Tag Archives: bus

Southern South Korea

Heart and SeoulAs all great things come to an end, it was time to move on from friends and the grand times had in Australia and on to new adventures.  My next destination was particularly exciting for me because I had the chance to meet up with a family member I hadn’t seen in about a year and a half.

As luck would have it, my sister had to travel to South Korea for work, so I hoped on a plane to meet her.  Landing in Busan, a city in the South of South Korea, I grabbed a bus to get to an even more southern island called Geoje.  There I met up with my sister and lived the in the lap of luxury for the next several days in a very nice hotel.  Seriously, I’d never been to a hotel where the housekeepers would fold and organize anything that was out of place for you.  It was amazing to arrive back to the hotel to find literally every personal item organized, folded, hung, etc.  Simply awesome, yet I started to try to make more of an effort to not leave anything around willy-nilly so they wouldn’t have to take extra time cleaning our room because my stuff was everywhere, lol!  But I digress…

Honestly there wasn’t a lot to do necessarily in Geoje. It was obviously a modern city geared toward industry and business.  Hence while it did have restaurants with every cuisine possible (Indian, Italian, Irish, American and Korean of course) as well as several National Parks to potentially explore, there wasn’t necessarily THAT much to do, had I been on my own.

Luckily however, I wasn’t on my own.  In the company of my sister and her co-workers we had a grand time (once they were done with their work days) sampling cuisines from around the world, wandering through open street markets stuffed with every possible kind of sea creature known to man (and some perhaps not know, lol!) and then enjoying some drinks at a pub, laughing, playing darts and listening to my sisters Scottish coworker invent ways to remember how to say phrases in Korean.  For example, if memory serves, if you were to say “come up and see me dah” quickly and without pronouncing each word exactly, that was “thank you” in Korean.

While my sister was at work, I spent my days either relaxing in the hotel, wandering aimlessly on foot exploring around town, or visiting shops.  The most noticeably different style of the buildings and shops, if you will, from any other country that I’d been to so far was that none of the shops were single story.  You constantly had to look up at least to the second floor to see what shops or restaurants were available.  Most every building was at least two stories, and they just went higher up from there. Each level of the buildings had at least two or three businesses (restaurants, clothing shops, hair salons, etc) to explore, and in some buildings the stores (grocery) were located several stories BELOW ground!  Of course I never felt like I was below ground at any point in shopping, but it was interesting taking the escalator down two flights to find the groceries.

I was in Geoje (I wish I could provide a phonetic way of saying this city name but each person seriously seemed to pronounce it differently and I never got a firm grasp on how exactly to pronounce it) for only a few days, essentially waiting for my sister to finish up the work she needed.  But once her work was completed for good, she and I took off for the bustling and beautiful Seoul.

Back to South Korea

On to Heart and Seoul

Advertisements

Teaching English in Indonesia

My time in Malaysia had finally come to an end and it was time to get out of the country to explore a new one.  I had been wrestling with what to do and where to go for a while and all I really knew was that I wanted to continue to volunteer somewhere, but just didn’t know where.

Tirelessly I researched place after place and continuously ran into programs that allowed volunteers to work with this or that animal, but the cost of doing so was atrocious!  Finally I came across a site called helpstay.com.  After reading reviews about the site as to its validity and exploring the various opportunities they had available in surrounding countries, I decided to take the plunge and join as a member of the site so I could contact one very specific volunteer opportunity.  In all honesty, the second I found the posting to volunteer teaching English at a home site in South Sulawesi, Indonesia that also had an organic farm, I signed up to the site and kept my fingers and toes crossed that they had availability for volunteers.

Within a few hours my inquiry was replied to and a Skype date was set so we could put faces to one another and see if we really were a match for each other, volunteer-wise.  Though part of me was a bit nervous to give away information about myself and Skype a literal stranger in a foreign country, the minute we chatted I knew I’d made the right decision.

The volunteer program organizer is an 18-year-old marvel named Faisal.  He invites people from around the world to stay with him and his family in exchange for volunteers to develop lessons and teach english to local students aged 6 to 18 years.  I was so very impressed with him during our Skype session, that I immediately committed to volunteering for a month with him and couldn’t wait to get there!

Now, all of my volunteering to this point involved animals, because that’s really where my love and strength lies.  I’d never taught English before (and I’d made sure to relate that to Faisal during our chat) but being a native english speaker I thought, how hard could it be? Less than a month after connecting with Faisal I was on a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  I stayed the first night in Makassar (as my flight landed in the late evening) and first thing the next morning made my way to the Terminal Daya bus station for the 8 hour bus ride to Belopa.

