Sunday, February 17, 2013


気付く (kizuku) - To notice

I have an eating problem.

The truth is, I don't need to eat very much to get by. Most days I just eat a very small breakfast and a relatively light dinner. I've been skipping lunch ever since moving back from Japan to this world of enormous servings. Some days I don't eat anything until 8 or 9pm, if at all - it's easy for me to just forget meals. This isn't an eating disorder - I don't eat this little because I think I'm fat (though I do love being skinny) - it's just that this is the amount of food my body craves on its own.

The reason I'm writing about this is that my lifestyle has become unsustainable. Over the past six months or so, I've honestly felt like I've been getting dumber. I wasn't as sharp, it took longer for concepts to stick, and it felt like my brain just seemed to work slower than usual. At first I simply wrote it off as not being used to being back in school again but, rather than improve, it got worse with time. It wasn't terrible during the fall term, but I finally hit a breaking point this semester.

On top of feeling mentally dull, I started to find myself often just generally lacking energy. There were even a few days where I would get really lightheaded later in the day. In hindsight, that shouldn't have been a surprise. I've been going to the gym three or four times a week recently and, according to my wonderful Jawbone Up, burning something close to 2,500-3,000 calories a day on average. In contrast, my normal diet is probably closer to 1,500 calories a day tops, so you can see how there would be problems.

For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to up my food intake in a reasonable way. Lots of fruits and vegetables, bigger breakfasts, snacking on almonds, walnuts and baby carrots in the afternoon, making sure to always have rice with dinner. So far I've been feeling better, but it's not easy. Even today, I've nibbled on food all day without ever eating a proper meal. I think at this point it's just a matter of keeping it front of mind and working to turni it into a habit, so all I can do is stick with it and hope for the best. Hopefully I can get myself up and running properly and bring back my A game again!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

CA Trek 2013 - Manuel Antonio

After two weeks of constant traveling, sleeping in hostels and riding in vans for nearly the entire length of Central America, we were all ready to treat ourselves to a few days of luxury. Enter Manuel Antonio.

Getting there wasn't easy. The Nicaragua - Costa Rica border I has for to be the most poorly conceived border crossing in the world. In fact, if you asked me to design the worst international border in the world, I probably still wouldn't come up with something as bad as this. After three hours of maneuvering our way through that mess, we were finally in Costa Rica and rented a car to take us the rest of the way to Manuel Antonio, six hours south on the pacific coast.

What awaited us there, however, made it well worth the hassle.

We spent the remainder of our trip in the most magnificent house, built on the side of a hill overlooking the Pacific. The house itself was expansive and gorgeous, but the best parts were the spaces on the edges.
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The first floor opened up into a triangular infinity pool, where I spent the vast majority of the time. On one side, there were swinging chairs and chaise lounges to lie around in. On another, bar stools inside the pool, in front of a grill where we often ate dinner. And on the final side, an endless view of blue skies and ocean as far as the eye could see.
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The house also had a third-floor lookout with a thatched roof and two big hammocks. As awesome as the view from the pool was, the view here was even better. We didn't have the greatest luck with sunsets during our stay, but there weren't many better places to watch them from than those hammocks.
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For four straight days, we did little more than lounge around the house, soaking up rays by day and partying at night. We bought groceries and cooked delicious meals. We drank bottle upon bottle of rum. We sang, we danced, we loved life.

After two weeks on the road with packed schedules and tiny hostel rooms, this was the perfect way to end our trip. It's hard to find the words to capture the simple pleasure of the carefree time we spent in that house. I could have stayed there for weeks and was really bummed when the time came to leave.

Our three weeks in Central America were an amazing time and we all became much closer for the experience. There are people I had barely spoken to before the trip that I now count as friends. Together, we explored new countries, had glorious adventures, and shared unforgettable experiences. I'm so grateful to all the wonderful people who helped make it all that it was. The trip will go down as one of the most memorable I have taken.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

CA Trek 2013 - San Juan Del Sur

Our arrival in San Juan Del Sur clearly marks the beginning of our sun and surf portion of the trip. Located just north of the Costa Rica - Nicaraguan border, the heart of the town is only four square blocks. People go to San Juan for just one thing: the beaches.

