I like to travel and see the world.
I enjoy meeting new people and seeing things we wouldn’t normally see, but it’s those one off characters that you meet along the way while traveling that brings a little smile to the face and makes you say “That could only happen here”!
In the small city of David close to the border of Costa Rica we wait for our guide who will take us on a tour of the surrounding countryside. This is where we meet one shady looking funny geezer. We are here in Panama for the first of our visa runs but also to bump into characters like this.
He stands near by smoking his cigarette then approaches our small group of obvious tourists whilst digging a wallet from his pocket. He’s showing us an old, battered picture. Maybe his wife, girlfriend or children. No, none of that nonsense in Panama. He holds out his favourite hard-core porn picture. Maybe this is’t such a bad thing. In the case of such a national tragedy happening as this man getting macked by a big bus, they could scoop the rest of him into a nice little sandwich bag, open his wallet and discover that he was in fact male. No need for ID just some x rated pics. Who cares about his name anyway, the man has porn and that’s the kind of heirloom that every man wants. Or maybe that’s just here.
We would later see a black 4×4 in the city centre cruising by the market vendors with a large man kneeling down in the back. A sudden stop and he’s onto the pavement with his shotgun grabbing what must be hundreds of cigarettes from someone before casually leaping back in and hitting the road. We thought we’d just witnessed a robbery but this was the police and there way of controlling the black market. No paper work needed, just frighten the shit out of them with an unmarked drive-by. Would you ask a monster with a shotgun for his police ID?
It was when we were at the border and in the process of leaving Panama when we passed one of the craziest characters I’ve ever seen. Not one of the craziest, most definitely the craziest! We were on our way to get some cheap whiskey when we passed this nutter wearing an unbuttoned military shirt, black baseball cap and shouting at no one in particular while brandishing a large silver pistol. I’m no gun expert but this thing looked heavy duty. On our way back I had my camera phone at the ready to take a very cheeky wee picture of this mad man but he was nowhere to be seen. In place there now stood a noticeable number of armed police officers. Wish I could have witnessed the events that transpired and God do I wish I had a picture of this lunatic! Maybe Simon got one?
Check out my friends web site http://skipperphotography.dk
Costa Rica was a great place for interesting first times. My first time being in a shopping mall held up by gun men. First time having a pistol pointed at my head for fun (separate occasion). Throwing sticks at crocodiles, poking snakes, running with bulls, throwing myself into shallow waterfalls and reaching my highest peak at 3880 meters on Mt Chirripo where I climbed my last 400 at 3am, rediscovering a small fear of heights as I set foot on the top.
On the way up a mountain
Others who have scaled this same mountain might wonder at how the fuck I managed to get lost on my way back when there is only one path all the way down. My answer is this.
There is one other path at the very last km and with a fifty per cent chance of getting it right I followed my gut instinct and jogged on with my Danish friend Krispy Kris to the wrong side of the mountain (hats off to a man who scaled an almost four thousand meter mountain with a suitcase full of books!). Our victory beer would have to wait as we made our mad dash towards the last bus of the day, making it just in time.
Ocean must remember me cause it’s giving a big wave.. Sorry!
One weekend on a world renowned beach would set the scene for one of my favourite first times.
. . .
Lifting myself back onto the board, I claw my way through the water towards the barrelling waves of Dominical.
The back of my legs are stinging in the blistering heat on the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica even after two bottles of sun-cream, but my first couple of days surfing have been a success and I ride in standing tall (kind of) on almost every wave loving every minute.
A brief calm gives myself and Jack the chance to paddle out further in search of the big one, but in the end it’s a big one that finds me.
It came out of nowhere, crashing on top of me like a twenty foot wall, slamming and tossing my body like a rag doll completely at the mercy of the Oceans wrath. My legs tangle in the elastic cable strapped from my ankle to the surfboard as I start to rise only to be smashed back down by the next big wave.
I grab my T-shirt as it’s pulled over my head in the strong under-current, but there’s nothing I can do about my Hasselhoff red shorts that fly out to sea as I perform perfect, underwater somersaults at break-neck speed. Freeing my legs I climb back onto my board, naked as the day I was born.
I frantically paddle towards the coast wishing to avoid the next battering the Ocean has to offer, but I’m heading straight for a busy, family filled beach with my dong out and my white ass for all to see.
So many sharp stones lie in the shallows of the water and I’m cruelly dragged across them all by more waves as I try desperately to protect and hide my willy while Life-guards laugh and parents bring their kids to watch. Jacks laughing so hard he doesn’t see the giant wave that drives his surfboard into his face giving him a Botox lip. Fucking good karma!
