Exploring the Green Mountain

IMG_0967The secluded little tourist town of Monteverde lies in a dip of the “Green Mountain,” with battered dirt roads leading to and away from its busy center in all directions. Getting there was an experience in itself.

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My daughter, Vanessa, and I took a shuttle bus from Brasilito – stopping along the way at a beautiful bus stop, where we saw brilliantly colored parrots – eventually transferring to another shuttle bus – and finally being dropped at Nina’s Place – our home away from home while in Monteverde.

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We were fortunate to meet Leeane (an Australian transplant to the US for many years) and her daughter, Olivia – who had just completed two weeks at a sloth preserve in Costa Rica. Mother and daughter were very sweet and interesting, and a taste of home.

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The first word that came into my mind when I saw the surroundings that Monteverde was nestled in between was “primal.” Of course, man has intruded into this wonderland of nature, but far less than in other spots around the world known for their fabulous flora and fauna. Monkeys, sloths, lizards, frogs and all kinds of creatures are literally just a step away as you wander down any of the paths, or even roads, while exploring. Sloths are in high in the trees and only descend about once a week to eliminate waste, so they are a little more difficult to spot but they are there.

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Terrible picture of our coati’s retreat

However, you can be surprised – as we were – by other animals and insects at any moment. We hiked through one of the canopy parks with swinging bridges – not to be missed – when a coati (an animal resembling a large raccoon with a long snout) started down the bridge towards us. We must have been standing still for a few moments because as soon as we excitedly noticed him we started moving slowly towards him and he hastened a retreat.

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Coffee and sugar cane plantation tour

 

There is so much to do here, you could easily spend a week trying out different things – zip-lining, canopy tours, night tours, coffee plantation tours, hiking to local sites like a hollow fichus tree, eating at some of the interesting little coffee shops and restaurants around town or just traipsing from shop to shop in search of the perfect souvenir.

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The hollow fichus tree

They have definitely created a cute little town to house the thousands of tourists that descend on it in every season. It is literally packed with hostels and the occasional hotel, which scale the hills surrounding it. It’s a wonderful place for the young and healthy, but I honestly had a bit of trouble with all the hills and heavy exercise. It’s not a town for a wimp or the physically challenged and a word of warning to all tourists, make sure your accommodations are close to the city center.  We saw some that were way off the beaten track, so that hiking into town wasn’t practical no matter how much in shape you are.

Finding a good restaurant in Costa Rica is often challenging, so here are two recommendations: Sabor Tico in their little mall was excellent, reasonably priced and the portions of arroz con pollo were so large that we ate a full second meal on the leftovers; and we highly recommend stopping by The Treehouse for decent food but great atmosphere as it is literally built around a huge tree.

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The Treehouse Restaurant

If you’re coming to Costa Rica, make a trip to the wilds of Monteverde. You won’t regret it!

 

 

Life on the Lower Bunk

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The door to our closet…oops, room.

I had my first hostel experience! I was waiting to travel again with Vanessa, my daughter, since she did hostels in Europe. I felt like this was something foreign to me and I was a little bit right and a whole lot wrong.

In reality, growing up in a large family, not poor just not well-off, gave me the skills to handle sharing space, putting up with noise at all hours and dealing with a minimalist approach to life. You have what you need, but little else.

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Here’s Morgan from Merced on the right. I didn’t manage to get the ladies’ names!

That’s pretty much what life was in Nina’s Place, a very cute but bare essentials hostel in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I talked Vanessa into bunk beds, not remembering what that was like. She took the top bunk, because there was no way I’d be climbing up and down all night. I took the lower.

 

There wasn’t even a chair in our walk-in-closet-turned-hostel-room, so things like tying my shoes had to be done on the bench outside, or I’d be a hunchback by now. We laughed every time Van had to climb up because there wasn’t a ladder and the bed was already a rickety mess. I told her I was fully expecting to die in the middle of the night from a bed collapse. I did hit my head frequently.

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Hammock chairs on the back porch

On the plus side, we got to meet several really nice people! Met Morgan – a firefighter from Merced – and Jalen, a burgeoning writer and artist (you go boy!) Then there were the three lovely girls from England – I loved listening to them talk! I’m an admitted anglophile. Basically, it was young people from everywhere bonding around the tiny kitchen table, listening to music (much of it from the 70s!) You truly have a sense of community and I was amazed at how willing the younger crowd was to spend time talking to an old broad like me.

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Also we were grateful for our own bathroom and after seeing how many of the hostels in Monteverde were way off the beaten path, glad that our hike into town was a short one. AND the view from the back porch was amazing; looking out over the treetops and plush green everywhere.

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Jalen enjoying the view!
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Greg – who was always ready to help!

The staff was very friendly as well and helped us out when I got really sick the day we were supposed to go zip-lining and arranged to cancel our reservations. Actually, I was sick basically the entire time – actually tossing my cookies at the beginning of the coffee plantation tour and struggling to stay in the game on the other three days. Never did figure out what was wrong.

Anyway, this was an experience I’ll never forget and now I feel comfortable doing a hostel on my own, but I’ll be very careful to check it out a little better before committing to a bunkbed again! I chalk this one up on the plus side overall!

 

 

 

 

A Taste of Splendor

DSC03228As part of my travel writing career, I’m forced to endure touring facilities like the Westin Golf Resort in Playa Conchal on the Pacific shores of Costa Rica. Tough duty, but somebody’s got to do it!

My daughter accompanied me, and became a second photographer in the process, when we were shuttled around the property by Kevin, a tall, friendly young man who treated us to the royal tour.

