Splette's Travel Blog
  • Crime
  • April8th

    Bus FeetTime to move on to Costa Rica. Flights from Panama weren’t within my budget, so I took the bus which can be fun but it’s also quite a long ride. If all goes as planned (when does that ever happen?) it’s a ~16h trip from Panama City to San José, Costa Rica. When I last took that bus about two years ago, I ended up getting stuck by a road block and had to spend the night in a Catholic convent in some village nearby.

    All the tickets for the first class bus were gone, so I took the regular Ticabus which leaves Panama at midnight. Next to me sat a guy that reminded me of the main character in the movie Machete Kills. Those seven hours until we reached the border, I didn’t sleep very well. At he border all passengers have to line up their luggage in a room, so it can be inspected by the customs officers. First, all the names from the passenger’s list were read aloud. The guy had to repeat my name three times until I understood he meant me. His pronunciation of “Splettstößer” didn’t even come close! I don’t blame him but corrected him nevertheless so he’ll know for the next time I cross that border.
    Next, the drug dog entered the room and ran along the line of suitcases, bags and backpacks. At my backpack he paused and and took an awful amount of time to sniff it. Was it my smelly socks? Or the two bottles of cheap red wine I ‘smuggled’ from Germany (Dornfelder)? I’ll never know. He moved on to the next suitcase without raising alarm. My seat neighbor Machete was called into another room for some questioning.
    Getting the passport stamped was quick and without hassle. On the Panamanian side they took another photo of me before I left but no fingerprints this time. On the Costa Rican side the bags where checked again. This time without dog.
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  • September8th

    One of the beaches near Tamarindo. No people. Almost paradise.It was the day of the 7.6 magnitude earthquake when we returned from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. We would spend a few more days in Tamarindo, which is a small surfer town in Guanecaste (North West Costa Rica). Tamarindo is much closer to the epicenter of the earthquake than where we were at that time. So, it wasn’t a big surprise to see some damage in the holiday home of Gabo’s grandmother where we would be staying.

    A surfer at sunset at Tamarindo beach, Costa Rica

    A surfer at sunset

    After some cleaning up we headed out to the town in the old Toyota pickup truck of Gabo’s dad. Tamarindo is more expensive than it’s Nicaraguan counterpart San Juan del Sur. There are good hotels, shops, surf schools and many bars. The beach in the town is surprisingly nice (unlike San Juan or Puerto Viejo). And just a long walk or short drive away there are some really amazing beaches with almost no people. No comparison to the crowds of people you see in Europe at any half-way descent beach in summer…

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  • March30th

    My friend keeps this loaded gun under his pillow - 'for protection'

    With a loaded gun under the pillow…

    It’s no secret that Central America has a problem with street crime. Some countries are worse than others. Costa Rica is one of the safer countries which is part of the reason I decided to live here. I feel safe enough to walk alone at night in some places such as my neighborhood or San José downtown. Other places, though, such as the bus stations are scary at night. Many of my Tico friends living here have been robbed at least once. KJ got robbed by a gang of youngsters while walking from the bus stop to his home. Frank thought he did the right thing and took a taxi home after a night of drinking and partying at a club – until the taxi driver spotted his Blackberry, stole it from him and kicked him out of the car. And one night, my roommate almost got his car stolen when two young wannabe-thieves thought he would make an easy target. One jumped in front of the car to make him stop and the other guy opened the passenger door and threatened him with a knife. My roommate resisted successfully, got to keep his car, a tale to tell and, as a bonus, a scar on his hand from the knife.

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  • December20th

    Four withdrawals of a Peruvian bank of 122.77 € each.

    My bank account statement

    My attempts of getting my bank account in a better shape have taken another blow this morning. Here comes another article for the ‘crime’ section of my blog (José, I hope you are happy now! 🙂 ).

    As we all know, I am really good at losing things (one of the numerous superpowers I possess). But the only thing I actually got stolen during the last 12 months of traveling was a pair of smelly sneakers. Until last night, when 500€ (to be precise: 491.08€) miraculously disappeared from my bank account. That’s not cool. The money was withdrawn from a bank in Lima, Peru. I have never even been to Peru (yet). How this is even possible is beyond me. I could not contact my bank directly because their service number cannot be reached via Skype. So, my dad (who has access to my account) had to take care of this. The bank blocked my card but what’s going to happen to the 500€ is unclear. The bank person in charge did not reply my email, yet but told my dad something about a police report. I wonder how and where from I am supposed to get this police report. From Germany (via phone?), from Costa Rica or do they expect me to fly to Lima to file the report there…

