Log in

No account? Create an account

for entertainment purposes only


free counters

Haiti 2017 - An Experience of Extremes

Not many people include Haiti on their bucket list of destinations. Though the island, Hispaniola, is shared with vacation hotspot the Dominican Republic, the abject poverty, corruption, and susceptibility to natural disasters has most bypassing this country in favour of something more appealing.

I had the great fortune this past fall to be able to visit Haiti on a trip that had two focuses; meet the team that our Canadian company employs for claim processing as well as the school of boys we sponsor with the help of Avanse.org, and take part in a company workshop on culture in our workplace, as a member of our company's team of elected Culture Ambassadors for this year.

Our company places a very high importance on our values, one of which is making a difference in the world. They found Haiti after deciding that it would be infinitely better to 'give work' than to give charity. Giving charity means funds can be allocated in a way that is beyond your control - building schools and wells means that for a time there is benefit but if they become damaged there is a lack of trained help to fix it. Give education and give work.

We paired with an organization in Haiti called Cetemoh, fully within the impoverished neighbourhoods of tents and crumbled concrete and rebar. What it has become today, from its beginnings as a junk yard/repair shop (I believe) is a school that produces an educated workforce in trades, with good jobs available on-site once they graduate.

From the moment we stepped off the plane everything was different.  The airport felt more like an office building, no souvenir shops, just fully utilitarian.  Reality began to set in very quickly as we passed through shanty towns lined with burning garbage and stray animals - goats, dogs, pigs. There were so many people everywhere. Garbage is basically shovelled into canals and burned for lack of a better available waste removal system.

The view of Port-Au-Prince from the rooftop of our Haiti office. Rather than live close to the coast, the wealthy live up the mountain, as it is less susceptible to natural disasters, flooding, etc.

Our team in Port-Au-Prince sang a song of welcome upon our arrival and made a special meal to share with us of typical Haitian cuisine. They prepared a soup joumou (below, left) and recounted the story of the importance of eating soup on New Years Day (also independence day) for Haiti. The soup was historically something the Haitian slaves prepared for white masters and were forbidden to eat themselves until after they were liberated from France on January 1 1804. They also prepared "tomtom" (below, right, also known as breadfruit) - looks like mashed potatoes but the consistency is almost chewy.  You take a piece, dip it in the gumbo/sauce alongside it, and then swallow, rather than chew. I don't know the reason for this rule but... maybe it had to do with the strange texture of eating it. I wasn't really a fan of either but happy to have had the occasion to try it. The white triangular piece in the soup cup below was a fragment of bone.

There were a lot of makeshift structures, lots of corrugated sheetmetal.  Below a barrier built from brightly coloured vehicle hoods with a couple of goats wandering around at the edge of the little canal.

I like to take note of the license plates in every new place I visit so I grabbed a photo of one of those as well. With the shape of the country in the background, the caption is "La perle des Antilles" - the pearl of the Antilles.

After our visit with the team in Port-Au-Prince, we headed out of the city to the slum of Cité Soleil, one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of the Western Hemisphere and one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere. Being in a large group in a coach bus driving through a massive slum housing hundreds of thousands of people in makeshift housing with no sewer system was a peculiar feeling, and good enough reason for all of the curious looks we were getting by the dozens of people sitting out in the streets.  Employment is sparsely available so there were a lot of onlookers.

We continued on to the school that houses the seven orphan boys from the slum. They have no families and are homeless. Many children in Haiti are orphaned due to violence or illness. The representative from Avanse, a young woman based out of Chicago who joined us on this trip, has apparently negotiated with the 5 major gang leaders of Cité Soleil on which children could be brought to the orphanage to take part in the school. After all - if they don't show promise with a future in a gang, they are still a mouth to feed.

The moment it became truly real for me was coming across this makeshift toy truck in the streets on the walk back to the bus from the school, pictured below. As I was leaving, an older woman, a neighbour of the school, said to me "bonsoir". I replied, "bonsoir" and she looked me in the eyes and said a heartfelt, "thank you" - in what little English she knew, those two words expressed a world of gratitude for what even miniscule role I played in changing the lives of those 7 boys from Cité Soleil.

Our own lives were changed so much in that one day of experiences, you could just feel it on the bus ride further up the coast to the resort where we were to spend the next few days laying the groundwork for how we'd spend the next year keeping our company on track with our core values as a team of Culture Ambassadors.

I had never been to an all-inclusive resort before, and to be presented with this beautiful resort and these beautiful ocean views with all you can eat and drink, only hours after experiencing the chaos and poverty and slums surrounding Port-Au-Prince was just such an extreme change. There were subtle reminders of where we were though; bottled water in the bathrooms for brushing your teeth. Peddlers in canoes approaching us in the water selling their wares. The fog of burning garbage in the background clouding the landscape.

It was hard to believe that we were a mere hour away from what we had just taken in in Port-Au-Prince, presented with this paradise we'd spend the next couple of days in.

When you visit some place beautiful and think "This looks like a desktop background!"

A plumeria flower

The last night at the resort our company brought the entire Haiti team out from Port-Au-Prince, as well as the 7 boys and their caregivers from the orphanage, and we all had a big dinner together along with music and dancing afterwards. Those kids have some serious moves. And it was so nice to see all their smiling faces. The next morning we were on the beach and the boys were playing, 7 young kids goofing around in the sand and water, like kids from anywhere - play is universal. But with a sadder story behind them. And hopefully a brighter future in front of them.

If you sound out the Haitian Creole 'Anrejistreman' it almost seems like a phonetic spelling of the French 'Enregistrement'.
My drug of choice is nostalgia. To a fault actually - I can be pleased simply by having the opportunity to relive aspects of my past that I really truly enjoyed.  That - and the fact that my boyfriend says I have no hobbies (true..) - have led me to want to start going to more shows as I did so often in high school, and less so through university.

