Friday, April 17, 2009

bienvenidos a costa rica y nicaragua

Hey, guess what? I went on another trip this spring! Actually, I´m still technically on that trip. I thought about blogging at the very beginning of my excursion, and then realized that internet access 1) was minimal, and 2) cost a lot of money. So I never started. But right now I am staying at a fabulous hostel in Granada, Nicaragua, and there is amazingly fast FREE internet! Plus, I have been feeling inspired by the slew of interesting and crazy people we have met in the past few weeks, so I thought I would share a bit about the trip, the people, the food (not much to be said about this), and globetrotting in general. Read on if you so desire!

I guess I will start at the beginning. During a dark, dark day this winter, sitting in the Izaak Walton Inn bar Essex, MT , desparately trying to connect to the internet on my laptop, I realized that I needed to go somewhere again this spring. Nepal could not be beat (and I´m convinced it never will be), but the bug was itching below the surface to go somewhere. Anywhere. Preferably somewhere warm. I began to research flights. I began to ask friends.

It took about a week, maybe two tops, before purchasing my ticket to Costa Rica. I threw up the ideas of New Zealand and Australia, but to be honest, I would need a lot more money to travel those countries than I had in my wallet. Especially if I wanted to do them justice. So when I stumbled upon the $309 round-trip airfare from Chicago to San Jose, Costa Rica, I couldn´t pass it up. Seriously? $300? I couldn´t even get one way to Kalispell like that (which was proven later, when I flew home from Kalispell. It was meant to be, or so it appeared.

A month went by, and four friends had joined onto the trip. It was turning out to be quite the excursion! Though Em, Chels, and Amanda could only stay for about 10 days, Becca was to stay with me (in our non-working, globetrotting fashion) the whole time! Yiipeee! Unfortunately, time would prove otherwise, as Becca was forced (forced by the hands of the Yellow Fever Vaccination Police!) to stay 10 extra days in Bogota, Colombia, effectively missing two of the three girls entirely. That was a bummer. But she had a great time in Colombia (check out her blog at for photos, etc.) and I can´t wait to do South America someday. The gals and I traveled to Manual Antonio, where we sat on the beach, got our dangerously white skin effectively burned, chased monkeys (or rather, were chased by monkeys), and spent a lot of time sweating. We then went to Monteverde, where we ziplined and ate delicious Argentinian-inspired cuisine in a Quaker town, and learned how cheese is made (and sampled, and sampled). And then the ladies left. And then there were two of us.

There were two things that I learned the first two weeks in Costa Rica. 1) The country houses an exhorbitant amount of Americans and Canadians, and 2) This has created an economy where things cost just as much as they do in the US. This was bad for the wallet. I would have to be extremely frugal in the following 4 weeks, as I had spent the greater percentage of my savings on the first two weeks alone. What follows is how that worked, and how I began to actually enjoy the country, finances aside! (note- I tend to be paranoid about money. especially when I´m in another country and I don´t have any. And they don´t take credit cards. Anywhere.)

When Becca and I travel, we like to do things. Not just bum around from town to town (which actually, I could do quite readily), but actually be involved in something, even if for a short time, while we are in a place. Thus, before embarking on our journey, we had planned to volunteer at two separate locations, each for a week. Because Becca missed the first 10 days she was supposed to be in Rica, Chels and I met her in Alajuela, a smaller city right outside of San Jose. Alajuela failed to impress us upon arrival two weeks before, but this time around we we became enchanted by the festivites in the park on a Sunday; an orchestra concluding their set with the Star Wars theme, a clown with two hilarious dogs that did jumping tricks, and gymnasts (or maybe just teenagers throwing each other into the air on cement surfaces... not really sure). The full day of people-watching did not stop, as our hostel for the night was owned by one of the most adorable, charismatic Costa Ricans I have met- Eduardo Rodriguez. Not only was he an extremely attractive sculptor and race bike enthusiast, but he made us homemade ceviche (lemon-juice cooked fish with ginger and cilantro) and let us in on some of his Peruvian box wine. Seriously, I cannot describe this man. He was hilarious. As the night went on he described to us how he learned yoga from his dog, impersonated a pipe-organist, and tried on my new jacket, which apparently he found very stylish. Becca and I both left our new trendy winter coats with him until we return to Alajuela this Monday...and we´re hoping he hasn´t been wearing them out on the town. And if he has, I hope he has taken pictures. The next day Chelsea was to go back to Minnesota, but not before one final round of tanning and swimming! Because Alajuela is in the Central Valley and not near any beaches, we decided to hit up the "Ojo de Agua". The Eye of Water sounded pleasant enough, but in reality it was a huge, decent waterpark where Ticos (Costa Ricans) go to play. Because we were there pretty early in the morning we had it mostly to ourselves, with the exception of some sweet water aerobics classes. Hilarious.

