Taking a Baby to Costa Rica- Part 3: Don’t Drop the Baby in Croc Creek

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The smells of perfectly seasoned Gallo Pinto, tiny monkeys, juicy coconuts, overpriced groceries, and salt-coated humidity hit my mind’s nose before I stepped out of the airport. We had arrived, and we had survived. First step of international travel with baby complete, and I didn’t even look like a frazzled sleep-deprived lunatic, not entirely.

We snaked through the peace of cake, stamp-and-go, immigration line, and found our luggage carousel. Miraculously, our heaping pile of luggage made it, complete with three unbroken and un-stolen surfboards.

We put some minutes on an old smart phone, because Heaven forbid we should spend a moment unconnected from ‘digi-world,’ and we really needed a GPS. Apparently Costa Rica has an aversion to road signs, and road names, and I’m ‘old school map’ inept.

We were escorted to our car rental shuttle and our luggage was loaded by a super-human, super-friendly, driver who was able to fit our two months supply of stuff into the available nooks and crannies of the van; and we were off!

Life was good, traveling was easy, and nothing could go wrong…. And then, the car rental debacle of 2014 occurred. We entered the car rental office with the “Beware of car rental scams” warning, from my cousin’s Costa-Rican-Expert wife, quietly echoing in the back of my mind. The jovial staff were happy to quickly compile the necessary paperwork and signatures, and would answer, “Yes, yes, yes, sure, sure, sure,” to every question.

Me: “Where is your bathroom?”

Them: “Yes, yes, yes, sure, sure, sure.”

All was going well, a little too well. Then, they asked the question, ‘how will you be insuring your two rentals?’

Me: “Well sir, if you look right here, on my handy rental agreement confirmation email, we’ve already purchased the $100 liability insurance for each vehicle.”

The Annoying Guy: (With infuriating smirk) “No, no, no, ma’am, you need much more protection than that for the vehicles.”

The gist was, we would need “much more,” insurance if we wanted to avoid purchasing the vehicles, if they received so much as a nasty glance from an oncoming vehicle.

The Annoying Guy: “We can offer you a very fair and thorough insurance package. $100 each day for full-insurance.”

Me (and my ultra-annoyed father): “What?! $100 per day to insurance the cars?!”

The Annoying Guy: “No, no, no, $100 per car, per day.”

Us: (On the floor, floored by this absurdity) “No f-ing way are we paying you $2,000 to insure these cars for ten days, we’d rather walk the trip.”

But, we had a baby, and a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff. A bus? We have a baby, and a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff.

As we fumed outside the office, trying the figure out what we were going to do, a kind fellow traveler, obviously well traveled and well versed in the ways of the ‘scam laden Costa Rican car rental agencies,’ quietly gave us the golden nugget travel tip that our credit card company would cover any damage done to the vehicles. The gist, the exhorbinantly scammy insurance offered by The Annoying Guy was unnecessary. My father’s ears perked up, but his need to ‘hear it straight from the horse’s mouth,’ (or the credit card rep’s mouth,) caused him to spend an hour, (and half of our cell phone minutes,) calling various branches of his credit card company, until he was 175% certain that our tushies were covered, in the event of our vehicle’s tushy being tapped.

After much effort, some expletives, and a few tears (from the baby…and myself,) he received his confirmation, marched back into the rental office, and triumphantly turned down their scam-surance.

After preventing them from gutting us of all our cash-ola before the trip even began, we were on our way.

After a whopping ten minutes of driving (we had about 180 minutes to go,) we made our first stop, a huge box store of course. Purchases? Beer, wine, coffee, and fabric softener (that was supposed to be laundry detergent; it had a picture of a clean clothed happy baby on the front, and there were bubbles!) Yes, there were stores in the Timbuktu of Costa Rica we were traveling to, but the tales of large and looming price tags frightened us. After painstakingly preventing the car rental agency from emptying out pocket book, we had no desire to break the bank in our pursuit of a light caffeine and/or alcohol buzz.

We wiggled our way through the lush Costa Rican countryside, eyes peeled for monkeys, or other brag worthy tropical creatures. Hudson hung in there for about an hour and an half before he was thoroughly fed up with being strapped into his cushioned seat.

