Sunday, January 1, 2012

Stories from Costa Rica

Our time in Costa Rica was full of adventures. I'll share the two most memorable stories: getting swindled at the ferry and the tsunami evacuation.

The trek from Arenal to Malpais took us across the Gulf of Nicoya. We left in plenty of time to catch a ferry and arrived at the port town of Puntarenas about an hour before the scheduled ferry departure. The line of cars was so long that we couldn't really see the ferry ticket window, and before we had a chance to come up with a reconnaissance plan, a young energetic local fellow ran up to the car offering his assistance. We are a trusting folk by nature, and we took to the guy at first. As the ferry time approached, he changed his friendly tune a bit and started demanding a hefty (over $100) toll to secure us a spot on the ferry, as all the cars in line certainly wouldn't fit. We panicked a little - the prospect of missing the ferry and waiting half a day for the next ride certainly wasn't appealing, but the kid definitely overplayed his hand demanding such a high fee. Our combined senses prevailed and we successfully were able to tell him to take a hike. Of course, we got on the ferry without any problems and had budget left over to buy a few Imperials on the boat. We learned our lesson - trust the locals to a reasonable extent, but use your noggin too!  We all love to laugh about how our group, a well-traveled crew, almost got swindled.

Learning of an impending tsunami was a very unnerving experience: our Malpais house sat right on the beach. Add in the fact that cell phone service was questionable and we had no real way of communicating with the locals, and you'll see how freaked out we were.  Our friend's dad managed to get us on the phone to alert us of the news, and soon after, our guard Luma came over. Somehow, through very broken Spanish and sign language, we got the gist from Luma that we should leave immediately. A quick call to the landlord later and we learned to drive up the street to the bar at the top of the hill. After the rushed packing of our valuables (passport, cash, computer, camera...) we followed a stream of other evacuating cars. Sure enough, at the top of the hill we discovered a watering hole where tons of locals and tourists were already having a "tsunami party on the hill." We gladly joined in and calmed the nerves with a couple of beers. A few hours later, the tsunami warning was lifted and everyone headed back. We learned later that the scare was caused by an 8.0 scale earthquake in Peru, and much of Central America was put on tsunami alert. We're grateful to report that the tsunami didn't happen.


My rough translation of the signs plastered all over Montezuma following the tsunami evacuation:
"Well done, Montezuma!
At a time of crisis, our people joined forces and responded quickly.
In 50 minutes we managed to evacuate the villagers and tourists.
It's a fact that we act responsibly.
Thank you.
15-Aug-2007 Tsunami Day

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