Thursday, October 30, 2014

Swimming with Sharks

Since I learned that I could live my dream of being the Little Mermaid and breath underwater, I have always been looking forward to getting my PADI certificate for diving. I finally had the chance in Costa Rica. 

After three buses from Moteverde to Playas del Coco I walked into the Summersalt dive shop located only feet from the beach. I had no hostel reservation and had no idea what Playa del Coco was like. I had emailed back and fourth with Summersalt and they were nice enough to give me a discount. For $395 I completed the 4 day course, they helped me find a cheap hostel and even gave me free filtered water and Internet. 

I made a reservation for Villa Flores which use to be Pure Vibes Hostel. They are about two long blocks from the Main Street. I highly recommend them. Although you can still make reservation on Hostelworld for Pure Vibes or $15 it is much cheaper to make reservations when you arrive. I got a deal for 3 days for $35. I met many people who had reserved it online under Pure Vibes, although its still valid when you arrive it much cheaper to negotiate a price when you arrive.

The hostel is very nice, it has a huge pool, with a non-functioning bar (although if you are a woman and friendly with the workers they will give you free drinks anyway). They do not have a restaurant they do have a kitchen at your disposal to make cheap food. 

Playas del Coco is a very touristic small beach town. With many restaurants to choose from it not hard to find some good Costa Rican food, but be sure that prices are not backpacker friendly. I would recommend trying the small shack claiming to be the "Best Playas del Coco Ceviche" on the main road where you can get a cup of fresh ceviche for a 2000 colones ($4). Along the beach you can buy pork and chicken skewers for 1000 colones ($2). Near the beach are two Soda's, which is the name for fast local food. Breakfast before 8am is limited but Resturante Casa del Coco offered a varied menu with meals for under 3500 ($7) including coffee and orange juice. 

On my arrival day I completed the 4 hours of videos. My second day I studied on the beach and took my exam. The third day we spent in the pool training until 1pm. This was the most exhausting day, but the first time you breath underwater you will never forget. The following two days we did four ocean dives. 

On the first day of ocean diving we dove to 12 meters (40ft) we again did some training that we had practiced in the pool, including using your buddies secondary oxygen source and clearing a filled mask. After practicing we swam around with our instructor looking for interesting underwater creatures. Here we had our first encounter with the White Tip Reef Shark. On the second day we again did practice drills including emergency out of air surfacing and taking off our mask underwater. 

After our drills we then explored. It was only ten minutes into our exploration when two huge leopard manta Rey swam past us. It was such an amazing experience, they looked like birds flying by us.

Overall scuba diving is an amazing experience. I am planning to dive again in the Red Sea this December. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Wondering if you have Wanderlust?

Wanderlust is a common medical issue, up to 85% of the population will experience Wanderlust in their lifetime. Wanderlust can last for months and often for a persons lifetime. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor today about the treatments available to you. 

Do you ever feel unsatisfied with your current location and/or day dream of unknown lands and far off places? 

Do you check flight or hotel booking websites multiple times a week? Including but not limited to KAYAK, Skyscanner, Expedia, Hostelworld, and Airbnb. 

Are at least a quarter of your facebook friends from other countries? 

Have you registered unnecessarily to travel websites such as lonely planet, couch surfers, and travelbuddy? 

Do you spend most extended breaks traveling to a place where you have never been and might never go again? 

Do you know how to say "hello", "thank you," and "how much?" in at least five different languages? 

When meeting new people is it hard to talk about yourself without referring to another country? 

Are there items procured in other countries littering your room? 

Do you flick through pictures of past vacations at least once a week? 

Do immigration officers have to flick through multiple pages of your passport to find a blank space for a new stamp? 

If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, don't delay talking to your doctor. Don't suffer alone, treat your Wanderlust today. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

5 passes - Leh to Manali

After renting motorcycles and riding around Leh and the surrounding area and after renting a jeep to take us up to the highest motorable road in the world Khardung La, which claims to be over 18,300 ft, we rented a jeep and headed across the famous Leh to Manali route.

We started by renting a jeep in Leh from one of the various agencies. There are many different kinds of jeep ranging in quality, we ended up renting a jeep for about $25/ person. This included the entire two day trip with driver. Since we were five we did not have to wait for other travelers to add on, although this is an issue you must face if you decide to travel alone or in pairs. The drivers will not leave until the jeep is totally full, or you paid for the jeep outright.