I shared a room with a small group at Pacha Mama, a cool little hostel popular with surfers located on the edge of the town center. The rest stayed at Casa Oro, a solid hostel that also arranges a lot of tours and transport. San Juan is right on the ocean and the beach is never more than a ten minute walk away, but there are much nicer beaches a few miles out of town. We made Maderas our go-to and took Casa Oro's shuttle out there both afternoons.

The actual beach at Maderas wasn't all that great, but the water was awesome. Refreshingly cool and clear enough to see your feet, it provided a constant supply of waves to ride. Ever since I was little, I've always loved jumping around in the waves and getting tossed about by the surf, so this was an absolute playground for me. Richard showed me some proper (?) bodyboarding technique that made it possible to ride a wave ridiculous distances and I spent most of my time in the wonderful loop of catching a wave, swimming back out, and repeating over and over. Combined with cold drinks from a beach shack, a book, and a chair, it was an awesome way to spend a day. Considering it cost almost nothing to do, I could completely understand how some surfer-types spend months and months in this kind of lifestyle.

The first evening, we were lucky enough to have a shuttle back to town that left at dusk, which allowed us to watch the sunset from the water. Without a cloud in the sky, it was nothing but beautiful colors smeared in an uninterrupted gradient and reflected perfectly back by the ocean. I'm a huge fan of sunsets and this was hands down the best one of the trip.

We spent our nights eating late dinners and drinking rum, a fantastic way to cap off the day. There was some pretty solid food available for a town so small, and our willingness to drink bottle after bottle of Flor de Cana rum never flagged.

As much as we all loved San Juan Del Sur, the luxurious stretch of our trip awaited us in Costa Rica, so we took off early to make our way down to the city of Manuel Antonio.

CA Trek 2013 - Ometepe

Isla de Ometepe is an island made up of two connected volcanos in the middle of Lake Managua, accessible by an hour-long ferry ride. Having had amazing weather to that point, our luck ran out and it started raining almost immediately after getting off the boat. We managed to find a hostel that could accommodate all of us on Playa Domingo, in the middle stretch of the island, but the rain kept up all afternoon and we had little choice but to hang out on the porch. It was raining so hard that we legitimately began to consider the fact that we might need to cut our losses and leave the island the next morning if the weather didn't improve.

Fortunately for us, we woke up to sunshine and blue skies. One group set off first thing to climb one of the volcanos, an eight hour slog up muddy trails into the clouds to find a lake in the crater. That sounded a bit more intense than I was looking for, so I opted to go with the rest on a shorter hike to the islands biggest waterfall.
The hike itself was pretty good, maybe an hour each way with a few steep stretches. The weather was hot and, by the time we reached the waterfall, we were eager to wade into the pool at its base. It wasn't a roaring thunderous waterfall but it was probably close to a hundred yards high, sending a steady stream plummeting downward. Standing directly in the fall, letting the cold mountain water pour over you felt amazing.
We didn't make it back to the hotel with enough time to catch the last ferry of the day off the island, so a few of us set off to find a place to watch the sunset. Armed with one liter bottles of beer and our cameras, we made our way down the road and up the hill before finally hopping a fence into an empty field. We showed up a little too late to catch most of the sun's descent, but were still able to enjoy a great view as the evening sky changed colors behind one of the volcanos.
The next morning, we packed up our bags and hopped on the ferry, our sights set on heading to the surfer haven of San Juan Del Sur in southern Nicaragua.

CA Trek 2013 - Granada

Our first stop in Nicaragua was Granada. I wasn't there for very long but, in all honesty, it didn't feel like a city with much to do anyway. Plus, I still managed to have one epic adventure, so it was all good.
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Granada was similar to Antigua, though a little less touristy and a bit rougher on the edges. For my one day there, I decided to skip the walking tour of the city and instead rent bikes and head out of town with a small group. Lonely Planet recommended what they described as a cool swimming spot a few miles out of town, with a route that included biking along the coast of Lake Nicaragua. We rented bikes, grabbed sandwiches for lunch on the road, and headed out.

