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29 March 2010

San Diego

Spontaneity + rideshare + Tommy's + Aussies + Couchsurfing + Mission Beach + Gaslamp District + Trolley hopping + Low Riders + Roscoe's = what I called my "spring break" crammed into a short weekend.

14 March 2010

Pura Vida

Definitely good times...
Coming to Costa Rica as a tourist, there are several things you have to see/experience: Jungles; amazing beaches; an active volcano; monkeys, sloths, birds and countless other wildlife; the amazingly fresh and delicious coffee; the laid-back, Pura Vida mentality; simple but hearty and nourishing Tico cuisine; and some adventure - be it whitewater rafting, zip-lining, surfing, snorkeling, or whatever else you can think of!

I was able to try a little bit of it all on this trip :) Such good times, for sure!

Pura Vida!

Oh yeah.

Flying Home, Not a Moment Too Soon

6:25 PM. Saturday, March 13, 2010. Panama Tocumen Airport.

My stomach was about to explode, and so was my mind.

So here I am, already tired from a long hot day in Panama and just wanting to ge on the flight back to LA, when I find out that there's an extra security screening of our bags at the gate. There's an incredibly long line. Only because it's a flight to the US?! No way. Fuck that, I'm going to chill here, rest my feet (and change my smelly socks), and wait for the line to die down.


6:50 PM

I'm in the airplane now. And I'm feeling annoyed, to say the least.

13 March 2010

Panama: I Get Saved Again!

5:25 PM. In the Panama City airport.

This woman turned out to be one of the most helpful and caring people I could ever hope to encounter!

I wanted to head back to the bus terminal at the Albrook Mall - so when I saw a guy yelling out "Termina" as the destination for his bus, it seemed right. I got on, and waited for about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, several vendors walked onto the bus and tries to sell children's books, fresh tamales (I was tempted), and pirated movies. [Seriously, who needs to go shopping when you can buy most of what you need right on the bus?!]. The bus left, and it headed into the city. Then it got on the main promenade along the waterfront - Avenida Balboa - a wide boulevard with all the major hotels and fancy apartment high-rises on it. It was amazing - like driving through Vegas or (as I'd imagine) Miami.

It was a different route than what I expected, and when the bus got on the highway (aka Corredor Sur), I knew that it definitely wasn't headed back to the bus terminal at the mall.

And so, I knew that I had gotten on the wrong bus. Was I going to miss my flight?

I Had Made a Very Wrong Turn Somewhere

4:25 PM. Saturday, March 13, 2010. Just outside Panama Tocumen Airport.

She was begging me to get in a taxi for my own safety...

The past few hours have been yet another adventure:

I left the Albrook mall on one of Panamá's many festive buses to the plaza Cinco de Mayo, 10 minutes away. The streets around the plaza were alive with food vendors and people enjoying their Saturday. There was a pedestrian-only promenade leading away from the plaza, filled with vibrant shops and street vendors. I bought a small bag freshly-fried platano chips with hot sauce drizzled on top (yummy!), then I bought a cup of fresh coconut juice to cool me down from the sweltering day.

It was a vibrant and welcoming scene. I would soon find out that not all of Panamá would be as friendly...

The Last Night in Costa Rica and the Return to Panamá

Friday, March 12, 2010. San José, Costa Rica.
12:25 AM

"Welcome to the third world"...

Back from dinner, it was at an amazingly good (seriously, better than most places I've eaten at in the states) pizza restaurant/cafe. The pizza was fresh, crispy, cheesy, and all around amazing - imagine Cheese Board with meat! The restaurant is literally hidden down some railroad tracks - there's no street, just a small sidewalk (if you could call it that) along the tracks. And the crazy thing is - the tracks are still in use! Trains were passing by during our dinner (but not too often, and with the doors closed we hardly heard anything).

12 March 2010

The Volcano and the Old Man

11:10 AM. Friday, March 12, 2010. Volcan Irazu.

Atop an active volcano...

I'm at Volcan Irazu. There's a cafe here where Christina, Annie and I are resting/rehydrating for a bit before we tackle the hike to the peak of the volcano. The altitude is beginning to get to us. The weather is a little clearer than it has been in previous days, but there are clouds coming in to the summit. The temperature is cool, the sun is bright, and the air is moist, much like Marin County in the summer.

11 March 2010

Alone in San José: The Inadvertent Adventure

1:00 PM. Thursday, March 11, 2010.

A mission I didn't sign up for...

