The Airport Ordeal

viva colombia flightI will give you a piece of advice: if you are flying into Panama from Colombia or anywhere else, be prepared to demonstrate that you plan to leave Panama.  You will need a plane or bus ticket that shows onward travel.  At the airport in Cartagena, I was not allowed to board a plane to my connecting flight in Bogota without being able to show that I planned to leave Panama.  I was told that it was Panamanian law that I show this.  My two friends missed their flight and connecting flight while we dealt with all of this.  They ended up having to buy new tickets which cost them hundreds of dollars.  I was on a later flight so I didn’t miss mine.  We ultimately all had to buy tickets for flights out of Panama.  We would have had to use the tickets or just lose hundreds of dollars trying to get out of Colombia but we had some good fortune.  After spending a few days in Panama City we finally all got back to my house just a few minutes north of the Panamanian border, in Costa Rica.  There we found that, luckily, my house had been burgled.  One of the reasons that we could cancel our flights for a full refund was for burglary of my residence.  I completed the necessary paperwork and had a police report written up.  I got all of the money refunded for my Panamanian onward flight.  I only lost the $25 or so for insurance. Two friends from Costa Rica, who were on a trip  parallel to mine, had a similar situation trying to fly from Bogota to Panama city.  They purchased onward tickets and then contacted their bank to explain.  Bank of America agreed to refund the charges. I recommend buying  a flight or bus ticket in advance. If you don’t know when you will leave Panama, doctor a document.  Make it look real.

Have you been through this before? How did you handle it?

Check back next week when I’ll post advice on the right way to be robbed in Costa Rica.

panama airport

Cali Cartagena


road to cristo rey
Large art piece found on the road to Cristo Rey

Hotel Colours – I stayed at this hotel in Cali. To view their website, click here.   Their phone number is +572 680 6885. The address is Calle 23 No. 2-22, Santiago de Cali.  I enjoyed my time at this hotel because of the staff.    They were all very friendly and really seemed to care that the guests were happy.  I arrived very late but they helped me order takeout.  They even waited for the food to get there at around 1am so that I wouldn’t have to sit out in the lobby.  They called taxis that gave fair prices and I saw them accompany two female guests to find a taxi so that they wouldn’t have to walk alone at night.  The hotel was as bright and clean as you can see in pictures on their website.  The hotel is a bit outside the city center past some car shops and other miscellaneous businesses.  Be prepared to always take taxis at night.  I even considered it during the day.  Also, there was some confusion about my room. Several guests and I were moved to different dorms on two occasions.  If the staff hadn’t been so friendly I would have been more upset.  They have a ways to go to become better organized.

Feria de la Salsa – I neither know nor have much interest in learning how to dance salsa.  But I spent much of my trip with friends who were interested in that.  The feria was not exactly what I had anticipated.  I thought that I would see a lot more dancing in the street.  What I got instead was a series of music and dance performances with people watching while swaying side to side. Only a few people really danced.  That is not to say that it wasn’t fun.  There were plenty of places to buy food and drinks and the best dancing could be seen outside the performance areas.  Walking around, I saw gas station parking and refueling areas transformed into dance floors with music blasting from car trunks.  The most fun part was the foam fight.  I didn’t even have a gun but enough other people did to make it a blast.  The foam fights took place in the street but outside the performance spaces.  What I enjoyed so much was everyone’s good nature about being hit with the foam.  Even people, like myself, who came unprepared just responded with a laugh and a smile.  I like seeing things be that pura vida.

OJO: A friend was pickpocketed at the feria.  Leave valuables at home or keep them very close.


Cali Zoo – Nope, it’s not the San Diego, Cali zoo.  But the Cali, Colombia zoo still gives the San Diego Zoo a run for its money.  The animals all looked happy and healthy to me.  There’s an argument to be made about keeping animals in captivity but when I see them in zoos it draws my attention to their existence and makes me want to know more about them.  If you have a free day in Cali, check out the zoo.  Being at the zoo and walking a bit of the neighborhood around it felt like being in some city in the US.  If you want to live outside the US but have some feelings of being home, look into that area.   Seeing people running the trails outside, families buying overpriced souvenirs, and a number of nearby townhouses made it all feel like home to me.


