Costa Rica. 9 days: Jungles, Animals, Volcanos, and the Ocean.

Preamble

By tradition, I’ll start with a couple of words about how this idea came to me, and how I bought the tickets.

Costa Rica was among my plans since last summer. So, after my November trip to the South Africa, I started looking for the tickets in December. My intended itinerary was as follows: Costa Rica – Mexico – Cuba plus another country somewhere nearby. I was doing my search at indie.bootsnall.com which offers tickets around the world: you input your desired countries and dates, and the service returns you various options.

After 3 week of search, my options were reduced to the following itinerary: Costa Rica – Mexico – Canada/USA. So, at the end of December, with a help of my friend, and using scyscanner, I found the following tickets:

(February 23, 2016) Prague – Frankfurt – Santo Domingo/The Dominican Republic – San Jose/Costa Rica (9 days in Costa Rica) – Cancun/Mexico (6 days in Mexico) – Miami – New York City/USA (6 days in the USA) – London – Prague (March 16).

So, this resulted in a 23-days trip, including time for 8 flights, with all the air tickets totaling to $920.

Then, it was a matter of getting visas to the above countries. The optimum variant would have been getting a visa to the USA, in which case you don’t need any additional visas to Mexico or Costa Rica. So, I found the US embassy in Prague, I filled in all the online documents and sent in the form. I paid a fee of $160, and chose the interview date.

In the embassy, they did their work quite quickly in just 3 days: I visited the embassy on Monday, then I got a text message on Tuesday confirming that my passport had been sent by post, and on Wednesday I was handed over my passport with a 10-years visa to the USA.

Here the 20-ies of February are approaching. I do the packing – it’s going to be a 23-days trip, you know, but

Still, I choose a small backpack with a total weight of just 6.3 kilos, with half of that weight being my cameras and lenses.

AND… on February 23, I did NOT leave Prague. I had to stay for personal reasons.

So, I changed the departure date for February 28. The itinerary remains unchanged.

Czech Airlines took me to Frankfurt on a small plane. The plane did not really get any large heights – we have been rattling and jolting below the clouds.

The airport in Frankfurt is large. It took nearly the entire available two hours between the flights to get from one terminal gate to another and to pass through all the check points. I enjoyed the transatlantic flight by Condor: it was a huge plane, smooth takeoffs and landing, and nice personnel. It would be my pleasure to fly these airlines again. By the way, at their homepage here at condor.com they always have special offers to both Central and South America, as well as to Africa. For instance, I noted there a return ticket to the Dominican Republic at just €250. 

 

Day 1. February 29, 2016: Facing The Local Color

What is Costa Rica? It’s a country in Central America, bordering with Panama in the south.

Why was it attractive to me? There are 74 forest reserves, 120 volcanos, fabulously rich fauna, and warm Pacific Ocean on one side, with the Caribbean Sea on the other side.

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As usually, I didn’t have any strict plan for all the days of the trip. A day before the departure, I determined the points I’d like to get to. I also made up my itinerary for the 1st day:

Arrival to the airport at 5 a.m., getting to San Jose, which is a capital of the country, and from there getting to Manuel Antonio, where the National Park is located. My goal was seeing a sloth and swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

Right after I left the airport, I encountered the main feature of local population, which bothered me nearly the entire trip: they always want to nick you and to screw over you. You need to enquire at least 4 to 7 people until you find out some reliable and adequate information. You need to get real firm and persistent.

Five taxi drivers at the entrance assured me it was impossible to get to Manuel Antonio by bus, until finally the next one confided that, in order to reach Manuel Antonio, one needed to arrive to San Jose first. He also pointed at the bus station.

Two men at the bus station told me I shouldn’t be just standing there all alone, as it was a slum township. The bus fare the driver demanded was larger than the amount indicated at his information plate. Damn it! I started getting strained. Besides, instead of 28˚C promised by the forecast, the temperature was about as high as 35˚C.

For all those reasons, I don’t have any photos available from the first day, since it wasn’t a good idea to disclose my camera during the adaptation period of that day.

And here is San Jose. It looks quite poor and shabby. People around look at you in an odd and wild way. Oh dear, I want to get to the ocean as soon as possible.

Yet another quest for the right station. And a fight with the taxi driver: we were shouting at each other, because after we arrived, he announced the price twice higher than we agreed upon.

That was enough for me, and I got rolling! Local idlers gathered around us very quickly for the morning performance, my emotions seized me totally, and suddenly… a man paid for me and disappeared.

