Costa Rica, Destinations

Summiting Cerro Chirripó


I came to Costa Rica to escape frost.

It was February, and I had left behind a Massachusetts in which every particle and every follicle was laced with frost, brimming with frost, encrusted with frost. But here I stood in Costa Rica with my friends, gawking at…frost.

I was not impressed.

But when you’re traveling in Costa Rica with Costa Ricans, frost has a novelty all of its own. You don’t expect a country 10 degrees north of the Equator to be reaching south of zero degrees in temperature. Which brings us back to why at 4am I was gathered with my friends around this mound of frosted moss, photographing it, posing with it, and squealing with glee about it.

Oh look, more…frost.

Lest you be concerned, seeing frost was not our primary mission (well, I’ll speak for myself). We were summiting Cerro Chirripó, the tallest peak in Costa Rica at 3,821 meters. The most popular trail, which begins in San Gerardo de Rivas, is well-marked, though steep and somewhat strenuous at parts. SINAC (National System of Conservation Areas, in English) limits the number of permits available to enter Chirripó National Park each day, so for much of the hike, we marched to the tune of our own haggard breathing. And the majority of those people we did encounter were ticos, which made my corazón happy. Having lived over two years in Costa Rica, hiking Chirripó had been fidgeting on my bucket list – and I had the most sublime time crossing it off.


Chirripó National Park encompasses five ecosystems, and should be a multi-day experience for anyone who actually wants to enjoy it (biased opinion). Exhibit A: We met a deranged couple in San Gerardo who ascended and descended all in one day, but they candidly admitted they felt like they were dying. Here’s our timetable, which I’d recommend for maximum enjoyment of all there is to see at the top:

Day 1: Travel to San Gerardo.

Travel to San Gerardo de Rivas & check in with SINAC offices by 4pm. Night in San Gerardo de Rivas.


Day 2: Hike San Gerardo – Crestones Base Camp.

Begin climb at 3am from San Gerardo to Crestones Base Camp (we totaled 7.5 hours – average time is 8 hours). Night at Crestones.


Day 3: Summit Cerro Chirripó for the sunrise…

Begin ascent at 3am from Crestones Base Camp to see sunrise on Cerro Chirripo (approximately 2 hours hiking). DSC_0710

…& then hike to Los Crestones.

After sunrise, hike to Los Crestones, via Valle de los Conejos. Including the sunrise hike, a total of 8 hours hiking. Night at Crestones Base Camp.


Day 4: Descend from Crestones Base Camp – San Gerardo.

Descend from Crestones Base Camp to San Gerardo (~4.5 hours for our group).


Sights from the summit

Where to stay

San Gerardo de Rivas (night before ascent)

We stayed at Hotel Urán, which provided perfectly good, clean, basic accommodations. A private room with bunk beds and shared bathrooms cost us ~$21 each, and the hotel included breakfast – which they kindly packed and bagged for us the night before our ascent to eat along the way. The best thing about this hotel was definitely the location – the entrance to Parque Nacional Chirripó is maybe 1 minute walking up the road. Casa Mariposa, located right next door, also has a great location (though a bit pricier). If you’re staying elsewhere, remember to inquire about what transportation is available to get you to the trailhead (especially if you’re beginning your ascent early).

Crestones Base Camp

This’ll make it easy – this is your only lodging choice. Clean, simple, chilly. Rooms of two bunk beds apiece (hostel-style), shared bathrooms, and ICE COLD SHOWERS (<– yes.). Make sure you buy meals in advance. Hiking around Chirripó will take your butt and freeze it and if you do not sign up to eat hot meals I do not know how you think you’re going to thaw it. The meals are expensive…but remember that horses and humans lugged your uncooked calories up the mountain on their backs and then complain.



