Sola Travelers: A friend in every city

The woman who warned me that “las mujeres nunca están seguras,” when I inquired about how safe it is for me to walk around at night in San Jose is not just the owner of an introspective quote for a blog post. Yogurt isle lady from the Automercado is part of a tribe of women who understand what it is like to walk around in our bodies. How we rarely feel safe in streets, no matter if the sun shines. Despite what Vice-President Mike Pence believes, women play a greater role in the workforce than temptress, so we often travel for business. Other times, we travel for pleasure — to discover what else that is out there. When we want to explore; go out at night, lay out on the beach, read a book in a sunny park, dance to music from a new culture, or perhaps shop, get our nails done, find a sexy dress, we do not always feel safe doing it alone in a foreign country although as long as we are women our native communities also do not offer complete safety.

That sad reality is why Founder of Sola Travelers Valeska Toro started her company Sola Travelers a few months ago; to give women a friend in every city in case they want the safety of companionship.

“During one of my travels last year, a stranger at a bar harassed me. I didn’t think that it would affect me that much, but the next day, I was still pretty upset about it. That day, I met a woman over lunch and told her about the incident. I had never met her before, but she understood exactly where I was coming from. It was in that moment that I realized that women around the world share a common understanding and connection. It made me think about a world where women could support each other and help each other travel.”

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When Valeska is not building mobile apps, she likes to go to small venue concerts, live DJ spin classes or one of her favorite restaurants.

The man who assaulted Valeska is not unique; he is also part of a band, this one is made up of sick men who believe a woman’s body is made to please them. These men have hands that know no limits, dirty lips that cat-call, and eyes that search for vulnerabilities. This gang is one many women fear.

So what’s the solution? 

Women, like myself, enjoy travel and there are times when we prefer to or have to do it alone. There are countless articles out there about how to stay safe in a foreign country — I read quite a few on BuzzFeed, TripAdvisory, Travel Noire, Independent Traveler, etc… before booking my trip to Costa Rica, my first solo viaje. If you plan to travel alone, I suggest you do some research as well.

There’s also Valeska’s budding company, Sola TravelersIt is now based in four locations: New York City; Orlando, Florida; Washington D.C.; and Costa Rica (San Jose and Playa Hermosa). 

“It’s interesting. During one of the women’s marches, we found a picture of a woman holding up a sign that read ‘I don’t want to be afraid to travel alone’ and when you think about it, it doesn’t have to be this way. We, as women, have the power to change this. With Sola, we want to give women a platform to become an Insider and help other women travel to their city while at the same time earning extra income on their terms. Alternatively, we want to give women around the world the ability to travel freely and have piece of mind knowing that they have a network of amazing women to support them.”

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Photo: @ivacaminando

Given Valeska’s vision and the tribe of intelligent women she has on her team, I’m sure Sola Travelers will find a way to keep you safe, empowered, and exploring wherever you are as the company continues to grow.

My experience with Sola Travelers 

Sola Travelers has recently expanded to Costa Rica (San Jose and Playa Hermosa), and I was their first trip. What are traditionally tour guides, Valeska has deemed Sola Insiders, women who consult, create an itinerary for you, and/or take you out. My Sola Insider is Andrea Pacheco. 

Andrea
Andrea Pacheco works as a Program Manager, loves to dance, and enjoys going to pilates class, concerts, and the beach.

The beauty of Sola Travelers is that it matches you with a friend in every city. It truly feels like I have company in Andrea. Before taking me out on Saturday, she and I Facebook messaged and spoke on the phone. From our conversations, she determined my interests and sent me three options for our field trip. This social media and phone personalized process was unique to me. Normally, travelers will go to Sola Travelers’ website, find what they want to do, and book it there. The Sola Insider then reaches out to the Sola and they plan from there. 

After Andrea and I hung out on Saturday, we stayed in touch. I’m the kind of person who likes to go with the flow in my personal life so I don’t have a solid itinerary. When I see something interesting, I forward it to Andrea. Typically, she’ll tell me whether that area is on the safer side, how accessible it is by taxi or Uber, and whether she knows a friend nearby. If you prefer consulting before you arrive to your respective city, that can also be arranged through your Sola Insider. How cool is all this, right!

