meant to be a city trip.

“don’t you love cities at night?” a friend said to me, visually overcome, as we drove into salt lake city a few years ago. growing up near chicago, i was used to seeing rows upon rows of skyscraper windows glowing like stars in the sky, but it wasn’t until that moment that i really understood just how beautiful these collection of human creations could be.

now take that experience and multiply it by a thousand.

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as i flew into hong kong last week, my comprehension of “city” was shattered. in the dust of its dissipation, i pressed my face against the taxi window and strained my neck as i gazed up in pure amazement. column after column flickering in a sea of structure. surrounded and intertwined with the green giants standing tall in the distance.

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what was this place?

i was only supposed to be here for a few days. arrive sunday night, leave thursday morning. just enough time to secure a visa to mainland china. a brief stopover on the way to yangshuo, a popular china climbing destination. it was not meant to be a city trip. it was meant to be a climbing trip.

but if this week has taught me anything, it’s that things don’t always go as planned.

on monday, i filled out my application for a ten year multiple entry tourist visa to china. i wrote down my name. i wrote down my address. where it said occupation, i checked the box for “self-employed.” where it said company name, i wrote down “saradipity media.” i filled out everything effortlessly and honestly.

that night as i returned to the hotel, i was handed a message. the visa office needed me to contact them as there had been a problem with my application. my heart sunk deep into my stomach, and i instantly knew what i had done.

prior to traveling to mainland china, i had done a lot of research. running your own online-based marketing company from a country that bans the use of facebook and other such websites, requires a bit of pre-planning. i had surveyed all my chinese connections and read every article regarding the “great firewall of china.” i was all set to get around the communist control of the internet.

and then i let my guard down.

i was in this city. this chinese city. this magnificent chinese city where i could still check my gmail and facebook and wordpress. surely all would be well and good.

“sensitive” is what they deemed me. when i asked the travel agent why my visa application was rejected, she pointed to the word “media” and informed me that that was the only reason.

one. fucking. word.

our brains tend to slip into what we know. we forget that words have different meanings and connotations for every individual. what means one thing to me, means another to you. i have never been the best at picking the right words. at consciously choosing the appropriate syllables for the occasion. but this is an instance where i really wish i was.

a month long climbing trip foiled by one word. a puzzle piece of my travel itinerary lost forever under the couch. after deciding that ryan would still head to yangshuo and meet back up with me in america in mid-december like we had originally planned, i was left in my least favorite place…the land of choices, conveniently located near the land of questions.

did i go home? where was home? portland? chicago? should i leave tomorrow? stay in hong kong? visit family? visit friends? see a new place?

it’s been the first time in a long time where i’ve needed to make a decision purely involving me. what did i want to do? where did i want to go?

well, to start with, i wanted to be present in hong kong. i wanted to learn how to say thank you in cantonese and not just mandarin. i wanted to haggle over some jade jewelry.

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i wanted to stare down from victoria peak at this beast of a city.

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i wanted to experience the ponies.

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i wanted to get lost wandering its busy sidewalks.

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and i wanted to eat all the steamed buns i could find.

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so i did.

a day or two in puerto princesa.

we slept most of the way to puerto princesa. six hours in an ice cold toyota van jam-packed with as many passengers as seat belts. you pay extra for air conditioned anything in the philippines, a luxury that we rarely opted for. this trip, however, we didn’t have a choice.

i bundled up in my blue patagonia puffy and tucked my freezing feet under ryan’s thigh. it’s so silly to think about being so layered in warmth when it was 100 degrees outside.

there is one surefire way to recognize where you are, traffic. as we pulled into puerto princesa, all the sudden there were cars again. lots of them. back in a city. a city named due to the sudden drop in its ocean shelf making it the perfect port for large ships. the princess of ports.

people come to puerto princesa to see palawan’s international treasure, the underground river. voted to be one of the new seven wonders of the world.