Taking Back Sunday was one of my favourite bands in high school, so naturally to find out they were playing in Buffalo, NY, a mere 2.5 hour drive from me, led to an imperative to buy tickets and head south of the border.  The intent was to go with my best friend; full road trip, go to the show, have a great time, stay at an AirBnB and make our way back slowly through Niagara-on-the-Lake and maybe hit the Niagara outlet mall.

A last minute cancellation meant I was going solo - not even for a millisecond did I consider skipping it, even if I was going without anyone but myself.  I can be fairly resourceful when it comes to still having a good time on my own, and taking pleasure in the small things.

They spelled my name right!  Didn't even spell it out for them.
Not to mention - so happy iced double shots are back on the
menu officially. And BLONDE espresso. Have mercy #somuchcaffeine

Half an hour delay at the border drove my time from 2.5 hours to 3 hours, and with a mere $50 price tag I started thinking that the Nexus pass would really have helped. When I arrived at the AirBnB I spotted 3 guys out front, about my age (30...ish...), outside smoking. They were largely dressed in dark clothing with huge spacers in their ears and the general look of alt/punk/scene/indie rock or whathaveyou that I was so accustomed to in high school. These are my people.  The AirBnB host mentioned to me that they were going to the show I was going to (had I not already gathered that based on their appearance) and so a little later I was ready go to, and approached them; "Are you guys going to see Taking Back Sunday? Want to share a taxi?" They mentioned that they just called an Uber and it was just arriving; they had a spot for me if I wanted. And I had my friends for the night.

Being so close to the Canadian border has its advantages - slightly less culture shock

There was so much to see when we got to the venue; I don't remember the name of the venue only that it was at 301 Ohio St. Big outdoor space; a change from the smaller indoor venue which I assume was because there were no Canadian dates so we probably all descended on Buffalo en masse.  There were funnel clouds, a guy in a banana-print button up (banana button-up!), lots of tattoos.  Tattoos aren't cheap and I looked around wondering how many dollars' worth of tattoos were walking around on site.  But I digress.

The security team wore numbered shirts, which I subsequently pointed out to my company. I gave a little laugh and mentioned that it was like there was a whole hockey team of security staff. The laughter in response to my comment was less about my comment and more about me being a Canadian relating something to hockey. Another comment later in the evening from another friendly stranger as he spoke of the Rangers; "Oh you! You're Canadian - you must like hockey!" So sue me. I forgot how much I love being the target of Canadian stereotypes. I am endlessly amused by them, and by Americans' reactions to them. I was recounting a story about a show I had been to in high school (probably Billy Talent) in which I was in the front row at the Opera House and squished against the stage by the moshers behind me and then had to be dragged backstage by security to help me out because I had passed out for a moment. Their eyes lit up "I always heard about the Canadian accent but I didn't know it was true! Say it again!"

The first opening band wasn't of much interest to any of us so my newfound comrades were regaling me with stories of earlier in the day. They had driven 5 hours from Schenectady, NY, and found a local watering hole that was serving them up samples on the house (one of my new friends, K, is a brewer back home, and brought a keg of his own brew to the AirBnB we were all staying at [the other two, E and L, were a plummer and carpenter respectively]).  They had also paid a visit to the local tattoo parlour but not in the traditional sense.  K had a bandage on his finger and he explained to me at least three times that he had a magnet removed from his fingertip, something he had had put there intentionally, and said he could feel if the microwave was on, or which of the wires were live, etc. I was infinitely confused.  They also mentioned that after they had been there, some several thousand dollars of gems had been stolen, and they were trying to help the owner any way they could in the location of these items.

When someone asks you to grab them a beer and hands you a wad of cash...
It was only $9 but it looked so cool (in Canada this would have been one bill and 2 coins at best)

And a requisite picture of the show. Didn't bother to get closer since I am older now and that's not my thing anymore. There was a guy with a hoodie whose back read "I used to mosh" - yeah, I get it.

The second opening band was was Every Time I Die,
and Taking Back Sunday of course was who I was there for.

It was great to be there with people who just loved the music.  They minded the setlist and rocked out at will.  After the show we decided to go out in Buffalo (lol) and they gave me a choice of two bars - AVB or "The Pink". Somehow we picked up two more friends, a Canadian couple from Cambridge, and somehow got to talking about poutine, and how our American friends had never had it.  One of them knew about the Allen St Poutine Co (which again, due to proximity to border, is in fair demand and mitigates the culture shock). I even got a Molson Canadian with mine. Walking stereotype.

The next morning I was up early and ready to take off - an awful American Tim Hortons breakfast (the options were basically egg/cheese/bacon on several different varieties of bread or bread-related items) was what I planned on before hitting the road.  The Tim's was beside a gas station, and I will admit, around 9:30am it was eerily calm compared to the tons of revellers in the streets the night before (Allen St is kind of a nightlife spot if one would go so far in Buffalo).  A bald man in his 40s in a black tshirt and light blue jeans was standing in the parking lot seemingly enjoying the morning. I cut through the gas station lot to avoid him but he put himself in my path and asked me for change, which was surprising since he didn't appear homeless.  Now, he should have known better that someone of my generation woudn't be carrying cash, but I said no anyway. He retorted "Are you sure you don't have any change for a coffee???" I was shocked at his agressiveness and bad attitude since it was MY generosity he was appealing to.  I confirmed the answer was no and he replied "Well you working girls have it hard... working for the man and everything". I gave a nervous smile and made a mental note to walk the long block back to the AirBnB in the opposite direction. Still to this day wonder if he was calling me a "working girl" like lady of the night, and if so, how he could have deduced that, with my white eyelet/embroidered t-shirt, slightly baggy dark denim straight leg pants and summery wedges with lemons on them. Note to self: Buffalo is shady AF.

