Wednesday, August 31, 2011

3 Best Kept Travel Secrets

I never am satisfied with the toned-down, manicured aesthetic of tourist attractions attempting to play the role of a sippy-cup lid to your glass of authentic foreign experience, filtering the chunks and making sure you don't swallow more than you can handle. I, along with many other I-am-not-a-tourist kinds of travelers, are in constant search for the "real" (insert travel destination here)-- going where the locals eat, getting around by public transportation, and keeping the lifestyle of the local population. We are not easily deceived by the overpriced trinkets, not easily amused by the planned tours, and not easily content with simply being comfortable. Travel becomes a challenge, a research investigation, a game. This propels our  sense of urgency to go, go, go, get lost in a new land where no guide book can get you out of. Get lost and get yourself out. All over the world. You will never be done. You can never beat the game. Finding the "real" for yourself is overwhelming, frightening and makes you feel alive. This just furthers the wanderlust. It's like a drug.

With that in mind, here are my 3 travel secrets:
  1. Ask questions of those around you: Ask your waiter,taxi driver, hotel concierge, shop owner, and anyone you come in contact with in your new destination about themselves and their suggestions. People enjoy talking about their experiences and everyone's opinion will be different. Even if it is uncomfortable or you do not speak the local language, engaging in community with a local--however brief-- will provide useful insight and a perhaps memorable connection.
  2. Take out the headphones: Listen to local radio stations, sidewalk conversations, street noise, and cafe murmur. By hearing the vibrations of the city's soundtrack, you will be able to better understand the local way of life.
  3. Expect to be uncomfortable: Going to a new place can be a scary thing, and truly immersing yourself into a new place when traveling is not easy. However once you accept this, you will be free to push yourself to discover the best of what the new place has to offer, even if it requires conversing a language other than your first, getting lost along the way, or eating a food you have never tried.
Happy gallivanting! 
-KK (

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Family Visit!

A wonderful thing when moving to new places is for your loved ones get to come meet that new place that you love for themselves. My family came for a week to take in the pura vida. We had an amazing time together all over the city and country, especially at a remote eco lodge that we rafted to and from. 

Gracias, fam, for bringing your beautiful selves to visit me and for infusing your brilliance into my life once again. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I'm a real writer!

I am now an officially published professional writer on! I applied as an examiner of Scottsdale Anthropology and will be reporting remotely on various local issues related to the cultural make-up in Scottsdale. Check out my very first article:

Part 1: Determining authenticity through the Internet

Thanks for your support in my writing career :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Happy 2 Month Anniversary Costa Rica!

To commemorate, a list of course...

Never have I ever:

  • Driven in the middle of the jungle alone (the road to Guanacaste)
  • Thrown myself a birthday party
  • Seen a play Spanish (La Madre Coraje and Ma(d)e in Tikicia)
  • Been to beach with black, volcanoe-burned sand (Playa Negra)
  • Rafted a tropical river (Rio Reventazon)
  • Walked for 6 straight hours (La Romería)
  • Eaten so much rice and beans for breakfast (hurray for Gallo Pinto!)
  • Explored San Jose's historic district (good finds!)
  • Been to so many concerts in 1 month (thanks to the awesome shows at Jazz Cafe, a wonderful lounge-y venue with different themed music every single day. It runs more consistently than any government sector here)

And now for the big news: I will be staying in Costa Rica until the end of the year! I will be taking on a new role in the company and extending my contract. I am very excited.

2 down, 4 more to go! 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Puerto Viejo

My recent trip to the caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo resulted in a re-ignited love of reggae, the viewing of greens and forage that the English language cannot accurately describe, and the consuming of fresh tropical fruit cocktails with my feet in the sand. I went with some friends on an internship exchange program with U of A (small world!), and we stayed in cabanas complete with hammocks, mosquito nets, and direct access to the beach. My highlight has to be the Afrocaribbean culture that trickles through the pueblito's little downtown. Puerto Viejo is pura vida.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Response to "My First Pilgrimage"

Doing any outwardly religious act requires an inward response. Or it should elicit an inward response, I should say. The sanctity of a religious ritual is not the action itself but the spiritual change, enlightenment, encouragement, etc. it brings about. It is a physical manifestation of a stirring within. 

What stirring occurred in me from the romería on Monday?  
I went with mostly a secular intention of being a part of a national tradition, but I also made an intention for the trip (yoga style). I dedicated the time I had to pray and think on a few particular special people. But I in no way was in constant prayer, and while I thought of their faces when the uphill trekking got painful, when I arrived at the Basilica I honestly completely forgot about them as my intention. Would this be considered a failed mission?

