Ok I might as well admit to this straight out. I just got conned, stupid gringa tourist that I am.
There is a scam by “taxi drivers” in San José, Costa Rica where they tell you the transport workers are about to go on strike at noon for four days and you will be stuck in San José for several days with everyone charging massive fees for overnight accommodation.
Very convincing, involving lots of “helpful” phone calls to try and assist you book transport out of the city, even allowing you to speak to someone who speaks English and says there are no seats left.
They then offer to drive you all the way, or part of the way, to where you are going at an inflated rate.
In my case because I had just arrived in Costa Rica the night before and hadn’t got to grips with the local currency, Costa Rican colones, (which is one of those confusing ones where you are pretty much a millionaire as soon as you go to an ATM and then you spend thousands on a cup of coffee) they scammed me out of about $440 (£337; €375).
I am such a GULLIBLE IDIOT. Mainly I am just so angry at myself for falling for this and not being able to stand up for myself. One of my very British problems was that I began to suspect fairly quickly that this may be a con, but did not want to confront this nice and helpful man and make a scene. He even had his schoolboy son in the cab with him.
He put in lots of masterful touches: holding my arm as I crossed slippery ground to the ATM; advising me to always keep my luggage with me on the bus as he dropped me off and finally giving me a typical Latin American hug and kiss goodbye as he wished me luck and bade me farewell.
There is even a part of me (the former criminal defence lawyer part) that has a certain admiration for how well-crafted the scam was. I blame myself entirely. I don’t subscribe to that “fool me once, shame on you but fool me twice, shame on me” rubbish. Fool me once and it’s completely my own fucking fault.
Plus it has, of course, seriously messed up my budget for this trip round Latin America. And my faith in taxi drivers, who up until now have been a pretty regular component of my means of travel.
But on the positive side I was not hurt (another thing I liked about the grift, no threats or violence just pure charm), I did get taken in the direction I wanted to go and then after a couple of bus journeys I reached my destination safely.
My destination was Cahuita, a tiny townlet on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. I have never seen the Caribbean before other than on movies.
And the first people I met here were three lovely ladies, who restored my faith in human nature, two American ex-pats living here and a local café owner. They took me to the nearest ATM and made sure I got to my Air BnB Ok. My Air BnB hosts are also great and were most upset about my bad introduction to their country.
So now I’m back in positive international traveller mode, although I am rethinking some of my travel plans as a result of this incident.
However, I have been mulling over in the last few weeks the aspects of travel I really don’t like and this has reinforced those thoughts, of which more in a later post.