Monday, January 31, 2011

Week In Review Sabbatical Style: Week 2

OK, I haven't had internet for a while, and only have a few minutes, but I know you've all been curious, so a quick week in review!

  • I've been in Monteverde for the last few days--beautiful, but actually kind of cold!
  • I spotted a White Throated Capuchin (a white faced monkey) when I was hiking in the cloud forest yesterday! All by myself!
  • I think I have learned more taking tours and walking around in the forests here for the last 3 or 4 days than I did in entire years of biology classes I took. 
  • I also saw almost a dozen Coati (super cute little racoon looking things), and all kinds of fun humming birds. Just a few: the violet sabrewering, the purple headed mountain gem, and a copper headed ninny muggin. 
  • This afternoon I am taking a 4.5 hour bus back to San Jose. From there I'll board a bus to Panama City. 16 hours on that one. Ouch. 
  • It seems maybe my luck is changing: I got the very last seat available on that Panama bus. Whew. 
  • The super strong Off spray I bought is eating tiny holes in my watch. Makes you wonder what it's doing to your skin...It's also so humid that my watch is fogging over from the inside. It might not make it to Nicaragua. 
  • Spanish update: The Spanish is for the most part coming back. I still find myself using random French words or adding French endings to my Spanish words. Most people seem to be at least moderately impressed though (I'm pretty sure this is due to the fact that most all the tourists here don't know much more than "hola.")
  • Most common question though: Where did you learn Spanish? That's right, I've dropped the lisp, but the accent/vocabulary is still giving my Spain Spanish away. 
  • Costa Ricans love to spice up there budget hotels by folding everything they can into little shapes. 
  • In La Fortuna I stumbled upon a little ice cream shop. I ended up with Dulce de leche and Pitahaya (cactus fruit sorbet--that was BRIGHT purple). Yummy!
OK, computer's about to die so I'm putting this up right away! Pictures to come when I get to Panama!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Catarata La Fortuna

I am going to be sore tomorrow. Real sore. I can already feel it. Why? Because I hiked to a waterfall. I could have taken either a horse or a taxi, but what with it being nice and cool, having the day to walk about, and the guy at the hotel telling me it was a nice walk, I set off on foot. 

Oh man. The whole thing was only 7 kilometers from town but the last 4 were nothing but steep gravel roads. The last 2 kilometers almost killed my will to live. It was like a cruel version of the lines at Disney Land. You would climb each hill thinking it was the last only to find another (steeper) one once you reached the top. And of course the clouds dissipated the moment I started walking. 

I met some people at the hotel and they told me that their guide book described it as a stair-master with a view. That was a lot more apt of a description than what I received from the hotel guy. Partly due to the trickery of the slope and not knowing how much more I lacked, I eventually willed my way to the top. 

Then of course, once you get to the park entrance, how do you get to the waterfall? Oh yeah, right. More than SEVEN HUNDRED steps. They weren't normal steps either, a kind of like mud covered cinderblock legos. Ah, but the view at the bottom was worth it. The water was clear and bright blue. 

I took a dip in the water and iced my tired muscles and watched the fish swim around my legs. (I freaked out when one mashed up against my leg. Then I realized that it was a leaf.) I budgeted my time so that I could leave in time to make the hour and a half hike back to town before dark, so I dried off a bit and hiked it back up the SEVEN HUNDRED steps. 

The decent into town was much better but I was using kind of a controlled falling method due to tired muscles. As I waited at one of the bends for the cars to pass one stopped. It was a Costa Rican family I met and eventually passed on the way back up the stairs. I had joked with Grandpa and now he was stopping to ask if I wanted a ride. Did I ever! So, in the end, the hour and a half I planned for took 25. Perfect. Pura vida!

PS. Bonus points for anyone who can tell me when a waterfall is a cascada and when one is a catarata. Or is catarata just a Costa Rican thing? 

And how cool is this tree I passed on the way up?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Arenal and La Fortuna

I've been here in La Fortuna for 3 days now. Everything here is pretty laid back, but the scenery has been outstanding! I took a guided hike to the Arenal Volcano (one of the world's top 10 most active volcanoes!). We saw all kinds of flowers and birds along the way up and then traced a portion of the 1968 lava flow (up until then they just thought that it was a mountain--no idea there was anything going on in there!). 

Our guide was full of colorful descriptions (like how leaf cutter ants are not Chinese ants, even though they look like it--always working, never taking a break, or how the name of the orchid is the testicle flower). In the end we watched the sunset at the observatory to see if we could see any of the lava flowing and glowing in the evening light. Nope, no lava. (Turns out, the lava hasn't been flowing for pretty much the last year. They definitely don't tell you that bit of information until you get here. We did see some "young ash" though.) 

