Archive for June 2011

Does Your Bank Support Your International travel?   2 comments

Like many people, I am learning, I do not travel with wads of cash bulging out of my pockets. And like many people, I have not brought a traveler’s check in eons. I travel with my bank card and my American Express card. I use ATM’s, regardless of where I travel. I am addicted to them. I try to never get more than $200 and carry no more than $50, leaving the rest in my hotel room safe or hidden someplace in my apartment. This leads to the crux of this story; how does your bank support your travel or your living outside of your home country?

On my most recent trip to Costa Rica, I lost my ATM card. You can imagine with what I have just said about my banking habits how disastrous that was for me. I had four days left and forty dollars in my pocket. After calling Bank of America to cancel my card, I engaged in a series of discussions with the bank’s customer service agents that led to the following questions that I hope will help you should you travel abroad and need your bank.

Do you need to tell your bank that you are out of the country before leaving? I learned, the hard way, that the answer to this question for me is yes. I once had my ATM/bank card frozen because Bank of America did not know that I was using the card outside of the country. Fortunately, I had some cash (I never let myself travel without my emergency $100 bill) so the awkward situation was avoided. By the way, I never use my bank card to pay a bill. I am too afraid of someone copying my info and accessing my checking account. I only use it at an ATM. I charge with AMEX, who has the best costumer protection service in the universe as far as I am concerned. Anyway, I learned from that situation to let them know if I am going out of the country and using ATMs.

How is your bank at problem solving when you are out of the country? If you do not have SKYPE or some other low cost international telephone service; or your bank does not have a toll free number or an international number or accept collect calls; it could cost a small fortune to work your way through the myriad of people and offices to revolve your problem. When I lost my bank card, I talked to five people. Or was it seven? The time it took was amazing, not to mention the fact that the information I eventually received was wrong. Which led to me tweeting the following, “Lost debit card in foreign country. Bank of America can’t give access to my money w/o taking app. for a 19% interest rate cash advance. Loco!” Little did I know, Bank of America representatives, picked up the message and tweeted me back. They asked how they could help. I was impressed. So the question to be asked is; how would you communicate with your bank if something happened and you were in a foreign country? The Bank of America representative that intervened in my situation encouraged me to tweet whatever problems I had. I guess big brother is watching! I was glad.

If you lost your card how long would it take to get a replacement? Bank of America customer services reps assured me, rushed with FedEx, that I would have a replacement card delivered to my hotel in Costa Rica in four days. That was wrong. They quoted me the time it takes to have a card delivered within the United States. International, it is generally six days. It would have been great to have known this up-front. Then I could have planned my spending better. Also, with Bank of America, the people that issue the cards are a contractor. They do as they are told. This is important to know because they are useless in problem solving and providing information. After asking, their customer service representative in replacement card services assured me that my pin number was not being changed. Wrong! It was changed. They send the new password within a few days of sending out the card. Meaning that if the new card took six days to get to me the password would take at least another two days. I would be in the States when it arrived. Meaning getting the replacement card by FedEx in a rush was basically useless.

Does your bank provide you with emergency access to your cash? I learned that Bank of America does not. They best they can do is give their customers access to a cash advance on their credit card, fortunately I have one, at 19% interest starting on the date of the advance. And they must update your credit information first before even considering giving the cash advance.

What are the fees for using ATMs out of country? First you have to know the rate of exchange that your bank is giving to know if their exchange rates are competitive with that of the local bank. This will tell you how much your bank is charging you for selling you the local currency. Bank of America also charges, outside of their Global ATM Alliance (consisting of seven countries/banks), an International Transaction Fee. This fee is assessed when I use my check card for purchases in foreign currency or in US dollars with a foreign merchant. This fee is also assessed when I use my check card to get foreign currency from an ATM. The International Transaction Fee is a percentage of the U.S. dollar amount of each purchase or ATM withdrawal. Additionally, they charge an ATM usage fee. This fee is charged for using an ATM without a Bank of America’s logo for withdrawals, transfers, or balance inquiries. And then there are also the fees I am being charged by the local ATM bank/operator or network.

