Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Reunion at Tigerland

Last night, I got together with a group of friends that I've known from elementary and junior high school. One of us, Jenn, is being sent by her company to Tokyo for a year so we thought it would be a good idea to have a bon voyage dinner (check out her blog if you're interested in learning about her life in Japan). As a total aside, I have known Jen since kindergarten all the way to 12th grade. When we graduated from HS, we lost touch but reconnected 2 years ago at our 10-year high school reunion. Even though we have this 10-year black hole in our relationship, I feel like she knows me in ways that even my best friends don't. My relationship with her is truly unique and special.

When we saw each other last spring, Karen had just read a Time Out New York preview for a restaurant opening up in the East Village called Tigerland. What caught her attention were the names of the chef and co-owners: Jimmy Tu, Miranda Lau, and Steven Ling. All names of folks we went to elementary and/or junior high school with. Had one name just shown up in the article, we would've chalked it up to coincidence. But all three??? They must be really the same kids we hung out with back in the day, who sat with us in the same class. So we agreed that the next time we got together, it would be at Tigerland and maybe we would see some long lost friends.

It was a no-brainer to decide where we would eat for Jenn's bon voyage dinner. And sure enough, when we sat down, we were greeted by our server who turned out to be Miranda, a woman I had not seen since our 5th grade graduation which was 20 years ago!!!! I was sooo shocked and I just couldn't believe I was reconnecting with someone who I was good friends with when I was 5-10 years old. Had she walked down the street, I told her that I wouldn't have recognized her. But as the night wore on, I could see the Miranda I remember but with a more mature face. Obviously!!! The things I remember vividly about her was her incredibly neat handwriting (all our teachers praised her for it), her really QUIET demeanor, how she turned red when the teacher called on her but always had the right answer, her pretty dresses and lace trimmed socks that she wore with shiny Mary-Janes, that she was a good friend of mine who I missed when she moved away after the 5th grade. She had grown into her own in the 20 years. She's become more effervescent, sports at least one visible tattoo, and had lived in California and Hawaii for a significant period of time before moving back to NY to help Jimmy open the restaurant.

Our seeing Miranda brought back TONS of memories from elementary and junior high school. Lots of our sentences began with, "Remember when..." and ended with a fit of laughter as we recounted tales of puppy love, and stupid stuff that we did to act cool or like punks.

There was 7 of us and since it was family style we thought to order a few items off the menu and share it. And since we trusted Miranda's judgement, we let her decide what we should try! We got surprised with all sorts of food that was absolutely DELICIOUS! Jimmy had always been shy back in the day and hasn't changed much since we knew him. He didn't come out of the kitchen till the middle of our meal. But he impressed by remembering almost all of our names. He does all the cooking, with the help of his younger brother. He is a talented chef and his food tastes like he cooks it with love. All of it learned from his mother - how beautiful! He even showed us the kitchen which was impeccably neat when we saw it.

The restaurant had closed by the time we left at 11:30pm. And in their guest book, Karen wrote "I.S. 73 RULES! ... and P.S. 102 too!". All of us signed our names, including Miranda, who STILL has very neat handwriting.

p.s. Check out my previous posts on Costa Rica -- I finally put them up!!!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Surfer Chica is back in NYC

I'm slowly posting my pics online. So check back regularly on for my Costa Rica 06 photo set.

Still acting like I'm on vacation like nobody's business! Somehow, I just love the languid pace that I adopted in Costa Rica. I'm going to hang on to that as loooong as possible. I'm sure my fellow New Yorkers hate me as I am now a hazard to the sidewalk. People are dodging me left and right. I try to keep sidewalk etiquette, and stick to the right. Peeps can pass on my left all they want. But like road rules, who says sidewalk rules are observed as well. Especially when one is dodging dog poop in Manhattan.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Estoy en Costa Rica: Week III

When Sophie and I went our separate ways, it was the final week of my trip. There was no one heading towards the Carribbean side of the country and I was determined to get to Tortuguero National Park to see the large green sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach. There was no direct way to cross the country from Santa Elena to Tortuguerro so I had to backtrack to San Jose and spend the night.

