Costs from my Dominican Trip

I’m writing this post to help me plan for my next trip or living experience abroad. Also great information for anyone else planning the same and who needs a little guidance!

Flights: $1620
United Airlines – San Juan, Puerto Rico to Halifax – $313.90 (I didn’t use this flight because I changed my dates. Lost my money on it.)
American Airlines – Halifax to Santo Domingo – $572.91
American Airlines – Santo Domingo to Halifax – $733.73

Airport Transportation: $188
Taxi Halifax Airport – $55 CAN
Taxi home from Halifax Airport – $50 CAN
Taxi from Santo Domingo airport to home stay – $45 US (paid for with my school fees, therefore much more expensive than doing it on my own)
Taxi from Hotel in Santo Domingo to airport – $38 (booked through the hotel – 3am, more expensive than day time)

Local Transportation: $260
3 weeks of buses, public cars and taxis in Santo Domingo – $135 US

4 weeks of buses, public cars, taxis, scooter rental and moto conchos in and around Sosua / Cabarete / Puerto Plata – $125

School and Accommodations for six weeks: $2598
Spanish Lessons – $200 / week
Accommodations – $230 / week – first three weeks included breakfast and supper at a home stay, last three weeks only included breakfast at a school apartment.

Hotel Accommodations for 13 nights: $473

Travel Insurance: $67
Tourist Card: $10
Extended Stay fee (up to 90 days): $21

Food / drinks: $780
49 days Total and very little was spent on alcohol (maybe $25 total for 4 or 5 Pina Colada’s and a couple of Santa Libres)
1 meal per day for 21 days – breakfast and supper were included in my school home stay package
2 meals per day for 15 days – weekdays while I was studying in Sosua
3 meals per day for 13 days – weekends when I traveled and extra days while not in school
On average lunches in Sosua cost $250 – $360 RD / $6.50 – $9 US
On average suppers in Sosua cost $400 – $500 RD / $10 – $12 US
As a tourist, I think I could easily get by with $20 US per day for three meals. If I had eaten at more local places and less touristy places, I could have probably survived on $10-$15 US per day for three meals. If I were to buy groceries and cook myself, I’m guessing $6-8 per day.

Cell Phone: $80
This was for purchasing a local cell phone and using it A LOT to keep in touch with friends locally, make plans, calls to hotels, excursions and taxis.

Toiletries: $53
Shampoo, conditioner, razors, face wipes, bug repellant

Pharmacy: $27
bug repellant, cold & flu pills, anti itch cream for bug bites

Tips (on excursions / extra special staff): $20
Nena at Sosua school for room cleaning
Julio at Caves in Cabarete
Two girls at Tubagua who took me for a long walk and visited their families

Excursions: $218
Caves in Cabarete – $15
Puerto Plata (1400 original, I cxld – 1/2 back) – $18
Cooking with Nena – $13
Rafting – $90 (worth every penny!)
Photo CD – Rafting – $18 (not worth every penny. Only about 10 photos)
Kayaking – $64

Laundry: $30
$20 US for two weeks worth of clothes at a laundromat – WAY too expensive!
$10 US for one to two weeks of clothes, twice at the school

Spending money: $33
Movies – $8
Earrings – $10
Gifts for nieces – $15

Bank fees: $30
$5 each withdrawal x 6 times

Grand Total for a seven week trip, including six weeks of Spanish classes, accommodations, food and spending: $6315

Look for an upcoming post on how I plan to do it MUCH cheaper next time!

Lost tourist card

Often when you travel to Carribean countries you pay a tourist fee when you enter and / or when you leave the country. Dominican Republic is one of these countries. I paid $10 US for a tourist card when I entered the country and then you pay a fee when you leave the country based on how long you stayed.

In many countries, you have to have your tourist card in order to leave the country. I remember it being very important in the Galapagos Islands!

So, about three days before I left Dominican Republic, when I realized I couldn’t find my tourist card, I started to look harder for it. I looked with my passport, through all of my luggage, in every pocket, in my secret hiding spots for money and with all of my receipts that I had collected. No luck.

I left for two more days in Sosua and put it out of my mind.

As soon as I returned back to Santo Domingo the hunt began again. At this point I only had 12 hours before leaving the country. What was I going to do if I didn’t find it? The panic set in!

I unpacked EVERYTHING from my suitcase and dug through all of the pockets of the suitcase and my clothing. Nothing.
I checked through all of my toiletries, including my cosmetic bag with feminine products where I had been hiding some money earlier in my trip. Figured not too many people would search through tampons to see if there was money there! I thought maybe I had put my tourist card there.
Then I checked through every single receipt / piece of paper and business card that I had collected over the past seven weeks.

Still nothing.

I called my mom on Skype in a panic because I had lost it.