The next day Becca and I were off to our first volunteer experience; Cabañas Siempre Verde in Mastatal. Now, as many things have gone on this trip, we had no idea where Mastatal really was. We thought we knew the general direction, but it is on no maps. No one had ever really heard of it. My Spanish was (and continues to be) atrocious. Becca´s is a little better, thank the good lord. We took a bus to Puriscal, where we were instructed to find the bus to Mastatal or Zapaton "kiddie corner from the carniceria across from the bigger Supermora". There are five different carnicerias within a block of the Supermora. Not joking. But of course, we found the correct waiting spot, and in about 3 bumpy hours we had arrived in Mastatal. It did exist! Cabañas is a family farm, with sustainable building projects, farming, and Spanish classes lead by 25 year old Marcos, who originally wanted to be an English teacher in town, but realized he didn´t like disciplining children. Instead, he started a Spanish school, built some sweet cabañas in the middle of the rainforest, and recently married a 19 year old American volunteer named Sarah. Their relationship is something that Becca and I pondered over the entire week. Sarah, recently graduated from high school at 17, traveled to Costa Rica to volunteer on a chocolate farm in Mastatal (we got chocolates there one day, DELICIOUS) and met Marcos. They pretty randomly decided to get married about 6 months ago, and were married in January. Neither Becca nor I could even imagine being in her shoes right now, as she went from Southern California living to a farm in the middle of nowhere Costa Rica. Crazy. Nonetheless, we loved the couple and their company and spent 7 beautiful days helping them out. Though we really only did about 2 hours of "farming" (the ground was too dry to do anything other than seeding), we did manage to make a decent rocking chair, one of Marcos´random projects that involve copying some piece of furniture that he likes and making his own version. Our final test of whether or not it could hold a human body proved successful! If it hadn´t, we probably would have started to question our purpose. The town was absolutely gorgeous, high in the mountains with hikes to bubbling rivers and waterfalls, hammocks overlooking vistas, and open-air cabañas to sleep in in the rainforest. Though the entire time I was horrified of poisonous snakes (the first night we walked down to the cabañas, we saw one coiled to attack, and from that point on I wore rubber boots to bed), it was probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my life next to (Nepal and Glacier, obviously).

We bid Mastatal adieu after our week on the farm, leaving at daybreak to catch the first of three buses to "the coast". Again, we really had no idea where we were going, but we were told by Marcos and Sarah that Esterillos was a really nice, sparsely populated area, with a cheap place to stay called Cabinas Mary. Sounded good! We were ready for some tan. Halfway through our third bus ride we stopped along the highway and the bus driver made severe eye contact via the rearview mirror, which we figured was indication that it was time to get off. After hauling our bags for about half an hour down the road, we arrived at Esterillos Este, an awesome lazy beach town. No one had heard of Cabinas Mary. Though one man tried to direct us, I had learned early on that when people in Costa Rica don´t know where something is, they don´t say they do not know. They make something up. This characteristic has proved a problem only a handful of times, this being one of them. After approximately 4 buckets of sweat had poured from our bodies, we found an english-speaking hotel owner who succinctly told us that Cabinas Mary was in Esterillos Oeste, and we were in Esterillos Este. Oeste was about a 2 hour walk. No thanks. So, we bunked up for the night at the most expensive, and definitely most awesome, place we had stayed yet. Right on the water with a deserted beach, we lounged for approximately the next 24 hours.

However, after that day of beaching, we had effectively run out of money, and Esterillos Este was not the kind of town with an ATM, so we headed to Jaco, a large surfer town about a half hour away. Semana Santa (Holy Week) was in full force, and the possibility of finding a bus to Jaco became nothing. We waited for a while, met a guy that said he had been walking for 4 hours without sight of a bus, and decided to hitchhike. Because it was only a short distance, on one road, we really weren´t that scared, and were immidiately picked up by a fellow American. Ahhh, Costa Rica. Dave moved to Rica about 20 years before, after getting sick of living in Southern California, and started a horsefarm/riding buisness, then moved on to contracting. He seemed to know everyone and everything about the Jaco area, and pointed out his sweet house on the cliffs (to which we wanted to ask-hey, can we stay with you?), but he also seemed slightly homophobic/racist/conservative/not into Barack Obama, so we were happy when he just dropped us at a hostel in Jaco.

Now, we were not necessarily excited for Jaco. We knew we would have to stay there for a couple of days because there were no buses running, but we were very much unflattered by the town. Then we met the Brits. We met Hana (who had just traveled to Brazil for three months, looked like Julie Andrews and reminded us of Hayley Kaimakliotis), Luke (who looked like your typical surfer "dude", but was much more clever than the stereotype) and Andrew (who looked like your typical Brit, and was traveling for 9 months around the world with Luke, with their surfboards, surfing the world) our first night at our hostel, and then moved with them to our second hostel for the following two nights. They were hilarious. They made me want to move to Britain for the sole fact that all Brits I have ever met have that great sarcastic sense of humor. So we spent our days in Jaco learning to surf, attempting to surf,and sunning by day, and uproariously laughing with our new friends by night. Our final night, because none of us had had nothing to drink for the past week, decided to have an exclusive "drinking game" party, introduced to us by Hana, that ended in stomach cramping laughter. We didn´t want to leave.

