I get no end of pleasure from telling people I live in San Francisco.
Which is fortunate, really, since my phone has been blowing up (relatively) with calls from pizza companies and law offices looking for people I’ve never heard of. No, I couldn’t have ordered that pizza, I live in San Francisco. No, I don’t know whoever didn’t return that lawsuit information, I live in San Francisco.
Oh, by the way––I’m a resident of California living in San Francisco.
The last week, I’ve been participating in RA training for my dorm. RAs, or Resident Assistants, provide peer support to fellow students living in the resident hall. (Which is the entire school at this point, all 160 of us.) This ranges from being a resource to students and providing info on the city, programming, academics, rules, etc. and being a link between the student body and the school administration.
It promises to be an awesome learning experience for me, as well as a lot of fun! I do enjoy knowing what’s going on and taking a leadership role, so this role seems pretty perfect to me. Training has been intense––in the last week, I’ve become first aid and CPR certified, participated in two peer counseling and suicide prevention workshops, made name signs for all my residents, been woken up by the fire alarm going off 3 nights in a row (they’ve fixed it now I think, good practice though), gone through building safety lectures and pop quizzes, identity exploration, icebreaker training… and so much more. Oh, and we had to build most of the furniture from IKEA in the building by hand! #somanyskillz
It’s midnight, now, so I’ll head to bed now and just leave you with some more photos and a revelation. I have to get up at 7am tomorrow, and I’ve still got to read some Game of Thrones tonight. I’m halfway through the third book, and THE RED WEDDING JUST HAPPENED OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD–
I guess I can’t really speak for all of Minerva yet, or the other students, since we haven’t started school yet and the other students haven’t arrived yet.
But there’s something about this whole thing that is magical.
And in a way, the part that is so magical about it is how normal it seems.
I feel like I’ve been a part of this organization, that I’ve been with these other RAs, for the last 10 years. It feels like a natural extension of myself. I enjoy being around the people. I really like, respect, and trust the adults working on the project. My fellow RAs are the most mature peers I’ve ever met.
Part of this ease of mind comes from the fact I think I’ve finally stopped fighting myself. I haven’t started over completely in a while. I’ve lived with my family for almost my whole life, and for the past ~8 years in Tucson, Arizona. Even when I spent a year studying abroad in Panama, I clung to home and family. (I was 16 and had never been away from home before. And by clung I mean I kept myself updated on the occurrences back home, and had the mindset I would be returning. I was not always on my phone, don’t worry. :P )
Last year, I went to my in-state university in Tucson, where my dorm room was 5 minutes walk from my dad’s office, and old friend groups were easily accessible.
But now… now I’ve left home with the intention of moving out completely. I’ve grown, I have my individuality and independence. I know how to take care of myself, and well. I know who I am, and more importantly, I have a good idea of who I want to be.
It feels like my entire life so far has suddenly paid off. All the hard work I’ve put in over the years shows suddenly in this moment.
I miss my friends, family, and town, but it feels so healthy to be able to shuck off all identities and impressions and obligations I no longer want to keep as a part of “Phoebe.” I can be whoever I want to be… namely, myself.
Hmm, I think I said that in a previous post. I just really like that sentence. :)
And I’ve accepted all the parts that make Phoebe, Phoebe. There are still some that I work ever day to change, obviously. But I accept them, I acknowledge them. I’m honest with myself and about myself. All those self-love workshops really did hit home––they just needed a full restart to kick in. That makes me happier than words can describe, so with that, sweet dreams, world.
Travel: Taxi: Purple House Hostel—>David bus terminal($1.25). Bus: David—> Lost & Found hostel ($3.50)
Lodging: Lost & Found hostel ($12/night to share a big bed in dorms, otherwise $14/night dorm).
Activities: Bus from waterfall ($1)
The Lost and Found ecolodge is my favorite hostel in Panama. Set in the top of the mountains between Changuinola and David, in the Chiriqui provence, the hostel is the only traveler destination for hours. The closest store is some 40 minutes walk away, next to a restaurant and some stands selling fresh fruits and veggies.
