Green Season Travel Adventures – Arenas del Mar

I don’t really know where to begin in telling you the stories from my recent travels.  Every day was full of adventurous exploring, good vegetarian cuisine and beautiful scenery.  My two favorite activities of the week at Arenas del Mar was the Rainmaker Reserve Hike and the remarkable sunset we had one late afternoon at Playitas Beach (the small semi-private beach at the Resort).  The cutest part were all the baby sloths and the funniest part was a tie – either it was the raccoon who was doing a yoga pose in Manuel Antonio Park or it was the jelly beans I found on our balcony one morning and the clothes, shoes and socks, which were drying, that had been moved around.  It appears the night before either the monkeys or the raccoons decided to have a party.  Did I mention our room was on the third floor!  At least they brought their own food (the jelly beans) – although I’m sure they attempted to access our mini-frig but the hotel got smart and put a latch on the inside of the cabinet.

The Rainmaker starts you off in secondary forest, with an easy hike upwards to eventually find yourself in the lush tropical primary forest.  A primary forest so expansive that it cannot be captured in a single photo.  With tall trees and shrubs surrounding you, you make your way across the first of many hanging bridges.  Several hundred feet off the ground, you can notice the difference in temperature, hear the birds more clearly and on a clear day, enjoy the horizon.  From here you can see the layers of forest – primary, secondary, palm oil plantations, rice fields and then eventually the beautiful Pacific Coast.

Along the way, we walked by several beautiful waterfalls and ponds, dipping our feet into the cool, refreshing water coming off the mountain.  We passed by all kinds of small creatures, brilliantly colored flowers and one very sleepy viper snake.  “You can get close but don’t touch the leaves and wake it up!“, said our guide, Roger.

Viper snake

The tour finished with a typical lunch at the Reserve’s Ranch – a casado consisting of rice, beans, tortillas, coleslaw, etc – and a juice but I can no longer remember which kind, other than it was delicious and fresh. I drank so many juices on this trip that they’re all blending together at this point.

And the sunset that I mentioned…it was brilliant.  Just because I live in paradise doesn’t mean we always have the best sunsets.  Some nights, the sun is just a big ball of fire melting into the horizon, which is nice but not as nice as the nights when there is just the right mix of clouds and clear skies.  That’s when the magic happens.  Even after the sun has dropped, the sky will still be lit up with all different colors – reds, purples, yellows, oranges, blues.

Sunset at Playitas

I love watching the sunset.  For me, it’s the perfect way to end the day.  Several times a week at home, I’ll meet up with friends, stopping by the local market to pick up a cold beer and we’ll just sit on the sand and watch the sun go down.  It’s the little break I need to get outside, socialize, take a deep breath and let my work go for the day.

Enjoy the slideshow…

[slideshow]

Pura vida…Chrissy

Note: While I am now paid and/or receive comped services at many of the places I visit, I will always offer my unbiased opinion to you, my readers. Fortunately, I almost always have experiences that exceed my expectations.

Tortuga

Tortuga. That was the only word I understood during a conversation between a friend and an older Tica the other night as we were walking down the path to the beach for sunset. She was talking so fast and I was taken by surprise when we abruptly stopped to talk to the woman.  All I could think about was…the sun was setting…let’s go!!

After the conversation finished, we walked another 10 or so feet and my friend paused to reach down to the ground and pick up an empty plastic water bottle.

I now understood the conversation. I hadn’t seen the woman throw the bottle but my friend had. I was so proud to call her my friend in that moment. In that moment, she had three options.

  1. Ignore what she saw and walk past the bottle.
  2. Ignore the woman but pick up the bottle.
  3. Or talk to the woman about the harmful effects of littering our planet AND pick up the bottle.

Sadly, the woman would have walked past several large recycling bins at the entrance as she was leaving but instead she chose to leave her debris behind on our beautiful beach. We’ll never know if what my friend told her will make her think twice about her actions in the future but I’m hopefully optimistic.

On this last trip that I just returned from, I watched another turtle die on the beach (the first one was in 2011). We believe it was an Olive Ridley, a vulnerable species according to the IUCN Red List, and it was heartbreaking to watch as there was nothing we could do. We’ll never know what the cause was but it’s highly probable it was due to consuming human caused pollution in the Pacific and not being able to properly digest it.

I came across another turtle in Avellanas this past weekend, getting ready to lay her eggs. It was so nice to see how the few tourists in the area all gave her space as she made the journey from the water to the beach, working so hard to get high enough up on the sand, beyond the high tide level, so her eggs would have a chance to reach full term and hatch.

