Saturday, June 29, 2013

All the videos in the world. Or at least in Central America. So far.

Okay, I'm in Guanacaste now and I have *real* high speed internet which means my videos are finally uploading.  So here are all the videos I've been trying to post for the last week...

Tortugero hotel.  Otherwise known as "What would happen if we dropped Camp Dean in the Rain Forest."

These are the monkeys that were hanging out in a copse of trees at the end of my row of cabins.

Howler Monkeys [006-2013]

By contrast, this was my hotel in Arenal/La Fortuna.  Same set up - little individual cabins - less in the middle of the rain forest.

And then we went to (and are still in) Guanacaste at the J.W. Marriott hotel.  Here's the room there:

And just for fun, have a sloth eating! :)
[Three-toed Sloth [005-2013]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Done griping now

In the past four hours I have photgraphed:

A baby armadillo
Howler monkey family
Spider monkey family
White faced capuchin family
Baby basilisk
Tiger heron
And about four species of bird yet to be researched

Possibly an otter... I'm not sure if I caught him yet or not and we're just on a short break between trips so I can't stop to check. :)

Photos later tonight!

My wake up call this morning. (Costa Rica, Part 4)

I mentioned yesterday that there are no phones in our rooms.  So if we didn't bring a travel alarm, we're kinda screwed.

Unless you wanted to get up at 5:00 this morning (which, I understand is kind.  Normally this alarm goes off at 4:30).

This guy was between my cabin and the next way up in the trees where I couldn't see him.  But obviously, I could hear him!  (And most his friends from a mile or so around, but I don't think the camera picked them up.)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Photo Blog becomes Video Blog - Part 3 - There's a good reason they call it the RAIN forest.

So I’ve gone from no time blog to way too much time to blog.

We’ve left San Jose and are now in Tortugero.  Or as our guide for the next few days has said, “Your hotel in the middle of nowhere.”

It was an hour-long boat ride to get us here.  There are no cars in the very small town up the river a few minutes.  You get in by boat, you get out by boat.  Or you can swim.  We could see a thunderstorm about a half mile away as we loaded the boat.  It was dripping a bit as we started down the river.  By the time we got here it was – and still is – pouring rain.  Not just raining, ‘cause you know, hey it’s a rainforest! – but plan-cancelling pouring.

We got in, got a little welcome-to-the-island drink and got oriented.  This is the only hotel I’ve ever been to that required an orientation.  Then we had lunch and then got our room assignments.

Hysterically, I’m in room 102.  (For those of you who didn’t teach with me last year, that was my classroom number.)

I didn’t take pictures of the hotel in San Jose because, while it was nice, it was a very standard ‘North American Hotel’ and I didn’t think it merited the disk space.

Now I wish I had just for contrast.

In San Jose I had a single king sized bed with pure white linens on top of a feather bed.  There were, no joke, 7 pillows on that bed.  It was about three and a half feet off the ground – I had to climb up on to it.  There was a robe on the back of the bathroom door and a bathtub I could have done laps in.

Here… well, let’s just say it's a good thing I’m a fan of roughing it.  I had a weird sense of déjà vu when I walked in and it took me a few hours to place it, but I finally figured it out.  This room reminds me of sleeping in the platform tents at Camp Dean as a kid.  Only with electricity.  And a toilet that flushes instead of an outhouse.  Though, that said, I’ve never been anywhere else that has a sign that says ‘don’t throw your used toilet paper in the toilet, put it in the trash.’  So um… not a WHOLE lot better.

Other than that, though, it’s quaint.  Rustic. 

Here, have a look.  I actually remembered that my point and shoot has video.  Go me! 