Once you’re dropped off by a bus from Changuinola or David, there’s another 10 minute hike uphill through the forest. Amazingly, all the supplies and building materials were carried up the same small trail you use today when they were building the hostel. Today, strapping, local boys can be spotted bringing up huge crates of beer, food, snacks, and whatever else the hostel needs.
What I love most about Lost and Found is the sense of community that grows between travelers (and staff) that comes from being the only visitors in the area. You wake up together, eat breakfast together, go on hikes or do the treasure hunt together, eat a family style dinner together cooked by the hostel (for $8), visit their rescued kinkajou Rocky together, go to the bar together. Some people even sleep together. ;) And many groups will leave together, to go to Boquete or the Bocas islands. It’s a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of most other hostels, where people you meet disappear on the regular.
The best way to get to know people is to go on the hostel’s treasure hunt. It’s a full day activity, taking you up steep, steep hills, along a sort of cliff edge, to a beautiful valley lookout, across deep streams. Deciphering clues is easy enough that you won’t get lost, but you definitely have a bit of a search for the clue itself once you get to the right spot. Upon your return, you have to put together a special story from clues hidden around the hostel, and if you share the story at the bar, there is a ritual and prize waiting for you!
My other favorite thing is the weather. Where I lived in Changuinola a few years ago, the humidity levels never seemed to drop below 99.9%. (Just kidding––they often got down to 90%.) This trip Ally and I traveled along the coast of Costa Rica, where humidity levels were similarly high. Up in the mountains was one of two places I stepped out of the shower (mercifully hot showers, too) and felt clean and dry. (The other place I felt like that was Hostel Bekuo, in San José, my favorite hostel in Costa Rica. Hmm, are you seeing a trend here?)
Unfortunately, this hostel brings heartbreak along with the joy. I always connect with the people here so much that it’s hard to move on. (I also met a boy so there you go.) Something I learned this trip was that I actually don’t really like traveling. I like living. Existing. Being. I like being those things abroad in new environments, with new people, sure. I love going abroad, don’t get me wrong. But I really enjoy being somewhere for long enough to understand the place on a plethora of levels, instead of just spending a few nights there. Social, political, financial, social justice, shopping trends, you name it. I’m curious about how everything comes into play in a place. Just as important to me is experiencing it with other people who you will continue to have a connection with in the future. For example, traveling with Ally this trip was wonderful, because we live right next door to each other and share our friend group. I’ve seen her many times since we returned, and we can look back on and reflect on our experience, grow even more. Relive the best (and the worst).
That’s how I want to travel from now on: not just going somewhere for the sake of having been; instead, exist in a new place with friends by my side.
Good thing I’m on the plane to San Francisco to begin my journey with Minerva as I write this, huh? A year in San Francisco, then a semester in 6 different cities across the globe with my entire college class. It’s going to be an amazing four years. If you haven’t heard about Minerva, my college, check out my blog post! Some of my finest work, if I do say so myself. :)
Crossing the Costa Rica—Panama border, and city of David
Travel: Uvita—>(border town) ($3.40), taxi —> Paso Canoas ($2.50), bus—>David ($2.50), taxi—>hostel ($1.50).
Lodging: Purple House Hostel in David ($9/night)
Activities: $9 – Costa Rica exit tax (suspiciously $9 instead of $7).
Pictured above: Ally on one of our long bus rides.
Awesomely, our Swiss friend from the hostel was headed in the same direction at the same time, so we got to ride the bus with him for two hours and talked, before he got off to catch other bus.
We went to the town that was nearest the board, whose name I forget (probably like most travelers), and caught a taxi about 10 seconds after we got off the colectivo bus (a local bus that makes regular stops instead of direct).
Crossing the border was easy, it took about 45 minutes. There’s a $7 exit tax to leave Costa Rica, although somehow we ended up paying $9. We didn’t feel like fighting over $2 each though, since it was a battle I’ve never heard of anybody winning. The only snag came when it was my turn and the officer noticed that I had a visa for Panama in my passport, from my year of study abroad there two years ago. With the special stamp comes a identification card that gives you temporary resident status, which we had to return when we left the country, and the officer want to know why I didn’t have it. I explained the situation a few times, she went to talk to a superior, and luckily I was let through without issue.
