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.

Lamps
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

 

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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.”

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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. 

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. 

 

Watch your toes day and night

Last night, after I got settled in with Gabi, I walked over to the supermarket. While there, I noticed that dark was quickly approaching so I asked a woman whether it is safe for women to walk at night in San Jose.

“Las mujeres nunca están seguras,” she gave me one of those stern mothering looks that reminded me of my good friend Samantha Shaw — she’d give me that stare down if I asked that question.

I could spend time writing about that introspective comment, but let’s just say I agree with the woman from the yogurt isle; women are never safe.

Watch your toes day and night

Women aren’t the only ones who need to remain alert when walking the streets in San Jose; everyone should, because the sidewalks have more cracks than a Playboy magazine.

As you saw in yesterday’s post, San Jose is pretty modern. There are crosswalks, sidewalks, paved roads, public buses with comfortable seating, trains, local airplanes, and street lights. However, it’s important to take into account that the trains run in the street alongside buses, cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians. What’s especially concerning is that drivers move about with the impatience of New York City taxi drivers, so you better have quick feet if you decide to walk! I’ve been walking everywhere and love it– best believe my legs are going to be lit.

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As you can see, Costa Rica has street lights, cross walks, etc…

One last point about streets, street signs are far and few. So know your way before you leave your home destination. If you don’t purchase an internet card for your SmartPhone, download maps.me, it’s a mapping tool that navigates without wifi.

I don’t want to feel like a tourist, although I am one

Studying abroad in Spain for about four months in college solidified my desire to experience new spaces as if I live there.

Today, I wandered around the Parque Nacional in Downtown San Jose, entered government buildings to ask questions about what goes on there (which proved to be a great way to practica mi Español), and stumbled into a presentation on digital databases at the Biblioteca Nacional.

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Biblioteca Nacional Miguel Obregon Lizano

See the images below to find out where else I went!

I spent about an hour at CENAC and close to three at El Museo Nacional (tons of great history and exhibits). The Museo also has a butterfly conservatory there at the moment — I spent quite some time reading about “mariposas” en Español.

Fun Fact! 

Marcus Garvey spent some years in Costa Rica working to get Afro-Costa Ricans (mostly of Jamaican descent) back to Africa. 

Costa Day 2_Marcus Garvey

A few more stops before heading back to Gabi’s 

Before heading back to Gabi’s for the evening, I stopped at Arteria, which seemed to be mostly a t-shirt shop, and was followed around every corner of the store. The two young folks working there did not greet me or ask if I needed anything, a young woman just followed me around as I looked at the merchandise — not a good feeling. But! I did find this bag to be super funny given I have a poem titled Viejo Verde in Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe. 

Costa Day 2_Viejo Verde

After Arteria, I stopped right next door, Cafe Miel, where I enjoyed a delicious chipotle patty. The shop is cozy and the staff is friendly.

What I didn’t get to

  • Museo Jade de Costa Rica
  • Shopping
    • I’ve decided that I won’t shop on this trip to save money and because I’m sola
    • There’s a fairly large market near Plaza Democratica where folks are dying to bargain so take them up on it!
  • Mercado Central
    • I’ll likely get there another day
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Here’s a shot from Gabi’s porch early this morning.

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.