O I took the bus up from San Jose yesterday for my destination for two and a half months – a butterfly garden in Monteverde.
A very scenic place, I’ve had my induction and I am currently learning about the butterflies here to give tours.
Buuuuuuuuuuuuuut, not great news for my blog because the internet isn’t great and I don’t have a lot of time to use it. I’ll try and fill you in as much as possible on my activities, but will be back to normal scheduling in two months or so.
It was a very early start on a very cold morning in New York. But somehow I managed to make it in good time for my 7:15am flight – in good enough time that I even managed to leisurely purchase a yogurt and granola pot for breakfast.
My first impressions of Costa Rica as the flight came into land were very positive. It was warm, far warmer than the snow littered streets of New York, and this very much suits my natural, cold-blooded self. There are mountains too, and greenery. And if that was the impression I got near the airport, imagine what it will be like when I reach the jungle.
I ignored all the drivers coaxing me to orange taxis and instead found the local bus stop which actually made for a surprisingly comfortable and convenient ride. I even spotted my hostel from the bus which made navigation a lot easier.
A quick shower and change and I was off to sample the delights of Costa Rica’s capital. Like a lot of modern capital cities, San Jose is laid out on a grid with a large pedestrian shopping street dissecting the centre. Being blonde and tall, I knew very well that I would stick out like a problem child in Central and South America, and this became very apparent from the stares I received whilst walking around. I had a long walk and then sat in La Plaza de la Cultura munching on a sandwich and sipping ice tea.
A friendly Costa Rican man came and conversed with me about where I was from and what I was doing there. He tested my Spanish too, which is still a bit rusty I must admit, but it will get there. I did start to wonder when his friendliness slipped into him complimented my apparently grey eyes (they’re blue, I swear!) and as I needed to get back to the hostel anyway, I made my swift exit.
Back to the hostel and I was invited out for dinner by a very nice roommate. This of course ended up being a group meal of about 20 who had all been on a tour of Costa Rica together and were saying goodbye, so I felt out of place and a little awkward, but I very much appreciated the gesture.
It’s another early morning start for me to get to Monteverde, my stop-off point for 3 months or so of volunteering at El Jardin de Mariposas. I am quite nervous about turning up, but let’s just hope for the best.
Well, I was writing about the weather yesterday and I suppose I shall have to start with the same topic this morning. I kid you not, New York City was hit by a snow storm overnight. Where yesterday I was having a picnic in Central Park, this was the same view of Central Park today.
So, wrapping up warm and feeling eternally grateful for lugging my hiking boots around, I took to the streets once again and ended up eating a cinnamon and raison bagel for breakfast huddled in the doorway of Tiffanys. Not quite like the movie, but the harsh wind one freezing snow flurries did add some atmosphere.
I went to the Metropolitan Museum of art afterwards – what else are you supposed to do in the snow? I have been to this gallery on my last visit to New York, but it is well worth the visit with seminal works by impressionists such as Degas and Manet and also works by Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit here and the wealth of art cultures that the museum has on offer means there is something for everyone.
I have since had some onion rings and a cosmopolitan cocktail from an American diner in Times Square to round off my trip. Very enjoyable, love New York, but I am also looking forward to Costa Rica tomorrow and the chance for some sunny weather.
Today was a lot better weather-wise – the fog had been switched for dappled sunshine – so naturally I spent the first part of my day in a museum.
The Museum of Natural History is located on the West Side of Central Park in quite an impressive building.
The entrance fee is suggested – but I’m never quite sure whether this means you can go “fuck that, I’m not paying you” or not and as you have to go to an admissions desk and feel the unsettling judgement of the ticket lady as she asks “what are you going to pay?”, I caved and handed over the $22 dollar suggested payment for student admission with one special exhibit.
The museum was interesting – though I am interested in science, so I suppose this is a biased opinion.
