Archive for the ‘None’ Category

Days 28-30 – 24 May – Samara, Costa Rica -> Dallas -> Los Angeles -> Mexico -> Auckland

May 30, 2010 11am in 2010 trip,Costa Rica,None,Travel | Comments (1)

22 May – Saturday
This morning I got up at 5.30am because I needed to leave the house at 6.15am bus to Nicoya to get to the airport. I’d told this to my host family last night and therefore they needed to get up in the morning to see me up. Well 6.10am rolled around and nobody was up, so I had to wake everyone up. They told me that my host father was driving to Nicoya and he could take me there at 7am. Perhaps they’d told me this last night and I didn’t understand at the time? It wouldn’t be the first time!

Anyway I was relieved because I didn’t have to carry 25 or 30kg of luggage a mile and a half to the bus stop. That was a massive relief. I was dropped off by my host father and his friend at the bus stop in Nicoya where I had to catch a bus to Liberia Airport to catch my flight out. The airport was 80km from Nicoya and the city of Liberia was 10km past the airport.

I did my best to ask the ticket guy for a ticket to the airport, and he gave me a ticket on the 8am bus. After looking on the board which said that the 8am bus was “directo”, I asked the ticket guy “are you sure that this bus stops at the airport?” to which he nodded. Sure enough, the bus never stopped at the airport at all, it went direct to the city of Liberia.

Lovely, I thought. It’s not who I am to give up and take a taxi to the airport, I’m far too cheap for that and anyway I still had 5 hours before my flight. So in Liberia’s bus station I looked around for a bus to the airport, and bought a ticket at one of the ticket windows. The woman said that I had to line up at the first line for a bus to the airport. Once I lined up there, the officer told me that it was the second line I needed for the airport. Oh god, here we go again I thought. I asked again at the ticket window where I was supposed to line up and was told something that I didn’t understand a word of. I eventually got on a bus that said “playa something-or-rather” and hoped that I would at least be dropped off somewhere where I could at least see planes flying overhead.

It all turned out to be a blessing in disguise because if I caught an airport bus from Nicoya I would have had to walk a mile or so, but by inadvertently going to Liberia first and getting an airport bus from there I ended up on a bus that dropped me right at the terminal.

At Liberia airport I had to pay my $26 USD departure tax (really, they still have that!!!) and then I sat waiting for my plane to Dallas, Texas. Quite an uneventful flight, it was very full, unlike my flight to Liberia last month which was almost empty. I had two hours to wait before my flight to Los Angeles.

23 May – Sunday
By the time I got to LA, and waited over an hour for my bag to appear on the baggage claim, it was midnight. My next flight out wasn’t until 11pm, which meant I had 23 hours to fill in. Rather than simply sleep the entire time in a hotel (I’d rather sleep during my next flight instead), I thought I’d get out and explore a bit. So I went and hired a rental car; by this time it was 12:30am.

“You know”, I thought, “I always wanted to visit Mexico”. So I headed in that general direction. After two hours of driving, it was 2:30am, and I was starting to swerve accidentally between lanes, so time to pull over and have a rest I thought. I set the GPS for the nearest Denny’s carpark where I knew it might be semi-safe to sleep for a while since all Denny’s are open 24 hours.

Sleeping in Denny's Waking up in Denny's

Four and a bit hours went by and it was now 7am. I didn’t get robbed while I slept in the car which was awesome. And thanks to the folks at Denny’s in Escondido for letting me use their bathroom in the morning. Oh wait, they didn’t see me sneak in there and use it, did they!

I went to a nearby IHOP where in true American style I ordered chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. I wish I took my camera in because I got given the biggest stack of pancakes I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I mean, this was big even by American standards. Wow, I am breathless just thinking about it. I ate 7 pancakes and there must have been at least 4 more I didn’t eat, all for only $5 USD.

Anyway, I continued driving south. It was Sunday at 7:30am and the roads were almost deserted, so I had 8 lanes all to myself.