As you can see I am paying for the convenience of not carrying a lot of cash.  But for me the peace of mind is well worth it, as is the convenience. The keys are: knowing upfront what my bank can do; factoring the costs for using ATM’s into my budget; and being prepared when problems arise.

Posted June 28, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Eating Healthy In Latin America, Part Three: Less Expensive Local Options   1 comment

One of the joys of traveling is enjoying the local food. I mean who wants to go to Cartagena, Colombia and eat at KFC. Well, OK some do. But for many more travelers enjoying the local food is a part of the adventure. Eating locally, off the beaten track, in both Costa Rica and Colombia are inexpensive ways to find great food. Now my caveat is that I am not a meat eater. So, this post is slanted to the fast that both countries are rich in everything I eat. The fish and seafood come from within a two hour radius. The vegetables and fruits are generally grown within an hour’s drive from the vendor or grocery store. And the breads and pastries, my downfalls, are less sugary and rich in natural ingredients.

In Costa Rica, there are hundreds of sodas, small neighborhood convenience stores or eateries serving “comidas rapido,” local fast food, from burgers to sandwiches to chicken or fish dinners and everything in between. These are the places where I love to eat breakfast or grab something for lunch. I cannot attest to the empanadas, which come with chicken, beef or cheese and are a local favorite. I like to get the gallo pinto (rice and peas), eggs and toast. Sodas are inexpensive, some with tables and chairs and many with just a window serving food to the street, with meal prices ranging from $1 to about $7 US.

In Barranquilla, Colombia the restaurants of the Las Flores barrio are my favorite. Many locals go for a nice typical dinner. I once met a teacher and his class of twelve or so students celebrating one student’s birthday at one of the restaurants. Las Flores restaurants are like shanties with a kitchen on the first floor close to the river, where the fishermen bring their catch, and the dining areas on the second and possibly a third floor. Prices for fish, usually fried, salad and patacones usually run around $5 to $6 US.

Local restaurants cater to people who have grown accustom to the micro-organisms in the water. So when eating salads, I drench them in lemon juice which is a great bacteria and chemical cleaning agent. I do not use ice, except in Costa Rica, where the filtration system, especially in cities and developed areas, are more to my comfort. In Colombia my system has not adapted yet, so I do not drink fruit punch or anything cold made with local water or contains ice.

Arepas and bollos are two of my favorite street foods. Though my costeno friends, people from Colombia’s coast, hate to hear me say it I really like arepas made by paisas, people from the cafeteria departments of Colombia. Early one morning friends and I were driving from Manizales to Risaralda. We stopped at a line of roadside food stands, ordering for arepas and coffee. A wonderfully pleasant lady complied putting a few of these thick round corn meal cakes on the grill. After about 10 minutes she slathered them with butter and handed them to us hot with a slice of cheese and a cup of coffee. The cost for the three of us was around $5. I was in heaven. Bollos, a kind of corn mush boiled in corn husks, are made sometimes sweet with cocoa and/or sugar or containing chicken, fish, vegetables or beef, these thick fast food dishes are served on the streets and in the super markets alike. Bollos can range from $.50 to $2. Bollos are prepared with boiling water. I have not had any problem eating them. I love bollos with fish or plain. They are filling and flavorful.

When I buy local fruits and vegetables, especially from street vendors, I know that there is a greater potential for herbicides and pesticides to get into my system. The standards are different. I wash local fruits and vegetables in vinegar and water thoroughly before eating or cooking. Also, eating out often can invite a variety of oils into my system that has my face looking like that of a teenage boy. The problem seems to be that restaurants and road side stands use a grade of oils, grassos, that are often of not high quality. During my extended stays, a week or more, I try to stay in places where I can cook. This gives me more control over the amount of oil I am taking into my system. I have also learned to eat heavier during the day and drink something hot after meals so my system has a better chance of getting rid of the oils I am consuming. And though I am in misery over it, I have also learned to eat less bread and pastries which are heavy in the oils that my system does not tolerate well. Keeping the heart unhealthy and system clogging oils to a minimum helps me retain the benefits of the fresh seafood, vegetables and fruits I am eating; keeping me young in body and spirit longer.

