Saturday, May 31, 2008

Under the Volcano

My second day in Costa Rica began with me waking at daybreak with a breathtaking view of the full volcano outside my window.


P5160019


This is a rare event indeed, and within a minute or two, it looked like this. By the end of the day, it was completely shrouded, so that you couldnt even tell there was so much as a hill there.


P5160025


The tour I scheduled the evening before was with Canoa Aventuras of Cano Negro wildlife reserve, though I was not planning on using a Canoe. A nice driver picked me up at my hotel for the bumpy ride toward town to meet the other tourists. That was the main disadvantage of staying at the Observatory Lodge--the distance from town over the bumpy 9 km road to meet the main road--in total, about 30 min. It cost extra for everything. But, with the view I got and the sounds of eruptions that greeted me in the shower, I think the experience was worth it.


My driver treated me to my only view of a sloth my entire time there. It was very nice of him, as we were running late. (He kept having to tell the main office where he was into the squacking CB). I had told him (in faltering Spanish) a few minutes earlier that I really wanted to see a sloth. I admire sloths because part of me aspires to their lifestyle. I think I actually have  known guys with their lifestyle. Essentially, sloths eat leaves that have hallucinatory/drugging effects--hence their slow movements. They pass out and seldom climb down from their perch in the trees--only to mate and defecate. Anyway, my driver swerved off the road and pointed the little guy out. Not much to see, particularly without binoculars, but like I said, that was my only view of the elusive creatures.


P5160061When I finally arrived at the Canoa Aventura office, I met Angela and Kevin from Santa Barbara and their guide that they'd hired from Bob Beard Costa Rica (a well-known established scuba-centric tour organization). They are divers--and continued to impress me with all the places they had been to dive. Soon, the others arrived--Rob & Bethany, a couple  (she--American, he--from Northern Ireland) that lives in Munich doing missionary work (organizing young adult groups); a couple from Madrid, and Paul, a plucky middle age Aussie. We made the 1 1/2 hour trip northward to Cano Negro.


After a snack of tortillas and cheese, we were treated to a boat ride on the Rio Frio, where we witnessed a variety of wildlife: howler monkeys, spider monkeys, caiman (crocodile family), turtles, long nosed bats, Jesus Christ Lizards, iguanas, and a wide variety of birds--pardon my spelling (herons, Great Poton, Great White Egret, Berry Throated Tiger Heron, Analinga, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Boat Billed Herons, and others).


P5160031


Iguanas on the way to the reserve.


P5160039


Long-nosed Bats. Shortly after this photo, they dispersed, thus dispersing us!


P5160047


A Caiman--they were plentiful.


P5160055


Our guide, Pedro, looking for wildlife. 


P5160054


The river was very peaceful. Ahead, was a canoe outing from the same tour operator.


P5160040


Spider monkeys (look closely). A mom had pulled branches together to make a bridge for baby. So adorable!


After the boat ride, we had a lunch of rice and beans (a common meal!), and headed back to La Fortuna. I had also scheduled an afternoon hike at El Silencio--a reserve under the volcano--and an evening at the Baldi hot springs complex.


P5160062


Here, our guide, Julio, gives us a brief history of volcan studies with the covered monster in the background.


Julio took us on a short hike and gave us a history of some of the flora in the rainforest. We didn't see much wildlife, but you did get the sense that it was out there hiding somewhere.


P5160076


P5160079


The hike ended with us waiting to see lava flow at a viewing area. We did see a few, but it wasn't being very cooperative. Still, the other tour-goers seemed to feel satisfied!


We then went to Baldi hot springs. After my hot springs experience in Taiwan, this was very interesting. It's a HUGE tourist set-up. Nice hot springs, but very built-up. Swim-up bars, disco balls, loud music--oh my! Here's a blurry vision of it from the entrance.