OH MAN! I am incredibly relieved and exhausted. I just spent the last hour wandering the streets of downtown San José by myself. I was on a mission, one that I didn't sign up for: Trying to get Christina's cell phone to work again. It was my only way to communicate and only way to get home. And it was locked! So I had no way of getting in touch with my cousin or my host.

The phone locked itself after I inadvertently I turned it off. I was stranded and alone, with no way to get in touch with anyone I knew in this crazy city.

It was definitely an adventure. Details follow...

Over the Mountains, Through the Woods, and into San José

2:30 PM. Wednesday, March 10. Peace Corps Office, San José.

We just arrived in San José after an 8-hour journey. The bus ride wasn't bad; I drank some ginger ale to keep my stomach settled after our big lunch atop the cerro. (A good tip!) We each got a good amount of sleep on the bus ride. The day began early in Agua Buena; I groggily turned off my 5:40 cell phone alarm and soon got out of bed to get ready. It was a cloudy and humid morning. We got our stuff together, walked to the bus stop (Christina said hi to some neighbors that she knew), and it was soon good-bye Agua Buena!

The bus stopped in Perez, then went into the mountains. We ate at a cafeteria/restaurant perched high in the mountains about 1.5 hours south of San José. There were huge sweeping windows providing an expansive view, with hummingbird feeders hanging just outside that attracted about a dozen hummingbirds. Spectacular.

It was hot in San José when we arrived. We took a taxi from the bus station where we were dropped off to the Coca-Cola bus station, then grabbed a bus from there to the Peace Corps office, where we are now.

10 March 2010

Salchipapas and Skype

6:50 PM.

We're back at the apartment in Agua Buena. I just got Christina hooked on Sporcle :). We just came back from dinner at a not-so-nearby soda. Carlos, our taxi driver from today, picked us up at 5pm sharp (they're surprisingly punctual here) and dropped us off at the soda, which is about 3 miles out of the town. We had chalupas and an order of salchipapas (fries with cut up slices of fried sausage).

The sodas here are just small, casual restaurants. Costa Rica's equivalent of a take-away chip shop (I can't think of any Stateside equivalent, maybe a diner?). They're not fast food by any means - few things here move quickly. The food was decent; we talked literature while eating.

A Day at the Hot Spring

10:00-11:00AM? Tuesday.

Bumpy ride, bubbling water, and butterflies...

At the hot springs (Agua Caliente). There are plenty of butterflies fluttering around. I tried to form the word "butterfly" by putting the Spanish words for "butter" and "to fly" together - I got something like "mantequilla volero" ("flying butter"). It's a comical alternative to just saying "mariposa."

The drive up here was extremely bumpy - gravel/rock roads for over half the entire way. I was worried that the car we were in would just suddenly snap under all the pressure and bumps - but we did eventually make it! Thanks to Carlos our driver, and to all the locals who pointed us in the right direction whenever we reached a fork in the road.

These hot springs are actually just a pool of hot water adjacent to the river. It's a pretty big and fast-flowing river with plenty of rapids - I don't know its name - I do know that we're near the Parque Internacional de Amistad (near the Panama border) and just over the mountains from the Caribbean side of the country. The river is cold. I sorta swam in but got instantly pinned against the huge rocks. I freed myself and made sure I wouldn't get sucked away by the strong rapids.

09 March 2010

Agua Buena: A Day in the Life

9:10 AM Monday, March 8

It's easy to wake up early here - the sun is so bright so early. It was 6:30 am - I checked the time and rolled back to sleep in my sleeping bag.

Breakfast around 8:30 - fried ripe (sweeter) plantains and coffee.

08 March 2010

Across the Country by Bus

Bus rides, hospitality, and yes, Univision's headquarters are in LA...

4:20 AM. Sunday, 03/07/2010

It's way too early to be awake. Ugh.

07 March 2010

Adrenaline Rush! Zip-Lines and Bullfighting

11:15 PM. Saturday, March 6.

What an amazing day! Zip-lining was simply awesome. Absolutely wicked fun! Christina and I were picked up at 10:10am from the hostel and were soon on our way! But first, paying and signing the paperwork at the La Cevita office. The zip-lining course is a 45-minute drive into the jungle, largely on unpaved gravel roade (we drove through a couple rivers!). Along the way, we met our fellow zip-liners: Matt and Sarah from England, and a family from Germany (near Hamburg!)... their son, who's around 15 years old, is on a Spanish-language exchange program. We got to the canopy, were soon strapped into our harnesses (which feel heavy at first - and the gloves reeked of other people's sweat - yuck!), and after a brief safety demo, we were zip-lining through the rainforest canopy!

