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Just Another Day at the Office

This is the planter outside the front door of our office.

Notice anything… unusual?



Big Snake


Big Costa Rica Snake

Is this our new office pet?

Office Snake

Because if it is, well… I might have a problem with this.

Giant Office Snake

Just a little.

Livin’ La Vida Costa

Well folks, as Katie mentioned earlier, we made it into Bagaces safe and sound despite our best efforts to get kidnapped and sold on the black market.

We showed up on our host family’s doorstep late Monday night exhausted, sweaty, and smelling like animals at the county fair.  And, for some reason, they still let us in.  Partly it’s because they’re the nicest people on Earth.  And partly it’s because they knew we wouldn’t last an hour out in the Costa Rican wilderness on our own.

There seems to be a vast assortment of wildlife just waiting for a couple of clueless gringas like us to try to befriend it–and, considering my appalling lack of survival instincts, I probably would’ve been mauled by parakeets and lizards by the time I reached the end of their driveway.

Anyway, we’ve been extremely busy since we got here (hence the embarrassing lack of posts from me) getting to know our gracious host family, learning what we’ll be working on while we’re here, scoping out the area, settling into our super-sweet digs, and maintaining a code-red level of alertness for all potentially sting-y/bite-y things.

So busy, in fact, that we haven’t really had time to take any pictures.  Gulp.

But we will.  And toot-sweet.  Promise.

In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for my first impression of Costa Rica, which is:  It’s beautiful, humid, breathtaking, unpredictable, buggy, wild, quaint, laidback, green, quiet, noisy, and rugged.

And here Katie and I are, living all up in the mix.

On any given day, we see birds and volcanoes and horses and cows and huge thunderstorms and green fields and dogs and friendly locals in old pick-up trucks who wave and honk hello as they nearly run us off the narrow dirt roads.  And that’s just on our mile-long walk to and from work.

Still, by far, the best commute than I’ve ever had.

It’s Hot as F*ck in Chile Town.

Well, crap.

So apparently we’re a lot more efficient at this travel business than anyone gave us credit for, because we ended up arriving in our host town a bit earlier than our host family expected us.  Apparently, they thought we’d get hung up in customs or at the bus station and have to hole up in San Jose for the evening.

But our dirty, sweaty selves made it in record time – thanks to the help of a couple friendly strangers and sheer luck.

We took a cab, plane, another plane, another cab, a bus and finally a truck to get here, but we are here.

After waking up at the ass-crack of dawn this morning (thanks east-coast time zone), we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and cup of excellent coffee overlooking some distant volcanoes, went on a tour of our new small town, were introduced to the other interns and employees here, grocery shopped in a nearby town, ate chicken burritos for lunch, and are finishing up the day doing some office tasks in an attempt to earn our keep.

I promise we will be sharing pictures soon.  But I actually have to take some first.  There’s been a lot to soak in.  And a lot soaked, period.  At one point today I thought I could wring out my shirt.  And no, it wasn’t raining.  But we did witness our first torrential downpour this afternoon, complete with sideways rain, nearby lightning strikes, and about a half-a-dozen mini power outages.  No one even blinked.

We’ve been overwhelmed, but excited.

Exhausted, but eager to learn.

Sweaty, but happy.

I’ve Got Baggage

Today we’re making the seven-hour road trip up to Maryland to see our dear friends Erin and Chuckles.  From there, Erin and I will fly to Costa Rica in a couple of days.  I’m all packed and ready to go (I think), and all I can do now is sit here twiddling my thumbs waiting for the hubs to get off work.


I think I’ve forgotten what that is…

All I know is that I’ve managed to squeeze my life into two bags.  My entire world, for 2 months, will look like this:

Travel Bags

For 2 months, these two bags will function as my closet, bathroom vanity, library, pharmacy, “home” office, and primary source of neck and shoulder pain.

As you can see, I have left no room for souvenirs.  That’s why they invented digital photography, memory cards, and the post office.

Packing light is not my forte.

Regardless, how do I feel about the fact that my life has been condensed to a couple of backpacks?

