Saturday, April 14, 2012

Costa Rica: Day 1

Solomon and I arrived in San Jose around 1pm on Sunday and took an airport taxi to the hostel.  We had woken up at 2am that morning to get to the airport on time and were quite exhausted by the time we arrived. The taxis are bright orange with big yellow triangles on the side and have set prices to various parts of San Jose.  Our taxi driver couldn't find his way directly to the hostel as a street festival was blocking the way so he turned off his meter part way and we ended up paying $30. We checked into Aldea Hostel into a dorm room with 8 beds and a private bathroom ($13 pp).  There were wooden lockers to put your packs (had to supply our own locks) and a promise of hot water for certain hours of the day.  Our rooms water was broken so we took cold showers for the first time of our trip. The hostel was decorated with pop art pictures of girls with big, juicy lips smoking cigars.  A pool table sat under a chandelier in the front hall and the kitchen was in a courtyard outside.

The first thing we did was head to the Tica Bus stop which was a couple blocks away to try to get three bus tickets to Nicaragua the next day.  We figured out you could go straight to Granada (not to Managua) quite easily on the Tica bus as it was a scheduled stop, but we needed all three passports to get the tickets.  Since Nick was not arriving until 9 at night, we left and planned to get them early the next morning.  We went to Pali, the grocery store and bought some pasta to cook for the night while we waited for Nick to arrive.  The hostel staff sat around smoking while we ate dinner and took a nap to pass the time.  The sheets were clean and we didn't need sleep sacks here. By the time Nick showed up, the hostel staff had changed shifts and we had to convince the guy at the front desk that Nick was already paid for and reserved.  We decided to try our luck with the bus stop again and were happy to find it open so we could buy our tickets.  For anyone trying to go to the Tica Bus stop it is open quite late at night, if not 24 hours a day.  We went at about 11 pm and had no problems.  In fact, a bus was just getting in.  Buying the night before turned out to be okay but we could only get on the noon bus and not the 6am one.  Knowing this bought us a few more hours to catch up on sleep, we headed back to the hostel to bed.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Nica Living (Culture Shock)

One of the most interesting things about travelling is seeing the little differences between where we live and where others spend their days.  There are many of these observations in my day to day details but here are a few overwhelming discrepancies.

First of all, the heat.  This may seem obvious but the heat and humidity combined was simply...overwhelming.
This was coupled with frequent electrical outages that turned off the rusty fan right when you needed it the most.  The best way to cool off was in the showers because there was no hot water.  Water was often collected in rain barrels and so heated somewhat by the sun but at most it was tepid, and at the least it was icy. While this felt nice in the middle of the hot day, an icy shower in the morning was a sure way to ensure an efficient bathe.  The one hostel that had hot water was heated by an electrical device attached to the shower head. Occasionally the water would just not run at all on the Isla de Ometepe.

The water from the shower often ran directly out into the yard behind the room, which was at times in a courtyard and just open to the sky.

Speaking of the bathrooms, one of the first things you'll notice if you visit a similar country is that the plumbing is rather...touch and go.  Instead of flushing anything down the toilet, you must put all your, ahem, toilet waste into a trash can near the toilet.  You can imagine the aroma this gives to every bathroom and surrounding area as this sits in the hot sun.

Riding Nica Style was another stunning difference.  Nicas would put 2-4 people on one bike and ride to and from work.  Instead of sitting on the handle bars or on pegs like we sometimes do, another person and a baby would sit on the main frame of the bike in front of the seat.  The rider would wrap their arms around their passengers, helping to keep their balance.

These were a few of the things that stood out the most but read on to the day to day recaps for more!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Nica Living (Costs for Costa Rica and Nicaragua)

Phew! Well the past couple weeks went by FAST. We successfully moved to Colorado and a week later got on a plane for our much anticipated Costa Rica- Nicaragua trip!
There will be many posts and pictures to come detailing what we did and where we stayed in the following days but let's start with the nitty-gritty.

First of all, keeping a daily budget kind of fell through.  Travelling with three people we found ourselves fronting each other money and then being paid back later--something that made it very hard to keep track of day to day expenses.  Instead I will give overall cost of the trip and details of what some important things cost.

Before we left we were able to save up more than we originally thought so we raised our budget to $1500 for two people.  This turned out to be a good thing because we came in at $1494- wow, that was close! That comes to $93 dollars a day, for two people. Things that were more expensive than expected: bus tickets, border crossings, Costa Rica as a whole (we forgot how many of the prices rival those in the US!), and a much needed night with air conditioner when we all weren't feeling well.

