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Costa Rica

July 19, 2008

Filed under: review,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 10:19

My wife, daughter, and I visited Costa Rica last week and part of this week. We spent our time in the western half of the country near Playa Hermosa and Lake Arenal. Our previous visit to the country was 11 years ago, so the trip served as a reminder of how much Costa Rica has to offer. The following are facts about the country and its people.

  • It takes about 4.5 hours to travel from San Jose to the northwest coast, which is about 300 km (186 miles). A similar distance takes about 2.5 hours on an Interstate highway in the U.S. and 1.5–2 hours on the autobahn in Germany. A main (two-lane) highway stretches across the length of the country from the southeast to the northwest.
  • The Eco Lodge Hotel, located near Lake Arenal, was created as a pilot in Latin America using economical development from the World Bank. It was formed to preserve the environment and offer a rich ecotourism program. Eco Lodge kept 218 hectares of primary rain forest as a private reserve and is a pioneer in conservation and eco-friendly adventure sports. We spent three nights at the lodge.
  • A community of about 600 Maleku Indians in Costa Rica is working to preserve its tradition, culture, and language. The Eco Lodge has formed a partnership with the Maleku people to help with its efforts.
  • Canopy tours by zip line (cables, pulleys, and harnesses) originated in Costa Rica. The Eco Lodge was among the first to offer it. Zip lining has become popular in many regions of the world, including North America and Africa.
  • A pure form of Spanish is the primary language throughout much of the country. Relatively few people from Costa Rica can speak English fluently.
  • Costa Ricans are friendly and helpful and the country is a safe place, but petty theft (i.e., pick pocketing and car theft) is a problem in many areas.
  • More pineapple is exported from Costa Rica than from anywhere else in the world.
  • Arenal Volcano is one of the world’s most active. It erupts once every nine minutes, on average, and can be seen and heard from 30 miles away. It is the rainy season in Costa Rica (an understatement), so clouds and fog were frequent, but it cleared for a couple hours while we were near the mountain and we saw impressive activity from the volcano’s spout.
  • According to Wikipedia, Costa Rica ranks 5th in the world in the 2008 Environmental Performance Index, up from 15th place in 2006. In 2007 the government of Costa Rica stated that it hopes to be the first country to become carbon neutral by 2021.

Riding Rockets

July 7, 2008

Filed under: entertainment,life,review — Terry Wohlers @ 11:41

Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Mike Mullane chronicles much of his life leading up to his three shuttle missions into space. An engineer friend, Boris Fritz of Northrop Grumman, highly recommended the book. He said, “I picked it up and couldn’t put it down.” Boris and I heard Mullane speak at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ RAPID conference in Chicago, Illinois in May 2003. Mullane has appeared on major television shows and is an outstanding motivational speaker, but he is an even better writer.

Nearly every paragraph gripped my attention with fascinating insight and vivid detail. Mullane recounted countless stories from decades ago as if they happened yesterday. He must have kept a log or journal over the years, thinking that he may someday write about his days as an astronaut. Late in the book, he mentioned that he looked forward to writing assignments in school, suggesting that he had aspirations of writing. Most people would not be able to recall enough detail to fill 360 pages. Mullane did it and made it incredibly interesting.

Mullane didn’t hold back much in the book and he had me laughing out loud several times. His story about getting sized for a urine collection device was hilarious. He talked a lot about an astronaut’s life that included enormous highs and lows, saying good bye to his wife, the misery of waiting for a launch, and seemingly endless delays, as well as parties, pranks, and encounters with celebrities. He was brutally candid and not afraid to tell it like was, even if his words offended others. Mullane’s comments emphasized how much astronauts live on the edge and often flirted with death. His remarks on the female astronauts were intriguing. Through much of the book, he criticized NASA management for sharing so little information, deliberately keeping him and other astronauts in the dark for years.

If you’re looking for some very good, entertaining summer reading, get this book. I promise, you won’t want to put it down. And, you don’t need to be an engineer, scientist, or “techie” to enjoy it. I give Riding Rockets five stars.