Then I shed a few tears … annoyed at having lost the tourist card and overwhelmed because my time in the Dominican had come to an end.

I did a little internet research and found out that I might get charged a fee for having lost the tourist card. Someone suggested it would be $200 RD, equal to about $5 US. I thought if that’s all it is, I could handle that.

Then I decided there was nothing further I could do about it and I would just have to wait until I got to the airport to see what was going to happen.

I got everything packed and headed to bed at around 11pm, just to get up again at 2am to shower and be ready to leave the hotel at 3am.

Of course, you are supposed to be at the airport three hours early when you are taking international flights. My flight was at 6:25am, so I was supposed to be at the airport for 3:25am. Would the airport even be open? Would I be able to check in?

Of course not.

Well, the airport was open … that was a good thing! I went straight to immigration and used my newly learned Spanish skills to explain that I had lost my tourist card and ask how to get it replaced. The man explained that I would do that on the other side of immigration, but that I would have to check in through my airline first. So, I went and stood in line at American Airlines. It was about 3:40am. Of course no employees were there at 3am! Someone finally told the line up of people that employees start at 4am. Lovely! Sure enough at 4am, about ten employees filed in the the American Airlines area and proceeded to slowly get everything ready, turn monitors on, put out customs forms, stand and chat etc. It was 4:30am before the first person in line was checked in.

At this point I was a little annoyed and super tired! I got checked in around 4:40am, but was starting to worry about getting through the line ups at immigration and security and making it to my flight on time. I had only an hour and a half before boarding.

Getting through security was relatively easy, other than the fact that I forgot to take my shoes off (required), so I was sent back through. Then, once I took my shoes off and put them through the scanner, they got ‘lost’ on the other side. So I was standing waiting for my sandals to come through and they didn’t appear. Finally I asked one of the workers and she found them, they had slipped through the rungs and were on the floor waiting for me!

Next stop, the immigration area where I would find out the real deal about my lost tourist card. The man took my paperwork, did not ask for my tourist card, saw on my immigration form that I had been in the country for seven weeks and told me I would have to pay the extended stay fee. He sent me to another kiosk to pay and told me to come back and see him after as he was holding on to my paperwork. All of this in Spanish! Yay me!

So, off to the payment kiosk I went. I waited and waited and waited … there was no one at the desk and no one around for me to ask what was going on. So, I waited more.

Finally, an employee walked up with another customer. Took care of her fees and then got ready to help me. Very nice man who spoke to me in both English and Spanish. I paid $800 RD (about $20 US), he gave me a receipt and sent me on my way.

Imagine that, no one ever asked me for the tourist card that I had lost. Hmmmm … or had I lost it? Now I wonder if they actually gave me a tourist card when I arrived or if I just paid the fee for it? Or maybe I got one, but it got collected with the immigration paperwork on my way out of the airport? Regardless, I didn’t need the tourist card to leave the country. I didn’t end up paying a fine for it to be replaced. I simply paid the extended stay fee which I had to pay no matter what!

As for the fees they were something close to this:
1-30 days – $400 RD
30 days – 3 months – $800 RD
6 months – 9 months – $1000 RD
1 year – $2500 RD

In the end, after waiting in line up after line up, I arrived at my gate for around 5:30am and then only had to wait half an hour before we boarded. It ended up being perfect timing!

It’s so hot here that …

I’ve officially survived two weeks of crazy heat. Every day the temperatures are about 35 degrees, plus humidity which takes it up to feeling like 40 degrees. And, unfortunately you get no reprive at night. It drops by about 5 degrees. I thought I would do a quick post with things that you might not think of when it is hot all the time …

It is so hot here that ….

Sometimes a cold shower isn’t cold enough.
People carry hand towels around to dab their sweat all day long. (pack one with you or buy one when you arrive)
People carry umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun. (you’ll want one, for sure)
People walk slow because they don’t have the energy to walk fast and they would sweat more.
People sit outside at night, after dark because it is the only time when it is bearable. (bring a lot of bug repellant!)
Chocolate bars need to be kept in the fridge.
You need to grocery shop every couple of days for fresh fruit because it goes bad quickly.
My ear wax is soft! (Weird observation, I know, but it’s true!)
You sweat all day long, including in your sleep.
Ice melts before you can drink a glass of water.
After 5 minutes, air conditioning doesn’t feel cold.
You either stick to things or slide off of things really easily due to sweating all of the time.
Fingernail polish is always just a little soft. At least I found that mine didn’t harden completely.
Cream sun screen and cream insect repellant are useless because your skin is too busy spitting out sweat to absorb the cream! Bring spray not cream.

The Guagua

Guagua is the local term for a public bus here in Santo Domingo. They run throughout the city as public transportation, but also run from the city to various other destinations and cities. One day, my home stay sisters invited me to head out to Boca Chica beach with them, so off we went to find our way!

