December was a whirlwind with the death of my mother, followed by a family trip to Costa Rica over the Christmas holidays and into 2014. It was an experience that will be long remembered because it was the first time we traveled to a tropical location. Temperatures that pushed up to 35 C on the coast did not give me any desire to return home after learning the temperature had bottomed out at below -50 C in Saskatchewan. Thanks to the airlines and Jordan, our oldest son and tour guide, we had an action-packed adventure from start to finish that included dealing with the Costa Rican policia. The excitement began shortly after we flew out of Calgary and could not land at Denver, Colorado for a connecting flight due to extremely low cloud cover. As our fuel supply dwindled, the pilot decided we had better fly to Casper, Wyoming in order to refuel. That seemed all right to me since I have wanted to go to Wyoming since I was a kid. However, the down side of the trip was U.S. Customs does not have an office in that city, so we could not leave the aircraft. Furthermore, refueling took longer than expected and as we flew back to Denver it became apparent that we would miss our connecting flight to Houston. That was not the great start to our holiday that I had envisioned. At Denver, our carrier told us that going on standby was the only option we had. Since we were a party of five people, the odds of getting all of us on the same flight was basically nil since the next flight leaving had been overbooked. I explained our predicament to our group and introduced the idea that we would likely end up straggling into Costa Rica on a few different flights over the course of the next 1½ days, but we would get there. I reminded them to say a prayer because that was our only hope. Twenty minutes later I was paged to the boarding area and was informed space had opened up on the flight that was leaving immediately. Pondering who would go and who would remain behind, I was shocked to hear the service representative say there were not two or three seats available, but five! We took the boarding passes and rushed to the plane like giddy school children and the airliner left with 100 per cent occupancy. We touched down at Houston in time to find family members who were waiting for us and boarded our connecting flight to the Costa Rican city of Liberia. We arrived exactly on time as originally planned. After renting two small four-wheel drive SUVs, we headed south the next morning on the Pan-American Highway. The highway was busy and our entertainment was in the form of a large passenger bus that was directly ahead of us. As it pulled on and off the highway at construction zones, it would lurch radically from side to side. I suspect the passengers inside really got their money’s worth on that trip. En route to the highland area of Monteverde, we stopped to eat at the town of Canas. The heat seemed unbearable on the asphalt as we found an ATM and then walked to a restaurant. There we encountered the first Tico who did not speak a lick of English. It reminded me that I had earlier suggested we learn a few key Spanish phrases, but was voted down since it is well known that everyone in the tourism industry at Costa Rica speaks a little English. The problem was we were no longer in a tourism area. After the eight of us sat down in a pizza restaurant and were given menus, it became apparent it would take quite a while before everyone would be served. I politely explained this to the owner and returned the menus after everyone deserted me in the establishment. As we were purchasing food from a curb-side eatery, the owner of the pizzeria stood outside his business and glared at us. Then the policia pulled up and got out of their truck. Wearing dark uniforms and riot helmets, they used Spanish and gestures to explain we had offended the pizzeria owner and had to remove our vehicles from his sight. I will never forget the gesture that means, “Hey, stupid, what were you thinking?” Only 16 hours after landing and having yet to reach base camp, it was agreed that learning enough Spanish to be polite would be a great idea. Little did we know that we would see incredible sites, great people and much more of the policia in the days ahead.
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