Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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28 January 2009
Sweet and sour January

Whew, January 2009 has definitely been a month of "best of times, worst of times." I have to admit, I'm pretty glad it's about over.

We joined the rest of the world in celebrating the Coronation of Barack Obama on January 20. (Yay, stem cell research! Yay, an intelligent person in the Oval Office! Yay, attention to climate change! Yay, End of an Error!) We hosted a couchsurfer from Indianapolis. He'd helped with the Obama campaign in his home state, and was excited about waking up at 4am, waiting in the dark for a few hours, and then standing in the freezing cold for a few more hours with the huddled masses to observe this historical moment in person. We watched it on TV from the comfort of our warm, cozy house. Still, it was a wonderful event to witness, and it'll be nice to be able to travel without having to automatically apologize for being an Amerkan. And how cool to have a Chief Executive who understands the power of Web 2.0, for a change.

The celebration was marred by the passing of Mark's dad, who had a stroke in early January and never fully regained consciousness. We spent some time in Connecticut for the funeral and helping Mark's mom get things in order. Not a fun time, needless to say, and it brought back a lot of sad memories for me. However, it was nice to see friends and family and get a chance to celebrate John Schramm's life. He had just taken a business trip to China and seemed energized by that endeavor, so I'm glad he was able to go out on a high note.

In the "not-so-monumental but still reaaaaaally fun" category, and because I can't leave you on such a morose note, we got a chance to see one of our favorite bands last night at one of our favorite DC venues. Thievery Corporation rarely plays gigs in DC anymore, but they played the first of FIVE back-to-back sold-out shows at the 9:30 Club last night. As always, the show was spectacular. If you ever get a chance to see these guys live, go for it! Their latest album, Radio Retaliation, contains the usual eclectic mix of Jamaican, Indian, African, Latin, and Middle Eastern beats and melodies. It's goooood stuff.


Posted by sonia at 9:30 PM | Link | 1 comment

03 December 2008
Hello Sarawak, are you ready to RAWK?

We opted to spend our time in Kuching (on the Sarawak side of Malaysian Borneo) visiting slightly touristy spots: Sarawak cultural village, two caves, and orangutans. After a few stressful travel days getting here from Sabah, we were kinda worn out and needed a few days of mellowness. Fortunately our CouchSurfing host, Barry, provided a comfy place for us to crash. And we enjoyed meeting Bruno, a fellow CSer from Paris who happened to be surfing with Barry at the same time we were there. Barry, another chef, took us to some awesome off-the-beaten path Chinese restaurants in Kuching that were definitely not listed in Lonely Planet. So despite the organized tours, we felt vindicated that our Kuching stay was sufficiently authentic.

Bidayuh men display feats of strengthtraditional Bornean saron (xylophone)Day One was spent at Sarawak Cultural Village, which reminded me of Colonial Willamsburg. Composed of several different tribal longhouses clustered at the foothills of Mount Santubong, SCV is a great way to get a sampling of Sarawak's ethnic diversity. There's a cultural performance in the welcome center -- yes, it ranks pretty high on the cheese-o-meter, but it's also a handy way to check out the beautiful fabrics and distinct dances of each of the tribes represented in the village. And then you can wander through half a dozen different longhouses to see how each tribe lives. My favorites were the Penan longhouse, where Mark practiced shooting a blowpipe, and the Orang-ulu longhouse, which featured a little dude playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in a fornlorn minor key on both a sape and a saron.

Fairy CaveDay Two took us to the nearby Wind and Fairy Caves, which may not be as extraordinary as World Heritage-ranking Gunung Mulu, but have the benefit of being easily-reachable via daytrip from Kuching. Wind Cave, the smaller of the two, hosts lots of bats and swiftlets. Swiftlet nests, made from bird spit and random detritus, are used to make the infamous Chinese soup (and other dubious delicacies). Fairy cave features an enormous cavern, views across the border into Indonesian Borneo, and some mildly strenuous climbs into some limestone nooks and crannies.