My souvenir :)
I can't believe it has already been 10 years.  In September of 2006, I had just moved out from my parents' house in southern Ontario and no more than 3 weeks into living on my own away from home, my parents were getting phone calls from concerned relatives that there has been reports of a school shooting in the city that I had just moved to to start attending university.  It didn't help that the media weren't originally clear on exactly which post secondary institution it was occurring at.  I was just starting my BA at Concordia.

By 3 weeks in to the school year I was used to taking the Concordia University shuttle bus downtown for my Critical Thinking class on Wednesdays at 1:15pm.  It was in the Hall building of the downtown campus.  Traffic was never as bad as it was today and we were backed up trying to get off the highway at Guy to move into downtown - I was concerned about being late this early in the semester.  You could see the emergency vehicles flying down the street - a fire perhaps.  A really big one maybe, given the traffic and the number of emergency vehicles.

When I arrived at the Hall building there were crowds - being new at university I wasn't sure if this was some other kind of event they had planned for the start of the year, like an orientation.  There were water bottles and groups of people everywhere.  The students genuinely looked lost.  I didn't understand, but had been seeing a lot of new things lately and so I headed up to the 4th floor for class.

When class let out at 4pm, it was still bustling on the main floor.  My then-boyfriend was late to meet me, texting me that the next metro station over, Atwater, was closed and locked down because of a shooting at the adjoining college.  He had to walk to me, and that I should not come to meet him.  The pieces gradually fell into place, as they do in a panicked situation where information - reliable information - is hard to come by.  There had just been a shooting at Dawson College a couple of blocks away.  Everything was locked down.  We were welcoming their students, giving water bottles, blankets, lending cell phones, and most of all, providing a safe place to wait.

I found out later that one girl lost her life.  Anastasia De Sousa, 18.  The shooter, who I do not care about even remotely enough to put his name in print again, had fired 72 rounds and had hit many students, but other than himself (good fucking riddance), he "only" managed to cause one fatality.

Everything changed after that.  My peers and profs in my classes were very sombre, especially the locals.  A few had just graduated from Dawson themselves the year before.  One of my profs taught at both my school and at Dawson, she was a mess.  In the weeks that followed, there was a one fall day that we heard helicopters overhead outside of my apartment beside the Loyola Campus of Concordia University.  We went outside and the streets were shut down, and Reuters interviewed my then-boyfriend right on the front steps of my apartment.  As it were, the campus was locked down as they thought they had found long guns in a locker in the science building.  It turned out to be some idiot with some kind of martial arts equipment in a long black bag like you would carry a gun in.  Right after what happened at Dawson.

It's hard to think about the fact that I was on a bus moving toward downtown Montreal while a girl was being killed there and others were being wounded in a mass shooting.  Apparently now the gun that the shooter used is even MORE accessible than it was ten years ago.  The gun companies modify their weapons to fall within the laws of the countries in which they'd like to sell.

It's surreal to look at the photos of the aftermath of a horrible event and have them feel so real.  I don't have any solutions, ideas or next steps to reduce the chance of this happening again.  I still feel for everyone who felt something that day, whether physically wounded or not.  It is just something that stays with you, sadly.
I have never successfully used a sewing machine.  It never crossed my mind that the need would arise to make my own blackout blind until after a disheartening visit to a local we-only-sell-blinds store and a couple of over-the-top quote prices.  The blinds for the guestroom would nearly never be closed so I needed something not ugly and not expensive.  My first choice were $417.77 on sale.  Nope.  Prices decreased until I reached the most heinous, vinyl roll-up blinds and even those were $165.09.  Nope.

My dad suggested I figure out something "creative" because the above was just not worth it.  I googled around a bit and found this tutorial; I scrolled about one fifteenth of the way down the page, and picked up her list of supplies.  The very next picture showed she didn't actually use all of those things, but I was intent made it work with what she didn't end up using that I had bought.

I already had some command strip clips, and picked up some elastic string, blackout material and iron-on hemming bond at Fabricland (if you've just started humming the jingle in your head then you fit in with 100% of people I've already shared this story with). Total bill: $30.94.

I followed the tutorial, though mine was a bit less polished.  I upped my number of elastic loops to 9 across the top to ensure they could support the weight of the material, as it is a large window.

It was hard to be patient enough to get through all that measuring, cutting, ironing and sewing.  But the end result was oh so worth it.

Formerly the brightest room in the house:

Now the perfect place for overnight guests to be able to sleep in.  A happy price point and a point of pride - and still no need to use a sewing machine!


The birth, life and death of a mango tree

There are many fruits and vegetables which can be regrown from cuttings or "scraps" and many of those which I have tried myself.  My two favourites have been the pineapple for its awesome appearance and the mango because it was my favourite tree in Costa Rica.

My success rate for growing a mango tree from seed until this past week was 50% - one seed did not sprout and one did.  The one that did made it to 6 leaves and about 5 inches tall.

To start the mango tree, you need the pit; get rid of as much of the fruit off the husk as possible.  Let dry for one day on one side, then another day on the other side.

Then very carefully open the husk using a knife (I repeat: very carefully, not only to avoid accidentally cutting yourself but the seed inside as well).  What you find inside will be what you are planting.

It really just looks like a big bean.  Taste is bitter though (the shape made me want to try it . . .).
You'll want to plant it vertically, so the two 'bumps' of the bean are facing upward.

I husked this mango seed in mid-February of this year, and it was not until the beginning of April that anything started happening.  I had almost just completely stopped thinking about it.  An annoyingly long time to wait.  But I was so excited that my favourite tree, which I had previously only seen in Costa Rica, was now sprouting in my spare room.

