Travel: Costa Rica

So as some of you may know, my brother recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica. We were sitting at the round dinner table yesterday, the same one that we grew up on, eating our meals together as kids but also now, as adults. We were on our lunch break from work (we both work at the same dental clinic) and he was sharing with me his recent photos from the trip. I was floored by the beauty and the color that he was able to capture. I really appreciate his outlook and eye for photography and so I decided to share with you guys my favorite roll of film that was developed portraying Costa Rica through his lens. My brother uses a vintage camera and shoots everything in film. None of this was re-touched, and any artistic color you see was dependent on his decision to overexpose and produce burnout on the film, or not. Provecho!

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Photo Credit: Rian Oliver

Travel: With Eco-Friendly Attempts

Growing up, my family never did get around to much traveling. After all, traveling the world is a very costly thing to experience. However, it seems as if we’ve grown accustomed to a traveling lifestyle in our more recent years. In the last six months, my sister went to Alaska in June, Mike and I went to Mexico in July, followed by a family trip to Hawaii in that same month. My parents went to Palm Springs in August, Mike and I left for Germany in October, my sister left for Japan in November, my parents left for Florida in December, and next week, my brother leaves for Costa Rica. Hello January! It seems as if we are hardly in the same state for any given month. In retrospect, my siblings and I DID move around plenty in our early childhood years. By the time I got to my freshman year in high school, I had moved a total of ten times. I guess the nomad life chose us, and eventually, it permanently took hold.

Sadly, traveling comes with something more than a monetary cost, specifically when we are talking about air travel. It’s safe to say that air travel results in a significant environmental impact, and though a majority of the negative effects of travel comes from this one thing alone, I deny that nothing we do is negligible. I continue to believe that there are other ways in which we could attempt to minimize the harm we do to the environment, when traveling.

With my brother’s upcoming trip in mind, and with the recent posting of our Mexico travels [here], I feel the urge to share some of my more eco-friendly travel practices, while featuring some favorite products along the way.

+ Carry around a reusable bottle. We all need water to hydrate us during our explorations, whether it’s a city scape or the country side. It’s easy (read: convenient) to buy water bottles as needed. But most water comes packaged in plastic! So to reduce that, why not carry around a reusable bottle? In countries that are more developed, such as Germany and New Zealand, tap water is considered drinkable water. I was constantly filling my water bottle with water from bathroom sinks in Germany, not to be advised when you travel to other countries such as Mexico. So what of these other countries? I refill my water every chance I get, be it at a restaurant, or at the airport, or in the hotel room. There are many places to get safe water, and if you are not sure, then ask a local! We got the tap water tip from a German hostess at one of our earlier hotel stays. Additionally, this saves the airplane hostess from filling up a million of those disposable plastic cups for water alone. I make a note to fill up my water bottle from the airport’s water fountain right before boarding a flight. If I run out, as I do on extremely long flights, I simply ask the hostess to fill me right up. I got my Miir water bottle here, made entirely out of stainless steel. You can get a similar product here. Additional impact: MiiR partners with non-profits and other organizations to provide clean water in Honduras, Southeast Asia, and throughout Africa with a portion of their profits. Tracking your impact allows you to know where exactly the impact is happening, and an individual tracking code is sent with each bottle. MiiR is also a B-corporation ensuring good environmental, social, and transparent practices in the making of MiiR products.

+ Have a re-usable coffee mug handy, at all times. Okay, so this is a bit too similar to the above, I know. However, since a major travel activity of me and Mike’s is to drink different specialty coffees from all around the world, you can bet that we carry our reusable Keep Cup’s with us. Especially useful when one needs an energizing drink to sip on whilst roaming around the city streets, or to grab a quick dose of the liquid stuff before catching a shuttle to the mountainside. Whatever your travel agenda, if you drink coffee, this is worth packing. The specific mug we own can be found here. Additional impact: here.

