Paris, France

August 1-3, 2014

Everyone sees the world through different lenses – and
Ryan’s included a bit I hadn’t traveled with before: video games. In the
Louvre, from across the room he pointed at a painting and exclaimed “That’s
Joan of Arc!” I mean, sure, there are probably very few women painted in their
battle armor, but it still felt like a bit of an assumption when we hadn’t even
tried to translate the plaque yet. But he persisted that he was right because
that was her character portrait in this game. I may have very obviously rolled
my eyes at that.  Later on, he schooled
me figuring out the layout of the city. I normally pride myself on a sense of
direction and strict adherence to whatever free map I’ve picked up, but Ryan
would momentarily glance at a map and then go, eh, we should go in that direction.
It took awhile for me to relinquish navigational power, but he kept being
mostly right and it was hard to argue with that. When Ryan, Nadia, and Missie
had gone to Rome, he had apparently been an excellent navigator, basing his
directions on different campaigns in some Roman version of a game called Assasin’s
Creed. He was actually slightly upset that the French Revolution version of Assasin’s
Creed was to be released in a couple of weeks, or else he would have known
Paris better too!

Our first night in Paris, we sat on the green lawn
stretching out before the Eiffel tower, bought a couple of beers from the
otherwise annoying vendors, and watched as at exactly 10pm, the tower erupted
in bursts of electric sparkles.


The next day, we got to the Louvre just after it opened and
waited in a reasonable line snaking between two glass pyramids. The gothic
buildings lining the stone plaza proved to be just the tip of the iceberg and an
escalator soon brought Ryan and I into the belly of a monstrous underground
network of treasures. We went straight for the obvious first, Mona Lisa and her
precocious smile. But then we wandered: through hallways of marble statue,
underneath the Greek muses, in between imposing Egyptian feet, and across
impressions of landscapes. I recognized some pieces, but my art history isn’t
the greatest and my ability to interpret French plaques even worse – with more
time and money we could have followed a guide. Even without the history lesson,
it was impossible not to appreciate the talent of the artists, allowing the
building’s atmosphere to transport you to a realm brimming with humanity’s

After so much walking we grabbed lunch at an outdoor café.
The pizza we split was probably over-priced, but I was happy to see our tap
water arrived in Hokie maroon and orange cups – and the location – right on the
boulevard connecting the Louvre with Notre Dame – could not be beat.


In the middle of the afternoon, the line into Notre Dame
wrapped back and forth covering the entire stone terrace in the shadow of the
western façade. But it moved steadily and entertainment was found watching one
after another Chinese couple, decked out in extravagant wedding gown and suit,
pose in front of their personal photographer clicking away – like they had
already had the wedding but flew to Paris for the wedding photos. The interior
of the church was your average large dark sanctuary with flying buttress
history, virgin Mary’s, stained glass, and offertory candles. But we stood in
an even longer line to climb the bell tower. That floored me. On a clear summer day, we got a beautiful view
looking out across the entire city. The bells boomed loudly beside us. And, my
absolute favorite part, we got right next
to the gargoyles.
Gargoyles! One of my favorite cartoons as a kid! And the
three characters that befriended Quasimodo in Esmerelda in this very church. On
this very balcony.


We grabbed dinner at a small Italian place that agreed to
charge our phones in the back and tried to wait out the sudden assault of rain.
After the excitement of both the Louvre and Notre Dame both my actual camera
and cell phone had died from the sheer exhaust of capturing so many pictures.

After watching the Eiffel tower twinkle the night before, I had
it in my head that it would be much cooler to be on the Eiffel tower when the bursts of light go off. That I would
be immersed in a fairy tale, like being surrounded by lightening bugs in The
Princess and the Frog or the lanterns in Tangled. Ryan went along with my
delusion. As the sun began to set, Ryan and I began at step one of the
six-hundred-and seventy-two steps that I counted. At the second floor we then
had to wait for a glass elevator to bring us all the way to the top – during which
I realized that while I am not afraid of heights, we’re not exactly best
friends. I also learned that my beautiful glowy light fantasy turned out to be
a bright-paparazzi-flashing-in-your-face-strobe light experience. So, you live
and learn. Safely back on the ground we bought souveneirs and walked around the
city of light until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore.

The next morning we got up early and walked from our hostel
to the catacombs. We got in line before it even opened, but had only moved
halfway to the entrance three hours later when we needed to leave to catch our
train back to London. In the remaining few minutes we had, I bought a banana Nutella
crepe from a food cart and sat peacefully on a bench in some garden, my little
oasis to compensate for missing the last thing on my Paris to-do list.


1/4/14 – Getting to Osa

Despite getting very little sleep, I was up early, ready to figure out what to do with the day. San Jose was a transition city, the central location to catch a bus to your next destination. I navigated to the bus for Puerto Jimenez by myself, despite the hostel worker looking concerned while showing me the map. What is the chance muggers are both awake at 7am and around during my ten minute walk? I decided it was very minimal. I was also a little annoyed that the super nice girl that had helped me book the rafting trip was now pushing a private “tourist” bus on me in the $60 range when the normal $14 bus was one of the nicest I’ve ever been on.