  • Start booking your spots 6 months in advance. The number of permits granted to enter Chirripo is very finite – and this is a good thing, as the park maintains its natural integrity and you don’t have to throw elbows. During the dry months, which will give you the best views, spots sell out almost the day they’re made available – which is six months in advance.
  • Make sure to arrive in San Gerardo to check in BEFORE 4:00 PM the day before you plan to ascend. You’ll receive tickets and passes, without which you won’t be allowed into the park early the next morning.
  • Begin your ascent early. For us, the first three kilometers were some of the most difficult – but would’ve been more difficult (mentally) if we’d been able to see them. By starting at 3:00 AM and lighting our way with flashlights, and walking while practically asleep, these kilometers faded away like a really strenuous dream.
  • See the sunrise on Cerro Chirripó. It’s truly, deeply, absolutely worth it. We left Crestones at 3:00 AM, and walking at a brisk clip, summited the final bit just as the sun started tinging the sky with light.
  • Y’all…it’s COLD. At Crestones, it was below freezing when we left for our sunrise hike. Bring those gloves. Those hats. Those layers. Do it. You’re welcome.
  • The air is thinner. My abode has me living right at sea level, so I felt the few thousand meters of elevation in my lungs; it felt like no breath was quite deep enough. For me, though, this passed after a day.
  • Don’t count on having wifi or service at Crestones. I didn’t manage to connect to the wifi even once over three days. Electricity is also limited – this is cut off at 8:00 PM every day.

Packing List


  • Flashlight/headlamp & batteries.
  • Gloves & hat.
  • Layers. I brought a thermal undershirt, 2 long-sleeved t-shirts, 1 short-sleeved t-shirt, 2 pairs of leggings, a zip-up hoodie, and a rain jacket. I needed everything. Sometimes I wished I had more. During the day, with the sun’s heat beating down, you’ll want the flexibility to peel off layers. And you’ll want dedicated clothing to bum around in/sleep in post-hike.
  • Socks. Bring a fresh pair for each day. You don’t want to reuse these.
  • Two pairs of shoes. One set for hiking, and a second set for bumming around the lodge.
  • Sunscreen & sunglasses. You’re near the Equator, and moving progressively towards the sun as you hike. Don’t mess, Icharus.
  • Pack of cards or other entertainment. After you’ve worn your body out hiking, there’s not a whole lot to do around the base camp other that hang out, eat, and sleep. Find yourself a nice game of rummy.
  • Towel & toiletries. Only soap is provided.
  • Snacks.
  • Water bottle(s).
  • Camera.
  • Portable charger. For after-hours charging.
  • Cleansing face wipes. Bring a lot if you aren’t into the idea of a polar plunge.

I have toodled and toddled around my fair share of places in Costa Rica, but Parque Nacional Chirripó was one of the most unique and stunning expanses of natural beauty I’ve ever seen. There were sweeping vistas, drippy slices of cloud forest, and glimmering glacial lakes. But nothing compares to the minutes we waited with raw, red faces at the summit just before dawn: the moon reigning high over a pasture of clouds, mountain peaks slicing through their soft knolls; the sun melting the sky into a gradient of purple, orange, and gold; and then rays plunging into the valley, warming every crag, crook, and cranny.

An unforgettable place with unforgettable people is a happy recipe for an unforgettable adventure.

Happy hiking ❤


Costa Rica, Destinations

Skip Monteverde…and visit San Luis instead

San Luis with rainbow

If you’re venturing to Costa Rica, chances are your guidebook pointed you with flapping hands and flashing lights to the cool, verdant paradise known as Monteverde. I love me some Monteverde, but dipping off the beaten path into San Luis adds a whole new and beautiful dimension to a visit to the area. Having lived in this petite place for over two years, San Luis is so special to me that I’ve completely lost the ability to view it impartially. It’s colored by transformative experiences and beautiful relationships I’ve had here – but perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Who would want to visit a place that leaves you feeling indifferent?

