I’m in Love with Costa Rica

I have been to Costa Rica more times than any other country in the world. Why? Because I love Costa Rica! I was just on the border in Panama and had to stop in Costa Rica and explore Puerto Viejo. This is a fantastic little beach and surfer town and it was a fantastic way to end my trip.

Let me start by saying that I am not a surfer. I have been on a board and surfed a few times but would never consider myself a surfer. The hostel has a surf outing everyday where they give you a board and drive you to a surf spot. We were dropped off and told to have fun! The waves were not that big but they were big enough to give me a hard time so I sort of stuck to riding the white water.

I don’t know about you but I think sloth’s are adorable and I wanted to take them all home! This little guy was on the side of the road just trying to cross the street. He was totally lost! Fun fact, a sloth only comes out of a tree about once a week to use the restroom. I must have spotted this guy just after his weekly constitutional. A local finally stopped and grabbed him and put him back in a tree. I would have not been mad if he decided to attach to my back and come home with me! If you want to learn more about sloths I suggest watching the new season of Planet Earth on Netflix.

This sloth was just enjoying eating the fruit out of the tree and I honestly sat and watched him for like 30 minutes. He was just so happy in the tree!

Everywhere in Costa Rica you will hear people say Pura Vida. It is really a way of life and can be used as “hello” or “goodbye” or just “what’s up?” It started raining while I was on a walk and I thought it was the best time to stop and buy a hat and keep my head warm. Plus I absolutely love the idea behind the saying.

The rain. The rain. The rain. There is rain and then there is rain in Costa Rica or anywhere tropical. It can be a beautiful and sunny day and out of nowhere an incredible amount of rain dumps from the sky. Usually the rain only lasts about 20-30 minutes and you can move on with your day. This was not the case on this day and I was stuck at Tasty Waves for a few hours eating delicious tacos and drinking some beers.

Signage in the bathroom

Costa Rica has so much to offer and I only touched on a tiny part of you but you can go zip lining, white water rafting, hike a volcano, trek through the rainforest, rescue sea turtles and so so so much more! This absolutely will not be my last trip to this country!

A Quick Stop in Medellin

Just a quick flight from Cartagena to Medellin and we were in an entirely different climate and different part of the country. We had 1.5 days to explore Medellin which was not nearly enough! We got to our hotel and we were able to have an early check in which is always nice. We dropped off our stuff and walked around the neighborhood to try to figure out what was around. It turns out it was hot and we didn’t really know where we were so back to the hotel we went for some relaxation and napping. The adventure was going to have to wait until the next day!

I decided to take the 4 hour free walking tour from Real City Tours and I am glad I did! Our guide was called Monsa and she was a super enthusiastic Paisa with personal stories to share at every stop.

The history of Medellin starts well before the written history but since there are no records, people don’t know much about it. Because of the location of Medellin, the people were cut off from the rest of Colombia until the train tracks opened up. Basically they are a mix of the Basque and Jewish people that all came together and were “discovered’ by Christopher Columbus and that is how you get the Paisa people from Medellin.

Unfortunately many people associate Medellin with Pablo Escobar or Narcos and we think that what we see on Narcos is the truth. Medellin is very conflicted with Escobar and find that it is a generational thing for the feelings towards Escobar. The younger generation looks up to him while the generation that lived through his reign, think he is absolutely awful. Then there are those who are in between about their feelings for him because even though he murdered lots of people, he built houses and gave back to the community. So how many houses allow you to atone for one murder?

Anyhow, Medellin was once the most dangerous city in the world and they have worked very hard to clean up and change their image. Although the government was in charge, Escobar really ran the city and you either took his bribe or you were killed.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton and President Andres Pastrana signed a bill called Plan Colombia. Basically this was foreign aid we were giving to Colombia to help clean up the cartels and the left-wing insurgent groups that were reigning over Medellin. While this seemed like a great idea, the government was paying people per insurgent killed and some of the less honest people were murdering innocent people and dressing them in insurgent clothing to collect the money. Nothing is ever a perfect system.

While the cartels have moved out of the city and Medellin is working to turn once dangerous areas into beautiful parks and hangouts, there is still a lot to be done!