The tree "trunk" kind of slow-mo flings itself out of its seed.  One day later, the above appeared as below.  It moved quickly once it got going (and you can see one of its leaves).

Sorry for the image quality below; but it shows the extent to which the leaves are pushing out.

April 3rd (left) and April 5th (right)


Since it was beginning to be suitable outside, it was time to go outside - and my first mistake was not hardening the mango seedling off before leaving it outside all day, which would prove to be detrimental as the sun burned half of the newer leaves, and it just never recovered.  A combination of this stress plus the fungus gnat larvae munching on the roots deep in the soil and that was the beginning of the end for my little mango tree.

Gnats present in soil are typically the fungus gnats. Because larvae remain within soil and near the bottom of affected plants, fungus gnat infestations are difficult to identify before they have caused considerable damage. [source]

I had even changed the soil trying to rid it of the disgusting tiny little larvae killing my mango tree, but it was to no avail as there continued to be a substantial presence of the little buggers despite me ugly-ing up my plants with Sticky-Stiks to trap the egg-laying females.

Below is the day that the sun and the wind did its irreparable damage due to my lack of preparation.  Just because it is a "tropical" plant doesn't mean it can go from the diffused light, cozy indoors to the full-sun heat and wind of a Canadian summer in one day.

This is the end of the line for my little guy, after 5 months.  Got sick with mould or fungus on top of everything else, and just couldn't fight it.  :(

A couple of weeks ago I started my 3rd attempt at a mango tree and the fungus gnats were already after it so I covered it with saran wrap so as to keep them from laying eggs in the soil.  On my previous unsuccessful attempt with the mango seed, once I had dumped out the unsprouted, rotted seed, was when I saw the fungus gnat larvae crawling around in the soil.  They are disgusting and infuriating plague-like little monsters.  Incidentally they are also attracted to CO2 which is why sometimes the adults fly around your face when you're breathing.

I intend to coddle the heck out of my third attempt.  I hope for everything that it works out.

Below is a mango tree "in the wild" in Costa Rica, with baby mangoes growing on it this past January.  I love the long, slender, finger-like foliage (I also love umbrella trees and pachira aquatica [money trees] for this reason).

I may give a 4th a shot - and germinate it in a paper towel as with this tutorial.

Cool Species of the Day - Entry # 32

2009 marked the advent of this recurring theme, which includes a whole host of incredibly interesting species.

Aside from being somewhat colourful tropical birds, these oropendolas have a unique call that sounds like nothing you have ever heard before.  They are nesting in Costa Rica each time I get to go
(January - prepping for my future as a snowbird) and I realize more and more how spectacular their hanging nests and vocal displays are each time I go.

This sound brings me back there in an instant, and is accompanied by shaking the tail feathers up in the air.

Click image above to play clip

Oropendolas in a tree with the arenal volcano shrouded in fog in the background

Two hanging nests in each tree; top half of the image

These birds nest in colonies so it is common to see many more nests hanging out of the same tree or same group of trees.  It is really something to behold.

I'm being framed!

It is pertinent that I start at the beginning in order for this anecdote to have its desired impact.

A couple of weeks ago I came home from work, wanted to have some music to go with my chores and as I was about to plug in the speaker, then heard a frantic scratching of talons on metal above my head.  The blood froze in my veins as I had no idea where it was coming from.  I realized it was coming from inside the capped off chimney flue where the smoke from the woodstove used to escape.  That metal cap is affixed to the ceiling - right above the couch I like(d) to relax on before bed.

The frantic scratching plagued me for a few days before I finally summoned the "exterminator" (technically you're only supposed to call them "pest control").  Nearly $300 later not one but TWO birds were removed from my chimney flue, one alive and the other "DOA" as the guy so eloquently put it on the invoice.

Feeling pretty sour about this (I hold grudges), a couple weeks later I had been explaining passionately and at length about how much I hate birds, robins and black birds in particular.  Not 5 minutes later sitting down to dinner, enjoying the most delicious patio BBQ dinner, I was a targeted by a flying pile of karma - or rather, my delicious hamburger was, and right where I was about to bite next.  I didn't realise what hit my burger as it was a strange sensation (high velocity you see), but I was very noticeably further incensed by these avian monsters.

"Cast off" on the plate and table below.

The red-breasted robins and the black birds are of particular annoyance to me; first birds out in the spring and strong in population.  I had more or less let them leave my mind until today, I was pulling into my driveway and could not believe my eyes.

It couldn't be . . .

Yep. One of my neighbourly robins.
My house is officially where birds go to die.

I can understand how this may look bad, but I had no role in this.  I don't even own a cat.  Now I have no idea what to do with its body.  Other than perhaps put it on my deck to ward off the others?  As of yet undecided . . .

Costa Rica - Plants <3

This subject required its own post :)  I did not have the room to include it in yesterday's, and it follows the original plant post (in which I expressed my interest to create a perimeter of spikey plants, which made me chuckle to re-read it 2 years later).

My garden, were I to live in Costa Rica, would be so incredible.  My only wish is to live in USDA hardiness zones 9 thru 11.  For the time being, I will have to make due with hardiness zone 5 and bringing my plants indoors in the winter.

Not sure what these purple guys are but I really love them.  These were at the pool at our hotel.

This vine is crawling up the tree.  I suppose it needs sunlight more than soil so it is making its way up a tree to find some.

My all-time favourite tree - a mango tree!  I love the long, finger-like foliage and there are tiny mangoes developing.
I am actually growing my own mango tree from a mango pit but that will be its own post.

Giant leaf!

These trees are taller than they look, in La Fortuna near the volcano.  I just LOVE them.