Nicaragua was much, much cheaper than Costa Rica and spending most of our time there surely helped us from going over budget. We were significantly under the daily $93 on our days in Nicaragua but even a few days in Costa Rica quickly made up for it. Here are a few of the daily costs:
  • McDonald's at the Denver International Airport: $15
  • Taxi ride from Juan Santamaria international airport (Alajuela) to hostel in San Jose:: $30
  • Hostel in Costa Rica (Aldea Hostel, near Tica Bus station in San Jose): $13 pp (one night- $26)
  • Tica Bus tickets from San Jose to Managua: $26 pp ($52)
    For this we got off at Granada and had the option to get off at Rivas but the price does not change. 
  • Border crossing into Nicaragua: $14 pp ($28)
    Note that Costa Rica is free to exit and enter, but Nicaragua charges for both.
  • First night in Granada (unknown hostel, found at night on the way into town from Tica Bus stop): $5 pp (one night- $10)
  • Next two nights in Granada (the Bearded Monkey): $7 pp (two nights- $28)
  • Las Islas tour from Granada (random boat off the beach): $5 pp ($10 for both + tip)
  • 1 Litre of Flor de Cana Rum: $12
  • 2 750 mLs of Flor de Cana Rum: $8 each ($16)
  • Haircut, shave, facial and face massage at local barber (Sol and Nick): $18
  • 5 hour ferry from Granada to Altagracia on Isla de Ometepe: $5pp ($10)
  • Shuttle from ferry to hotel (from tout on ferry): < $1 pp ($2)
  • Hotel Castillo in Altagracia: $6 pp (two nights: $24)
  • Guided hike up Volcan Concepcion: $20 pp ($40, but should have been less because we paid a middle man)
  • Bike rental: $6 pp/ per day ($8 for both, half day)
  • Natural spring swimming hole: $2 pp ($4)
  • Taxi back from Playa Domingo to Altagracia: $15 for three people
  • Taxi to ferry stop in Moyagalpa: $20
  • 1 hour ferry from Moyagalpa to San Jorge: $2 pp ($4)
  • Taxi from San Jorge to San Juan del Sur (about 45 min to an hour): $15 for three people
  • Hotel Estrella in San Juan del Sur: $8 pp with free breakfast (two nights- $32)
  • Transport to Playa Marsella from the hotel: $15 with hotel transport, for all three of us
  • Hostal Amelia with air conditioning, San Juan del Sur: $30 for the room
  • Taxi from San Juan del Sur to the border: $16 for two people
  • Leaving Nicaragua: $3 pp (paid in increments of $1 each and then $2 each- $6 total)
  • Bus from the border to Liberia Costa Rica: $12 pp ($24)
  • Posada del Tope in Liberia: $20 for the room (one night)
  • Bus from Liberia to Puntarenas: $5 pp ($10)
  • Bus from Puntarenas to Quepos: $6.50 pp ($13)
  • Wide Mouth Frog Hostel in Quepos: $35 a night per room with free breakfast, plus an $8 deposit for keys and towels (4 nights, $140)
  • Bus to Manuel Antonio National Park: 50 cents pp one way ($4 for two days, round trips)
  • Manuel Antonio National Park entrance fee: $10 pp (2 days, $40)
  • Bus from Quepos to San Jose: $8 pp ($16 total, but we bought 4 tickets because we needed to change our time after our original purchase, so $32)
  • Taxi from Coca Cola bus station in San Jose to Maleku Hostel in Alajuela= $25 (unlicensed cab)
  • Maleku Hostel with free airport shuttle= $15 pp (one night- $30)
  • Costa Rica airport departure tax= $26 pp ($52)
  • Parking at the Denver International Airport: $7 per day ($112 for 16 days)
These are the main expenses we incurred. All prices are dependent on the exchange rate at the time which was around $1= 23 cordobas in Nicaragua and $1= 520 colones in Costa Rica.  

  • Other taxi rides in Nicaragua ranged from $1- $15.
  • Meals in Nicaragua ranged from $2 pp for a set plate (rice and beans, mixed veggies, and meat), to $5 pp for spaghetti, to $10 pp at an American-style restaurant in San Juan del Sur. With the prices above for lodging and transport, we spent an average of $30 or less a day on snacks and meals (going out to eat and groceries).
  • In Costa Rica meals ranged from $6 pp for a set plate to $20 pp for upscale Italian food.
  • A tour of the petroglyphs and natural springs on Ometepe was going to be $10 pp but we ended up renting bikes instead.
  • A soda in Nicaragua cost anywhere from 20 cents (at a small, local tienda which you had to return your glass bottle) to $1 (at bus and ferry stations). A 2 liter bottle of water cost less than $1 (around 80 cents).
  • In Costa Rica a soda cost around $1.75- $2 and a 2 liter of water cost around $2.
  • In Nicaragua, a t-shirt with little to no haggling cost $5.  A small painting cost $5 as well.
  • For groceries we spent an average of $5 per trip (consisting of food for 1-2 meals) in Nicaragua and $15 in Costa Rica.
  • Nick's sunglasses at a local market, no haggling, cost $15.  A hair band for me cost 1/23 of $1 (1 cordoba).
  • A coloring book at an exclusive stationary store in Nicaragua cost around $3.25.
  • Bananas cost less than 4 cents each in Nicaragua. 
Some things that are hard to account for are bank foreign transaction fees and ATM fees and conversion rates at street money changers. Just make sure you know your bank's policy and the exchange rate before you go.