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  • July20th

    This is one of those stories that make traveling fun. After over three weeks in Guatemala it was time for me to move on to El Salvador. I booked a Pullmantur bus to the capital San Salvador. The bus trip turned out to be surprisingly comfortable with a free meal, soft drinks, snacks, the obligatory Richard Gere movie (‘Hachi: A dog’s tale‘) and free WiFi throughout the entire trip, yeah! You have no idea how happy it makes me to be able to email and blog throughout my bus ride. Hours pass like minutes. And this trip took an hour more than expected. Or did I enter a new time zone? Around 8:30 pm we arrived in zona rosa of San Salvador. Nope, that’s not the gay area. But it is the safest zone in the city. That’s relevant when you realize that El Salvador is currently the country with the highest murder rate in the entire world, 80 times higher than Germany! So, unlike some other bus stations I had seen during my travels there was nothing to worry about right here in front of the Sheraton Hotel in zona rosa. A bunch of taxi drivers were awaiting us. I asked how much? ‘Five Dollars’ (by the way US dollars are the official currency in El Salvador). I had no idea what a realistic taxi fare would be but figured that down the street prices might be lower than here in front of the Sheraton. I said no and started walking away. The taxi drivers though managed to change my mind. Only 5 steps of walking and the fare had dropped to $3. Fine. My driver spoke no English but who cares. First, I had to withdraw some cash. When changing my Guatemalian Quetzales to Dollars at the border I got ripped off by about $10. During the bus trip I had looked up nearby ATMs of Scotiabank online and the closest was still too far to walk, so the cab had to get me there. The driver asked if he should wait and I said yes, because this place looked deserted and I didn’t see any other taxis around. I withdrew a few hundred Dollars (they are, without question, the most useful currency in Central America) and got back into the car. The driver was talking on the phone with someone. I asked the guy to bring me to my LonelyPlanet-guided choice of accommodation for tonight. He didn’t know of any ‘Casa Huéspedes de Australia’ though, so I gave him the address. We drove for about 5 min; the area looked dark and industrial, not very much like the neighborhood with restaurants, parks, and a major shopping center around which the hostel was supposed to be located. How strange… Then the driver indicated that he is going to take a shortcut – at least that is what I understood from his Spanish-speaking and hand-waving – and turned into a small and pitchblack side street. Oh no, that couldn’t possibly be the shortest way to the hostel. I had studied the map and the hostel is very close to a big boulevard. That was the moment when I got a little nervous.
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  • May28th

    Have you seen these shoes? Let me know...

    Adidas SL72

    I’m at a very nice hostel in Flagstaff, Arizona, ready to see the Grand Canyon. Unlike the last hostel in Albuquerque this one has a nice international atmosphere. Late last night I was doing some work (SciStyle). When I went to bed I decided to leave my shoes outside the room in consideration of my roommates and for the sake of air quality… My German roommate had done the same with his black Nikes. When I got up at 6:30 am (!) they were gone. I couldn’t believe my eyes. From all the things I expected to get stolen during this trip, my 9 months old smelly sneakers were the last thing I had in mind. Looks like Adidas sneakers are more popular than Nike. 🙂
    I loved those pair of blue Adidas Originals with white stripes. But I was planning to buy new ones, soon anyway. I still got my gym shoes, so I won’t have to hike the Grand Canyon in my flip-flops.

  • May25th

    Illegal immigration is a big issue here in the United States. Most of the immigrants are from Latin America and get into the United States by crossing the border to Mexico. The border is 3169 km (1969 miles) long, difficult to secure and much of the area is desert (Wikipedia has more information on the border and illegal immigration to the U.S.).

    Recently I met a boy from Mexico who illegally crossed the border twice. I found his story so fascinating that I asked him for an interview.

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  • February19th

    Recently, one of my faithful blog readers suggested I should add a little sex & crime to my reporting. Here we go. Thursday night I did some major bar-hopping with a friend who is visiting from San Francisco and my couchsurfing host Akimbo in Manhattan. I don’t remember how I managed to spend those $100 on food and drinks in just one night. At some point I decided I was done partying and went home to my couch in Brooklyn. It’s a rather industrial area. While walking from the subway station to my place I caught those youngsters on tape stealing a traffic sign. I am pretty sure this is a criminal act – my work is done here. (Yes, I know I know, this is a little lame for a crime story. Hopefully the sex tape will be more exciting… 🙂 )

    PS. I cut the funniest part of the video which was my continuous burping in the background. It was just too embarrassing.

    Update: Due to high demand, I changed my mind. Here is the missing sound:

  • September26th

    Last night I got my wallet stolen in a club in Barcelona. Snatched it right out of my front pocket of my pants in a moment of distraction (Thankfully that guy ignored the other pocket with my expensive mobile phone). That’s a new experience. I have lost my wallet quite a few times and it always came back to me with nothing missing. But I never got it stolen in my 12+ years of traveling. Then again I was warned. A friend lost his iPhone 4 in another club here just a few days ago and I heard stories of that kind from others, too.

    The incident made me think about how different cultures are. What does the fact that people steal from each other tell about the culture here? I had to think of Japan where people in a bar sometimes leave their wallet or mobile phone on the table when they go to the bathroom.  I got the impression the only thing you easily lose in Japan are umbrellas. But I guess they are considered common property. You lose one, you take another one…

    Well, I learned a lesson. I may have been  over-confident given the fact that I virtually never got anything stolen during a trip. One of the many voices in my head said: Me, getting anything stolen? Never! That only happens to clueless tourists, not me. I am a super experienced traveler who knows all the tricks… etc. I guess I am not. And isn’t that what I once thought about getting ripped off until I got, well, ripped off again… ?

    In the end it wasn’t a big deal: Lost 40 Euros in cash, my driving license, health insurance card and bus tickets. I canceled my credit card immediately. The biggest lost may be the bonus card of my favourite Café. Just three more stamps and I had gotten that free drink…