Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Tucked away in a nondescript office park in Irvine, it is easy to overlook Atomic Ballroom. I walked in and up to the front desk. The helpful woman sitting there asked me to sign in and mark which classes I wished to attend that evening. Then, she asked me to provide my name, email, and phone number on a form, and sign a waiver promising not to sue if I injured myself while in class. I visited on Wednesday evening, which is salsa night. I marked two beginner classes, a 7:00PM class taught by Corey and a 7:45PM class taught by Megan. Then, I walked to their little bar area to wait for class to begin. The bar area leads directly to the dance floor and had bar stools and a few tables with chairs. No one was serving at the bar, but there was a filtered water dispenser, M&Ms, and other candy free for the taking. The dance floor was large and lined with mirrors, like a dance studio. One corner had a DJ booth and there was a disco ball hanging from the ceiling above the middle of the dance floor.
The first class, Corey's class, was three women and six men. I liked Cory's teaching style because he was funny, danced with each leader, and gave each leader constructive advice. He also only covered the basic step, side breaks, and the follower's right turn (outside turn), which seemed about right for a 45 minute beginner lesson. The second class, Megan's class, was five women and five men. Megan covered the basic step, the follower's right turn, the cross body lead, and the cross body lead combined with the follower's right turn. This was a lot of material and several people were confused by the end of her 45 minute lesson. Megan did not dance with the leaders, though doing so would have been useful.
Megan's class and Corey's intermediate level class finished at 8:30PM, and the dance floor opened up to a general admission salsa dance with music provided by the ballroom DJ. The dance is free with a paid lesson. Otherwise, it is $5. I stayed until 9:15PM, long enough for several dances. I noticed people who had not purchased a lesson starting to trickle in around 9:00PM. There were only about twenty people on the dance floor when I left. Perhaps more people show up later.
I had a great time taking two beginning lessons and staying for the dance. The dancers ranged in age from early 20's into the 70's. The atmosphere during the classes and the dances was relaxed, and everyone I talked to or danced with was friendly. I recommend the group lessons and dance at Atomic Ballroom as a fine way to pick up a new hobby, to meet people, to spend an evening, and as a great date idea.
Atomic ballroom has group classes every day of the week and private lessons by appointment. Group lessons are $15 per lesson if you drop in or $10 per lesson for 10 lessons if you buy their "virtual punch card." Visit the website at www.atomicballroom.com for class schedules. Atomic Ballroom is located at 17961 Sky Park Circle, Suite C, Irvine, California 92614. You can reach them via email at email@example.com or via phone at 949-250-3332.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
|Playa Samara, Costa Rica|
You should go to Costa Rica.
The country is beautiful. I loved Costa Rica's gorgeous natural environments. The Monteverde and Santa Elena nature preserves house ancient hundred foot (and taller!) trees, which provide shelter to white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, rainbow colored parrots and toucans, exotic tree-climbing mammals, and rare snakes. One day in Monteverde, I found waterfall and lagoon tucked away in the jungle, hidden down a kilometer-long walk past of vines, ferns and huge trees. I had the entire falls, lagoon and jungle all to myself. It felt like being in a picture in a travel magazine showing places too isolated and spectacular to really exist. The countryside is similarly beautiful, with acre after acre of green, undeveloped rain forest, ranch land, and farmland.
There is plenty of opportunity for water sports. My water sports included only swimming and sitting under palm trees, but that's just me. The surf on the Pacific Coast is reportedly some of the best in the world, especially at Montezuma, Santa Teresa and Mal Pais, but there is ample opportunity to surf at beaches on both coasts. In Playa Tamarindo and Playa Samara, numerous tour operators fishing, snorkeling, or marine-life viewing tours. I understand tour operators in beach communities all around the country offer the same. I also understand that the snorkeling near Playa Hermosa and Cahuita is amazing. In Playa Tamarindo and Monteverde and Santa Elena, I saw brochures for river rafting trips, too.
The country is cheap, especially compared to Western Europe and Australia. I never paid more than $35 per night for a private room with at least a double bed, including pillows, linens, and towels. This fee often included a private bathroom and breakfast. Meals were at least $8 each in Playa Tamarindo and Monteverde and Santa Elena, but those places are tourist traps. I could feed myself with hearty meals for $10-$12 per day in San Jose and Playa Samara. Playa Samara was particularly cheap, and the food was always tasty.
It is easy to go upscale in Costa Rica. Every town I stopped at had expensive, resort-type hotels. You do not have to spend under $40 per night for a private room at a hostel to enjoy Costa Rica. There are plenty of luxury options.
Costa Ricans are friendly. More than once on my trip, I must have looked terribly confused because a helpful local came up to me and asked me in perfect English if I needed help. In each case, I explained where I was trying to go and the local directed me to my destination or told me exactly where I was. The hotel staff, restaurant staff, and tour staff I dealt with were also universally helpful.
