It’s only fitting that my return to this blog would be with an ode to Squam. I’m still at a loss for words to describe the whole experience, but I put together this video that captures some of the magic.
When Matt and I bought our tickets to Monteverde, we obviously weren’t paying attention. Because if we had been, we would’ve known that it wasn’t just a private bus ride. It was two private bus rides, with a boat ride in between. But I held our receipt and thought, “Oh, the company must be called Jeep Boat Jeep.” Because, really, that makes a bunch of sense. Right? RIGHT.
A large minivan picked us up at the hostel. The “bus” had plenty of space for us, which was a nice change from the uncomfortable bus ride to La Fortuna. Matt fell asleep and I stared out the window, letting the breeze dry my hair, which was still wet from the hot springs. What a great feeling that is, having your hair dried by the wind. I wouldn’t mind drying my hair that way every day. The ride was bumpy but peaceful. Until we passed over a bridge and the van pulled over. Everyone started getting out. I knew the private bus option was much shorter than the public one (three hours versus seven) but it had only been 30 minutes and I knew we hadn’t arrived at our destination. We put on our backpacks while the rest of the people in our van informed us, duh, we have to take a boat to get across. (Jeep Boat Jeep, anyone?)
We walked down to the water, where a boat awaited us. A couple other vans dropped off passengers. The boat looked like it would sink with everyone and our luggage weighing it down. I started scanning the boat for life vests. Negative. I had no idea how long the boat ride would be or where we were or what was really going on. But I went with it. No one else seemed alarmed. Look at me being easy going and carefree and flexible. Look at me staring death in the face (ok, maybe not death, but uncertainty at the least! Maybe now is a good time to admit that I’m writing this on a triple espresso, which I’m guessing is the equivalent of liquid crack.)
The boat ride was wonderful. And well worth the cost of the private shuttle. If I could commute everywhere by boat ride, I would. As long as life vests were around. SAFETY FIRST, PEOPLE.
(Boat ride to Monteverde. More photos up on Flickr.)
We arrived on the other side of the lake (I actually have no idea if it was a lake or the name of the unknown body of water, so I use that term for lack of an accurate description) and got into vans again. We weren’t sure if all the vans were going to Monteverde, but some man ushered us into his vehicle, and some other girls who were just as confused were going to the same place as us, so if we got lost, at least it’d all be together.
The rest of the drive was like we were chancing death. Most of it was on one-way roads and the driver went faster than I deemed safe, especially around corners or when traffic was approaching us. It was like an extreme sport, one in which women should’ve been notified to wear sports bras. I waited for the bouncing to be so intense that my head hit the ceiling. That never happened, but I had a mild case of whiplash. And while my body was incapable of staying still, Matt returned to his nap. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
Despite all my worries, we made it unharmed to our hostel. There wasn’t much to this small town. We’d come for the rain forest and cloud forest, but it was too late in the day to start any adventures. So we went to the grocery store near our hostel and bought food to make dinner. Matt came up with the menu of chicken stir fry, though I had to explain that raw chicken seriously grossed me out (I couldn’t even stand by the counter when he ordered it) and he would have to be the one to touch it.
The hostel had a kitchen, basically a little balcony off the back that was hardly enough room for one person. My vegetable cutting responsibilities were revoked after Matt decided that I couldn’t cut things fast enough. I wasn’t aware I was under a deadline, and he could see hostility fume from my head and responded that we’d hit the sibling stage of travel. Which is bound to happen when you’re together nonstop for five five days (and counting…) We cooked dinner two more nights, and I’m happy to report that my cutting was up to par.
A van picked us up the next morning to go ziplining. I grew up with a zipline in my backyard and thought it’d be awesome to sail through a forest. Of course once we got there and started getting harnessed into the equipment, I worried what would happen if the ziplines just fell off the trees or I got stuck in the middle or became unhooked. So many varieties of doom dangling in front of me.
After a quick demonstration from our guides (how to situate yourself, break or pull yourself in if you get stuck), the group climbed up to the first platform. We met some cool girls from Spain (interesting to hear their accents compared to the Costa Ricans) and a couple from Chicago who’d just graduated with master’s in journalism (we lamented over the pitiful state of publishing). The guides eased us into ziplining, starting off with short, smooth distances. After a few ziplines, they paired us up for a longer line. At first I thought the guide was joking because I didn’t see any way for Matt and me to be hooked together. That’s because there wasn’t. The person in front held their legs to their chest while the person in back wrapped their legs around the other person. Could you imagine doing this with a stranger? Um, awkward. The person in back was also responsible for breaking or slowing down, so all the partner ziplines turned out to be quite carefree for me.
