Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A better state of mind

So I´m on my last proper day here in Costa Rica, and Im pleased to say Ive basically found my way out of the funk and I may even have grown some balls.

Becca went home on Monday, so I´m on my own now but doing fine. After a nice long bus ride to Monteverde, I easily found my hostel where I was invited out to dinner with two other tourists. The next morning I woke up early to do a zipline canopy tour that ended up including a tarzan swing and a repel and a small scorpion bite. I must admit that the hardest part for me was probably the hiking between zip lines. That´s embarrassing. Anyhow, I learned about the macro function on my camara thanks to a soft spoken young botanist in an orchid garden and toured Don Juan´s Coffee Finca where I learned all about the infamous ox carts and of course, coffee production. I spent some leisurely hours sipping mocha and doing crossword puzzles and talked politics and traveling with a Tex-Mexican, a Brit, a Dane, and some Canadians. Holding true to my heritage in the past few days I managed to get lost trying to find a Quaker meeting house in Monteverde AND a bank in San Jose that accepts Mastercard (harder than one might imagine) AND a shop to buy an alarm clock. Despite a serious lack of street signage in either city I found my way home each time (never did find the Quaker meeting, though).

I also discovered a bit too late that I have extended family here in Costa Rica who offered their hospitality. Sad day that I´m missing that! Perhaps another trip with a little more forethought.

I´ve recently heard from numerous people that Costa Rica isn´t their favorite Latin or South American country. No one doubts that´s it´s beautiful and politically interesting- no military- the money is instead invested in the environment and education- but just that people seem to prefer Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cuba, or in my case, Peru. Part of Cost Rica´s appeal to me was that it was one of the safest countries in Latin America. However, the tradeoff is that its much more geared to tourists looking for a beach/jungle vacation rather than a cultural experience. Also, its not as cheap as I was expecting, which is good for Costa Rica but bad for my bank account. Anyhow, I guess the conclusion I´ve come to is that maybe Costa Rica isn´t my favorite place ever, but it´s not terrible either. I wish my first experiences here had been different and that I´d come here with a couple of back up plans, but as it is I´m going home more motivated to get my life in order and all of that.

I´m also very excited because before coming to Chicago I´m doing a stopover on the east coast. This Thursday I´m flying to D.C. where I´m going to spend Halloween with Nena. Then I have plans to see Claire, some family, Alex and Katie before traveling to Boston to visit Allie and a city I´ve always wanted to see more of. As a bonus, Lara is going to be in Boston for a BC football game (word that the Notre Dame rivalry is a big deal) so I´m hoping to see her, too, and have my first college tal├žilgating experience. (Although Lara, if you happen to read this, no pressure!!!)

In conclusion, sometimes traveling is hard. Sometimes traveling with others is harder. I reaffirmed my love for the U.S.of A. with all of its (red) flaws and that´s enough for me.

My country tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing!

Land of the Pilgrim´s pride
Land where my fathers cied
From every mountain high

Let freedom ring!

(lyrics to this, as in all other songs I ¨know,¨ are my best estimate)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More on Rainsong.

Ok. So more details on why this trip is nothing like i imagined.

The farm itself.
Not so much a sanctuary reforestation project. Instead, imagine an obese Texan woman in the somewhat advanced stages of syphillis carrying a baby monkey with maggots around on one hip while ordering others around with a cigarette pointer. imagine caged birds who she says are there bc they can{t fly escaping during feeding. imagine spoon feeding said birds egg and papaya and banana-which cannot touch and a 3-limbed monkey peeing and biting you because its so sick of being in its tiny cage with no company and getting quilled by porcupines because even though they{re supposed to be friendly, they├▒re wild animals and thats what happens. Imagine hiking through mud to reach the supposed farm part and instead finding a personal garden where mulch is actually wet twigs, strangler figs are ripped out to make room for North American ginger, and volunteers are yelled at for planting two yellow bushes next to each other, when they should alternate with the pink. Imagine being sent home at 11 each morning because of rain outs only to sit in a mildewy guest house while howlers, which start out fun to watch, quickly become annoying as they howl and throw coconuts at teh corrugated tin roof as you try to sleep.


