Cloudy with a Chance of Volcanoes

I had one day for super fun times in Costa Rica before starting the business part of my business trip, so I went on a day trip to see a nearby volcano called Irazu that looks beautiful in the photo below (courtesy of wikipedia). It last erupted in 1963.


I don’t normally use photos not taken by myself but the visit to the volcano was not the most successful trip I have ever taken. The top was covered in cloud and mist and I saw very little from the peak. It was a real shame to be honest and if you are planning on doing the trip, I would check the weather to ensure you leave on a day that isn't overcast. And while we are talking about weather, I just want to say that it was nippy up the volcano. I brought a jacket but my legs got cold and only recovered after I had a coffee. Take long trousers and a coat for sure.

Okay, so she's a Coyote (not a dog)

My unprepared legs were exposed.
Nearly seeing the crater


Central American White Nosed Coati
Very cool!
The journey to the volcano was interesting and I got to see the surrounding villages and landscape. Costa Rica is a very green and beautiful country with many hills. The area and the journey were really very beautiful.



Next up on the trip was the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels – the most famous Christian site in Costa Rica. It is located in the old capital, Santiago, and was really quite different to the other thousands of churches I have visited over the many years. The interior had a lot of pillars. There were more pointless columns than a tabloid newspaper.













Also visitors were doing this bizarre act of kneeling before entering the church, then knee shuffling down the aisle to the front. It was really odd behaviour being carried out by a large group of people. It was a sign of respect of where they were but it must have been pretty painful on the old kneecaps.


The Orosi valley was beautiful and we stopped at a viewpoint called, “Mirador Ujarras“. From here I got some great views of the valley and the lake where we would be eating lunch.



The tour stopped by this church on 
its way down to the restaurant
The restaurant was surrounded by beauty. I won’t go into the details of the food yet, as another post is coming, but it was very nice. The Sunday tour had a special buffet lunch and is apparently a lot nicer than the normal weekday / Saturday lunch.




After lunch the tour went to the Lankester gardens. Built by a Brit (get in!) and now owned by the University of Costa Rica, it had a stunning array of orchids and various other plants. I also learnt about epiphytes. These are non-parasitic growths on trees (pictured below).
I had to cross this bridge to get to the gardens.
Epiphytes


Tiny orchids on one plant


Recognise this?


A Japanese Garden, not too dissimilar from the ones we saw in Kyoto.


Cactusessses







It really was a lovely tour and besides the bad weather, it couldn't have been better (unless Katie had been there of course). Donald the tour guide was very knowledgeable and I now know more about orchids than is healthy for a 26 year old man. He also had an unbelievable skill of being able to switch languages instantly to inform the group in English and Spanish. I don't know how that's possible...



Donald showing us an orchid
that only lived for one day
How to go on the tour?
Booked through Viatour (part of the TripAdvisor family) for $99 (£65). It included a hotel pickup / drop off and that incredible lunch so didn't Costa lot. I love that companies call themselves a family to try and personalise and make them sound friendlier and less profit driven. They obviously don’t know my family :)

Until next time, when I will chat about San Jose and the sights to see in Costa Rica's capital.

A Working Trip to Costa Rica

“What?” you say. “Costa Rica? But you only just arrived in Rio!”

Yes, this is true. Some would say that flying another 9 hours to go to Costa Rica is a bit mad. I would tend to agree but my boss wants me to attend some training several thousand miles away. I am but a wheel in a corporate machine and I am happy to make a good impression and follow orders from my new boss (who is a real gent btw.) The benefit of flying on a different cost centre means I get to enjoy the benefits of business class. This means a VIP lounge with free food, booze, truffles, and coffee. It also means I can get electricity and begin this blog about Costa Rica before I have even stepped on an aeroplane. I’m very happy I went to bed at about 9pm so when I woke up at 2:45am to get to the airport, I had enough energy to enjoy this new luxurious world.



As I start to come to terms with my new business class existence, I have noticed several things. In the executive lounge, it is silent and no-one talks to anyone. It may be because it is not 5am yet and people aren’t as well prepared as me with 9pm bedtimes, but it feels like this is the norm. Why waste time on frivolous conversation and try to understand the human condition when you can immerse yourself on an iPad / newspaper / muted TV?