No less than the fight between good and evil among the locals 🙂

The idlers dispersed, the show was over.

 And right away, some shabby vagrant from the bus station toddled up to me and said: “It was my brother, now give me the money back!” Fire started raging in me again, and I was like “WHAAAAT???” I looked at the other vagrants standing around and I realized: I needed to fight back. My eyes turned furious, I was thumping my chest and shouting: “Go screw yourself, it was my brother! Rrrrrr!!!!”  And I literally did the roaring!

The vagrant, shocked and astonished, retreated along with the others. Some folks!

After a couple of hours spent in a bus I arrived at Manuel Antonio. The hostel reserved at booking.com turned out to be not very attractive, to put it nicely. The hostess was either slightly high, or she was just in “Pura Vida” state, which is Costa Rica’s motto, you know.

All right, hell with it. The ocean is near, just as the park with sloths. It’s going to be just one night, and I will hit the road then. So, I left my stuff and went to the ocean.

The Sun was extremely hot. The water was nice, about 27 degrees Celsius.

My harmony was gradually restoring 🙂

 

Day 2. March 1, 2016. Manuel Antonio National Park: Sloths and Other Animals. The Road to South.

Early in the morning I went to wander around the desert beach, welcoming the dawn and the first day of spring at the Pacific Ocean.

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I made my decision: I would just observe sloths for a little while in the National park, and then I’d leave this stressful tourist location and the locals: to jungles, closer to nature and animals.

Manuel Antonio National Park is popular in Costa Rica. To get a ticket you have to wait in lines. Usually, there is an armed security guy near every point where money is accepted.

In the park, there are maps featuring the trails and the animals that one can come across with. I happened to see all the species promised by posters:

Various monkeys. Some are screaming, or rather roaring with scary voices.

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Micro toads, hummingbirds, palm-sized butterflies, coatis, and other mammals.  

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Iguana is basking in the Sun at the beach. Fiddler crabs are running, birds are flying. And they are all in their natural habitat.

From a distance, a long-anticipated sloth looks like a shower puff hanging at a twig in a tree. Without any experience, and with an unaided eye, it is quite difficult to notice it, especially when it’s hanging like this:

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Besides, its color makes it difficult to be distinguished up high among the trees.

And it moves reeeeally sloooow 🙂

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What an amazing view…

In the thicket, there are huge termite nests and thorny palm-trees!

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At the entrance to the National Park, I found a local tourist service guy and asked him how to get to Corcovado. As always, I could get no useful information (much more info could be found online). Tourist service here is absolute zero, especially if compared with that in South Africa and the Azores.

The National Park of Corcovado was my next destination recommended by a local guy I’d enquired before I started my trip. What’s there? There are wild jungles and animals.

 

Hint: before you start your trip, you may want to ask locals for some recommendations. It is my second trip when I’m trying to find someone from the destination place and ask them for references. I usually find such people at Couchsurfing.

 

The official tourist representative suggested two options: it’s either right now, getting to the town of Sierpe by car at $150 (and then continuing by boat from there), or tomorrow taking a minibus at $50. My mind started calculating the options: the car was risky as there’s a great chance of missing the last boat at 4 p.m. While tomorrow’s minibus meant wasting half a day, which I’d hate to. I asked for any other options available, and the answer was “No”. Well… good-bye, my friend, I know what your “No” means.

I took a local bus to get to a larger neighboring city Quepos, and at a bus station there, after 30 minutes of enquiries, I managed to find a suitable option.

Then I missed the right stop and found myself in mountains. It was the terminal station, and the time was 9 pm. Here, the Sun sets down quite early, at about 6 pm. So, at that moment, at 9 pm, it was all dark and gloomy.

I recalled what my local friend told me: ”we are all pirates in a little way, so you’d better not wander about in darkness”, and “after 6 pm, there’re almost no buses at all”.

And here I am, walking along an absolutely strange and dark town, running into questioning glares and savage looks of locals…

I don’t want to stay here, I need to get somewhere urgently!

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My intuition came to rescue me. As if guided by an autopilot navigator, in just about 800 meters I saw a couple of benches, some people, and a security guy. Aha, this is the place where money is accepted!

This happened to be a bus station, and the bus I needed to Sierpe was going to be there in just 15 minutes! YES!

I went to sleep at about midnight in the town of Sierpe, which was my intended destination. I found this place for my overnight stay at booking.com: luckily, Wi-Fi was available at some bus station during a 20-minutes stop somewhere during the bus trip. Things turned out well.