The backpackers are friendly, too. I met so many interesting, friendly, worldly, talkative, and generally cool people at the hostels I stayed at. For the record, I stayed at Costa Rica Backpackers & Guesthouse in San Jose (www.costaricabackpackers.com; phone: 2221 6191), Manakin Lodge in Monteverde (www.manakinlodge.com; phone: 2645 5058), Hostel Botella de Leche in Playa Tamarindo (www.labotelladeleche.com; phone: 2653 0189), Cabinas Marielos in Playa Tamarindo (phone and fax: 2653 0141), and Casa Brian in Playa Samara (firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 2656 0315).
I have been home for three days now and I miss Costa Rica. I miss its warm turqouise water and white sandy beaches. I miss its towering green tropical canopies, filled with the calls, chirps and howls of unseen parrots, toucans, and monkeys . I miss its quaint dirt roads and locally-owned businesses reminding me that there are still places in the world safe from chain restaurants, Blockbuster Video, Starbucks Coffee and other hallmarks of "progress." I miss its sugary-sweet pineapples, mangos, and papayas, picked ripe from a local farm a day or even hours before I ate them. I miss its simple, stress-free living without the distraction of television and materialist social conditioning. I miss Casa Brian and the people I met there.
I miss some things about traveling in general, too. I miss the adventure of traveling through a foreign country, of being a stranger in a strange land. I miss the excitement of arriving in a new city, not knowing anyone and having to make friends with other travelers. Sure, saying goodbye to my new friends always made me sad, but few things in life are better than making new friends. I miss discovering new restaurants with exotic foods. Four days after I came home, I miss being abroad.
Is it already time to plan my next trip?
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Monday and Tuesday proceed similarly. I have lunch with Nicolas at the Mercado Central (I have the fried chicken with tortillas at Soda San Cristobal for 1,950 colones both days), he tells me he is ready to leave San Jose and return to Quebec, and I do a lot of listening because he has a lot to say about everything. On Monday, he asks our waitress at Soda San Cristobal if she would like to meet him for dinner on Tuesday. She agrees. After this, he talks a lot about how excited he is for his date. When we go back to Soda San Cristobal on Tuesday for lunch, the waitress is there again and Nicolas gets a confirmation that she will meet him later that day for dinner. Monday after lunch, we walk the blocks just to the south and west of the Mercado Central. Every store front facing the avenidas and calles is occupied, the merchants selling everything from fresh produce of every color, to childrens’ toys, to cell phones, to baked goods, to clothing, lingere, and other apparel for both men and women. Crowds are thick on both days. Nicolas and I weave our way through and around groups of pedestrians. Street vendors yell out the name of vegetables to passersby, hoping to attract a buyer. Old women sit at small wooden tables covered with lottery tickets. The destitute approach the slightly better off and beg for money. Taxis and trucks honk warnings to pedestrians as they zoom down the narrow streets. I will miss San Jose and its vibrant, chaotic life. Monday afternoon, I find a souvenir doll for my aunt at a t-shirt shop in a quiet alley in the Mercado Central. Tuesday afternoon, Nicolas and I walk to a park at the Costa Rica Gran Hotel and across the street from the Teatro Nacional and enjoy the early afternoon. Throngs of people walk by – businessmen in suits carrying expensive leather cases, teenagers talking on cell phones, couples walking hand in hand, old men with worn faces wearing threadbare clothes, private school students in their uniforms, tourists with folding maps.
|Casa Brian in Playa Samara, Costa Rica|
Monday, April 20, 2009
|Tyler Drake Nash|
Friday, April 17, 2009
|Leonie and your author|
Juan left this morning. I talk a lot this evening with Leonie and Tyler over dinner and drinks at Sol Azteca, a Mexican restaurant up a hill from Casa Brian. Some of the conversation strays into traveling alone. Tyler has been in Playa Samara since January attending the local massage therapy school. He tells me it has been emotionally difficult to meet people in the hostels or in the bars, click with them, hang out with them for awhile, and then say goodbye to them when they move on. He says that doing something for himself is key to making it through the incessant goodbyes. Just hanging out somewhere isn’t enough, he tells me. Trying to find validation through socializing just leads to disappointment as a solo traveler. The key is to do something because you want to do it, not for the sake of meeting people – go to school, seek out new experiences, visit new places.
Leonie echoes Tyler’s sentiments. Leonie has been in Playa Samara since January as well (Tyler and her met on the bus from San Jose). She has been living at Casa Brian since early February and so has watched a parade of people come and go, some of whom she because very close to. Part of the reason she is moving on, she tell us, is because she had stopped experiencing life for herself and instead stuck around to hang out with people who just went on to leave. She needs a change. She needs to travel and live for herself again.
I disagree with both of them at first since meeting people was a primary reason I booked my Costa Rica trip. Later, I understand what Tyler and Leonie mean. I met the people I met on this trip while I was doing something I wanted to do for myself – traveling abroad for my own reasons. These private motivations helped cushion the sense of loss when my new friends moved on because I knew that my journey was an end unto itself and that I didn’t need to get attached to other travelers to have life validating experiences. In fact, this constant turnover of traveling companions has taught me to appreciate every moment I spend with them without regard for the future because I know that distance and circumstance will largely prevent them from being a part of my future. I have spent much of my life ignoring my present in favor of my future. That’s changing now, thanks to this trip.