The view was beautiful though and the company wasn't bad either--I met an Irish couple who've been traveling for the last 6 months who were full of good stories. 

Overall, it's been a good experience. Pictures of La Fortuna and Arenal below. 

Views of the Arenal Lake right behind the volcano. Turns out it is an artificial (dammed) lake which helps to irrigate the dry part of the country. 

The tiny town is centered around the square the church is on. This is one of the least Catholic looking Catholic churches I've ever been in. They were having a celebration for the Conversion of San Paulo so I stopped in for mass. 

Blurry picture, but these are leaf cutter ants! How fun! 

These trees were in Jurassic Park. Apparently selling and growing these is big business in New Zealand these days.  

The orchid is the official flower of Costa Rica

The volcano!

Another look at the lake from the top of the trail. (Nowadays you can't go up any further than this--3 hikers were killed by lava when they climbed up higher). 

It's me! 

This one is a Lady's Slipper orchid (because it looks like a shoe)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hasta Pronto!

Adios Samara! I hope we meet again soon! I've now gone inland and am sleeping at the base of Costa Rica's most active (and one of the world's top ten most active) volcanoes. A few more pictures of Samara below. 
This sign says it all. (Despacio means slow in Spanish)

My preferred spot on the beach 

Just to prove I was there!


 Can we all just stop and check this out? This photo came straight out of my little pocket camera. Those colors were real, and it was even more beautiful in person!

Hopefully there will be some equally awesome volcano pictures soon to come!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Recap

This is my official take on the evening:

Turtle tour (where I got to go to the beach and watch an endangered species of turtles lay (112!) eggs)
Verdict: Pretty awesome

It was really neat to see it all, and I feel like I'm armed with some seriously cool turtle facts (I'm sure those will be coming up later), but it was also a little slow going. And you couldn't use anything for light besides the guide's tiny red flashlight. But we got to watch (cheer!) on 4 little hatchlings as they made their way to the coast. Which definitely pushed the night into the awesome category. (It was also hilarious because the turtles look for the white of the surf and one of the turtles kept going for one guy's white tennis shoes. It was a good thing I was wearing pants.)

Beach on the refuge at night
Verdict: Absolutely, astoundingly beautiful

I've never seen so many stars nor seen the stars that bright in my life. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and there aren't metropolitan areas anywhere near here. It was beautiful. And this is going to sound stupid and reveal the fact that I have lived in the city my whole life, but I never really knew stars twinkled. Yeah, yeah, I know the song. But I've never seen them like this.

Dinner of Pringles Crema Y Cebolla
Verdict: Very, very tasty.

Well done Costa Rica. I haven't had Pringles in a long time. And they are just as tasty as ever. Unfortunately there aren't many left for my 4-5 hour bus ride tomorrow. But doesn't that always happen?

OK, tomorrow I head inland, so I thought I would give an update tonight in case internet is sketchy in the next town! Hasta pronto!


So I thought I might say a word or two about the town I'm in. My guidebook said the town was one of the most beloved beaches in all of Costa Rica, that even the president had a house in the area. So, I was a little surprised when I got here. What do I mean? Here is the main street: 

Yep, that is all 3 blocks of it. It empties right onto the beach. Even on the weekend, this place is low key.  Saturday and Sunday there were definitely more people on the beach, but to say it was crowded you would have to have some serious personal space issues. Even if it is well known in Costa Rica, there is a very off-the-map feel to the place. 

Which is nice. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Week In Review Sabbatical Style: Week 1

Now that I'm on the road again, I figured why not revive the Sunday Week In Review? You know you loved it.

