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How to Travel in Costa Rica on a Budget

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

As usual, when planning a trip, I go to various websites searching for clues, reviews, discount lodging, activities and money exchange rates. You may want to note that Costa Rica uses colones as the medium of exchange but also accept US dollars in most places. Generally speaking, 1,000 colones are equal to two US dollars, so when calculating colones just move the decimal over (to the left) three places and multiply by two to get the US dollar equivalent.

So with the assistance of my son Omar, who would also be joining me on this trip to Costa Rica, we began our research checking Frommers.com, TripAdvisor.com, Hostels.com, GoVisitCostaRica.com, Google Maps, and other websites to get somewhat familiar with that part of the world.

There were no flights available to the San Jose airport, so we decided to fly Delta to the Liberia Airport (LIR). Liberia is located in the Guanacaste Province which is located in the Northeastern part of Costa Rica. This is not a bad option for anyone who wants to see the country in the most cost effective way, which is by bus. We took a taxi from the airport and checked in the Boyeros Hotel in downtown Liberia. The taxi charge was $15.00 for me and my son. There is however, an even cheaper way to get to the center of Liberia. You can take a taxi out to the main road for about $4.00 and take the local bus for only 50 cents. That is how we returned to the airport on our departure day.

The Boyeros was a nice hotel with a 24 hour restaurant and two swimming pools (one adult and one child pool with little waterfall). They also had double beds, cable TV and hot water. The staff does not speak much English so brush up on your Spanish before your trip. Many small hotels and hostels do not have hot water so always check your room and turn on the water before payment is given especially if you travel without making advance reservations like we did. They are also conveniently located on the bus line and around the corner from the bus station.

The cost of the room was $60.00 per night, which was over our hotel budget of $40.00 per night, but the hot water and nice pool was a good trade off. We spent the day at the pool, getting adjusted and planning our next move. We did not eat at their restaurant but instead walked across the road to a food mall which housed Burger King and a few other fast food restaurants. It was packed with locals and a few tourists. After eating we stocked up on water and headed back to the hotel. My son Omar crashed out and I stayed up and got treated to a Pacquiao vs. Margarito fight on HBO. Pacquiao was victorious but I still think that Floyd Mayweather would win if they ever meet.

We got up early at about 4:30 AM to make our six and a half hour trip to the Manuel Antonio National Park, which was one of the places that showed up on many websites and was a “must see” type of location. I paid $12.00 for us to go to Barranca, which was about an hour and a half away. For $1.00, we took the local bus to the Puntarenas Bus Station. You must purchase a bus ticket at the booth around the corner from where the buses line up. The bus to Manuel Antonio cost $15.00 and was another two hour ride. We really were able to take in the beautiful scenery of the country as we rode the highway in this comfortable bus.

We arrived about 11:00 AM in Quepos and decided to find a hotel there instead of riding to Manuel Antonio which was only a short 30 minute ride away. We walked about two blocks and found the Park Hotel or Hotel Parque which was situated on the 2nd floor over the Drage Pharmacy. It was very quaint with only cold water and no air conditioning but it did have cable TV and a ceiling fan and only cost $20.00 for the room that we selected with two twin beds. We checked in and dropped our bags and scurried back to the bus station to continue our journey to the Manuel Antonio National Park. There is a $10.00 entry fee for adults and it was free for my son who is 11 years of age. You have to walk about a mile on a gravel and dirt road before reaching the beach. We did not see any wildlife along the way as it was promoted in their literature and on some websites. The walk was a bit grueling in the heat and with our backpacks but the beach was beautiful and the water was fine.

Actually, my recommendation would be to pass on going through the National Park and instead just go on the other side of the road and enjoy the beach right there. There are noticeably more rocks and stones along the shoreline and you can’t avoid walking on them as you enter the ocean but the $10.00 National Park fee could then be used for a meal or two. After a while the clouds rolled in and it began to rain. My son was undaunted and continued to swim. After his hands and feet resembled raisins, we headed back up the pathway and decided to eat at Chicken on the Run, which is situated on the main road and right across from the beach, before heading back to the hotel. We shared a whole rotisserie chicken, rice and beans, plantains and a two liter bottle of soda, which cost about $16.00 for everything. Be mindful however, that the chicken and other livestock that you eat are likely raised on the same water that you are trying to avoid when you purchased bottled water during your stay. Just as you experience illness, cramps and vomiting in Mexico and are warned “don’t drink the water”, the same warning should also apply when visiting Costa Rica.

We scheduled the Mangrove Safari Tour for the next day then jumped back on the local bus to Quepos for $1.00 and was safely in our room by about 7:00 PM. After our cold showers, Omar watched the Disney Channel in Spanish, while I went to Bogarts Restaurant just downstairs and to the right, to use the internet to plot our next moves. I checked the bus schedules at http://www.thebusschedule.com/ to make sure we stayed on schedule.

The next morning we got up early and checked out of the hotel. We carried our bags with us to the tour pick up location in Manuel Antonio because we were going to get a bus to San Jose right after the safari tour. We could have gotten picked up at the hotel but when I signed up for the tour the previous day, I did not know the exact name or location of the hotel, so to avoid confusion, I said we would just come to the ticket booth location. Little did I know that the mini tour bus would end up taking us right back to Quepos to a restaurant less than a half block from the hotel to have lunch, which was included in the $65.00 per head ticket price of the tour. The food was good and included rice and beans, salad and a choice of fish or chicken. The tour drivers appeared confused and not very organized. They said it was a four hour tour but ended up being about 2 hours. We finally arrived at Damas Island to board the boat about 2 hours after we were picked up. The river area was desolate to say the least.

We saw monkeys right along the bush area near the dock. We also saw some birds in that immediate area but deeper into the ride we saw less and less. No crocodile as promised upon signing up. We did see a curled up snake that appeared to be sleeping on a tree branch. One lady on the tour, from San Francisco, CA said she had taken the tour about 20 years ago and the same area was filled with colorful birds swooping down and flying around in every direction. The tour guide who looked to be in his twenties, could not offer a reason. My suggestion is to skip this tour or find a company that offers it for about $40.00. That what is seems to be worth. You can also ride over to Damas and you may just be able to see the monkeys hanging around the dock area. If there is a next time, we would likely opt for a trip to a zoo or a reserve like Africa Mia which is located in the El Salto area of Liberia. You can check their website to reserve space.

We hustled back from the tour and around 5:00 pm we boarded the bus to San Jose. We got there around 8:30 PM and was fortunate to get assistance from two young ladies who were on the bus who provided some information about the bus station area crime. They translated our selected hostel to the taxi driver, who spoke very little English.

We checked in to Vesuvio for $40.00 for the night. It was a great place to stay with hot water, cable TV, AC and free breakfast. Eduardo and Mauricio spoke excellent English and were very informative and hospitable. Vesuvio can be contacted by visiting their website at http://www.hotelvesuvio.com/.

After a quick breakfast of toast and fruit we took a super quick 30 minute tour of San Jose downtown district. Our bus to Liberia was at 7:00 AM and arrived in Liberia about 11:00 AM which gave us a three hour cushion before our flight back to the USA. We used the time by heading to the local supermarket to purchase some coffee for gifts. We boarded the local bus and got off at the entry road to the airport, then took a taxi in to the entrance area. Keep in mind that there is an exit tax charged before you leave, so don’t spend every dollar you have in Costa Rica or you may have an extended stay. The fee is about $26.00 per person.

We arrived back in Atlanta after four hours, went through customs and baggage check and finally to our vehicle. My son and I had accomplished a great deal in only four days and three nights. We spent less than $500.00 dollars on ground transportation, food, hotels, gifts and entertainment. When my son looked over to me and said “thank you for taking me to Costa Rica”, simple words alone could not express my gratitude to the Creator. My feeling could justifiably be described as “Muy, Muy Bien”!
Travel Safely!

A. Omar Muhammad can be contacted at [email protected]

How the Food on Your Table May Be Causing Disasters That Kill

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Earlier this year, I was visiting Bangladesh to review the state of disaster management system in the country. The national government has invested heavily over the years in developing its capacity to deal with various hazards such as floods, cyclones, storm surge, landslides and earthquakes the country is highly exposed to. One morning, as I sat in the restaurant for an early breakfast when it was not too busy, I got talking to Shafiq – one of the waiters who barely looked sixteen, though he claimed to be nineteen. Shafiq had come to Dhaka from southwestern part of the country in early 2013 with his elder sister who had found herself a job at a garment factory. They came to escape poverty and regular floods and cyclones in Patuakhali which was their home. Earlier in 2007, Shafiq’s father who was a fisherman and the sole breadwinner of the family was killed during cyclone Sidr which hit the district.

Shafiq told me that back in January 2014 when they came to Dhaka, life was looking good again. Little did he know that two months later, his sister would be one of the 1,140 people killed in the infamous Rana Plaza building collapse.

He had overheard a conversation the previous evening I was having with a climate scientist over dinner and wanted to know if the intensity and frequency of floods in his district will ever come down. He did not like Dhaka and wanted to go back to Patuakhali if the small land his mother had could be made cultivable again. He had heard that the world is getting warmer and that is why during each cyclone and high tide, the sea waves are much higher than what he remembers as a child.

I wish I had an answer for Shafiq.

A few weeks later, back in London I saw a news report that the global concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere – the primary driver of climate change – has reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history. Scientists tell us that in the last 250 years – since the ushering in of fossil fuel driven industrial revolution – as global CO2 concentration in air increased by 120 ppm, temperature rose by 0.8 degrees Celsius (C). That may seem a very small increase to you and me – what is this hand wringing and chest beating about?

To put in perspective, almost half of this increase (0.4 degree C) has taken place in the last three decades alone, fueled by our unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels and insatiable hunger for consumption of anything and everything the fossil-driven economy churns out. Endless consumption, we are told, is good for us, for our economy and for the world.

With a 0.8 degree C increase, we have already been witnessing increasing drought, floods, sea level rise and arctic melt. The Nobel-wining Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns us that unless serious actions are taken, we would see the global temperature rise by over 2 degree C by the end of the century. To ensure that the temperature rise is below 2ºC, the IPCC (2007) calculated that global emissions must peak by 2015 at 400 ppm and drop thereafter (though subsequently this figure was revised to 450 ppm by 2100). The 400ppm peak is certainly not achievable as we are already there, and emissions continue grow at about 2 ppm per year.

The consequences of not staying within this 2 degree threshold will be near-catastrophic for different regions. With increase in greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures, the type, frequency and intensity of extreme weather – such as hurricanes, typhoons, floods, droughts, and storms – are projected to increase; sea level rise up to 5 metres due to retreating Arctic and melting of Antarctic ice sheets leading to mass displacement and food shortages are predicted; and thawing of permafrost will lead to further increase in temperature besides dramatic changes in geology and hydrology.

Starting with the Kyoto protocol, countries have made various commitments to reduce emissions based on the principle of common, but differentiated responsibilities. The G8 summit in 2009 set a target of 80% emission cut for industrial economies by 2050. This would require bringing down per capita greenhouse gas emission (CO2 equivalent) to 2 tonnes. Currently (2013), in the EU the average is 10 tonnes per capita, and in the UK and USA, the corresponding figure is 7.2 and 16.4 tonnes per capita respectively.

After an initial rise between 1990 and 2000, emissions declined significantly in the USA and UK in particular. This was mainly due to reductions in emissions from power generation and non-CO2 gases (e.g. methane from waste). The ongoing recession (slow recovery) and some amount of energy efficiency improvement, fuel switching and industrial restructuring and have also contributed to reduction in industry emissions. However, this is still far from the target of 2 tonnes per person.

Hope for realizing substantial changes through current incremental measures remains unrealistic. Scientists have argued that this is unattainable unless radical steps are taken in our production and consumption pattern. Continuing to use the same model of ‘Grow-Baby-Grow’ model of development, and changing a few light bulbs here, planting a few trees there, and hoping for the best technological fixes to emerge to wash away the 36 billion tonnes of emission our lifestyle spews out every year is a pipe dream.

In the coming decades, the emerging and developing countries which currently account for about a quarter of the global greenhouse gases are going to become big emitters – India, for instance, still has two-thirds of its population with no electricity; or Sub-Saharan Africa has 47% of its population reeling in poverty. The governments in these countries can not be expected to sit back and let generations suffer due to continuing lack of basic necessities, hunger and starvation, just because 30 odd industrialized countries have already heated up the planet so much that we have already crossed the tipping point for global warming.

This is where lifestyle changes comes in, and that’s a conversation currently missing from policy discussions and international protocols. If we all continue to hanker after the big mac-burger and the juicy steak flown across continents, the neatly packaged exotic fruit one had never seen before, four cars for each family and the latest model of the smartest phone only to be discarded every six months, we shall all heat up the planet by anything between 1.4° to 6.4° C between 1990 and 2100, according to one UN report. As Mahatma Gandhi had said some eighty years ago, “The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed”.

Lifestyle changes can start with simple things. Emissions from agriculture in the UK, for instance, account for around a tenth of all UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Agriculture emissions reached 54 million tonnes CO2e in 2013 – a little less than 1 tonne contributed by each one of us. Livestock farming produces from 20% to 50% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon footprint of a vegetarian diet is about half that of a meat-lover’s diet. Environmental groups have done very detailed analysis of greenhouse gas emissions produced by various types of food and ranked them on the basis of the emissions produced on the farm, in the factory, on the road, in the shop and in our homes.

Meat, cheese and eggs have the highest carbon footprint. Fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts have much lower carbon footprints. If we move towards a mainly vegetarian diet, we can have a large impact on our personal carbon footprint.

So next time, you bite into the juicy piece of lamb shank, think of the gas emitted by your car when you drive 91 miles. That’s as much carbon a kilo of lamb on your table is contributing to insidious and irreversible damage to out habitat.

I wish I could tell Shafiq that he probably stands little chance of ensuring that his land escapes the ravages of frequent storm, tidal waves and salinity, and his family may be displaced again. People in Bangladesh have already started experiencing climate change in the form of increased flooding, erratic rainfall, frequent cyclone and drought-like conditions, salinity in water and cropland, sea and river erosion, higher temperature and more frequent high tide. The World Bank estimates that cyclone exposed areas in Bangladesh will increase by 26% and the affected population will grow by about 122% by 2050 (World Bank, 2010).

And this is because the world is failing to make the radical changes that is necessary to avert a catastrophe.

We still have one last chance. Later this year, world leaders are meeting in Paris to develop a new global agreement on climate change. Researchers, policy makers, lobbyists and campaigners have been working hard in preparation for the summit to ensure that a good deal is possible. The focus unfortunately still appears to be on how we improve our production methods, how we share our resources, how we continue to ‘grow’ and how we finance the measures that are agreed. One central question that is not brought into the agenda is: how do we curb the voracious culture of consumerism that is at the root of the plunder, and how do we ensure a more equitable planet?

This question – about endless consumerism and galloping inequity – which has driven all our growth and development, at least in the past three decades, remains central to climate change. And the world has not yet shown enough courage to face it.