Friday, December 3, 2010

One More Adventure... okay Two :)

Hey Team,

So just because I'm back in the states, doesn't mean the vacation was over.
I flew straight from San Jose, Costa Rica where it was warm and rainy... straight to St. Louis, Missouri, where it's cold and... rainy.


But not for long. On Thanksgiving it snowed! It was fierce for a while and me and my second cousins Gabi, Brady and Jordan had an awesome snowball fight! Love the snow. And love spending time with them, my Uncle, Aunt's, Cousin's and more. It was a wonderful trip, with great conversation, silly games being played, TONS of turkey and pumpkin pie, and...

Scuba Diving.

"What? Scuba Diving in St. Louis? Where, in the Mississippi? Was visibility 2 feet?"

No my friends. After 10 years of knowing about it, I finally sucked up the cost and went scuba diving in the Bonne Terre Mine. And all I have to say is... WOW.

WOW at how expensive it is: It cost $320 for 3 dives with gear rental.
WOW WOW at the total surreal, bizarre, abyss like experience of diving in a flooded mine which still has mine carts, jackhammers, shovels, blast pans, and "the structure".

So the Bonne Terre mine was used as a lead mine from like 1860-1963, when it closed it's doors. At that point the pumps were shut off and the lower 3 levels of the 5 level mine flooded creating a billion gallon underground freshwater lake. It's the largest such lake... in the world. I'm not sure how the diving company that operates it got involved, but there's only one, and they run an interesting ship. They're nice-ish, and seem to groan about us silly tourists. But they do take you on amazing dives, and heck, maybe people have done stupid things in the past, so it's warranted.

I want to get past the negatives of this fast. It's expensive (noted already), but it's not to bad if you have you're own scuba gear (which oddly enough a number of folks in our 16 person dive group did). The group was too large, and should have been kept to 10 or less. But I'm sure finances dictate large groups. If you get past the first days of diving you will be in much smaller groups. There's no real customer service: when I said that I usually suck up a lot of air and if I could get the tank topped off or get a bigger tank they said "You can rent a bigger tank, just talk to the desk." I'm already spending 100 bucks on rentals and you want me to pay an extra 10 bucks PER DIVE for a bigger tank (that costs you nothing)... for the last dive I did just that. And speaking of rental... 100 bucks... really? I've NEVER had to pay for scuba rentals in all 30 dives I've done. Now maybe things would have been cheaper if I'd said "I have my own gear". But even places that do rent gear, it only costs 15-25 max for the whole day. Then again, these guys are a monopoly at a totally unique diving destination... so you either pay or go home.

And I paid... and I'm glad I did.

The dives here are done on trails. You have a guide and 2-3 safety divers. They're marked with blue glow sticks. Us silly tourists are marked with green. A good idea, since everyone looks the same in black wet or drysuits underwater. You suit up upstairs in the shop. They go through the dive plan: what you'll see and how it will work. When the air checks are and so on. Then you walk down a tunnel marked: Mule Entrance, and enter the mine...

...which is a lot warmer than outside. It's a constant 63 degrees or so, which feels balmy compared to the 35 outside. At this point you descend some stairs into a huge cavern with giant pillars holding the ceiling in place. It's bizarre how smoothe the ceiling is. You walk to an underground dock on the edge of the "lake", suit up and jump into the abyss.

And man, it is like the abyss. Blackness descending to... oblivion. In reality the mine ranges from 20 feet in the shallows, to 150 feet in the main lake, to some passages that are more than 300 feet deep. There are 27 "trails" they take you on, in order. So to see all you can see would take 27 dives. There are places where you can surface on the lake, and others where you have an overhang, a tunnel, or some other obstruction.

This is the reason that when you jump in, and hover over the blackness, they take you to the shallows and you practice clearing your mask and sharing air. Because if something goes wrong when there is an overhang... and you panic... you die.

That's it.

Cave diving is the most dangerous "recreational sport" in the world, and this is one step shy of that. That's probably why they don't joke around a lot. Why it's all pretty serious until the dives are over. You fuck up... you die. And in the end it's your responsibility to make sure you do it right.

Now that little factor is, what I think, made it so hard for me to get my balance underwater here. I've dived in the fricking OCEAN... it's a little bit deeper than 150 feet. But it isn't lit like James Cameron's "The Abyss" and look like the Mines of Moria from Lord Of The Rings, where the Balrog lives.

So the first dive we cruised along huge walls, over a mine cart where you could play with an axe, next to a jackhammer in the wall, up over this wall and onto a platform of rock with drops on both sides, which is where we did our air check. I passed on the first one: but was sent to the "watch em close" section. By the time we circled the pillars and came back, i was bumped to the "tough shit, dives over, goto the surface and swim back the rest of the way" section. It was okay here, since it was pretty much a straight swim to the dock. I kept my face underwater, and enjoyed the views, surreal cliffs and watching the other divers.

Back with 200 psi of air. You start with 3000. 500psi is considered where you should surface...that's why I was sent up when I was, because that's what I had left.

You leave your gear, head to the divers lounge: "DIVERS ONLY: All Others Are Trespassing" on the door. You try to warm up. Eat a bit. Let the nitrogen out of your body.

Then head down for dive 2.

Dive 2 wasn't a good dive. I kept breathing fast. I was trying to balance my air so I wouldn't miss the end of the dive. I couldn't get my bouyancy correct, so I'd keep floating up and down. I kept running into the many other divers, or them into me. We got to this overhanging spot, that was super dark: There was light shining through the "keyhole", which we were to swim through to a lighter area. Dynamite blast pans floated up at the ceiling, as did the air: which hit the ceiling and looked like mercury trying to find a way out. Totally surreal.

I was able to wedge myself against the ceiling as people went through the hole, and I took a nice pee in my wetsuit... and got more relaxed. Yep, as all divers know, peeing in your wetsuit is something you often do. Some won't. I think they're lying. You're in water. You pee. And when the water is 58 degrees, the warm pee feels good. (You can go "ewww gross" now :).

I swam through the keyhole, was nice and ready for more dive... air check. "Tough shit, your dive is over". I'd only gotten about half of it.

Now we swam back underwater, but I was pretty bummed and annoyed. At myself for sucking up all the air and being freaked out. And at them for not giving me more air when I asked for it. The solution: "You can rent a bigger tank".

Ugh. I bought lunch. Warmed up. And decided to get the bigger tank for the final dive. At this point I'd spent 300 bucks. What's another 10?

So glad I did. The last dive was INCREDIBLE. One of my best scuba dives ever. Ranking up there with the Jellyfish dive in Austrailia. The night dive in australia. The sharks in the Bahamas. WOW.
With 20 percent more air, I focused on keeping slow breaths. And i stayed up near the guide so I wouldn't have to deal with all the other divers. Great call.

The views were incredible. Sometimes complete blackness, with just the guides flashlight cutting through it. Sometimes lit from above and beyond. Deep blue. Swimming down staircases. Through the keyhole again. Into the "Smoke Room", where the decay from the metal floats like smoke because there is no real current down there. Around the corner to "The Structure": A 50 foot tall oil derrick looking thing that you could play on. You could jump from rail to rail. Swim through the holes. And hold yourself above a 300 foot pitch black shaft that descends into the darkness. This was a blast. I felt like Spiderman. The channels, the tunnel of love: IT was about 40 feet long, maybe 50, and 6 foot square... and you swim along it. Something goes wrong here... whew.

It's always hard to describe how awesome dives are when they are awesome. If you scuba, you've probably had some where you say "This is why we do this", and here's a dive. If you don't dive... get certified. It's relatively cheap to do (in fact it's cheaper than the dives I did today), and it's one of the most amazing things you can do.

When I got back to the dock: 500psi. Perfect.

Met some cool folks, and took some pictures (to come soon), and felt good that I'd finally done it. I don't know if I will again until I own my own gear... or win the lottery. :) But seriously, it was absolutely worth it.

Only downside: It wore me out for ADVENTURE 2:


The next day, me, Brady and Jordan headed to this place that I can best describe as the

I'm not kidding (and Jeff, you know), this place is amazing. It's in an old warehouse. And this guy who invented it, just created this place out of recycled materials: pipes, pie pans, chimneys, cranes, firetrucks, AIRPLANES. And welded them together into a maze of amazing adventure! There's wire cages 50 feet off the ground. Slides that are 3 stories high. Fake trees you can climb in: and real ones too. Theres an 80 story slide build into a CAVE. And the CAVE is nearly endless. You can walk, climb, crawl, shimmy, squeeze into places you never imagined. If you look at the wall and see a hole 18inches in diameter... it probably goes somewhere. Crawl through and find out. There's a skate park (which no skateboards) that you can run, climb and slide all over. We finished our day with a 40 minute Matrix, slo mo battle where we'd shoot at each other in slo-mo and get hit and slide down the ramps, then get up and do it all over again.

CITY MUSEUM... AMAZING. It's why Jeff named his band after the place. Because there is No Place Like It (Just like there is no place like the Bonne Terre Mine). It's so fantastically adventurous and dangerous, and there's only one real warning sign at the front. I love it. It's almost like someone realized you can build places for people to have fun and they can take responsibility for their own safety. But I shall step off my soap box now. :)

So a great day was had with my relatives... though I was a bit sore from the day before.

But I've got no complaints. Only happy memories.
And a note to my friends who think the only "real" travel is out of the USA (You know who you are :)...
there's no Bonne Terre Mine or City Museum anywhere else. There's no slot canyons of Utah, no Colorado Rockies, no Grand Canyon, no New York City, no New Orleans... you get my drift. We've got amazing adventure right here in our backyard... so even though I highly recommend getting out of the USA to see the rest of the world, it doesn't mean you have to get out in order to travel. The USA rocks to travel in: Just ask the friends I met from other countries on the trip who have been here and love it. Jump in the car, slam on the gas, and see where the open road takes you.

So I got back to LA on Tuesday night late. Got picked up by my buddy Tom, and was glad to be back. It's funny how these trips are always exactly how long they should be. (I think I said that already). Walked into my house (that needs some cleaning), and felt really shitty... as in... oh no... I got food poisoning shitty.

Not Guatemala bad food poisoning, (for those who remember that pooping, puking story in the middle of nowhere), but pretty bad. It makes me wonder if my relatives were trying to get rid of me by giving me that ham sandwhich...hmm.... :)

Still getting recovered, but it really didn't bum me out at all. Why feel sorry for myself about food poisoning? I just had an incredible adventure, saw and did incredible things, met incredible people and had a blast with my wonderful family.


