Monday, December 29, 2008

Back in the Land of the Free

Despite the long lapse here in blog entries, I do have full intentions of keeping the blog going indefinitely, even if they are a bit more irregular. So Joo and I arrived safely back into the U.S. on December 9. Considering the current political administration rife with growing anti-immigration legislation, we were a bit nervous re-entering the country after five months. Of course we had done our legal research and knew that we were allowed up to six months of travel on JooYeon's green card, but you never know. Thankfully, and completely unexpectedly, the immigration official assigned to us just happened to grow up in a missionary family in South Korea and was fluent in Korean (and loved Koreans) so it went very smoothly. Our friends Wes and Jenny were waiting for us with huge hugs at the Chicago airport and we collapsed in our bed that night with a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

The Christmas spirit was in full swing at the Strickler residence as Craig (Wes' dad) had been playing Christmas music in the store since early November and we jumped right in with caroling, attending an elementary Christmas musical, and of course Christmas cookies!

The Strickler household is somewhat of a flowing intentional community with people always coming and going. Jenny's kids were there and impressed us with their musical and artistic skills.

And we also enjoyed the ongoing Monday night philosophy group where a different speaker is invited in each week to speak to the crowd of 15-20 Kokomonians. This week was Reverend Lee, a pastor who talked about Kwansaa, an African American holiday that falls right after Christmas and is intended to remind them about their African roots in terms of cuisine, stories, and values. One value I found particularly interesting was his description of cooperative economics. For example, growing up in his neighborhood everyone on the block shared their tools, their utilities, and their services. It was refreshing to hear them discuss several subjects in a positive light, brainstorming how they could infuse a cultural spirit into the "dying" town of Kokomo (as rated by Forbes).

I was in a peaceful state of ecstasy, just being back. As much as I may some times be at odds with certain American governmental policies, I have to admit that there are many many things I love about the American culture. Being back around good friends like the Stricklers (and Jenny) filled me with a sense of love and I had several quality "family conferences" with Wes out in the hot tub to catch up on the past six months. Joo was elated with the cleanliness, comfort, and convenience (such as having a laptop to work on our translation assignments instead of rushing around to cybercafes in an unknown city at midnight). One thing that was a high for both of us was the ability to eat exactly what we wanted to, which was rarely the case on our travels (for instance, if we wanted to maintain a low-sugar diet, eat lots of fresh vegetables, or mix certain foods from various parts of the world).

One crucial choice about living in America (or anywhere really) is whether to actively pursue a healthy lifestyle or fall into a routine of sloth. We're provided with a wealth of opportunity - plenty of public nature to exercise in safely, loads of healthy food and drink options in the stores, and little clubs and seminars on all sorts of healthy practices. In our case, we took a lovely walk through the forest for starters...
Jalen was amazed to catch a sight of Wes' superhuman rock heaving powers...
After years of practicing yoga, Jenny is starting to actually teach and so Joo and I were more than happy to sit in on a few of her classes. Weston is an expert vegetarian chef and so we took full advantage of his cooking. I also attended a meditation meeting with Wes and Tammy (his mom) at the house of Krishna, a very sociable guy from India who lives down the street. And let's not forget the mental health to be gained through laughter which we did plenty of...
We also indulged in some raw entertainment like a batman movie marathon. In general, it just felt good to be back and allow our five months of South American adventures to melt into a pool of memories, always waiting for us whenever we decide to take a swim :)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Final Sagas in Central America

I've already written a couple entries about our final week in Costa Rica with Heather (or rather, I wrote one and Heather wrote one) and so this will mostly be a picture highlight of some of our final times before we returned to the U.S. Throughout our trip, we spent a lot of time in the jungle, city, desert, mountains, and lakes but not much time on the beach. So we were more than delighted to sprawl out on the sands of Montezuma for a couple days with Heather...

Nearby the beach, there was reportedly a waterfall, and so we hiked through the forest a bit to reach it. It turned out to be quite an exciting experience as it was possible to climb up behind the waterfall and dive through it!

