Johanna 's Travel Blog

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March 04, 11:03 AM
Ricon de la Vieja Costa Rica

What does waiting in lines, applying bug spray repeatedly and moving at a super slow pace so you can gab with your friends remind you of?

If you guessed summer camp, you are right!

Our day with the group of students from Indiana and Texas universities was dominated by waiting. I guess we had forgotten what traveling with 30 people is like (as in bathroom breaks all the time, nonstop giggling and mostly stopping at touristy places James and I would never go near).

Through Heidi’s local knowledge we were able to enter a beautiful waterfall/hiking trail that is off the map. James swam with the bikini clad coeds in the rushing water and like a camp councilor, I watched bags and cameras.

The hike was the gem of the day. Not so much explaining how to use latrines to people who have not traveled abroad. I think the next 2 weeks for them will be a crash course in living in nature, in addition to the important aid they are providing to Nicaraguans. Through travel they will hopefully learn more about themselves and their limits.

After the cataracs we piled back into the van and drove to Gracia to take a lunch break,. Surprisingly the plaza only had fried chicken places and we resorted to a meal of french fries. An interesting note: we thought aros de cebolas meant rice with onion, however, aros is not arroz; we got onion rings. So a completely fried lunch it was, yumm.

The town of Gracia has a beautiful church in el centro that was delivered there by accident. Sergio relayed an interesting story of how there church was intended for Puntoarenas, Chilie, but by a shipping fluke was unloaded at nearby Puntoarenas, Costa Rica. The local priest said that he was indeed waiting for a church, and took it away. The church was constructed entirely out of metal sheets that were sent along with the plans for assembly from Spain. The finished product is majestic (and the metal bolts can still be seen).

A few more hours in the bus, this time with me in the jump seat, we got into Leberia and parted ways with the group. We found the hostel that our guide book* said could arrange transport to Rincon de la Vieja. The hostel receptionists arranged for a 4×4 driven by the affable Offie to come at 8pm (an hour later) to take us to the isolated eco lodge just outside the national park.

Crash, boom, shift, ouch. Our 45 min ride over the rocky road tossed us around the truck and at last when we pulled up to the hotel, we discovered that we did not have reservations and they were completely full. Fortunately Offie (for anther $5) took us to a hotel where he likely got a commission where we luckily could stay. It is here that I type this up, and looking around, there seems only to be about 3 other couples staying.

The windy night greeted us as we checked into our cabin style room and apparently James did not get any mosquito attention. I, on the other hand, have a few welts I’m trying not to scratch.

We woke up this morning and headed to our daseyuno fuete. For the Costa Ricans, you ought to eat breakfast like a kind, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. So we sat down to a heaping plate of fruit, rice, beans, flavorless queso blanco, eggs and plantains.

Laced up our shoes and after one or two false starts (James heard right, I heard left) we ran into some lovely Italians who drove us to the entrance of the National Park. There we hiked for about 4 hours on a challenging trail including many unmarked sections, several river crossings and at least 10 boulders to scramble over all to see these fantastic volcanic hot springs.

Once you accept the sulfuric sent, these amazing natural formations will impress you! Absolutely worth the trek through 4 habitats (jungle, plains, desert, forest) you will be impressed.

We lapped a group of elderly Germans at least twice (it was a loop) and have no idea how they managed their way out. Perhaps entering at the less steep exit? James commented that “by 80 I’ll be so good at hiking” just like the Germans.

We began the 3km walk back (uphill, in the sun, at noon) to our hotel and made it without sunburn or complete exhaustion.

Resting now in the hammock, I’ll have to relocate to the bar to post this.

*new guide book (about 10 yrs outdated) since our Lonely Plant some how disappeared…

March 04, 11:01 AM
santa elena, costa rica

Cloud Forest de Santa Elena

Our day began with a nice breakfast at Casa Tranquilo with some garlicky eggs I made for a protean rich breakfast. We set off at the suggestion of the great and hospitable owner David to find the strangler fig trees. One so large that James climbed inside! The fig stranglers begin as a weed of sorts and completely dominate their host so what is left is a hollowed out tree. I’ll post some pictures soon. We continued to the Secret Valley and bargained the $5/per person price down to $5 for the both of us to enter. Our time was very limited (we had to catch a bus back to San Jose at 2:30), so we moved quickly through it, No animal sightings to report.