Now for real, until next time,
this is Craig Ouellette
last surviving member of the Nostromo,
signing off.

Monday, November 29, 2010

This is the way the Journey ends...

So Team,

It has come time to end the Costa Rica / Panama adventure "How Wet can You Get?".

I'm in San Jose (okay, I'm actually in St. Louis, Mo), but I'm in San Jose, just came in on the bus from Monte Verde and have about 3 hours max to find my bag and get back to the airport.
I turn off the iPod as we roll in, since that can be distracting (as we learned in losing the bag in the first place), and notice the bus terminal to Allejula (aka: The airport), and that it costs about a buck.
We drive another 5 plus minutes and reach the terminal that our buses stop at. I hop off, a cab driver says "taxi?", I say "yep", and in the always fun half spanish half english we some how communicate that I need to goto the Tracopa terminal to get my little bag and then back to the Allejula bus terminal. He says 10 bucks. He'll charge 25 to goto the airport. But I won't need that unless the bag isn't there...

so we race through the twisty, nonsenical streets of San Jose, and end up at Tracopa. I take my big backpack and snazzy platic-shopping-bag-day-bag-substitute with me (never leave anything unnattended in a cab), and my driver and I go inside. I have my cheet sheet with the names "Gustavo" and "Marvin Campos' on them. My driver seems to know Gustavo...but we can't seem to find him. He's not in his office. Finally, he sees Marivn, and I attempt to explain that I am "Craig Ouellette. Boletto negro poquito. (small black bag). Sombrero Beige (beige hat). Thursday, bus Quarento Uno from Frontiera Panama" (are you starting to see how hard this is to do when you are trying to do anything that isn't standard travel needs like hotels or bus times?)

He has no idea what I'm talking about. Probably because I made no sense. So they find the one guy who works there who is bilingual, and he listens as I explain the situation, how it was a bus on thursday, and stuff. No one seemed to know anything about the bag... until I said "Indiana Jones hat". Then Marvin goes "oooooohhhh! Si! Si!"

He led me to a back storage room, and.... drum roll...THERE IT IS!!! Yahooo!!! My bag is back!

I checked it out, as the raincoat was attached a different way. I looked inside: Book, Lonely Planet, Journal.

Oh no, did I leave it sitting on the bus floor or something. then I though I might have put it inside the raincoat (it folds up on itself), and in fact it was there. I don't remember putting it there, but I guess I did.)

I shook everyones hands, thanked them heartily, and into the cab, racing off to the Allejula station. I repacked in the backseat, and came to realize that my waterproof headlamp and pocket knife were missing...hmm... looks like someone did go through the bag. They took the two things of actual value to them...But who cares, I got most of it back! I'll count my blessings. Yahoo.
In the miscelanious papers I have in the journal, which I tape in as mementos, I found a note that said "You left your bag on the bus. We took your journal and will mail it to you so no one else can read it. The French Girls."

So, the two french girls I met at the hot springs, who happened to accidentally have gone to the border station I went to instead of the way they wanted to go, are most likely the reason my bag came back to me. They'd seen me with it, and the hat tied to it, and realized I'd left it. They probably looked for a way to contact me, and were the ones who turned it in to lost and found. They didn't keep the journal, they put it in the raincoat as a joke, and I'm sure they didn't take the headlamp or the knife. But the random connection I made with them, led to them doing something kind for me, and my bag coming back. That, and the awesome folks at the terminal who didn't take it, even though they could have.

Which goes to show that really, people can be kind. I know of people who have had negative experiences in Central America (hell, I've had some too), but in the end, it seems like the world takes care of you if that's the kind of thing you expect from it. If you figure the world is out to get you, it probably will be. But if you keep thinking of the good, you'll end up with good.

Now that I'm in St. Louis, visiting relatives, and having a few more great adventures (scuba diving a flooded mine, going to the greatest. playground. ever.... (there will be one more entry telling about these)), it's only with positive thoughts I look back at Costa Rica and Panama. Sure, there are some things I wanted to do that didn't happen, but I got more than I was expecting, and in fact got what I was looking for even though I didn't know it. (Thanks Laura).

So with that I'll give some random CraigO observations on the trip. These are not facts, and might not match with any experience you might have, but they were true for me, so I figure I'll share them now.

1. Americans, Americans everywhere (and the Dutch too):
I seem to have mostly run into American's and Dutch. (oh yeah, and Panamanians and Costa Ricans!). But if everyone wanted to know where American's go for international travel, apparently it's Costa Rica and Panama.

2. It rains... A LOT.
so love it. Enjoy the rain, fee the rain. Rain kicks ass, and really, when it's not pouring for days straight it's magical and makes things cool.

3. Justin Bieber is big... EVERYWHERE
Hearing him on a bus in Panama, and coming out of a store made me laugh. He's so cheesy, but he must have international appeal. "Baby, baby baby ooohhH!"

4. It's affordable... save for the tours.
You can spend very little money and travel to CR and Panama. Now, if you add tours, you're going to spend more...maybe a lot more. But the infastructure is very solid, and you can do many things solo. You don't need to spend 100 bucks for a guide to climb volcan Baru, it's a trail that's marked. But you can't raft a river without a guide (unless you are an expert kayaker...), so get one. Choose your adventures and what you like to spend money on. For me, I don't need to spend a ton on my lodging... I like to pay 10 bucks, have a simple room (often with views here), and spend my money elsewhere.

My budget for the trip was 60 bucks a day. I came in at 57.50 or so. I didn't harp on the budget. I didn't stress to match it. I had fun with all I did. Somedays cost 100 bucks, some cost 21...yep, that's for food, lodging and activities.

Some folks ask how I can afford to do all this traveling, and for me it's just choosing where I spend the money. Some people go drink 2 or 3 times a week, spending 30 or 40 bucks a night (this is LA don't forget), well, that's 150-200 a month, and in a year, that's WAY more money than this trip cost. Now, I'm a person who doesn't need to drink to have fun, but if that makes you happier, you can choose something else to trim a little bit off of to make the money work (maybe don't get that starbucks everyday... just once a week). Anyway, that's a few thoughts on that...

5. The people are generally nice...
It's true. Sure, there are always some folks that aren't helpful or want to be confrontational, but really, Costa Rican's and Panamanian's are awesome folks. They seem to embrace the "Pura Vida" aspect and make the most of it.

6. CR and Panama are savvy to tourists.
Now, as much as I got around the country, I wasn't really off the beaten path too much. I was in places where tourists go because the nature is beautiful, the places well supported. So they know you are a tourist. You can't hide it. No real reason to try. It's okay. Be a tourist. Some people will take advantage of this, and you are best to keep your wits about you as to not spend 20 bucks on a 4 dollar cab ride, but really, can you blame them? Even when we're traveling cheaply, like I did, I'm still dropping 2-4 times the daily wage each day I travel. So tip an extra buck if you can... but don't overspend or give to begging folks. This makes things drift out of balance quickly.

7. CHoose local first.
There were so many great Soda's and Cafe's to eat at that were mostly for locals, and you could eat real, good, local food for 3-5 bucks instead of spending 10-25 at a tourist place. (For all my friends on this email that aren't from the US, a "Buck" is "1 USD"... I realized I should make that clear :) The food is better... and you can meet local folks who won't treat you like a tourist, and whom you can get to know if you take the time.

I realize my observations have become a "tip list", which wasn't the intention of this. Oh well... a few more tips.

8. Take the Bus.
"What? You are crazy Craig! The Bus!"
Absolutely. You get to see the country a bit better, meet some folks, see scenery you wouldn't get to see, and really have a richer experience than jumping on a plane. Trust me. Try it.

Sometimes I would see people who were rushing, and freaked out about a bus or mini-bus not leaving right away. They'd freak at someone who wasn't doing what they, the tourist, thought was right. And really, you are visiting their home... don't think you're rules should apply.
Now, there are some things, like throwing trash into the bay, or poaching turtle eggs, or something like that, that probably should be addressed. Don't support that.
But use common sense... they might not run a bus at exactly 10:30am, it might leave at 10:40 or later, and that's how it's done. Don't complain about the rough roads... that's how they are. I've kinda lost my train of thought here, but really, suck in the experience, that's part of why you're traveling. If you're just going someplace to experience the comforts of home... stay home.

10. Which brings me to the final tip/observation...
Do it.
Book that trip. Buy that ticket. Hop in the car and drive for a day and see where you end up.
It's one of the most wonderful things we can do in this world.
It opens up what is out there. It connects us to the people of the world, who we think are different from us, and we'll likely find out that they really aren't that different at all.
It is a blessing that we live in a world where we can travel so easily. Sure, you can make it as hard or easy as you'd like... and that is also great.
I'm who I am because I get out of my comfort zone and put myself out there. In fact, if I don't, I lose track of who I am and who I want to be.
It's scary sometimes, and it's bizarre, it's can be lonely and it can be rough...
but it's amazing, fulfilling, and has given me gifts I never could have found any other way. I've met people who are so interesting, and fascinating, and am glad our paths have crossed. If I'd have just stayed home, I'd still be in my little bubble, in my little world, wondering why the world wasn't the way I think it should be.
The world is the way it is... and it's amazing... and the only way to open ourselves up to it, is to go out and grab it, seek it, see it, dream it, do it.

This is Craig Ouellette,
last surviving member of the Nostromo,
Signing off.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Let Your Spirit Fly

Well Team...

My birthday night was a great meal with some fun folks from the Hostel. We ate at the awesome Soda Alejandro accross the street, and everyone but Hedvig got burritos (she got desert...twice). Super awesome burritos. Amazingly good for 5 bucks. Maybe it was 4 bucks. When you're in Costa Rica, and most places, you're best not to eat at the tourist places that are 3 times as much, just eat at the local spots... the food is usually better, more authentic, and a heck of a lot cheaper. The crew got me an awesome fried banana desert with ice cream that we all shared. It also had only 3 candles on it... that feels about right. :)

We finished up by playing some card games. Burro, or Donkey, or Jackass was the most fun. I can't remember the dutch name.