My blatant partiality aside, they number few the people who have visited San Luis and not left impressed by its natural beauty, united community, and cultural warmth. Here’s why you should skip Monteverde proper and head to San Luis instead:

  • Authenticity. Though beautiful and hospitable, Monteverde has, under the boom of tourism, evolved into a bit of a more commercial destination. San Luis, separated from Monteverde by a 25-minute descent into the valley, combines Monteverde’s rugged, mountainous beauty with the tranquility, warmth, and humility of a town of 400 people, untouched by the fervor of commercialism.
  • Community. Spend time talking to anyone in San Luis, and you’ll find out that this community is extraordinarily well-organized. The San Luis Development Association helps coordinate everything from maintenance of the soccer field, cemetery, clinic, and roads, to a rural tourism organization that promotes local businesses.
  • Tranquility. San Luis is a town of 400 people. Everyone knows each other, so there’s not much traffic or noise to worry about, aside from a few stray motorcycles.
  • Accessibility. I’m not referring to the roads by any stretch of the imagination – buckle up, because San Luis has the same rocky roads that Monteverde is famous for. You’ll want a car here for sure. What I mean is that you can stay in San Luis and devote a day to head up the mountain and experience the highlights of Monteverde. Zipline, see the Monteverde Reserve – check ’em off your list. Then return to San Luis at the end of the day for a quiet, relaxing evening.


For the outdoor enthusiast, bird watcher, & nature lover:

This family-owned and operated farm boasts beautiful trails that wind through the property, taking you along the river, by pastures, and through thick forest. No stretch trail is the same as another; each twist and turn confronts you with a new lush view, each teeming with life. During the dry season (roughly January – April, inquire for availability), the family builds a swimming hole into the refreshingly cold Rio San Luis – the perfect way to end your hike on a hot day. A campground is also available.

Tip: This is the perfect destination for avid bird watchers. The property is nestled against the back of the Monteverde Reserve and Continental Divide, visitors have the unique opportunity to see both birds typically found on the Pacific Slope of Costa Rica, and birds not typically seen in Monteverde that have drifted over from the Caribbean side. As an added bonus, the Ornate hawk-eagle has been found nesting on the property for several years running.

A fairly recent initiative, the Sendero Pacifico is a network of freely accessible hiking trails that aims to connect the Monteverde Reserve at the the top of the Bellbird Biological Corridor, to the Gulf of Nicoya at the bottom of the corridor. Currently, hikers can choose to complete a day hike in San Luis, or partake in an overnight trek to Guacimal. Whatever length of trail you choose, the views over the valley are stunning. Hikes should be completed with a guide.

The true value of staying at the UGA campus (see “Stay” section below) is the educational activities facilitated by a team of resident naturalists, and included in the nightly lodging rate. Bird-watching, cow-milking, a guided natural history hike, medicinal garden tour, and sustainable farm tour all keep you busy outside, while informational talks and workshops about birds, mammals, insects, plants, and reforestation mean that you’ll come away from your stay a pseudo-expert on the tropical cloud forest.

For the coffee drinker & purveyor of local goods:

  • El Cafetal Coffee Tour/Café San Luis. Victor Ramirez has worked in the coffee industry for over two decades, in every aspect from processing to tasting to now growing and roasting his own coffee. A tour through this family-owned farm paints a remarkably detailed picture of how coffee is grown, harvested, roasted, and tasted, and the challenges the crop and farmer face together. Victor’s passion and expertise shine through on this tour, which is perfect for coffee enthusiasts. Coffee available for purchase at the end of the tour.
  • Finca La Bella Coffee & Sustainable Farm Tour*. This tour starts at the homes of one of two small-scale family farmers in Finca La Bella. Visitors learn about both coffee and sugar cane cultivation, and lend their own hands to juicing sugar cane. After visiting the farmer, you continue down the road to Finca Bella Tica, where visitors learn about the roasting process and have the opportunity to buy locally-grown coffee.
    *This combination tour is arranged through UGA Costa Rica for its guests, though you can visit Finca Bella Tica independently.
  • Monteverde Natural Cosmetics. This is another truly family-run operation. The Vargas-Torres family produces a line of 100% natural soaps, lotions, and other beauty products, infused with elements found practically in their backyard (like the cascaras of coffee beans or orange peels). The business is run out of a small workshop to the side of the family house, but their products are sold all over Monteverde and Costa Rica at large, and have even found a steady market in China. The family offers tours of their production upon request, which I’d highly recommend if you get the chance. However, the family maintains a busy schedule, so tours are subject to availability. Guests of UGA Costa Rica can contact Reception to check availability.



