The Great Escape Month 33 Roundup
This month marked the end of my Latin America adventures and the start of an extended period back to the US, a bittersweet page turn to a next chapter in my travels. After some emotionally tumultuous times in South America I felt like I had finally gotten my groove back, Stella-style, when we hit Panama — and so it felt like a shame to leave on such a high. But at the same time I was overwhelmed with excitement at the prospect of all the hello hugs, Chipotle dates, and serious quality time ahead with my nearest and dearest.
Overall, it was a very happy and celebratory month punctuated by some incredibly stressful events. Some were the usual minor trials of a traveling lifestyle, and others were truly devastating — like a major financial loss, and saying a heartbreaking goodbye.
Where I’ve Been
• Twelve days in Bocas del Toro / Panama
• Four days in Puerto Viejo / Costa Rica
• Three days in San Jose / Costa Rica
• Ten days in New Orleans / USA
• Our time at Casa Verde in Bocas Town. It was the perfect guesthouse to relax and enjoy this colorful Caribbean town in. Just being in Bocas itself was a highlight for us, and I know I’ll be back.
• Our second coral surfing attempt. The first was a nightmare (again, see below) but the second was a crazy fun — and unique! — experience.
• Attending an acro-yoga workshop –– this time with my own partner in tow! I fell in like with the practice after my first attempt in Ubud but didn’t love getting so sweaty with a stranger. This time, I had no hang ups holding me back, and it was one of my favorite activities of the month.
• A sweet but low-key Valentine’s Day. We splurged on a lovely dinner at a dockside restaurant, Anders gave me a cheesy heart-shaped box of chocolates, and we snarfed them down watching Law and Order before bed. Perfection.
• Some fabulous meals. Nabbing the top seats at Bocas Blended, an adorable wrap-and-smoothie joint that was charming, cheerful, and served up healthy lunches with a view. Lunching at La Loma — Not only was my body crying with happiness at the healthy food on the plate, but I loved getting to know more about this truly community-minded lodge and I picked up some amazing handmade gifts for friends back home, too! And homemade meals at Bocas Bound. We loved this little hostel on Bastimientos, mostly for its hilltop outdoor kitchen where we happily cooked our own meals (and good thing, because the onsite restaurant was pretty gross.)
• Playing at Aqua Lounge. The sun finally came for us during our couple days at Aqua Lounge, and we used every minute to enjoy this aquatic playground.
• Our horseback ride down the beach in Costa Rica. Bucket list item fulfilled! (And it was one of my most popular posts from this period!)
• Staying at Rockin J’s in Puerto Viejo (not often that three hostels make the highlights list and yes, I paid my own way for all of them!) This super funky retreat is an institution among backpackers in Central America and we loved everything about it, from the funky mosaics to the $5 per day bike rentals. I’ll totally be back.
• A blast from the past. Meeting up with Dani and Mary, my old high-school exchange hosts, was such a treat. Though it’s been six years since I last saw them their hospitality and warmth hasn’t changed a bit. These girls, and that trip to Costa Rica my senior year, did so much to shape me into the person I am today — it meant a lot to be able to revisit that.
• Landing at MSY. Hard as it was to say goodbye, touching down in New Orleans felt right. Within seconds of getting in the car with Olivia we were gossiping away like only sisters can. That night she gave me a huge hug and said simply, “I am so happy you’re here.” Pure joy.
• Getting a peek at my sister’s life. I really cherished getting to spend a day in her classroom, meet her friends, co-workers, and boyfriend, check out her fave bagel place, and generally see how happy she is in her new home. I am so proud of her.
• Le duh… Mardi Gras! There were a lot of ups and downs over these six days of revelry, but some of my favorite moments were watching the Knights of Chaos and Krewe of Muses on Thursday night, scoring a front row spot to Endymion on Saturday, sissy brunch and partying on Bourbon Street on Sunday, catching coconuts at Zulu and partying in the streets on Fat Tuesday. And we kept the party hopping a few days extra with our cocktail tour of New Orleans!
• Score! I found $127 on the ground at Mardi Gras. If that’s not an unexpected highlight I don’t know what is.
