30 01 2011

Miguel and I have been talking lately about what direction we want the blog to go.  This discussion inevitably became a discussion on what caused us to start the blog in the first place.  One major reason we started the blog was to share our experiences and interesting adventures with friends and family, and another reason was to keep a photo journal of our time abroad.  While we have many interesting adventures to come, it seems as though we are at a plateau of interesting excursions to write about. BUT- We haven’t really been looking at this blog as a journal.  And, I don’t mean journal in the sense of dark secret thoughts, but a real account of our day to day lives.  We need to approach it as a way for us to document our everyday lives so that when we revisit it in 3-5-10 years to come, we will have a full picture of our experience.

As gross as it sounds, a big part of our everyday lives are bugs.  We see so many creepy and interesting bugs out and about.  The school itself is full of the craziest moths, butterflies, beetles, and spiders I have ever seen.  When we go to the beach we see all kinds of creepy crawlies.  But, for our first bug post of many, I have found one of the creepiest and weirdest bugs crawling around our own home.

At first sight it’s pretty uneventful and disappointingly boring looking.

Looks are deceiving. This is a creepy bug.


But, this bug is a weird kind of moth.  It carries it’s cocoon around with it when it’s a larvae.  When I first saw it, I thought it was a weird looking piece of lint and I picked it off the wall and threw it away.  A few days later, I saw another one laying on the floor and when I looked at it closer, I noticed that something was coming out of it… Creepier yet, the thing coming out of it was eating a stray strand of hair off of the bathroom carpet.  These guys creep the hell out of me.  Miguel didn’t even know they were wormy things until he saw the pictures I took.  Now, he’s just as creeped out as I am.

The worm-thing can crawl from both ends of the cocoon.

It crawls pretty fast and moves its little wormy head around all crazy-like.

The worst part is, they are everywhere.  I will go through just about every other day and wipe them off of baseboards, crevasses in the wall, and any general surface that they might be inching along.

Looks pretty harmless

When I asked our Spanish teacher about them (Imelda has now become our authority on everything strange in Costa Rica) she simply said, “Ellos come su ropa.”  That’s apparently all we needed to know… They eat your clothes.  Creepy!

By the way, sorry Grandma for posting bug pictures.  I’m sure this isn’t your favorite post, but there will be more and I will label them all “Bugs!” so you know in advance.  Love you all!



Panama City

23 01 2011

Team Gonzo

Has it really only been 2 weeks since we arrived in Panama City?  It feels like that trip was so long (in a good way) and far behind us.  I am posting this now two weeks after the fact, and I had hoped to do it much sooner… BUT  I think a break from posting has been good for me.  I have been able to reflect on our visit to Panama City and really appreciate the things we did and sights we saw.

Part of the pull for Miguel and I to go to Panama was how highly everyone spoke of the city.  Everyone had told us it was a lot like Miami.  Well, I’ve never been to Miami, but I have seen pictures and I have heard Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami”.  So, I feel like I’m a pretty good judge of how Miami-esque Panama City is.  And, my verdict is, it’s not really Miami-esque.  Panama city is way cooler with less of a night life (at least, less of a night life than Will Smith lets on about Miami).

Panama City skyline from Casco Viejo

While in the city, we had a vague outline of the places we wanted to see and the things we wanted to do.  Luna’s Castle also helped tremendously in our preparations as they recommended some pretty neat places to visit, places that we wouldn’t have gone to otherwise.

Among the very cool things to see in Panama City is the Panama Canal.

Now, Miguel and just about anybody we talked to made complete fun of me before our trip because I knew absolutely nothing about the canal and how it works.  I knew it was big and it saved ships tons of time and money by offering a short cut…  I had no idea that there was a crazy water-level regulator that makes the canal so cool.  Basically, the Pacific and Atlantic oceans are at different heights.  In order for ships to properly travel from one side to the other, there are a series of locks in place along the canal that raise and lower water levels to let ships smoothly travel through.  Also, there are some ships that travel through that have just 6 inches of space between their body and the sides of the canal.  All of this is just incredible to watch at the Miraflores Locks in Panama City.  There was a museum, a film, a cafe, and a whole presentation on how the locks work.  The canal was super cool and now I feel like less of a dummy in front of my friends.