[ETA: Maybe there will be video tomorrow.  The connection here seems to be stable and strong for text and still photos, but it's telling me that my little two minute video will take something like 3 hours to upload.  So... yeah.  Working on that, but it may be a while. :)]

Anyway, much like what frequently happened at Dean, it’s pouring buckets here.  It’s so loud that I can barely hear the music or video I’m playing on the computer.  It’s so bad that a ‘rain or shine’-policy tour group has canceled our trip into town and moved it to where we were supposed to have free time tomorrow and we have the free time now.

Of course there’s one little hut that has – theoretically anyway – internet and a bunch of us headed up there to kill time and we discovered that the internet usually doesn’t work in the rain.  Sigh.

So now I’m back in my hut typing this up so I can just send it whenever the internet does work.

Oh FABULOUS.  Ick.  Just like Camp Dean, I apparently need to wear bug spray to sit on my bed.  Blech.

Anywho… Things I’ve discovered since shooting that video:
  • ·      There is no glass on my windows.  The roof extends far enough that the rain isn’t coming in, but it does present a bit of a privacy issue.  I’m wondering what else I may end up hearing howling tonight other than monkeys.  Also, I tend to sleep with my music or a t.v. show going.  I don’t think my neighbors want to hear that.
  • ·      That safe system is a hot mess and I don’t trust it.
  • ·      The rain is REALLY loud in here. I can barely hear my music even with the computer right on my lap and the sound turned all the way up.
  • ·      The wrought iron beds are cute, but when you want to lean against the headboard and work on something, they’re really uncomfortable.
  • ·      The mattress… um… isn’t.  It’s about six inch thick mattress/boxspring/something that sits on a wooden platform.  [ETA: apparently this is not a huge problem.  I just had a two hour nap on the thing and slept fine. :)]
  • ·      I got like 8 hours of sleep last night [and this after going down for an hour-long massage that I really, really needed] and yet the sound of the rain around me makes me want to sack out.
  • There is no phone, radio or clock in my room.  
  • Gekko's like my window screen.  Currently from the outside.  Picture tomorrow.

So anyway, we’re told we get two wake-up calls tomorrow.

The first is at 4:30 a.m. and will come courtesy of the howler monkeys.  The second comes at 5:50 and will be the wait staff coming room to room with coffee, tea or hot chocolate for us while we get ready for breakfast.  Weather permitting, of course.

Tomorrow is supposed to be two boat tours.  In open boats.  Can’t wait to see what happens if this rain doesn’t let up.  I also found out that when it’s cloudy, even at ISO 1600 (the highest my camera has), I can’t take pictures of the animals on the shore when the boats are going.  Just nothing comes out.  I’m hoping a clear day will help.  Or slower boats.  Or I may have to switch over to my point-and-shoot and help the ‘blur reduction’ setting helps. 

I can hear something chittering a few feet away from my window.  I have no idea if it’s a bird, a squirrel (do they have squirrels out here?) or a monkey.  And I can’t see anything.  Though everytime I hear it, I grab my camera and run to the window.

They said they’ll tell us tomorrow’s weather ‘later’.  Which I can’t figure means anything good.  If it was going to quit raining and be better, they’d tell us that straight out, right?  Guh.

I’m still waiting for that one day where I get to go out in the rain forest for many hours and just shoot and shoot and shoot and come back with 1000 pictures to sort.

Obviously it’s not today and with the rearranging of tomorrow, and the highly ambiguous weather report, I’m guessing it won’t be tomorrow either. 

Remind me to never come to a rain forest in the rainy season again.

Tomorrow night those of us who signed up are going to the sea turtle nesting sites.  They said that even though it’s a bit early in the year (they usually start coming in around July), that there have been some sightings and they say there’s a very good chance we’ll see a turtle come up to lay her eggs.  We can’t take any kind of pictures or video though which sucks.  Hopefully it won’t rain through that.

ETA: Okay, I've had two hours of sleep and the rain has stopped.  Of course, being near the equator it's also pitch black... but my mood is somewhat less damp.  Here's hoping tomorrow is both drier and better!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Photo Blog becomes Travelogue – Parts 1 & 2 – Getting There, a Comedy of Errors.

