’. Oh well, all part of life’s little learnings on the road…

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Barney, and his life in poetry

by Alex on May.25, 2009, under Blog

He introduced himself as Barney. I’d arrived back at Hotel Paraiso Tropical in Alajuela and he was the newest resident, planning to settle here for a few months. ‘What will you be doing here?’ I ask, ‘writing a book’ replies Barney.

And he has much to write about – the horrors of Vietnam and its ever-lasting effects on him; an abusive father whose apology to his family was to shoot himself in the head; being sexually abused as a child; the one and only (to date) love of his life; having several business successes, and failures; a loving yet sometimes misguided mother who died of cancer; dealing with his alcoholism; holding a gun to his own head then firing its only bullet through the bedroom door on hearing his mum telling him not to kill himself; a vivid dream in which his life’s love guided him through all the previous scenes; living in a homeless veterans shelter for two years just prior to retiring to Costa Rica; and waking up on the morning of his birthday in 2006 being bombarded with thoughts and images which he’s now turned into a book about his life, in poetry.

It’s not hard for him to write, it’s all simply in his head and flows forth when ever he puts fingers to keyboard – a poem for each experience. The review copy is pretty much done, written in about six weeks. He’s going to get it printed, bypassing publishers and send it out to a pretty high-profile list of reviewers. Barney knows that he has something that people will want to read, something from which people can learn, learn from his mistakes and the mistakes of those who have brought misery and hardship to his life. All in poetry.

He’s already decided on the titles of his next five books and will write then here in Costa Rica. Once the money comes in he’ll buy some beautiful tropical land on the coast and build his perfect home in which he can write to his heart’s content.

Barney’s read some of his poetry to me. It’s touching and invites the reader to reflect on how they’re living their life, I can’t share any with you but am looking forward to the book being published.

Best of luck Barney!

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What came first, the phrase or the drink?

by Alex on May.21, 2009, under Blog


It’s true – look

OK, so this ‘what came first’ question is not as thought-provoking as the chicken or egg debate and neither is it unanswerable. But as per usual, I can’t be arsed to look for the answer.

So, what came first, the phrase ‘to open a can of whoop ass on someone’ or the ‘energy drink’ manufactured by the Jones Soda Company of Seattle that goes by the name of ‘Whoop Ass’ and comes in cans?

I’ll let you guys decide:

[memedex: pollid#489581]

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Non-vulgar yet nonetheless funny use of the word ‘cum’

by Alex on May.20, 2009, under Blog

The pics below appeal to the pseudo-puerile part of my sense of humour. They were taken in India:

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Down The Line

by Alex on May.17, 2009, under Blog

Some fantastic comedy has come out of Radio 4 over the years, many later becoming high-profile TV shows. I could research and give loads of hexamples but I can’t be arsed. Have I Got News For You and Who’s Line Is It Anyway are two that spring to mind though.

Anyway. Down The Line is classic. It’s a spoof call in show with Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson probably being the most famous participants, staring Rhys Thomas as the host Gary Bellamy and featuring Amelia Bullmore, Simon Day, Felix Dexter and Lucy Montgomery.

Listen to it – well quality!

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Paraiso Tropical

by Alex on May.16, 2009, under Blog

Hotel Paraiso Tropical – six blocks north of parque central, Alajuela
Phone: (506) 8355 0614 or (506) 2441 4882

  • $15 per person per night, including breakfast (from 8 am) and airport transfer, deals are available for longer stays and in low season
  • 10 minutes from San Jose’s international airport (Juan Santamaria)
  • Large, tastefully decorated rooms with two double beds, private bathroom, fridge, cable TV and free wifi
  • Beautiful grounds with many trees and wandering peacock and rabbits – a very relaxing atmosphere
  • Lunch and dinner available
  • Click here for map

    Paraiso Tropical is an oasis. Large gardens with peacocks and rabbits wandering amongst its many trees makes for a tranquility that you’ll not find a few blocks south in the city of Alajuela. I’m actually being checked out by a peacock as I write. With a drive of less than ten minutes to Costa Rica’s international airport, and the fact that Carlos (who runs the hotel) offers free airport transfers, this is the ideal place to spend your last day or two before flying on to your next destination, and a great alternative over San Jose for the start of your trip if you fly in to Costa Rica. Having said that, I’d bill this place as a destination in itself. The rooms are large, very clean and well-appointed with a fridge, cable TV, two double beds and décor more tasteful than you’d normally find in places so reasonably priced as this. A hearty breakfast is included in the cost of the room and there is free wifi and a well-priced laundry service. On top of that, Carlos is one of the most helpful people I’ve met in over 13 months of traveling Latin America.

    Alajuela’s central park and cathedral are six blocks away, less than a ten mintute walk, and although I’ve not spend much time in town, I like its vibe. It seems very un-touristy which makes for quite a refreshing change over the gringo-packed beach towns and popular mountain desinations. I find it hard to find any semblance of Costa Rican culture in such places and understandably so what with such a high proportion of the population being transient and foreign. Often those places are full of people actively trying to take advantage of ‘rich’ tourists and whilst the attempts of some are so laughably transparent, there are those who are very skilled at gaining your trust and then taking advantage of that, either by coercing money from you or actually stealing from you. I’ve been burned a few times and would certainly not put myself in the ‘gullible tourist’ category…

    I don’t think that you’d find that issue here in Alajuela, rather the opportunity to meet interested Ticos and experience propper Tico culture. I’ve not explored the town that much but have found a very cool bar called Alcielo about 6 blocks or 1 dollar in a cab from the central park. They serve very good food too!

    If you’re thinking of taking Lonely Planet’s advice and are about to head to Heredia then come here instead. Alajuela is more picturesque and Paraiso Tropical is definitely the place to stay,

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    ID card madness

    by Alex on May.15, 2009, under Blog

    I’m, very much with Richiebabee on this one:

    Why do we need ID cards?

    I’d love to hear about any pros of mandatory ID card carrying…

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    A little ham and eggs comin’ at ya

    by Alex on May.08, 2009, under Blog

    It’s late and I have to be somewhere, I’ll work out soon how to embed or whatever you call it the video into the page. During the meanwhilst the link below will have to suffice:

    check this out

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