Andrea and I at Irazú

Companion

That’s great, but how much does all this cost 

According to Valeska, Sola Insiders have control over what they charge and it varies by city.

“Our experiences currently range from $50-300 depending on what city you’re in and what you’d like to do.”

No matter what experience a Sola chooses, she will receive real-time support from a Sola Insider during her stay.

My afternoon with Andrea 

  • Andrea picked me up from the Feria Verde Organic Market where I spent my morning eating, strolling, speaking Español, and writing.
  • I selected option 3: a trip to Irazú Volcano in Cartago and a late lunch. The drive up to Irazú was about 40 minutes. On the way up, Andrea and I spoke about our experiences traveling, work, culture, family, and Costa Rica. One of the benefits of going on a trip with a Sola Insider is that you get a one-on-one course on the city you’re exploring.
  • When we arrived at Irazú, I actually had no idea I was inside of the volcano; Andrea made that known. She showed me where the craters are, told me about the Coati, a small animal that lives in the area, took photos of me, and when I wanted room to roam alone and write, she gave me my freedom.
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I keep on falling in an out of a volcano without you! *Alicia Keys voice*
  • On our way back down to San Jose, we stopped at Linda Vista, a local town restaurant best known for its delicious food and walls covered in business cards. At Andrea’s recommendation, I had a sweet cup of warm agua dolce and we shared a plátano maduro con queso. I topped that off with a lomito encebollado. 
  • Andrea had also planned a nighttime outing for us, but I decided to skip out given I have been fighting a cold all trip. What’s important is she was prepared to continue our day as planned.

As Andrea drove me around, she answered difficult questions with facts and passion; I got the feeling she truly believes in Pura Vida.

“I really like my city and my country, and by showing it to others I think it makes me be grateful. Its a reminder to not take things for granted.”

Andrea solo photo
Andrea pictured in Amsterdam on one of her solo trips. She enjoys traveling and sees Sola Travelers as a way to give back to all the people who have helped her make her way.

Want more of Sola Travelers?! 

Come back daily to find out what adventure I jump into next! 

Jumping Flose

All photos in this post taken by Andrea Pacheco. 

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Peace at the Feria Verde Organic Market

Costa Rica has such a great reputation for honeymooning, yoga retreats and nature, but I think it needs to start advertising itself as the place to give your muscles and heart a great workout while checking out amazing views.

Yesterday, I spent the day at Manuel Antonio Park and when I tell you my legs woke up screaming this morning, I’m not joking. They were like, no more walking Flose, but I made them take me to the Feria Verde Organic Market then we checked out Irazu Volcano in the province of Cartago. I’ll be blogging about my experience at Irazu and with Sola Travelers tomorrow.

Feria Verde Organic Market 

  • Opens 7AM – 12:30PM!
  • It’s a small market where you can purchase organic vegetables, meditate, and listen to music. Their is a nearby basketball court and a large field where a group of 20/30 somethings were practicing some sort of frisbee game.
  • Today there was a Monk who ran a meditation class that I sat in on. The main take-away from his session is that we are responsible for our own happiness and that in the same way we brush our teeth twice a day or clean a pair of glasses, we need to clean/clear our minds. To learn more visit, Peace Revolution. 
  • It’s the kind of place where folks smile at you, children tug on their parents, and food smells fresh.
  • I enjoyed a delicious cold fighting juice from Mandalafruta.
  • And topped it off with a mozzarella, kale, eggs, mushroom, pita plate of deliciousness from El Lonche.
  • I broke my no shopping rule for a gorgeous neckless and earrings combo from P FOR POPPINS because the jewelry is made from real butterfly wings; I found that quite unique. No butterflies are harmed in the process, each wing is collected after the lifecycle.

  
  

Come back tomorrow, I’ll be blogging about my experience at Irazu Volcano and with Sola Travelers. 

