Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Alert: Teachers drinking at school!

I hated meetings at the school where I taught in Chicago. They were boring, unproductive, and didn't provide us with booze. Here at the school where we're volunteering, they don't have the same problem.

Sunday was the principal's birthday. Monday after the school day, naturally, was the party in the cafeteria to celebrate. Really good cake and white wine were served (you could even get refills!) while teachers and staff danced, sang, and joked the afternoon away.

The differences in staff camaraderie (everyone was having a GREAT time), resource management, and policy on alcohol shown by Monday's fiesta are just a few of the innumerable and grander distinctions separating my former school in Chicago from Bogota's Santa Francisca Romana, a Catholic all-girls school.

Juleen and I out-danced this couple seconds later, a la John Travolta and...the woman in...that one movie.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Mountains to the east. A whole ridge of them. City sprawling everywhere else. City lights illuminate the night sky, off into the horizon and beyond. Runners and bikers pass along the CicloRuta, the special street lanes designated for these over-achievers. The 21st-century public transit system, TransMilenio, provides fast and mostly efficient transport to many parts of the city. Museums, cultural events, a beautiful mile-high-plus setting. We've passed the last few days here in Bogota, Colombia. The next month-plus promises to feature more than fun and games.

Starting Monday the leisure--morning tennis, Avatar in 3D, for example--stops. We have our six-day volunteer week (as opposed to work week) in hand. We go to live at the convent tomorrow, passing a few days there before starting our first homestay.

The Christmas Tree still adorns Bogota's Plaza Bolivar in front of the national congressional building.

Note the two TransMilenio buses scurrying north in the lanes reserved for them. Also note the line of more than fifty people waiting to buy tickets for the TransMilenio from the one person selling them. Luckily we had just gotten off the system and weren't interested in using it.

Us in front of the aforementioned national congressional building in historic downtown Bogota.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Adios North America!

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to Colombia we go! Flight takes off at 11:58am. Arrival in Bogota 90 minutes later. Staying with Juliana Jaramillo, a friend of Joe's grandparents through Rotary.

We'll be needing a South America map. Let us know if you find one that might work well for us. We'll likely be needing to use it to track our travels through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Good luck!

Hasta luego!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The End of the Central American Map

Seems like just a few days ago that I updated the map for Nicaragua. How shocking that it’s been a month! And we had told ourselves, and many others, that we were going to skip through Costa Rica as quickly as possible. In the end, it took us three weeks to get through this (supposedly) happiest of countries. Panama, then, only had the pleasure of our company for two weeks. We fly out of Panama City for Bogota, Colombia in a few days. We’ll be moving into South America, and thus switching blog maps. How exciting!

21 – 12/09 to 12/11 – Liberia, Costa Rica. As we rolled through northern Costa Rica in a bus that was deluxe compared to everything we’d seen prior we knew we weren’t in Kansas (or Nicaragua) any more. Even in the dark we could perceive the difference that is Costa Rica. Just the brightness of its streetlights distinguished Liberia, Costa Rica from everywhere else we had been.

22 – 12/11 to 12/12 – El Coco, Costa Rica. It took a lot of effort to find a place on a backpacker budget in this touristy beach town. In the end, we found a great humble room with a makeshift grandmother for an owner. Best host yet. El Coco’s black sand beach was unattractive.

23 – 12/12 to 12/19 – Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica. Our notorious week at the resort. If you’re thinking about going to Villas Sol at Playa Hermosa, let us say this, “Don’t!” Sadly this turned out to be the most stressful week of our adventure. No kitchen. No cheap restaurants nor nearby mercados. And staff completely unfamiliar in dealing with people on a budget. Pretty enough place, I guess. Hot water, cable TV, A/C and pools were nice to have available.

24 – 12/19 to 12/27 – Santo Domingo, Costa Rica. Bibi’s Bed and Breakfast drew us to this quiet community just north of San Jose, the Costa Rican capital. But why Bibi’s in the first place?? Jim Twomey, a Wabash College grad (the small and tight-knit college Joe attended), owns and operates the place with his wife, Bibi. A few days turned into over a week when we started helping Jim and Bibi with their rental property and got invited to partake in their Christmas celebration. As mentioned in a previous post, Bibi’s B&B is highly recommended.