I took practically a day's worth of travel to get to the Tortuguero because the national park is only accessible by boat or plane. And since I was a budget had to be boat...and the cheap boat option at that (read: take the boats the locals use to get to Tortuguero and pay a mere $10 rather than the fancy tourists boats that charge from $50-200 pp depending upon the "type" of excursion you do). Although it took me practically the whole day to get there, it was well worth it.

Once I arrived, I managed to book myself on a turtle tour that evening and was warned to wear dark clothes since the mama turtles have very good eyesight. At 8pm, my guide picked me up and I joined 8 others who were in my group. We walked single file along the beach for about a mile when he said that there was a turtle on the beach preparing to dig its hole for her eggs. It would take 30 minutes so we waited. While waiting, another turtle happened to come on shore! We we were soooo shocked but were instructed to make no movements and no sound. By this time there were 100 people on the beach and we all quietly waited, stood very still in the dark as this new turtle inched its way up the beach. It was massive yet all we could make out was this huge hump slowly crawling up away from the ocean. We were excited at the prospect of seeing another turtle hatch its eggs but after 15 minutes, my guide cried out, ¨The turtle is leaving.¨ She decided to abort her plans of laying eggs on the beach and book it back to the ocean. Apparently, the turtles are very sensitive to the slightest movement and are picky about where they will lay their eggs. It was cool to see how fast the turtle booked it back to the ocean. And it was MASSIVE!!! The entire length of her body was as long as me! We focused our attention back on the first turtle who was about to lay its eggs. Each group took turns looking at the beautiful event. I got to witness with my very eyes, less than a foot away, a green sea turtle laying some of its 100 eggs in the beach! It was one of the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. I definitely think it's in my top 5 life experiences although now I have to come up with what the other 4 are. LOL. I have no pictures of the blessed event because flash cameras or any kind of light are absolutely not allowed because it will scare the turtles but you can check out fellow flickr peep, juvertson, who has a nice photo of a birthing sea turtle (I don't know how he managed that picture in the dark).

My final days were spent not zipping around on a bus but rather chillin' out in the sleepy town of Cahuita. So many of the travelers I met prior were encouraging me to get to the Caribbean side and spend time here because it has a really relaxed vibe and a strong rasta culture thanks to the population's Afro-Caribbean descent. I felt like I was in a whole 'nother country actually cuz reggae was playing everywhere, the locals spoke English, and the food had a Caribbean flavor (lots of coconut milk and spices...yum) rather than Spanish. This is also the place where I learned how to walk at a snail's pace since it was sooo hot and there was no place I was rushing to go.

For $15 per night, I got my own private room with bathroom at the Spencer Seaside Lodge and I was a mere 50 meters away from the sea. Each room had walls with painted murals. Mine happened to be a map of the country, which would've been useful if I ever forgot where I was. Ha!

More importantly, I got to hear the crashing waves at night lull me to sleep and wake me up each day. To the right is the view from my room/door. In the short distance between my room and the waves, you'll see coconut trees from which several hammocks were hung. And about 2 feet from my door were bananas still hanging on the vine; some were ripe and ready to be picked and others were still green. Guests were welcome to an unlimited supply of bananas at any time.

I felt sooo at peace and so relaxed because all I did was eat, sleep, go to the beach, swim, sunbathe, and read for four days. For a day trip, I took the bus 16km south to neighboring yet larger Puerto Viejo. Compared to Cahuita, it felt like a metropolis when in fact it really is still a small town compared to the rest of the places I had visited. But beccause I felt a more touristy vibe, I got out of Dodge quickly by renting a bike and peddaled the 6km to a nearby beach, Punta Uva (see left). It was beautiful and scarcely populated with a few tourists and Tico families sprinkled about. The water was so calm that it was perfect to swim in. I managed to surf one last time too in nearby Cahuita National Park on my last day. I spent several days here. And on my last day, I surfed one last time. All in all, a wonderful way to end my trip.

When I got back to San Jose and heard all typical city noises, I longed to get back to my haven on the beach! I couldn't believe a mere $15/night got me a room by the sea. Man, what a life...and what a steal!!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Estoy en Costa Rica: Week II

My second week in Costa Rica was spent traveling with Sophie, a young British woman who had never been out of the country till now, and was plowing through Central America in 6 weeks with a final destination of Mexico City. We met in Jacó attending the same surf camp and discovered at dinner one evening that we were traveling alone. We left it open as to whether we really would meet up in a few days time to head north to Monteverde for the cloud forest and La Fortuna for Volcan Arenal. In the end, it worked out and she was my travel companion for a week.