We took a carro publico to the bus station where we were immediately bombarded with men in red shirts demanding our attention and each trying to usher us to a different bus, but they were all saying Boca Chica, Boca Chica, Boca Chica. It was definitely the most overwhelmed I had felt in public.

We let a young man in a red company shirt quickly usher us to to the first bus on the right. You step inside the door and it is kind of like walking into That 70’s Show. It is a bus, but it kind of reminded me of a volkswagen van, with dirty, ugly, tattered patterned old curtains hanging from all of the windows. The bus seats were old vinyl and equally dirty. And, the aisle was made for hips the size of a 10 year old. All three of us had to turn sideways a little to walk down the aisle to the free seats near the back of the bus.

We all sat separately as there weren’t many people on the bus at this point. Amanda asked someone if we were on the correct bus, and then asked if the ‘Express bus’ we could see out the window was faster than the one we were on. When we discovered it was, we decided to switch buses … well, that didn’t go so well. We started to get off the bus and were greeted by the same young man in the red shirt who shoed us back into the bus telling us that we’d be leaving in three minutes. Of course, that’s three long Dominican minutes!

We sat back down feeling like we were prisoners and not being allowed off the bus. I remember saying to the girls … “if you really want to switch buses, we can get off, he won’t stop us.” But, instead, we agreed to just stay put as we were sure the bus would be leaving soon. And, the other passengers told us it was only about a 30 minute bus ride.

Sitting on the bus waiting was horrendously hot though. In 40 degree heat, on a small bus with no breeze … not fun.

About 15 minutes later a few more passengers had joined us, including one local lady who sat down with Christine even though there were other free seats available. This was odd, however, Christine chatted her up in Spanish and somehow ended up with a gifted mango from the girl, and a guide to help us get all the way straight to Boca Chica and off at the correct stop.

A couple of minutes after we left the bus stop, the young guy in the red shirt came to the back and told Christine that she needed to remove her hoop earrings because she was sitting beside the window. The young girl explained (in Spanish) that it would be easy for people on the street to reach in and grab them because they look expensive and were hoops, so easy to grab on to. I think they also closed her window at that point.

Moments later, there were vendors reaching in the windows offering up candy, sunglasses and snacks for purchase. I didn’t see anyone buying anything, so not sure how they ever make any money this way, but none the less they were relentless in their attempts!

All along the way, the bus stopped to pick people up. After a few people got on, I decided to move up and sit with Amanda. Seemed better than both of us sitting with strangers on a packed bus. Within about five stops, the bus was full. Once we got outside the city, the bus got fuller than full, with a few people standing. Luckily, not for long, as people were also getting off all along the way.

The young man in the red shirt came along to collect money from everyone, $50 Pesos each for us. He made sure to smile nicely, wink and deliberately hold on to each of our hands a little longer than necessary, just to be flirty. Actually, it was just kind of awkward … but I guess he liked it.

For the next 30 minutes or so, we sat on the bus as people hopped on and off at various towns along the way. Christine continued to chat up her new friend Theresa and finally, we got to our stop. Theresa motioned for us to get off and follow along with her, so we did. She walked us down along the beach and showed us a couple of places we could stop if we wanted to. We had mentioned being hungry, so she showed us to a restaurant, sat down for a few minutes and then, *poof* she said goodbye and disappeared, not to be seen again!

We think, aside from being friendly that she also brought us to this particular restaurant because she was friends with someone there, but we will never know!

We spent a lovely afternoon at the beach, then made our way back to the main highway to catch a cold, air conditioned Express guagua on the way home. For the extra .50c American, this bus was worth it! We had a short little chat with a friendly, yet slightly crazy man on this bus and then made it safely back to Parque Indepencia where we walked about 10 minutes to get home.

Overall, an interesting experience with local transportation. I’m certainly glad that my first time I went along with my two new friends who speak much better Spanish than I do! I haven’t done it again yet, but I suspect I’ll be heading that way again when I’m done school to visit some of the other beaches as well as the city of La Romana. I’ll be catching the air conditioned Express bus for sure though. I’m sure I can afford the .50cents for comfort!

Cost of Living in Santo Domingo

Just a quick post with a few details about costs in Santo Domingo.
It is hard to plan for a trip here for six weeks when you have no idea what things cost. Everyone says ‘stuff is cheap’, but that doesn’t give you numbers to budget on! So, here are a few things I’ve purchased in the last few days, their local cost and the translation into how much that is in US dollars.