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we had been warned that we might not be able to book a tour to see it because of its popularity, the weather, and our limited timeframe.

pshhh. don’t always listen to people. that is one lesson travelers should learn. always try.

we hopped off the van with no plans. luckily, our tricycle driver had all the plans we needed. when we said we didn’t know where we needed him to take us, that we had no accommodation, he pulled out a small flyer advertising a local hotel. sure, why not.

we pulled up to the relatively cheap hotel close to the airport that he had recommended. it was probably the shittiest room i have ever paid to sleep in, but it had wifi, and it was just for one night, so we checked in too lazy and hungry to drive around town looking for a better room.

next, our tricycle man took us to book our underground river tour. i saw the hotel was offering the same tour.

“why should we book with your guy when we can book it here?”

he smiled and ensured that we would get a better deal. and indeed we did. we booked our tickets for 200 pesos less than everyone else. and, with proof that we were flying out the next evening, we were able to get on the early tour.

done and done. good thing we didn’t listen to those people telling us we wouldn’t be able to see the underground river.

the rest of the day was eating and napping and working and eating and sleeping. we had to be up at 5am the next day, ready for the tour van to pick us up and drive us the two hours to the launch point for the tour.

it’s a shame that you can’t experience the underground river without an organized tour. we arrived at the boarding dock with hundreds of other tourists. the tours had been closed for the past four days due to the weather. the day we went was the first day the water was calm enough to make the journey. this meant even more tourists than usual for the low season.

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vendors peddled their knockoff sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and waterproof sacks to the sea of foreigners crowded together waiting for their turn to climb aboard a rickety old outrigger-esque boat and head to the mouth of the underground river.

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we waited for our turn and then set out across the ocean waves. after we docked on shore, we climbed out onto the sand and walked the wooden, monkey-streaked path to the tour entry point.

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hurry up and wait. hurry up and wait. hurry up and wait. it is the way of all tourist activities.

but after we waited, we stepped into the front of a canoe decked out in fluorescent orange life vests and construction helmets. ryan held a car battery powered spotlight as our guide paddled us into the cave.

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if you’re like me, you’ve probably been wondering what the hell it means to have an underground river. well, it’s basically a river that runs through a massive natural cave tunnel, and it is spectacular.

the ceiling is lined with bats and epic stalactites. they warn you to keep your mouth shut when you look up, and when bat guano landed on my hand, i was glad i had listened.

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there is something magical about caves. even when several canoes of tourists are floating within their walls, you can feel their power. this whole world existing in darkness, away from it all. the spotlight, our only means of seeing behind the black.

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i tuned out the tour guide as he pointed out different features and what they looked like. yes, that does look like the three wise man, but i really don’t care.

i care about the dank air coating my nostrils with every inhale and the echoing of the hidden waterfalls just waiting to be found. if only we had our own canoe; i would paddle the whole 8km of that underground river…

wet tourists in el nido

if all airport experiences were even remotely close to flying the ITI private plane to el nido from manila, i would be a much happier traveler. a private terminal with assigned tables, snacks, and wooden boarding passes. wait staff that know your name and politely tell you when it’s your time to check in, which means no line waiting at all.

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i haven’t ever been in an airport airline lounge, but i’d imagine it’s something like this minus the wooden boarding passes and lineless check-in.

the booking process is not quite as smooth though. email some random tourist shop in el nido five days before your desired departure date (and no earlier). they’ll let you know if there is space for you. might take a day of back and forth before you’ve secured your seat and paypal-ed the funds to them via internet still living in the 90s.

the small resort-owned plane is the only one that flies directly into el nido. you are welcomed to palawan with native lyrics singsonging into your ears as you once again indulge in free snacks.

well, maybe not free. the two hour flight costs about $100. if you live in america, this is pretty standard, but the other option is a $50 flight into puerto princesa and a dirt cheap six hour bus ride to el nido.

however, we stepped outside our cheap ass, dirt bagger ways this trip. we flew the fancy way. we paid $40/night for an ocean front view and a private bathroom and an army of ants to keep us company.

they warn you about monsoon season. we didn’t listen, and after a week of glorious sunshine and foreigner-free streets, we thought we’d totally lucked out. the slow season was treating us marvelously.

enter el nido.
our dose of reality (if you can call it that).

the earth was wet when we landed. it was still drizzling as our tricycle slowly navigated through puddled potholes the 15 minutes it took to get into town. into the small beach town on the northeast section of palawan. we checked in at rosanna’s without prior reservations, but not without a minimal amount of prior research.

he wanted beach, so i found him beach. immediately the hammock went up, and we were home for a few days.