P5160081




Apparently, it continued back about twice the distance of the pools I actually visited. The complex included a mock Mayan temple and water slide.  I somehow missed this. I guess that is how they justify their incredible admission costs--you'd be well-advised with any of these hot springs places to go with a tour. The tour groups get good discounts. I found this out when I paid for dinner. Somehow, that had been left off my tour (as if I was going to somehow get dinner on my own?). So, I arranged to pay through the tour group. The girl at the front desk charged him $9 and he charged me $15. The cost if I paid Baldi would have been $25. That's how it works.


I was taken home and this night, was not kept up by viewing the lava, as the volcano was well hidden behind clouds.


ps--Typepad: still driving me crazy!!!!

Under the Volcano

My second day in Costa Rica began with me waking at daybreak with a breathtaking view of the full volcano outside my window.


P5160019


This is a rare event indeed, and within a minute or two, it looked like this. By the end of the day, it was completely shrouded, so that you couldnt even tell there was so much as a hill there.


P5160025


The tour I scheduled the evening before was with Canoa Aventuras of Cano Negro wildlife reserve, though I was not planning on using a Canoe. A nice driver picked me up at my hotel for the bumpy ride toward town to meet the other tourists. That was the main disadvantage of staying at the Observatory Lodge--the distance from town over the bumpy 9 km road to meet the main road--in total, about 30 min. It cost extra for everything. But, with the view I got and the sounds of eruptions that greeted me in the shower, I think the experience was worth it.


My driver treated me to my only view of a sloth my entire time there. It was very nice of him, as we were running late. (He kept having to tell the main office where he was into the squacking CB). I had told him (in faltering Spanish) a few minutes earlier that I really wanted to see a sloth. I admire sloths because part of me aspires to their lifestyle. I think I actually have  known guys with their lifestyle. Essentially, sloths eat leaves that have hallucinatory/drugging effects--hence their slow movements. They pass out and seldom climb down from their perch in the trees--only to mate and defecate. Anyway, my driver swerved off the road and pointed the little guy out. Not much to see, particularly without binoculars, but like I said, that was my only view of the elusive creatures.


P5160061When I finally arrived at the Canoa Aventura office, I met Angela and Kevin from Santa Barbara and their guide that they'd hired from Bob Beard Costa Rica (a well-known established scuba-centric tour organization). They are divers--and continued to impress me with all the places they had been to dive. Soon, the others arrived--Rob & Bethany, a couple  (she--American, he--from Northern Ireland) that lives in Munich doing missionary work (organizing young adult groups); a couple from Madrid, and Paul, a plucky middle age Aussie. We made the 1 1/2 hour trip northward to Cano Negro.


After a snack of tortillas and cheese, we were treated to a boat ride on the Rio Frio, where we witnessed a variety of wildlife: howler monkeys, spider monkeys, caiman (crocodile family), turtles, long nosed bats, Jesus Christ Lizards, iguanas, and a wide variety of birds--pardon my spelling (herons, Great Poton, Great White Egret, Berry Throated Tiger Heron, Analinga, Amazon Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Boat Billed Herons, and others).


P5160031


Iguanas on the way to the reserve.


P5160039


Long-nosed Bats. Shortly after this photo, they dispersed, thus dispersing us!


P5160047


A Caiman--they were plentiful.


P5160055


Our guide, Pedro, looking for wildlife. 


P5160054


The river was very peaceful. Ahead, was a canoe outing from the same tour operator.


P5160040


Spider monkeys (look closely). A mom had pulled branches together to make a bridge for baby. So adorable!


After the boat ride, we had a lunch of rice and beans (a common meal!), and headed back to La Fortuna. I had also scheduled an afternoon hike at El Silencio--a reserve under the volcano--and an evening at the Baldi hot springs complex.


P5160062


Here, our guide, Julio, gives us a brief history of volcan studies with the covered monster in the background.


Julio took us on a short hike and gave us a history of some of the flora in the rainforest. We didn't see much wildlife, but you did get the sense that it was out there hiding somewhere.


P5160076


P5160079


The hike ended with us waiting to see lava flow at a viewing area. We did see a few, but it wasn't being very cooperative. Still, the other tour-goers seemed to feel satisfied!


