Sunday, May 31, 2009

why save the money? keep it in the coffin?

I cutted myself from the cable during the canopy ride where i only used one hand to held on to the safety line and the other hand tried to reach out for the camera, trying to share a moment with you.

along the way, rain just stopped.

The following ‘diary’ below you might find it boring to read; else you can skip to chapter X.

We didn’t know what to do in La Fortuna as we heard there were many things to do here. Many came here to view Volcano Arena.

It was actually a short distance from San Jose to La Fortuna but we stopped at a recommended nursery and garden to look for export opportunities. The manager was helpful to recommend us another nursery, because they only do fresh flower cutting export.

We rode to the other town which was along the way to La Fortuna, asked around with our fifty cents Spanish and managed to locate the nursery after some wrong turns, dirt roads and lonely avenues. Well, this nursery does not do export but do have a very good collections of Bromeliads and the manager gave me their supplier’s contact which was in China. BINGO!

We tried to stop for lunch as we could see the dark clouds approaching. After a 2 hours lunch break, which was not usual for us, we rode into the countryside of Costa Rica.

good attitude! thou it was raining in san jose, the workers still continues.

The day’s ride was lucky as we could also stop for a coffee break while another cloud of rain started to pour. Even after we had our shower in the hostel, it started raining again. The dinner was with an elderly American couple traveling with their yacht from North America to Panama. They anchored their yacht in Panama and took a bus here. 36 months was their traveling period. Not for us being in the waters….

We spend the next day going around the area and found the best place to view the active volcano. Paid 4000 colones and we could walk around the resort, attached was a huge hiking area while we could hear the boiling of the volcano.

Dusk approached with clear view of few red hot lava rocks thrown out from the volcano entrance. I wondered if there were any ants crawling around that area. We have to ride in the really dark dirt road back to our hostel. Couldn’t afford to stay in that resort. It was about 8 times the cost of our current lodging.

that was the most we could see and get into our camera.

this is what the volcamo suppose to looked like at the peak season, we do not have the luck. we always get attracted by such posters to visit the place.

We headed to Costa Rica’s most favorite and touristic area: Monteverde where it settled one of the world most famous cloud forest and tropical wildlife watching area. This place was flooded with North American visitors and immigrants. From our budget, we would squeeze out S$50 for the park entrance as I always would not say no for nature watching. We packed our sandwich and drinking water for the hike as I knew that a plate of local food (rice, beans, 100gms of meat and vegetable) in the park would cost US$9.00 (S$14.00) each.

these people are really curious. like some visitors coming to singapore viewing the durian tree. ok, we were one of them, looking at the blue bird singing on the tree.

Waking up early (not usual for me) to catch the bus, we walked in the park quietly hoping to spot some unusual wildlife BUT noisy group that walked with their guide we like marching troops on their morning run. Guide was cheap (for some visitors would consider) where it cost US$17 per person. So 2 of us would need to pay for one guide, talking to 2 people at cost of US$34.

Sometimes I would overhear the explanation of the guide to the visitors, which I think I could do a bit better than them. We walked for 4 hours and sad to say, Bukit Timah hill and Pulau Ubin of Singapore would be able to charge US$100 for the entrance.

Anyway, I felt what I wrote from the above is boring. If you feel that such writing is boring please feel so. Writing about what I do, what time at where, who we met, how much it cost…. I think it is boring… sorry for the non-intelligence blogging for the above. Leave me a comment that if you would like to read about what we do, where we went OR our feelings, our findings and observations.

----------Chapter X----------

hmm, what I would share more is the life here:

Costa Rica is about 40% the size of west Malaysia with population of 4 million. This place is flooded with North American coming here for retirement or settlement as Costa Rican was generally peace loving human beings. Crime does happen but not as much as other Central America countries.

Sam preparing.

Prices of food here is affordable, again not for us. A family eatery with furniture and decorations from the 60s would be similar to the price of S$6.50. It is not that kind of fancy eatery where tourist or foreigner would go. For S$6.50, we were served with a rice, beans, raw vegetables and about 100grams of meat with a glass of fizzy drink. That’s the price for 1 portion. Else, we have the option to eat fried chicken, the cheapest food here which cost S$1.50 for a wing only. Not a wing that is as big as Honda Goldwing but a CHICKEN WING.

