Saturday, October 19, 2013

Recap: A Sailing Adventure

I'd been asked why I never mentioned here that I was going back to Panama to go sailing (as evidenced by this post and this one). My answer was that I'd mostly already told everyone about it in person, so I guess I didn't really feel the need. But now that I'm back home I can expand on things a bit more.
Those of you who first heard about this in person know that the original plan was to go back to Bocas del Toro to meet up with friends and sail from there to Columbia. It was an opportunity too good to pass up. Most of you also know by now that Columbia didn't happen. One thing after another piled up and it just became kind of an impossibility. Regardless, the two and a half weeks I spent on the boat were pretty awesome. Here, now, are some more pics and more details...
What was it like living on a boat? Pretty laid back, actually. The three of us tended to wake up early-ish, do some kind of activity - swimming, exercise, a light hike, surfing (I don't surf, but I can take surf pics!), snorkeling, diving - and then retreat back to the boat for naps/reading/dominoes. We'd collaborate on dinner, play more dominoes, and then go to bed early-ish.
Speaking of food on the boat: Damn, we ate good! We caught fish and lobster so we had fish tacos and Creole lobster Alfredo. Chorizo jambalaya, blackened chicken sandwiches, veggie stir fry, and stuffed pumpkin were just some of the dishes we had. Although I like to cook, I only cooked a couple of times because Matt (the captain) really likes to cook too and the captain always gets what he wants!
So what was my job on the boat, then? I'm not a sailor, have never sailed a day in my life, actually. Primarily I was the dishwasher, but I was also the general tidier and picker-upper. My most important job, however, was Chief Rum Drink Maker. Apparently, I'm good at it. :) Also, the last day on the boat before we docked it at the marina and headed back to the States was major work-on-the-boat day. All of the interior wood needed to be oiled, the bathroom and refrigerator needed to be cleaned, the floors had to be wiped down, laundry had to be done, water tanks had to be filled, and surf boards and other toys needed to be brought below deck. I didn't do ALL of that work, but I definitely did my fair share - it was my last chance to prove myself useful!
And how was it to be in such tight quarters with two boys? Not too bad, although I did tell them that never in my life have I been around so much spitting, burping, or farting haha. We teased the hell out of each other and basically never stopped giving someone a hard time. But really, we all got along and did our part to be useful when we needed to be and stay out of each other's way when that was needed more. I had to smile the night that all three of us were working in the tiny galley kitchen at the same time. Matt was chopping on one end, I was chopping in the middle, and Austin was stirring at the stove. Aw! How family-like and homey! :)
Didn't anything exciting happen? Hmmm, no, I suppose not by traditional definitions. I didn't bungee jump or see any famous monuments or experience a major "first." I saw a big-ass spotted manta ray while snorkeling one day and an up close pod of dolphins swimming alongside the boat (I've never seen them that close before), both of those things were pretty cool, but not exciting per se. No, it was just a time to relax and get away from it all.
Speaking of getting away from it all...the farthest we ever got was this general area. But make no mistake - we were definitely in the middle of nowhere. We were the only white people we saw for days and, with few exceptions, no one spoke any English. We were such an oddity, too. The locals would paddle out in their cayucos and just kind of watch us/look at the boat from a distance. Some of the braver ones would venture closer and initiate conversation. (One super brave kid named Wilbur actually climbed on the boat when we were below deck. I had to go up and tell him he wasn't allowed to do that!) The kids loved to run errands for us - when we tired of chatting, we'd send them off to get coconuts or oranges for us (we would pay them, of course). The adults would bring different kids over each day because everyone wanted a close look. Sometimes they'd try to sell us stuff we didn't need (homemade crafts and such) and sometimes they'd ask us for gifts. We were asked for books, cookies, sugar for coffee, clothing, water. No electricity in the village meant that they weren't used to cold water. They found it quite odd and always made a face when drinking it, but word soon got out and all of our visitors were asking for this strange drink.

