An old friend of mine and I had been bitten hard by the travel bug – she was stressed out from grad school and I was making my way through my first year of full time, 8-7 work. We both were in dire need of a break. While Europe was our first choice, with not that much cash and only about a week of vacation days, we had to get creative.
One day, out of the blue, I said “Why don’t we go to Costa Rica?” to which she said “Why don’t we?”
We then pulled out a map to see where Costa Rica actually was. Honestly, I knew nothing about it other than the fact that it existed, which is how I normally pick travel destinations.
This was the height of the recession, so we were able to score cheap tickets from LAX to Liberia (a tiny airport in Northwestern Costa Rica) for $199 before taxes near the end of June 2009. This was perfect, because we could then avoid flying into San Jose, which we had heard was full of pick-pockets and should be avoided altogether. It was almost like it was meant to be, like the clouds were parting, the angels were singing, and the Kayak gods were saying “yes, go to Costa Rica my child, go forthwith.”
Many a day have I spent looking for that deal again in vain.
Yes, this all seemed like a good idea. We’d land and promptly take a bus to the first destination we had selected – Arenal. It seemed close, or whatever.
When we landed, we realized that wasn’t actually going to work. There was no bus depot. There was nothing of the sort. We sort of wandered around the parking lot, most likely looking like worried puppies, completely unsure what to do next.
It was then that a large van rolled up, and a guy with an American accent rolled down the window and offered us some candy.
Just kidding, he said “you look kind of lost, would you like a ride?”
My friend and I exchanged terrified glances, and for some reason, two girls who would normally be horrified by this prospect said “yes” in unison.
We slid open the van door to find a local Costa Rican girl, along with an Asian-American girl. It was an odd mix, but as we started talking more, I felt a little more assured that we weren’t about to get hacked up and sold as the other white meat. It just didn’t seem that these relaxed and friendly girls would be part of this equation if this was a homicide mission.
Once we started down the main road, my friend texted on her phone and handed it to me, “My mom would kill me if she knew I was doing this.” To which I thought that job might get done before she has the chance.
My mom would probably kill me too. Actually, I really hope she’s not reading this. Hi Mom! Please go away now.
It turned out that the trio had met in college in Georgia, and the driver of the van was an American guy who fell in love with his Costa Rican exchange student girlfriend, and elected to move here with her, to work at an ecology company in Monte Verde. He also explained that hitch hiking is very common in Costa Rica, and assured us that unless we had taken about 5 different busses, we would never have made it to our destination using our original plan. He even refused to take our cash when we offered to help pay for gas. This guy’s generosity was warming.
However, their end destination was different than ours, so he could only take us part-way. We ended up in a random small town with no idea what to do. After stressing out for about an hour, and realizing the next bus wasn’t coming for another 4 hours, we finally decided to barter with a taxi driver, who agreed to take us for about $20. This seemed steep, until we realized that this journey would take another two hours.
We had really not planned adequately at all.
We finally arrived and settled in, several hours after having landed, but all said and done, lucky to have arrived at all.
From that point forward, we figured out our transportation plans well in advance, and paid up for a shared shuttle.
This is the first time I’ve admitted that I took that ride from a stranger in an even stranger place. Funnier still is that I watched “Taken” on the flight home and cringed the entire time.
Have you ever hitch-hiked in a foreign country? Do you think I’m insane? Comment!