Upon arriving at Terminal Daya I noted several men standing in front of the very, VERY basic bus terminal.  I spoke zero Bahasa and no one so far spoke any English (or very limited at best!) but luckily all that was required of me to say was: Belopa?.  That did the trick as they simultaeously all practically cheered “Belopa!” together.  They whisked my bag out of the taxi and walked me over… away from the vehicles that actually looked like busses… to basically a 4 door Ford truck.  Hmmmm…. is this right???  They all had stickers on the front saying “Pelopo” so I pointed to the truck and said again “Belopa?”.  “Ya, ya” was their response as they hauled my bag into the bed of the truck, took out their cell phones and typed in 150,000… the cost of the trip!

Lord knew at that point whether I was getting majorly ripped off or not, but what choice did I have exactly?  As it turned out, that was the correct and normal price 🙂  Happy day!  Moving on, I paid the fee and squished in the back seat with two other females and after a few minutes we were on our way.  There was actually a third line of seats behind my own, so in total we were a team of 7 people trundling along on the journey to Belopa (an hour South of Pelopo as it turns out).

The journey there was visually beautiful.  The mountains and the sea, vast and open rice fields, the endless green and tropical lush surrounding us.  Absolutely stunning!  The one downfall was that the driver smoked the entire way up, which was a bummer, but at least the windows were fully open to allow quick exchanges of air.  We took one break along the way for some food and a bathroom and made it into Belopa just about 8 hours to the dot later.  After a bit of miming and a game of charades with my fellow passengers in the truck, I was able to communicate that I wanted to be dropped off at the nearest ATM as I seriously had zero rupiah on me.  Luckily enough, the ATM I was dropped off at was next to a coffee shop that offered free WiFi.  So while sipping on a cappuccino (made from an instant coffee sachet) I used the WiFi to let Faisal know I’d arrived, and my exact location.

About 5 minutes later, Faisal showed up in his brother’s vehicle and we finally met in person.  Faisal, again only being 18 years of age and having only studied English for about 2 years spoke english brilliantly!  We loaded my stuff into his vehicle and made the 15 minute drive to his town called Bajo.  The town was absolutely adorable!!  When we arrived there was a football (soccer) match at the village field so there were tons of locals gathered for the game.

Just a bit further along the road we came to his lovely and humble home where I met his mom (mama as we called her who spoke zero english) and dad (who spoke a bit of english) and his cousin Irpan (a student in one of the english classes).  His family was lovely and so immediately welcoming that it just made my heart melt.  I was shown to my room and given a tour of the house and the school-house built by Faisal and some of his schoolmates Ucok and Iswan.  We had some dinner together (Faisal whipped up a deliciously spicy nasi goreng if memory serves) and I made my way to bed.

Thus began one of my most memorable months of traveling…

Visit Faisal’s website to find out more about his amazing volunteer program!!

Review of the Our Chance school

On to Favorite Memories from Bajo

Back to Indonesia

The Majesty of Kuala Lumpur

When I was younger I watched a movie with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones called Entrapment.  There was a part in the film where they went to Kuala Lumpur to steal something from the Petronas Twin Towers.  The first time I laid eyes on that tower in the film, I knew that one day I wanted to see those towers in person.  Years later, my desire came true!

I landed at the KLIA 2 airport which was built specifically for Air Asia to accommodate their traffic needs.  While the airport itself is great, it is a bit far from central K.L.  Plenty of options are available however to get to the center of the City, including taxis, trains and buses.  The bus (cheapest option to the city) took about an hour to drop us off at the K.L. Sentral (that’s not a typo, that’s how they spell ‘Central’).  It was quite a scenic trip to the City and honestly I was surprised how hilly surrounding K.L. was.  From there, numerous trains and skyrails were available to take one to any corner of the city.

I had pre-booked (so unlike me, I know!) a little B&B about a kilometer from the towers called The Orange Pekoe for several nights while I awaited my next flight out to Indonesia.  While they did provide great directions on how to get to the B&B from K.L. Sentral, for some reason I ended up getting a little lost once on foot.  I’m just going to blame it on being shell-shocked after coming from a sleepy and chill city to the booming energy of K.L., and of course on the heat of the day as well!  Long story short, though I did wander in the wrong direction several times for about a half hour, I finally found my way (i.e. I stopped and asked for directions) to The Orange Pekoe.

The B&B is located in a partly residential, partly small business street of K.L. and is so obscured that I probably never would have noticed it had I not been looking for it!  While the room was a teeny bit on the dirty side, the rest of the charms of the place made one feel at home.  The staff were really helpful and friendly, and the breakfasts, while basic, were filling and satiating.  Overall I couldn’t complain about the place at all, especially considering its distance from the Towers.  It was perhaps only a 300 meter walk to the covered skywalk that led directly into the heart of the Towers.

I felt like a kid in a candy store having finally arrived in K.L. and able to see the Towers up close and personal.  So needless to say, after quickly settling in to my room, I headed over directly to the skywalk to get to the Towers.  Let me give a warning now to all those who really enjoy finer shopping… If you aren’t looking to break the bank or ring up thousands in retail purchases on your credit card, LEAVE THEM AT HOME!!!  The lower floors of the Towers are essentially a gigantic mall filled with every top clothing/jewelry name in the industry!  From Gucci to Ferragamo, Tiffany’s and Bulgari, the 5 levels and endless hallways of the lower towers are a shoppers dream come true!  Dozens of delicious but top-dollar restaurants are also found there along with at least another dozen coffee shops, a huge food court and a movie theater!!