We then went to Baldi hot springs. After my hot springs experience in Taiwan, this was very interesting. It's a HUGE tourist set-up. Nice hot springs, but very built-up. Swim-up bars, disco balls, loud music--oh my! Here's a blurry vision of it from the entrance.


P5160081




Apparently, it continued back about twice the distance of the pools I actually visited. The complex included a mock Mayan temple and water slide.  I somehow missed this. I guess that is how they justify their incredible admission costs--you'd be well-advised with any of these hot springs places to go with a tour. The tour groups get good discounts. I found this out when I paid for dinner. Somehow, that had been left off my tour (as if I was going to somehow get dinner on my own?). So, I arranged to pay through the tour group. The girl at the front desk charged him $9 and he charged me $15. The cost if I paid Baldi would have been $25. That's how it works.


I was taken home and this night, was not kept up by viewing the lava, as the volcano was well hidden behind clouds.


ps--Typepad: still driving me crazy!!!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Every Little Counts

Money_Coins Leave it to Yahoo News...which lately, has been my primary news source because I encounter it as I go to log into my email...which means I read a lot of garbage. But, this one was actually quite good. It's about how not spending $10 a day can save you a lot in the long run. It's nothing revolutionary, but is a good reminder of how every little thing you do can become a bigger thing. In general, we focus too much on the BIG picture and not enough on the little things that make up that picture--the pixels, if you will. This is true with things like diet and other habits...and money.


"It's important to understand that it takes very little to start sinking into debt. For most people, spending $10 a day would not be considered extravagant spending by any means, but $10 can result in tens of thousands of dollar of debt...If a person were to save $300 a month (approx. $10 a day) and invest it to get a 5% yearly return, that person would have $20,402 in the bank after five years. On the other hand, if a person ends up spending $300 a month more than he has and puts it onto a credit card that he doesn't pay off over the same 5 year period, that person will owe $36,259, assuming a 26% credit card interest rate." Full article here.


This is a concept I've been thinking a lot about lately. I am by no means in bad shape financially. I have a decent paying job, only carry a little revolving credit that I typically pay off every month, sock savings monthly into my 401K and short term savings accounts, and generally live within my means. (We'll ignore the elephant in the room: my student loans...I like to pretend they don't exist, but they're substantial. Kind of like buying a new Mercedes except without the horsepower).


But, I want to save more. Especially in these "challenging economic times." But not just because of that. I want to save to reach my other goals--such as having the ability to pursue alternate career paths (once I realize what that is), buying property, and having the feeling of a security blanket.


I reviewed my average monthly expenditures in various categories this weekend, and was somewhat shocked to find that they added up to more than my take home salary. Now, this doesn't mean I actually spent more than I made--a portion goes to my savings each month--but it does mean that I'm spending without realizing it. It's all the little things that add up: the coffee, the snacks at work, the dinners out where you end up spending $60, the dinners out where you spend $20, buying the more expensive mascara, choosing expensive food at the grocery--it all adds up.


So, I'm on a new mission to attempt to do as much free and cheap stuff as possible with friends--i.e. not eating out. It's just as enjoyable to have a potluck as it is to go to a restaurant, in my opinion...sometimes more fun. I don't expect this to be easy. I have tried it before and failed. We're so conditioned to do things a certain way. It's almost reflexive to say "let's go get dinner." Plus, the other party has to be a willing participant. But, if I can manage to eliminate as many small expenditures as possible, I think I can make that goal. I've already avoided buying coffee on the way to work yesterday...so that's a start!


p.s. I'm still figuring out typepad's new compose page...hence the different fonts. sorry!


 

Every Little Counts

Money_Coins Leave it to Yahoo News...which lately, has been my primary news source because I encounter it as I go to log into my email...which means I read a lot of garbage. But, this one was actually quite good. It's about how not spending $10 a day can save you a lot in the long run. It's nothing revolutionary, but is a good reminder of how every little thing you do can become a bigger thing. In general, we focus too much on the BIG picture and not enough on the little things that make up that picture--the pixels, if you will. This is true with things like diet and other habits...and money.


