Day 2 Costa Rica Travel to Fortuna

We relaxed this morning and had the hotel get us an Uber to the modern spacious downtown bus station 7-10 serving among other destinations La Fortuna.  The Uber driver had no change so we payed about $7.50 for the taxi instead of about $5 so no big deal.  The biggest surprise was that the bus tickets to La Fortuna which is a 4 hour bus ride cost only $4.75 each ( 2445 colones).  It is a beautiful trip but straight up and down mountain sides, with hair pin turns and breathtaking views all the way. Sit on the left side going up to La Fortuna and on the right coming back for the best views.  Fortunately the bus stopped twice for a bathroom break as my traveling partner Lisa was not feeling well and the Imodium could have worked better than it did. But she made it, trooper that she is. In Fortuna we rented an Alamo car, $7 a day plus any insurance you want from $11.50 to $56 extra a day depending on the coverage you have or your credit card has.

Our airbnb is just out of town so having the car is nice. It is definitely walkable but we want the freedom to come and go and explore at our own pace being older travelers now. The room here is lovely, and the town reminds me of a Cambodian tourist town only on a miniature scale. There are plenty of places to eat simply or elegantly. There seem to be more tourists than locals here at the moment.


One Month in Costa Rica

I’ve always wanted to go to Costa Rica and this month got the chance. I’m writing this in case someone is interested in the basics of travel here and costs.  My wife and I are used to staying in mid price hotels and eating locally and traveling locally so this is not about the kind of travel where you stay at a hotel resort that could be anywhere and is owned by a big chain.

We are about really enjoying a country, the food, the experience, the people, the sights and we really love beaches.

Our flight took us from the states to San Jose which is the main airport and is at a very pleasant latitude of 1300 meters or so which makes the temperatures in the 80’s but it feels much cooler because of nice breezes. Even coming from Seattle we had to add cloths to be out at night.

Our hotel Colors Oasis is on the edge of the city in a quiet neighborhood and only 15 minutes from the airport and about 20 from the heart of downtown. A taxi cost $28 and the hotel arranged to have the driver waiting with our name on a sign so we could relax and know we would get to the right hotel without any negotiation or fuss.

Colors is very pleasant, has a nice pool, a great staff and a good bar and restaurant. It is gay friendly but not for children.  I love all the outdoor spaces to relax in this climate and Colors has lots of places to relax and read a book or have a drink.

There is a bus stop right outside the door and on our first day we took a bus to downtown.  The cost is c310 or roughly $0.30 cents US.  A taxi is about $6 each way.  Going was easy as the end of the line is downtown and everyone gets off.

It’s a typical downtown but with many parks, a big walking pedestrian only street, museums, and statues and a McDonalds on every other corner… really.   We spent half a day roaming around and that was enough for us. We went back to where we got off the bus, asked around and were invited onto a bus who said he would take us.  But about half way home he told us to get off and wait for another bus to get us where we were going. We didn’t expect this and started asking people waiting which bus to take. Finally a young woman helped us and told us that most buses go to Loma  which she said was far away and scary.  But our bus would come in about 20 minutes. Since a bus to Loma came by every few minutes it saved me a lot of asking bus drivers if they were going our way.  In the end a bus came that I wouldn’t have bothered to ask because it was painted yellow like a school bus. But it was ours. So we boarded with our Angel helper who helped us get off at the right stop.

Back at colors we swam in the warm pool, had a drink and ate delicious mangos we bought downtown. End of Day 1.


My last Cambodian video …. for a while at least.

After 4 years in Cambodia producing videos highlighting the problems and how MCC and it’s partners are meeting some of the needs here, I part with both mixed feelings. Of course I am pleased with all the ways I see our organizations helping Cambodians but I also have many questions.  This video is about those questions.  Let me know what you think.  Thanks to MCC and my Cambodian friends and colleagues for 4 extremely interesting years.

Wages and work in Cambodia

Factory WorkersThis quote from the Phnom Penh post is exactly what I hear from so many Cambodian workers. 12 to 15 hours a day for $50 to $100 a month. With 1 day a month off. I don’t know how they do it.
“A woman who has been employed as a domestic worker in Phnom Penh’s Toul Kork for the past three years, identifying herself only as Pheap, told the Post that her work hours are not kept track of and her day is only complete when all tasks are finished.”

“I never knew my rights as a domestic worker, because I cannot read and I am not aware of the laws associated with my job,” Pheap said. “I have to get up at 4am or 5am every day, and I work until midnight. I receive $80 per month, but sometimes I get a bonus from my boss when we have a major holiday such as New Year or Pchum Ben.”

