Monday, November 19, 2007

Costa Rica Adventures!

Wow. Costa Rica was amazing! Doug and I flew in on Nov 10, arriving Saturday afternoon in San Jose. We got our rental car and Doug drove the crazy, hilly, windy, fairly nerve-wracking 3-hour drive out to La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. It was pretty dark by the time we arrived and we were pretty exhausted. Early the next morning, we woke to heavy overcast skies and rushed to meet our tour bus to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (north of Arenal near Los Chiles). We saw the refuge (24620 acres) from a boat on the Rio Frio. There were a bazillion critters--three kinds of monkeys (howlers, spider and white-faced), three-toed sloths, cayman crocs, more birds than I can remember (anhingas, little blue herons, green herons, great blues, egrets, mangrove swallows, kingfishers, woodpeckers...), and jesus lizards. Whew! We also got to reach our toes over the living-fence border into Nicaragua.

As we headed back to our hotel, the skies finally started to clear and we got our first view of the Arenal Volcano. Yep, an active volcano. It was considered dormant until 1968, when it erupted explosively and killed 78 people. We found out that the town we were staying near changed its name to "La Fortuna" after the eruption, since it was lucky enough to be on the inactive side of the volcano. :) That evening, Doug and I hopped back in our car and did a little exploring, since we could finally see the volcano. With a little bit of blind luck just as full dark fell, we found ourselves at the viewing area to see lava flowing down the active side! LAVA!

On our last morning in the Arenal area, Doug and I defied death above the rain forest canopy. :) Well, as much death as you can defy while being harnessed and well-clipped onto a cable hundreds of feet high. We did an amazing zipline tour (video). There were 7 cables in all, the longest being nearly a half-mile long, the highest about 660 feet, and highest speed probably about 40 mph. It was WAY fun. At least I thought it was and grinned and hooted like a maniac the whole ride! We could also hear from the volcano as we clipped on and off each cable, puffing away like a steam engine.

Then we defied death once more as we drove back to San Jose. I'm pretty sure that Doug enjoyed the drive back more (as I frantically clutched at the dashboard and closed my eyes). We also managed to stop at one of the roadside stands and satisfy our curiosity about the intriguing signs for "Queso Palmito"! Little palm cheese? Really? Nope. Turns out that although we managed to translate it fairly well, there's no palm in this cheese. Instead, it a long sheet of flat cheese wrapped up into a ball (maybe because it peals away like palm fronds?) Very tasty, kinda like cheese curds.

But really, the driving excitement is all about San Jose. I've never seen anything like the traffic and driving there. Since Ticos don't really seem to post street signs and directions to hotels seem to be non-existent, we blindly managed to find our way to the right side of the city, and got lost (luckily) near our rental car place, so the folks there kindly ferried us to our hotel. Whew! Sadly, for the next three days, I had to work. Blech. :) Actually, work was fine. My Costa Rican colleagues are very nice, and the software installations went as well as they could have. Doug however, got to get lost all over San Jose on foot, visited all sorts of museums, toured another nearby volcano (Irazú, which refused to come out of its cloudy shroud for Doug), botanical gardens, churches, and took a crazy amount of photos.

For the third part of our journey, we took a little 12-seater prop plan to Quepos and Manuel Antonio on the Pacific (southern) side of Costa Rica. A quick twenty minute flight and suddenly we're in sunshine and 80+ degree weather. After a quick dip in the hotel pool to cool off, we hiked about a mile down a long windy hill, and into the Manuel Antonio National Park. Smallest of the 20 national parks Costa Rica, about 1700 acres of land mass and 135,906 acres of marine reserve. Woohoo! The Pacific Ocean! Miles of beautiful white sand beaches and an evergreen forest that grows right up along the high tide line. After lounging in the ocean for a while, we chased some hermit crabs as we hiked along the beach further into the park. Then we ran into some friendly or at least, very bold white-faced monkeys again. It turns out some folks who set up their towels on the sand had fruit in their backpacks. Needless to say, the monkeys managed to get into the bags...or the people managed to get their packs back & gave up the the monkeys were running the show at that part of the beach! We carefully stashed our bag up on a rock surrounded by ocean and took another dip. And got to watch the show as the next set of tourists left their bags on the beach. This set of tourists assumed the monkeys were bilingual and started bellowing "MONKEY! BAD MONKEY!" as they tried to sprint out of the surf and rescue their packs. :) Finally, we got out of the water and started to hike some of the trails through the forest edge. Best was the trail that winds around Punta Catedral, getting some amazing views of the ocean as we climbed up and to the edges of the forest.