Short but sweet times in Costa Rica
Lessons & Lowlights
• No vacancy. Panama had us in such a trance of relaxation that we just rocked up in Bocas del Toro with nothing more than excitement and a sticky note of hotel recommendations. When we found zero availability at any of the places on our A, B, or C lists, we reluctantly spent the night in a horrible hostel (it wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t gotten greedy and shoved an extra bunk bed into the room, meaning I could have reached my arm out and slapped the face of the stranger sleeping next to me) — oh, and the power went out. All night. Needless to say, we were out of there first thing the next morning. We ended up doing quite a bit of bed hopping in our brief time in Bocas out of necessity — not exactly the laid back twelve days we originally imagined, but we got to check out some cool places we might not have otherwise.
• Bad customer service. I was so frustrated by our first coral surfing experience I even took to Tripadvisor to moan about it! Lesson learned: don’t promise a blogger pictures and not give them to her.
• Camera crap outs. I was pretty bummed when my Canon s100 went to camera heaven (it just mysteriously began malfunctioning and then died within a day) but we had a good long run — so good I replaced it with the exact same model when I got home.
• Financial fury. I spent so much time this month fighting with Citibank, and in the end it was such a waste. I still feel a rise of anger when I think about the whole situation — even more so now that I’ve read the messages, comments and Tweets of so many others who have been in the exact same position!
• Sticker shock. Damn was Costa Rica expensive! I love this country but I was glad we didn’t spend more than a week there in the end. After months of feeling like I could more or less afford whatever I wanted — within reason — I suddenly realized I wouldn’t be able to enjoy eating dinner out as I’d be stressing over the final bill.
• Connection confusion. Somehow, not for the first time, I had my flights information incorrect and set off some serious confusion when I realized the flight to New Orleans that I was convinced was on Wednesday was actually on Thursday. Drama ensued, and I ended up having to rebook for Tuesday to avoid a work conflict, which meant apologetically rescheduling plans on both ends as well as spend serious time Skyping my airline. Whoops.
• Flight freak outs. I think Anders was on the brink of tranquilizing me while I was booking my summer flights around Europe. I had calenders out, price comparison Excel sheets up, and a billion tabs of flight searches open, and I almost went crazy trying to hit the perfect balance of price, convenience, and time in each destination. One day I was sick of the torture and told myself I couldn’t go to bed until all four flights were booked. I collapsed that night in exhaustion, and, I’m not afraid to admit, a few tears — and woke up to the realization that I had promised my mom I’d spend the Forth of July with her in Martha’s Vineyard. Thank goodness for Priceline’s 24 hour cancellation policy! So I fired up Skype and did it all over again. It was super stressful, but now it’s done — and I’m planning on writing a whole post about what great deals I got!
• Unprepared for Mardi Gras madness. I was pretty behind on work by the time I arrived in New Orleans, and it only reached a fever pitch as I ignored my inbox throughout Mardi Gras. I hadn’t anticipated how (fabulously) draining the whole thing would be, and I was so bummed when I had to skip out on the Monday Lundi Gras festivities in order to keep my head above water.
• Mixed expectations. While I loved getting the local experience for Mardi Gras, there were times when I was craving the touristy one too. I felt guilty dragging my sister to Bourbon Street when it was the last place she wanted to be, and worried I was a burden when I kept asking when we were going to the French Quarter. Luckily I’m fairly independent and so I was happy to go check out parades solo or join her roommates for a night of dancing when she was spent.
• Bayou blues. Our bayou tour had so much potential to be amazing… but the weather just wouldn’t cooperate. Bummer.
• Web designer disaster. Guys, this was a big one. I lost over a thousand dollars to a scam artist of a web designer — and I wasn’t the only one. I plan to write about this in more detail someday, but suffice it to say that it was a painful waste of time and money and it all came to a head when I arrived in New Orleans. I was so grateful to both the other bloggers who were scammed for their emotional support and to my sister’s boyfriend for his legal advice and helping me get out of a contract that would have had me throwing more money into a black hole. I realize that for some people, losing a thousand dollars would not be so crippling, but for someone who lives as frugally as I do and on as little income as I do this was a devastating financial loss. Quite frankly I still want to cry when I think about all the other ways I could have spent that money.
• Heartbreak. Far and away the most devastating lowlight of the month was saying goodbye to Anders. I was sick to my stomach for days leading up to it and felt physically wrecked when it was really time to watch him disappear in a cab. Goodbyes are never easy, but this one was awful.
• Conversation with Anders while standing in front of the mirror at our hostel in Costa Rica.
Me: I think I lost a few pounds in Panama.Anders: (Silence)
Me: Do you think I lost a few pounds in Pana…
Anders: (No pause) Definitely.
