La Fortuna, the place of Fortune

It’s a Monday morning in 1968. You’ve just had a great weekend with your family and friends in your local town. You live in San Carlos which is a county in the province of Alajuela, Costa Rica. 

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San Carlos, Alajuela, Costa Rica (Google Maps).
There are four districts in San Carlos: Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo, San Luis, and El Borio or La Fortuna. You live in “The Fortunate,” La Fortuna. It is rumored that your town was named for its good luck long before this Monday in 1968, but some tell a different story because you were the only location left untouched when boulders and lava shot through the air.

A history lesson 

Around 7:30AM on a Monday in July of 1968, Arenal Volcano which had been dormant for nearly 500 years, since 1520, decided to awaken from its slumber. In doing so, it managed to shoot boulders and lava through the air at 600 meters per second (Costa Rica Highways). The devastation killed 87 people and destroyed most of San Carlos, Tabacón, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luís, but left La Fortuna or “The Fortunate” untouched.

Fun Facts 

  • Volcanoes do not always spew out lava when they erupt. As is the case with Volcan Irazú y Volcan Poas, they most often let out out ash, vapor (gas and liquid), sulfur and other gasses. Volcanic excrements can be extremely hot, but can also be cold.
  • Volcanoes have four stages: extinct (RIP to the Volcano that is now just a mountain); dormant or sleeping (like a hibernating bear waiting to rumble awake); active (it’s like when your doctor asks if you’re sexually active — sometimes here and there, waiting for it to happen again); and erupting (actually throwing rocks, boulders, gassing it up, hot lava — all happening right now).
  • Nicaragua’s Masaya Volcano is apparently active and you can see lava.

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PBS.org
What to do 

  • Absolutely everything you can imagine, especially if you enjoy adventure. There was so much to do I felt like I could have stayed in Arenal for a full week and actually regret not having booked a longer stay.
  • What I did: a tour of Arenal Volcano park (lots of animals); La Fortuna Waterfall (freezing cold but quite refreshing); Hanging Bridges (super wobbly); and Hot Springs.
  • What I wished I had time for: cave exploration, ATV riding, horseback riding and spa massages.
  • I recommend booking your tour through Eco Terra Costa Rica. My guide was Julio. He was funny, knowledgeable, an interactive presenter, kept the group together, took great photos (below), and helped make the experience what it was.

Where to stay 

  • I booked my stay through AirBnB. My hosts, Hernan y Alejandra, were amazing, click here to book.
  • The AirBnB is located on the same property as Arenal Volcano Inn and only cost a fraction of the price, but I guarantee that you will not receive a fraction of their incredible service.
  • The staff is friendly, helpful when it comes to booking tours or calling taxis (no Uber in this region), and quite responsive.
  • Their is a restaurant on property, Que Rico. The name does not lie, it is in fact delicious. Everything on the menu is delicious, but if you are a pizza lover definitely order a pie — there is a brick oven on property. Remember to ask for Salsa Lizano! 
  • The actual room is very clean, has two comfortable beds, a TV with many channels, AC, a table, couple stools and other pieces of furniture. A great view right outside the door.

 

Thanks for reading! Come back soon!

 

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Cat-Calling Colonial Nicaragua

I have spent quite a long time traveling for a 45 minute plane ride to Granada, Nicaragua! The initial plan was to spend about a week in Costa Rica then make my way to Jinja Island in Panama, but I made a last minute change. I was actually looking forward to meeting Graham Hughes, the man who travelled 220 countries without flying, but getting to him proved to be more challenging than I anticipated. The flight out of San Jose to Bocas Del Toro, Panama, is quite expensive, more than $500, and the bus ride is about 12 hours. As much as I have enjoyed venturing solas, the thought of spending half a day on a public bus during one of Central America’s busiest seasons, La Semana Santa (Holy Week), freaked me out a bit. Instead, I decided to fly into Managua, Nicaragua. The flight was cheaper and the country promised beauty, sunshine, and culture left unexplored.

Flight 

  • I booked my flight through Volaris instead of Copa because I wanted to arrive before dark.
  • Volaris delayed the flight by almost four hours without ANY prior notification so instead of arriving in Managua at 3:08PM, we landed close to 7PM. They did not offer to discount my ticket for the terrible service.
  • I arranged a pick-up with the Hostel that I am staying at. The ride out to Granada was about an hour from the airport.

Hostel

  • It’s quite beautiful. I’m staying in a shared dormitory that takes eight people. I can pass the name along once I’ve left Granada, so message me if you’d like it.
  • It cost me $10 per night which includes a shared kitchen, a small library, a ceiling fan that sounds like calming water fountain, four private showers, shared spaces, and acrobatic cats.

Culture 

  • Granada is very beautiful — it’s a Colonial town full of colors, music, late night restaurants and street performers. I went to check out the Downtown with two ladies from Canada. It was quite nice to explore at night, have a beer, and chat with others — I’ve missed that. Parts of the trip have been quite lonely because I’ve avoided going out after dark for safety.
  • I have found the cat-calling incredibly surprising. Before arriving, I spoke to folks who have traveled in Nicaragua and read a number of blogs that addressed cat-calling and sexual assault in Nicaragua; they were not lying. I intend to be much more vigilant here than I needed to be in Costa Rica.