+ Tote around your own utensils. I actually traipse around every day with the following utensils in my purse at all times: a fork, a spoon, a knife, a metal straw, and a pair of wooden chopsticks. For who knows when one is going to need utensils? If a friend asks you to eat take-out (see next note on take-out), then you could easily whip out your handy dandy utensils to avoid icky plastic versions. I carry them around in one of these from Ambatalia, for the sake of cleanliness, but any pouch works well. Additional impact: These utensil rolls are made out of mostly scraps- the denim is always reclaimed and intended to inspire using your own, or thrifted utensils. They don’t use any plastic in the shipping of our products and they use at least 80% post-consumer paper in any promotional and shipping materials. Thoughtfully designed and ethically manufactured in California. And don’t worry, I don’t carry around my own plates and bowls too! But, speaking of such things…

+ Choose to dine-in at restaurants. Dining in, while a bit costlier than their take-out counterparts, reduces the need for carrying around your own plate and bowl. Mike and I try our best to dine-in both while traveling, and while at home.  Part of the draw for me includes the absorption of the local’s cultures and behaviors. People-watching at a restaurant is considered an activity in itself, at least for introverts likes me. Especially over ice cream.

+ Exercise, exercise, exercise. Opt outside. Exploring all the natural wonders New Zealand had to offer was one of my favorite parts of the trip. For me, vacations include escaping city sounds and city lights and just enveloping myself in sights that I don’t get to see every day. Like a bird building its nest, or how a mountain meets a lake. Take note of everything Mother Nature has to offer. If you are anything like Mike, then what you crave is the city life in another country. Even so, get outside and walk, walk, walk. And when you can no longer walk…

+ Ride public transportation. There are some times when public transportation is just not feasible for visiting vast expanses of land in such a short amount of time. But whenever possible, let’s try to get to know the Metro, or the Subway, or the train! In New York, we solely used public transportation, despite the rain. Same with other large cities such as Munich, Auckland, and Queenstown. You see so much more of the city in that way. You notice the advertisements and billboards, and learn what’s popular at the time. You notice recycle bins, and maybe learn a thing or two about their recycling rules. As always, people-watching optional.

+ Support local stores. I already try to support local stores locally, but I like to carry this habit to other countries as well. Some of my favorite stores in New Zealand are local hole-in-the-wall, self-owned shops that carry ethically made products that are also ecofriendly. My favorite purchases from there include my every day grocery bag, and fruit and veggie mesh bags. Since then, I have never packaged produce in plastic.  Additionally, it helps to always carry a backpack, just in case you want to purchase something while you’re out and about. My favorite backpack is this. Additional impact: here.

+ Leave behind travel size toiletries. Equally as important, say no to free hotel toiletries packaged in plastic. Resolution: Pack soap, shampoo, and conditioner, in bar form. If you just can’t learn to dig bar forms for everything, choose a reusable bottle option, and buy the stuff in bulk, to reduce plastic waste.

+ Pack a snack bag, pre-filled with your fave munchies. Lastly, because food is pretty important while traveling, I prefer to pack a snack. For flights especially. To avoid receiving those individually packaged peanuts and cookies. Even the meals, which I love, are packaged in plastic! On the way to Germany, Mike and I sat I the last row and denied water and food from the poor flight attendant, every time. The flight attendant felt she wasn’t doing her job well enough and kept asking, “Are you sure?” On the way out, we passed her and thanked her for her hospitality, and she joked, “Gosh you two were the most demanding passengers!” Well, maybe she wasn’t joking, I couldn’t be sure. But either way, we left an impression and made it a point to deny one-time use plastic. Which gets people thinking, and I’d rather leave that behind than a trail of travel evidence.