My leg is still attached to the board and I see a red object floating in the water between us. It’s my shorts. They got caught in the elastic cable and by quickly un-strapping my ankle I’m able to slip back into them before further damage is caused.
Later that day as I reminisce, telling my story to some fit surfer girls from Germany and Holland, I find myself asking about their tits. Just if there chest got as red as mine while on the board. I don’t know why, but I do have a tendency to say the wrong thing from time to time, or most of the time. I’m harmless enough so they don’t beat me.
Can never have too many surf photos..Dude..
Just be grateful that I don’t have a more relevant picture for this one..
Feeling like shit in a country retreat somewhere to the North of San Jose, Costa Rica surrounded by fellow volunteers from all corners of Europe as well as Tico’s,-Costa Ricans- our hosts for the next six months, I do my best to force the same bullshit conversations with each new friend I meet.
The people are nice enough, I really do like them, but a mixture of jet lag, hot weather and sitting around doing fuck all is getting the better of me. It’s still early, but I make my excuses and leave while everyone’s too drunk to care.
I find my dorm and I’m happy that no-one’s home. So happy that I really must take this opportunity to relieve some built up stress from these last four days. After all, who knows when I might next be alone. We are only here for a few days, but the family I live with in San Jose have three doors leading to their bathroom. None of them with a lock. Sometimes while taking a shit I’m unveiled to the world like the star prise in some fucking game show in mid wipe.
I sneak to the toilet like a man on a mission, feeling guilty already about the nature of the task, quite literally at hand. I’m trying to get this over with before anyone comes back and almost there when..BAM..I hear a voice outside the door and some fucker puts the light out.
I would have shouted at them to put it back on, but I’m out of breath and I reckon it’s pretty obvious what I’ve been up to. Putting my member away I open the door and reach for the light. The culprit is walking away, but turns to apologise not aware of the magnitude of his rude interruption. Or the horrendous conclusion of my cheeky quick one.
I close the bathroom door and look down in disgust at what I see. I’ve jizzed all over the inside of my pants. Not just a little bit, but a week’s worth all over the place without an inch left dry. All my other clothes are in the bedroom that I share with between four and six other people and I know I have company outside this door.
I can’t believe this is happening. I don’t know anyone that well and this is going to be their first introduction to the real Andy Ritchie. I hold my breath and make a quick dash, shuffling towards my bedroom door keeping my blotch of shame pointed towards the wall. Thankfully no-one’s in the room and I have time to push my pants into the side pouch of my small bag.
The next day someone asks for a cigarette and I tell them they can go into my bag and get them. Still don’t know if their search came to a sticky end.
2-1 for Andy.
It was the coldest January Edinburgh had witnessed for over one hundred years forcing Scotland to grind to a halt three weeks before Christmas and a few more afterwards due to snow drifts coming from the North. Cycling to and from work every-day in gale force wind and rain throughout summer had become a tedious task, but now it was impossible, turning a twenty minute journey into a brutal two hour assault by foot in almost half a meter of snow. Orders of fruit boxes I packed were getting continually cancelled everyday with our clients -schools, businesses- succumbing to the weather and eventually I lost my job.
At first it was great. I built a massive snowman which doubled up as quite a spacious igloo, staged countless snowball battles, snow angels and all the rest, however the novelty soon wore off with Christmas fast approaching and not a penny in my account. Having made the decision to leave Army training earlier in the year I can almost hear the words my Sergeant’s dying to say to me after having warned me about the lack of work outside the Forces, “I told you so”!
Improvisation: Using a baseball bat to turn my snowman into an igloo…. Brain freeze: Thinking its a good idea to take my bat to the bar on the way home and then the cash machine to withdraw money along-side some nervous looking customers!
Receiving phone calls five days into the new year I bite the hands off my recruitment agencies for the chance to start two new jobs, one in my home town from two am until nine am unloading trailers packed to the gunnels with fridges, televisions, late Christmas presents and just about every invention, possession and item known to man. The other in my old, fruit packing warehouse working two pm till ten pm with opportunity for extra hours as long as the separate agencies don’t find out about each-other.
Scrapping ice from car parks every other day, digging vans from the snow and unpacking yet more orders of cancelled fruit boxes brings me to one final conclusion as I pick myself up from a patch of ice while rubbing my sore, wet backside. I HATE Scottish winter.
At minus fifteen degrees I return home at around eleven in the morning after a few hours overtime and after gorging on mince-pies I open Mums laptop and check my e-mails. A message from Ash.
Reading confirmation of my departure for Costa Rica I sink my teeth into the laptop and send the coffee table a foot in the air with a swift kick of excitement. Goodbye rotten fruit, goodbye lack of sleep, goodbye sore back and cold feet. Goodbye Scotland!