Things since then have been rocky. we had a great weekend in Montezumam, but spirits have fallen. So much to say, but I don{t feel like going over it now. Becca is going home tomorrow. My plans are still uncertain. I{ll be in chicago for thanksgiving, though.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oh fools. So much. We arrived in Alejuela with no real problems. Figured out the cab system and found our hostel with the help of the driver. Seeing as Costa Rica doesn´t use addresses, just ¨150 meters from the grocery store¨type stuff, it was tricky. Anyhow, the nicest man greeted us, showed us our room, and we prepared for bed. Then the power went out. NBD. It really wasn´t. The next day we hung out in Alejuela for a bit before catching a cab to San Jose. Despite many warnings about how dangerous that city is, and how confusing the bus terminal is, we figured it all out without too much hassle. Much easier than Termini in Italy! We boarded a direct bus to Montezuma, the beach town closest to the farm, and got ready to travel. Well, about 11 hours later we arrived after 2 transfers and a ferry. Most indirect direct busride of my life. We wandered into town at about 11pm, burdened with baggage. We wandered around a bit, concerned about finding a room, but a man with a 40 arrived and showed us to some cabinas. We dropped our stuff and then headed to the bar. Woke up the next morning covered in bites from bedbugs. Decided to change rooms. Found a new place, hit the beach. The next day we were off to Cabuya! We arrived at the guesthouse we´d arranged to stay out with the help of a couple of Rainsong volunteers on the bus with us. It´s pretyt unmarked, and you enter through their kitchen, so that was confusing. Also, the woman we´d been talking to is apparently in Holland, so we were left to figure things out with Rosaura, her Spanish speaking mother. Great. It was fine. The next morning we arrived at the farm. Mary greeted us, mumu bedecked and cigarette in hand. She wanted to know why we were late. We met a few volunteers and were then thrown in with the porcupines while Mary yelled at a couple of volunteers who were trying to leave early. Becca and uncomfortably handled the animals as Anica and James let us in on the gossip. Awkward. We decided to return the next day, just to give it a try and see what would happen. Brian, another vulunteer who showed up at our hostel, joined us. She brought us to the farm, which is really just her personal garden. We uprooted indigenous plants to do some decorative landscaping. It was ridiculous. Basically, in a week we learned that Mary is a crazy lady with a whole bunch of pets and some interesting ideas about karma and antibiotics. It rained and rained and rained and rained. We hiked a waterfall and were sucked into the mud. We smelled like anteaters. We ate $2 veggie sandwiches and hung out with the volunteers. We decided to leave. So yesterday we took off after Mary told the others that we were trying to sneak out on our bill and that she would stop us at the airport. We went to Montezuma, as did 4 of our other friends from the sanctuary. We´re currently in contact with a couple of other farms and have plans to be somewhere new by the end of the week with 2 of the other volunteers from Rainsong. For now, we´re enjoying the Pacific coast in Sta. Teresa and our freshly cleaned clothes. More to come. Time is $.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My bags are packed, I'm ready to go.

We leave in the morning. I'm kind of terrified. Here's where we're going: http://www.rainsongsanctuary.com/

Crossing my fingers that this place is cool bc we don't really have an alternate plan. Great.

Write to me!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Derpy days

A bit of fast forwarding, as it just keeps going and we ge just a bit derpier.

Missoula: Johnny Carino's massive Bellini smoothies, camping essentially in people's backyards, Cracker Barrell morning. Numerous photos of Cracker Barrell, and epic descriptions of dumplings. Early morning departure in an effort to reach Portland by nightfall.

Three hours in the car later, we realize we're heading towards Salt Lake City. NOT the plan. Discover the GPS is taking us to Portland, CO as opposed to OR. Reroute. Reroute. Many hours of rolling hills later we enter Idaho, land of more rolling hills. Due to our massive detour, realize we are headed to Boise, home of the most Western Cracker Barrell north of the Mason Dixie line. Decide to enjoy another fine dining experience. Once again enjoy the marvelous sides. Feel just a little more embarrassed about our life choices.

On the road again. Car seems to be pulling and making horrible noises when we turn. Night has fallen. All is dark. There appear to be pigs on the side of the road although this seems unlikely. Cannot discern scenery. Only lights are from glittering factory. We must assume we've reached the North Pole and are following the Polar Express. We stop in Pendelton so as to fix our car.

Find a tiny bed and breakfast hotel that's still open. Are told that it will be impossible to find an auto shop and even tomorrow they'll all be closed because, according to the concierge, Pendelton is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with nothing to offer. Feelings of defeat.

Wake up. Enjoy the continental breakfast. Learn from the AM concierge that there IS in fact an auto shop that opens at 9. Watch the Spanish version of Dora the Explorer. Acknowledge that I am woefully unprepared to converse even at child level. Pull into the auto shop. They have diagnosed the problem even before we are out of the vehicle. Three hours, $250, and another seething review of Pendelton later and we are in possession of a new CV joint, Babysitter's Club Road Trip Super Special, and some confusion as to why these people hate Pendelton so much when it has so much to offer in the range of books and diners and car parts. Our standards for enteratinment have clearly decreased.

Drive on drive on. No more pulling or horrible noises. Family diners are all filled with ridiculous books on subjects such as "How to Deal with Stupid People" and "How to Deal with Ornery People." Perhaps a local author? Unfortunately, I am no bettr able to deal with stupid or ornery people after reading, and I feel secure that this is because the author is both stupid and ornery.

