Canas - Staggering Discovery

Trip Start Aug 16, 2003
Trip End Apr 21, 2004

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Sunday, March 14, 2004

After a hearty breakfast we packed up, checked out and crossed the road to the bus stop in order to repeat (in reverse) our bumpy journey to the ferry. Bizarrely, we shared the bench with a white-faced monkey, who took great delight in turning his back or scowling whenever Andrea tried to take a photo of him! Eventually bored with the game, he scampered off into the adjacent trees without a backward glance.

Stuck on the shaking, rattling, stuffy bus for two hours was not one of our favourite experiences on the island - when the windows were opened to allow in some air, clouds of dust billowed in too, causing many passengers to cough and splutter, coating us all with grime. The little girl directly in front of Andrea was travel-sick and repeatedly threw-up, which certainly affected Andrea's constitution, but mercifully, she survived without doing the same!

We were quickly bundled onto the ferry and left the anchorage at Ometepe shortly afterwards. The voyage was again a violently choppy one, but without incident. In fact, we had a prime view of the two volcanoes of the island, gradually shrinking as we sailed further and further from them, back to the mainland. As we looked on in appreciation of the spectacle, we were both glad we hadn't attempted to climb the taller Volcan Concepcion!

Glad to be back on dry land, we were advised by 'someone-who-knew' to avoid the hassles of waiting for a bus and just jump into a taxi back to the Rivas bus station. This we did, after agreeing on a fare (we were also told how much to expect) and subsequently pulled up at the terminal as the border bus was preparing to depart. With the help of the driver's mate, we hauled our luggage onto the roof of the bus and took our seats with the other passengers. In a short while we reached the frontier and made our way to immigration on the Nicaraguan side. Another 'person-in-the-know' began chatting to us and warned us to wait for ten minutes or so (until after 2 pm) when the 'departure fee' would be reduced. Our new found friend from Belgium remained with us as we walked across to the Costa Rican side of the border and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we were not charged a fee to enter the country.

Within minutes, we boarded another bus, bound for Liberia. Although not air-conditioned, it was comparative luxury next to those we had used in Nicaragua. The whole feel we had at the beginning of our journey into Costa Rica was more positive: dwellings on either side of the (well-maintained) road were smart and cared-for, there seemed to be less dust, and overall, people appeared more friendly.

In Liberia we had just over an hour to wait for a bus to take us to Caņas - our destination for the night. We were making our way to Monteverde and a convoluted route through Canas, then Tilaran was the only option available (on our budget!). Intending to obtain more cash, I stood in line at an ATM for twenty minutes, only to receive the message that my withdrawal limit had been reached. I tried again a number of times, reducing the amount etc, to no avail. We had enough to get to Canas, but would have to then pay for our room on a card. Once at the smaller town, a friendly chap asked us were we were headed, and as no map was printed in the guidebook, he led us all the way to the hotel, chatting in English all the way. I handed over my card to pay, and it was denied...

I walked round to another ATM there, and received a similar message to the one in Liberia - something was wrong, as we had been paying the card off via the Internet - there should have been sufficient funds.

I bought a phone card and in the morning (before breakfast) I contacted Barclays and was staggered by the news I card had somehow been copied and purchases over five thousand pounds had been charged to it! The first transaction was from Campeche (in Mexico) - I have kept ALL my credit card receipts since we started travelling and had nothing from there. It was for over four hundred pounds at a supermarket. Another was for over one thousand in a jewellery store. The list went on - it was a frightening revelation. By checking Andrea's diary and long, hard thinking, we realised that we had only tried to use the card once at the restaurant in the arches by the cathedral. It seems that the scam went as follows: the card was scanned, but returned to me with the waiter explaining that there was a problem with it and it did not work; we therefore paid in cash and hence received no credit card receipt; it must have then been copied, perhaps a new name recorded and obviously, new signature as I had signed nothing. Unwittingly, we had given some thieving ****** access to thousands of pounds worth of credit.

As it stands at the moment, the bank has blocked further transactions on my account (we've now lost our joint cards) and has highlighted the transactions for dispute that I will have to go through and complete paperwork for when we return home in April. The only good thing is that if we prove that the card was used fraudulently, then the bank cops the loss and not us. I only wish there was some way to track down those responsible - all the time we have been alert to the possibility of someone picking our pockets or mugging us, when actually, far more subtly, we lose much, much more.

We will try not to let it spoil our trip...

Dan and Andrea
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