Vandalization is Vanity

Hello, wonderful readers! Today we’re changing it up from some of the travel content I’ve been posting and discussing “Urban Exploration” or “Urbanex.” Forgotten places possess an indescribable beauty and a tremendous amount of history. However, not all people seeking to discover these places appreciate history or beauty. “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints,” is a common motto among urban explorers. Vandals, on the other hand, take everything but the kitchen sink and leave nothing but ruins. Exploring is a harmless hobby, meant to discover, photograph, and memorialize abandoned places. In fact, before the dawn of social media, many explorers didn’t photograph or film their adventures. But the hobby has morphed over the years, and most explorers double as photographers or videographers. The development of social media is great because it allows explorers to share their discoveries with the rest of the world.

Vandalization is detrimental to the urban exploration community for several reasons. First and foremost, vandals ruin everything. There are endless accounts in the community about explorers returning to a spot they discovered only to find the place has been trashed. We’re not talking about quality street art here, we’re talking about crappy tags, dicks, and swastikas. We’re talking about ornate alters and stained glass windows being reduced to rubble and shards. We’re talking about broken bottles, cigarette butts, and broken chairs. These people don’t see the history, beauty, or potential in these abandoned places. All these people see is an opportunity to scream into the void. I remember watching a video by Rare Earth called “The Bay of a Thousand Names,” which is about Grama bay in Albania. In the video, Rare Earth purports that the hundreds of historical inscriptions (aka, carvings in the stone) are people’s attempts to “leave a little reminder that they existed.” I wonder if vandals are simply people trying to leave a little bit of themselves everywhere they go. Moreover, I wonder if vandals don’t want to see history in each spot for fear they will realize the fleeting insignificance of human life.

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Worth it! Los Angeles Winter Trip

Ah, my poor neglected blog! Don’t worry, I’m still around! Like many other bloggers, I’ve caught cant-get-a-post-published-itis. I’m starting a foundation to fight this illness. Together, we can find a cure. Or I could manage my time better, but that would require effort. Unthinkable!

“Los Angeles is completely different city in the summer.” That’s what my (amazing) AirBnB host told me. I wouldn’t know. I visited LA for the first time in third grade on a trip with my mother to see family. While that was during the summer, we didn’t do much sightseeing, and I was too young to remember most of it. The next time I returned would be with my aunt in December of 2014, and I fell in love. Therefore, it’s no surprise that I settled on LA (and San Francisco, but that’s another story for another time) as my winter-break destination. LA as a whole may have a warm weather “vibe” – especially with the palm trees, which by the way, are not native to California – but I think it’s overlooked as a winter-break destination. In fact, it’s kind of my ideal winter oasis: a multi-faceted, unique city with tons of vintage clothes, delicious ice cream, gorgeous parks, and stunning cityscapes – all wrapped up in 60 degree weather.

What can I say? I’m not a fan of the beach. But hiking through mountainous parks, catching a Lyft to a delicious ramen restaurant, and then topping off the night with some roller skating? Or wandering through neighborhoods filled with oddity stores, vintage shops, and vegan ice cream? Sign me up. Moreover, take me back! Please enjoy my top moments and photos in Los Angeles, while I cry over the abundance of schoolwork I already have. If you’re traveling to Los Angeles, hopefully this post can give you some decent, relatively cheap, less-touristy (ish? I’m not a local, obviously) itinerary ideas.

Barnsdall Art Park

I almost excluded this park from our itinerary because we were running short on daylight. That decision would have robbed me of a wonderful experience. This park is free (well, the outside), the view is beautiful, and the architecture is amazing. Several visitors were laid out on the grass enjoying the gentle breeze, amazing cityscape, and warm sunshine. We followed suit.

Fun fact: Barnsdall Art Park is circled around HollyHock House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m convinced that you can see Ennis House, which is also designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, from Barnsdall (not in the view pictured). Don’t quote me on that.

Need I type more?
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La Fortuna & Arenal: Free/Cheap Activities + Photo Spots + Transportation Info + Hotsprings

La Fortuna is a popular tourist area, and therefore not particularly cheap. However, there are still a few free and cheap activities. The difference between Monteverde and La Fortuna is transportation. La Fortuna/Arenal is spread further apart, so getting from location to location can be expensive. This is important! Sure, there are free hot springs, but getting yourself there and back drives up the cost!