Reach Portland mid-afternoon after our first and only meal at McDonalds and head straight to the home of Michael Mannheimer. Pick up Mann-friend Nick Johnson and head to the coast. Reach Cannon Beach at dusk and begin the hike to the campsite. 1.5 miles up hill carrying tents and food and clothes is sweaty work but the rewards are fantastic: Carly, Katy, and Bree. Mid-West meets West. Campfire flames dance. Marshmallows roast. All is well on the Western front. Carly, Katy, and Bre all head to bed earl in their gigantic mansion tent. The rest of us stay up a while longer before heading to bed in my tiny shack tent. We sleep restlessly, hair damp with PBR, elbows in stomachs and feel atangle, until about 2am, when we are awoken by Nick SCREAMING. I scream, too, as he tells us that someone is outside trying to get us. Soon we realize, however, that noone is outside and Nick is suffering from sleep paralysis/a nightmare. We calm down, mostly (Nick is concerned by the bad vibes from the campsite...) and relax by thinking about egg sandwiches, starship escapes, and the future of our friend's relationship. The sun rises, as do we. We say our goodbyes, feast on peanut butter and Cheerios, and head inland.

Back in Portland we split, and Becca and I are bewildered by city life. So many choices and odd people making specific, vegan demands while wearing real clothes. It's hardly what we're used to at this point. I love Portland, but after so long in the middle of nowhere, it feels fuzzy and wrong. We skip town and head towards the majestic redwoods.

Such big trees. So many mysteries, none so great as to why Mimi thinks the mystery spot is so badass. The rest of the forest is pretty tight, and does not cost $14. So we skip the carvings and enjoy the rest, including Lady Bird Johnson's dedicated nursery. The trees are tall. We feel small. It's true. Onwards.

We camp just outside the parks and then head to Humboldt. Good times with Mimi. Remember being a freshman. See the hippies. Eat sushi. Watch a movie. Finally stay in a Kozy Kabin at the KOA. Very cute and so nicely heated. It's the little things...

Depart and hit the road for the last time. Stop at Confusion Hill and Bigfoot's spot. Enter a gravity house where it's impossible to stand without hand help and water flows upwards. So warpy!

Reach Berkeley in time for a delicios home cooked dinner.

Since then we've been loafing about, doing laundry, etc. We did head to Calistoga, right by Napa, for a spa day. They made me get naked in front of an attendent and another spa goer, which I was not anticipating. Def. didn't do sports growing up, so kind of uncomfortable, but oh well. Ate a Cobb salad, my lunch of choice for relaxing, and swam in the naturally heated giant pool. Not too shabby.

Last night we booked a hostel for san Jose, so we have a place to stay near the airport when we arrive. We leave so soon! So many more errands to tackle.

Happy birthday Dad and Kate!!!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Still in Berkeley. Just got back from a delish meal at Fellini's for Jackie's bday. Earlier today I was treated to a delish meal of chicken and waffles at Brown Sugar. I love fried chicken always and forever! Last night we went to the Asian art museum for an exhibit on Japanese tattooing. They had tattoo artists doing tattoos live on the main floor. So weird. It made me want another tattoo. But not a Japanese one. Anyhow, where I left off...
So South Dakota was something else. After our rough night out we finally made it to the Badlands, the same place where the Babysitter's Club van broke down. We made it out trauma free. We saw some super cute prairie dogs (which, despite Tyson's claims otherwise, were here BEFORE horses) and some lovely views, did a couple of mini hikes and enjoyed our time outside of the car.
After the Badlands we went to Mount Rushmore! I'd heard it was "inspiring" and while I wouldn't go that far, it was definitely an interesting stop. It was both bigger and smaller than I anticipated, but the museum attached brought a patriotic tear to my eye. Or something like it...
Next stop was an unanticipated treat. A woman at Wall Drug told us we HAD to see Devil's Tower in Wyoming, so we decided to heed the kind stranger's advice. We arrived after dark. The roads were super windy and completely lined with deer and antelope. Very wild. We grabbed some dinner at a local bar where I ate unlimited tacos for $7 and Becca had a faux Caesar salad. We slept at a KOA and in the morning we were super glad we waited. Devil's Tower, featured prominently in Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, is huge and comes out of nowhere. We hiked a bit and checked out the Native American prayer bundles, adn kept on keeping on.
We stopped in Cody to eat at Irma's, Buffalo Bill's restaurant, caught a gun fight, and then continued on to Yellowstown. Once again we arrived after dark, but that actually allowed us to see more animals than we would have otherwise. As we drove through the park-- VERY cautiosly-- we nearly ran into multiple elk, a buffalo, and two lone wolves. The elk scared the shit out of me, as they were in the middle of the rode, and as many signs warned, many people are gored by elk every year! Yikes! Luckily, we made it through the park gore-free and checked into a hotel. The next day we drove through the park and saw all the sights-- Old Faithful, animals, elk exactly where I saw them 13 years ago, a beautiful lake, etc. It really is a beautiful place, which wasn't exactly a shock, but a nice non-disappointment.
Our next stop is something of an embarrassment. Maybe we went way out of the way to Missoula, Montana with the sole intent of getting in one last Cracker Barrel before all the Cracker Barrel's ran out.
Ok. I'm done for now. Have to watch P.S. I love you and then go out. More later.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Actually IN hippieville