The turtles are depending on us. Our earth is depending on us.  Throw away/recycle your trash, pick up other people’s trash and take the time to educate people on the harmful effects of their poor choices.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Living Consciously in Costa Rica

A recent comment on my blog prompted me to think about how I’m living my life here and my desire to always be a positive expression of love, peace and joy for myself and others. It’s been difficult for me to try to blend my former blog (www.forharmony.wordpress.com) and this one.  Sometimes, I will write about connections and sustainable living but I haven’t been able to find a way to mix the crazy/funny stories of my life here on the Rich Coast with my daily conscious living choices.

So the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  And first, I decided to make a list with two columns.  One to acknowledge what I was doing right in my efforts to live consciously here and the other to recognize what could be improved upon.

Positive Expressions Needs Improvement
No car I have shipped a lot of products from the States here
I don’t use the air conditioning in my home.  Fans and fresh air only Food choices – a lot of what I eat is not grown locally
Preparing and sharing healthy, vegetarian meals with friends Since the move, started eating eggs and cheese again
Supporting locals: restaurants and artisans Finding other ways to give back to the local community
Using my hemp napkins for water glasses (since the cold water melts all over the place) People should buy stock in paper towels as I’ve gone through more   rolls in 6 months than I did in a few years of living in California
Saved a garrobo from drowning in the pool A lot of ants have died on my watch (hence the extreme paper towel   usage)
Only doing large loads of laundry so as to not waste electricity and water Having to wash clothes more often, even when they haven’t been worn   because everything gets a funky smell here from the humidity
Buying local, organic, shade grown coffee Not being able to find much organic produce
Sharing the beauty of Costa Rica/Nicaragua with others through photos and writing Not being able to really spend time on my personal projects, writing   and sorting through the hundreds of photos I take each month
Paying an above average wage to my housekeeper Getting back on the yoga mat

Food showed up a lot in the Improvement list so I’m making that my first change.  I’ve pulled out a book I brought with me, “A Vegan Taste of Central America“ and have started to write down and purchase the ingredients for the recipes I want to make.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress I make and other stories of intentional living in the coming months.  For now, my question to you is, what improvements can you make (or have you already made) to your own life to live more intentionally?

Pura vida…Chrissy

Disconnecting…

I’ve been offline for the last week or so…I know, it’s contrary to my last post about staying connected.  But there are times when it’s nice to completely disconnect from all the “screens and gadgets” and reconnect with actual people.  For the last week I was at Lapa Rios, a remote eco lodge on the Osa Peninsula.  No telephones, no cell service, no email, internet, facebook, texting, instant messaging…Nada. (well, okay, I admit a few times I was able to get an internet signal through my phone service and checked facebook…but it’s for my job!).

But for the most part, it was just me and a friend, hanging out in a tropical rainforest with beautiful views of the green, lush jungle, the Golfo Dulce and the Pacific Ocean.  At any given moment, wildlife could be found.

We saw dolphins in the Golfo Dulce, visited the Cana Blanca Animal Sanctuary, went horseback riding, played in waterfalls. We hiked around the property, both during the day and at night (really cool animal sightings at night – the jungle truly becomes alive).  Drifting off to sleep at night, we’d hear the sounds of thunder, tink frogs and crickets which was followed by waking up to a 5:00 a.m. sunrise with the howlers and birds.  Thank goodness for their early morning coffee delivery service to our bungalow!

But before going to Lapa Rios, we went to Arenas del Mar, a beachfront, rainforest resort in Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific Coast.  Two completely different experiences but both so worth having.  At Arenas del Mar, you’re situated in a resort where the beach is in front of you and the rainforest can be found above, behind and all around you.  But it’s a new resort, opened exactly 5 years ago (we were there to celebrate the Anniversary), so it has all the technological amenities you would expect to find in a new hotel.  We went hiking to waterfalls, saw monkeys falling from the sky (well, okay, they were jumping from our roof to the trees) and I once again faced my fear of heights on the hanging bridges and zipline tour.  I even swung like a pendulum (AKA Tarzan Swing) across two platforms about 120 feet above the ground and rappelled down two long ropes.

After Lapa Rios, we went to Hacienda Tayutic.  A new place for me – out in the central valley near Turrialba Volcano, about 2 hours east of San Jose. Located on top of a mountain with beautiful views of the valley below, it is a place to be treasured.  To completely relax and let go.  I learned how they make brown sugar and got to take a fresh bag home with me – my neighbors will be so excited to hear this as they know what will be made with it…chocolate chip cookies!  I also finally got to see the red berries of the coffee bushes – always I’ve only seen the white flowers and the green, unripe berries.  But it’s finally harvest season here and the red berries were all brightly shining against the green leaves of the coffee plant.  The Inn also produces macadamia nuts so I might just be making some chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies in the very near future as well!

Unfortunately, it rained every day we were there but we still worked in a few fun activities.  And while I was told the active Turrialba volcano was in front of the Hacienda, the fog and clouds never subsided so I never got to see it.  Next time though…

While not actually a vacation as all of the above was technically work, it was an amazing trip and so great to have found a new travel partner.