What about the rest of your time in Costa Rica 

  • My last three days in Costa Rica were amazing, but I have been so exhausted that I have not blogged about them yet. Worry not, I will. Come back to find out how my stay in La Fortuna, Alajuela was, and what happened when I finally ventured out at night in San Jose. 
  • For those who intend to check out Arenal Volcano, definitely stay in Hernan and Alejandra’s airbnb (click for link). More to come on why. For now, I’ll say this: clean, comfortable, incredible staff, amazing food, and amazing views.

I’ll see you back here tomorrow!

Feel free to leave any tips on how to deal with cat-calling, what I must see while in Nicaragua, or whatever else!

Creating empathy one guest a time

If a song played every morning when Gabriela wakes up it would be Beyonce’s Run The World. I have no idea if this Costa Rican badass feminist actually listens to Queen Bey, but what I do know is that when she moves its with the same purpose those drum beats prepare for Beyonce’s entrance on the record.

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Gabi, 37-years old and born in Alajuela, Costa Rica, is one of Air BnB’s most sought-after San Jose hosts.
If it were not for her mother, Gabi would not be a native of Alajuela, the province home to famous hot springs and Volcano Arenal.  

“My parents were migrants in Ohio, they were looking for the American Dream.”

Six months into her pregnancy, Rita, Gabi’s mother, decided she could no longer handle the quest for the dream or the weather — the family moved back to Costa Rica and three months later Gabriela entered the world, drum beats and all.

Becoming an AirBnB host can be a lucrative opportunity, but not everyone does it and those who do are not always successful. Frankly, not all people are cut out to receive guests, but Gabi manages to master the work in a manner I haven’t seen before. 

“I feel at home when I am with people who are different and diverse.”

Gabi goes on to say that “diversity is our most developed state of civilization, so I am always in need of coming together with different people.”

The key here is that Gabi doesn’t only treat AirBnB as an opportunity to make more money. Rather, she focusses on the importance of building a global community. According to AirBnB’s website it’s a “trusted community marketplace for people,” Gabi puts intention in creating community and because of that more than 400 travelers have wish-listed her home, the lovely house, light, hush and air!

Air Bnb
Gabi has been an AirBnB member for five years, but became a host three years ago.
More than 3,000,000 homes are listed on AirBnB. Gabi decided to join the community three years ago. She made the decision because she feels her home is beautiful and wants to share it with others.

“You don’t know your guests, but you care about them.”

That’s not something Gabi had to tell me; it’s something I felt from the moment she messaged me back.

“I’m a bit nervous because this is my first solo vacation,” I typed to her back in March.

“I totally understand you being nervous…but Costa Rica is lovely and you will find a lot of people to help you!”

I can be quite needy, it’s one of those personally traits that sneaks up when my independence takes a nap, but I truly haven’t needed anyone else but Gabi. The reason? She prepared me with a full page of information four days before my check-in. When I arrived, Gabi sat me down to review a map of the neighborhood and handed me two pages of things to do and see in Costa Rica.

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Among my belongings: a map Gabi made, a country-wide draft itinerary, and a full page of things to do and see locally in San Jose. 

 

Gabi is such a great host that one wonders if she has any other jobs. It turns out, she has four. In addition to being the chosen of AirBnB’s marketplace, Gabi prints lamps, works as an anthropologist for Civil Society Organizations and Teachers Unions, directs graduate student research at a local university, and does private sector consulting.

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On her free time, Gabi prints and sells lamps.

Of her five jobs, AirBnB hosting is a family business. Gabi’s mother, Rita, is also a host. Seeing Gabi talk about her mother is comforting; she sort of glows. “My mom is kind of amazing,” she says smiling beautifully, “I think she is a feminist and doesn’t know it.”

Rita has six other children. She raised all seven while building a career and remaining an active member of her local catholic church.

“My mom truly feels enthusiastic when people are doing well, and she has built her feminism according to her catholic values.”

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“Equality is something you build everyday, it is not given for granted,” Gabi says reflecting on how Rita, her mother, has helped mold her feminist theory. 

 

 

To close out our conversation, I asked Gabi this, “if everyone you have hosted could only write a one-sentence review about you, what would they say?”

“Thinking of my guests, I would say…” — Gabi starts to answer, but after a few words, she’s brought to tears. It’s clear that those who have shared her home are family, many of them having become lifetime friends. With her global family in mind and through quivering lips, Gabi says she’d review herself with this sentence…

“Always grateful and always looking forward to meeting again, no matter for how long.”

To book with Gabi, click here.

“AirBnB is amazing, it goes beyond the shared economy. It goes until the very point of allowing us to learn collective intimacy and instant bonding, through that we create empathy. “

–Gabi, AirBnB host of three years