The directions weren't terribly clear and we missed a few turns but, after asking some locals, were confident we were heading in the right direction. The dirt road was full of rocks and the weather was hot, but we pushed on towards our destination. As we pulled up to the spot, we were greeted by something of a shock: the "swimming spot" looked more like a murky pond that the road ran straight into. We checked around the area to see if maybe we were missing something, but there was nothing. We cursed Lonely Planet's lies and deceit.

At that point, our only real option was to turn back. We had only been going for a bit when, out of the blue, my bike broke down. At first, I assumed the chain had come off and it would be a quick fix. Upon closer inspection, however, we saw that the derailer was a total mess. A nut had come off one of the bolts and the whole thing had bent out of shape. There was no way we were going to be able to fix it, and we were still something like 3 miles out of town.

Abbie, Mike, and I had been trailing the larger group when this all happened and they had gone on ahead, so Mike took off to let them know what was up while Abbie started walking back with me.

Abbie and I trudged along, talking about our old jobs and betting on how long it would take us to reach somewhere where we could get a much needed beer. Suddenly, the others started cruising in around a bend with big goofy grins across their faces. They pulled up and proudly announced that they had found a solution to my situation. A few moments later, a horse-drawn carriage came galloping around the corner.
They had managed to find a carriage driver willing to pick me up and take me and the bike back to town for just $5. Ben had come up with the idea, equal parts ridiculous and brilliant, and Jesus had flagged down the first empty carriage they saw. Apparently Jesus had thought it was still too expensive and tried to talk the guy down, to the point where the others thought Jesus might walk away!

I felt a bit like a king riding back, sitting high in my carriage with an entourage biking around me. To the locals we passed, I probably looked like the laziest gringo they had ever seen, choosing to take a carriage instead of just biking.
While our bike trip could hardly be classified as a success, the awesome way that it ended made up for it. As soon as we were in town, we grabbed a few beers from the bar and laughed about the twists and turns the day had taken.

The next morning, I woke up early to wander around town a bit, since I hadn't had a chance to see much of it. Though I don't feel like I missed too much, it would have been nice to have a bit longer there, but our van was waiting to take us to our next destination: Isla de Ometepe.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

CA Trek 2013 - Copan

We left Semuc Champay early in the morning, heading across the border into Honduras. Getting to Copan took longer than we were told it would (a recurring theme for this trip) and we didn't make arrive until late afternoon. Without enough time for sightseeing, we took the opportunity to clean ourselves up and wash some laundry on the hostels stone washboard before heading out for dinner. A large group of us found ourselves at a restaurant that served grilled meats family-style and, with a healthy supply of wine to help, passed away several hours eating, drinking, and talking to our heart's content. IMG_8485 IMG_8481 The following morning, we started our day with a tour through the Mayan ruins. Many of the statues still have an impressive amount of detail considering they've been sitting outside, exposed to the elements, for hundreds of years. There was very little informational signage, but our group got a guide who spoke excellent English and did an excellent job of explaining the what and the why behind the history of the Mayan kings of Copan and the buildings they built.
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That afternoon, I went with a small group to relax in the Aqua Termales, a bunch of volcanic hot springs about an hours drive out of town. The pools ranged from slightly-warmish to hot, though we were told that the main stream that we understandably weren't allowed in was a near-boiling 95C. We'd brought a supply of beer and rum and spent several hours lazily lounging in the pools and enjoying each others company. There really wasn't anywhere else in Honduras that we were interested in seeing, so we decided to head straight to Nicaragua. We managed to find a mini bus that would make the 14 hour drive from Copan to Granada, so we hit the road at 4am. As usual, the trip took even longer than we were told, but the home stretch was made much better once one of our clever classmates brilliantly spliced the wires from two sets of cheap headphones to create a makeshift iPod adaptor. We promptly busted out our stash of rum (it seems we alway have a stash of rum on this trip) and launched into a massive singalong. I made the mistake of getting too friendly with said rum, which did not end well, but it was still a great time nonetheless. 
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After finally pulling in to Granada, we met up with a couple more classmates who had flown straight into Nicaragua. We bought some light food to eat while dangling our feet in the hotel pool and chatting into the night.