welcome to Kuching, cat city!We also spent some time exploring Kuching, the Cat City. (Ten points if you can read the name Kuching and not automatically shout out "Ka-CHING!" which is what most people have done when we've told them about this part of the trip.) Nobody seems entirely sure why Kuching is called the Cat City, but the result is that there are myriad kitschy cat statues all over town. Fantastic Chinese restaurants as well, whether of the sit-down or street stall variety.

orangutans on second viewing platformRanger SmithWe couldn't leave Borneo without seeing some orangutans, aka the "Wild Man of Borneo." There are two major orangutan rehab centers in Borneo... and no, neither of them remotely resemble the Betty Ford Clinic. We missed seeing Sepilok, which is near Sandakan in Sabah. So we wanted to make sure we visited Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, just outside Kuching. There are two main viewing platforms where orangutans gather to be fed by the Malaysian equivalent of Ranger Smith. Personally I found the ranger's splendid mullet almost as fascinating as the antics of the orangutans he was feeding. Even though it was a sanitized environment, it was still pretty cool to see these fascinating creatures at close range.

Sarawak Cultural Village
Pantai Damai, Santubong
Sarawak, Malaysia

Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre
Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

21 November 2008
Kuala Lumpur: many lessons learned
crabby cabbies, cool caves, and classy couchsurfers

Petronas TowersOur time in Kuala Lumpur, or "K-L" as it's known locally, was a series of great travel lessons. We got to meet lots of fellow travelers, had an amazing local dinner, and saw some spectacular sites. But overall, our time in the Malaysian capital left a bad taste in my mouth.

typical Malaysian street sceneWe arrived early on Friday, Nov 21, via the shiny happy Aeroline bus from Penang. As before, it dropped us off a few blocks from KL's main attraction, the Petronas Towers. We stashed our bags at a nearby hotel concierge desk, and trudged over in the blazing midday heat to see about some free tickets to the top of the Towers. Oops, turns out that in order to get one of the allotted free tickets, you have to show up at the crack of dawn. Not the crack of 1:30pm. Oh well. What about Menara KL, the other big tower in town? It didn't seem to be within walking distance, plus we also wanted to check out Batu Caves. So we decided to visit the tourism bureau, located nearby and recommended by the folks at Petronas. Once we finally found the place, we were doubly pleased to find both AC and free internet. The headscarved woman behind the desk cheerfully told us there was a bus heading to the caves in about 20 minutes. Perfect! Just enough time to check some email and cool down a bit.

Hey friends and neighbors, what's that I hear? It must be time for another Travel Lesson Learned the Hard Way! This one can be spun in two versions...

1) Don't bother with tourism bureaus! Indie travelers should find their own way around.


2) Always ask lots of stupid questions, like "exactly where does this bus go, and how many obnoxious tourist stops will there be along the way before we reached our desired destination?"

goddess of mercy and moneychangingWe should have just taken a bus, or even a cab, straight to the caves. Instead we got loaded into a stifling mini bus with five other people, and schlepped to not one but two shopping stops! First the stupid pewter factor (and wouldn't you love to buy a big heavy useless somethingorother from the lovely gift shop?) and then the only slightly more interesting batik shop (and how 'bout a lovely silk scarf or ten?). ::: sigh ::: By the time we reached Batu Caves, we only had about 45 minutes to explore. Right. Got it. Lessons. Learned.

Batu Caves complexaddiction to high-fructose corn syrup, a family affairThe caves *were* very cool, and just about worth the headaches to get there. Guarded by an enormous gold statue, 272 steps take pilgrims to the caverns at the top. Two Hindu shrines, tons of monkeys, it's quite a spectacle. Once you reach the top you cross an enormous chamber to get to another opening with sunlight streaming in. There were some Hindu ceremonies taking place, but it was hard to take them seriously with people crawling over each other to snap pics and monkeys running through the proceedings. Monkeys drinking leftover soda from Coke cans. Ah, Western culture rears its ugly head yet again!

Petronas Towers begin to light up at duskWe got dropped off back at the tourist bureau, after sitting through about an hour of KL's gnarliest rush hour traffic. It turns out the KL Tower (Menara KL) was within walking distance after all. Armed with several maps and somewhat-explicit instructions from the van driver, we walked about 20 minutes to the base of the tower. Fortunately there's a shuttle to take weary visitors to the tower entrance. It was a pretty well-organized place, with audio headsets and numbered viewing stations to explain the vistas in each direction. Through a murky sunset, we watched the lights come on at the nearby Petronas Towers and across town.