  • Rancho de Lelo. Located in Lower San Luis, Rancho de Lelo features tilapia ponds and a small farm from which they harvest their food. In additional to their famous fried tilapia, fished straight from the property’s ponds, friendly owners Lelo & Elvira offer chicken, smoked pork, and vegetarian dishes. Farm tour also available upon request.
  • Zelmi’s Pizza. Located on the grounds of Finca Ecológica San Luis, Zelmi’s Pizza is the perfect place to end your hike or swim on the farm. Aside from a variety of pizza offerings, as well as frescos squeezed from fruit grown on the property, a unique charm of the place is Zelmi’s beautiful paintings, which line the walls of the pizzeria.
  • Dinner or cooking class with a local family.* Organized for guests of Ecolodge San Luis/UGA Costa Rica Campus, eating dinner or going to a cooking class with a local family allows you to step into an authentic Costa Rican home and share in the food traditions of its inhabitants.
    *This tour is arranged through UGA Costa Rica for its guests


  • University of Georgia-Costa Rica Campus (also known as Ecolodge San Luis). The University of Georgia’s satellite campus in San Luis welcomes visitors who are looking to have an enriching travel experience – travelers who want to connect to and learn from their environment, not just breeze through it. The campus also houses students and researchers, so you never know who you’ll sit next to on the porch or meet at mealtimes.  One of the biggest advantages of staying here is the engaging activities that are included in the nightly rate (see “Do” section above), as well as three Costa-Rican style meals a day. Campus staff can help set up your itinerary and make some local reservations.
    • Tip: Don’t expect luxury accommodations; rooms are simple but clean. The cabinas are the most private rooms, with small, tranquil balconies with forest views. This will be your favorite spot to sit in the morning, watching troops of monkeys or coatis pass by.
  • Rent a house with AirBnb:
    • The Leitón’s House – Lovely two-bedroom cabin located in Upper San Luis, well-positioned for those who would like to take advantage of the rural tranquility of San Luis, but with Monteverde a short drive away.
    • Casa El Cafetal – As the name implies, this house is set on the grounds of a local coffee farm, owned and operated by the Ramirez family. Located in “middle” San Luis.

San Luis

Costa Rica, Destinations

Into the Peñas Blancas Valley


I’m usually morally opposed to taking pictures of my feet. My dad railed against this when I was growing up. “Another foot picture?” he’d exclaim to my younger sister, leafing through the photos on the family camera. Feet simply do not carry the same sentimental value as a face, or the same scope of a landscape.

On this occasion, though, I made an exception. My pruny, ghastly feet seemed all too representative of the journey I’d undertaken with this motley crew. Three Ticos, a flying Dutchman, and a miscellaneous gringa walk into the untamed Costa Rican frontier. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke.


I pictured the settlers of the Peñas Blancas Valley as the mountainous tropical version of Little House on the Prarie. The way settlers started moving into the valley – in search of their own homesteads and economic opportunity – reminded me of the U.S.’s westward migration and manifest destiny. Mining, though not for gold, even plays a role in the development of the valley. But you can forget taking conestoga wagons on these trails. Everything from sacks of flour to canisters of gas were brought into the valley by foot or hoof.