Driving in California I Driving in California II

Eventually I arrived at a small Californian town called Tecate. Well, it wasn’t really a town, more of a gateway village to a town in Mexico of the same name. I parked my car in a very “homemade” Mom & Pop parking lot and walked across the deserted border into Mexico.

Mexico in the background Stop sign pointing to Mexico

I was suprised how casual the border crossing was. In fact, I’m sure that if I didn’t voluntarily follow the signs to immigration, I could have just wandered into Mexico totally unannounced. But I did the right thing and followed the signs through a very scary and slightly derelict building.

Mexico border crossing at Tecate Nada que declarar (nothing to declare)

The Mexican border official didn’t trust me at all and spoke nearly no English. “Why are you here? Where are you going?” I got asked. I felt I needed to put my Spanish that I learned in Costa Rica to the test. As soon as I started speaking in Spanish the official’s attitude totally changed and he started talking about football and the weather, and then stamped my passport and let me right in. Woo, another stamp in my passport.

I’d heard scary things about Tijuana which is the main border crossing into Mexico near San Diego – things like everyone there tries to sell you stuff, or rob you, or both, and I heard it takes on average an hour or two to cross each way. This border crossing at Tecate was very quiet, I went straight through with no time taken at all, and the town clearly was not a tourist town as I felt like I was the only tourist there. Nobody tried to sell me anything, or rob me, or seemed the slightest bit interested in what I was doing. It was nice actually, even a little boring.

Tecate I Tecate Brewery
Tecate Market Tecate shocked cookies

I saw the Tecate brewery, I saw a little market where I bought a watch for 130 pesos, I saw some very terrified looking cookies in the supermarket and I saw the town square. I also bought a newspaper. Thrilling stuff!

Tecate II Welcome to the USA

After spending a couple of hours walking around the town I wandered back to the United States. Once again, it seemed very casual, there was only this one sign to direct you where to go and if I didn’t follow the sign it seemed like I could have just meandered through the open gate into the USA unnoticed. Although no doubt I would have been taken out by hidden snipers or something.

The US border guy did not like the fact I had been in Mexico for only a couple of hours.
“What were you doing in Mexico?” he asked.
“Just looking around” I said.
“Why only for two hours?” he asked.
I told him I just wanted another stamp in my passport.
“Why did you come out here and not Tijuana?”
“Tijuana scares me.”
“What were you doing in the United States?”
“I have a 23 hour stopover between flights.”
“Didn’t you want to tour LA instead?”
“I’ve seen LA before, I love LA.”
“So you came all the way out here?”
“How did you get out to Tecate?”
“I got a rental car from the airport.”
“Show me the keys.”
I showed him the keys.
“Give me your jacket.”
I gave him my jacket, and he looked through all the pockets.
“So what are you doing here now?”
“I’ve got a flight out at 11pm tonight.” I said, and showed him my itinerary.

At that point he ran out of questions, and he seemed unable to prove that I’d gone to Mexico simply to buy or sell drugs (which seemed to be what he was trying to do) so he let me through.

At that point I still had 10 or so hours until my flight out. So I went here:

Viejas Casino near San Diego


I wasn’t allowed to take any photos in the Casino. I spent $150 in total and came out with $140, and spent about 4 hours in there. I thought $10 for 4 hours’ entertainment wasn’t too bad. My first $100 went at the blackjack table, and that lasted 3 hours and a bit, but eventually I lost it all there. So I spent another $50 on roulette, and on my very last $4 a lucky spin won me $140, so I thought that would be a good time to get out of there.

I left in plenty of time to get back to LAX, just in case Sunday afternoon heralded a lot of traffic on the I-5. It didn’t, and I arrived back at LAX with a ton of time before a flight to New Zealand. This gave me even more time to admire the horrible place that is Los Angeles International Airport.

24 May – Monday
I’d decided to go to New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, because basically I decided that 10 weeks of Spanish in a row would overheat my brain and there’s a slight possibility that it would explode. The only people I told were my sister who’s in England and my Mum so that someone would be there to pick me up from the airport.