(Matt and me between ziplines. I’m not even going to address the awkwardness of the bra harness.)
We hiked in the forest from one zipline to the next. There were 15 rides total, three of them were special: repelling, Tarzan and Superman. The repel wasn’t a true repel, as the guides controlled the drop down. I screamed as I plummeted. Then they stopped me mid-fall only to drop me down faster the rest of the way. Even though we had special gloves on, my hands felt rugburned from holding the rope as I flew down, and it also smelled like burning. I hadn’t even factored in the possibility of catching on fire!
Tarzan and Superman tied for my favorite. For the Tarzan swing, you’re hooked up (how, I’m not quite sure) and then you drop down from the platform and swing back and forth. The woman from Chicago said I had my eyes closed tight and let out a massive screw when I dropped. It seriously felt like imminent death….waiting for the cord to catch. That freefall was pure terror and absolute freedom. The swinging back and forth into the trees was lovely, and I didn’t want them to pull me back in. Matt’s swing was entertaining because he knocked over one of the guides on the platform and required back-up to be pulled in.
The Superman was a very long zipline where your back and feet are hooked to the line and as you basically fly mid-air. Getting attached was kind of weird and required creative maneuvering. As I sailed along, I looked down into the forest to see a secluded house and some cows. Mountains were all around me. I didn’t want to stop.
Matt and I tried visiting the Cloud Forest the next day, but it started raining on the drive there and continued for hours. We waited it out in the cafeteria playing an off-brand version of Connect Four. It was impossible to see anything during the downpour, and we weren’t dressed for the weather either. So after a couple of hours we caught the bus back to the hostel.
Because there really is, like, nothing to do in Monteverde, Matt and I spent a fair amount of time catching up on “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes and I introduced him to my obsession with “True Blood.” Little did I know that Matt can pull off a great impression of Vampire Bill.
When it came time to buy bus tickets back to San Jose (where I’d be catching my flight to New York), I made sure to actually pay attention to any signs or information about the ride. Sadly, no boats were on the itinerary.
The day after I arrived in Costa Rica, Matt and I set off for La Fortuna, home of La Arenal Volcano and some waterfalls. The five-hour bus ride was like nothing I’d ever experienced. We were able to find seats together, but after a few stops, the bus became standing-room only, with people squished in the aisle and overflowing onto my face. Every so often, as I’d have some stranger’s butt or stomach brushing against me (who needs personal space?), I’d curl my feet up on on my chair so Matt could cross his under mine because these buses weren’t exactly designed with someone 6-foot-4 in mind. These buses also weren’t designed with people’s bladders in mind, because they don’t have bathrooms. The idea of a bumpy five-hour bus ride after downing a bunch of water left me fearing my bladder would burst on board. Luckily no such thing happened.
On the bright side, the long ride was perfect for listening to music. I took one of Matt’s earbuds hostage and quickly became a fan of Band of Horses, Kings of Leon and Bon Iver. I never learned the names of the songs, so for the rest of the trip I’d just say “Can you play that one I really liked, when his voice was all raspy (as I gestured with my hands crinkling by my throat).” And Matt would know exactly which one I was talking about, which was amazing, because I wasn’t even sure which band I was referring to.
Once we made it to La Fortuna, we ducked into a restaurant for dinner because of a massive downpour. After the storm let up, we checked into our hostel, where we ended up staying the rest of the night because the monsoon returned. Thankfully our hostel had happy hour, which nearly everyone staying there took advantage of. Unfortunately the one bartender-slash-chef was bombarded by us all and it took forever to get drinks.
The weather held out the next day, which worked out well for our hike to the waterfall. The clouds even parted a bit so you could see the top of the volcano. The animals we saw along the way were pretty entertaining. All the horses would come up to the fences by the street, as if to pose for the tourists.
It took about 90 minutes to walk there, and it was brutally hot the whole way. Despite handwashing the clothes I wore that day in Costa Rica and washing them in a machine once I got back to New York, I think they still smell. That’s how potent the mixture of my sweat + bug spray + sunscreen was. I bet you really wanted to know that.
