Costa Rica Day 7: Arenal

We started today with a hike in Volcán Arenal National Park, walking 5 kilometers over ash that was spewed by the still-active volcano in 1968 and 1992. A rewarding view awaited us at the end of our trek, and exciting wildlife greeted us at various points on our journey.

Ready to reward ourselves after the not unsubstantial distance we had covered, we next headed into the town of La Fortuna and settled for lunch at Las Brasitas, a nice Latin American fusion restaurant where we met a wonderfully warm waiter named Juan Carlos who had nicknamed me "mala" (the mischievous one) just minutes after making my acquaintance.

Satisfied after our meal, we took an arduous post-prandial stroll down 560 steep steps to Catarata Fortuna, a 75-meter waterfall located close to the town. The view was a spectacular one, worth the most strenuous 1.2 kilometers we've ever climbed!

In the early evening, we ventured back into La Fortuna for some brief souvenir browsing before heading back to our hotel.

Priya and I just enjoyed a quick dip in the pool and we are all looking forward to ringing in 2014!

Costa Rica Day 6: Monteverde

We started this morning at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve -- one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Costa Rica. There, our guide Oscar regaled us with a slew of fun facts about micro-orchids, mini-avocados, and more.

We had to leave the tour early, however, and be on our way to Mt. Arenal, an active volcano in northern Costa Rica! Our journey was  comprised of a car ride, a boat ride, and another car ride to our hotel. This boat ride was the highlight of our day, an hour spent speeding through a 360-degree view of the most idyllic and fluffy-looking scenery imaginable. No picture could capture the bright beauty of the ride, though Priya took a number of stunning panoramas of the scene.

After our triple-legged journey, we arrived at Arenal Springs Hotel, and got to work relaxing before enjoying the hot springs and thermal pools in the evening.

Priya and I are comfortable in our cozy little cottage, and just enjoyed a Spanish-practicing sister dinner together, for a great night!

Costa Rica Day 5: Santa Elena

We were out the door and in our kayaks at 6 this morning, setting out on a tour similar to yesterday’s of the lagoon, but this time in kayaks. The peace afforded us by the morning and our lack of a motor was very powerful, and could be temporarily disturbed only by a few sightings of caimans, which are close relatives of alligators.

After two hours of rowing and wildlife-spotting, we cast off our wet clothes and squeezed into a small plane for four people. The ride back to San Jose was delightful, with banana and pineapple plantations underway, and clouds cuddling with our aircraft.

Right after touching down at the small airport in Costa Rica's capital, we piled into a van that would take us to Monteverde, home to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. But not before a quick stop on the way! We spied Playa Doña Ana en route, and enjoyed lunch on the beach.

Upon arriving at our hotel, Priya and I deposited our things and went in search of the gym at El Establo, which has clusters of rooms scattered along a one-kilometer uphill path on a steep hill. It was quite the climb, and we finally arrived at the oasis of an inviting complex complete with cafe, swimming pool, and well-equipped gym. We had a stunning view of the sunset as I worked out and Priya did schoolwork, satisfied with our afternoontime adventure.

In the evening, we stepped into the town of Santa Elena searching for souvenirs and a place to eat. We came across Treehouse Restaurant & Cafe, which is in the "World's Top 10 Bizarre Restaurants"-- this eating joint is built around an ancient tree, so the whole restaurant is essentially a large treehouse!

We had a lovely meal there, and have now eaten breakfast on the Atlantic coast, lunch on the Pacific, and dinner on the continental divide -- what a day!

Costa Rica Day 4: Tortuguero

We awoke dark and early this morning, getting up at 4:00 AM to leave for Tortuguero, a village situated on a sand bar island on the eastern coast of Costa Rica.

Our mode of transportation was this small chartered plane that seated 12 people and offered beautiful views of the incredible place we were approaching.

