Category Archives: Travel

Costa Rica Trip, Day 8 – Ziplines and Rafts!


We spent our final full day in the Arenal area doing the most adventurous stuff we could handle – ziplining and whitewater rafting!

I’ll admit that I was a little nervous about it. I’d never ziplined OR whitewater rafted before this. I’m not really afraid of heights, but I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about dangling from a wire, hundreds of feet off the forest floor.

After we arrived at Arenal Sky Adventures, we had to wait a while. This wasn’t helping my nerves any. Finally, we were united with Luis, who would be one of our guides. He got us fitted with our harnesses and showed us how to use the carabiners. He noticed my hands and had me demonstrate that I would be able to open and close the carabiners and hold on to the ropes.

We had to climb a little to get to the first zip line platform. We had worn our water shoes, so it made it a little awkward to walk on the rocks and climb up the dirt paths, but we survived. The next thing I knew, I was up on the platform, getting hooked up to the cable. By this time, I wasn’t nervous – I was ready to do it!

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Away I go!

Off I sailed, over the treetops. I must not have been holding my body at the right angle, or maybe I was braking too hard, because before I arrived at the landing platform, I came to a complete stop! I had to reach up and pull myself along the last 30 feet of cable. It was awkward, but hey, that’s how I roll.

After I was on solid ground again, Dave came sailing in really fast, and then Luis. We had two more zip lines to go. I came in faster on those – which was fun!

As we made our third landing, I remembered that we would have to rappel down from that platform to get down to the river where we’d go rafting. Oh my. I’m going to hazard a guess that it was a good 100 feet down. Maybe even higher, I’m not that good with numbers.

Luis rappelled down first so he could start getting the tubes set up, and so there would be someone there to help Dave and I when we landed. Drex, the other guide, stayed at the top to help us. He hooked me up first and I pushed off. It was a weird feeling to be hanging that high up. My stomach felt fluttery at first, but as I looked around at the beautiful rainforest all around me, I was distracted from any feelings of fear.

Once we reached the bottom, we had to turn ourselves around and push off a rock face, swing over the river and grab Luis’ hand, who was waiting for us there.

Here’s the video I made of our GoPro footage. It’s only the zip line part. I’ll post the whitewater part later!

Now came the whitewater rafting part. The water was higher than normal because of the recent storm, but I think that made it more fun. We were bouncing around, crashing into rocks and dropping over little waterfalls. At one point we stopped, got out of our rafts and walked over to a waterfall. We stuck our heads under it and got totally soaked. The guides were saying how cold the water was, but to me it was comfortable. I mean if you’ve experienced the spring-fed, ice-cold waterfalls in Vermont, you’d think Costa Rican river water was like bathwater.

Our river adventure lasted another hour or so – but I would have been happy to keep going. When we got out of the water, we walked up a little hill to a place where we could change back into our dry clothes. They gave us a hot drink made with sugarcane, in case the river had chilled you. Then, we got on a bus that took us back up to where we had started.

After that, we were off in search of lunch. We saw a sign for a vegetarian and gluten-free place in a nearby town called Castillo, so we headed there. It was called La Ventanita (the little window), and it was part of a guy’s house. Dave got a burrito and I got quesadillas, both of which were really good. We noticed that the man was American, although he spoke perfect Spanish too. It appeared his wife was Costa Rican. So we wondered what their story was. I would have asked, but they seemed to be in the middle of preparing some kind of dessert and they looked really busy, so we just ate and went on our way.

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In the road on our way back, we saw a beagle playing catch by himself. He was throwing back his head and letting the ball fly up in the air, and then running to catch it. He was barking and wagging his tail. It was the cutest thing ever.

After that adventurous morning, we went back to the hotel to take showers and grab a nap. We had dinner at a restaurant called Lava Rocks. We both got casados, of course! How else would we have celebrated our last night in La Fortuna?

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Last night in la Fortuna

The next day, we would be heading off for our second week in Costa Rica – on the Pacific Coast!

Costa Rica Trip, Day 7 – Hanging Bridges


We spent Friday exploring the hanging bridges at Arenal Sky Adventures.