Monday was all about traveling... and a cold. Turns out I'm going to finish my trip with a bit of a cold, but I don't think I'll let that stop me. 11 hours to get from Quepos to Monteverde. 8 on buses. 3 sitting in Puntarenas waiting for the bus. Puntarenas is a strange place. It feels like a beach town after the apocalypse has cleared out most of the people. There are a lot of empty buildings. The beach is covered in tons of deadfall trees. The souvenier shacks are mostly empty. There are a few people around... but not a lot. And the bus station has a lot of burned out bus carcasses sitting next to it. I wonder if this is the other side of Costa Rica... or if it's just still off season and the people will come in hordes soon enough.

The ride to Monteverde is not paved. The folks in this cloud forest region don't want all the development to come, so they have decidedly NOT paved the road up the mountains to the place. It makes it take probably 2 hours longer than it would with paved roads. The scenery is incredible. naturally it rained for part of the drive up there, but at times the sunset came through the clouds and you could see all the way to the gulf of Nicoya and the Pacific Ocean. It was pretty spectacular with the sun parting the clouds, the green green GREEN mountains, and "Halcyon + on + on" playing on the Ipod.

In the rain in Santa Elena (the town you actually stay at when you goto Monteverde), it was raining, and my new umbrella treated me well. I checked into Pension Santa Elena,... aka Mondo Taito lite. It wasn't the raginig party, but it was loud., lots of people, and music playing. I wanted to sleep cause I was sick, and ended up in 3 different rooms before I had one I could just crash out in.

Tuesday, the last real day o fun, was ZIPLINE time!

They call these Canopy Tours, because you cruise over the trees and valleys on Ziplines. The ads act like you'll really experience the nature, see the trees up close, and see the canopy animals... um, yeah right. This is about FLYING! Flying fast and free (ish) over valleys and trees on ziplines and pulleys. This is one of the things YOU DO, when you goto Costa rica. Other places have it, but this is the place it was invented over a hundred years ago when it was actually used for study, and has turned into this crazy fun adventure. They call it some sort of extreme sport: It isn't. It's super safe and controlled, and lots of fun.

Our group consisted of 3 austrian girls (who had been on the bus on the way up...OH! On the bus ride up a pickup truck hit the side of our bus on the narrow dirt road. It wasn't a big deal, we were stopped about 20 minutes as they sorted it out, but I just sorta shrugged at the austrian gal next to me and said "welcome to Costa rica" with a smile). Anyway, they were on the tour, along with a couple from... you guessed it... Holland! And a big group of solo travelers who were all cruising together for a few weeks. We suited up with harnesses, helmets, and gloves. They give you a quick demo and you are off.

First line is like 150 feet long. You hook on, and slide away. Supposedly stopping yourself with your leather Never really figured out how to make that work, so we were sliding into the end pretty fast. But there were brake systems on the fast one... that consisted of a guide and a rope and a rubber stopper that you slam into and swing to a stop. It was fun. Well, it wasn't long till we hit the long ones: 450 meters...that's 1600 feet for us Americans. Woooooooo! Flying out over a valley that was 400 feet deep. It does feel like flying.

It was windy and a bit misty, but you could still see a long distance. Dirt splatters on the face. It's good. There was 14 lines in all, and the last and longest is 1200 meters long... that's almost a mile. Yep, flying, superman style, face down over a valley for a mile... pretty darn cool. yahooo! There's also a Tarzan swing, which is a long long rope attached to a tree limb, and you jump off a ledge and swing waaaayyyyyy out over the trees. Awesome.

The couple from Holland, Babette and Tomek, were super cool. We took pics of each other and they invited me to goto the cloud forest preserve with them, so after switching to a quieter hotel for tonight, which only cost 8 bucks, I ate at the "typical food" kiosk, and we headed out. They'd rented a little Suzuki 4wd, so we rolled on the roads and paid our 17 USD to go to the preserve. It earned it's name of cloud forest. Rainy a bit, windy, misty and cool. Beautiful thick trees and dense forest. There's a viewpoint that looked out at misty and windy slopes, but didn't see far. On a clear day you could almost see across the country from here. The suspension bridge is awesome. This is also a typical Costa Rican thing. They put up these bridges so you can walk at the top of the trees and see them for real. It was great to hang out there and look at all the different types of trees, some of which support 70 different kinds of plants that grow on them. Cool.

I had to take a nap, as my cold was kicking in. But at least I had my bright orange umbrella to stay mostly dry in the cloud forest!

A last "typical" meal was had with Babette, Tomek and a french couple they'd randomly run into in town (whom they had givn a ride to Tortugero 2 weeks before and just happen to see again here... ahhh traveling!). We spoke of our next trips... India perhaps? Maybe the legendary Argentina / Antarctica adventure? Who can say? The french couple had been to India for 3 months. They say it is CRAZY... I think I'm ready for CRAZY. Costa Rica and Panama have been awesome, but there was definitly very little, if any, culture shock. I feel Argentina will be similar... so I might hit India or Egypt next. I'm ready to get off the bus and say "holy crap! What's going on????".

But that is the future...

for now I say goodnight, goto bed early. Wake up at 5:45am... suns up, and ready to go. Only took me 2 1/2 weeks to get on the Costa Rican time clock... and now I'm leaving. :(
5 hours on a bus, with beautiful views and music rocking on the iPod...

... and time for the final Costa Rican adventure... getting the bag back... will I find it? Did they really have it in the station?

Stay tuned,
Craig O

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Birthday: Costa Rican Style

Thank you all who sent Birthday wishes on Facebook or email. It´s really wonderful to hear from all of you and feel the long distance hugs while here in Costa Rica. I can´t wait to see all of you when I get home and sing some songs and have a partay!

Hope your November has been as great as mine. :)

As for birthday´s here...

Last night I went dancing with some folks from the hostel. A brother and sister from Holland (what? You´re kidding! People from Holland in Costa Rica! Never!) And a gal from Germany.
We rolled by taxi to Liquid, hopped out and danced for a few hours. Within about 20 seconds it was clear that there were not going to be a lot of ladies at the bar this night, and I´m 100 percent sure the fellas there were not upset about this fact. :) The music was good, and the tank tops and mustaches (think 70´s porn) were fun as well. It was a good night.

Today, it was off on a Canyoning trip. We call it Canyoneering in the states. Not really sure why it´s different back home... probably because we like to name things differently for the heck of it. I went with a gal named Petra, who stayed at the hostel before and lives here. Good thing she wanted to go, since they wouldn´t do a tour for just one person.

At first i was dissapointed because I thought we were doing this crazy 7 waterfall rappel trip, but was informed they don´t do that anymore and we´re doing one with 4 or 5 rappels and a natural slide and stuff. It´s an 80 buck tour, so I felt like I´d returned to Bolivia where they pretty much just tell you whatever you want to hear and then do whatever they were going to do in the first place... but then I thought that I´ve never rappeled down a waterfall anyway, so lets go!

The ride there was rough and wild, 4x4 to the max. Muddy. Jungle. Rainforest. Up and down, hills rivers green green. Bamboo 50 feet tall. Took an hour and a half to get there. My hypoglycemia was being all weird, so I downed 2 balance bars and then a bunch of peanuts I bought from this little roadside shack. That got me back to normal and fun was to be had.

2 rappels down a cliff. A natural waterslide that was pretty rough and wild. And then the gonzo, 120 foot waterfall rappel, right along the side of this raging waterfall. Was really wild and fun. Swim in the pool at the bottom and hike up a narrow trail to this suspension bridge that´s 140 feet off the pool below...

And this was made of metal ladders, aircraft cable, and netting. It bounced and shook and was pretty surreal to walk along. It stretched 400 feet accross the gorge. It seemed pretty unstable. So naturally we had to rappel off the sucker!

So hanging off the side, we swing into space and descend to the water below. It was pretty wild. I tried to video it, but I don´t think it shows how cool it really was.

I wanted to go again, and again, and again... but for some reason it doesn´t work like that. Still, they did let us do the waterfall one more time since it was my birthday! Yahoo, birthday cupcakes come for free in the states, here you get to rappel a fricking waterfall.


Tonight... who knows? Dance party at the hostel? Chill and chat?
It´s been a great birthday so far. And all the wishes have made it all the better.
I was even able to call my dad and Devin (who´s birthday is tomorrow, that scrappy youngster... he´s 1 day younger than me), thanks to the magic of free internet phone calls. (ahhh, the future).

I want to write an email about the observations of costa rica and panama and such, but I guess that´ll wait until the final adventure that awaits...

stay tuned!

And thanks again!
Hugs to all of you.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Three ¨Bitches¨ and an old Bag

First off, I gotta say thanks to everyone and your well wishes about the bag.
And second...


No shit! I spent some time over at a neighboring hostel that night, and Cheri, the desk gal from Kentucky who is bilingual helped me make the hours worth of phone calls to the Tracopa bus company. We´d explain the situation, and they´d say to call back in 10 or 20 minutes and finally a guy named Jose yelled across the garage and said ¨We got it¨.

Sweet! So, there is no way to ship it back to Quepos as they don´t have a Quepos stop. Tracopa would actually not come anywhere near Quepos except the main highway is missing a few sections due to mudslides. But I can pick it up at the office on Wednesday on my way out of CR. So assuming all things go well, I´ll have my old bag back. Yahoo!

It´s been interesting not having the day bag, I´ve used sexy plastic bags tied to my belt. Kinda fun to simplify actually. Missed the hat though, so had to get a CR hat. But otherwise, I´m just winging it. Who needs a tour book?

So that´s the bag, what´s up with the ¨Bitches¨ Craig? That´s rude...

Nope. I´m making a reference to the book ¨The Beach¨, which the main character Richard meets a Scottish guy in the first chapter, and due to his thick accent, Richard thinks the guy is saying ¨You gotta find the Bitch¨, instead of ¨Beach¨...

Well, here in Manuel Antonio, I´ve found 3 beaches... really, they are all right next to each other, but saying 1 beach isn´t accurate. Yesterday I went to the public beach, paid a guy named Pedro, who supposedly surfed in a some music videos, to teach me to surf. He did a good job, I stood up many times, and really had a good time. Then enjoyed the fact that the sun was shining, and it started raining, and I was in the ocean. I took some amusing pics that I´ll post when I get home since there´s no way to access the computers where I am.

Today I headed to Manuel Antonio National Park. It´s only opened limited hours, I guess because of the crazy rains the last few weeks. But in 4 hours I hike the cool trail that goes around the Catedral Point. If you google the park online you´ll see a pic of the point. And behind it are 2 beaches that are separated by maybe 30 feet of palm trees. So I enjoyed both sides, swam a bit, climbed on rocks, saw some 2 foot iguanas... and the Monkeys.