We touched down smoothly and made our way by boat to the cozy Tortuga Lodge, a 50-acre reserve bustling with biodiversity where we were served a lovely family-style Costa Rican breakfast before we relaxed in the nearby hammocks while waiting for our rooms.

Around noontime, we embarked on an afternoon boat tour of the lagoon and its various canals. We spotted several species of birds and other reptiles, and some of our most memorable moments came looking up at the canopy at spider monkeys leaping from branch to branch, and keeping an ear out for howler monkeys throughout. 

It was amazing to share with our boat-mates and those passing by on other motorboats and kayaks the sheer rapture of being in nature like this, focusing all of our attention on the movements of the creatures around us. This sharp attention to surroundings is a core tenet of meditation, and it made for a rewarding three hours to be so keenly aware of where we were and what we were looking at. 

We settled in for a delicious dinner after our tour, and are about to tuck ourselves in for an early night, before another day of adventure tomorrow!

Costa Rica Day 3: San Jose

We spent today exploring sunny San Jose. We started at Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, a fortress turned museum which holds artifacts related to Costa Rica's geological, archaeological, religious, and modern history.

We then took a leisurely fresh juice and lunch break in the Cafe Teatro, a truly scrumptious spot to snack near Plaza de la Cultura. 

Next, we checked out the inside of the theater, a delightful example of richly ornate architecture.

In the afternoon, Mama checked out the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) as the rest of us marched to Edificio Correos (the postal center of San Jose) so I could search for stamps for the postcards I had just purchased.

I filled these out upon returning to our hotel in the evening, and sent them out after dinner.


Tomorrow, it's off to Tortuego we go!

Costa Rica Day 2: Turrialba

We woke bright and early this morning, looking forward to a day of whitewater rafting. Coffee plantations, sugarcane factories, and volcanoes lay on the way to Turrialba Valley.

We stopped for breakfast about an hour into our journey at the charming Bocadito del Cielo, enjoying typical Costa Rican gallo pinto (rice and beans) and chocolate (rich hot chocolate) for our desayuno (breakfast). But worth drinking in as much as the Central American coffee were the views that surrounded the roadside restaurant.

We reached Pejibaye River, and after a brief tutorial on paddle strokes, hit the water! The experience was indescribable as stunning greenery surrounded us on all sides while we glided (and sometimes moved less smoothly) through the cool rapids. 

At the end of a long and lovely day of winding through the river, we arrived on shore exhausted and famished. What awaited us after we changed out of our soggy clothing was our raft, flipped over, transformed into a formal dining table, with a colorful and nutritious meal spread across it!

There could be no more welcome sight in that moment, and Priya and I promptly filled up on the lavish spread and then lazed amid the suddenly comfortable rocks.

Costa Rica Day 1: Arrivals

A lovely sight greeted us as we landed in San Jose this Christmas day.

After checking into our hotel, we stepped into the central square of the city and paid our respects at the beautiful Catedral Metropolitana.

We explored other parts of the Parque Central, making stops at photo opps including the Teatro Nacional.

We soon settled in for dinner at Tierra Nuestra, which afforded us a nice introduction to traditional Costa Rican food.

We're looking forward to getting to know the town better soon!

My Latest Performance

Greetings, friends! I just wanted to post my most recent musical performance with The Harvard Opportunes.

This performance was a challenging and exciting one for me, and an experience of growth in many ways. I sincerely hope you will enjoy it.

Note to Self

This is a reminder to myself. To slow down. Or rather, to stay slowed down. Midterm time has been crazy and I have a paper due this Thursday and rehearsal tonight and have to meet with a TF today and also check in with my boss but wait. It occurred to me this morning that all my days at Harvard are going to be like this, more or less. There's something looming at the end of the week, before the golden promise of a weekend that will be filled with catching up and working ahead for another week that will have something looming at the end of it. But I can't keep living for the weekend. We can't, right? Because when we look back on four years, it would be unfortunate to look back on roughly 120 weeks of just waiting for the weekend.