With the beach and the country's natural beauty within a two hour distance, I spent very little time in the capital city of San Jose. Perhaps I've had my fill of South American cities but San Jose didn't seem remarkable compared to the European feel of Buenos Aires or the sheer grandeur of the snow-capped Andes as a backdrop to the caldera in which Bolivia's La Paz sits in. The only really nice thing about San Jose is the incredible variety of international cuisine: Thai, Indian, Japanese, Italian, French, Argentinian, Cuban. One remarkable thing I did in the San Jose vicinity was to visit Volcan Poas. Check out the sulfur fumes emitting from right side of the crater.

Traveling with Sophie was loads of fun and our personalities complemented each other. We stayed in hostels the entire week since our minds were looking ahead to when we would finally separate. Hostels allowed us to meet tons of people. In the end, Sophie found someone to go north with while I was not as lucky but ventured off on my own towards the Carribean side of the country.

While we were together, we visited Volcan Arenal in La Fortuna (the main reason why tourists visit). Because we were there during rainy season, the volcano was often shrouded in cloud. On clear days, you are able to see its perfectly spherical cone. And at nights, you could see red lava spouting out of its top. Here's the best view I had of the volcano in the three days/two nights we were there. In spite of the lack of visibility, we hiked at the base of the volcano and saw sloths, howler monkeys, and all types of birds along the way. We visited a beautiful nearby waterfall and swam at its base and we went one evening to Baldi Hot Springs, one of the many local thermal hot springs in the area and found swim up bars and hammocks and tons of people just having a great time.

Days later, we crossed Lake Arenal to get to Santa Elena, the base from which people visit neighboring Monteverde & Santa Elena Cloud Forests. Sophie and I took a morning tour of the cloud forest which was incredibly lush and peaceful. We saw more howler monkeys but the elusive quetzal was nowhere to be seen.

Monteverde Cloud Forest is particularly special because it straddles the Continental Divide, allowing for several types of climates to co-exist lending itself to an incredible amount of biodiversity in a relatively concentrated amount of space. Beautiful!

I took a tour of a coffee farm, Café Monteverde, a cooperative of farmers and their families who are committed to an environmentally sustainable method of farming (coffee and otherwise) without the use of chemicals or pesticides and whose coffee is sold to the international Fair Trade market. I passed up on going to the Quaker Cheese Factory for fear that I would break down eat the cheese (still on accupuncturist's orders: no dairy...among other things).

One new thing I experienced while in Santa Elena was a zipline canopy tour. It was tons of fun but I wouldn't recommend it if you have a fear of heights.

Before Sophie and I said our goodbyes, we managed to dance salsa with local Ticos at a local bar/club and we left our mark of our shared Costa Rica experience at a local restaurant. Tourists are encouraged to draw on an 8.5x11 sheet of paper with their names, their date of visit, and where they are from (I even saw one sign drawn by a woman from the Philippines! Imagine that!). We couldn't pass up the opportunity...and since there was no longer space on the walls, we decided that the surfer chicas deserved a place on the ceiling. Ya dig it??

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Estoy en Costa Rica!

Hey folks, the blog has not been updated of late. I left for Costa Rica on July 2 and won't be back en los Estados Unidos until July 22.

A quick update on me (with some pictures to follow on flickr):

Learned to surf in Jaco (there's an accent on that last o but can't figure out how to do it on this dang keyboard) for an entire week. Attended an all girls surf camp with dos otras chicas. Our surf instructor was a badass Tica named Shilka who taught us in thong bikinis cada dia. I was able to stand up twice on a long board (read: a good length for a beginner like me) on the first day. By the third day, I graduated to a shorter board! All in all, I was bruised and beaten by the waves by Friday. But still felt exhilarated when I finally caught waves and rode them that I'm officially an addicted surfer.

Putzing around now in the rest of the country. Heading to the Cloud Forest in a day or so and am currently in the town of La Fortuna, trying to get a glimpse of Arenal Volcano. But alas, it is rainy season and the summit is shrouded in clouds. After Monteverde Cloud Forest, am headed to the Carribbean coast for an even more laid back vibe with a taste of rastafari culture.