For example, this church is a common hangout for prostitutes. There are a lot of hotels around the area that are rented by the hour and after the men have sinned, they come to church and confess and all is forgiven. You have to love how forgiving religion can be. 😀

<<
at are these large out of proportion statues? Artist Fernando Botero donated these and many more to Medellin in an effort to show how Medellin is changing. It is said that each statue is worth $2.2 million USD. You can tell where people like to touch the statues because of the difference in color. Apparently, no one ever actually grows up!

<<
e tour was over but a few of us were not ready to leave. Out guide took us to a little local bar and we all chatted and listened to music being played from vinyl and enjoyed a few beers. It was a great end to a very long day of history.

How I Spent Christmas 2017

There tends to be a lot of pressure that happens around the holidays to attend every party and try to see all one’s friends and family. I personally don’t feel that pressure and chose to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas on an island in Colombia.

After our boat adventure and arrival to Isla Grande, we weren’t quite sure what we were in for. It turns out we had three days of delicious meals being cooked for us and ultimate relaxation in our room and at the pool or beach. This is the type of place where you go to bed shortly after sunset and wake up with the sunrise and it feels amazing!

The first day was truly a day of relaxing but we opted for some snorkeling the next day. The islands are surrounded by a huge coral reef and I was hoping to see a turtle (no luck). I did however step on a dead piece of coral as I was getting out of the ocean and have a nice puncture on the bottom of my foot. That stuff is no joke!

Christmas Eve dinner was served family style with the other 12 people staying at the hotel. They even splurged and brought us champagne (Andre Rosé and it was awful) but I know it’s the thought that counts.

Christmas Day was a repeat of the day before laying buy the pool and reading and relaxing. It was absolute perfection and made me so happy!

It was finally time to leave after 3 days in paradise but never fear, we are off to experience another island for another 3 days!

The Journey to Rosario Islands

There is only one way to get to Isla Grande from Cartagena and that is by boat! You can reach the island of Baru by bus but you would still have to take a boat to Isla Grande. We ventured down to the port to buy our ticket for 40,000 COP with a 15,500 COP park tax (total $18.77 USD). There are tons of people trying to sell you tickets on the street but official booths line the path and that is the best place to buy the ticket to ensure the best pricing. All the boats leave by 10:30am so get there early unless you want to pay for a private speed boat. Be warned, these rides are not for the faint of heart as they fly through the water and throw you around a bit. Anyhow, after being told our boat would leave around 8:30 or 9:00, we were finally packed onto and ready for our hour boat ride!

Our boat was driving a little funny and making some weird noises but I didn’t think anything of since this is what they do for a living daily. I was wrong! The engine was failing and we had to slowly make our way to a random island and disembark and wait for two other boats to come and get us. No one cared and we just laid under the cabanas and others splashed around in the ocean. There are worse places to be stuck.

Once we finally arrived to our hotel it was like arriving to paradise! They only have 8-10 rooms (can’t quite figure it out) and the room rate includes all meals! Many people make the trip for the day so from 10-3 the place is packed but other than that, it’s like a ghost town. Absolute perfection!

For the next three days I will be on this island relaxing and through Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Back to Colombia

First off, recovering from 16 hours of jet lag is no joke! I landed on Thursday morning and had to unpack and do laundry and repack to catch a flight on Saturday to LA and spend an early anniversary with my boyfriend! But you can’t keep me in the country for long when I have the travel bug and on Wednesday, I took off for Colombia still unsure of which time zone I was sleeping in!

I have only been to Bogota in Colombia so this time I am meeting a friend to celebrate the holidays and traveling to Cartagena, Rosario Islands, Medellin and Bogota. It all started with two days in Cartagena to try to normalize my sleep and acclimate to the blistering heat!

I was very lucky to land in Cartagena and have an early checkin to my hotel. I had almost no sleep on the overnight flight and was in need of a shower! I met up with my friend Lisa from Manchester who I met in Rome (this is why I travel) and grabbed a bite to eat and headed back to the room to take a nap. My nap turned into almost 10 hours of sleep where I then was awake from 11pm-5am to wake up again around 8:30am. Once again, lovely jet lag.