$1 US = $39 Dominican Pesos

15 minute carror publico (taxi with many people) – $25 Pesos / Less than $1 US
15 minute taxi ride – $180 Pesos / $4.50 US
Public bus to Boca Chica (1 hour on bus) – $50 Pesos / $1.50 US
Public bus to Boca Chica with Air Conditioning (1 hour on bus) – $70 Pesos / less than $2 US
Lunch – rice (a lot), chicken stir fry, pasta salad, coke – $389.40 Pesos / $10 US
Dasani water – $14.95 Pesos / less than .50cents US
Ivory Body Wash – $159 Pesos / $4 US
Umbrella – $125 Pesos / $3 US
Hot dog, pop, chips – $200 Pesos / $5 US
4 large Presidente beer, 1 litre of coke, 1 litre of rum, 1 ‘rev’ type drink = $1300 Pesos / $35 US
Pina Colada – $200 Pesos / $5 US
Fried chicken & fried plantanes, chicken breast & french fries, Coke (meals for two people at a nice restaurant) – $970 Pesos / $25 US

Human Frogger

Generally speaking, traffic is always busy in Santo Domingo. It is a city of approximately three million people, so of course there are a lot of vehicles and a lot of people who need to get from place to place at every time of day!

There is no respect for transportation laws and pedestrians certainly do not have the right of way in any circumstance. The funniest thing is that people here are laid back and walk slowly and calmly, but yet, people behind the wheel are the exact opposite! It is like they are racing to get out of town before the apocalypse or something!

My first day in Santo Domingo, I travelled mostly by foot. It is funny that I don’t use these feet of mine more often at home, but when I’m in a new city there is nothing that I like more than to walk through the streets to get an understanding of where everything is without having to worry about moving fast, which way to turn when other cars are waiting and being able to easily backtrack if I feel I have gone the wrong way. But, really, is there a wrong way when you are exploring a new city? I mostly like to just go for a stroll, look at my surroundings and enjoy the exercise.

I did find, however that trying to cross the main streets, such as the Malecon, is much like playing frogger. You might step out and then step back a couple of times! And, you may have to go left and right around cars. And, yes, you may have to sprint across the street because drivers have no intentions of slowing down for you to get safely across! Having said this, occasionally a driver will stop to let me cross (likely so they can have a good long stare at the white girl and call out a few compliments or comments from their car window while you cross the street!)

On the really busy streets, sometimes, if you are lucky, you can find a police officer standing at a corner. If you ask, they will use their whistle and step out in traffic for you to then give you the right of way to cross the street. So far, I’ve only done this once. Most of the time if you wait a few minutes you can find a break in traffic to dodge across the street on your own. The funniest part though is that I have never seen a Dominican rush to get out of the way of the on coming traffic. Only us white folks sprint for the other side!

The taxi Chronicles – Part 5 – Carros Publico

Transportation in other countries is always an interesting topic of conversation because it varies greatly from location to location. Having traveled to many countries and used many types of transportation, not a whole lot surprises me any more. It does however amaze me that there are not more deaths by ‘fender’ in these countries.

My first day of school also became my first experience with the public cars (el carro publico), which are kind of a cross between buses and taxis here. Right now I am living in the Zona Colonial which is about 15 minutes by carro pulico to my school. I walked with my house – sisters about 5 or 6 blocks from our home to a street where there are various beat up old cars with their roofs painted either green or yellow. That is how you know they are an official carro publico.

Let me just say this … No one, I mean really, NO ONE in Canada drives a car as dented, rickety, mismatched and questionable as about 60% of the cars here. An additional 25% are about the same as what we consider old beaters at home and then the remaining 5% are new (made within the past five years) vehicles. In fact, I walked passed the KIA dealership here today!

Here in Santo Domingo, you can take three modes of local transportation:
1. Guaguas, which are city buses. I haven’t been on one in the city yet, but they work similar to other cities, where they have set routes and there are marked stops on the side of the roads where you can get on or off.
2. Taxis are the cars you call (or stop on the street) when you want to go somewhere without anyone else in the vehicle, when you need to get somewhere specific as quickly as possible or when all else fails!
3. Carros Publicos are cars, but they carry multiple people, cost a set rate per usage and operate only on a specific route. You can ask them to drop you off at any point on the street close to your destination, and if they have room, they will stop anywhere on their route to pick you up, you just have to wait for them.

Carros Publico work like this:
You find out which streets have the main routes for carros publicos. For us, we get a car about six blocks from our house, very close to Parque Indepencia. As you walk up the street there is a line up of the green or yellow topped cars parked along the side of the street. Really, you are taking your chances in any of them, but you look for the one that looks to be in the best condition, with a friendly looking driver and cram yourself in. The carros publico do not move until they are full. This means that you squeeze four adult bodies in the back seat of a small car and the driver plus two more adults in the front seat. Luckily there are three of us always traveling together, so we are mainly squished against each other, but if you are traveling alone, you get up close and personal with the other people in the car. Often this means nearly sitting on someone’s lap, putting your arm around someone, all while holding on for dear life!

