Costa Rica; San Jose

Places like Costa Rica have been calling out to me ever since I was a little boy who liked to wander around in the woods. I always hoped i’d find a jungle, with big cats, poisonous frogs, and beautiful waterfalls. While I did find those things in the Costa Rican capital of San Juan, I also found a unique urban city, that still, reminded me of where I grew up.

San Juan is luxurious, to say the least. It has clearly benefited from tourism over the years, and is quite the metropolis. Obviously, I avoided the city as much as possible in lieu of the beautiful outdoors, but conveniences befitting a large city are unavoidable. Everything is here; shopping, strip malls, traffic, restaurants, construction, crowds, suburbs, Uber and airbnb…my travel go-tos.

This trip centered around a friendship that I have had since my college days. A close friend that was celebrating his 30th with a host of others, and we all stayed in a large rented house. The grounds were beautiful, and completely equipped to handle lazy American guests looking for great photo opps and a novel experience. Large swimming pool, check. Massive sculpted outdoor garden, check. Sundeck, check. Surrounding neighborhood cloaked in dense vegetation, slowly being taken back into the wild by leaf cutter ants and massive spiders, check.

The highlight of my trip of course was the time I spent outdoors. I had the opportunity to go zip lining, hike through waterfall gardens, stop briefly at a zoo, and stroll through the compound surrounding our rented home. I ran into leaf cutter ants, a purple crab, a palm civet…..one of my FAVORITE animals, crocodiles, vultures, brown bats, orb weaver spiders and this was all outside of the zoo we visited. There was also TONS of great outdoor hiking, and beautiful scenic views all around. Costa Rica, when it comes to the outdoors, aside from some parts of the American wilderness, is nature heaven. When I die, just drop my corpse off here…anywhere really.

Something has to be said for San Juan, and my obligatory gay friendly or not so friendly experience. San Juan felt open minded, and a little conservative, but not bound. My large party enjoyed an amazing night out, hopped around to a few different clubs, and I even snagged a date with my impressive flirting in spanish. My best time in the city, per usual, was spent alone. Looking at the twisting streets in the backseat of a car, walking around to the different stores and shops, and trying to live a normal life by going to the grocery store and struggling through finding items I needed.

In Costa Rica, I was taught a phrase, something I was told they use to express their love for their country with a sense of unity, and cheer. It was “pura vida”. Now i’ve heard a lot of expressions, i’ve been to a lot of places and heard people say a lot of things, but there was something about the way Costa Ricans said this aloud. It was as if they truly meant it. And not in a, “lets excite the tourists” kind of way, but, in a true sense of solidarity. This experience gave me the same feeling as the beach in Hawaii, the temples in Thailand, or the food in Paris. Pura Vida IS Costa

Phuket; (poo-khet)

You like to party, spend money, be a little flashy….Phuket is just the place for you. Everything under the sun is at your fingertips, and it is the perfect place to dig a little deeper and see what its like behind the scenes in a tropical getaway.

Screenshot_20170626-184921
thai baht!

Phuket was a last minute addition to my little Thailand excursion, and it was well worth it. I’ll skip the long backstory of how Phuket was a major trading route, linking France, the Dutch, and other soverign nations in the UK to natural resources found in southern Asia. Instead, i’ll get to the nitty gritty, and talk about how a country boy like me found Phuket to be so much fun.

Imagine Times Square; the hustle and bustle of commerce, food, people, cars, nightlife and parties, mixed with a beautiful warm beach, in a raucous college town. That’s Phuket. Not much wildlife to explore, but I found a few nooks and crannies to investigate.

We stayed in an airbnb again, this time down an alley and in a renovated but empty apartment building. Our room faced the beach, and the patio offered unparalleled views of the sun. I initially noticed the ABUNDANCE of counterfeit goods. Everything and anything was available on the streets, from yeezy’s to computers to whale bones, and there were tons of tourists to drop Baht (Thai cash) for everything. Honestly, I don’t know if i’ve ever been anywhere where there have been so many foreign tourists. While I emjoyed the mixing and mingling with people of different nations, it can be overwhelming if you want a little isolation. There also is an abundance of luxury, we passed resort after resort while walking around the small town, and exploring the scenery.