There is a call for an 8 hour work day and $150 minimum wage per month with 2 days a week off. That would be radical here. Ironically if you have a government job, teacher, police, military and the like you don’t have to show up for very many hours a day and get lots of extended holidays. Very little pay, but you can take on other jobs. Which is why there is so much corruption here. The police are allowed to take the money for tickets and set the price, teachers charge for tests, grading the tests and cheat sheets. It is all part of the system. And somehow the economy is growing. Prostitution is high because it is one way to make some real money. Of course where there is real money there will be those that exploit others to make them work cheap and collect the profits for themselves. So the government employees control much of the brothel business. Unlike the stereotype we see in the tourist bar areas, most “massage” and “sex services” are for Khmer men and other Asians. Just take a trip to the airport on the toll road from Phnom Penh. It’s packed with Khmer men taking advantage of the cheap hostess bars and sex services and not a European face to be seen.

But I fear that very few Cambodians are benefiting from any of the businesses here. Siem Reap where the Angkor Wat is collecting hefty fees that could be put back into restoration is going to a mega corporation Sokamex which already has oil and gas and high end tourism income galour. It’s not hard to observe that there are a few Cambodians at the top driving their Hummers with body guards at the ready and most people barely making it. There is also lot of foreign money and investment in tourism and business that extracts labor, raw materials and tourist money leaves the country rather than being put back into it.
As you see when you get out of the tourist areas most people are still subsisting on farming and fishing or both.

Thanksgiving in Prey Veng

Thanksgiving in Prey Veng.

Thanksgiving in Prey Veng.

What does $12.50 buy at the Prey Veng farmers market?
Long beans, cucumbers, carrots, limes, basil, hot peppers, ginger, lettuce, mangos, shallots, onions, green mangos, tomatoes, potatoes, tamarind, egg plant, palm sugar, white sugar and fresh ground coconut. All for Thanksgiving tomorrow. We have invited Khmer friends and colleagues, Peace Corp volunteers and MCC SALT volunteers.

No Turkey our here. A few scrawny chickens. So our friend Kim Warren who is visiting brought out some frozen chicken breast for us all.

Are things that good in the USA?


Prey Veng Meat Seller

Every day it seems Cambodians talk about migrating to the USA

Every day now it seems a Cambodian talks to me about migrating to the U.S. “America” as they call the US, is seen as the economic dreamland of opportunity. No wonder. In Cambodia teachers make $30 to $100 US dollars a month. You could make that in a day in the U.S. They see tourists living luxurious lives here in Cambodia eating and drinking and swimming in pristine hotel pools they cannot afford. The conclusion that all Americans are rich is easy to come to. What is less apparent is that in general only the well educated with NGO jobs and people with money, have the luxury to travel to Asia.
They don’t realize what it cost to live in the US either. In the Seattle a draft beer is $6.50 and up at a restaurant. Here you can buy 2 draft beers for $1 U.S. A decent hotel room in Seattle is $135 – $185 and up. Here in Phnom Penh $20 gets a comfortable clean hotel with air conditioning and in outlining areas $11 a night and lower. So Americans live it up here spending money with seeming abandon compared to my local neighbors here who only go to a hotel or restaurant on rare occasions and are careful when they do. The difference between a meal that costs $2 and $4 is 100% and can be as much as a person makes in two days here.
But what about people living in America. I know in our family we could only afford to go out to a restaurant once a month or so. A one bedroom apartment typically rents for $1200- $1400 a month in Seattle as of right now. Utilities $60 to $100 a month. Food is very expensive. The USDA estimates a moderate food budget of $874 and a low cost food budget of $706.70 per month for a 4 person family. Add on to that the cost of transportation (a car costs about $500 a month to own with gas, insurance, repairs and payments), phone and internet $100 per month. In the US a car is almost a necessity and a phone and internet important to finding jobs and keeping them.
According to the Associated Press the number of Americans living below the poverty line is 49 million people. 4 times the whole number of people in Cambodia. They claim that 80% of Americans face economic stress sometimes in their lives by loosing their job, medical bills and the like. Is it really better to go to the US I wonder?
As I explain this to Cambodians they come back with a question I can’t answer. “Why then do Cambodians who have made it to the America do everything they can to bring their relatives over to live there?”
I would love to hear from some Cambodians who have immigrated to the US in the last few years on this question. I certainly know many Filipino’s who work long hours in the US and send money home every month to the Philippines. Many of them work in Elder care around Seattle. The US has a lottery that grants over 50,000 visa’s a year for immigration to countries with low immigration to the US and Cambodia proportionally gets quite a few of those spots. It is well advertised by companies that claim they can either up your odds for a fee or get you in by other unscrupulous methods. There is still a dream of “living in America.” I hear it constantly. But I wonder if that dream is panning out for the people who make it there?