Florblanca: Rock Star Luxury In Costa Rica

florblancaI was lying in a hammock with my two little boys, getting ready to sleep off lunch. We could hear the melodic, crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean on the golden beach at our backs and were enveloped in the luxurious shade provided by soaring trees on a perfectly toasty February afternoon. An invigorating breeze tempered the afternoon sun and my typical urge to habitually check my email had vanished. The world could wait.

I looked up into the trees directly above us and realized we weren’t alone: there were two families of howler monkeys looking down at us, one posse in each tree. They were just as curious about us as we were them. How can I describe the joy of escaping Chicago in the middle of a typically dismal, grey winter and finding refuge in an intimate, lush, tropical, ocean-side resort where the wild animals outnumber the people?

florblancaIt wasn’t just the visual appeal of the place and the warm breeze that had me in a delightful reverie; it was all the music to our ears – the birds chirping, the waves rolling in and the monkeys emitting their surprisingly guttural, deep howls. Before we’d even officially checked into Florablanca, a small, 11 villa eco-resort in Santa Theresa, on Costa Rica’s glorious Nicoya Peninsula, I was already dreading leaving the place.

I’ve always been a budget conscious traveler. In my 20s, I traveled everywhere and always looked for the cheapest place in town to stay. I still believe that the best things in life, at home or on the road, are free. But now that I’m 40 (d’oh!) and with two kids (ages 3 and 5), I’ve gotten a lot softer and the type of I spent-less-than-you-did travel doesn’t hold much appeal to me any more.

These days, we tend to stay at mid-range accommodation options and, in most places, that means we rarely spend much more than about $100 per night, and often times much less. Occasionally, we’ll splash out on a nicer place, if we’re celebrating a special occasion, but only once in a blue moon will we stay at a truly world-class, luxury resort.

This year, I decided to treat my wife to a few nights at one truly glorious beach resort in Costa Rica and I chose Florblanca, because I read all the rave reviews of the place on Trip Advisor and I wanted to be near Santa Teresa. The town has emerged as a favorite for surfers over the last decade but it’s still pretty low-ley and completely free of big, tacky developments, thanks to its slightly hard to get to location.

A young lady in braces named Cindy came by our hammock to tell us our room was ready and it took a bit of coaxing to extract myself from our low-slung refuge. She led us through the grounds, which feel like a virgin tropical forest, and into villa number 5, which would be our home for what would be a glorious but fleeting 48 hours.

florblancaI’ve never seen a place quite like our villa before. Our bedroom had an intoxicating citrus aroma and a lovely four-poster bed with a ceiling fan inside it while the boys had a room of their own with two twin beds. Unlike many hotels, we had all kinds of light near the bed, which is important to me. The bedrooms were enclosed, but the living room and bathrooms were open air, giving one the feeling of being outside even while sitting inside. I was stoked to see that we had our own hammock on our terrace, where we could sway and listen to the monkeys in the shade.

The master bathroom had an open-air shower, tub and toilet protected by a half wall and huge trees but there is still a very liberating feeling about taking a shower or bath outside. I never sleep through the night anywhere, and on our first night at Florblanca, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to use the outdoor/indoor toilet and heard the unmistakable howl of the monkeys. In Chicago during the winter, when I have to use the bathroom during the night, the bathroom feels ice-cold coming from my warm blankets, but here I was coming from an air-conditioned bedroom into a warm, open-air bathroom. Simply awesome.

florblancaI learned that Florblanca is owned by Rusty and Susan Carter, an American couple from North Carolina who came to the place on a holiday in 2006, fell in love with it, and decided to buy it. The place is environmentally friendly and they give back to the local community. It was easy to see how they were seduced by the place. The seemingly endless stretch of beach that’s just steps away from the villas is heavenly and all of the trees and wildlife really do make the place feel like something pretty damn close to paradise.

The staff is an interesting mix of Americans who moved to the area to surf and locals. My 3-year-old son James fell in love with Cindy, who took the initiative to find him some beach toys, and every time she was out of his eyesight, he’d ask us, “Where did Cindy go?”

On our last day at Florblanca, I lounged in our hammock and fantasized about moving into villa numero cinco. I knew that eventually I was going to have to go back out into the real world, but I procrastinated until the last possible moment before grudgingly handing back the keys.

