December 30, 2016, Category: Costa Rica

We arrive in Costa Rica and find out, the hard way, our bank cards aren’t working at the ATMs. How do you survive without cash? Read on and find out…

Day 2: Drive to Tamarindo

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.

The Guatemala airport floor made the night long and cold. When early travelers started making their way through the airport, we organized our stuff, brushed off the dust, and took turns cleaning ourselves up in the restrooms.

After take-off, I saw the slums of Guatemala City and was extra thankful for our accommodations for the night. The rough neighborhoods below reminded me of a Call of Duty level. I hadn’t survived long on that level (especially when playing against my son, aka “Faze Dirty”) and didn’t figure the real-life version would have gone any better.

Within seconds, the shanty buildings vanished and we flew over a lush, jungle canopy. Dark green covered the rolling hills and mountains. Coming from a cold, gray winter in Seattle made it seem we were on the tail end of a prison break and freedom was around the corner.

The first experience of San Jose was a hot blast of humid air that hit as we stepped off the plane. Yeah baby! Let the fun begin! But my celebration was short lived because I remembered I needed to stress about whether our luggage had made it. The only way to prevent something bad from happening is to mull and stew about it beforehand, and I’ve failed to do it right on two other vacations and the airport lost my suitcase. Only vacations though—I’ve never lost luggage on a business trip. Something hinky about that.

Our plan was to make the long drive to Tamarindo and sit on a beach by sunset. No bags would seriously mess that up. When they tumbled onto the conveyor belt, I sighed in relief, and Sandi never knew how my stress had secretly saved our vacation. We cleared customs and caught a shuttle to pick up our rental car. Now that I didn’t have to stress about luggage, it was time to worry about driving.

Driving in another country always happens to fast. One second I’m a confused tourist standing in line at the rental car place, the next a confused tourist flying blind down the wrong side of the road. I always expect to have to sit through a thirty-minute video called, “How to Drive in Our Country.” It has never happened. But the car rental guy who helped us out was a godsend. Super nice, helpful, and made me feel like I was a welcomed guest in Costa Rica. I forgot about being stressed.

“Head out, turn right, and take the new freeway. Highway 27. Easy driving. You’ll make it well before sunset.”

We loaded up the car, set up the GPS, and took a few deep breaths. I signaled right, pressed the gas, and just like that was driving in Costa Rica. Road signs were different, the land alien-like. Surreal and thrilling, it felt like a trippy dream. I’d snuck into a place I wasn’t supposed to ever see. Anxiety and excitement canceled each other out, and I was lost in limbo. I didn’t care where we were going. I just drove. The GPS would set us right, eventually.

“You were supposed to turn left there.” Sandi’s head whipped to watch the street pass behind us.

“I need to just drive for a minute before I worry about turning left.”

Fifteen minutes later, I was smiling, comfortable, and ready to turn left. But the GPS said to go straight.

“Guess we go straight?” I shrugged. “We’ll get on the freeway eventually.”

Sandi made a sound like the one Marge Simpson makes just before Homer does something stupid.

I figured we could veer left and hit Highway 27 when we got bored of the slower road. When we finally stopped to figure out where the hell we were, I learned that my hour of carefree driving had set us on a course following the old highway, Highway 1. Highway 27 wasn’t even on the GPS—too new, I assumed.

“How much worse could it be? So we’ll take Highway 1, instead,” I said.

Marge Simpson groaned again.

We were both hungry so decided to take a detour into one of the small towns.

“That looks like a good place to stop.” Sandi nodded at a shopping plaza.

“How about if we make a loop through the market, and if we don’t find a better place, hit that on the way out?”

My quick scenic drive through town turned into the worst traffic I’d encountered in years (and I commute daily in Seattle traffic). One minute we were rolling along nicely and then—BAM! Cars appeared all around us. We spent an hour trying to inch our way four blocks. When I finally made it back to the place Sandi said we should have stopped at an hour before, she was well into stage one of grumpy. For Sandi, that means she stops talking. Typical Warren, I tried to fix the situation by bombarding her with positive conversation.

“This lunch is going to be so good! That place you picked? Yeah, perfect place. Good call with that one.”

The icy stare only challenges me to try harder.

My only “Stressed Sandi” picture is back.

I’m fortunate that Sandi grumpy is quite mild compared to most. I deserved much worse than a perturbed glare. She’d spent two days on planes, trains, and automobiles. A sleepless night on the floor of an airport. Then allowed me to drive past our first chance to eat to “see the town first.” Every woman I’ve traveled with has gotten, at best, a bit testy when we skip meals. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson.

We parked, trekked across the parking lot, and waited in line to order a sandwich.

“Sorry, cash only,” the attendant said.

My eyes shot to Sandi with the best puppy dog “I’m sorry” eyes possible. “How about if you stay here and I’ll run and get cash? I’ll do all the work, you can relax.”

“You aren’t leaving me alone in a foreign country!”

So we left together and found an ATM machine. My bank card went in, I pushed buttons, but no cash came out. I tried another card. Still, no cash.

“We’ll have to find a bank.” Now I was getting cranky too—at myself for being so stupid. At least Sandi and I had that in common. We connected on the fact that we were both pissed at me.

Back in the car, we drove until we found a bank. Then we spent an hour inside while several Costa Ricans tried to help us. Phone calls back to the United States were made. But still, we had no cash. Something was wrong with my bank card in Costa Rica. Yes, I’d called my bank before we left.

“Is there anywhere close that will take a credit card for food?” I asked.

“Probably. But most around here only take cash. Dollars or colons.”

“Wait. Dollars? American dollars?”

“Yes. Most everyone accepts American money.”

At this point, any normal woman would have slugged me. Or let loose a few choice words. Sandi did neither.

We drove to a grocery store and picked up a few things, then to a deli and picked up a few more things. Everyone took our dollars and even gave us a decent exchange rate.

Back on the old highway, we continued our journey. The road was gorgeous—winding up and down jungle covered mountains. But we moved with the pace of a sloth. To me, a highway was a reasonably straight road allowing you to get from one town to the next in a reasonable amount of time. This highway was shared with bikers, walkers, cars, and truckers. We chugged at ten miles per hour behind long lines of cars—usually stuck behind a big truck struggling to get up the mountain.Once over the mountains, we made good time across the peninsula. We heard waves crashing, rounded a corner, and had to squint against sunshine reflecting off the Pacific Ocean. Tamarindo was a collection of surf shops, jewelry stores, boutiques, the smell of food, and people wearing next to nothing. We drove slowly along the dirt roads, navigating around scooters, 4Wheelers, and bicycles until the GPS took us right to our bed and breakfast. Our home for two days was surrounded by trees and birds chattered from every direction. We dumped our suitcases in the room and put on swimming suits.

“To the beach?” Sandi said.

“One second.” I put everything in our suitcases and lock them shut. Then routed a security cable to connect them to a solid piece of the room. My friends had everything stolen from their room during a trip to Costa Rica, and I didn’t want that to be my story.

We walked the dusty streets and saw a tree full of what seemed like a hundred chattering parrots. Waves tossed surfers, sunbathers tanned, and we ate dinner on the beach while the sun vanished under a fiery sky. Then we walked the darkened beach past bonfires that were surrounded by music and dancing.

Click here to go to Day 3.

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