So I was kind of starting to feel "bad" this morning because I woke up an hour and a half late and read a measly 6 pages before scarfing down lunch and heading to a class before which I was supposed to go to office hours that I missed because I slept in. And I was trying to feel really guilty for it, but I just couldn't.

Because I like starting my days off slow. I like postponing the annoyance of my alarm a few times before noticing the light that's trying to flirt with me through my blinds and then heating up a cup of water for my morning coffee and munching on an apple with my bare legs and feet up on my desk as I do my leisurely reading for class. And I like taking a full 45 minutes for the ritual that is brushing my teeth and looking at myself and taking a shower and thinking about working out and listening to music and picking an outfit and playing with my eyelashes. And I like having lunch with people I like before I leave for class, and I honestly can't say I mind being a few minutes late to class either.

I can't say this rhythm is for everyone. There are people who do best when they're running, and I have been one of those people, and sometimes I am. But I can say that if anything about this pace seems appealing to you, it's important to be able to establish it for yourself here, abide by it, and take the initiative to imbue your interactions with it, because it's not something easy to find in college, or even in this decade. But I promise there are people around who can help you find it, who will eat with you for two hours to listen to your worries, who will offer you chocolate when you're having trouble figuring out where to start a paper, who will serenade you when you're stressed, who will make sure your most packed days are also your most fulfilling. At the very least, I will be one of those people.


Bibliography: this post was inspired by conversations with Skip Rosamilia, Trini Kechkian, and Jisung Park.

Harvard Opportunes: On the Edge

Click here to listen to the new album recorded by my college singing group, the Harvard Opportunes! I promise you will love it. :)

P.S. My solo is track #11!

The New S&S

Dear readers,

As you may know, since last spring, I've been an intern with Sense & Sustainability, a blog and podcast which offers "fresh perspectives on sustainable development." The goal of the site is to make cutting-edge research on all things sustainable accessible to communities of students, activists, scholars and generally interested readers across the internet.

We've been hard at work this summer reimagining and redesigning the site -- the new S&S has the same goal, and now features a number of new ways for users to receive and interact with news and knowledge. Some of these include:
  • A new layout that makes it easier to find the content you’re looking for;
  • Reorganized content themes that better align with rapidly evolving sustainability issues;
  • A new S&S “News Digest,” which attempts to keep you up to speed with the stories we’re covering on the site;
  • New in-depth “Issue Series,” published periodically and focused around a particular sustainability theme. Stay tuned for more information!
In addition, readers can now stay in the sustainability loop by subscribing to a comprehensive email digest featuring S&S research as well as weekly world news!

I am very excited about the improvements we've been working on, and now it's your turn to explore the new Sense & Sustainability. I would greatly appreciate hearing what you think -- so read, listen, comment, follow, and share!

Click here to get started!



A Summery Summary

A few of you have asked me why I haven't posted in so long, and the answer isn't some exciting project I've been doing, internet-free, for the past few months; this summer has just been a lazy and lackluster one compared to my past few.

I came home for the summer with two goals -- to get in shape and to get my driver's license. I am glad to say I steadily and successfully crawled my way toward achieving both before leaving for school.

Someone told me that it takes 90 days of consecutive exercise to produce a visible difference in one's body, and my time off happened to be a convenient 90 days. Apart from times when I was suffering from a stomach bug in Mexico, some off-season cough-and-colds at home, and my present state of back-in-excruciating-pain, I worked out every day of this summer, without fail, regardless of where I was. I figured that summer was the best time to build up some confidence in my level of fitness in the most unobtrusive way possible. My routine generally included 30 to 60 minutes of cardio and, on alternating days, a package of exercise machine rituals at the gym that looked something like this:

5x10 leg press
5x10 leg extension
5x10 seated leg curl
5x10 prone leg curl
5x10 hip adductor
5x10 hip abductor
5x10 triceps
5x10 biceps

On off-days (i.e. in my basement), I would watch a number of exercise videos focusing on abs, legs, arms, etc. and struggle through them on a lovely mat we have from Priya's gymnastics days. I tracked my workouts religiously on a paper calendar that I was desperate to quilt in blue (for gym days) and green (for home days) with as few pink (for sick days) spaces as possible.