(Short history of other immigration run ins: When we first arrived in Panama in 2013, our passports were confiscated and we were held in the airport because of an identity mixup within our group on their part––they thought our program leader was going to be with us, and then assumed it was one of the exchange students, and thought she was trying to fake her ID because it was hers and not the woman they thought she was. Another time I was going near the border with some friends, and ran into an unexpected border control checkpoint. When I showed them my passport, the officer saw that I had been in the country some 10 months without a new entry stamp, which is illegal. He didn’t seem to understand what the visa stamp permitting me another 6 months in country was, and I had to go over it with him, pointing out the expiration date and everything. I don’t know if he’d ever seen one before. Luckily, he eventually let me through without problems as well, although after that everybody in the back of the bus who only heard me arguing with him over my passport gave me funny looks after that.)
Once we got on the bus to David, I realized I had been a fool to ever say that Costa Rica looked so much like Panama. How could I have forgotten the uniqueness of Panama? Bars, bus stops, and shops were all painted in familiar brands once again (Atlas, Movistar, Más Mobil); many women dressed in the bright style of the indigenous group Ngöbe-Bugle. Once we reached Concepción, a town about an hour from the boarder, I was in familiar territory. There was the bus stop where my Norwegian friend and I waited for our double date to pick us up on Valentine’s Day when I was visiting her after an orientation. Here was the stretch of by-the-hour love hotels shaped like castles. The David bus terminal I had been to countless times. As we walked down the rows of departing buses, each bearing the name of the city or town they were going to, pings of sadness went through me as I remembered a face of an exchange student friend who lived at the end of that bus line. Suddenly, I realized I had never been more alone in Panama. It was good to have Ally at my side.
We stayed in the Purple House. I felt very safe there, liked the owner and volunteers, and there was only two other travelers in the hostel. Everything was indeed purple. However, it was sort of grubby, which is what you get for $9 a night I suppose.
The awesome part came when Ally’s Panamanian friend she met while volunteering in Costa Rica picked us up to catch up, and we ended up picking up another friend and going out. To Boquete! Whatttttt! I did not realize that Boquete was so close to David. Only like half an hour! Boquete We got a huge plate of food for $3 at a local eatery (got to love Panamanian prices), then went to a gringo bar. There was a lot of 40-somethings there for the live band covering 80’s hits. I was wearing my University of Arizona Global Studies shirt, which caught the owner’s eye. She came over to introduce herself as a alumni of U of A! What a coincidence. We talked for a bit, I told her I was 19, etc. etc. Later, when I went in to order another drink, she saw what I was doing. “Oh, that’s the beer menu,” she said. “Can I get you the food menu?” I had to laugh (inside)—habits die hard, apparently, like not serving alcohol to under 21-year-olds. (Drinking age in Panama is 18.) After going to another restaurant where Ally’s friends were playing, it was time to go home. It was one of the best nights in Panama. :) Moral of the story: make friends and keep in touch!
Travel: Quepos —> Uvita ($4)
Lodging: Toucan Hotel ($13/night: dorm room, $10/night: hammock)
Activities: $2- waterfall entrance. $6- National Whale Tail Park.
A few hours from Quepos is the small town of Uvita. It’s not much of a tourist spot, although there is a center for tourist information. The “bus station” is just a covered stop and there are few destinations to choose from. My guess is their main traffic is people in rental cars.
We stayed at Hotel Toucan, a very beautiful place with dorm rooms running along the side to create a covered open area 100 feet wide, with an open air kitchen, a sort of hammock garden, pool table, and tables for their restaurant. The first night we slept in a dorm room, but the second the place got filled up and we had to sleep in hammocks. I was worried about mosquitos, so I wore long pajama pants tucked into the thickest pair of socks I had, and my light jacket. Soon, however, I was trying to cover up to beat the cold. I even got my damp towel off the clothes line. Sleeping in a hammock was interesting… I ended up sleeping across two or three of them so I could lie flat. Ally was to my right in her own hammock she brought with her, and a little to the left was a guy from Switzerland we had befriended and had chosen to sleep outside from the beginning.