Again for me it was a bit shell-shocking to arrive in such a grand place.  I normally shy away from larger crowds and detest malls because of the crowds, but I wrestled my way through them to the first level and out the front doors so I could stand in front and view those majestic Towers in their full glory.  Generally I can’t say I’m that impressed by buildings and their architecture, but the Petronas Twin Towers are very impressive!!  The way the light hits off the windows during the day and how brilliantly it lights up at night is mesmerizing.  I could have stood there for hours (and over the 4 days I was there literally did) gazing up their heights, taking in how stunning they are.  In front and behind the buildings they have water displays that light up in an array of colors and even have a water show to music nightly, similar to (but honestly not as grand) as those at the Bellagio in Vegas.

Just like in any large city, there is a lot to see in Kuala Lumpur.  And like many cities, K.L. is well-organized with their transportation options.  One of my favorite features was the ‘Go K.L.’ busses that offered free transport to various parts around the city.  During my time in K.L. I used the free service to get to a starting point, then walked on foot around various parts of the city, eventually rounding my way back to the towers in time to see them light up at night.

I explored China Town (which honestly wasn’t that impressive as it was mostly all about bargain shopping and not food!) and the very impressive sentral market; enjoyed a lovely picnic and walk around the park with a couple I’d met at the B&B from Norway, as well as a visit to the Muslim museum.  I was also there during Deepavali, which is the ‘festival of lights’ celebrated by all Hindus, so I got to enjoy several nights of fireworks up and down the streets.  I had thought to visit the caves while in K.L. but sadly the weather wasn’t as cooperative as I was hoping for, and honestly I was content just spending my days lingering around the city, spending time in the Towers and chilling with my new friends.  I did of course take advantage of the movie theater in the towers and  watched the movie “The Wire” starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt based on the true story of the high-rise wire walk between the NYC twin towers.  Kind of ironic I believe…

On to Teaching English in Indonesia

Back to Malaysia 

Further tidbits on the Towers: The Petronas Twin Towers are so named because of the oil company (Petronas) which occupies the majority of the office space of the towers.  They were designed to resemble motifs found in Islamic art, reflecting the Muslim religion. A joining walkway is found on the 41st and 42nd floors of the towers and tours are available most days for about 80 ringgit (if memory serves!).

It took a total of 7 years to construct from its groundbreaking to the inauguration at a cost of $5.6 billion!  The towers were the tallest in the world for 6 years, until Taipei 101 was completed.  However, to this day they still remain to be the tallest twin towers in the world!

Facts about the towers were provided by Wikipedia

Katakolon

Katakolon itself is just a little port town.  Nothing terribly special about it per se; numerous restaurants and shops line the main street where tourists can wander and stroll in search of gifts.  Olive wood in particular is quite popular there, and I might add very beautiful!

What puts Katakolon on the map as a port of call for cruise ships is that it is only about an hour drive to Ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.  Olympia, as it is inscribed on the plaque out front “stood out historically as the most important Panhellenic religious, political and athletic centre of the ancient Greek world”.  It is rich in mythological tradition and was founded as the sanctuary of Zeus.  Structures include a gymnasium, greek baths, the Temple of Zeus, the crypt, the Temple of Hera and of course, the Lighting of the Olympic Flame.

While we had purchased tours for Ephesus and Santorini, we didn’t for Katakolon figuring it would be easy to just do our own tour.  In that regard we were quite right as the second we disembarked there were people lining the streets with signs for bus rides to Olympia.  We opted for one of the buses and headed out to Olympia.  Once there we immediately went to the ancient ruins.  My sister in particular wanted to see the ancient structure where they lit the flame for the Olympics.

Thankfully we had heard before leaving the ship that there was a possibility for rain so we brought a poncho and an umbrella (won during a round of Bingo on the ship- but more on that in the ‘cruise critique’ post).

We made our way to the ancient ruins which were just around the corner from the main street of the now town of Olympia, paid for tickets to get in the site and started to have a wander around.  By the time we were at the ticket office, it was gently raining.  No biggie.

By the time we were basically in the center of the ruins, it began to rain hard… Then about 5 minutes later (only about 20-30 minutes after we had entered) it started to pour down rain!!  And thunder, and lightning and more rain!!  For those who know me, you know at this point I’m in 7th heaven as I LOVE a good thunderstorm!!  However, it wasn’t just me involved.  My dad and sister were with me (my mom decided to skip the Olympia trip and stayed behind to shop in Katakolon) so I wanted to make sure they were being taken care of.  My dad was using the umbrella and my sister and I shared the poncho.  I kept snapping photos of various ruins under the poncho as we made our way around to ensure that we saw the site for the lighting of the Olympic torch!

