Scammed in Cambodia :)

May 9, 2013 1 comment

So after traveling Southeast Asia for 5 weeks and having only extremely positive experiences with strangers on the streets, I finally ran into my first negative experience yesterday morning in Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital). I never thought I could fall prey to a scam – only stupid people get scammed, right? I’m much better than that, surely it’s simple enough to recognize one and get out of it, I’m not an idiot!

Wrong 🙂

In short: I haven’t felt this stupid in a long time, I’m really embarrassed that this happened to me, but I fell victim to what is called the Filipino Card Scam (Google it), which is supposedly very common in Vietnam and Cambodia, and some other Southeast Asian countries.

Long story: So yesterday started with me finishing a book about Buddhism and karma and then heading off to the local market to get some fruits. My friends were still asleep so I went alone. On the way to the market, I saw two elderly women carrying a table across a busy intersection, and I instinctively took it off their backs (literally :p ) and carried it into their shop for them. A few minutes later I passed by an Argentinian guy who spoke zero English and was trying to get directions to the airport from a local. With the 4 words I still remember in Spanish I helped him translate, and all was good. At this point I feel like my karma is through the roof and for some reason I felt very content – I literally started singing It’s a Beautiful Life (Ace of Base). I felt like I was surrounded by goodness.

I kept walking and got into a little French bakery to get a small breakfast. I had been shirtless this whole time because of the 40+ degree weather, and didn’t think much about that. Upon leaving the bakery, a man sitting at the bakery calls out to me and tells me that I should put my shirt on before entering a building next time. I thanked him and asked him for his name, then I went and sat down with him to talk to him a little. He was not the one who invited me to talk to him, and things were flowing very naturally so I had even less reason to believe he was going to be part of the card mafia. We talked about the usual things: where we’re both from, what we’re doing in Phonm Penh, etc. He told me he just moved here from The Philippines with his family two years ago. I tell him I live in Canada, at which point he tells me that his daughter is coincidentally going to study in Vancouver next year (yup, I know, RED FLAG DEAN!). After a bit more chit-chat, I tell him I’m off to get some food at the market, and he asks me if I want to come have lunch at their place and hopefully his daughter will be there so I can give her tips and teach her about Canada. My thinking at this point is “aw this friendly man wants to give me lunch and I have a chance to help out his daughter, it’s super close so why not!”.

Clearly my next move of getting on the motorbike with him is my first mistake. However, he is friendly, speaks good English and appears to be middle class so I don’t have too many reservations. In a couple minutes we get to his house, which is a very non-threatening open house on the street level, with the mom cooking in the kitchen, and the rest of the family sitting by the entrance. They offered me food but I politely declined since I just had food at the bakery (I thought it’d be a good idea to not take their food since I didn’t see them preparing it too). We all talk for some time, they seem very friendly and simple, and then a man enters. He is introduced as the uncle, his name is Jerry (the brother of the guy I met at the bakery). The uncle tells me he’s a blackjack dealer at the local casino, and tells me that he knows a sure way to win at Blackjack. ‘Would you be interested to find out my method?’ he asks. I agree as it seems harmless, I know how to play blackjack and I was just curious to see if he has some cool statistic-related method to increase your chances of winning. He then leads me into another room where he proceeds to show me how to win at Blackjack against another player….. by cheating. His method involves him playing as the dealer, me as one player, the other player as the banker. He then shows me covertly what card is next, and through hand signals what my opponent has.

I don’t even play cards much, let alone go to casinos and play blackjack. I’m an honest, hard-working guy and like to think of myself as a logical, intelligent person who is switched on and is far from naïve and dumb. But not this morning. Before I explain the next part of the story, I should say that at this stage for the first time I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable. I’m not a cheat and have absolutely no interest in cheating at cards to win money. This makes the next stage of the story which plays out over several minutes even more inexplicable. The uncle proceeds to tell me about a client he had at the casino last night; a gentleman named Mr Malik from Brunei, who won $40,000 at his table last night. Mr Malik only tipped the uncle $200, so the uncle is angry at Mr Malik for being so tight with his money. Jerry (the uncle) tells me that Mr Malik might be coming here soon to play Mahjong (a Chinese gambling game). Minutes later Mr Malik shows up at the house. Jerry reminds me how he’s upset at Mr Malik for giving such a low tip. He goes on to say that I could play blackjack with him, insinuating that between us we could cheat this man out of some money, and split it 50/50. Could this be the good karma coming back to me?? In hindsight – no 🙂 At this point I am feeling extremely uncomfortable, and why I didn’t take this opportunity to make my excuses and leave I don’t know. Before I have time to come to my senses and think this through, Mr Malik enters the room. I am at the opposite side of the room to the door, and a combination of this and the fast moving sequence of events which don’t allow me to think clearly, make me feel trapped and out of control. Somehow, I agree to take part in a game of blackjack. Jerry showed me how we cannot lose, but I’m still very nervous and my arms are shaking from the thought of the fact that I am about to cheat this person in front of me. I have little money (I tell Jerry I only have $100) on me so the uncle lends me $300US to buy some initial chips. I have never played cards for an amount coming close to this, and never would, but for some reason I agree take the money and buy some chips to start the game. The guy from Brunei pays in with $2,000US and the game starts. I feel terrible, why am I letting myself cheat in a game of cards to win some money? I don’t know how I allowed this to happen? I don’t think I’m greedy, but maybe I am? All of a sudden my $100 seems to lose all value compared to the $2000 he just dropped. I start thinking that I somehow got myself into a very strange situation within seconds. How did this happen? I am hoping that there will be an opportunity where I can get out of this madness. That opportunity never arises, or rather it does, it is there all the time but I’m too caught up in what is going on at the time to take it.