I knew more Spanish than Matt and Austin, so I ended up being our translator. I admit that I surprised myself with just how much I knew. If we hadn't been in such a remote area, I don't know that I ever would have figured that out. Don't get me wrong, though - I definitely need a lot more practice!

So that's about it, my grand sailing to Columbia adventure that never was! I think the guys will make another attempt sometime early next year, but I don't know if I'll be included in those plans or not. 

What's next for me? The job search is in full swing. Beyond a trip back east for the holidays, I have no major travel plans. But you all know me - more travel is absolutely in my future!

Thursday, October 10, 2013


So this is pretty much how my days have been looking...

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Friday, September 13, 2013


In the last five years, I've spent 15 months traveling, so that means 15 of the last 60 months (which, somehow, sounds like more to me) were spent with passport in hand. That, of course, doesn't include long weekend jaunts here and there.
(Bocas del Toro)
The title of the post - 22 - comes from the number of countries I've visited on my own now. In case you're keeping track or need a refresher, they are: Mexico, Spain, Czech Republic, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. Besides the US, there are four others that I've visited with friends: Canada, Jamaica, Bahamas, and Scotland. I miscounted prior to this trip and for some reason thought my Central America travels would bring my country count up to 30. I was wrong, so it looks like I'll have to keep trying. :-)

My passport only has three blank pages in it now and it doesn't expire for four years, so I'll probably end up needing to have pages added before too long.
(Pink sunset at Bocas)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Water activities

I've officially been back on US soil for about 24 hours now, but because my last few days in Panama were spent on a sailboat I didn't have tons of internet connectivity to let you all know of my comings and goings. Here's how it played out...

Last Friday I met up with a couchsurfer who'd invited me to stay on his boat that he had docked at the Isla Carrenero marina in Bocas del Toro. There were three beautiful, lovely days of hanging out in the cockpit, taking the dinghy to go snorkeling, diving, and spearfishing for lobsters, with liberal amounts of Panama beer and rum cocktails taking up the time in between. I even went wakesurfing for the first time! The guys had much better runs than me, but they surf and I've never even come close to standing on a surf board before, so I consider it a success. :)
I had the opportunity to meet friends and be introduced to people I never would have met otherwise. We were all invited to dinner one night - the house was gorgeous and right on the water. The food was simple but very delicious (I was considering my third plate when I decided that might be a bit much!), and the company was great.
(My home was the boat second from the right)
It's strange because for at least a week I'd been really ready to head home. But here I was, days away from being back in the US for the first time in months, days away from seeing friends and family...and yet I was wishing I had another week to spend with my new found friends. Just such a good vibe, ya know?
I have a sister sitting here anxious to pull me away from the computer so we can go hang out and do sisterly things, so that's all for now. But I'll have a bigger update/change of plans in a few days, once I've worked out the details...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

I Miss, Part 2

As my 12 week Central America adventure begins to come to a close, I was inspired by my original "I Miss" post to share some of the things I'm looking forward to once I return home. This will be bullet-style since there's no rhyme or reason to this list of randomness. :-)

* Brunch - This will never change, I don't think. I love brunch and doing it the way we do it in the US is hard to come by when I travel.
* Lack of humidity - San Diego has me spoiled now. There have been a few days here and there when I was at a high altitude and had some periods of coolness, but for the most part it's been hot and humid. Me no likey.
* Good beer - Again, I have San Diego to thank for this. So many good microbrews and Central America has had me drinking "national" beers, their version of Bud or Miller Lite.
* 2-ply toilet paper - No commentary necessary! Along with this is the ability to throw used tp in the toilet instead of the trash can.
* My bed - No commentary needed here either. 
* Jeans and Converse - Just as a change up to what's currently in my pack.
* Mexican food - San Diego, what have you done to me?!
* Trivia nights - It's one of those new(ish) routines I had of the last 9-10 months and it will be fun to get back to it. We'll still lose lol, but at least I'll be hanging out with my buds.
* Phone connections - I've been lucky enough on this trip to have access to free texting and phone calls, but those connections depend on wifi and it will be nice to have a call without echoes and weird long pauses.
* Veggies! - Rice and beans are good and all, but damn do I miss good produce.
* Working out - Yep, I miss it. I'm ready to get back into the gym.
* Talking without thinking - It's tiring having to translate everything in your head before you say it. My Spanish just isn't good enough yet that I can talk without having to think it through first.
* Not needing to worry about bites - sand flies, mosquitoes, bed bugs, mosquitoes, no-seeums, spiders, mosquitoes, ants, mosquitoes. I'm WELL over the bug bites.
* Iced coffee - You just never know what you're gonna get when you order an iced coffee here and I just miss the real deal.