Travel: Valle De Guadalupe Eats

Valle de Guadalupe is Baja’s best kept secret. Well known among creatives in the San Diego community, this little pocket is tucked away between the ocean and the mountain about one hour away from the Californian border. It is a flourishing wine region just north of Ensenada, and Mike and I consider it better than the wine regions in Napa and Santa Barbara, judged not only by the wine itself  (not that we are wine connoisseurs anyway), but also by the food, the location, and the overall ambiance. We like it so much that we have visited twice in less than a year and a half, and there was a moment where we looked into planning on buying a retirement home here. We also considered getting married here, but then realized that half of our loved ones wouldn’t make it to the wedding. In retrospect, we should have done it anyway. Valle has that relaxed winery vibe, set in an unassuming Mexican desert, with a lively flair.

Since the main highlight for us revolves mostly around the delicious food we consume here, I decided to post a few of the wineries and restaurants that we have dined at. A majority of the restaurants there practice farm to table practices, and the food just can’t get any fresher. These are definite, must-stop places if you visit La Valle! Enjoy!

Deckman’s En El Mogor

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Finca Altozano

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Corazon de Tierra

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Cuatro Cuatros

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Travel: The Routeburn Track, New Zealand with Ultimate Hikes

This was by far my favorite part of our trip to New Zealand, so it appears obvious to me that I would write about it first. Kiwis call hiking “tramping”, and there are plenty of opportunities to do it on such small islands. The views are outstanding, wherever you go, but Mike and I wanted to definitely tramp at least one National Park. Originally, we wanted to tramp the Milford Sound, a fiord in the Southern Island, but alas, four months early was not early enough to book a space on this coveted five day hike. There were limited bunks along the tramp and no camping spots. Out of luck, we turned to a nearby hike in the Fiordlands and found the Routeburn track, a three day trek through mountainous passes, thunderous water falls, and serene valleys. The usual bunks that were in the huts were already completely booked, but there were a few spots on the guided hikes with the Ultimate Guides. It ended up being way more expensive than if we booked a single bunk in a hut, but looking back on the experience, it was a blessing in disguise and I wouldn’t go back and do it any other way.

The first day poured down on us the heaviest sheets of rain that I have ever stood in. With winds worse than any Santa Ana winds I have ever experienced and temperature in the fifties, we were pretty much beaten up, for lack of a better term, by good old Mother Nature. Our water proof jackets and hiking gear and my snowboarding gloves did not stand a chance against the cold. My entire body was as wet as if I jumped into a swimming pool with all my clothes on, and we were freezing. Imagine six and a half hours of constant tramping in this way. Nature welcomed us with all its immensity. It was the most humbling experience of my life.


There was a part of the hike where we were supposed to see and walk right underneath Earland falls, a 570 foot waterfall. The winds were so strong and the rain so hard that when we got to it, it was a massive, angry, giant, whirlwind of noise, mist, fog, and spray. The falls were so loud that I could not hear anything a person next to me would shout in my ear. The guides had to walk us one by one and we would communicate by pointing and gesturing. The mist was so thick that I lost sight of Mike if he stepped three feet away from me. I swear the stepping stones were doing their best to twist my ankle. It was EPIC. You come away from that experience thinking, “Well, that could have been a disaster.”

When we reached our cabin that first day, we were so relieved (also read as fatigued, miserable, exhausted, in over our heads). We were the last ones to arrive, except for the elderly man who unfortunately twisted his ankle at the falls and had to be carried back and helicoptered out. I am not a very experienced hiker. We were greeted with warm mugs of tea and cookies and given our room assignments. I jumped in the shower and turned the heat to full blast, and my entire body was stinging and lobster red. I was sure I was going to suffer from hypothermia but I didn’t want anything less than than the hottest of waters. Our clothes and boots were soaking wet, but theyv’e got these AMAZING drying rooms, where you just leave all your clothes to dry overnight. Good thing too because we only had one set of hiking clothes and one set of lounging clothes for three days. I can’t imagine what people sleeping in the huts did on that day. They didn’t have showers or drying rooms or any amenities but a bunk bed. I don’t think we would have enjoyed the hike given that first day’s weather conditions if we went with the bunk beds. Having gone through that first day, we suddenly felt like kings, with our own room, a queen bed, and a shower with a hairdryer and a flushing toilet. When the usual comforts of daily living is taking away from you (even for a mere six hours), you realize how little you actually need to be immensely happy.