About 7 hands later, me having lost only one (as you’d expect as I know what his hand is and what card is coming next), Mr Malik announces that he wants to play Mahjong and that this will be the last hand. The chips are stacked well in my favour, and I think “alright, one last hand and then it’s all over, just get through this”. All throughout the games I speak to Mr Malik and Jerry, hoping to find some inconsistency that will raise my suspicion, but everything checks out. Seems like either these are real legitimate people, or they’ve definitely done their homework. For example, when I asked Jerry how much commission he will take from the winnings, Jerry said 5%, to which Mr Malik quickly replied in anger ‘I will only give 2%, no more!’. Mr Malik playing the cheap, stingy, rich gambler.

In the last game I have 11, which I then make 21 with a face card, and I know that Mr Malik has 20. This means I cannot lose. His chips are running out and he decides to buy some more. Seconds later my eyes almost pop out of my skull when he drops a wad of US dollars on to the table. $40,000 he says….. his winnings from last night. Now I’m starting to panic. What have I gotten myself into……this is way over my head. Get out, get out, is the alarm bell going off in my head. I should have just asked to end the game after winning the first few hands, how did I let it get this far?? It all happened so fast and I somehow felt like I had no say in what is going on, they were both so eager to keep playing and I was winning. Recounting this tale I realize how many opportunities I had to try to get out, but for some reason I never took them. Greed, stupidity, both?? Anyway, before I know it he has gone all in with his $40000, and the uncle is offering me some credit to stay in the hand. Why didn’t I say no……why didn’t I get suspicious of the fact that the guy from Brunei was allowing me this credit line? I suppose I thought that he had a good hand, it is just with 21 I knew I couldn’t be beaten. Were the cards fixed at this point? They must have been although I shuffled them myself at the start. I don’t know for sure. The uncle asks me to buy a little more chips since Malik just dropped $40k on the table, and I only invested $100 so far. I reach into my wallet and say that I somehow managed to find another $100 (thank g-d I told him that’s all I have and I didn’t actually give him everything in my wallet). My brain starts going crazy thinking about this ridiculous amount of money in front of me. With the hand I have right now, I will win this! $40,000!!! I don’t even want to win money this way and my brain is doing overtime about what to do with the money. I’ll give it to charity, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll keep $2000 to fund this trip, and donate the rest. The next thing I find myself thinking is how am I going to deposit $40000US in cash at a bank, without an account and without them becoming suspicious. Oh why did I not think more clearly at the time? I suppose even though I had some doubts about the legitimacy of this whole ordeal, I also kind of wanted to believe it to be true. I can now better understand why people believe things that cannot possibly be true, your wanting it to be true can really help make it seem so in your mind. Ah, stupid, stupid Dean!

Mr Malik wants to see more evidence of my assets and ability to pay the bet should I lose. I have no way to get the money and I don’t know what to do. But Uncle Jerry reassures Malik that I will be able to go get the money and come back with it soon. Jerry takes me out of the room for a moment to give me some advice, and tells me what to do. Why isn’t Mr Malik getting suspicious with all these interruptions? Why isn’t he suspicious of my ability to pay? After all I’m not dressed like a professional gambler or even a man with the means to pay. Why don’t I realize at this point that it is me that they are trying to cheat out of money and not Mr Malik?? My head is just a scrambled mess.