Posted June 20, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Eating For a Long Healthy Life, Part Two: Passion, Food and Life In Latin America   Leave a comment

When I mention that I am living/moving to Latin America, one of the first questions is about how hot the women are. Perhaps that is an effect of the sometimes intentionally mixed messages that marketers use to sell travel and everything else. “Colombia is Passion” is the country’s national tag line. What images does that conjure? There are marriage and introductions agencies whose websites are full of young women in bikinis or sexy poses to promote and sell seats on their single men tours, though I have heard that not all of the men are single. Sponsored by one of the liquor companies, the sign in the San Jose, Costa Rica airport says “Welcome to the Happiest Country in the World.” If you have the wonderful opportunity to enjoy the food at Delfines Con Amor, a San Jose restaurant, one of the menus items is “Viagra 5000 Volitos.” Sopa de mariscos as it is called on many menus in Costa Rica and Colombia, which is really a poor man’s stew that locals have known for generations to be a great aphrodisiac full of zinc and other sex drive nutrients, promises to deliver 5000 volts of fuel for one’s sex drive.

It is easy to think or believe that Latin American is full of wanton hot young poor women whose values are less than immaculate and hot Latin lovers awaiting gringas on every corner with Antonio Banderas smiles. These marketing ploys have made some a lot of money. It is also true that from Avenida Central in San Jose to Zona Rosa in Medellin and the campos close to Risaralda tight short skirts and bare mid-rifts, tight jeans revealing bulging crotches, long flowing manes and swinging hips on high heels pony walking on cobble stone sidewalks all are the norm in many places in Latin America. Young and older lovers sit on park benches making the expression “get a room” nonsensical. Hit the clubs and the dancing can make an American made candle melt without striking a match. Yes, prostitution is legal in many Latin American countries – though pimping or financially benefiting from a prostitute’s work is not. At night some downtown San Jose streets can be filled with transvestites, some looking like a Glamour magazine photo shoot and National Park can be full of gay men looking for their next escapade.

But be careful not to paint a whole region of the world with a marketers brush. Virtue is as honored by many as it was in their parents and grandparents time. In some ways it has to be because many are still living with their grandmothers and mothers. Here, passion refers to a commitment to one’s values and beliefs. Many Latin people, even poor people living in shanty’s or homes where multiple generations share a bed, are passionate about their desire to enjoy life. This is in stark contrast to the wait until the work is done lifestyles of many western cultures. I have been invited to friend’s homes on a Sunday afternoon where family members and friends gathered around salad, rice and beans, patacon, avocado salad, a chicken or fish dish and a few cervezas or homemade fruit punch. Their homes filled with stories, joy, music and laughter reminded me of growing up in Rand, West Virginia during simpler times.

They say Latin blood runs hot. Perhaps it is the fact that these countries are rich in coffee, a natural stimulant that there is no denying gets blood pumping through one’s veins like it is on steroids. Or the fact that they have a high vegetable rich diet, salads served with most meals and vegetarian selections or restaurants in abundance, giving their hearts a chance to have healthy blood flow which gives other parts of the body a chance to function at peak efficiency. Who knows! What I do know is that life is to be enjoyed without many hang-ups. Understanding that liberates one to enjoy their lives, all of their life as a whole, not fragmented pieces to be repressed and/or hidden because some parts may be judged as less than pure.

There are more holidays in Colombia I think than in any other part of the world. Schools are closed in Barranquilla for Carnivales. “Disfruta al goza” my friends tell me. Enjoy yourself to the fullest. Money does not seem to define happiness in Latin America. Perhaps it can’t!  I have learned a lot about rebalancing my life, and my judgments, since I have been in Costa Rica and Colombia. Latin America offers a different view of life and living. Very little seems to be repressed here. That is a huge contradiction for some and one of the beauties of these countries for others. Even poor people can live without worries. Joy, living and the belief in God’s blessing is a serious way of life for many; that God will both provide and forgive. It is this liberation that fuels a passion for living, sharing and enjoying what is in front of one. On the coast of Colombia it is the rumba, partying without worry. In Costa Rica it is Pura Vida. For me it is letting go and learning to enjoy life from a different vantage point.