Cristo Rey – The Cristo Rey is a large statue depicting Christ. It stands 26 meters tall with the  pedestal included.  Christ the Redeemer in Brasil is 38 meters tall including the pedestal.  Around the Cristo Rey are flags from many different countries and a wide view of the town below.   It is free to visit if you have transportation. I went with a private driver. His name was Alexander Vargas. He can be reached on WhatsApp at 316 622 1840 or by email at  He drove a late model, mid-sized sedan with A/C and turned on WiFi hotspot on request. You can ask him to stop for you to take pictures of the large art pieces carved into the hillside on the way up to the statue.

OJO: Two girls from my dorm  at Colours decided to walk down from the statue and were robbed on the road. You can sometimes find officers guarding the road but not always.  On this occasion men came out of the bushes with machetes/large knives and took everything they could from a group of about 5 tourists.  Both girls were pretty shaken up.  Talking to them informed my decision to go in a car.



Walled City – I stayed inside the walled city but there was more to see and do outside.  There is a nearby beach which I didn’t make it to.  In and around the center there are bars, restaurants and shops.  I stayed out late in Cartagena and was not alone. There are plazas both in and outside the walled city where people hang out all night. Cold beer is sold on the street as well as abundant street meat. Bars and clubs were also open but it was much more fun to have a cold drink, eat some unhealthy food and people watch.


San Felipe de Barajas Castle – The castle is a short distance from the city center.  I had a lot of fun taking pictures of it and the city of Cartagena as seen from atop the castle.  You can explore the castles many dark tunnels and passageways alone or with a tour guide picked up just outside.  It seemed to me that there were supposed to be lights in certain areas of the castle where there were none.  In the middle of a bright, sunny day, it was impossible to see my hand in front of my face while walking some of the passages.  While it was a blast to run around in the dark with my friends like we were little kids, a flashlight would have helped.

Have you been to these places or are you planning to go?  Tell me about it.

Check back next week when I’ll post about the airport ordeal.

Colombia: Bogota

Wow. What a Place.  I really enjoyed my trip to Colombia.  I noticed there was a distinct lack of North Americans in the country.  Most of the travelers I came across were European or from another South American countries. I can’t help but wonder if the old stories of drug cartels ruling the country are still stuck in people’s minds.  These days, the big cities are safe to explore.  There are still problems in the countryside but that shouldn’t deter you from making a visit.  If price is a concern, try flying to a closer country and then going to Colombia from there.  Plane tickets are high from the US but not from other Latin American countries.

I visited a few places During the week that I was there.  A week-long trip makes for a quick pace if you want to go to several areas of the country. I visited Bogota, Cali and Cartagena, flying between each one. I will make 2-3 posts to tell you about the things I saw and did there.

It was really tempting to enter Colombia by trekking through the Darien Gap. I’m sure it would have been a breeze. However, I chose to start my trip by flying into Bogota from Panama City, Panama. I went with Viva Colombia.  It’s a budget airline that flies in and around Colombia. Round trip flights to Bogota can be as cheap as $120 from Panama. Being a budget airline, there are no frills and bag weight limits.  The flights leave Panama from a smaller less well known airport. It is possible to get there but it’s a pricey taxi ride from the Albrook terminal as there is no direct bus.  For the adventurous or the poor, you have another option.   If you get a knowledgeable taxi driver, he can help you piece together a trip to the airport that will only cost you about $5. It has a lot of moving parts which include rides in a taxi, collective buseta, Diablo Rojo, and another taxi.  Be careful as you save money this way.  If starting in Panama, you can spend a little bit more by flying Avianca which offers some convenience.  Avianca flies out of the main airport and gives a free drink on international and some domestic flights.

Bogota is a big city.  It has a population that’s similar to that of New York City. Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own though. When you leave the airport, there will be plenty of people offering to drive you to where you need to go. Just beyond those people are the public buses.  Pick up a free Bogota map and ask for directions from one of the attendants at the tourism desk inside the airport.  Many who will spend a night in Bogota stay in Barrio La Candelaria.

DSC_2385Barrio La Candelaria.  It’s easy to get to via public transportation.   This area offers various hostel options. It’s one of the main reasons to go there. On top of that, the area is beautiful and filled with old colonial style buildings. Many of hostels were converted from those very same old buildings. There are also several museums in the area with low entrance fees. I went around the Christmas holiday and found many to be closed. The one or two that I was able to enter were worth it. Several pedestrian walkways and plazas give you the option of people watching. Food options are plentiful when you’re on the right street as well as pubs for a beer.

