Can I Have My Living Room Back?

I think the hardest thing about having someone couchsurf is losing your living room for the two or three days that they’re here.  It kind of felt like walking into someone’s bedroom, really.  Not that I use my living room for much other than watching tv, but it seemed that not having access to it, made me suddenly need it.  Hey wait!  Hoarders is on!  Oh….right, tv’s in the living room.  Hey wait!  I need a new ball of yarn!  Oh….right, yarn’s in the living room.  Hey wait!  I’ll watch a dvd….right, in the living room.

That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy having couchsurfers stay with me.  I do.  I get to meet new and interesting people, and I get to show off my city, which I think is under-valued as far as tourist destinations go.  And all three of the couchsurfers that have stayed with me have been fantastic guests – they’ve been quiet, clean, friendly, and independent.  What more could you ask for in a guest?

I’ve written about couchsurfing before, but that was before I had the actually experience.  I thought that now that I have had the opportunity to let someone I don’t know into my home, I’d write about it.

I’ve never felt unsafe with a couchsurfer.  I have said “no” to people who have requested the use of my couch – either because I was busy, or because something about their profile made them appear to be not my kind of person.  (Maybe they had too many photos of drinking, maybe they were too young or too old to be compatible, maybe they didn’t have any references for me to check how good of a guest they would be.)

But I do check the references, and I do read their profiles.  I want to know a bit about the person I’m about to let into my home.  Likewise, I trust that they’ve read my profile, andk now what they are getting in return.  For example – I have cats.  That’s right there in my profile (not to mention there’s a photo of them) and anyone who is severely allergic might not want to stay here.

It is a little imposing, having someone else in your living room.  Perhaps if I had a seperate bed room for them it would be different,  the living room would be a more communal space.  This is possibly the hardest part about hosting, losing my communal space.

My rules haven’t changed, after having the actual experience.  My bedroom is off-limits, but the rest of the apartment isn’t.  They are welcome to use the kitchen, and the coffee and/or tea is fair game.  So far, all three couch surfers have bought and eaten their own food, although I don’t have a problem sharing what’s in the fridge or pantry.  I think if the couch surfer were staying longer, I’d adjust that rule; but for two or three nights, it seems silly to say no.  They get a key, so that they can come and go as they please.  Again, it seems silly to say “You can stay here, but you have to leave at 7 in the morning, when I do.”  Having read their references, I don’t feel like I am taking a big risk in letting them be here alone. 

I’m enjoying being part of the couch surfing experience, and I hope someday to be able to couchsurf myself, to see it from the other side.

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When Life Changes, Change Location

Yesterday I heard the news that every employee dreads:  your position has been made redundant.  As of March 31, 2012, you will be out of a job.

I could panic, yes.  I could worry about things like a roof over my head, paying bills, buying food.  I could dread having to reduce the life style that I lead – cutting back on entertainment, clothing, and other non-essentials.  Instead, I choose to look at this as an opportunity.

I’m going to travel.  I have no job to worry about getting back to, and if I pack up all my belongings, and store them in my mother’s basement, cancel my cable and internet, I will have enough money to spend a month, or two, back-packing somewhere in this wide world.

The question is….where.

Australia?
India?
Veitnam?
Argentina?
Chile?

Ideas?

Monteverde’s Green Mountains

My first stop in Costa Rica was Monteverde, a wonderful area of coffee plantations, zip line adventure companies, ecological preserves, rainforest and the worst roads you’ve ever had the mis/fortune to ride on.  The slash there in case you’re a fan of bumping over potholes that could swallow most small cars.

Getting to Monteverde from Liberia is a bit of an exercise in patience and, as we found out, miming.  You see, to take a bus to Monteverde you need to:

  • In Liberia, catch a bus to Canas
  • In Canas, catch a difference bus to Tilaran.
  • In Tilaran, catch a third bus to Monteverde.  That runs once a day, at 2:45 (according to the schedule we were given.)

That’s pretty much an entire day of being on and off buses.  So when we were approached by a man offering a ride to Tilaran for $60, we…realized he didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak Spanish.  Much miming and broken sentences in both languages later, we offered $50, and off we went.  We arrived in Tilaran around 9:30, and were again approached by a different man, who offered us a ride to Monteverde for $70.  Again, we found ourselves awkwardly debating the price, and finally we all agreed on (and understood) $60.  So we piled in his car, started off…..and he asked if he could bring his wife.  Turns out, I think (remember, I don’t speak Spanish) he and his wife are from Monteverde and they were going to use the day to visit their family.