Pretty.  Damn.  Liberated.

Recreational Equipment Impaired ®

Ok, I hadn’t planned on mentioning Saturday’s fateful episode because I’ve already done a few of those “Hah, how delightfully kooky I am!” kind of posts and I figured I’d better cool it on those for a while before you guys start thinking a typical day for me entails sobbing hysterically in the shower, scratching the eyes out of people in magazines, writing rambling letters to the President warning him that Wilford Brimley is trying to poison the local water supply, etc.

That’s strictly a Sunday thing.

I’m watching you, Quaker Oats man.

However, since Katie brought it up — with a little dramatic flair added for comedic value — I feel I should explain the situation so that my mother-in-law doesn’t have to worry that I’m going to snap under the stress of packing some day this week and go after her baby boy with a frying pan.

So, it went like this:  I drove to the REI in Rockville on Saturday for what started out as an entirely innocent errand to exchange a rain jacket I’d bought online for a smaller size.  The exchange went smoothly and that might’ve been the uneventful end to the most boring cocktail party story ever except, just as I was turning to leave, some dark, twisted thought sprang from the bowels (ew) of my mind.

Oh, what the hey, I thought to myself.  Shucks, since I’m here anyway, I might as well take a look around this here shoppin’ establerment and see if I there’s anything else I might could use.  Git ‘r done!  Earnhardt forever! Because, naturally, that’s how I talk in my head.

When I finally made it out of the store two and a half hours later, I imagine the parking lot surveillance cameras caught a wild-eyed, disheveled person who vaguely resembled me bursting through the front doors like I’d just been released from a 48-hour hostage situation, pausing just long enough to whip my head wildly left and then right, and then tearing off in a dead sprint across the parking lot without looking back.

For those unfamiliar with REI (which stands for “Recreational Equipment, Inc.”  Droppin’ knowledge like bombs!), it’s a national outdoor and sporting goods retail chain that supplies every conceivable brand and type of gear for the knowledgeable climbing, camping, mountain biking and general outdoors enthusiast.

Which, basically, translates to the seventh circle of hell for people like me.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I consider myself an outdoorsy person — I like to hike, camp, trail-run, mountain bike, eat possum, etc. — but me stepping foot into an REI is akin to someone who likes to read attempting to plow through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica series in one sitting.  You’re just in way over your head, my nerdy little friend.

The thing is, I’m not what you would call a “decisive” person.  If you give me two options, I will choose Option A, then change my mind and choose Option B.  Then change my mind again.  Then ask which one you’d choose.  Then try to listen to which option fate is telling me to choose.  Then make a list detailing the pros and cons of each option.  Then convert said list into a color-coded Excel bar graph.  Then, if given enough time, have a nervous breakdown.

So, it goes without saying that I don’t do well in scenarios where I’m given too many choices.  And, being a major retail chain, choices are what REI is all about.  So, being the person I am in the situation I was, I ended up spending half the day wandering aimlessly up and down each aisle (and possibly through part of the Men’s Big & Tall next door somehow) trying to discern the difference between 10 similar shiny packaged products, praying that someone would swoop in and save me from this private hell of personal freedom.

Every once in a while I’d see a busy store clerk bustle by, at which point I’d shuffle after him a safe distance, whimpering and holding out two items like a toddler asking to be picked up.

What is a ‘nonadjust Poly/Neoprene retainer’ and why is it trying to make me insane?

And on the rare occasion they actually stopped for me (and didn’t break into a jog after looking back and seeing my hungry eyes and quivering lip), here’s how the exchange typically went:

Me: Please.  I’m looking to buy a hydration bladder for my backpack.  Just tell me which one I should get.

Bearded, Teva-Wearing Store Clerk: Well, that depends.  How many liters is your pack’s capacity?  Is this for a technical daypack or a multiday excursion pack?  Does your pack have an internal frame or external?

Me: Um, see, it’s a backpack.  It’s about yea wide and yea big (hold my hands appropriate distance apart) and it goes on my back like this (mime putting on a backpack).