IMG_20141230_172215Cerro Monserrate is a hopping attraction located within a moderate walking distance of the Candelaria neighborhood.  It is a lookout point up a hill that provides sweeping views of downtown Bogota.  At the top you will also find souvenir shops, food stalls, a chapel and a few other businesses.  Take a camera on this outing to capture the amazing view and a jacket to shield you from the cold and wind.  Also take some money. The attraction fee before 5:30pm is about $8.00 and $9.00 after. You may also want to spend on a souvenir or a hot beverage.   One of the most important things to take is patience. I waited in line for over an hour before reaching the gondola that would take me up to the top of the cerro.  That’s because the bulk of the people show up in the evening to be there for sunset and into the night.  It was indeed quite beautiful to see that large city lit up beneath me.

IMG_20141228_142512Catedral de Sal  is located about an hour outside Bogota in the town of Zipaquira.  I only went there because I had a few extra hours to kill in/around Bogota before going to the airport. I made my way to the cathedral by bus and taxi. If you’re comfortable navigating in Spanish, it’s not a bad option. Otherwise, there are plenty of folks at the airport and hostels who can arrange private transportation.  I was pleasantly surprised by the place. A tour guide is included in the entry fee. Large groups(several dozen people) all enter at once. It can be difficult to hear the guide so, if you want to learn about the history and meaning, stick to the front of the group.  According to the guide, the decommissioned salt mine was involved in a contest to turn it into some sort of attraction. Many people submitted ideas and the winner was the cathedral. Inside there are many depictions of crosses, carved completely out of salt. You can get up close to them for pictures. I was in a hurry so I listened to most of the tour and then ran around quickly on my own to snap a few photos. Inside there is also a souvenir shop and light show.  When I left the mine to go back to the town of Zipaquira, I walked. It was a nice walk and gave me a chance to see some more of a quaint town. It’s only about 30 minutes down.

Check back soon for a few details about the rest of my trip when I visited Cali and Cartagena.

Costa Rica TEFL Jobs

IMG_9679Many people are looking for English teaching opportunities.

This is a list of international schools, volunteer centers, and language institutes in Costa Rica. Not all of them list open positions but you never know when one could open up. I bet an email, phone call, or in person visit could go a long way with some of these schools.

Some positions are paid, some are not. I have excluded certification course offerings and volunteer opportunities with high program costs.

Please leave a comment if you contact or already work for one of the organizations below. I would love to hear about your experiences.

Let me know if I missed any organizations and check back often as I update the list.

Berlitz – PAID
Location: San Jose, San Pedro, Sabana, Santa Ana
Tel: +506 2253-9191
Notes: classes offered to children, adults, and individuals

Centro Panamericano de Idiomas
Location: San Joaquin de Flores Heredia
Tel: +506 2645-5441 ext 120
Notes: Part time, contact Yessenia Montoya

Centro Cultural Britanico – PAID
Location: Barrio Escalante
Tel: +506 4030-4829
Notes: British English

Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano – PAID
Location(s): San Pedro, Sabana Norte, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia
Tel: + 2207-7500
Notes: classes for children and adults (IF SOMEONE SAYS Centro Cultural, THEY’RE PROBABLY TALKING ABOUT THIS ONE)

Centro Cultural Corporacion – PAID
Location(s): San Jose, San Pedro, Cartago, Jaco, La Guacima, Turrialba
Tel: +506 2256-8556

Centro Educative de Cobano Las Ardillitas
Location: Cobano Puntarenas
Tel: +506 2642-0627

Centro Internacional de Idiomas – PAID
Location: San Jose
Tel: +506 2233-2615

English 2 Go
Tel: +506 2261-6070
Notes: adult learners

Escuela Verde
Location(s): Costa Ballena Puntarenas
Tel: +506 8703-5396

Golden Valley School
Location: San Isidro Heredia
Tel: +506 2268 9114

Idioma Internacional – PAID
Location: Paseo Colon San Jose
Tel: +506 2256-6565

Intercultura -PAID
Location: Heredia
Tel: +506 2260 8480
Notes: 1 year contract, Visa not offered

Languages for Life
Location: Zarcero, Cobano, Monteverde, Sardinal, Playa del Coco
Tel: +506 2292-5271
Notes: adult learners – hotel staff, contact Jessica Rodriguez

Los Santos Learning Centers – VOLUNTEER
Location: Copey de Dota, San Lorenzo de Tarrazú, San Pablo de León Cortés
Notes: 6 month commitment, homestay with meals provided

