The Magic Hat

Before I left for the trek in October 2012, I bought myself a wide-brimmed hat. It was cheap, maybe $20 at a local Mark’s Work Wearhouse (where I was working at the time).

That hat has become to be known as my Magic Hat.

Why, you ask? (Yes, please ask. Work with me here, people.) I never pulled rabbits or any other rodent out of it.

I lost the thing three times and each time I got it back.

The first time I lost it was in a coffee shop in a Christchurch, New Zealand mall. I had stopped in to buy a new pair of shoes, then had a coffee. I put the hat down, finished my coffee and headed back to the hotel.

About halfway back, I realized, “Crap! Lost my hat!”

I went back to yonder coffee shop the next day. Against odds, lo and behold, someone had turned it in!

Second time was also in a mall, this time in Cape Town, South Africa. I had gone into the mall to mail a box home and obviously at some point I left my hat behind. Well, I turned around as quick as I remembered and started re-tracing my steps. Turns out that a woman at a mall store had seen me leave it behind and took it with her for safe keeping. When she saw me she gave me my hat back, saying, “I thought you weren’t coming back!”

Well, I did and I got it back.

Third time was in a church in Buenos Aires. My guide, Sandra, and I had gone into the church to have a look at the artwork and architecture. When we came out of the church, our driver said, “Hey, he’s missing his hat!” With that Sandra and I wheeled about back into the church and spotted it on a church pew.

Now, this kind of stuff never happens to me. But for some reason, I was supremely lucky during the trip. Lost/found my hat three times, got an international flight after showing at the airport less than 30 minutes before take-off time… There were other instances of basic good luck that I’ve never been known to expect.

As I sit here, the Magic Hat is hanging on my TV in the living room. It’s scruffy and dirty. It’s starting to fall apart. But I still have it.

So whenever you have a run of bad luck, remember the Magic Hat. If I can have a run of good luck, then surely you can too!

My  Magic Hat

My Magic Hat on it’s current resting place.

My Panamanian guide Franko and I and my Magic Hat

My Panamanian guide Franko and I and my Magic Hat

In Peru with my Magic Hat.

In Peru with my Magic Hat.

At Table Mountain, Cape Town South Africa, and my Magic Hat.

At Table Mountain, Cape Town South Africa, and my Magic Hat.

My Argentine guide Jorge and I, and my Magic Hat

My Argentine guide Jorge and I, and my Magic Hat

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Panama!

PANAMA!

Some say that you have to be at the airport a full 3 hours before departure. Well, even though airlines & airports tell you that, it isn’t actually true. One of my previous entries was about getting to the airport about 20 minutes or so before scheduled departure and skedaddling O.J. Simpson-style through express lanes in both check-in and security. Now, I certainly don’t recommend doing that, but in a crunch it can be done.

Buy sometimes there are advantages to getting to the airport 3 hours prior.

I schlepp up yo the Copa airlines desk. “Hi. Checking in for the 5:20 flight to Panama City.” This is about 1:30.

The very cute clerk says, “Meester Feesher, we have a flight leaving at two thirty. Would you like that flight?”

Well, I’m all for chatting up cute clerks in the airport. I ask, “What’s the extra fee?”

She smiles. I think she likes me. “No extra fee, Meester Feesher.”

“I’ll take it. Thanks!”

“You’re welcome Meester Feesher. Enjoy your flight.”

Yep, she definitely likes me.

So I got to my hotel, the El Panama, hours ahead of time. (After some nonsense by the baggage handlers. If you’re flying into Panama City, take carry-on luggage only. Trust me on this.)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, frankly. Last time I heard anything substantive about Panama was when Noriega was turfed out and thrown into a Florida jail.

Turns out it’s a pretty cool place. Panama City only has a population of just over a million, with the whole country less than 4 million.

Lots of wildlife parks too. My guide, Franko, and a boat captain (whose name I don’t recall, sorry) took me out to a freshwater area behind the famous Panama Canal to introduce me to one of the wildlife areas in the country. The park teems with life, from many kinds of birds and monkeys to maybe even some jaguars, rarely seen. The sound of the howler monkeys freaked me out until I learned what it was.

