“I never learned to count my blessings
I choose instead to dwell
In my disasters.
I walk on down the hill
Through grass grown tall
And brown and still
It’s hard somehow
To let go of my pain”
I’m just past halfway through this 6-month journey and, so far, it’s surpassed even my wildest expectations. Of course, not every experience is amazing so I thought I’d take this halfway point benchmark as an opportunity to reflect on the highlights and lowlights of the trip so far. Today is Part 2: Lowlights
Part 1: Highlights
Part 2: Lowlights
I stayed in Jaco for 4 weeks and loved most of it. During the week, this touristy beach town was fairly quiet with great access to three amazing beaches and was within 2 hours driving to a wide variety of other popular landmarks such as the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Manuel Antonio National Park. However, on the weekend, the whole place changed into a giant frat party. The peacefulness that existed during the weekend was replaced by packs of hordes of drunk guys in town for the casinos and legalized prostitution. All the charming street vendors were replaced by guys trying to push drugs on the passersby. I’ve visited Costa Rica twice in the last two years and there are some great places to visit along the coast. If I come back, I’ll be skipping Jaco… especially on the weekends.
Tourism is clearly the main economic driver in Costa Rica and there are great tours to be taken all over the country by some of the most charming guides you could possibly meet. Further, it’s actually a fairly affordable place to visit where you can get great bang for your buck. Taxis, however, are a different story. If you arrange a taxi, prices are disproportionately more expensive than any other tourist experience. And, if you hire a taxi in the street, who knows how much you’ll end up paying. The whole system seems to defy the laws of supply and demand.
There I was, peacefully working outside on my patio one afternoon, when the ground started to shake. I used to live near San Francisco so I’m familiar with this experience… but this one felt a little stronger than a normal little tremor. I could see the cottage where I was staying swaying a bit from side to side and I could hear some rattling and creaking. My heart started to race a little bit as the shaking went on for about 15 seconds. I had already started to plan my escape in the case of some sort of tsunami warning. I got online and was looking for any more information about the earthquake and associated warnings issued from the government.
However, everything was quiet. The websites showed no warnings but did update Costa Rica’s earthquake log and listed this earthquake at a 4.7 on the Richter Scale. No tsunami warning. No aftershocks. Nothing. A closer look at the recent history of tremors in the country shocked me almost as much as the quake itself. It showed earthquakes between 4 and 5.5 just about every week! People don’t even notice it anymore! It’s the local equivalent to an afternoon thunderstorm. I’m not sure that I could ever get used to that… sorry.
Spanish people are absolutely beautiful! However, after “living” in Spain for 36 days, I don’t really understand how the entire country isn’t massively overweight. For breakfast, it’s pastries and coffee. Lunches are large and centered around ham, cheese, and potatoes. At night, it’s tapas which are much smaller portions but still focused around the same 3 ingredients.
Last year, I decided to try veganism for a while. I really liked the way it made me feel and I was actually surprised at how easy it was to find vegan options in most places… until I got to Spain. So now, I’m vegetarian instead of vegan because it’s flat out impossible to be vegan in Spain, especially if you’re living in hotels and unable to cook. (Though I must admit it’s nice to eat ice cream again.)
My Frustrating Lack of Spanish
As a popular tourist area, getting around Madrid is doable without Spanish but it certainly limits your ability to connect with locals. These interactions are essential for solo travel so when I’m in a place where English isn’t widely spoken, I’m limited to conversations about the weather, the location of bathrooms, and my preferred food and drink order.
In Valencia, locals speak Spanish and often also Valencian which is a dialect of Catalan. Further, since this isn’t a primary tourist destination, English is limited makes my interactions even more limited. I certainly don’t blame the locals. It’s my own fault for not committing to learning Spanish which I’ve been saying for years that I’d like to do.
When I moved to Philly years ago, I made a commitment to get healthy and lose a little weight. To do this, I had to change my lifestyle completely which involved making different decisions every day. I think to learn a language requires that same level of commitment. Anyone in Philly want to learn Spanish with me when I get back?
Reminder of My Old Age
After a 10-day stop back home in Philly in late February, I flew to Spain on March 1st. Full of excitement, I set out each day trying to see and do as much as I could. The warmer weather and my immediate crush on Valencia meant that I was spending hours a day walking around the city. For the first week I was there, I walked between 7 and 11 miles each day (according to my phone). On the 7th day, I got caught in a massive thunderstorm and sprinted the last few blocks back to my hotel… and from then on I felt old again.
I have a herniated disc in my back and at least one arthritic hip (I suspect both have problems). Most of the time I feel young… until I hear myself starting to complain about my hips and my back. It’s embarrassing really. A little over 5 months until I turn 40… (sigh)
Vienna is so highly-regarded as a tourist destination that I feel as though something is wrong with me for not liking it as much as everyone else. To me, it’s a nice place to stop for a weekend, see some museums, walk around, and head to the next place. The architecture is stunning but varies little from neighborhood to neighborhood as I wrote in my Vienna review. In most other cities I’ve visited, if you don’t like the main downtown area, there are always colorful neighborhoods to visit that are a bit off the beaten path. In my 5 days in Vienna, I couldn’t find anything like that.
I’ve accepted the fact that I have turned into a bit of a coffee snob… and I’m ok with that. Although sad to leave Spain, I was excited for the Viennese coffee scene which made CNN’s list of top 7 cities for coffee in the world. The signature drink is a mélange which is basically a cappuccino with black coffee instead of espresso. However, from coffee shop to coffee shop, the definitions seem to change slightly. I had a few different variations of the drink and was never really impressed. The mélange variation I described here basically tastes like a watered-down cappuccino. I’m not completely sure what the hype is all about.
This city is perfect. More about Budapest coming soon…
First Half Lowlights
All things considered, it’s been a pretty incredible three months. If my list of complaints includes bad coffee, back pain, and expensive taxis, then I think it’s safe to say that the trip has been a success so far! Thanks for following along on my journey. If you aren’t already, please give me a follow on Instagram for more highlights (and lowlights) from the road!