Monday, February 16, 2009

Saying Good-bye for a While

I must say good-bye for a while. I’ll be flying to Colombia in the next two days to work on a new magazine story. I lived in that country for 23 years--self-published nine photo books on it, and explored its every corner. It can be dangerous sometimes, but always rewarding beyond expectations.

Colombia is one of the world’s most varied and beautiful countries, in its humanity as well as in its geography. However, the country’s best scenery, that which people have altered little, is generally difficult of access. Parts of Colombia are in the hands of a criminal guerilla, and delinquents stalk city streets.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Travel Can Save Money--a Lot Sometimes

How a Peru Trip Cut my Dentist’s Bill by Nearly 80% after Travel Expenses

Don’t let the weak dollar keep you from traveling. There are still countries where the greenback goes a long way. And life is too short not to try to see as much of the world before you get too old.
Nothing leaves deeper and warmer memories than travel. Nothing helps you better understand the world around you.

One way to pay for your trip, and even to leave you a little richer, is to combine your journey with health care, which is cheaper anywhere outside the United States. Dental work, for instance, can be had in some countries for only a fraction of what it costs here.

A year ago, I learned that two of my molars needed root canals--at $900 each. I had been planning a trip to Peru, and decided to have the work done there. But I waited too long, and both teeth had to be pulled out. Now, to fill those two tooth gaps, I would need two bridges, each one anchored on two adjacent teeth. Dentists count such bridges as three teeth. Plagued by bad luck, and only days later, one of the support teeth of an existing bridge broke. The bridge had filled a single gap, but a new one would now have to fill two gaps. To fill four gaps in my mouth, I now needed three bridges covering ten teeth. At $800 a tooth (more at fancier dentists), it would cost me $8,000.

I could wait no longer to travel to Peru. Through a friend in Lima, Peru’s capital, I found not only an excellent dentist, but also a well-lit and very comfortable small apartment for only $20.00 a night. Situated in a nice part of town, at a 15-minute walk from the dentist’s office, and looking down over the avenue below, It had private bath and furnished kitchen.

My meals in Lima cost me between $3.00 and $4.00 each, including drinks and tips. Just across from the dental clinic, for example, I paid $2.00, for a large and juicy barbecued chicken breast with salad and a mountain of real French fries.

Anyone preferring American fast-food would walk only minutes from the place I stayed in to Pizza Hut, Dominos, Kentucky Fried Chicken, MacDonald, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbuck, as well as to a supermarket selling all kinds of delicious prepared foods and snacks, all at prices well below American ones. An internet café across the street charged me $0.70 an hour. The cost of an average taxi ride was $2.00. Buses only cost pennies, though exposing one to possible pickpockets.

I sat at the dentist for three hours during four mornings--before, between, and after two different Andean trips. His office was not luxurious, but he was amazingly good and conscientious. To take care of those ten-tooth bridges, a cavity, and a cleaning, he charged me only $1,500.00—less than those two root canals would have cost me in Pennsylvania. The New York- Lima flight cost me $633.00.

For the price of two root canals in the US, a person could fly to Lima, have teeth fixed there, and enjoy a trip to Machu Picchu.