Monday didn’t even exist for me because I skipped it crossing the International Date Line in a westerly direction. Even if it had’ve existed, I would have slept right through it, because I was so incredibly tired. The instant that Qantas turned out the lights on the flight, I fell asleep. I stayed asleep the entire flight, only waking up when they turned the lights on 9 hours later for breakfast (and one other time simply to use the bathroom).

In the row of three airplane seats the middle one was empty, and in the aisle seat was a woman from Colombia who lives in New Zealand. She was great to talk to and would have been great to practice Spanish with, if I didn’t sleep the entire way.

My blog entries may take a back seat for a bit, as in New Zealand I’m planning to do little else except visit old friends and family and simply do very little. On June 13 I fly to Peru to continue my Spanish learning and to visit Macchu Picchu.

Days 10-14 – 8 May – a whole week in Samara

May 9, 2010 6pm in 2010 trip,Costa Rica,None,Samara Beach,Travel | Comments (4)

Since so much was happening this week, I’ve got a whole week in one blog entry! It’s very long.

4 MAY Tuesday
It’s 9pm on Tuesday and the power went out about 90 minutes ago now, I thought it was worth trying to sleep but it’s not gonna happen! No lights means no electricity and no electricity means no fan. And no fan means no escape from the 100 degree heat. At least with the loud fan on I can get some sleep.

You know that when the lightning and thunder gets to a certain point that usually the power’s going to go out. The rain’s eased off and I can hear myself think again, so the power and the fan coming back on can’t be too far off surely.

I keep seeing these little flying lights around, I’m not sure exactly what they are but they must be some sort of flying glow-worm. It’s like it’s a little moth or something with a little green light bulb attached to its tail. Well that’s what I assume – I can’t actually see what it is because it’s dark when they turn up.

Tomorrow a couple from the school are going to rent kayaks and go out to the island that you can see from the school. They’ve invited me to go with them and I’d love to except they’re super fit people who recently swum for 1 hour 30 mins and I’m worried I won’t be able to keep up with them.

Also today one of the guys from the school, Arthur, asked me if I wanted to go play videogames with him tomorrow. There’s a “shop” here where you can go in, pick a movie and watch it on one of their televisions. They also have playstation 3s and Nintendo Wiis. I haven’t been in yet but might be going in tomorrow it seems. Arthur’s a lovely guy but his Spanish is more advanced than mine and his first language is French so his Spanish has a real French twang to it so communicating is a bit difficult.

Alright, it’s 9:21 and the fan and lights came back on! Now it’s time to find out if that cockroach I could see climbing down the wall got into my clothes. Hmm, can’t see the cockroach, but I can see a big hory spider. Lovely.

5 MAY Wednesday
Today I went on another bike ride, this one wasn’t a guided tour, instead it was just an impromptu ride with two other guys from the school. We went to the same beach that we tried to get to last time but failed. This time it was okay, the rain wasn’t so bad.

Arthur Tomas

The guy on the left is Arthur from France and the guy on the right is Tomas from Switzerland. There’s a surprising number of people here from Switzerland, France, Germany and Austria.

We biked down the beach after crossing a river, and it was very empty although there was a surf school seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Right at the end of the beach there was a road which I assumed was the road we tried and failed to negotiate on bikes last week. A guy on a motorbike came down the road and we noticed the bike was clean so we figured the road can’t have been too bad and I even got up the courage to ask him if it was possible to negotiate the road by bike, and I even understood the answer (for the most part).

We're awesome Monkey in a tree

On the way back we saw monkeys in the trees, the first time I’d seen them since I got here – apparently before the rain started, you could see them everywhere because there were no leaves in the brown trees. I only managed to take one semi-decent photo, but you can see the mum with her baby on her back.

We stopped at a bar located out in the boondocks on the way home and had an Imperial (the local beer) then went back to Samara and had a few more beers right on the beach, which I never tire of.

6 MAY Thursday
We were told today that the water was going off at midday, although I couldn’t quite understand the rest of what my host father was saying. Apparently we have to shower this morning because the water is supposed to be off until the end of Friday. Gah.

Tonight five of us took a trip to Playa Ostional because there are giant turtles there laying eggs. We went at night because there wasn’t a chance to see them during the day without missing class – unfortunately that meant we weren’t allowed to take photos because the turtles don’t like lights at night. But, it looked kind of like the photos you can see on this page.