Lighting of the Olympic Flame
Lighting of the Olympic Flame

At one point the rain was so heavy that we (and all the other tourists there) started to huddle under the trees for a bit more shelter… Not the best idea with lightning around, but hey, strength in numbers?? 🙂  The rain kept pouring but what made us all start to leave the site wasn’t the rain exactly, but that it was starting to flood!  The umbrella and poncho did little to really protect us as we were getting soaked from the feet up.  My sister and I, concerned for our dad, decided we’d better head back.  It took us probably 10 minutes to find a shelter where we could fit (most of the close ones were already taken up by tourists) and that wasn’t flooding out.  We only stayed under the shelter for a few minutes then decide to keep going back to town.  All three of us at a certain point just started walking through the water instead of trying to skirt around it, since we were already wet!

We finally got out and back to town, drenched and chilly, but generally in good spirits!  Since we kept walking to town instead of stopping longer for shelter, we were among the first people back to town, which gave us first dibs on chairs in a restaurant with lovely outdoor heaters!!!  We huddled around the heater, ordered some drink and food, and listened to the rain pour down all around us.

We thought it rather ironic that we had gone just the day before from a place that barely got rain (Santorini) to a place that was now pouring with rain, lol!!

One funny observation my sister made at the restaurant was from a picture in the menu.  It was advertising an Amstel natural brew Radler beer with the caption: “Natural Beer with non-alcoholic lemon”.  My sister then said “hey, look.  They have alcoholic lemons here!!” LOL!! 🙂

Alcoholic Lemons!
Alcoholic Lemons!

After enjoying our meal, the rain had basically stopped but as we only had about a half hour until the bus was going to pick us up again, we opted to hang around town.  Once on the way back the skies turned blue and remained that way until we boarded the ship again.  Go figure!  But there’s my reason to go back:)  AND we did at least get to snap off a photo and see the site of the lighting of the Olympic torch:).

Sunny Skies
Sunny Skies

On to Cruise Critique

Back to Europe

Drug Bust en route to Paris

Though I swore that I wouldn’t take a bus long distances again (Munich to Berlin via bus was a bit torturous!!) it was quite a bit cheaper to go by bus from Amsterdam to Paris, and supposedly only about 7 hours.  So I caved in and went via bus.  I’m “lucky” I even made the bus trip to begin with!  Not because I was late getting to the bus stop, but because there were apparently multiple signs in the train station to the bus stop.  The one pointing downstairs (the only one I noticed) was only for local busses while the one just outside the entrance to the train station was for long distances.  This post isn’t about the departure however, (I’m just throwing that info out for other travelers in case it comes in handy) it’s really about the trip there…

All was going just fine.  We got to Brussels with no issue and on time and our bus drivers traded out (we started with a quiet yet nice man and ended with an unpleasant woman who acted like she couldn’t be bothered with anything from anyone).  From Brussels we headed on and were actually making really good time!  I was just thinking to myself how nice it would be to make it to Paris on schedule- I’d be there by 3 and would be able to take advantage of several hours of daylight before turning in for the night.

I really shouldn’t have thought so soon… About an hour after stopping to take a snack break, the driver announced we had to pull over for gas.  We pulled over for gas and there we sat for a few minutes waiting for the tank to fill.

Suddenly two men in uniform come onto the bus.  They spoke in French and once translated in English they said they were there to conduct a search of the bus.  Now, I don’t know if it was standard protocol to search buses coming into France from Amsterdam or whether we were just that “lucky” but yes, we were apparently chosen by the French police or rather the French DEA basically to be searched for drugs.  The two officers started making their way questioning every single passenger about where they had come from, where they were going, how long they would be in Paris, what hotel they were staying in, what their business in Paris was, etc, etc.

Normally I never plan in advance where I’m staying, how long I will be there, etc, etc but on this particular occasion I actually did!  I had all my answers and passport ready for the drill and when it came to my turn, the officer took my passport, checked it out for validity, said “thanks” and moved on to the woman sitting next to me and her the rundown on questions, lol!!

While the officers were going over each passenger, other officers had opened the luggage compartments below the bus and were taking out each piece of luggage and lay them on the ground.  In addition, a drug sniffing dog was dispatched on the bus running up and down the center aisle back and forth.  Then out onto the luggage sniffing each one for issues.

About a half hour passed and it seemed there was particular concern over one of the trash cans of the buses.  The officers kept fussing over it and even removed the trash bag to take outside for inspection.  They then asked 4 young guys sitting just across from the “suspect trash can” to exit the bus.  They stood outside while everyone on the bus watched them get a pat down.  They were searched from head to toe, shoes off, outer clothing off; this wasn’t an airport pat down (which I’m very familiar with since I always opt out of the Wave cancer scanner thing) this was a serious “we are going to put our hands on every square inch of your body” pat down.  They asked for each of the boys bags and went through every single item.  I’m saying that if they had a can of hairspray it was uncapped and a bit sprayed out to ensure it was what the label said it was.  It was VERY in-depth.

