Volcanic Mud

If you were to ask me what makes a country worth visiting, I could probably narrow my criteria down to the following three items:

  1. How friendly the airport staff are
  2. How well you can meet the locals/ how friendly people are
  3. If they have a good bath house or spa

Tonight I was able to check off my last one at Casa Luna spa – Barry suggested I go have a massage and volcanic mud bath (knowing, of course, my love of all things spa related). Let me set the scene for you – a bungalow right at the edge of the jungle… a glass of sparkling wine… crickets chirping and frogs making whatever sound it is that poison dart frogs make. At one point, sometime after the hot cucumber slice slid off my right eye, I looked like a rather muddy pirate, complete with a cucumber eye patch. Not at all like the relaxed, heavenly looking person in the brochures – but honestly, I’m okay with that.

While I was being lathered up with mud, I thought back to the first time I had a massage…

For my 18th (I think?) birthday, my girlfriends took me to a massage parlor in town as a surprise (unwelcome & awkward). Some guy who looked rather like a Swedish Fabio announced that he would be giving me a massage, while the girls trekked off into another room. To say that I was uncomfortable was an understatement – I had to be convinced to remove my tshirt, and could not be convinced to remove anything else. Fabio, or whatever his name was, apparently couldn’t comprehend that someone could be THAT awkward about the whole experience, but alas I’m good at making first impressions and setting records for awkward behavior. I’m sure he took it as a learning experience.

I pretty much thought that would be my first and last experience in a massage parlor – To think that almost ten years later I would be a bath house junkie (is there a better word for someone obsessed in this case?) was totally unfathomable. I’ve had amazing experiences – here’s looking at you Georgia with your beautiful sulphur baths – and incredibly awkward ones, Fabio aside – Turkish baths in Antalya “So do you play any instruments?” – and evenly professionally questionable ones, the time the Egyptian woman in the top of a villa decided we both needed a bath (I’ve never been back there). In Burma, I remember feeling nervous at first to be THAT exposed in the village, but in the end my $1 haircut and $4 massage and scrub erased any feeling that it was ever anything BUT perfection.

If I could go back and tell my 18 year old, very North American, body-conscious self something, it would be “Get over it” – enjoy the experience for what it is, because when it’s over you’re going to feel like you’re walking on clouds.

Hot Springs

Last night, on the recommendation of a friend, we went off to the Eco Termales Hot Springs in La Fortuna (below). Eco Termales has a series of small grotto like pools, along with several larger ones filled with hot water (39C) and a cold pool for when things just get a little too hot.

We arrived an hour early, and I’m certainly glad we did – we arrived an hour before a LOT of people with their CHILDREN arrived, and the tranquility vanished.

Still, this was probably one of my favorite activities and its because I am more than slightly obsessed with anything resembling a bath house or hot springs – Costa Rican hot springs, Turkish, Moroccan, Georgian, Russian Baths – you name it, I’m there.

Getting there is half the story 

I can’t really remember how the phrase goes, but something like getting there is half the fun or the journey blah blah blah. Well, let me tell you what’s not fun – when the 12 hour journey to Costa Rica becomes 28 hours. 

Let’s start at the beginning, Barry and I bid farewell to my beautiful mom, and head out in the car she ordered – nevermind the fact the driver thought Snohomish was Everett – “it’s so much smaller than I expected!” We arrived promptly at southwest check in (about 6am), got coffee, and waited at the gate. 

10.25 expected time of departure with two hour layover in Houston 

10.10 – the southwest official announces the plane is broken, and the mechanic is on his way… 3 hour delay. My first thought is that Seattle is the manufacturing hub of airplanes – why will it take the mechanic at least an hour to get there? Shouldn’t an airport have a mechanic on staff? My second thought is, well that second flight isn’t going to happen. 

10.15 southwest announces the rebooking of flights. 

10.20 our first offer is to wait 24 hours to take the next sequence

10.21 oops, there’s only one available seat. The next available southwest flight is in 2 days. 

10.25 nevermind, we will delay the second plane and you can go tonight. 

10.45 Barry and I go have a drink in the airport bar. 

11.30 southwest pages us to come back to the check in desk so we can be told that they will try to book us with another carrier because now the plane is not going anywhere. 

12.30/1.00 we are booked on a United flight that goes on the following path: Seattle to Newark to San Jose – arriving mid day the day after we should be at the beach. 

1.45 southwest asks us to go get our bags and pay United to check them in (I’m less than amused)

1.47 the bags are lost. 

2.30 the bags are still lost 

3.00 the bags are located at curbside check in – who knows why. 

3:30 we check in with United and go back through tsa check points (mind you I have pre approval, which apparently doesn’t apply at all for the day from hell)

5:10 I decide to check online if our 9:45pm flight to Newark is on time. It’s not. 3 hour delay. 

5:15 David, the beautiful soul from United, rebooks us on a 6 pm to San Francisco, then a connecting flight to Newark, then God willing, Costa Rica. 

6:00 board flight to San Fran. 

8:30 attempt to board flight to Newark (also delayed) but am forced to surrender my carry on (which fit in the stupid dimension box) for gate side check in. 

8:33 Barry finally loses temper. 

9:50 flight departs for Newark – we are somehow on board. Flight attendant explains to me that we should be fine getting to our connection. 

6am. We arrive at the gate with 30 minutes to spare, only to learn that we may be rebooked on THE NEXT DAYS FLIGHT because our current flight is oversold. 