Patong beach is the main beach in Phuket, and it is a well worn path. There were no real designated sections, just tons of beach for everyone to sunbathe and roam. There were also lots of outdoor activities available; water skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and parasailing!

20160625_183312Screenshot_20170626-193954

I had quite a bit of time to get myself a little lost in Phuket, and it was well worth it. What I discovered was similar to my travels in Mexico, a completely different world behind the normal tourist experience. My first mission was to find the LGBT friendly area, and it wasn’t hard to locate lol. There is a strip of clubs on the other side of Phuket’s busiest street that is home to about 6 or 7 gay clubs and bars, all with slightly different vibes. I made sure to steer clear of the ones that seemed a little….seedy…., but spent all night at the few that had great vibes and open energy. The nightlife in Phuket in general, was INTENSE. There are hordes of people, and plenty of places to spend your time and money after hours.

Next on my list was checking out where the actual Thai residents of Phuket live, and what I found was startling. Just behind some of the biggest resorts there are small encampments where people live together seemingly in support of each other, and commute back and forth to the beach for work. There were a few homeless people, and lots of trash washed down from the beaches, but there was still an undeniable beauty to it all. I snuck past a few barriers and got some up close shots of boats, a small gathering of people, and a shrine under a bridge.

Phuket, simply put, is disneyland for adults. It is a must see destination for anyone of drinking age, and highly recommended by an average traveler such as myself.

Screenshot_20170626-193810

Chiang Mai

That wild, uncharted but actually safe destination in Asia you imagine in your head…where elephants roam, there are a million beautiful temples to pretend you are a tomb raider, the insects are as big as cats, and there’s something clawing at the door of your bungalow at night…that’s Chiang Mai! Check out what I did, and how you can have the same experience too.

Chiang Mai is a small town in the northern part of Thailand which initially I was completely disinterested in visiting. I wanted to spend my entire trip gallivanting around Bangkok, but, at the behest of my much more traveled friend, I was willing to shell out the 50 or so dollars…yes…50 dollars, for a flight to the city of temples. What I found was a hidden gem, something people like me only experience in a video game or maybe a good Netflix documentary.

The city feels in disarray, you can’t tell when you are in parts where people actually live, where there is commerce and entertainment, and where it is wild and rural. We had a bit of trouble getting transportation situated from the airport, but once we did, we were off to go on a tour of the larger temples in Chiang Mai.

I find it always impossible to describe the opulence of places of worship, and being a westerner, the deep need that I have to respect what i may find unusual or strange. Such as removing shoes, or the necessity to wear pants before walking into certain temples. Either way, the experience changed my life in ways I can’t quite put into words, but the photos may help. I was enchanted, enamored, and enraptured. There is a selfless dedication to one’s spirit and well being of others, and an obedience to divinity that I have never seen before. Chiang Mai captured this westerner’s soul.

After a day perusing the city, and having lunch and dinner, Teon and I decided to make the long journey to our Airbnb, The Chai Lai Orchid Elephant Sancuary. I found this special refuge for us to lodge in, complete with our own hut with running water and a mosquito net over the bed.

What we got, was more than I could have ever imagined. We arrived late, but not too late to admire the grounds before sunset turned to complete darkness. Our room was the size of a modest hotel room, completely wood, with a giant hole in the floor and a bed. There was also a bathroom. Sidenote, bathrooms in Thailand have a water hose you’re supposed to use to spray your………hole……clean, lol, instead of using toilet paper. Naturally, I found this fascinating and oddly perfect.