Another thing to consider is that when you travel with three people, it is often more convenient to pay for all three hotel beds at a time, and thus each person inevitably ends up paying for the others at some point or another.  Unless you rigidly keep track of this or religiously keep each payment separate, budgets will be harder to keep and you may end up over or under spending compared to what you calculated for yourself.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Packing List: Costa Rica- Nicaragua 2012

One of the things I find most helpful about reading other travel blogs is information on budgets and what to bring.  Here I'll post the packing list for our 16 days in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. While this might seem like a long list, most of the stuff we only need one between the three of us. Many of the things are also very small and will fit easily in our pack

We will each need to bring:

  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • 1 sweatshirt/ thin jacket
  • 1 rain poncho
  • 1 travel towel
  • 1 sleep sack
  • 1 pair of pants (travel pants)
  • 4 shirts
  • 2-3 tank tops (for me, not for the boys)
  • 1-2 dresses or skirts (again, not for the boys)
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of flip flops
  • 1 pair of walking shoes
  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • enough underwear for the whole trip
  • a toothbrush
  • razors
  • deodorant
  • makeup (for me: foundation, eyeliner, mascara, blush/compact with a mirror)
Collectively we will have to bring:
  • toothpaste
  • floss
  • chapstick
  • hair brush/ comb
  • lotion
  • sunscreen
  • bug spray
  • shampoo
  • body wash
  • conditioner
  • face wash
  • ear plugs
  • duct tape (wrapped around a pen)
  • camping silverware set
  • clothes line
  • drain plug
  • malaria medication
  • anti-diarrheals 
  • cipro (antibiotic in case of bad case of stomach bug)
  • motion sickness meds
  • hand sanitizer
  • sewing kit
  • guidebooks
  • pack of cards
  • daypack (to hold valuables during bus trips or water, snacks, books, etc. for day trips)
  • band aids
  • cortisone cream
  • Advil
  • antibiotic ointment
  • tweezers
  • wet wipes
  • paper copies of prescriptions
  • sunglasses
  • camera + case + charger
  • phone + charger
  • journal + pen
  • book
  • flashlight
  • headlamps
  • travel pillows
  • passports
  • US dollars in small bills (keep some in moneybelt with passport and some in another location)
  • moneybelts
  • luggage locks
  • credit cards (be sure to notify companies of travel)
  • copies of passport (stored separately from originals)
  • insurance cards and ids (including student id)
  • toilet paper
Optional items:
  • allergy medicine
  • mosquito coils
  • water sterlizer
We will keep toiletries and things that can leak in plastic ziplock bags.  We have a toiletry case for the small items/ medicines/ first aid stuff so that it won't get lost in our bags. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

The North Shore and the Viking Motel

A couple of weeks ago we took an awesome, spur of the moment trip to the North Shore. (for those not in the know, this is the Northeast part of Minnesota along Lake Superior) It all started while we were eating and having Vietnamese coffee at Kinhdo in Minneapolis. It was suggested (not sure by whom) that we should take a weekend trip to the North Shore. Early afternoon was already approaching so we had to decide quickly. After everyone was in agreement we packed a quick backpack and headed out.

On the first night (and it was evening by the time we got there) we made it as far as Two Harbors. Along the way we stopped at two small town/ blue collar liquor stores to stock up on rations. Megan and Nick went classy with two bottles of wine, while I decided on Bell’s Two Hearted IPA which claims to be “well suited for adventurous trips to the upper peninsula” which is very close to the North Shore. As soon as we made it to Two Harbors we picked the first random/creepy/cheap motel to stay at. The name of the place was Viking Motel and the rooms were what I would lovingly call “retro”. The innkeeper was very friendly (possibly because we were the only people staying there on a Saturday night) and strangely enough suggested a restaurant called Viking Legends. She even had a coupon we could use for one free drink! The draw to this place was the fact that you could meet a Viking legend, Jim Marshall #70, who was also a co-owner. We never did meet him (or actually know who he was), but it was very Minnesota-ey and to boot- the staff was friendly.