In late June, I took off for Mexico with Laura Kambourian, where we spent a month living in a beautiful apartment together and working for Centro Mario Molina, a think tank that designs solutions to a number of issues relating to urban sustainability.

At the end of July, I returned home to coach a group of students that would comprise Virginia's novice level competitive certamen team, to compete against other states at the national level in a fast-paced and challenging Latin trivia contest.

The kids were a joy to work with, and the highlight of my summer was exploring Latin with them and getting to know them better.

We traveled to Las Vegas for the 60th annual National Junior Classical League Convention, where the novice team placed 3rd in the nation in certamen.

The summer is always all downhill after Convention, so I've spent the last few weeks continuing to work out, making cooking videos with my mom, packing, coordinating interns for S&S, spending time with my grandmother, and practicing driving.

By the grace of a very kindhearted driving tester and the prowess of my impeccable acting (pretending to resemble a capable driver), I am now licensed to drive.

I leave for Cambridge tomorrow, looking forward to starting my sophomore year after a quiet summer.

Xochimilco and Coyoacan

We had another hectic and enjoyable fin de semana this week, spending Sunday hitting up not one but two huge tourist spots in D.F. You can trace our route on the map below from Polanco (A) down to Xochimilco (B) for the day before an evening in Coyoacan (C). We've been wanting to explore both of these places since we set foot in the city, so it was ultra exciting to do them both in one day!!

We made our way after a morning of smoothies and gymming first on the metro to Tasqueñas, a stop in the south of D.F., where our colleague Andy picked us up and drove us to our destination, collecting Rebeca on the way. Isabel and Jaume met us in the main square of Xochimilco, which Laura aptly describes as the Venice of Mexico.

We were met at the dock by a host of hyper-colorful traijineras, the flat boats which hold picnic tables for 14 to navigate the canals of Lake Xochimilco.

Floating along on these boats is such a spectacle!

Groups of friends sit snacking and drinking and soaking up the sun as smaller boats pass by selling food, souvenirs, and even plants!

If you want something, you just holler and the canoe will follow your trajinera preparing whatever you would like.

Many vendors and mariachi musicians also hop from boat to boat selling their wares and their serenades. What a sight!

Above, see a woman selling freshly roasted corn on the cob, and at right, see a full-fledged doll-and-shawl stand atop the water.

The gang stopped a boat preparing fresh tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas while I ate my turkey sandwich from home (trying not to take any more chances with my stomach) and pulled over for a bottle of coke at one point.

We sat lazing in the sun as I prepared many a charro negro for my comrades until our journey was through.

Isabel and I lay posing on the "prow" of the boat until we were joined by the other chicas.

Our afternoon was fun, relaxing, vibrant. Having disembarked, Laura and I bid Isa and Jaume hasta luego and hopped back in the car with Andy and Rebeca for our "express" evening tour of Coyoacan, an absolutely charming village home to the homes of Hernan Cortes and Frida Kahlo!

With Rebeca as our tour guide, Laura and I strolled all about the three main plazas -- Santa Catarina, La Conchita, and La Concepcion -- stopping to imbibe the colors and take pictures at every corner, I receiving another reminder about my love for the layout and architecture of many Latin American towns.

I was especially struck by the Parish of San Juan Bautista, a grand edifice in the middle of the main square, receiving attention from the sun at several splendid angles over the course of our evening.

We also visited two small markets in the vicinity, and met our friends Louise and Alejandro for dinner at Los Danzantes, a nice traditional restaurant in the central plaza.