After assuring my travel buddy of every possible insect and animal sound being benign, I fell asleep. Awakening to complimentary breakfast and some quality time with the elephants. We got to walk with them, ride them, help bathe them, and take several photos. The grounds of the elephant sanctuary were well kept, and provided plenty of areas for the elephants to rest and rehabilitate outside of their daily “jobs”. There were also lots of snakes, frogs, insects and stray dogs to play around with. There were river raft rides as well, and lots of great hiking opportunities which I indulged in.

trek

Chiang Mai is as good as it gets.  A tremendous value for your trip, as long as you are willing to walk and forego a few luxuries, you can have an awesome outdoor experience.

20170418_150916

Thailand: Bangkok

Everyone is going to Thailand, …everyone is going to Thailand….EVERYONE IS GOING TO THAILAND! Here’s why, and what I did when I was there!

Thailand, specifically Bangkok and Phuket, are part of a unique mecca in southeast asia. Thailand offers a feeling of open minded, private, exotic luxury and adventure at an approachable cost. There is also a great allure for those of us who love to wander; beaches, temples, jungles, parks, bars, eateries, hiking, clubs, and modern and unchanged cities. Thailand is also VERY budget friendly. If you can get the flight,… and then suffer the flight, you can enjoy quite a bit with your dollar on this trip. Thailand really does make a compelling destination, I highly recommend it. I flew into Bangkok first, then skirted around the country over the following 8 days, finishing off back in Bangkok. First, a look at Bangkok…

Bangkok, from my perspective, is a big city set in a jungle. Immediately you notice the anonymity that you feel in cities like New York, LA, Paris and London; you are just a speck in a massive community and network of tons of people. There is a hybridization of man and nature that exists here; wildlife and nature are both pest and ornament, welcomed and trimmed back. The heat and thick air are unyielding, digging into every part of you. Its important to note that, culturally, Bangkok gives you a similar experience to big cities worldwide. You get the same bars, nightlife, shops, taxis, foot traffic and stress that you experience anywhere else.

I met up with my best friend Teon in Thailand, we stayed in an air bnb and spent a total of 3 days in the city before skipping to another part of the country. The gay friendly parts of the city are easy to find, and nobody seemed to really notice us at all. As i’ve observed in other parts of the world, your appearance and lifestyle are far less important than the amount of money you are willing to spend. The first night we enjoyed a late dinner before heading to bed.

The next day, we explored the city. I made sure to check out the mall, a few close-by temples, and we went out that night to dance and have a few drinks. It should be noted that Bangkok is commerce CENTRAL! The streets are literally lined with street vendors, selling anything you could possibly want. I saw everything from yeezys to bat blood for sale. There are also tons of food carts and trucks, I indulged in everything I could that didn’t have pork in it.

I’d give Bangkok a solid 6 out of 10. You aren’t missing too much, Thailand’s other cities are far more entertaining and alluring on many different fronts. Bangkok feels like the perfect place for a far away business meeting and night of familiar but novel revelry.

20160624_054408

Puerto Vallarta ii

Puerto Vallarta is for the traveler who wants a predictable resort experience, but not the same place all your friends have been to. Its a beginner course in a foreign language, baby steps on steep terrain, the first bite of a familiar dish at a brand new restaurant. It is very gay friendly, family friendly, elderly friendly, people of color friendly….just damn friendly. However, if you want to see what the real Puerto Vallarta looks like, it can be a bit jarring and shallow. I couldn’t ignore the halo affect my US passport afforded me, and the appearance of the outlying areas forever changed my perspective on resort travel. My first international vacation solidified my desire to see the world outside of my NYC bubble, and understand the ways other people enjoy their lives.

img_1877

SO, how much to sneak away to Mexico for a quick and easy weekend on the pacific beach, surprisingly little.