So we're currently in Eureka, CA, just one stop away from Berkeley, and there are hippies EVERYWHERE. Not just casual, into the environment, loose pants hippies, but full blown, flute blowing, drum circling, curb sitting dirty hippies. It's pretty intense. We're visiting Becca's sister at Humboldt State, and it is something else, and just about the opposite of everything we've seen so far. Because I can say for certain now that I have seen America and it is a scary place.

So after Nashville (thanks again to LBo for hosting us. Glad I finally got my coleslaw from the worst waitress of all time) we went to Chicago. Basically just switched my stuff out and then we headed to Iowa. We went to family weekend at Grinnell where I once again remembered why it was dumb to graduate, saw the family, developed a giant fear of lymphatic cancer, and then moved on once again to the Field of Dreams.

Becca and I both enjoyed emerging from the corn and sitting on the bleachers. I got a pretty sweet necklace there, too. I had to commemorate my near brush with Kevin Costner. Little did I know it would be the first of several...

After the field we continued driving west. I honestly forget some of what came in between, but we ended up in Minnesota at the world's best truckstop and restaurant, Trails. I ate the best broasted chicken (pressure cooked in oil. so so good) and Becca found a super awesome $5 sweatshirt. We spent the night in a lovely KOA before continuing on to visit the Spam Museum where I tried Spam for the first time (so vile I couldn't swallow) and then we went to what can only be described as the weirdest place in the world: South Dakota.

Honestly, I think we both would have been happy spending a couple weeks in this wacky place. There was so much to see and it really felt like a sociological study. When Europeans think of America, they have to be thinking of South Dakota. Still, it was the most foreign place I've ever been. Our first stop there was Buffalo Ridge. The sign promised a live buffalo herd, but it was just 2 sad buffalos behind a wire fence. We went inside, hoping for a snack. Instead we encoutered the scariest man ever. Upon entering he asked where we were from. We answered, and asked about him. Apparently, he was from Las Vegas but moved there to get away from all those damn illegal immingrants. To his dismay, they followed him. Now he warned us not to vote for that damn Barack Obama. "That Barack Obama wants to make us all learn Spanish!" Oh no! The horror! A nation of bilinguists able to communicate with our neighbors!!! We left with a pretty good idea of what was to come.

Our next stop was the Corn Palace in Mitchell. The Palace was reccommended to us by the lady at the Spam Museum, so we held high hopes. I guess she hadn't seen much outside of Spam, because it ws pretty weak. It's this big building that an artist from Mitchell decorates every year with corn. There are corn murals which are pretty cool, but I was expecting a building constructed from corn. Thus, a disappointment. No worries though. South Dakota had more in store.

Becca and I intended to make it all the way to the Badlands and camp there. However, it started to storm just as we were approaching. Being from CA, Becca had never seen so much lighting in her life. I had, but it rivaled some of the big storms back home. We decided it might be better to sleep indoors. So we went to Wall, home of Wall Drug Store and also the Cactus Lounge.

After checking into a hotel, we decided to get dinner at the Cactus Lounge. One bad sald bar later, we were ready for a drink. So we headed to the other side of the wall where the full bar was waiting for us. We were served by Chris, a bald Bears fan in his 40s wearing a Sturgis Motorcycle Rally denim tank top and super tight jeans. We soon met Calvin, a 36 yr old dry wallist in an American Flag tank top and track pants, Tyson, a fat guy with a love of hunting and a misguided knowledgte of history, and Jake, an angry blad guy with bad facial hair and a deep running hatred of Democrats. These were our new best friends. We played dice, chatted about their trip to Wyoming to go hunting, our crazy liberal ways, Calvin's dream to open a restaurant, etc. We tried to laugh at their somewhat offensive jokes. We danced. Then, at some point, my line was crossed. Actually, it was when the jokes went from kind of sexist to hating on fags and the punchlines were about killing black people. I had to leave. A little more educated about America and a little dismayed.

Anyhow, there's much more to report but a porch swing and a shower are calling my name. More later, from Berkeley.