More stories from these trips to come in the future.  For now, enjoy the slideshow of incredible wildlife and beautiful scenery.

[slideshow]

Pura vida…Chrissy

Note: While I am now paid and/or receive comped services at many of the places I visit, I will always offer my unbiased opinion to you, my readers.  Fortunately, I almost always have experiences that exceed my expectations.

Staying Connected

Two friends who don’t know each other posting at the same time from the same event.

Facebook is really an amazing invention.  I spend almost my entire day on it as it’s what I do for work but while most of the time, I’m on special pages that I’ve created so I only see my clients’ posts, I do occasionally go to the main page to see what is happening in the world with my friends.

Some people, I haven’t seen or talked with in years while others I just talked to this morning.  But either way, it doesn’t matter, because Facebook has allowed us to become one large community of friends.  We support each other during rough times, we laugh with each other when something funny happens and we watch and share the joy of life unfold before us.

Every day, I’m  able to see life’s tragedies and triumphs – a friend got a kidney transplant after more than 18 months of waiting, another friend lost her husband in a tragic car accident, another friend’s husband returned after a long trip away, a friend got her Visa to live in Australia, another friend struggles to find his dream job in Brasil, other friends have lost their jobs and struggle to find work, children are born, people get married…then divorced, people buy houses and lose their houses.

There are ups and downs and through it all, we find ourselves connected through our commonalities and learn more about each other and ourselves through our differences.  It’s a way to stay connected and support each other when we’re all so far apart.

I use Facebook for business and to have meaningful relationships with the people I love.  Every one of my friends, I either have a personal or business relationship with.  And each one is meaningful to me.  It’s a big world and with so many friends in different time zones, it’s the perfect way for me to stay connected.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Granada and Guiones

The last weekend in October I traveled to Nicaragua.  My tourist visa was about to expire and I also needed to visit one of the hotels I work for there, Jicaro Island Ecolodge.  And I was so happy that I had finally convinced one of my local friends to go with me.  Traveling alone can be nice at times – reflective, peaceful – but also can be incredibly boring.  Plus, it was his first time traveling outside of the country so it was really fun to see him get his first passport stamp.

It was such a relaxing but busy three days on the Island.  While it’s only about an acre in size, you really can’t get bored there.  There is always something to do.  Cocktail classes, traditional meals, sunset boat tours and just hanging out on our casita’s hammock, enjoying the warm sunshine.  We even played Monopoly one night in which I lost miserably.

On a sunny morning we took a taxi into Granada and I gave him a tour of the city (I’m getting pretty good at giving this tour!), eventually ending up at the Chocolate Museum and Cafe. Granada is generally hotter than the Island because there are very few trees so we refreshed ourselves with a delicious iced chocolate drink.  I’m not sure what was in it but it was good to the very last drop.

On our way back to Tamarindo, our taxi driver dropped us off in San Juan del Sur, a small beach community about 30 minutes from the border.  We took a walk on the beach and while it was a lovely cove, it had to have been one of the dirtiest beaches I’ve ever been on.  Normally I’ll pick up trash as I see it but we would have needed lots of people, several hours and lots and lots of large Hefty bags in order to pick up all the trash that had accumulated on the shore.  It was really a sad sight to see.

I had just enough time to get home, unpack, do laundry and have my clothes be almost dry before we took off again for a weekend in Guiones.  This time, there was no work scheduled.  I was there to celebrate my birthday with friends and do a lot of surf photography.  That’s all I wanted for my birthday this year.  My friend spent hours each day surfing and I spent hours on the shore photographing.  On my birthday night, we went to a friend’s house for dinner.  I really couldn’t have asked for a better day.

On the drive home, we stopped at Avellanas and Negra, two other beaches known for great surf along the Nicoya Peninsula.  Of course, as usual, the GPS took us down a crazy road that ended at a river.  I’m totally sure there was a road on the other side of the river but we weren’t going to find out…we turned around and found the regular road to Avellanas.  Always an adventure when you’re driving in Costa Rica.

Returning home, I again had just enough time to unpack, do laundry and repack as I was heading out the door again for another set of travels…more on that to come in the next few weeks.

Enjoy the slideshow…

[slideshow]

Pura vida…Chrissy

The Beach Dog Cafe and Lola’s Avellanas

In 2007, I visited a small restaurant near the beach in Guiones and had one of the best smoothies of my life.  I had just returned from a very rainy walk on the beach with my boss and another friend.  We all decided to get smoothies and I chose one that had oatmeal.  Smoothies generally don’t stick in my memory very often but this one in particular, I have never forgotten.  It was that good.

