Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Do's and Don'ts of Costa Rica

DO:  Make sure you pay attention to the checklist provided for you.  DON'T take your hiking boots (or bug spray, or poncho) out at the last minute to make sure your weight is alright.  Tennis shoes and umbrellas work but only if you plan to leave them in the trash can.

DO:  Take a hopper plan (or boat) from place to place.  DON'T panic if the airport or waves look a bit daunting.

DO:  Pay attention to the plants around you.  DON'T forget to see the beauty of the small things like the leaves that insects have enjoyed.

DO:  Take a walk in the rainforest.  DON'T keep your eyes on the ground - Things are all around from ground to canopy.

DO: Enjoy the beach.  DON'T forget the sunscreen - even on cloudy days.  :(

DO: Make plans to stay in a local area away from tourist areas.  Get to know the people who live there.  Go to the places they go.  DON'T miss finding out about where they live and what life is like where they live.  Especially if they are as wonderful as the people I met.  Geovanny, Ivan, Ronaldo, Marixa, and Kate made our trip so much more fun!

DO: Take the walk to the beach.  DON'T worry about the 20 minute walk.  You'll see some cool things along the way and it will be worth it when you get there.

DO:  Keep your eyes open when walking around.  DON'T be surprised if the creepy crawlies in your room are crabs.

DO: Go with a guide into the rainforest.  These are bionic men.  They can see a leaf flutter at the top of a tree and get their telescope set up in less than five seconds to see an animal the size of your fist. They can smell an animal walking down a path.  I'm telling you - bionic men!  DON'T be that awkward person (not me) trying to zoom in if he puts the locust in an unfortunate location.  Get a full shot and just be glad you get to see the gigantic insect.

DO:  Keep your eyes open.  DON'T be surprised to find yourself surrounded by monkeys, watching a large group of agouti run/hunt, a tapir foraging, or thousands of red eye tree frogs making their way back up to the top of the canopy.

DO: Go scuba diving.  Just do it.  It's incredible to be swimming by a sea turtle, a shark, an octopus, a ray, schools of fish, lobster, and so many more things.  DON'T forget that you can breath underwater and that as awkward as closeups can be, it is fun for other people to laugh at.  Thank you to Ivan for documenting my first dives and not making me wear the wetsuit!

Most importantly, DO go with a good friend.  Go with someone who will push you to try new things like diving and ziplining, go hiking with you, fly the hopper plan, walk all over the area with you, take cute pictures with you, and laugh.  DON'T go with someone who is afraid of a week of being natural and helping you remember that it is a very good thing once in a while.

Thanks for a great week, Mandie!  You DO make my life so much fun and I DON'T think I can wait to do it again.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Israel - Part Two

When Emily and I were leaving Israel in April, I had a lump in my throat.  I had fallen in love with a this beautiful country and did not have enough time.  So as we sat in the airport waiting for the plane to take us back to Cairo, I shot off an email to a travel agent.  Were there cheaper tickets available for the week after school was finished?  Before gate opened for boarding, I had a ticket back and a skip in my step.  Not only was this to be a trip back to Israel but my first trip on my own.  It was a great experience.  Don't get me wrong, there were definitely times I missed people.  Thank goodness for free wifi!  However, for my first time out alone, it really could not have gone any better.

The first two nights were spent in Tel Aviv.  Since I was coming in during the Sabbath, I knew that most things would be closed.  What better way to kick off summer than on the beach and boardwalk?  So that's exactly what I did.  Mediterranean Sea, the best pizza I've had in recent memory, amazing ice cream, and a beautiful sunset.  Great day!

On Sunday, I headed to Jerusalem.  I wish I could adequately say how much I love this city.  I was sitting by a random person on the bus and it took everything I had not to laugh and smile like a fool when we turned the corner and came into the city.  Ok.  So I wasn't successful.  I smiled like a fool.  I checked in to the guesthouse and as I was walking to the room, I heard singing coming from an attached church.  It was the end of the service and they were singing one of my current favorite songs - 10,000 Reasons.  I may or may not have stood with my backpack on my back in the back of the church just for that moment.  It was a perfect start to Jerusalem.  I dropped my stuff off and headed to Yad Vashem.  Hands down on the of the best museums I have every been to.  Powerful displays telling the story of the Holocaust.