After all the climbing up to the volcano area, it was a steep, rugged walk down to the waterfall. Loose chains and rope provided the “railing” between you and death by tumbling into the forest. The uneven stairs were crumbling rocks. I moved so slowly, afraid of slipping and getting hurt. Once we made it to the waterfall, it was a whole new battle. We took off our tennis shoes and switched to flip flops to walk on the rocks out to the water. I may as well have been playing Twister with the awkward maneuvering I had going on.
Even once we made it into the freezing water, we had trouble finding our footing because of the slippery moss. Our swim out to the waterfall lasted a whole four seconds because we kept getting pushed back to shore. Every time we looked over at our hostel roommate Sarah, she appeared to be nearly drowning from a new wave. And after I was swept up by a wave as I was climbing out, to the point of falling into the splits and gnashing my calf on a rock, I chose to perch atop a rock, all mermaid-like, to avoid any future currents that would try to have their way with me. Matt, on the other hand, managed to sit in the water like it was a calm kiddie pool.
Matt and I took it easy our second day in La Fortuna, starting with some delicious coffee and pancakes with nutella for breakfast at a nearby cafe (thus continuing my addiction to nutella). It was an open-air restaurant and our seats were right behind the entryway, which created a perfect vortex of breeze that made me never want to leave. The cafe was also a breeding ground for waiters with overly gelled hair. Made you question how much money they spent on hair gel and how much of their morning routine was devoted to spiking their hair up and out. The rest of the day we hung out in our hostel pool, enjoying the beautiful weather (and trying to avoid an annoying alcoholic Canadian who kept talking at us).
Our last day in La Fortuna, we visited Baldi Hot Springs. We’d been hearing rave reviews about it from people at our hostel, that they had more than 30 pools of varying temperatures, plus waterslides. We never found the waterslides, but we hopped from pool to pool, like Goldilocks, trying to find the right temperature. One was so scalding that Matt ran right through it, and when I waded in, I felt like my body was on fire. We met some middle-aged women from Costa Rica who really enjoyed talking to Matt. I had trouble with their accents, but I did catch on that Matt told them I loved Target and wanted to design stationery. The women didn’t entirely believe that I didn’t know Spanish, as I nodded along when Matt would say something. And every time they asked him — in Spanish — if I knew the language, I would look at them and shake my head no. It made me laugh. They tried getting me to speak Spanish but I wouldn’t budge. Ole!
The hot springs were incredibly relaxing, minus a few splash fights (Matt started them). We were only able to stay for a couple hours though because we had to catch a bus to Monteverde.
My mom used to say that my way of dealing with things was avoidance. And while I vehemently disagreed with her at the time (and now don’t think it’s applicable anymore), I have fallen back to my old habits. Because I don’t want to tell you about Costa Rica. Because that means it’s over. And if Costa Rica is over, my whole five glorious weeks of travel are finished. And I am stuck in New York without a job or plane tickets, left to debate whether I should wear tights under my jeans because it’s getting cold. And to think not long ago I was in a swimsuit, marveling at how many freckles I was accumulating.
But I can’t not talk about ziplining through a forest and hiking to a waterfall and how I apparently do not cut vegetables fast enough. So I will deal with reality for just a little while, just so I can share my stories with you.
(view from my plane going to Costa Rica)
The final leg of my amazing trip was eight days in Costa Rica with one of my best friends, Matt (the trip was originally nine days, but I accidentally missed my flight). If I was telling this story in person, I would pause and make him tell the part about how we know each other, because it makes me laugh. He’d say that we went to high school together and have known each other for 10 years, but we didn’t become friends until college (when we worked on the yearbook together. Did you even know that colleges still had yearbooks?). My story would say that we met and became friends my freshman year of college, but once in high school he said something sassy to me. Something he conveniently doesn’t remember. He’s lived abroad for four years and has been traveling around South and Central America for the past six months. Before I’d even been laid off, I’d been telling people that should layoffs at work happen again, I wanted to meet up with Matt. And somehow it magically worked out that he’d be in a location that I could fly to with my Jet Blue pass. I love when the Universe is nice to me.
When Matt picked me up at the airport, all I knew was that we’d be staying the night in San Jose, but our plans for the rest of the trip were up in the air. No reservations. No bus tickets. No itinerary. Six months ago I would’ve been freaking out about this, but after showing up to a hostel that didn’t exist and missing a flight, I knew I’d be fine, not to mention Matt speaks Spanish, which makes a huge difference (lest I remind you of my Santo Domingo experience).