Touristy items crossed off the list, it was time to rendezvous with Ken, our CouchSurfing host for the next two nights. We tried the public phones, but couldn't find one that actually worked. No wireless around. Hmm... we decided to ask if we could use the phone at one of the nicer restaurants at the base of the tower. Scoping out an Indian place that looked decent, we asked if we could make a local call, and fortunately the cheery manager agreed. We called Ken and got his address, which turned out to be a mind-boggling page of complex catenations of words and numbers and more words. Oh boy. He recommended taking the train out to a nearby MRT stop and grabbing a cab from there.

In retrospect, this is really what we should have done. But we were pretty pooped from a day of humid siteseeing, and thought it would be easier to grab a cab out there.

Uh-oh, do you hear that? It's the sound of another Travel Lesson Learned, boys and girls! Strap in for this ride!

We started at the first taxi stand, a respectable-looking kiosk that turned out to be run by the Malaysian version of The Three Stooges. Not only did they have no idea where Ken's place was (despite the reference point of a nearby MRT stop... that only seemed to confuse them more...) but they also wanted to charge us a small fortune to get there! No way, man. The second taxi stand quoted us about a third of the price, and the dispatcher seemed to think it would be no trouble for the driver to find the place. So we paid the dispatcher, got a receipt, and hopped into the next available cab. The driver first took us to the hotel where our bags had been stashed for the day, and while Mark was inside collecting our stuff, I asked if he knew how to get where we needed to go. He waved the receipt in the air and muttered "airport, airport." No, I insisted, we weren't going to the airport, we needed to be taken to a specific address, as agreed upon! I showed him the address, and he snarled something about not knowing where that was. Great. Well *I* sure as hell don't know how to get there! I offered him Ken's phone number to get the directions, and he insisted we'd need to use a pay phone to make the call. Lovely. So we got to see firsthand the legendary surliness of KL cabbies, how delightful.

When Mark got back in the cab, we took off. With no idea of where we were going, or how we'd get to Ken's place from the airport, it was a somewhat tense ride. At some point the cabbie's cell phone rang, so he was totally busted about not having a phone to call for directions. Ha! As we started to get a little closer (maybe?) to Ken's neighborhood, the cabbie pulled over and went into a gas station to get some smokes. Great, now what? When he came back we gave him Ken's number and he got more explicit directions. OK, now we're getting somewhere we want to be! But when we got to the apartment complex, the security guard said we were at the wrong end. Too late, the cantankerous f'er dumped us out on the curb and sped off. We had to walk about another half mile to get to Ken's place. *&#^! I haven't been so furious at a random stranger since... well, maybe never.

We did finally make it to Ken's apartment, about a half hour later, bedraggled and fairly surly ourselves. Ever the gracious host, Ken got us situated in our room and we were able to shower and calm down. He cooked us a fantastic homemade Cantonese dinner, and we got to chat with him a bit. A sociology professor who once worked for an airline and used to live in Europe, Ken also happens to be a great cook and an active participant in the KL couchsurfing scene. We enjoyed a lively conversation and were able to bring this frustrating day to a pleasant close.

animated conversation on Ken's couchchef Ken with his Baba Nyonya masterpiecesThe next day, after sleeping late and getting some laundry done, we helped Ken prepare for a couchsurfing dinner party. We were expecting a potluck-style meal where everyone brought a dish of some sort. Instead, it turned into a showcase of Baba-Nyonya cuisine, all cooked by our host! Whew. The party itself was an international melange of about 20 locals and surfers from all over the globe. As usual, we were the only Americans. We got to meet a French-Canadian divemaster living in Vietnam, a funky little British dude who sells lap pools in Thailand, a twitchy German who seemed to hate everything, and many vivacious and friendly Malays.

All in all, our time in KL was pretty challenging. We saw some cool stuff and met some cool people, but I was pretty happy to wrap up our visit to Peninsular Malaysia and cross KL off the list. Next stop: Malaysian Borneo!

