Beware the taxi drivers
Inveterate traveller Rosa Briant continues on her way through Central America. She pals up with a fellow Kiwi in Costa Rica and together they hitchhike their way from place to place. Use your common sense is Rosa’s well-earned advice.
Crossing the border from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, I met another Kiwi chick called Anna and we ended up travelling through Costa Rica together.
As much as I love travelling alone, I always embrace those moments when I meet beautiful souls on the road. Sometimes we are heading in the same direction and stay together on that path, but other times we throw caution to the wind and go where the road takes us. I adapt to their path, they adapt to mine, or together we end up following our hearts in a direction we never saw coming.
The latter was what happened with Anna and me. Both of us were in Costa Rica unexpectedly early, thanks to the political situation in Nicaragua, so neither of us had any plans.
Travelling alone and travelling with companions are two very different experiences. Both are incredibly freeing and liberating in extremely different ways. Hitchhiking, for example, is a fun, easy, cheap way to travel and meet interesting people, but it’s not something I would ever do alone in Latin America. With the two of us together we felt safe and open to it which was exhilarating and lead us to places and people we would have otherwise missed out on.
We started off in Tamarindo, a stunning beach city on the Pacific coast with a relaxed, surfy vibe and incredible weather.
Costa Rica is known as being extremely expensive in comparison with other Central American countries but I found this to be slightly misleading. In reality the accommodation and public transport is pretty much on par with other countries — more expensive yes, but not by much. It’s just restaurant food, clothes and notoriously cheeky taxi drivers which are crazy expensive. If you’re able to cook you won’t find yourself too far out of pocket. And seriously, stay away from taxis whenever possible. In San Jose especially, you’re almost guaranteed to be conned and ripped off. Anna and I got off a bus there and had to sprint to another station for a connecting bus.
As we ran up to the second bus station a taxi driver stepped in front of us, told us that the bus had already left and we needed to go with him in his taxi. He said there was another bus leaving from another station and if we hurried we could make it on time. He was intense and rushed, not giving us time to think, and in the panic we jumped in with him. Big mistake. Two minutes into the journey I asked him how much it would cost. He told me $180 USD! For a 15 minute drive! I told Anna (who relied on me to translate) and her face turned white. We told him “NO WAY”, we couldn’t afford that. He insisted and even pulled out a portable credit card payment machine. To pay for a taxi by card is absolutely unheard of in Latin America so the fact that the drivers in San Jose carry them is a clear sign that they are used to charging exorbitant prices for their trips. I told him to stop the damn car so we could get out and find our own way. He angrily and reluctantly did as we asked. We paid him a small amount of money and walked only two minutes until finding another bus station with buses going every half hour to our destination.
Common sense the keyAfter speaking with fellow travellers I found out that this is so common, and the bus we were initially running to had, in fact, not left yet. Taxi drivers simply sit there and wait for vulnerable, rushing travellers like us to take advantage of. It is horrible that things like that happen. So just a heads up — don’t let the bastards get the better of you!
I want to talk a little about hitchhiking now. It has a bad reputation. To the point where people freak out if you tell them you do it. And there is good reason for that. But, like everything in the world, if you apply common sense you really have nothing to worry about. Rule one: don’t do it alone. Rule two: tell someone where you are leaving from and where you are heading. Rule three: talk to the person/people in the car before you get in and follow your instincts. If you feel something is off just wait for the next ride. Rule four: always try to get on the back of a ute or truck for a quick, easy getaway!
From Tamarindo Anna and I ventured to Monteverde, a small town in the stunning Cloud Forest. We were picked up firstly by a truck with a big tarp-covered cab on the back. The truck was driven by two smiley women and as we climbed up into the cab we found around 20 young local guys all piled in there too. They grabbed our bags and our hands and welcomed us into their humble ride. We went about half the way with them and when we hopped out I offered a little money to the women in the front. They flat out refused to accept it and and happily wished us luck on our journey. Shortly after, we were picked up again, by an elderly couple this time, who were excited to practise their English with us! We had an immediate feeling of safety and comfort when we met them and made ourselves cosy on the back of their pickup truck, along with a local, hitching a ride home. We had around an hour with those guys as we drove through lush mountains with views which were 100 times better than any bus or taxi could ever have provided.
Despite all our belongings, and us, getting absolutely drenched through by a long torrential downpour on entering the micro-climate, it was one of the most enjoyable trips I have ever had. More on Costa Rica next month.
Remember — don’t ever let fear of the unknown hold you back. Common sense is a miraculous thing! Use it.