But alas, we all had plans to move on, to Monteverde and Nicaragua, so we said our goodbyes and told them that we would always be firends on the Facebook. I am convinced that this is why the Facebook was created. Where fellow travelers, who may have met only once, can reunite and stay for free anywhere in the world on these random acquaintance´s couches. Thus, the traveling will never effectively stop, unless the world runs out of oil.

The next week or so was spent ziplining in Monteverde (a town settled by Alabama Quakers fleeing persecution from the US in the 1950s, where they were forced by the government to enroll in the draft, and they didn´t want to), and then traveling to the Isle de Ometepe, an island of two volcanos in the middle of the Lago de Nicaragua. Right now we are in Granada, for the next two days, before we depart for San Jose to go home. Nicaragua has been absolutely beautiful, and someday I may put up pictures (like, when I get home), but I thought I would make a list, because I love lists, of some of the awesome travelers we have met in the past week. Maybe it is because only cool people travel, or maybe it is because only cool people travel to Nicaragua, but everyone we have met is just that. Really cool.

Just as our ferry to Ometepe was docking, we met this handsome German. Luckily we did, because we had no idea where we were going on the island, and, being German, he had a plan already. He says he could sense our lack of plan, and invited us to accompany him on a one hour taxi ride to the other, less populated side of the island where he had heard of a good hostel. So we did. It just so happens when you are traveling that you trust pretty much anyone you meet. This would never happen at home. But there is some sense of security in the fact that no one really has any money, everyone is just trying to see things, and no one has any weapons. No one I have met yet anyway. So we followed Lehnnert to this hippie-colony-cum-hostel on an organic farm at the base of a volcano, and hung out on the beaches for the next two days. Germans are funny. They are anally clean, always on time, and sometimes wear hilarious outfits, like a Hawaiian shirt and Jesus chains.

Sebastian and Caroline
We met these kids on the beach on the island, and they are probably the two coolest young folks I have ever met. I say young, but really they are like 21. About three months ago Caroline left Quebec with her bike, and decided to bike through Central America, starting with Mexico. She had some shady stories, let me tell you. But, she is still alive and kicking! Though she left her bike somewhere in El Salvador, because she wanted to travel down the coast with less baggage. Before leaving she found Sebastian on (definitely looking into this in the future), as he was going to El Salvador to surf around the same time as Caroline was passing through. They met up there, Seb taught Caroline to surf, and decided to travel south together. Sebastian grew up in Norway, was going to college in South Carolina, and had already traveled in his years since high school more than I have traveled in my entire life. He even hiked part of the Appalachian Trail. How cool is that? Hilarious part of this pair: they left everything but their bathing suits, passports, and wallets in El Salvador. Literally, all they had been wearing across two countries and two weeks were their bathing suits and flip flops. Caroline got a skirt from a girl she met.

Corey (from Ottowa) met Seb and Caroline at the border crossing into Nicaragua, and they had been hanging out ever since. Corey skipped up Volcan Conception (huge volcano on the island, we were lazy and did not even attempt) in 4 hours. Two days in a row he did this. He was hanging out with two childhood friends also, but they didn´t seem to be getting along that in, one was a bit of a beefcake meathead, and wasn´t really that cool. Like us, Corey is leaving soon via Costa Rica, sad. Evidently the last time he was in Central America, he took 5 machetes home as presents for friends. How do you get into the US with 5 machetes??

Simon and Just and random girl they met along the way (don´t remember her name)
We met these Dutch kids on the ferry back from Ometepe, when we decided to hoist ourselves on top of the boat, because there was no longer any room below. We were escorted to the bow, where we spent the next couple hours cruising in style, recalling my days on the Seadog. The boys were cousins, and had traveled through Central America and the Caribbean for three months, and were headed for South America... Just´s favorite so far was Cuba, which he flew into from Guatemala. Simon entertained us with some great sketchy situations he had been in so far, and hoped no more would ensue. We shared a cab ride with these folks later on, where we jammed to the rock songs of the early 90´s. Nicaraguan cab drivers have great musical taste, if you´re ever here, paying for cabs is totally worth it, if only for the tunes!.

This guy was hilarious. We met him along with two Swiss folks one night at our hippie hostel on Ometepe, where we got wood fired delicious pizza (the owners were Italian). Daniel is one of those guys that wears skirts, goes to Renaissance festivals, and talks a lot. You could sit with someone like him for hours. He was probably at least 35, had just divorced his wife of 8 years, and I guess was exploring the world. Not really sure. But what a character.

Well, that´s it for now, I´ve written a bunch, but obviously not everything. I wish I had written consistently the whole time... but alas, it wasn´t meant to be. Sometime I will travel somewhere with the sole purpose of writing and creating art. Someday.