Part 1: This should be the easy part.

Whoever said, “getting there is half the fun”, clearly never had to fly Spirit Airlines at 5:30 in the morning to get wherever they were going.

The good news was, both alarms I set for 2:30 a.m. went off and I actually managed to roll out of the house by 3:00.  Things went slightly downhill from there.

First I had to get my luggage in the car.  Not a big deal, really, but I had to shove a few things over in the back of my Rav4, in the dark, for the big suitcase.  In doing so I discovered that I hadn’t cleared out all the glass shards from when my rear window imploded a few months ago.  So at 3:05ish in the morning, I’m standing there in the street with a bloody finger.  Not gushing or anything, but really?  It’s 3:05 on Sunday morning as I’m leaving for a big trip and I manage to damage myself doing something as mundane as packing the baggage.  The good news is: I packed Band-aids.  The bad news is, they’re in the suitcase I just shoved into the car.  I ended up having to wait until I had parked the car at the garage to get one out.

So I get to the place I’m parking my car and they take me to the airport where I’m shuffled into a line to print my boarding pass.  This is where Spirit starts to show how much they truly suck.

I login using just my name (not a lot of security there – I guess they depend on TSA to make sure that the boarding pass and the ID match?) and they ask me 95 times if I want to pay $60 to sit in a bigger chair.  No, really, that was all it was.  It wasn’t a real ‘first class’, it was just a bigger chair.  Pass.  All 95 times.  Then they want to know if I have luggage.  Only they really, really don’t make it clear what they’re asking.  So when it says “how many carry-ons do you have?” I hit one.  It wanted to charge me $50 for THAT.  Yes, seriously, Spirit charges you to use the overhead bins.  Fortunately the Spirit employee working the lines noticed that I was counting my camera backpack as a carry-on and over-rode it to $0 since it can go under my seat.

Then it asks about checked bags.  Yes, I have one.  HOWEVER, I’m fairly confident that I paid for it when I booked the ticket, since I was sure I’d need luggage for this trip.  That’s not showing up anywhere on the screen and there’s nowhere to enter something like a prepaid code or anything.  So I check my confirmation email and I don’t see anything on there about it.  Fine.  I tell it I have one bag.  The line attendant has me put my one bag on the scale.  49.5 pounds.  For not actually weighing it, I’m all kinds of pleased that I got it in under 50.

I’m told it’s $25 for it being over-weight.   Can I get it under 43?  Uh. No.  My backpack is full to bursting as it is.  Seriously?  Only 40 lbs are allowed before you get smacked with yet another fee?  Really?

So I slide my card to pay the damn fees and it asks me to enter my ‘personal identification code’ for my card.  Now, this being my debit card, I assume it wants my pin and enter that.  Only AFTER I do that, does it flash up the thing that says it wants the code number from the back of the card.  So now it doesn’t go through and instead of simply saying, “That didn’t work, try again.” It LOCKS ME OUT!  I try to start the process over and it says, “You can’t check in, because you owe fees.”  And logs me out again.  So now I have to go back to the attendant person. 

REALLY????  This is your idea of convenience?  I need to check my card carefully when I get online again.  I have a feeling I got slammed with a talk-to-a-real-person fee in there somewhere.

But I’m finally waved through and I drop my bag off at the big x-ray machines and head for the TSA.

Then I get through security (actually faster than Midway) and head off for my gate.  Only there are no signs indicating which way Spirit is so I walk down the ‘road more traveled’ and discovered that I need to not only go back with way I came, but down to the very butt-end of the concourse.  I get down there in time to hear an announcement about how OMG you better sit in YOUR seat!  You have an assigned seat and you BETTER sit in it even if another one looks more comfortable or whatever, you must sit in YOUR SEAT!!!

And we’re planning to leave 10 minutes early.  Now, I’m all for getting where I’m going, but I need breakfast.  So I sprint back down the corridor for McDonald’s and get a sandwich and orange juice.  Only it took them like 8 minutes to give me my orange juice.  Even though there were like 10 glasses premade and sitting on the line.  This kid who ordered two after me got his orange juice with his food, but I was left standing there while they refilled the machine, even though I was going, “Why can’t I have my drink?”

So I get finally get my o.j. and sprint back down to the gate.

They load people needing assistance and then the people who have paid to put a change of underwear in their precious overhead bins.  Then I’m in the next group.

I get down the aisle and find… someone in my seat.

I try to tell her she’s in my seat but it’s this 90 year old little woman who apparently only speaks Russian (possibly Polish) has seriously set up camp with her breakfast and … whatever.  This is not helped by the fact that the person in the middle seat is already there and is either still drunk from last night or at the least very, very hungover and also not looking to get up so I can get in.

But, OMG YOU MUST SIT IN YOUR SEAT announcements.  So I try to explain to this woman that she’s in my seat.  It looked like one of those scenes from every bad comedy movie where you need the cooperation of someone who doesn’t speak the language of the main characters.  They can only say, “I don’t speak English” and “thank you”.  And they use those two phrases over and over again even when neither makes any kind of sensible answer to the question being asked.

Fine, screw it.  I sit in the aisle seat.

So much for putting my sweatshirt against the window and sleeping all the way to Florida.

To give you an idea how cheap this airline is, their seatback pockets are half the size of a Southwest seatback.  I can’t get my crochet bag and my bag of gummy bears in there at the same time it’s so small.  On Southwest, I can get both of those and my laptop in there.

There are no free drinks on this flight.  Not even coffee.  W.T.F.  5:30 a.m. flight that leaves early and I can’t even get a cup of bad coffee without being nickel and dimed to death.  And there’s no drink menu in the seatback.  You have to ask the attendant as he comes through with the credit card machine. So you don’t even know what you’re getting yourself into when you ask for a drink.  Oy.

I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for me as I try to transfer to my flight from Florida to San Jose.

ETA: The truly special kind of cheap.  Instead of actually having an air freshener in the bathroom, there’s a filter bag of coffee hanging off the coat hook.  No wonder they want to charge Starbucks prices for cheap-ass coffee.

Part 2:  What chimpanzee actually thought this plan up?

Well that was the stupidest transfer ever.  Anyone ever have to fly through Fort Lauderdale before?  Have to make a transfer from an H gate to an F gate?  If you have, you know where this is going.  If not, and you have a choice, spare yourself this fate.

We land in Florida and I have on my second boarding pass (and only on my second boarding pass, not on any signage near where I’m deplaning) that my new gate is F2.  We deplane at something like H10.  I walk all the way down to the end of the H concourse.  I see gates for places like San Juan, Colombia and Guatemala.  I figure my flight has to be going from somewhere around here.  I go to the other end.  I check the departure boards.  Nothing anywhere says F gates.  There are no flights to San Jose on the boards.  WTF?

I finally see a sign that says “Baggage claim, long term parking and F Gates.”  But that doesn’t make any sense.  You have to leave the secure area to get to Baggage and Parking.  You shouldn’t be leaving the secure area to get to another gate, right?

Uh… no.  With absolute minimal signage and asking about six people I finally find out that the F gates are in ANOTHER BUILDING.  And there’s no tram or shuttle or anything.  You have to exit the H building, walk all the way around the traffic pick-up circle where you can’t even see the signs indicating F gates until you’re almost there.  Then you have to go in, go up and GO THROUGH TSA AGAIN!  Now bear in mind, I had, according to my boarding pass 31 minutes to figure this out, get there and get through both the ID and the search-and scan-part of security.  Did I mention that I thought it made more sense to wear my hiking boots than to have them taking up half my suitcase?  Not the best plan ever.

So I the TSA guy, for some reason, has a problem getting the counterproof detector to accept my passport, then I go into the scan machine, where my hair gets flagged.  Seriously.  I can only figure that for some reason the thingy didn’t like the knot in my ponytail elastic.  So the officer searched my hair for contraband. (The small scissors in my crochet kit was fine, but you know, my deadly purple elastic not so much.)

Anyway, I finally get through get repacked and get to my gate.  I found a coffee spot and got a café con leche and some water and went and sat at my gate.

When they started boarding us, it went really, really, really slowly.  I couldn’t figure out why until I got up there (and I was towards the end of the line) and discovered that they were reassigning about half the people’s seats.

So they ask me if I would mind being moved closer to the front of the plane.  I had an aisle seat, and would have preferred a window seat, so I figured it couldn’t be worse as long as I wasn’t in the middle.  The gate attendant promised me it would be aisle or window, so I asked for window and they moved me to 14F.


Really universe?  Really????

[Hm…. I think we’re somewhere over Mexico.  We’ve gone out over the Atlantic, but now we’re over land again.  Looks like farms.]

So her daughter tells me that the flight attendant had moved their whole family to be together and I could have the window seat a row up and across.  I said, I didn’t mind if the flight crew didn’t.  Then I realized it was the exit row with a LOT more space (and at the time no one else in the row), so I was completely okay with it. 

Then, of course, the person with that actual seat number came on and wanted her seat.  So she gets the flight attendant and says she wants her assigned seat.  So I said I’d be happy to move… if I got my assigned seat back.

Turned out in the long run that the other exit, window seat was open so that girl moved there and I stayed here.  Eventually someone else sat in the aisle seat of this row, but there’s no one between us, which is nice because I can turn my back to the wall and put my feet up on the extra seat to type.  Which is necessary since there’s a whole lot of legroom in this row, but the tray tables don’t stretch any further than normal, so my computer is about two feet in front of me when I put it on the tray.

I’m about two hours out of San Jose now.  I’m getting a little excited. J

And now we have to do immigration paperwork and such.  Honest to God, they just announced, “We do not provide pens for your paperwork.  If you do not have one, please look to your neighbors to see if they have one you can borrow.”

Cheapest. Airline. Ever.

Flight NK755
Customs form (blue)
Immigration (white)

Okay these forms are, as my students would put it, a hot mess.  I totally understand doing them in Spanish first, but if you’re going to put the English under it, you might want it to be English that English-speakers can understand.

·      Nationality is spelled wrong.  Seriously.  On a customs form.
·      Do you bring chemical agents, pharmaceutical substances or remainders, arms aunmunition [no joke, that’s how it’s spelled] or explosives.
·      Do you bring with yourself more than US$10,000 or it equivalent one in other currencies, cash financial littles values. Or other financial instruments. [Apparently whoever translated this doesn’t believe in question marks.  There isn’t one on this whole form.]
·      Have you enjoyed in the last 6 months exoneration tributes.  [No one on this plane can even tell me what the this means.  Other than ‘if you don’t know what it means, the answer is ‘no’.]

SERIOUSLY????  And the flight attendants seem all surprised that half the passengers are going, “WTF is this even???”  Like this form is brand new or something.  How have a million other Americans not said, “You all do get that this form is a disaster, right?”

On a happier note, the clouds up here are amazing.  They look like you could walk on them.

And lest anyone think I wasted a whole day in Costa Rica without seeing any animals...

I chased birds around our hotel parking lot for about half an hour.  There will be more pics when there's more time (Parrots!  Wild Parrots!  FLOCKS of them!)  But for now, my first 'you won't find that in Chicago.  Ever.' animal...

White Winged Dove [004-2013]

It's a White Winged Dove.  It's coo sounds almost like an owl hooting.  And I love that blue ring around his eye!

Okay, tomorrow we have the active volcano (we're getting up early to try to beat the clouds) and the coffee farm.  Very exciting!