On our last full day in Costa Rica, we hopped on an 4x4 bus and drove for nearly two hours on unpaved roads to white water raft on the Rio Savegre. Our trip on this river was going to be about 13 miles through class II, III, and IV rapids. Other than Doug & I, there were 3 other gringos on this trip. There was an amazingly disaffected 20-something year old, her mother & her grandmother--and none of them had ever been paddling at all, much less whitewater rafting. As our guides (one to guide the raft, a rescue-kayaker, and a photographer-kayaker, and one more "ringer" paddler to balance out the raft) got the raft and other equipment ready, we all took a walk out on a bridge over the river to take a look at the first set of rapids. As we did, I think that the "mom" in the rest of our paddling group realized that she had no idea what she'd signed up for. :) We went though our little class on how to paddle, how to stay in the boat, what to do if you fall out of the boat...and then we started the ride! Less than a minute on the river, and we hit the first rapids, and "mom" fell out! She managed to remember what to do in the water, and got through the rest of the rapids and was quickly rescued and returned to the raft. With a fair amount of cursing! After that, everyone managed to stay in the raft for the rest of the trip. And, a wonderful ride it was! Lots of rapids, gorgeous scenery, a few quick dips in the calm pools, and just a beautiful day all around!

We stopped for lunch in a little village called "Silencio", and had a traditional Tico lunch. And then realized we were running behind schedule, since Doug & I were on a 3pm flight back to San Jose, and we hopped in the bus for an amazingly fast and bumpy ride back to Manuel Antonio. With some racing around, we managed to get to the tiny little Quepos airport in time to find out that our flight was delayed. :)

The remainder of the trip was pretty uneventful, flying back to San Jose and then flying back to the US the next morning, tired and a little sunburned, back to the 40 degree Indianapolis weather. Sigh. The travel home did end on a high note, however. Our bottles of guaro, Costa Rica's national liquor made from sugar cane, came through in our checked luggage without breaking. Woohoo!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Yet another reason to love my job

One of my all-time favorite silly activities is dressing up. And as extra icing on the cake, I occasionally can talk my co-workers into dressing up with me! This year for Halloween, our Science department dressed up as the League of Super Invasive Plant Villains. :) Burning Bush, Garlic Mustard, Purple Loosestrife, Canada Thistle and Kudzu were pitted in battle against the valiant super hero, MIPN Man (Midwest Invasive Plant Network Man).

Besides the silly dressing up, working at TNC occasionally allows me to get out into the field. Most recently we had a staff outing to a gorgeous new property along Sugar Creek, near Turkey Run State Park. We did a few hikes on what turned out to be a gorgeous fall day. Took a bazillion pictures hoping to get a few nice shots of the beams of sunlight through the changing colors of leaves. Got a few!

Since I've posted one Halloween shot, here's a link to the Gypsy Moon Ball photo album. Gypsy Moon Ball is the annual Halloween Weekend contra dancing in Indianapolis. It's a wonderfully absurd dance weekend where many dancers come dressed up in some pretty amazing costumes.
And, this year we had a fabulous new (to the Midwest) contra dance band called the Great Bear Trio. Andrew, Noah & Kim VanNorstrand (brothers & mother) were like total contra band rock stars. :) Dance Gypsies should definitely go out of their way to dance to this band

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The fitness bug has bitten

For the past year, I've been seriously into getting healthier. Primarily this has just meant losing weight, but also getting more fit. I started walking a lot last fall. Then I finally bit the bullet a few months later and started really dieting. Then I REALLY starting to exercise at a gym. Sigh. Believe it or not, I actually started keeping a food (a total pain) diary and an exercise (way more fun) diary. I've been using the site, which has some nifty online tools. Even though the tools are a little buggy, they're fairly easy to use & have these nifty graphs like this one--weight over time. This graph makes me VERY happy. Besides, I like because they gave me a little bit of (dubious) internet fame.