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el nido is known for epic island hopping, decent scuba diving, and even some deep water soloing for us climbers. it is nestled between ocean and mountain. towering cliffs that teased us with their possibility and the smell of salty sweetness.

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we went for a wander and had a moment of shock as we passed tourist after tourist strolling the beach, aimlessly gazing at the bars and restaurants promoting their happy hour deals. we were no longer the only foreigners. we were one of them. we were one of many. i can imagine this tiny filipino gem gets pretty hopping in the busy season.

but that was not now. and i’m glad that was not now.
now was the monsoon season. and we soon found out what that meant.

beautiful afternoon thunderstorms that came out of nowhere and knocked over your “it’s five o’clock somewhere” seashore cocktails.

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perfectly timed sprints back to your hotel room that inevitably end up being unperfectly timed. shaggy wet hair dripping onto bare feet and framing our smiles.

we loved it.

rain pounding so loudly it made you listen. to nature. to each other. to nothing, and everything.

and then, we wanted to scuba dive.

as you might imagine, this weather doesn’t really lend itself to good diving conditions. we curled up in the hammock and read our course theory only to be told that we’d have to wait another day to go out on the boat. and another. and another.

since no boats could set sail, we rented a kayak to do a bit of our own island hopping. we (and by we i mean mostly ryan) paddled through the choppy waters from one island to the next. we rested on a small beach.

“i could live here.”
“look at all this treasure.”

i love this man. this man who sees a semi-deserted island covered in washed up trash and thinks he’s struck gold. this man who climbs up the first tree he can find and scopes out the lay of the land. this man who carries a giant piece of wood in from the waves and imagines what sort of furniture he can make from this waterlogged masterpiece. this man who can paddle us past the break and against the current and get us safely back to shore.

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safely back to local seafood and filipino fun.

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the people of the philippines are genuine. they smile and laugh. they are welcoming and accommodating. they tell us where to eat and what to see.

but we decide we must go.

i had it in my head that i wanted to complete my open water diving certification. no more looking in awe and envy at the photos from ryan’s latest pier dive. however, the weather really wasn’t participating in this endeavor. doesn’t mother nature care about my wants?!

i looked at a map. where could we go to escape the rain? north, south, east, west? the locals told us that it would be raining everywhere in the philippines.

but malaysia looked close. what about the weather in borneo?

on a whim, we booked flights. we spent our last evening strolling through corong corong (el nido’s neighbor) and enjoying beachside ceviche under a streetlamp… until the power went out.

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we walked home along the dark street. we took a tricycle to our door. we packed our backpacks.

today, el nido.
tomorrow, puerto princesa.
then, onto malaysia.

manila, zambales, bolinao, and buses.

IMG_8016we spend a lot of our time on buses. right now, we are on a 7-8 hour journey from bolinao back to manila. this time we have air conditioning, but we’re not picky. hop on the first bus we find going to our desired destination. sometimes crammed with locals. sometimes a flat tire. sometimes televisions playing cheesy action flicks. they all will get you there eventually.

for a dollar or so, we get a panoramic view of the lush green landscape surrounding us. the rolling hills. the sprawling fields. the weaving waters. homes and food stands built a few feet from the main road just strong enough to withstand the weather. maybe.

it’s “monsoon season” in the philippines right now, but we have only experienced the occasional afternoon shower and evening lightning show. it’s generally about 90-100 degrees with humidity that makes it absolutely useless to shower.

we embrace the heat. we embrace the solitude.

the low season has made this journey rather tourist free. my tall stature and fair skin stands out amongst the filipinos. i am an anonymous celebrity. famous only by association with a faraway land. all i can do is smile and keep going.

i try to learn the language. i always try to learn the language. there are broken bits of spanish mixed into their words, leftovers of the spanish reign. this makes it easier for me to understand, but still the only phrase i’ve mastered so far is “thank you,” that is enough. enough to show an effort. enough to acknowledge that i am a visitor. enough to appreciate this beautiful collection of islands. salamat.

there are over 7,000 islands in the philippines. we have three weeks.

since the main airport is in manila, we start there. on the island of luzon. we head west to zambales to chase down some surf. it’s not exactly surf season, but after a solo adventure, ryan managed to find a decent beach break off a nearby headland.