 

Day 3. March 3, 2016. Facing a Remote Wild Place on Earth. Jungle and Jaguar.

A small town of Sierpe was nice. Finally, people were sane and sound, smiling and friendly. 

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School buses are nice too.

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I haven’t decided yet where exactly I was going to spend my bed-time that day. I fancied Drake Bay to be a large beach with hotels and hostels and campsites, from where one could take off to the Corcovado Park.

At a boat station, I met Stephany, a young woman from Germany. It was her first trip alone, she started from Columbia, then took a bus to Panama, and now she is here. My respect to Stephany.

She was also heading to Drake Bay, particularly – to the JungleandJaguar hostel. Positive references, plastic cards accepted, Wi-Fi available. Alright, that’s where I’ll go too.

It took two hours by boat. At first, through jungle backwaters, then in the ocean. Those were small motor boats. Steering guys were excellent. I am not a boat person, you know, but even I felt comfortable.

And then, the moments of surprise turned out:

1) Drake Bay is a huge territory with lagoons. Connection between populated placed is by boats. Alternatively, you can walk for two to three hours through jungles.

2) JungleandJaguar hostel was the utmost populated place here, bordering with the National Park. It was not a single building, instead, it was an entire complex of buildings surrounded by jungles. Yes, real wild jungles!!!

BUT, not until the boat sailed away, it turned out:

a) Wi-Fi has been out of order for a couple of weeks, b) there’s no mobile signal available, which means: c) payment by plastic cards cannot be accepted, hence PayPal is the only option, d) the cash I have is only enough for one night, e) no roaming signal is available, and  f) a boat arrives only once a day!!!

Here we are…

Let me tell you a couple of words about “Jungle and Jaguar” hotel. I recommend this place to all the fans of nature.

It is hosted by Leo, a nice friendly American guy.

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He loves his tourist complex and this piece of land, and you can feel it here:

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There is a map of trails for group hiking. Trailing alone deep in the jungles is forbidden, cause it’s dangerous. Several people have already been lost here in Corcovado.

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Meal is also available for those who doesn’t have any food with them, like me. But I don’t have any cash with me either.

From the kitchen window one can see the ocean, and the Cocos island somewhere far away.

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Here it is, a piece of paradise on Earth! Now I know the place where I’d be glad to return to, where I’d revel and relax in this wonderful atmosphere, in the purest warm ocean, and in a hammock next to jungles.

Well, and let me tell you a couple of words about the conditions for the night stand. In case you decided to come here and you started fancying yourself lying in a hammock. Please, learn the conditions for the night’s lodging first:

Both on the first and the second floor of this two-storied building there are double-decked beds covered with insect screens.

There are no windows or doors. On the side of jungles there are only insect screens at the partitions.

Bats are sitting on walls both in the building and in the shower.

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Looks like a refined version of a campsite in jungles.

So, this place is not for everyone)

However, there were some small houses for just a couple of people, with doors and windows in place, but those have already been occupied.

What I needed to do, was to settle my payment problem: I needed either cash or PayPal transaction to cover my expenses for a guide and a boat to Corcovado, for meals, for night lodging, and for the return boat.

Roaming was available only deep in jungles – there was a point the signal gets to. So, I was walking there, and… I could hear someone approaching. The sounds were getting more and more distinct. I froze! And guess who it was? – a tapir! A real actual tapir. This creature looks quite funny. It run past me, waving its funny foolish nose, and disappeared in the thicket. Taken by surprise and delight, I was standing there motionless. I’ll show you the pictures of tapir later in this report.

And suddenly I got really-really scared to continue alone. I realized that jungles were no joke. I could hear various sounds, and who knows how many pairs of wild eyes were watching me at that moment!

So, I haven’t reached the place with the distinct roaming signal… You know, it turned out, I could run very fast 🙂

To tell you the truth, that night I was nearly sleepless. It was all about my 7 hours’ jetlag, sounds of the ocean, very distinct sounds of jungles, and my payment issue.

In the drowsiness, I dreamed of the ocean waves running up to me, or animals approaching, or making up a plan for fixing my payment problem…

 

Day 4. March 3, 2016. Wild Beach and Relaxation.

In the morning, I had to settle my payment issue. Together with Leo, we reached the signal point. I used his phone to send my request to my friend.

This is what a ‘phone booth’ looks like:

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While we were waiting for a strong signal to appear, lots of different animals ran by.

Leo said, his mom had seen saw a puma at that place. I quite believe that.