Ahhhh, the white face monkeys. They know exactly what food looks like. Food bags. Plastic bags. They are not interested in water bottles or sandles. But they race out of the trees the SECOND you walk away and raid your stuff. It´s pretty amusing once you realize it´s going on, as you watch people wrestle with Monkeys to get their bags back. I had to bring my stuff into the ocean with me or it would have been gone.

This inspired me to find a day bag that is also a dry bag, so you could swim and keep it with you in places where monkeys, or people, might go for your stuff. It might already exist, if not, I´ll see what I can do.

Tomorrow, I´m going on a crazy Canyoning trip for my Bday! Woooooooooo!
Hopefully we can find some Karaoke or Dancing too, but given how things are here, we will see.
It´s going to be interesting to celebrate with a bunch of strangers I won´t see again...

... but fear not, we´ll have a belated bday bash when I get back to LA. After all, Mic´s need be rocked.

Thanks again for the well wishes on the missing bag,

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Welcome To Amateur Hour with Craig O

So folks...

After a great day at the hotsprings in Panama yesterday, I felt the need to Ramble on back to Costa Rica for my final week. Hit the beach at Dominical, make it to Quepos. Maybe more.

So I got up early, packed, grabbed breakfast, paid the 24 bucks for the 4 nights I spent at Pension Merilos... yep, thats for all 4 nights. And hoped on the 1 hour chicken bus to David. From there it was right onto the 1 and a half hour mid size bus to the border. There I got stamped, walked through the crowds of semi trucks idling and people all over to the costa rican side. Had to wait 2 hours plus for the next bus after getting my passport stamped.

So i chilled, wrote in my journal, watched people, saw a tvshow called ¨"Cycling the Americas" roll through, and got on my bus. Well, its a bus to San Jose, but I´m only going 4 hours to Dominical. There was much confusion about the ticket, and how to get it, and ended up just paying the driver 8 bucks to take me.

So I had a great seat, with window control (always important on buses to keep the temp comfy), and away we go. Rain rain rain and more rain comes. A washed out road that we skirted around. All good.

Then they load more folks on the bus, and fill it up, and for some reason I was forced to give up my seat for the last 1 and a half hours to someone going all the way to San Jose. Don´t know why. I stood in the stairwell at the back, and listend to music. Not a big deal.
After the food stop, I put my dayback up in the luggage rack above the seats so it wasn´t on the now muddy floor. We drove another hour. It rained a lot.

THen the driver pulled over at an intersection in the middle of nowhere. He pointed at me, said "domincal", and we hopped out. He was in a hurry to get my big bag from under the bus. I was trying to figure out where the hell I was supposed to go, since there was no town there. He kept telling me to get on another bus to San Isidro, but I don´t want to go there. But that is where I would have gone to get to Domincal if the main highway was open, which it isn´t because of all the rain. So he hands me my backpack, jumps on the bus and it drives away.

I look around for a minute, trying to get my barings. Theres someone on the curb. Theres some tourists feeding monkeys at a roadside stand. I think "I best look in the lonely planet to get my bearings", reach for my dayback which is normally on my chest when I carry my big bag... and you can see where this is going...


" FUck1 Fuck!" I run after it, but it´s long gone.

So I try to wave down a car to take me after it. THen the tourists walk toward their van and I run up and ask if they speak english: they do, they ARE english. ANd tell them whats up. The tourists were cool, the guide at first was like " we don´t take other travelers"

"But all my shits in that bag" I say.

"Okay, lets go".

SO I hop in and for some reason the bus is like lighting and gone. We chase it for 40km, trying to find it, and never see a sign of it. At first I was hopeful, then I realized the tour driver isn´t a maniac on rainy roads like the bus driver, so fuck me... bags gone.

So the tour drops me off on the side of the road outside Quepos in the rain. Tell me I can grab a bus into town and catch a 6pm express to San Jose (and it´s now 5:15).

I stand at the bus stop... pissed at my amateur hour travel. I NEVER put shit in the top rack, only amateur travelers do that. But with no seat and all I made a dumb choice. A car pulls up and will take me to town for 3 bucks. I do it. Hoping hes not a serial killer. Hes not.

He drops me at the Quepos bus station in the rain. There is no bus tonight to san Jose. And no one speaks English to help out. So I duck into a convenience store, the clerk doesn´t speak English, but her friend Christopher does. He offers to call TRACOPA bus lines. Fortunately I´d taken a picture of the bus at the bus stop because a doggy was standing by it in the rain. Since I had no ticket, this is the only way we got the bus number. Lizbeth at the other end was helpful. We described the bag, where it would be, etc. The bus gets in at 9:30 pm, so she´ll meet the driver and hopefully get it...

...I´ll manifest that it´s just fine and we will.

So I took the bus to Manuel Antonio, about 3km from QUepos, checked into a backpacker place with a view... but it´s dark, so we´ll see tomorrow. And we´re supposed to call at Noon tomorrow about the bag.

So I´m either gonig to San Jose to pick it up tomorrow, or not... I don´t know.

I was just thinking to myself that travel in Costa Rica and Panama has been so easy ,that it´s so familiar and safe and that the next trip should be something with big time culture shock like India.


I can just make the trip hard and lose my dayback like an amateur and get stuck in the rain.

Oh boy!


PS: I should note whats in the bag. Not the money or cards or passports. Not even the ipod, since it was in my pocket, or the camera. Which is lucky. It´s my hat, the bag itself, my rain coat, my LonelyPlanet book, my RUINS book that I´m reading, my headlamp, pocket knife, toilet paper (yep Olga and Tom, gotta have it), and the worst thing to lose, the Journal... yikes. Fortunately I have all these updates, but you don´t think I put everything in these do you?

PPS: Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chiriqui, Marching On The Trail Of Tears

So here we go...

I´m hanging out in Boquete Panama. And I´ve got to say it feels a lot like a mountain town in Colorado. It´s sorta bizarre. In fact Panama overall is much nicer and more modern than I was expecting. I guess everyone moves forward with the times, and it´s fun to see kids dressed like they could be in LA, with cell phones and baseball hats, next to indiginous folks in traditional garb on buses racing on twisty roads through the mountains. It also feels like Colorado because of the fact the roads are painted like the Usa. A lot of the signs are like the US. And the guard rails are the same too. So there´s this weird collision of USA and someplace else. Oh, and the money, the Balboa, aka: US Dollar seems familiar. However, their coins are diferent. They are the same size as a dime or quarter, but they have strange Conquistador men on them... perhaps Balboa himself.

So yesterday I was going to rent a scooter. But all the scooters in town are broken. One place says they´ll be fixed in January or February. The other keeps saying "maybe tomorrow". I think I might be out of luck on that one. So, i decided to head to the trails and do the Quetzalas trail. It´s considered one of the best in Panama. It´s either 8km, or 12, or maybe 15, or is it 6?. Every sign and map is different. But reguarless, it´s in the mountains and jungles and sounds like fun.

So I got the info, paid 8 bucks or a cab to take me to the top of the road, which is about 1000 meters higher than town. Took 15 minutes, twisting through huge canyons, high walls of trees, and even some rock climbing areas. Past a waterfall and some fields on impossibly steep slopes.

There was no one at the ranger station, so I just headed down the now rutted dirt road which was the path. It went down and up and down and then finally reached the actual trail. Every sign had different distances to the points at either end, so I never really was sure how far I had to go. And most of the signs were pretty badly damaged by people and the almost endless moisture.

Once on the trail I had to cross the river a few times. Balancing on rocks, using my walking stick that I got from the Hostel I´m at. There was a hut on the trail and a dog rushed out barking at me. He seemed to be saying hi... or maybe "get the hell off my property".

Then the cloud and rainforest began in earnest. It was thick. The trail was a bit muddy, but not to bad. I stopped for a picnic on a rock by the river. The trees towering up above. I heard birds, but never saw them.

Then it began to rain. I found a tree that was a perfect umbrella and it slowed down and finally stopped. I headed further up, and found the STAIRS OF DOOM. Possibly hundreds of stairs, some mangled by mud, some okay, that climbed up the slope. It took about 45 minutes of climbing, scrambling, and pulling to get up the muddy path and into the cloud forest.
I chilled at a picnic table, and then decided to head a little further on, where I eventually ran into a huge deadfall that pretty much blocked the entire trail.

At this point I had to decide to hike back he 3 to 3 1-2 hours or try to push through to Cerro Punto, and then take a couple of buses back to Boquete. Thing is, i had no idea how far I had really gone and wheter or not I was coser to Cerro Punto or Boquete... so it being about 3pm, and darkness coming at 6:30 it seemed best to head back the way I´d come.

And so down the stairs of doom I begin... and so does the rain. A lot of rain. Hard, constant rain or the next 2 to 3 hours. Let´s just say the stairs were exciting in a downpoor that was quickly turning the muddy trail into a stream. I made it past those and then walked along a mini river that was once the path. By this point I was so wet I just splashed along the streamtrail and it was pretty fun.

But it was taking longer than planned. I got to the first stream... and it was pretty swollen. I made it accross, thank goodness for the walking stick. But at the next crossing it was a no go on the boulders... so I had to straddle this fallen tree that was about 3 feet above the river and scootch the 20 feet across using my hands and nads...yikes.
past the dog, ruff ruff, and to the final crossing.
No boulders.
No tree.
Tried to find a way over, as it was flowing pretty heavily. Then found a shallow looking area and just marched across using my walking stick and now soaked shoes.

The last part was the rutted road, and going up those steep hills kinda sucked. My legs were sore. I was tired, and it was getting late. But I decided to manifest a car at the ranger station to pick me up...

now this isn´t like a Colorado trail or anything. This is far out and there´s no public transport, no other hikers with cars, so the odds were slim. But I figured I´d go for it.
So at 6pm, as I hiked the final hill near the station I HEARD A CAR!!!

holy shit. I hustled up the hill past a guy carrying a big bag of stuf, and just missed the car!!! It was gone as I came over the rise.

Well... shit. It´s at least a 3 hour walk back to town. It gets dark in 20 minutes. I´m soaking wet and mostly out of food and water. Hmmm....

then the door to the ranger station opens and the ranger, in very broken but smiling English, says i should just stay there. I mentioned I had no foo and no dry clothes. He has an extra shirt and some food. There´s a sleeping bag in the bunk rooms upstairs. So I thought of my backpacking guidelines to ¨"never refuse and invitation", and took him up on it.