6:30 – we board the flight after someone else is kicked off. 

11:00am – we arrive in San Jose – and miraculously so does all of our luggage. 

Luckily for me, my friend Erin was coaching me through remaining calm via Facebook messenger. 

I am now on the balcony at the hotel, drinking a local beer. Pura Vida. 

Midnight arrivals 

Yesterday one of my best friends mentioned to me that her brother is having some difficulty adjusting to his new expat life, and actually travel in general… I’ve developed a few rules for myself to make my life easier when I arrive in a new city. I have the bad habit of buying the cheapest ticket sequences (because less expense = more travel later) which usually results in an arrival time anywhere between 1am and 5am. 

1) always arrive with a bottle of water in hand. I truly think that the worst thing that can happen when traveling (barring, of course, loss of life or limb) is that you end up terribly thirsty and unable to locate a bottle of water because you decided to show up wherever at whatever midnight hour. Take the time I arrived in Tehran in the middle of the night- I was so parched that I couldn’t properly focus on the Masoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, instead I was trying to decide how to coyly pick up a bottle of water meant for the actual poor (not the miskeen American who hadn’t properly planned for midnight tomb excursions). 

2) arrange your room and pick up for the first night. Not only am I usually traveling on my own, I don’t often exercise good judgement in situations abroad – especially when tired from buying the cheap, many stops ticket and full of airplane wine – so I’ve learned that it’s better to book a room for the night, and pay the surcharge to have someone pick you up who actually knows where the unnamed hotel is on the side of a hill in the bad part of town. 

3) try to convert at least $50 in the airport… In many places I’ve been, it’s significantly better to exchange in the free (read: black) market, but that’s always not realistic. First of all, you have to be able to get to the corner where the guy is selling notes out of a suitcase… Or the rather dodgy shop that changes the exchange rate in accordance to international news. Second, it helps to know the government rate – it’s a good foundation for not getting screwed on an exchange rate that seems awesome, but is really the trick the stupid tourist rate. Part 2 to this rule is to always carry clean, crisp $50 & $100 notes. Being told that your money isn’t good enough results in the same frustration as trying to buy the aforementioned water bottle out of a vending machine when you only have a sweaty, crumpled up $1 bill. 

The Delta

We recently visited the famed Mississippi Delta region, more specifically Clarksdale and Greenville. Apparently for most people here, visiting the Delta is a rather strange behavior or life choice.

The Delta, and my subsequent desire to visit, is detailed in Richard Grant’s “Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta.” It’s highly entertaining, but I certainly didn’t believe that most of it was true… I was proven wrong when we arrived in Clarksdale on Friday. We dropped into Ground Zero Blues Club – owned and operated by three Clarksdale residents, among them the Mayor, a guy  I’m not too sure about, and Morgan Freeman.

Side note… Every review mentions Morgan Freeman – including “what would Morgan do” about bad service. I’m not sure why they think he cares… or why they should really care…First of all, there’s not much for choice for the wandering tourist in Clarksdale. Second, how can you complain about a place that offers a limo service to avoid drunk driving? That’s what I thought. Third, the music is great, food is good and the beer is cold – I’m not too sure what else you want out of a Blues club.

Anyway, we walked into Ground Zero and immediately met the Mayor… he feigned shock and surprise when I said “hey! You’re a main character in that book I read!” According to the Mayor, Dispatches from Pluto is the bestselling book in Mississippi, but he didn’t think anyone else had ever read it… I told him “Darlin’ its the best selling book these days about Mississippi too.”

Later on, another character detailed and described in the book, got word that I am headed to Mississippi for a year – as we walked through his shop, we heard him get on the phone to spread the word. Apparently he missed the memo that I’m moving to Oxford… not to Clarksdale. “Close enough for me honey.”

The Delta, and Mississippi in general, are dangerous for my habit of talking to random people.

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The Dollar Sign Blues, detailed and explained by Josh Razorblade Stewart when he invited himself to join our table for a beer…

and Josh Razorblade Stewart, himself below.

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Mississippi

So I’ve been here a few days now, and I think I’m overcoming the shock of how small the town is, how friendly the people are (seriously, these may be the friendliest people in the US), and how much beer is accessible at any moment (my beer drinking tour of the south is already in full swing!).

There are a few things that now seem a bit ridiculous… among them we have:

“well you best watch out for your little dog, the birds of prey out here will get’em real good.” I, naturally, thought they were making fun of my yankee ways… but no, apparently I’ve got to watch out for boomer and make sure he’s not dinner for a hawk somewhere. Tornados, snakes, and alligators were on my list of “things to stay the hell away from,” but hawks and birds of prey were not on there.

The other thing is that you can apparently tell if a snake is poisonous by “just lookin’ at it.” Apparently if it “runs away, it’s okay, but if it gets up and looks right at ya – you got a problem.” Considering this advice came just 12 hours after I nearly walked over the top of one that looked right at me, I think this should come in the new employee handbook.

There’s also no shopping mall in Oxford… there’s a Belks, which is allegedly a smaller JC Penney type of store… my beloved grandmother, god rest her soul, would be over the  moon that they at least have that.

Perhaps the best, although maybe it’s the worst part, is that I can SEE myself saying these things in a year’s time. Without a hint of irony… ideally on my front porch, in a rocker… which is my current life goal… “Well sure, you can tell if it’s gonna bite ya just by looking at it.” Simply put, I’d say after a week it’s something like love.