A huge ship transporting cars across the canal

The locks in action

In addition to the Canal, Miguel and I tried to take in as much of the city as possible.  We stayed in the old capital city of Casco Viejo.  This area houses the Presidential Palace, the old slum of Barrio Chorrillo where Noriega hid out from the US military, a myriad of cool churches, and most interesting were the ruins of an old city in the process of being renovated.  I loved Casco Viejo.  It was charmingly dirty and beautiful like New Orleans or old places in Europe.  It was cool to see Miguel’s reaction too, because it was the first time he has seen something that old and dilapidated. I remember looking over at him and he just looked up at the buildings and said, “Whoa!  This place is cool!”.

Plaza Mayor

Walking around Casco Viejo

Building still being renovated. Step one, remove trees?

Narrow walkways

We stayed close to Casco Viejo for the majority of our time in Panama.  We liked walking the streets and going into the little shops.  But, to venture out we went on a day trip to the Amador Causway.  The Causway is a chain of islands that have been connected with a road.  The road is lined with a great walking/biking sidewalk, shops, and restaurants.  Miguel and I rented the most ridiculously awesome bike we could find and we rode down the Causway taking pictures and racing other people in their less-awesome bikes.  We stopped for lunch mid-day, partly because we were hungry, and partly because we had been peddling so fast we were sweaty and needed a break.  It was a good day.

Our own little Red Devil bike

Taking a break on the Causway

Miguel snapping pictures on the Causway

On another day we went to the Albrook mall and took advantage of Panama’s much cheaper prices.  We also walked along Balboa Avenue and Central Avenue taking in sights of local vendors and the ocean front view of skyscrapers.

Albrook Mall is HUGE, and yes, that's a huge Godzilla statue in the background.

The view of the city from Balboa Ave.

To get around to most places we took taxis.  In Panama they have buses that are incredibly cheap, but incredibly dangerous.  They are called Diablos Rojos… Red Devils.  Many are airbrushed with crazy designs on the outside and loud salsa music with disco balls and flashing lights on the inside.  The drivers race each other on the roads and often times the seats have been replaced in order to make room for poles and dancing space.  While Miguel and I were very interested in these Diablos, we didn’t want to ride in them.  Call us crazy, but taxis are way cheaper in Panama than in Costa Rica and we were a little terrified of the Red Devils; although, riding in taxis proved to be pretty crazy in its own right.  We had to hail taxis like you would see people on TV do in major cities.  We learned quick that what you hail was what you got.  Some taxis we would open the door and be greeted by a cool breeze of air conditioning, and others we were greeted with trash on the floors and weird decorations pasted all over the front.

The taxi we took to the Canal was by far the most memorable, and if it weren’t pouring down rain, we probably would never have gotten into it.  But, when it’s dumping rain and you have no where to go, you will get in just about ANY taxi.

Miguel's "Damn it's raining" look

The first sign that things were off in the taxi was the sight of the numerous fuzzy, sparkly, bright yellow stickers and decorations lining the dashboard.  As my eyes scanned over the smiley faces, Winnie the Pooh stickers, and Matchbook cars lining the dash, they fell upon the passenger side door which was held closed by a screwdriver that the taxi driver had to repeatedly shove into place to prevent… to prevent, I’m not quite sure.  I think the door was at risk of just falling right off,  but I could be wrong.  The windows were permanently stuck open, but that was good because it was raining hard and the heat in the car was fogging the windshield.  It was also good that the windows were permanently down because I think the exhaust of the car must have fed right into the back seat.  I haven’t ever ingested so much car exhaust in my life.  Anyway, all of these things stood out pretty clearly right away.  Before we even left the square we were in, I got out my camera and snapped a few shots because I knew we were just getting started.  The ride to the Canal is about 20 minutes, and while huffing car exhaust in a taxi like that, I just knew there was potential for anything to happen.