Posted June 13, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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Eating for a Long, Healthy Life In Latin America Part One: Fountain of Youth Found In Latin America   Leave a comment

This is the first in a three part series on “Eating for a Long, Healthy Life in Latin America.”

No, this is not a give-away to ending of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  Besides, from the movie’s reviews it would be the beginning of a very bad blog post.  What I want to talk about is why Costa Rica has  one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world?  Why “Pura Vida” is that country’s theme,  meaning living life to the fullest.  Colombia’s tourism theme: “Colombia is Passion.”  Could it be that in Latin American there exists the mythical fountain of  youth?  And it is right before our eyes, for the taking?  I think so.  Surely not living for eternity at age 24, but  living life healthy and to the fullest longer than most.

Two of the things that attracted me to Latin America, quite frankly, are the food and cultures that characterize a more healthy approach to living.  Both Costa Rica and Colombia are countries rich in vegetables, herbs, fish, fruits and seafood of many varieties.  As importantly the approach to living life emphasizes balance, family and caring for body.  A little known fact about Costenos, people living on Colombia’s northern coast, is their
knowledge and reliance on natural medicines and herbs that promote vigor in one’s life.  My family has a history of high blood pressure and diabetes with the resulting health problems traumatic.  My brother and father both died in their early sixties.  My brother and one of my aunts had amputations because of their diabetes.  I have no desire to succumb to the same fate.

In both Costa Rica and Colombia, fresh vegetables and fruits are plentiful.  From the super markets to road side stands and street vendors, whose stands can be as elaborate as those in the supermarkets or simply crates on the sidewalks, I have found a range of items I knew and much I had no clue existed.  The fruits I have come to know are maracuya, guayaba, nispero, guanavana, ciruela, and granadilla.  As well as giving me a variety of different flavors, I have learned that many have medicinal value.  In Barranquilla, azuca mangos, one of three different varieties of mangos that grow locally, are so plentiful in the neighborhoods that a recent newspaper article cited their abundance as a problem.  Coconut water, served cold in the coconut, can be found at road side stands.  Low in carbs, sugar and mostly fat and cholesterol, aside from having the same electrolyte level as our blood, coconut water is known to boost the immune system, raise the metabolism, promote weight loss, detoxify the system and aid in the fight of viruses.  Arroz con coco is a typical side dish in Colombia.  Every morning here in Barranquilla I hear the street vendor’s voice, “Aguacate, Aguacate,” selling avocados, which is a heart healthy food.

Fish and seafood are widely known to have heart healthy benefits, as well as possess powers to increase one’s vitality if you get my meaning.  At restaurants in Jaco, Puerto Viejo and  Manzanillo, Costa Rica, as well as in Cartagena, Santa Marta and Barranquilla, Colombia “fresh catch” does not mean flown in that day.  The fish on your plate was likely swimming freely in the river or ocean that morning.  In Colombia, de agua salada, meaning from the ocean, you have robalo and sierra (which are very popular in restaurants) mojarra, tilapia, lebranche and more.  De agua dulce, meaning from the river, principally the Magdalena, you can get mojarra, cuatrojos (very popular), arenque, bagre, barbul, corvinata, bocachico and more.  In Costa Rica, meaning rich coast, flounder, grouper, corvina, and several types of snapper are widely available.

They say the best place to hide something is to put it in plain view.  Perhaps the “Fountain of Youth” is turning knowledge into a lifestyle.  In Latin America the knowledge that a healthy diet is the key to a long and youthful life is lived.  I marvel at a Costa Rican friend’s parents, who just left their working farm in their late seventies.  Now in their early eighties they look like, talk like and enjoy life like they are in their sixties.  Understanding what to eat, its effect on one’s body and turning that information into action seems to be the key.  And because people in both countries live inter-generationally, often with three generations in the same house, knowledge about foods, herbs and their benefits are easily passed on, even without the internet.  All one has to do is ask.

Pura Vida!

Posted June 6, 2011 by Wayne in Uncategorized

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