Related links:
* all our pics of KL
* Indie Travel Podcast's excellent KL recap (blog article and podcast)

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

25 August 2008
But not before a triple Wal-Mart pitstop, oy vey

Whew, what a long day! Things eventually came together, but it took a while. Nothing having to do with Burning Man happens quickly or efficiently, so we might as well get used to it. We're on Playa Time now, baby!

The morning consisted of various errands and coordinations, including:
* hooking up with Andre, a fellow CouchSurfer who rideshared our RV
* going to pick up the RV
* meeting "the Bike Lady" who sold us our bikes on Sac Craigslist
* doing an alcohol run
* stopping at Spencer's to replace Keith's confiscated lava lamp
* not one, not two, but THREE Wal-Mart trips (which is about three more than my typical limit)

Crystal waits with a mountain of gearFortunately, Andre turned out to be not only a cool guy, but a very helpful little Burnmonkey as well. Since he had a car in Sac, we were able to split up some of the tasks a bit, so we left Sac by about 4pm instead of three days later. ;) Four of us went in Andre's Mini to get the RV, and Crystal waited behind with the gear at the hotel. I agreed to be one of the designated drivers of The Mothership, as long as I didn't have to drive at night or in any tight spaces. The thing's humungous! But it should be a comfortable living space for the four of us.

While at the RV place, we met up with three friendly docs who were also headed to the Burn. (What gave it away? The huge skull perched atop a walking staff, maybe?) Dr Lothario, Dr Dre, and Dr Dominico were part of a camp called Prescription Burn. In exchange for some lovely temporary tatoos they made me pinky-swear to bring all my friends out to their pancake brunch on Wednesday at noon. Sold!

Once we finally got started, the drive was pretty uneventful. Mark drove the first shift: two hours to Reno on Rt 80, through the mountains with lots of ups and downs and pressure changes that were tough on the ears. Moment of Zen: entering the state of Nevada with "Black Hole Sun" playing at full blast. You can almost smell the Playa dust!

Sonia & Andre ring the Virgin BellKeith took the next shift, another 2.5 hours of driving. Around 1am, we approached Gerlach, the last town before Black Rock City, and I swapped in for the last stretch. It wasn't nearly as bad as I'd expected, at least not on the straight two-lane road. We arrived at the gate and sat in line for a while, as an ocean of dust blew past us in horizontal waves. At the greeters' stand, Andre and I had to get out for the traditional Virgin ritual of rolling in the dust and then ringing the bell. We did this as quickly as possible as it was absolutely freezing outside, not to mention windy and dusty. Welcome home! What the hell have I gotten myself into??

Finding CouchSurfing Camp to drop off Andre proved to be quite a challenge. Black Rock City is laid out like a clock face: the Man's in the center, "time" streets radiate out like spokes from that center, and alphabetical car-themed streets are arranged in concentric circles. So, theoretically, finding 6:00 and Dart should be pretty simple. Hah! Except that half the street signs were missing or turned around, and the few that were in the right place/orientation were almost impossible to read in the dark. And did I mention the dust blowing at us in thick horizontal sheets? We stopped and asked about six different people, but everyone else seemed to be just as lost as we were. Finally a charming Brit named Emma hopped in the passenger seat of the RV and took us there. Ah, the Burner spirit, *there* it is! Once we dropped Andre off (in the frigid dark, to set up his poor lil' tent) we had to find Great Balls of Fire camp, which was supposed to be just a few blocks away at 8:00 and Bonneville. Despite one truly turned-around a moment where we found ourselves driving on the Esplanade (oops! look kids, it's Big Ben!) we managed to get to the intersection in question. At that point the other three got out and walked around to find camp, while I stayed in the RV trying to make sense of what I was seeing outside. People passed by on bikes and on foot, in various stages of costumery, some with the requisite glowsticks or other lights, and others just darkwad blobs in the gloomy lunar landscape. With no street lights, and almost no moon, it was truly pitch black out there. Fortunately the trio was able to find GBOF camp, and with the three of them waving like the ground crew on an airport tarmac, I parallel parked the mothership into our spot. so much for not driving at night in tight spaces! Never mind, the eagle had landed, at around 3am. We cleared out just enough space in the RV to find the beds, and sacked out.

