It’s the new year, I have a lot (too much!) free time and starting to feel a bit melancholic. Ah, Madrid, my love…. even more stunning at night! Hope you enjoy!
…. Combined in one journey, from Mexico to Costa Rica. This is probably the ultimate blog to discourage anyone who intends to travel alone from actually doing it. Just the intention of my blog, right? But, on the other hand, people seem to love hearing about people’s horrible stories rather than the fun ones. I do, anyway.
(how I felt during, and after, the journey)
So, where to begin? It all started in Mexico City, in Mexico (who would have thought that). Well, my journey didn’t start there, but the trouble definitely did. So I was in this huge, gigantic, loud, nerve-racking city for a couple of days before heading to Panama. Better to say, I was heading to Panama, but taking the detour via Costa Rica because the flight was much cheaper.
So there I was: A 20-year-old girl from Germany with a huge backpack, a ticket to San José (Costa Rica) and a ticket from Panama to Germany in the airport of Mexico City, one of the busiest in the world. Of course, I arrive one hour rather than the recommended three hours prior to departure. Standing breathlessly in front of the counter after sprinting through half the airport, a very kind man explains to me that the only way I can enter a plane to Costa Rica is by having a ticket that proves I intend to leave the country, be it by plane, bus or boat. Apparently a ticket from Panama back to Europe isn’t sufficient (right, I really wasn’t going to use it…). And my explanation that buying a bus ticket from Costa Rica to Panama isn’t possible online doesn’t cut it either. No, the friendly man insists, I need a ticket before he can check in my luggage. But hey, why don’t I buy a return ticket to Mexico? Right, I’ve already got a ticket back to Germany, but no, it doesn’t matter whether I actually intend to use it.
So, I’ve got 15min left. Rather than giving in and buying a pointless return ticket to Mexico, I decide to find Internet to buy a flight ticket from Costa Rica to Panama (makes more sense, right?). After realizing that there really isn’t wireless internet everywhere in the airport, I eventually find it downstairs near the exit. Incredibly self-conscious of my brand new MacBook, I sit down and hectically type in random words related to Costa Rica, Panama, buses and flights. It’s been far too long before I realize that my 15min are more than up.
Back with the friendly man, I find out that unsurprisingly it’s way too late to check in. But, he assures me, I can buy a ticket for the next day. And, how cheap! (sarcasm) But apparently my Spanish is excellent, at least. That really cheers me up, thanks.
So I do that, head back to the city, return to my hostel, book another night, and realize:
Take the recommended “prior to departure” time seriously. There is a reason for it.
Google entry requirements for a country you’ve never been to. Your wallet will thank you.
So I go online, book a flight ticket from Costa Rica to a small island in Panama. In one of these super-cute, super-dangerous planes where about 20 people fit in.
The next day, I’m allowed on the plane (hurray!). When I arrive in San José, the next ordeal begins. Despite having booked a hostel and having written the address down (a mile stone in terms of organization, I thought!), I have no idea how to find it. Someone explains the really interesting street system with odd and even numbers in ascending and descending order to me. While my mood is slowly getting better as my odds of actually finding the place are going up, I decide to stop on the way to get some money. After all, I’ve only got 10 dollars left. All the greater my disbelief when something like this shows up instead of my money: “Su tarjeta está inválida” (Your card is invalid). At the next 20 cash points, this message alternates with “Este servicio no está disponible” (This service is not available).
During another 30min uphill to the hostel with my 20kg backpack and empty stomach (I was saving my money for the hostel rather than food), it comes to me:
Bring a credit card when abroad. Your debit card will not always be sufficient. Bonus: This simple trick will save you from sleeping on the street.
As 1,035,353 people have told me since then, that’s common sense. Thanks, now I know that too.
Finally in the hostel, I use Skype to call my bank in Germany to ask them why on earth my debit card isn’t working when it’s supposed to. Oh, apparently it has to be “unlocked” for certain countries/continents. After a 10min discussion of whether Costa Rica belongs to Central or South America, my debit card is supposedly “unlocked” and I head back to the city. Maybe you can guess the message I get trying the first cash point (“Su tarjeta está inválida.”). Great. The messages I get at the next 20 cash points don’t serve to making me anymore hopeful. At the verge of freaking out, I try, without much hope, yet another one. And yes, the miracle happens! Money comes out!