We went to the supermarket to buy food to cook and certainly we could only afford chicken only. If u want to know about the price of meat here, let me know and I will go and survey tomorrow and give u the actual price. I do not know how much it cost in detail but 1 KG of pork would cost not lesser than S$10.

How do the folks survive? I don’t know. Then I read from a travel book, that the author spoke to some North Americans setting up business here, complaining about their Costa Rican staff, saying:

‘These people just don’t like to work, they are just lazy.’

They came here to share the pie or set up business to ‘snatch’ away customer from the locally grown company own by Costa Ricans and yet they would complaint about the staff (Costa Ricans) they had.

Hey, this is Latin America. Is it because there are too much foreigners coming here to live and the government had tax on all products and made the cost of living higher? Making us, the Asian, coming here and feel like spending the money as expensive in northern Europe?

19% tourist tax imposed on every tourist business including lodging and restaurants. Usually they would include the price of food and room with the tax.

Coming to Monteverde, Costa Rica’s most populated touristic area, we had to ride Hope Too 40km of real dirt road with some motocross obstacle that include mud slide, rocks pour in blind corner, hide and seek holes that will sent Hope Too into state of coma. Then the only paved road here is in the town only, in total that is less than 1km paved road.

Most of the major roads in Costa Rica were paved but I do accept the fact that unpaved road would happen to villages where traffic is not heavy but this place, Monteverde is populated with tourist! Where does the 19% tourist tax go? After 10 nights in Costa Rica, the only police we saw on the road was:

1) 1st night where the policemen were in their truck, stopping by a group of guys hanging out at a dark corner shaking hands with them.
2) San Jose: sitting in their Toyota Hilux watching people
3) On the way to La Fortuna, a road leading to a small village where the police set up road block.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the policemen are not working here or they are lazy or crime rate is high. Maybe the country is so safe that they do not need many policemen around BUT why would a fast food restaurant, book store or electronic shop need an ARMED SECURITY GUARD WITH PUMP GUNS or SUBMACHINE GUNS?

this is what they call a taxi ride.

In San Jose, while walking back from the embassy, we passed by a shop selling hand guns, knife and stuff like that. I walked in, browsed around the shelf and saw a Negro man, with the Bob Marley hairstyle and big gold bracelet and necklace checking the handguns with the owner, like in those Hollywood movies where they made some gun check without the bullet. How would you feel? Anyone here could buy arms and what kind of people are they?

Again, don’t get me wrong about the black man I saw, it doesn’t mean the outlook seems that he is a bad person or he might be organizing some crime, he might be a government official coming to this shop to make sure everything runs well.

Last night after dinner, we met an Asiatic looking girl in the Hostel. She was born in Taiwan and raised in Canada. Her name was Jennifer Wu Wan Ping. 吴婉萍. This was the first time I met a person along the trip that had the same surname as me. Jennifer shared with me that when she went back to Taiwan and spoke to the folks with her Mandarin mixed slang with English, the Taiwaness mistaken her for being a Singaporean. We also met Mauricio, a Costa Rican coming here for holidays. He shared with me a lot of views and internal affairs of the country:

Costa Rica is known as the Switzerland of Central America and they feel that how Singapore runs the country is worth an example.

Costa Rica is trying to make a free trade agreement with Singapore.

Costa Rican need not do national service because they do not have an army! Why a country would needs an army? The main reason is to defense. If every country in this world does not have army, then who will we be defending against?

War? If there are no valid reasons for a war the UN and USA would step in to help the armless country.

i will post a video on this, flying across the forest.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

country 30: costa rica

The nice little place we stayed in Panama, Boquete. we had our own room, Hope Too just 3 meters away from our door, other travelers came here just go back to their room as we need not answer to their questions. we have our own privacy here.

A garden of a private property opened to the public. we were allowed to enter and roam freely around the property except for their house.