06 March 2010

Margaritas and Hammocks

8:00 AM. Saturday, March 6, 2010

Another warm morning, another early sunrise. It's extremely easy to wake up here (with the sun and the heat already coming in by 6am), but it feels simply glorious.

Yesterday we finished the park mid-afternoon, exiting through the beach exit - there's a small river that you have to cross to get out of the park. A couple locals operate a "bridge" - essentially two boats tied together that you walk over. Just like trolls charging a toll. Well, not really a toll - they were just collecting tips. But still... Christina and I each had a beer at the bus stop by the beach and we returned to the hostel. There's a restaurant along the road that is made from an old US air force bomber aircraft - it looks really cool (I think the restaurant's called "El Aviar" or something).

05 March 2010

Monkey Beach

9:25-ish AM. Friday, March 5, 2010.

I am sitting on a log at one of the most serene and paradisical beaches imaginable. It's still mid-morning but the sun is already searing hot and beating down on everything. Christina's taking a dip in the water. We're at Playa Dos at Manuel Antonio National Park. We just finished hiking a jungle loop trail around a small but hilly peninsula. The views were gorgeous.

It was so hot and the hike was strenuous, so we were both totally drenched in sweat. There was an older couple hiking the same trail (but at a more leisurely pace) - they're from New Brunswick, which I know as the only bi-lingual province in Canada :)

Yes, it's incredibly hot and humid but so beautiful too. There's now a breeze coming off the ocean... how refreshing.

The Nauseating Bus Ride and the Beach

9:10 AM. Thursday, March 4, 2010.

Last night we ended up walking to a nearby sports bar nearby in Escazu (called Big Dog's or something). I tried Costa Rica's signature beer - Imperial. We had an amazing buffalo chicken pizza and nachos shared among the four of us. Fernando insisted that we take a taxi back because apparently there's a high crime risk (I felt completely safe, I couldn't see what he meant). I've felt much less safe in LA or even SF.

Sleeping at Fernando's was great - he provided us with blankets/pillows and was incredibly hospitable. It's amazing how people surprise you when you couchsurf.

04 March 2010

Exhaust Fumes and My Arrival in Costa Rica

5:31 PM. Panamá Tocumen Airport.

Often, a smell can take you back to a memory faster and more intensely than any sound or sight. And it is often the smells that we associate with places. Well, Panamá smells like car exhaust. Heaps and heaps of exhaust fumes. And horrible exhaust - the stuff that comes out of our cars in California smells like a wedding cake compared to this.

I spent another 2 hours on the bus - there was so much traffic. I was on the verge of getting off at a random stop and shelling out the money for a taxi, because I was afraid of missing my flight. Luckily I made it, with a little bit to spare!

03 March 2010

The Girl Who Works at the Airport

12:25 PM. Albrook Mall, Panamá.

It's too hot here to lose your cool!

I made it to Panamá! The flight arrived a little early, which gave me time to go through immigration (almost as tedious as entering the US - luckily, no line!), filling out customs forms. Yes, it's warm and humid - not totally oppressive but it's close - somewhere between summer in Virginia and in the Philippines.

At the airport I talked to the tourist information lady, who directed me to take the Corredor bus to Albrook station, where I can get a taxi to the canal.

Armed with that information, I walked outside the airport confidently. There I found - a line of taxis, a parking lot, and no bus stops in sight. I wandered through the parking lot (the information lady told me the bus stops were beyond the parking lot), only to find that the lot was gated in and there was no exit there - and still, no bus stops in sight. I wandered back to the terminal, where I asked a couple airport employees for the bus stop. They then tried to haggle me onto a taxi - "11 dollars", "special deal" - but I would have none of it, especially now that I knew that a bus ride costs only 25 cents. (The currency of Panamá is officially the Balboa, but everywhere uses US dollars; the only time I saw balboas were as the quarters i got as change for bus fare.) The airport employees directed me to walk all the way down the roadway out of the airport, telling me the bus stops were outside the airport. So I wandered.

It was then, as I was walking along the median of what looked almost like a highway, that I met Melanie.

The Beginning of the Trip

Midnight. LAX. Terminal 6.

Why is everyone speaking Chinese?

My flight should be leaving in an hour - and should start boarding at any moment.

I have an inkling that I'm at the wrong gate - everyone around me is Asian and I can't see any signs declaring that it's my flight at the gate. There aren't even that many people around here; the flights from the other gates (red-eyes to Boston and Atlanta) have departed.