  • Yesterday I still wasn't feeling great, so I went to the reception desk and extended my stay a couple more days. I feel very good about this decision. 
  • Despite it's sickly start, yesterday was one of the most beautiful days I've had in a while. It was finally cooler so I spent the entire afternoon swimming in the ocean, laying on the beach and watching surfers. Sunset was especially gorgeous. (Sadly, I didn't take anything to the beach with me, so no pictures!)
  • Biggest decisions of the day: beach or pool?
  • It's kind of strange to be so far away without a single hour of time difference from home. 
  • It gets dark here at 6 o'clock sharp. I know this happens when you get closer to the equator, but it's almost disorienting that its so hot, yet the day ends so early. Long evenings are one of my favorite parts of summer. Maybe this helps explain why I have been going to sleep before 9 all week!
  • I've been pulling 9-13 hours of sleep all week. I don't know if it's because I've been sick (probably) or because I've just been that exhausted, but it has been pretty glorious. 
  • Costa Rica is proud of its coffee, and it's pretty tasty too. The flavor is strong, but it's not a dark roast. It's not thick or heavy at all. It's almost like what an agua fresca is to a fruit smoothie. 
  • I ended up getting a kindle before I left. I give it a thumbs up!
  • After basically nothing but bread and fruit all week and a day at the beach, last night I was hungry for real food. I figured I would regret it, but I found soda (local hole in the wall) and ordered a casado (picture below). It was delicious! And my body didn't reject it! (Hamdula!)
  • I ordered the casado to go so I could eat back in my room (mostly so I could drink out of my 6 liter bottle of water I bought and not have to buy a drink! Yes, I am cheap!). Once I got back and unwrapped it I realized I hadn't thought about silverware. Hmm. I popped open my multi-tool and decided to use the pocket knife to (carefully!) eat. Unfortunately it was not doing me a ton of good with the rice and beans (I was actually wishing for even some chopsticks!). Solution? I used the heel of the (bitter!) orange slice as a scoop. Bien hecho Lauren. 
  • About half way through I realized that the peel of the orange probably hadn't been washed. But then again, I figured I was already sick, so what is the harm? (Let's hope!)
  • I have the beginnings of a Chaco tan. 
OK, so that is the week in review! A few more pictures below!

Feet, meet ocean!

This has been lunch most of the week.  

Finally a proper meal! This is my casado: rice, black beans, a piece of chicken, potatoes, fried plantains (YUM!), and some veggies. And for $4, a good deal to boot!

Friday, January 21, 2011

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

Well, things got off to a rough start. I left Tuesday evening for Costa Rica...but woke up Tuesday morning at 5 violently throwing up. Fun. Not one to let a little vomit get me down (OK, I almost did, but it cost way to much to change my ticket so I refused!), I took a cocktail of different drugs, slept most of the day (and had some crazy fever-dreams) then woke up, packed in 30 minutes and was on my way. 

It was a long way, too--2 hours to Denver, a 3.5 hour layover, a 5 hour flight to San Jose, a 4 hour wait at the bus station in San Jose, and then a 5 hour bus ride to Samara. Most all of that was spent dozing so the contrast was even greater when I finally got here. 

In a way the landscape reminds me a bit of Puerto Rico, but it's really different too. The jungle just kind of falls into the beach. And I was just complaining about the cold a couple of days ago, so I won't go too far, but the sun is intense here. (PSA: If you fall asleep in the sun, you will get burned!) 

Once I got here and found my way to my hostel though, things unfortunately didn't start looking up--they had lost my reservations. Ugh. She did help us find a place in a new "hostel" out of the city some. Unfortunately, the place lacked some of the basic amenities that I generally prefer--like a door on the shared bathroom. I was so tired that night that nothing really mattered, and I got a good 13 hours of sleep out of that place, so I won't complain too much. In the end though I walked through town, saw a sign for a place full of Germans (which I figured at least meant it would be clean) and took a room. It's a bit of a splurge, but it has breakfast, AC and a pool that feels like you are right in the middle of the jungle (which...OK, you pretty much are). Also, I realized tonight, considering I'm still not eating hardly anything (I went for my first real meal since Monday did not go over well), I am still more or less making my budget! (Silver lining?)

It's been a rocky start, but soon I'll be feeling better, and in the meantime I've already seen 3 or 4 monkeys, 4 iguanas, a neon green and pink bird, tons of butterflies and 3 sea crabs. As the Ticos say, ¡Pura Vida!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Itinerary Update

Santiago De Compostela

So...I changed my mind.

I was feeling so stressed trying to get everything lined up for my trip (or trips--it was like trying to plan 4 trips at once). And I was having trouble getting my tickets bought and all of a sudden I thought...maybe I don't want to go there anyway. Also, I found my old "to-go" list on a post it note. So I looked deep and asked myself what I really wanted to do.

I wanted to go to Spain. I want to walk the Camino de Santiago. I didn't want to go back to Asia. I wanted to relax the pace.

I decided I have all my life to travel. For now what I really want is to take a sabbatical and rest and recoup. Also, I figure if I am going to throw myself a proper quarter-life crisis (and actually I realized it should probably be called a third-life crisis...which is even scarier!) then what better thing to do than to walk an 800 km pilgrimage route all by myself for a month? That is bound to sort me out.

Now, I had a minor relapse where I forgot about those things called visas, which only allow you to stay 90 days in an increasingly large area of all of Europe, so I had to be a bit creative, but I am oh-so happy with the result. (PS. Tip of the day: Do NOT try to overstay a Schengen/tourist visa in Europe anymore! Apparently they are on their way to making the Schengen zone into a fortress and are handing out fines in the thousands along with 5 year bands nowadays!) Anyway, here is the itinerary, part duex!