The museum houses a lot of exhibits on animals – as is to be expected – but there was also quite an interesting section on human evolution. There are also separate exhibition halls for African natural history and South American history which I found quite interesting. Not to mention this meteorite below which is apparently the largest meteorite on display in the world.
The planetarium section was interesting with a short show on the Big Bang being held in a huge white orb and which was narrated by none other than Liam Neeson (of course)
The special I chose was the butterfly conservatory they currently have on display there, which I thought was fitting given that my next stop is Costa Rica to work on the butterfly farm. There was a very nice man in there who explained to me pretty much everything, from the difference between moths and butterflies (mainly to do with moths having furry antennas and being active at night) to why the owl-eyed butterfly might have got its distinctive patterns (apparently as camouflage to protect from predators). In fact, I would say all the teaching volunteers dotted around the museum were very friendly, knowledgeable and helpful!
Next, I was feeling rather peckish and so I headed to Broadway to buy me a picnic. Several surreal things happened along the way – they seem to happen a lot in this city – as a horserider with two horses dropped one of her helmets on the road and some pedestrians had to run across to hand it back and also someone asked concernedly whether I was ok as I went to wipe sleep out of my eye. The New Yorkers do seem very friendly I have to admit; from offering directions to asking whether I was cold and recommending me a nice place to get a warm drink, the ones I have come into contact with seem rather friendly.
Anyway, I found a shop, but a new issue arose. America doesn’t seem quite as on the vegetarian thing as England as far as I could tell – all the ready made sandwiched had meat in them and I had to settle for a falafel wrap, though by then I was confused as to whether that might have meat in it too. Anyway, I finally made it to Central Park to have my picnic.
Central Park is massive. Honestly, it took me a few hours to explore just the bottom end of it. There are several places I liked and would recommend; the Lake, Strawberry Fields for any Beatles fans; Belvedere Castle which was free to go to the top and had great views of the surrounding skyscrapers and the Alice and Wonderland statue which I found quite entertaining.
I walked past where the zoo was, but I have to see that it seemed pretty small for how zoos go.
Anyway, after being accosted by some reggae-rap artist trying to hand out a “free” demo of his CD, I took the subway all the way out of Manhattan and to Coney Island, as you do. Now I would not recommend this if this is your first time in New York and you haven’t already seen the main art galleries and attractions in Manhattan, but I was very curious as to what this mysterious part of Brooklyn was like. It took an hour to get there though.
Coney Island reminds me a bit of Blackpool in the Northwest of England. There are a lot of tall rollercoasters and seaside attractions – all of them turned off and closed of course because it is February. It seems like the sort of place that would be teeming in better weather, but as it was, there were a few other people, but it couldn’t be described as busy.
The beach there was quite spectacular though, especially with the sunset. I walked out onto the pier where a lot of fisherman were trying their luck on the nice evening. I had a small paddle too, but that ocean is frickin’ freezing! I thought my toes had turned into ice cubes.
Anyway, having made it back to the hostel and completed this, I am thinking about braving a jazz bar. Let’s see how this goes…
I started the day off with a cream cheese bagel in the Starbucks underneath the Empire State building. I was in quite a good mood, since on the subway down an Acapella group started singing, which I thought was very entertaining for an otherwise boring ride down.
I had a walk up to the New York City Library after this which I very much enjoyed too. I even sat in the reading room and did some work – I’m trying to get some books completed as part of this trip – and I found the atmosphere completely relaxing, if a little cold.
I also went to the Hershey’s shop in Times Square and got a free Milk Chocolate bar using a voucher from my hostel and spotted this sign in the shop which describes me perfectly.
What followed this was a mammoth walk from Times Square all the way down Broadway to the 9/11 memorial.
On my way, I passed the Museum of Maths ($10 entry) and had a browse in their gift shop because I was feeling cheap and I was going to have a look in the Museum of Sex, but this remained particularly aloof and I was unable to find the building.