Posted by sonia at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
12 October 2007
Chico, part deux
A quick visit with a couchsurfing goddess
It was a bummer to pack up and leave our cozy room at The Carlton Inn, but we had a long drive ahead of us, heading back to Chico to stay with a new CS host. Happily, the drive was pretty uneventful, and we managed to arrive at Donna's house in time to start making dinner. She was gracious enough to let us take over her kitchen for a few hours while she regaled us with stories of her many surfers. This woman is practically a CouchSurfing legend, and she's involved with the inner circle of movers & shakers who are making things happen. It was really cool to hang out with someone who is so passionate about this community. And I think we may have been volunteered for something by the end of the night as well. (Resistance is futile!) We stayed up till the wee hours, laughing and talking and enjoying Donna's generous hospitality.
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
09 October 2007
Shasta, Weed, and a Rainbow

oktapodi checks out the local Chico ragToday involved a leisurely drive from Chico to Grants Pass, Oregon. We had a bit of brekkie and said goodbye to Michelle, and set out in search of some free wireless. Chico is such a cute town, totally Cali and a uni town to boot, so there's great people-watching and some very fun free newspapers. Good coffee, too.

Mark & oktapodi pose with Mt ShastaThe drive up I-5 got much more scenic as we headed into the mountains. The road gets curvier, there are some major hills, and all of a sudden Mt Shasta pops up in the distance, majestic and snow-capped. Nice! We also made a pitstop in Weed (heh-heh, hm-hm, settle down Beavis) to refuel and admire the really weird clouds forming over the mountains as the winds picked up. We heard later that some areas of Northern California and Southern Oregon experienced power outages due to the abnormally strong winds, so I guess we should be glad our little orange buggy wasn't blown off the road!

We arrived in Grants Pass a bit late to catch our CouchSurfing host, Rainbow (yes, that's his real name, and yes, he is a dude), before he had to leave for a bartending shift at the local martini bar. So we hit a movie: The Kingdom, starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner. First movie I'd seen in a lonnnnnnng time! And it was a good one! I wasn't too thrilled with the "reality cam" style that made me carsick after an hour or so -- guess I'm getting old -- but the story was engrossing and it was the kind of movie to make you go hmmmmm. Dunno if it's still playing anywhere or if it's been edged out by the next movie about Middle East tensions, but I highly recommend checking it out if you get the chance.

OK, on to our next 'surfing destination, which was a very different experience than staying with Michelle and Threnody! To be fair, it was Rainbow's first time hosting, so we took his CS cherry. And I guess sitting around watching TV and eating pizza is what most people *do* on your average Tuesday night. We did manage to have some interesting and spirited enough conversation to piss off Rainbow's roommate, who was squirreled away upstairs playing "World of Warcraft." (Never did see her, but you can imagine the mental image that developed in my little brain.) Mark and I weren't sure both of us would fit comfortably on the red couch-lounge-contraption, but somehow we managed to make it work, and got at least a partial night's sleep.

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
Crunchy Left Coast Greetings!

(Apologies to anyone who checked in to find a blank entry! I thought I was so clever by blogging from my PDA, except it wouldn't let me enter any text. Dagger.)

Quick shout-out from Chico, CA! Mark and I spent last weekend in Stinson Beach at the last family wedding of the season. (Whew, thank gawd. My liver can't handle much more of this!) And now we're driving up to Oregon to visit our friends' B&B. We couchsurfed last night in Chico and made a lovely mostly-vegan dinner for our friendly hostesses. And tonight we're stopping in Grants Pass to stay with another couchsurfer named Rainbow. I LOVE this part of the country!!

If anyone has any particular suggestions about offbeat stuff to stop and see along the way, do let me know. We're taking our time getting up to Carlton, and our trusty lil' GPS hasn't let us down so far.


