Saturday, February 22, 2014

AT in CR: Blue River Summer Camp

This is Alexa's guide to enjoying your stay at Blue River Resort, or as I like to call it, Blue River Summer Camp.

To arrive at Blue River Summer Camp, you will need to drive down the World's Bumpiest Road for 60 minutes at 15 mph. Please pack Dramamine. On the up side, you will see some very nice views along the way.

Upon arrival, please check in at the main cabin. If you have not scheduled any excursions, please look for Camp Counselor Felix in the Mess Hall. As all the staff will tell you, he is the only black man on the grounds so you can't miss him. You also can't miss him because he's the charming one that's best friends with every guest at Blue River Summer Camp. Don't worry - in just another day, you too will be sharing a hearty guffaw with your BFF Camp Counselor Felix.
Camp Counselor Felix making memories with the campers

The mess hall is open from 7 am - 9 pm. Sometimes we refer to this as the "restaurant," but as it's the only place to eat within 50 miles (remember the hour long drive on the bumpy road), we all recognize that it's actually a mess hall with tablecloths. Say hi and thanks to the chef who has proudly prepared each of your meals.

We have botanical gardens where you can enjoy the lush abundance of the Guanacaste region, a butterfly sanctuary, a (questionable) volcanic mud bath, and four mineral hot springs for you to relax the day away.


If relaxing in all this beauty leaves you antsy, then book an excursion with Camp Counselor Felix. He'll take you on hikes, horseback riding, zip lining - "Felix" is synonymous with "fun" around here, so just let him know what you're looking for.

At night, we'll meet over dinner at the mess hall to chat about what fun things we did at summer camp that day.

"I went zip lining over the trees!"
"I rode a horse for the first time and my butt is raw!"
"I rode a military convoy fitted with car seats up to the mountains for a hike!"


Oh, how we'll laugh as we reminisce about the memories that we just made together hours ago.

And when dinner is done, we'll push aside the tables and cue the dance party. With lights, music, and Counselor Felix leading the way, we dance into the night.
Alright, this part of the guide is wishful thinking.
But look how much fun we would have!

We look forward to your stay at Blue River Summer Camp.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

AT in CR: Pura Vida is Everything Nice

My friend and local musician Ori Kawa has a song called Everything Nice. The chorus goes:
Everything Nice
Everything Nice
When I look into eyes
Look into eyes

I sang it throughout my stay in Costa Rica because I couldn't think of a better way to describe such a wonderful vacation in such a wonderful place.

Every morning we woke up to the crippling decision of what to do that day. Enjoy a breakfast of fresh fruits, rice and beans? Swim in the ocean? Or the luxury pool with a swim-up bar? Collect shells along the beach? Read a book in the shade? Say hello to sea urchins nestled in a rock?

Our saving grace was that we got to do just about all of these every day. I will be scheduling more beach vacations into my life from now on.

On top of our strenuous agenda of relaxing, we scheduled one big adventure for each day. These were my top 3 adventures for the week.

1. Surf Lessons
On the beach, we met a fellow named Chino who offers surf lessons. Why "Chino?" Because he has small eyes, see?

"Oh," I said. "Soy china." And we moved onto surf lessons.

I wasn't so great at surfing, but I managed to stand up enough times to impress Chino. He let me practice my bad Spanish with him, bought me fresh coconuts, and offered me another lesson the next day. I accepted. I drew the line when he tried to exchange my wipe outs for kisses. But, he has promised me free lessons the next time I return to Playa Tamarindo. So perhaps Chino and I will meet again.

2. Zip Lining
Outside of Tamarindo, Pura Aventura offers well, pure adventures for the fun-seeking traveler.
Tip: Book your zip line adventure at 8:30 am on Sunday so you are the only people in the group. 

Our guides, Byron and Ricky Martin, were great and congenial. Every time they received us at the end of the line, they'd say, "Pura vida," and you'd think, "Why, this is pura vida." Walking between lines, Ricky Martin caught a lizard with his bare hands for us. I didn't actually want to touch it, but I was pretty thrilled when I did.

They helped us through all 11 lines, and they let us go upside down on a few. That was thrilling! Seeing how excited I was, they told me I could come back and work for them because they could use a lady guide. I said OK.

3. Blue River Waterfall
We took a half-day excursion for a hike that would end with a swim in the blue river waterfall. It was a little rainy, but it was actually rather pleasant and they don't call it the "rainforest" for no good reason.