This picture doesn't really do the taxi justice

Taxi ride from hell

We were about five minutes from the Canal in the backseat of the taxi.  Miguel was behind the driver and I was behind the empty passenger seat.  The sky opened up and rain was dumping down.  The driver turned on his “defrost” to see better, and rolled his window up slightly to prevent rain from coming in.  But, as I stated earlier, the passenger window was permanently stuck open.  We were on the highway and the Taxi was struggling to keep momentum and drive the speed limit.  As the car puttered along pumping black smoke into the back seat, a huge big rig passed on the passenger side.  I remember seeing it fly past and seeing the wall of water its tires were making as it moved forward.  That wall of water finally made its way to the open passenger window, and I remember briefly closing my eyes thinking, “Man, this is going to be bad.”  Then I opened my eyes.  I was shocked… I was only sprinkled by the passing big rig and it’s wall of dirty rain water, and then I heard the taxi driver yell an obscenity at the trucker, and I looked over to Miguel.  He was drenched.  Water was dripping down his face.  His hair, face, chin, shirt, shorts, legs were all soaking wet.  He was hit full on with the wall of water that the big rig kicked up.  I’d like to say my first reaction was, “Oh No!  Here’s my sweater, wipe yourself off!”  but the reality is, I lost it.  I laughed so hard at the sight of him.  The shock and disgust was written on his face and it was so so so funny.  He remarked about how some of the dirty street water had gotten in his mouth, and I laughed even harder.  The taxi driver wanted to laugh, but I think he felt so bad he just pursed his lips and down shifted.  A bit delayed, I handed Miguel my cardigan and helped him wipe himself off.  I felt something wet on my seat, and I looked down and noticed my seat was all wet from the splash.  I looked over to Miguel and said, “Oh man, my dress is wet!”  He rolled his eyes, and handed my sweater back to me.  We were both slightly dizzy and soggy when we arrived at the Canal.  I vaguely remember people unabashedly staring at us as we got out of the cab dripping wet.

Crazy taxi ride aside, the trip was great.  We left Panama all the more excited to share it with Pam and Brian when they visit in the summer!  BOOK YOUR FLIGHT!!!  Love you!  😉


San Blas Islands

13 01 2011

very colorful dress and traditional stoic pose of the Kuna women

Do you know those background images for your computer?  How about the one with of a small desserted island?  Well, I am pretty sure that background is a picture of one of the San Blas Islands.

There are 378 islands in the San Blas chain, 90 or less are inhabited by people.  The islands are lived on by the indigenous Kuna people.  While the majority of the Kuna now speak Spanish many still use their native tongue for everyday conversation.  These are just a few of the things that attracted Vanessa and I to visit the islands.  That is not to say that they are untouched by the western world, obviously since Vanessa and I were visiting and people have for the last 15-20 years.   The west has had an impact on the Kuna, but it is very obvious that they still cling to their roots, their traditions and the simplicity of an isolated life.

a single boat drifting

Vanessa and I booked a trip through Luna’s Castle (the hostel) to stay at an island referred to as Cabina’s Iron (pronounced E-ron), this is located in the Robinson Chain of the San Blas Islands.  The adventure began with leaving the hostel at 5 am and traveling to the Caribbean coast, then boarding the craziest, waviest, roughest, adventuresome boat ride I have been on.  All-in-all, it took us just under 8 hours to arrive at the football field sized island.

Our boat “Captain” pulled the T-Pain and Missy Elliot-music-thumping boat, emblazoned with “God of the War” on the side, directly on to the white sand beach in front of Iron’s.  With a blush of embarrassment, because of the ridiculously loud music that contrasted with the surreal quietness of the island, I made a quick assessment of the island that told me it was…small.  Come to find out there are only 3 families that live on the island and there were 4 other tourists staying with another family; we were the only one’s with Iron.