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we quickly moved from our crystal beach hut in san narciso…

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…down to another beachfront hut in pundaquit, but not before taking a few photos with the filipino soap opera stars filming at our accomodation. be sure to check them out in “pangako sa iyo” (i promise to you) on ABS CBN. #nextbigthing

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without any preemptive planning, we cram into a tricycle (the preferred local means of transportation) and rock up to pundaquit to find most hotels closed for the low season.

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one local points our tricycle driver to one place. closed. another local points our tricycle driver to another place. closed. we eventually find a sleepy resort with an open hut awaiting us. perfection.

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with electricity, a fan, and decent wifi, i am all set. my mobile office has found its new home. for two days. just enough time to catch up on work and track down a couple longboards to give “magic left” a go.

back in our element. away from the city chaos of manila. away from the mall of asia.

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away from all day rush hour traffic. now the only traffic was about ten other surfers waiting for the next set to roll in.

the days are short here. i rise early to get unpopulated wifi and take in the morning’s coolness. soon the sun will burn bright, and the next adventure will begin.

three buses later, we reach our next destination, bolinao. had it not been for my mother’s timeshare points getting us a cheap weeklong stay in this quiet fisherman’s town, we probably would never have ventured this far north. but we did. and it was breathtaking.

an empty all-inclusive resort with comfy beds and mediocre food. have you ever had 20 staff members there just to wait on you? someone to bring you towels. someone to bring you purified drinking water. someone to give you a massage on the beach. someone to make you cocktails. someone to prepare your meals. it’s weird.

but we took advantage of our resort stay and soaked up the local sights. walked along the beach and took a dip in the enchanted cave.

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hired a boat to tour the 100 islands national park near alaminos city. snorkeled with giant clams and swam into a bat-filled cave.

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kneeled in the saint james the great parish church built in 1609 and whispered salamat.

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sipped down some chicken lomi at adora’s restaurant. and of course, lounged by the pool and ordered a ton of room service.

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then we decided to leave two days early.

we are not resort people at heart. we are adventurers. we are bus riders. and so we ride the bus back to manila to board a puddle jumper to fly us across the sea to our next island, palawan.

becoming an ocean girl, one surf at a time.

i have never been an ocean girl. i grew up heading north for summer getaways. to an oasis that i always considered better than any pacific or atlantic coastline. i waterskied and wakeboarded. i swung from rope swings into icy waves rolling onto forested beaches. i had never seen point break, and the words kelly and slater were just characters from saved by the bell.

sure i’ve always idolized the blue crush chicks and dreamed about the day when i would look as cool in a bikini, but i accepted long ago that yoga pants and sports bras might be more my style.

but adventure breeds adventure.

you submit to the mountains, and suddenly you hear the sea calling.

so i went.

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if we wait for the volume to get louder, sometimes we miss the message and go deaf instead.

a month of attempting to become that ocean girl.

waking up early and walking down to the beach. the air was often cool in the morning, before the summer sun rose over the tree line and burnt through the clouds. the streets were quiet, which meant a less dusty stroll from the hilltop to the shore.

nose to tail, rail to rail, waxing up with intermittent coffee sips. then heading to the sea with a zinc nose and bikini clad body.

unsure of the ocean’s rhythm, i sat on some driftwood and watched the locals pick their waves. it takes time. to read the water. to feel the pulse. to understand the power.

after a month, i was just starting to sense the unspoken words she was saying.

shuffle through the shallow sand with board in hand. the water is warm. a big set rolls in and quickly reminds me, this is the ocean. full of salt. a mouth full of salt.

i often forget. i walk into a giant body of water and just assume it will taste like lake michigan. here it tastes like tears and sweat. it dries a thin layer of seasoning on your skin. it clears out your sinuses with every accidentally inhale and leaves your eyes softly burning.