It was a very warm day, and there was a lot of hiking to get to each bridge. We saw many cool trees and plants, and we even saw capuchin monkeys! The hanging bridges were neat, since they let you walk up in the tree canopy.

After we’d gone over the bridges, we came to a trail that went down to a beautiful waterfall.

We ate lunch in the restaurant on site. The view was breathtaking. It looked out over the volcano and Lake Arenal.

I can’t recall much else about that day (this is what happens when you try to blog about something 3 months after the fact…), so I will let the pictures do the talking.

Costa Rica Trip, Day 6 – Thanksgiving with Hurricane Otto


Thanksgiving has long been a favorite holiday of mine. Getting together with my loved ones and sharing massive quantities of food – what’s not to love?

Thanksgiving 2016 strayed a bit from tradition for us. Not only were we in a foreign country, far away from family, but said country was expecting to be hit with it’s first hurricane on record.

Great….

That morning we ventured out to stock up on drinks and snacks. We got powdered milk and cereal and lots of water, just in case we lost power or got stuck in the hotel room for a long time.

The storm wasn’t supposed to make landfall until later in the day, so we wandered around town in the rain. It was eerily quiet and empty. Many of the stores were closed, and the big plate-glass windows had tape crisscrossed over them. The only people who were out and about were other tourists who were waiting out the storm just like us.

We checked out a couple of souvenir shops at the far edge of town, had lunch and then headed back to bunker down in the hotel room. We slept, ate snacks and watched TV while the rain pummeled the roof. The hurricane ended up making landfall in Nicaragua instead of Costa Rica, so other than a lot of rain and wind, La Fortuna was  just that – fortunate.

In the evening, after the rains quieted down, we went into town to get some dinner. (We really weren’t looking forward to having powdered milk and cereal.) All in all, it was a very quiet day, but of course we were very glad that we were not severely impacted by the storm.

We would resume our adventures the next day by checking out the Arenal Hanging Bridges.

Costa Rica Trip, Day 5 – Baldi Hot Springs


So many hot springs, so little time…

Ecotermales, Tabacon, Baldi, The Springs Resort, or the free springs by the side of the road?

We decided to go to Baldi Hot Springs because a.) it was the cheapest, and b.) it offered so many different pools (supposedly 25, but that’s counting the little cooling-off pools next to the big heated pools), with temperatures varying from ‘bath water’ to ‘hot as hades’.

We’d stopped by the previous day just to have a look, and they gave us a tour of the place. Then, the travel agent at our hotel hooked us up with day passes that included dinner, so we were good to go.

It was a drizzly, overcast day (Hurricane Otto was on his way) and Baldi was practically empty when we got there in the late morning. The resort is built on a hill, with the geothermally heated water filling the pools at the top and then cooling the further down you go. We started at one of the lowest pools, which was mildly warm.

We progressed up the hill, spending varying amounts of time in each pool, depending on how much we liked it. Each pool had a different vibe to it – some were quieter and offered more secluded areas, while others were bigger and more open. One even had three water slides going into it!

I was glad it was an overcast day, because I am sure I would have felt sick being in the hot sun in a hot pool. Instead, the drizzly, cool day made it just right for soaking in warm water.

The pool at the very top was unbearably hot, in my opinion. Dave liked it – he laid down on the built-in lounge chairs, but I could hardly even stick my foot into it. At one point, I bit my lip and put my feet in for probably 30 seconds. When I took them out, they were bright red!

I decided to take a walk around while Dave boiled himself in the water. There are some trails around the edge of the property, so I checked out the tropical plants, and at one point, I peeped through the foliage at the edge of the park and discovered a view over a big field with cattle grazing in it.

We decided that the next pool down from the top was the most agreeable temperature to us both, and spent a lot of time in there. It had a swim-up bar, but unfortunately for us, that was closed. I’m not sure if it was because it was the off-season, or because there was a hurricane coming in the next day, or what. It was probably a good thing, because we didn’t spend any money on drinks.