I like this place. Traffic’s a nightmare but that’s nothing new. Even a non-Spanish speaker like me found it pretty easy to get around.

One negative is a restaurant named Maranello, after the Ferrari factory.

The.

Food.

Sucks.

Maybe I just got them on a bad night but the food was truly awful.

Later that evening, there were a cluster of soccer fans hooting it up and carrying on. Sounded like they were having a good time, nobody got stupid or out of line, everyone’s there just enjoying themselves.

And MAN did they make some noise!

Next morning I got to the front desk and meniton in passing to the clerk, “I guess their team won last night.”

“Oh, no, Meester Feesher,” she said, “That game isn’t until tonight.”

Going to be a loud night!

Franko and I and my 25 extra pounds of bellyfat

Franko and I and my 25 extra pounds of bellyfat

Lots of interesting birds flitting about

Lots of interesting birds flitting about

Freaky looking monkey

Freaky looking monkey

DSC00360

Wild sloth

Wild sloth hanging out

What’s The Difference Between a Canadian and a Canoe?

Q. What’s the difference between a Canadian and a canoe?

A. A canoe tips

Yessiree, my fellow Canajuns. We of the Great White North, home of hockey, basketball (yep, go look it up), the best military pilots in the world and dried potatoes in a box, have a reputation as miserly tipping travellers.

I have heard anecdotes – don’t know if they’re true or not – that if Canadians enter a restaurant, the greeter will put them at a table that will be served by someone they don’t like very much.

Again, I don’t actually know it’s true or not, but it could be.

I think some of the reason is because many of us Canadian travellers simply don’t know if or how much is appropriate.

In some countries such as Japan, tipping may even be interpreted as an insult.

So how is a traveller to know?

Firstly, do your research. Spend some time with a Frommer’s or Lonely Planet, or talk to someone who has been to your destination.

There are some modern-day Neanderthals insist that 10% on the pretax total is enough. “They’re already being paid. Besides, they’re lucky to have my business.”

Fortunately, those troglodytes can safely be ignored.

Generally speaking, 15% to 20% on the pre-tax total of your restaurant bill is about right.

“But what if the food stinks or the service sucks?”

The tip isn’t the place to reflect that. Call the restaurant manager and tell her there’s a problem. It’s not fair to not tip the server if the food’s not good. She didn’t cook it. Same if the service is lousy. Why refrain from tipping the kitchen staff if the service sucks?

Let the manager know, and tip the proper people directly through the manager. “See that the kitchen staff gets all of this tip,” then give the manager the tip amount.

Same if you’re paying by credit or debit card. Tell the manager that the tip belongs to whichever party didn’t screw up things.

“But there’s already a 10% or 15% gratuity built into the bill. Now what’s appropriate?”

Crap, I hate it when places do that.

But anyway, that amount is usually split between service staff. Ask if you’re not sure. Then it’s appropriate for a 10% to 15% tip. And remember, that tip amount goes directly to the service provider, not in the general shared amout. If it’s at all possible, give the server’s tip in cash.

But like it or not, tipping doesn’t stop at the restaurant. Bartenders, hotel housekeeping staff, concierge staff, etc etc… Certainly, tipping isn’t required but giving them a tip – even before they haven’t actually served you yet – will go a long way in getting you good service. Something as small as a crisp $5 bill can make the difference.

So, fellow Canadians, let’s put that old joke to rest. Tipping properly to the right people is a good courtesy that simply makes sense.

Got a tip about tipping? Agree or disagree? Let me know through the comments portion of this post or send me an email: morgansglobaltrek@mail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Of Volcanoes and Distant Families

The Arenal volcano in Costa Rica is one of the few volcanoes on earth that are almost perfectly cone-shaped. Mount Fuji in Japan is another one.

Alas, you’d never know it, or even know it’s there. Low cloud and a persistent drizzle has all but shrouded it entirely.

It’s not active at the moment. According to those who know about these things, it’s in the middle of a 12 year cycle, so nothing is expected to happen for another 5 or 6 years.

