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Posts Tagged ‘Pre-Trip’

Our first day in La Fortuna, Kelly and I got our bearings around the town and booked our night trip to Volcan Arenal (Costa Rica’s most active volcano) and to take a dip in the ‘free’ hot springs.  La Fortuna has a handful of very expensive resorts that have natural hot spring pools surrounded by lush landscaped gardens…tickets to these resorts run anywhere from $20 – $60 per person.  Since we are trying to do things on the cheap, Gringo Pete’s package of a night trip to the volcano, plus a visit to FREE hot springs for $17 per person sounded right up our alley.   Kelly and I and our new friends all signed up.

The van picked us up around 5:30 p.m. and we headed  out on our evening adventure.  Our guide parked on the side of the road a few miles outside of town and led us down under a roadway bridge to the ‘free’ hot springs.  We quickly realized why they were free…it was basically water running off into the river from the fancy resort next door.  We all waded around in complete darkness on the side of the road under some random bridge.  It was pretty ghetto (and funny), although I’m sure it was much nicer in the daylight.
 
We then drove several miles to the Arenal Volcano National Park and walked across an extremely rickety bridge to a viewing area with a covered roof.  It was difficult to see the volcano in the dark and there was cloud cover around the top, but we had high hopes for seeing lava.  It also helped that our guide brought a bottle of rum so that we could have cocktails while we waited.

Daytime view of Volcan Arenal from La Fortuna

Daytime view of Volcan Arenal from La Fortuna

View of Arenal from the roadway

View of Arenal from the roadway

Volcan Arenal erupts constantly, but had a massive explosion that basically wiped out the surrounding area as recently as 1968.  It was crazy to imagine that at any moment, the same thing could happen again…we were nervous and excited to be so close to an active volcano!  After about 20 minutes, we heard a loud rumbling and saw a bright orange stream of lava creeping down the mountain…it was pretty amazing.  The sound of it erupting is what really fascinated me.  We were lucky to see lava three more times that evening before stumbling back to our van and heading to the hostel.  
 
After a sweaty night’s sleep (there is no AC in most places here and our room was the size of a closet with no ventilation.  On the other hand, it was only $5 per night), Kelly and I had a fantastic breakfast of gallo pinto (Costa Rica’s signature dish of rice and beans) and headed out to see La Catarata de La Fortuna (the Fortuna Waterfall).  We had a steep climb down the side of a mountain, but it was worth it once we got down to the falls.  It was absolutely beautiful and Kelly and I spent some time taking photos and just enjoying the scenery around us.  We should have brought our bathing suits and swam, but were idiots and forgot them.

Gallo Pinto and Juevos Rancheros

Gallo Pinto and Huevos Rancheros

La Catarata from afar

La Catarata from afar

La Catarata up close

La Catarata up close

Swimming area next to the waterfall

Swimming area next to the waterfall

 
(Sorry for the sideways view of the pic above, but it took about 10 minutes to upload and I’m not going to go through that again).

We headed back to our hostel to hang out for a bit and then caught our shuttle to one of the fancy resorts, the Baldi Hot Springs.  We just had to see what all the fuss was about.  Tabacon is the more well known hot spring resort in Costa Rica with amazing views of the volcano, but entry here is $60 per person!  Baldi looked pretty nice from the tourist brochures AND it was only $24, including dinner. 
 
Those sixty dollar hot spring pools at Tabacon must be encrusted with diamonds, because the less expensive Baldi was awesome.  There are 25 hot spring pools of varying temperatures (one as hot as 150 degrees!), 3 wet bars, 3 super fun waterslides, and beautiful gardens and trails.  The only thing that we were a little disappointed in was the price of the drinks…$10 for a cocktail and $6 for a beer, which is totally outrageous, but that’s the price you pay at a resort.  We spent all afternoon checking out the different pools, walking around the gardens, getting beat up on one of the fastest waterslides I’ve ever slid down, and splurged on ONE cocktail at the wet bar.  We even got to catch a little bit of the UT game on tv while lounging in the pool!
 

Enjoying our expensive drink at Baldi

Enjoying our expensive drink at Baldi

Under a waterfall at the springs

Under a waterfall at the springs

One of the pools

One of the pools

We headed back to Gringo Pete’s around seven and took it easy since we had to catch a van-boat-van to Monteverde the next morning.  Kelly and I loved La Fortuna, but were glad to be moving on, if anything to get out of the tiny sweaty room at the hostel.  Kelly will soon be posting about our first couple of days in Monteverde, so stay tuned.
 