We have to pass by this 'gate' when we ride towards Boquete. There will be some unknowned liquid sprayed onto all passing vehicles. I guess it must be some hygenie control. I made a bypass, had this kind of treatment in Turkey-Greece border. Not once but 3 times at the same gate. We went into the greece border (1st time), the custom officer said we have to go to the Turkey border to purchase an insurance so we rode back, there isn't any bypass like this so again, 2nd time. after buying, we went back to the Greece border, (3rd time). Maybe the European union want to keep Asians being clean when entering the Continent. If Singapore-Malaysia border is going to implement this, i would be the first to do a rain coat rental business there.

We were lost upon entering Costa Rica. It was raining and there wasn't a soul on this path. We continued the rocky path and had a fall. Hope Too stepped onto a series of big rocks. Luckily we met some villagers that guided the way. Imagine if there were some bandits hiding in the bush, we wound not be able to make a quick stop, U-turn or speed up.

The road leading to San Jose passed alot of national parks, rivers and rainforest.

Pineapple plantation. It lasted for about 15-20km along the highway.

These granite spheres left by pre-Columbian cultures were scattered all around the town of Palmar Sur.

More of them.

Our first place to visit in Costa Rica is this world-renowned Wilson Botanical Gardens, residing over 5000 species of tropical plants, orchids, epiphytes and trees. Hosting 331 bird species. This garden also held the number 2 ranking in the world for having the most species of palms.
Costa Rica inhabited Bromeliads, one of the best collections around the world.

Not forgetting many Heliconia lovers from all around the world came for it.

Pineapple anyone? It is not the edible type we have at home.

Some other friends we met, they were actually quite shy.

There would be rain in Costa Rica in this season, almost every afternoon. We have to set off early, reaching the destination being wet. We stayed in San Jose to settle the Visas that we need for. Nicaragua, El Salcador and Mexico. Surprisingly these countries excepted the USA visa that we had except for Mexico.
We would be visiting an active volcano tomorrow. Cloud forest reserve after that, doing tree canopy, meeting with Ceiba Tree of 10meters in trunk diameter, looking for colorful frogs (don't tell Sam), white face monkeys, pumas (if we are lucky) and many more friends from the nature. stay tuned and keep the rain behind us, please....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Getting out of Panama

The sailing trip was made fun with friends on the Fritz the Cat. What annoying me were the promises made by the captain. When I first shake his it was rough. I knew that he was a working person, not the soft type that uses pen or the computer a lot. I paid US$300 for Hope Too. Captain said it include everything. When I ask ‘what about this, what about that?’ he replied ‘I said everything and I mean everything, trust me’.

So the issue was he did not give me a proper import permit. He went to the immigration office and got a stamp on my owner’s registration paper and he try to convince me that it was everything that I need to have. I was not satisfied so I proceed the journey, left the boat, to Panama City. That was a Friday.

I couldn’t do much paperwork with the government officials on Friday late afternoon, Saturday and Sunday. meanwhile the captain ask me to keep in contact with Erica, which she promised us that she will meet us on Monday to bring us to the custom office in Panama city to get a proper paper.

We call her on Saturday and whole Sunday morning she didn’t pick up the mobile. Until they really pissed me off in the Sunday afternoon conversation. Erica told Sam many excuses for not to meet us, things like:

The US$300 was only documents on Columbia side.
the bike was initially charged US$375 but we charged you US$300.
We are busy on Monday

then I talked to the captain, he ‘explained’ to me:

look, we have things to do on Monday. if you insist us to go to the custom with u then we have to charge you for the job we had to be done on Monday.

trust me, I had ridden central America with a bike, like you before. that piece of paper that I gave you is enough. (that was 11 years ago).

we will help you over the phone. Erica will sent u an email on where the custom is. If you have any problem, call us and we will talk to you.

we didn’t have a good sleep for the past 3 nights while waiting for Monday to come. luckily, on Monday morning, we reached the custom office, did the paperwork in 15 minutes, get back to the hostel, pack up and leave this busy city.