The Leh to Manali route takes you over various high passes, along dangerously narrow roads skirted by steep deadly cliffs. This adventure is not for the light stomached, even my friends had a rough time with the altitude and the nauseating windy roads and never ending precipices.

The first day you traverse across the highest passes, but for me it was no problem due to my acclimation in Nepal only a week before. If you can make it up to Khardung La from Leh then you will be fine from Leh to Manali. Many people travel the opposite way from Manali to Leh. This is much better than just outright flying to Leh. It gives you 2 days to acclimate to the altitude.

The first night we stopped to eat at  collection of parachute tents on the side of the road. They offered hot maggis, egg curry and rice. The accommodations for sleeping are various and depend on your group and budget. Just down the road they had nice plots of well organized tents with showers and bathrooms, which were pretty expensive. Grouped in with the parachute diners there were individual small basic tents, with only a mat and piles of blankets, these can be rented for 250-300INR ($5-6) which meant only 50 INR for each of us. There were no bathrooms only the great outdoors, and no showers, but really who is going to take a shower in below freezing temperatures? The last accommodation is actually inside the parachute diners. This is about 50 INR per person, this is the cheapest for solo and couple travelers.

One recommendation for the tents is to check all the zippers, the main one for the door and the ones for the windows. It gets really cold at night, and since its in a valley it also gets quite windy.

The next morning we woke up early all snuggling together under heaps of random questionable blankets. We had some breakfast and jumped back into the jeep.

The route is very beautiful, you are constantly surrounded by huge mountains, ice fields, yaks and toward the end lots of green fields. We passed few cars, mainly we passed huge wooden trucks, and if you have seen IRT: Deadliest Roads in the World, you know what I mean by pass. I you have not seen IRT then I will explain. We slowly inched our way past these trucks teetering on the edge of deadly cliffs.

After many stops, tons of pictures, and lots of breath holding we finally arrived to Manali. Manali is beautiful. Its in the foothills of the himalayas, when I say foothills its more like footmountains. The bustling town is surrounded by pine forest and is bisected by a rushing river. Everything is walkable and absolutely beautiful. I stayed in the wonderful guesthouse off the road, to get to it you had to walk up a hill and through an orchard. It was an amazing, unfortunately I had to go and get food poisoning, I suggest this is the best place to get food poisoning, it was quiet where I stayed and the views alone was a reason to get up and sit on the deck. The guest house owner was absolutely fantastic and made me toast and delivered it to my room. I also made friends with an Australian guy who was super nice and took care of me.

After a speedy recovery thanks to hydration salts and toast, I decided to explore a little. Manali is travel adventure capital in India. It has everything from white water rafting to zorbin (which i rolling down a hill in a clear ball). There are tons of cafes and restaurants catered to travelers, just don't eat the fruit. There are many shops lining the narrow steep dirt roads. In the center of town you can see the magic show or get a bus back to Delhi.

If you hike up into the hills through the pine forest you can find Hidimba Devi Temple, a wood temple with beautifully carved doors. Just outside the temple you can sit on a yak and hold a really fluffy bunny that they use in the area to make cloths  (they don't kill the rabbits, they just shave them).

After a couple days I headed back to Delhi to meet up with my friend. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Parlez-vous français?

In Costa Rica I met a very interesting woman from Montreal, Quebec. I decided to get in my car one long weekend and visit her. I woke up at 5am packed my car with my bike and cloths and drove off. On the way to Canada I stopped at Lake George and took a quick bike ride and lunch break by the lake. I decided since I was running a little early, I would take the scenic route. I hopped on highway 19 and drove through the windy roads, green meadows, and by sparkling lakes. When I hit the boarder I was almost out of gas. I filled up in the USA, because it's much cheaper, and then waited for an hour in a parking lot at the Canadian boarder. It was so slow trying to go through customs and when I finally got their they didn't even give me a stamp.

Highway 19 

I arrived at my friends home at 6:30pm in Kirkland, QC. We had a quick tea with maple syrup. I then drove us to her friends home in Montreal, where we would be spending our first night. After settling in we walked down the street to a very cute tea lounge called orienthé. Here we sat back and talked over Canadian tea and baklava. 