Tshirt felt great. His name is Danny. He thought I was from Vegas when I said Los Angeles, so we talked about casinos and gambling. I had a little food left, and he gave me some banana´s to fry up. There was no power. It was dark. A part of me thought Imight have just walked into a serial killers home... that this would be a perfect set up. That no one really knows I´m gone or where I am. There is another guy there who doesn´t say much and just sits and eats. Danny seems so friendly. What if they poisoned the tea? What if they come into the room at night and stab me?

... those thoughts lasted a few minutes, but not really, and not very strongly. This is the ranger station. It even says in the Lonely Planet you can sleep here, but it was an amusing train of thought.

We eat, chat a bit in broken languages, (ugh, I wish I knew Spanish), and hit the bed by 7 or so. I lay awake for a bit, just thinking then sleep came to the noises of the jungle.

I woke up in the middle of the night. A bad headache. Sorta nautious. It wasn´t altitude, since I was only at 6000 feet, it was the mattress being lumpy and my head lyaing on a spring, and it was cold. Probably in the 40s. The sleeping bag was good, but made for a 5 foot tall person i think. I figured it was almost dawn when I went to the bathroom... but it was only 1:30 am.

Anyway, it was a long night. I tried to sleep siting up to make the headache go away. Strangely i didn´t have any ibuprofin which i usually carry withme just in case. Somehow I made it till dawn, got dressed, and chatted with Danny a bit. he´s such a fun guy. Took some pics and with the sun up hiked down the road.

About 30 minutes later, a gas company worker drove past... Ihave no idea where he came from... and I hitched a ride. Thank goodness. It was a 20 minute drive back. My legs were so sore, but Jose got me down safe and sound. Ate some breakfast with the gringos at Central Park coffee and breakfast shop, and then shower, and sleep for 5 hours.

Today my friends, is a "day off" from traveling... journal. Laundry. Nap. Relax as the rain falls. Listening to EUROPE on my iPod. Man, I forgot how much I love that band. (And their song CHEROKEE).

I have no idea how the next week of the trip will go. It´s weird to not be sure where to go or what to do, but it´s nice too. Rumor has it there is karaoke in town, so I´m gonig to rock a mic tonight if possible.

And yes, I know Cherokee is not spelled Chiriqui. But here in Panama, that´s the name of the tribe and the region that I´m in right now. :)

Rock on

Next issue, I´ve got some notes on food... Dave and Rachel, get ready!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Indiana Jones would be proud

"Some guy named Oscar knows where the secret cave is."

That´s how it started. The quest. The adventure.

Jason, this guy I´ve bumped into in Punta Viejo and now Bocas said that there is a hidden cave on Bastimentos Island in the Bocas Del Toro. You have to hire a boat, that´ll take you across the bay, and then up a snake infested river lined with mangroves, drop you on a dock and there is a cave that you swim into that has a waterfall and a swimming hole underground.

Ummm... sign me up!

Thing is, no one´s heard of it. No one in Bocas town, where I`´m staying. Bastimentos is two islands over, and half of it is a national park of some sort. It has a small town, and apparently, a SECRET FRIGGIN CAVE!

So on my last day in Bocas Del Toro, I decide I´m going to find it or die trying... okay, I´m kidding about the die trying part. It would be a symbolic death.

The day dawned...wet. Very wet. Rainy wet. Lots of rain. Now, naturally this might deter a sane person from questing for a cave filled with an underground river, but they might have more than one more day to find it. I figured if worse came to worse, I would at least find the darn mysterious cave.

So I ran into Mandee, Crystal, Laura and Jason at breakfast on the moored boat restraunt and asked if they knew anything other than the fact that Oscar knows of it. Nope. I asked the folks running the restraunt... no idea what I was talking about it. Mandee said I shouldn´t ask people, it´ll give it away. I figured if no one knows, very few people are going to suddenly spread rumors of something they don´t believe exists in the first place.

So I went to good old Mondo Taitu and asked. Nope.
I suited up with swimsuit, water, waterproof headlamp and waterproof camera, sandals and some balance bars (gotta have the snacks!), and headed to Hostel Heike. The folks there had been helpful on day 1 getting oriented, so I figured it was a good next stop.

"Have you guys heard of the hidden cave on Bastimentos? Do You know Oliver?"
Nope. and Nope.

they were trying to figure out where I might go ask when a guy named Pete from england with lots of arm hair said... "I think i know a guy I could ask".
So he gets on his cell (yes they have them here, in fact, it seems everyone has them here), and calls Cristo over in Bastimentos town. After a minute or two he hangs up and says "Cristo says he can take you there".


I get the directions to find Cristo, write them on an already wet map of the area, and head out. But not before Pete gives me a tshirt he bought in Nicaragua for Cristo.

I head over to the water taxis. Now it´s realy raining hard. But they are glad to take me to Bastimentos town for 3 bucks. Me and a woman from San Francisco who is down here for some indeterminate amount of time for unclear reasons. The crossing is rough and wild, rain splashing on top of water splashing. My rain coat is pretty useless when it gets this wet, so I´m already soaked, but I´m planning on swimming in a cave, so I´m not to concerned.

I hop off at "the dock next to the Reef restraunt", and walk to the path that runs through town. No cars here. I walk along till I find "Hair by Cristo". He´s a barber. I go to his front door. Knock on the yellow door next to the pink walls with fish on them, and... he comes up from downstairs. He says its raining, and will usually be 25 bucks a person, but they would charge 50 for one person. Yikes.... but this is a quest, so pay I will.

He talks to his brother Alberto, and Alberto is to be my guide. Though he doesnt seem to excited to go out in the rain. But cash is cash. Chat with Cristo a bit about living in town his whole life, 32 years. Meet his 84 year old dad. And get our picture taken.

Then Alberto, complete with trashbag poncho, head to the boat. Its a rear stearing deal with a canopy, like all the water taxis around here. We get in, I help bail water out with cut up milk jugs. Alberto wisely grabs an old wooden oar from a junk pile by the dock, and weér off... the the gasolnaria. We get 4 gallons. It costs 18 bucks. that´s why they have to charge so much, since almost half goes to the gas cost. Yikes.

And we´re off. Rain pouring. Mist over the hills and jungle of the mountains. I´m taking too many pictures, but that´s what I do sometimes.

After 20 minutes or more of waves and splashing we reach a cove surrounded by Mangroves. It seems Alberto is lost a bit, searching for the way into the hidden river. After a couple minutes he finds the opening and we glide into a narrow channel with overhanging tree limbs and mangroves everywhere. They looked like they could walk out on spiderly legs, marching into the river and grab us (yep, I´ll put that in a movie someday). The river snaked for a good 20 to 30 minutes, getting smaller and smaller. We would scrape under tree limbs and they would drip and reach to grab the canopy... and eventually they did. We hit one that decided it would bend the front of the canopy back. Alberto saved the roof by jamming us into reverse, but the poles were bent. Yikes.

Eventually the channel was only a couple feet wider than the boat, which is about 6 feet wide, and maybe 18 to 20 feet long. Alberto decided we should take the canopy down, so we lifted out the supports and layed it down. Not an easy task and one of the poles broke because it had rusted through. Alberto sorta shrugged about it, but I could tell he was bummed. He´ll fix it he says. Hope it isn´t expensive.

A lone wooden canoe sat on a river bank.
The trees now reached to grab at us.
The rain still fell...

... and we reached a little wooden dock. Alberto did a 3 point turn in the boat. We moored up, and hopped out onto muddy land.

After about 5 minutes of squishing through the mud we reached a slightly elevated hut with a family living in it. Naturally they spoke only spanish, but here was to be my cave guide... Juan. He was a smiling fellow of about 5 foot. He led the way, along with his maybe 8 year old son Alberto (yep, same name as the boat captain). We squashed through more mud... a lot more mud. Saw a sloth. And reached the entrance to NI VIDA cave.

Aparantely it was discovered 8 years ago by an American who was traipsing through the jungle of the island exploring for days. No one has found the end of it. No one knows how deep it goes.

With two headlamps, and an energetic Nino in tow, we head into the the river flowed out of it.

And it was awesome! We move along, snapping a few pictures. Bats sweeping down from above. A couple missed my head by inches. They are white nectar bats that fly out to feed on the fruit nearby. Rare to have white bats apparently.

The cave split in two brances. We head left first, and the roar of the waterfall could be heard long before it was seen. Occasionally we had to swim in the river, other times it was knee deep. Little alberto would straddle the sides and cruise along with us just fine. The waterfall was powerful, if only 4 feet tall. And was more like Spouting Rock than a falls. But tehre was a 5 foot formation we could climb up and jump off of into the pool below. It was surreal to climb up there, leap off, and go completely under the pitchblack water. There was enough current to push me forward into the rocks. I naturally had to jump off 5 or 6 times.

Then we head back and goto the right (as the waterfall is the end of that passage). Juan would say ¨"Watch your head" a lot. First in spanish, then english. Even if it was my leg or my hand or knee that needed to be watched. Like me with spanish, i guess that´s the english phrase he knew. It was clear what to watch and am glad a number of times for him pointin things out that i nearly hit with my head.

Happy Hat´s younger brother was along for the ride, and saved my head once too. and got nice and muddy.

We reached a spot where Alberto stopped and waited, and Juan and Imoved forward.... to a passage with MAYBE 4 inches of headroom over the water.

Juan went first. You had to duck under the water and pop up in a tiny chamber, then slide under another low section, and so forth for about 6 feet or more and 4 or 5 chambers. Now, if you tilted your head right you could keep your eyes out of the water and see where you were going. But not on the last one... that one you had to go all the way under and slide through. Creepy! It took a few tries for me to control my mind so I could do it. I passed the hat and camera and light ahead, and then did it slowly and carefully. the rock walls sliding by right next to my temples. My feet not touching the ground, but having to press on the sides of the rock. The first chamber was big enough to get my head up in. The second too. The third Ihad to tilt to fit, and the final opening wasn´´t wide enough for my head at its widest part. So I felt below, made sure it was wider underwater and I could get through, and ducked down... and came back up. This is scary. I remember in Guatemala, a cave thing you had to slide through underwater and how terrifying it was to come up and hit rock instead of air. So I focused, knew I could hold my breath for 30 seconds or more, and then ducked under...