To further help you get the feel for the entire experience, picture cramming yourself in a box with only a couple of cut outs for windows, heated to 40 degrees and then invite four strangers to join you. Then, wait three to five more excruciatingly hot minutes for one more person to squeeze themselves in. By the time you start moving in the little hot box of a car, you are dripping with sweat and sharing that sweat with those around you. There is no way not to sweat on each other in a carro publico and there is no room for personal space!

It takes us about 15 minutes in the car to make our way to the school. The traffic is congested, often three cars wide with only two lanes. No one uses signal lights (I doubt they even work in the cars) and everyone uses their horns! Although, they actually use their horns much less here than I remember in Quito, Ecuador where it was a symphony of horns constantly! Occasionally drivers obey stop lights, but they very rarely stop for pedestrians or even bother to slow down to avoid them.

A few short little details about things I’ve found interesting or funny about carros publico.

1. Because four people are crammed in the back seat, it almost always takes the fourth person two or three tries to get the car door closed.
2. Similarly, when someone needs to get out of the back seat the pressure is released and it is like the gates of a dam opening. You have to catch yourself from being swept away in the rushing waters of bodies falling out of the crammed car! It is kind of funny when you open the door and feel your balance shifting to the outside of the car. You really have to catch yourself to not completely fall out.
3. Having said that, sometimes the car doors do not shut so well. So, it is possible to be driving down the road and the car door that has jammed you into the car might just give way and open up. Mine did this the other day, but thankfully there were only three of us in the back seat at the time, so I did not fall out. I think we hit a bump and the door jiggled open. I quickly gave it a tug and then made sure the handle was secured back in place to hold the door shut.
4. The interior of the car is never clean. These cars see a hundred different people a day, hot and sweaty, sometimes people dirty from having worked outside all day. One day in particular, the group of us got in a car that had no fabric lining on the inside of the car doors. I noticed after I pulled on the metal of the door to shut it that my hands were immediately filthy. It is near impossible to stay clean here. I haven’t bothered to even wear my white shorts here yet!

Overall, the carros publicos are quite efficient. They get us to where we want to go for just 25 Pesos (approximately $.60cents). Yes, that’s right, a 15 minute cab ride (albeit very crowded and hot), for less than $1. It is definitely cheap here! Once you know where to get the car that goes on the route you want, they are easy to find, easy to use and well, pretty much as safe as it gets here.

The Taxi Chronicles – Part 2

I learned very quickly about safety while in a cab! On my first full day in Quito, Ecuador, I had walked from my hotel in the new part of the city to the Old Town. You can read my post here about one scary little incident I had along the way. After my lovely tour of the beautiful churches in Old Town, I started my walk back out of town. Um, No. That wasn’t going to happen! Just in case you aren’t aware, Quito is in the mountains at about 8000ft. On my first day there, the several kms of walking up and down crazy hills was not my best idea! (although I’m glad I did it!). When I left Old town, about half way up my first hill, I saw a cab … walked over while he was stuck in traffic and sputtered breathlessly ‘Cuantros a teleferico?’ Meaning – ‘How much to go to the cable car?’

I honestly don’t remember the amount at this point, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I wasn’t in a negotiating mood, I just needed to sit down and catch my breath! So, as long as I had enough money to cover the trip there and the trip back to my hotel, I was good!

I jumped in the back seat of the taxi and tried to catch my breath. We had moved about 100 meters when the cab driver started speaking to me in Spanish. I had no idea what he was trying to tell me. At first I just assumed he was being friendly and trying to make conversation. Then he turned around and locked the back door on the driver’s side and motioned for me to do the same.

I remember at the time not really realizing why it was so important to lock my door, but I did it anyway. Was he just taking extra precautions? What could possibly happen? Was someone really going to try to get into the cab while I was in it?

This was the first time when it really sunk in that it wasn’t a particularly safe place and that it was so very different than home in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It wasn’t so much the area that I was in right at that moment, so much as the area that we would drive through to get to the Teleferico.

It is one thing to wander into a seemingly fine area to be told you need to leave immediately, but it is another thing to be in a moving vehicle, with a local, and have to worry about thugs just opening the doors and stealing you, or your valuables. I’d like to think that the car could speed away and the thug would roll down the nasty hill that I couldn’t bear to walk up any further, but I guess that doesn’t happen if you are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic!

I had already been warned and warned and warned again about safety in Quito, especially as a young, blonde girl, traveling alone … but when a cab driver makes you lock your door, it really sinks in!

I wasn’t really scared at the time, just thankful that he told me to lock my door. We didn’t have any incidents. No one came pounding on the car or trying to open the doors when we were at stop lights, but knowing that my door was locked was a little extra protection between me and the big bad world out there.