Also, I’m trying to upload our photos to Flickr, but it is excruciatingly slow and takes literally HOURS to upload one batch.  Please be patient and we hope to have some up soon!

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Peace Out

Passport?  Check.  Bags packed?  Check.  Tickets?  Check. 

Kelly and I spent our last night in the US trying to stuff all of our belongings in our one carry-on bag and daypack, which was pretty entertaining for our parents.  It was an emotional night…we´re excited, scared, nervous and thrilled to be doing what we are doing.  Thanks to all of our friends and family for your support and sending us off with a whirlwind of parties, dinners, and happy hours.  We will miss you all!

First stop, Costa Rica!!

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Goodbye Austin

Wow.  We leave tomorrow!  I’m sitting here at Jared’s house, just finished cleaning, and it’s starting to sink in.  Wow.  I’m sorry, I  had to say it again.  We will be leaving for Houston in a couple of hours.
 
Our final going away party was on Saturday.  It was sooooo much fun!  Kelly and Sidni are the best hostesses ever.  It was so great to see everyone and have such a good time!  A keg of Lone Star, a vat of Kelly’s famous lemon drops, Sweet Tea Vodka….oh yeah, we had fun:)  I really do have the best friends in the world.  I’m so sorry Kim was sick from either allergies or her flu shot, but she hung in there!  However, the good time made for a VERY rough Sunday.  After finally going to bed at 5am, I woke up with one of the worst hangovers EVER.  But, I will say, the delicious banana pancakes and eggs Kelly made us did help.  Yummy.  After I said my goodbyes, got sick a few times, cried for a few hours in my room, I was ready to start tying up all my loose ends (around 5pm).  I had dinner with Leah, took the Honda out to my grandmother’s in Taylor, and then headed back to Jared’s where Tina helped me pack.  Looks like everything is going to fit! Heck yeah! I then said goodbye to Tina (tear….) and headed to bed. What a day…
 
Jared woke me up this morning for coffee and some wonderful, inspiring words.  Gosh I love that man! I’m so glad I was able to stay with him and feed off his positive energy.  I will see him again when he comes to visit us in Thailand!!
 
So now I’m here with Izzy….letting it sink in.  This is so crazy.  I’m so excited that I get to fulfill this wonderful dream with Kim!  We really did it!  It’s been such a long road to get here.  But I have learned to so much about myself in the past 2.5 years.  I know that my persistance, determination and discipline that I have basically mastered, will really help me along the way.  I am so anxious to see what all else I will learn about myself in the next year. 
 
I just want to say thank you to all of the people that have helped me and put up with me the past few years as I worked toward this.  All of my friends and family have been so supportive and motivating.  I couldn’t have done this without all of you! And Kim especially.  She really is a phenomenal person.  I have  the best sister in the world.  Love you lady:)
 
NOW LET’S DO THIS!!!!!!!!WOOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

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The Countdown

Kelly and I leave in 9 days.  NINE days.  There is so much to do and we have such little time in which to do it all.  There is more gear to be bought, more bills to be paid, more research to be done and more details to be sorted, all while trying to spend every minute possible with friends and family.   When I quit my job, I thought 3 weeks of doing ‘nothing’ before we left would be plenty of time to get things wrapped up in a pretty bow…I wish now I would have given myself another week!

Right now we are visiting our mom and some old friends in Port Neches and this weekend and next  we have a couple of ‘going-away’ parties that are being thrown in our honor.  I think it is finally hitting Kelly and me that we are leaving for a year and the emotions have been overwhelming.  We have both been wondering when the ‘oh crap-I-can’t-believe-we-are-actually-doing-this’ moment would hit us and it’s safe to say, it’s here!

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Kim and I received our final vaccinations last week.  Phew!  Glad that’s over, although it was not so bad this time around.  It could have something to do with the fact that I had six pretty painful shots in the mouth at my dentist visit a couple days before, but hey, whatever works.  I did, however, end up having to get an additional, unplanned shot that in turn saved me $60!! 

Rebecca, our travel nurse has been great, but that day, she must have been a little off… 

I decided to “man up” and go first to get my yellow fever shot. Not too bad.  It did sting a little more than the others.  Then, we moved on to the boosters for our previous shots. 

