Sunday, September 30, 2007

el bus, el camión, el bus

Being what I call, ¨in transit,¨is hard. On travel days I usually end up missing a meal, with neck cramps, and in a general state of crankiness. Just ask Mandy because yesterday was one of those days. We woke up at 5:30 am, also known as way too early, packed and headed up to the bus station. Breakfast was milk and coconut bread that was so dry that to avoid instant dry mouth it had to be consumed concurrently with a sip of milk.
Once on the bus Eva announced excitedly that the seats reclined. Being five foot ten, which is giant in Costa Rica means that reclining seats directly translates to English as, ¨uncomfortable bus ride.¨These ones were especially bad, they were the kind that slide the rest of your seat forward as you recline, further reducing the space between your knees and the seat in front of you. This fact was combined with bus exhaust pouring in the windows as the bus driver collected the tickets. These moments are the times in traveling that make you go to your happy zen buddhist place and try to meditate on how friggin´great it is to be in Costa Rica.
Once we got going the breeze and moutain views put me right to sleep. The ride was totally beautiful, looking down into jade green valleys, brahma cows, and huge tendrils of clouds spilling over ridges. The roads were another thing all together, we were pretty much four wheeling on a huge tour bus. I mean dirt roads with rocks + huge ass bus seems like a bad combo, not unlike cheese and chocolate. And it turns out it is.
At some random jungle bus stop our bus driver managed to break the axel of one of the back tires. And rather than announcing any sort of formal plan he abandons all of us and takes off in a truck. Luckily Eva, she espeakas the espanish, otherwise all of us would have been how the french say it, le fucked. Some how we decided that rather than wait for the next bus to come and save us we would take matters into our own hands, cue the mobile disco. So we hiked our selves up the road a bit and stuck our thumb out at the first vehicle to come along, which was a truck with two ticos. Suddenly a man with the most shocking butt crack/paisley man thong combination is throwing our packs into the back of this truck. Eva tells us that Mandy is going to have to sit on my lap, while she straddles the e-brake. Turns out our two new amigos are owners of a mobile disco and are both extremely polite, friendly, and a fantastic comedy team. Eva is keeping the conversation going in both languages while Mandy is trying to avoid a concussion from the ceiling of the truck. The hour we spent sweating on each other while crammed in the tiny cab was totally worth the fact that as we stood waiting for the next bus to San Jose we saw the bus that we should have been on fly by filled with our old comrades. What I am willing to sacrafice in the name of a good travelogue.
I´ll catch you up on political marches, mimes, and costa rican farmers markets next time.

choco-queso en el bosque nuboso

Woo wee, I strong armed my way to an internet cafe so that I wouldn´t get too far behind on what is happening down this way, because things are doing just that, happening.
So I left off on our trip to the cloud forest, which is going to have to get short shrift, which I feel a little bad about. Our bus ride out was pretty unremarkable until we had to stop so that our bus driver could fill in a huge pothole that might have otherwise swallowed the bus. We arrived in Santa Elena which has the simple mountain town vibe, ala Cameron Highlands, Truckee, and you know, Aspen... ok well maybe not Aspen. Anyhow we had somehow settled on a place called Casa Tranquilo as our ¨the¨ place to stay. We wandered down there checked out the rooms which were very ¨frontier rustic.¨ As we settled in Eva read to us from ¨the book¨ (our nickname for the lonely planet costa rica) and we found ourselves overwhelmed by dinner options. After some discussion, which was really just getting distracted from the task at hand, we chose not the Super Pollo numero dos (our next door neighbor), but Morphos. Morphos serves gringofied casados at gringo prices.
Thursday was spent meeting our neighbor Roy, a crazy tico, hiking up to Monte Verde and seeing the cheese factory. Thursday also included our discovery of choco-queso. Monte Verde is famoso for their queso. Roy said that the factory was a. not up hill and b. only 15-20 minutes away. Roy must be crazy because it is a. up a huge ass hill and b. took us at least an hour to get to (and I am not including our stop for banana cheese bread). That being said the walk was entertaining as walking on roads in foreign countries often is.
When we arrived at the cheese factory we found out that they had no more cheese samples. I´m not going to complain about that too much, but it was pretty disappointing after such a long walk. Needless to say we didn´t spend too much time at the factory, after watching them stir the curds, and staring at the choco-queso we headed back down the road in search of greener pastures.
Back in Santa Elena we stalked up on essentials: galletas, beets, avacados, choco-queso. I guess now is the time to explain the bizarre cheese obsession. That morning while reading La Nacion we discovered an ad for the cheese in question. I´m not sure that I would have ever contemplated combining the two, but some crazy tico sure had. The product is a bit like if american cheese and milo or nesquick had a baby together. It´s too sweet, rubbery, and somehow gross and enjoyable at the same time. We ate it that night with crazy Roy and David. It´s not too bad with cookies or fried platanos.
The next day at Selvatura, one of the local nature reserves we met some Canadians who had been thoroughly entertained by the idea of chocolate cheese. I think they were in awe of our courage to actually try the stuff.
So I should tell you that Monte Verde is rich in wildlife as well as dairy, and just as soon as my camera and a computer get to the same place I´ll upload a picture for your pleasure. The biodiversity is overwhelming, rather than rushing around and trying to see all of it we took a little tour with bridges and checked it all out at our leisure. Mandy was on the hunt for a sloth, but the only really crazy wildlife we saw were the gringos flying through the air on the zip lines. In addition to the flying gringos we did see some cool looking bugs and a number of chiripi (humming birds) but no sloths.
And that my friends was my time up in the clouds.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Eva needed to be back in San Jose for this big march on Sunday so it was decided that our first journey would be to the nearby bosque nuboso or cloud forests. Eva had a translating gig on Wednesday morning so she left me and Mandy to sleep in. I took full advantage, after my marathon of flights and little sleep I was pretty pooped. So tired in fact that I started talking in my sleep. I didn´t even knew I did that, but Mandy was happy to inform me otherwise. By the time I was up and mobile Eva was on her way back from work, meaning that I pretty much missed the breakfast hour completely. I didn´t go hungry though. On the way to catch our bus to Monte Verde we stopped at the Central Market to get casados, the typical fare for both lunch and dinner. The Central Market is in downtown San Jose which is your standard city. I guess it hasn´t made a huge impression on me: not very impressive architecturally, swamped with developing capitalism, lots of people and cars.
My short time at the Central Market was pretty delicious, I´m down with the tico food. We didn´t see too much there, just an eat and run, but I think there is more exploring in store. After lunch we headed to the bus station to purchase tickets to Monte Verde and hung around eating galletas and drinking cafe con leche. I love a good bev.
Well stories of mobile discos and bus drivers digging in the mud are still to come, but will have to wait until my next internet session.

