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Costa Rica – Get movin’

December 5, 2011

After my one day wander around the Costarican capital it was time to hit the ground and put my plans into action.

A quick reality check with the hostel staff in San Jose revealed that it was in fact possible to see Arenal and Monteverde in the three days before Phil and Drew came in but that it’d be a challenge to get a good value out of each place on such a quick schedule. The arrogant do-all jetsetter in me was all game while the hippie see the world, get to know the culture touchy feely flip-flop wearer was wary that I would miss the true essence of the country. I’ll tell you in advance that both halves were pleasantly surprised but lets get to the story and you’ll see why.

I hopped on a shuttle bus that the hostel set me up with and prebooked my next hostel within the same chain and headed off to La Fortuna, 3 hours away. I fully expected to be in a van full of other hostel-crashers but It was just me and the driver and it felt like I’d hired a private car to take me. I drove up front and took advantage of my familiarity with the local language to have a cultural experience. It was just nice to kick back with a local, the driver was a young guy and we chatted the whole way until the hills cleared off and I got an excellent view of the Arenal Volcano (really just a really symmetrical looking mountain from this angle) just before it was swallowed up by a big gray cloud an hour later.

I saw Volcan Arenal coming in and I didn’t see the volcano again for the entire time I was there, even when I suffered a 3 hour nature hike to the lookout where the view is best and on a good day you can even see lava spewing out. All I got was a big gray cloud! I also got this:

It’s a three toed sloth! The green color you see on it is algae that it lets grow on it’s back because it doesn’t care!

The cool thing is that this was by the side of the road. I was headed up to the trail in a tour van and the guide made the driver pull over cause he’d seen this thing earlier that day. It took me like five minutes to see it! This looked like a beehive or a clump of leaves.

On the different trails that I did in Arenal and the other destinations I visited on this trip there were many gratuitous animal sightings but the best ones were when I was led on by a guide and shown through a birdwatching scope that most carry. Most of the time you’re scratching your head wondering how the heck this guy spotted that thing!

By the end of the volcano seeing tour I was soaking wet. It was my first stop and I forgot to prepare for the rain. My cameras were safe… I had an all-weather cover for my camera bag but I was dripping. After the tour we were dropped off at the Baldi Hot Springs hotel and resort which is like a luxury style water park of hot-spring pools and wet bars complete with a couple of water slides and plenty of artificial waterfalls to bathe in the naturally warmed water from the Arenal Volcano. Dinner was included and the only problem was carrying cash to the wet bar because all I had with me was my bathing suit.

The next day was especially thrilling for animal watching. Before catching an early transport to Monteverde at 8am I took a 5am birdwatching tour which turned out to be right in the little plot of land by the hostel! At first I was a little disappointed but the dude who picked me up wearing galoshes really knew how to spot the animals. Just walking around I saw macaws toucans, big lizards, hummingbirds, a sloth, a falcon, two kinds of bats, a poisonous toad, a colorful red-eyed tree frog, and at least three other birds which I forgot the names of.

Here’s some pictures of the animals I saw:

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San Jose – A quick impression

December 5, 2011

The first impression you get about San Jose can be summed up as the following:

Small. Ugly. Gray.

I landed in San Jose fully expecting to find nothing of interest but decided to spend a day wandering around, just to make sure.

In one day of wandering you don’t really expect to gather much more than a series of impressions. I can say this:

San Jose, though by no stretch of the imagination European in appearance is very European in the way that it’s distributed. The city is very very walkable with services and bakeries and every kind of shop. There’s a central plaza with some very tempting restaurants. You won’t find a modern subway but taxis and public busses are easily found and boarded.

I’d say the treatment I got in San Jose by the locals is almost as good as the warm reception I got in Guatemala, maybe even better sometimes. Ticos, as the Costaricans refer to themselves, are polite and– if I wasn’t just judging based on contrast with the Dominican Republic–very very punctual!

Bravo. A country with a capital this inviting is bound to be a nice place to visit, I figured.

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Costa Rica – The Backstory

December 5, 2011

A couple of months ago a friend heard about a Pearl Jam concert in San Jose, Costa Rica and insisted that I should go with him and some others. He also invited my brother. He’d already bought his concert and airplane tickets and his plan was to come in Saturday and stay until Monday.

I have a severe problem with setting foot in another country for a weekend and only to go see a band that isn’t even from there. Granted it’s Pearl Jam and it’s not that far away but still, if I’m gonna tack another point onto my country count it’s really going to have to mean something.

I took my blessed expat R&R break and set aside 10 days to try and dig in and see the country as much as I possibly could.

I convinced my brother Phil and my brother from another mother (and father) Drew that it’s totally worth joining me for the whole trip but alas they could only come with me for half of it. I booked my flight and bought my guidebook.

