Q. After I’ve been approved as a travel ambassador, how do I pay for it?
A. You’ll need to take the specified amount (about $1200, in 12 $100 increments in an envelope marked w/your name) with you to Costa Rica. When you are all in a safe, secure location (usually the 1st day after arrival), the Oregon guide, along with you and the Tico treasurer, will together count off your fees. We do not have a current option of wiring funds or writing checks, so we must do it the ‘old fashioned’ way.
Q. What should I take to wear?
A. Remember you’ll only be in one location for one week, so only fellow travelers will see the same outfit more than once. Hosts will have laundry facilities for you to use. You should try your best to take only a 21″ roll-a-board luggage piece, since luggage is often secured atop buses when traveling between locations – if they are larger or heavier, it makes it much harder to hoist it onto the rooftop. Rather than a purse, a better idea is to take a daypack for daily use.
Besides your undergarments and sleepwear, our recommendation is to take a maximum of 3 changes of clothes, to include 2 long pants, 2 shorts, 2 long sleeve shirts (you might want these if mosquitoes are present), 2 short sleeve shirts or T-shirts, swimsuit, perhaps a beach cover-up if there’s room, walking/tennis shoes, and sandals. Women might want a skirt and perhaps a dressy scarf to wear to fancy events. (Leave your expensive jewelry at home.) It will be hot and humid in many locations, so think about getting quick-dry clothing, perhaps like the long pants with zip-off legs that change into shorts. It might also rain, so think about taking a lightweight jacket; your host should have an umbrella you could use. Hosts will have towels, but probably not washcloths, if that’s important to you.
If the Yorkin indigenous village is on your itinerary (and you’ll know this before you go) use a pair of shoes that can get very muddy, such as an old pair of tennis shoes that you can throw away afterward. For information about Yorkin, see SPECIAL PROJECTS
FOODS AND BEVERAGES
Q. Can I drink the tap water?
A. Most areas have potable tap water, except possibly for Nicoya on the Pacific Cost, where hosts sometimes advise to drink bottled water. When in doubt, ask your host; be sure to keep yourself hydrated!
Q. I have some food allergies; will these be accommodated?
A. Prior to arrival, your hosts will have received whatever information you gave us about yourself, including any dietary needs; but it won’t hurt to remind your hosts, and even your fellow travelers, for that matter, so they won’t offer you something that causes you illness.
In general, Tico hosts prepare foods using worldwide recipes, but with a heavy emphasis on healthy, natural local foods, especially lots of fruits and vegetables. The traditional breakfast consists of eggs, fruit, beans, rice and tortillas. The midday meal is the largest, usually with fish or chicken, veggies, and rice. A late afternoon “cafecita” is a huge custom there, usually around 3pm, and your group will stop somewhere to drink coffee (or other beverages) with sweet breads or small sandwiches. Be sure to ask if this will be the last scheduled meal for the day, so you don’t end up hungry at your normal dinner time. You will have many potluck or communal lunches and dinners, and all ingredients are fresh and food is well-prepared. If you are ever hungry or thirsty, be sure to let your host or a coordinator know, but most Oregonians are amazed at the quantities of fabulous food and beverages offered, with only short intervals in between meals – they set out to spoil us!
Q. Do I need to get immunized before I go?
A. None are needed, but check the CDC website as some rural areas may have malaria or dengue. The Ticos don’t take any meds, use repellant and think we’re a little strange to be concerned. Mosquitos may be present if rains are heavy, especially along the Caribbean coastline, so take along a good repellant and you should be fine. The vast majority of our travelers have not taken medication, and we have never had a traveler with a case of malaria.
Q. What if I get sick on the trip?
A. Your trip guide in Costa Rica will carry all emergency contact information for each of you in your group, as will the Costa Rican area leaders, so rest assured that your Oregon emergency contact will be notified if it is a serious illness. Conversely, you will have given your family a similar list for emergency contacts to Costa Rican leaders who speak some English in case they need to reach you. Doctors and hospitals in Costa Rica have highly trained and capable staff for any issue that might arise.
There have not been major issues with traveler diarrhea, but if you are concerned about it, you might want to carry some Cipro with you. For colds and flu, your host will consult with a doctor or pharmacy and provide you with any needed medicines. You may find it difficult to get to sleep with so many different beds and locations, so you may want to take something to help you fall asleep. Likewise, take something to help reduce swelling/pain as a result of any bee or insect stings, should that happen. Benydril often works for both.
Q. What’s the best way for me to communicate with my family back in Oregon?
A. If using a smartphone, you’ll need to unlock it before you leave; you can buy a SIM card in Costa Rica at the electric company (I.C.E.) For about $5, but you’d need to get there before the tour because there’s very little opportunity to shop for these items once the tour begins. If your cell phone has international roaming capability it will probably work in Costa Rica but will be more expensive. Some travelers have purchased a CR disposable phone for about $40.