The first day, we borrowed bikes from the hostel to go up a hill to a waterfall. It was a free rental, woo hoo! *shakes head* I should have been more suspicious when the receptionist said it wasn’t a problem if they broke or anything, just if they were lost entirely. Riding up was a workout—the bikes were heavy and the tires flat, the dirt hill steep. We ended up walking the bikes up part of the way. The waterfall was worth it though. From the left, water poured down some 20 feet in a natural rock shoot some other travelers were using as a slide. (One of them even went head first down it!) The clear, blue water formed a sloping pool surrounded by high, black rock, and framed with deep green leaves the size of or bigger than my hand. The stream ran through some large rocks, creating a series of pools, before it poured down into another large, flat pool. The slope of the creamy sand drifting off as the green-blue water deepened, the smooth surface of the water, was surreal. I spend several minutes just standing at the edge, water to my thighs, imaging myself a part of the perfection all around me.
An hour or two later, the sky began to turn grey. We were just heading into the rainy season. If it rained one day we’d have a dry day the next, if it rained in the morning we’d have a dry afternoon, and visa versa; the day we went to the waterfall was clear all morning. Figuring rain was soon to come we headed down the hill on our borrowed bikes. Just as the first few drops began to fall, the brakes on my bike blew out as the chain completely lost grip. Calling to Ally to pick up my flip flop which had been lost with the brakes, I gritted my teeth and put my feet to the ground to slow my speed, which was only increasing as we sped down the hill. Rain fell harder as I dismounted and found the bike beyond my abilities to fix. I ended up pushing it the last two minutes, while the rain soaked us both (Ally refused to leave me behind, the Gryffindor). Later I found I had acquired bruises with control over my speeding bike.
The next day dawned clear, so we went to the nearby Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, or Whale National Marine Park. The “free shuttle” turned out to be the hotel owner in her van! We were going to see the mystical “whale’s tail.” You see, on the coast of Uvita, a rocky outcrop forms a double curve that looks like the tail of a whale from the land, visible for only two or three hours at low tide. Going onto the tail was amazing. You look to your left? Waves. You look to your right? Waves.
Awesomely, when we walked just inside the tree line down the beach, we found a flock of some 20 scarlet macaws! I snapped the below above through my binoculars. :)
Note- the sand dollar that was at the very top was one I found on the beach by the trees. I left it there, a little ways from where I found it, as a sort of dream catcher, a place to send worries and cares to leave them behind. Feel free to send your worries there too. :)
July 5-6, 2016
Travel: Bus: San José —> Quepos ($9), $1.21 round trip to Manuel Antonio from Quepos.
Lodging: $12/night- Wide Mouth Frog hostel.
Activities: $16- foreigner entrance fee to Manuel Antonio National Park. (Locals pay $3.)
Manuel Antonio National Park is where I want to get married, I think.
Hear me out––you could get married in the traditional, friends and family fly in to your wedding in beautiful Colorado, big ceremony, hopefully not too much drama, honeymoon. Or––you could fly to Costa Rica with your closest core friend group and your fiancé, get married in a national park, foil capuchin monkey attempts to steal your cake because you’re an environmentally responsible badass, take a few days off with your new spouse to enjoy the wonders of the surrounding area alone, then meet up with your friends again and backpack through Central America together celebrating friendship and starting your life as a married couple together and with your fam.
The park is that amazing. I’ve spent three days there in total, one with ITE and the other two on my own once Ally and I started traveling on our own. Luckily, I had a pair of binoculars I was borrowing from ITE, and that made the experience twenty––no, fifty––times better. ITE paid for a tour guide named Johan Chaves to show us the park; I highly suggest that newcomers take a tour guide with them on their first visit to the park. They’ll have a tripod binocular scope, and the best will know not only where to find the animals and what their names are, but how to interpret the surround world for you. Do some research beforehand, because not all tour guides are created equal, and this is one place I’d suggest going for quality. I was able to go the second and third time without a guide and find all sorts of creatures, because I knew what to look for. Seriously, get a tour guide.