Anyway, it's been a good, but frustrating and rewarding year with this fitness insanity. I'm back down to the weight I was at at age 21. Just need to subtract a few more years and then I'll be happy to be finished!

Oh, and with my happy new knee, I'm back at yoga again. Yay! Yoga generally makes me very happy--and being fifty pounds lighter makes it WAY easier. Today, however, I was completely stymied by The Crane (Bakasana) and The Tree (Vriksha-asana). I totally hate balancing poses! Bah!

Running is for crazy people

So, Saturday I ran in my first 5k ever! I wasn't planning on running it, I swear. For the past year or so, I've been working up a very nice brisk walking pace as part of my fitness routine. This summer, I was pretty consistently walking about 4 miles at a 15 minute mile or so. That was the plan for the 5k.

Then the race started and everyone started by running. Which seemed reasonable. So I ran the first quarter/half mile-ish. And then I walked for a while. Then these 2 ladies who had been walking just behind me started to jog again. So I jogged. And passed them when they started to walk again, went a little further, then slowed to a walk again. And so on...

But, at mile 1.5ish, a tiny little old grey-haired lady passed me. Huh. So I started running again. Made it to that big tree, and then a little further to the other big tree. Then I walked. A few minutes later, the tiny little ol'lady passed me again. She had to be at least in her mid-seventies and a foot shorter than me. Sigh. So I was, of course, forced to run again and further. This lasted until the end of the race, where I managed to beat 77 year-old Edna by 1.5 seconds. I'm surprised she didn't trip me at some point to make me quit it. Who knew I was so competitive? Anyway, here are the results:
FIONA SOLKOWSKI, Placed 280 Overall, Placed 14 in Age Group, Pace 12:12, Finish Time 37:56.0

Doug was also at this event running his first full marathon! Woohoo! Go Doug!

And sadly, I've decided that running is WAY more effective at burning calories. Sigh. So, I ran again with support and encouragement from Doug last night. I'm actually pretty thrilled (in that sore & grumpy sort of way) about the running. It means my knees are way better than they have been for years.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More Weird Yard Art

Seriously, how could you pass up going to visit a Pumpkin-eating Dinosaur? This is at the Waterman's Farm Market on the Southeast side of Indianapolis. One of the most entertaining bits of this show, was the surly teenaged boy who was "feeding" Tyranny. He stabbed the pitchfork into a pumpkin...put it in the dinosaur's mouth...waited for the chewing to happen. Stabbed another pumpkin... and so on. All done with the most despondent look of boredom that only a 16 year-old boy can pull off.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shiny New Bike

Wow. For the first time in my life, I have a brand new *nice* bicycle. It's a Schwinn Voyageur Hybrid. And is SHINY! The other bike in the photo is Doug's weird recumbent bike--he's totally in love with his bike too, even if it's goofy looking.

In the first 10 days of owning this bike, I pedaled away over 100 miles. Probably not a huge deal for the avid bikers out there, but a way big deal for me. :)

For Indy folks, there's a great new bike shop in Fountain Square--Joe's Cycles on Virginia Avenue just north of the fountain. Joe is great & that's where I bought my shiny new bike!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Weird Yard Art

So, I was inspired by weird yard art to finally start my blog. Invariably, in my travels, I feel compelled to seek out these goofy things such as 75 foot tall catsup bottles, man-eating spiders, giant pink plastic elephants, and pumpkin eating dinosaurs.

This lovely bit of weird yard art was at a roadside pumpkin stand in Ohio, near Cowen Lake State Park. This was a last minute trip that Doug & I went on last weekend, to break in our new bikes on Ohio's fabulous bike-hike trails. We started out with a quick 12 mile trip along the Little Miami on Saturday evening. On Sunday, we started out at the Xenia Station hub and made a 33 mile round trip (turning around just north of Yellow Springs).

More weird yard art & roadside attractions in upcoming posts. Also, I will wax poetic about my new love affair with my shiny new bike!

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