But we had wonderful time in the busy Panama city, not the usual experience. We went to a laundry shop across the street. it cost us US$1 for a whole bucket of sweaty and salty laundry. It was a Chinese owner. Out of the 3.2 million populations in Panama, 10% were Chinese. The lady owner had 4 kids here, which all 4 held Panama citizenship but not her. We get to know about her life being away from China and coming to Panama to survive. Nice chat with the locals here.

The casinos here are really happening. Unlike in South America, casinos there are only machines like jackpots and only to get to play with computers. We went into this casino in Panama City and they had everything including blackjacks, poker, bacarat and dice game. not to mention about the jackpot machines. its managed by a five star hotel and yet we walked in with shorts, singlets and sandles.
Does Panama City looked like Singapore? Property is blooming here.

While waiting for the laundry, 2 Panamanians young chap started the conversation. They spoke understanding English and just friendly chat to know more friends, not about trying to know foreigners. Later we got to know from the Chinese lady owner that these 2 young guys were from the country side of Panama.

The entrance to the Chinatown in Panama City. we took this photo from the taxi as the driver warned us not to wander around the streets here, even we are Chinese.

Big shopping malls are so common in Panama City, as big as Suntec City in Singapore. The food court had wide varieties of fast food chain. I noticed the fast food in Latin America is not really fast. Example in KFC, we would queue up to take the order, make payment, get a recipt and go to the next counter and wait. The staff at the next counter will look at a computer screen analyze what was the order and try to put in in a tray. when my number was being called, i would collect my food. Unlike at home, the cashier took the order and will gather the food himself/herself. When the cashier is taking the order, he/her had already had the item in his/her mind and thus making the gathering of food much faster. I think the system here only trust one person on money, that´s why it´is abit slower. when i said abit, it doesn´t really mean abit. Also the person clearing trays in this huge foodcourt, they also had a trolley for trays and rubbish collection. In Singapore, any uncle or auntie would do the work much faster by pushing the trolley to the table and clear the trays and rubbish into the trolley BUT here in Panama, I saw the trolley was being used as a central collection center (where there is also one main collection center at some corners) and staff would walk around and collect the trays and rubbish with their hands, walk back to the trolley, walk back to the same table, clear again (because they only have 2 hands that carry limited) and back to the trolley. sometimes we saw 2 staff clearing 1 table. It would be much efficient if any property management from Singapore to come here to work.

Forget about telling you about the old city of Panama and the museums but something that got me interested was the relationship of Panama and USA. The USA administration was not out of Panama until 1999. There were also some contract between 2 countries about the Panama Canal.

We escaped the busy city, getting away from backpackers and Israelis, did a camping by a beach of Pacific coast at Las Lajas before reaching Boquete. The property owner in Las Lajas welcomed us. One of the co-owner often walked pass us to have a short and warm conversation. The conversation was not about where had we been, where we come from and how big was Hope Too. It was a human conversation that we would like to reply with our heart.

Again, we were welcomed in Boquete with the rain. the only affordable lodging we could stay in with proper bike parking was taken up by the English speaking bag packers. Then we have to go around in the heavy rain to look for another affortable and safe place to stay. Boquete became very popular when an American magazine for the retired rated Boquete as four top places in the world to retire. Not to be surprise as the property here rose and American product rained everywhere here. From my point of view, Cameron Highlands of Malaysia could be rated as the first in the magazine.

While searching for a place to stay in Boquete, the black cloud is chasing us.

what you think about Panama? Jungles? Panama Canal? Panama City could be as modern as Singapore. Condominium rose and properties bloomed. It seems to be Dubai of Central America. We saw sign board that was selling the property, having a swimming pool being the second largest swimming pool in the world.

We will get to Costa Rica soon after I celebrate Sam’s birthday here. We need to go to San Jose, capital of Costa Rica to apply for Nicuaragua, El Savador and Mexico visas.

we saw this advertisment on the TV here. It´s a channel from USA. it was saying something like: create jobs for America, not China. Are they trying to brainwash the citizen that China is taking away their jobs? are they trying to tell the people that China is their enemy now?