This was my first international trip, so I had to get my passport…and because i’m the worst planner ever, I had to rush it at the last minute. I also purchased my flight relatively late, and likely missed out on travel deals had I looked months in advance. My friend Brian set up the resort lodging, split everything accordingly, and just gave me a deadline to turn in money…thank God for good friends lol. The US dollar, predictably, spends well in Mexico, and we took ample advantage of the economic advantage. The jeep rental, nights out, and expenses while scooting around were all very manageable.

rushed passport: 135 +80

flight : 397

resort: 260

jeep rental: approx 80 per person

travel expenses: approx 100

total cost:… 1,052 

Eh, not the cheapest trip, but, I’m very confident you could make Puerto Vallarta happen for around 700 dollars if you have your passport already. The major expense here will be in the resort stay, so make sure you do your research and choose one you really like…or find a nice airbnb!

Puerto Vallarta

My very first trip outside of the country was to a relatively small tourist town in Mexico called Puerto Vallarta. The city is just outside of Jalisco, near Guadalajara, and is a post-popular escape for travelers who are looking for a slightly affordable, left of center Mexico excursion. Travelling with a few friends, I went for a 4 day absconder.

Puerto Vallarta, the part readily accesible to tourists, has little to offer to the naturalist and outdoorsman. Everything is centered around the many resorts, and the few local ventures that careful tourists would dare sneak off the resort to visit. My friends and I, however, could not help but be enchanted by the golden Mexican sun, and my audacity to explore the city.

We lounged on the beach, drank at the resort, lounged some more, and drank a LOT more. The fun really started when we decided to go on a 4-wheel ATV tour of a local mountain. We scaled up the sheer cliffs with a guide, and rode around for what seemed like hours until we stopped at a tequila distillery for snacks and refreshment. I was covered in golden mud and gasoline fumes by the end of it, pure heaven. The ride through the mountains showed me the lush vegetation that exists in this part of mexico. The plant life grows unabridged and large, similar to something you’d see in a Jurassic Park movie. Its in direct contrast to the town outside of the main resort area of Puerto Vallarta. This was my first exposure to areas that aren’t as developed as the USA, and my inspiration for seeing the unseen whenever I travel to a different place. It forced me to accept that I am priviledged, was uninformed, and had a lot to learn about the way people coexist with or trample over nature in and around the world.

The next day, we rented a Jeep, and drove around Jalisco and Puerto Vallarta at our own leisure. With no set destination in mind, we found ourselves again in the jungle, this time looking for a waterfall that street signs were slowly leading us to. My friend Joshua handled the driving, Brian navigated, and I was awestruck at the local culture ravaged by tourism. So many small shops and smiling faces that grew less frequent as we ventured further out of the bounds of resort-world. I was fascinated by what started to look more and more like normal life in this area; families living together to support each other, lots of consumption of american products, relaxed lifestyles, and an unshakable sense of community.

We soon found the waterfall, snapped a few photos, and made our way back to the resort.

What i’ve left out so far is how unbelievably gay friendly Puerto Vallarta is…and this is coming from someone who’s paranoid and was deeply anxiety ridden at the time of this trip. I almost couldn’t board my flight due to a breakdown, exacerbated by some special brownies, but that’s another story. I felt completely at ease in PVR, but also aware that we were being catered to for our dollar. We found the “gay area” on the beach, which was of course restricted by how much money you could afford to spend there to access it and its treasures. Different bars, resorts, and restaurants own certain parts of the beach, and in the gay friendly area, you had to rent chairs or purchase drinks to sit comfortably in that location. It goes without saying that there seemed to be no local gay people here, just more tourists trying to see and be seen and the hired community facilitating that. The nightlife was above average, but heavily catered towards sex-tourism and raucous college debauchery unfortunately. We found an amazing drag show at a club, and a great dance party at another, but nothing trumps the strip club…of which name I cannot recall. It was a divisive moment for my party, as I wanted to stay and dance around with the guys, but my friends weren’t really having it.

lrm_export_20170110_075206
the blue chairs section

 

 

 

Warrensburg II

Sometimes, the spirit needs a break from the monotony of New York City life, and recourse from the havoc and noise of the urban element. What better escape than to the actual backyard of the city, Warrensburg NY. It’s only 3 hours away, and nestled in the rural woods that are home to bears, beavers, and the mighty Hudson river.