I don’t think I fully appreciated Florblanca until we arrived at our next hotel – a dark, nondescript motel-like place near Rincon de la Vieja that was depressingly like the kind of humdrum places we usually stay in. After checking in, I had an urge to call my new friends at Florblanca and tell them to come rescue us from the mediocrity we were mired in. If you want to treat yourself in Costa Rica, definitely check out and into Florblanca, but be forewarned – you’ll have a hard time going back to ordinary hotels when you leave.

IF YOU GO: We took a taxi from Manuel Antonio N.P. to Puntarenas ($125), then a one-hour car ferry and an hour long taxi to Florblanaca ($75). But you can get there much faster if you fly from San Jose into Tambor on Nature Air or another carrier.

Florblanca is by far the nicest place to stay in town but Santa Teresa has places for people with every budget. You can even sleep in a yurt on the beach if you like to rough it. We didn’t rent a car until we were about to leave town because car rentals in the area are pricey. (We ended up paying $280 for a two-day auto transmission SUV when we left town.) Taxis are also relatively pricey, but if you stay at Florblanca, you probably won’t want to leave that often – the food is excellent and you have a great pool and the beach right there.

Nonetheless, Budget and Alamo have locations in town and there’s also a local company called Toyota Rental Car. Great daytrips in the area include Montezuma, the Curu Wildlife Refuge and the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve among others.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

Meet Pabrö Sanchez, Costa Rica’s Monkey Whisperer

pabro sanchez curu wildlife reserveA good guide can help a traveler interpret the local culture. But sometimes a guide can sanitize and filter your experience by telling and showing you only what they think you want to hear and see. Pabrö Sanchez, a guide I hired through the Florblanca Resort in Costa Rica to take me to the Curu Wildlife Refuge on the Nicoya Peninsula, is not such a person.

Before we’d even arrived at Curu, Pabrö, a 32-year-old anthropologist and archaeology student with roots in both Costa Rica and El Salvador, had given me an earful of his opinions. According to him, Costa Rica’s President, Laura Chinchilla, is the worst in the country’s history. And most of the businesses in town are owned by foreigners who hire other foreigners, most of whom have no legal right to work in the country.

I like a guide who isn’t full of shit, even if I don’t agree with all of their opinions, so I liked Pabrö immediately. But I realized that he was worth his weight in gold just a few minutes into our hike at Curu, a gorgeous, 175-acre, privately owned nature reserve near the Tambor airport, when we came upon a cluster of howler monkeys in a tree. They were unleashing their trademark deep, guttural howls and I asked him if he could imitate them.

“Of course I can,” he said, and proceeded to let out a series of calls that, if you closed your eyes, sounded almost the same as that of the monkeys (see video).

He explained that howlers are vegetarians with big throat cavities, which explains why their howl is so deep and haunting. We talked about how important monkeys were to Costa Rican tourism and the country’s economy and Pabrö said, “Maybe they should be running the government. They’d probably do a better job.”

curuAs we hiked through a dense, tropical forest on a bright sunny day, we had the place nearly to ourselves, and I couldn’t have been happier. Every time we passed a bird or another creature, Pabrö could immediately recognize it. Hoffmann woodpecker. Mangrove black hawk. White-tipped dove. Owl butterfly. Black headed trogon. White tail deer. Jesus Christ lizard. Coati. Mot mot. Great tailed crackle. He knew everything or at least sounded confident enough to fool me.

Pabrö also knew about all the soaring trees we were walking past but lost me trying to explain how his fellow native Meso American peoples had a deep connection to trees and nature.

“Trees are very interested in humans,” he said, before going on to explain that trees signified 13 realities, and one needed to go up a tree in order to experience them all.

“To access reality, you have to use a tree to get there,” he said, as I nodded thoughtfully, fascinated but unsure of exactly what he was talking about.

Pabrö talked a bit about native people in the area and mentioned that there is a tribe that lives near the Amistad National Park in Costa Rica that has no interaction with the outside world and is hostile toward visitors.

“Even I couldn’t go there,” he said. “I would not be welcomed.”

We crossed a rickety bridge over a mangrove swamp and caught a glimpse of Tortuga Island in the distance, as Pabrö plucked some leaves from a pochete tree and insisted that I eat them. They were tart, citrusy and oddly tasty. As we heard more howlers bellowing in the forest, Pabrö said that there were four types of monkeys in Costa Rica: howlers, white faced capuchins, titis (on the Carribean side) and spider monkeys.

“But the spider monkeys are nearly endangered,” he said. “People poach them because think they taste amazing and some farmers believe the monkeys come and steal children at night.”