Saved from sleeping on the street, I joyfully stroll the streets of San José and enjoy some fast food.
The next morning, it is yet again time to get up early to get a flight (third time in a row, if I count right). As it’s still dark outside, I decide to order a taxi. After having spent my last money on the taxi fair (speaking Spanish doesn’t always save you from getting ripped off), I arrive at the smallest airport I’ve ever been to. Merely bigger than my living room at home, it comprises a couple of benches and a “cafeteria”, basically serving coffee and scrambled eggs.
Happy about being on time for once, and thinking that I’ve definitely had too much bad luck the previous couple of days to have any more, I enjoy my false sense of security. Until I head to the check-in counter and learn that there is a 30 dollar fee to pay for entering Panama. No problem, I say, you surely have a cash point? You might be able to guess: They don’t. And I have, once again, only 10 dollars left. But hey, this once again friendly guys responds: “You must have a credit card on you, right?”. While I’m torn between hitting this innocent man and begging my fellow travellers for money, it hits me:
BRING A CREDIT CARD. DON’T BE AN IDIOT.
If nothing, I think this message really got to me in the end.
However, I was right for one thing: My streak of bad luck had finished. Finally. At watching my growing despair, the guy asks without much hope, whether I know my credit card details, even if I don’t have it on me. And, although I don’t even have a credit card, the miracle happens: I remember my mum’s credit card details. The credit card number, the security code, even the expiry date. Possibly a moment when I started believing in God again.
If you’re scatty enough to forget your credit card, at least remember the credit card details.
To finally finish this (way too long) post, I safely arrived with exactly 12 fellow passengers in Panama, and most of the remaining journey went (relatively) smoothly. And, despite fearing for my life and safety quite a few times, and getting upset about my own stupidity, I definitely learned more than one lesson on my journey from Mexico to Panama.
PS: Did you enjoy this post? Have you had similarly troublesome journeys?
With the New Year approaching, it is time for me to rethink the year that’s past. A lot has happened, ups and downs – but mostly ups, including numerous travel moments and people I have met during these journeys that I wouldn’t want to miss. Here’s a quick summary of the best travel moments in 2013:
Mérida in the Yucatan peninsular in Mexico is a beautiful colonial city where I spent six weeks this summer. Despite incessant heat, humidity and mosquitoes, the million-strong city is definitely worth a visit. Known as “Ciudad Blanca”, white city, its sights include the beautiful Plaza de la Independencia, shown above, and the Paseo del Montejo, a wide avenue perfect for strolling in the more temperate evenings. Besides, Mérida is popular as the “gate towards the world of Maya” – famous archaelogical sites such as Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and less famous but nevertheless worthwhile sites such as Dzibilchaltun are closeby. So is the beach – Progreso is only half an hour’s drive away.
It was on my journey from Mérida to Mexico City that I stumbled upon this gem – San Cristóbal de las Casas. If you’d like to know more about this, please read this post: https://strollingtheworld.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/saint-christopher-of-the-houses/
My journey from Mexico led me, with a few detours, to Panama, specifically to the archipelago Bocas del Toro. It is situated in the North-West of Panama, hence close to the border to Costa Rica and easy to reach via boat or plane (there actually is a very small airport that serves direct flights to San José and Panama City). As you can see on the picture, Bocas del Toro comes pretty close to the common notion of paradise: white sand, turquoise water and palm trees. Despite these undebatable facts, the islands are, however, overcharged with backpackers, and, what the dreamy calendar photos never show: It rains a lot. As in, a lot. We might have been unlucky, but it rained two out of three days that we were there, and there really isn’t much to do in that case.
To round it off, there is this beautiful, expensive, fancy, stylish, metropolitan city called London in England. The capital has been my place of residence for the past year and a half, and will continue to be for presumably the exact same amount of time. Although my relation to London is characterized by both love and hate, I appreciate its internationality, its nearly infinite possibilities and the moments I have spent in its cosy pubs, famous museums, diverse clubs, and unique areas.
PS: Merry christmas and a happy new year!