My wife and I are off tomorrow for a long deserved vacation at my favorite beach spot, which shall remain nameless, but you will all probably recognize. We live near San Francisco; I have all my life, and have no illusion that there are banditos in every major city and vacation area we have ever been in. I would say that it’s global, but there are places that they cut people’s hands off for that kind of thing, I just have never been there.
Having been a road warrior and international vacationer for 30+ years, and my wife been in corporate travel management almost as long, it seems like we’ve been screwed by just about every nationality from Cabo to Rome to Boston and back home.
This trip will be no different, were just getting smarter. Last time we were down, we reserved a car from National, Paid the liability insurance, and arrived at the desk to pick up our car to be informed (again, it happens every year) that we were required to take their collision insurance as well. This raised the price of our “economy” car from $16 a day to $45 a day. $29 a day for insurance? How is it that I can insure two $35,000 + cars in a major metropolitan area for less than $7 a day for two people, but in my favorite not so little resort area it costs $29 to insure a freeking five year old Volkswagen Jetta? Gotcha!
I tried my usual offer to the manager to leave a deposit on my credit card, which has worked for the last 30 years. No dice. They apparently have now unionized. I looked at all the discount offers on the internet and they are all the same. They offer really cheap car rates, then tack on the extra fees much the way airlines have started charging for bags. To add insult to injury, to avoid the bandits at the airport we decided to take a transfer to our time-share, and then get a car a few days later from the concierge. They now have a National Rent-a-Car in the lobby (it is a Sheraton property) and the car that the thieves at the airport wanted $45 a day for, is now being pimped for $65 a day. Being that we have two golf courses, 6 pools, 3 restaurants, two small stores with relatively reasonable prices, and we are bringing enough of our own food for several meals, I think we can whale watch for 3 or 4 days and then rent a car to go through the tourist corridor to have our Cheeseburger in Paradise next to Sammy Hagar’s joint. We can get enough snorkeling in before we leave, and return home with the usual stories of the Marlin that got away.
Since we will be returning the car full to avoid their $10 a gallon surcharge, we will have the wonderful experience of the gas station once again. Not only are you not allowed to pump your own gas, got forbid there is ANY action that does not involve at least three layers of tipping; there is always the payment game. It is absolutely imperative to watch the gas pump. Somehow if you don’t, your Jetta miraculously needed 30 gallons of gas in a 20 gallon tank. No I am not confusing liters for gallons, I can do the math.
When you pay in the local currency the exchange rate is usually pretty simple, like 10:1. If it is supposed to be 11.5:1, you still get 10. Not a huge problem. In several countries the denominations of bills are suspiciously colored for similar denominations. In this case a 500 is the same color as a 50. Be very very careful when you hand a 500 to someone, you make him acknowledge that you have indeed handed him the 500. I’ve had this one pulled on me on three continents. They take the red 500, go back to the cash register (always out of eye shot) and come back and hold out a 50 and tell you that indeed, that was what you had given them. Easy 450 for them, and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.
I’ve had two camera bags actually cut off of my person, or someone I was with. They come up behind you on a Vespa motorcycle, silent and small, slice the strap, grab, and are gone. They don’t even have to slow down much to do it. I’ve been pick-pocketed by a five year old while stopped to give a supposedly dying old lady a dollar. We’ve endured the slums of Mumbai and Bangalore and grossly physically deformed beggars in Bahia del Salvador. I’ve had a knife pulled on me near Haight-Ashbury in my own home town. Has that ever stopped me from travelling? No, I just have become a bit more cautious in my old age.
Enough of my whining. It’s time to pack my tequila, salt, and ice chest so I can be sipping from my $18 quart bottle of Hornitos while I watch the bloated turistos from Milwaukee drinking their $10 watered down margaritas by the pool. I fear we have watched far too much Tony Bourdain to not have become somewhat jaded.