Do not let the title put you off! If there is ever a country to visit in Central America, it has to be Costa Rica! One of the happiest and most peaceful countries in the world (a fact that is entirely justified as they don’t even possess armed forces), it is replete with hippie markets; small beach towns full of chilled out surfers and people living a healthy lifestyle; locals who just want to chat with you and try out some of their English or test your Spanish. Above all, its population are the living embodiment of ‘Pura Vida’: a colloquial phrase that is applied in every circumstance, from shrugging off breaking something to a cheers or even just 'hello'.
However, after spending four weeks as part of a volunteering project (first working on a teaching project in the slums of La Carpio, just outside the capital of San José then in the Osa Peninsula at a turtle conservation project) complacency crept up on me and my travelling companion. We had been staying with Costa Rican families who looked after us like we were their own (which included motorbike rides in bikinis and flip-flops through the jungle as well as copious amounts of rice and beans) so felt like we were part of the local community. As we spent our last ten days travelling up the coast after our project finished, we had encountered so many incredibly friendly and safe people that, despite our classic English tourist looks (complete with bumbags!), neither of us was as diligent as the beginning of our trip.
For anyone on our bus from Manuel Antonio (a stunning national park definitely worth visiting) to Puntarenas, it would have been obvious that we were two sleepy gringas. And, despite noticing the man who had been sitting across the aisle from us move to the seat behind us, we put it down to an unwelcome side-affect of being young, foreign and fair-haired, as that had previously given us unsolicited attention from men that have a very machista mind-set. It wasn’t until we reached our destination, however, that I realised why he had moved and subsequently had a panic attack due to the loss of everything of importance I had- my passport, US Visa, money, credit card, camera, phone, iPod are all probably on the Costa Rican black market.
Thankfully, as a whole, Costa Ricans are always willing to help. Not a single person spoke English at the police station that we were taken to by a local taxi driver, so I croaked out some ab initio Spanish through my tears that they then tried their best to interpret so as to fill out the police report crucial for applying for a new Visa, passport and insurance. In addition, as it was just a local police station, there was also no phone that could make international calls, so I had to rely on the Ambassador of the British Embassy relaying a call to my parents at 1a.m. their time, which apparently isn’t the nicest thing to receive. Fortunately, a wonderful policeman at the station was making the 3-hour drive to San José and offered us a ride to a hostel that he had found for us a few hundred metres from the Embassy, where I had an appointment first thing the next morning.
Once at the embassy, one important thing to do is to phone your insurance company immediately, but I was also given the phone and told to contact whoever I needed to back in the UK, courtesy of the incredible staff at the embassy, who welcomed us with real English tea. If a return flight goes through the US (as mine did), the temporary ESTA attached to your passport cannot be used as you are no longer in possession of said passport, therefore a full US Visa ($160) plus an emergency passport (£100) must be purchased. Luckily, I was travelling with a friend, otherwise I would not have been able to do anything, as you cannot collect money that has been wired from someone without a suitable form of ID, and I had neither ID nor money.
I was conveniently robbed three days before our flight- just enough time to process a US Visa and not too long in the grey city of San José- so we managed to see friends in the capital, watch an inordinate number of episodes of Silent Witness and make our own granola in the wait for a passport.
Despite many great adventures throughout my summer in Costa Rica and stories that I’ll never forget (robbery is a great talking point), if I have learnt anything, it is that getting robbed is an expensive business and not one I’m in a hurry to repeat anytime soon.