Tico Road Trip!

Tuesday, February 14.

The ladies and I rise and shine at 7 a.m., scarf down a decent-sized buffet breakfast and gather our things for the trip ahead.

We hope to be on the road by around 9 a.m. Our rental vehicle – a nice-and-clean Toyota RAV 4 – arrives at the hotel at 9:30.

After checking out the vehicle and figuring it – and the GPS – out, we’re on the road to fun by about 9:50 a.m.

The day is absolutely gorgeous: very warm, and not a single dark cloud in sight.

Between the surprisingly smooth roads, Zoe’s excellent tune choices, and entertaining each other, the three-and-a-half hour drive is anything but dull.

I’m appointed navigator for this leg of trip – a job I feel hesitant about, considering I don’t drive AND am directionally-challenged at times in my day-to-day life. Plus, I don’t drive.

Luckily for Zoe’s printed maps and the GPS (which doesn’t conk out ONCE!), the first leg of the trip is a success.

We also get our first taste of Costa Rican driving. The street we’re on is one lane in each direction. But that doesn’t stop folks from passing in the oncoming late to get ahead. And it doesn’t matter what kind of vehicle they’re in. If they can pass, they WILL. It’s thankfully a good thing that our route is on a major road and is relatively straightforward.

The scenery around Lake Arenal and the glimpses of the volcano en route to La Fortuna is simply breaktaking. We even come across some wildlife – a group of pizotes (known commonly as coatis, long-snouted members of the raccoon family) congregating in the room.

We arrive in the town of La Fortuna at 1 p.m. Checking in our hotel, we are greeted at the reception desk by a young woman who isn’t entirely friendly to us – at first. Within a couple of minutes, she does manage to open up a little, asking us our names, where we’re from, and such.

Our hotel room is pretty no-frills, but has hot water …

And an AMAZING view of the Arenal Volcano, towering with a little bit of a majesty and a dash of menace – over the town. One thing I was surprised by : how much greenery is covering the volcano, from the base upwards. Given its reputation for being an active volcano, I expect it to be completely barren. (This is actually explained to us, on our upcoming hike.)

We unload our things and decide to take a stroll around the town.

I can’t speak for Zoe and Jenn, but my body has definitely forgotten what tropical heat feels like. Despite changing clothes at the hotel, it’s only a matter of minutes before I feel hot and clammy.

We turn onto a street, and we’re discussing about activities to book for the next day, when we’re called over by a local who calls himself Steve (real name: Esteban). He’s running adventure tours, which include a hike, a trip to the hot springs and a meal for $30 U.S.

It’s fine … we suppose. But once we get a look at his slightly over-the-top video – featuring “Steve” in a number of the shots, and a soundtrack which included the song “Higher” by Creed – which, our young salesman says, is included in his super, one-of-a-kind adventure package – we decide amongst ourselves that we surely can find something worthwhile through the hotel.

We stop at a local restaurant for a bite to eat (very filling!) and drop by the nearby supermarket to get some bottled water.

Back at the hotel, we speak to the guy at the reception desk, about booking activities for the following day. Menrique, gives us some more “normal” options with the hotel discount, and we decide to book our activities first thing the following morning – depending on weather.

The afternoon heat has sapped my strength, so I get to do what I rarely do at home in Toronto – I go to the hotel room and NAP.

Afternoon gives way to evening, and the clouds descend – first hovering over Arenal’s cone, then slowly enveloping the volcano in a heavenly blanket. By 6 p.m., it is completely dark outside, and the volcano is invisible.

We go out wandering a second time; this round is much cooler (and more comfortable for my liking). We walk past restaurants, and into shops. We finally stop at an ice cream place, sat down for a bit and chatted about our lives over waffle cones.

At the risk of sounding trite, it is refreshing. It’s not everyday you get to sit down with friends and get to know each other better. Hopefully more talks like these will follow.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Valentine’s Day.

What’s Behind Door # 3?

As I mention repeatedly, I commute between my place of work downtown and my home (with my parents) in the suburbs. And I’m not going to lie – lately, it’s really been getting to me.

In January, I made moving out one of the things I wanted to accomplish on my yearly wish list.  

So I started scouring the MLS listings. I’d go through the weekend condo sections in my newspaper. I’d pick up those free condo guides … and the resale home guides. And I’d look. At the houses … and the prices. And I’d sigh.

And then I’d look at some of the online listings for rentals. And I’d look at the prices. And I’d sigh again.

Last week, it really stressed me out. 

I’d already been putting pressure on myself because of the declaration I made on New Year’s Eve. And the commutes as of late had been taking a toll. On top of that, my friends have constantly been saying, “You’re going to move out this summer.” Trying to make the case for renting. Adding to the pressure I’ve already been putting on myself.