When you first enter the park, you’re on a wide, gravel car trail. You probably won’t feel like you’re in the park yet and most people just speed walk on by. But wait, keep your eyes out! Directly to the right of the front gates is a patch of what I believe were banana trees. There, we could see evidence of a tent making bat, who will bite the stem of a leaf several times, causing it to weaken, fold over… and create the perfect little home for the little bat. But the adventure truly begins before you even go through the park gates. There is a small bridge over a stream shaded by a thick tree past the parking lot and tourist ware-sellers. There, we saw a deer and her fawn, a Jesus Christ lizard (named for their ability to run on water!), howler monkeys, assorted birds… a little further down the road I saw more howler monkeys and a sloth.
As you go on, keep your eyes out. Some things I saw (many again and again, like the sloths):
- two toed sloths
- three toed sloths
- howler monkeys
- wrens (birds)
- squirrel monkeys
- white faced capuchin monkeys
- iguanas (spiny-back and brown)
- forest crabs
- other types of crabs
- snakes, assorted
- frogs, poison dart
- water birds
- toucans and toucan-ish birds
- lizards, assorted
- “wild dog” lizard
- orb weaver spiders
- butterflies! so many
- pink cup fungi
- fungi, assorted
- turkey vultures
- black vultures
- king vultures
- wild, animal feeding, trash leaving, animal harassing humans.
Many of these creatures were very easy to spot, which is why the park is so popular. It’s like a giant “rainforest for beginners” manual… :P get it?
Sadly, many people are just there for the beach. They come in with their swimsuits on, towels over their arms, and make a beeline to the water. (Why they come here and pay the entrance fee is beyond me; the beach is very lovely, but so is the beach right out side the entrance?) Unfortunately, there is quite a problem with white faced capuchin monkeys and raccoons stealing food there. Right now, the park is making efforts to reduce the amount of human food they get, but that just makes the animals go into junk food withdrawal. Waves of raccoons and monkeys bands of three or four will sweep the beach, grabbing anything not severely guarded that may contain food. (Like sunscreen.) The best way to drive them off seems to be shouting at them. It’s really important that they stop eating the food after all, because it’s not good for them and it creates too many interactions between human and wild. But some tourists see you shouting at the monkeys and will start muttering, in voices just loud enough to carry, “oh, the poor monkeys! Why are they being so mean?” This drives me crazy. If people like you wouldn’t feed them in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this problem. The monkey doesn’t need your food to survive. If you give them your candy bar, you are literally harming them. Don’t. Feed. The. Animals.
But everything else is awesome. There are a couple of trails that branch off from the main trail. One loop leads to a small waterfall, others curve between the edge of the land and the water protected by the park. The trails are paved, and while steep at times, very doable. The further you go into the park, the less people you’ll see, especially once you pass the turn off for the beach. In the back corners of the park, you’ll startle agoutis burying their harvest and sloths hanging directly above the trail. In the evening, I even found howler monkey families settling in for the evening, grooming each other and hanging out with the babies and older ones. It makes you wonder how often they see a human passing by on the trail.
Spectacular. I suspect I will be visiting the park every time I come to Central America from now on. :)
P.S. Also: we met two cute boys our age from Germany named Fabian and Valentin (pronounced Valentine) at our hostel. Fabian and Valentine. What even is the world
Thought I’d do an adventure by adventure recount of my trip… enjoy!
La Fortuna | July 1-3
Bus: Montezuma—>Paquera/Ferry ($3.60); Ferry—>Puntarenas ($1.60); Bus Puntarenas—>San Ramon ($2.60)—>La Fortuna ($4.35) ––> San José (~$3)
La Fortuna: Hostel Backpackers La Fortuna ($15/night, prices vary with promotions), La Fortuna Backpackers Resort ($12/night, prices vary with promotions)
San José: Bekuo ($10 for women’s dorm, $9-11 reg. dorm)
Expensive. Mostly tours available. Highly recommend Cerro Chato hike ($12) and free hot springs. (Round trip taxi was $7/person between 4 people.)