Attempting to see a bit more of Cartagena than the inside of my hotel room, we decided to explore the inside of the walled city. Finally, I started to feel like I was in Colombia! We have 4 days in Cartagena over the new year so there will be a lot more in depth exploring, but it was nice to get a feel for the city before our next adventure!

Taipa Village

Just behind the glitz and glamour of the Cotai Strip is a tiny little town called Taipa Village. Macau was a former Portuguese colony and returned to China in 1999 making it a melting pot of food influenced by both cultures. Taipa Village is the perfect little area to get a taste of the history of Macau.

We went off in search of some typical Macanese food after crossing the street from the hotel. We ordered some chorizo, sautéed veggies, Portuguese fried rice and what we thought was baked chicken. What came out was a pastry stuffed with potatoes and bacon. Even though I’m with a friend who can speak Cantonese and Mandarin, the language barrier can still be an issue. At least we tried.

When you look up the top things to do in Taipa Village, the tope rated suggestions are restaurants to eat at.  Without much of a plan we wandered the streets to see what we would find. I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the market center full of bustling stalls and endless shopping. I like to think I’m pretty adventurous when it comes to food but I draw the line at most dried fish, shark fin or turtle soup and other things I can’t seem to figure out. However, it’s fun to browse and see what is available.

I had read about this place called Guava Juice and figured if we came across it I would see what it was all about. As we stumbled through the streets it popped up in front of us and I ordered myself a guava and passion fruit juice. It was AMAZING!

Finally it was time to head back to the hotel to head back to Hong Kong. On the way this little shutter caught my eye and reminded me of the colors and shutters I saw throughout parts of Europe and South America. There really is a little bit of different cultural’s influence all over the world.

Not yet having spent a single night in Hong Kong, I was excited to leave Macau and experience Hong Kong from a local’s point of view. As we were leaving Macau, flying fish jumped all around the ferry leaving a smile on my face!

Once I was settled into my friend’s place we walked down the block to Slim’s for a little happy hour where a French Rosé is only $5.75 and the peanuts are free flowing with the shells ending on the ground. A quick bite to eat and it was time for bed.

A Summary of My Mini World Tour

My last mini around the world trip was pretty random. 82 days. 27 cities. 9 countries. 15 flights. 10 different airlines. 12 books. 5 buses. 4 ferries. 2 trains. 1 Blabla! I am exhausted just thinking about it.

IMG_6060

I picked up books as I went along and left them wherever I finished them. Some I really liked and others I wasn’t such a fan of. But when I start a book I have to finish them.

1) Second Chance by Jane Green (374)

2) Love Junkie A Memoir by Rachel Resnick (245)

3) Break In by Dick Francis (371)

4) Inferno by Dan Brown (618)

5) Mary Mary by James Patterson (435)

6) One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell (433)

7) The Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz (468)

8) Sahara by Clive Cussler (655)

9) Typhoon by Robin White (432)

10) The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (670)

11) Life Swap by Jane Green (464)

12) Dark Summer by Iris Johansen (376)

IMG_6581

I have started to feel like an expert on airlines. I am not loyal to anyone but loyal to cheap airfare! Skyscanner is my go to to find the cheapest flight to wherever I am going. Sometimes I’m not even sure where I am going and the airfare decides it for me. Those are some of my favorite trips. If you ever want to know about any of these airlines, just ask!

JetBlue, VivaColombia, Avianca, AeroGal, RyanAir, Aegean Air, Easy Jet, Singapore Airlines, IcelandAir and Virgin America. I have been on quite a few others but not on this last trip.

IMG_6057

I start my trip with a few destinations in mind but they never go as planned and that is the best part of the epic adventure! More extended travel will come summer 2016 and in the meantime I will try to get some mini trips in!

Bogota

I went to Colombia with the intent to just stay in Bogota and get a taste of Colombia. Little did I know that the Copa America was going on and that it would consume a few of my days there. I was able to watch two games and see Colombia beat Brazil and tie Peru. It was incredibly exciting to watch a futbol match in a country so excited and proud of their sport.