As usual, this list seems to be dominated by food and drink...what can I say? I like eating and drinking! This time one week from now I'll be back in SD and getting started reacquainting myself with all the things on this list that I've missed.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Spanish by the Sea - Bocas del Toro

For the past two days, I've stayed at Spanish by the Sea, a cute hostel slash Spanish school in the center of Bocas del Toro. Check out my full review here.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

Puerto Viejo, Part II

Whereas Friday and Saturday in PV were somewhat cloudy and overcast, Sunday was beautiful with clear blue skies. I was glad I'd chosen that day to rent a bike and make the 25km round-trip trek to Manzanillo to check out some of the area's beaches. I passed by Cocles, where I'd went the day before, and on to Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva, and Manzanillo. I chose Chiquita to be the place I actually hung out for awhile because it was the quietest (no good surf here) and (I thought) the prettiest. Plus, I was treated to howler monkeys in the treetops right above me. :-)
(My own little, well, big section of Chiquita)
Monday, today, also dawned clear and blue and I thought about renting a bike again to go to the Jaguar Rescue Center and then to a chocolate tour, but the hostel owner recommended against it for the chocolate tour portion because he said that people with machetes have robbed tourists on that particular portion of road. O-K. So, no bike. :-/ It didn't seem worth it to me to just rent the bike for a couple of hours and since the center was only a half-hour walk away, I decided to just walk. 

I should do as the guide at the JRC did and explain that the animals at the center at any given time are rescues, so they've been seized by people who were keeping them illegally as pets or they are injured/being rehabilitated in some way, so...I didn't actually see any jaguars. It's okay, though. I saw LOTS of super adorable baby sloths, cute owls, a baby caiman, a pretty eyelash viper, a deer that wouldn't stop licking my legs (uh, they were salty with sweat), and...we got to play with baby spider and howler monkeys. Squee! As always, below is just a sampling of pictures, more can be seen here.
After all that, I ended up not doing the chocolate tour. The "30 minute walk" was actually closer to 50 minutes (one way) and my shoes are from the devil so I ended up with the biggest blister known to man. Seriously. I'd show you a picture to prove it, but it's just that gross. Those shoes will be thrown away before I leave for Panama tomorrow. Instead, I realized chocolate wasn't going to be enough for the hunger I'd worked up anyway, so I hobbled to a place for a casado for lunch:
(Typical Tico meal consisting of meat - in this case, chicken - plantains, rice, salad, and beans, sometimes red but obviously black this time)
Tomorrow begins my last week before I head back to the States...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Puerto Viejo, Part I

A number of people got a random text from me the other day asking for their assistance in helping me decide what to do with my last remaining days in Costa Rica. There's quite a bit to do in the area, but it's not all cheap so I have to choose wisely. Yesterday, Saturday, I did a lot of walking and wandering, exploring the town and my options. I think I've officially decided what to do, but you'll have to check back in a day or two to see what that decision is. ;-) For now, I'll just fill you in on my wanderings from yesterday.