And it got a little MORE in-depth… While they let 3 of the boys back in, two officers were escorting the 4th into the little mini-mart of the gas station… You could just hear the sound of latex gloves snapping against the officers wrists!!  Needless to say, about 20 minutes later the guy who had been escorted into the mini-mart did NOT look happy!!  While he was inside however the other officers were still busy with the bus and they had even plucked yet another man (who was sitting in front of me) off the bus for a pat down.

About two hours later all the bags were back on the bus and all the passengers were back on the bus except the one unfortunate younger guy who had been taken inside for a thorough search.  He stayed behind with his things and the cops.  His friends were total punks and I wonder if he was just the “fall guy” because they kept laughing at him from the bus and taking his picture with the cops no doubt to post them on the web.

Once we were back on the road the driver did her best to catch up on time lost but the 7 hour trip once again turned into an almost 10 hour trip, lol!

I love trains!!!! 🙂

On to Montmartre

Back to Europe

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre in Italian literally means the 5 lands.  The 5 lands in this case is made of 5 villages on the Tuscan Mediterranean coast including, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.  Monterosso al Mare is the northernmost village, and the Riomaggiore the southernmost.  In the summer time these spots are quite a popular vacation destination, and from the few pictures I’ve included, it’s easy to see why!!

My dad and I drove there on a sunny late-summer day through the windy roads and arrived in Vernazza, #4 village of 5…

Seriously I will put this out that if you get car sick easily, you may want to consider taking a train into any of the villages of Cinque Terre… Because those roads are seriously no joke!!  It’s really amazing that there is even a road to begin with that connect each village, as I’m sure that they started as simply foot paths then expanded to allow cars!  Mind you, they haven’t really expanded that much… The roads are barely wide enough for 2 cars, and of course Italians speed around the blind corners of the really windy and narrow roads as if they could see the other side…

Since I’m on the topic a little, I’ve just got to vent for a few seconds that Italian drivers area absolutely NUTS!!!  I’m not even being prejudice in that statement because I include my father in there too, lol!!  And he knows about it, lol!!  But seriously, anyone who has ever been to Italy knows exactly what I’m talking about!  If there is an inch of space, it will be taken by a car or Vespa or bus!!  It amazes me how there aren’t more traffic accidents than there are!!  They are all crazy drivers yet somehow it just works out!!  It’s beyond me how, but it does!  My only saving grace on this trip was the absolutely stunning views around each and every terrifying corner!!  Simply beautiful and amazing!!

Sorry for the tangent!  Back on course here: We arrived in Vernazza about mid-morning, parked the car in the lot outside the village and walked down to the village for some exploring.  Now, this area of Italy is sometimes quite prone to dangerous and damaging floods.  Everything is literally built on the edge of the mountain that dives into the Sea, so when the floods come, it leaves lots of damage in the wake.  About 2 or 3 years ago a flood had happened in the Cinque Terre area and in fact as we walked down the road to the Village, you could still see evidence of the damage it did years ago.

We wandered around the village, spotted a cave that led to a little beach that is only visible (and passable) when the tide is down, wandered up to the church and tower at the top of the village, then had some lunch at one of the restaurants with a view of the water:)  The region of the 5 lands is in Liguria, which is famous for its pesto sauce!!  Yum!!!  In addition, Liguria is also known for a special shape pasta called Trofie, which is a hand rolled pasta made from pieces of dough that are twisted together.  So “when in Rome” I of course had to have a plate of Trofie al pesto!!  It was quite delicious and hard to stop eating until of course the plate went empty… So I had to stop, lol!!  We wandered a bit more, had a gelato then headed back to the car for Portovenere.

Oh, before I leave this section- for those into hiking, there is actually a pedestrian trail that goes from the first village to the last!!  It is quite a long hike though (remember to calculate in stop times to take a gazillion picts!) and the terrain has lots of ups and downs (literally)!!  It would probably take all day to walk one to the next, but I imagine it would be well worth it for the views alone!!

On to Portovenere

Back to Europe

La Fortuna

I arrived in La Fortuna the next afternoon and headed to the hostel I found on the internet called “Sleepers Sleep Cheap”.  The word ‘cheap’ of course caught my eye immediately when searching for somewhere and the reviews seemed good enough.