Next, we agree that I will go off and get some money to prove my ability to pay. I obviously do not have $40000, but Jerry tells me that I should just get whatever I can, and he will take care of the rest. Uncle Jerry will go off and try to raise some capital from his friends, and my only job is to get as much as I can from the ATM or buy something expensive with my credit card. At this point I’m thinking this is genuine as he has $40,000 to gain, but I still wanted to keep my money safe so I told him that my cards are already maxed out and I can only pull $200 from an ATM (one of the only smart things I’ve done/said so far…). I go off to the street, find a motorcycle taxi, and get on with his daughter (the one apparently going to Canada), she is my chaperone. Cleverly, she keeps me talking all the way to the ATM, without allowing half a moment of silence. Talking so I don’t have time to think. All of the time I’m trying to get my head around what is happening but I cannot concentrate at all because of all her talk and questions about Canada. All the time I am uncomfortable, but I don’t seem to be able to resist the forces to stop this happening. We get off at the ATM, the daughter is in my face throughout, never giving me a moment to think. I pull out $200 and then we get back on the motorcycle. I tell the daughter that I want to pass through my hostel so I can put away my credit card because I don’t want to be traveling with it. Finally, my first smart thought. She sees no harm in that, so we make a stop at my hostel, and I run inside, feeling both nervous and excited at the same time. On the way to my locker I finally get a few seconds to think about what has just happened, and I’m starting to see that there have been one too many coincidences here, and that maybe this is all too good to be true. I briefly tell the guy at reception what happened, and he tells me that this is classic Filipino Card Scam, the most popular tourist trap in Phnom Penh recently. The moment he said that I felt so relieved, at least I know it’s over. My exit plan now was to just stay in my hostel and hope the daughter eventually leaves. It might not have been the most brilliant plan, but at least it worked, and I only lost $200.

I feel like a big weight had just been taken off me. I won’t be cheating $40000 out of an innocent man, I won’t have to deal with the conscious of getting a huge amount of dirty money, it’s all over. The reception guy tells me that within the past 2 weeks people at our hostel have lost thousands, much more than I did. At the point where I went to the ATM, most people end up buying some really expensive jewelry as well and maxing out their credit card cash limits to try to get as much capital as they can. After reading about this online, I feel a tiny bit less of an idiot (although still a pretty giant one), and realize that I was lucky that I never let them empty my wallet/bank account like many others do. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel too upset about the loss of money. My embarrassment and shame were much stronger than any other feeling, and $200 is nothing compared to what other people have lost.

Hopefully I continue to only have good encounters from now on and when I come back home in a few months, this will be the worst story I have 🙂

France pics!

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Since I posted some pictures from Cost Rica, why not put some from France?

All good things come to an end…

July 14, 2011 Leave a comment

After 3 fun adventure-filled weeks in costa rica, I’ve now returned to normal life… and I already miss the traveling lifestyle! This has been my first introduction to traveling alone, and I’m absolutely in love with it now. I was scared before I did it, but this has opened my appetite, and now I want to try to travel to different places any time I have some time off.

One of the things I loved the most about traveling was simply the sheer number of amazing people you meet. I met so many nice guys and girls and we’ve shared so many deep conversations while barely knowing each other.  It’s like we all had this instant bond just because we were both traveling. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from any person I talked to, even if they’re completely opposite of me and I would never have been friends with them in real life.  I learned that you can truly learn something from everybody, and I enjoyed seeing that in action.

Of course there are some things I’m not going to miss are 🙂 Like not being able to throw toilet paper in the toilet, not ever having warm water in showers, taxi drivers always talking on the phone while driving, hardcore rain in the middle of every day…

But overall this vacation was much more successful than I had imagined, I have so many memories from such a short time: losing my credit card, playing with little abused kids, living with a poor host family, skinny dipping in the caribbean, scuba diving, clubbing in limited clothing, meeting so many awesome people, ziplining over a forest, ATV through the mountains, spending an evening in volcanic hot springs, being covered with 100s of bug bites, rafting, standing all the way from panama to san jose on a bus, missing 6am bus filled with all my friends, tarantula, monkeys, dogs following me to bars, waves of 100 horsepower..

Next up: get plane ticket to San Francisco, find a house, move, work….. and work…. and work.. and then hopefully travel some more 🙂

The best days of my trip…

July 13, 2011 Leave a comment

As I mentioned a few days ago, the part of my trip that I enjoyed the most was in Puerto Viejo, and I didn’t have time while I was there to write about it. I spent amazing 3 nights there, and I kind of (well, more than just kind of. I do.) wish I could be there right now. Nothing too exciting in adventure-wise happened, and I spent the least money there (only food and a bit of alcohol – no activities or tours or anything special), but I loved it over there. People always told me I should go to the Caribbean side just because it’s a “different vibe” from the touristy Pacific side of the country, and I never understood what they meant until I got there. It really does feel like Jamaica/Caribbean there. It was pura vida in its best. (Pura Vida is the unofficial slogan of Costa Rica, which just means “enjoy life” or “life’s good”). One really cool thing about that hostel was that most people slept on hammocks (instead of in a room), which surprisingly was very comfortable, and I kind of miss it. There were rows of hammocks, one beside the other, and it was very easy to sleep in them. But every morning we all woke up with literally dozens of bites.. but it was part of the fun.