There is a strange consortium of hostels in La Fortuna. Called Hostel Backpackers La Fortuna, La Fortuna Backpackers Resort, and Arenal Hostel Resort, all with similar signage and logos, they make no secret of their connection to one another. They’ve got good ratings in the Lonely Planet guidebook, and a friend had gushed about the one she stayed in, so Ally and I decided to stay there. Easier said than done; we were informed upon arrival our first choice was full, so we were escorted to their second hostel… which was also full. Luckily, the last one had a few open spots! But at $15/night because their promotion had just, just ended… It was dark and we were tired, so we paid and hit the pool table. Later, we would be informed the hostel was booked full so we had to move to their sister hostel. Luckily, they were running a promotion now for $12/night… but stopped the next night when we went to pay. I talked them into letting Ally and I pay only the agreed upon price, though. Another example: friends who booked a tour through the hostel paid an extra $20 than the others who went on the same tour through different booking locations. The entire thing felt like a scan, although most of the individual workers were kind. That didn’t keep others in our hostel being kicked out as we were because of overbooked beds even though the beds themselves were empty that night. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The next day, we went out with our roommates-turned-quick-friends from Sweden and Switzerland to a waterfall up a hill. The Swedes had a rental car which they graciously shared with us. Upon our arrival Ally and I discovered that to our horror the entrance fee was some $14. As Ally’s daily budget was $16, we turned around to some hot springs we were told were close by––and free. Our friends promised to meet us there. They actually caught us before we had arrived at the (cold) river, because we had taken shelter from the rain for a while (Ally did exercises as Ally does) and stopped to watch toucans, which we pointed out to the lead guide for a horseback riding tour of some 20 or 30 that was coming up behind us.
On the walk down the hill, we passed a tall blonde youth heading up, who we now believe was a fellow youth traveler staying in our hostel we spent the next two days with. It’s a small world when you all go to the same places. The entire trip we would meet the same people over and over again, sometimes in another country. The beaten path is very clearly defined in Central America. (Especially Panama. One woman’s serious rhetorical question: “What else is there to do in Panama but Panama City and [the archipelago of] Bocas [del Toro]?”)
Also while walking this hill, we stopped and bought a fridge magnet from a shop. The shopkeeper then took us into his backyard to spot birds lured out with some papaya from his kitchen, poison dart frogs, and see his work area. One of the kindest men we met on our journey. :) And we felt transported back in time when we randomly stumbled upon one of the hotels we stayed in the first time we were in Costa Rica! Ally and I went on the ITE trip four years ago, and stayed in this hotel surrounded by dinosaurs made of plants. Seeing the place again was surreal. They seemed to have lost a lot of business––nobody was around, everything was overgrown and dirty. A part of me wishes we hadn’t found it so it would have lived on forever pristine in my memory.
The next day was rainy. From the time we woke up to the late afternoon, water poured from above. With our new English friend, we made “biscuits,” or as we call them in ‘murica, cookies. Chocolate chunk cookies. They were delicious and the one time I baked anything those 6 weeks. That evening, we went to a natural hot spring with our cookie friend and a Tico from the hostel. They were lovely and warm and urban. Much of it was regular river, but parts flowed through abandoned infrastructure turned graffitied concrete playground. At one part, a concrete lip under the water created a cave with air you could go into by ducking under about a foot thick waterfall. Most of those enjoying the springs were locals, families. They brought tall candles to light after dusk, turning the stream into something misty and magical.
Thankfully, the next morning dawned––and stayed––clear. We were both tired of La Fortuna, so we decided to head to San José for transfer south. It was a beautiful place, but everything was built around tours. They seemed like fine tours with over a hundred options at least, but were also between $45 and $120 each, far beyond what our budgets allowed.
Before we left, we hiked Cerro Chato, a shorter volcano (I think) next to Arenal. It was a grueling hike up to and then over the lip to a lake covered in fog. There was a lot of mud, and there was a lot of pulling ourselves up the trail with the help of tree roots and vines. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Finally we were on our way! We stayed at Hostel Bekuo in San José, my new favorite hostel in Costa Rica. (Traveler’s Tip: Don’t pay more than like $10 for a taxi to Bekuo from any bus station. I’ve paid $5 and $6 for first Ally and I, and then myself.) It’s clean and very fashionable. They’ve got a great pool table, outside areas in front in back, TV lounge, and everything is open and bright. And cheap, too. :)
Next adventure: Quepos and Manuel Antonio National Park, July 5-6