Bearded, Teva-Wearing Store Clerk: What capacity is the pack’s reservoir sleeve?  How many drink tube exit ports does it have?  What type of access port design are you looking for?

Me:  (Blink several times.  Maybe drool a little.)

Bearded, Teva-Wearing Store Clerk: Do you want a rigid or molded hydration bladder?  Made of rubber or flexible plastic?  Do you intend to use a water purification-adaptable system?

Me:  Lookie here, Brent.  I guess your carabiner key chain and your “Life is Good” T-shirt qualify you for some sort of Eagle Scout merit badge in smug condemnation, but I will not be suffering your crap today, my friend.  So just tell me what to get or I will rip off your stupid ponytail and make you eat it.

Okay, so that last part was in my head.  What I actually did was mutter something incoherent and then scuttle away like a crab.

So, by the time Katie called, I was a bit stressed out.  I mean, I was so confused and uncertain that I almost bought a fanny pack.  Fortunately, I regained my senses in the nick of time, paid for the few items I’d manage to decide upon, and got the hell out of there.

So, hopefully, explaining that episode has now put everyone’s mind at ease that I’m not a neurotic nutjob.

Wait.  I guess that really didn’t…

Aw, crap.

The Sink’s In Here Somewhere…

In the words of Erin’s frog, she is completely harshing my mellow.

I mean, I was happy just floating along, all, “I’m SO ready for this Costa Rica trip.  I’ve got typhoid  shots and a backpack – what more do I need?”

And then came this post.  This awful, horrible, mellow-harshing post that, aside from making me laugh at Erin’s pantaloons, sprouted this demonic little thought in my head that maybe – just maybe – I should think about packing.

Have I been worried about the language barriers?  Sure.  Have I been concerned my fragile little underexposed body might have difficulty adjusting?  Of course.  Have I been concerned I’ll make a true American ass of myself by not understanding the culture?  No doubt.  I expressed all of those concerns here.  I’ve already admitted that when it comes to this trip, this is me:

But in all  honesty, I haven’t let myself freak out about these things because:

a)  I’m doing the best I can to prepare in a limited amount of time by studying up on some Spanish (and buying a phrase book); seeing the doctor and getting proper medications; and reading up on Tico culture in my nifty little guidebook, and

b)  We’re going to be working for a great family who, at every chance they’ve been able to get so far, have been straightforward and quick to reply with what to expect.

But then comes Erin with her post about practicalities, like packing??!

Not to mention the panicked phone call I received from her at REI just yesterday when she was struck with an insurmountable bout of indecision.  (Did I tell you I wouldn’t tell anyone about that, Erin??  It’s a good thing only 6 people read this.)

So I’ve decided it’s time to start assessing where I stand, starting with the GINORMOUS bag of goodies and gifts my exceedingly generous friends from work gave me over excessive amounts of tequila (accompanied by a small amount of margarita fixings) after my last day at work.

Okay.  Wow.

I will admit there are a few items here I may not be taking to Costa Rica.  See, I have a limited amount of room in my backpack, so it’s inevitable that some things out of this huge, thoughtful bag of gifts will get left behind.

Like maybe these:

Peace flip flops

Not because they’re not totally awesome, but I do need to be a little practical here.  I’m only allowing myself to bring 2 pairs of shoes (possibly 3 if I can’t find the right wet/dry amphibian shoes), and I’ll need my 1 pair of flip flops to work with the majority of my clothes.  Unfortunately, I just don’t have that much teal in my wardrobe.  But maybe I should.

And these two items:

Bug Hat

While I understand the practicality of packing the proper head gear, I should probably be realistic about what I’ll actually wear.  For example, the first hat might really come in handy if I find myself devoid of bug spray or if I decide to take up beekeeping, but I’m hoping to avoid both scenarios during this trip.  And the second… well…


There are, however, some really really great things in here that will definitely be making the cut.

Like food.  Can’t go wrong with that.  And while I might not be bringing all of this food, I can definitely see where it might come in handy on the trip out there or during one of our weekend excursions.

Snack Food

And how cool are these nifty little tools??  I find myself walking around the house just looking for an excuse to use these.