Iron helped us from the boat and showed us to our hand made hut built by Iron and his sons (there were 3 other huts that were unoccupied).  Our hut was no more than 10 feet from the lapping waves.  He then showed us to the bathroom, which, to our pleasure, actually had real toilets- just no running water and no roof (which was funny later when it was raining and Vanessa had to go) and to the kitchen and the place where we would eat.  It was very obvious that all of the buildings were constructed by careful and confident hands, with the palm topped roofs woven together expertly and the bamboo walls tied together with sturdy knots.

Our cabin. I was standing in the water while taking this picture.

the inside of our hut

Cabina's Iron. This is the dinning room

the bathrooms!

While Vanessa and I organized our things in the cabin we could hear the laughter of native children playing games outside our hut.  After unpacking we left the hut, entwined hands, and walked down the picturesque beach to explore.  We made our way to a small cove and doubled back while watching birds and Kuna’s fish along the island spotted horizon.  It had been a long travel day and we plopped down, Vanessa in the hammock and me in the sand, to rest for the next two days!

Kuna children going fishing!

The only thing that tore Vanessa and I away from the beach, the turquoise blue water, and our books, was food.  Our food was prepared by either Iron’s wife or his mother-in-law and it was amazing.  We had fresh caught whole fish and the freshest crab (we saw them catching it earlier in the day) I have ever eaten while there.  It was expertly prepared on spits over an open fire.  We enjoyed each delicious meal (except one breakfast which was a hot dog with cheese and bread; I am not sure what happened there…) prepared by the lovely ladies.

Fish dinner...it was GREAT!

The 3 days went by quick although they were filled with simple things:  I enjoyed watching birds dive bomb from the sky and, with a loud thump, dive into and under the water and re-surface with a fish in its mouth.  Vanessa took full advantage of her new kindle, finishing her 10 or 11th book in 2 weeks while on the island.  I also enjoyed playing in the glass clear water trying to catch fish with my hands (I failed), and watching the Kuna’s sail around in their hand dug canoe’s.  However, we soon found ourselves back in “God of the War” making our way to the mainland.

Me watching the Kuna's sailing in their dug out boats

This boat trip was filled with it’s own excitement.  With “Work it” by Missy Elliot vibrating my head and while adjusting my back after we sped off a 5 foot swell and the boat smacked on flat water, I looked to the side to see a boat flying toward us.  I thought that we were going about as fast as the water would allow, but this boat was plowing through the water like Shaquille O’neal driving the lane.  As it pulled closer, everyone realized…holy shit…we are being stopped by the Panama Drug Police!

The police boat pulled up short of us and circled us slowly while the officers were yelling words I don’t yet have in my spanish vocabulary.  I knew from our trip to the islands that our boat was running an illegal motor (it was 125 horse power  and the water surrounding the San Blas Islands only allow a 75 horse power engine).  The “Captain” of our boat scrambled to silence Missy.  It was obvious that he and his second mate, a graying black man wearing what I think were “apple bottom jeans”, were a bit nervous.  They quickly explained to the 6 officers where we were coming from and what they were doing.  When he offered to let the Police see all of the passengers passports it seemed to appease the them and they turned their Shaq-esc boat, reved their thunderous engin and destroyed waves in the opposite direction.

When we arrived at the port we were again greeted by the Panamanian police.  As we quickly found out they were on the hunt for a Colombian boat that was believed to be transporting drugs, and that our illegal motor was not high on this list of concerns.  After having our passports inspected by a grizzly looking sergeant, we passed to an SUV waiting to take us back to civilization.

Watch the slide show to see some more of the GREAT pictures we took:

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6 01 2011

Panama has always had an interesting allure to it.  To me it has always just seemed, well, foreign.  Never in my life did I put in on the ¨list¨ but here I am sitting in a hostel in Panama City.  The din of an out of tune guitar, syllables of various languages and the bass reverberating through my feet combined with the smell sea salt in the air and sweat evaporating off strangers has made for an interesting stay so far.