I am also beginning to understand why people who have grown up with money in their lives feel like they can just take any food or drink they desire when anywhere. The lounge has a free buffet of course and the plane has service, as you’d expect. It breeds this attitude, which I first noticed at University, where people feel like they can just take (they would say borrow but they often don’t buy back unless a “big deal” is made of it) some chicken for example and finish it. I would go to make dinner and my chicken would be gone. “Oh I ate that, don’t worry about it.” Well I am worried because now I don’t have a succulent protein filled bird to chow down on!

In their world view, chickens are as free as a bird and are just handed to them by attractive air stewardesses or available on the buffet cart. There is no cost or effort associated with getting them. And if there is a cost, it’s negligible and they don’t have to think twice. Someone poorer, say me, who was counting every penny at University, sees that yellow stickered chicken and is now wondering what they will have to sacrifice to afford to replace it. Don’t get me wrong, I was never that poor at University but it’s interesting to recognise these different mindsets; something I may only be able to contemplate as I transition from chicken-poor to chicken-rich.

I of course can now afford chicken and will slowly begin to take chicken from others without thinking because it is just a buffet item to me. It has no value, it’s included (soon to be expected) in my VIP lifestyle. In fact sometimes I even buy other animals, such as cow or porcine. I learnt the word “porcine” this week and I am very happy I got the chance to use it. It means pig by the way. I do this thing I think everyone does where I learn something new and then when it comes up in conversation a week or so later and another person does not know the word, I act like they are foolish for not knowing that piece of information that I just learnt... A bad habit that I am trying to stop. (Note from editor: I thought he has just misspelled "porcupine").

I was first to board the plane and before I had even sat down I had a juice in my hand. This was followed by a never-ending supply of drinks, food, and hot towels. The irony of business class, where you are too busy constantly consuming to be able to work, was not lost on me.

Some pictures of the food I received...




I got two of these! I forgot to take a photo so had to order another one.

Reality soon hit home though as my connecting flight was back with the cattle in economy. My food was a lot more usual... and this was pretty disgusting.



I was queuing for my visa at immigration when I started speaking to a young American chap who had just graduated and was now travelling. He had come from Cuba and was sporting lovely travelling beard hair. He was on his way to meet a friend who lived in the jungle on his own after the environmental studying camp he had lived in became too commercialised / busy. It all sounded like very “Into the Wild” type behaviour and he would be staying with this friend of his for a week. And there was me, who three years previous would have been that guy, but was now about to be picked up and taken to the Radisson where he would be treated with luxury. This moment has stayed with me. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware that I am very lucky and am enjoying my time travelling with work. But I still also crave that freedom to explore and experience, which this young beardy chap was about to get. The grass is always greener and we are never satisfied with what we have I guess...

Anyway I reached the front of the immigration queue when I remembered my current predicament. I am running out of pages on my passport for stamps and need to make sure that the passport control people stamp the right area to ensure I have space for Visas, etc. It is probably the biggest first world problem I have ever experienced.



The next blog post will talk about my time in San Jose and a day trip I made to a nearby volcano and botanical gardens. Until then.

Honeymoon

Yes the title of this blog is honeymoon. But no, Katie and I have not got married. Well we sort of did last week when we signed a document to prove we have been in a common law / de facto marriage, but this post is about my arrival in Brasil! (Katie is arriving later this month, which gives me a chance to settle in and ensure I am better at Portuguese than she is).

I will not talk about the flight and travel and that nonsense because it’s the same old story of flying over 5000 miles in less than a day: a feat impossible only 100 years ago. Aeroplanes are one of those technologies that continues to blow my mind whenever I stop to reflect on it... So yes it was just a simple 15 hour flight, 1 change... Although I have written a complaint to the airline: Italian Airways or Alitalia as they are known. It’s a long story. And by long, I mean uninteresting, which is basically always what people mean when they say “long story”.

I couldn’t say “I arrived jet lagged”, as Rio is only 2 hours in the past. It’s basically like having a triple espresso in the morning and just feeling like you have more time. My very first impressions were mixed. The immigration queue took over an hour to get through and was surprising lax. I jumped in a taxi and paid £30 to go for 50 mins in what seemed like a real life version of Crazy Taxi. I know the rules of the road are different wherever you are... but this particular taxi driver was genuinely crazy. He drove like John McClane in Die Hard 3, aiming for people, and what have you. He spent as much time on the hard shoulder (no-one else decided to drive there) as he did on the main shoulder... He weaved, sped, and even when I told him I was in no rush and was happy to pay to go slower, he still went faster than Usain Bolt on steroids running on one of those airport travelator things.

Besides being mildly crippled with agonising fear of someone snatching my worldly goods, I was able to observe Rio through the taxi window. I saw a city of beauty and sunshine, as well as poverty and hardship. It’s difficult to comprehend poverty when I have seen and met people with such vast wealth. Anyway this isn’t a post about my political standpoint, it is much more about my happy honeymoon period in Rio. The taxi pulled into my apartment complex, which I recognised from my Google Maps page. Love at first sight does not exist for locations anymore now that Google Street View has happened. 

The apartment complex is in front of Barra de Tijuca’s 18km beach. The beach is something else. It’s over 30 degrees at the moment and the sun has not stopped shining. Real feel on accuweather shows the heat from last week. It was 47 degrees on one day and I even saw a new graphic of a thermometer.


It’s here that I need to give credit to P20 - the sun cream that has protected me thus far, hence why I brought 1.2 litres of it with me. The waves are constant and I feel like a young boy again fighting to hold back the ocean. That is not a metaphor, I just used to love playing in the ocean as a boy. Who am I kidding, I still love it now!

There was a street festa (party) by the beach opposite the apartment on my first night.


I was surprised they had thrown me a party as I didn't realise I had so many fans in Rio. I later found out that it was in fact for someone's birthday and was not a celebration of my arrival. When they later sang "Happy Birthday", I was tickled as it was to the same tune as the original.

The first couple of days have felt like a holiday. Except I am not on holiday. This is now my life, living a six minute (I timed it) door-to-feet-in-ocean walk away from the longest beach in Rio. Yes the honeymoon period won’t last forever. But if I have learned one thing in my short time on this planet, it’s to enjoy these moments when they come.

Barra de Tijuca has been described to me as the Miami of Rio. Under 6% of the population live here, but it generates 30% of the tax for the city. Basically I think that means it is a wealthy area, or Rio has a particularly uneven council tax system. Long term followers of the blog will enjoy the next stat: Barra Shopping is the largest shopping centre in South America. Having lived in Busan, home of Shinsegae, the largest department store in the world, it seems like fate / coincidence that has put us in Barra. (If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they feel so contrived?)

Barra will also be home to over 50% of the Olympics in Rio 2016 so let’s hope we’ll be here to see it. It has many residence complexes like the one I am staying in that have shared amenities with good security and the comfort of home. That means I have a swimming pool, tennis court, private and free cinema, saunas, gym, and a restaurant. Absolute bliss.

My overall thoughts on the first week are largely positive. I won't talk about my new job yet (everyone is lovely so far) but instead focus on the emotional side of things.

I had forgotten what it was like to be in a new and vastly different culture about to undertake a new chapter in my life. All my talk of preparation, and even the handy guide my company sent me, I still hadn’t prepared my mind for the honeymoon period of living somewhere new and exciting. The joy of tasting new foods, seeing different animals, watching the habits / oddities of a different culture. 

It’s interesting that the cynic and anxious side of me has fully prepared me for the culture shock and annoyance of another country’s bureaucracy affecting one’s ability to carry out simple everyday tasks such as buying a bus ticket. But I didn’t remember the elation and the adrenaline buzz of being surrounded by difference. I notice I am most grateful at these times, which makes me a happier person. I believe that happiness is infectious and self perpetuating, just like sadness.

However I still have this nagging sense of not deserving what I have right now. I try my hardest to live a good life – I don’t cheat, con, steal, and try to minimise harm whenever I can. I am no saint but I try my best and more importantly try to learn from my mistakes. Yet this feeling of “undeservedness” stays with me whenever I receive good things in life. Jim Carrey touched on this in an interesting speech that is worth a watch from around the nine minute mark. That said, it is no Tim Minchin university address, which I still watch every few months. Jim said that “it’s about letting the universe know what you want, working towards it, while letting go of how it comes to pass.”