For lunch, we changed back into our clothes and drove back to town to grab a bite at La Parada. Then, we found an electronics store where we bought a new SD card for the GoPro. Dave had figured out that all the problems we were having with the GoPro was because we didn’t have the proper rated SD card! The poor little SD card just couldn’t keep up with our adventurous, high-definition lifestyle, apparently.

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Dave snuck some scraps to this pup at La Parada.

After we’d taken care of that business, we headed back to Baldi. By then it was late afternoon and there were more people there. We put our wet bathing suits back on (ick!) and hit the pools again.  It was pretty cool looking once it started to get dark and all the lights in the pools came on.

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One of the few pics we took!

We lounged about for another few hours. Dave even tried one of the water slides. By then, it had been drizzling constantly for a while. Our towels were soaking wet because there weren’t really any covered areas to hide them. So, we changed back into our dry clothes and set out for the dinner buffet. It took us a while to figure out where it was – they had changed the location due to the oncoming storm.

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It was easy to forget the time of year in the tropical climate – thank goodness for cultural reminders.

We ate in a big dining hall with a brightly decorated Christmas tree. I had almost forgotten that it was Thanksgiving eve! Definitely the first time I’ve spent that day in my bathing suit.

Up next – Day 6 – Hurricane Otto!

Costa Rica Trip, Day 4 – Arenal Volcano & Ecocentro Danaus


The main attraction of La Fortuna is Volcan Arenal – the tall, nearly-perfect cone that lurks just west of town. The history of the volcano is so interesting to me – people used to live and farm at the base of it, either not realizing it was a volcano, or thinking that it was dormant.

On the morning of July 29, 1968, the volcano spontaneously erupted, and continued to erupt for several days. The ash, lava and rocks from Arenal covered an area of about 6 square miles. It destroyed three small villages and killed many people, livestock and crops. You can read more in-depth about it here: http://www.arenal.net/arenal-volcano-1968-eruption.htm

Arenal remained active until 2010. It was a huge tourist draw – people wanted to stay in hotels with a lava view! By the time Dave and I heard about Arenal, it had stopped spewing rocks and lava, although apparently it still releases hazardous gases, so hiking up to the crater is prohibited.

On Tuesday, we headed over to Arenal National Park to check out the hiking trails. There are two hiking options that take you around the lava flows from the 1968 eruption. The landscape is prehistoric looking – I kind of felt like we were walking around in Jurassic Park, except without the dinosaurs.

We took a lot of GoPro videos, which I haven’t yet compiled and edited, except for this little cameo right here:

Towards the end of the hike, we came across a couple of capuchin monkeys. They had been in the middle of the trail, but then they hid themselves as soon as I saw them. We were trying to get a peek at them, and we could hear them making scary growling noises, but we could not see them! For a moment, I was afraid they might jump out of the grass and attack us, but luckily they aren’t those kind of primates.

We grabbed casados for lunch in La Parada, which became one of our regular restaurants for a quick, delicious meal. Then, we spent the afternoon chilling by the pool at the hotel. Oh yeah.

That evening we went back to Ecocentro Danaus for our night rainforest tour. Our guide was a young guy named Elias who spoke perfect English, which I appreciated. Right away he showed us a momma and baby sloth and told us all about how the green algae that grows on sloths is a symbiotic relationship. The algae gets passed on from the mother to baby during the baby’s first months of life. Not only does it help to camouflage the sloths, but they can obtain nutrients by licking it! He also explained how the sloths will climb up or down in the trees, depending on the temperature. And here I just thought they were super lazy.

In addition to the sloth, we saw all kinds of frogs, insects and even a little caiman. Elias apologized for there not being more animals to see – he had hoped to show us the big caiman and some snakes, but I was happy with what we saw.

After the tour, we had dinner at Life House, which was the place we’d eaten lunch at the day before. It was kind of late, so we were one of the only customers in the place, which made it feel a little awkward. But the food was good!

Costa Rica Trip, Day 3 – La Catarata Fortuna & The Rainforest Chocolate Tour


On Monday morning, while our friends and family back home were commuting to work in the cold and snow, Dave and I were preparing to visit our first Costa Rican waterfall!

Of course we had to start with the hotel breakfast – fruit, eggs, gallo pinto, and toast – which was just what we needed to fuel the adventure.

