onward & inland

Snorkeling and spending the morning swimming in the Pacific Ocean created a wonderful ending to my time at Playa Hermosa and it was time to head inland. Costa Rica has incredible bio-diversity, but one must leave the serenity of the beach to explore it. I rolled up all my belongings and filled up the backpack, made sure my water bottle was full and checked out of the hotel. Time to jump back in the car for another drive through Costa Rica:

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Here is a map of this days drive:

lafortuna drive

The landscape changed from rather flat to mountainous over the course of a roughly four hour drive. I passed through small towns and drove through so many shades of green I lost count. Here’s a quick view of part of the drive:

The highlight of the drive was a brand new, perfectly smooth paved road! After all of my trip planning and blog reading about travelling in Costa Rica by car, the one thing that always stuck out was how horrible the road conditions are throughout the country. As with anywhere, some parts are worse than others. I can honestly say that the roads in Michigan are worse than anything I encountered on this excursion.

Just over halfway to my destination, and around “just another curve in the road”, this popped into view:

 

Here’s another snapshot of the map. The road was windy and hugged the edge of the lake. Talk about spectacular views!

la guna arenal

I left the beach just after 12p and arrived in La Fortuna just before 4:30p. It was a truly gorgeous drive through hills and mountains with a lake at the base of the view. I had arrived  at my destination: La Fortuna, Gateway to the incredible Arenal Volcano. That’s right I left the beach to go play and explore a volcano. Adventure. Travel.

I checked into the hostel, dropped off a few things and headed out to use up the last hour of daylight. The major attractions were closing up for the day, so I ventured out to find a Butterfly garden. It was clearly noted on the map I had received from the registration desk and it was not clearly noted by any road sign that I ever saw. With sunset and a few rain clouds fast approaching, my choices of activities was dwindling. Adventure travel doesn’t disappoint if you’re curious enough to keep on going. I drove around a bit and ended up here:

         Eco Termales Hot Springs (their photos, not mine)     http://ecotermalesfortuna.cr

 

 

What an incredible find! Natural hot springs!

After a few days at the beach, a long drive and an unplanned, dark evening looming, this was so much more than I expected to find!  There is a fully stocked bar available at the pools, so a Pina Colada or Imperial while you swim is a reality rather than a dream. Towels and a state of the art locker room with showers is available, as is a full service restaurant. That’s right. After my relaxing swim in the pools, I wandered over to the restaurant where a full buffet dinner was waiting. Local cuisine, freshly squeezed juices, and a corner table with a view of the gardens. What a surprise find and a fabulous end to this day! Total price for the natural hot springs, Imperial and dinner? $45.00. Not the cheapest day of the trip, and absolutely worth every penny.

Fully relaxed and ready for a quiet nights sleep, I headed back to my hostel. My accommodations for the night were comfortable and clean, but noisy. I had transferred from a hotel to a hostel and there was a dramatic change in atmosphere. My mornings had began at daybreak and ended quickly after sunset while at the beach. In Costa Rica when the sun goes down and dusk ends, it is pitch black dark outside. There is not 9pm dark and then midnight dark. It’s just black as night as of about 8:30pm. At the hostel, the party began at 9 and ended around 1am. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best night of sleep this trip, but the relaxation from the hot springs made it not seem so bad. Time to start another day…..

 

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just keep swimming

Remember Mirna and her offer of an on-beach massage? Well, she had a friend named Adolfo and Adolfo had a boat. For the first two days, while I was lost in my books on the beach, Adolfo had been trying to charm me into his beach-business: Snorkeling.

Finally, after threats of rain and choppy waters, I woke up to the calmest oceanfront to date and decided what the heck! So, I joined a group of 5 other people and gave into Adolfo’s persistent offers and jumped in the boat. The island shown on the right (the land on the left is the coastline) in the picture  below is surrounded by a reef, which is where we ended up. IMG_7981

 

 

Adolfo explained the names of the beaches that could be seen from the island and pointed to Mexico and Panama as we ventured out towards the island. Once we arrived, he dropped the anchor, handed out snorkles and fins, and told us to jump in! The ocean was perfect swimming temperature and we immediately saw lots of little fishes. It became obvious during the boat ride, that I was the only participant that spoke Spanish and this delighted Adolfo. Once we were all in the water, it became even more evident that I could actually swim. Not doggie paddle and splash around, but actually swim. Seeing this, Adolfo waved for me to follow him and off we went towards the open water and then around the side of the island. I realized we were following the reef and was eager to see what he had in mind. I should note, Adolfo was swimming with a wooden yard stake and I thought maybe that sticking near the guy with the “weapon” was a good idea.