At the end of every trip you always wish you had more time and feel like you couldn’t see enough, whether it’s a week, two days, or a year. I take what I get and I did a bit of light reading to brush up so that I could at least grab the highlights. I don’t like doing that. I usually prefer to let the wind take me but Costa Rica is known for being chock full of awesome scenery, colorful critters, and adrenaline packed adventures and I thought it would be a good bet to focus on those since urban wandering opportunities would be scarce.

I landed in San Jose on November 12th, a Saturday morning and began my trip.

The Five Things

October 31, 2011

Recently I was skimming a forum on http://www.travellerspoint.com and I found one asking people to list the 5 things they absolutely cannot travel without. First lets get something out of the way: An open mind and a sense of adventure don’t count. There are things you need in order to harvest the fruits of a good journey. Also, money and a passport are not going to be listed because they’re not really negociable. Anyway what follows is my contribution to that thread.

My two and a half cents are this:

The more you can get the limitations of your equipment and clothes out of your way, the more you can see and learn. Of course you need your clothes and it may not work for your style of travel to use the old one shirt on, one shirt off method of travelling with only two t-shirts but you could still do a trip that way.

If I wanted to be hardcore and only take five things in addition to the clothes on my back I could see myself in a pinch traveling with only these items:

1. Comfortable walking shoes
– I typically use Eccos and I have a goofy brown pair that I always buy that are fairly water resistant without looking it. The goal is to walk anywhere and feel as little as possible like you’ve walked all day.
I can get away with wearing them in the cityat a fancy dinner at night and also hiking with them without ever looking too out of place. Rule number 1 is blend in! I am 6 ft 2 and caucasian and I get away with blending in in SE Asia just by being discrete and not looking like a tourist… I know I’m not fooling anyone but at least I don’t scream tourist when people see me and so it lets me pass on the impression that I’m not necessarily out of place and don’t not belong there.

2. A Distraction
– I need to do something to fill those long hours between destinations and nothing like a good book to do the trick. It’s even better if what I’m reading tells me something about where I am and connects me to the place. I love reading the history sections of the Lonely Planet when I’m bored. It’s great to learn more about the destination because it creates a deeper connection and enriches the experience. If I didn’t have too many choices I’d look for something long and entertaining. I use my ipod mostly for noise cancellation and not entertainment because it doesn’t distract my mind on a long bus ride. If I could carry more I’d enjoy something to watch movies on like an iPad or a notebook but on a spartan regimen I’d grab a paperback.

3. Clock or watch, must have alarm
– I always have this on a cell phone but one time I had to buy a cheap digital watch because I can’t properly plan anything if I can’t control when I wake up! I sleep like a log and I love to sleep. Travelling can mean early mornings and the continuity of the trip can depend on catching that flight or bus. You can’t do anything if you can’t set the time! I don’t need a working phone because I can plan out with people in advance when and where to meet and just be on time but I can’t function without a clock!

4. ATM card and/or Credit card
– Ideally both but if you had to pick it’s probably better to use a credit card that you can draw cash advances from. You can always pay it off from your bank account electronically from an internet cafe. I bring cash as a last minute backup but only an emergency amount. I’d rather withdraw from ATMs any day than exchange money!
I usually keep this in a money belt which would be on this list except that I can see doing without one relying instead on extra caution. Obviously money and a passport are needed to do any kind of overseas trip but here I’m addressing the way in which you access funds.

5. Something to record the moment with
– as a photography junkie I have to have the right camera on me. Sometimes it’s a compact and sometimes its the biggest DSLR I can find. Film or digital doesnt matter I just like to keep it practical but I’ve realized that the important thing is to register the memories. I usually carry a journal and if I couldn’t carry my camera I’d rely more heavily on writing what I’ve seen down. I’m very visual and can remember most of the details of the adventure and retell them using my photographs.
I suppose if all I had was a device that records smells it would be enough to jog my memory but you need something to bring you back there years later. The whole trip was for naught if you forget everything about it later.

Keep Adventuring!

Turning Points: The Fallout – I walk alone now.

August 2, 2011

This was the moment when I became a lone traveler forever on that first trip to Europe and it defined my personality in ways that I’m still discovering. This is why we travel. This is what it means to find yourself:

Sunday 29/5/2005 23:02 – Probably Madrid

Pedro and I decided to go our separate ways. We’re still doing Toledo tomorrow (though basically separately) and that’ll be that. I’m a little bummed when I realize that I’m all alone. It hits when all the people are out of the room and I realize I’m on my own in Europe. But the plan is to move on. I’m meeting cool people all the time and now I have someone to go to Lisbon with. Earlier today I decided to get off my ass and see a bit of Madrid so I tagged along with a couple of Indian guys from DC and saw the Prado which is better with the audio tour.