We pulled up to a bridge that had a gaggle of tourists excitingly pointing over the edge; this has to be good, perfect timing Hudson. We parked the cars, removed the wailing baby, and walked the quarter of a mile back to the excited pointers. I looked down and immediately wished my baby, hanging on my hip, was securely fastened onto my chest with the Ergs-a-Baby; there were about 40 human eating crocodiles lounging on the sandy river banks below us. They were humongous, and likely hungry. The guardrail only went up to my waist; we weren’t in the paranoid, highly regulated, United States of ‘Oh Be Careful’ anymore. My grip on Hudson immediately tightened to the point of discomfort, and I stared in awe at these powerful creatures. A local, let us in on the fact that other locals, regularly lowered chickens down on a rope for the awaiting chompers, to ensure they’re never tempted to roam away.

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Dead Ducks Walking

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I’m fairly sure I saw the croc that gobbled up Captain Hook. After staring in terrified fascination for half an hour we made the tedious walk back to the cars, eyes peeled for any crocs that dared wander away from their murky flowing home.

Next stop Dominical? Yes, after about 15 pee stops. My bladder was never the same after it shared its’ space with a baby.

Pulling into Dominical allowed us to finally feel like “we had arrived,” we were officially on vacation. We bee-lined it to the beach, and the awaiting sunset, and stepped into Eden. The long glistening beach was glowing with the bright pink light the sunset was projecting. The warm waves also glowed pink as we dipped our bodies into pure ‘yes.’ The sunset didn’t take my breath away, it gave me my breath back.

‘I would like to float in this cotton-candy water forever, please’; well, at least until my grumbling belly pulled me out and over to the beachside cantina. You can only go so long on tiny bags of nuts, power bars, and mystery food scraps found in baby’s car seat.

After stuffing our faces full of fish, mashed up carbs, and a margarita, or two, we moseyed back to our ‘cabina’ and fell into a deep real sleep, with the sounds of vacation reverberating around us.

 

Taking a Baby to Costa Rica- Part 2: Airport Maze Maneuvering

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The parking shuttle spared our lives and we made it to LAX International check-in, expecting to fly through the process, seeing as how we had just wracked up so much good airport karma from not rioting against the bucking bus. But no, there was a seemingly endless line of weary travelers who had organized themselves, and their conglomeration of stuff, in between the moveable rollout partitions mischievous children love to move, when their frazzled parents are looking elsewhere.

I shuddered thinking of our group of eight (a baby counts as two people,) and our baggage of eighteen (the lumbering surfboard bag counts as five hunks of luggage,) maneuvering through those tight turns. My mother, an inspired genius sent from above, noticed an official looking lady sending a family to the gloriously empty line to her right, which I naturally assumed was reserved for people who had shelled out twice the amount for their ticket to have the luxury of fast lines, a jumbo seat, and a free glass of champagne; at that moment I could see their logic. My mom nudged her slim figure through the masses of confused travelers and inquired as to why that family got to go in that line?

Official Lady: “Well ma’am, they checked in online.”

Mom: “What?! We checked in online! We get to bypass that line for this line?!”

My mind did the happy dance my external body was too wiped-out to perform.

This bit of good karma was not the bad bus’ doing, no, I had stayed up until 2am the night before, with two computers simultaneously logged in to our airline’s website so I could frantically try to wrangle us a gaggle of seats together, our flock had to stick together. My early morning, bleary-eyed stay-up had paid off and we were flying in the fast lane, or at least lugging our mountain of stuff through a much shorter line. Why hadn’t all those people in that line embraced the power of the invisible forces of the Internet and checked in ahead of time?

We pulled to the front and started pulling out our heaps of travel paperwork we had spent the last few weeks frantically compiling; expedited passports, original copies of birth certificates, notarized parental permission forms, death certificates, pleas of insanity, and more. The only thing the silently efficient man looked at was the passports, and our credit card to charge for the board bag of course. “But, what about the tree that had to die to supply all these other documents?! At least look at them.” Nope, Murphy’s Law at it again.

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We got the boarding passes, carted the checked bags over to the piles of other checked bags, and made our way to security. My premature sense of ease should have been my signal I was bound for impending doom.

We arrived at the front of the security line and the uniform wearing woman was nice, she was actually nice, and she smiled. “Where am I?!” We passed Go, and started to pull our electronics out of our bags, remove our shoes from our feet, and attempt to wiggle out of the underwire containing bra I was afraid would set off the alarms. As the normally stern faced officials cooed at my thankfully smiling baby, I breezed through the metal detector. “Now we’ve made it.” But no, I was then escorted over to the Level Two security check, that I was certain was just a random “lottery.”

Security Guard: “Ma’am do you have weapons in this bag.”