 

No monkeying around!

At 4:30AM this morning my iPhone alarm rang to remind me to get my behind out of my comfortable twin size bed. I rolled over, shut off the alarm and almost said screw Manuel Antonio, but then I remembered all the beautiful pictures I’ve seen online and dragged myself out! As much as I love sleep, I am in Costa Rica; I can’t be monkeying around with my time.

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These little guys are quick and have an itching for almost anything in a bag.

How I made my way to Manuel Antonio 

  • I caved in and re-downloaded Uber for convenience and safety (I deleted it after the company tried to profit from the Taxi strike in NYC). I left the house at 5:15AM this morning to make it to the bus station. Carlos, the driver, took about four minutes to arrive — much quicker than Uber in the states.
  • Tracopa Bus Terminal is on Calle 5 y Avenida 18 in San Jose (you can look it up or ask your driver, they’ll know).
  • Once there, purchase a 6:00AM ticket to Manuel Antonio at the window. Make sure you purchase a roundtrip ticket otherwise you’ll have to take a bus to Quepos from the beach to get to San Jose. I was given two tickets out of San Jose rather than a roundtrip so make sure you read your tickets and confirm that they are correct. Total: $16 // 8,730 colones.
  • I have found the bus system quite efficient here. For example, the seating is assigned on your ticket and drivers arrive and leave on time.
  • The trip from San Jose to Manuel Antonio is about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Tracopa driver makes one 10-15 minute stop about halfway for food and bathroom. There is no wi-fi or toilet on the bus, but it does have AC and comfortable seating.
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The last bus from the beach at Manuel Antonio leaves at 5pm. If you have a roundtrip ticket you do not have to bus to Quepos first.

I’m at Manuel Antonio, now what 

The ticket to get into the park is $16 and has to be purchased at a booth about 100 meters from the entrance gate.

Once you have purchased your ticket at that booth, you can enter the gate to get into the park where you will likely get heckled to buy a tour guide experience. The guy who approached me and another American (she and I became great friends, stay tuned!) said we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the park without a guide.

Well, the heckler was right. Once I entered there were groups of people in small circles with tour guides who spotted everything from tiny frogs, lizards, birds to monkeys way up in trees. Although, I did not have a tour guide, whenever I saw a group of people stop to stare at something, I stopped too. While looking for a brown bird in a tree, I ran into the American from the entrance gate, since we were both solas, we decided to become pals for the day.

Sarah and I walked the trails together, saw more monkeys and a big ol’ sloth trying to carry on with its afternoon nap. FYI: Do not go to the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica. I looked it up and was shocked to read about how terribly the sloths are treated. Of course, have a look for yourself.

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Taking a nice jump-stretch on the Southern Beach. PC: Sarah

After spending about three and a half hours in Manuel Antonio, Sarah and I headed out to grab some lunch. Most of the restaurants in the area charge about a 20% tax on top of your meal.

Good to knows

  • Wear comfortable shoes or sneakers
  • There is water at Manuel Antonio, I filled up my bottle from the spigot there and my stomach was just fine but it might depend on you
  • You can use credit, American cash or colones
  • Drink lots of water
  • Your hands might swell from the hike, don’t freak out, have something with a bit of salt at lunch
  • The 5:00PM bus dropped off a little after 8:30PM –there are taxis available at the station or you can request an Uber — my cab ride cost 4,000 colones (which is a bit high, but I was too tired to bargain)

Tonight, I am going to bed with this question in mind… Why is Costa Rica considered a third world country? I understand that there is a percentage of poor here, but is that the only marker to measure development given developed countries like the U.S. have high poverty.

So far, I have found that Costa Rica has paved roads, is environmentally friendly although parts of San Jose remain spewed with garbage, education is important and the government invests in it, there has been an increase in employment, and technology is available and booming. Lastly, I have found Costa Rica to be relatively safe as well. This idea of third world countries is definitely something I want to think about some more because frankly Costa Rica is no Haiti.

Costa Day 3_Beach
Thank you for reading. Come back soon!

