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Published: Wednesday, 8/1/2001

Truth isn't always part of the ad

Don't believe everything you read.

It can turn you into an Ugly American.

This is especially true when looking over brochures for vacation hotels in Costa Rica.

I recently spent a couple of weeks there and learned that the folks who put out those brochures are prone to exaggeration.

For instance, after a very shaky start to my vacation, which began when nobody from the travel agency greeted me at the airport, I was a little apprehensive about how the rest of my trip would go.

I was assured over and over that the airport thing was a little mistake. Everything else would be perfect.

After a couple of great days in the country's capital, San Jose, I was ready to travel to the Pacific Coast for some ocean fun. I looked over the descriptions of the various hotels offered by this agency and was very impressed with one.

It was described as: ``20 rooms with private bathroom, air conditioning, terrace with sea view, cable TV, and minibar. Hotel facilities include bar, restaurant, coffee shop, phone, pool solarium, and Jacuzzi.''

I had the first inkling that things weren't all I expected when the bus dropped me off at the end of a dirt road and I had to haul my bags up this little path to find the office. Next to it was a small open-air bar with a couple of guys sucking on beer. I asked them where I should check in and they pointed to the bartender.

I found out he was also the bell hop, waiter, concierge, manager, desk clerk, and owner.

It was 95 degrees and very humid. I was sweating like a pig. I was checked in and Maurice - that was his name - showed me to my room which was more like a jalousied closet. I looked around the spartan digs and became discouraged.

You see, there was NO air conditioning, NO terrace with a sea view, NO minibar, NO cable TV. It did have a creaky fan that moved the heat around a bit. I might still have given it a shot until I looked at the shower and saw this canister with an electric cord hanging from it attached to the head.

That pretty much settled it for me. I called the travel people and expressed my displeasure mostly in English but embellished with a few Spanish insults I picked up from a grumpy bus driver.

That pretty much took care of my relationship with this outfit. I may have set back American-Costa Rican relationships 50 years. At least that's what the guy at the embassy said, but he was prone to exaggeration. Probably writes hotel brochures in his off time.

And so I sort of became the Ugly American.

Despite all this, I had a really wonderful time after finding my own accommodations. Costa Rica is a great country, filled with pleasant people who are genuinely interested in being helpful.

They really want you to enjoy their country.

They also have a great sense of humor. This was particularly true of a guide who led a tour from San Jose up to a nearby active volcano.

It was a great trip by bus that stopped often to enjoy the many scenic wonders. At one point we stopped to see a majestic towering waterfall. I asked the guide if everyone was appropriately impressed and she confided that an American tourist once said, ``That is a really magnificent sight ... do you turn it off at night?''

I think it's to my credit that I didn't reply, ``Well, do you?''

As Americans go, I may be ugly.

But I ain't stupid.

Tom Ensign's column runs the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

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