Once we arrived back at the motel, we went ahead and quickly started the festivities. The first order of business was to restore the heat (which was not working, but was quickly restored by the innkeeper). Next, we went ahead and “upgraded” the room by turning the bathtub into an impromptu hot tub! Unfortunately the water was a little rusty so I decided to reclassify it as a natural hot spring. At first everyone sat around with just their feet in the light brownish red water. Later as the adventurous spirit that is Bell’s Two Hearted consumed me I decided to seize the moment and go all in!

The next day we started with breakfast at the well known Betty's Pies.  Corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy, and delicious pie was a great start to the day.  Then we drove up the North Shore to Split Rock Lighthouse where we watched a historical video about the lighthouse's history. A small museum detailed the maritime history of the lake.  We were able to admire the lake during the daylight the entire way home.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Goals and Dreams: First world problems?

When I think about all the goals and dreams I have in my life (re: bucket list, reading list, travel goals, etc.) I can't help but think about how fortunate I am to even be able to hope for these things.  What if I had to wake up each day and spend every waking moment trying to eat, trying to survive? I would have no time to wish for travel, to fulfill personal goals, to try to become the person I want to be.  There are many, many admirable people who overcome their living situations to fulfill their goals and dreams and to make a difference in the world.  There are many more who can never do more than struggle to survive.
This makes me feel the need to spend more time just appreciating the life and opportunities that I have. It makes me want to make sure my luxurious extra time is not wasted and that I do become the best person I can be.  I have the luxury of being able to spend time just on myself.  I have health, security, support, love and so many other blessings that I am able to sit around pondering the meaning of life and what I wish to do with it.  This just blows my mind sometimes...that I can even be so introspective and spend so much time on self fulfillment.  I want to give back in some way and I'm hoping that one day I figure out just how to do this.  I want to be able to take the luck and opportunity I have been given, just by virtue of where and to whom I was born, and give that to others who are not so fortunate.  I also do not want to waste what I have been given because so many others would give so much for what I have.

At the same time, this makes me feel superficial about my own personal goals.  Travelling around the world? What good does that do for anyone besides myself? At times I feel selfish and spoiled.  If I ever have a bad day or feel upset with my life, I wonder what gives me the right to feel that way when I have so much.  I guess the only thing I can do is try to help others along the way to fulfilling my own goals...hopefully I will figure out how to do this as I go along because it seems so vague as I think about it now. Are all those first world volunteers going out for two weeks to "help" a third world community really helping? Or are they just doing it to make themselves feel better? Where is the line between too privileged and making full use of your opportunities? What is selfish and what is just understanding you are fortunate and not letting this be taken for granted? I'm hoping to gain more insight on this this year.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

100 Novels Reading List

So in trying to compile my list of 100 books to read for my bucket list I began searching online for ideas.
First of all, I decided on only putting fiction/ novels on my list as nonfiction seemed like a wholly different goal.  I found a couple sources to draw from in creating my list:

First, Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list and the companion Reader's Choice 100 Best list:

Then there was Radcliffe's Rival list:

Then another reader submission-based list:

And finally NPR's top novels list:

From this I created my own.  What I liked about the reader submissions was that there were more contemporary novels, not just "classics."  In choosing my list I wanted some variety and not just the obvious literary greats.  So here goes:
  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. 1984 by George Orwell
  3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  4. Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  8. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  9. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  10. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  11. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  12. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  13. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  14. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  15. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  16. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  17. The Arabian Nights
  18. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  19. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  20. Ulysses by James Joyce
  21. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  22. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  23. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  24. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje 
  25. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  26. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  27. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  28. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  29. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  30. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  32. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  33. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  34. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (In Progress)
  35. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  36. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  37. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  38. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  39. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  40. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  41. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  42. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  43. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
  44. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  45. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  46. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  47. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  48. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  49. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  50. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  51. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
  52. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  53. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  54. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  55. The Stand by Stephen King
  56. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  57. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  58. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  59. Dune by Frank Herbert
  60. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  61. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  62. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  63. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  64. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  65. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  66. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (In Progress)
  67. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  68. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  69. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  70. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  71. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  72. Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
  73. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  74. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  75. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  76. The Golden Cage by Shirin Ebadi (In Progress)
  77. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  78. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  79. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
  80. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  81. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  82. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
  83. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  84. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  85. The Trial by Franz Kafka
  86. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  87. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  88. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  89. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  90. Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World by H.H. the Dalai Lama
  91. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  92. Emma by Jane Austen
  93. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  94. Siddharta by Hermann Hesse
  95. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (In Progress)
  96. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  97. What is the What by Dave Eggers (In Progress)
  98. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  99. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  100. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne