Category Archives: Travel

A Couple of Days in the District

One of the things we did this summer was take a trip to DC. My brother John and his wife Cara have lived in DC for about a decade, and it’s embarrassing to admit how little we have visited them. So, once we knew they’d be moving back to Vermont, we figured we should pay them a visit and enjoy DC on the cheap while we still could.

Here’s a photo montage and dramatic retelling of that experience.

July 5, 2018

I woke up early, to scarf down breakfast and pack the last of my things before Kris arrived.  We loaded up his car and hit the road just after 8am.  Exciting things happened on the drive, such as seeing animal control wrangling a giant turtle on the side of the road, and getting to drive on the new Tappan Zee Bridge! Except it’s not called that, it’s called the Governor Mario M. Cuomo bridge. It doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely but it looks pretty cool, and I no longer had the nervous feeling that it was about to collapse under the burden of all the traffic on it. No pics of that because I was driving responsibly.

Somewhere along the New Jersey Turnpike

It was a beautiful day for a drive, and surprisingly light on traffic, considering it was the 4th of July holiday weekend.

Six hours and three rest stops later, we were in Capitol Hill! We found a parking spot half a block away from John and Cara’s house and carried all our luggage to the front door. Kris knocked on the door a few times. We were answered with a barking dog. John and Cara don’t have a dog. Mmm, maybe this wasn’t the right house.

Not the right house.

After calling John we realized we were on the wrong end of the street.  They were 210 SE, not 210 NE, or wherever the hell we were. Whoopsie!

Kris brought the car around so we wouldn’t have to lug everything back up the street. Soon we were at the correct house, and after a quick tour, we headed off to a late lunch at Blue Jacket.

John & Cara, still smiling after 1 year of marriage!
Kris and I, slightly goofy after the long drive.

After lunch, John and Cara took us on a brief walking tour of the area, but it was really hot and humid so we went back to their place to lay around with the cat for a bit.

Bertie was thrilled to have some belly-scratching visitors.

We concluded that waiting until evening would allow us to tour the monuments without the sun’s angry rays beating on us, but even so, it would be an oppressive night for a walk.

Days like these, we thank the Lord for A/C.

Nevertheless, we persisted. We started off with a gander at the Jefferson Memorial. A stately rotunda housing a larger than life bronze sculpture of – you guessed it – Thomas Jefferson.

The Jefferson Memorial.
The Washington Phallus Monument.
Inside the memorial, obvs.
Not even close.

From there, we continued around the tidal basin to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Never underestimate the importance of good lighting.
You wouldn’t believe how long I stood there waiting to get a clear shot of this.
People included to show scale…
A final look at MLK Jr.

From the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, we walked to the Lincoln Monument, where we also got a cool view of the Washington Monument at the other end of the reflecting pool. Even though it was now dark, the heat and humidity was so intense, it was like the whole world was a sauna.

The Washington Monument at night. A hot, muggy night.
The Lincoln Memorial.
Lincoln himself.
The Korean War Memorial – especially powerful at night.

July 6, 2018

Cara woke up early to check the website for the Museum of African-American History & Culture. She was able to get 4 tickets for us to get in! We were excited, as it’s very popular and you have to buy tickets months in advance – or, get up at 6am and check for day-of availability.

Breakfast with Bertie

After a leisurely breakfast, we headed out, getting to the museum just in time for our 11:00 entry time.

The one picture I took…

I did not take many photos in the museum. I kind of felt like it would be disrespectful, especially during the first part, which was all about the middle passage. It was extremely crowded, but as you are reading about slaves being packed into transport ships like sardines, you realize your situation isn’t that bad.

The exhibits were emotionally powerful, informative and interesting. I wish we’d had the time and stamina to do the whole museum in one shot. We made it through to the civil rights area and it was already 2pm. Upon exiting the exhibit hall, we saw the line for the cafe was very long, so we decided to go elsewhere.

It was a lot to take in, and it’s too bad we couldn’t get back in to see the rest, although we were pretty emotionally spent by the time we left anyway.

We drove up to NuVegan cafe for lunch, and that was really, really good stuff. Then, it was back to the house to rest up and cuddle with Bertie some more.

Forget MyPillow, get yourself a Bertie Pillow!

After some mid-afternoon R&R, and more eating, we decided to go to a Capitals game that evening. It blew my mind that we could still get tickets that late in the day, and for not much money, either! So, that evening we hit up the ballpark.


The sunset sky colors were so pretty that night!
Goooo Nats!

The game was entertaining, as was the audience. We had a group of frat boys sitting a few rows ahead of us who kept us entertained with their bro-laughter and failed attempts to initiate the wave. Mid-game they were joined by a group of girls who were flaunting their assets and tossing their hair. Then, some drama ensued as one of the girls got caught vaping.

As for the game itself, they were tied 2-2 for several innings, and John and Cara suggested we could leave in the 7th. I said, no way Jose! There’s going to be a dramatic tie-breaker, I can feel it! And lo and behold, in the bottom of the ninth inning, there was a home run and the Nationals won. Woo hoooo!

July 7, 2018

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and fantastically less humid than the previous few days. We walked to the Eastern Market, and browsed the booths there for a while.

A section of the Eastern Market

After that, we checked out Capitol Hill Books. The moving company John worked for- Bookstore Movers- was started to fund the owner’s dream of buying Capitol Hill Books. Since our visit, he was able to make the purchase! Here’s an article about it.

Cara and John outside Capitol Hill Books
The Wacko Stacko
John in the basement section.

After the bookstore, where I purchased one book and a tote bag, we headed to the National Mall. There was a Smithsonian Folklife Festival going on, featuring Catalonia and Armenia. We heard there were going to be human towers, and this was something we had to see!

On the way, we passed the Capitol Building.

Once we got to the Mall, we wandered around the exhibits at the Folklife Festival. There was lots of cool art and craftsmanship on display. We witnessed an interesting dance routine with the dancers wearing various animal heads and lots of fireworks, but the real show was the human towers:

Towers in progress…
Getting pretty tall!

The human towers were really cool to see, but a bit nerve-wracking to watch. Little kids would climb up to the very top and raise their arm, which is what signalled that the tower was complete. Then they would scamper down the tower, sliding down the people like they were a fireman’s pole. One of the last towers was very wobbly and actually ended up collapsing. It looked like they fell gracefully, so hopefully no one was hurt.

Once the tower-building was complete, it was time for Kris and I to head home. We bade farewell to John and Cara and began our long journey north. Not long after getting on the highway we witnessed this creative genius, ironically sporting a Darwin sticker on their vehicle. Plot twist – there was a woman driving it!

Genius or moron?

And thus concludes our whirlwind journey to DC. Thanks to John and Cara for having us! We had a great time!

A Vermont Wedding

On July 1, 2017, my brother John married his longtime love Cara, in a beautiful Vermont wedding.

The party began on Friday afternoon, when many of the guests began arriving at the Echo Lake Inn in Ludlow, VT.  It was raining off and on, so we were mostly confined to the porch, where everyone was gathered at tables, drinking beer and wine and getting to know each other.

Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration. Some people were getting to know each other, but my family was clustered together at one table, trying to catch up with each others’ recent life events. Still, I did get to meet some of John’s college friends and Cara’s friends and family.

After a BBQ dinner, the plan was to have a bonfire, s’mores and lawn games – like the customized cornhole game that Cara’s dad had made, and the giant Jenga blocks that my dad made. However, the weather was being uncooperative, and after only a few s’mores had been constructed and only a few corn bags tossed, the rain picked up and everyone ran for cover on the porch.

Kris, Grey, Nick and Matt, Bruce (my dad’s dog) and Dave and I all shared a condo that weekend. It was in a separate building from the Inn, though not very far away. We had envisioned that we would be up late in our party condo, sharing hilarious tales while we drank and played games into the wee hours of the morning. However, by the time we got back to the condo, we went right to bed. (We had to save our energy for the big day!)

Saturday dawned rainy and dark. Checking the weather forecast left us with little hope of the day clearing up in time for the 3:30 pm wedding ceremony. We ate breakfast in the inn and proceeded to play some Jenga during a break in the rain.

Giant Jenga
Grey cautiously removes one of the super-sized giant Jenga blocks from the tower…

After a while, the rain picked up again and we retreated back to our condo. Dad and Lisa brought us sandwiches from the general store and we all ate lunch while watching reruns of Roseanne. I began working on my hair, although I knew it was probably a waste of time since the humidity was guaranteed to undo any styling efforts I put forth.

We rushed back to the porch to be in time for our 1:30pm photo session, only to find out that the photographer had gone to Echo Lake Lodge near Lake George, NY – a vast two hours away! Luckily, one of Cara’s friends offered to take some photos of us while we waited for the hired photographer to get there.


As the afternoon went on, the rain would let up for a few minutes at a time before returning at full force. Would we be able to have the wedding ceremony outside or not? We all hoped for a miraculous clearing of the clouds, but alas. It was not to be.

It was interesting to watch the Inn staff turn the reception tent into a wedding tent in less than 10 minutes. I suspect they might have done this before.

The ceremony was beautiful. Cara looked stunning in her gown and birdcage veil and John was handsome in his navy blue suit. Their friend Dana officiated and did a really nice job of it. No sooner had the ceremony begun, when the sun broke through the clouds and a sunbeam shone right through the plastic tent window.

The moment the sun came out…

I was honored to participate in the ceremony by reading a wedding blessing. I rarely get emotional at weddings – but as I looked up from my reading and saw John and Cara watching me intently, I was filled with emotion. I steeled myself and finished the reading without full-on weeping, but the floodworks burst forth when they exchanged their vows (which they had written themselves). To be fair, I think everyone in the whole tent got misty-eyed.

Watching my little brother, now all grown up, marrying the love of his life tugged at my heartstrings like nothing else. It made me feel nostalgic, sentimental, happy and excited all at the same time, and it all came leaking out of my eyes. I think the fact that they have already been together for 10 years and been through many ups and downs made their professions of love for each other all that more meaningful.

The happy couple

That night, the reception was filled with laughter and fun. John and Cara’s bridesmaids and groomsmen gave hilarious speeches about the two of them. The tent was decorated in a constellation/starry night theme, with twinkling lights wrapped around all the poles, a star projector shining up on the ceiling, and custom centerpieces on all the tables.


We hit the dance floor and the party didn’t stop until 11pm, which must have been the curfew set by the Inn. We all migrated to the bar in the cellar of the Inn, though unfortunately we could not get the dance party to resume there.

The next day, we gathered for breakfast together before all heading off on our separate ways. John and Cara would be going off to Portugal for their honeymoon!

Regrettably, I did not take more pictures during the weekend. Actually, most of the above photos are thanks to Kris McKelvie, Grey Houle and Kaitlyn Clifford. So thank you all for letting me use them in the blog.

After we said our goodbyes, Dave and I were off to Londonderry, VT, where we would spend the next few days relaxing and exploring the great green mountain state. Stay tuned for more of our adventures in Vermont!

A Minimalist Trip to Boston

This past weekend, Dave and I went up to Boston! I love going there. It’s an easy drive (as long as you don’t hit traffic…), and the city itself is just so… people-sized.
Months ago, I saw that The Minimalists were going to do a show at The Wilbur. In a moment of spontaneity, I bought us tickets. So that’s how we ended up on this trip.

I accidentally booked our Airbnb for the wrong night… luckily it was just the night before the show instead of the night of. So we just went up a day early.

We got to our Airbnb a little after 3, got settled, and then hit the streets. We walked up to Boston Public Gardens and strolled around and people-watched. Boston Common was already set up with all kinds of tents and stuff in preparation for the Marathon.

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We walked along Newbury Street and made our way to the Prudential Center. My mom had mentioned that there was an observatory there that you could get great views of the city. As I am a fan of looking at life from above, we made this a priority to check out.

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The view from the Pru was nice, and it was a gorgeous sunny day. We watched planes coming in and out of Logan, saw lots of sailboats on the Charles, found the finish line for the Boston Marathon, and finally, watched the sun set over Fenway Park. Pretty cool! We did sit and watch some of the documentaries they had about immigrants to Boston and how the culture has changed over time. It was well done, and very relevant to our current political climate.

There was a lady playing her violin during the sunset. She played Can’t Help Falling In Love, which is one of the many UB40 songs that Dave seduced me with back in the day. (I know it was originally done by Elvis – whatevs…) Here’s part of it…. I didn’t think to start recording until midway through, and then I move the camera too fast… ugh. I am not a videographer.

After that, we were super hungry, so once at ground level, we found a place called 5 Napkin Burger. There was a veggie burger on the menu, so I was game. It wasn’t as amazing as I had hoped, but it was good. I was more enamored with the mint and lemon iced tea, of which I drank two.

We walked back to our Airbnb, which was in the Theater District. By the time we went to bed, around midnight, we had already been hearing lots of ruckus from the comedy club next door, and the people leaving the various theaters around us. Not a big deal – that’s life in the city, right?

After snuggling into the comfortable bed, we fell asleep quickly and peacefully. Several hours later, I began dreaming that a band of jolly Irish men was bustling down the street, singing heartily. But no, it was no dream. As consciousness returned to me, I realized there were actual men singing heartily down in the streets below. I don’t know if they were Irish, but they were loud. Then there was lots of yelling and honking and general mayhem. I regretted not bringing my earplugs along… fail!

Fortunately the commotion only lasted about a half an hour and then we slept soundly for the rest of the night.

The next day we met up with Nick and Matt for lunch at Temezcal, and the weather was so nice that we sat outside. It was a leisurely lunch and a great time of catching up with each other and discussing life. Actually, I had just seen them both the week before in Northampton, but that’s a story for another time. (Not really, but it made you think my life was interesting for a second there, right?)

Matt, Nick, Dave and me – obviously

After parting ways with Nick and Matt, Dave and I cruised up to the North End. I mean why not hit all the sections of Boston while we were there? We hung out on the pier by the aquarium for a while and then got a delicious pineapple smoothie in Quincy Market, before wandering around for the rest of the afternoon.

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Eventually the time came for us to get over to The Wilbur theater to see the Minimalists. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve been reading their blog and listening to their podcasts for a while now – if you’ve been paying attention to my blog, I have mentioned them before and my own quest to live a more minimalist lifestyle.

We were a bit early – we arrived at 6:45 or so, which seemed like a reasonable time for a 7pm show. There was no line, and most of the seats were still empty.  The stage was plain, and they just had some mellow background music playing.

The place filled up, a little after 7pm. They came out and the crowd went wild. They started out by telling their story, which if you search for their TED talk, you can hear for yourself. The second part of the show was a Q&A.

The majority of the questions were what you would expect – people asking for advice about a particular aspect of minimalism, or how to make certain lifestyle changes.

Some of the questioners were – dare I say it – devotees of minimalism. One women proclaimed that she had a “one in, one out” policy, so before she would buy something new, or, presumably, receive a gift, she had to get rid of something she already had. She asked them how they dealt with the emotional struggle of deciding whether to keep something or get rid of it.

After some prodding, she revealed that the item in question was her mothers vintage Levi’s jacket that she actually still wears.  For some reason she felt it was frivolous and she should get rid of it, even though she obviously didn’t want to. At that point a bunch of people in the audience shouted out that she should just keep it. Seriously.

Another woman was kind of a sad case.  She spoke of how she had successfully followed all the steps to becoming a minimalist and now she didn’t know what to do next. She seemed to be hoping that they would just tell her what to do with her life. At this point, they had reached the “lightening round”, where they were only supposed to give tweetable-sized answers, so they gave her some statements about how life without passion isn’t living, and that sort of thing. It was disturbing to me that she apparently didn’t have passion for anything. Or maybe she felt she needed some kind of permission to pursue it. Or maybe she was just trolling all of us…

The show was interesting and light – there were lots of funny comments and good points made. I can’t say that I went away having learned anything new, but Dave said he enjoyed it and that he thought it was interesting.

They had a meet and greet afterward, which we decided to skip since we hadn’t had dinner yet and also because I feel super awkward meeting “celebrities” and I wouldn’t have known what to say.

We grabbed dinner at Panera and then headed out. It was actually pretty nice driving home after the show – there was virtually no traffic and we made it home in just under two hours.

All in all, it was a great trip. If you’ve never been to Boston, make sure to check it out someday!

The Mins
As seen from the window of Panera, where we immediately ran after the show.

Costa Rica Trip, Day 14 – Our Final Day

Our final full day in Costa Rica dawned sunny and bright. We had breakfast in the restaurant upstairs and enjoyed the gorgeous view.

Our view at breakfast

We decided we would go back to Playa Hermosa for the day. On the way, we stopped at a little grocery store to get some drinks and snacks. Outside, we saw the truck delivering Bimbo, so I had to snap a picture of it. I thought it was funny that basically the only bread ever offered at meals was sliced white Bimbo bread. I guess the artisan bread craze hasn’t made it’s way down here yet.

You gotta admit, the bear is cute.

We picked out a nice spot at the beach and set up our tent. We noticed strange flashes in the water and figured it must be fish jumping. I wondered what would make them do that – could there be a shark or something out there?


We went in the water, which was nice and calm compared to Ocotal and Conchal. We relaxed and enjoyed the gorgeous day and the water, when suddenly, I felt an unpleasant sting on my leg. It felt a bit like brushing against the sharp edge of sedge grass. I reached down to wipe it away, whatever it was, but the stinging continued.


It didn’t dawn on me right away that it was a jellyfish. If I’d ever been stung by one before, I have no memory of it. Dave got stung later, and as the tide receded we noticed dead jellies on the sand.

Well, boo hoo! That made us not want to go in the water anymore, which stunk. We also had to move our tent, because not long after we got there, some guys with a chainsaw decided they were going to cut up a tree that had fallen on the beach near us.

Our shell collection

We relaxed on the beach for the rest of the afternoon, and then, after a quick, nervous dip in the water, it was time to go.

For dinner, we went to the soda where we’d first met the little dog called Negro, and ordered casados to go. As we were waiting for the food, we noticed there was some kind of Christmas-themed dance party happening in the park across the road. Kids were jumping around and dancing vigorously to Feliz Navidad and Dominic the Donkey. It was strange to be reminded that it was December and that Christmas was only a few weeks away!

We ate our casados on the balcony of our hotel while we looked out over the dark landscape. The sky was shimmering with thousands of unfamiliar stars. The nightjar began singing in the road below us, and fireworks burst off in the distance.

Our time in Costa Rica had come to an end, but what a time it was. Learning about new places, a different culture, wildly different plants and animals and meeting lots of kind and helpful people made it a trip to remember.

Pura vida!

Costa Rica Trip, Day 13 – Playa Ocotal

Playa Ocotal was the most interesting beach we visited in Costa Rica.

The surf was very strong while we were there, so we didn’t go in the ocean much. The beach itself had dark gray sand and there was a lot of rocks at the surface, which was kind of scary considering how rough the waves were.

There were a lot of tidal pools, and places to walk around and see fish and crabs and things. We saw a couple of iguanas – one was in a little cave in the rocks, and several others were just jauntily walking around the beach like they owned the place.

One of the tidal pools was quite large, and we swam in it more than we went in the actual ocean, because it was very calm and warm. Dave got some bread from the lunch we’d packed and using little bits of it we were able to attract a bunch of fish.

In late afternoon, when the tide had come in more, we saw people coming in with wetsuits, flippers and snorkels. I’m sure there was a lot to see with all the rock formations beneath the water, but I wonder how people don’t get smashed up against them with such a strong surf?

As we were leaving the beach at the end of the day, two young women approached us and asked for a ride back to Playas del Coco. They spoke to us in English, so I began talking to them. Soon, they admitted that their English wasn’t very good and they couldn’t understand what I was saying. We found out they were from Spain and they were spending two months in Costa Rica! Lucky them!

For dinner that night we went to a taco stand that we’d seen in a little shopping center in town. It was called Chorotacos and the tacos were SO good! They had a vegetarian one which was chickpeas with roasted tomatoes and roasted red pepper salsa. Dave got a meaty one, which he said was really good too. I’d definitely recommend this place if you’re in Playas del Coco and need a quick dinner!

One full day in Costa Rica was ahead of us… would we go back to Playa Hermosa or would we try a new beach?


Costa Rica Trip, Day 12 – Barra Honda Caverns

After two days of relaxing on beaches, it was time for another adventure. Before going to Costa Rica, Dave had read about the Venado Caves near Arenal, and he was really interested in visiting those. I was less excited about the idea, due to the fact that you had to wade around in muddy water and squeeze through tight openings to get from one room to another. Thanks to Hurricane Otto and a lack of desire to take Blue off-roading any more than we had to, we ended up not going there.

So, while I was lying on the beach, flipping through our Lonely Planet Costa Rica guide, I saw that there was another set of caves in Barra Honda National Park, which was not too far from where we were in Playas del Coco. There are actually 42 caves, but only 19 have been explored and only 2 are open to the public! You can read all about it here:

It was about an hour and a half drive down to Barra Honda, and easy going, with the exception of the final several miles of dirt road. It wasn’t in terrible condition, it was just slow going and gave us the sense that we were heading into the wilderness, never to see civilization again.

Once at the park, we checked in at the ranger station. Nobody spoke English, so Dave spoke with them in Spanish and translated for me. We knew we’d have to walk to get to the caves, and the woman explained that it was a 4 km hike. That’s only 2 miles, I thought, how bad could it be? What I didn’t take into account was the fact that it would be almost entirely uphill.

We were introduced to two older men, Jose and Saturnino, who would be our guides for the hike and for the cave. We found out later that they were both in their late 60’s – Jose proudly told us he was 69. They were in better shape than Dave and I, and if it weren’t for my incessant need to stop to catch my breath or take a drink of water, they probably wouldn’t have stopped at all.

It was a beautiful hike through the forest. We saw a waterfall, lots of interesting plants and flowers, lots of Blue Morpho butterflies, and even an iguana peeking out of a hole in a tree!

Blue morpho
The day was extremely hot and humid, so it didn’t take long for me to start wilting like a delicate flower. I didn’t want to look like a complete wimp though, so I pressed on. After a while, I didn’t feel hot anymore. I felt like a cool breeze was blowing over my skin. I even had chills from time to time. I discovered later that these are signs of heat stroke, and I probably should have tapped out right then and there.

After what seemed like half the day, we reached the cave entrance. It was literally a gaping maw in the rocks. Not at all inviting. There were two German tourists standing nearby looking down into it. They watched as our guides began stringing up the ropes which would be used for our harnesses. They wished us luck as we got strapped into our harnesses and made our way to the ladder.

I’m starting to have some second thoughts…
Jose explained (in Spanish) where to put each foot and how to grab the ladder properly so we wouldn’t slip and fall right there at the top. Then, he went down, and then Dave. Then it was my turn. It was awkward trying to get onto the ladder with all the rocks in the way. The first few feet of the ladder were angled down only slightly, and then it bent and was completely vertical. And dark. Very dark.

The ladder is 55 feet long. That’s the height of a 5-story building. It was slippery with mud, so going down was slow and a bit nerve wracking. I kept looking down at Dave and I could hardly see him. He was like an ant down there with Jose.

Eventually I made it to the bottom, and immediately was given a headlamp to put on my helmet. I was still feeling a bit out of sorts from the hike up, and after climbing down the ladder, I would have liked to stop for a minute to catch my breath, but Jose led us off to explore the cave. The floor was sloped down and very wet and slippery.

Of course it was incredibly dark in there, being a cave and all. Jose led us down to a lower room and showed us the different rock formations – stalactites and stalagmites and that sort of thing. I noticed that my heart was beating super fast, which I thought was a little odd.

This is me before I lost my marbles in the cave.
Deep in the cave there was another area with a ladder that went down to a lower room. This ladder was only about 10 feet, so there was no harness. Jose told me I didn’t have to go down if I didn’t want to, but I wasn’t about to sit there alone in the dark while he and Dave went down without me.

Smile, and the world smiles with you.
Once we were in that lowest part, Jose had us turn out our headlamps so we could experience the complete darkness and silence of the cave. I swear, my heartbeat was echoing through the place at that point. It felt like it was about to beat right out of my chest.

Two seconds away from a breakdown.
We climbed up the shorter ladder and began walking back up to the big one. Part way up the path, I grabbed Dave and asked him to stop with me so I could catch my breath. I don’t think he realized I was having issues until this point. We stopped and I tried to relax, but my anxiety was getting out of control. I tried to take deep breaths but began hyperventilating instead.

Jose indicated for me to come closer to the ladder, and he helped me into the harness. I’ll admit, I was hoping they were just going to hoist me out of there like a stuck pig, but no. I had to climb back up that ladder. This was the only point during our vacation that I actually wished I was sitting at my desk back at work.

By this time I was basically out of my mind. I wanted out of that cave so bad. I climbed, shakily, looking up at the pinhole of light that was the exit. I climbed that ladder like you wouldn’t believe. Dave, translating Jose’s instructions, told me to wrap my arms around the edges of the ladder, in case my hands got tired gripping the rungs. I wrapped my arms around the rails and climbed so hard. I was moaning and hyperventilating like a damn fool, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to get out of there!

Dave called up to me from below, telling me to slow down and rest, but I wasn’t having it. I power-climbed, smashing my knees against the rungs and at one point, pulling a muscle in my leg trying to skip a rung where the rock face stuck out too far for me to fit my whole foot on the rung. (I didn’t notice these injuries until much later).

Finally, I was at the top. I can only imagine how I must have looked to the people who were waiting to go down next. They probably heard me coming – moaning and cursing, and then saw my drained face pop up, followed by my guano-covered body. I bet I looked like a distressed swamp creature.

I stumbled away from the ladder, tore off my helmet and my harness and threw them both on the ground, and clumsily stomped over to a little picnic table. I was so happy to be out that I could cry, and I did. I sat there and cried and hyperventilated until Dave came out. He came over and comforted me, while also laughing at the hot mess that I was. Jose came out a few minutes later and poured out some water so we could clean off our hands.

I figured we were finally done and could go back to the car, but that wasn’t it. There was more to the hike, which led us to a beautiful spot overlooking a valley and the Gulf of Nicoya. If I hadn’t felt like complete crap, I would have been really impressed, but I was so done at that point.

The hike back was all downhill, but even this was difficult. I felt like it took hours and hours. I finally did catch my breath, but had absolutely no energy left.  When we eventually got down to the bottom, we rinsed ourselves off in the outdoor sink and then went over to the car to change and get more drinks.

We drove all the way back to the hotel without stopping for lunch, because we were covered in mud. We showered hard – I’m not sure those white washcloths would ever be white again. We grabbed a late lunch/early dinner from Le Coq and called it a day.

We enjoyed a peaceful sunset to end the day.
Honestly, I was really surprised at how I reacted to the cave. I have always known that I am a bit claustrophobic – for example, when Dave would work on my old car, he would sometimes invite me to get down under the car so he could show me something. I could only tolerate it for a few seconds – the bulk of the car looming over me made me feel anxious. 

Being in the cave wasn’t quite the same. We didn’t have to squeeze through any tight spaces, but maybe it was the darkness that freaked me out? Or perhaps I was just so heat-stricken that I ceased to think rationally anymore and just lost it? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I will not be going into any caves that require headlamps or rappelling gear anytime soon. Good thing we had another two beach days ahead to recover from that stressful day!

Costa Rica Trip, Day 11 – Playa Conchal

When researching places to visit in Costa Rica, we came across Playa Conchal. A beach made of shells! This video , from the travel blog My Tan Feet, also got us interested in checking it out. Since the video was taken, there’s been some major beach erosion, so we were not able to drive onto Playa Brasilito as they do in the video (jump to 2:19).

Instead, we had to leave our rental car, Blue, parked on what I perceived to be a sand bank, and then walk the rest of the way to Playa Conchal. Only people with SUVs could really drive all the way there, or extremely brave souls who weren’t concerned about getting their car stuck in sand.

Look at brave little Blue chilling there on the sand! That gray car had driven to Playa Conchal and died right there on the way back. I think it may have killed the engine driving through the water. 

After parking the car, we gathered up all our stuff – cooler, tent, towels, bags of sunscreen and snacks, and headed off to walk across Playa Brasilito to Playa Conchal. It was strange to me that Playa Brasilito was basically just a road to get to Conchal.

Maybe this is why nobody wanted to swim here. (Rip currents!)

After walking across Brasilito, we entered a wooded area and the road narrowed and went up over a little hill,  and there we were in Conchal. Immediately locals began approaching us to sell us drinks or to rent us shade tents. I’m sure they looked at me and thought “Damn, this whitey is going to need some shade!”

We fended off their offers and made our way onto the beach. There were a lot more people here than at Hermosa. There’s a Westin Resort too, so there was an area set up with lounge chairs and tents for the guests. We found a somewhat secluded spot beneath some trees and set up our tent.

Cooler – check. Tent – check. Sexy man with snacks – check. 

Cautiously, we removed our shoes. How would walking on billions of shell fragments feel? Not bad, it turns out! The shell pieces are worn very smooth. It’s not as soft as walking on sand, but not as jagged and uncomfortable as one would imagine.

The water at Playa Conchal is that gorgeous turquoise color everyone imagines when they think of beach resort vacations. I really don’t know how Conchal could be covered with shells and have turquoise water while right next door Brasilito is just regular old sand and regular blue/gray ocean water color.


After a little while we noticed the tide was creeping closer and closer to our tent, until finally a wave nearly washed it out. We quickly dragged it higher up the beach and deeper into the trees. Which made our view even more interesting…


All through the day, locals kept stopping by to ask if we would like to buy pipa fria (chilled coconut), pottery, flutes, jewelry, and even massages. A guy came by to try to entice us to rent out his jet skis, and another offered a boat ride. We declined all of them. We just wanted to chill on the beach and not spend any money!

It wasn’t really this dark in real life, but I had to apply a filter to this image so that my glaring white thighs wouldn’t blind anyone.  

The waves were rougher than we had expected, perhaps that was due to Otto still swirling about offshore, I don’t know. We examined handfuls of shells to see if we could find any intact ones. We didn’t, but the small, worn out pieces were pretty neat to look at and try to figure out what they once were.

We decided to wrap it up around 3:30 or so – even though Playa Conchal is only 20 miles away from Playas del Coco, it takes over an hour to get from one place to the other. When we got back to Hotel Chantel and took a shower, we found tiny pieces of seashells stuck EVERYWHERE on our bodies. It was possibly even worse than trying to get sand off your body.

For dinner that evening, we wanted to go to an Italian restaurant. As we didn’t have GPS or cell service, I’d taken to using Waze at the hotel and then screen-shotting the route so we could still find our way. Well, in this case, it did not help. It was like the place didn’t even exist. We figured out later that it wasn’t open that night.

Instead, we ended up going to to one of the sports bars that’s in Playas del Coco. It was called Zi Lounge and it was good. It was relatively quiet and our waitress was attentive. We really weren’t impressed with Playas del Coco in general. There was a lot of American influence – lots of ex-pats and lots of sports bars with loud music and loud American TV. After we ate dinner, we just drove back to the hotel, up in the quiet hills, and relaxed by ourselves.

Introvert life!

Next up: We take a day off from the beach and go spelunking instead!

Costa Rica Trip, Day 10 – Playa Hermosa

The next morning, we ate Cheerios on our balcony and gawked at the view. This area reminded me a lot of the Southern California coast – except way less developed. Maybe this is what Southern California looked like 50 years ago.

The view from our balcony.
We saw all kinds of fun things from this balcony. Dogs wandering happily on their own. Dogs wandering with people in tow. Cats running from dogs. Retired Americans out for their morning constitutionals. We even saw a flock of bright green parrots! At night we saw a strange, fox-like animal which we never figured out what it actually was. We also saw (and heard) a nightjar.

The hotel has a restaurant on top, so we also overheard conversations from the diners and waitstaff. One night, after the guests had departed, we overheard one waiter laughing with another because a drunk woman had written on her receipt “I love Puerto Rico!”

To save money and time, we bought a styrofoam cooler to take to the beach with us. Thanks to our hotel kitchen, we were able to make our own ice, and we took sandwiches and lots of drinks to the beach with us every day.

Another thing we did (months before our trip) was buy a little pop-up sun tent. We weren’t sure how hot it would be, or what kind of shade options we would find on the beaches. In case you haven’t noticed, I am extremely fair skinned, and I do not like being hot. We were really glad we brought it because even though there were trees on the beaches, the tent provided more sun protection, and gave us some privacy too.

Won’t you come in for some iced tea?
Playa Hermosa, as the name suggests, is a beautiful beach. The sand is fine and soft and clean. When we were there it was pretty quiet, with most of the other people simply out for walks. Only a few people came by trying to sell things, but after we declined, they left us alone. We probably interacted with more dogs than people, now that I think of it!

We returned to the hotel to shower and change before heading into Playas del Coco for dinner. We found a lebanese restaurant called Le Coq, so I wanted to eat there based on the name alone. We got wraps – Dave got a chicken one and I got falafel. It was so good!

Late afternoon view… I could have watched the view all day!
Next up – Playa Conchal – the beach that’s made of shells!

Costa Rica Trip, Day 9 – Getting to Playas del Coco

In the morning, we had our final breakfast at Hotel Tangara. By this time I was going to weep if I had to eat another banana, but fortunately they switched up the fruit so we got to have pineapple and papaya instead.

We drove in the rain most of the way back to Ruta 1. This meant we didn’t get to see the spectacular views of Lake Arenal that I had hoped we would. It took us about 3 hours to get from La Fortuna to Playas del Coco. We found Hotel Chantel without too much difficulty. It is situated on the side of a very steep hill, which we were impressed our rental car was able to climb.

We originally planned to stay at a different hotel, but after a week of eating every meal at restaurants, we decided we had to find a place with a kitchen, so that we could eat in once in a while, and so I could actually take leftovers home. Hotel Chantel did not disappoint – the kitchen was spacious and stocked with all the service wear and cookware we needed!

For lunch, we drove down into Playas del Coco and found a soda (that’s what Costa Ricans call little Mom and Pop restaurants) where we could get some casados. Of course there was a little dog hanging around looking for scraps. There was a woman outside the restaurant who was selling pinchos, so Dave bought one to give to the dog. He was such a sweet pup, he would eat one piece and wag his tail and then look up shyly, and then Dave would give him another piece. He was so grateful that he followed us to the beach afterwards.

We weren’t impressed with the beach itself. It was small and dirty and noisy. So we ended up going to other beaches for all our beach days, which of course I will tell you about in upcoming posts!

That evening, we watched the sun set at Playa Hermosa, which was just north of Playas del Coco, and where we would spend most of the next day.

This might be my favorite picture of the whole trip!



Check back tomorrow for a review of Playa Hermosa! (Aren’t you impressed that I’ve been posting every day for the last several days!?)