It was really amazing, we watched one turtle dig a big hole, lay about 50 or so eggs and then cover it up again. It would then make an effort to camouflage the nest, and then it would bugger off back to the sea. It did a real good job of disguising where it dug the hole, because you couldn’t even see it after it had covered it up again and gone.

The two guides had tiny little red flashlights which weren’t much use, and as is the style in Costa Rica, if the guides saw any of the locals that they knew, they would just stop what they were doing and have a chat for a bit while we stood there in the pitch black saying to ourselves “umm, can we have the flashlight back please?”

In fact, that applies to driving as well, whether it’s taxis, buses, guides, or the people in general, if they see someone they know (which is very common in this small town) they’ll just stop whatever they’re doing (stop the car if they’re driving) and have a chat. Very friendly, but not what we’re used to when they’re supposed to be providing a service!

We got back at about 10:30pm and it was straight over to Ladies’ Night at Tabenuco’s bar, which is the closest bar to the school and has plenty of seats on the beach, and local beers for 1000 colones (£1.50). It was a good night, apparently it’s very busy every Thursday with Ladies’ Night.

One thing I’ve noticed a lot in my time here, but really stood out tonight, is that you really often see a hot local guy “a Tico” with a hot white girlfriend, but you never ever see the reverse – there is never a hot local girl “Tica” with a hot white guy. The logical part of me can process that, but the mathematical part of me tells me that something doesn’t quite add up here.

7 MAY Friday
Today I finally got a chance to go kayaking, something I can’t believe it took me two weeks to do. It didn’t quite go as well as I hoped, but was still fun! I put on a lot of sunscreen for the trip, but because it was a bazillion degrees, the sweat started coming and meant that the sunscreen melted into my eyes, and being in the middle of the ocean on a kayak, there was nothing to wipe them with, so I had stinging eyes for the first half of the trip.

We went ashore wherever we were – I saw a sign that said Playa Samara Sur (South) so we can’t have gone too far – and asked some kind people that spoke english for some tissues to wipe my eyes. Being able to see again made the trip back to Samara much more fun!

I went out with Angela and Mike, an older couple who had their own kayak. Because there’s only the beach – no harbour – you have to navigate the waves with your kayak, and they fell out on the way out when a big wave tipped over the kayak, so their kayak was filled with water for a lot of the trip. I fell out when I got back, a big wave tipped me out just as I came near the waves, but that was fine because I was back on the beach!

Out in the ocean would have been the perfect place to take photos, but the kayak is not the best place to have a camera (lucky I didn’t take it since my kayak capsized).

I got back to my house after kayaking and there was a cockroach on my bed – lovely. I managed to not care about them up until now but that before there was a cockroach actually on the bed. Later on in the night I saw my host mum with cockroach spray and I mentioned casually that I saw one on the bed. Well, she called her daughter over and they turned the room upside down and pulled the bed apart trying to find it. When they failed, she told me about how she really hates cockroaches.

One really sucky part about Friday is that for many people, it’s their last day at the school. Today I had to say bye to Angela and Mike and also Arthur who are leaving at the end of the weekend, who have been my best friends while I’ve been here. Mike’s the older guy who was on the first bike tour last week. It’s usually easy enough to make new friends when the new people come in on Monday but it’s still sad to see your new friends go.

Tonight we watched a movie (Fool’s Gold) but it had to be in English because we couldn’t get the remote to work. After a while we realised we were trying a Panasonic DVD remote on a Sony player, and we couldn’t find the Sony remote. Then, it was a girl’s 20th birthday so we went to Tabenuco’s again. Three nights going out in a row, I’m getting too old for this! Although since I realised that I’ve hardly spent any of my spending money, I bought a variety of cocktails from the cocktail menu. One was called a Samara and was blue and smelled like meat, and another had coconut and actual blended ice-cream and was quite possibly the best drink ever invented.

While we were out, Arthur said that there’s no way I look 30, I look more his age. And since he’s 18, he immediately became my new best friend. But then he said that I’m starting to get an English accent, so now he’s no longer my best friend.