The next morning we woke up early and rented bicycles from Bixi. It was $7 for the whole day. Bixi has stations throughout the town where you can rent and return the bikes. They were very well maintained and a cheap way to explore the city. 

For brunch we had Poutine at La Banquise, on Rue Rachel. Poutine is a Canadian tradition. It's french fries covered in gravy, cheese curd and topped with whatever you like. I had mine with mushrooms, bell peppers and onions. It was so good, and very filling. 

We hiked up Mount Royal in the center of the city for a panoramic view. We hiked back down another side to meet some friends in China town. Here we are dumplings, sweet breads filled with pudding and Chinese fried donuts. We ordered some bubble tea and sat down to talk and people watch. 

After China town we headed to Old Port Montreal. Here we enjoyed a local dessert called beavers tail, which is a sweet bread topped with anything you can imagine, fruit, chocolate, whip cream, ice cream, cookies and of course maple syrup. After our filling treat we walked around the old city enjoying shops and trying free samples of wine and jam. 

After old city we road our bikes back to our head quarters and changed for a night out. We first crashed a bachelorette dinner at the Globe, a really fancy resturant, where the servers look like models. After dinner we decided to go out dancing, and since it was pride in Montreal, what not better than a gay club with three dance floors, a rooftop terrace and body Jell-O shots? We paid a $5 cover for Unity Night Club, in the heart of the gay district. 

After hours of dancing we headed home to wake up only a couple hours later to drive to Quebec City. The drive is through scenic farmland. We drive through Quebec City to see Montmorency falls. Right off the road it's easy to get to. It's a breathtaking waterfall over rocky cliffs. Here you can climb up a wooden staircase (good exercise) through a small meadow and forest to reach a bridge that crosses right over the falls. After exploring the falls we headed to Old Quebec City. 

Old Quebec City is so cute. The highlight is the huge castle Château Frontenac, a hotel, perched at the top of the mountain looking over the river. To get there you wind through very eauopean-esque couble stone streets, lined with resturants and boutiques. Don't forget to try the maple syrup taffy. It's frozen maple syrup that you wrap around a stick. It can be pricy, but when in canada you must try everything Canadian, especially if it has maple syrup on it. 

We ate lunch at Le Casse Crepes. Their prices were very good and they gave you more than you could eat. We enjoyed Canadian ham, cheese and asparagus Crepes and finished lunch off with a sweet strawberry, chocolate and ice cream filled crepe. 

After lunch we walked the Citadelle walls, it's free to walk around it, and the views are amazing. We walked along the promondade des gouverneurs which is a beautiful walk along the cliffs overlooking the river. We ended back at the castle. We drove back to Montreal and I headed off for an overnight drive back home to Philadelphia. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Who Would Do That?

Most times I am asked that question, the answer is usually me. This time it's not. 

On Monday morning I was briefed by my student doctor colleague that her beautiful new outdoor furniture set-up had been stollen Sunday night, only days after buying it. Shocked I decided to help her recover her beloved Ikea bought outdoor living space. 

I made a list of the items and as anyone would do from Berkeley headed for the most common locations for the resale of stolen goods. Unfortunately there are no Ashby flee markets in South Jersey, so I hit up the next best thing... craigslist. 

I am posting the ad/missing flyer here for your viewing pleasure.

What makes me so perplexed about this robber is not the fact that he/she stole from a poor medical student, or the fact that he/she loves Ikea furniture, but the fact that they stole the who set up tiki torches, small table lantern and potted herb plants... Yes I said that correctly ... Potted plants ... Dirt and everything. 

Ok so now imagine my friends whole backyard set up is now in someone else's yard, including potted basal and thyme. I really hope the robber has the opposite of a green thumb. (Red it technically the opposite color on the spectrum)

Not only is it frustrating that they took the plants, but my friend was very attached to the herbs that she grew from wee seedlings, so it makes her even more heart broken. She exclaimed Tuesday that she "missed the plants more than the table and chairs" despite the price tag difference. 

All efforts are together to recover the missing furniture, police have put together the report, due out tomorrow with details. My friends hopes are beginning to dwindle, but maybe, just maybe if the thief sees the ad, they will have a change of heart and return the exquisite all weather wooden patio set. 

I will report more as the stories unravels. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Superman and Tarzan

After a five hour bus ride from San Jose I finally arrived to the beautiful mountain top city of Monteverde. I had made a reservation earlier that day for the cheapest hostel listed on hostelworld. Sleepers Sleeping Cheaper Hostel was a very silly name and I was skeptical of the quality but I was blown away by how nice it was.