Development and migration into the Peñas Blancas Valley increased in the mid-20th century, as deforestation in Costa Rica reached its peak in the 1970-80s. In 1977, though, the government halted development on the land as part of an effort to protect the watershed of the newly dammed Lake Arenal – but they were slow to buy land from those in this zone who’d already settled it. This left the landowners in a quandary: unable to legally develop their land, but unable to sell it for the same reason.

Over a decade later, thanks to grassroots fundraising efforts abroad, the Monteverde Conservation League began to buy many of the landowners out, effectively halting much of the deforestation that threatened the biological diversity of the region. The result is the large swath of protected land called the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, which is Costa Rica’s largest private reserve at roughly 23,000 hectares. Together with neighboring reserves in the Monteverde-Arenal region, the amount of contiguous protected land comes to 60,000 hectares.


I couldn’t really tell you the purpose of this trip, because to this day I don’t know it. But it was no casual foray into the wilderness for any Bob on the street. Access to the protected lands of Peñas Blancas Valley in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest is a privilege open to few – principally park rangers and chaperoned students or researchers. Whatever the reason for our trip, I’m not in the habit of asking too many questions when it comes to an opportunity to explore a new place – especially a place as mythical as Peñas Blancas.

The journey began in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where Lucas, the Dutchman & I met up with Juan & Alvaro, two rangers with the Centro Científico Tropical (the organization that manages the Monteverde Reserve). They came loaded with provisions and a sturdy horse to carry them. Their shoe of choice? The unforgiving, utilitarian rubber boot – perfect for fording rivers, but also perfect on for rubbing your feet into tatters. As we crossed through the Monteverde Reserve and descended into the portal of Peñas Blancas, the flying Dutchman was grounded before the journey even started. But start the journey did.







Refugio El Aleman, about 1.5 – 2 hours’ descent from the Monteverde Reserve into the Penas Blancas Valley. Though it’s nothing fancy to look at, the cabin’s dry wooden floors and sparsely equipped kitchen feel like a goldmine when you’re in need of a respite.
Café chorreado is a magical remedy for soggy feet.




Continue reading “Into the Peñas Blancas Valley”

Costa Rica, Destinations

San Gerardo: Escape from Monteverde

DSC_0790Experience has taught me never to expect a one-night trip to be relaxing. The logistics are too much, the down time too little.

Experience has also taught me to not always trust experience, as in the case of San Gerardo.

Though the journey demands a certain level of physical exertion, San Gerardo is the most tranquil and rejuvenating overnight excursion I’ve taken from Monteverde. Located in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, the biological station is a short trek from Monteverde, but is a world away from it. The trailhead begins in the Santa Elena Reserve and winds its way downhill for four kilometers, drifting from cloud forest to premontane rainforest along the way.DSC_0806

When Molly (2.0) and I set out, the way was freshly slick and muddy, thanks to the perpetual fog and intermittent rain. An hour’s descent of squishing and sliding will deliver you to the station. Now, as a rule, I always leave something important behind. This trip, it was a second pair of socks, making my feet a prisoner of their sad sodden sock cages for the duration of the trip. But no matter! The end of our trek was met with mugs of coffee, tres leches cake, and empanadas de papa, which warmed our stomachs (if not our toes).

The station itself is rustic – minimal but comfortable, directing your focus on the world around instead of within. Most of the construction is warm and wooden, including the bunkbeds in the rooms and the porch overlooking Volcano Arenal.DSC_0913

Adding to the the station’s charm are the caretakers: Geovanny, Ivannia, and their son. They’ve lived in the station for eight years, with Geovanny shuttling his son up to school every day in motorcycle (if you set foot on these trails you will realize the kind of feat this is). Ivannia is a kind, genuine woman and genuinely the best kind of cook.

Eager to see the sun rise over Arenal, Molly and I slipped into bunkbeds early, and before we knew it were sleepwalking from bed to hammock to watch the day unfurl.