... and I´m writing this to you from heaven because I couldn´t get out...

... kidding! I made it through! Juan and I continued a bit further, through some more swimming channels and more places, and eventually stopped whre there was another low part. And we were both thinking of the fact that if the water even went up an inch or two from the rain outside we´d be fucked. So, following wise advice, we took a picture, and headed back to the low part to get out. It was easier to go out, as I´d done it before now. But still, took some concentration. It really is weird to have only a half inch of space between your mouth and the water, and rock pushing in from above.

I made it through, Juan handed his light through, and then SWAM the whole ducking part. It´s wider down below, and he swam through, coming up right next to me. Sweet.

We grabbed ALberto and headed out. Juan would hum some song as he went, and it sounded sorta like Indiana Jones. So I started humming that. Hoping that it would be known here in Panama as well, and that we would have an Indiana Jones theme hum along as we went. Turns out, given that they live in the jungle with no TV, I guess they´d never heard it. But that´s okay, because they get to LIVE IT every day as they lead people into the cave.

On the boat ride out I felt really good. It was great to have found the cave. To have seen it. To have gone alone, and not had any travel buddies. It made me realized that I´m ready to really go off on my own on this rip. Even though I said I have my "see legs" back on day one, I really didn´t. I´d been talking almost exclisively to other travelers, most of whom are American´s down here, and been able to rely on others Spanish abilities to make things happen. I´m excited to head to the mountains of Panama (where I just arrived today in Boquete, it´s rainy, cool, and awesome)... and other than running into the German guy, everyone else I´d been seeing has turned back to goto Costa Rica or stay in Bocas.

Things like this really make me happy. Traveling like that. Not knowing how it´ll turn out. Meeting people who live different lives from mine. It was wonderful. And scary. It´s scary to not have language to communicate with someone. To be in a situation where we had to rely on each other, but had to do it with instincts and not words. It´s scary to head off and have no idea where I´ll land. But it inevitably feels great to have done it.

This quote was painted on the wall of Mondo Taitu (along with the one written on the back of the toilet that said "Feed Me Your Poo. I´m Hungry"). But this quote fits a bit better:
"It´s only by going into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. That´s why the very cave you were afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you were looking for."

So, will you enter the cave?

Friday, November 12, 2010

River Rafting... and a few observations on Costa Rica


I realized I didn´t tell you about the awesome white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare. Even though it cost 99 bucks and the rafting part was only 3 1-2 hours it was still totally worth it. The canyon is amazing! Jungle lined slopes and cliffs towering above. Waterfalls pouring down the sides. One that even fell right into the river and you float right next to it. I´ve got a great video of it that I´ll try to post.

The rapids are 3´s and 4´s, and I think everyone of them is fun. The water was big, so big in fact that 2 days before they had to cancel the trip. But fun big. It was wild, but not to rocky. One of our guys fell out on this crazy big wave rapid, and I had to reach over the edge to pull him in as we were crashing through this huge standing wave. It was awesome. He actually rode the wave outside the boat, and I just hung on. Then reached over and pulled him in.

Apparently, this is the river they used when filming that cinematic masterpiece CONGO. Since that is a regular renter for everyone on this list, be sure to watch the white water rafting part and check out the scenery.

Actually, I´m out of time at the internet cafe here, so the observations will wait till another email...

... but I´ll give you a hint. It has to do with Americans.

Rock on

Panama!!! Panama ha!!! (cue Van Halen now!)

Hot Damn team I´m in Panama!

There are places in the world that I always figured I´d go to. Like England, or Thailand, or India. But I´m not sure I ever thought I´d cross a rickety one lane bridge over a flooded river, with semi trucks and people in the same lane of traffic, and step foot into Panama! (Cue Van Halen song now!) Throw up the horns and rock the f out. I did as I sat in a sweaty ass tourist van because for some reason we all lost our travel skills that day and ended up doing the 10 buck per person route from the border to the ferry stop, instead of the 5 buck per person route by teaming up on a taxi. But you know what? Who cares! I´m in Panama!!!!

Took a speedy ferry boat from this town of stilt houses on a canal. But not before I took a piss in the toilet at the ferry boat station. And if I could upload a picture I would and you could laugh, but I´ll just tell you that it was a hole that dropped the shit straight into the canal... which likely makes it not safe for drinking. I´m no expert though. ;)

The boat ride was wild, and right now I´m traveling with Mandee from Chicago. No team, again, no RBR, so stop getting so darn excited. But still, a cool gal and we checked out a few places in Bocas Town before we ended up at Mando Taitu.

Let´s talk about hostels for a second. There are mellow hostels, where you might have a bunk or your own room. Maybe your own bathroom or it´s shared. A nice common area with a kitchen perhaps. Maybe a bar. Internet. A place to meet other travelers, get info on the place you´re at, or maybe sleep...
and then there´s MONDO TAITU!!!!!!!!!

Holy shit. This place is a big ass party 24-7. Now I´m not sure why we ended up getting a room here instead of walking back to Hostel Heike down the street. I think because it was hot and humid and we were sick of carrying our bags. But we got a room, and at night this place was loud. Like raging party loud. Drinking beer everywhere loud. Dope smoking loud. Music bumping, loud talking, wild party loud. And the night before apparently it was coke snorting off the bar loud. Didn´t see any of that this night, but doesn´t mean it didn´t happen.

It was fun for a night, but the next day I moved to Hostel Brisais down the street, with my own bed, own room, own bath, private dock on the water and...holy shit...a-c!

Bocas Del Toro is a series of islands in North west Panama. You might think it´s northeast, but Panama goes east west, not north south. There are some beaches, but it´s mostly mangroves. there are tons of neat houses and restraunts on stilts hanging out over the water. It´s sorta like Venice, at least on the waterfronts of the islands. Mandee and I got a water taxi for 2 bucks and went to the 2 buck beach, and hit the water.... yahoo! Felt so good. We were in front of this big ass resort... that turned out to be a persons house! Hot tub, beach, dock, beautiful blue water, islands all around. Not a bad life Mr. English retired guy.

Yesterday.... Paradise take 2. Me, Mandee (Nurse from Chicago), Crystal (Tour Leader from ATL), Hilary (from Tahoe), and Laura (Yacht worker from Perth, Australia), hire a boat and head to an island beach about 45 minutes away. The water was clear. The beach and trees were beautiful. We hiked around it, looking for pirate gold, and swam, and sang bad hip hop songs. I even read a little of my book on the beach. It was really awesome.

Today I did some scuba, which as always is great. The Lionfish have come here and are destroying the reefs, as they are doing in the Bahama´s as well. So if you want to eat Lionfish, do it. Make it so the locals will hunt and kill them. See, Lionfish are not native to the Atlantic and it´s offshoots. They eat 10 times, or was it 100 times, their body weight daily. And they have up to 2000 offspring in every litter. They have no natural enemies here, and spread like a plague, eating everything and eventually killing off the reefs. Yikes. They are pretty, but it sucks that they are here. The theory is that when Hurricaine Andrew hit Florida, it destroyed the Aquarium and let them into the sea... and like a plague they are taking over.

Besides the fish we saw some Jellyfish! yahoo! same kind as from Australia Tom and Olga! And some stingrays. It was cool.

I´m hoping to find some Karaoke tonight. Ready to rock a song for my Panamanian friends.

Rock on

Monday, November 8, 2010

Paradise Found!

Yep, it's true... I found paradise.

I've found it many times before, and am always thrilled and blessed when I do. And today I found it on a point of rock overlooking the Carribbean Sea. It's called Miss May point and its near the town of Manzanilla in the very far southeast of Costa Rica. It juts out from the rainforest, and looms over the massive waves that come crashing in below. The palm lined coast goes for miles and miles in each direction, and the mountains loom green in the distance.

And the waves crash. Loud. And HUGE. And shoot spray 30 feet or more up in the air. Every single wave. It's like I took a shower in the sea.

Naturally I stood near the edge to take pictures and feel the blast of the surf. The waves would curl in and depending on how they hit the cliff would either shoot a little, say, 15 feet up in the air. Or a lot... one of them rocketed a wall of water onto me that was probably 40 feet high. It was awesome! The caribbean blue stretched to the horizon, as this was the first sunny day of the trip. And on top of that, it wasn't that hot. It was a perfect temperature, with a perfect breeze, and a perfect partly cloudly sky, with perfect rainstorms on the horizon, and perfect waves and a perfect place at a perfect late afternoon time.


I got there by renting a bike for $5 in Porta Viejo and riding 15 km down the jungle lined coast. There are a lot of palm lined beaches. And a lot, I mean a LOT of tourist lodges and cabinas. Now most, if not all, blend in pretty well, and are also empty. I'm here in the low, low season for the southern Carib coast, but there are a few more folks than normal since the pacific and central regions are still rainy and flooding. I rode alone the paved street, and also took a detour into the dirt roads that led to the nature conservatory. Muddy trails on a 1 gear bike with a basket. Sweet.

The point is beyond the town of Manzanilla. On a trail that leads for 2 hours till you reach another town that has no roads. The good old Lonely Planet says that it's like what the Caribbean coast looked like before the tourists came. And if that's true... no wonder they did. The trail in the jungle, withing 20 feet of a beach and waves and coconuts washing ashore is amazing. And then of course there is paradise.

A few days ago, I left Tortugero in the north, and took a 3 hour water taxi through national forest, along a canel parallel to the caribbean, surrounded by thick walls of jungle green. The boat sat about 10 people and was fast. Damn fast. It was great to slide along. Hear the howler monkeys (which is a surreal sound and not the shrieking monkey noises you might imagine. They are more like a creepy grunt of an orc in the Mines of Moria... yep, I just did an Lord Of The Rings reference.) The boat ride was wonderful. Again, a perfect temperature and breeze. Occasionally our driver would slam on the brakes and show us an alligator or sloth or racoon that he somehow saw while we raced past at 20kph.

Then we ran out of gas... and he had to row us to a little town where the street was flooded and we boated into town and up to the gas pump. The lady brought us the pumper, knee deep in water, and we filled up and were on our way. There was a tourist bus parked in water half up it's wheels that was collecting folks from another boat. It was pretty surreal.