La Catarata Fortuna

La Catarata Fortuna, aka La Fortuna Waterfall is located only a few miles outside the town of La Fortuna. It was a gorgeous drive, with breathtaking views of both Arenal and Cerro Chato.

It cost about $15 for admission to the park, and it helps to have a healthy pair of legs. There are over 400 steps to climb down to the waterfall! By the time we were at the bottom, I could feel my calves quivering and I just hoped they weren’t visibly twitching.

The waterfall is breathtaking. Seen from the viewing platform above, it looks deceivingly delicate, like a lock of silver hair streaming through the forest. At the bottom of the stairs, looking up the 200+ feet of thundering whitewater, you really get a sense of it’s might.

The river bends around to the left, where there are lots of shallow, calm areas. And rocks, of course. We spent a bit of time relaxing here, trying to capture video of fish with the GoPro, and enjoying the fresh water.

When we’d had our fill of calm, we climbed back up the few stairs to the pool at the base of the waterfall. People were swimming here. Of course we had to try it out too.

The water was surprisingly cold (though not as cold as a Vermont waterfall), and extremely turbulent. There really was no shallow area – you just sort of slid in and had to swim. There were some rocks to stand on, but the water was moving around us so vigorously that I couldn’t keep my balance. The closer you got to the waterfall, the more turbulent it got. So much for that romantic vision of putting my head under the waterfall and tossing my hair back sexily. I’m pretty sure it would break a person’s neck.

There was actually a lifeguard on the scene and a lifesaver (is that what those foam rings are actually called?), but he was standing so far back from the water that I think a person could drown before he made it across the slippery rocks, untied the life preserver (ah, that’s what it’s called, right?) and threw it into the water.

I called it quits after a few minutes in the pool, preferring not to drown on my third day of vacation. Dave went back in with the GoPro, to try to get some action shots, but the camera would not cooperate. Note: learn to use your GoPro and troubleshoot any issues before you take it on vacation.

Moments later, two young women approached him and asked him to take their picture. The three of the struggled to remain upright in the water during the transaction. I ate some cheetos and watched from the sidelines.

After drying ourselves off we were ready to hike back up the 400+ steps.

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I was a bit worried, since I have weak lungs, weak legs, and – frankly – am just a weak person all around. It ended up not being too bad. We (I) only had to stop to rest once. We stopped next to a mother and grandmother who were carrying a very fat baby. The grandmother gave me a knowing look and said “gordito!” as she shuffled the baby onto her other hip. He was smiling broadly and clearly not concerned with the fact that he was overweight and weighing his people down.

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Taking a breather on the way back up.

Once we got to the top, we changed out of our wet clothes and had a look around the butterfly garden there. There was also an orchid garden, but the entrance was closed off because they were doing construction in the area. That’s one of the downsides to visiting in the off-season – not everything you might want to see or do is available.

The Rainforest Chocolate Tour

While perusing the map the day before, we noticed there was a cacao farm along the route between la Fortuna and the waterfall. So we casually dropped in on our way back, and found out that a tour would be starting at 1. We had just enough time to eat some more snacks and slap some more sunscreen on my white self.

The tour began under a covered patio, where the guide gave a history of the natives use of the cacao fruit, and how it evolved over the years to the chocolate we know and love today.

We then walked around the farm, which not only had cacao plants, but also coffee, banana and lots of flowers.  We learned about the different colored pods and how to tell when the fruit was ripe.

Then we gathered in another covered area, and the guide gave an interesting explanation and demonstration of how the cacao is harvested, the different components of the fruit and how it was used back in the day versus how it’s used now.

We got to taste the raw beans. They were covered with a slimy white goop, which is actually cocoa butter and felt quite lovely as I rolled it around on my tongue. We were warned not to try to chew the raw bean because it would be intolerably bitter.

He showed how the farmers dry the beans and let ferment them before grinding them up. Several people in the audience took turns grinding the dried beans. Then, the other guide showed how to pour the ground beans from one bowl into another, while blowing through the falling pieces, to blow the bits of shell away. She had a girl come up and try it, and it seemed much harder than it looked.

Luckily we were sitting in the back row and there were eager kids in front of us, so I didn’t have to embarrass myself with any of these activities.

We got to taste the ground up chocolate. It was kind of like tasting baking chocolate, only fresher. Not sweet, but not terrible, either.

They made us a drink of hot chocolate, which was good, but the highlight for me was when they had us line up and receive a spoonful of melted chocolate. There was a table full of toppings – sea salt, nuts, caramel, coffee, and different spices. I tried it with sea salt and it was so amazing, I had to go back and get another spoonful. I would have gone back for a third (they said we could have as much as we wanted), but by then the line had dwindled down and I didn’t want to look greedy. Plus, Dave said if I wasn’t careful, I would get the runs.

After we left the chocolate place, we were ready to get some lunch. It was close to 3 pm at this point, so we were pretty hungry.

I’d seen a sign in one of the restaurants in la Fortuna, proclaiming it to be the home of “The Best Vegetarian Food in Town”, so I suggested we try it. It was called Life House. At 3 pm, it was basically deserted, but a friendly waiter came over and took care of us quickly. I got a veggie burger and Dave got a chicken sandwich. Both were really yummy. We met the owner of the restaurant, who grows much of the food in his own garden. It was a neat place.

That evening we went to Ecocentro Danaus, which is a local conservation and education center. We’d read that they gave night forest tours. However, when we arrived, they were just closing up, and they told us to call and make a reservation for the next night. It was a gorgeous time for a drive though!

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Costa Rica Trip, Day 2 – Exploring Fortuna


On Sunday morning, we woke to the sounds of exotic birds and animals chirping and calling in the trees outside our room. Ah, vacation.

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Note the non-light blocking curtains
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Our room was a tad smaller than what I’m used to. Or maybe we overpacked…

More adventurous folk may have chosen to rise early and run off to explore the volcano, or glide through the canopy on a zipline, but not us. We leisurely woke up, got dressed, and walked 30 feet to the outdoor dining room, where our hosts were preparing breakfast.

The meal consisted of an initial dish of fruit – a banana and a slice of melon. Then, the cook brought out a dish of mixed rice and beans (called gallo pinto), scrambled eggs, toast, and a slice of cheese. Of course there was also fresh juice and coffee or tea to drink. We sat and enjoyed the food while looking out over the gardens.

After we ate, we took a walk around the hotel gardens. They were nicely kept, but gave the impression of being entirely natural, like the groundskeeper did nothing more than mow the grass and trim everything to keep it from growing uncontrollably. I saw many familiar plants – much healthier versions of the  poor, longsuffering houseplants we keep here in the north.

We found impressive trails of leafcutter ants – so dedicated to their work that they had worn deep paths in the thick groundcover. (I’ll post videos later.)

After strolling for a while, Dave suddenly clapped his hand on his neck. “There’s something biting me, can you get it off?” he asked. I looked and saw nothing on his neck. Then, a moment later he was bitten again. And then whatever it was bit me on the face! We ran back to our room to get away from the violence. Our bites stung so badly – like a wasp sting, but there was nothing more than a little pink dot to show for it!

Once we recovered from the insect attack, we took a walk into town to explore. We wandered down the main street and looked at all the shops and restaurants, and we strolled through the park in the center of town.

We ate lunch at the Lava Lounge, which, it turns out, is a popular tourist restaurant. The food was good though – Dave very much enjoyed his arroz con pollo. It was here that we first noticed how dogs would just casually walk into restaurants and hang around waiting for handouts.

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At first we were charmed by the volcano-shaped rice until we realized that EVERY restaurant in town did the same thing.

After lunch, we wandered around town some more before we went back to the hotel to rest and figure out what we were going to do next. We brainstormed ideas for activities to do in the area, and then ranked everything according to how much we really wanted to do it (and how much money we wanted to spend!)

For dinner, we went to a place called La Choza de Laurel, which was also a bit of a tourist spot. It was “typical” Costa Rican food, served by women in traditional dresses. Dave got fish and I got some kind of veggie and rice platter. Oh, and a pina colada in an anthropomorphized pineapple.