We had a nice lunch (the best plato de dia to date!) at a place attached to the Tree house hotel called Coffee Bar. Tasty plantains with beans and vegetables cooked until perfectly tender.

Next we bought our tickets as soon as the la officina de billetes opened since we were afraid of having to stay another day in Santa Elena after exhausting the only free activity: hiking straight up a hill.

With enough time for a quick shower and to book a room at Gaudy’s Hostel in San Jose, we boarded the bus for the 4+ hours back. There was a really sketchy character monitoring our bags as we put them below the bus and James and I vigilantly watched as everyone got on the bus and the guy with the shifty eyes remained. Traveling with a laptop can be stressful.

We got back to San Jose around 7pm and took a cab to Gaudy’s (with limited success negotiating the price, we paid about $6) and James called Heidi to get an update on a group BBQ that was under way. We found out that it was wrapping up which was just as well since we had the grocery store a mere 3 blocks away and a hankering to make pasta. The proximity to the grocery store is one the few nice aspects of this gringos dominated hostel. We planned to meet Heidi and her group of 30 youths heading up to Nicaragua early the next morning.

After dinner we fell asleep exhausted and had a brief slumber. We were up in time (7am) for pancake breakfast and then set off to meet Marco (Heidi’s husband) at a Hyper-mas (big shopping mall) and hitch a ride with the group.

March 01, 08:38 PM
Santa Elena

We got back to the airport with an hour to spare and waited in the airport, spending our last few pesos on postcards. We then flew to Costa Rica and appreciated how international flights (well Mexicana at least) still provide you a meal and lots of libations.

Around 12:30 we got in and got a cab to Gaudy’s Hostel located near one of the very decentralized centers. We had a nice room that oddly was named “Suka” and written out in Hebrew. We fell asleep around 2am exhausted after so many mornings of early wake ups and made scant plans for he rest of the day. We were waiting to hear from Heidi, James’s aunt who lives in San Jose with her husband Marco and son Johann. They have been busy with their upcoming service trip to Nicaragua.

At 8 when we got out of bed we discovered the folowing:
1. the hostel was filled with gringos watching TV
2. there was no breakfast as we had been counting on
All in all, overpriced for what it was and lacking in character.

We walked down about 3 blocks to a supermarcado and picked up things for breakfast and sandwich making and then headed out to the San Carlos bus station to purchase tickets. We wondered the streets a little confused at first since:
a) very few of the streets are named
b) when there are street numbers, they aren’t in any consecutive order and they repeat
c) every person we consulted told us to ask someone else

We got there, moving from the residential to the seedy area around the bus station and purchased tickets for 2:30pm to Santa Elena. With about 3 hours until the bus, we dropped our bags and headed to San Jose’s best reputed museo, Museo de Jade. For the steep entrance price ($8USD per person) and the 4 room collection we were not all that impressed. We next wondered in search of a popular vegetarian fast food chain called Vishnu’s where we found a tasty plato de dia and fresh papaya juice. Next we saw an attractive commercial area, stumbling across an international section (Indian incense, Chinese dried foods and Italian pastries all done in Costa Rican fashion, of course) and enjoyed the few streets closed off to traffic.

We return to the station and set off on a twisty ride up to Santa Elena on a crowed and old bus. At one point a torrential rain overpowered the bus and water seeped in all sides… About 20 km later, it was completely dry. There was no need for the jacket I brought as it is was nothing like Brazilian buses (which were freezing cold, AC on full blast!) and we got into town around 7pm.

After discovering that Pension Santa Elena (our 1st choice after reading the Lonely Planet) was overflowing with people, we looked for something a little calmer and came across the pleasant Casa Tranquilo. We are enjoying a private room and a hot water shower (breakfast included for $25). A little of exploring confirmed that this is a tourist town but tomorrow we hope to find a nice hike and hopefully see all the animals.

johanna Is in Costa Rica
March 01, 08:11 PM
March 01, 08:07 PM
Mexico City Mexico