These are just a few of the multitude of basic hygiene and toiletry products, which are fantastic (don’t ask about the Gold Bond – hopefully I won’t need it):

And this – this I was really excited about.  VERY few people are cool enough to sport one of these:

Head Lamp

I am lucky enough to be one of those people.  To prove it, here’s me during a Geology field trip circa early 2006:


See?  Cooler than words can express.

They also got me this great little sling bag made out of recycled products.  I haven’t actually tried to take it out of the pouch because I’m afraid I won’t be able to get it back in, but rest assured I will likely get my use out of this puppy once we’re there:

Recycled product bag

There were many, many more things in there as well, including a rain poncho, first aid kit, ear plugs (in case Erin snores), ibuprofen, and sanitary hand wipes, just to name a few.

I’m incredibly lucky to have worked with such amazingly thoughtful people.  It almost feels like I don’t need to bring anything else.  Almost.

I’m also very lucky I look good in a headlamp.

Just sayin’.

Does FEMA Make Housecalls?

So, I started packing for the trip this morning. Seeing as how it’s less than two weeks away, I figured it’d be prudent to start now so that I don’t, in a last-minute panic-blind frenzy, end up with a suitcase containing 20 pairs of shoes, a waffle iron and no underwear.  And, frankly, I’d rather not spend my first week in a Costa Rican jail facing public lewdness charges for trying to mime ‘Where can I buy underwear?’ to the locals.

Besides, my Puritanical beliefs require me to wear old-timey pantaloons to hide my shame from the ever-vigilant eyes of God.  And those suckers are a nightmare to shop for.

So, as I said, I started packing this morning and would like to pause for a moment to share with you a photo that accurately reflects my mental state right now.  (Okay, that, and I didn’t feel like doing any more packing.)

Somewhere under there is a kitchen table.  And possibly another cat, because I haven’t seen the other one all morning…

Mind you, this may not look like a travesty just yet, but keep in mind that (a) I’m a neat-freak to the point of being emotionally crippled by mess and disorder, (b) I started packing less than an hour ago, and (c) this is just the dining room.

Believe me when I say that in the bedroom lurks a massacre of clothing, toiletries and unspeakable, butt-clenching horror.  But I refuse to show it to you because what also lurks in there are a few small, mildly annoying mystery stains on our bedspread that have since become one large, gruesome mystery stain after I sprayed stain remover on them.  So, the boudoir is off-limits until our bed no longer looks like the scene of a ritual animal sacrifice because I’d rather not have any of you jumping to any conclusions about what sort of kinky shenanigans go on in there.

Man, I hate packing.  Whether it’s for a weekend trip or a two-month-long excursion, it’s always accompanied by the same irrational fear that I’m going to forget something important and irreplaceable and be royally screwed for the rest of the trip.

Holy crap, Katie and I leave in ten days. TEN DAYS.

That’s not nearly enough time to become fluent in Spanish.

That’s not nearly enough time to become a well-read expert on Costa Rican geography, history, politics, economy and culture.

That’s not nearly enough time to tone my thighs and abs and cultivate a warm, golden brown tan so that I can cavort playfully in the surf in a skimpy gold lame bikini like they do on Sports Illustrated covers.

I’m fully anticipating total anarchy mixed with periodic insanity and bouts of uncontrollable crying before all’s said and done.

(How fun am I??)

I Don’t Know Where There Is

I mentioned way back here that I’ve been getting a lot of questions about this upcoming trip to Costa Rica.  Since then, some people have been acting a little… timid… around me.  Like they’re afraid to say or ask anything lest I bite their heads off with my self-righteous wailing.

Let me clarify by saying that these – well most of them – are not bad questions.  If I seem annoyed when they’re asked, it’s only because I’m irritated with the fact that they force me – repeatedly – to face the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing.

I do, however, know that when I force myself to answer them, I don’t doubt for a second that this trip will be a worthwhile experience.

And don’t worry – we’ll be sharing our packing list and trip blunders along the way.