I stayed a night in Cahuita. Its a pretty mellow town with a black sand beach that I found after trapsing across the rocky headlands and through woods. I could have just taken the road, but this seemed like a more exciting way to get there. It rained a lot at night, but then again, it pretty much always does. :) The next day I hiked approx 11 km round trip through the national park. Along the coast, palm trees, river crossings, monkeys walking right next to the trail, (and also pissing on the trail from above. Missed that shower by about 10 feet!). Saw these awesome neon blue butterflies, and an Eyelash Viper: a snake thats about 10 inches long, and if it bites you you'll be dead in 15 minutes. So naturally I grabbed it and played with it like a pet... kidding.
The point was beautiful, the beaches serene. It's all pretty magnificent.

Tomorrow I'm heading off to raft the Rio Pacuare... the premiere river in central america. I'm looking forward to it, though my butt hurts from my big old bike ride today... and sitting on these wood chairs. Every chair is wood here it seems like. Who needs cushions!

Pura Vida baby, Pura Vida.
Rock on

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Turtles, Turtles Eveywhere...

or not.

Fear not Team, I am alive and well and trying to figure out where the punctuation marks are on these central american keyboards. So if the punctuation is whack for you when you read it, thatçs why... it is not because I got high at Tortagaro or anything, even though I was offered The Spliff once. Though only once, which is kinda surprising since its got a rasta vibe.

But I digress... I have not been swept up in a mudslide and sent down a mountain. Though as many of you have heard, the rains here have been pretty intense. Not "Rains of God" intense, like in Uganda, but still very heavy and very continuous. And I donçt pretend to be everywhere in the country... like the Pacific coast. I was trying to decide which way to go, either to the Pacific or Caribbean coast first and then loop around the country, and Mother Nature gave a very clear message to head east to the Caribbean, as the west coast of Costa Rica was declared a disaster area with mudslides and tragic deaths. All the children were off school two days ago in mourning for the 60 plus folks who were buried when a hillside gave way. Hopefully the rains will abate a bit soon, so as to give the country a break.

And due to the rains, I wonçt likely be going to Corcaverda or Quepos, since they are flooded. Sorry Nikki and Tom, I wonçt be able to share memories from other times...

But letçs get to the thousands of turles... I didnçt see.

Now, I didnçt really know that the east coast of Costa Rica was all about turtles. As in, during the high season, from July to the start of October, there are literally 10,000 tourists a week in a town that has 700 residents.... I cançt find the exclamation point to make that last sentence as dramatic as it should be. We had our choices of rooms, because of the slower time that has come. The town of Tortugaro, where the main turtles crawl up on the beach, thousands of them, and lay their eggs, is a cool place. Muddy streets, no cars, chill nice people and tasty food. The only way there is by boat, or you could fly if you were lame. :)

So my first day was landing in San Jose and meeting some other travelers. Getting me "see legs" back, which happened very quickly. Usually it takes 3 days or so to get back into the swing of backpacking. But because I was soooooooo ready for this trip, I felt like I was back at it quickly. Though Ive been cheating a bit... more on that later.

San Jose is a green mountainous town. One friend of mine would say it sucks ass since he was mugged there, and well, if Id been mugged there Id say it sucks ass too. Fortunately I wasnt... but when I was wandering around, trying to locate my hostel as darkness was falling fast, rain was falling hard, and the map I had not only didnçt have all the streets labeled... it didnçt have the hostel in the correct location! So I had to decode where I might be in a town where very few streets have signs or labels, and I was carrying around a lot of money cause I had just stopped off at the bank. Yikes. Eventually I saw a roofline from the side that I imagined to be what the rooftop bar from the hostel would look like if I were outside it, and I was able to find the gate and the very small sign. whew.

I met a few fellow travelers. We all played OMNI SCORE, which is known as Yahtzee in places other than Holland, where Marleen, the games owner, is from.

The next day I cruised to the bus station, got my 2 dollar ticket and rode out of town... into an AMAZING landscape of mountains, valleys, rivers, clouds, rain, sun. Wow. It was spectacular. I looked down to set an Ipod playlist, rocking songs like Ramble On, Touched, Kyrie, St. Elmoçs fire, Africa and more... and looked up as we emerged from a tunnel onto an amazing, uber green landscape. It was great. Music rocking. Street rolling beneath us.

Oddly, I couldn,t help but think of Viet Nam. I just finished reading MATTERHORN, written by my good friend Laurel-s dad, Karl Marlantes, before I left on the trip. And the book is an incredible story of soldiers in Nam. And the terrain and mountains and super thick jungled slopes made me imagine even more the hell the soldiers went through.

After a bus, we transfer to another bus. The first was like a greyhound in the states. The second was like a school bus. No wait, it WAS a school bus!. Replete with seats built for 8 year olds. I love it! sure, my 6 foot frame barely fit, but its traveling like this that makes you really see a place. The bus dropped us at a water taxi, which took us for an hour or more into the Mini Amazon of the northeast of Costa Rica. Awesome.

In Torugaro I ran into Marleen and Ulrike from San Jose, and also made friends with Ina. We saw a baby turtle, about 4 inches long, crawling ot the ocean, but no mass influx of turtles. Again, that was over months ago, and now that I know it exists I will have to come back and check it out sometime. There was a festival for the end of turtle season that consided of 4 of the LOUDEST OUTDOOR BARS IN THE HISTORY OF THE PLANET. Holy crap, the reggaeton was SOOOO LOUD everyone was standing on the paths outside the bars.

The next day we did a canoe trip into the national park... in the rain. Our guide, Mr. Bill, is 84 years old and used to hunt Jaguars and other animals before it was outlawed, and now hes a guide. He had great stories and even though it was raining, we had a great adventure down the sampy canals and into the hidden jungle world. I loved the rain. It made it really cool and feel like quite an adventure. The rest of the day was about eating, yep its me, gotta eat!, and a hike through the jungle and on the beach. I got to know my travel buddies and they are all cool. Ulrike especially was inspiring, as she has MS, but isnçt letting that stop her from living life. She might have an attack at anytime, but sheçs going on an around the world trip, following her dreams, and saying kiss off to the physical issue that might stop other folks. I was humbled and impressed.

And we capped the night off with an Imperial beer, really LOUD raggaeton again, and some Omni Score.

Today was one of the coolest boat rides Içve ever taken in my life. 3 plus hours zipping along a canal and rivers surrounded by jungle and green and occasionally seeing the caribbean beyond. We stopped at stilted restraunts, we got gas from gas pumped in a town that was flooded, and the boats were on the streets and the cars were no where near. There was even a bus parked in the water, collectging travelers.

But it was the jungle, smoothe water, overcast sky, wind in my face, occasional splashes or huge ass splashes that kept it lively and wet that were the best. It was really wonderful.

Now Içm in Cahuita, on the south Caribbean cost. Ina and I are still on the same path today, so weçre hanging. Nope, no RBR here team, donçt get to excited. :) Just travel buddies. Though tomorrow I think I will head off on my own. Sheçs fluent in spanish... and english, and dutch, and french. So itçs sorta cheating to have someone who makes it so easy that I donçt have to make the connections in a language that I long ago should have learned. So tomorrow, even though were still heading the same direction, Içm going to branch on my own a bit and get out of the comfort zone. After all, thats a big part of what doing these trips is for.

Things to look forward to: rafting, rain, surfing, rain, hiking, rain, Panama, rain, Mountains, rain, Ziplines, rain, and more fun that you can throw a mudball at.

Rock on

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


which is sorta like Los Angeles, except the Spanish is on top of the signs.

Okay, only the airport was like LA, but it was sorta funny to get off the plane and see a really nice airport with a BK, Schlotzsky´s and signs that look like LA signs.

I´m super excited to be here, checked into a hostel in San Jose (the capital city where a friend got mugged a few years ago, so we´ll just take care after dark), and am going to go see some sights.

More excited emails to come, this is just to let you know that I´m alive and kicking at Hostel Pangea... they even have a pool, a bar, and a stripper pole on the dance floor. Might be a wild night.

Rock on

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An awesome blog...

No, I didn't write it. :)
My friend Holly forward this to me (from a guy named Gary Arndt. I Don't know him, but after this I sure like him.) I think it's 100% true.
So pack your bags and get out there!

Craig O


20 Things I've Learned From Traveling Around the World for Three Years

by Gary Arndt on 8/23/10

On March 13, 2007, I handed over the keys to my house, put my possessions in storage and headed out to travel around the world with nothing but a backpack, my laptop and a camera.

Three and a half years and 70 countries later, I've gotten the equivalent of a Ph.D in general knowledge about the people and places of Planet Earth.

Here are some of the things I've learned:

1) People are generally good. Many people are afraid of the world beyond their door, yet the vast majority of humans are not thieves, murderers or rapists. They are people just like you and me who are trying to get by, to help their families and go about living their lives. There is no race, religion or nationality that is exempt from this rule. How they go about living their lives might be different, but their general goals are the same.

2) The media lies. If you only learned about other countries from the news, you'd think the world was a horrible place. The media will always sensationalize and simplify a story. I was in East Timor when the assassination attempts on President José Ramos-Horta, and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão in 2008. The stories in the news the next day were filed from Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur, not Dili. It was all secondhand news. I was in Bangkok during the political protests this year, but you'd never have any idea they were taking place if you were not in the immediate area where the protests were taking place. The media makes us scared of the rest of the world, and we shouldn't be.

3) The world is boring. If there isn't a natural disaster or an armed conflict, most places will never even be mentioned in the news. When is the last time you've heard Laos or Oman mentioned in a news story? What makes for good news are exceptional events, not ordinary events. Most of the world, just like your neighborhood, is pretty boring. It can be amazingly interesting, but to the locals, they just go about living their lives.

4) People don't hate Americans. I haven't encountered a single case of anti-Americanism in the last three-and-a-half years. Not one. (And no, I don't tell people I am Canadian.) If anything, people are fascinated by Americans and want to know more about the US. This isn't to say they love our government or our policies, but they do not have an issue with Americans as people. Even in places you'd think would be very anti-American, such as the Middle East, I was welcomed by friendly people.

5) Americans aren't as ignorant as you might think. There is a stereotype that Americans don't know much about the rest of the world. There is some truth to that, but isn't as bad as you might believe. The reason this stereotype exists is because most other countries on Earth pay very close attention to American news and politics. Most people view our ignorance in terms of reciprocity: i.e. I know about your country, why don't you know about mine? The truth is, if you quizzed people about third-party countries other than the US, they are equally as ignorant. When I confronted one German man about this, I asked him who the Prime Minister of Japan was. He had no clue. The problem with America is that we suffer from the same problem as the rest of the world: an obsession with American news. The quality of news I read in other parts of the world is on a par with what you will hear on NPR.