will i ever learn to love that feeling?

paddle paddle paddle past the break. then i always need a rest. legs dangling straddled on either side of this floating extension of self. sting rays, fish, and a whole world living beneath you. each trying to remain unaware of the other.

for most surfers, satisfaction comes from catching the wave. but what about this moment? this special space where you are peacefully waiting to see what gift she will give you. looking out over the horizon tuning into her rhythm. the sun warming your skin. the salt drying on your lips. i could wait there all day.

but when you sense something good rolling in, it’s time to move on. paddle paddle paddle paddle and pop up. turning down the face and staying just ahead of the break. letting your legs inform the movements. splashing back into the waves with the biggest shit grin plastered across your face.

or maybe not.

paddle paddle paddle paddle and pop up. get slammed into the tumbling circle of angry h2o that has no care for your well-being. breath held and body avoiding injury. panicking to surface and find safety, if only for a split second.

her beauty only intensifying as you slowly swim back out for round two.

i will always be a lake girl, but the sea has left its mark. found its way into my soul. testing the limits of my fear. reminding me that i am powerless.

12 reasons you should never date a rock climber

Another Matador Network article of mine to enjoy…

IF YOU HAVE AN OUNCE OF ADVENTURER in you, you’ve probably felt the pull of the muscled rock climber parking their van next to you at the campsite. But, if you truly have any ounce of sense in you, you’ve learned why to stay away:

1. A “10 Year Plan” is not a thing.

Neither is a Five Year Plan, or even a One Year Plan for that matter. Unless you’re talking about which routes or problems they plan to send this season, most climbers have no clue what the future holds. All they know is that they are oh-so-close to finally finishing Twinkie, so you’ll most likely find them in the Red River Gorge this spring.

2. There is only one thing they’ll splurge on: new gear.

If you’ve got your eye on a partner who will treat you to fancy dinners and expensive gifts, you might want to rule out climbers. To them, a nice meal involves concocting a unique mix of whatever treasures were scored during the last dumpster diving excursion to Kroger. But don’t confuse this thriftiness with necessity — they are probably just saving up for a new pair of La Sportiva Solutions and a set of C3s.

3. Words and numbers have never felt so foreign (and vulgar) to you.

“Did you stick the crux on the roof of Hillbilly Gang Bang*? You really gotta shove a hand in the crack. There’s no way it’s a 5.12d.” Climbers have their own lingo and unless you plan on double backing your harness and learning to tie in properly, good luck understanding them. One of these YouTube videos might help.

*We know this is not the real name of a climb, but just for the record, Hilbilly Sex Farm is.

4. Showering becomes a luxury.

Two weeks without a shower? Pretty standard. Don’t think for one minute that the state you met them in will ever change. Greasy hair, dirty clothes, and that unmistakable climber musk are all points of pride. Learn to love it.

5. And so does a bed.

Dating a climber means getting used to the fact that most of your nights together will be spent without freshly-washed sheets stretched across an expensive Sealy posturepedic. Instead, you’ll find yourself snuggled uncomfortably upon a couple of Therm-a-Rests, or if you’re lucky, an old futon mattress thrown across some plywood in the back of their van.

CLICK HERE TO READ ALL 12 REASONS!

 

24 reasons illinois is the most underrated state

in case all my friends and family from back home have grown sick of reading my stories about australia, here is some homegrown content you can enjoy! check out my latest article on matador network and be sure to share, like, and comment on the original blog post.

1. It has Chicago.

Let’s just get it out of the way first since it’s the most obvious reason Illinois is awesome. Although it is not the official state capital, as most foreigners think, Chicago is the epicenter of culture for the Midwest. From Shedd Aquarium and Sears Tower (yes, we will forever call it that) to the Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza, the Windy City will always give New York and Los Angeles a run for their money.

2. And Chicago gave you deep dish pizza.

Let’s not forget this very important fact. A piping hot, cheesy pie from Lou’s is just what you need after a long night on Division, so thank goodness Chicago invented it.