We did drive through a few sketchy areas that day. This was more so outside the city once we entered the residential areas. Every city has areas that are the ‘slums’ of that particular city. For us, in Halifax, we have a few questionable areas such as Highfield Park and Gottingen Street. If you have ever felt unsafe in one of those two areas in Halifax then you might rattle to the breaking point with fear in some of the areas that I traveled through. Let me say, very thankfully, that I was in the back seat of a taxi with the doors locked!

The Taxi Chronicles – Part 1

In our little Canadian bubble, we would like to generally believe that Taxis are a ligit mode of transportation. Easy enough, you call a company that sends a car for you, you tell the driver where you are going and when you arrive, you pay him. Hmmm … seems simple.

What is normal and simple in Canada, is NOT the way it is in most of the rest of the world! I can’t stress this enough. Canada is one small part of the world and we live very well here, but it is unlike the majority of countries in the world. I can’t tackle all of the world’s differences in one post, so let’s start with taxis.

When you travel to other countries, you have to be careful about your taxis. In some countries you can call for a cab from your apartment or hotel, in other countries that is simply unheard of. In some cities you stand on the street and hail a cab (picture New York City), in other cities you wave frantically and they just keep driving by (Halifax – we don’t ‘hail’ cabs here!). In Lima, Peru taxis are actively out looking for you! I didn’t realize this at first, but once I figured it out, I learned to love it! If you are walking down the street, standing on the corner or just about anywhere, if a cab is coming toward you and doesn’t have a passenger, they’ll toot their horn. If you need a ride you make eye contact or give a little wave and they’ll pull over for you. You are NEVER stuck waiting for a cab, they are everywhere and they want your business. Now, it is your choice if you want to negotiate with several, but you never have to wait long!

No matter where you are traveling, if you are going to be paying for a ride, you should find out the customs and procedures for traveling by taxi. You might want to start with which companies are reputable and how to recognize them.

We’ve all heard horror stories of someone visiting a country where they thought they were getting into a taxi, but in the end they were kidnapped or murdered. Not all countries regulate their taxis like we do here in Canada, in fact, most don’t! In many places, any John Doe can pull up beside you and offer you a ride and take your money. That doesn’t mean you should take them up on that offer! Or at least not if you value your life.

While I was traveling in Ecuador and Peru, I made sure that I was always looking for the taxi sign on top of the car, as well as their ID badge or operators permit. When I could, I took pre-arranged transfers with tour companies or asked my hotel to arrange a cab for me. In most places this worked well, but it is a more expensive route. Airport transfers cost in the vicinity of double what I would have paid if I just caught a regular taxi on my own. However, having someone waiting for me at the airport with my name on a sign was always a relief as well, so maybe sometimes it is worth double! In fact, when traveling alone, not being able to speak the language and landing in a country late at night … I think the extra $10-$20 is well worth the piece of mind!

At Hotel Britania in the Miraflores district of Lima, our hotel was great about hailing cabs for me any time I needed one. They would also negotiate the price for you. If you told them you needed to go somewhere and you were willing to pay five Soles, they would hail four or five cabs until they found one who would take you for that price. If no luck, you could always pay a little more to the next cab if they said no to the five Soles.

One of the most important pieces of advice to remember is to ALWAYS negotiate your price before you take off in a cab. Most times I negotiated at the driver’s window before ever getting in the cab. Some taxis have meters, others don’t … some are regulated to use them, some simply don’t give a damn. I’m sure many of them are either working for themselves, or at least are skimming off the top to pay themselves a little extra. This is just the way it is in other countries. In Canada, that isn’t acceptable. In South America, it is an everyday occurrence.

Another important tip is to always travel with small bills and local currency. Taxi drivers do not keep an abundance of cash on hand and often are not able to make change for you. Because of the high theft rates they can’t keep a lot of cash in their cab for their own safety. Taxis are generally very inexpensive, so trying to pay them with a 50 Soles bill for a five Soles ride is just simply not possible. If you only have a large bill, you should ask the driver before you get in if he can change it. The word for change in Spanish is ‘cambio’.

More information about Taxis in Peru here.

Travel like a Diva … with a cup … Part 3

This truly is part 3 of a series, so if you haven’t read part 1 and part 2, hunker down in a private place where you can laugh out loud and you don’t have to explain yourself! I’m suggesting that your office cubicle is not sufficient for this! Trust me …. I’m telling you!

Oh yes, and men, well, you should just skip to another post now. This one talks about having your period while traveling. I’m guessing you aren’t interested …

Here we go! Part 3 …

I was both lucky and unlucky enough to have my period the week before I left on my South American Adventure. I was lucky of course because I wasn’t having my period while flying and during my first week of travels. I was UNLUCKY because this moved my schedule so that I would be having my period … dun da da dahhhhhhh … during my homestay in Ccaccaccollo! Not impressed!