There are lots of other things to see. Amazing wildlife, interesting flora (normally I don’t give a rip about flowers and such, but some stuff here is totally cool), neato geology and really interesting people.

Like Shayna and her husband Ryan. They’re from Texas, though they don’t have that Texan drawl.

“We got married last year but never took a honeymoon.” Shayna, Ryan and myself are in a big hot tub.

And Shayna’s bathing suit is only barely holding itself together.

She’s pretty nicely proportioned.

“Izzat so?” I ask, using much of my inner resolve not to look where I shouldn’t.

“Yea,” says Ryan. “We spent a TON on the wedding but now have the time and bucks to take a trip like this.”

I ask them what they do. “I’m a sign painter,” says Ryan, “and have just started a shoe-painting business.”

“Shoe painting”? I ask. Don’t look don’t look don’t look.

“Cowboy boots mostly.”

“I’m a massage therapist,” says Shayna. Of course you are. How could you be anything different? Don’t look don’t look don’t look.

It’s cool. Everything’s cool.

“Well Shayna, we’d better get to our massage appointment,” Ryan says. We say our good-byes and they’re gone.

Then there’s the couple from Arkansas, travelling with their two daughters. “We’re in Costa Rica for a month, then back home,” says the dad. (For the life of me I cannot recall their name.)

What about school for the kids?

“We home school our children with teachings from the bible and through the word of our lord Jesus Christ.”

“My my, look at the time,” I say and beat a hasty retreat. I should introduce them to my driver, Sammy.

Lastly there’s Henry, server at the onsite restaurant. He doesn’t have much time for idle chit-chat but he makes a few moments to tell me about himself.

“My family is in Zimbabwe,” he says. “I work here to get money to bring them here.”

“How many in your family?”

“Seven,” he says. “I need to work a long time.”

Yes you do, my friend. I cut him a healthy tip. I sincerely hope it works out for him.

And, not for the first time, I realize that I’m far from family too. A short email exchange with a nephew has me looking forward to seeing him and the rest of the family.

Believe it or not, there's a volcano in there.

Believe it or not, there’s a volcano in there.

Sammy is Very Happy

Sammy is one happy guy.

Why so happy, you ask?

We’ll get to that shortly.

Sammy was my driver between the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, and the Arenal Manoa resort that sits in the shadow of the Arenal volcano.

But let’s back up a bit.

Yesterday I boarded an A320 in Lima, Peru that took me to San Jose.

It was not an easy flight.

Colliding warm and cold fronts plus wacky winds that result from mountain ranges made the flight uncomfortably bumpy. Now, I know that planes aren’t disastrously brought down by turbulence. Planes aren’t disastrously brought down hardly at all. Full stop.

But I don’t care how used to air travel you are. A flight like that would give the most seasoned traveller a sphincter factor of 9.5. Probably leave a new pucker in the seat cushion. I did end up with half a cup full of Coke in my lap, fizzing away.

It’s not pleasant, don’t try it on purpose.

So it was with no small relief that we landed – HARD – in San Jose.

I was met at the airport by a Camino Travel rep who took me to the Costa Rica Marriott. Swanky place.

For some reason, I was upgraded to – get this – the Presidential Suite.

The Presidential Suite. For me.

It’s huge. Cavernous. It echoed. I don’t know what the square footage might be, but I’ve owned houses that had less square footage on one floor than this suite. I could invite a dozen friends and their wives/husbands/partners for the night and have plenty of room left over to put the empties.

Next morning I was met by Sammy, my driver and guide who was to take me to the Arenal Manoa resort. “The drive takes 2 to 3 hours,” he said. “First part straight, second part like this,” and he made wavy gestures with his hands.

It seems like my turbulent ride on the plane was to be followed up with a turbulent ride in his taxi.

“I’ve been driving this road for seven years and one accident only,” he grinned. He didn’t elaborate. I didn’t ask.

So why is Sammy so happy?

“I have been saved by the lord Jesus Christ!”

Oh no. This is going to be a long drive.

The living room.

The living room.

The office.

The office.

Fully stocked bar.

Fully stocked bar.

The bedroom.

The bedroom.