After lunch, we grabbed coffee and ran into a friend he’d met traveling. She told us about a free film festival. The movie was supposed to have subtitles, which it did, but they turned out to be in Spanish. So I had no clue what was going on. The quality wasn’t too great either, which resulted in Matt and his friend (a native Spanish speaker) not understanding what was going on either. All I remember is lots of boob shots, some midgets and a small child wandering around with a shotgun. Other than that, who knows.
What I wasn’t expecting was San Jose’s overwhelming number of incredibly persistent beggar children. The city felt a little familiar to me, like a more modernized, tourist-friendly version of Santo Domingo. Even though the Dominican Republic isn’t as well off as Costa Rica, I never had people pestering me for money, and I was even traveling alone. One night in an ice cream shop, Matt turned down a boy asking for money. The boy then started talking to me (because that’s a brilliant back-up plan). I kept shaking my head and saying no, Matt sternly told him in Spanish to get the hell outta there, and the ice cream employees (who were oddly dressed like nurses) called for security because he wouldn’t leave us alone. This kind of encounter probably happened to us at least six other times. And we barely spent any time in San Jose. Because the next day we left in search of waterfalls.
Today’s my last day in Costa Rica, the last day of all my travels. Tomorrow I head back to New York (via Orlando). Part of me is so ready to be back in my bed, to be able to use my own shower, to be in a place with plumbing that lets you flush toilet paper (in Costa Rica you just put it in the trash basket. It just feels so gross). The other part would gladly continue to endure restless sleep in hostels, wear shower shoes and convert currency in exchange for new experiences, situations, sights and cities.
It’s absolutely beautiful here, though, and I’ve had a lot of fun exploring, relaxing and catching up with my friend Matt. Once I have more reliable internet (i.e. in my own room!) I’ll have recaps and photos ready to go.
Until then, here’s a photo of a waterfall in La Fortuna.
After missing my flight on Wednesday, I debated a few options of how to spend my day. I didn’t have anything to read, so it seemed my only option was to walk 50 minutes to Wal-Mart to pick up a book (the nearest legit bookstore was more than a two-hour walk away. Say it with me now: Ahhh, hell no.) Because I didn’t have anything else to do, a 50-minute walk didn’t seem too bad. Not to mention, my body could stand to move a little more after a month of two-desserts-a-day, wine, cheese and eating out.
And so I set off with a map — scrawled on the back an old itinerary — of my path to Wal-Mart. It seemed easy enough, and I’d actually been there on Tuesday night to pick up last-minute toiletries when my former roommate Aimee drove in to Orlando so we could have dinner. But that visit was in a car, and it didn’t seem so far away.
Oh boy. Does perspective change once you’ve been sweltering in 100-degree heat, trying to figure out why sidewalks abruptly end and cross walk signals are defective or non-existent. A few times I had to walk in the bike lane, which was sometimes between the normal lanes and the right turn lane. Which obviously made me feel incredibly safe. The cross walks were useless to me…there was no official walk when I wanted to cross, and when there was one, I’d have to wait five minutes for the official signal. So I decided to bob and weave when I felt like it. Which brought back memories of Santo Domingo and its national past-time of playing frogger in highway traffic.
I listened to my iPod to pass the time, which marginally helped. Half-way there I had the urge to start signing out loud. I was the only person on the sidewalks for as far as I could see, and maybe all the people driving by would just think I was using a hands-free phone. Or something. I debated whether I had the courage to just sing out loud, pausing my train of thought to watch a lizard dart across the sidewalk or wonder if it was normal for all these planes to be flying so close to my head.
After I decided I really didn’t care what anyone driving down Lee Vista Boulevard thought of me, I began my accompaniment to this jewel of a song.
And because I had all the time in the world, I replayed it a few times, trying to sing the three-part round ALL BY MYSELF. Crazy, right? If anyone were listening, they would’ve thought I was schizophrenic, because I was making no sense at all. “Glide away come around gain promise not chain off door i’ll take and if come around again soapy heels.” In all honesty, if I actually had my own round that I was supposed to sing, it’d probably still come off schizophrenic sounding because I’d get distracted by everyone else. But I don’t think the lizards, butterflies and ponds minded much.