On my first day at our homestay, we went back to our houses with our mommies and got dressed up in traditional attire before heading out for a walk around the community. Traditional attire means large colorful skirts, a white blouse, a short black jacket and a hat. All of which we put on over our regular clothes.

When my mommy put my skirt on me and went to tie it up, she put her hand on my belly and asked ‘Bambino?’. I wanted to cry (but I didn’t). I told her ‘No, Bambino.’

Hmmmm … really? Did I look pregnant? Maybe not a good day to ask me that seeing as my period should be arriving at any time!

I was kind of offended, but I tried to keep in mind that in their culture, being pregnant is a huge blessing and it wasn’t meant to be offensive at all. Unfortunately this only changed the pain from a sting to a dull ache.

After our walk around town we removed the layers of traditional clothing and got back to wearing our stretch pants, sweaters and my trusty rain jacket.

One of the things I loved most about my rain jacket was the endless pockets. They weren’t necessarily placed in the best positions for easy access, but wow, could you ever fit a lot in them!

At ALL times, my jacket pockets were stuffed with at least two travel packs of kleenex (or toilet paper), hand sanitizer, often a snack, a bottle of water, some odds and ends of camera gear and my hat and mittens when it got too hot.

This first night in Ccaccaccollo I added to the pocket stuffing list:
two tampons, a pad and my diva cup

Yup, everywhere I went for the next few days my diva cup was with me.

Now, although I was ‘packing’ my diva cup, I really had no idea how I was going to be able to use it. Have you read “It’s a squatter Part 2”?

I really thought that the diva cup was going to be my best friend while I was having my period during this trip in Peru.

My first trip to the outhouse that day was in the dark, flashlight in hand. I didn’t talk about this in my ‘squatter’ blog, but when I went to the bathroom, I was also checking to see if I had started my period. Yup, that means shining the flashlight on my undies and checking the toilet paper. Nothing there. The waiting game continues.

Isn’t it awful that there isn’t a clear sign to tell us to run to the bathroom and put a cork in it before it is too late? You know, before we ruin a pair of underwear or have an embarrassing situation at work, before you decide to have sex with someone and ‘surprise’… there it is! What? No, none of those things have ever happened to me or any of my girl friends!

I mean really, since our bodies are created with all of these intricacies, couldn’t one have been implemented to set an internal alarm off saying ‘Period commencing in 3 … 2 … 1 …’

Men, are you still reading? It really only gets worse from here ….

So, no period on my first night at Ccaccaccollo, but it is due to arrive at any time!

Day 2 at the homestay, I head to the bathroom with all of my personal products to check for my Aunt Flow. Am I hoping she’s come to visit? Well, kind of … just to have it over with. The sooner she arrives, the sooner she leaves, right? No luck. Still no period.

By the afternoon, I’m starting to worry a little and my mind is wandering …

hmmm … Mami in an ancient village asks me if I’m carrying a child …
hmmm … haven’t had any of my regular PMS symptoms and I’m officially late.
I’m Late.
OMG I’m LATE!
Holy crap I’m LATE!
OMG could I be pregnant?
OMG is this woman telling me something instead of asking me something?
Holy crap, could I be pregnant?

SHARI! Earth to Shari!
BREATHE!

Ok. I really can’t be pregnant. Being pregnant requires the act of having sex. Phew! What a relief that is! (ha ha ha I just cracked myself up)

PANIC …. Wait, when did I have sex last?
Think …. think ….
Ok, PHEW! It was before my last period, before I left Canada. (yes, I just published this … WEIRD!)
Phew! I really can’t be pregnant, I must just be late.
It must be the food, the exercise, the change in schedule.
Did I say PHEW! yet?

After this 30 seconds of panic, my heart rate returned to normal and I realized that I could not possibly be pregnant, so I’d just have to wait for it.

Then the conversation in my head continued in a different direction …

So, ‘self’ … how is it that you are going to actually deal with this when it does arrive. Let’s make a plan so we aren’t totally caught off guard.

(do you like how there are two of us in this conversation? Me … and my other self, Me.)

Picture an outhouse … the basic kind, not the porta-potty kind … Tin roof and sides, cement floor, hole in ground. Now, picture yourself squatting over that hole to do your bathroom business. Fine, that’s not so bad .. just like going in the woods, right?

Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru
Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru
Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru
Outhouse in Ccaccaccollo, Peru

Now, picture yourself squatting over the hole trying to get the diva cup out of your jacket pocket and out of it’s pretty little cotton bag. Ok, a bit of a struggle, but doable. But you can’t set anything down. Tuck the pretty little cotton bag back into your jacket pocket and prepare for the challenge. Don’t forget, you are still in full squat-to-the-ground position with your pants around your ankles and a rain jacket on. Not to mention the fact that you are squatting over an open hole with no seat to catch you if you lose your balance! (EWWWW!) Not that you could actually fall in, the hole isn’t that big, but still … EWWWW!

