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!

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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

 

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

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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! 

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All photos in this post taken by Andrea Pacheco.