Mari's Notebook

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

And so it begins...

So I officially moved into my dorm on Friday, and things have been quite eventful since then I suppose.
Really as far as packing goes, all I can say is that I am so glad my family lives only an hour away. We did the unloading in two parts, one on Friday and one on Saturday just to make things less chaotic.
As far as the dorm goes, I love it. The common room is huge! It has all our desks and there’s even room for a sofa/futon, which we are currently working on. We’re looking for a cheap one. My room is the complete opposite of the common room. It is “bowling alley style,” meaning it is long and narrow (though unfortunately not the standard size of a bowling alley).
See the resemblance?
So when we first got there, the beds were found bunked. And then they were debunked. And then they were lofted. It’s really cozy. I don’t mind it as much as I had thought.
This year move in day has been completely memorable because of a certain unexpected guest…
IRENE!
Ms. Hurricane Irene decided to follow Mr. Earthquake and wreak havoc on the East Coast. The first couple nights of college, all the freshman were supposed to have these amazing activities and parties…and now they are all cancelled. We are (not forcibly) quarantined in our dorms, which makes for good bonding time. The school’s freaking out though, sending out hourly emails and handing out free food (because all dining halls are closed).
Our common room has this big window—it’s quite lovely just to watch the rain and the wind and the rustling of the trees. It’s tranquil in a way—though I’m quite spoiled now because a big university is taking care of me. Supposedly it’s virtually impossible for us to have a power outage because we have our own underground grid. So I while I spend my time here, figuring out college jobs, what courses to take and chilling like I’ve never chilled before…everywhere around me there are power outages.
We’ll see what today brings. M

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Costa Rica - Part 3

Just a quick picture post…
We went to Manuel Antonio for the last stretch of the week. So first we flew in to San José, and then drove three hours to our hotel. There was lots to see on this drive—it was holiday (the patron saint’s day) so everyone was outside walking to the celebrations.
Our hotel was called Sí Como No, which I find hilarious because it perfectly captures a tourist’s/vacationer’s state of mind. Yes, why not?
This hotel was a bit more luxurious than Mawamba Lodge but just as beautiful, too. Like Mawamba, it was very integrated into the land on which it sits (the area was very hilly, somewhat steep). For instance, we had to go up and down a lot of stairs to get to our room, the pool, the restaurants, everything.
  To get to our room we even had to go over this bridge:
View from our balcony:

One of the first things we did was go to another butterfly garden! Luckily the butterflies were much more willing to stay put long enough so I could take a picture...








And on our way out of a the self-guided tour of the butterfly garden, we spotted our first White-Faced Monkeys! There was a whole family, Mommy, Daddy and Baby.
Nighttime view from our room…
Our first full day, we went to Manuel Antonio National Park, where we “hiked” into the forest and saw all of these amazing animals, plants and trees.


The frogs here in Manuel Antonio are not poisonous, our guide told us.




Towards the end, a group of Howler Monkeys put on a little show for us. There were about ten other groups, just huddled around looking up. Howler Monkeys (as their name suggests) do a ton of howling (literally like a wolf’s or a dog’s howl) to protect their territory. But it’s only the males that do the howling…

And at the end of the hike, we arrived at the beach and went swimming. Just as we were changing we saw a family of Squirrel Monkeys! At this point we had finally seen all four species of monkey in Costa Rica.

The beach…


Dolphins also made an appearance while we were in Manuel Antonio:

Our last glimpse of San José as we took off on the plane. I’d love to come back to Costa Rica. It was my first time really out of the country, but there are so many other places to see!


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Costa Rica - Part 2

So we spent a couple days in Tortuguero, and these were by far the busiest days of our vacation. We’re talking 4:45 a.m. wake-up calls. Seriously, before it was lunch time we’d have gone on at least two or three excursions. Every second of it was amazing.
Mawamba Park is situated right in the middle of the forests—it was the most…rustic? organic? of the places we stayed in Costa Rica. We had cabins and they did have electricity, so it wasn’t that out there as far as accommodations. Except I gave up showering after the first day, because the shower pressure was impossibly high and there were only two temperature options: scalding hot and Antarctic cold.
Here is a picture of my bed: (on any given moment there was something crawling on it…but at least it wasn’t as bad as the flies in Vermont (who knew?))
As for excursions, we took a lot of boat rides, since the resort and all the other resorts are situated on the water. Morning and afternoon boat rides each resulted in sightings of different animals, which was really cool to see. We got really close to some animals and went deep into the rain forest. One of the first excursions was a walking path of the rainforest. Surprisingly, that did not produce as many animal sightings as did the boat tours.
Here are just a few of the wild* animals spotted:

 Caiman:
*The word “wild” is subject to interpretation:
Monkeys!
This is either a Spider Monkey or a Howler Monkey. In Tortuguero, we only saw two of the four types of monkey species found in Costa Rica. Luckily, by the end of the trip we spotted them all!
Frogs, poisonous
I love it when animals pose….

After one of our trips, our guide dropped us off at the main town area, home to the biggest gift shop in Tortuguero and the best coconut milk ever. I think one of the things that surprised me most about Costa Rica was the fact that there were literally no trash bins anywhere. At home, we can’t walk 500 feet without there being one, yet we still manage to be really dirty. Anyway, I loved how Costa Rica was so conscious of its consumption, recycling and sustainability efforts.
Wish we had more of these at home…
And then we walked along the beach back to Mawamba.
A really nice sign at the entrance of the beach:
 (Everything is possible)
And the beach was so beautiful and clean.
One day we went to a butterfly garden, which I was extremely excited about. See, for my senior project a couple friends and I researched and designed a butterfly garden that my school could potentially build. It was a nice surprise for us when the senior gift turned out to be funding for this butterfly garden. Butterfly gardens will always hold a special place in my heart.