I had a lovely pizza in The Big Pizza Slice just on Broadway. It was delightful, though there are some cheaper – a few pizza shops do a slice for a dollar!
I then bypassed NYU. I have a confession that I am considering applying to do a journalism course here. It looked quite decent, though I have to admit that I’m not completely blown away at present.
After this I made my way down to the Memorial Square, bypassing Canal Street which I found funny because it’s also the name of the street of gay bars in Manchester; the city I went to university.
There was a sign I found funny too – warning of see-saws!
I finally made it to the Memorial Garden, a very poignant site. When I went to New York back in 2011, this wasn’t finished, so it was quite harrowing to see the two cascading waterfall pools which represent the building bottoms.
Though the One World Trade centre was covered in mist.
As was the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge, both of which I saw when walking around the tip of Manhattan island.
And finally I got to Wall Street, bustling with yuppies making their way home.
I wouldn’t recommend this walk – my feet are aching now. But I did get to see a lot of the city, and I passed an anti-Trump protest along the way.
My dad very kindly gave me a lift to Gatwick airport this morning, and all ran smoothly there.
My flight to New York stopped off in Keflavik airport in Iceland and my was that a bit grim and miserable. The thing is, having been to Iceland before, I’ve actually come to accept the harrowing grey skies as part of its appeal and the landscape the country has is unique. Not to mention how very tempted I was to order a pot of the famous Skyr Icelandic yogurt on the plane.
The second connection flight had beautiful views. Part of the way there weren’t any clouds at all, though I had to question myself as the snow covered landscape and icy furrows which I could make out could quite as easily have been clouds if I had squinted.
Well, with all this news coverage about the US’s border entry laws fired up in the news at the moment, I wasn’t expecting a fluid passport control experience. It took almost two hours to get through at Newark Liberty airport. I was so hungry too, I felt faint.
The Newark-Manhattan airport bus, a taxi ride courtesy of my dad’s leftover dollars from his trip to New York (if I wasn’t so tired and hungry I would have definitely braved the subway, even with my rucksack) and a quick dash to a deli shop on a corner in Upper West Side and I am sitting happily in the Jazz on the Park Hostel typing this. Admittedly the sandwich I order was a bit odd – never before have I had grated carrots and cheese together before – but it was delicious.
I’ve done an email to my mum, and even though it’s only 8:30pm local time I’m considering calling it a night; in my defence I did leave at 6am GMT this morning.
I’m thinking that an authentic bagel might be a good breakfast for tomorrow…
(P.S. There are some photos of the flight coming once I sort out my memory card)
(P.P.S. Problems with camera sorted by purchase of a very useful USB cable from DuaneRead shop opposite the Empire State Building and pictures have now been uploaded)
I am never good at saying goodbye, but saying goodbye to all my friends and family this time round was particularly hard – not least because my mum didn’t seem stop talking about how far away I’m going to be.
I know they’re all worried because I’m going alone. And maybe that scares me a lot too (though I should point out I’m not completely alone – my favourite stuffed dolphin toy named Dolphin snuck into my bag to accompany me, and somehow knowing that he’s there comforts me immensely.) Yes, there are risk factors of going alone, but there are also benefits – I’m travelling on my own terms after all and I have no one but myself to blame if things go all wrong. I think they might be fine once they hear a bit about how I’m getting on.
The indefinite nature of my trip makes this quite hard as well. Though I definitely like the fact that I can currently go to wherever takes my fancy at the end of my volunteering in Costa Rica, not having a returned flight booked means that I don’t have a fixed date for when I’ll next see my friends and family.
But it’s also good in a way I guess – absence makes the heart grow fonder, doesn’t it?
It was lovely to have my brother and dad drop me off at the airport this morning, and it was emotional hugging my mum goodbye. But I’ll keep in touch with all of my friends and family one way or another, whether that means sending my mum a daily email to let her know I’m still alive, or seeing my friends back home again in six months to a year where I will be able to annoyingly bombard them with stories of my travels.