I was supposed to get the Hepatitis A/B combo booster.  Apparently, Rebecca recorded our previous shots in the wrong area on our vaccination records, which in turn caused me to only receive the Hepatitis B booster instead of the combo.  This is where the additional shot of 1/3 of the Hepatitis A booster came in.  BUT! Because it was her mistake, she didn’t make me pay for it.  Nice!  What would have cost me $122, only cost me $60. 

Next, it was Kim’s turn.  There was a little confusion at first stemming from the earlier mishap, but she was taken care of.  She received her yellow fever vaccine as well, and her Hepatitis B booster.  

Kim and I have been debating on which malaria medication to take.  The two options we’ve narrowed it down to are Lariam and Doxycycline.  Both kind of suck.  Lariam may cause nausea, hallucinations, bad dreams, and severe depression BUT only needs to be taken once a week.  We won’t go crazy taking doxycycline, but you have to take that every day (thus carrying around more pills) and the side effects are sensitivity to sunlight and, since we are women, yeast infections.  It’s a tough call. 

The nurse prescribed us 2 weeks worth of the Lariam, which we are currently testing out.  We seem to be reacting to it just fine.  There was a little nausea the second day, but nothing too bad.  We plan to take this in Costa Rica, and the Doxycycline in Thailand and Laos since there is a resistance to Lariam in these areas. 

Rebecca also tossed in some Cipro and amoxicillin for travelers’ diarrhea.  Not looking forward to that.  She also prescribed us some sleeping pills and anxiety medication for long bus and plane rides.  Both Kim and I have had a few transportation related panic attacks in the past and we’d prefer to do without that while veering into an open gorge riding up a mountain with a crazy driver going 60 MPH.  Thanks Rebecca!

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An Important Lesson

As I was sorting through all of my junk and boxing up old keepsakes during my move, I came across my big box of photos where I’ve stashed all of my pictures from the past ten years or so. Thumbing through the photos and reliving old memories, I came across some of my favorite snapshots from my many trips to New Orleans.  

The first time I went to New Orleans, I was not impressed.  Two girlfriends and I made the long drive to spend a weekend there during college and much to my disappointment, New Orleans wasn’t nearly as great as everyone made it out to be.  Bourbon Street was filthy and smelled like trash and pee.  The French Quarter had charm, but was not worth exploring in the sweltering heat and humidity.  To make matters worse, the food (one of the main attractions I was looking forward to) wasn’t anything to write home about.  I’ve eaten better Cajun and Creole food at Popeye’s Chicken than at the restaurants we wandered into.  Seriously, why the hell would I drive eight hours for this?   I had no intention of ever going back. 

Me, Mary, and Nicole in the Quarter

Me, Mary, and Nicole in the Quarter

Fast forward a few years.  My friend Nicole invited me to go to Jazz Fest, an annual music and heritage festival held every spring in New Orleans.  I was hesitant at first, but a bunch of my friends were going and I didn’t want to miss out on the fun.  Nicole’s Godparents, Carol and Lionel, lived in New Orleans and were going to put us up for free in their home and show us around town, so I decided to suck it up and go. 

We arrived at Carol and Lionel’s after a long day of driving and were greeted with a feast of boiled crabs, crawfish, grits and grillades.  This meal with Carol and Lionel was the beginning of a surprisingly fantastic weekend, one which jump-started an annual pilgrimage to a city that I didn’t think I’d ever visit again. 

ChowinDown

Enjoying a soft shell crab po'boy at the festival. Mmmm...

Each year now, a group of us pile into Nicole’s car and head to the Big Easy for Jazz Fest.  We typically spend a day enjoying music, people watching, and stuffing our faces at the festival (think soft-shell crab po-boys, fried green tomatoes, crawfish pasta, jambalaya, gumbo…and that’s barely scratching the surface of the cornucopia of food choices available).  Throughout the rest of the weekend, Carol and Lionel take us to see our favorite sights.   This includes a stroll around The French Quarter, coffee and beignets at Café DuMonde, relaxing on the porch at The Columns Hotel, cocktails at The Monteleone’s Carousel Bar , hurricanes at Port of Call, and a drunken piano sing along at Laffites Blacksmith Shop.  After all that alcohol, you don’t even notice the funky stench on the street. 

New Orleans is a blast – but it’s having Carol and Lionel as our tour guides that has truly made our time in New Orleans memorable and caused me to do a complete 180 on my view of this city. 