Later, we went for a trip with a group of other guys: a Canadian couple, and two young women from the US: Amanda and Shelly. They were fun.

We were going through the thicket encountering monkeys. They were watching us from high trees and accompanied us for a while, deftly leaping from one branch to another. Just like in my favorite adventure books from my childhood!

The traits were narrow, occasionally quite steep, and covered with fallen leaves – you never know what can be found underneath.

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We always had to catch Amanda: for some reason, every time she slipped, she would sit at her bottom, lean on her back, and slide down without even trying to snatch at anything.

Looked like a natural rollercoaster for the wild coasters ))

Only there, it was quite dangerous, as that was a habitat for plenty of snakes, spiders, and other beasts.

So, we reached a large wild beach. Not a single living being in the vicinity, wild nature was stretching for kilometers! The waves were huge. So huge, it was impossible to swim. Well, you could have, but then returning to the coast would have been doubtful))

We freshened up with cocoa milk and relaxed.

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On our way back, we were lucky enough to see some toucans and huge Ara macao parrots!

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When I returned to the hostel, good news was waiting for me: my friend helped me out, and the payment arrived.

Hurray! Now I can buy some food, and pay for the guide and a boat. It’s not fun to stay with no connection and no money. But it’s nice to have good friendly connections)

Certainly, without that help another possibility would have been available – going back to the town and then proceeding along the country, or, alternatively, just taking a boat back. With that option, however, some precious days would have been lost, just as my chances to visit Corcovado.

Still, things turned out well due to nice people. Thank you!

 

Day 5. March 4, 2016. Corcovado National Park.

The boat arrived at 8 in the morning. It took about an hour and a half to get to the Park. The guide was excellent. We walked along the beach to get to the river.

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On our way, we encountered footprints of various animals, even that of a puma!

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We reached the backwater, where an amazing combination was encountered: crocodiles and a baby shark floating together. The shark must have entered the backwater from the ocean.

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We then continued through the jungles!

Those ancient trees are huge!

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And there was a wide variety of fowl:

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Funny spider monkeys. To move, they use their firm flexible tail along with their limbs.

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What other interesting things were there? Two sleeping tapirs, snoring enormously!

One of them was sleeping in the trees, while another – just in the water. It was moving up and down, submerging into water, and then emerging back to grasp some air. That was an extremely nice picture one could watch for a long while.

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My dream to meet puma hasn’t come true this time…

But I think, if you walk all the trails around the JungleandJaguar, you must be able see all of those and even more.

There was an elderly couple from France. We had a chat, and they told me about their trips, joyfully and enthusiastically: “We love travelling, and we realize we don’t have that much time left, as we are 69 and 74 now”. For the recent years, they have visited Kilimanjaro, spent a couple of nights at the Amazon, and have been to South Africa, Lesotho, and many other countries. We had a long talk about Lesotho and South Africa (by now, considering all the factors, this is the place I feel like the most amazing and the nicest from among all that I’ve visited). I wish that couple good health and more possibilities for their fascinating trips!

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There are NO age-related limits for traveling!

The evening went by in a nice company. Everyone was engaged in something of their own. It was a comfortable sensation, no one was interfering with someone else’s privacy without another party’s consent.

We were swimming in the ocean, taking pictures, and enjoying the wonderful sunset!

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Day 6. March 3, 2016. Relocating. 

The day has come to leave a piece of paradise on Earth… I hope to come back here one day, to walk all the trails around here, and to do the diving in the Cocos Island.

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Then I am heading to volcanoes. After all, costa Rica is a country of 120 volcanoes.

When I arrived to San Jose, it turned out there were no more buses to La Fortuna till the end of the day 🙁

So, I stayed in the town for the night. The departure was scheduled at 6 am the next morning.

 

Day 7. March 6, 2016. The Way to Arenal, the Largest Volcano.

It was about 1 pm when I arrived in the town of La Fortuna, near which the Arenal Volcano National Park was located.

What did I want to do at the Arenal Park? I wanted to see the volcano from a closer distance, to wander about the forest, and to hang out in SPA and in thermal springs.

Nevertheless, my love for tracking and for nature prevailed over the possibility to hang out in SPA, even though I promised my folks I was going to have some rest.

Sorry guys, I choose a whole-day trip to two volcanos for tomorrow.