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
08 October 2007
A new way to roll
And I don't even have to put my luggage on top? Stylin!

the bride arrives on horseback, like ya doWe Are Family!It was a bit sad to leave Stinson Beach today. We survived the various wedding festivities and brunch the following day. The wedding, was, of course, lovely. It was hard not to make comparisons to Dave & Meghan's fabulous soiree, although the bride's arrival on a horse was pretty unique. Once again, we danced our asses off at the reception! In addition to Sunday morning brunch we also had a farewell dinner with the Krakowskis. Happily, nothing was lit on fire, although the conversation was pretty fierce despite everyone's somewhat-fried state. I may in fact need to check myself into detox after all this partying.

After much strategerizing, we came up with the following plan to retrieve the rental car: I would ride to SFO with Dave & Meghan, who were returning their car to the same company but didn't have any space in their car for luggage or many passengers. I picked up our car, a funky little orange boxy thing, and drove back to the beach house one last time. Oy, I'm just about over this twisty vomitocious road!

a bit different from riding chickenbuses!Unfortunately it was necessary to drive it one last time as we headed up to Chico for our first couchsurfing destination. We plugged in our various devices (GPS, satellite radio, iPod) and set off. A somewhat different experience than taking chickenbuses and pickup trucks! But it was nice to travel in luxury, and we easily reached Chico in just over three hours.

Our first US CouchSurfing hosts were a mother-daughter team named Michelle and Threnody. We didn't get to spend as much time with them as we'd have liked, since Chico was just a stopover to break up the drive to Carlton. But we did manage to whip up a nice meal in their small kitchen, and had some fabulous conversation as well. I'd met Michelle on the "Independent Women" group on CS, and it was great fun to meet one of my favorite IWers in person. And the precocious 12-year-old Threnody was a trip, announcing to a friend on the phone: "We have an Independent Woman staying with us! And Mark!" Good times.

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 1 comment
01 August 2007
Che Guevara, yoga, and Harry Potter
See, Guate City´s not so bad!

Thanks to my fabulous CouchSurfing host, Percy, I had a great two days in Guatemala City. Everything you might ever read or hear about the place instructs you to high-tail it out to Antigua as soon as possible, which is pretty much what everyone does. But since when am I like everyone else?? It´s all about having friends in the right places.

Percy met Bronwen and me at the Ticabus station, and took us to the nearby mall for some lunch. Yes, you read that right, friends and neighbors, I ate at the mall foodcourt! Who´da thunk it?

I give up, write your own caption for this one...Afterwards we went downtown to run some errands (sheeeeeeesh, a trip to the post office is expensive in this country!) and check out the Parque Central. Which was a nice little square surrounded by a huge cathedral and defunct government buildings, with a big fountain in the middle. And lots of goats! Not to mention a very strange display of rubbery... ehm... "marital aids" sitting on a blanket on the sidewalk. You´ll just have to wait till I get the pics uploaded to fully appreciate that one.

Bronwen and Percy are starting a revolution... or just having a beer...We headed across the street to El Portal, a bar supposedly frequented by Che Guevara -- after Motorcycle Diaries and "before all that revolution stuff in Cuba," according to Percy. Coooooooool! It was exactly the sort of dark & smoky hangout you´d expect to find a revolutionary and his Guatemalan mistress, plotting to change the world. After dropping Bronwen off at the airport, we went to another leftist hangout called Las Cien Puertas, which had really cool graffiti on the walls.

This morning Percy brought me along to his yoga class. I don´t know if it was the result of sitting on a bus for two straight days, or because my yoga-Spanish isn´t that great, or what... but that class kicked my butt. It felt great, though! As the ever-wise Janet Wilson said: "Sometimes it´s good to stretch and be stretched." Namaste!

Afterwards I spent a bit of email catch-up time at Percy´s mom´s house, and his housekeeper made us a fab traditional breakfast of eggs, refried beans, and toast. I also got to meet Percy´s mom. She´s very cool, and quite the world traveler. And then we went to see Harry Potter! In Spanish, no less. This was definitely not the way I expected to start my Guatemalan odyssey, but it totally rocked. Thanks, Percy!!

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
31 July 2007
Taking Red Umbrella to a whole new level
One lonnnnnng day morphs into three

Y´know, I figured it was gonna be a *long* day, I just didn´t realize it was gonna be one of THOSE days...