I arrived at Wal-Mart, drenched in sweat. The book selection was pathetic. Cheesy inspirational religious books and romance novels consumed the shelves. They didn’t even have a nonfiction section. It’s Wal-Mart for heaven’s sake! I settled for cherry tomatoes, granola bars, grapes, Vitamin Water (only $1 per bottle! A true bargain! But they tasted kinda weird), and pineapple, which, thank you karma, was from Costa Rica.
On my 50-minute walk back to my hotel (during which I drank two of my four Vitamin Waters), I stopped at Wendy’s for lunch (other option: Cracker Barrel) and acquired plastic silverware to use to eat my fruit. The rest of the walk back to my hotel, all I could think of was taking a shower or going swimming. So when I got back, I got ready for the pool (noticing the newest spots that got too much sun: my lips and my feet, which now have a Birkenstock tan line). The pool was empty, so I swam and tried some stuff I learned in water running class, which was only partially successful because I didn’t have a flotation device to keep me afloat.
After my arms started feeling the burn (from exercise, not the sun), I took a nap. When I looked up, I saw a squirrel and a lizard looking right at me, a few feet away on the perimeter of the pool. Lovely. I looked to my left and saw a lizard climbing up one of the lounge chairs. Seriously, what’s with the lizards.
My plan to go to bed early failed once I decided to wash clothes in the sink. Then I worried that they wouldn’t dry overnight, so I hand dried two shirts, shorts and underwear during commercial breaks of “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Glee.”
I was up by 4:45 a.m. today, on the airport shuttle at 7 and waiting in my gate by 7:45. My flight departs at 10:10 a.m., but I’m not messing it up this time. Costa Rica, here I come!
My flight to Costa Rica left at 10:10 this morning. At 9:50 a.m., I was sitting in a hotel lobby in Orlando, hitting my head against the seafoam green table. I missed my flight, and it is all my fault.
This video best expresses my feelings:
(more of the freak out, less the chic)
Yesterday when I signed up for the hotel shuttle to the airport, I looked at the time on my return flight from Costa Rica. Today as I sat in the lobby, checking e-mail while waiting for the airport shuttle, I pulled out my boarding pass (apparently my eyes glazed over during the entire online process and I neglected to look at the time) and realized my flight was taking off in 20 minutes. I stared in disbelief at my computer. My heart pounded hard and fast. I think I was shaking. I dug through my carry on bag for my phone. I scrolled down to Jet Blue (yep, saved them! Thank God.) and couldn’t hold back my freak out from the kind phone operator. My voice quivered as I explained my situation, and as she did computer things, I mumbled things like “I can’t believe I did this. Uhhh, what am I going to do?” And after she set me up on stand-by for Thursday, so said she hoped my day got better. Me too. What’s really ironic is that I purposely scheduled my flight to Costa Rica the day before Jet Blue All-You-Can-Jet Pass expired, in case something would happen.I really hope this wasn’t some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
As far as bad things happening, this isn’t terrible. I have a place to stay already (unlike Eugene, when my hostel didn’t exist). There’s just nothing around here though (except Denny’s and TGIFriday’s, which I think gave me food poisoning yesterday). I also forgot my books at home when I switched from rolly luggage to a backpack. And don’t even get me started on the communication blitz I sent to my friend Matt across e-mail, Facebook and Skype, hoping he wouldn’t be picking me up at the airport as I continue to camp out in the hotel lobby, because it’s the only place with wireless internet, and right now, wireless internet is the only thing making me happy.
So now that my day is wide open, I’m left contemplating some truly exciting options. Pool (is this really sensible, Jacky, considering you are STILL peeling from a burn you got two weeks ago?). TV. Internet in the hotel lobby. Walking 50 minutes to Wal-Mart. I may be in the place where dreams come true, but right now it’s kind of a nightmare.
On the bright side, now I’ll be around to watch “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Glee” on TV.
Each city on my trip has fulfilled something different. Oregon was nature. Aruba was the beach. California was food and wine (…and San Francisco beckoned me to move there). And the theme for Houston was laughing. Lots and lots of laughing. Which is good, because I like to laugh.