After a long walk on a deserted beach, we retreated to the car and found Hilberth, our driver, slumbering in a reclined positioned in the car. He was a bit overweight and his tight pair of jeans, weren’t really appropriate for hiking in the heat.

“Come on man, you could use the exercise,” Pabrö teased, goading him into joining us.

The three of us set off towards a mangrove plantation and I asked Hilberth why he didn’t like hiking.

“He’s lazy and also he’s probably embarrassed to be seen walking around with a tourist,” Pabrö said in his typically blunt fashion, answering for him.

Hilberth spotted a coati, and Pabrö could barely contain his excitement.

“He’s a male – look at the size of his balls! Usually they travel in groups but sometimes the alpha males like him will travel alone.”

We walked up to a distinctive Guanacaste tree and Pabrö talked about their significance to this region, which was the last province to join Costa Rica. Pabrö told me about how the Costa Rican army defeated William Walker, a diminutive American white supremacist and “filibuster” or military adventurer, who attempted to conquer Nicaragua and Costa Rica in the hopes of annexing them for the United States in the 1850s. I was struck by the fact that while I knew nothing about this episode in history, it’s probably taught in every school in Central America.

After a few hours hiking at Curu, we repaired to a Costa Rican “soda” or humble canteen and sat on plastic chairs next to a river enjoying a round of cold drinks. After a long talk about politics the conversation turned toward Santa Teresa and how much it’s changed since Pabrö moved there in 2001.

“The place is five times bigger than it was,” he said. “People come here to see nature and virgin beaches. How can we keep that?”

IF YOU GO: If you’d like to hire Pabrö as your guide while in Costa Rica, contact him at Pabro@sapoaadventures.com, 506-8996-9990, Sapoa Adventures on Facebook.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

The World According To A Costa Rican Cab Driver

taxi I would never think of getting in a cab in my hometown of Chicago and asking for a lift to Indianapolis, Iowa City or Milwaukee. But when I’m outside the U.S. without a rental car, I sometimes resort to long-distance taxi rides as a way of getting from point A to point B. On a recent trip to Costa Rica I took a three-hour taxi ride from Heredia, near San Jose, to Manuel Antonio National Park and two more long rides to get from Manuel Antonio to Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula after failing to find a reasonable car rental.

Costa Rica is blessed with incredible natural beauty. It has 26 national parks with a ridiculous array of wildlife and every type of natural terrain you can imagine, from beaches to volcanoes to mountains and more. But like any country, it has some grubby areas as well and while driving in the outskirts of San Jose, I couldn’t help but wonder why so many homes and businesses had barbed wire fences.

“You can buy drugs really cheap here,” said Mario, my 36-year-old taxi driver, when I asked him what was up with all the barbed wire. “Drug addicts need to feed their habits so they steal and people are afraid.”I was surprised to hear that drugs were cheap because it seemed like everything in Costa Rica was expensive.

“You can get some drugs here for like a dollar,” he said.

“Drugs for a buck, what kind?” I asked.

“Crack,” he said.

I was confused by the cut-rate Costa Rican crack but also a little perplexed as to why there were white horses tied up outside tiny, very humble looking urban homes that seemed to have no real space for animals.

“The people like to take their horses into town and show them off for parades,” Mario said, explaining the phenomenon.

Mario spent a huge amount of time fiddling with his mobile phone and I resisted the urge to ask him to concentrate on the road. Eventually I realized that he was trying to stream Toy Story 3 for my children, who were sitting in the back seat of the minivan. My sons were excited to hear Buzz and Woody at an ear-splitting volume but they couldn’t really see the movie from their vantage point on his little phone and quickly lost interest.

As we barreled southbound on the highway, Mario kept fiddling with his phone until he found a song he liked. Sadly, it turned out to be John Waite’s truly reprehensible, “I Ain’t Missing You (At All).”

And it’s my heart that’s breaking down this long-distance line tonight.
I ain’t missing you at all
Since you’ve been gone away.
I ain’t missing you
No matter what my friends say.

He was humming it and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to its loathsome rhythm and when I noticed that my wife was sleeping and both my boys were entranced in a movie on our Kindle, I decided to nod off myself, hoping to avoid more American power ballads.

I woke up in a town called Jaco to Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love (But It’s Over Now).” The earworm stayed in my head for days.

