Pura Vida Travels - A Guide To Travel In Latin America

Sadly my time in Medellin was over much too quickly. I tried to change my flight from Friday to Sunday so I could stay a few extra days but being the weekend following Thanksgiving everything was booked. Therefore, I was ďforcedĒ to have to go back to Costa Rica for a few days before heading home. (I can think of worse places, for example, Pittsburgh) I got up at 5 AM on Friday and left the apartment at 5:30 AM for the harrowing ride to the airport. My driver Hector is a huge Formula 1 racing fan and his driving proved it. I took some video that needs to be seen to be believed on the trip back to the airport. At one point we were 3 wide on a 2-lane road going through hair pin turns.

Here's a great video of the ride...

At any rate, I made it to the airport alive. When you arrive at the airport in Medellin you donít just drive right up to the airport like you do in the US. When you arrive at the gate your car gets searched before entering the airport. They have large mirrors on poles that they use to check for bombs under your car, they go through your trunk, look under the hood, etc. Once they have determined you arenít driving a car bomb you are allowed to enter. You enter the airport and the first thing you have to do is take care of the departure tax. This is a little strange since if you are flying COPA you donít have to pay the tax because it is included in your ticket price. You still have to go to the window though and show your passport and have a guy fill out a form and stamp it. There arenít any computers here and they do everything with pen and paper so it takes some time if the line is long. Next, you get in another line to get your boarding pass and check your luggage. In the middle of the line they have an x-ray machine and they look at your bags. If they see ANYTHING suspicious they will go through EVERYTHING in your bag. The lady in front of me had all sorts of bags of food in her suitcase. They let me pass through but they opened every single thing in her suitcase. I watched them cut open every bag she had. They would smell what was in it and then taste it to make sure it was what it was supposed to be. This is far and away the most secure airport I have ever been in.

After receiving your boarding pass itís off to immigration to get your passport stamped. I was asked some questions in Spanish and I answered correctly because they stamped my passport and let me go. Once through immigration you go through the metal detector and there are about 30 guys in military uniforms waiting for you. Just like when you arrive in Colombia you are thoroughly frisked and your carryon bag is completely searched. I carry a laptop with me and my bag is filled with cables, camera equipment, and about 2 years worth of assorted crap. They took every single thing out of my bag and examined it. They took my laptop into another room and examined it. The bottom line is that they are very thorough and it takes a LONG time to make it to the gate in Medellin.

The airport isnít much to write home about. Itís old and looks like something that the Soviets would have built. Itís cold with absolutely no hint of personality and once you get through all of the security there is absolutely nothing to see or do. Itís now time to start my rant about COPA airlines. I booked window seats for the flight from Medellin to Panama City and the flight from Panama City to San Jose because I was hoping to get some photos of the Panama Canal. When I got on the plane there was a mother with a baby in my window seat. One thing you learn about flying in Central and South America is that people treat planes as festival seating. Rather than be an ugly American I took the aisle seat and just let things be. All was well until the guy showed up who had the aisle seat. He wanted me out of his seat because he didnít want the middle seat. The flight crew was less than helpful in mediating this dispute even after I explained that the woman was in my seat. It was a battle of wills and I won and the guy finally grudgingly took the middle seat.

We arrived in Panama City and had about an hour (or so I thought) until the flight left for San Jose. This gave me some time to look around the airport. They have a large mall that has 50 or 60 stores that sell the following: electronics, perfume, liquor, candy, and electronics. Did I mention they sell electronics? There must be 30 stores selling cell phones, digital cameras, etc. The prices must be good because people were buying things like crazy. Anyway, the hour went quickly and it was time to go to San Jose. We boarded the plane, pushed away from the gate, and got the all clear to go. We were roaring down the runway and just as the plane started to liftoff the flaps went up and the pilot slammed on the brakes. We skidded to a stop at the end of the runway and next thing I know weíre heading back to the gate. Absolutely no explanation was given as to what happened other than ďmechanical difficultiesĒ so I donít know what happened. We sat at the gate while some mechanics milled around outside the plane for about 10 minutes. At this point an announcement was made only in Spanish to get off the plane and it would be fixed in an hour. 8 hours later I was still sitting in Panama City.

The one good thing about being stuck in Panama City is that it is COPAís hub so there are hot women from all over Latin America all over the airport. While I was sitting there waiting one girl in particular caught my eye. She was just so attractive I couldnít stop looking at her. She kept seeing me stare at her and she smiled at me a couple of times but I didnít really think anything of it. After 2 hours of waiting for the plane to be fixed another announcement was made, again only in Spanish, that if you came to the desk they would give you a card go for a free lunch at the airport restaurant. I went and got my card and headed over to the restaurant. I found a table and sat down. The waitress came over and gave me a menu and as I started looking at it I see the girl Iíve been staring at all morning heading straight for my table. She walked up to me and asked if I minded if she sat with me for lunch. Well, I guess if you canít find anywhere else to sit I can allow you to sit with me. LOL I asked her if she was going home to Costa Rica and she said no, she was going on vacation to visit her boyfriend and she had never been there before. I told her that I had been to Costa Rica many times and that I had just left Medellin so we had a lot to talk about. God, this girl has an infectious smile and the personality to match. We ended up chatting with each other for the next 5 hours and I ended up with her email address and phone number so I can call her when I come back to Medellin in a few months. (Was there any doubt I would be going back?)

About 5 hours into our ordeal in Panama City our plane was finally fixed and ready to go. The fine folks at COPA, however, decided since only 20 people were going to San Jose and the rest were going to Tegucigalpa, Honduras that they werenít going to go to San Jose first with this flight. I about went through the roof when they pulled this stunt. They made the 20 of us wait for the 7 PM flight and offered us NOTHING as compensation. I paid MORE to fly on COPA for the very reason that the schedule was better and they completely SCREWED me out of an entire day of my vacation. Oh well, it gave me another 2 hours to get to know Paola a bit better so it wasnít a total loss for me.

Leaving, Or So I Thought

Broken Airplane


I Spent 8 Hours Looking At This
We finally arrived in San Jose around 7:30 PM, over 8 hours late. Paola hadnít checked any bags so I said goodbye to her in the immigration line and went downstairs to claim my luggage. At this point I was praying it would be there after all the crap COPA had put us through that day. This is when the day got even better. As I was standing there waiting a very pretty Nicaraguan girl came up to me and said hello. We chatted for a bit and she said ďyour Colombian novia (girlfriend) is very pretty.Ē I explained that she wasnít my girlfriend and that we had just met that day. We chatted some more, exchanged phone numbers, and were on our way. I took a cab and finally got to the hotel around 8:30 PM. Since the day was pretty much shot and my day started at 5 AM I really didnít plan on doing anything that night other than relaxing.

Around 9:30 my phone rings and itís Ana, the Nicaraguan girl I met at the baggage claim, wanting to know if I want to go out tonight. I asked where she was and she said, ďI was in the neighborhood so Iím in your hotels lobby.Ē I guess Iím going out tonightÖI tossed on my shoes, headed down to the lobby, and we were on our way out for a night of dancing. I had a great time and we went to a bunch of places that were a lot of fun. I was dead tired when I got home.

Click Here For Pics Of Saturday In San Jose


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