Incredible vistas of Arenal aside, the main attraction of San Gerardo is its incredible biodiversity, the beautiful, unrestrained chaos that reigns in the forests. Trails loop away from and back to the station. The amount of detail is overwhelming, a barrage of the senses.








To know before you go:DSC_0800

  • San Gerardo is part of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest, Costa Rica’s largest private reserve. Proceeds benefit conservation of one of the world’s most biodiverse forests.
  • The hike to San Gerardo (there & back) can be made in the same day. If you’d like to stay at the station, make your lodging reservations in advance through the Monteverde Conservation League.
  • Bring boots, a flashlight, binoculars if you’re a bird person, and layers (it gets chilly at night!).


Happy hiking,


Costa Rica, Destinations

Lend me some sugar

Recently, my tico neighbors lent me some Outkast-style hospitality and invited me to participate in a rural family tradition: processing sugar cane, or moliendo caña.

The day I attended, the activity, now more social than subsistent, drew about twenty family members and friends to (a) help, (b) watch, or (c) poke the oxen’s bums with sticks.

Not for the faint of heart, the process can begin as soon as the sun peeks over the horizon. Everything begins with the hauling of cane from the fields to the trapiche (cane mill). From there, driven by brute ox power, the cane is squeezed into juice and the long stalks tossed aside.

The juice is poured into a jacuzzi-sized vat, which is heated carefully by fire underneath (preferably monitored by a dedicated attendant or two).

As the water boils off, a thicker liquid is left behind. Some of this liquid gets diverted into large metal canisters and cooled in tubs of water. It will be warmed and used to make agua dulce (literally, “sweet water”).


As more and more water evaporates, a fluid miel (syrup) is left behind. As the liquid reaches this stage, it’s time to execute an exit strategy and remove the syrup from the heat.

This is the moment the spectators have been waiting for. As the exit trough drops into place, spectators flock from the sidelines. They extend bowls, slabs of wood, and pans, eagerly awaiting a dollop of the orange-gold syrup. As soon as they receive it, they retreat to their benches, tree stumps, and four-wheelers, dump in clouds of powdered milk, and whip furiously with their utensil of choice. Some will add peanuts or mint for a jazzy touch. These independent projects will yield cajetas – rich, flaky brown sweets.




Meanwhile, the trough is filled with steamy syrup from the vat and stirred with a wooden rod. As it starts to cool, the liquid becomes thicker and more viscous.


The liquid is scooped from the trough and scraped into molds, where it will harden into tapa de dulce, a solid cake of sugar. This is the final product.


Once upon a time, the tapas de dulce were packed onto horses and marched down to the coast in Puntarenas to be sold. Now, with the world at its mechanized height and sugar much more readily available, this isn’t a for-profit enterprise. Rather, it’s an opportunity to uphold an old tradition and compartir – to share – time with family and friends.


Destinations, Spain

Allariz {Warning: may contain pulpo}

The towns of Ourense are famous for their rich (and rather strangecarnaval traditions, so my friend Kaitlyn and I posted ourselves in the capital city to partake in nearby celebrations and to do some explorations of our own. Phase one of exploration was, at the suggestion of Kaitlyn, Allariz.


Never heard of Allariz? That makes two of us. Allariz is a bitty town (in the neighborhood of 5,000 people) located about 15 km from the city of Ourense. Along the coast of Galicia, towns melt into one another seamlessly; in the interior, separation is more distinct.

Due to some…complications with our Couchsurfing host, we arrived in Allariz much later than initially planned. Peppered with Galicia’s typical indecisive drizzle, we stared blankly at our new surroundings and started walking.

I have long held a suspicion that my nose operates reflexively; that is, it receives sensory input and routes it directly to my legs without first passing through my brain. I don’t hate it. So where did our first directionless steps lead us? To food, of course! Before long Kaitlyn and I found ourselves wandering up a hill and into a clearing of tents filled with pulpo (octopus) and churrasco (barbecue) stands. And so we ate.