6) Americans don't travel. This stereotype is true. Americans don't travel overseas as much as Brits, Dutch, Germans, Canadians or Scandinavians. There are some good reasons for this (big country, short vacation time) and bad ones (fear and ignorance). We don't have a gap year culture like they have in the UK and we don't tend to take vacations longer than a week. I can't think of a single place I visited where I met Americans in numbers anywhere close to our relative population.

7) The rest of the world isn't full of germs. Many people travel with their own supply of water and an industrial vat of hand sanitizer. I can say in full honestly that I have never used hand sanitizer or gone out of my way to avoid contact with germs during my travels. It is true that in many places you can get nasty illnesses from drinking untreated water, but I don't think this means you have be a traveling Howard Hughes. Unless you have a particularly weak immune system or other illness, I wouldn't worry too much about local bugs.

8) You don't need a lot stuff. Condensing my life down from a 3,000 sq/ft house to a backpack was a lesson in knowing what really matters. I found I could get by just fine without 97% of the things I had sitting around my home. Now, if I purchase something, I think long and hard about it because anything I buy I will have to physically carry around. Because I have fewer possessions, I am more likely to buy things of higher quality and durability.

9) Traveling doesn't have to be expensive. Yes, if you insist on staying in five-star hotels and luxury resorts, travel can be very expensive. However, it is possible to visit many parts of the world and only spend $10-30 per day. In addition to traveling cheap, you can also earn money on the road teaching English or working on an organic farm. I've met many people who have been able to travel on a little more than $1,000/month. I met one man from the Ukraine who spent a month in Egypt on $300.

10) Culture matters. Many of our ideas for rescuing other countries all depend on them having similar incentives, values and attitudes as people in the west. This is not always true. I am reminded of when I walked past a Burger King in Hong Kong that was full of flowers. It looked like someone was having a funeral at the restaurant. It turned out to be people sending flowers in celebration of their grand opening. Opening a business was a reason to celebrate. In Samoa, I had a discussion with a taxi driver about why there were so few businesses of any type on the island of Savai'i. He told me that 90% of what he made had to go to his village. He had no problem helping his village, but they took so much there was little incentive to work. Today the majority of the GDP of Samoa consists of remittances sent back from the US or New Zealand. It is hard to make aid policies work when the culture isn't in harmony with the aid donors expectations.

11) Culture changes. Many people go overseas expecting to have an "authentic" experience, which really means they want to confirm some stereotype they have in their mind of happy people living in huts and villages. They are often disappointed to find urban people with technology. Visiting a different place doesn't mean visiting a different time. It is the 21st Century, and most people live in it. They are as likely to wear traditional clothes as Americans are to wear stove top hats like Abraham Lincoln. Cultures have always changed as new ideas, religions, technologies sprang up and different cultures mingled and traded with each other. Today is no different.

12) Everyone is proud of where they are from. When you meet someone local in another country, most people will be quick to tell you something about their city/province/country that they are proud of. Pride and patriotism seem to be universal values. I remember trying to cross the street once in Palau, one of the smallest countries in the world, and a high school kid came up to me and said, "This is how we cross the street in PALAU!" Even crossing the street became an act to tell me about his pride in his country. People involved in making foreign policy should be very aware of this.

13) America and Canada share a common culture. This may irk Canadians, but we really do share a common North American culture. If you meet someone overseas, it is almost impossible to tell if they are American or Canadian unless they have a particularly strong accent, or they pronounce the letter "z." It is easier to tell where in England someone is from than it is to tell if someone is from Denver or Toronto. We would probably be better off referring to a "North American" culture than an "American" culture. What differences do exist (Quebec being the exception) are more like differences between states and regions of a similar country.

14) Most people have a deep desire to travel around the world. Not shocking, but every day I meet people who are fascinated by what I do and how I live. The desire to travel is there, but fears and excuses usually prevent people from doing it. I understand that few people can drop what they are doing and travel around the world for three years, but traveling overseas for even a few months is within the realm of possible for many people at some point in their lives. Even on an island in the middle of the Pacific, people who would probably never leave their home island talked to me of one day wishing they could see New York or London for themselves. I think the desire to explore and see new things is fundamental to the human experience.

15) You can find the internet almost everywhere. I have been surprised at where I've found internet access. I've seen remote villages in the Solomon Islands with a packet radio link to another island for their internet access. I've been at an internet cafe in the Marshall Islands that accessed the web via a geosynchronous satellite. I've seen lodges in the rainforest of Borneo hooked up to the web. I once counted 27 open wifi signals in Taipei on a rooftop. We truly live in a wired world.

16) In developing countries, government is usually the problem. I have been shocked at the level of corruption that exists in most developing countries. Even if it is technically a democracy, most nations are run by and for the benefit of the elites that control the institutions of power. Political killings, bribery, extortion and kickbacks are the norm in many places. There is little difference between the Mafia and the governments in some countries I've visited. The corruption in the Philippines was especially surprising. It isn't just the people at the top who are corrupt. I've seen cops shake people down on the street for money, cigarettes or booze.

17) English is becoming universal. I estimated that there were at least 35 native languages I would have had to have learned if I wanted to speak with locals in their own tongue. That does not include all the languages found in Papua New Guinea or Vanuatu or regional dialects. It is not possible for humans to learn that many languages. English has become the de facto second language for the world. We are almost to a point where there are only two languages you need to know: whatever your parents speak... and English. English has become so popular it has achieved an escape velocity outside of the control of the US and UK. Countries like Nigeria and India use it as a unifying language in their polyglot nations. Other countries in the Pacific do all their schooling in English because the market just isn't there to translate textbooks into Samoan or Tongan.

18) Modernization is not Westernization. Just because people use electricity and have running water doesn't mean they are abandoning their culture to embrace western values. Technology and culture are totally different. Japan and South Korea are thoroughly modern countries, but are also thoroughly Asian. Modernization will certainly change a culture (see #11 above), but that doesn't mean they are trying to mimic the West.

19) We view other nations by a different set of criteria than we view ourselves. On the left, people who struggle the hardest for social change, decry changes in other countries that they view as a result of globalization. On the right, people who want to bring democracy to other countries would be up in arms at the suggestion that another country try to institute change in the US. In both cases, other nations are viewed by a different set of rules than we view ourselves. I don't think most people around the world want the help or pity of the West. At best, they would like us to do no harm.

20) Everyone should travel. At some point in your life, whether it is after college or when you retire, everyone should take some extended trip outside of their own country. The only way to really have a sense of how the world works is to see it yourself.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Today is a new day!

Your Greatest Day!
By Steve Maraboli

Today is a new day!
What can you do today to make it your greatest day?
Shake things up today.
Take time to think about all the things you are grateful for.
Call a friend and make them laugh.
Let go of past regrets and future insecurities.
Stop validating your victim mentality.
Embrace the immeasurable power you have been blessed with.
Say goodbye to people who mean you harm.
Surround yourself with positive people.
Excuse yourself from any relationship that is hurtful.
Understand that you are here to grow, to learn, to love, and be loved.
Do something you've wanted to do but always talked yourself out of.
Share your dreams and thoughts with someone close to you.
Remind yourself that you are beautiful, powerful, and created by love.
Today you have the opportunity to do so much!
You can choose to make it the same ol' same ol' or you can make it great.
Choose to make it great. Today is a new day.
Make today your greatest day! ...then do it again tomorrow.

In Closing

"Today, give a stranger one of your smiles. It might be the only sunshine he sees all day." ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flat Lily's Adventures with Uncle Craig

Yep, my niece, Flat Lily came to visit,

This is my 7 1/2 year old niece's school project. They're reading "Flat Stanley". She visited me here in LA, and me being me, couldn't just keep her in LA, so we took a trip.

First, we headed up for a hike in Griffith Park here in LA. Great views, great hikes. Always nice to see the city from above. Lily climbed a tree, and I got a good picture of her with the mountains in the background.

Then we headed to a Superbowl Party to watch the New Orleans Saints at my friend's Todd and Rina's house. (There's a sentence of possessives). Todd's from Louisiana, so it was a blast to hang with him, Josh and others as the Saints pulled off a victory of epic proportions. Lily got so excited, she ran out onto the field to cheer them on. Flat Lily was lots of fun to have around. Made me wish real Lily was here. was time to goto MIAMI!!!!

I mean, flat Lily had already ran the field, so why not go there for real. So I packed her up and we headed to Miami to hang out with my friend Tom as he did a concert for his family in a high school. It was a fun night and Lily danced a lot.

Next it was... CRUISE TIME!

Again, it's me, I like to travel, so dear flat Lily had to jump on board the ship and share a room with me, Tom, David and Olga as we sailed to the Bahamas. First stop, Hot tub! We all enjoyed a sunset while sitting on the back deck of the cruise ship as it headed out to sea. The weather was pretty chilly for Florida and the Bahamas (45 at night), but Lily's sweater kept her warm.

We had a blast on the cruise. We went to the beach, went swimming, played putt-putt on the top of the ship. Lily was an expert at ordering food in the dining room by the end of it. Her favorite was the liquid chocolate cake and ice cream. It made her hyper, but that let her dance away on the dance floor. Nobody slept much, but we all had fun.

While in Nassau, I took Lily scuba diving with Sharks! Well, actually since she isn't certified, she was a little young to go on the dive, still she enjoyed the pictures after the fact. She said she wouldn't have been scared. Flat Lily's full of adventure after all.

Once back in Florida, we stopped by the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. There we took a shuttle launch simulation ride together. Lily loved it! She was cheering the whole time. And since we'd already taken off into space, we took a quick space walk amongst the stars. And we thought "well shoot, we're all the way up here" so Flat Lily suited up in her space gear and enjoyed a walk on the moon and we jetted over to Mars for a walk on the red planet. I'd love to say Flat Lily discovered Alien life forms on Mars, but come on, that would be taking this story a little beyond the realm of reality, don't you think?

Back in Los Angeles, Flat Lily and I took a hike up to Griffith Park observatory, and saw the Hollywood Sign on her last day here.

It's sad to see Flat Lily go, but I know she had a great time and I enjoyed her being here as well. I wish she could stay longer, but hopefully her memories and pictures from her trip will bring her happiness for years to come.

Love you Flat Lily (and the real one too).
Next visit: Disneyland!

Uncle Craig