Hasta la Costa Rica, Baby!
“These vagabond shoes, they’re longing to stay.”
San Jose, Costa Rica
That wasn’t a typo. If I keep having the kind of experiences like the one I just had in a trip to Costa Rica for dental work, my rendition of New York, New York will alter a lyric.
Allow me to digress. Ten years ago, I traveled to Panama with the idea I might like to move there. The cost of living was low, the climate tropical, the health care great, lots of senoritas (I’m single) — and nothing was holding me in Florida. So off I went for a month-long stay in Panama City to check it out.
The taxi dropped me off at the 11-story building, a condo converted to rental apartments. In the middle of the night, I woke with an upset stomach and a pain in my left side. It worsened, and I realized the problem: kidney stone. I’d passed several in the previous few years, and knew I needed to get to a hospital pronto for an intravenous pain reliever. But I had no cellphone, and knew no one. I’d have to see if someone were in the lobby at 5 in the morning.
I got in the elevator, but was confused about which floor I was on, and couldn’t find my way down. Up and down I went in a trial-and-error search that lasted a half-hour. The pain was intense, and I was on the verge of panicking.
Finally, I reached the first floor, and ventured outside. I searched my Spanish dictionary. Gripping my side, I gasped to an early-arriving shopkeeper standing on the adjacent steps, “Calculo.”
Panama City, Panama
He got on his cellphone, and an ambulance arrived in two minutes. “Calculo,” I repeated, and the medical technician gave me an IV. (In the US, I’d waited in the hospital hours before treatment.) Then, off to the hospital, which was so cold I shivered like a jackhammer.
The date was February 1, an anniversary. Happy birthday, Bob!
Fast forward a decade. Everything was set for my flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, for three dental implants. The cost would be a third to a half of the prices in southeast Florida. I left my car at the villa complex of my friend Joe, who drove me to the Tri-Rail station in Delray Beach. As the train approached the Fort Lauderdale/Broward station, I wasn’t sure if this were the exit for the airport, and asked a young passenger. He assured me it was, and I got off.
Alas, no shuttle buses. I asked the agent in the adjoining Amtrak station where they were, and he told me I exited one station too soon. The next train arrived in an hour, he said. My flight was in 2½ hours, so I’d still make it. I stretched out on a bench.
Almost an hour later, the loudspeaker announced the pending arrival of the northbound train. I asked a young lady waiting on the platform about the southbound train. “It comes in an hour.”
Tri-Rail station, Delray Beach, Fla.
I hurried to the Amtrak office, and the guy mumbled something in defense of his wrong advice.
I called a taxi, which arrived fast.
The driver was a black man wearing American Indian apparel – an animal-skin vest, a hat with a feather, moccasins, ornaments.
“You like to wear a mask,” he asked, his mask hanging from one ear. I said I was home most of the time, so didn’t need to wear one often.
“It’s all about the immune system,” he said vehemently. “I take a lot of vitamins. I eat organic food. I’m 68. The government doesn’t tell us the truth.”
I replied that I agreed about the immune system and the vitamins, and he sure didn’t look his age. But the Biden administration was leveling with us, and statistics showed that wearing masks reduced the spread of the coronavirus. That set him off.
“I was in the military. The Republicans and Democrats are alike. They all lie to us. The pharmaceutical companies get rich. People smoke and drink and don’t eat healthy.” His animation bordered on belligerence, and I was glad I was in the back seat.
“God gave us from the earth what we need to be healthy. I am from the (whatever) Indian tribe. I have spent a lot of time at the
Back to the government. “We don’t need all of these handouts. Martin Luther King was dishonest. Did you know he cheated to get his doctoral degree? He cheated on Coretta (his wife) too.”
At the airport, I paid and tipped him — $25 total — and wished him luck. An hour remaining before flight time.
At a JetBlue counter, the agent reviewed my papers and asked for my health document.
“It’s a form you need. You can fill it out on your cellphone.”
“Ma’am, nobody told me I needed such a form. I rarely use this thing. I’ll never be able to do this.”
She took the phone and punched some tabs. A form came up, and I recited the answers to the questions. Then other customers demanded her attention, and she told me to go to the gate. On the way, carrying a bag and a heavy briefcase, I stopped a hallway guide, who finished the form for me. One question was about travel insurance.
In consultations with dental clinics in Costa Rica, I had become confused about whether I needed to buy travel insurance here or there. When asked about it for the form, I lied and named my health insurance company.
Walking/running to the check-in gate, I heard the loudspeaker: “Robert Brink. Paging Robert Brink.” I hurried to the check-in, arriving about 20 minutes before departure time. The agent asked for the form, and I said it was on my cellphone. The answers had
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking downcast. “We tried.”
“I’ll have to cancel my dental appointment in the morning and return to my home.”
She looked at the other agent and said something in a low tone. He said okay, and she called to the plane.
“Keep the gate open.” Then, to me, “Go. Hurry.” I was in my seat in a full plane two minutes before take-off. But my problem wasn’t solved.
At immigration in Costa Rica, I again was asked for my health pass with the named insurer. After 10 futile minutes of the same process, I was sent on a bus to some nearby government office, where I was able to buy insurance for $112. Then I had to get to my little hotel. Taxis aren’t cheap, and I had come to Costa Rica to save money. No way to get Uber at the airport, but public buses were around the corner. The fare was only about 600 colones, or $1, but the bus wouldn’t accept U.S. currency. A guy who had told me he just got out of jail for a drug crime – I think he was pandering — called into the bus and offered me the colones – for $6. A guy sitting in back of me offered to help, and called Uber for me after we deboarded. The ride to my boutique, bare-bones hotel, inaccurately called a B&B, cost $5.
New York University College of Dentistry
(Update: At home later, I found an email from TravelInsurance.com asking me to review my experience with Travel Guard, from which I supposedly had purchased insurance on Feb. 18, 3 ½ weeks before my trip. I asked why I hadn’t received confirmation and a copy of the policy to present at the airports. They said I hadn’t indicated my email address on the online purchase form. I asked why they didn’t call me or send the documents via postal mail. The answer: “We don’t do that.” They doubt I will receive a refund of the $36.36, which they said was inadequate coverage, anyway. I am taking action.)
At the dental office the next morning, the dentist told me I needed four extractions and five implants, not the two and three I was told after the clinic had reviewed the X-rays I sent. But I think dentist Luis Obando, trained at New York University, was quite competent, finishing in 1 ½ hours and causing little pain.
To get around with Uber, an app on my cellphone was required, and the hotel proprietor tried to help me. But I needed access to my email, and the passwords file that I’d copied from my desktop to my laptop wouldn’t open. I get 300 to 350 emails a day, and can’t access them.
After all this, I wanted something for the pain from the 26-hour ordeal. Incredibly, no liquor stores were to be found, just a limited selection in a large convenience store.
I need to return in six months for the crowns. This time, I’ll have a bottle of whiskey, maybe two – 90 proof.
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