After DJ Mario played Gangnam Style for us, he told me he learned English working as a waiter on cruise ships. It was good money, by Costa Rican standards, but he worked at least 12 hours a day for 9 months at a time with no days off.

“You can’t even really meet girls,” he said as we motored through a stretch of road that was encircled by dense palm oil plants. “But when you get into the ports, well, you have to do something.”

He signed his first contract without telling his wife he was leaving the country, just days before he leaving town. She was annoyed but got over it. But after four years, once he had saved up enough money to buy a house, he decided it was time to move back to Costa Rica.

“I only needed a little big of money,” he said. “I don’t need to get rich.”

As we approached Quepos, the nearest town to Manuel Antonio, we saw derelict men sleeping off hangovers on benches, lobster-shaded gringos walking on the side of the road with next to no clothing on, and a host of signs advertising surf schools, lodges, adventure tours and even a “gentleman’s club.”

“They got a choice of girls,” Mario explained. “Costa Rican, Colombians, and plenty of Nicaraguans.”

Mario said that Costa Ricans are getting a little soft and there are tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans in the country doing the jobs Costa Ricans supposedly don’t want.

I asked him about Laura Chinchilla, the country’s (first) female president.

“She changes her mind too much and she’s not very powerful,” he said. “But at least she’s honest.”

We caught a few tantalizing glimpses of the Pacific, dotted with a few rocky little islands, and as we pulled up in front of our hotel, Mario handed us his business card.

“I’ll come back and drive you anywhere in the country you want to go,” he said. It made no sense to me at all, but I just thanked him. As he drove off, I wondered what his profit margin on our $150 fare was. And I wondered what horrible American power ballads he planned to blast on the way back to San Jose.

[Photo credit: twicepix on Flickr]

Monkeys Are Big Business At Manuel Antonio National Park In Costa Rica

white faced monkey manuel antonio national parkIt was 6 a.m. and I was hiking alone in the lush, tropical forest below the Hotel Parador near Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica when I heard a noise that stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a deep, throaty guttural call that almost sounded like an animal clearing its throat. I was on the so-called “Monkey Trail” on the hotel’s extensive grounds, so I was expecting to see howler monkeys. But I imagined the howler monkeys call to be more like a high-pitched shriek.

I picked up my pace in the enervating, early morning jungle humidity as my mind started running through the possibilities. Hadn’t I read that there were jaguars and leopards and pumas in Costa Rica? Was I about to become the first tourist to get mauled by a wild animal before he even left his hotel?

manuel antonio national parkI knew that whatever it was, I had to avoid the impulse to run, but I hustled away as the animal continued to howl at a frightening volume. In a distracted state, I somehow managed to lose the trail and eventually found myself down at a rocky lookout over the Pacific.

I regained my bearings a few minutes later and on my way back to the hotel pool I saw more than a dozen howler monkeys jumping from tree to tree, but none of them made much noise. Back at the hotel pool, I sheepishly asked a young man who worked the Hotel Parador’s adventure desk about the terrifying howl I’d heard.

“It is possible that was a leopard or a puma?” I asked quietly, so that only he could hear me.

“Sir, we don’t have leopards and pumas on the hotel grounds,” he said. “You heard a howler monkey.”

guide manuel antonio national parkAn hour later, I was at Manuel Antonio National Park wondering why it was easier to see monkeys at my hotel than at one of the country’s premier tourist attractions, know for its wildlife. My wife and I hired Flander Sanchez to take us on a guided walk through the park and a half-hour into our tour we had yet to see a monkey. Still, Flander had an uncanny knack for seeing things we would have just walked past if he wasn’t with us.

Just steps after paying the $10 entry fee to the park, he stopped dead in his tracks and started to set up a telescope on a tripod. He noticed a huge golden web spider sitting in its web and then a green lizard we never would have seen. Flander picked some petals off of a plant and has us breathe in the delightful citronella scent, but I wasn’t as interested in eating the fistful of termites he picked up off a tree on the side of the path.

“Come on,” he said. “These things are delicious. Try them- it’s part of your tour, no extra charge!”

My wife gave them a try and said they tasted like dirt, so I declined. Flander seemed a little hurt.

“I can’t believe you don’t like them! I love termites.” (see video.)

Another 15 minutes or so up the park’s main path, Flander spotted a white-faced capuchin monkey sitting in a tree overhead.

“I feel like he’s going to climb up to the top of the tree and then jump across to the other side,” Flander said, as two other clusters of tourists gathered around to gawk.