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Kevin, our tour guide, on the left

The rooms were very nice, but was honestly the pool and the poolside services that sold me. Who hasn’t dreamed of swimming up to the bar, sitting on a stool firmly planted in the water and ordering a fruity drink – preferably with an umbrella on it. Of course, I’m a sucker for a pool, and the more luxurious the better.

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Just one of the five pools onsite

 

The fabulous Reserva Conchal Golf Course, inaugurated in 1996 and designed by the renowned Robert Trent Jones II, brings a strong golfing contingent, but there’s truly something for everyone, with an entrance to Playa Conchal – a beach famous for its white sand, rocky tide pools and snorkeling opportunities. You can also ride a banana boat – which I highly recommend.

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Golf surrounded by Costa Rica’s beauty

There are facilities and activities for family excursions, romantic getaways and even business conferences:  pampering at the Spa, shopping at a small retail center, or eating at 7 different cuisine themed restaurants plus a barbeque pit – there’s something for everyone.

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Playa Conchal – a few steps from the resort

Shuttles will take you anywhere you want to go on the property, although the spacious grounds allow for a comfortable walk or even a workout run, if desired.

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Our shuttle around the resort

As an all-inclusive resort, this place will truly lend your life a bit of splendor, if you can afford the stay – which prohibitively expensive for me but might be just right for your budget. Check it out online!

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If you forgot your flip flops, they got ‘ya covered.
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One of the rooms – not even the fanciest!
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Outdoor bathtub in the top of the line rooms

 

 

 

A Little Bit Tico

 

Well, I finally made it to Costa Rica! The people and their ways are called “tico” and I’ve been here just long enough to have a tiny bit of it rub off on me. It fits! I love this little beach town we landed in – Brasilito.

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My daughter, Vanessa, is along for the ride – for the first two weeks anyway – and adding a ton of fun to my initial in-country experiences, just like she did when we went to the Philippines last year.

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After flying Southwest Airlines and landing in the northern city of Liberia around 10:30 pm, we discovered the airport has no ATM! Luckily, they take US dollars or we would have been in trouble. All over SE Asia, I had become used to grabbing some local money in the airports.

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A restless, uncomfortable and ridiculously expensive overnight stay in a very basic “airport” hotel in the middle of nowhere, was replaced in the morning by a shuttle ride through lush, green country roads and finally being greeted by Marcello at Hotel Brasilito, directly across from a mile-long stretch of sand.

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We have had four fabulous days in this little town – strolling the beach, seeing a whaleDSC03143 slapping its tail just beyond the beach, riding a banana boat, spending a few hours playing with the underwater GoPro, visiting nearby ritzy Playa Flamingo, and touring the fantastic Westin Golf Resort (the next post detailing that will blow you away) and tasting the local cuisine – trying a total of six different restaurants. But perhaps the greatest undertaking was learning the true meaning of “Pura Vida”, the national motto which means literally “the pure life.”

Relaxing was the goal for this portion of our trip and boy, did we succeed. Just take a look at the lady in the hammock. Next up Monteverde – monkeys, sloths, aerial canopy walkways and zip-lining – oh, my!

 

 

 

 

 

A Call to Adventure

As I traveled around SE Asia for eight months, and even before I left, I was frequently complimented on my bravery for going solo and asked how I was managing to do it. Whether or not I was rich was the number one question (to which I answered a resounding “No”) followed by questions around logistics and finally some form of “I wish I was a brave as you.”

In my fifth month, I began to realize that some people just needed a little push to get out of their everyday grind and into a more exciting life and then decided I was the gal to do the pushing.

Final cover Hug a Pink Elephant

Hug a Pink Elephant! Click here to purchase

I spent two months writing a book, holed up in the little town of Melaka, Malaysia, pouring my heart out and trying to capture as many of the ways a person could pump up their life as possible. The product of that endeavor is Hug a Pink Elephant: Simple Ways to Add Adventure to Your Life.

I filled the book with some exercises, many stories of adventures of all kinds (some of my own and some of my friends’), quotes and action plans. I worked hard at making it light-hearted, a fun read and inspiring.

I hope if any of you are looking for a way to put more adventure into your lives, you’ll give my pink elephant a try!

The Anticipation of the Next Trip

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Jungle-top zipline in Costa Rica

I’m in the throes of planning my next big international trip and I’m having a hard time getting used to it being in another region of the world. As many of you know, I completed an eight-month sojourn in Asia recently, but the next is to Central America, with a possible slide south if life sends me that direction before coming back to the States.

I had gotten used to the flavors, pace, heat and humidity of SE Asia, so much that I feel a kinship of sorts with Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. These places I could easily return to with joy.  As I look forward to the experiences I’m about to have in Latin America, I can’t help wondering if I’ll feel as “at home” there as I did across the Pacific.

Into this journey, I bring a Spanish-speaking history. My Pops was stationed in Venezuela while serving in the Navy and my mother and I went along. I was only twenty months old, so I spoke fluent Spanish before I spoke English. Do you think I’ve retained that ability? No way. I was a stubborn child at four and refused to be different than the other American kids when we returned to the States. However, to this day when I try to communicate in Spanish, words will magically appear that I didn’t know were there, so cross your fingers for me.

I’m studying my books on Costa Rica (the jumping off point), Panama and Ecuador. I’m planning on Nicaragua, Peru and many other countries as well. I find the process of reading the guidebooks – nearly always Lonely Planet – a bit overwhelming but fascinating and hugely fun. So I’ll continue on with the hope of being thoroughly educated when I hit the ground!

One month to go! Join me on my adventure!

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