Friday, March 30, 2012

Photo Friday: Downtown San Diego

New idea for the blog: Photo Fridays! And for the first Photo Friday post...

This picture was taken on April 30, 2011 - the first weekend me and Ignas spent in San Diego together. We had just finished eating at Joe's Crab Shack and saw this when we walked outside. It was definitely a photo op moment. Ignas snapped this picture using his S95 camera and his favorite tripod: my head.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mauricio aka Our Daihatsu Terios 4WD Rental Car

Our sexy beast in front of Arenal Volcano.
Before the trip, I was completely against renting a car... but that will be for another blog post. Today, I'm going to tell you that we did rent a car for our trip and his name was Mauricio! We picked up Mauricio, our Daihatsu Terios 4WD, as soon as we landed in Liberia. I was hoping to do some driving on the trip but unfortunately, Mauricio was a stick shift so the driving was left to the boys. Since I can't tell you much about how this thing actually drives, I'll tell you about what it was like to have a rental car in Costa Rica. Driving around Costa Rica was definitely an experience in itself, and I was just a passenger.

A side view of our bad boy.
First of all, there are no addresses or street names. Directions are given using landmarks and respective distances. This is the "address" of our first hostel: North of the church, next to the post office, second floor... Yup, seriously.

A dynamic duo: Travis the driver and Ignas the navigator.
The signs for directions were often ambiguous and it would always be a group effort to decipher their meanings. For example, we would come to a fork and there would be a sign on the right side of the road immediately before the fork. The sign would have our destination and a "left arrow" but we had to interpret whether that meant to take the left road or to take the road to the left of the sign. This was especially difficult when we drove at night, which we did a lot of despite all of the warnings I read about. Luckily, whenever we were at a completely loss, local passersby would point out the way. It really made me appreciate our overhead signs in LA that always point in one direction: downwards onto the correct road.

Also, while driving around Costa Rica, you will quickly be introduced to the "Costa Rican massage," and it isn't a pleasant one. Most of the roads, if you can even call them that, are unpaved, rocky, and insanely bumpy... like possibly-hitting-your-head-on-the-car-ceiling kind of bumpy. Hence, the "massage" you will feel from sitting in the car. We drove around cliffs, through the back country and we also forded rivers. (I'm proud to say we literally forded the Rio Grande! I'll post a video of this later.) This definitely added to the sense of adventure.

Of all the rivers we forded, this one was probably the most shallow...
In retrospect, I'm very glad we had Mauricio throughout the trip. It made things extremely convenient and it allowed us to fulfill our craving for exploration to the fullest. Two final tips: get full coverage and bring a good road map. Yes, BRING one. The owner of our first hostel saved us by giving us his and I don't know what we would've done without that thing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Magisto: An Automatic Online Video Editor

I've loved making movies ever since I was a kid and I always envision the perfect video/slideshow/montage all the while I'm on a trip. Between the both of us, me and Ignas have 5 cameras:
  • His Canon PowerShot S95
  • His GoPro HD Hero 2
  • His Canon EOS Rebel T3i Digital SLR
  • My iPhone 4S
  • My GE E1486TW
We always have at least one of these whenever we go anywhere (obviously, my phone is permanently equipped). But when we go on a trip, we bring at least 3 cameras and take tons of photo/video. Back in the day, I edited videos using two VCR's. Luckily, technology's come a little further since then.

For those of you with plenty of footage and little time to tinker with a video editing program, let me introduce you to Magisto. Magisto says that it's a video editor but it's more like a video maker, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Here's how it works.

After signing up for a free account, making a video is extremely easy. All you have to do is select the footage you want Magisto to make a video from, give the movie a title and then add a soundtrack. After your videos are uploaded, Magisto will automatically detect the "good" footage and edit them to make a movie. That's it! And the best part is that it's free!

I've made quite a few videos using Magisto but this one is definitely my favorite. It literally took me 2 minutes to create this video. The footage is from our Hawaii trip in September 2011 and I think the video does well to show how awesome Magisto can be. (Other info: videos were taken with the S95 and the song is called "Sunshine Girl" by J BOOG.)

After watching that amazing video, you may be thinking that Magisto is a dream come true. Unfortunately, there are several limitations.

First of all, you can only upload up to 600 MB or 16 video files, whichever limit you hit first. With footage from an S95 camera, I always hit the 600 MB which is about 4-5 videos.  Second, it takes forever and a day to upload your videos to Magisto. The Magisto website says that there are several reasons for this, mainly your own internet connection. But I've used Magisto for both home and work purposes and it's been painfully slow on both connections. So yes, it took me 2 minutes and a few clicks to make the video above but I literally had to wait a few hours for the videos to be uploaded and then processed into a final movie. (I always make Magisto videos right before bed so that I could watch the final movies first thing in the morning.)

There's another limitation to Magisto that I want to point out but this one can actually be fixed with a little extra effort. As I said, you choose the videos Magisto takes footage from but that's the extent of your power. After that, it's out of your hands and let me tell you, Magisto's definition of "good footage" is not always good. One time, I uploaded a relatively long video of Ignas swimming in a river. Somewhere in the middle of this clip, a random photographer guy also gets in the frame as he enters the river. Well, Magisto thought this was award-winning footage and decided to include this stranger for a majority of the final movie. After waiting hours for uploading and processing, I was definitely not happy after seeing the final result.