Not knowing Spanish was a little tough. But playing charades helped. I successfully asked directions when the guy pointed to a bus and said “verde” and I knew what he meant! So, snaps for me. And I bought the ticket by just saying “Puerto Jimenez” in a spanishy way. But then my bus seat partner sat down and tried to have a whole conversation. It soon became clear that he knew about as much English as I knew Spanish. He had a six page printout of English phrases that did very little to heighten our communication, but did succeed in freaking me out. He first pointed to the phrase “I am going to my mother’s house.” Why that was one of a dozen phrases the pamphlet decided was important, I can not begin to know.  But, you know, that sounds nice, I guess I’m happy for you. Until he points to the phrase “Will you come with me?” Now I’m confused. You want me to come to your mother’s house? You want me to meet your mother? Or just come to your house? Whyyyy? 7.5 hours later the conversation had barely evolved. We laughed at the small child being obnoxious as hell in the seat in front of me (he thought it was adorable, I pretended to laugh as the kid threw food in every direction) and then he tried to invite me dancing downtown (I think – who knows what he said – maybe it was “you’re so screwed if you think you can survive without knowing even basic Spanish”). He got off a few stops before me, thank god. Hopefully I’ll have a quieter/english speaking/non-existent bus mate on the way back.

It may have been a long ride with a weird companion, but there were gorgeous views of the countryside at every turn – and the price could not be beat. Alas, pictures from buses are never the greatest, but I hope they capture some of the landscape.

The bus arrived on time (around 4pm) at Puerto Jimenez. I avoided the cab drivers by pretending to know what I was doing. This mostly involved sticking to the one paved road. I quickly bee-lined for the first sign promising wifi, coffee, and smoothies. I had made a reservation at the “only” place available in town – except glancing at the map, it clearly wasn’t really in town. With a smoothie in hand and wifi, I looked up the directions to see if they had a pick-up service and it miraculously said they would come by THIS CAFÉ every day at 5pm. Serendipity. Works every time. Until 5:30pm had come around and they still weren’t there. I tried to ask the staff but they had reassuringly never heard of the place. I walked down the road to the tourist office where I found English speakers who thankfully started making phone calls and for $10 I got a taxi ride up two back roads to Bello Horizonte Yoga Jungle Hostel.

It was…rustic. First off, what kind of name is that? My horrible Spanish translated it as beautiful horizontal yoga, which doesn’t bring the greatest image to mind – hopefully I just mis-translated and it’s actually the best name ever. But I don’t have my hopes up. The lodging is incredibly simple. A roof, bamboo supports, planks for the floor, bunk beds with mosquito nets. This simplicity was nice in many ways: the people staying there came together to talk and hang out and did not sequester themselves away in a room. You got to fall asleep and wake up immersed in the sounds of the jungle – howler monkeys barked nearby, insects chirped, and birds joined in chorus at dawn. But the $14 price was a little steep for such limited amenities and the location was 3km from town and for some reason the owner seemed weird about giving rides very often. Also, online it said they had wifi and were willing to help you make reservations for Corcovado. But the wifi was shaky at best and the owner sort of threw his hands up at dealing with getting into the park. Overall, this place makes me feel like I’m really immersed in Costa Rica, but there’s too many distractions to fully enjoy it yet.

A not old person went to the observatory with me!

By sitting in the lounge/kitchen area most nights I have come to be at least recognized by my hostelmates. Many of them are here looking for an apartment or just working and so have either already spent a few months here and/or will spend several more. So, while many of the travelers come in, sleep for the night, and leave unnoticed, there continues to be a core group of people that come together, learn each other’s languages, swap dialects and tennis lessons, and of course tell stories. On Friday night most people were off from work for the week and looking for something to do. A core group of people were going to a dubfx concert, but the ticket was a little too expensive for someone I had never heard of. Walking from my car back to the hostel I ran into another smaller group on the street, one proudly displayed a coconut he had just bought and sipped serenely from it with a straw. Another girl had just bought a tiny liter of chocolate milk. I asked them if anyone wanted to go to the observatory with me and though I got a few laughs, my roommate of all people was thrilled to come along. We had exchanged conversation briefly before, the simple details of why are you here, where are you from, etc (she is a dancer teaching summer camp and from Montreal) but we hadn’t really hung out. We walked the hour to the observatory discussing the various tourist things we had gone to and what jobs we were applying for in the coming months.

When we got to the observatory, a large telescope sitting neatly beside the science museum, everything was dark. I apologized profusely, knowing I had thoroughly researched the dates and time, but when we tried the door, it magically swung open and we stepped cautiously into an incredibly dark entryway. To the right awfully eerie space music was playing (I don’t know how else to describe it – it wasn’t like electronic and dancey, it felt like it should be the soundtrack for some Deep Space Nine mission). So of course we walked toward the creepy sounds, passed beneath one more doorway, and entered into a room lit by glowing red computer screens and filled with whirring noises of the telescope slewing, the dome above maneuvering, and the human operators grunting at the sight of clouds. Within minutes we were shown an incredibly close view of the moon and the rings of Saturn.  We hung out for a while longer, discussing the international space station, the last American shuttle that had launched earlier that morning, and the fact that this was a terrible location for a telescope (lots of rain from the mountains and light pollution). At midnight, the observatory closed up shop and my roommate (why am I so terrible at names?) and I walked back along the water to the hostel.

A day or so later, one of the guys mockingly asked how the planetarium was. My eyes lit up as I responded that it was really awesome and he should have gone. Which of course ushered in the question: “how old are you?” Always ready to defend both my age and interests, I retorted, “Have you ever seen Saturn’s rings?”.