The hike was nice, but the real gem was that waterfall. It was so beautiful, blue and refreshing - I could have stayed there all day if my fingers hadn't gone numb (whether it was from the excitement or the cold, I'll never know).

We swam in the waterfall/infinity pool, jumped off rocks, and took lots of pictures of us squealing with delight. This is my favorite picture of the whole trip.
What are we doing up there in the corner? Probably singing Everything Nice.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Birthday Soup: A Labor of Love

An old family friend called to wish me a happy birthday.  She asked, "What kind of cake will you have?"

And I said, "Well, I really love soup."

I could get all metaphorical and say that I love how it represents making something from nothing to warm the bellies (and hearts) of many, but I won't go there. Instead I'll say that I simply love soup because it is hot and delicious.  Plus, there's an endless number of souper puns to dish out.

For my birthday this year, I celebrated with many soups.

Soup No. 1: Hot Pot
Hot pot is like the story of stone soup come to life. I'll boil some cabbage and shrimp skins, you bring some mushrooms, we'll add some meat, and voilà! We have soup and we made it together! Don't forget the fish balls.
I don't have a picture of hot pot, so here's a picture of a fantastic birthday gift,
"Everybody Poops" in its original Japanese form. 

Soup No. 2: Pho Sho
Melodie asked what I wanted for my birthday. I said soup. So she boiled me an amazing pot of pho for 2 days, and on day 2 we feasted. It was gone instantly. We will be making this again. 

The Soup that Keeps On Souping
And then Melodie gave me the pinnacle soup gift of all, a Le Creuset enamel coated cast iron pot! This will be host to many a delicious soup I'm sure, the perfect good omen for a fantastic 27th year.  

It was a lovely birthday, truly un-pho-gettable.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2013 Year in Review

2013 was good.  I'll tell you about it in pictures.

January
I wandered Hong Kong looking for internet, stopping for delicious soup along the way.  

February
I followed a bowl of soup that brought me back to a new home just in time for my birthday, Chinese New Year, and a great big bowl of soup with friends. 

March
We participated in the Open and made ourselves tired.

April
While not actually specific to April, a big shout out to Ho Etsu Taiko goes here. 

May
In 3rd grade, my best friend wore matching patterned jumpers and called yellow her favorite color.  In May, she got married (in a beautiful dress, not a jumper).  We were this cute when we met.

June
I went to Japan and learned what sushi really tastes like.

July
I broke my butt.  It was exhausting.

August
JT! Jay-Z! This picture just about sums it up.

Also, the ice cream geniuses churned out delicious creations.

September
Another dear friend gets married!  This is the bridal party 20 minutes before we are supposed to be at the wedding - proof that we get each other. 

October
My 2 year anniversary in Chicago (already!).  This is what I did on my first anniversary: Visited the Bean with my original Chicago friend and a certain brand of a striped tin. 

November
I made some friends and lost some friends in the Middle East.  Luckily, I got to come home and wash away my sorrows with good friends and roasted turkey.


December
December Happens.

Predictions for 2014:
More adventures, food, and friends.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lost in ME: #LeoMonkeyAmberAlert Updates

Anonymous sources have reported sightings of Leo and Monkey across the Middle East. Photos confirm they are unharmed, but their official status is still "missing." If you have any leads, please support the search on Instagram with #LeoMonkeyAmberAlert.

Tour & safari group leaders are currently being interrogated. 

Photo taken at Mall of Emirates, found in an unmarked envelope in our PO box.

Request reader assistance to determine specific Starbucks location

Caught crashing a pre-opening event of a little popcorn shop.
Video and photos taken at the event are under review for more leads.

Monday, November 25, 2013

AT in ADE: Music Brings the People Together

A few months ago, I wrote a jingle about Garrett. Tonight, I convinced a group of near-strangers in Abu Dhabi to sing it with me. My heart is full, and my work here is complete.


Friday, November 22, 2013

AT in ME: Makin' It Rain

Before I left Chicago, I bragged about the sunny warm weather I'd enjoy in the Middle East in November.

Since I arrived, it has almost exclusively rained. It seems that the rain follows me wherever I go. In Kuwait, there were flash floods, the mall drainage system became a geyser, office building ceilings caved in, and people went tubing in the streets. Neither the structure nor the people here are made for rain.

In Dubai, I actually watched a rain cloud follow me into the sunny side of the city. Just call me Storm.