I spent half a day walking around the town, along tiny local streets. Kids scattered in all directions and had no desire to get imprinted by my camera. It was only instant pictures that made them come back – gifts are appreciated everywhere 🙂

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I always try to walk in the places tourists usually don’t visit. It is certainly dangerous, on one hand, but, on the other hand, this way you can see lots of interesting things and get to know various realia of a town and its locals.

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Which common features can be distinguished in all towns of Costa Rica?

Houses are very small and poverty-stricken, with low ceilings, but with a very large TV-sets and a plush-upholstered sofas and armchairs in every single shack.

That’s a remarkable contrast.

Another thing is – you can sense their passion for soccer in every town. One can find at least some kind of a soccer field. Also – a well-groomed church occupying a large territory with nice greenery.

 

Day 8. March 7, 2016. Rainforest and Volcanos.

That was an active day. Trails in Arenal National Volcano Park are great. Table plates are also picturesque.

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At first, the way went upwards through the Rainforest. The ancient forest was very beautiful.

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The forest paths were quite challenging – they were very slippery and pretty much difficult sometimes. We used to meet other people on their way back walking in the dirtiest possible boots, torn pants, with blood and abrasion on their knees and elbows, but with happy faces, greeting us with “Hey! I’m OK! I’m alive!”. Real thrill-seekers!

Luckily, the weather made it possible to see the volcano at its best.

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I hold a little snake in my hands. The guide told me, it wasn’t poisonous. It turned out later, it was. And quite poisonous. I was lucky that this Coral Snake was very small yet.

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I also liked local cows very much. They are beautiful and are different than those in our localities.

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That day was also rich in picturesque views and great experience.

And 30 minutes of hanging out in a natural thermal flow made the end of the tracking. That thermal flow was like a huge jacuzzi with incredibly nice water in a forest under the clearest sky of stars. What bliss! Sounds like SPA treatment to me…

 

Day 9. March 8, 2016. My Last Day in Costa Rica.

The International Women’s Day began with the same wonderful view over the volcano, birds singing, and my tired body feeling some nice weariness after the yesterday’s track. And my happy smile was on my face satisfied with the succeeded trip.

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I have visited all the places I intended to, gained new experience, and discovered new places!

 

So, today I need to get to San Jose, as early in the morning tomorrow I have a flight scheduled to the USA (NYC) towards new places and my long-awaited date! 

Wait a minute, what about Mexico, some observant readers may ask. My Mexico plans went down in flames because I had rescheduled the departure and then decided to spend all the days in Costa Rica. And I feel no regret at all!

I didn’t feel like visiting San Jose for the third time, and I chose a small town of Alajuela located really close to the airport.

And, finally, I met kind people all around. In the bus, an old man told me where to get out to reach Alajuela. He was heading there too. So, we went out together, he showed me the bus stop, wanted to pay my fee in the bus, and then he guided me to my hostel while keeping telling me stories in Spanish about the town and the local places of interest.

He also gave me recommendation about the best ways to get to the airport the next morning.

Amazingly, one can really understand strange languages, if they are eager to. He, miraculously enough, also realized what I was saying. And it’s neither I knew any Spanish, nor he knew English.

My conclusion is: if two people have great desire to communicate, and they are open-hearted and sincere, then knowing a common language is not the main essential component for a successful communication 🙂

The hostel also turned out cool. It was neat and clean, with nicely decorated interior and a very kind hostess. My respect to the hostel!

By the end of my trip I started feeling relaxed. And my inner relaxation seemed to have manifested itself to the world too. Or, perhaps, I just got adapted to Costa Rica’s local peculiarities, or it was my joy of the long way I’d made, and of new acquaintances (except for that taxy-driver and the incompetent tourist services guy, but that was some life experience too).

 

Thank you.

Alina Ushcheka.

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P.S. And here is some useful information:

 

1) bus transportation is good within the country and even beyond its borders – to the neighboring countries, like Panama and Nicaragua. It’s not expensive. The transport operator is TicaBus company.

2) meal in cafes and restaurants is quite often overpriced. That soup shouldn’t be costing $5, especially in those conditions!

3) I strongly recommend you to visit the Corcovado National Park. If JungleandJaguar hostel is not your choice, as described by me, you can find other options here at the page about Corcovado.

4) Plastic cards are accepted nearly everywhere. But sometimes, before you head off to mountains or to jungles, you’d better withdraw the necessary amount of cash beforehand. Even if Wi-Fe and plastic cards acceptance are promised 🙂

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5) And remember – quite often, locals are kind of pirates in a little way!

P.S. leave feedback and post your comment, please)

 

 

 

 

 

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