In December of 2012, Sandi and I went to Costa Rica. It has taken a few years, but I'm finally taking the time to edit my journal entries, post the blogs, and upload the pictures. Click the pictures to expand them. Click here to jump to the beginning with a link to every day.
Foreign airports are exciting. Public announcements I can’t understand, signs that use characters/words that make no sense to me, and travelers garbed in traditional clothing from all parts of the world. Even when I’m heading home at the tail end of a vacation, airports make me want to travel to new places. But, foreign airports do come with their challenges.
Our early morning went fast. In no time, we’d returned our rental car, boarded our plane, and were flying to our first layover, several hours in Panama.
I carry an empty water bladder with me through airports. I can refill it on the other side of security and avoid paying the price of gold for a sip of water. But in Panama, I made the mistake of trying to get through security without emptying it first. In the middle of a trip, my water bottle hasn’t ever been a problem because I’d already been through security at another airport. In Panama, they’d set up a makeshift security zone to enter the boarding area for our flight.
The agent pointed at the bottle hanging from my carry-on, shook her head, and said something in Spanish.
“Oh, right.” I opened it and started chugging. Halfway through, I wondered if I’d be able to finish. A liter was a lot to chug when I wasn’t thirsty.
“You are holding up the line,” Sandi said. “Just throw it away.”
“I don’t…” A belch interrupted me. “I don’t want to waste it. Go ahead without me. I’ll catch up.” I nodded to the boarding area and stepped aside. “Save me a seat.”
With a Marge Simpson groan, Sandi moved ahead. I still had half a liter and didn’t want to cause problems by leaving the area to find somewhere to dump it.
The last half was tough. I had to swallow with force and could almost feel my stomach bloating with each gulp. But I finished it, nodded to the woman, and started to walk through. Harsh Spanish and a hand on my chest stopped my progress.
“Paula burrito agua gutten tag senior gushtappa.”
Except for “agua,” I had no idea what she’d said. Her finger pointed to my empty container, and she shook her head.
“It’s empty,” I said, and shook my head right back at her. “Empty. No agua. Geen agua.” Why I said “no” in Afrikaans, I have no idea.
She tried to grab it from me and I pulled it away. This did not make her happy. Her eyebrows dropped like the visor of a knights helmet. She was preparing for battle.
“This is my hiking canteen. It’s just not a cheap plastic water bottle. It was expensive. I need it for water.” I knew she couldn’t understand, but what else could I do? I spoke like I was talking to a scared, hungry, orphan: kind, gentle, slow. Maybe she’d catch the tone of my words.
She pointed to the side, and I stepped out of line again. With my water bladder. As she helped the travelers who had been in line behind me, I noticed she didn’t seem as friendly as she’d been earlier. Across the waiting area, Sandi glared at me. She still saved my seat, at least. As long as that seat stayed empty, I knew the incident would be quickly forgotten. If she gave the seat to somebody else? Well, it would be a long trip home sitting next to Sandi’s cold shoulder.
I waited patiently. We wouldn’t board for a couple hours, so I had time to resolve this. Why throw away a $25 water bladder if I didn’t have to? I’d only have to buy a new one when I got home. I’d find a way to work it out.
Once every other traveler had been admitted to the waiting area, Water Policewoman faced me, pointed to my water bottle, and snapped her fingers.
“No agua.” I held it up. Shook it. “No agua.”
Her scowl deepened, and she picked up her radio. Was I being a threat? Could I go to jail over a water bottle? More than ever, I wished I spoke Spanish. She caught me watching and turned her back to me while Spanish words flew from her mouth into the radio.
She fell silent but didn’t turn around. A door across the room opened, two agents stepped out, and she gave them a stern wave. They started across the room. I glanced over at Sandi, and she scowled at me three times harsher than Water Policewoman had.
“It’s gonna be fine,” I told myself and took a deep breath.
The two agents reached us and had a quick conversation with my new archenemy. Then they all turned and faced me.
“Sir? Why won’t you cooperate?” One of the agents asked.
Thank god! English. “She wants me to throw away my water bottle. But it’s empty. It’s not cheap plastic, it’s a hiking canteen. I’d rather keep it if it’s possible. I drank all the water in it.”
She held out her hand, and I gave it to her. After examining it, she handed it back and spoke to the others. Whatever she said did not go over well with my rival—a somewhat heated conversation ensued. When they finished, my hero said, “You can keep your water bottle. Travel safely.” She smiled, and the two new agents left me alone with the one that, I could tell, wanted to rip off my head. She was seething.
Without looking at me, she said something and walked off. I assumed it was safe to cross the security boundary, but I stepped slowly to be safe. I waited for an ambush. When nothing happened, I weaved through the chairs and travelers to sit in the empty seat next to Sandi.
“Want some trail mix?” I asked her, like nothing had happened.
She shook her head. “What if they’d hauled you off for questioning? What if you’d missed the flight? Was it worth it?”
I held up my water bottle and grinned. “Yup.”
She tried not to, but couldn’t help it. She smiled. Then we snacked on trail mix.
The rest of our return went without incident, although I almost peed my pants waiting to get to cruising altitude so I could use the restroom. I imagined how happy Water Policewoman would be if she knew I’d peed my pants on the plane. One liter in means one liter out, and my bladder falls way short of a liter. But I pee-danced my way into the tiny restroom in the nick of time.
We were able to use our red carpet lounge coupons in Washington DC, and the snacks and free drinks made Sandi forget all about the water bottle incident. Then, home. Seattle was cold, wet, and gray—as it always was in December. We greeted the kids with hugs and presents, and the moment our trip shifted from reality to memory, I already wanted to go back.
My takeaways from the Costa Rica trip were as follows:
- Car Rental insurance is mandatory, expensive, and not reflected in the rental rate. Be ready for it.
- Driving over the mountains—and there are many, many mountains—is slow and tedious at best, but downright dangerous at night. That said, I loved driving in Costa Rica. Especially in the remote areas on the peninsula.
- Montezuma is a gold mine. I’ve heard this area is growing fast and may never be the same.
- Pack light for the Corcovado. Book way in advance to secure bunks and meal tickets.
- Costa Ricans are warm, friendly, and helpful. But when they say “everything will work out fine,” it doesn’t mean everything will work out like you need it to. Be ready to bend.
- Prices are similar to the USA. You won’t pay a ton like in Europe, but you won’t be instantly rich like in India.
- I can accomplish more than I sometimes think I can. (The 14 mile Corcovado hike.)
- I need to return to Costa Rica. Again. Again. And Again.
Thanks for reading about my travels. To read more of my adventures, click here to visit my travel page.