When Vanessa and I arrived from San Jose we were  surprised by how easy of a trip it was, the most stress we felt was the self induced feeling of submersion.  There is that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you step on to a plane and you realize that when you get off you have absolutely no idea what it is going to be like.  So, aside from that stress, there was zero issues.

We arrived in Panama City just afternoon and quickly caught a cab to Luna´s Castle, a hostel that we had read about online and had heard about back in CR.  It is everything that it was built up to be.  This place is HUGE.  There is about 25 rooms, and some of the rooms hold up to 8 people- tonight there is only one bed empty.  There is a buzz all around the place, all the time.  It seems that everyone here is from somewhere else, moving to somewhere new, no one is staying, everyone always on the go.  However, despite the transit nature of the place, it seems to hold a culture all it´s own.  This place is covered in art, it is dripping with uniqueness.  It is, simply, a castle of cultures.

So, aside from our windowless room that wreaks of mothballs and has to be around 90 degrees, the place is fascinating.  Mismatched couches are filled, each cushion holding a different country, a different story.  I feel fortunate to have this experience, to be amongst the haggard and tired travelers, to be able to file this time in my mind, so later I can add my foreign syllables to later conversations.

There will be more Panama posts to come but tonight our dreams will be of the San Blas Islands, which we leave for in the morning.

It has taken me forever to upload just three pictures and people are waiting to use the computer so here you go for now-

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Padres: Part 2

2 01 2011

Proof of a good time!

We decided long before Miguel’s parents arrived that we were going to take them to the the beach for Christmas.  It just seemed right to have a nice dinner and a beautifully relaxing Christmas on the beach.  So, when we arrived and saw the awe and excitement written on Carol and Chico’s faces, we were thrilled!  Manuel Antonio is an amazing place.  There is a lot to do, a lot to see, and it is quite simply, beautiful.

Loving Life. Christmas Eve Together.

We stayed at a quaint hotel called Verde Mar which was right on the beach.  Once we brought our bags in to the room, we went to work on planning out our 3 days of adventure.  After planning a nice Christmas dinner, spa day, zip-lining, national park walking, a catamaran-snorkeling trip, and a little time for surfing, we headed out to the beach.

Miguel and I surfed while Carol and Chico took in the beautiful beach.  It was so good to be at one of our favorite places with family. Seeing family fall in love with Costa Rica helps affirm our feelings, and honestly, it magnified our love of Manuel Antonio.

Our first full day in Manuel Antonio was Christmas Day, and we had no intentions on letting the day pass without taking full advantage of it.  Carol and I made plans at the Spa.  Carol wanted a massage and I went for a manicure and pedicure.  The guys had plans of their own.  They went zip-lining in the forest.  Both activities were exactly what we wanted them to be, memorable!

he enjoyed going upside down...

father and his son

After our afternoon activities, we returned to the beach to play in the ocean and sun-bathe.  Later in the evening we had reservations for a sunset dinner at a place called Claro Que Si.  Dinner was meant to be really special because it was Christmas after all, and we wanted to really go all out.  Claro Que Si delivered!  We had the Seafood Extravaganza and it was 5 courses of amazing-ness.  The sunset was breathtaking, and the company was wonderful.  It was great to spend quality time with family in a paradise-like setting.  Although it was a special night, to be completely honest, it didn’t feel like Christmas… Maybe it was because it was warm and in the distance we could hear the water on the shore.  Something about 80 degree weather didn’t put us in the Christmas frame of mind, but in the end it didn’t matter… love was around and isn’t that the heart of Christmas anyway?