Fortunately, you can easily avoid this problem by screening your footage and removing the clips that you do not want Magisto to use. Trimming your footage with a simple video editor will ensure that only "good" footage, with "good" being defined by both you and Magisto, is included in your final movie.

In conclusion, I would definitely recommend Magisto for a fun and easy way to make short videos but it will never make the perfect video/slideshow/montage that I always envision during a trip.

P.S. Use the Magisto website and not the iPhone app - the quality is drastically reduced when using the app!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Our 9-Day Itinerary

Our trip to Costa Rica was the first itinerary I had ever planned. All of my prior vacations had been planned by someone else (e.g. cruises and family road trips). On top of that, I knew very little about the country when we booked our flights. With the incredible deal that we knew could disappear at any moment, it was a buy-now-plan-later decision to vacation in Costa Rica.

To be honest, planning the trip was almost as fun as the trip itself. It had become my hobby to learn everything about Costa Rica, research possible destinations and pick up basic Spanish. I checked out books at the library and read countless blogs and articles online. Then, I began our working document.

Our Google Doc for our Trip

Our Google Doc on Costa Rica was divided into the regions of the country: North Central, Central Valley, North Pacific Coast, Central Pacific Coast, South Pacific Coast, North Caribbean Coast, and South Caribbean Coast. There were two major factors we considered in our outline: 1) the length of our trip and 2) the airport we were flying into. San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, is where most international traffic comes through but we were flying into Liberia airport which is much further north. Not wanting to spend money on domestic flights nor spend too much time traveling, this immediately ruled out the southern part of the country.

My roommate, who had recently spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica, also suggested that we skip San Jose completely. She said that if she had to shorten her trip to a week, she would choose to sacrifice her time in San Jose to see/do other things instead. We agreed, thinking that we would check out the city when we flew into San Jose airport on a future trip.

We also decided to rule out the Caribbean side. We only had enough time to visit one side of the country: Pacific or Caribbean. Since surfing was a must and the best surfing is on the Nicoya Peninsula, the Caribbean would also be added to the future trip to-do list.

Our 9-Day Itinerary for Costa Rica

From then on, it was a matter of connecting the “Must See/Do” with the “Best of Costa Rica” and that revealed the major destinations that would guide our itinerary: Volcan Arenal, Monteverde, and Mal Pais. Mauricio, aka our rental 4wd SUV that we would pick up in Liberia, would take us between destinations.

Between the lack of free time to do further planning (work was crazy for me and insane for Ignas, to say the least) and a craving for spontaneity, this actually ended up being the extent of our planning. Though, the day we were flying out, I did book a hostel for the first night. I wanted to be certain that we had a place to rest after our red eye flight and plan the next move. After that, we would wing the rest.

For the most part, we actually stuck to this itinerary but we also did a lot more than the blue line implies. That will be for the next blog post... :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Costa Rica: The Land of Pura Vida

Rio Celeste, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Pura Vida is the motto of Costa Rica and every aspect of the country proudly embraces this idea. Pronounced "poo-rah vee-dah" (and not "pure-rah vee-dah"), this slogan embodies the easygoing and lighthearted nature of the people. Pura Vida means "full of life" or "good life."

I couldn't have picked a better place to go for my first international trip without mom and dad (I hardly travel, though that's definitely going to change!). Costa Rica is truly a rich coast of volcanoes, rainforests, jungles, rivers, beaches, hot springs, waterfalls, wildlife, characteristic towns and amazing people.

Katy Geissert Library, Torrance, California
It all started when I saw an unbelievable deal for a round trip ticket to Liberia, Costa Rica and before the day was over, our tickets were booked. With six months to plan, we figured there would be plenty of time to iron out the details.

Despite my anticipation for the trip, the months flew by and before I knew it, our trip was two months away. To plan out the itinerary, I went to the library and checked out every travel guide they had on Costa Rica and a few other books on Spanish. My roommate had also recently traveled to Costa Rica and her testimonials were a valuable resource.

Two days prior to our departure, we finally decided upon a rough route for our 9 day trip. On the day of our flight, I booked the hostel for our first night. We decided to wing the rest.

By the time our trip was over, I had fallen in love with the land and everything in it. Costa Rica is a wondrous place that should be on everyone's destination list. A vacation here could be enjoyed by families, couples and groups of friends alike. Furthermore, I would highly recommend Costa Rica if you want to travel on a budget. I have yet to do an official calculation but I would estimate that I spent about $1000 during our whole trip, including the flight (though I realize we had an incredible deal).

Lake Arenal, Costa Rica
Upon our return home, Costa Rica was immediately added to our "must visit again" list. Ironically, I had never considered traveling to Costa Rica prior to seeing the once-in-a-lifetime deal because I hear so much more about other popular travel destinations. Now a week after our trip, I still haven't stopped thinking about how beautiful and extraordinary this place is. I am so thankful that we graced the surface now because we will definitely be coming back, hopefully many times!

Pura Vida!

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