Step one: Central America (no change here): Costa Rica (I booked myself a place on the beach for the first week to just chill!), Panama, Nicaragua

Step two: Greece, Cyprus

Step three: Spain! Flying into Girona (Barca), then making my way to the French side of the boarder to start the Camino Frances. Then I'll be walking my way across the peninsula aiming to make it to Santiago by my 25th birthday.

Step four: Balkans--Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania. (I've also decided if I get there and don't love my time there that I'll head over to Turkey and spend some time in the countryside.)

Finally, step five: I'll make my way back into the Schengen zone, making sure to get up to Cinque Terre on my way to fly home out of Zurich on August 2.

So there you have it. Yes, I am very last minute (I leave in about 36 hours at this point!), but whatever, I am excited! And I have the permagrin to prove it!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Today was shot day. Probably my least favorite part of trip preparation. Thankfully I just had two shots with my name on them. I finished off my Hep A series and then was lucky enough to get my first Yellow Fever vaccination. That one hurt! But it's good for 10 years, so I guess it works out to just a teensy bit of pain per year. The annoying bit is that I don't need the vac for where I am going, but because parts of Panama have Yellow Fever, the Panama stamp in my passport will cause questions throughout my trip without the vaccine. I just rolled up my sleeve and took it. Ouff, she didn't tell me until I was already wincing that it was a stinger. It's all right though, she told me I'm now ready to be a world traveler. 

And I have the shot record to prove it.  

PS. For anyone living in the metroplex, I highly recommend the travel clinic at Harris Methodist HEB! She's great and even got me in at the last minute. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A big Texas sunset over DFW's international airport--does it get any better?

I needed to talk to the ticketing agents at British Airways and wasn't having any luck over the phone. I just decided to drive over to DFW and have a chat with them. They gave me the refund I was looking for plus and additional $10. Done and done. Also, is it just me, or is DFW's terminal D not one of the very best? It is definitely in my top 5 all time.  

Anyway, the weather was perfect so afterwards I took a few minutes to take in the sunset and people watch. Good times. 

Friday, January 7, 2011


OK, sorry for the blogging hiatus. Along with celebrating the holidays with family and friends I squeezed in a quick road trip and then was lucky enough to land a surprise visit from a Supy who was rerouted to Dallas due to snow in NYC. I shouldn't say I have been busy, but my days have definitely been full--full of board games and food and late night conversations and travel channel episodes. But full nonetheless. And as of late they have been full of one thing specifically.

Airport codes.

After my break for the holidays I got serious about trip planning. I am happy to say that I have tickets with my name on them and a basic itinerary! Now to get to this point, I have filled a whopping 13 pages in my little spiral with airport codes and possible routes. But I will admit it. I have a soft spot in my heart for airport codes. I remember Matt and Supy having Airport Code Bees in Santander to see who knew the most. I'm no expert like those guys, but I do love the airports.

It's been nice learning some new ones (SJO, MGA, GUA, BKK, JKT, KUL, AMM, BUY) and then there are the ones that feel like old friends (MAD, LHR, ATH, MXP, STN, BCN, ORY, STN) or old enemies (CDG, ERW). I've just been plugging them into and remixing them until it spit out something good. It's tedious, but not a bad way to pass the day.

Anyway, I said I came up with an itinerary, so here goes. It is still a little nebulous in areas, but part of that is by design. I wanted to stay away from having to get complicated or expensive visas, to go to places I haven't been, have nice weather, relax and see some incredible things. I divided it up into three legs that would let me do most of the traveling over land. That is, for one thing, cheaper, but it also gives me the flexibility to spend more time in places that I end up liking and to move on quickly from places that I don't. I think it's also more ideal for people who try to plan 6+ month trips in 2 weeks.

So starting January 18th (!) I'll be in:

Leg 1 Central America: Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua
Leg 2 Eastern Europe: Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia + Jordan
Leg 3 Southeast Asia: Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand

The return ticket still hasn't been finalized--I have two on hold. Because I am buying it with airline miles I couldn't exactly get out on the days I wanted. So the debate is between ZRH (Zurich) on August 2nd or CDG (Paris) on August 18th. Both are a little later than I planned on returning, but if I am careful, the money should hold out.

So there we have it. That's the final outcome of all the brainstorming. Some of the only things I had planned got bumped out, and some things I thought I would never see got thrown in. Overall, though, I am happy. And excited.

Also! If you are going to be in any of those areas, let me know! OK, 11 days till take off!