About 100 meters south of the bus terminal, I arrived at the hostel which was set back a little from town than most of the others.  For $10 a night, I got a private room with a private bath, hot water and breakfast!  I paid for 2 nights and proceeded to get settled in.  Honestly I don’t have any negative words for the hostel.  It was a very basic set-up and nothing fancy by any means, but it was cheap, my room was clean, the staff were very friendly and accommodating, and the breakfast area had one of the best views in my opinion… I will later divulge what that view was;)

Now, I wanted to state my opinion about the hostel before writing about this bit: interestingly enough, weeks later when I was in Bocas Town (Bocas del Toro), Panama, I met a couple who just happened to stay at the hostel at the same time that I was staying there!  But they had a very different opinion of the place… Though they did agree it was cheap, they said they believed they had bed bugs and that their door wouldn’t close all the way so all sorts of critters would come in during the day and night.  Their room wasn’t clean and they weren’t that thrilled with what was served for breakfast (toast, eggs, fruit and coffee).  So, I guess it just goes to show you that not everyone’s experiences are the same!

In any event, after getting settled in it was about time to eat something, so I found a local soda that was recommended and that was just down the street from my hostel and had a fantastic fillet de pollo casado!  I absolutely love those casados!!!

Waiting for my meal to arrive, two guys whom I had met on the bus showed up so we dined together.  I spent that evening wandering the streets of La Fortuna with them, drinking beer in the central park. Since we had all arrived in the late evening, there really wasn’t much time to get our barring of the area, so at this point none of us really knew where the famed volcano was.  Sitting in the park drinking, it became a little bit of a game trying to figure out where the volcano actually was.  If the volcano had been active, it would have been quite obvious, but alas the volcano was dormant while I was there.  And mind you, it had been dark since before dinner, so there wasn’t any way to see around us…

The next morning I rose early determined to check several things off my list.  First off, I wanted to do a tour of the volcano and perhaps the hot springs and second I wanted to go to the famed La Fortuna waterfall and finally, I wanted to get a plan in place on where my next destination would be.  Even though the purpose of my trip to Costa Rica was not to be a tourist, one really can’t help but do a tour or two once here!  They can be pricey, that’s for sure but I did a lot of tour “office hopping” prior to settling on the final place to book at.  And since it was the off-season, there were more deals available than not.

Red Lava, a tour office located at the bus terminal offered the best prices and most unique tours.  Through them I booked a tour of the Arenal volcano that was 5 hours long, including a nature hike to a waterfall (not the La Fortuna waterfall but another one), a history of the Arenal volcano and finishing off with a night dip in a natural hot spring.  I also booked for a Jeep-Boat-Jeep package that would get me from La Fortuna to my next destination of Monteverde via, well you guessed it: a jeep, a boat and a jeep:)

It was mid-morning by the time I got all my bookings complete and since my volcano tour wasn’t going to start until 2pm, I opted to spend my time in between by going to the famous La Fortuna waterfall.  Since my motto on spending money was “the less you spend now, the more you will have later” I decided to walk to the waterfall, located inside a National Park, instead of taking a bus directly to the entrance of the National Park… I really should have just paid the darn $8 for the bus!!!!!  But oh no, I decided to keep that money and hike there myself instead!  Afterall, it was a paved road to the park so I figured a little exercise would do me some good!  I have no idea what the temperature was outside, but the sun was shining and it was definitely humid!  I had my little personal bag with me so I could bring my camera for the trip and take plenty of pictures.  And I was off for my hike…

About 8 kilometers (about 3 of which were straight uphill- the end 3 of course) later I arrived to the park entrance red-faced and completely dripping in sweat.  In fact I was so saturated with sweat that both my t-shirt and breathable pants were completely soaked through!!  My bag, supposedly waterproof, even began to soak in some of my sweat so that the inside contents became damp!  The very first thing I did when I got to the park entrance was go to the bathroom and practically bathe myself in the sink with my clothes still on!  Thankfully I did have along with me my vapur water bottle and therefore was hydrated the entire way, but I still had to refill it twice before ever leaving the bathroom because of my extreme thirst!!  People were looking at me like I was crazy, but all I cared about at that point was that I had made it!!

But then, I glanced at my watch… it was noon… there was NO way I was going to be able to actually get to the waterfall and back down to town by 2:00 for my volcano tour:(  You see, I had made it to the park ENTRANCE but the waterfall itself was still about a kilometer deep into the park.  And tack on the fact that if I wanted to even try to see the waterfall I would have had to pay the $10 entrance fee, well, it just didn’t make much sense at that point to even try for it.  So I decided to simply head back down to the town, perhaps get a bite to eat and make it in time for my tour.

The walk back to town was much nicer!!  All downhill with a little breeze to boot!  The little breeze did wonders to dry my clothing on the walk down and by the time I made it back (about 1) I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat at the soda where I had dinner and get ready to meet my tour.

Oh and I promised I would divulge the breakfast view from my hostel… It was indeed the volcano!!!  I had been staring at it all morning during the first morning while enjoying breakfast yet never realized I what I was looking at, lol!!!