The second I got to the hostel, Rocking J’s, I felt the relaxing atmosphere. All the floors and bathroom/shower stall walls were colourful murals of cool trippy images, there were lots of people everywhere just sitting around talking, there was a beach as the backyard of the hostel, there were hammocks everywhere. Every second I spent there I was in a good mood. There were also some Argentinian dudes who were playing lots of reggae music all the time, which added to the Jamaican feel (they gave me some of their music!). Also, everybody on the street and in the hostel was smoking weed and offering me weed… I wish I smoked, I would have enjoyed it even more :p

20 second walk from my hammock bed.

20 second walk from my hammock bed.

When I moved my stuff to my locker near my hammock, I started talking to a German guy who was laying in his hammock (aka bed), who ended up becoming a very good friend. I then went to check out the beach, which was stunning: it was a very long strand of beach, with trees growing literally next to the water, the sea itslef was very warm, there were pieces of logs and some large rocks you can sit on just by the water. Lots of little cute crabs too. When I wanted to get dinner at the hostel, I joined the German guy that I knew from before, and he then introduced me to his 3 German friends who are all traveling together, and two American girls who they picked up a few days ago. The 4 German guys were 27 and have been traveling for a full year around the world, and we became amazing friends, I love them. I couldn’t feel the 5 year age difference between us, I enjoyed being with them just as if they were friends from university. That first night that I arrived was 4th of July, so the owner threw a party at the hostel – unlimited jungle juice for 5$. Obviously, everyone in the hostel got drunk, and it was a nice first night there because it helped everyone get to know everyone else. But when people started going to bed, many of them were puking, which wasn’t an ideal backgroud noise for sleep.. Some random girl (random at the time) who I couldn’t even see her face complained that she can’t sleep cuz too many people are puking, so I gave her some ear plugs.

The next day I hung out at the hostel, just sitting at the tables, with my german friends and some other people, for a few hours, until we got unlazy enough to walk 2 minutes to the beach. We spent a few hours in the warm water and on the beach. I noticed there was some kind of unknown fruit that was falling everywhere from the trees onto the beach, so I asked some locals what it is and they told me it’s called an Almendra fruit and that’s it’s safe to eat, so I hunted for one that was ripe and tried it later and I’m not its biggest fan…. Later, when we were at the hostel, all of a sudden Bryan showed up! The guy from the hostel from a few days ago.. he decided to come join me 🙂 That night, I really didn’t feel like doing anything, I was ready to go to bed at 10:30pm so I just went to the bonfire on the beach to say goodnight to my friends, and am I glad I went there.. Two of the german guys and 2 other german girls wanted to go to some club that was down the street, so I joined them to check it out. We ended up staying until 2am, and the club was so much fun, it was outdoors and on the beach, so I was dancing shirtless and barefoot, and the music kept changing from reggae to house to hip hop to reggae to salsa to anything.. it was a great dancing night. And I met some Israelis at the club, and all of us who were dancing were doing it barefoot together, and I felt like I’ve been friends with these guys forever. Afterwards, we all went for a little swim in the sea and it was a beautiful starry night, which was even more beautiful watching from inside the sea at 3am.. Oh, I should mention that the reason that I really like one of the german guys is because he really reminded me of my best childhood friend Yali. The way he talked and behaved, and his general goodness and niceness and how he treated people – every time I looked at him I felt like my best friend was right there.  It was a little creepy 🙂

The next day was fairly similar – just being lazy around the hostel (outside of course) for a few hours, then go to the beach. At night, the German girls taught me an Israeli card game that israelis taught them. Also, it was so hot and humid all the time that I basically never ever wore a shirt, since it would get all soaked within 5 minutes anyway. So since my whole day was hammock -> sitting around with friends -> beach -> beach club, I was shirtless for over 24 hours. And anyone who knows me will know that for me this was a dream 😀  After a few days of traveling I just felt like I’m constantly sweaty and dirty, and I just got used to it, it didn’t bother me anymore 🙂 This night (Wednesday) I also got a free massage! The girl who borrowed my ear plugs two nights ago recognized me and told me that she just graduated from massage therapy, and as a thank you for letting her sleep, she massaged me for half an hour while we were playing cards. I think that was a fair deal. Later at night, some of us went to do a bonfire on the beach and then just laid aroud by the beach for a while. These few days have been a dream. Except for the 100+ mosquito and sandfly bites we all got. After spending a couple hours at the beach that night, my whole foot and leg was very dense polka dots..