"It's important to understand that it takes very little to start sinking into debt. For most people, spending $10 a day would not be considered extravagant spending by any means, but $10 can result in tens of thousands of dollar of debt...If a person were to save $300 a month (approx. $10 a day) and invest it to get a 5% yearly return, that person would have $20,402 in the bank after five years. On the other hand, if a person ends up spending $300 a month more than he has and puts it onto a credit card that he doesn't pay off over the same 5 year period, that person will owe $36,259, assuming a 26% credit card interest rate." Full article here.


This is a concept I've been thinking a lot about lately. I am by no means in bad shape financially. I have a decent paying job, only carry a little revolving credit that I typically pay off every month, sock savings monthly into my 401K and short term savings accounts, and generally live within my means. (We'll ignore the elephant in the room: my student loans...I like to pretend they don't exist, but they're substantial. Kind of like buying a new Mercedes except without the horsepower).


But, I want to save more. Especially in these "challenging economic times." But not just because of that. I want to save to reach my other goals--such as having the ability to pursue alternate career paths (once I realize what that is), buying property, and having the feeling of a security blanket.


I reviewed my average monthly expenditures in various categories this weekend, and was somewhat shocked to find that they added up to more than my take home salary. Now, this doesn't mean I actually spent more than I made--a portion goes to my savings each month--but it does mean that I'm spending without realizing it. It's all the little things that add up: the coffee, the snacks at work, the dinners out where you end up spending $60, the dinners out where you spend $20, buying the more expensive mascara, choosing expensive food at the grocery--it all adds up.


So, I'm on a new mission to attempt to do as much free and cheap stuff as possible with friends--i.e. not eating out. It's just as enjoyable to have a potluck as it is to go to a restaurant, in my opinion...sometimes more fun. I don't expect this to be easy. I have tried it before and failed. We're so conditioned to do things a certain way. It's almost reflexive to say "let's go get dinner." Plus, the other party has to be a willing participant. But, if I can manage to eliminate as many small expenditures as possible, I think I can make that goal. I've already avoided buying coffee on the way to work yesterday...so that's a start!


p.s. I'm still figuring out typepad's new compose page...hence the different fonts. sorry!


 

Monday, May 26, 2008

Back Home!

Lest I lose some of my most faithful readers, I wanted to do a quick post! Sorry for the hiatus...my trip to Costa Rica was quick but fantastic. I definitely want to go back as well as visit Central America more.


P5150004I arrived on Thursday afternoon and was swiftly picked up by my driver Willy, a fantastic driver who I'd recommend to anyone. He used to work for other tourist agencies, but recently bought his own van and struck out on his own. I went with him versus going through a tourist agency, because I wanted to eliminate the middleman.


We passed through San Ramon--where Willy saw a potential apartment...he reported later that it wasn't what he was looking for so his search continues!




Here are some of the vistas I saw on my journey to Arenal...


P5150008


We had a bit of car trouble at one point...gave me a stretching opportunity on the 3 1/2 hour drive. I also saw some toucans. Unfortunately, they were hard to catch on photographs. Here instead is Willy working on the van...


P5150011


His mechanic gave him some good advice, and we were on our way in no time. My tummy began to growl, so we stopped for some comida tipica at this restaurant, which is a tipical roadside restaurant in Costa Rica. There are a TON of them on the road from San Jose to Arenal to cater to all the tourists.


P5150012


We arrived in La Fortuna at sunset--which happens around 6. La Fortuna is the gateway town to the Arenal Volcano. This volcano was dormant for thousands of years until 1968 when there was a huge explosion. It's been in a constant state of eruption ever since (mostly minor). This volcano doesn't erupt with molten lava, but rather with lava rocks tumbling down its sides. Anyway, in order to plan my tours the following day, Willy stopped at Canoa Aventuras in La Fortuna and I booked a tour (you'll hear more on that later). We got to my hotel--the Arenal Observatory Lodge--after a bumpy dark drive in the rain. It was a bit creepy, as my room was down a dark path in the drippy rainforest, but the room was quiet and comfy.