This past week, it was almost too much. I was talking with a co-worker, who is always kind enough to give me a lift halfway home, and I just blurted out how tired I was and how I was thinking of just sucking it up and renting a place. Understandably, she said why that wasn’t a good idea. I almost had a meltdown in the van.

That was when she suggested I should really sit down and talk with someone with financial expertise, to try and figure something out.

So yesterday, that’s what I did. I went to see a mortgage broker to have some questions answered, and finally get some hard numbers to determine if I could make goal # 6 happen this year, once and for all. 

The good news? I have awesome credit.

The not-so-good news? I cannot buy this year.

And the not-much-better-news: I could move out. But if I did, I’d probably be paying the equivalent of the mortgage I can not yet afford. And do I really want to move out, only to move back home six months from now because I can’t afford rent, utilities, food, etc.?

Friends – do you know what’s more “humiliating” than living at home with parents at the age of 31? Moving out because the pressure is too great, and then moving back home within a year because I can’t manage my money and pay the bills.

There is nothing wrong with renting. I went away to school, and although for shorter periods of time, I’ve lived in three apartments in two cities. (It was also cheaper than it is here in Toronto.)

But moving into an apartment, when I’m stressed and frustrated, would probably be the worst decision for me to make right now. I’d be even more frustrated and constantly worried.

(And it doesn’t matter how money you make. There are people out there with salaries in the high-five-figures, even six figures, who are practically bankrupt because they’re financially irresponsible. Moving out and renting will not instantly make me fiscally responsible. You have to be like that going in. If you’re not really good with money going in, that’s not going to immediately reverse itself when you get yourself a landlord.)

The mortgage broker did suggest one other option, one I’ve been staunchly opposed to: 

Learn to drive. Buy a car.

Anyone who knows me knows that I haaaaate driving.

I am the person who did not wake up on her 16th birthday and run out to the Ministry of Transportation to write the learner’s permit test for her 365.

I am also the person who, when everyone found out about the impending graduated licensing program in 1994 and ran out to get their full licenses before the deadline, didn’t bother to run with the crowd. 

Oh yeah – did I also mention that I’m the person who (a) failed her computerized testing once before getting her G1, (b) waited until almost a month before said G1 expired to take the exit test and passed by the skin of her teeth, (c) did the same thing almost three summers ago, went to take her G2 exit test, only to fail, and then by the same stroke of luck got the exact same examiner on her second attempt, and really failed?

That is the history between me and driving. Since my spectacular, humiliating failure, I’ve never again gotten behind the steering wheel.

However my pride is starting to make me pay.

Actually it started last year, when I kept looking at my expired licence (which still can be used as ID, so long as the Ministry of Transportation lovingly affixes a “official ID only” sticker onto the card before they hand it back to you). Back then, I was still getting by as a pedestrian. But that sticker was getting on my last nerve. So I thought, maybe I’ll just get a new one, just in case I do decide to give this driving thing another go.

So last June, I read my old-and-falling apart driver’s handbook, took a couple buses down to the Ministry, did my multiple-choice written test (they’re back to pencils and paper, folks) and got my ID. I thought that would do for now.

But in the last six months, Life decided to up the ante.

The number of transportation situations in which I’ve ended up saying to myself, “I could have avoided this, if I had a car”, have been multiplying. Transit that doesn’t work. Friends having functions in suburbs I never travel to.

And it’s really annoying me big-time.

Okay, people who have been saying to me, “learn to drive” … you were right. Okay? You were right. Consider this the first and last time you read me saying this, because it won’t happen again for a long time.

(I guess the only silver lining from failing my driving tests is that I wouldn’t have to wait a year to take my G1 exit test.) 

I’m still not entirely convinced yet that buying a car will be the remedy to the situation.

Amid all these thoughts swimming in my head, I’ve been reminded of the conversation a couple weekends back that I was having with a  pro-renting friend. She told me about friends who, like me, were also saying that they’d stay home and save money, until they could buy. And she said something to the effect of:

“They say that. But where’s the money going? It has to be going somewhere.”

That’s what I have to figure out. This is what is fueling my frustrating decision.

So in the meantime, I now have to set my goal and develop my plan. Crunch some numbers. Then take a deep breath … 

And suck it the hell up. 

Road chivalry isn’t dead

Earlier today, my dad and I were sitting at a stop light when, out of my rolled-down car window, I heard a woman in the next lane over say, “Excuse me.”

My dad and I turn to the right. She’s a blonde woman in what looks like a Toyota Tercel. Her front-seat passenger looks like it could be her mom.

“I’m trying to get on the highway going east and I’m in the wrong lane,” she explained. “Would I be able to get in front of you?”

“Sure,” my dad said.

As the light changed, and she made her lane change, she said, “Thank you.”

I’m 29, and I’ve never seen that before in my life. Not even in an educational video.

Too bad she’s not from around here. I wish there were drivers like that in Toronto.