After popping into some tour places in town to check out their offerings and see how prices compare (hint: they're all in cahoots - prices are the same everywhere), I found myself walking along the road that hugs the beach. I had reached out to a couchsurfing host in PV and an offer had been extended to stay with him, but for various reasons I decided to just stay in a hostel instead. On my walk, however, I realized I was right near his house and I thought I'd see if he was in. He was and we chatted for about an hour before I left to let him get on with his day. Not before he told me about a trail through the woods that led to a pretty little beach and also lent me a book on Guatemala, however. (I'm racing through the book because I have to give it back before I leave on Tuesday, but that's not a problem because it's really interesting.)
It's kind of wild because the jungle-y forest goes right up to the beach here. I kept going back and forth between walking along the beach and walking through the woods, just to see how the scenery varied. Some sections of the beach have what I believe to be volcanic rock formations (seen in the middle right part of the photo above) that have tide pools in them. (Kathy, you would have loved it!) I saw things like this bright orange (empty) crab shell:
 And also this weird sea cucumber looking thing (you can't really tell from the picture, but it actually is in water:
Then, back on the trail, I saw big-ass spiders:
...and a dead baby sloth (linked instead of embedded in case you'd rather not have that image in your head). :-(

Once I got to the beach that had been my destination, I sat and alternately watched the surfers and read before grabbing a beer from a nearby bar. I got back to my hostel in time to beat the rain and cook dinner. Interestingly, I think that grocery shopping and cooking even a simple pasta dish may be a sign that I'm ready to go home. It's kind of hard to believe that two weeks from today I'll be back in San Diego... 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

More Costa Rican Wildlife

Just in case you didn't actually click on that link I included the other day, I thought you might be interested in seeing some more of the colorful wildlife I caught shots of.
(Toucan. Duh.)
(Green macaw. I think.)
(Blue butterfly. Please don't ask me to get more specific than that!)
(How it's even possible that I got this shot, I'll never know)
(Big-ass boa constrictor)
(Tiniest frog ever. Oh my god, SO cute.)
(Black and green poison dart frog)
So there ya go. If these caught your eye and now you really do want to go check out the others, here's the link again.

Friday, August 30, 2013


Are you seeing this? Costa Rican money has monkeys on it. And sloths. And sharks.
If that's not the greatest thing ever, well then I just don't know what is. And yes, you're looking at 18 million colónes. Nope, I'm not rich - that's about $36.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Volcano, Coffee, Wildlife, and Waterfalls

I mentioned the other day that I had a lot of activity planned for today and boy did I ever. I don't think I've had as much packed into one day since Semuc Champey. Today's undertaking was completely different from that, but it was still crazy fun and interesting. Let's begin, shall we?
That's a picture of coffee cherries. They are ripe when they turn red, so these clearly aren't ready for the picking yet, but luckily harvest season doesn't begin until November. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. The day began at Doka Coffee Estate, where we got a full tour of the coffee growing, harvesting, and roasting process. Having been to both whisky distilleries and wineries in the past, it was interesting seeing the ways in which they are all similar.

Next up was Parque Nacional Volcán Poás. The main crater, seen below, has a lake of milky blue water with sulfurous fumes wafting all around (yum!). A second, now extinct crater is a lake filled with acid rain water where very few organisms can grow and thrive. The park had a couple of pretty easy, paved trails to get to these two craters with unobtrusive signage along the way, explaining things about the area's foliage or wildlife. One sign cracked me up. It was an "in case of volcanic activity" sign that suggested such things as going back to the visitor center if you feel bad or can't breath, and not staying for a long time if you have asthma or hypertension. Uh...yeah?! What about keeping calm and evacuating quickly, that type of thing? :-) (Don't worry; there were signs that had those warnings, too.) According to our guide, we were very lucky because the volcano was completely clear - sometimes clouds and fog roll in super quickly and when that happens you can't see anything.
Our last stop of the day was La Paz Waterfall Gardens and, to be honest, I thought this would be the least interesting part of the day. My guidebook described the gardens as a "series of self-guided riverside trails linking five waterfalls" which also had a "butterfly observatory, aviary, trout lake, frog exhibit, and serpentarium." My thought was, meh. I've seen waterfalls, butterflys are boring, and trout? Really? 
I'm actually happy to say that I couldn't have been more wrong. That toucan up there wasn't the first one I'd seen (although it was the first chestnut-billed one), but it was certainly the first I'd seen up close and personal. (Can you tell it's freaking me out just a little bit?) The butterflies were pretty (still boring, though. Ha!), I wanted to pet the snakes, and the frogs were AWESOME. There were even jungle cats - cougars and ocelots - that my guidebook hadn't mentioned. (None of the animals were removed from the wild, FYI. They were all rescues, as most had been kept as pets illegally, at least according to our guide.) Even the waterfall was pretty cool because our guide showed us this neat optical illusion. From a viewpoint opposite the waterfall, we stared at the middle of the falls for 10 seconds and then looked to the right of them totally looked like the wall of rock was moving up as the water was flowing down. Neat-o. There are TONS more pictures, if you're interested.

