Thursday, November 19, 2009

Welcome to Costa Rica...

By Pauly
Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

What a 48 hours where I must have experienced every single emotion possible.

We flew the redeye out of LAX on Tuesday night. I got about an hour of sleep combined on my flights from LA > Miami and Miami > San Jose, Costa Rica.

Everything was going smoothly when we arrived in San Jose. Our flight was on time and the airport had plenty of Americana eyesores at every turn including a Burger King and Schlotzky's Deli. On the way to the immigration hall, there was a sign warning visitors that sex with underaged girls was illegal. I guess they are trying to guilt-trip deviant pedophile gringos flying to Central America to have sex with minors.

We had to switch terminals for a domestic flight to the northern part of the country or the Guanacaste area. My Costa Rican friends say that part of Costa Rica is where they go to party but over the last five years it's been built up and attracts a ton of gringos.

Nicky found out the the terminal for Sansa, the commuter airline that would take us up north to Tamarindo airport (15 minutes from our resort at Playa Conchal) was located just a few minutes outside of the baggage claim. As soon as we stepped outside, we were swarmed by cabbies. I just pointed and said, "Sansa" and the left us alone. One junkie/homeless guy insisted on showing us the way -- even though it was literally right next door. He was pissed when I didn't tip him well. I gave him the equivalent of 75 cents... or all the coinage I had gotten when we bought Colons. We passed through a small parking lot and the terminal was essentially a tiny little check-in desk.

I went 100% carry-on for this trip, especially since I know the dangers of checked bags when heading abroad. Plus, dozens of colleagues (including Nicky) got fucked on trips before when the airline misplaced their bags. I pride myself on being an experienced traveler so I wanted to put everything in a new carry-on that my aunt and uncle had bought me for my birthday. I ditched the old school backpack that has been around the world with me the last two or three years and went for the sleeker piece of luggage. All of my gear fit but at the last second I opted to take Nicky's messenger bag to put my laptop, iPod, camera, and Bose headphones with me. I had a feeling that the puddle jumper might not have room for an overhead and wanted to be prepared.

When we checked in at the tiny terminal for Sansa, they made us weigh our bags. Then the guy told us in advance that our bags might not make the trip. That had never happened before. usually airlines promise the bags safe passage then fuck up afterward. This guy was telling us up front that we're not going to get them. Our plane was too small (12 seater) to carry heavy bags and they would have to send it on the next flight where a bigger plane could easily handle the heavy bags. I understood what they were saying, but I was suspicious. I thought he was looking for a bribe or tip to ensure our bags made it on the flight. Obviously there was nothing that I could do so I checked the bag without a bribe. They only thing of value besides clothes and toiletries? $200 (in ten $20 bills) that I broke up and hid in two spots somewhere in the bag in case of emergency (like if I got robbed or lost my wallet) and a plastic ziplock baggie of electronics -- mostly power chords (Blackberry chord & camera chord), iPod/USB plug, my wireless modem, a wireless mouse, and my voice recorder. I also had a pack of AAA batteries and a head-lamp that I would need in case of emergency. You never know when power will go out, especially in Costa Rica which is a high seismic area.

If you add up everything in that ziplock baggie -- it's a bit pricey. But individually, they were useless items for a thief. There was nothing in there that could be fenced or pawned like a camera, iPod, or laptop. That's why I left the baggie in there. Had I taken my bookbag (which I traditionally take everywhere with me) that baggie would have been with me. But the messenger bag was too small. I made the (bad) decision to leave the ziplock with my carryon.

Fifteen minutes before the flight took off, the check-in guy found us at the gate. The gate was essentially ten chairs and a surly looking dude in front of a rope with a gun and a wand (mental detector). The guy told us that Nicky's bag would be on our plane, but my bag was not going to make the trip. He assured me that the airline would fly it up and then transport it to out hotel.

"When will it arrived?"

"5 o'clock. The latest."

"5pm today?"

He paused and nodded his head. At that point, I expected my bag to show up the next morning. I was still queasy from puking at Miami airport. I hadn't slept. I was tired and starving and didn't want to make a scene.

"Whatever," I said.

The puddle jumper has 12 seats and I knew before we got on that Nicky was gonna puke upon landing. She blew chunks twice during a sightseeing flight of Milford Sound in New Zealand and doesn't do well on small planes. Me? I love that sort of adventure. I was pumped to see parts of Costa Rica that I wouldn't otherwise during the 45-minute flight. Lots of green. The country is lush and magnificent.

I passed out for about five minutes for a cat nap even though Nicky was holding onto dear life. I woke up a few minutes before we made our approach into Tamarindo airport. I saw the ocean ahead of us and the beach below. I knew that we'd be making a hard right or left at any moment and went to grab Nicky's hand, but she was already clutching the puke bag. As we banked right, she hurled and continued to puke upon landing on the choppy pavement. At least it was paved, I told Nicky. Five years earlier it was probably a dirt patch and the perfect place for drug smugglers.