This marked the first time I saw the entire prep process for pulpo a feira, the octopus dish Galicia is so famous for. Using long, metal rods, the cooks submerged and then removed whole octopi from large metal boilers, placing them on a wooden planks lying across the boilers.


Then, taking scissors, they snipped the tentacles into discs and piled them on round wooden plates, sprinkling the final product with aceite de oliva (olive oil) and pimentón (paprika). You will rarely see pulpo a feira on any other kind of plate, because (1) of tradition and (2) the wood absorbs water, but not oil.

The final product:


This random square of tents in random Allariz gave me the best octopus I had in Galicia, period. The teachers at my school often told me that the province of Ourense boasts the best pulpo, and I wholeheartedly agree. Accompanied with a crusty loaf of pan rústico and a bottle vino tinto, Kait and I felt as fluid as octopi by the time we were finished.

As the town sank into its daily siesta, we slipped down by the river for a post-feast coffee. We settled into Café Bar A Fábrica, posting ourselves by the floor-length windows so that the Río Arnoia gurgled just feet below our feet.


We spent the rest of the afternoon walking – by the muddy banks of the river, through the cobblestone streets of the casco viejo (old zone), up a grassy knoll overlooking the town.

Puente de Vilanova
Puente de Vilanova, a Roman bridge






Iglesia de Santiago
Iglesia de Santiago


Beautiful towns do indeed come in small packages.

Continue reading “Allariz {Warning: may contain pulpo}”

Costa Rica, Destinations, Ruminations

The name of the game.

If you know me personally, you might have noticed that I have totally failed to address here the fact that I returned from Spain for good…like ten months ago.

My bad.

When I returned to the States last June, I fully expected to work for three months, pop a u-ey, and return to Santiago to teach for another school year as an Auxiliar de Conversación. With that in mind, I landed a serving job within a week of my return and started restocking my piggy bank.

But there were other issues in play. My in-house counsel presented a persuasive list of reasons to stay in the States, beginning with finances and ending with life ambitions. While the jury was still out, this happened: IMG_2846.JPG With a feeble sputter, out went my alternator and down went the gavel. It was time to face the facts. Besides stitching up my car, I needed to take responsibility for some lingering college loans, do some undistracted soul-searching, and establish a direction for my life. So on September 23, the day my return flight left Atlanta for Santiago, I tracked down a bottle of albariño and held a pity party for one on my couch. Whatever the following months would hold, Spain would not be a part of them. If you think I was about to acknowledge that with actual words in actual writing, you are, as my coworkers are fond of saying, trippin’. Denial, after all, is the name of the game.

So let me condense the last ten, non-Spanish months of my life: Molly became a server and, while dueling hopelessness, aimlessness, and physical exhaustion, she cultivated a variety of skills. Now, for hours on end, Molly can run in dizzying circles with gourmet hamburgers; gracefully hurdle children springing into the aisles; effortlessly fend off the advances of wayward condiments and creepy old men; and tirelessly refill Diet Cokes that are sucked down with the urgency of sucking venom from a snake bite. The skills I’ve developed during the past months will probably never make it onto my resume, though I could (and probably will) write a book about my experience with my current restaurant, because it has been that ridiculous. That’s for another time, though. The point of this post is to alert you of the progress peeking over the horizon. Have I discovered my life’s calling? You jest! But I have established its short-term direction. With my fiscal obligations currently fulfilled, I am excited to announce my next country of exploration: COSTA RICA!

Come mid-April, I will be ditching my Chuck Taylors, mustard stains, and greasy kitchen floors for hiking boots, thickset mist, and the cover of a rainforest canopy. This chica will be interning with the University of Georgia’s Costa Rica Program. I’ve already had one life-changing experience with UGA’s Oxford program during my undergrad years, so to be helping provide a similar experience for other students (in a whole new country) is making me positively giddy. So as they say in Costa Rica: pura vida. The next chapter begins oh so soon.