We went to the common lounge area, where everyone nibbled on cheese and crackers, more cookies, tea, coffee and libations until dinner was served. I think that was one of the best parts for me. Sitting down with people from all around the world, and talking about that first day’s experience. Everyone was blown away by the grueling nature of the hike, and I have never seen more grateful human beings in a room than I did on that day. We laughed over the ridiculousness of it all, and marveled at the beauty of the scenery around us. A three course meal was cooked for us by the crew, and everyone sat around large dining tables with strangers. We shared where we were from, what we do for a living, differences in culture, and our hiking experiences (none for me). On that day, I felt the strongest sense of community among people I never met before, and that was the second thing that triggered the realization of what constitutes a happy life. By the end of the day, we were a joyful bunch of extremely satisfied folk, high on the fact that we made it through day one alive. We re-convened for a recap of the day as a group, as well as an overview of the following day’s itinerary, and then it was lights out at 10pm for all huts. No need to tell me twice.

The second day involved the most uphill hiking. We hiked to the tops of the mountains, and the views were just breath-taking. Nine miles of going up, up and up. It was easy compared to the day before, without the bombardments of the natural forces. The hike was pretty jovial. Mike and I got to spend six hours of just walking together and talking and laughing. We would stop to marvel at the scenes and take some photos, but none of it will ever do it justice. The silence at the top of the hills, the light breeze, the refreshing cold air, the whispering of reeds. There were no distractions. You can’t buy this kind of euphoria. There are these pictures, but they can’t portray the aspects most beautiful about this hike.

 

Determined not to be last to arrive, we reached our cabin in the middle of the pack, and had an hour to really relax with a book after our showers, before joining the rest of the group in the main lounge area. There were boardgames, a guitar, and more conversations to be had. I remember being there at the dinner table and cracking up at everything this hilarious, sarcastic, tiny, elderly English woman would say. I sat next to two best friends from Australia in their late thirties or early forties who usually do yearly trips with their nine girlfriends but this year only the two of them could come out and make it. Mike and I commented on how it was the best food we have ever had. It may have something to do with being out in nature and exerting all your efforts to fulfill a simple goal of reaching a destination, which made us exponentially appreciate simple things such as the food, but whatever the reasoning, it was some of the best food we ever had. We still talk about the food today, almost a year later.

 

The third and final day was the shortest of all the hikes, lasting only about four hours. It was the easiest, mostly all downhill, although it was pretty hard on the knees. But it was here that we saw serene valleys and the rivers resulting from the lakes and waterfalls above. I remember thinking to myself how ludicrous it was that less than 48 hours ago, I was miserable being in nature, but now hiking back down, I dreaded returning to society. I already knew that this was the best experience that I have had in the entirety of my life, and it was the only experience that I have had without any distractions to take away from it. I was one hundred percent fully there in that moment. We all were.

It was also the moment that I knew that we were going back. It was when I first started thinking about leaving everything in the States and coming to live in New Zealand for a while. Unfortunately, with my student loans holding me back, I can’t quite do that. Although I did look up the requirements to work as a dentist in New Zealand, considering whether I could work there as a dentist and continue paying my loans while exploring this country. Unfortunately, relocating jobs to New Zealand for Mike would be a lot more difficult, and without his current salary, I don’t think we could be as aggressive with paying down our debt as we are now. But I can pinpoint this experience as the inflection point which catapulted me towards trying to find ways to get rid of my loans faster, and this was the moment where I started to obsess about the idea of being truly free.

To follow more of our adventures, visit my other Instagram.