3. The historic Route 66 starts in Illinois.

It doesn’t start in Michigan or Indiana or any other Midwest state, it starts in Illinois, just one block SE of this Adams Street sign. The 301 miles covered in Illinois offer some of the best when it comes to Americana icons, like the oldest usable service station — Soulsby Service Station.

4. The Land of Lincoln was the first state to abolish slavery.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified by Illinois on February 1, 1865 before any other states. Way to go, Illinois (and you, too, Lincoln).

5. There is 26 miles of salt-free beachfront.

That’s right. No spitting every five seconds. No burning eyes. No layer of dried salt on your skin when you get out. Just crisp, fresh water allowing you to wakeboard without the lingering fear of getting eaten by a shark. And if you ignore the fact that you know geography, you can imagine that Lake Michigan goes on forever.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE OTHER 19 REASONS!

when you move to australia.

Have you been keeping up on all my matador network articles? Check out my latest and be sure to share them with all your friends and family! 🙂

13 THINGS THAT INEVITABLY HAPPEN WHEN YOU MOVE TO AUSTRALIA

1. Most of your income goes towards beer.

The rumors are true. Australians love their beer. Unfortunately, it’s also true that shit is way more expensive on their massive island. Remember the good old days (before you lived in Australia) when you could get a 30-pack of PBR from the local liquor mart for under $20? Those days are long gone. Add a beer category to your monthly budget because $50 for a carton is bound to take its toll on your bottom line.

2. You miss the sound of geckos when you travel.

To answer your first question, yes, geckos make sounds. You immediately learn this fact when trying to fall asleep in your newly-renovated Queenslander. Chirp chirp chirp. At first, you are disgusted that tiny lizards wander in and out of your house as they please, but after a while, they sound like home.

Read the full article.

See all my articles here.

solo al rodeo.

rodeo came to town last week. the locals save up all year for this week long festival. bulls from all over ready to buck off their riders and chase their taunters. for nosara, rodeo ranks up there with christmas and easter. it comes once a year, and it is not to be missed.

outside the rodeo ring is the fair. cotton candy and meat on a stick. corn on the cob and churros.

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a mechanical bull and dance club. rickety carnival rides and cheap goods for sale.

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it all started on wednesday with the kids parade and opening celebrations. it all ended on monday night with the last of the ticos cheering on the only female bull rider.

i’m here in costa rica with my friend and her sister. my friend is dating a nosara local who is the “mayor” of the town. he knows everyone. talk about a local hook up.

his company, chorotegas surf school, sponsored the rodeo. as part of this, his chorotegas soccer team (jersey pictured above) got to occupy the bull ring on thursday night. this in turn meant, we got to enter the ring as well. after signing a couple papers saying that i might die and i’m cool with that, we located all the exits and scooted into the ring.

sorry mom.

but don’t worry, i’m still alive. i played it safe and stayed near the edge. i did think about following the boys in closer, but instead of testing my running skills, i just stood in awe of the crazy ticos. grabbing the bull’s tail and horns. yikes.

it’s part of the culture. they’ve grown up around bulls and this sport. but truthfully, as i was standing in that ring amongst all the excitement and adrenaline, i felt a bit sad. that poor bull, stuck running away from these human bullies. the whole thing left me with mixed emotions.

after stepping outside of the ring, i did think i had watched enough bull riders to be a pro at it though, so i took a try on the fake one. it’s all about the whipping of the arm for balance. i’m a natural…

on saturday, we all rented horses to partake in el tope (parade of horses). hundreds of people gathered in the park for a pre-party and then boarded their horses to trot through the town towards the rodeo.

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everyone was decked out in their best plaid button down, cowboy hats, giant belt buckles, and boots. my favorite apparel.

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this self-proclaimed cowgirl was in heaven. my horse was named coqueta meaning coquette meaning a flirt. probably appropriate for its rider… she was quick and spirited but well-behaved and eager to listen. a perfect combination.

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we rode smashed in between several other horses strutting their stuff. some were well-trained, picking up their hooves in rhythm and tucking their heads. others meandered aimlessly while their riders guzzled another imperial.

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there was an energy in the air, a tradition. and we were part of it, complete with cowboy hats and horses.

solo al rodeo.