For $9 a bed it was definitely a good deal. The four bed dorm had its own bathroom which was very big. They even had hot water. The family that owned the hostel was very nice. They answered all my questions and helped me book my tours and even gave me a discount. The next day I woke up early and started on the extreme canopy tour ($40). It was a series of zip-lines. Some short and others across the valley. From zip-line to zip-line we climbed up staircases through the jungle. In between we did the Tarzan Swing where we jumped off a platform on a rope. The first drop is the scariest, then you hit the end of the rope and swing back and fourth a few times coming in close contact with the trees and branches. After this we continued through a few zip-lines before we got to the Superman. Here we were reharnessed so that we were laying stomach down on the wire our feet in stirrups behind us. We were released and we flew across the valley, it felt like flying. 

After everything we loaded back up in the car. I was driven to my next and venture: canoning ($45). Here we repelled down waterfalls some short some 40 meters high. This was not as easy as it looked. The rocks were slippery and because you had your hands on the break rope, if you lost your footing you would go smashing sideways into the rock. Constantly cold water was pouring on my face, at the end we would drop down into the pools below. Some shallow others deep. 

A couple scrapes later I headed back to the hostel to eat with my new friend Marina, who was already preparing dinner. After pasta we headed to the Tree House Restaurant to dessert and drinks. The Restaurant was built around a tree. Each table was situated between the branches, lanterns hanging over each table. In the background a cover band played Juanes and Shakira covers. After we headed to the supermarket with the 5 year old son of the hostel owner. I let him pick out my snacks, I ended up leaving with the Costa Rican equivalent of Doritos and Cheetos and small chocolate soccer balls. 

I headed to my room for some sleep, looking forward to making up at 5am to catch the bus out of town. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Train, Buses, Planes Oh My

Three Buses, Two Planes, One Train and a shuttle later I am finally in Costa Rica. I only booked tonight in the hostel, torrow I hope to catch a bus to Volcano Arenal. I have no plans, I guess I will see where the winds take me.

I am sitting on a rooftop bar drinking a free mixed drink, and watching the thunder and lightning light up the sky above my head. 

I am exhasted and I am looking forward to sleeping in my eight bed dorm tonight. So far I am the only one in the room. Lets see who I wake up next to tomorrow. 

I have spoken primarily Spanish since I got on the plane in New York. I made friends with an Ecuadorian woman who invited me to her home on the beach in Ecuador. More places to visit. 


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Put a (Fake)Ring on It

"I am meeting my husband at the next station." was a well used line while traveling through India and South America. I am far past imaginary friends and I am not that desperate to be married, so why would I make up such a lie?

If you are a woman you know why. Recently writer Amanda Hess reflected on the invisibility of misogyny as a reflection to the tragic Santa Barbra killings in her article Why It’s So Hard for Men to See Misogyny. I felt that the story struck home, especially when traveling.

As you may know from my blog, I love to travel, especially alone. It gives me the freedom and independence of setting my own schedules and the opportunity to join other groups or solo travelers. There are many pluses to traveling alone but often I am confronted by the idea that traveling alone for a female is unsafe.

Natalie Nourigat
I have come up with many methods to instil my safety while traveling, money belts, bag locks, getting to the hostel before sunset are a few. I check my lockers before leaving, I make sure to keep on the look out, I always walk without anything valuable showing, but my most used tactic was and still is the fake husband or boyfriend. I even went out of the way to buy a fake wedding ring in India.

Too often was my comfort zone invaded by intrusive men. I would be quietly reading a book at the train station and some guy would come up to sit down a little too close. On the metro in Delhi I began riding in the female only car to prevent unwanted touches. In Buenos Aires I actually was kissed by a total stranger who threw himself on me.

Too many times I have turned around in a club to tell a guy that I can't dance because I had a boyfriend, too many times I said my husband was going to meet me at the restaurant or my brother was coming to pick me up in a second.

Although this has happened to me while traveling, it has happened to me here in America too. I have even been bought drinks by men while my male partner excused himself to the restroom. I often find myself at parties being nice and suffering through boring conversations with men who have had a little too many drinks. I routinely escape with, my boyfriend just arrived, or wink at my friends to pull me away. I feel as if a simple "Sorry I am not interested in having you touch my leg" will somehow not save me from the situation that I am in.