Joined by a six foot hairy Englishman by the name of Alex the next ten months would see us pass the time throwing rocks at one another – constantly- and laughing my ass of at the sight of him belly-flop from a waterfall into a patch of water only six inches deep while working on our Biological Reserve.
An average day would usually consist of waking at six am, sitting down to a plate of rice, platino –fried banana- and a hot glass of the best coffee in the world then walk up a mountain to work following a small gravel road passing the most friendly people and fantastic scenery. Plant some trees, clear trails leading up to our highest peak at 1480 meters with machetes. Jump into one of our waterfalls before lunch then a spot of weeding in the butterfly garden. Maybe start another stone fight or go looking for Derek –one of our resident deadly snakes-.
. . .
A small note about Derek (Fer-de-lance viper);
An irritable and fast-moving species also regarded as being excitable and unpredictable.
Bite symptoms include pain, oozing from the puncture wounds, local swelling that may increase for up to 36 hours, bruising that spreads from the bite site, blisters, numbness, mild fever, headache, bleeding from the nose and gums, hemoptysis, gastrointestinal bleeding, hematuria, hypotension, nausea, vomiting, tenderness of the spleen. In untreated cases, local necrosis
Getting this bad boy of the path involved me poking him with a big stick and watching as he struck out sinking his two inch fangs into my piece of wood. Quite possibly the coolest/dumbest thing I’ll ever do but our boss Jesus would have killed it and we liked our snakes too much to let that happen.
For a while our morning routine would include a quick sweep of our trails in search of Derek who now had his favourite chill-out spot right in the middle of our path. Clearly this wouldn’t do and something had to be done. It would be Jacks idea to scoop him up on the end of a plastic rake and ‘wang’ him through the forest.
I think the sight of a two meter deadly viper flying through the jungle is a vision not seen by many that will stay with me until the day I die and I sometimes imagine, with a smile, an innocent back-packer veering off the beaten track to empty his bladder then letting out one almighty vicious pooh as Derek lands on his shoulders!
An encounter with one amazing green Eyelash viper would have me in a hasty retreat as it struck out at my hand while I took some close up photos. Later I would climb on Alex’s shoulders for more snaps of this incredible specimen while he stood precariously on a narrow, wet and sloping mountain trail. It would seem my phobia of all things creepy-crawly would not extend to creatures that areactually dangerous.
Evenings of drinking after work at the local bar while watching the Champions League would eventually lead to trouble from our host families and almost getting set upon by a stick wielding taxi driver but we were never really drunk. Just a bit more pub time than your average Costa Rican.
Monkeys, toucans, waterfalls and mountains. We had it all. Right here at our work but we still found time for sight-seeing in Panama, Nicaragua and an all-expenses paid trip to stay in a five star hotel in Lima, Peru courtesy of EVS for a three day seminar where I indulge in my first hot shower for three months.
Cold showers were things I could never get used to, even in such a hot climate as this but living in an area where seriously hot women outnumber men by nine to one it might have been something I couldn’t cope without!
We would be joined by another two volunteers called Jack and Hannah for the remainder of our time and the occasional new volunteer for a few weeks or a month would give us all the excuses needed to give the grand tour through our beloved trails and up a constant winding set of waterfalls that we really shouldn’t have been attempting. The near loss of my Swedish friend Ulrica, whose fall from one particularly hazardous waterfall was broken only by my unsuspecting shoulder, shook me up. But not enough to put me off doing it again.
She would later take me to visit her project, a school near the Nicaraguan border where we would visit the widest waterfall in the country, find another snake which I didn’t see until I was standing on, miss understand her request of lifting the fence she was crawling through and almost lifted her dress up. Got a close encounter with a sloth on the ground that was struggling to get to a tree, got bitten by an owl and spilled beer over someone’s laptop.
Our route on the Pan-American highway sent us winding through mountain forest towards the Costa Rican capital San Jose and was a brutal three hour assault on one’s body at the best of times and a journey to be taken far too often as I wriggled uncomfortably in my seat next to Alex.
An hour in and I erupt like a rice filled volcano skilfully spraying myself head to foot with this-mornings breakfast. In my hair, lap, arms, legs, in-side my shoes. Everywhere. We wait a further ten minutes before reaching the half -way point where I slip into Alex’s spare shorts and T-shirt which completely drown me seeing as there extra -large and I’m almost extra small.
He did however; shit his bed one night while at Deaths door with some nasty fever to bring the score quite briefly to one apiece in the embarrassing stakes before we set off for a long weekend away with other volunteers from all over the world.
One big, happy family