Did we get taken?  Most likely.  We could probably have talked both men down more, but honestly….we were tired, and we had the money.

Arriving in Monteverde, we found our hostel, and booked a coffee plantation tour at El Trapiche  – where they grow not only coffee, but also bananas, plantains, sugar cane and pineapples. 

We toured through the bananas and plantains, and then headed into the sugar cane, before getting to the good stuff.  The coffee.  Seeing it in all its stages – how it’s grown, dried, the bean separated from the kernel, and then roasted, was incredibly interesting. 

The next day, we headed out to Extremo Park to do a little zip lining.  There are multiple zip line companies in Monteverde, and I think most of them are fairly similar.  Extremo offered a 1km long “superman” zip line – where you fly like superman from one mountain top to another.  It’s a fairly bare bones operation, in that it’s only zip lines (with one 55m repel, and a tarzan swing) and no canopy tour or suspension bridges, which some of the other companies do offer.  While it is bare bones, it doesn’t scimp on safety.

Our final day in Monteverde, we hit the Trainforest (great for kids!), the Serpentarium, and the Ranario butterfly garden and frog pond.  (Although, it’s not really a pond, more of a small frog zoo.)  That evening, we did a night walk in one of the ecological parks near the town.  While we didn’t get to see many  mammals (other than a coati), we did get to view several bird species, and a tarantula.

Monteverde is a beautiful area in Costa Rica.  As it is in the clouds, there is occasionally a fine mist in the air.  Blue blue skies above you, a warm mist around, and suddenly…..one of the most vibrate rainbows you’ve ever seen.  Who could pass up a chance to see that?!

Playa Grande Played Me (or How I Learned to Surf)

I grew up in a small town in a large province very far away from any ocean.  Two days driving in one direction would get me to the Atlantic.  Four days driving in the opposite would get me to the Pacific.  However, I did grow up surrounded by water.  Rivers, lakes, puddles, ponds, pools….swimming, canoeing or just playing around.  I love water, and every time I hit an ocean I’m reminded again of just how much.

While in Costa Rica, I decided that I needed to take a surfing lesson.  I had wanted to in Hawaii, but didn’t find the time.  There would be no excuses this time.  I contacted Point Break Surf and booked a lesson for January 2.

There were two other women 9sisters from LA) taking lessons with me.  We started with a how-to demonstration on land – how to paddle, how to stand, how to stay safe.  Afterwards we hiked our boards down the beach to an empty stretch where we wouldn’t hit the real surfers with our beginner bumblings.

The first time on the board in the water, we just body-surfed the board to the beach.  The second time, we rode it on our knees.  On the third try, we were to try to stand up.  Standing up proved not to be the problem for me – staying standing is where I needed to put in a little practice.  The next try, though, I managed to ride the bunny-wave (borrowing some ski terminology here) to the shore.

We were just riding the white water – small waves that wouldn’t prove too much for our meager abilities.  Hey, everyone has to start somewhere right?  Gotta learn to stand before you can ride.

I did not too bad – every other wave I fell off, true, but I rode as many as I floundered.  It’s a learning curve – learning when to start standing, learning how fast (or slow) to do the litany of steps towards standing (ok, so….on my knees like a table, check.  One foot between hands, check.  Start standing and turn body, check.  Eyes on the beach!  check.  Knees bent, check.) But I (somehow, someway) managed to stand on a few waves.

A quick break for water that wasn’t salty, and a new application of sunscreen, and we were back in the water.  I was given a different board – one that was a little more stable than the others.  I got to ride two or three waves when suddenly, I pearled.  (That is to stay, I dived nicely off the front of the board, as if I were diving for perals).  The board flew out behind me, and I hit the water, with a sharp pain hitting my knee.  I looked down, and it turns out I had gashed it pretty good.

The new board had a mount in it for a camera, and that mount hit my knee, cutting it pretty good.  I was lucky – my instructor, Matt, was cool and calm.  He grabbed his med kit, bandaged up my knee, and took me straight to his doctor.  She took a look at my leg, and set to fixing me up.

6 stitches later, Matt drove me back to my hotel, and made sure that I was ok and didn’t need anything.  I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get to surf more.  I had a fantastic time, and Matt was a great instructor.  It’s definitely something that I’ll be doing again, regardless of the accident. 

Once my leg heals up, I’m getting “Playa Grande, Costa Rica” tattooed around the scar.  It’s an awesome souvenir!