Oh and sometime during my 3 days there, I decided to go to Bocas, Panama, and since the German guys were going too, we went together and became a group 😀

Lesson learned: don’t trust public transportation in central america too much

July 10, 2011 2 comments

After a long day of travel and many things going wrong, I’m safe in San Jose, waiting for my flight early tomorrow morning.  The plan for the day was simple: Wake up at 7, catch the 8am water taxi to bring me to Panama mainland by 8:30am, take a ground taxi to where the 10am bus should bring us across the border and all the way to San Jose by 3pm.  I needed to be here by 5pm so that I can go to the volunteer headquarters and pick up my luggage that I left behind. If I arrive too late, they would close and I wouldn’t be able to get my stuff before my flight… But everyone kept telling me that I will 100% get to San Jose by 4pm so I didn’t think there’s be any  problems.


First off, I woke up and looked at my clock to find out that it’s 7:58.  Two minutes until the boat is supposed to leave. I freak out for about 3 seconds, jump out of the top bunk onto the floor while scratching my whole leg on the wooden frame, put my flip flops on, grab my backpack and laundry bag, and start running. Lucky for me, it was raining too, so I slipped on my way out. I thought there is no way I would make it on time, but I just kept running because I had to try. At some point my right flip flop broke because of the running, so I continued running barefoot, which in hindsight was a better idea because I could go faster. I get to the water taxi station and I see the boat just leaving, and a few people waiting for the next one. This gave me a déjà vu… 2 weeks ago I missed my bus to Manuel Antonio by about 15 seconds and saw it leaving. I did not want that again. I ran to the dock and yelled at the boat driver to please come back, I begged and told him I NEED to be in San Jose today and I absolutely cannot miss the boat. He came back for me 🙂 Which sucks for everyone in the boat and for the people waiting for the next one….

So that somehow worked out. Next a taxi needed to drive us an hour away to the 10am bus. But the taxi driver wanted to get more money and fill his car with more people than it can fit, so he kept waiting around for more and more people, and we ended up leaving half an hour after we were supposed to. Luckily the drivers here are amazing, they can go at super high speeds on very shitty roads. So he got us there on time.  But then the 10am bus never showed up… there was 50 of us just waiting for the bus to San Jose, but after waiting for an hour, a few of us decided to stop waiting and took a taxi to the Costa Rican border.  If we hadn’t done that, I would not have gotten my luggage today. So I was very thankful that I decided not to wait for the bus, which apparently didn’t come for at least 2 more hours.

Sorry, this is getting boring, soooo long story short… All the buses took longer than what they told me, the schedules weren’t right, I had to take an indirect route to San Jose, pay a sketchy bus driver money that went to his pocket so that he’d let me stand the whole way on the bus because the bus was full and the next one was too late for me… but I’m here.

At the end, when I got here, I realized how important it is to fight for what you need.. if I hadn’t yelled at the boat to please come back for me, or hadn’t decided to leave the main group waiting for the bus, or hadn’t made a deal with the bus driver to let me on a full bus, or even if I’d stopped running when my flip flop broke – I would be flying without my luggage tomorrow…

Now I’m at a hostel 3 minutes from the airport, so there shouldn’t be too many problems tomorrow… hence that concludes my short trip. Can’t wait to have a hot shower when I get back :p

Beautiful islands are the last stop of my trip :(

July 10, 2011 Leave a comment

After doing a scuba lesson yesterday, today I checked out one of the many islands in Bocas.  This place is a large island, and there are many small islands around with different types of beaches and wildlife.  This morning I went with a few German girls from the hostel to Red Frog, which is one of the little islands. To get to any of these islands we have to take a water taxi. The beach there was beautiful (I know it’s getting old, but every beach I’ve seen here so far has been magnificent), but what really blew my mind was the waves there. I have never in my life seen waves even half as strong or tall as there.  Some of the waves would just push you 20-30 meters back, and they can reach up to around 4 meters high.  Bodysurfing on these waves was amazing as well, and so were the suns rays – we all got nicely burned 🙂  Except for jumping the waves, we also played some beach volleyball and I met a few Panamanian sisters who currently live in San Francisco, and I hang out with some Israelis I met on the boat ride there.  It’s sad though that every time I meet someone and start to like them, I have to say goodbye forever within a few hours or days 😦