View from the dinner table

Christmas dinner at Claro Que Si

Our second full day in Manuel Antonio was reserved for the National Park and a boat tour.  Up until the National Park tour, we hadn’t seen or heard a single monkey.  Which in a place like Manuel Antionio where their motto is “still more monkeys than people”, we were shocked!  The guide on the park tour did not disappoint us.  He promised our share of monkey viewing, and even joked that he would give us our money back if we didn’t see a monkey.  We saw monkeys alright.  We saw tons of sloths, frogs, crabs, lizards (Carol definitely didn’t like the lizards crawling so close to the path), turtles, and a crazy amount of monkeys.

Everyone's favorite of the day...the 3 toed sloth. He's waving!

Funny side story: We were told that the monkeys would often jump on you and go through your bags for food while in the park.  Supposedly they could open cans of soda, purses, backpacks… you name it, if it smelled good or had food in it, they would most likely try to get it.  So, Carol and I were pretty hungry and we were eating granola bars as we walked along the path (not too smart, I realize).  We turned a corner, and realized we were surrounded by monkeys.  The monkeys started slowly approaching us… I shoved my granola bar in my pocket, hoping they wouldn’t be brave enough to dig through my pockets.  Then I looked over to my left and saw Carol wide-eyed and munching on her granola bar.  She looked over at me as a monkey slowly approached and said, “Do you think they smell my granola bar?”  I vaguely remember yelling, “Yes!  Put it away!”  Everyone quickly looked in her direction as she shoved the remaining granola bar in her pocket and speedily walked away from the greedy clutches of hungry monkeys. At the time, I think we were both too scared to laugh. 🙂

Hungry Monkey

After our close encounter and wonderful tour of the national park, we ate a quick lunch and went back to the hotel lobby to catch our ride for the Catamaran-Snorkeling trip.  Miguel and I didn’t really know what we were getting into.  We had been on a trip to Tortuga Island and went snorkeling, but this boat trip promised to be a much much larger boat.  As we drove away in the tourism bus, Miguel and I wondered out loud to each other, “What kind of trouble are we getting Carol and Chico into?”  We were soon to find out!

boat to take us to see dolphins and snorkel

The boat was HUGE.  It had two decks, a slide, an open bar, this area of netting that you could sit on and see the ocean as we rode along, and a crew of about 5 guys all willing to help.  Needless to say, we were ready for a good time!  We rode along the coastline for about an hour or so and saw tons of dolphins.  They jumped and circled the boat and everyone Oooooed and Ahhhhhed.  It was great.  The bar served any kind of fruit drink you could want with a mix of alcohol or not.  We mingled with some of the families aboard and generally just enjoyed being showed a good time.  Once we got to a nice spot on the coastline for snorkeling, the capitan pulled over and we snorkeled for about 30 minutes.  Miguel and Chico played on the slide.  Carol and I relaxed.  We ate some dinner, watched some weird Italian girls make a public display of themselves dancing on the boat, and we watched another amazing sunset from the ocean.  It was a great time and we all really enjoyed ourselves.

Ready to go!

another sunset...

Our last day in Manuel Antonio was unplanned.  Miguel and I woke up at 6 in the morning to go surfing.  The beach is great for surfing, and it is definitely something we have been trying to improve upon.  To our chagrin, surfers don’t get up that early.  Apparently all surfers have an internal alarm clock of about 7:30.  So, we walked the beach a few times, sun bathed, and got some coffee at a small breakfast place.  Once the surfers arrived, we rented two boards and played.  It was a great time.  Meanwhile, Carol and Chico drove to a breakfast spot and had pancakes and eggs and went to the souvenir shop and bought some souvenirs.  We met up a little before noon and packed our things and left for home.  Everyone agreed, we could have stayed a lot longer in Manuel Antonio.

Another side story (I realize this post is getting super long, so sorry!):  On the way to Manuel Antonio there is a popular bridge called “Crocodile Bridge”.  We stopped in hopes to see a crocodile over the side.  Little did we know we would see tons of huge crocodiles!  Chico really liked this!

lots of Crocs!

this was the biggest...he could have eaten Vanessa in one bite

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