Thursday, July 12, 2012

i will not lose

Last week, I entered into a contest with a Tico who I work with to see who could be tanner.  I am too competitive for my own good, and I knew that it may have been a lost cause.  But try, I did.  I traveled to Manuel Antonio and spent the weekend on the beach.
Playa Biesanz at Manuel Antonio National Park 

Competing (tanning) on the beach.
On judgement day, I actually was unable to see my competitor so I guess I will have to wait until a later time to keep my winning streak alive.  Let the games begin.

Monday, July 2, 2012


As I welcome the month of July, I cannot believe how quickly my time in Costa Rica has passed.  It seems funny that, well over a month ago, I arrived in San Jose wondering if I would be able to stay here the whole summer.  Now, I cannot imagine leaving.  Ever time I visit a new place, this country continues to amaze me with its' flooring beauty.

This past week, I left San Jose to return to the waters of the Pacific Coast.  I spent time in Jaco and at Playa Hermosa.  Staying with two surfers in the pursuit of waves, I began to appreciate their lifestyle.  They timed their days by the rising tide, and it was exciting to see where the hunt for surf would take us.  At one point, we even found ourselves journeying off road.  We flooded road prevented us from reaching the beach, but we did find some other things on the way.
We made our way down the coast until we finally ended at the base house in Uvita.  That evening, I also happily discovered that they were offering a yoga class which made me feel right at home.  I stayed at the base house for the weekend, but, on Saturday, the group ventured out on a catamaran ride to Cano Island and Parque Nacional Corcovado.  On the way, we spotted sea turtles and tropical white-spotted dolphins floating alongside our boat.  Cano Island is a protected reserve so we were unable to venture onto the island, but we were able to snorkel in the surrounding waters.

Afterwards, we climbed back on the boat and made our way to the Osa Peninsula.  When we arrived, I began to understand why people call this place the last truly untouched place in Costa Rica.

After having lunch near the beach, we hiked through Corcovado to reach a gorgeous waterfall.

The afternoon rainstorm that drenched us to the bone on the boat ride back put a small damper on the day, but the steaming mug of mint tea that welcomed me back to the base house seemed to make things better.  

I left to return to San Jose on Sunday, but I would definitely welcome the opportunity to return to this place again.  More than anything, I think that I needed a weekend like this one.  I am very grateful for the surfers who allowed me to leave behind my insane type-A personality and time-managed schedule so that I could sit back and, for the first time, truly say pura vida.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

bucket list: check

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to help with the Turtle Conservation Project on the Pacific Coast.  Although I initially arrived in the town of Jaco, the base house was located on a remote beach.  I arrived late in the evening so I could not immediately take in my surroundings, but, the next morning, I awoke to see the beach near steps from the house.

That day, we embarked on a full day of ziplining followed by surfing.  I was particularly excited about this day because, a long time ago, I had made a bucket list of things that I wish to accomplish in my life,  and learning to surf and ziplining were both on it.  I had an absolutely amazing day.  The zipline course had twelve zips, and I was even brave enough to ride one upside down like Spiderman.  After a lunch of salad, hummus, and warm pita bread, we headed to surf lessons on Jaco Beach.  After a brief introduction to the mechanics, we were thrown into the ocean.  On my first wave, I was surprised when I was able to stand up and ride all the way to shore.  
After catching five waves, I retired to the shore to enjoy the sun.  
Day 2 at Turtles was another early start for an all-day rafting trip on the River Savegre.  Accompanied by out wonderful guide named Edmundo, I traversed through class 3 rapids with a group of six teenage girls.  I was so impressed with their teamwork, and I was proud that they conquered their fears and enjoyed the ride.  
After a long day, I returned to the Turtle base house to collect my things, and I left for the bus ride home to San Jose and for work on Monday morning.  It still amazes me that I was able to accomplish so much in just one weekend, and I was especially glad that I was able to help with the Turtle Conservation Project as well.  I would definitely welcome the opportunity to return to this special place again.  After all, of all the things that I did this weekend, I still did not see a sea turtle.  

Monday, June 18, 2012

pura vida for life

When I left London a little over a month ago, I had no idea that I would soon be embarking on a new adventure to Costa Rica for the summer.  Even though I have only been here for a short time, I have already come to appreciate and love this fascinating and beautiful country.  Each day, I find myself meeting new challenges like living and working in San Jose and confronting the Spanish language barrier.  However, I have also found myself exposed to new opportunities and many new friends.  Here are some highlights from my experience thus far - 

Staying at a base house in the Costa Rican rainforest,
The Rustic Pathways Volcanoes & Rainforest Service Base near La Fortuna

Dipping my feet into the lagoon at the center of a sleeping volcano,
The crater at the top of Cerro Chato - I swear there were dinosaurs in there!