All of the sudden, Adolfo dove down about 10 feet and used the stake to stab one of these: (photo from animalstown.com)

I did not have an underwater camera, and if there was a time for underwater video tapping ability this was it. Adolfo took the now-stabbed- sea urchin and smashed it against the coral reef. Instantly hundreds of fishes came out of nowhere and devoured the now exposed mollusk! I was in the water with them, and I haven’t a clue as to where they all swam from. Wow! So many colors and sizes. Very. Cool.

We continued swimming around the side of the island and Adolfo pointed out a Trumpet Fish and we saw a Polka Dot Sting Ray, a Pacific Reef Eel as well as lots of King Angel Fish, and random other incredibly beautiful little fishes. Here are a few pictures for reference. Regrettably, I did not take any of these shots…..

  (google image search)


 

(google image search)

 

 

 

 

As we made our way back towards the boat, Adolfo dove down again and reached his hand into the reef. I stopped swimming and just waited for him to get his hand bit. Why in the world would you stick your hand into a coral reef?! Well, he’s the local.

After wrestling to try and grab whatever it was, he grabbed a section of that piece of coral and just ripped it off.  He wrestled and tugged for another few seconds and then he finally grabbed what he was looking for:

A Puffer Fish!! As he pulled it out of the coral, it expanded and blew it self up! He tossed it in his hands- end over end- like a volleyball and then, after swimming over to me, he tossed me the fish!! I copied him, and tossed it over and over  in a somersault motion and giggled the entire time! Totally. Awesome.

Side Note: I am the American who has heard nothing about reefs except that WE need to protect them and stop destroying them, and here this local just completely tore off a piece without a second thought. I felt awkward. And then I decided that even if he was doing this to please the silly tourist,  it’s his reef. Costa Rica is his country and he swims in and makes a living from knowing exactly what swims where in that water. If he wants to stick his hand inside a coral reef and pull out a Puffer fish, I am not the judge or the jury. But it was a weird “Oh! That’s not OK!” moment.

We swam back to the boat to show the rest of the group the Puffer fish and then jumped back in the boat. What an awesome 2 hours underwater! Even better, it was only noon on day four and there was another adventure waiting ….

 

 

Rest. Relax. Repeat.

Falling asleep listening to waves crash on the beach, if it could be bottled up and sold as a drug, would be the most potent sleeping pill ever created. At least that’s true for those of us that only know the beach as a vacation destination. Maybe those that grew up around the water feel differently. Regardless, I slept like a baby! Waking up to the concert of birds chirping and more waves crashing was quite the relaxing way to begin a new day.

No agenda. No schedule. One mission: Relax.

I took a long walk on the beach, and then enjoyed a typical Costa Rican breakfast before settling into a beach chair and reading a book. Breakfast was rice, black beans and tomatoes with a fried egg on the side and a cup of coffee that would make Europe proud. After a time – without a watch it could have been one hour or four, and it didn’t matter- a local girl dressed in green scrubs approached me. She wasn’t the first; there had also been offers to buy painted ceramic animals, take a kayak or snorkeling tour and an offer to play on a jet ski, all of which I turned down. It was a little disappointing at first to be bothered while I was trying to relax, and I was surprised that this tourist focused habit was crowding the perfect little beach I had spent so long trying to find. Well, Mirna changed my mind! She was the first one to offer something worth considering, and it started with “you no like it, you no pay.” The offer?  A massage. Sure enough! She had set up a full-size massage table just behind me, tucked in the shade under the palm tree and well within earshot of the crashing waves of the Pacific. 30 minutes for $15.00. Engrossed in my book, I said “maybe a little bit later.” One page later I closed the book, walked over to Mirna and said, “Ok. Yes, please.” What a fantastic decision this turned out to be! Not only was it a great massage, the sound of actual waves crashing and the fresh salty ocean smell far outdid any spa’s attempt at a soundtrack and air freshener. 30 minutes later and the days’ mission was successfully accomplished. Relaxed indeed and it felt so good!

I finished reading my first book, took a nap and started and finished a second book all before dinner. For the booklovers, here are the two titles I read on days 1 & 2: The Book of Speculation, a novel by Erika Swyler & Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier. I recommend both, especially Chevalier’s historical novel. Here are a few pictures of how the day wrapped up, with more storyline below:

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July 2, 2016 ~ Pacific Ocean 
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Una Pina Colada Fresca (Freshly squeezed Pineapple juice and Costa Rican Rum blended with ice.)
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BBQ Master Chef
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Catch of the day: Red Snapper

Rested, relaxed and ready to be do it all over again on day 3. What an amazing day!

 

Plan into Action

Vacation request submitted and approved. House sitter hired. Puppy sitter hired. Time to buy a plane ticket and get outta here! Oh wait, where in the world am I going??

How to pick a destination? Create a list of must haves: Beach, sunset watching opportunities, Spanish speaking, great food, no cell phone service, passport required and some place safe enough I can reasonably travel there on my own.

