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: Rothenberg Ob Der Tauber, Germany

I am usually not a city girl. When I think of the ideal places to travel to and explore, I never come up with a city. Mike, however, loves exploring cities. We try to find a happy medium between the two of us, alternating destinations so that we discover something about each other’s interests while achieving interests of our own.

When we decided to go to Germany, it wasn’t because we had been dying to go for a long time or anything like that. Mike follows a website called Scott’s Cheap Flights and he has signed up to receive notifications for when flights go on sale. Usually, the deals are incredibly discounted, but you need to have flexibility as to where you want to go and when. For example, if there is a specific place you want to go to, you have to cross your fingers that a deal comes up sometime. It makes it even more difficult when you also have a specific timeline. For cases where you already know what you want to see and when, I would recommend other modes of finding cheap flights, such as the Hopper app. But it was through Scott’s Cheap Flights that we heard about a round-trip fare to Munich, Germany for roughly $500 per person. Additionally, the dates of Octoberfest were included in the dates available to get said discounted rates. Mike had wanted to check out Octoberfest in Germany with friends, so we mass e-mailed (or maybe we texted?) our core group of ten friends this amazing deal. We had only two takers, another married couple in our group of friends, so it is with this reasoning that we chose Germany as a fall trip. Unfortunately, something came up and the two friends couldn’t make it, which left us flying to Germany solo, but which also gave us more freedom as to what we wanted to see.

When we booked Germany, I thought that I would not enjoy this trip at all. Mike was rather stoked on the prospect of visiting a bunch of different cities and this was our first time to Europe, but I hated visiting New York, disliked living in LA, and Queenstown in New Zealand was my least favorite part of our trip there – not because these cities were awful but I just don’t like the general vibe of large cities. I need the room to hear myself think, the smell of freshly cut grass or dewy trees, the sound of rushing water. So off course, since I had control over the planning of the trip, I actually tried moving us away from Munich and spending as little time as possible in Frankfurt. What ended up happening was that every night for five nights in a row, we slept in a different city. And I ended up falling in love with Germany. One city in particular took my breath away, with its sleepy cobblestone streets, its strong standing walls, and the lovely character and charm of its fairytale buildings.

Rothenberg ob der tauber used to be a very prosperous town. In between two main cities, many traders used to stop at this city in between their travels to get a night’s rest and something to eat. Guarded by a wall surrounding the entire city, they were well protected because they could choose who they allowed in and out. The nightwatchmen roamed the streets in the evenings, making sure no one but the inhabitants and their welcomed guests were within the city.

Unfortunately, during the Thirty Year’s War, protestant troops of 40,000 men wanted to rest at Rothernburg because the winter weather was making it difficult for them to progress from one city to the other. Rothernburg refused to comply with their request, and a siege occurred. Rothernburg was captured by the troops, and after the winter, the town was left poor and quite desolate. A few years later, the bubonic plague came to the city, killing many of the townsfolk. Without money or power, the city could not grow, and thus preserving its 17th century state. I learned all of this through the amusing Night Watchman’s Tour , a definite must for anyone who visits.

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We started off our exploration by entering the city gates and climbing one of the towers. We walked along the top of the city walls, peering into the city to get a preview, as well as looking out the manholes to see the outside. Walls that have stood since 950 BC or earlier, these monsters of stones held in the city’s traditional appearance, while the rest of the world lost its charm and moved on. From these walls, you can view the city in its entirety over the rooftops of residential houses.

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After meandering around the perimeter, we decided to go ahead and officially enter the city and roam the streets.

When we first walked the streets of Rothernburg, I felt like I was in such a dream state. I couldn’t believe that such a place not only existed, but functioned as a real city rather than a preserved museum. One of the largest houses on the street has been occupied by the same family for 300 years! As a girl who moved ten times before reaching high school, it was an unthinkable concept. The beauty of the place was just outstanding. I knew I had to see it for myself without any distractions.

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So the next morning, I woke up very early to explore on my own. I took my camera with me, and walked the foggy streets, with nary a visitor in sight. Sleepily, the town woke, as if from a spell. The scenes I captured were just so unreal. There was one in particular that I was on a mission to capture, and it’s of this street corner, which Rothenburg is very famous for.

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I was so happy to get to stand before it alone, and to just think about how many times I’ve seen that same place from someone else’s photograph. I was also super stoked to photograph out without the crowds that occupy this busy street during the day time. I continued to walk around the entire city for an hour or so at my own leisure, before heading back to the hotel to pick up Mike, who woke up, along with the rest of the town.

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There was a Christmas museum and ornament shop in the center of the square that we visited. It’s almost unfair to review this museum, since I was raised by a Filipino family whose DNA carries an extreme likening to this particular holiday. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my time visiting the shop (the museum itself was not worth seeing and most definitely not free), but the shop had the biggest collection of ornaments that I have ever seen. We must have spent hours pouring over the bits and baubles, mouths agape, tongue hanging out.

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And it is also here where we had the best meal we had in Germany, which ironically was Italian food. But Mike claims it was the best Italian food he has ever had his whole life, and I greatly concur. The hospitality of the owner and chef was really well felt, and I can’t talk about Rothenburg without recommending his restaurant. How we came about eating there? We were walking back to our hotel (which was fifteen minutes outside of the city) the night prior, after completing the watchman’s tour, and we came across this tiny restaurant, filled with people. There was only two bistro tables outside seating two sets of couples, but the inside of the restaurant was loud, vibrant, bright, and packed. What I remember most was the aroma that wafted out of the place as we walked by. I remember turning to Mike and saying, “We have to come back and eat here tomorrow.” So that we did. Sooooo worth it. It was eating Italian food as good as that from Italy, with German hospitality. The name of the restaurant is Profumo di Pasta da Giuseppe.

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We also had Schneeballen, which were large doughy balls covered with sugar or chocolate or basically any topping you’d desire. It was good, but a little over hyped in my opinion. But still worth trying if you’re looking for something to munch on while you roam.

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Pretty much simply strolling the streets of this town was definitely my favorite part about Germany. Time seemed to have slowed when we were in the city, as if it meant to draw us in and put us to sleep for centuries to come along with it. I find I might have been okay with that.

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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.