After a plate of mole verde for me and one taco al pastor for Laura, it started to drizzle just as we prepare to say goodbye to the beautifully pleasant place.

Louise and Alejandro drove us home to Polanco, we all exhausted, and Laura and I reminded again of how lucky we are to be fortunate to travel to such sights and see them with such people.

The water closet is vehement.

It's past midnight here but I really must write because Laura and I just got home from one of our most memorable nights in Mexico City and probably ever.

We just dined with Jose "Pepe" Casis, our colleague from Centro Mario Molina, and Graciela Reyes Retana, his wife whom I happen to have met two years ago when I accompanied my dad to Mexico on a World Bank trip.

The couple was recently married, and both of these brilliant people are moving to Ithaca, NY shortly to commence their PhD program in Natural Resources at Cornell University, courtesy the Fulbright scholarships they both won in the same field at the same time.

As if this isn't incredible enough, these two are the most enjoyable people to be around imaginable. After a gloomy week of sickness and lack of productivity, I was falling out of my chair tonight because I literally could not stop laughing at Graciela's stories and Pepe's imitations. We all knew a lot about one another soon into the meal, and had developed inside jokes aplenty by the end of the night.

We feel like we've known them forever and I'm only sad that we spent this amazing time with them so late in our trip -- and envious that the three Cornell students now have an exclusive secret handshake and plans to meet up without me in Ithaca! As though I needed another, this will be a great reason to visit Laura at school next fall. 

Thank you, Graciela and Pepe, for a beautiful evening. You have us grinning still.

Markets and Miscellaneous Meandering

Today could not have been a more tiring or beautiful gym-tan-laundry day.

Laura and I rolled out of bed late after a night of birthday festivities and got to work on some matters of housekeeping: laundry, groceries, and fruit-iodizing (produce has to be soaked in water with iodine here in Mexico to compensate for the less-than-ideal water quality). With our things in the dryer, Laura and I headed down to the gym, where we inched our way through the most tiring workout we've done since being here (the effects of last night were clearly tangible).

We met at around 3pm with Louise; our amazingly kind, accomplished, and well-traveled French colleague; at Balderas Metro Station, having kept her waiting for over half an hour. Her patience was not in vain though, as while awaiting for us she found the grand open air library Biblioteca de México where we wandered on the way to Mercado Artesenal de la Ciudadela, a large market where Mexican handicrafts are sold.

We all searched for gifts for our families as rain started to pour, soaking the outfits Laura and I had chosen for today in optimistic anticipation of sunshine, and leaving my summer sandals slimy and slippery for the rest of the day.

All I ended up buying from the display of curios was a fresh bag of scrumptious sunflower seeds covered in a mystery confection that I could smell from feet away and could not resist.

Adequately drenched, we trudged our way through the street (which was basically one big puddle) toward Zócalo, the city center which we explored with Adriana last Saturday, stopping en route to dry off and enjoy some flavorful tacos at a nearby mall and refreshing coffee at Cielito Querido.

Once the rain had died down, we ventured up Calle Madero once more, then doing some more poking around the square, enjoying new views of different parts of the plaza through Louise's eyes.

We basically ambled around for the duration of the afternoon, talking about work and education and travel and love, and before we knew it, it was 8pm and our stomachs were grumpy! Laura and I elected to hail a cab rather than attempting to walk home, but not before Louise showed us one more special spot -- the Museo Franz Mayer, a museum displaying mainly "boring" furniture, but with a stunning and romantic exterior courtyard. We walked there a few minutes enjoying the onset of nighttime before flagging down a taxi.

Feeling like rags after an exhausting day, Laura and I slumped into Chedravi to buy the ingredients for tonight's dinner, a delightful butter chicken masterpiece which Laura cooked up as I washed the day away. We have now gorged ourselves on this brilliance, complete with rice and raita and a tiramisu dessert, and are utterly prepared for bed before another exciting day of exploring tomorrow.