The reason for the stop in Houston was to see my friend Sammi, who I’ve known since kindergarten. We grew up two blocks away from each other, had safety patrol at the same time in sixth grade (afternoon, to help kindergartners come in), played on the same soccer team (only for a couple seasons, because I was too busy picking weeds and making necklaces to care about flying balls and goalie hands and defense. Also, I honest to God wore jeans to games. Who the hell knows why, because that’s just stupid), and spent countless hours together in the journalism room in high school and on journalism trips across the country. She’s been in Houston since she graduated from Indiana University, but this was my first visit.
The trip started out with Sammi picking me up at the wrong airport and ended with the filming of this video. We had a lot of fun making it (and doing the things mentioned in it. Whatever we were doing, we were laughing). Head over to Sammi’s blog to see some outtakes and to read her recap, “Cheap, yet classy, with plenty of free kisses.” They’re pretty entertaining, so you’re missing out on your daily recommended dose of laughter if you don’t.
Once I was picked up at the correct airport (not that I minded sitting in a rocking chair, waving down strangers who looked like her in the mean time) we went to lunch because I was wasting away and in need of food upon my arrival. Sammi took me for crepes in her neighborhood. And because I loved her raspberry nutella crepe with whip cream concoction SO. MUCH. I made her take me there again after dinner, even though I wasn’t even really hungry. Because once I start eating nutella, I lose all sense of control (it’s why all the girls gained at least 10 pounds when we studied abroad in Italy. Behold, the power of nutella).
On Saturday, we were up bright and early because Sammi had to teach at Saturday school. I just sort of lurked in the corner, looking like a predator, not quite sure what to do (the bugs certainly knew what to do, and immediately attacked me as we waited outside for the buses). Sammi was looking for materials in the back of the library for her class to do on Monday (because she took the day off — to be with me) and I slightly geeked out at seeing all the classroom copies of books for the whole school. Books I read and loved when I was in school. Loved seeing that they’ve stood the test of time.
After school, we went to Target at my request so I could restock on toiletries (and get an exfoliator, because my calves are STILL PEELING from the burn I got kayaking in San Diego more than two weeks ago. SPF is your friend. Seriously.) It was almost a religious experience because of how much stuff they had that made me happy. And by stuff I mean crazy things like body wash, shampoo and make up. They had so many options, and most of the stuff was nearly half the price I would pay in New York; I just wanted to buy it all, but I didn’t. Because even though I can’t exercise restraint with nutella, I’ve learned how to at Target.
After an afternoon nap/internet binge, we went to dinner, which ended up being my favorite meal. We went with some of Sam’s teacher friends to Chuey’s for Tex Mex, which is famous for its creamy jalepeno dip. My God, America. The rest of us are really missing out on Tex Mex and Chuey’s. My stomach almost exploded because I could. not. stop. eating. it. I’d already consumed a meal’s worth of chips and dips before my entree even arrived. It was glorious.
Another highlight of my trip was when Sammi introduced me to the most incredible stationery store. As in I kept telling her I wanted to live there and never leave. They sold cards and paper products in front and ran a design studio in the back. Which would be my dream job/company right now. I touched lots of cards and notebooks, admiring the designs, illustrations and detail and ended up buying the coolest planner. 2010 can’t get here fast enough.
As you can see, we have a lot of fun together. The kind of fun and understanding that come from knowing someone so long — through bad haircuts, weird outfits, high school freak outs and life plan overhauls. Even though this was my first time in Houston and we haven’t spent this much time together for two years, everything fell right back into place. There’s something extra comforting about the friendship of someone who has grown up with you and loves you just the same, even if you constantly push her dog away because she won’t stop licking you.
Going into the Dominican Republic, I admitted that I had no idea what I was going to do there. Or why I was going, really. I wanted to visit some places outside the U.S., and the flights fit my schedule, and that’s all that mattered. Part of me thinks maybe this logic was a bad idea. At least for someone whose Spanish is, oh, laughable. And for someone who is pale and non-Hispanic looking, relying on a fake wedding ring to fend off cat calls (this attempt was also laughable, and the ring left a classy green band around my finger).
The entire flight to Santo Domingo, the rest of the passengers spoke as though they were long lost friends — friends who couldn’t stop talking because of everything they had to catch up on. And it was all said passionately. With hand gestures and body movements. This didn’t so much aid in taking a nap to supplement my five hours of sleep when my seatmate kept knocking into me and talking louder than my iPod.