At night, all the tourists in Bocas went to Aqua Lounge, which is a club on a tiny island. The whole island is just the club, which looks really cool, I’ve never seen anything like that. In the middle of the club they had a big hole in the ground which formed a kind of pool, and very drunk people just jumped into it (not really a pool because it was the caribbean). All of the dancing was right by the water, and everywhere in the club was surrounded by water, which created a very nice feeling all around. Another thing I love about clubs in this region is that this was the third time in a week that I danced in a club without a shirt and without shoes. I just put my flip flops in my pocket and my shirt around my waist, because it is way too hot even though it’s outdoors. And being half naked there is normal, which I love :p

Tomorrow morning (actually, in 4 hours) I have to leave to go back to San Jose, Costa Rica. After half a day of travelling, I should arrive there, check into some random hostel, hopefully enjoy my last night of my trip, and then at 8am the next day I’m flying back! 😦 I do NOT want to go back. I am not ready to end my trip. The last week, of only travelling, and especially since I started travelling alone, have been so much fun that I need some more of it…… but I have to start working in a couple weeks, and have lots to do before that, so I guess it’s time to go back! I can’t wait to go on my next trip, this has definitely opened up my appetite for travel!!  But now is bedtime since my bus leaves in a few hours..

Left Costa Rica for a few days, in Panama now!

July 9, 2011 Leave a comment

My few days at Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica have been literally some of the best days in my life, so I’ll have to write about them a different time when I’m more awake. When I was in Puerto Viejo, I heard of this city called Bocas in Panama that apparently has amazing beaches, good nightlife, and many beautiful islands. EVERYBODY in my hostel was either coming back from Bocas or planning on going there soon. So I decided to check out what the big fuss was about, and now I’m here 🙂

I travelled down here with 7 friends I made in Puerto Viejo –  4 really awesome German guys and 3 American girls.  The drive down was a little tough because I had to wake up at 8am and we got here around 2pm, and none of us had a sip of water or a bite of food all day.. Luckily I wasn’t drinking the night before like everyone else, so I wasn’t dealing with a hangover on top of that (I spent a wonderful calm night on the beach, but more on that next time :p)  I’m pretty sure that since I arrived to this island yesterday afternoon, I have been constantly sweating, with the exception of the time I spend under water (in shower/sea). It is so hot here that when I turn off the water in the shower, by the time I grab my towel I’m already feeling my face getting hot. And of course A/C is something unheard of in this country…I’m just used to always feeling gross and sticky and dirty, it’s part of the experience here 🙂 Apparently the hostel we chose is THE party hostel on the island. Having 50cent beer during happy hour and 1$ everything else really made this place popular. Basically everyone from all the other hostels was here, and then all 500 of us migrated to the same club.  It was playing reggae for the first couple hours, which was nice but I spent more time talking to people on the dock than dancing because I’m not Jamaican enough.. then all of a sudden they switched to American music and I could not stop dancing 😀

This morning (Friday) I tried getting some more cash.. very unsuccessfully. Panama is not quite as developed as Costa Rica… there is no running water (no shower, no toilet, no tap) at nights for example. And banks don’t do cash advances. And almost nowhere accepts credit cards as payment, and NOBODY can use a credit card without swiping it. Did I mention that calling 1-800 numbers from Panama, which should work worldwide, doesn’t work here for some reason? :S Soo that was a little problematic, since my only way of getting cash is doing a cash advance.. Anyway, so no more cash. Which didn’t stop me from doing the first day of a scuba diving certification. Getting scuba diving certified here is extremelllly cheap, only $225 (usually it’s at least 3 times that). And it takes three days, but I only have two days, so for a while I was thinking that I can just change my flight by one day and that way I’ll have time to do the course, but since I can’t get cash, I had to give up on that idea. But they offered the first day of the course for 60$ so I did that. And apparently usually the first day of scuba is like 8 hours long and is all theory only, but here they just talked to us for 20 minutes and then told us to put our gear on and jump in. I was scared shitless, I was in the water with my scuba gear but I had no clue how to go down and what to do, they were very unprofessional. But it was totally worth it, I got to do 2 dives for a total time of about 1.5 hours in the Caribbean. I even saw a shark! And a shipwreck!!! I’m kind of glad I’m not doing my full certification with them because they are very unsafe and amateurish, but nowhere else would have let me dive 12 meters deep for over an hour with practically no knowledge, so I’m glad I did it today 🙂 I definitely want to do the full scuba certification soon though because I loved it. There’s nice music playing downstairs so I guess it’s time to go join the rest of the hostel!