The home we rented had access to several trails through the woods, a mushroom farm, a treehouse, and scenic views of the Hudson river.Other amenities included several patios, and a sun room where I could lay out and sober up before my treks through the wilderness. It was well worth the split cost.

I have broken down the cost of the schoolhouse rental I stayed in, the zipcar I took, and the cost of food and entertainment over this 4 day trip.

zipcar – 225

outfit – 160

food -60

airbnb – 120

Total cost for a quick weekend getaway = 565.

Totally worth it if you ask me, and although you can just as easily spend 500 on a flight to a warm tropical destination, you could pour that money into the local economy and help in sustaining the great American wilderness just outside the door. Plus, in visiting Warrensburg for a wedding celebration, I got an invitation to a free party and nights of fun with friends. Morning hikes through the woods, observing local chipmunks, and relaxing on the grounds of the schoolhouse were priceless.

 

Warrensburg

I was invited to a wedding celebration party in may of 2016, and I couldn’t help but to also seize the opportunity to go hiking in the backwoods of upstate New York. The event location was in Warrensburg; a scenic small town of about 4 thousand people, in the northeastern part of the state. I coordinated with friends who wanted to share an airbnb, rented a car with another, and drove 3 hours to escape the city life for a weekend.

What resulted was a few days of scenic bliss. I got to test out my new gopro hero 4 camera, enjoy some quality hiking and outdoors exploration, and indulge in some glamping fun with really cool people.

 

Hawaii, part iii

20160311_120034

The biggest component to travel for me has always been cost, my journeys have to be budgeted and affordable. I am terrible at managing money, but I am great at winging it and saving a few bucks. I will suffer through long layovers, cheap cabs, inconvenient living arrangements (to an extent), as long as I can get to where i’m going and spend my energy and money at the destination. I want to share how much I spent on my Hawaii trip, in hopes that it will inspire someone who perhaps has never traveled to treat themselves to a life changing experience, without worrying about the anticipated cost.

Flight -590 (kayak)

Lodging -0 (you could estimate approx 200 a night if you rent a room)

Uber -100 (several trips)

Luau -100 (cheaper options)

Sandbar trip contribution -60

Food -300

my total= ~1200 for 1 person for 5 days.

The cost of the trip was heavily augmented by cutting expenses staying with a friend, and being driven primarily by her. I will definitely say, Hawaii isn’t a cheap trip….and this is coming from a New Yorker. It is nearly impossible to avoid inflated costs, as common items found in the mainland USA are shipped to Hawaii, and you have to pay for the convenience of having it available. This total also includes transport to and from airports, and expenses while travelling.

Overall, on a scale of 1-10, i’d rate Hawaii as an 8 for value as a single person travelling. 

The beauty of the natural scenery, the available nightlife and mainstream culture, the ability to saturate yourself in the native culture, and the abundant wildlife and outdoors expeditions make it extremely worthwhile!

20160312_122912

**A quick piece of advice, research is the key to success when travelling. Research the cost incurred, research where you are going, ask people who have been before, …you can never have too much information.

Hawaii, part II

So, in my humble opinion, Hawaii is a MUST see destination for nature enthusiasts. There are miles of natural raw landscapes to take in. Tall tree covered mountains, crystal blue pacific waters with gorgeous sandy beaches, popular trails for hiking, and plenty of picturesque land to inspire you to seize the outdoor day. If you are into nightlife as well, Honolulu has you covered. There are tons of bars, lounges, and clubs that cater mostly to tourists and transplant locals.