Heading to Monteverde? Check out my cheap Monteverde guide.

All locations will be provided in Google Maps!


Some transportation options…

Shuttle pass rumors: Some hostels or hotels have shuttle passes, but getting information on them from TripAdvisor forums can be difficult. I stayed at Hostel La Choza Inn and used their shuttle pass, which was great, but unfortunately it’s been discontinued. I’d check back to see if they offer it again in the future, but don’t hold your breath.

Renting bikes: Check out this post by Costa Rica Travel blog for information about riding bikes. I really doubt you could bike to the free hot springs (plus where would you park the bikes) but you could bike the waterfall, El Salto, and roam around freely. Just be careful.

What about walking? Some locations we were able to walk to. Other locations were too far and/or there was no sidewalk or shoulder on the road. Again, for locations like the free hot springs, the national park, the Arenal lake, etc, you’ll need a shuttle/taxi/private driver.

“I took a public bus from [area here] to La Fortuna, where do I buy bus tickets to my next location?” Red Lava Tours (located right next to the bus terminal), or at least that’s where we purchased bus tickets to get back to San Jose. Public bus info.


Hiking

Mirador El Silencio.

Arenal national park

Unfortunately, I did not visit the national park, so I’ll direct you to another resource here.

Location.
Tripadvisor page.
Cost: 17 USD per person.
Bug spray? Yes!

Mirador El Silencio

I wanted to try something different so we went to Mirador El Silencio. There’s a lake view (which we missed) and a fantastic volcano view, which I’ll get to in a minute. The trail is lots of walking up and down “steps” through a forested area. There is potential to spot wildlife here, but we only saw some pretty butterflies and many lizards. The real treat is the volcano view, which can accessed directly by following the road.

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Monteverde: Free/Cheap Activities + Photo Spots

Despite not being the most well-known desitnation, Monteverde, Costa Rica, still lands on many traveler’s itineraries. As a budget traveler, I’ve culminated a list of all the free (or cheap) activities I personally did while in Monteverde. This isn’t everything we did, just the cheap or free things. Also, since we’re living in the digital nomad era, I’ve included some places I think have good potential for photographers.

Transportation: It may sound crazy, but we walked everywhere (except to activities which included transportation). We stayed in downtown Santa Elena. It is doable, but keep in mind the area is tons of steep hills, so it’s not for those who need accessibility. 

Accommodations: We stayed at Hostel Sloth (private room). I’ll link you to their Tripadvisor page (which also happens to have my review on it). Our room was incredibly clean, and had a mini fridge. The only drawback is there doesn’t seem to be a big social aspect to this place versus some of the other hostels. 

Climate: We visited in mid-August, and much to our surprise (more like, we didn’t research), Monteverde was chilly and windy! To quote some other backpackers at our hostel: “I packed for Hawaii, not Anarctica!” It’s true, you will need a pair of long pants and a windbreaker/rain jacket while here. It’s not objectively cold, but it’s much cooler than you’d expect. 

Note: Location links will be in Google Maps. 


Hiking/Cloud Forrest Access

Cerro Amigos: Cerro Amigos (location link) is the most recommended free thing to do in Monteverde. It’s advertised as a free hike, and it is free, but I’ll warn you that this hike is no joke. There are two small parts of the hike that are relatively flat, but other than that, it’s an hour and a half of steep uphill death.

 The two *REAL* reason to hike Cerro Amigos:

  1. The trails off the peak give you free access to the cloud forest. Check out this blog for the map of the trail. Or you can ask the radio tower watchman. Speaking of which…
  2. There is a jewelry shop at the top run by the radio watchtower man, I believe his name is Carlos. Go visit Carlos. He’s nice (brush up on your Spanish beforehand), and he makes really unique pieces for really affordable prices (cash only, obv).
It’s an hour and a half of this. Steep. 

We saw a Coati…I think.
But it’s not all ugly. 
The top is better on a clear day, but still nice on a cloudy one.
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