California, Destinations, U.S.A.

Of surfers and seagulls: Laguna Beach.

Laguna for MOM-6

Last weekend, I slipped the confines of my job and stole away to California with the best traveling mates in the world: my parents. My dad was headed to Laguna Beach to attend a conference, so someone had to come along to woo potential clients with her beauty, provide endless childlike zeal, and eat the chocolate left on the pillows. Obviously I’m talking about my mom, but they let me tag along, too.

It was a renewing trip in so many ways. Five days away from work was the longest break I’d taken since starting. I swapped running in circles with hamburgers to running through circles of seagulls. I traded serving for being served. And I was surrounded by Laguna’s stunning Pacific-Coast beauty.

Laguna Beach seagulls

Laguna for MOM-10

Laguna for MOM-5

Laguna for MOM-3

Laguna for MOM-8

Equally as inspiring as the scenery was the conference itself. The conference focused on developing policies to reshape America’s future (with regard to immigration, economy, preserving freedom, and so forth), and the conference attendees were deeply passionate about changing America for the better. Airborne viruses aside, there are few things more contagious than passion.

Laguna for MOM-1

On the last day of our stay, we checked out of our cliffside accommodations and saw the region’s most famous historical sight: Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776 by Father Serra. The mission borders the neighborhood of Los Rios, which claims to be the “oldest neighborhood in California,” and is absurdly precious.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano

Laguna for MOM-12

Los Rios General Store
Los Rios General Store

I returned from California refreshed, mentally and physically. Walking into work the next day, the general manager cocked his head, peered at me over the rims of his glasses, and said, “You’re never allowed to leave for the weekend again.”

Oh boy.

Laguna Beach

Destinations, Spain

See the Sea from the Cíes

Hopping on a boat in Vigo, Galicia will take you to one of Spain’s best-kept secrets.


I had already decided Galicia was one of the most underrated provinces in Spain before I laid my eyes on Las Islas Cíes (the Cíes Islands).

These tropical-looking islands, with vivid, turquoise water and fine white sand, are scattered just off the coast of a mainland that treated this girl to 61 straight days of rain. Step on the island, and in one fell swoop, your eyes can take in craggy mountains, lush greenery, and pristine beaches – a landscape trifecta. Never have I seen a place that so seamlessly melts the three into one. As a matter of fact, the archipelago, made up of three individual islands, was listed as one of the “Top 10 beaches of the world” by British newspaper The Guardian.

Anyhow, the first weekend of June, several friends and I left drippy Santiago and headed to the Cíes for a final hurrah as the school year ended. After a ferry ride from the port of Vigo, we spent our daylight hours hiking to the island’s main lighthouse and lolling about on soft beaches, returning to our furnished tents only when food necessitated it. True to Galician form, the water was frigid and the night air cool.

As you can see, the Cíes were, quite easily, the best parting gift the country could have given.




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The one time Eugenie realized they buried the beer in the oceanDSC_0622




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Things to Remember:


  • Check the weather. Obviously your trip will be better if it’s sunny, but regardless of the sun’s status, it gets cold at night. Pack accordingly.
  • Camping is an awesome way to spend your time on the island. Make sure you reserve ahead of time, though, and note that you can only camp on the island during Semana Santa (Holy Week, usually in March-April) and summer (June-September). That said, the amenities are excellent. You can decide to bring your own tent, or do what we did and rent one that contain beds with mattresses. The campsite even boasts showers, a cafe, and restaurant.
    • Prices
      • Bring your own tent: 10 euros/person
      • Rent a tent
        • Two-person tent: 39 euros low/48 euros high season
        • Four-person tent: 65 euros low/73 euros high season
  • Buy your ferry ticket ahead of time. Visitors to the island are capped at 2,200 each day. Ferries leave from Vigo and Cangas.
  • For more information, check out Vigo’s official tourism site.

Cies ferry