You could also buy an international phone card here, but be sure to obtain the Costa Rica access number before you leave Oregon. Your hosts will offer their phone, but it is better to use the card, as international calls are more expensive. It is possible to buy an international calling card in Costa Rica for less than $5 that will probably last your whole trip, but be sure to buy the one for international, not domestic, calls. There are few coin telephones available, and most outside phones need a calling card number. It is possible to buy a domestic card there for about $1 if you’ll be making lots of local calls.
Remember, before you leave Oregon you will be given a list of emergency phone and email contacts in Costa Rica; your friends/family should be given this listing, and use it if an emergency occurs and they need to reach you.
Q. Can I connect my computer via Skype or WhatsApp in every location, or post photos on Facebook while I’m there?
A. Most homes have computers and wifi, and there are also very cheap internet cafes in all the towns. You may be lodged for a night or two in a jungle resort area without wifi, so let your family know you may be ‘unplugged’ for a day or two, simply exploring nature – always a good thing!
Q. Will I be able to communicate with my hosts before I leave Oregon?
A. Yes. You will be given each others information (name, age, gender, occupation, interests, contact email and phone number, etc.). It’s a nice gesture to initiate communication shortly thereafter; and remember that this first greeting could be the first in what may probably become many years of future friendship!
Q. Will I need to take a voltage adapter for my hair dryer?
A. Costa Rica plugs and voltage are equal to ours. However, some homes may not have the more modern, 3-prong plug outlets, or outlets that are larger on one side than another. It is possible to buy adapters for these there, if you need them.
Q. Are the shower and bathroom facilities the same?
A. Yes, and no. Many showers there are heated by a small electric on-demand heater, which means the showers can sometimes be a bit chilly, until it warms up. Ask about how to turn on the shower head. Though many shower facilities are like those in Oregon, sometimes you’ll need to turn the switch on the shower head as well as the breaker.
Before using the toilet, it’s also important to ask about toilet paper disposal. Many toilets are on septic systems or on insufficient city sewage plants, so it’s often necessary to put toilet paper in the trash next to the toilet. (These trash receptacles are generally cleaned out several times each day.)
Q. Am I supposed to take a gift to each host?
A. The Costa Ricans generally bring hostess gifts from there when they visit here; it’s a nicety, but not a necessity. If you do, it’s best to keep gifts simple, inexpensive, lightweight and easily packable – but meaningful to you. Suggestions: small handmade items reflecting your interests; Oregon coins or products (filberts, smoked salmon, small jars of jam); items specific to your area; colorful pencils for children;
You may be invited to neighbors’ or relatives’ homes for dinner, so you might want to bring a few extra small hostess gifts. Depending on the schedule and host comfort level, you could even purchase and then prepare the evening meal or take them out for a meal. When a couple of us ran out of homestay gifts, we purchased small rose bushes at a neighborhood nursery ($5 USD) to give as gifts. In another instance, I bought a round of drinks for my host at a local restaurant/bar. If you are interested in buying Oregon ‘souvenir’ type items (key chains, calendars, refrigerator magnets, baseball caps, etc.), check with the Southbound coordinator, who can arrange a shopping trip to a Portland wholesaler; you’ll save lots of money buying that way, instead of buying these items at a retail outlet.
Q. Will I get to do any shopping there?
A. While most places all have the same tourist stuff, sometimes there will be something unique that you will not see again. If you see something you like you should get it, as the prices seem to be about the same all over the country.
Most shops accept US dollars and credit cards. You will get change back in colones at a good rate of exchange. Street vendors would prefer colones, but may accept dollars.
You may visit the specialty painted oxcart town of Sarchi, with several tourist shops selling mainly wooden items. Their prices are what you will spend in other areas and they have a good selection.
Q. What are the main security or safety issues I need to be aware of?
A. Costa Ricans are security conscious and often have gates and bars on windows, double locks on the doors. You will probably not be given a key to the house, so plan to be in for the night with your hosts.
Be vigilant on city streets, especially in the capitol. We have not experienced issues with street theft, but you should wear the little money you’re carrying inside your clothing (on your waist, in a neck pouch, etc.), and leave valuables at home. Make a copy of your passport and keep it in a secure, different place from your original passport. You do not need to carry your passport with you every day.
Costa Rica has some poisonous snakes, though most places that we visit are urbanized so there is little danger. Most of the poisonous snakes are shy, so will leave rather than attack. Many of the beaches have strong currents, so heed the information from your hosts about whether it is safe to swim.
Regarding airport security, as you know it is being ramped up worldwide. Before leaving, ensure you’re aware of what can/should be carried onboard vs. inside your baggage, what might be confiscated, etc.