On to Volcan Arenal Tour

Back to Costa Rica

Volcan Poas

Volcan, as you may guess, means Volcano in Spanish.  This particular volcano however was not a cone volcano, but rather a geyser.  It is apparently the largest active geyser in the world! But I’m getting ahead…

I took a bus ride to the volcano with all my gear in tow thinking there was a town nearby where I could stay for the night, and not really fully understanding that the volcano was located in a National Park… Therefore NO sleeping facilities… In any event, the ride there was almost entirely uphill and quite cloudy.  There literally were times when I had to stop watching the road and just trust that the driver knew what he was doing because it became so cloudy at times that it was hard to see more than a few feet ahead!!

We reached the National Park entrance and all tourists on the bus were asked to get off so we could pay.  All National Parks in Costa Rica cost $10.00 for tourists to enter, but if you are local it’s cheaper.  I’m not entirely sure how much cheaper, but none of the locals had to get off the bus to pay, but rather they were all counted up and paid for by the bus driver.  It was standing in the line to pay for the park where I met two fellow Americans.  One was teaching English to students in Alajuela, and the other was a retired gentleman who was going to head to Puerto Viejo after a short stay in Alajuela to potentially retire there.

Once all the payment business was over we loaded onto the bus and were dropped off in the bus parking lot…  Perhaps now is the time to bring up again that since I was thinking that I could stay the night in or at least very near the park, I had brought my backpack with me… Well, when we were all getting off the bus, since I wasn’t sure whether we were going to have the same exact bus on the way back down, I thought it best to bring my backpack with me.  But what this meant was that I was going to get a bit more exercise than I had signed up for originally, lol!!  Basically I hiked all around the park with my dang backpack cinched on me and cursing every time I had to walk uphill, lol!!

In any event, after getting off the bus I simply followed the signs and my two new friends up the trail to the volcano.  My oh my what a view…

Isn’t it just fantastic?!?!?!  Ok, now I know it doesn’t look like much, but believe it or not you are actually looking at the volcano in this picture.  Everyone looked and looked and looked around for some sign of where exactly this volcano was, but because of the low clouds, all you could see (as above) was mist.  My two friends and I hung around for a little while longer and agreed that this (the dense fog) was probably the reason we were given 3 hours to hang around the park.  Apparently dense fog is quite common at this volcano and one must be very patient if they want to actually see it.

Patience wasn’t very high on our list however, and since there were two other trails that led to a lake beside the geyser volcano, we decided to try our luck and see whether the lake was visible.  Up and up and up we hiked through dense jungle forest on teeny concrete paths until again meeting our final destination.  And can you believe it???  The lake looked exactly like the picture above!!  Nothing but dense fog!!

Once again we resolved to simply hang out for a little bit and got to chatting.  And then it happened… In mid-sentence one of my new friends gasped at the image that unfolded in front of us.  The clouds suddenly lifted revealing a beautiful green lake!

This beautiful view literally only lasted about 10 minutes and then the fog once again swept in and obscured the lake from view. Thinking perhaps to try our luck at the geyser we immediately left (all downhill thankfully) and headed back to the geyser.

The rain started to pour down on us as we went down and I even had to stop to put on my poncho before getting too soaked! Once back to our original station at the geyser, the fog once again showed no signs of lifting. But about 10 minutes later, just as it had at the lake, the fog miraculously lifted and you could see the geyser!!

Just as the mist came and went within 10 minutes at the lake, the same was true for the geyser!  We really lucked out on our timing for this trip!!

After waiting for the fog to close back over the geyser, we headed back for a snack at the cafe in the park and awaited our bus.  It was on the bus ride back that I was offered a free couch for the night at the girls place.  I accepted the generous offer and we were all dropped off in Alajuela.  The rest of the night was spent hanging out with my two new friends and the girls boyfriend.  We had a great dinner at a local soda then wandered the streets for some ice cream at a chain place called Pops.  Personally I wasn’t impressed by the ice cream there, but many people seem to enjoy it, so to each their own!

On to La Fortuna

Back to Costa Rica

San Jose

I should start by saying that I really didn’t have a plan.  None of this trip was planned exactly.  The farthest I ever got with “planning” was that I was going to sell everything, quit my job and travel out of the Country.  But that was it.  Seriously, nothing beyond there.  So when I landed in the San Jose airport (located in Alajuela) I didn’t have any further idea of where I was going to even sleep that night or what my next move was…

Many would find that crazy especially since I had the time to figure it all out, but in my mind I was just interested in the experience and the challenge of having to figure it out as I went along.  I have always done my best work when thrown into the deep end of the pool and in a way, planning to NOT have a plan was my own personal ocean:)
Walking out of the airport I was immediately ambushed by tons of eager faces and voices all asking “Taxi???”.  I turned them down and asked someone nearby where the bus station was instead.  My thoughts were to get out of San Jose immediately and get out to a more typical Costa Rica town: more nature, less city!  As I made my way toward the buses I suddenly thought “well, one night wouldn’t hurt and I could use it to get my barring”.  So I headed back to the taxis and met a couple of other people who were asking if I wanted to share a cab to San Jose.  I took this as a sign that ok, I could stay one night in San Jose!