I’m in heaven!

July 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Haven’t had time to update in a few days… I arrived in Puerto Viejo, which is a beach town on the Caribbean sea, a couple days ago, and it was love at first sight. Travelling solo is great, I’ve made so many friends, I feel like I’m back in first year dorms in this hostel. There is so much to say just about the last two days, so I’ll keep that for the next post 🙂

After my last post, we went to do canopy/ziplining over the rainforests… and it was honestly one of the nicest sights I’ve ever seen in my life. Absolutely amazing views. There were 12 cables, most of which were fairly short and just took us from one treetop to another within the same mountain. But there were 3 extremely long cables that took us from one mountain to another, and while ziplining to the other mountain you are hundreds of meters above the rainforests, and you can see eveeeeeeerything around you.  It was a little scary at times because I was in the middle of the sky, only held by a rope onto a metal cable, but everything went fine 🙂  They also had a tarzan rope, which was the closest thing to bungee I’d ever do in my life. You are tied to a rope and have to jump off a platform into a valley, and then you just swing back and forth a few times. I screamed like a little girl for the first few seconds of the freefall. But luckily not many people could hear me :p  And as always – Brian the hostel owner made us pay way less than everyone else, and half the group there was Israelis..

When I got back from canopy, I went to a night tour in the cloudforest.  I saw some sloths, snakes, a tarantula, tiny little frogs the size of a fingernail, some cool spiders that camouflage as a stick, porcupines, microscopic bioluminescent mushrooms.. the mushrooms was pretty cool – if there is any light, it just looks like a piece of wood and you can’t see the mushrooms at all because of their tiny size, but in absolute darkness all you see is shining green. Too bad that stuff can’t be photographed 😦  It was also raining for about a full hour of the tour, which made the experience much more rainforest-y :p

The next morning I left Monteverde with Brittany, Lana, and Brian. Yup, he left his hostel and just came with us. Destination: La Fortuna, which is a city across a lake, where the famous Arenal volcano is located. To get there we had to drive down the mountains, take a ferry across the lake, then continue driving some more. Most people who have gone to see Arenal recently have had bad luck and very bad visibility, but luckily we had a few hours that were very uncloudy and we could see the whole volcano. At night we went to a hotspring resort (La Fortuna is known for its hotsprings), which was such a unique experience. The specific resort we went to only had 8 hotsprings, and the water in it are volcanic water, and some of these pools are HOOOOT! They even built a couple huge water slides into two of the springs, and there was a poolside bar in one of them… sitting there, on a bar stool inside a boiling hot hotspring, sipping cold water (didn’t have money so no alcohol :p ), hanging out with friends I just made that day in the hostel, was so relaxing. After spending 3 hours in there, I felt as relaxed as I would after a 3-hour massage. When we got back to the hostel, some of the other people went out to a club, but I was in such a calm mood that I just stayed in and met the other tourists. It was a great night.

A day earlier, I had mentioned to Brian that I really wanted to do rafting, and everyone told me that the best rafting in the country is in Pacuare river. It’s not really close to any city, so I never thought I’d take the time to go there and back, but Brian told me that he can arrange a shuttle to pick up us from where we are, bring us to do rafting, and then drop me off at Puerto Viejo – the next city I wanted to visit. It was more than perfect! Pick me up, raft me up, and drop me off at my next destination. So anyway, the next morning we got up super early and went to the Pacuare river. Everyone was right – it was the best rafting I’ve ever done (out of my 4 times). There was never more than a minute of calm water in between rapids, and some of the rapids actually scared me. The absolute highlight of the day was when at one rapid, our 6-person raft got stuck in a whirlpool and we couldn’t get out of it for about 2 minutes. Our raft kept rocking back and forth, at one point we were 100% vertical and I had to hang on to the top like in Titanic, and at another point our whole raft was flooded and I was sure we were all going to fall out. Also, since we were the first raft, the other 3 rafts behind us arrived at the whirlpool while we were still in it, so they all crashed into us and there were paddles flying everywhere and people falling off and rafts being in very awkward positions – it was by far the best 2 minutes of my day. What made it even better is that our raft guide fell too, so those of us who stayed on had no idea what we should do :p Oh, and our raft guide is married to a girl form London, Ontario who went to Waterloo! Small world 🙂

After rafting was over, my friends and Brian went back to San Jose and I started my solo adventure – I was heading to a beach town on the Caribbean side! I was a little scared and veryyyyy excited. Ah, my money situation! I noticed that I’m starting to run out of money on Saturday, and then the problems began.. remember that my emergency credit card doesn’t work at ATMs, I have to go to an actual bank. But all banks were closed until Monday, so I had to start being careful with my little money. Then I realized that on Monday I’m going rafting and by the time I’m done banks are closed, so I actually needed my money to last me until Tuesday. Luckily I was with a local (Brian) so he always knew the cheapest options for everything and got me discounts on everything, and by the end of Sunday night I had 6$ left.  That needed to last me for food and shelter until Tuesday morning when the bank opens. It was a little difficult but I made it work out. I want to go to the beach now so.. more coming later!

$6 for the next 36 hours….

July 4, 2011 Leave a comment

So somehow I ended up in this interesting situation, where I only have 6$ to last me until Tuesday morning 🙂  But no time to blog right now, I have to be up in 5 hours and ready to tackle a full day of physical activity.  It’ll be fun :p

In Monteverde – in the bestest hostel!!!

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Lana, Brittany and I took the 6:30am bus yeserday, and after less than short 5 hours arrived at paradise 🙂 Well, as much as paradise can be in the mountains, away from civilization, in a developing country. When I made a reservation at the hostel, the hostel owner Brian told me he’d pick us up from the bus station. The moment we got off the bus, Brian found us and brought us to the hostel, which was about a 1 minute walk.. and he asked me right away if I’m Israeli because of my accent. Apparently there are TONS of Israelis in Costa Rica – allll he hostels have Hebrew in them! The hostel itself is really cute – it’s just a little house that hey transformed into a hostel, so all the rooms are kinda private. We have a room with our own bathroom and shower. And the beds are the most comfortable beds I’ve slept on since I left Canada, and the shower has semi-warm water, for the first time too!! And it’s just 7$ 🙂

So after Brian brought us to the hostel, he took us out to lunch, and then took us to do ATVs (all terrain vehicles) around the mountains for a few hours. It was a lot of fun, Lana and Brian almost flipped their vehicle twice.. once it was near a cliff so they were pretty close to dying….. we were just driving along the mountains, it was so beautiful, at one point we were on the peak of a mountain and could see all the cloud forests around us. This country has so many forests, so much amazing natural beauty. When we got back, Brian (again – the hostel owner) went grocery shopping with us and cooked us dinner – and it was the best meal I’ve had so far! He’s extremely nice, it’s the best hospitality that we could ever imagine.

After dinner, a few other friends of ours were supposed to arrive, but they couldn’t find the hostel so they went to a different one. When we told Brian what happened, he offered to let them sleep here for free because they already paid at the other hostel. I cannot describe how much I like the guy.  He also knows EVERYBODY in this town, so he gets us discounts for all the activities we do because everyone is a friend of his.  The other people at this hostel are: a German guy, a couple, and 3 Israeli guys. The 3 Israelis are traveling all of Central and South America for 6 months, I am so jealous. And I like everyone here, they’re all so friendly and fun to talk to! Anyway, after dinner Brian went to the store and got us rum and coke (even though I hate coke, but it was still very nice of him) and then took us out to 2 local bars.  We ran into our other friends at the bar so it was a pleasant evening.

On our walk back home from the bar, two stray dogs followed us home. There are soo many stray dogs in Costa Rica, and they’re all very well behaved and love people. Last week at Manuel Antonio there were always a few cute dogs around the hostel, and there was the one dog that followed us to dinner and to the bar. So this time these two dogs came home with us, and one of them stayed in our room when we went to sleep 🙂 Apparently we were very tired, because Brittany and I fell asleep with the lights on, and I was lying on top of my blanket, so I wasn’t even intending on sleeping… :S  and when Lana got home later with Brian, she couldn’t get into the room because the door locks automatically and Brian didn’t have an extra key, so they banged on the door and yelled at us, and eventually had to break in using a butcher knife and a wrench, but Brittany and I never woke up…..

We’re going to do a canopy (zipline) tour soon, at the company that is supposed to be the best in Costa Rica, so I’m really excited!! And scared!! We were supposed to go at 10:30am but somehow our reservation got screwed up so we have to wait until the afternoon. I just hope it doesn’t rain super hard, cuz that’s around the time of day that it superrains here.  The Israelis told me that they did canopy at other countries and this one was by far the best! I can’t waitttt apparently it’s all at a height of several 100s meters above the forests, and there is even an optional tarzan rope!! And Brian is of course getting us a discount, we’re paying 5$ less than what the other people here paid 🙂  Ah there are so many animals here, we saw monkeys in the backyard of the hostel! And there are weird insects crawling in and out of our room alll the time, I’ve gotten used to it, I’m not freaking out about them anymore :p