Up and at ´em at the butt-crack of dawn, I made my way down to the dock to catch my 6am water taxi to Moín. I was dismayed (but not entirely surprised) to hear that there weren´t enough passengers for the early run, and we´d be leaving at 10am instead. Dagger! Not fatal, but it does severely muck up my plans for the day. Not only will I not get to run my various errands in San Jose as planned, but I will be arriving into San Jose just as it´s getting dark. Something I was trying to avoid. Well, there´s nothing I can do about it, and no sense worrying. Might as well make the most of the extra time this morning.

So, with four hours to kill, I scoped out some breakfast, and the only good deal in the otherwise very expensive Tortuguero: bottomless cups of coffee for less than a dollar! Sweeet, things were looking up a tad. Despite the horrendous Muzak offerings in the cafe -- Celine Dion (twice!), Lionel Ritchie, Knights in White Satin, god help us -- I spent some time catching up on my journal and catching a serious caffeine buzz. Next stop, the internet cafe, where I informed Bronwen of my slight change of plans and let her know I´d find an i-caf as soon as I got to San Jose. She was supposed to arrive before me and would be online after 4pm, so everything should fall into place eventually.

While waiting for the 10am boat to depart, I learned that there was a better way to get to San Jose, via another connection through another town. Which of course nobody had told me about. Grrrrrr. Once again, live and learn, there´s nothing much to do about it now. The boat trip back to Moín was unremarkable, although I did strike up a conversation with a friendly Canadian couple who were heading to Puerto Viejo. I managed to put in a plug for Margarita´s Guesthouse, and we had a good laugh about the David Hasselhoff thing.

we arrived at the lovely scenic port of Moín (love the smell of oil refineries in the afternoon! smells like victory!) and just about everyone from the boat hopped into a tourist shuttle headed for Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. The Canadians (never did get their names!) and another girl and I decided to grab a cab into Limón, where we would connect to our respective buses. Only one problem... no cabs to be found. Apparently if you didn´t choose the expensive tourist shuttle, you were on your own. No worries, our intrepid band of four trooped out to the main road and eventually flagged down a cab. It was just the sort of thing one might feel nervous about if one were all alone, but in an impromptu posse, it was an adventure rife with possibility!

I got dropped off first, and, dodging a crumbly-looking homeless woman, made my way into the terminal to buy my bus ticket to San Jose. With fifteen minutes to spare (sweet, again!) I glanced around at the denizens of the terminal. It was mostly the usual suspects -- women with little kids in tow, old guys selling stuff, an Artie Lange lookalike shoveling chips into his sweaty gullet -- nothing too scary. But I was glad not to have to spend any further time in Limón, and I was glad to be leaving the unrelentingly hot and humid and sketchy Caribbean Coast behind.

Got on the bus, and oh look! My assigned seat was next to the Spanish Artie Lange. Fantastic. His terrible aftershave only faintly covered his funk, and the combined smells resembled something like the inside of a rancid paper grocery sack that´s been filled with cheese and left in the sun. Charming accompaniment for the next three hours.

After a quick pitstop in Guápiles, leaving just enough time for the resourceful snack vendors to hop aboard chanting "MangoMangoMango! Jugosaguafríasodaplátanos! Mangomangomango!" we headed up into the mountains, signaling the return to San Jose. And, despite my best intentions to keep it all together, I started to freak myself out with "What´s the Worst Thing That Can Happen?" scenarios. Apparently my little brain can generate LOTS of appalling worst-case scenarios! I´ll spare you the details.

And then we crested the hill and started down into San Jose amid quite possibly the most brilliant sunset yet. The entire sky ws splashed with shades of pink, purple, and orange, and the hills seemed to be on fire in the glow of the setting sun. Truly the best Costa Rica had to offer, even in this most ugly and dangerous of places.