But it’s the after questions – the, “What are you going to do when you get back?” and, “How long can you sustain your finances without a real job?” questions that, as much as I hate to admit it, make my pits turn damp and stop me cold.

For these, I really have no answer.  Right now I only know my way out of what I don’t want in this life.  Stagnancy.  Politics.  Achievements in the form of framed certificates I can hang on my cubicle wall.

Slowly, after literally years of questioning the career path that found me, I eventually realized that all I can do is take my exit, as gracefully as possible, and hope it leads me not just somewhere else, but somewhere better.

I picked up on another Avett Brothers line the other day (I’m sorry if you’re sick of the mentions here – but their lyrical wisdom is far superior to anything I could write myself), that translated the plea in my head to real words:

“I’m as nowhere as I can be / Could you add some somewhere to me?”

There’s that word again.  Somewhere

When it dawned on me that I’m only where I’m “supposed” to be and doing what I’m “supposed” to be doing, I wondered why I’m not doing what I want to be doing.  I can’t explain it.  It’s pure selfishness in all its glory.  And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.

All I knew was that I needed a new experience.  Any experience.

So that’s what I’m after.

(That, and figuring out how to make my thoughts work without ending them in prepositions.  Because like Winston Churchill, “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”)

After that?  Who knows.  But I’m sure it will be great.

And even if it’s not, at least it will be me.

*The internet is a veritable soup of hauntingly beautiful imagery mixed in among the muck and grime of other less inspiring, mundane frivolities (like this here blog).  Although we’d like to get to the point where most of the images found here are our own, all of the ones you see in this post were acquired from, which, in turn, compiled the images from other places across the web.  If you happen to find your image here and want it credited or removed, just contact us and we will comply pronto.  Thanks!

When Does the Fun Start?

On my way to quench my coffee addiction this morning (a habit on my list of things to kill before the big Costa Rica trip), I decided to stop over at the military hospital to get my second shot for Hep A and B.  Ouch.  (But I’d rather take 8 more of those in one arm – no, in my face – before I’d choose to subject myself to another Typhoid shot.  That’s just the kind of baby I am.)

Frequent responsible and health-conscious travelers, how do you do it??

At least I got a hot pink band aid out of the deal.

(‘Scuse the image quality – that was taken with my phone.)

As the nurse drew the curtain closed and pinched my arm fat so she could administer the medicative juices, I started to consider the fact that there’s a lot of merit to just taking off one day with absolutely no initial research or preparations.

I read an online article over the weekend about a kid who did just that.  He was fresh out of college and had been running a hospital shuttle bus for a few months, and then BAM!  He saw an ad on Craigslist or something for a room for rent in Costa Rica and just decided to go for it.

No vaccinations, no Spanish-English dictionary, no trip insurance.

He brought just himself and a strong pair of cojones.  And his brother.  And his brother’s cojones, if you want to get technical.  Okay and maybe he brought a toothbrush.  And maybe he put that toothbrush in a backpack – but I’m guessing he didn’t try on a bunch of packs at the store and post questions on travel forums about the best way to carry his DSLR.  That’s all I’m sayin’.

And I thought, how great would it be to have the guts to just go for it – don’t worry about professional courtesy of giving work notice, don’t worry about reading up on the history of the country, don’t worry about contracting potentially life-threatening blood borne pathogens – it’ll all work out in the end.


But then I realized.  I may not be much of a planner – I’m not good with itineraries or playbooks or remembering which day of the week it is – but I will always be a maximizer.  (It’s a word I learned during an office retreat, so it must be real.  And it must always be typed in bold font.)  At any rate, I will always try to make an experience the best it can possibly be.

The maximizer in me knows that if I go into a trip like this without understanding anything about the local people or the ecology of the region, I’d spend so much time while I’m there trying to figure those out while not looking like an ignorant idiot that I’d forget how to just enjoy.

So I’ll deal with the shots.  And the hot pink band aid.  And the questions about what I’m going to do when I get back.  The works.

And I’m bringing a damn dictionary.

And I think – I really think – it’ll be worth it in the end.  And maybe my shoulders will thank me for doing a little research about the pack.