25 – 12/27 to 12/29 – Golfito, Costa Rica. Another small Costa Rican town with a shockingly high number of American ex-pats. Here we enjoyed our first room with a view.

26 – 12/29 to 1/01 – David, Panama. We got back into CouchSurfing in David. Three nights with Johanna, an amazing host and person, a bit outside of the city. We day-tripped up to the refreshing city of Boquete, and prepped for and enjoyed the New Years party. Up early on New Years Day to get to Panama City.

27 – 1/01 to 1/13 – Panama City, Panama. CouchSurfing has let us down, so we’re digging deep to pay for hostels. Our goal of working on a boat traversing the Panama Canal sadly didn’t work out either. Took three days just to figure out where we needed to go to secure a spot. Shucks. On a more positive note, Panama City is an impressively lively and pleasant city. Just seeing the huge cargo boats going through the Canal is worth the visit.

My thoughts (Juleen is in D.C. This blog entry is all Joe’s fault.)…

Costa Rica is “adventure” tourism/ecotourism paradise. One caveat: You need money and lots of it. Another caveat: Is there a Costa Rican culture? For a quicker vacation of a week or a month, Costa Rica could hit the spot. Infrastructure, both generally and tourism specific, is well developed, so travel is more comfortable. The country seems comparatively safe, and you don’t need Spanish. Great! For us, though, Costa Rica was what we had heard it would be: too expensive and too touristy. A great stay with Jim and Bibi and a surprisingly enjoyable visit into San Jose were great consolation prizes.

Since we’ve only been to two places in Panama, I’ll limit my commentary to Panama City. Great city! The skyline is gargantuan. Who knew?! I can't imagine a place building more skyscrapers at the same time, but I haven't been to Dubai. With the Canal and other rich historical sites, museums, safe city buses, and lively streets, we could do Panama City again. Next time we’ll make it onto a boat. I promise, Juleen.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

'Tis the Season

Did the holiday season already happen? It’s hard for us to tell, other than noticing family and friends’ photos on Facebook; meanwhile, we’re still in tropical weather craving a little A/C. While we dearly missed partaking in our family traditions, we did try to celebrate along the way.

Thanksgiving was in Leon, Nicaragua. Thank-fully (pun intended), another American couple organized a pot luck on Thanksgiving weekend. Ten Americans and twenty Europeans/Latinos partook in our beloved American holiday. Two brave women even got up early to hit the market and purchase two LIVE chickens!! They did all the dirty work to roast chickens, while everyone else was responsible for the side dishes. Nothing like a potluck Thanksgiving! We gobbled up: chicken, baguettes (thanks to Juleen), Oreo pudding stuff (thanks to Joe), plantains, beans, and rice. Sadly, Juleen didn’t have a single BudLight. She still wants to be a Rodakowski though.

Christmas was in San Jose, Costa Rica. We met up with a Wabash Alum (Joe’s college) who owns a bed and breakfast near the capital city. They were generous enough to take us off the streets and give us a Christmas worth remembering. We hung our stockings by the fireplace (thanks, Julie) and devoured home-roasted ham prepared with a pesto sauce—delish! A few other Americans and their Latino spouses joined the festivities. It was quite the crowd and a splendid meal. And, as you would guess, we highly recommend Bibi’s Bed & Breakfast for all those visiting Costa Rica. Thank you, Jim and Bibi.

New Year’s transpired in David, Panama. CouchSurfing was good to us. Our American host encouraged us to spend the holiday with her in her home outside the city. She has a great view of the city, primed for viewing fireworks. She threw a party for her ex-pat friends, and the party roared until 4:30 in the morning (at least that was the last I heard… we were sleeping long before). The Panamanian New Year’s custom was quite a treat as well: Individual families shoot off their own firework collections, ensuring good luck for them and providing a unique firework panorama for those viewing from afar.

While we couldn’t have been luckier for having great hosts for all of our holidays, we look forward to next year.