Me: “Only some baby nail clippers.” (Yes, I actually said that, no, he was not amused.)

I continued to watch him weed through my meticulously packed bag, certain the most scintillating item he would find was a liquid-less breast pump. His hand then slid over a back pocket I had ceased to notice while packing. This was not my backpack, this was the back pack Eric usually took camping; I was not familiar enough with this backpack, not at all. The security guard swiped his hand through the “hidden” pocket and pulled out a pocketknife. A knife, there was a knife in my carry on. A knife. He held it out and just looked at me.

Yours Truly at Warp Speed: “It’s his bag, that guy over there, yes we’re together and it’s technically my bag today, but he usually takes this bag camping, and just went camping last weekend and he must have put it in the bag to take camping because he uses the can opener in the pocket knife to open cans, and beers, wait no, he doesn’t drink beers, and I had no idea it was there. I swear I checked the bag and I had no idea the knife was in there, no idea. I have a baby, so I’m always so distracted. Did I say I have a baby? I do, he’s right here, isn’t he cute? I’m so sorry; I promise I had no idea. Did I say I’m sorry? So sorry?”

Internal Dialogue: “Please don’t arrest me and take my baby, please don’t arrest me and take my baby, please don’t arrest me and take my baby.”

Security Guard: “Ma’am, we can either throw it away, or you can go back to checked baggage, check it, and re-enter the security line.”

Me: “You can throw it away, thank you.”

Internal Dialogue: “What?! I’m not going to be arrested for attempted international espionage. My baby isn’t going to be turned over to the government?” (Enter biggest sigh of relief that has ever left my mouth.)

When I recounted my harrowing tale to Eric, after we were far and away from security, he said, “What? You let them throw my pocket knife away?”

Yes, that was his response, really it was.

We made it to the gate without any more brushes with the law and had to wait an un-painful amount of time before they made the call for passengers with babies to pre-board. ‘What? I didn’t even know they did that anymore. I thought courtesy to the tuckered out souls traveling with ‘heavy non-speaking boob suckers’ was a thing of the past?’

It took some time, and some “baby coming through” name dropping, but we were able to squeeze through the masses of the child-less Tom, Dick, Harry, (and their significant others,) piled in line, making it near impossible for us with child and with piles of bulky baby bags peeps to pass.

By the grace of the Greek God Atlas, we made it to our seats unscathed, and Hudson promptly decided to get pissed, likely because he prophesized that he was about to be trapped in a confined space for 8 straight hours. When I was able to refocus his gaze on to the full-mom-boobs by his face, he was quickly consoled.

Hudson began to nurse, and I immediately yearned for water. I had purposely dehydrated myself before the flight so I would not be stuck in the torturous position of holding a ‘thank God he’s sleeping’ baby, and having an ‘I’m about to wet myself’ full bladder. As soon as we took off Hudson effortlessly fell into a milky real sleep, while I crawled my way into a less than ideal dehydrated, kind of sleep; but it was much better than wrestling with an abnormally strong baby in a tiny seat for eight hours.

Part one of flight one passed fairly quickly and we descended into the lush hills of Guatemala. We didn’t have to deplane, but we did have to spend an hour listening to a chronic cuss-er, as a fresh load of passengers were ushered on to the plane.

Chronic Cuss-er: “You should have f***in been there that one f***in time I did that totally f***In awesome thing. You f***in remember dude, I know you f***in remember, I’m so f***in dope.”

He was cool, and so were his huge gold-rimmed sunglasses and ‘fad-tabulous’ headphones. The eventual sound of the plane drowned out his stream of consciousness cussing.

Oh yeah, Hudson slept through Guatemala and was stuck in slumber until we landed in San Jose, Costa Rica. Verbal happy dance!

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Taking a Baby to Costa Rica- Part 1: The Hydraulic Parking Shuttle From Hell

Them: “You’re taking a baby to the middle of the Costa Rican jungle?!”

Us: “Yes.”

Them: “Are you crazy?!”

Us: “Ummm, maybe?”

Yes, we did it, and lived to tell the tale. We booked the tickets, reserved the house, bought a bag full of expensive sunscreen, and coaxed a bunch of other family members into going with us, before we could change our minds.

Tropical plants, cheeky monkeys, warm water, magenta pink sunsets, no need for pants, shirts, or shoes; sign me up.

But, first things first, we needed to get there.