I returned there last month for lunch with friends and found out it had changed owners a few years ago and is now The Beach Dog Cafe.  But the food was still exceptional. This time, I tried the portobello mushroom sandwich.  Everything in it was perfection – the veggies, the bread, the fries.  It is so difficult to find good bread here and fresh tasting ingredients.  While they offer meat options at the Cafe, they also have an entire page just for us vegetarians.

Also a few weeks ago, I visited Lola’s in Avellanas, about 20 minutes from where I live (depending on road conditions).  On earthquake day, I had met the owners of Lola’s and we visited their Norte property in Playa Danta.

The original Lola’s (which opened about 15 years ago) and the more recently opened Lola’s Norte have very similar setups.  Both are located right on the beach with these cool tables and chairs which are situated under almendra, palm and other tropical trees.

In Avellanas, I ordered a veggie burger.  Again, everything was cooked to perfection.  While I highly recommend trying out the typical Soda’s in Costa Rica (as I wrote in my last post), living here now, it’s nice to find restaurants that offer a variety of quality vegetarian options.  There is only so much gallo pinto that I can eat.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Costa Rican Dining Experience

Being vegetarian should be so easy here. As I’ve said before, rice and beans are the staples! But often times, when you go to the real “local” restaurants (called Sodas), those beans might have been cooked with pork. It’s common in Central America for the “rice and beans” to be made with pork. It’s probably the reason why I could never get beans when I was in Cuba. Because they knew I was vegetarian and they knew there was pork in the beans they had available for serving. But the Cuban culinary experience is a whole other story and you can read a little about it here.

Now you’d think this pork issue would just happen with the beans but that isn’t the case. Often times on Sunday afternoons, I meet up with friends at a local beachfront restaurant to hear one of my friends play Brasilian music and enjoy the sunset with a few beers. It’s a great way to begin the new week. The restaurant has many good options for vegetarians and so I ordered a salad there and made sure I read all of the ingredients that were included. So as I was sitting there enjoying my salad, listening to my friend’s beautiful music, I bit into a piece of bacon. I didn’t actually see the bacon because it was all diced up and hidden below the greens. I called over the server and asked him why there was bacon in the salad. “There’s always the bacon in the salad!” he replied. “But it’s not listed in the ingredients on the menu!” I replied. So now, when I order the salad, the servers remember me, smile and say “Sin tocineta” (without bacon).

Another thing I have learned is that if you go to a Soda where they don’t list the prices on the menu and you look like a tourist, know that you’re going to get jacked on the price. That’s really the only way to put it. Technically, a “casado”, which is the typical meal here that consists of rice, beans, plantains, some sort of meat or eggs, a small cabbage salad and for some strange reason, french fries, shouldn’t cost more than $5 with a non-alcoholic beverage. But if you’re in a Soda that doesn’t list their prices, just know you’ll probably be charged almost twice that amount and know that the Ticos sitting at the table next to you are paying half of what you paid. That’s just the way it is.

Casado

Pura vida…Chrissy

Celebrating 6 Months of Life on the Rich Coast

I can’t believe it’s been half a year already.  People often ask me if it’s different than what I expected it to be like.  My answer is No…it’s exactly what I expected.  Well, take away the robbery , and then it’s exactly what I expected it to be like.  Even the earthquakes were something I had anticipated (although not so big).

I knew there would be issues with banks, governmental agencies and a high cost for items not generally found here.  I knew I’d have to constantly be making adjustments and tweaking things to get them to work. I knew I wouldn’t be able to find certain things that I wanted or needed.

But I moved here to live more simply.  To enjoy my days, living each one fully.  To live at the beach, to watch gorgeous sunsets with friends and to savor $0.70 mangoes and lots of gallo pinto with Lizano.  To not have a car, to walk most everywhere I needed to go. To be healthy and happy – the last few years, I’ve learned that if you don’t have those two things, you really have no life at all.

I’m currently working on getting residency here.  It’s not really within my budget but neither is leaving the country every 90 days.  Plus, I like to travel when I want – not when someone tells me I have to.

And I still have a huge list of things I want to do here – besides those in the banner above.  Sadly, I missed the arribada (when thousands of turtles arrive on the shores of Playa Ostional to lay their eggs) last month by a few days – but there’s always next year.  It actually happens every month in winter but October is always the biggest.

I haven’t explored as much as I’d like but there’s time.  Costa Rica isn’t going anywhere.  And neither am I.

What do I miss?

  • Drinking bottled beer (it’s more expensive and not always available)
  • Good, reasonably priced wine
  • $3 boxes of Kashi cereal
  • 9 p.m. sunsets
  • The annual trip to Luna
  • LEMONS!!

But I still haven’t worn socks (or shoes with laces) and that makes it all worth it.  Especially since it’s officially the start of summer season and I made it through an entire winter without the need for them.  At this point, I don’t even know where they are!

Pura vida…Chrissy