It was also a really good food day, too. :-) Breakfast at Doka was a traditional gallo pinto, huevos rancheros, fruit, and coffee, but it was probably the tastiest gallo pinto I'd had in awhile. Lunch was buffet-style at La Paz and included things like potato and beef hash, frijoles molidos (mashed beans), roasted chicken, beet and potato salad, pasta, pizza, rice pudding, carrots and green beans, and a salad bar, plus other stuff I'm probably forgetting. For dinner this evening I was already back at my hostel, but I walked around the corner to a cevicheria and had a big-ass portion of ceviche that was quite good. It wasn't as good as what I had in Belize, but still pretty good.

Like I said, it was a long day. I had so much fun!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I hadn't really intended to spend any time in Costa Rica's capital, San José, and then I ended up spending two nights there. Well, not spending any time in any of the Central American capitals was the plan all along and then I realized I was going to spend one night in SJ anyway, just as a stopping point before moving on to my next location, Alajuela. But then it looked like literally all of the accommodations in Alajuela were booked for Monday night and I did not want to get there and not have a place to stay. So, two nights in SJ.

And the point of telling all of that? Oh, I don't know. Guess I just wanted to give a reason to explain how two days kind of disappeared with no real activity on my part. 

Moving on...I'm in Alajuela now! It was probably my easiest city-to-city travel thus far - I walked one block, turned right, walked 30 meters, and the exact bus I needed pulled up as I got to the bus stop. Nice! Finding my way to my hostel in (yet another) city with no street signage, in a place where directions are given as distances from landmarks? That's another story, but oh well. I did eventually find it and was anxious to toss my stuff down and go on a search for food. That's when I had a scare that my cash had been stolen out of my backpack. The scare lasted most of the day, actually, until I found it just before dinnertime. I still have no idea what happened as the money was in a pocket where I never would have put it, one which was essentially on the outside of my pack. Since everything seems to have turned out ok, keeping a better eye on my valuables is a good lesson to be reminded of.

After lunch, I had a couple of hours to wander/get lost and explore. I only had a couple of hours and not the whole afternoon because my weather report was predicting rain at 2pm. It was pretty dead-on. It was sprinkling as I reentered my hostel and the sidewalk was completely flooded because of the storms just a short while later. In any case, I got to see Central Park and the cathedral (pictured below), the National Theater, and a couple of other smaller parks, plus a stop at the post office.
(Everything was kind of dark and overcast, so I loved the pop of red back there)
Tomorrow I have a full day of activity to make up for all of the inactivity of the last couple of days, but more on that later...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

"Adventures" To and In La Fortuna

(Most modern church I'd see in all of Central America)
My first stop in Costa Rica was Libería and it was really nothing more than that - a stop. My only full day there was spent contemplating whether a trip to the peninsula for some beach time was worth it (decision: nope) and whether I should have another cold beer (decision: of course). The only picture I took the entire time is featured above. Most of the churches and cathedrals I've seen in Central America up until this point had been very Spanish colonial in style, so this one really stood out.