Oceana Idiomas
Location: Sabana Norte
Notes: Part time, contact Arturo Vargas

Peace Corps Response
Location: Costa Rica
Tel: +1 (855) 855-1961
Notes: some positions require RPCV status

Pro Language – PAID
Location: San Jose
Tel: +506 2280-6053
Notes: adult learners, 4 month minimum

Samara Pacific School
Location: Samara
Tel: +506 2656-0897
Notes: elementary school only

Sarapiqui Conservation Learning Center – VOLUNTEER
Location: Sarapiqui de Heredia
Tel: +506 2761 2082
Notes: room and board provided for long term volunteers. Intermediate Spanish helpful

Location: Santa Ana Escazu
Tel: +506 4034-4117
Notes: Evening hours, contact Adrian

Whittemore de Costa Rica – Paid
Location: San Jose
Tel: +506 2290-0837
Notes: adult learners, in person interview/hiring only

Sun, Slopes, and the City: a perfect vacation trifecta.

A common question I hear is: What should I do while in Costa Rica?

It can be both the simplest question to ask and the most difficult to answer. My favorite vacation idea for Costa Rica is the poly-amorous marrying of sun, slopes, and the city.

The Sun

Playa del Coco

Costa Rica doesn’t lack for sunshine. The country has over 900 miles of coastline so finding a place to tan your cheeks shouldn’t be difficult. The port city of Puntarenas is located just over an hour drive from the capital of San Jose but it’s about the worst beach town to visit so it’s worth it to keep going. A little farther and you can find the popular towns of Quepos and Manuel Antonio. This is where I chose to go for my last beach vacation. The area offers the beach, zip lining, and Manuel Antonio Park where there are private beaches and white faced and howler monkeys. For that trip I rented a two story 2/2 condo in the Hacienda Pacifica Condo community. At only $125 it was a steal for two couples splitting the cost. When headed to this area, don’t forget to stop along the famed Tarcoles bridge to see giant crocodiles sunning themselves just below. Other sunny spots of Costa Rica include Montezuma, Tamarindo, and Playa del Coco on the Pacific coast and Tortuguero, Puerto Viejo, and Cahuita on the Caribbean side.

The Slopes

IMG_0561For years I have been of the opinion that if it would just snow in Costa Rica the mountain slopes would provide for some great skiing. While there’s no snow, there is still plenty to be enjoyed. The Poas volcano is located a short ride north of San Jose and makes for a great day trip. After a quick walk up the side of the volcano, you’ll be able to peer down at the blue lagoon in the crater below. Keep in mind that the lagoon is not always visible as the area is prone to heavy fog. My favorite volcano to visit is Arenal. On a clear day you can see the perfect cone shaped top as it hovers over the town of La Fortuna. From the porch of my cabina at Erupciones Inn, I had a perfect view. To be fair, I spent very little time looking at the volcano. There is just so much more to do in the area. You can find hanging bridges, hiking tours, horseback riding, kayaking, waterfalls, and hot springs-o-plenty. My last trip to the hanging bridges afforded me a glimpse of an owl and spider monkeys. The Baldi hot springs are a popular place or you can find your way to the free hot spring fed river. If you have time to venture a bit to the north of La Fortuna, head over to Rio Celeste. The brilliant blue water is unforgettable.

The City

Basilica de los AngelesThe advice most people give about going to San Jose is, don’t. However, I think it’s worth it to spend one or two days there. Malls such as Multiplaza Escazú and Lincoln Plaza are very modern and could rival any mall in the US.  (Insider tip: Lincoln Plaza has about two dozen rocking chairs up on the second floor overlooking the first. People watching has never been so comfortable.) San Jose also has a bustling downtown.  I am from a large city in the states but the thick mix of people running every direction along Avenida Central and street vendors yelling out offers is quite a sight to see. If you are lucky, the police will show up and you will get to see the unlicensed street vendors pack up and make haste to escape. In San Jose you can also visit the Mercado Central for souvenirs, Plaza de la Cultura for people watching and pigeon feeding, and the museums and theaters found a short walk from the Plaza .  Just west of downtown, on the outskirts of Sabana Park, is the Costa Rican Art Museum which is housed in the old La Sabana Airport.  Entrance is free.  A thirty minute drive to downtown Cartago will allow you to visit Las Ruinas and the Basilica de los Angeles. Both of these locations have a great history.