Packing, driving the two hours to the airport, and finding a parking spot at the long-term parking concrete-jungle was fairly easy, but the easy ended there. We were shocked when a shuttle appeared mere moments after we schlepped all our shtuff over to the nondescript shuttle stop. Usually, we have to wait an hour, then frantically run after the passing shuttle that “didn’t see us.”

We entered the miracle shuttle, parked our traveling tushies in the back, and rolled along on our merry way, for about 50 yards. At this 50-yard mark a woman-with-wheelchair needed to make her departure from said shuttle, and the necessary ramps were lowered to accommodate her safe descent. Part of this ‘ramp lowering’ consisted of special hydraulics, which caused the right side of the bus to tilt towards the asphalt below; very disconcerting, but at least this guy “knew what he was doing.”

She was able to exit without much fanfare, and the shuttle driver attempted to balance out the listing bus. We slowly raised back to “right,” had a fleeting moment of ‘yay here we go!’ then persisted to tilt down on the other side. We were the only people on the bus now, and there was no one waiting in the wings to enter; “why the heck are we now sloping so far to the left I need to hang on to a stability pole to stay in my grafittied blue plastic seat?”

As I attempted to steel my nerves against the unease I felt at being a passenger on the ‘Unintentional Carnival Ride Shuttle,’ he started to drive! “You can’t drive a tilting bus! My baby is on board! Do you have a liscense to drive a shuttle, or any car?! Who are you?! Are you trying to kill us?! Let me off!” Before I could verbalize any of my neurotic internal dialogue, the shuttle bug Gods smiled upon us, and he STOPPED THE BUS. Good idea.

He then persisted to right the tilt…. and tilted it back to the other side. This ‘up, down, down, up, errrgg, crunch, and ‘other unsettling noises’’ carried on until my nervous mama asked the question on everyone’s mind, “Should we get off the bus?” That sentence is an anomaly in the world of airport shuttle buses, you NEVER get off the bus until you reach your final destination, out of fear that you’ll be forever trapped in the airport parking abyss, because another bus will never come; well, at least not until you’ve already missed your flight.

We attempted to ponder her inconceivable question as our non-traveling carnival ride continued, and flowed into the nervous shuttle driver moving to his last ditch idea of revving the engine of the non-moving bus for an inordinate amount of time. A mental image of the bus bursting into flames flashed through my mind as we all simultaneously made the silent declaration, “Okay, that’s it, we’re breaking the cardinal rule of airport shuttle etiquette, and we’re getting the F off this bus.”

The driver opened the doors without a word, and we stumbled out to the relief of fresh air, and non-tilting solid ground. AND, there was another shuttle pulling into the stop in front of us! HALLELUJAH! We are saved! We ran to Shuttle Number Deux, and sighed a breath of ‘thank goodness we didn’t get catapulted out of the Plexiglas windows of Shuttle Number ‘Oh Heck No.’’ As we recounted our harrowing tale to our fellow Shuttle Number Deux passengers, the new driver transported us to the end of the sea of cars, and announced he was done for the night, and we would need to transfer to another shuttle before continuing our journey on to the port of planes.

We dragged our gear out of the ‘Seemingly Savior Shuttle’ and trudged over the “new shuttle.” As I tilted my head up from fumbling with my straight jacket of a baby carrier, my mouth went dry as my gaze landed upon the new driver of our “new shuttle;” but he wasn’t new at all, oh no, he was the driver of the Hydraulic Parking Shuttle From Hell we had just escaped from. We were stuck in the Twilight Zone of parking lots, and I couldn’t change the channel.

In an unnaturally high-pitched panicky tone I exclaimed to the ‘I wish you were driving us’ shuttle driver, “You don’t understand, I have a baby, I CAN NOT get back on this man’s bus, I CAN NOT, did I say I have a baby?’ In an attempt to console me, he pointed at the menacing concrete ramp leading to the ‘LAX Departures,’ and explained, “You just have a two minute ride up that ramp to your terminal.” Hey buddy, it only takes a second for a bus to tilt and go careening off a steeply pitched ramp. He smiled, shrugged, and walked away; leaving me with a nervous looking ‘I’m quitting after tonight,’ shuttle driver. I felt just as bad for this poor guy as I did myself.

I held my breath, boarded the shuttle, closed my eyes, and envisioned a bottle of anti-anxiety-anything pouring into my body. We had a few wobbles on the ramp, but made it to the terminal catastrophe-free.

As the shuttle pulled away, the back tire flew off and left the shuttle incapacitated, with an angry stream of now-stranded “very important people” full limos in its wake. Just kidding.