The tree above "has been given the name 'traveller's palm' because the sheaths of the stems hold rainwater, which supposedly could be used as an emergency drinking supply for needy travellers. However, the water inside the plant is murky, black and smelly and should not be consumed without purification. Another plausible reason for its name is that the fan tends to grow on an east-west line, providing a crude compass." [source]

My own theory is that it is called the traveller's palm because it attracts so many tourist photos *smug grin*

In the rainforest lots of plants and mosses grow on the trees as they are not tall enough on their own to reach the sunlight.

The plant above looks to be a member of the bromeliad family, one specifically considered to be an epiphyte, which is "a plant that grows harmlessly upon another plant (such as a tree) and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and sometimes from debris accumulating around it."

These beautiful upside down flowers are called "Angel's trumpets"

The umbrella tree rivals the mango tree as my favourite tree.

I have a couple of umbrella trees amongst my own collection of plants so it was exceptionally pleasing to see this larger version "in the wild" while on vacation.

Costa Rica January 2016

I must be a creature of habit.  This is my first post in nearly 2 years to the day (since June 12 2014) and I am again writing about my January birthday trip to Costa Rica (this time my third), again 6 months behind.

It may seem silly to spend that much money to go to the same place again but each visit is framed differently.  In 2012 I spent a couple of months volunteering.  In 2014 it was the first time I got to go back to visit - stayed with the same family, took some little road trips to both coasts.  This year, 2016, I got to go as a tourist and finally had the chance to show my boyfriend the country that has played such a huge role in shaping who I am now.  Also, in the last 2 years I have moved into my own home, and being allergic to animals, I have evolved into a crazy plant lady (more on that to come) so Costa Rica just keeps fitting me better and better.

Pool view from our room at Hotel Vela Bar in Manuel Antonio

We had white-knuckle driven to the airport in a snowstorm on Jan 12 and just made our flight, flew into SJO, and took a private transportation company 3 more hours west to the coast.  Basically this guy was driving us in a Mazda and at one point was doing 100km/hr in a 40.  But we were so tired we didn't even bother to worry that much.  The next day was my birthday; that poolside coffee in the heat after the long travel day before was just absolutely tranquil and perfect.  The picture below seems mundane but it is everything.

Best birthday coffee ever

I had wanted to stay at the hotel El Faro (faro = lighthouse) which has the best view in town, perched in the hillside.  The 'cool' factor is that the hotel rooms are made of shipping containers.  My boyfriend didn't like the idea of staying in a narrow old shipping container for his first trip outside of Canada, but when we compromised on going to their hotel restaurant for a nice typical Costa Rican breakfast, he was so astounded by the view he commented "who was the idiot who didn't want to stay at this hotel?".  Heh heh.

Parasailing over the ocean; view from El Faro

Typical Costa Rican breakfast; fresh fruit juice, gallo pinto, eggs, fried plantains and natilla (sort of like sour cream)

Hm.  Watermelons still have seeds here.  Kind of embarassing that we are
so hard to please to the point of toying with nature to get rid of something's seeds.

The issue with this trip was that the Canadian dollar had fallen so much that it really did a number on our bottom line.  The conversion isn't easy to do in your head if you are averse to math (me) and my previous two trips the CDN dollar was so close to the US dollar I just referred to the USD price.  But this discrepancy impacted everything, especially as we booked on an American travel site (and especially as I didn't realise that until I paid).

(Left) - Rio Celeste waterfalls within Tenorio Volcano National Park.  (Right) - Volcanic gases bubbling out of the river - smells of sulfur.

One of the bridges crossed to get to the origin of the Rio Celeste.

The objective of this trip, accompanied by my boyfriend who had never been out of Canada (except to Buffalo, NY....), was to hit as many aspects of the Costa Rican experience as possible.  First 3 nights at the beach (this was how I sold him on Costa Rica rather than some cheap all-inclusive), next 2 nights at La Fortuna (for the Arenal and other surrounding volcanoes), last 3 nights in small-town Atenas with the friends and family I had made while volunteering 4 years earlier.  We had a double date with friends of mine, and afterward went with them to a new bar called Onde Paco (Onde from Donde, meaning like, "Chez Paco" or "Paco's Place") that was very outdoors, kind of like someone's house converted into an open, social space.  My friend kept ordering round after round, so my boyfriend came to know very well the Spanish words "Cuatro más!".

Costa Rica - beer of choice

Finding an adequate hangover cure was no easy task.  "Cesars" are not a thing down there, and the next closest was a Bloody Mary but it's not something they make regularly.  We hit the sports bar for some food and a couple of Bloody Marys on our second last day.

A "Bloody Mary" and the most delicious bar nachos ever

This trip was overall way more expensive than the previous two (in 2014 I simply bought plane tickets), but there were some new experiences and it was incredible to be able to share this experience with my boyfriend as well.  I loved to see how he reacted to and appreciated all of these cultural differences.  And I have to say he had the perfect tour guide to be able to access more of the country, having previously visited and knowing the country, the locals and the language :)

Iglesia La Fortuna with the Arenal volcano in the background

Edit: I omitted a lot of pictures from this trip as I realised I have largely posted many of that type before.  For more photos from all previous Costa Rican posts, click the tag 'Costa Rica'.

Some of those posts by topic are as follows;

Costa Rica January 2014 : Beaching

I had 2 weeks to make up for the lack of beaches I visited in 2012.  In my 3 and a half months in 2012 I had only spent one day at the beach in Costa Rica - I had visited Jacó (ha-KO) and Herradura (I did spend a week at the beach in Nicaragua which was less intended).  So this time around, in my two weeks, I went down knowing exactly what I wanted to see, and I made it to the beautiful Manuel Antonio beach on the Pacific and then to several beaches in the Puerto Viejo area of the Caribbean coast.