 I was told I had to go see the Catedral de Sal or Salt Cathedaral of Zipaquira and was not sure what to expect. Honestly, it was a lot of crosses and lot of bible references but was a cool experience. The cathedral is in a salt mine and definitely an interesting experience.


            I was also told I must go to Monserrate which is a beautiful cathedral (see a theme here) at the top of a mountain in Bogota. It is about 3200 meters high and you can hike it or take the train/cable car there. It is a beautiful view of Bogota and well worth the trip.

  

Sometimes though, and more often times than not, traveling is about the random little experiences and the people  you meet and not the big tourist attractions. We were heading home one day when we were stopped by a group of students that just wanted to practice their English. The questions were, “Are you Single?” What is your name?” Where are you from?” How old are you?” And they were very cute. When they would forget how to say something they would run to their teacher and ask her and write it down.

And then of course there are the people I love meeting and bonding with to make the travel experience just amazing!

  

Galapagos!!

The few days I spent in the Galapagos were absolutely amazing! The Galapagos is made up of a series of islands and I was staying on the island of Santa Cruz which has the largest population of any of the islands and is still pretty small. I went on two different snorkeling excursions and a day tour of the Charles Darwin Station and Tortuga Bay.

The first day was a tour around the bay where if the water temperature is right, you can see white tip reef sharks. Apparently it was not right and we stared at an empty lagoon. Epic fail! However, some of the other spots let us see some beautiful fish and blue footed boobies. As we were heading back to end our tour, the guide pulled donuts in the water to create a circle and started hitting the edge of the boat. Before you know it, a shark was swimming around our boat. We finally got to see one!

    


 The second part of the day was to go visit some tortoises and walk through some lava tunnels. The tortoises were absolutely gigantic and just magnificent creatures. I will let the pictures speak for themselves! The lava tunnels seemed like dark wet caves where barely any life could survive.  

    We did experience some tortoise copulation as our guide called it at the end of the tour. It was interesting to say the least as it was two males and they were not exactly facing the right way. I guess anything goes in the animal kingdom!

The next snorkeling trip was to an island called Pinzon. Here we were able to snorkel with white tip reef sharks, sea lions, penguins, iguanas and sea turtles. The iguanas have adapted to swimming because as new islands were formed, the only thing to eat was algae. Therefore the iguanas learned how to swim and stay under water for about an hour. The islands are truly a pinnacle for studying evolution!

  

The Charles Darwin Station hosts many tortoises at all different ages in order to keep them protected and repopulate the island. It also explained the various currents and why the islands are the way they are and how various animals have adapted to survive there. Our tour guide was very enthusiastic and overloaded our group with scientific terms that didn’t really stick. But, it was nice to learn a little bit about winds and tides and currents that create the mircro ecosystems that allow the Galapagos to have the variety of wildlife that makes it such a great place to be.  

It really is all about the journey 

Today was a simple travel day with a 2 hour flight. All I had to do was leave Quito and get to the Galapagos. Somehow this translated to a day that took about 6 hours to get from point A to point B. 

  
It all started when I was actually very early (3 hours) to the airport and the check in counter didn’t even open until about an hour before the flight. What airline does that? Avianca does. This is where I met Beth from the UK and Matt from Germany. We had nothing to do but stand in line and chat. I also discovered there is a $20 departure fee on top of the $100 fee you pay on arrival in the Galapagos. I’m not sure what the fee is for but I have now basically paid for a visa and I don’t even get my passport stamped!

The flight was seamless and landed on the island of Baltra. There is nothing on this island except an airport and some cacti. You have to then take a bus to a ferry to a taxi to get into town on the island of Santa Cruz. However, the buses were not running anymore but luckily my tour package includes an airport transfer. My new friends jumped in the truck with me along with some people they had met on the ferry including an Assistant Professor from Texas that grew up in Ecuador.  There ended up being 10 of us in the truck including a kid on her mom’s lap. For the first half of the drive, I rode in the back thinking that this is what traveling is all about. Random encounters with strangers. 

   
 We stopped at the craters for a little history and walk and then continued into town but not before our driver had to explain to the police why so many people were in the truck. 

   
 Eventually I made it to my hotel to start my Galapagos journey.