After a long day of travel, we arrived in Monteverde where Joo repeatedly urged Heather and I to "do a zipline." We eventually agreed and signed up for some Extreme Tour. When we arrived, Joo was shocked by the fact that we had signed up not for a single zipline, but for 14 ziplines, free fall rappelling, and a Tarzan Swing. Nevertheless, a fun time was had by all (including our new friend Ray) as we zoomed across vast ravines filled with lush vegetation...

Not to say that they weren't some scary moments...

And so, we packed up our bags, killed our parasites, and said goodbye to the continent of many colors...

Overall, our five months of frolicking around South and Central America were a wonderful experience for Joo and me (or "educational" as she says). We learned a lot about various lifestyles, cultures, and of course each other. It was also a treat to start the trip with some friends and her relatives and finish it with Heather... in this way we could both sense the feeling that we are fortunate to be part of the other's family.
We also compiled a top ten list of things we were looking forward to back in America...
10. Eating salads and raw vegetables (without fear of parasites)
9. Cooking with an oven
8. Washing our clothes in a machine (as opposed to by hand)
7. Not worrying about our backpacks being safe or belongings stolen
6. Having ways to DRY our clothes (which became quite a smelly problem as we entered the rainy season towards the end of the trip and there were no drying machines)
5. Having our personal laptop to work on translation assignments instead of depending solely on the unpredictable hours and electricity (and even existence) of internet cafes
4. No IBBs (Imaginary Bed Bugs)
3. Driving in our own car (mostly because WE controlled our own safety instead of any random macho driver out to prove that he was the fastest bus driver in the land)
2. FREE WATER! (We calculated that we spent more money on buying water than we did on our plane tickets home)
1. Relationships (After countless hellos and goodbyes, it's always nice to come home to a place where you can see the same people every day)
Those said, we did have a beautiful time in South America, as is evidenced by our top 100 list of favorite memories from the trip. Alas, my fingers and eyes are too tired to type all of them out, so you'll have to ask about those in person when you next see us... until then... CIAO CIAO!
P.S. By the way, just because we're back in the U.S. doesn't mean our yearlong honeymoon is over; we still have 3 months left!!! :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Heather's Wild and Wonderful Adventure

(written by Heather)
What an honor to join these traveling honeymooners on the last leg of their journey! As this was my first time backpacking in a developing country, Daniel and Joo's discernment and guidance along the way was essential to my survival, and they kept me from having to break into my stash of immodium even once through the week ("I wouldn't eat that if I were you").

Learning about the country in preparation for the trip, I was facsinated to discover that Costa Rica has not had an army for over half a century, and as a result is not as impoverished as other Central American countries. And if its rated in terms of its beauty alone, it very well may be one of the riches countries in terms of landscape and mother nature. From the clean beaches of Montezuma, to the clean air and rainbows of Monteverde's cloud forrests, my nature quota was filled for the year!
Add this to the richness of the flavors and colors of food there, and you can see why tourism makes up about a fourth of the countries income... fresh fish, mouth puckering fruit drinks, locally grown coffee, fried plantains, etc. I can't say a whole lot about the people of the land themselves, Ticos, partly because my interaction was limited due to my stale spanish, and partly because so much of our interaction was with other foreigners who had either relocated to live the "pure life" or were traveling like ourselves. The culture of life among backpackers themselves intrigued me, and I found it to be a trusting, caring (and daring) community...
There are times where survival wouldn't be possible without the aid of a fellow traveler, and I loved and was challenged by this aspect of the trip. Thank you Daniel and Joo Yeon for letting me experience life with you as a traveler, and for creating an adventure with me equal to those I've heard so much about in the past (see Daniel's blog below)!

And now that I've felt the weight of your backpacks after months of travel, I will cherish all the more any souvenir you have ever made room for in your pack...the true gift is what happens in-between the purchase and actually recieving it! Adios!