In retrospect, had I really understood that the airport was in Alajuela (which I did have a foggy memory of my brother telling me that, yet it somehow wasn’t solidified in my mind) I would have just gotten a taxi to downtown Alajuela…

In any event, about a half our later we were in San Jose and had dropped off my two taxi buddies at their various locations.  The taxi driver then turned to me and (all in Spanish) said- “where are you off to?”  I replied that I had no idea, but asked what he would suggest?  I stated that I wanted somewhere cheap- the cheaper the better in my mind!  He politely stated however that he would much prefer I stayed somewhere a little more pricey, but it would be in an area he considered safe for a single traveler.  I acquiesced and was taken to a little B&B near the downtown area.

After settling in I spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost and trying to get directions on where downtown actually was!  I ran into a few people on the street who I trusted to ask questions of and they assisted me very kindly- but each person also emphatically told me to either get back to my B&B prior to the night-time or take a taxi back.  “Muy peligroso” was what I was told.  Mainly because the drug addicts come out at night and petty crimes apparently aren’t unusual in San Jose.  Though there are crimes everywhere, I took the locals advice to heart and made sure I was back at the B&B by 6pm (yes, it gets dark here by 6pm everyday, year round!).

San Jose was a bustling, constantly moving city!  There were people everywhere!!  In the markets, hanging out in the parks, moving on foot or in their cars or on bikes going to their destinations.  Movement everywhere you looked!  Buildings weren’t very tall but they were everywhere all squished together as far as the eye could see, thus blocking any real view of the beautiful nature that surrounds the city.  McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Pizza Hut and other U.S. food chains were also everywhere!  I hate to admit, but as I was getting a little tired from all the travels and walking around all afternoon, I did drift to a Quizno’s for dinner.  The shame, I know!!  But crowds and areas with lots of hustle and bustle tend to wear me out fast and it was nice to get a little food that I could relate to, so to speak.  I knew there would be plenty of time to taste local flavors and I was certainly looking forward to that, but for the time I was happy with the Quizno’s.

After my bite to eat I did a little internet research at my B&B for Volcan Poas.  My cousin, who is a “seasoned” Costa Rica traveler said it was a good day trip from San Jose, so I decided to check out what was available there (hostels and such) for a trip the next day.  I found a few hostels online and took down their information so I could look them up once there.  I also had to get the bus situation understood because San Jose has 4, yes 4 different bus stations all in different locations from one another.  Depending on where you want to go to, that decides which bus terminal you need to show up to.

As I settled into the B&B to sleep, a huge thunderstorm settled in overhead… Now for those of you who know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE thunderstorms!!! In fact, so much that whether a place has thunderstorms on a fairly consistent basis is actually a deciding factor for me on whether I will plan to live there or not.  I know, I know- sounds absolutely nuts picking a place to live based on thunderstorms, but hey, I follow my passions no matter what form they take!

On to Volcan Poas

Back to Costa Rica

September 17th, 2011

Dropped off at the airport around 3am, my journey was about to begin.  I hadn’t slept entirely well the night before due to many factors really- nerves, had I packed enough?, ideas of what may lay ahead, but most of all fear that I wouldn’t be allowed in the Country to begin with…

Let me explain: all the online posts I had read pertaining to traveling to Costa Rica stated that you had to have proof of leaving the Country prior to entering.  In other words a bus ticket or a return plane ticket showing that you were going to be leaving within 90 days of arrival.  I had no such proof.  I had only purchased a one-way ticket there.

What I had later learned is that many airlines- Spirit, Air Mexico, etc will not allow you to purchase a one-way ticket online.  Or if they do, once you arrive at the airport you get slapped with the happy news that you have to pony up some more money for a return ticket… kinda sneaky if you ask me, but the good news or best advice rather if you find yourself in that scenario is to simply buy a refundable ticket and cancel it after printing your proof of a return flight.

One example of the kind of trouble one may run into without a return ticket from CR was of a couple who flew in to Miami (as part of the journey to CR) then were denied bording access to the plane to CR because they didn’t have a return flight!  They ended up having to get back to the ticket sales desk, only to find one airline open, purchase a ticket, haul back through security and get on the plane in the nick of time!

Though I was nervous about not having a return flight, I said to myself that if I wasn’t meant to go to Costa Rica, then I would have complications getting in.  If not, well then that was just one more sign that I was supposed to go.

The flight was quite pleasant as I slept for most of the time.  I traveled on US Air and made one of the best last minute travel purchases while on a flight: a sleep pack that included a little blanket, air pillow, eye mask and ear plugs all condensed in the size of… well frankly this little 10″ netbook I’m currently working on:)  It has come in handy time and time again!

My most nerve-wracking moment was when I arrived at the San Jose airport (which btw folks isn’t actually located in San Jose, but rather Alajuela- but I will speak more about that later).  Would I get past Immegration with only a one-way ticket???  Indeed I did:)

On to San Jose

Back to Costa Rica