Watching the sun set on the warm waters of the Pacific Coast, 
Playa Carrillo in Guanacaste

Eating delicious Caribbean-inspired vegan and organic food in Puerto Viejo, 
Veronica's Place

Making lifelong friends. 
Yendry, Stacey, and I in Puerto Viejo

I now know the meaning of pura vida.

Monday, May 28, 2012

living deliberately

Today was my first day in my new position as financial administrator for the Costa Rica office of Rustic Pathways.  Even though I have only been working in this job for a day, I already know that this experience will be an incredible learning opportunity for me, and I am so excited for the months that lie ahead.  Throughout this time, I will be doing meaningful work that will give me experience in my anticipated career field.  More importantly, I will also be working alongside a great team of people for a company that I truly believe shares my worldly perspective and supports my life goals.

In addition to this work, the opportunity to live in Costa Rica for the summer will be fabulous.  I will be able to immerse myself in the local culture and improve my Spanish language skills.  I hopefully will be able to explore Costa Rica as much as possible too.  I would love to trek through the rainforest, experience the biodiversity of this nation, zipline, and maybe even try surfing.

I feel as though I could not be more ready for the adventures - and the challenge - that lie ahead.  So, in the words of Thoreau (though I may have edited them slightly) -

“I went to the [jungle] because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, May 24, 2012

professional wanderluster

Day 3 - Unlike the days prior, we chose to have a slow start to our final day in Morocco.  We took an extra long time to enjoy breakfast on the terrace.  Alexis and I sat in silence as she nibbled away at her pancake, and I sipped my mint tea.  Silently, we both expressed our shock that this trip had gone by so quickly.  Avoiding the fact that we would need to make our way back to the airport that afternoon, we passed the morning taking one last walk through the square and through the gardens surrounding the Koutoubia Mosque.
Eventually, though, we could no longer avoid the time on the clock, and we headed back to the riad to collect our things.  As we packed, we took one last time to marvel at this quaint little place that had been our host - for a mere six euros a night - for the past three days.

Saying goodbye, we headed out the door again and hailed a cab.  On the plane ride back to London, I stared out the window and watched the city of Marrakech disappear behind me.  I sat back in my seat, feeling fully awake and knowing that I would not sleep during the flight.  I could not have imagined a better way to end my experience abroad than with this trip.  In under three weeks, I was able to immerse myself in five unique cultures, hear five different languages, and see five unique cities.  I felt so global - and so lucky.  More than anything, I could also not have imagined a more perfect person to experience this with me.  Alexis was an amazing travel companion, and I am forever grateful that she stuck by my side throughout this epic journey.
As our plane began to descend, I felt a slight sinking feeling in my stomach at the thought of going back to London.  It is funny how much a person can change in just a few short months.  A few weeks ago, I was convinced that I could stay in this city forever.  Now, I could not be more ready to explore other parts of the globe - especially the non-Western world.  In a way, though, this feeling did not surprise me.  At this point in my life, I know that I am definitely not ready to settle down in one place, and the only career that really appeals to me is professional wanderluster.  As I stepped off the plane, I felt a bite of cold air, and I knew for sure that I was done with this place.  At the time, I was uncertain of what lay ahead and that scared me, but I forged ahead nonetheless.  Adventure... somewhere... was out there waiting for me. 

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain

on a magic carpet ride

Day 2 - We had another early start on our second day in Marrakech because we were eager to explore more of the city.  Fittingly, I chose to wear my new Aladdin-style pants today.  After enjoying breakfast, tea, and coffee on the terrace again, we left the riad in search of the Badi Palace, a recently resurrected palace that dates to the sixteenth century.

The feeling of awe that I felt standing amongst all of this history combined with the glorious Moroccan sun, which was now high in the sky, inspired me to take some photos.

We also marveled at the interior of the structure, wondering what this place might have looked like during its' time, with all of its' opulence and glory.

Finishing at the palace, we moved to the next item on our list of things to do today.  Ever since I had booked my ticket to Morocco over two months prior, I had this image in my head of me riding a camel through the Sahara Desert.  Now, Alexis and I were in search of camels so that I could bring this dream to fruition.  After negotiating with a cab driver, we drove out of the city walls of the medina to La Palmeraie.  Here, we did not have to search for long until we found a group of gentlemen waiting with a small herd - if that is the correct word - of camels.  As with all things in Marrakech, we negotiated a priced and were then suited up for our ride.  I could not have been happier.