Unfortunately like any good advice that I have received by the many people/teachers in my life, it’s easy to hear but harder to follow. A sense of entitlement doesn’t come easy to me, even though I live a very privileged life. I have my parents to thank because it’s better to feel undeserving than to feel entitled – I imagine it limits disappointment... and it makes you seem like less of a dick.

Anyway ignoring this minor quibble, I’m very happy at the moment. Life is unlocking a lot of doors and I am grateful. I also want to show gratitude to the family and friends that have helped me. Whether I needed a wise word, a hug, a home, a "like", or simply a laugh – you have all been there to deliver. I am very lucky. So thank you.

I know some people (especially Brits) think showing positive emotions and adulation is somehow odd, boastful, or self aggrandising. The internet and the ability to connect to so many people certainly can promote that type of behaviour. But this is not. Right now I am showing happiness to promote happiness. I want to infect you! (It also means that the more distasteful and angry blogs aren’t what define my online persona).

Hello Blog. It's me, Katie!

2014 was a very good year. I made some wonderful new friends, which I hadn’t really done since Korea. I got a good job, learnt a lot and worked with some lovely people. Living in Brighton was really fun – it’s a great city and being so close to London meant I got to see a lot more of some friends who I had been far away from for several years. I visited Italy for the first time and took Dave to Paris, which was his first ever trip to France. Vikki became the first of my friends to have a baby; beautiful Dominic who I can’t want to meet this week! And several of my friends got engaged, including Hazel who is the most wonderful and deserving fianc├ęe I can imagine – congratulations again to you and Joe!

Having had such a great time over the last 12 months, it would have been easy to stay put for a bit longer. But that’s not our style is it? And besides, we always knew Dave’s work was going to involve relocating at the start of 2015 so it was never really on the cards. I don’t think either of us fully expected the news we got at the start of September though, even if we had both been sleeping with our fingers crossed for weeks. But sure enough, when the email came through about Dave’s next placement it was clear that it wasn’t in the UK, although when he shouted “We’re going to Jacarepagu├í!” I had no idea where it actually was.

Skip ahead 5 months and here I am, getting ready to jet off to Rio de Janeiro. Dave is already there and starting work today. There was recently a weather warning in Rio because it was so hot (whereas last night it snowed in Kingswinford!) but he has done well and hasn’t burnt yet, apparently. I have a lot to do in the next 2 weeks before I leave – people to see, things to pack – but I am enjoying being home and having a break before the big move. Not that I’ll be doing much once I’m out there! Well no, that’s not true but I’ll be on a tourist visa to begin with so won’t be allowed to work which is a shame. I am going to be blogging a fair bit though, which will be fun.

But aside from writing blog posts, what will I be doing in 2015? Well self-motivation is not my forte but Dave is going to crack the whip and make sure I achieve the goals I have set for myself this year. It is going to be a very different year to the last two and I really want to make the most of it. First of all, I want to have a good go at learning Portuguese. I have let it slip a bit the last couple of months but once I am out there, I refuse to be as linguistically lazy as I was in Korea.

I’m also going to teach myself how to use some photo editing and design software. Given that the majority of my job last year centred around design work, I think I need to get to grips with using programmes other than Publisher 2003. Do not worry though, dear reader. I promise never to put doctored photographs in this blog unless clearly stated, so you can be sure that anything weird and wonderful we post here will be real, legit and unairbrushed.

As Dave mentioned previously, I turned the blog posts about our adventures in Asia into a book last year, and I can’t wait to have enough material to make a second one. I have also been thinking we could branch out a bit and maybe join the twitter-sphere but it’s hard to know if anyone would actually follow us. It would be great to find out how many of our readers use twitter though, so if you could let us know in the poll below it will help with the decision about setting up a twitter account for the blog.



And with that I had better be off. I still have a lot of packing and life-admin to do, as well as lots of exciting activities. Tomorrow Mum and I are going on a road trip to visit Vikki, Alex and Dominic, then to Bristol to see Hazel and on the way home we're going to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery for a tour and gin workshop! I'll let you know if it's any good.

It's good to be back on the blog, and I hope you all had as much fun in 2014 as I did.