8 MAY Saturday
Arthur and I went to Nicoya today on the bus, it’s the closest place to Samara with any sort of population – to me it seemed a bit bigger than Te Awamutu but Wikipedia tells me that it’s double the size. We were due to catch the 10 oclock bus, but then Arthur’s chain on his bike came off (for about the millionth time) on the way to the bus stop and we got there at 10:08, only to find that once again the official bus timetable doesn’t match what was in our guidebook and we were there almost 40 minutes late. The next bus was not for 80-something minutes, so we had a long wait ahead.

I got a bit stressed in Nicoya because I hadn’t learned the Spanish words associated with shopping – for example, when I wanted to ask the shop assistant if I could try some clothes on, I was using the word “to try” as in “to attempt something” instead of “try on”, so I was actually asking her if I could attempt the clothes. Of course, I was met with blank stares.

Then, the bus back was completely full. I’m pretty sure that there are only two obese women in the whole of Costa Rica (seriously, everyone’s so fit here), and they were both on that bus. One woman stood in the aisle right beside me with her massive stomach pressing up against me for a while, and the buses are not known for their spaciousness. She got off quite soon luckily, but then the other obese woman ended up beside me, facing the other way so her bum was in my space for the rest of the trip!

I mentioned the other day that the water went off, well today it’s still not back on, and I don’t really know why. Couple that with the fact that it’s now a gazillion degrees (officially several orders of magnitude than a bazillion) and you have the recipe for a not very pleasant day. It also didn’t help my stress levels in Nicoya.

It was hard enough dealing with no hot water in the shower, but now there’s no shower full stop. We have a massive bucket of cold water in each shower which we need to fill the toilet with each time, and also we have to shower ourselves with it by pouring the water manually over ourselves. I’m not sure how much longer this water is going to last, but it’s affecting the whole street so hopefully it won’t last much longer. Someone else in the street who speaks English told me that it won’t be back on for another 2 or 3 days.

There’s something a bit messed up with the mobile phone system here. There’s no mobile reception in my house but if you’re lucky there’s some at the school. However, the system can’t seem to work out when it’s successfully delivered a message, so every time I go into the school (and back into cellphone reception), I get the same text message from Mum that reads “Yes. No meetings today and working from home”. I’ve received that message 10 times now.

I’m not going out tonight! Three nights in a row is enough. I had a good night tonight with my host family, I was in the Spanish speaking mood and my host mum was not in her “talking at 100 miles an hour” mood, so we had a big chat about all sorts of things. And her daughter taught me the spanish word for “farts”, so that was awesome.

The daughter said something funny tonight, she’s learning some real basic phrases in English and French – these were her pretty much her exact words, keeping in mind she can only speak Spanish:

“Yo sé como decir ‘me llamo Carolina’ en Francais, es ‘How are you?’”

which translates as

“I know how to say ‘My name is Carolina’ in French, it’s ‘[said in English] How are you?’”

I think she got her foreign phrases mixed up there! Hmm, that was surprisingly hard to explain if you don’t know Spanish.

Hopefully tomorrow is my “day of exploring and taking photos of everything”, which it will be unless some sort of get-together comes up, which it almost certainly will.

Some photos from Day 9

May 4, 2010 7pm in 2010 trip,Costa Rica,None,Samara Beach,Travel | Comments (0)

These photos are here on facebook, but I thought I’d write a bit about them here.

San Jose Neighbourhood PriceSmart Costa Rica

The photo on the left was a road that we drove down in San Jose on the way back to Leah’s house, it shocked me a bit, I’ve never seen houses like that before, they were kind of all built on top of each other and I’m not exactly sure what was holding them all together.

The other photo is in Price Smart, a place where you can buy things in bulk, and it was quite cool! All I could understand in the shop is all the little kids running around in the shop saying “Yo quiero! Yo quiero!!” (I want! I want!). They had absolutely massive packets of M&Ms. Luckily I don’t have enough room in my suitcase to bring too many back to London.

A couple of other photos here.