Someone made a comment to me about the point of the pilgrimage being a sacrifice. Sacrificing for God, (like fasting can be) or sacrificing in honor of someone else. He mentioned that my sacrifice of sleep, comfortability, and time was greater than those who took the holiday off the next day after walking. That made me think; the point of the sacrifice is sort of a double standard: the bigger  and more outward your personal sacrifice, the more worthy others see the sacrifice being. However, the sacrifice must be first and foremost of the self, giving the broken self to God by doing away with it. But by sacrificing in a highly public fashion-- not even to the extent of walking barefoot or going on knees but actually just being a part the procession in and of itself-- you are in a sense going in opposition of putting the self last. You are putting yourself in a showy place for others to see your sacrifice or hear about it after the fact. Even limping around the office the day after the romería felt showy to me personally, as if to remind others, look at me, I'm sore because I sacrificed my muscles for God while you just slept the night away. Jesus' commandment is that when we fast, we do so in secret. When we tithe, we do so in secret. But you cannot walk in a 12 mile long procession in secret, and when saying the Our Father aloud every 10 minutes, I think others take notice. 

On the complete opposite note, I do believe that many people participate in the romería out of pure intentions, and that those walking barefoot are not all like the Pharisee praying loudly on the street corner. I felt a strong union between the other romeros, especially when large groups of people joined in singing praise songs together, or when I heard others praying aloud to themselves. This was a spiritual solidarity, similar to that I felt with the other runners during my half marathon or at with my classmates at my USC graduation, plus Jesus. Going with a bunch of other people on a self-sacrificing mission keeps you accountable to your purpose, even just through the presence of others with similar intentions. It is encouraging to witness the faith of other brothers and sisters through their own sacrifices. 

My own spiritual stirring mostly came through conviction of my judgmental mind and (as usual), my pride. The romería offered the opportunity to entertain both and it forced me to deal with them in a direct and urgent way. It is possible to be public while being self-sacrificing but it takes a heart aligned with the Lord. I am still learning what this looks like for me.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Very First Pilgrimage

Almost half of the country's population—1.5 million people—travel on foot to the Basilica of Cartago to pay homage to the patron saint of La Virgen de Los Angeles every 2nd of August.
Most travel at least 22 km, but some arrive from the Panamanian or Nicaraguan borders.
My journey was 20 km/12 miles and 5 hours or non-stop walking (Well, I did of course have to stop twice to go to the bathroom, hence the 30 minute deduction).
We left downtown San Jose at 8:30pm and arrived at 2am on the dot (as we approached the plaza, we heard the church bells strike twice).

Whether to fulfill a promise to the Virgin, to participate in the ritual, to have fun with friends,
People principally go for faith; some on knees, many barefoot, more with only sandals.
There are people of all ages walking, from viejitos to babies in their mother’s arms.
It was my first time being a part of such a grand-scale religious pilgrimage, and I went with various intentions.

The roads are closed to accommodate the mass movement of humanity.
There are sections where it is wide, but there are points—like at the bridge—where you must force yourself to shuffle along like a herd of cattle to fit through the small opening.
The route to Cartago is uphill for most of the journey from San Jose to climb 1,000 feet in elevation.
This makes the journey a bit difficult after 3 straight hours in the middle of the night.

Upon arrival, devotees wait another 2-3 hours to enter the church where the original Virgin is displayed.
There are 2 entrances, one for foot travelers, one for those coming on hands and knees. The knees line was almost even with those on foot.
In the massive plaza surrounding the impressive church are thousands of prone romeros who camp out after their journeys with nothing more trash bags or loved ones for coverage.
I did not have the capacity to wait to go inside at 2am unfortunately, but I am excited to return when the action has calmed down a bit.

The Virgen of the Angeles is a stone Madonna statue that was appeared twice in the spot where the Basilica rests.
She appeared to a peasant girl first, who brought her home only to find her disappeared in the morning and back at the original place she found her.
The girl then brought her to a priest who locked her in a box for safekeeping. The next morning she was found in the same distant location.
Church constructed in her honor at a different location was unsuccessfully finished due to several earthquakes. It was taken as a sign that the Virgin wanted her church to be exactly where she appeared. It’s final location was completed in 1639 (although also partially destroyed by another earthquake years later).
I bought 2 small replicas and a rosary from a stand on the road for a dollar.

The Basilica has 3 different sections that have been restored and expanded since the 19th century.
The front section is the most commanding, with its Byzantine-era architecture that resembles the cathedrals of the Greek Orthodox.
At night, only the front is illuminated, giving it this flat, doll-house quality of cartoonish perfection in front of a backdrop.
When I first saw the structure as I emerged from the carnival street leading up to it, I was amazed by its large scale and clean walls. Nothing else in Costa Rica is as big and white as the Basilica (not even the gringo tourists).

My highlights of the night are following a guitar-carrying youth group singing worship songs;
Being inspired by the faith of others displayed in a way I have not previously understood;
Eating a red frozen gelatina (frozen jello in fat Otter Pop plastic) and discussing world politics with my companions;
Feeling a part of Costa Rican culture in a profound way.