The first adventure with La Fortuna came with getting there. It seemed like it should be fairly straightforward...and it would have been...had I been aware that there are other places in the area also called La Fortuna. Oops, went to the wrong one. Although it was definitely out of the way, it wasn't such a big deal. I had to take three buses to get back on track...only to find out that the last bus I needed had left a few hours earlier. Oops again. So I was stuck in Tilaran, but the first bus the next morning left at 7am so no sense in crying over spilled milk, right? Besides, I never would've gotten this awesome picture of a very blue bathroom, complete with shampoo in little to-go cups if I hadn't stayed the night in Tilaran:
(Shampoo matches the paint. And the water cup. And the toilet.)
On Saturday, the trip to La Fortuna was actually pretty easy (as easy as it should have been if I'd done it right the first time around, ha!) and I was here by just after 9am. I quickly got a lay of the land, got checked in and showered, had breakfast, and got signed up for a tour from 2-8pm.

The tour consisted of transportation to and from Arenal Volcano, time at the volcano's observatory lodge, a short nature hike to learn about the area's plants and animals, a longer hike to a waterfall including a couple of long, hanging bridges, a small museum of the volcano's history, and - what I think everyone was really looking forward to - a trip to natural hot springs in the area.

The volcano's most recent eruption was in 1968 and it spewed lava every day for more than 40 years after that. I guess I should've come to Costa Rica a couple of years ago! I didn't see any lava, but it was still pretty cool seeing the two faces of the volcano - the green face where everything is growing and pretty, and the black face that's been covered in ash and lava for the last few decades.

At the beginning of the day, things were looking like this:
(View from my accommodations. That's a fire station in the foreground.)
 But a few hours later, at about the time we were fully entrenched in our hike, it looked like this:
(Rain starting to come in)
Yep, right around the time we got to the waterfall portion of the tour, the rain started coming down. It was a regular downpour and there wasn't a whole lot we could do about it, so in pretty short order we were soaked to the bone. It hadn't been too hot when we started and it didn't take long for us to be cold and fairly miserable. Most of us were keeping our spirits up, though, because there's not really much you can do when it comes to the weather (and weather in rainforest jungles in the rainy season, specifically). 

And, of course, as soon as we were back to the observatory and the hike was over, the rain stopped. But the timing was perfect because it was about the time when a family of sloths decided to make their move. Oh my god, all I really wanted during that tour was to see a sloth and I saw not one, but three! Including a baby! It was awesome. I don't have pictures - didn't even try because I knew with the lighting and the angle of the shot it wouldn't come out right, and I was more interested in actually seeing the sloths. I also didn't get pictures of toucans, howler monkeys, and a red-eyed tree frog for the same reasons. The tree frog was right up close, actually, and was so freaking cute and awesome.

Finally, it was time for the hot springs that we'd all been waiting for, especially now that we were cold and wet from the rain. We stripped down to our bathing suits and walked down a rocky path, reaching a large, flat rock that had water gushing over it to form a small waterfall. We were instructed to sit down and kind of slide jump into the pool below. We'd been told that these waters used to be cold and then they were boiling (enough to cook a chicken!) after the 1968 eruption, but now they are a comfortable 100 degrees. If you sat or kneeled in the pool, the water was up to your neck. Once we were all situated, the guides started handing out beverages - the national liquor guaro, made from sugar cane, mixed with Fresca. Then they came around with this lava mud that they spread on our faces to make masks. Even the guys were lining up for their spa treatments! It really was like a spa, too, because then I positioned myself under the waterfall and the water beating onto my neck, shoulders, and back was a really great massage. Adult beverage, mud mask, and thermal waters massage - quite the spa day, one that I hadn't even anticipated! There was also a cool little cavern similar to the one I saw at Semuc Champey. When our guide and two British girls broke out into song in that enclosed, echo-y space, I had to laugh.

It was a long day, one that got a little rough in the middle, but it ended on a really great note.