Our day in Mexico City was packed (since we only had 8 hours before our flight to Costa Rica). We headed to the Zolaco, a plaza with political buildings of import and a vibrant market place on Sunday including indigenous dancers replete with feathers. It was very sunny and the open square provided little shade so we walked toward the metro en route to the highly recommended Mueso de Anthropologia. We found the metro system easy to navigate in part because each stop has a signifying picture (ex. "constitution"stop has a quill and legal looking document, “desportes” has a soccer ball) and the lines are all bright colors. We were the only gringos using the metro and in most places we traversed. Along the way we had an awesome juice (James still calls them sucos) made with with a combination de frutas and then set off to the Museo. The walk from the metro to the the museo (not just across the street as we were told) was beautiful, with parks and zoos and sculptures and cotton candy on either side. The museo was certainly as impressive as promised and beautifully laid out. Split into regions, it detailed the indigenous peoples and history of pre-columbian Mexico. We ate an over priced but much needed lunch at the museo’s cafe. We found out that HSBC was the only international ATM we could use and when one could not be located, we traded $20 for 220 pesos with a hot-dog vender. Another note on street food: we saw lots of people holding what looked to be an edible plate (it looked like bark or a thin dough with spices cooked until crispy) with a pizza like assortment of toppings, something tomato, something green and cheese sprinkled on top. Next time we will have to try it!

We really liked Mexico City, especially after San Antonio: it’s filled with people, and shops, and culture. We like not speaking the language too.

February 27, 06:58 PM
San Antonio

James and I arrived in San Antonio Texas on Thursday after a easy start from DC at 6am and a little layover in Denver.

What brought us to the Lone Star State, you may ask?

I was slated to give a paper at FLAN, the Food Representation in Film, Literature and the Other Arts (so more like FRIFLOA). This was my first invitation to give an academic paper and I was very excited to speak on the silenced voices of the Food Network. After many drafts and a lot of loving critiques from James, I felt prepared to speak about personal creative expression, experimental learning* and female potential for subversion thorough interactions with food.

At the conference we (James paid a nominal registration fee that got him into all of the receptions as not to raise any eyebrows) heard so many though provoking speaker, engaged in great discussions and made some friends, including a Cincinnati-based artist ( and a historian from Canada whom we hung out with. They also made up the ‘under 30’ crowd of the conference. Check out the program here:

The U of T San Antonio Campus (downtown) is one of the satellite UT campuses and housed in a super modern building, and suspiciously unpopulated with students. But that’s no surprise: all of San Antonio a ghost-town, except for the tourist-infected areas.

Our first day:
-We visited the Alamo (on our ride from the airport to our hotel learned about the namesake for the Yellow Rose of Texas:
-Walked around some of the downtown
-Found the most efficient routes from hotel-to conference-to downtown
-Ate at the oft-recommended (we heard it about 40 times), grossly atmospheric Mi Tierra, with desperate mariachi performers.

Friday was filled with lectures and breaks to eat Tex-Mex (see review for Pico de Gallo), further exploration of the marcados (primaraly set up for tourists), wandering around the highly commercialized River Walk, the city’s main draw, and caved and ate at a place there (Italian food, not that remarkable called Peasonos).

Today, however, we got a ride to the Pearl area which is a repurposed factory/brewery come art and restaurant space and on Saturdays, a great farmer’s market. Thank you Alice for introducing us and giving us a lift! She is also a very accomplished scholar and cool person:

We are now exhausted and sunburned from our long pursuit in the sun to find a post office that was open (which we never did, and instead relied on the business center at the new, fancy Hyatt) in order to send my new, fancy clothes back to DC and lighten our load. Our final meal here was at Azuca, a nuevo-latin favorite amongst those in the know (we stumbled across it and were told we must be expert stumblers).

On to the next adventure Mexico, Costa Rica and Nicaragua

(*ESG prides itself on this one:)

johanna back in the US at last!
August 14, 10:15 AM
August 12, 10:56 AM

So many beautiful shades of red hair!

Today we explored the entirety of Dublin. In the words of everyone we met it is “teeny tinny” and we had fun going from shop to shop and seeing cafe after cafe. The emphasis of this English speaking crowd seems to be consumption, so shops were piled upon cafes stacked atop pubs. James was smitten with his purchase of a book on hieroglyphics and we found a great fair trade Oxfam shop to get gifts for his family and a belated b-day gift for Alyson (sorry, it’s soo late!).