And just as I started to think, how the hell does he know what the monkey is going to do next, the monkey did just as Flander predicted, making a huge leap over the trail to the other side of the jungle as the cluster of tourists gave him a small round of applause for the effort. It felt a bit like a well choreographed show.

A big crowd gathered to watch a three-toed sloth scratch himself high up in the trees and a woman from New Jersey seemed thrilled.

“Look at him!” she bellowed. “He just keeps scratching his ass!”

By the time we reached Playa Manuel Antonio, I had a small mutiny on my hands. Flander still had plenty more to show us, but my sons and wife wanted to hit the beach. It was sweltering and my 5-year-old son Leo was dripping with sweat.

“Why are we on a tour, dad?” he asked. “You said we were travelers, not tourists. Only tourists take tours.”

I prevailed on the group to press on and we were immediately rewarded. There were white-faced capuchin monkeys everywhere on the path towards Playa Espadilla Sur, most of them hovering on short trees, hoping to scavenge for food.

monkey manuel antonio national parkAt the entrance to the park, there were gruesome photos of dead monkeys with a warning about the dangers of feeding them. One feisty little monkey tried to raid a nearby garbage can and bared his teeth at Flander when he shooed him away from it with a stick. It’s sad and dangerous that the monkeys in Manuel Antonio are conditioned to scavenge for human food but the fact that they flock to humans makes for a remarkable experience for visitors.

The monkeys stop to stare right into your eyes and they seem to find the paparazzi fascinating. They’re also pretty damn smart. One tourist held out his flip-flop and was trying to encourage a monkey to come grab it but the monkey just looked at him like he was a dumb ass, as if to say, dude, I know that’s not food, why would I want your smelly flip-flop?

playa espadilla sur manuel antonioWe walked on with Flander toward Playa Espadilla Sur, which is a huge, stunning beach that’s flanked by lush tropical jungle that encroaches onto the beach. It was nearly deserted, partially because the guides were telling people that there were crocodiles in the water. Flander still had more to show us but we parked ourselves in the shade of a huge tree and told him we were done. I felt a bit like a castaway that had just found paradise and didn’t want to move a muscle.

“Are there always that many monkeys out prowling around?” I asked.

“Not always that many,” he said. “They like to come out on the weekends.”

“Come on man, the monkeys don’t know it’s Saturday,” I said.

“They don’t know it’s Saturday but more people come here on the weekends and they respond to all the noise because they know there’ll be more food,” he said.

My guidebook said to avoid Manuel Antonio on weekends in the high season but if you want to get up close and personal with the park’s white-faced capuchins, there’s actually no better time to be there.

IF YOU GO: it takes about three hours to get to Manuel Antonio from San Jose. We were surprised to discover that it was slightly cheaper for us to take a private taxi than any of the group shuttle services that go to the area. If you have less than four people in your party, the shuttles will probably be cheaper though. We used Mario Rosales Melendez (86-27-62-95, Mario_tour76@yahoo.com) who charged us $150 for the ride.

The town of Quepos and the area right outside Manuel Antonio isn’t very pedestrian friendly, so don’t think you’ll be able to walk many places from whatever hotel you choose. Some of the hotels have shuttles, but you might consider renting a car if you want to have the flexibility of exploring the area on your own.

hotel paradorWe stayed at the Hotel Parador and I would highly recommend it. The rooms are very nice, with comfy beds and modern amenities; the food is excellent and they have free shuttles to Manuel Antonio. But the real pleasure of this place is the lush grounds, the hiking trails and the beautiful pools with views of the Pacific. Here’s a tip for you if you stay there, or even if you don’t: check out the Fragata Restaurant at the farthest corner of the resort. It’s only open for lunch, but it’s set high up, so there are great breezes and amazing views, not to mention very good food at reasonable prices.

I highly recommend hiring a guide at Manuel Antonio. They cluster in front of the entrance and usually charge $20 per person. You can book ahead if prefer at info@manuelantoniotours.com. Café Agua Azul is an American-owned restaurant that has excellent food and great views at reasonable prices.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

Releasing My Inner Gringo In Costa Rica

puntarenas ferryI try not to be the stereotypical ugly gringo when I’m in Latin America. I tolerate leisurely or downright rude service, I use my poor but functional Spanish, and I try to go with the flow, bearing in mind that things are just different south of the border. But no matter how hard I try, there are occasions when I can’t help but act like a gringo.