I was staying in the Colonial Zone, so my hotel was just two blocks from Conde Street, which is pedestrian-only traffic and filled with shops, food and lots of culture. Once I was settled in (after first being told they didn’t have my reservation, then being escorted to an ATM by an employee because I got lost finding it on my own), I explored the area.
(More photos from Santo Domingo are here.)
Even though I had a map (from a tourist magazine at the hotel) with recommendations of things to do, I just wandered down the streets, admiring the buildings, colors and history (I also sweat more than I have in my entire life. I honestly think 98 percent of the liquids in my body became sweat that soaked my clothes). I explored the area on foot because transportation, of any kind, nearly gave me a heart attack. After riding in a taxi from the airport, I learned that lanes aren’t so much solid guides as suggestions that you shouldn’t feel restrained by. Want to drive in the middle of two lanes? Well, go right ahead!Don’t feel like stopping at an intersection and would just rather honk your horn a couple times? OK, brilliant! Want to speed up, then slow down and then swerve in front of another car? What’s stopping you?! It was like a Consumer Reports crash test experiment, minus all the safety precautions and test dummies inside.
And there was NO. WAY. I was going to be the passenger on a motorcycle. It appeared as though the highway had a special side lane for motorcycles, which was nice, but the vehicles didn’t look at all sturdy or safe. Helmets weren’t included with your fare, either (and the helmets that some drivers wore didn’t look all that protective either). I can’t even order ice cream, so there’s no way I’d chance doing something that could leave me in a hospital, mumbling about “Los Estados Unidos” and “el aeropuerto,” occasionally bursting out “HAY CARAMBA!” or “Para el amor de Jesucristo.” (“OH NO!” and “For the love of Jesus Christ.” Phrases I likely picked up in high school Spanish watching soap operas.)
After seeing the buses go by — more like minivans, some without doors — with people squished inside or flailing off the side, I knew it’d be better to rely on my Birkenstocks (which, sadly, have cracked just a month after I bought them). Not to mention there wasn’t a bus route map — there was an end destination and you just shout out when you want to get off. I knew I’d probably have a panic attack if I ventured onto one, never able to correctly shout where or when I wanted to get off, never sure where I was or how to get back where I started.
Transportation in general was just chaotic. Pedestrians didn’t have so much the right of way as the right to run — across streets and highways whenever there was a break in traffic (or whenever they felt tired of waiting). People darted across the highway to an unmarked spot, where I can only assume a bus or something was going to stop. I’m sure there was a method to it all, but it was certainly way beyond my comprehension.
On my way back to the airport, I thought I was going to die multiple times. My driver didn’t speak English, but if I translated correctly, he said they all drive very fast there (right as a motorbike swerved to avoid hitting my side as he ran through an intersection). I’m not sure he stopped at all during the drive, except to drop me off (and we went through residential areas with stops signs and traffic). The windows of his Honda (circa 1986) were rolled down to the point that my hair whipped across my face. My seatbelt didn’t work.
My favorite part of the visit was when I walked down Conde Street in the evening, after everyone was off work. People congregate on the benches, and as you walked down the strip you could hear people playing music. Groups of men were clustered every few blocks, beating drums and shaking maracas, singing words I couldn’t understand. One woman stood outside her shop, shaking her booty to the music as two men, quite blatantly, stared at her round ass. This scene seemed to capture the essence of the city — noisy, interactive, colorful. From my hotel room I could hear dogs down the block barking, people gathering on the back patio for dinner and conversations on the stairway. For some reason, none of it bothered me like it normally would in the US. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
Where Aruba felt too much like a tourist-only destination with no real feel for the country, Santo Domingo was the opposite. Most of the places I walked, I was the only tourist around. Few people spoke English. I was able to really see and experience the city, how people actually live instead of a fantasy bubble (I’m not knocking Aruba — I’m just realizing the types of places I like to visit). I often felt confused and worried about my safety in Santo Domingo, but I wouldn’t trade this trip for another location. I needed to be somewhere where people wouldn’t cater to me in English. Where the hotel was basic, if run down. Where I had to use bottled water to brush my teeth. Where I had to leave my key in a special slot in order to have electricity (therefore preventing the electricity from being on while you’re out of the room). Then were the three times when the electricity actually WENT OUT — one of those times I was already at the airport. A man at Hudson News got out a flashlight to grab a bottled water from the fridge. I immediately wondered if mass chaos would ensue. A few minutes later, everything was back to normal, my imagination back in check.