Last week as I was standing on the curb waiting for my friend to pick me up, dressed in business attire, I got more that enough cat calls and honks.Had I been standing next to a man this would probably not have happened. I have rarely been approached by men when traveling in a group with other men, but too often I have seen men intrude into a group of girls.

Natalie Nourigat
Hess makes a great conclusion that women default to male presence as a means of safety in tricky situations. I find it upsetting that "I am not interested" is not powerful enough to end a mans pursuit  that we women default to imaginary husbands, boyfriends and other male figures.

I remember before leaving to travel many friends and family members asked me why I couldn't find a man to take with me. Society continues to create a standard that women lack agency. That without a man around, women are subjecting themselves to danger This leads to the belief that its their own fault if something happens to them, because they were taking unneeded risks. The perpetuation that women still must rely on men in a world where independence is one of the most coveted possessions, prevents women from being treated as equal. 

I leave you with this wonderful comic by Natalie Nourigat. See her page here: "Home Is Where The Internet Is"

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Adrienne Did't Die ... Yay

I rushed past wooden crosses, the only thing stopping me from falling off the edge of the cliff, my hands numb from the vibration, my eyes on the path ahead of me. My heart was beating out of my chest, the peddles under my feet barely moving. Once and a while water would trickle down off the side of the cliff beside me, falling onto my helmet. I watched as the greenery rushed by me, the clouds obscuring the path ahead of me.

Five hours earlier I was in a van with five other travelers heading with bikes strapped to our roof to the start of Death Road, Bolivia. Casino de las Yungas is known as the worlds deadliest roads. After traveling to the deadliest roads in India, I though this was not going to be such a big deal. I am not the best bike rider, but I survived mountain biking the winding mountain roads on the way to Machu Picchu, so this is gonna be a piece of cake. 

We arrived at the top of the mountain. We each posed with our bike near this lake, thinking, this can be the last photo of me alive. We dressed in protective gear including knee and elbow pads, a full body suit gloves and a mountain biking helmet. After strapping my gopro to my chest we each mounted our bikes. 

The first 1/3 of the road is paved and has a pretty good amount of traffic. We dodged trucks and vans, flying past tall snow covered mountain. We stopped a couple hours in for a light snack. We then mounted our bikes to complete the most rigorous part of the road. The rest was dirt, rocks, gravel and wet mud. Our small team zipped through the jungle, stopping to see famous accidents along the way. 

"Look down, do you see that charred bus down there at the bottom of the cliff? 30 people died there." We continued... "Here is where people are thrown off the cliff if they have done something can hear them screaming sometimes at night." We continued.. "Here is the spot where most bikers die ... Look down you can see the remains of the bike frames." 

I am sure these stories are told to us to enhance the adrenaline rush. After three more hours of breath holding, heart pounding madness we finally arrived at the end. I finished ... I didn't die. I even got a shirt that says so, although most people know I am crazy enough to do something like mountain bike Death Road, but if you do t believe me just watch the video I filmed. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Taking on a Challenge

Yay the 100's post!!!

If you don't know me, I have always been very shy. I have stage fright even people fright sometimes. I am terribly afraid of spiders and I could barely order food in a resturant until I was around 10. I have come a long way since then.

I started out as a quiet elementary school girl in speech therapy and tonight I took on the most difficult performance that I will probably ever do. When I was standing on stage with my red corset and my leather pants I faced my fears.

The bright spotlight blinded me and my heart beat hard against my chest. As I recited my lines my body shivered perched upon red stelletos. I neared the end of my monologue and now the part came that would make or break the performance.

I remember at Berkeley when I attended Vagina Monologue's I was blown away by the woman who did "the woman who loved to make vaginas happy", not just by her courage to be on stage, but by her bravery for being able to do what she did on stage.

As I started into the the first moan I channeled my character, I seperated myself from the shy girl and became a strong woman. I put all my effort into each moan letting the laughter of the audience fuel my confidence. I thrashed about on stage, changing positions and using props. As I reached the finally I was out of breath and exhausted, but I was also different, I accomplished something I never thought I would be able to do.

A couple years ago when I first saw this performance, I said that if I was able to do this monologue on stage then I would be able to do anything. I did it...