 

I hope Costa Ricans don’t speak their Spanish as fast as the Flight Attendant

“How do I get it to work on airplane mode,” he says to me pointing at the curved lines on the top left of the iPad.

I have been sitting an empty seat away from him for about two hours while I finished The Farming of Bones quietly, taking short moments to cry then wipe my tears away.

“It’s not you, we don’t have access to wi-fi on this flight.”

He smiles and takes a breath before responding with a grainy voice. I wonder if he’s an expat, one of those Americans who has come to find solace in a foreign land because the place we’ve claimed as United is much like the break terror takes when its hand grows tired from the sling of the whip.

“You young people know how to do these things better than I ever could.”

“It’s not you,” I remind him. We smile at each other as the flight attendant announces that we’ll need to fill out two immigration forms.

This is my first solo trip. It is also my debut as an American and I have a dark blue passport to prove it. Earlier this morning when Lorrie, my adoptive Florida mom, drove me to the Tri-Rail station I was quiet with nerves. I mean, I am super pumped — it’s my first solo trip out of the country by my damn self. But it’s also scary. Last night, I stacked a first aide kit on top of medical tape, praying that I won’t have to use any of my precautionary items.

I am excited to use my grammar-less Spanish.

I can’t wait to wander into small-town markets and local museums.

I want to reward myself with the legs of mountains as I stare down at a small town from the top of a volcano hike.

I look forward to my words thriving — I write best when god and the universe converse quietly with me in my travels.

I am grateful to be millennial rich, the kind of affluency that allows for Airbnb rentals, day trips and a few days on an island in Panama for the price of a hammock.

Right now, sitting in my window seat with Beyonce singing in my ear, I am proud of myself. Happy to know that I am the kind of woman who will challenge herself to live outside of comfort. The kind who searches for humanity in new lands. It’s what we were meant to do, you know, rather than capture, kill, rape, and seize (sorry, it’s hard to quite my justice brain).

Anyway, come back here over the next couple of weeks, I plan to share my journey with you.

Helpful nuggets on day one:

  • I am spending my first full week with Gabriela; it cost me only $183. I could have stayed in San Jose for much less or much more. The reason I decided to go with Gabi’s place is because it seemed to have a homey feel (and it delivers!) and other women who had travelled alone left her outstanding reviews. Within moments of contacting her, she responded and has not let me down since.
  • The immigration line is efficient, I moved through it in maybe 15 minutes.
  • When you arrive at the airport, you get access to internet for free so let your family and friends know you’ve arrived safely. If you’d like, you could also purchase an internet card for a couple U.S. dollars. I decided not to because I heard there is wi-fi everywhere is Costa Rica — so far, that holds true.
  • You can “cambia plata” or exchange money in the airport. I exchanged $40 which made out to a little over 19,000 colones, enough to cover me for a couple of days. Most places seem to take U.S. currency though.
  • When you get outside the heat will hit you immediately and you’ll be met with dozens of people standing with signs. There will also be a hoard of (unofficial) taxi drivers ready to bargain with you; all men. One offered to take me to Los Yoses for $30 and another quickly added that he’d take me for $20. After giving him my location, I realized he was not an official driver in one of the orange-red vehicles so I turned him down. I suggest not telling a random man in a foreign country where you’re going just because he has a sign that reads “TAXI.”
  • I took the public bus. If you don’t know where to find it, ask airport staff; they’re quite helpful. It cost 1,000 colones. Once I arrived in Los Yoses, San Jose, I took a taxi for less than 3,000 colones. I knew where to go and how much everything would cost because Gabi sent me a detailed email four days before my trip.
  • Once I settled in with Gabi, she explained the neighborhood to me and showed me an incredible map that she designed herself. I’d describe the map and accompanying directions as a marriage between your maps app and Yelp. Using her map, I was able to make it to “Automercado” successfully, but did get lost on the way back a couple of times before finding my way (to no fault of hers).

Thank you for reading about day one! I’m off to write up my itinerary for the week. See you back here tomorrow.