We agreed on a twenty minute ride, and, at the end of our time, I must admit that I was glad to slide off the camel's back.  
We returned back to town, thoroughly pleased with our last experience but still ready to see more of the city.  Feeling ambitious, we decided to walk to our next destination, even though it was quite far.  The Jardin Majorelle, which once belonged to Yves Saint Laurent, was our last stop of the day.  By the time that we arrived, we were both parched from the powerful desert sun.  Luckily, when we entered the garden, we found a magnificent oasis that made it all worth it.

The garden was massive, and we took our time to enjoy its' peace and tranquility.  More than anything, this place was a much appreciated change from the busy souks in the medina.  As I wandered along the winding paths, I wondered how many hours Yves Saint Laurent himself spent enjoying this garden.  This place certainly must have been the highest source of inspiration for his work.  As we walked past his memorial, I paid my respects to an artist.

The day before, I could not have imagined how this place could have possible become more magical, but this day completely exceeded my expectations.  After a long day, Alexis and I returned to the riad and sat up on the rooftop terrace again, enjoying the sunset.  Despite the nighttime revelry taking place outside of our door, this place was surprising quiet and a perfect way to end the day.  I went to sleep, dreading the thought that tomorrow was my final day in this exotic place.  Just for now though, I pushed this thought from my mind and let myself drift away on a magic carpet ride as I fell asleep. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

a whole new world

Our final stop in our journey around the Mediterranean was to Marrakech in Morocco.  We had saved this place for last and for good reason.  Both Alexis and I knew that this city would be completely unique from our other travel experiences throughout the last four months.  Our flight from Barcelona departed late on Thursday evening, but we arrived at the airport at least four hours early because our anticipation got the best of us.  We were going to Africa.

When our flight was finally ready to board, we queued alongside the other passengers who were dressed in their adventurer/trekker/gypsy garb.  As we watched the European continent disappear through the small window of the Vueling jet, I knew that I was in for the adventure of a lifetime.

When we arrived in Marrakech, Alexis and I were both tired and eager to get to our Moroccan riad where we would be staying for the duration of the trip.  As walked outside the airport looking to hail a cab, but we did not have to search for long.  Before we knew it, we were surrounded by a swarm of taxi drivers with their petits taxis offering us a ride into town.  We had read in our guidebooks to bargain with them, but we quickly learned that, at midnight, this was probably not the best idea.  I finally negotiated with a driver in French, and, before we knew it, we were speeding through the streets of Marrakech.  Our riad was located in the medina, the old part of town.  From what we had read as well, the streets here were nearly impossible to navigate with the knowledge of a local so, when our cab driver dropped us off, we followed a man who offered to guide us to the hostel.  As we meandered through the narrow streets, it became very clear that we were no longer in Europe from the dirt road, crumbling building walls, and hoards of men speaking Arabic.  We began to quicken our pace, wishing at the very least that we had made this journey during daylight hours.

Eventually, we arrived at the door of our riad, and our guide looked at us expectantly.  We each dropped him a euro so that he would go away, and we entered inside.  If I had not been so tired, I probably would have taken the time to marvel at the quintessential Islamic architecture that surrounded me, but, instead, I drifted quickly off to sleep, knowing that this was only the beginning of a great adventure.

Day 1 - As usual, Alexis and I awoke early to start our day.  After dressing ourselves in our matching skirts from Barcelona, we headed to the rooftop terrace to enjoy a traditional Moroccan breakfast and mint tea.
We then headed back out into the street, which seemed much less daunting now that the sun was out.  We walked down our narrow passageway of a street and eventually emerged in the Djema el-Fna, the main square in Marrakech.  It was early now so vendors were only just beginning to set up, but we knew that, at night, this place was a bevy of sights, scents, and sounds.

After taking in the square, we walked toward the minaret of the Koutoubia mosque.  It was from this tower that the people of Marrakech were called to prayer five times a day.
We then headed to the Tombs of the Saadian Kings, the gravesite of Moroccan kings that dated to the sixteenth century.

After visiting some tourist sites, we wandered back to the main square to explore the legendary souks, the markets that sold a wealth of Moroccan treasures and trinkets.  I wanted to buy everything - from Aladdin-like lamps to purses that any Free People girl would be jealous of - but I managed to pull myself away with only a pair of parachute pants.  We then spent the remainder of the afternoon interacting with the locals.  Alexis and I managed to escape with henna tattoos for a bargain price, and we also were welcomed into a souk to enjoy some fresh - if overly sweetened - mint tea.

When we finally returned out into the square, the sun was setting, and the vendors were clearly almost ready for their nightly extravaganza to begin.  To sample what they had to offer, we sat down under one of the tents where we were treated like queens by the young men who operated the stand.

By the end of our first day, I had already fallen in love with the magic of Marrakech.  We were already beginning to feel like locals.