The next day I went to Bethlehem.  I don't know what I was looking forward to more - the church/sites or seeing Palestine.  First I went to the Church of the Nativity and the Shephard's Field.

As we were leaving, we drove by the wall dividing Bethlehem (West Bank) from Jerusalem (Israel).  There was some amazing street art of the wall - some just sprayed up there and some that was thoughtful and intricate.  I only got pictures from the car but they came out alright.  This was one of my favorites.  I could do a post just on the wall.  It was amazing!

That afternoon I went to an art museum called On the Seam and then walked to a produce market.  It was nice to just walk around and explore a new part of the city.

The next day was full of fun small things as well.  I did the first half of the Rampart Walk in the morning.  There is something about these walls that I love.  They are beautiful and strong.  They always take my breath away.  It was really interesting to see how the city - Old and New Cities - changed as you walked around the walls.

After the first half of the walk, I went down for the Kotel tour.  Kotel is another name for the Western Wall.  We were able to go under the Old City and see what excavation has been done.  We were able to see the different layers of the wall as well as the closest point to where the Holy of Holies one stood. At this point, there were prayers left in the cracks of the wall just as in the Western Wall above ground.

We were also able to see the base of Mount Moriah.  This is a significant point for the Jewish people.  This is believed to be the point of where creation began, where Abraham sacrificed Isaac, and where the Holy of Holies stood.

After the Kotel tour, I went over to see Dome on the Rock built on the Temple Mount.  

Then I finished the Ramparts Walk.

The last day is Israel was my favorite.  It started with a sunrise hike to Masada.  I initially thought this was the biggest mistake of the trip - it was tough!  However, it was totally worth it!  Here I am at sunrise on top of Masada.

This is the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea from Masada at sunrise.

Rebel's Quarters

After the hike, we went to En Ged Nature Perserve.  I overheard a tour guide say this area inspired the Song of Solomon.  It was so beautiful that I absolutely believe it!  There were gorgous waterfalls throughout the oasis and great views of the Dead Sea.  The waterfalls felt wonderful after the hike.

We had a great guide for the day.  He was very funny and so easy to talk to.  As we drove from place to place, he had hilarious playlists and great information.  As we stopped at an overlook of the Dead Sea, he was telling us about the recession of the Dead Sea.  According to him, the Sea is drying up so quickly that if this rate continues, the Sea will be gone in 35 years.  Apparently the government is working on it but we'll see.

Once we got to the beach, we immediately went in for a float.  It was unbelievable!  I didn't expect to float that easily and it was just like sitting in a chair.  We also decided to indulge in the mud.  I don't think I have ever been that soft in my life!

When we got back to Jerusalem, I got cleaned up and went to meet a friend from Wolfe for dinner.  Her father lives in Israel and we had one night we were in the same place at the same time.  We ate, window shopped, and caught up in the Jewish Quarter.

The next morning I left and said goodbye to the wonderful guesthouse I stayed with.  If you ever need a place to stay in Jerusalem, this is the place to stay - helpful, friendly, and so kind!

As I left, I was overall pleased with the trip but a bit sad that I didn't get to see one neighborhood I wanted to explore.  It is an ultra orthadox Jewish neighborhood where no photos are allowed.  However, I just ran out of time.  As the sharoot took us to the airport, I noticed that our route took us right through this neighborhood.  So while I didn't get to walk it, I did get to see it as it woke up for the day.  I was so happy!

Leaving was hard.  I don't know when I'll get to go back again.  I think Israel will be one of those places I could return to over and over and never get tired of it.  I feel at home there and have grown to love it like few other places I've been.  I'm hoping for a third trip one day but until then, I have wonderful memories from this great week.