I have no idea ho I’m going to get through this now. I find it impossible to enjoy myself ever since the 4:30 incident* in San Sebastian and now I’m by myself. I’m ridiculously homesick but never before have I been aware of being my own person. A practical downside of losing Pedro in this trip is that he did all the planning till this point. To enjoy myself I’ll have to get a guidebook tomorrow and keep on trucking. Curious that I’m reading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galazy. “Don’t Panic” seems like a great idea right now.

———

* The 4:30 incident was a hard thing to take at 19 years old. A girl I met stole my hat in a bar in San Sebastian the previous day. She promised to give it back to me at four thirty. We’d meet by the beach. She never showed. She stole my damn hat dude. She stole my hat and all I got to keep was a picture of bite marks on my neck.

Travel log: San Sebastian, Spain 2005

August 2, 2011

San Sebastian, Wednesday 25/5/2005 18:05

It was apparently 41 degrees C today which according to my guide book translates to 105 degrees F which is ridiculous. It didn’t even feel all that hot. It probably gets that hot in Fortaleza or Salvador and I’m usually sweating with my shirt off but here it seems okay. I can’t understand why it wasn’t hotter. We were at the beach pretty much all day today then we went to Disco Burger which was pretty great food. We met some girls from Idaho and we’re all meeting for drinks at Tas Tas (where we were last night) around 8. I took a little nap that actually lasted me pretty long.

——————

CONTEXT:

Tas Tas was my focal point for San Sebastian. It’s a tiny bar, no elbow room. lots of great memories. I was in San Sebastian for like four days. When I tell the story I say it was two weeks but we weren’t in San Sebastian for two weeks. I just always remember it that way because of Darren. Here’s what I said about Darren in my journal:

“The others like Kevin and Susan and Sarah are going on. Maybe Darren will stay again. Darren is the most stress free person I’ve ever met. He decides something and does it. He’s been around for the last two months and he’s about to go home in a week.”

…Darren’s original plan, if I remember correctly was to spend a couple of Days in San Sebastian. He spend two weeks there and sometimes I imagine myself doing the same thing because that’s what I wish I could’ve done.

Here’s something else I said about San Sebastian:

Tuesday 24/5/05 11:08

At first impression San Sebastian reminds me of Salvador or some mix between Ouro Preto and Rio de Janeiro. The city seems to be situated between two mountains and has two main beaches. Walking through the old part of the city you see cathedrals tha may once have stood alone, now sunk between buildings. The Pension we’re staying at seems like an apartment with two full bathrooms and between one and three rooms with up to four beds each. We’re booked for two nights…

25/05 Wednesday around 14:00

Muck Fadrid! San sebastion is so awesome and we’re meeting such amazing people that we’re thinking of scratching Madrid for two more nights in San Sebastian. Last night we went out to a bar and watched a bullfight on TV…

…Then we went to another bar met some people from Colorado and had a few more Kali Moxtos (a Euskadi drink of Coca Cola & wine) then we bought a bottle of Malibu from the bar and went to go drink on the beach. There were like 10 of us, all American and one girl from Australia.

This “morning” we “got up” and went to the beach. We’ve been playing frisbee and having fun ever since. I ❤ Spain.

___________

I was really that happy. Life was really that simple. My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon/I will return again…

 

Facts about Leo ‘Adventurepants’ Neves

July 17, 2011

Maybe some of you remember a string of facts I posted on my status updates on Facebook sometime mid-may. I thought I’d consolidate those for us for fun:

  1. Google earth was accomplished by handing me a camera in 1999.
  2. I have two passports. The stamp pages of one of them had to be reorganized into volumes.
  3. I seem to be on a roll. Oh dear not again.
  4. I taught a group of Afghani freedom fighters how not to be found in the days when they were trying to expel the Soviets. My most gifted student was killed beside Osama. My bad.
  5. Ecco walking shoes are the best possible compromise between a combat boot, a tennis shoe, a loafer, and a rubber galosh. The only function it performs second to none is making a young adventurous traveller look like an old man.
  6. Japanese customs officials asked me to declare my backpack as a mobile home and my fedora as a luxury vacation home.
  7. In Thailand, adventurepants are taxed as a light vehicle.
  8. On one trip I wore a shirt for so long that I grew my own food on it.
  9. If you were to calculate my carbon footprint from my miles flown you’d probably get Greenpeace to try to assassinate me.
  10. My miles flown count is less than my blocks wandered aimlessly count.
  11. Chuck Norris regularly asks me for travel advice.
  12. Natives from and indonesian island once asked me ‘what’s our word for awesome again?’and I knew.
  13. They discovered the earth was round when I walked away and came back from the other direction seven months later.
  14. Waldo and Carmen Sandiego formed a taskforce to track me down.

Keep Adventuring!