Nicky's bag was the only "checked luggage" that made the flight. The rest of the passengers did not have their bags including me. We grabbed a cab to the resort and we soon realized that our resort at Playa Conchal was secluded and heavily guarded. In short, I didn't fear at all for our safety and I understood why the venue was selected to host a "high stakes" poker tournament.

We checked in and the front desk could not find Nicky's reservation. The hotel was under my name and not Nicky's but we didn't know that at first, which was odd considering that Nicky was hired by PokerStars to cover the tournament and I was tagging along for the free ride. My buddy Thomas suggested that it's a cultural thing -- and that the hotel put the reservation in the "husband's name."

Nicky and I are not married, but in Latin America, we're considered husband and wife. Our friend Maridu from Brazil for years has been introducing Nicky as "Dr. Pauly's beautiful wife." It's quite funny to hear her say it in her slight-Brazilian accent. I'm sure Nicky gets a kick out of it.

The complex is 2,400 acres. Paradidus is the actual name of the resort and it includes a Bobby Jones designed golf course. Since the resort is so huge, there are these transport vehicles (imagine a golf cart that fits 10 people that's welded to the top of a pickup truck) that are all over the place. It's sort of like flagging down a taxi except it's free and they will take you anywhere on property.

Our luxury hut is actually a two story condo with eight units. We had the top floor of one unit and discovered that Otis was in the luxury hut next door. Our friend Shriley and her boyfriend Sos were put up in "the towers" which is a suite that comes with a butler.

Yes, a fuckin' butler.

Otis, Nicky, and I were without a butler, but the resort was all-inclusive, so we took advantage right away and ordered room service while I waited for my bags to arrive. We had a "welcome party" at 7pm and had to kill three hours. I took note of the tree line right behind our luxury huts. That's where the monkey's lived. I told Otis that we'd engage in monkey lime tossing. He was down for it.

My bag finally arrived at 6:15pm. I unzipped it and knew right away that my stuff had been gone through. Yeah, my entire bag was tossed. The packing cubes were in tact but everything in the side pockets were rummaged through. $100 was missing. They found one of my hiding spots but not the other. That's when I noticed that the ziplock baggie was missing.

I went ballistic.

Like I said, that bag had nothing of value for the person who stole it, but it had things that I needed to live my life on the road and be creative - like my voice recorder that I wanted to record a few podcasts or my camera charger which means that I an unable to document the second leg of our trip because the batteries will die midway. Plus, since all that shit got jacked, I have less than 36 hours from the time I return to LA and fly to NYC for Thanksgiving and I was angered that I knew I'd have to waste some of that valuable time to replace the items. I'm essentially on the road the rest of the year and can't replace most of those items until I get back to LA since I'm in the middle of a remote jungle. My spare time is precious and you can't put a price on it. Running around LA picking up multiple chords and other shit is gonna be a pain in the ass. I hate running errands in LA as is.

Uggggggggggggh. I was having a bad day and it got worse. The worst part was that I knew that I was taking a risk but some dumb ass saw the baggie and thought it was valuable. He probably kept the batteries and head-lamp and ditched everything else. I betcha it's in a trash can at San Jose airport as we speak.

Calling the airline was a pain in the ass. They were not helpful because they hung up on me when I called and have yet to answer an formal complaint email that I sent them. By the way, boycott Sansa airlines. Those fuckers hire thieves to handle/transport their bags.

Bad beat for sure. I'm in ultra conservation mode now with my Blackberry and camera.

At that point, I jumped in the shower hoping that the water would calm me down. That usually helps but I was miffed so I got wasted. Shitfaced. We found our friends Shirley and Sos, along with my Costa Rican friends.

Rey angrily shook his head when I told him the story. He felt horrible, like it was his fault that he forgot to tell me to be careful with Sansa. But my other Costa Rican friends know me pretty well and they gave me some of the "local produce" in order to calm me down. I ended up smoking a doobie with a couple of semi-famous Mexicans and I finally let everything go. I might have bitched about it on twitter or in a few emails, not to mention taking out my frustration while I wrote this piece. At this point, I'm over it but would still appreciate an "apology" from the airline. Shit, a simple recognition of what happened would be nice.

In poker you take bad beats all the time and have to spring back and not let it ruin your day. My vacation started off horribly and I knew that it could only get better, right? How can I complain? I'm in one of the swankiest resorts I have ever had the pleasure of staying. Plus some close friends are here. While most of my colleagues in poker are here to work, I'm here for fun.

And most importantly... my only hard copy of Lost Vegas was inside an envelope and stashed in my carry-on bag. I forgot to mention that was priceless. Either the thief had no fuckin' clue what he passed up on -- or he actually read a few pages and decided that it wasn't worth stealing. I'm trying to figure out which scenario makes me feel better?

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