P5150014 


It was there that I said goodbye to Willy and tucked in for the night after a quick dinner at the lodge's restaurant. I laid down in the dark and discovered the real treat of the lodge--a view of lava rocks whenever the volcano is clear enough to see. As I lay in bed, I saw red rocks tumbling down the sides--nature's fireworks. Though my eyes were heavy, I couldn't stop watching the amazing power of nature!


Stay tuned!

Back Home!

Lest I lose some of my most faithful readers, I wanted to do a quick post! Sorry for the hiatus...my trip to Costa Rica was quick but fantastic. I definitely want to go back as well as visit Central America more.


P5150004I arrived on Thursday afternoon and was swiftly picked up by my driver Willy, a fantastic driver who I'd recommend to anyone. He used to work for other tourist agencies, but recently bought his own van and struck out on his own. I went with him versus going through a tourist agency, because I wanted to eliminate the middleman.


We passed through San Ramon--where Willy saw a potential apartment...he reported later that it wasn't what he was looking for so his search continues!




Here are some of the vistas I saw on my journey to Arenal...


P5150008


We had a bit of car trouble at one point...gave me a stretching opportunity on the 3 1/2 hour drive. I also saw some toucans. Unfortunately, they were hard to catch on photographs. Here instead is Willy working on the van...


P5150011


His mechanic gave him some good advice, and we were on our way in no time. My tummy began to growl, so we stopped for some comida tipica at this restaurant, which is a tipical roadside restaurant in Costa Rica. There are a TON of them on the road from San Jose to Arenal to cater to all the tourists.


P5150012


We arrived in La Fortuna at sunset--which happens around 6. La Fortuna is the gateway town to the Arenal Volcano. This volcano was dormant for thousands of years until 1968 when there was a huge explosion. It's been in a constant state of eruption ever since (mostly minor). This volcano doesn't erupt with molten lava, but rather with lava rocks tumbling down its sides. Anyway, in order to plan my tours the following day, Willy stopped at Canoa Aventuras in La Fortuna and I booked a tour (you'll hear more on that later). We got to my hotel--the Arenal Observatory Lodge--after a bumpy dark drive in the rain. It was a bit creepy, as my room was down a dark path in the drippy rainforest, but the room was quiet and comfy.


P5150014 


It was there that I said goodbye to Willy and tucked in for the night after a quick dinner at the lodge's restaurant. I laid down in the dark and discovered the real treat of the lodge--a view of lava rocks whenever the volcano is clear enough to see. As I lay in bed, I saw red rocks tumbling down the sides--nature's fireworks. Though my eyes were heavy, I couldn't stop watching the amazing power of nature!


Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Nutritional Know-How

Image002_2


I wanted to let my blog readers in on a good resource, the "Eat This, Not That" website. Part of Men's Health magazine, the column was made into a book. I was first clued into this by my cousin Jennifer, who used the book to successfully shed calories (and pounds) that lurked in unknown places. I consider myself to be relatively calorie-savvy (as in, aware of them as they're entering my mouth), and even I was shocked by some of the information.  For example, the "Turkey and Swiss Sandwich" at Au Bon Pain, clocking in at 850 calories and 41 (yes, 41) grams of fat. I could see myself ordering this and thinking I was doing okay--maybe slightly more calories than a sandwich I'd make myself, but not bad. Boy was I mistaken! I was also disheartened to find out (though, not surprised) that my favorite ice cream: chocolate peanut butter swirl, is one of the worst options at Baskin Robbins. That's one of those things I'd rather just save up for than waste any calories on an inferior ice cream!


p.s. Sorry for the lack of posting--I've been busy with trip-planning and my mom's visit. More on those later!