Up until Hurricane Katrina, Carol and Lionel had lived in New Orleans their whole lives.  They know all of the short cuts, where to park, which restaurant has the best turtle soup, which bar

Care for some crawfish?

Care for some crawfish?

serves the strongest cocktail, and which lounge has the best jazz and blues.  They love to point out all of the local landmarks, take us to the places where they used to hang out as teenagers, show us the schools they’ve taught in, the first home they shared together, and the old cemeteries where their loved ones are buried.   We’ve experienced  New Orleans hospitality by their childhood friends at backyard crawfish boils and devoured one-of-a-kind tamales at a family restaurant after the doors have closed to the public.  These are moments that I could have never experienced as a regular tourist here. 

Obviously, I’ve learned a valuable lesson from Carol and Lionel that I hope to utilize on my trip around the world – get to know the locals!  They can help you experience a city like you never would as an outsider, which will change your perception of a place completely.   Thank you, Carol and Lionel, for showing me how exciting a city can be

when it is seen through the eyes of someone who has loved, lived, and called it ‘home’. 

Carol and Lionel

Carol and Lionel

I’ll miss the trip to New Orleans this April, but I know that while my friends are chowing down on crawfish ettouffee and boogying at the festival, Kelly and I will be exploring a strange and exciting city too, hopefully with a new-found local friend showing us the way…

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Homeless and Unemployed

I completed two major tasks on the trip ‘to do’ list this week – I moved out of my house and quit my job.

I officially moved out of my duplex on Monday.   I lived there for over 6 years, which is  longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life; it felt strange to leave a place that I called home for the majority of my twenties.  

My little ‘tree house’ is in a great neighborhood – it’s a ten-minute walk to Zilker Park, a two-minute walk to Barton

Trailside Tree House

Trailside Tree House

Springs, and most importantly, a $7 cab ride to downtown.  Factor in a huge kitchen and bedroom, an outdoor deck surrounded by gigantic oak trees, an awesome neighbor, cheap rent and you’ve got yourself the perfect pad!  

I’ll miss the close proximity of the Town Lake running trails, the string of restaurants that were within walking distance of my front door, and my morning coffee from Barton Hills Market.   I’ll miss the fact that after partying in 100 degree heat all day at the Austin City Limits Festival, I was only a drunken stumble away from the air-conditioned comfort of my home while the other sweaty concert goers had to wait an hour for a bus back to the parking garage.  I’ll miss having drinks on my upstairs balcony, playing Trivial Pursuit on the living room floor, and all of the countless late night conversations between my friends and I that took place there over the years.  Hell, I’ll even miss the smelly guitar-playing homeless guys that I

Barton Springs Pool

Barton Springs Pool

would pass by on my way to Barton Springs. 

But at the same time, I was ready to leave.  In all honesty, the place hasn’t felt the same since my long-term-roomie Julie moved out last year and for many months now, I’ve practically been living at my boyfriend’s house anyway.  It felt good to throw away all of the crap I had accumulated over the years (seriously, did I really need two VHS copies of ‘Overboard’?)  and liberating to know that everything I own will now be stuffed into a back pack.  

Then yesterday, I gave my notice at work.  I woke up with my stomach in knots, realizing that I was about to quit a perfectly good job in a crummy economy.   I can’t tell you how many times in the past six months that I have muttered the words ‘I cannot WAIT to quit my job’…but now that the time had come, I was a nervous wreck about it.  I think I’ve mentioned that I’m a sucker for stability so the thought of no steady income and no health insurance really stresses me out.  

However, I knew that quitting my job was one of the sacrifices to be made in order to travel for such a long period of time.  I also reminded myself that it’s just a job and there are  tons of other jobs to be had when I get back.  So I took a few deep breaths and told my boss that I would be leaving in 30 days and the whole process couldn’t have gone more smoothly.  Afterwards, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted…I’ve been carrying my little secret around the office for months and it was great to finally have it out in the open.  

I plan to celebrate my new status as an unemployed homeless person this weekend with a bottle of wine and a leisurely canoe trip down the South Llano River! 

Oh and Happy 27th Birthday Kelly!  Thanks for getting me good and liquored up at your birthday celebration the night before I had to meet with my boss.  In addition to my stomach being in knots, I also had an excruciating headache.  Good times!

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