We saw the free modern art gallery of Trinity College but balked at the expensive price of The Book of Kells exhibit. We then made our way to The National Library of Ireland’s on “Strangers to Citizens” about immigration and Ireland’s population.

We never really made it to the Castle or the other free museums, instead we walked in the Temple Bar area and heard the lovely accent and upbeat music.

However, we ate voraciously at a very good Indian place called Taste of India though we contemplated going to The Farm, a more expensive but interesting option for locally grown food. Maybe we will check it out later, but of course, we have to fulfill the national quota of beer and pub food first!

On a whim, we checked the box office for theater tickets, and luckily there were seats available for Riverdance tonight for only 10 euros per person. We can expect a ‘restricted view’ but the show is about the music anyways.

I wish we had time to visit the rolling hills of James’ ancient ballads and ditties. We hardly have a chance to mail a postcard to the US before it is time to go back and hang up our now well-worn backpacks. This only means, for me, more adventures to come;Onto the middle east and Africa next (umm, after a stint in the US saving up first)!

August 12, 03:18 AM

Who ever heard of a 40 euro per person fee for printing your boarding pass? Ryanair finds ways to keep rates low by inflicting steep penalties on passengers not used to the system.

We arrived at the airport about an hour away from Paris and found out that though we had checked in on line earlier that day, our reservation had not been processed fully, and to board the flight, we needed the boarding pass in hand. Since we did not have printer at the time (remember we did all of this from cafes that don’t have printers) we assumed that an electric reservation would suffice. However, unlike any other airline I’ve ever flown, we had to pay at the gate a massive fee of 80 euros for the two of us for boarding passes, costing as much as the tickets themselves.

The airport was no more than a shed in the middle of the field and terrible disorganized and overflowing with Ryanair customers annoyed by plane delays and subjected to additional hidden fees. After standing in two hours of unruly lines, we waited on the floor of the airport for about an hour and then made a mad dash (literally running!) to the plane to claim a seat on the over booked flight. It was the most disorderly system I’ve seen outside of India.

We finally boarded a crowded plane and got to Dublin where the majority of public transportation had ended for the night. We took a coach (which was actually really nice) and then got off to find City Hostel but the numbering system of the street ranged non sequentially from 2 to 32 to 57 never including 6 (the hostel’s address). James found an apartment building with a door numbered 6 and wanted to knock. Convinced that it was a private residence, I suggested that we keep going and eventually, we found the hostel at the end of the block.

It is an ok place (there are over 85 people staying here) but the water in the showers is the push button sort that only turns on for about 30 seconds. I realize that is a conservation effort, but it is really difficult to wash your hair or even give the water a chance to warm up when you are pressing the button so often. The breakfast is less than aqueduct (bread, tea, milk some corn flakes) but at least they have reliable wireless in the lobby.

I hope to put these challenging instances of travel behind me and enjoy the day in Dublin!

August 10, 09:58 AM

Even more impressive than the Louvre in my eyes, was the modern art collection of Centre Pompidou. The inside-out building housed contemporary art from the 1900s to the present with a spectacular floor dedicated to female artists from the 20th century. We walked from gallery to gallery impressed by the selection of works and meaningful placement. I was really struck by the exhibit’s emphasis on the position of the female body in ‘public’ of the modern space. One room was framed with the following Virginia Woolf quote that stood out to me:

“Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size.”
- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

After about two hours of meaningful exploration (in the permanent collection I got to see one of my favorite Chagall’s and a great range of early Matisse) we had lunch in a square near by with a fountain teeming with modern art sculptures. Tasty buckwheat crepes and salad and then set off to the Catacombs.

We realized that they are closed on Monday at luckily, only the second of the four planned metro connections and changed our route to follow the 90 min walking tour of Monmarte in our guidebook. At our youthful rate, we completed the tour in about one hour and made a detour to the Sacred Heart church, a magnificent structure up on the hill of Montmarte. Walking by the studios of Serrat, Van Gogh and other greats we took in the scene (only slightly obstructed by tourists) and found a nice boulangrie and picked up one pastry for then and the other for later (the waiting is hard on James, I know!). Another very fun day, and we return to he cafe across the street to check email and have our Being and Time meeting. I am hardly worn out at all, I can put my energy into making dinner again this evening yumm, pasta, wine bread and cheese for a fraction of the price of eating out.