My first, and hopefully last, real gringo moment on a recent trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua came at a ticket office in the Costa Rican port of Puntarenas. I arrived with my wife and two little boys about 15 minutes before our 11 a.m. ferry was due to depart for the Nicoya Peninsula and found a long, slow moving line with just one clerk selling tickets in a little booth behind a window.

I am not the kind of worrywart who shows up three hours early for a domestic flight, but as the line barely moved in the next few minutes, I started to get nervous. It was already well over 90 degrees and if we missed the 11 a.m. ferry, we’d have to wait three hours for the next boat in a dull, sweltering limbo, essentially killing a whole day of our trip.

Even worse, a cab driver was supposed to meet us on the other side to make the 90-minute ride from the ferry port in Paquera to our hotel in Santa Teresa. We had no functioning cellphone and no clue if the driver or anyone else would be there to meet us if we turned up three hours late.

As the clock ticked towards 11 and the ferry blew its horn, apparently warning us that it was getting ready to depart, I had so little personal space in the line that I was pretty sure I knew what the guy behind me had for lunch (I think it was rotten eggs). As we inched forward, ever so slowly, I analyzed each transaction that took place at the window and silently stewed.

Why is this woman just now digging through her purse for money? Did she think the tickets were going to be free? And what about this guy? Why is he asking so many questions? Buy your damn ticket and get out. What’s she doing now? Is she talking on the phone? No! Sell tickets!

At 10:54, there was a woman buying her ticket who seemed to be making small talk with the clerk. It was a good thing her back was turned to me because I think the intensity of my glare in her general direction could have singed her eyebrows. The ticket office was right across the street from the boat, but we had baggage, a stroller and small kids to shepherd on board, and I had no reason to believe the ship wouldn’t depart on time.

I continued to check my watch in 30-second intervals, since there was nothing better to do but worry, as beads of sweat pored down my back. At 10:56, there was only one person in front of me in the line.

But just as the man in front of me was about to proceed to the window, a woman in a uniform came by, stopped him, and made an announcement in Spanish and English. She wanted all the passengers bringing vehicles on the ferry to step forward and form a new line. About half of the thirty or so people behind me stepped forward and the woman announced that all of the passengers with vehicles would get to buy their tickets first.

Instead of being second in line, I was now about 17th and with just four minutes to spare. The woman in uniform offered us no consolation like, “Don’t worry, everyone in line will get tickets.”

I called after her to ask if the ship was going to leave without us, but she ignored me and walked away. A middle-aged American guy, a surfer type, who just vaulted ahead of me in line so he’d be next, said, “Dude, relax, you’ll get your ticket.”

Relax? In what alternate reality could one find waiting in a long line in the sweltering heat under these circumstances relaxing? In an abstract sense, I could understand why they needed people with cars to go first – it takes longer to board with a car than it does on foot. But the vehicle passenger tickets cost almost 20 times as much as foot passenger tickets. Were they using the few remaining minutes to sell the most expensive tickets to maximize profit? The old man in front of me in the passenger line look nonplussed. Perhaps he assumed the boat would depart late? Or did he have nothing better to do than wait for the 2 o’clock ferry?

I said nothing to the American who told me to relax, and waited as a few of the sanctioned line jumpers were serviced. At 10:59, the ship’s horn blasted again and, in a moment of panic and chutzpah, I barged right ahead of a meek looking man in the newly formed line and pleaded for the clerk to sell me a ticket, which she did, despite some grumbling from the people I’d cut in front of (I wanted to say, “You cut me, now I’m cutting you, deal with it,” but I had no time to spare).

We dashed across the street, baggage, children and stroller in tow and by the time I hauled all of our gear up two steep flights of steps onto the first passenger deck, I was drenched in sweat but relieved to be on the damn boat.

We pulled out of the harbor about five minutes late and I looked around to see if the man who was in front of me in the screwed over passenger line had made it, but I found no sign of him. Perhaps everyone in line had somehow secured tickets and made it on board but I doubt it.

As Americans, we carry a lot of baggage when we travel outside the country. I try to be cognizant of the fact that some of the people I encounter will formulate an opinion about my country based on how I act. There are times when you have to swallow your anger and just deal with situations as they unfold, even if it’s to your detriment.

And then there are times when you have to be assertive and follow the rules of the jungle. Perhaps I should have waited stoically and hoped for the best, but if I’d followed that course and had missed the boat, my inner-gringo would have released even more negative vibes on everyone in my vicinity.

What would you have done?

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]