In no particular order:

The entrance to Manuel Antonio beach - you have to hike through the jungle to get there.  It wasn't that long but once again I was unprepared for the terrain, so where people were stopping to take pictures with a deer, or looking for monkeys or sloths, I was in search of the promised land.  I had gone with 2 friends and we stopped to pick up groceries and bottles of water at a corner store beforehand, and thank goodness for that.  This beach in the picture, well Manuel Antonio has 2 sides that mirror each other, separated by a tiny strip of land, you can easily cross over to the other beach.  I went in the water here and a lifeguard running back and forth whistled at me to get out, yelling what I later found out was "agua cocodrilo" - crocodile water.  Apparently there is a crocodile that visits that side of the beach every morning so I left the water and headed for the more populated shore of the safer beach.


Some of the snacks we picked up were these chips I wouldn't have given a second look if not for the friend who bought them.  They are plantain chips with lime and salt and they were to DIE for.  I brought back 2 bags of them in my luggage.


We were sitting at the tree line and the dead leaves on the sand were shelter for hundreds of hermit crabs.  Every once in a while you'd focus on something and in the corner of your eye see a bunch of little pieces of landscape moving around.  They were so cute.  This one got so close to me.  This time around I had bought a well-used point-and-shoot camera so the quality is not optimal.


This video, you'd be fine to start at 50 seconds, this lizard is on the log and just before it runs away you can see a hermit crab walking along the base of the log near the lizard's feet.  It was very Jurassic Park.


Taking pictures of people taking pictures of the sunset at the end of the day, a beautiful day well spent.  We stayed at a little hotel right on the beach called Hotel Verde Mar.  Do them a solid though, and if you EVER book at a small hotel... find them through any 3rd party online (Expedia etc) but book hotel direct.  Don't make these small family-run places pay commission to the big companies who sell the same room and take a cut. 


Enjoying a nice cold cerveza at the beach.  You can see every bead of sweat from the cold can... the refreshment is palpable..


A couple days later, a 4am wake up, 3 buses and a cloud forest in the mountains later, my Costa Rican family and I made it to Puerto Viejo where there are several beaches side by side.  We stayed at a place called Hotel Yare (Yar-ay) in Cocles (Ko-kleez), fairly close to the Panamá border.  The Caribbean culture was very different than the Pacific or Central Valley.  Very rasta, very chill, just very pura vida in a different way than the other places I had visited.


A friend of mine from Atenas and his girlfriend were in Puerto Viejo at the same time and they took me on a hike further down the coast to find one particular place they really liked.  It was on this hike that we found lots of shells, and saw a bunch of little black monkeys up in the tree.


We stopped to take pictures of some kids having fun on an impromptu swing thing.  It was really cute.


This was the cliff we hiked to.  It's hard to tell from the picture but it was an incredible place to be.  Very high above water level, you just watch all the waves roll in, one after another, smashing against the rocks and spraying up.  It was the most tranquil place on earth for me.


Closer to dusk there was a little local kid fishing in the waters.  I had to head back to Cocles where the hotel was before everyone else because a guy in our group had wanted to rent bicycles to travel the 9k from the hotel to the playa Manzanillo and I was the only one that would bike it with him.  Since it was on a small road with no street lights we had to get back before dark as a matter of absolutely necessity.  And I tell you, the way home was kinda freaky because I heard some terrifying roar kind of thing and the guy I was cycling back with says "hey a gorilla!" and I am on a bike with no speeds and no option to go any faster.  A gorilla roar is a terrifying sound but fair enough, since we were riding 9k through the jungle . . .

2014-01-22 16.13.19playaZ

I got to see a couple different kinds of fish too with my friend's snorkling stuff, like one of those big flat ones that hides just under the sand and snaps up to catch its prey.  The only thing I didn't see that I really would have loved to was a sloth.  That is being deferred to my next trip as there is a sloth sanctuary we passed on the bus ride from Limón to Puerto Viejo.  There were just so many species of plants and animals.  Costa Rica is so very alive, for lack of a more robust description.

Costa Rica January 2014 : The Food

On my first 3.5 month trip to Costa Rica in early 2012, the food got it's own post afterward as well.  This time when I went back for 2 weeks in January this year, I knew all the foods I loved and just ate as much of it as I possibly could, haha.  Surprising I managed to stop to take a picture first. M'mmm.

This was the first meal I had the afternoon I arrived, a day before my 27th birthday.  It is arroz con pollo, which is still on my to-do list for figuring out the recipe, and frijoles molidos, which are ground beans but boiled so they make kind of a sauce, with a couple chips to dip.  SO DELICIOUS.

This one was a first for me on this trip, it was served at a birthday party for a friend of the family I was staying with.  It is called chifrijo, and again, on my list to learn to make.  Upon a quick google search, one guide to making this dish actually looks pretty simple since I've got the beans down and the chimichurri... just need to figure out the chicharrón. 

2014-01-17 19.19.15comida

This is a casado con pescado.  A casado is just how they call a meal that 'marries' all of these great food items together.  Pescado is fish.  Fish, white rice, black beans, a little salad, the weird brownish yellow things are fried plantains which I'm not big on, and in the top right part of the plate is picadillo de papa, one of my favourite things, that I don't think I'll ever learn to make (too much effort unless you're making it for enough people). 

2014-01-19 16.13.51comida

Bar food.  Nachos.  Way better than any I've had in Canada.  These are individual sized portions or for two people at best, so you don't have a massive plate of nachos when you just want enough for you and one friend.  There are ground beans in there, ground beef, tomatos, cilantro, liquid cheese, sour cream drizzled, and a bunch of other stuff.  So.  Good.  I got this plate at the Sports Bar Don Tadeo on a particularly nice afternoon near the end of my trip.