20160311_102645
Kamehamehaaaaaaaaaa

I spent the entirety of my trip on the island of Oahu. It’s the most populated, third largest island, and the easiest and cheapest to access for a trip. For a mainland comparison, think of Honolulu and Waikiki as a posh sun drenched open downtown area, surrounded by a mixed appearance suburban area. High end shopping, beautiful people, late 90s styled construction and little evidence of the wild world around it. I used uber to get around this area, and avoided as many tourist traps as I could. The whole area has that “veneer” that I like to avoid. A smooth shiny finish that has scrubbed away local people and wildlife in lieu of commerce and urban expansion, but its a necessary evil i’m guessing. My friends and I partied all night in Honolulu at a few local mega-clubs, names of which I can’t recall. I couldn’t make it to any gay venues, but I got asked on an awesome date while I was there so I thought I’d satisfied that quota. We also spent time at a cigar lounge, had dinner at a few chain restaurants, and brunched at trendy hotspots.

What my fellow outdoor travel enthusiasts should do…

  1. Go to the sandbar! Its a natural wonder and you can rent a pontoon boat to enjoy it. The sandbar is a naturally occurring area on the windward side of Oahu, where the tide recedes back into the pacific ocean and reveals a small submerged island of sand. Its surrounded by water in Kaneohe bay, and becomes the perfect spot for pseudo-isolated relaxation. We brought drinks, food, music, and games to play on the boat. I of course went walking out as far as I could on the sandbar, until the point which I realized I was literally standing at the drop-off for the pacific ocean. It was one of those sobering moments when you realize you are staring into the vast void of something much bigger and more important than you.
  2. Hike Koko Head trail. It’s a steep incline rated as moderately difficult, definitely not for beginners, the out of shape, or faint of heart. There were points at which I was crawling on all fours to scale the mountain. It’s built on top of an old cart transit system that was used to move cargo down the side of the mountain. It resembles train tracks that you use as steps to climb all the way up. I climbed it in the middle of the day in march, and I sweated buckets. Bring water, and definitely some music to push you through the tougher parts. This is the perfect activity for those that want to challenge themselves physically, prefer dynamic engaging cardio, or want to compete against their friends if you go in a group. There is no better feeling than surpassing others on the trail while listening to Formation, and checking out the amazing views around you. The view from the top is an almost unblocked 360 degree view of the entire island, well worth the average 40 minutes to complete the climb. I took an uber to the trail, as it’s kind of far away from where I was staying, and then walked afterwards to a little strip mall and had Korean food with a friend to recover. Perfect early day activity.
  3. Hike Diamond Head trail. This trail is the one you can bring your mom and aunt that like to walk with you. It’s challenging in a few spots, but overall easy. The trail is more manicured, and has rails and concrete steps in spots to help you along the way. It is tourist HEAVY, so brace yourself for some traffic if you go at primetime. It also costs a small fee to hike, as it’s considered a park area. Try to make it there early in the am, so you can catch the sunrise over the ocean.
  4. Go to the North Shore. The beaches in Oahu are abundant, and if you’re like me, there is nothing better than roasting under the sun and getting as dark as humanly possible. We had an acai bowl to start our day, which if you’re also into fitness is a perfect pairing for a protein packed breakfast, and made our way down Kamehameha way to lay out on the banzai pipeline. We saw whales off in the distance, and the water and sky were perfectly picturesque. We also found a more secluded beach and grabbed a fattening lunch of garlic and butter drenched shrimp over rice, and relaxed all day. There were  cliche surfer guys with long sun-bleached hair, and a local celeb taking photos in a line of bathing suits on the beach. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a honeymoon, or just a lazy outdoor afternoon with your mate.
  5. Go to a Luau. This activity is better suited to the culture enthusiasts. When my friend suggested we do this, I was deeply hesitant because I didn’t want to participate in anything that was a mockery of what traditional Hawaiian people do. I preferred to go to a real fire-pit, pig roasting in the earth Luau, or nothing at all. However, the one we went to which was inside a theme park styled activity center, was amazing. They took a great deal of time to describe the Hawaiian tradition, used native Hawaiian actors and actresses, and talked at great length about the history of the islands and how they were settled by different cultures over the course of history. They also spoke about the impact of colonization, and the history of the United States occupying the land.