Also, one of the very first animals I saw in Costa Rica (besides the stray dogs) was a big, beautiful blue butterfly, just fluttering past our bus when we were on our way out of the city and into the forest. I saw a lot of those in the butterfly garden! But unfortunately they are a species that moves a lot--I couldn’t get a single good photo!



Haha…one our way back from the butterfly garden we ran into a couple of these, mere feet from a friend’s room! We really were in the middle of nature.
We were sad to leave Tortuguero, but excited to have access to a shower with a better temperature range. When it was finally time to travel to Manuel Antonio, we first when on a boat to the “airport,” which can be seen below.
And then our plane came! Six passengers total with a 25 lb. luggage limit per person!
The inside of the plane…
I have to admit, it was a bit scary. I’ve never ridden in such a small plane before, and we were ascending right over the ocean….
Our last views of Tortuguero:


More later xx

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Costa Rica - Part 1

I feel absolutely horrible being away from the blog for so long—especially because I just started blogging, and I really want to keep myself in the habit of doing so. But really the truth is I couldn’t post anything because I was in Costa Rica!

Costa Rica…so incredibly beautiful (“de lo más bonito” my mother kept saying to all our taxi drivers when they asked how we liked their country). Our week traveling there was like a breath of fresh air. It was an experience I will never forget.

We first flew in to San José and spent a night, then drove to Tortuguero and stayed a couple days, and then we flew/drove to Manuel Antonio for the rest of the week. And because of the weight limit on one of our flights (25 lbs. per person) I packed lighter than I had ever packed before. Basically my suitcase consisted of clothes (mostly weightless Nike shorts and tank tops), toiletries, and two books (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini).

I decided my only electronic device would be my camera. No cell phone, no iPod, no Twitter, no Facebook.  Obviously as a teenager in this day and age, I knew this would be a challenge, but I think it went pretty well. Everything seemed much more relaxing and I found myself not really caring that I couldn’t access my email and Facebook. The one thing I did find myself missing was Twitter. I would have looooved  live-tweeting everything, because one of my favorite things to do when I am absolutely bored is to look at all my past tweets. Tweets, I believe, capture the moment in such a unique way. It would have been cool to document the trip through Twitter…but what could I do? I could only imagine my phone bill if I had tried using it in Costa Rica!

We had to take a connecting flight to San José…so the first day was a long traveling day (I was happy, however, to catch a last-minute sushi lunch at Miami International Airport and even find Spanish Cosmo). During the flights I had hoped to break through the first 50 or so pages of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (though I ended up sleeping more than reading), and while I did make some headway, I was still not hooked by the time we reached Costa Rica. (See #4 of previous post to understand my obsession with getting through this book)

When we finally landed in San José it was raining and very very humid. Right now, Costa Rica is going through it’s rainy season—it’s winter there and the off-season for tourism, which worked out fine for us. There were still lots of tourists but we never had to wait for a restaurant and we got to see frogs (one of our guides said they’re only really out during rainy season).

Here are a few pictures from the first two days of the trip. I will be posting more pictures and entries about particular experiences later. God, Costa Rica was so beautiful!


We stayed one night at Grano de Oro, a city hotel with the most amazing. food. ever. From the cheeses to the meats to the dessert, it was all incredibly decadent. It was here that I tasted my first real tres leches cake (“a traditional Costa Rican dessert”). It was perfect in every way describable—right then and there I vowed I would sample tres leches cake everywhere I went on this trip…but it seemed I would never be able to top Grano de Oro.
Surprise Bucket List!
Bucket List #3: Find the perfect recipe for tres leches cake (and then bake the cake, obviously) .
Our hotel room was really nice, too:


 A view from outside our window…

Here is a little fountain right in front of the staircase to our hotel room. I loved Grano de Oro because it was so open. I was literally weaving in and out of doors, hallways and rooms which were all open to the outdoors. Even in the restaurant, the center of it had no cover, so it was like eating dinner on a patio.
Newspaper…grabbed a copy a few days later as a souvenir.

¡Turismo! Again, a wonderful tweet: #youknowyoureatourist in Costa Rica when you’ve ridden in one of these.

 Early next morning, after our amazing dinner, we were picked up by Steven, one of our many amazing tour guides. We then embarked on a three hour-long bus ride (with about a dozen or so other tourists) to Tortuguero.
One of the first things I noticed was that there were so many stray dogs. All over there were packs of dogs…I think I have a few dog pictures later…



We were picked up at 6:30 am, but luckily in the middle we all stopped for breakfast…and this marks the first time I’ve ever had arroz con frijoles for breakfast.
 I am also a major sucker for platanos.
Again, our breakfast place was very open and right in the middle of nature.
We were eating right next to this:

 
And then we got back onto the bus for another couple hours of driving. At one point we officially left the city…and the cement streets. We stopped briefly for a bathroom break at this woman’s bake shop. She makes amazing cakes.

Here was the view from outside my bus window. The sky, the horses, the dogs (though I don’t think you can see them here…) it was all so incredible to see. A local teenage boy put on a bit of a show for us: he started trimming the hedge with a machete. No. Big. Deal.

Finally we got to our destination! But then we had to get on a boat for another hour or so of traveling. The sites were beautiful, but I got quite wet! We were headed to Mawamba Lodge…
Again Mawamba Lodge was a very open space. It, and all the other lodges/resorts in the area, is situated right in the middle of the jungle. The cabins, the pool and bar, and the administrative offices were all connected by paths. Among the animals seen included lizards, iguanas, crabs, butterflies, frogs and a boa constrictor.
Our cabin...


More about Mawamba Lodge later!
xx Marisol