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After drinking this entire thing, I realized it had no rum in it. Boo!

After our meal, we headed back to the hotel. It was a low-key first day, but we were both so tired from working so much and sleeping so little in the days before the vacation that we were fine with a chill day. There’d be plenty of time for adventures in the days ahead!

 

Costa Rica Trip, Day 1 – Getting There


Getting to La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica is no simple trip. After staying up until 11:30 to pack, we had to get up again at 1:30 am to go to the airport. We got there so early that the check-in counter wasn’t even open yet, which meant that we stood in line for a half an hour waiting to check our bags. The plus side was that we were third in line, so once they did open we got through quickly.

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Naptime is about to commence.
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Goodbye, Connecticut!

We flew to Atlanta, barely maintaining consciousness. I’m telling you, we probably looked like two bobble-head dolls with our heads lolling to and fro. In Atlanta, we had to walk from A to F  because the “Plane Train” broke down. Which was actually ok, because it gave us some exercise and helped us wake up a bit.

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Halfway there – HAH! Little did I know…


The second flight seemed unnecessarily long – probably because we weren’t sleeping through it. We landed in Liberia at about 1pm. Getting through customs was quick and easy.

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Hello, Costa Rica!

 

We rented a Hyundai Accent Blue through Adobe Rental Cars. The guys there were really nice and got us on our way quickly. The road by the airport was a mess because it was being repaired. It was so holey and bumpy I thought for sure we were going to destroy the car in the first 10 minutes of having it.

Being the cheapskates that we are, we didn’t want to pay extra for a GPS, and of course we didn’t want our phones to be roaming, so we had to rely on maps to find our way around. By this point we were pretty hungry, so we stopped at one of the first places we saw. It turned out to be some kind of Costa Rican/Asian Fusion place. Not the best first impression of Costa Rican food.

After we ate, we were quick to get back on the road. I had read that you don’t want to be driving at night in Costa Rica if you’re not familiar with where you’re going.

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This is the jolly good time part.

At first, the drive was a jolly good time and we were only slightly confused by the complete lack of road signage. We were excited to take everything in. The scenery was amazing and we were loving life.

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We came across a huge wind farm at dusk. It’s at the opposite end of Lake Arenal from where we were heading. 

After several hours, I figured we must be getting close to our destination, but no. If you look at the map of Laguna Arenal, it’s a huge lake. At one point we had to make a turn and we were confused about which way to go (again – complete lack of road signage!)

We stopped to ask a kid for directions and he said he was going our way. So Dave invited him to hop in. He only spoke Spanish, so I just listened to their conversation and thought about what I would do if he pulled a knife or a gun and tried to rob us. Because, America.

He rode with us for half an hour or so before we dropped him off. By then, it was completely dark. The road around the lake has a lot switchbacks – I guess because the terrain is too variable to put in a nice smooth road – so it was really rough going. Then it started to rain. In the dark and rain it felt like we just kept going around the same curves over and over and I was beginning to think we were in some kind of twilight zone. Or that I was going insane.

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Laguna de Arenal is the largest lake in Costa Rica.
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A close up, so you can see the switchbacks.


After what seemed like eternity, we arrived in La Fortuna around 7. We checked into Hotel Tangara and I was ready to lie down and sleep the minute we walked into our room. We managed to steel ourselves enough to go back out and get a quick dinner.

When we finally did get back to the room and lie down to sleep, we noticed that the curtains did not block out any light from the outside. Our room was right next to the reception area, so it was very bright. Luckily we had eye masks that we’d used to snooze on the plane, so we ended up sleeping with those over our eyes every night we were there.

Stay tuned for Day 2!

Excuse me, but your roof is full of cacti.


We saw some unusual things in Costa Rica. Unusual to us, that is. Maybe this is a normal situation in warm weather locations.

It may be hard to see in the picture, which I snapped as we drove past. This real estate office has a terracotta roof, which was covered with little cacti. I thought it was cute, and I honestly wondered whether someone cultivated it, or if they just spread on their own?

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I know, this is a lame excuse for a Costa Rica post, but it’s better than nothing! More to come soon, I promise!