2014-01-20 14.18.57comida

This was arroz con camarones, rice with shrimp.  The medallions around the edge are patacones and this again, was the first time I had ever tried them.  They are basically deep fried plantains squished to make discs.  They are really tasty and even better dipped in the warm ground beans with Lizano sauce.  Or ceviche.  They are actually easy to make and I've made them back home in Canada.  My family wasn't big on how it made the house smell though, so I have to stick to seasons where we can let the air circulate.

2014-01-21 13.21.14comida

This is a fish dish with the patacones on the side, this time served with the warm ground beans sprinkled with garlic.  And a nice Costa Rican coffee.

2014-01-25 13.31.33comida

Mmmm Cosechas (means 'harvests').  This is a little smoothie shop, it's a franchise.  For ~$2.25 CAD you can get a delicious freshly blended fruit smoothie.  My favourite, pictured, is mango piña fresa.  Mango pineapple strawberry. 

2014-01-25 15.31.31comida

This was a KFC combo I picked up at the airport waiting for my flight home.  It's a popcorn chicken combo which comes with rice, beans, coleslaw and fried plantains.  Haha.  Global domination.

2014-01-26 13.16.53comida

I have been trying so hard to find a Costa Rican restaurant around here but my Costa Rican lead ended up being closed.  I settled instead for La Bella Managua, a Nicaraguan restaurant near the Ossington subway station.  The seafood ceviche was to die for, although I wish they had of had some Cerveza Toña.

Ceviche with plantain chips:

2014-03-11 16.44.53

I had a whole fish, red snapper.  At the end the bones were left just like you see being thrown into the garbage in the cartoons for the nearby alley cats.  Haha.  Too much tv.  To the right is the Nicaraguan twist on gallo pinto.  And patacones as well but in Nicaragua they are called tostones

2014-03-11 17.04.53

storage solutions for earrings <3

Late-spring cleaning is underway and so arrives the annual tendency to purge some serious junk.  And organize leftover debris.  Those catalog home shots and Property Brothers 'after' photos are so unrealistic.  Anyway, we do what we can, and the internet helps.  I had a ton of earrings dangling from my little jewellery tree all still affixed to their store packaging (which looked junky) because they don't hang otherwise.  And I knew the internet would have the answer to that.  And I was right.

At this link, from Broke & Healthy, I found a ton of great ideas but only one simple enough for me to bother actually making (what a pain do any of those picture frame ones..).  Or heaven forbid punching a million holes in the walls to create even more visible clutter.  Yuck.  This is what I came up with (only the second time I've used those photo filters built in to my Android.  I didn't even feel bad about contributing to the destruction of photographic integrity!)


Kind of Pinterest-y I suppose.  It is extremely effective and not fragile.  Easy to transport and reduces clutter.  It's just perfect :)


Design your own cell phone case

I used to have a nice bamboo cell phone case by BoxWave, but it lasted about 4 months before the edges were so cracked it was falling off (and the bamboo veneer didn't come with any kind of finish, as the dark tint on the photo would lead you to believe - I can only imagine the spongy absorbancy of that bamboo if you accidentally set it down in a puddle of spilled red wine).

So I headed back to Amazon.ca and found the Ringke Fusion case for the Nexus 4.  Unlike the BoxWave case, the bumper on the Ringke one goes all the way around the outside so it will be less susceptible to the same cracks as the old one.


BUT WAIT - This new case has a clear background to enable you to see the back of the Google Nexus 4, which has a beautiful pixellated detail.  Alternatively you can cut your own background image using their template (included) and make virtually any image into your cell phone case. 


The postcard means better image quality, and that was the only thing I had on hand when the case arrived.  But the possibilities are endless...

We were lucky enough to wake up with our power still on, unlike 1/3 of the hydro customers in Toronto.  Last night driving home from work I saw 3 instances of what seemed like lightning, lighting up the sky, except that it was a neon turquoise colour and not white, with no visible lightning bolts.  I thought I was losing my mind but I really did see it as turquoise, it's not like I was looking through a filter on a camera lens.  I realised later that these were transformers blowing up (as per what I read on facebook from someone who saw the same thing).

At dawn this morning:

Our backyard, a branch came down and took out our clothesline (optimistic to leave it up through the winter but I digress..)


The rest of that tree's branches are all weighed down with ice, and the forecast is calling for another 10-15mm of freezing rain.  PLUS wind gusts of 30-50km/hr.  So fairly safe to say we can expect another couple branches to be coming down later today.  Lots of sounds of chainsaws in the neighbourhood right now.

Another tree which came down, blocking our street.  I thought, snarkily, that we are on a crescent so the ice storm didn't win that one.  But apparently there is another one down around the corner and we are "stranded".  Which is sort of cool in a perverse way, since we missed the Ice Storm of 1998 and I was on vacation in New Jersey (yes you read that right) during the Great Blackout of 2003.


As slowly and silently destructive as it is, it is still very beautiful.


All in all a very sobering reminder of how mother nature can still make us her betch whenever she wants to.  No matter how much humankind tries to destroy her.

If you're experiencing this as well, I hope you're staying safe and warm!

I get through it by reminding myself that I am heading back to Costa Rica 3 weeks from today.  So dear, sweet, Canadian Winter: get this out of your system now.

La lluvia helada de hoy

Con una predicción de 20-30mm, va a haber mucho más que eso:





Por lo menos espero que no salga así; no voy a poder entrar en el carro después del trabajo:

Una tradición de mi pueblo cada diciembre es de andar por la calle Old Scugog y ver las luces navideñas de las casas muy grandes.  Esta calle es famosa en nuestro pueblo por hacer una demostración tan linda del espíritu de la Navidad y se ve increíble con la nieve :)

Aquí están unas fotos;


Del estilo cabaña de madera tradicional

Esta ultima viene con video (debajo de la foto), como si era magia

Feliz Navidad y prospero año a todos y todas!!

de vuelta a Costa Rica

In a month's time, I will be celebrating my 27th (just a number.. just a number..) birthday surrounded by the kindest and most welcoming people I have ever met - and haven't seen in about 2 years. This time I won't be staying for longer than 2 weeks, but it will be my first time back to Costa Rica since I spent a couple months there in 2012 volunteering in Atenas.  I paid $654 for my flights, both direct, and I'll stay with people I know down there.  It's a carte blanche vacation.