getting here

I´m back in San Jose, I had been thoroughly ready to write a post to update you all while still in Santa Elena, but the internet connection was wacky and the web page in spanish, so I couldn´t sign on. Ah, life goes on.
I had thought that the whole blog thing might encourage more frequent updates and therefor shorter monologues, but alas I have been foiled, and now five days in have way too many stories of hilariousness to keep this short.
So the flying down here thing was long. Not bad traveling, more educational than anything. I had my first Vegas experience and ended up making about 4.75 on the slots, which was slightly encouraging. Then in a moment of air conditioned induced coldness I blew the whole lot on a starbucks chai. My two hours in Atlanta were spent sleeping on the floor while listening to CNN blasting from one of the airport´s flat screens. Then I was off on my plane to San Jose, during which I caught up on important things like George Clooney in Ocean´s 13. Not long after I found my self expelled out of customs and immigration and out into the wild wilderness of the taxi touters. Not to worry Eva´s friend Marcos, and his daughter there to save me and drive me to San Pedro.
Suddenly I was in Costa Rica with not only Eva, but Mandini too. Not to anybody´s suprise I arrived hungry so we headed off to a local vegetarian place for un plato de dia, veggie style. No one had informed me, but apparently many of my friends have reverted to some sort of herborvirous subsistence pattern, quite a change after traveling with the man who will eat everything (except dried squid, he does draw the line there). I´m digging on the green stuff, though I know I am going to be craving a quesoburgesa any moment.
After lunch, the afternoon was spent listening to Eva translate for some Canadian farmer talking about why Costa Ricans shouldn´t vote in support of CAFTA. It was an interesting talk, until I fell asleep that was. We ended up spending the evening at Eva´s McGyvering up a meal of thai camote tacos and drinking powdered milk with sugar, it was fun to just sit around and chat and chat.
I´ll leave you there for now and start working on stories of Monte Verde.

Monday, September 24, 2007

packing 101

Somehow I thought packing for this adventure would be easier. But I always always get hung up by the what ifs? Zach reminded me that once you are on your way that what you packed to wear isn't that important, I should have reminded him of my t-shirt jihad in Singapore. I hate having stuff along that I don't end up using, but I also hate not having along what I want. I mean last time I ended up dragging neon colored zip ties all over Asia, and not once was there an incident where I thought to myself, "self, I am so glad I have neon zip ties." On the other hand I was cursing my choice of t-shirts, and lack of emergen-c. Upon further consideration perfect packing doesn't make for good stories. So with that in mind and my bag packed I am sure this trip will be full of them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

chaco flips

I got a new pair of chaco flips this week. Some never thought it would happen. The old pair had a good run: 3 years and 9 countries is a lot for a single pair of flip flops. You can see the right one back in the day on the beach in lanikai. That is my shameless gear plug of the day.

Friday, September 14, 2007


This photo is the result of four hours of driving, one night camping beside highway 180, another 2 hours in the car, and 11.5 miles of hiking. Two weeks ago I headed down to Sequoia to visit Ari out at Bearpaw. My trip occurred in typical Gemma fashion, leaving too late, lots of traffic, generally less planning than is probably recommended. The hike out was amazing with lots of views of the western divide and my encounter with two bears.
Not sure why, but this photo feels like a good way to start this blog. A reminder that the best experiences come with a dash of adversity, blisters, and large mugs of hot tea.