When news of Fidel’s death hit, I didn’t pretend to be excited or saddened. Unlike white folks who speak to Serena Williams’ version of feminism, I kept quiet and observed. Again, when you don’t know shit about a topic; keep quiet, do your research, and even still, refrain from sharing your unwanted opinion unless asked. It takes discipline, but I promise your blog, website, etc… won’t lose readers if you sit-out one media heavy hitter.
So, while my friends debated whether Fidel was important to black struggle, Cubans danced in Little Havana, Florida, andAlice Walker wrote beautiful poetry, I researched Cuba.
Photos: Tierra Taylor, Syracuse University Class of 2014
Photos: Tierra Taylor, Syracuse University Class of 2014
What I learned is that Cuban affairs, like most things, are not black and white. Furthermore, America’s history with the country is messy and shockingly roots back to imperialism and capitalism. According to A brief History of the United States and Cuba, a Vox short video, the relationship started back in the 1850’s.
Since then, there was a court decision that discussed how the United States would occupy space and policy on the island nation, an uprising in 1933, that whole Batista vs. Fidel thing, a little help from Russia, the reason for Little Havana, and President Obama’s historical visit since President Calvin Coolidge (visited in 1928).
Vox takes 160 years of complicated history and packages it in an easy to understand video.
From there, decide what aspect of the Cuban-American relationship to research. If you’re like me, you’ll soon find yourself down a rabbit hole — follow the rabbit, not just because it’s 4/20, but because you’ll end up asking great questions and it is important that you have a grasp on foreign affairs.
Photos: Tierra Taylor, Syracuse University Class of 2014
Photos: Tierra Taylor, Syracuse University Class of 2014
As a lover of travel, my goal is to understand how the countries I visit operate. I encourage everyone who is excited to post-up next to cool cars in Cuba to do the same. Have something more to say about the Cuban experience than I had a great Cuban sandwich.
Photos: Tierra Taylor, Syracuse University Class of 2014
Tierra Taylor is a graduate of Syracuse University. She is a Creative Assistant at Essence Magazine. To learn more about Tierra, follow her on Instagram @tierrajtaylor.
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.
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.
Arenal Volcano is relatively young, about 4,000 years old (PBS).
The eruption in 1968 made Arenal Volcano into a twin. Overtime a second volcano formed (Eco Terra Tour Guide).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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 Travelersa 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.”
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 Travelers. It 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.”
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.
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
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.
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.”
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 Marketthen we checked out Irazu Volcano in the province of Cartago. I’ll be blogging about my experience at Irazu and with Sola Travelerstomorrow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meet Sarah from Colorado! She’s been traveling throughout Central American by herself for the past three weeks.
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.
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
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.