Diva cup in hand, you push the centre of it in and get ready. Now you have to use both hands to actually insert it.

Ok. Here’s where I lose it. Squatting over an open hole … trying not to breathe in too many fumes … holding a little cup in my hand, trying to balance and not fall over while pants are at my ankles. Then needing to use both of my hands to insert the cup?

I can’t do it!

All of this conversation in my head to plan for the moment my period arrives and I’m in the outhouse and I’ve already decided I can’t do it!

Flashback to Part 2:

“POP!

The cup slips out of my grasp, hits the door with a dull little thud and bounces to the floor. “OMG I’m glad I’m at home, not in a public bathroom right now!” What if I had lost my grip, the cup hit the door, then the floor and rolled right out of the stall? I might just die!

Instead of the Seinfeld episode ‘Can you spare a square?’ it would be ‘Can you roll my alternative menstrual product back under the stall for me please? And then, can you leave the bathroom before I do, so you never see my face?’”

Yup, the flashback pretty much ruined it for me. What if I lost my grip on the Diva cup and it popped right out of my hand? What if it landed on the floor in the outhouse? Worse, what if it fell in the hole? Not only is there no retrieving it, but one of the men who cleans out the outhouse would eventually find it and probably wonder what it was!

Not only are both of these thoughts disgusting, but unfortunately, both are realities of things that could happen. That little cup is springy and you have to have a good grip on it to make sure you don’t lose it.

So, on day 2, it has been decided that if my period arrives while I’m at my homestay, I will be using pads and tampons.

Day 3 we head out to the carnival celebrations in the community of Toray. I’m still carrying feminine products, including my diva cup everywhere I go! Maybe this community will have washrooms with toilets!

The community did indeed have public washrooms with toilets. However, I think I preferred my hole in the ground in the outhouse. Seems crazy, I know, but the public washrooms are not well taken care of. In fact, they aren’t taken care of at all. You fend for yourself.

You would never ever ever dream of sitting on the toilet … there’s no seat on it, but it doesn’t really matter. Seat or no seat, everyone else has already squatted, done their business and can’t be bothered to wipe off the seat. Not a chance in hell that I would ever let any part of me touch that toilet!

And for those of you who have fears of sitting on public toilets in Canada and the US. For those of you who avoid public washrooms all together … Well, simply, you should just never, ever leave those two countries or you will not survive. We are pampered. Our bathrooms are luxurious. If there is a toilet seat you can sit on, you are a Queen!

If you think that washrooms in Canada at a gas station in the middle of nowhere is bad, think again. Public washrooms in developing countries don’t even come close to the cleanliness of a bad washroom in Canada.

So, despite the fact that there were actually toilets in this community, not a chance that if my period had started I was going to try to squat and insert the diva cup over the disgustingness of the public toilets.

By the end of day 3 at our homestays, I was nearly 5 days late. No PMS symptoms, no period and a lovely woman who had asked (more than once now) if I was carrying a ‘Bambino’.

Hmmmm … really … is she trying to tell me something? Is immaculate conception in the Andes Mountains a normal occurrence? Is she predicting my future?

Nah … she just thinks my ‘fat’ is a baby. It sucks, but that’s all it is. More than a little discouraging, especially after already having lost weight on the trip, but what can you do!

We leave the lovely Ccaccaccollo community the next morning, off on our next adventure which is heading to Machu Picchu! Still no period.

Advance a few days … still no period.

Lima, Feb 28 – We have a great final night out with our G Adventures leader, Andres. We head out to a local bar (blog post on all of this coming soon), but I’m not feeling my best. I had come down with traveller’s diarrhea in Aguas Calientes and despite having started on Cipro, it wasn’t in check yet. The local bar was pretty sketchy though and decided to avoid the bathrooms if at all possible.

At around 11pm we got cabs and headed back to the hotel.

11:30pm back in my hotel room … SURPRISE! My period had started.
Someone was watching over me and allowed me to make it all the way back to my hotel room that night without any embarrassing accidents in my khaki colored shorts. Here I was, the last day of my trip, more than fives days late and my period was starting when I could actually sit on a toilet, use both hands and insert my diva cup properly.

For awhile there, I thought that the diva cup was a lost cause … in the end, I enjoyed having it just as much as I thought I would, but only when there are good washrooms!

Best part about it was that somehow my period magically avoided my entire trip except for the last day. And, I got to use the Diva cup while traveling home which is really wonderful when you have to use airplane bathrooms.

This is a whole other story, but trying to spread your knees and insert a tampon while in an airplane bathroom is nearly impossible … right ladies??? I know you feel my pain!

Use a diva cup – you can keep it in for 12 hours. No need to reinsert on the plane.

I {heart} my diva cup!