• My sister’s students were basically a nonstop LOLfest. So. Much. Laughter.
I spent $1,600 in Month 33. Despite the fact that this total covers a week in the Switzerland of Central America as well as my return to the US, I spent less than I did in Month 32. Yeehaw!
I’m almost embarrassed to write how much I spent on my biggest expense of the month, food — I dropped $680 big ones! Some of that had to do with the high cost of groceries and eating out in Costa Rica, but mostly it was Mardi Gras related revelry. The Baackes sisters do brunch big!
Next up was entertainment at $369, which apart from our flop of a $49 tour in Bocas was basically booze at Mardi Gras. Accommodation clocked in at $255, a low figure thanks to the ten days spent crashing with my baby sis, while miscellaneous weighed in at $117, made up mostly of gifts, business fees, and toiletries. Transportation totaled $125, thanks in majority to the expensive tourist shuttles we took in and out of Bocas del Toro and the boats we took within it. My biggest score of the month? Spending just $54 (and 15,000 Aadvantage miles) on flights that took me from Costa Rica to New Orleans — with half of that being the San Jose airport exit tax.
Month 33 was a busy one work-wise and I turned a profit for the fourth month in a row. Obviously I am still reeling from the financial hit I took from the web design disaster, but at least I’m saving up again to correct it.
Ugh. Not much to report here, other than the same destructive pattern that I’d been in since first touching down in Peru — putting unhealthy food in my body and not moving it nearly enough.
After leaving New Orleans, I flew west for a two week California adventure!
This journey wouldn’t be the same with you guys! Hope you are ready for some serious stateside dispatches…
Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here.
I really want to try coral surfing someday!
And Alex!! I’m SO sorry to hear about your web design disaster. 🙁 Mega props to you for enjoying New Orleans despite that and the painful goodbye — that’d be a crippling combination for so many, myself included. You’re a strong gal — you kick life’s lemons in the ass!
As always, looking forward to reading about your future adventures.
Thanks Laryssa, it was a lot! I did have one night of Mardi Gras that was pretty much ruined with stress over the designer issue but I tried to make the best of it.
That photo of you on the palm tree is gorgeous! Definitely one to keep for later when you feel nostalgic and wistful.
I do love that photo! Lots of happy memories behind it 🙂
$1000 scam!?! I’d be absolutely devastated too. If it were me, that entertainment figure would’ve been much higher as I drowned myself in sorrows and booze. Who was the designer?
Hey Danielle, unfortunately I’m afraid to name her publicly due to libel issues, which is frustrating because I’d love to warn others. If you’re hiring a designer and want to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap feel free to email me. And yes… there was some serous sorrow drowning going on.
Gosh, You had a rough month.. but an awesome month too! Shame about that guy ripping you off- I’m sorry 🙁 Hopefully some good opportunities come your way to make up for it!
Yeah, like I said on Facebook… roller coaster month! And yes, I’ve had a LOT of great opportunities come my way so I should focus on that. As my momma said, if the worst I ever lose in business is $1K, I’ll actually be doing okay in the end.
I love your roundups Alex! Shame on that scammer – tell everyone so we can avoid him. I had such a blast vicariously enjoying Mardi Gras through your posts. Looking forward to hearing about the California adventure!
I’m too nervous about libel or some kind of lawsuit if I name and shame publicly 🙁 I really do want to warn others though so I’m going to talk to a lawyer about what my options are.
That sux about the web designer disaster, are you going to share the details – name and shame? Great to see all the good stuff too. I would love to be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras – and for the food 🙂
Unfortunately I am too concerned about the designer coming after me for libel/slander/whatever. I feel confident I’d win if she tried to sue me for it but I don’t really want to be in that position, you know? I do want to warn others though because I made a lot of naive mistakes in the process… I’m going to run it by a lawyer.
Sorry to hear about the lowlights, it’s seems like you’ve had such a rough month! Hopefully it only gets better from here! I’m glad there were a few good times thrown in there though – I enjoyed your posts about Panama and New Orleans! Looking forward to reading about your next adventures! 🙂 x
Overall, despite all the lowlights it really was a very good month! I tried to emphasize that in the intro but I know that long list of sad bullet points is a bit of a downer 🙂
Alex – what a month! I spend my money on the same: food and booze. And plus, being in NOLA, you have to live it up. Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve felt the same tension between wanting to do things the locals do, but also wanting to be a tourist. I just got back from San Fran and had a healthy mix, but left feeling like I wished I had done some more touristy stuff (for the first time in my life). I also might have lost about 500 pics to a faulty SD card…the tech gods will hopefully save me, but I’m definitely fearful. Anyways, I’m sorry for the scam – 1K is a huge amount and I would be just as freaked out. I’m trying to spend money on a flight to TBEX and stressing daily watching the prices go up, so I get it. Thanks for sharing – great round up.