Europe is too far away for this short 6 day trip and I’ve already been to Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Canada isn’t warm enough and I’ve been to part of that country already. Hawaii is too far away and too expensive and I’ve been there already. Hmmm, how about Central America? It checks off every must have on the list! Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, … Costa. Rica. YES. Now that sounds like a vacation spot!

Costa Rica it is! Let the adventure planning begin. I bought a plane ticket from Nashville to San Jose, non-refundable so there was no chickening out, and started filling in the details. First how to get to the beach from the center of the country, which created another question: which beach? Costa Rica is edged by the Caribbean on the East and the Pacific Ocean on the West. Since sunset watching opportunities nearly topped the list of must haves, the Pacific side edged out the idyllic Caribbean. Back to transportation, rent a car and drive in the foreign country or take a bus by myself and travel through the foreign country? I’m a control freak, so rental car it is. Also, safety matters and a bus had lots of unknowns. Avis Rental Cars exist in Costa Rica, so I reserved a car and was ready for the next stage of planning. I’ll skip the rest of the planning details and get to the fun part…

Destination: Playa Hermosa Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.IMG_8062(Photo Taken July 4, 2016 @ approx. 6:30AM)

What an incredible place! After a 4:30am wake up call, a flight from Nashville to Miami, FL, and then a quick flight down to San Jose, CR and a ridiculous 2 hours to clear customs, and an excursion to find the Avis counter (there isn’t one!), it was finally time to get the party started! Off I was to Playa Hermosa!

You should know, in order to arrive there by car from San Jose, one must successfully drive 4 hours northwest.  Driving in Costa Rica has a reputation for being dangerous, and for good reason! One lane roads wind up and down and around mountains and valleys, and are heavily travelled. Anytime a semi-truck, tour bus and moped are required to share a single lane on a highway, driving becomes a competitive sport. I survived and can tell you that hesitation will kill you. Make a decision – stop or go- and then just do it!! There isn’t time to think about it! Trucks pass busses on the left while motorcycles pass on the right going uphill around blind corners in the dark (because clearing customs wasted 2 hours of daylight, and that meant the second half of the drive was in the dark!). No exaggeration! Thank goodness a the relaxing sound of waves crashing on sand was waiting for me at the end of the drive! Here’s a map of the drive:

Drive 1

And, a clean pillow was waiting for me when I arrived! Here is the hotel  & one of the best towel-animals I’ve seen:

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Time for a great nights sleep… Buenos Noches! I did it- I made it to Costa Rica all by myself, though, I suppose an argument could be made that leaving the U.S.A solo was a bigger accomplishment.

For those of you more interested in the details and the preparation, here are a few other things to note:

++ Hiking Backpack purchased off Craigslist ++ Mandatory trip to REI for Chacos, a waterbottle, and a waterproof backpack cover ++ 3 Target trips to get just the right size little plastic bottles and zip lock baggies to make TSA happy ++ 1 truly awful nights sleep on the eve of the trip ++ 1 Selfie to document the fact that I actually did get up and leave to go on what turned out to be the trip of a lifetime:

selfie

Details of Day 2 coming soon…

Work Hard. Play Hard.

Life took over in the New Year, as so often happens. Whatever resolutions I created are long lost and forgotten about. February was months ago and yet that was the last time I logged in to share a tidbit from life here in Music City. What a few months it’s been! After a tiring and stressful few months, I had a striking revelation. A thought that while simple was brought on by a looming birthday and a fear of life in the proverbial rate race. Here’s what I realized:

I cannot do this for the next 30 years and be happy.

Work Hard. Play Hard. That’s always been the motto. Working hard is easy and it comes so naturally to me. Most often, I truly love a hard days work. It used to be chores on the ranch and now it’s become a trying 14 hour day running a hotel. But, am I working too hard? Or, even just working too much? How long had it been since I took time off work? Was it time to be on vacation again? Could it possibly be that I was so caught up in the JOB that I forgot to LIVE? Yes. Yes. Sadly, yes. It was time for a break!

I’ve always wanted to travel with a companion – boyfriend, husband, girl-friends, someone, anyone- and I never wanted to travel alone. Life has thrown me the “single” lemon and it was time to make lemonade! If I couldn’t travel alone now, before the big birthday, then it was surely going to be a treacherously long next 30+ years. So, I decided it was time for my first solo trip out of the U.S.A. With a vacation on the horizon, work didn’t seem as stressful and the trip planning was fun! Where to go? What to see? What does so-and-so want to oh wait; you’re going alone so it’s up to you! Location, transportation, lodging, adventures, fun, this must be what life is all about.

I’ve just returned from my first trip and cannot wait to share all the stories and pictures and memories with you! Stay tuned via email and the blog for all the updates!