Has anyone taken a vacation with this combination of activities?  Would you like to? Leave a comment to let me know if I’ve missed any important stops.

Boruca: The Friendliest People I’ve Ever Met


One of the best New Years celebrationthat I have enjoyed in recent years took place in the Costa Rican indigenous territory of Boruca.  Located just south of Buenos Aires, this town can be found off the main highway about an hour bus ride on a dirt road.  I went to the town to experience the Baile de los Diablos or Dance of the Devils. This celebration, observed from Dec 30-Jan 2, stands to commemorate resistance of Spanish colonization by the Boruca people. Men from the community dawn  devil masks to represent the indigenous and are bowled over by one man dressed as a bull(the Spanish). This act is repeated as the men move from house to house in the town.  At the end of the celebration, the devils rise up in revolt against the bull and burn it. Cool stuff, right?

IMG_9474The coolest thing to me and what left the greatest impression was the people.  They were friendlier than expected at every turn. First, I showed up to spend three days at the wrong house. The family immediately started preparing bedrooms for my friends and I. When we realized the mistake, the family called the right people for us and showed us to the right location. At the new location, we didn’t have a kitchen so the owners invited us over for lunch.  This was one of three occasions where people offered me food when they had only known me for a day or two.  I found a band playing instruments on a patio, including the always-in-style accordion,  and they had no problem with me sitting down to listen to their jam session.  I have many more examples of people’s friendliness from the few short days I stayed there. I even shared a moment with strangers in the street  when we all witnessed a dozen lights floating up into the sky.  I’m sure that they were sky lanterns. The people swore that they were UFOs and couldn’t be convinced otherwise. But, who cares? The  moment was special for all of us. 


This is a place worth visiting for the festival and much more. You can taste homemade chicha(corn alcohol) There is a small museum with artifacts and photos from half a century ago. You can hike to rivers and waterfalls. A simple cabin for 3 people with a private bath only costs $10 per night. Street meat is sold during the festival.  The devil masks are famous throughout the country but this place offers the originals directly from the artisans.

And to top it all off: It’s possible that the Boruca are the friendliest people I’ve ever met.  I wonder if all the chicha has something to do with it.


The Perks and Problems of the Costa Rican Countryside

Living in the countryside (or campo as it’s known here) vs the city center or beach communities has its ups and downs. Here are 3 reasons why I live in the countryside and 3 reasons why I’m ready to move.

3 Reasons why I live in the Costa Rican countryside

To quote Aristotle, “The best part of waking up is single source Costa Rican coffee in your cup.” It’s some of the most delicious coffee in the world and it grows ten steps from my front door.  If you’re lucky, you will have a neighbor with a micro brew who supplies you with free coffee.

Cheap Rent
As I type this, I can’t help but sing the words ‘cheap, cheap rent’ to the tune of Red, Red Wine. If you don’t need to live in a house that’s floating on the waters of the Pacific Ocean, you can save a lot in rent. I live in a comfortable 1 bedroom apartment for $90 per month with utilities included. I could have a nice 2-3 bedroom house for $150 in the same town.  You wont find these prices on any website so you have to put in some footwork to find them once you land here.

Authentic Tico Experience
Most Ticos don’t live in condos or gated communities along the coast of Puntarenas or Guanacaste. The easiest way to get a feel for the real culture and learn the language is to go where the Ticos are. The  campo provides that opportunity at a low cost.  I’m glad that I have so many Tico friends and that I’m comfortable communicating with each one.  You can always jump in the car for a trip down to the beach and even stay at the nicest hotels with all that money you save by not living there full time.

3 Reasons why I’m ready to move

It’s not so much English as it is the lack of English.  Sometimes I want to just sit down face to face with a friend and fluently speak English until my voice box hates me. Having no native speakers  within 25 kilometers means that I can’t just walk out of my house at any moment and do that.

It gets pretty cool up here in the mountains where I live and the homes don’t have heaters. I can live in the campo outside of the mountains and may sing this same tune about the heat but I’m willing to take the chance.

It’s true, I only pay $90 per month in rent. But, I also live more than 20 kilometers from the nearest bank, 50k from the nearest beach, and 90k from the capital. If that sounds awful, you would be wise to live in the campo only a few kilometers from a moderately sized city.

What do you think you would love or hate the most about living in the countryside of a foreign country? Leave a comment below.