Given that my last trip down there resulted in some eye-opening experiences, I am preparing more diligently this time.  I bought a used-as-opposed-to-new digital camera, and will be guarding my passport with my life.  Having my passport stolen last time resulted in my having only enough money to renew to a limited validity passport, which then I had to renew again this month before going down next month.  My first application, using a simplified renewal form was sent back, and then when I filled out the long passport application (the one you have to fill out if you DON'T have a passport already, even though I did, technically) it was sent back again because I included a personal and not a certified cheque (super gaffe, I know).  By that time I was running short on calendar days to renew my passport so I had to go right into the Whitby office, and it was returned approved, and now doesn't expire until the year 2023.  The year 2023 isn't even on my radar yet so it's nice to put that out of my mind.  I also can never have a passport stolen again or else it will be even more difficult to renew.  I'll be flagged as one of those 'suspicious' applicants.

Flashy new camera, thanks Kijiji!  $40 for a 14 megapixel, rough-around-the-edges point-and-shoot, with an 8gb memory card thrown in.  And it turns out the seller lives only 2 blocks from me!  (When you live in a town that doesn't even have it's own category on Kijiji, that's a cool coincidence.  Also a relief to find out she wasn't a crazy Kijiji psycho either).  The tape was my own added touch since while it did come with the battery/SD cover, it doesn't stay closed.  Currently medical tape from the same roll that held my gauze on over my knee staples is keeping the bottom of the camera together. 

I've also hit up Continental Currency Exchange to collect my thousands of colones (co-lo-nez, emphasis on 2nd syllable) for the trip.  They have their smallest denomination made of the same polymer material that Canada's new bills are made of, and they even had it before us (actually, even Nicaragua has some beautiful polymer bills, like the 50 córdoba, worth about $2 CAD).  But ours have rolled out the full line of new polymer bills and Costa Rica still only has the 1000 bill (as far as I know).  Also known as a "rojo" (Spanish for 'red' because, well... it's red).  The yellow bill I hadn't seen the last time I was down there.  It's neat because the blue 2000 is worth almost $5 Canadian ($4.26), and our $5 bill is the same colour.  The 10,000 bill is worth ~$20 CAD, and is the same colour as our $20 bill. 

The feeling of walking out of that airport and into the sun is just going to be inexplicable, and in such contrast to the feelings I had the last time that I walked out of SJO - full chaos, lacking sleep, taking on a new language and getting to know a whole new world of people.

Only 30 more days!
Actually, I haven't fact-checked that.  And actually, not a fact but a possible outcome of a card game called Cards Against Humanity.  Even if you're not the gaming type (as I am not), this game, which self-describes as "a party game for horrible people" will provide for a lot of laughs.  It is not only a hilarious and inappropriate game, but is also completely interesting because it was started with Kickstarter by a group of young guys with no management structure and whose creators say it is "too stupid to do as a full-time job" - despite netting them an estimated $12 million in sales (it's pretty popular... yet it is also licensed through Creative Commons and is available as a print-it-yourself free online download).

I had first found out about them a couple years ago in Québec City, when one of my coworkers at the intensive English program we were working at had printed them out to use as a part of her conversation workshop (filtering out the far-too-offensive cards in prep time beforehand).  I've been looking more lately at teaching ESL and so I recently bought my own Canadian Edition via Shopify.


Everything about them is not that cut-and-dry, devoid-of-personality business correspondence (that's what happens when you have no investors to please and can say whatever you want I guess, but it's far better than the corporate banality option, imo):




I haven't played yet, since I haven't thrown any parties lately/I live at my parents' house, but it looks extremely promising.  I couldn't stop laughing just leafing through the cards to see what was in there. 

SIM cutter + shipping from China = $3.75

That's fairly cheap but I only needed to use it once so it is what it is.  It's not very often you need to chop up your cell phone SIM card.  But let me explain:

SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards were originally about the size of a thumbnail and a half (1FF), but since then, Apple has been creating smaller (Micro SIM, 3FF) and smaller (Nano SIM, 4FF) versions for subsequent iphones and ipods.  Which subsequently makes it harder and harder to transfer between unlocked phones.  Ah-ha.  But you can get around it with a little google-fu - they have lots of videos on Youtube for cutting it down yourself but I wanted something with a little more accuracy than my own two hands.  I needed to cut down my Costa Rican Kolbi SIM to micro SIM size to fit into my new, unlocked Google Nexus 4 phone.  So I ordered a SIM cutter online that comes with 2 adapters so once it's cut you can still use it in the phones that require the larger SIMs.

Here's a visual of the card sizes and the Apple models they correspond with (the other phone companies don't have much choice but to follow suit so there can be more crossover..):

So I ordered it via Buy It Now on eBay, it was supposed to arrive after 20-30 days but it got here pretty quickly relative to something I ordered even before that from Costa Rica.  But I am very impatient when it comes to mail.  So impatient that I ordered something else from Simons because I know it takes only 3 days to arrive.  Ughhh I have a problem.  But this is not online shoppers anonymous so back to the topic at hand.

My new SIM cutter + adapters on the left, my Costa Rican SIM on the right:


Chop chop:


I don't get the Kolbi ICE (Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad) network up here but it will work fine next time I'm down there and put the chip in the phone that I use up here, as long as my balance hasn't expired.  Which, it probably has, but baby steps here. 

Latest Month

February 2018


RSS Atom
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Witold Riedel