While I felt out of my comfort zone the majority of my time in Santo Domingo (more because I couldn’t communicate and was unfamiliar with the area), the perspective I gained was exactly what I needed. I may not have toured all sites or explored the entire city, but I learned a lot about myself, which made getting lost and feeling out of place worth it.
I know I’m going all out of order since I posted a video from Santo Domingo before a San Francisco recap, but better late than never. Let’s rewind.
After seeing my sister in San Diego, I spent four days in San Francisco with my friends Kaitlan and Jon. They live in an adorable neighborhood, in an adorable apartment with great neighbors. I started looking at apartments on craiglist my first night there. I kid you not. After a couple hours, I already knew San Fran was my city.
(bikes found on my walk from Dolores Park to Mission Dolores Church. I’m a big fan of all these colors.)
My first full day there, my friend Becka drove in from Sacramento and we spent the afternoon together. We had delicious open face sandwiches at Tartine Bakery, then wandered around toward downtown (so I could pick up some literature at the visitor’s center). As we were sitting by a fountain so I could thumb through my pamphlets, we noticed two teenagers acting odd. We stared awhile and finally realized they were doing drugs. I kept staring, and instead of annoying them, they actually asked me if I wanted to try some. Um, let me think about that. No. After we were propositioned for drugs (which were apparently the good stuff, they said, some name involving the word “purple”) We visited the Presidio, which used to be an army post and is now a forest/cemetery/neighborhood with great views of the city.
Kaitlan and Jon appreciate good food and wine, and every place they picked was delicious. We had Chinese at Eric’s, followed by ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe — the flavors were so outrageous I wasn’t sure what to think. I settled on Tahitian Vanilla and Balsamic Caramel. Let me tell you. They were amazing. I also tasted Peanut Butter Curry, which didn’t taste as crazy as I thought; the flavors were actually pretty complimentary.
Jon has a car, so I was able to ride, not walk, down Lombard Street (America’s crookedest street). And after surviving that, he drove us down the steepest street, which felt like you were at the top of a cliff because you couldn’t see anything over it. All this was marvelously handled with a stick shift, ladies and gentleman. That takes talent. A talent I most certainly do not possess (shout out to my Oregon minivan, which I miss. Hi minivan!)
I spent a lot of time just walking around exploring neighborhoods, falling in love with the styles of houses and variety of colors. My quads felt like they were on fire after dominating all those hills. Almost forgot what that wonderful pain felt like since I haven’t run in three months because of my stress fracture). I wandered down Hayes Street, and Haight Street and walked through Golden Gate Park. I strolled through the Mission and stopped by 826 Valencia, which was the most incredible store (that all Dave Eggars fans should visit. I unhappily waited in line for 45 minutes with annoying tourists in order to ride on a cable car.
(view from my cable car, before it lost electricity)
It was delightful, when my view wasn’t blocked by an overly affectionate pre-teen couple or giant dude. The electricity actually went out on my first car, so my ride was cut short.
Aftr Happy Hour on Friday, we grabbed drinks and appetizers at Jon and Kait’s neighborhood bar. The bartender made his signature drink for me, which just won a tequila contest. I’m not much of a tequila person, but the drink was surprisingly tasty. I felt quite special to have it made even though it wasn’t on the menu.
On Saturday, we took a day trip to Napa for my first ever wine tasting. The weather was gorgeous, so the Golden Gate Bridge was actually visible on our way out of the city.
(Kaitlan and me before heading to Napa)
Jon and Kait belong to a Vineyard (which means we could drink for free! Very important people!) And the vineyard just happened to have an event that day… but even though we didn’t have tickets, Kait and Jon are such likeable customers that one of the managers gave us free tickets, which was awesome because they were expensive. And dudes. It was insane. All the (delicious) wine you could drink. Lots of tasty appetizers (I tried lamb for the very first time). An ’80s cover band. Sunshine. I was so happy (and not just because I’d been drinking all day).
(St. Supery in Napa)
Before Kait and Jon dropped me off at the airport on Sunday (oh how nice it was to have friends with a car!), we went to The Butler and the Chef French Bistro for brunch, where I had the most scrumptious french toast. The food was one of the highlights of my visit. Everything I ate was like the most delicious food I’d ever tasted. The ice cream. The cheese. The croissants. The entire visit was like a big dose of happy food cheese wine architecture heaven. A life I could get used to.