Bronwen keeps her chin up on the awful Nica borderOK, to bring this long story a bit closer to its end... I hopped a cab, found an internet cafe that was still open, got the address to Bronwen´s place, and had the same cab take me there. We hung out for a few hours with her roommate -- both of them were in Costa Rica for a three-month internship at a human rights org -- and tried valiantly to stay awake until our 3am bus left. The next 25+ hours on the Ticabus were spent attempting to sleep, stay warm in the frigid chill, and occasionally hop off and back on the bus at border crossings. The worse was the Costa Rica-Nicaraguan border, where we sat in the bus for about three hours, then waited in line to get our bags checked. When you reach the front of the line you have to hit a button attached to a big stoplight. If it´s green, you can get back on the bus, if it´s red... well, fortunately neither of us had to find out as we both got green. But how frickin´ random is that?!?!

the Dreaded and Troublesome Page 11There was also a somewhat scary moment on the border between Honduras and El Salvador, when the immigration officials couldn´t find the correct stamp in my passport. Now, my passport happens to have a lot of stamps and even some extra pages, but I *know* the guy stamped it at the Nicaraguan border, I saw him do it and so did Bronwen! But they kept flipping around and shaking their heads and saying "This is a big problem!" I thought for sure they were going to ditch me on the El Salvadorean border in the middle of the night. Turns out the miscreant had put a fifth stamp on an already crowded page -- hereinafter known as the Dreaded Page 11 -- which it took three officials to eventually find and not until after several long moments of intense sweating on my part. Never a dull moment! It was small comfort to have a CouchSurfing compatriot along for the ride, if only to tell my story if I never returned to civilzation...


Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments
29 July 2007
And it's off to Guatemala!
So long, Costa Rica, and thanks for all the fish

Again, I must apologize for not getting a chance to add more blogaliciousness. (But you're getting used to this by now, aren't you?) Internet access was both expensive and flakey on the Caribbean side. I have started backfilling some of the earlier entries, but I still have lots of pics and stories to share!

In the meantime, had a lovely stint in hot & muggy Tortuguero, getting an intimate view of huge green turtles as they laid eggs on the beach in the moonlight and viewing other wildlife on a guided canoe tour. Tortuguero is not easy to get to/from, and I spent an entire harrowing day today getting back to San Jose to meet up with another new CouchSurfing friend, Bronwen. Together, she and I are taking the overnight bus to Guatemala. It leaves San Jose at 3am this morning (eek!), goes through Nicaragua, stops tomorrow night in El Salvador, and we arrive in Guatemala City at 11am on July 31. Should be an interesting trip, to say the least. Stay tuned for more details!


Posted by soniaz at 11:55 PM | Link | 0 comments
12 July 2007
No alimentar a los monos
Monkeys and Americans at Manuel Antonio

don´t feed the monkeys! seriously!Today was a good day! Nothing like a blast of fresh air and wildlife to shake off the travel dust. The public bus from Quepos to Manuel Antonio was a whopping 150 colones, which is less than 30 cents. After traversing a shallow river and climbing a slippery hill, you find the entrance to the national park. The park is well-marked with signs introducing the various flora and fauna, and sternly admonishing visitors NOT to feed the monkeys. Apparently the poor critters are suffering from heart disease and other health problems related to eating people food. The beaches are beautiful and the trails are gorgeous.

if you have any poo, fling it now!After fielding a snarky comment from an American jerkwad who clearly thought I was trying to hone in on his guided tour, I tried to stay clear of the groups with tour guides. It´s pretty easy to spot monkeys and sloths and other wildlife... you just watch for the gaggle of people with their cameras pointed in the air. I decided to take the waterfall trail, which seemed to be the road less traveled. It snaked through lush dense rainforest, up steep slopes and across winding streams. Beautiful! And, as luck would have it, along the way I met a nice American family from Connecticut. The daughter, a GW student, was doing a summer study abroad program in Costa Rica, and her brother and dad were visiting her down here. I hung out with them for the rest of the afternoon and they invited me to join them for dinner.

El Avion restaurantI managed to hook up with my CouchSurfing (virtual) pal Julia via email and suggested she come out and meet us for dinner at El Avión, a restaurant made from the remains of a crashed CIA plane that was supposedly involved in the Contra scandal. A little touristy, but cool! And thanks to the eagle-eyes of my new American friends, we were able to spot Julia and spent the rest of the evening munching and conversing. I had managed to secure bus tickets to Monteverde the next day (through Puntarenas again, joy!) but Julia was going to stick around for another day, so we agreed to meet up in Monteverde at the Pensión Santa Elena, a hostal that came highly recommended from several sources. 

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments