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Incommunicado in Costa Rica

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 Letting go of the cellphone and the best laid plan

As soon as I learned I’d be celebrating a milestone anniversary in Costa Rica, I jumped at the chance to solidify my status as Oldest and Sharpest Globetrotting Friend. The vacation was nearly two months away, but it was never too early to aim for the gold. Four other adults would join us, and just this once I wanted to grab center stage as the quintessentially organized and enthusiastic travel companion who just happened to have encyclopedic knowledge of Central America and its sight-seeing attractions, authentic restaurants and bargain gas stations.

Although I hadn’t traveled out of the country in nearly a decade, I was no novice to the whole pack ‘n’ go thing. I had the mandatory Fodor’s, I had a money converter; best of all, I had a cell phone.

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But that’s exactly when things went awry. In my haste to dance to the digital tune of “travel hostess with the mostest,” I missed a few steps. First off, an Internet search told me my current cell phone would be rendered useless once I deboarded in San Jose. It had to go; I needed a fully-functioning phone to call home and check on my kids: four-footed furry house guests who loved me even with morning breath and spin-cycle hair. My companion animals – four dogs and one hairy cat at last count – needed to know I cared. And I needed to know they were behaving normally: snoring on the couch, scarfing up meals and striking fear in the heart of burglar wannabes.

[pullquote]I needed a fully-functioning phone to call home and check on my kids: four-footed furry house guests who loved me even with morning breath and spin-cycle hair.[/pullquote]For these reasons and more, my cyber-colleagues recommended an unlocked phone. So, in a rare moment of thriftiness, I turned to eBay, where sure enough, I found a nearly new brand-name unlocked phone at a relatively inexpensive price.

When it arrived a few days later, I eyed it suspiciously as I figured any cautious second-owner would. I even took it for a physical checkup at Radio Shack, where I purchased a charger and heard a boring spiel on foreign codes I needed to know by heart to connect from Costa Rica to the good old U.S.A.

Lift-off finally arrived on a dark, stormy night – nah, it was a clear May evening, which boded well, I thought. I managed to nap on our overnight flight from Phoenix, but after gulping two double lattes with espresso during the layover in Dallas, I was wired all the way to San Jose. Even so, the air turbulence hardly fazed me. When the plane touched down, I was so remarkably calm I even managed to refrain from jamming both feet on the hydraulic brakes our friendly pilot had relocated to the seat in front of me.

My excellent kharma continued as I arrived at the baggage claim and watched my friends grabbing for their luggage at the carousel. I had coordinated our arrival times perfectly so I was ready to accept all pats on the back. But first, of course, I needed to purchase my prepaid calling card. It was almost too easy. The vendor kiosk was adjacent to the carousel. Unlocked phone in hand, I made my way through the crowd.

Five minutes later I concluded nothing was as easy as it seemed. Gone was my dream of snaring the title of Costa Rica’s Vacationer Extraordinaire, and it was all because of the ‘locked’ status (surprise!) of my phone. This diagnosis instantly turned the electronic gadget into a useless lump of plastic. To make matters worse, I succeeded in getting in touch with my anger to the extent that I began having dark thoughts about the vendor, certain he had intentionally flunked my phone on its test run so I’d purchase a brand new unlocked one from him. But that theory crashed and burned when the vendor calmly informed me he didn’t sell phones.

That was the kiss of death. I concluded that the eBay seller had suckered me. Or else – but this was a long shot – he was as dimwitted as me. Either way I was incommunicado – this after reassuring my friends that, yes, I – the anointed one and bearer of the Olympic torch of hassle-free vacations – was in full possession of a cheap, convenient way of calling the States.

The irony was that although my communications efforts had gone south along with my self-respect, my friends didn’t bat an eyelash. Everyone piled into the car and six hours later, we arrived on the west coast. The next day I found out Costa Rica’s tourist areas offered public phone cubbies to call the USA. You had to buy time and dial about a thousand numbers – plus compete with traffic and other street noises – but phones were available and for a less-than-prohibitive price.

I won’t easily forget Costa Rica’s tropical rainforests, fishing boats, winding roads, monster lizards or brightly colored parrots, but whenever I call up these friendly memories, I also think, “Buzz off eBay.” Sometimes frugality is not the greater part of wisdom.

*Photo by CannedTuna

This article has 6 comments

  1. Karen McCann

    What a cell phone nightmare! As you say, the best laid plans…Yet somehow, in the end, it usually works out OK. My husband and I honeymooned in Costa Rica, and it was one catastrophe after another. At one point we were traveling by boat up a canal on the west coast when our boatman passed out and then the outboard motor broke down. We were marooned for hours, no other boats in sight. Night was coming on. Finally the jungle lodge expecting us sent a man in a boat to look for us. I was thrilled when he pulled up beside us. And so was he. “I’m sinking!” he shouted, and we saw his boat was half full of water. So we put his functioning engine on our functioning boat, and were on our way. So it did work out, in the long run…but there were a few scary moments there.

    Karen McCann
    enjoylivingabroad.com

  2. Ayelet - All Colores

    At least you got a story out of it 🙂 Love that your friends didn’t make a big deal of this and you all just continued with your travels despite it.

  3. Krista

    Ayiyi! I’ve had my share of cell phone dilemmas too – like not working at all in Cancun and Fiji. Ah well. 🙂 It ended up being the perfect excuse to truly relax. 🙂 SO glad you had a fantastic time in spite of your mishap. 🙂

  4. Ayngelina

    Most of my favourite times are when I’m not connected. As long as I know in advance and can plan accordingly it’s a nice break.

  5. Bobbi Lerman

    I always like to to be able to call home when I need to.
    That would have made me crazy, but sounds like your friends saw this as hardly a blip and good to know about the public phones available.
    Going to Costa Rica in the fall, can hardly wait!

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