Oh, I’ve had an SD card fail before so I really feel you there. Crossing my fingers for you! And it’s nice to hear from someone else who feels the same way about the touristy stuff. I feel almost guilty for it sometimes but hey… it’s touristy for a reason!
I HATE buying plane tickets and trying to find the best deals/figure out logistics…I’ve def cried over it more than once…
Ha, I know! It feels like such a lame thing to complain about, like UGH WOE IS ME HOW WILL I EVER JUGGLE ALL MY INTER-EUROPEAN TRAVEL!? But I think when they are being honest with themselves anyone can relate to flight buying trauma!
Wonderful post, thanks for sharing it.
You are so welcome, thanks!
Wow, what a month of ups and downs. I´m so sorry to hear about the web designer 🙁 I would feel the exact same. As for all the flights, I am a ball of stress when it comes to that. The first thing I usually do is just cry out of being overwhelmed.
Hopefully Hawaii has been great and only ups! Safe travels!
Flight buying is just SO stressful. I like to say it’s the only kind of gambling I do! If they didn’t have all these ridiculous change fees it might be a bit easier to swallow.
I dig these round ups! And spending big on brunch should truly be in a category all on its own! 🙂
I’m not going to lie, there is a “spa” category in my budget that gets used pretty liberally when I’m in Southeast Asia.
is it sad that my heart flutters with excitement each time one of your roundups appears in my inbox? i’m sorry to see some sad/infuriating items in here. but i think these posts pretty perfectly capture the kind of rollercoaster that is traveling for a living. thanks as always for giving us both the macro view & the big picture!
This comment makes my heart flutter with happiness, Becky 🙂 I definitely try to show some of the behind-the-scenes stuff here that wouldn’t get shared otherwise. These posts don’t get much attention so I’m glad to see them get some love!
Refreshing and real, why I keep coming back for more!
Thanks Anne, love to hear that!
Ah Alex I love reading your roundup posts. They are my favourite. 🙂 Sounds like you had a bit of a roller coaster month. Hopefully it is a little less stressful now. Such a babe on that coconut tree too! xx
Unfortunately things were rocky for a while, Jo, so there will be a few more rollercoaster ones ahead 🙂 Luckily it seems things have finally started to ease off!
So much, in such a short space of time. Phew, remember to take your time to breathe!
Ha, this was actually one of my more laid-back months 🙂 Only four destinations!
SO sorry to hear about the low points (web developer WHAT?? citibank WHAT?? that’s mind bogglingly stressful. I hate money sometimes.) but glad that you had the high points to balance it out somewhat! And I agree with your mom, $1000 is a lot of money but I guess worse things can happen, so… silver lining?
Also, that horseback riding post is probably my fav of late, I agree with the masses!
Yeah, Citibank has my ire forever and ever! I recently filed a complaint with some financial review board which did give me closure on the whole situation.
Sounds like an intense month filled with ups and downs Alex; I love readings about your adventures. I’m so sorry to hear that you were scammed though, there are some hideous people out there.
It was and those that followed have been equally rocky. Looking forward to things evening out soon!
What places do you recommend for lodging in Costa Rica? My husband and I are going to Thailand in three weeks but plan on visiting Costa Rica next and neither of us has ever been.
Hey Natasha! My first trip to Costa Rica was in high school and I unfortunately don’t recall the names of anywhere we stayed when we weren’t with my host family. The second time, we really enjoyed Rockin’ J’s in Puerto Viejo for something a little funky and different! Hope that helps!
I’m going to be in Costa Rica for 8 days in July. I’m planning on spending most of the time in puerto viejo, but thinking about giving a couple nights to arenal.
Just wondering if your 4 days in puerto viejo gave you a good fill of the area. I’d probably be there for 5 if I do decide to go to arenal.
I would definitely say check out Arenal as well — just because it would be great to see another side of Costa Rica! Four days did give us a nice feel for Puerto Viejo. I would have stayed a little longer but we were counting down to our flight, and it was pretty pricey for our budget so we felt a little budget guilty just hanging there for too many days 🙂