Costa Rica…the most spirited team in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil!

Costa Rica World Cup celebrationsAs the world has come to see, the biggest sporting event besides the Olympic games is the FIFA World Cup, this year celebrated on our continent, down in Brazil. Even though this was a difficult year for Brazil, they did an extraordinary job welcoming all the fútbol federations from around the world, including our very own Costa Rica! It was a huge thrill for all the Tico fans to classify for the World Cup. The last time we were in the games was in 2006 and the last time we were in the Round of 16 was in 1990! This time Costa Rica’s national team, fondly called La Sele, not only did an excellent job during the hexagonal, taking second place, but also played great futbol, beating the United States and Mexico in the last round.

When Costa Rica’s team was getting ready for Brazil, we didn’t see great results with a loss against Japan and a draw against Ireland. But as the Cup started, La Sele really stepped up and showed the world what our small country can do! The disapproval from commentators, reporters and fútbol fans around the world was forgotten and Costa Rica got on the map as a contender.

As Tico’s, we put on the biggest national celebration after each incredible match, standing together in unity and showing the whole world who we were. We took on some of the best competitors in the first rounds, beating three past World Cup winners and some of the best teams in all of soccer history: Italy, England and Uruguay in the first round and Greece in the second round.

While we lost in the penalty shoots against Holland in the quarterfinals, what gave us such happiness was the fact that no team could defeat the Costa Rica fútbol team on regular time! So, while we got knocked out in last Saturday’s match, there was not a better way to lose then in the penalty round, fighting until the end, defending the honor of Costa Rica!

Chrissy told me that Quepos was fully alive for each of the games, with everyone dressed in Costa Rica’s colors of red and blue and their faces painted with the flag showing their Tico pride. For the quarterfinals against Greece, the County shut down the Malecón (the main road into town) and set up a big screen TV along the sea wall so everyone could watch together. When we won the game, the streets were filled with cheering people and traffic was at a standstill. They shut it down again for the Holland game but Chrissy was suffering from her day at the bank, having had severe allergies overcome her from spending almost 6 hours in the freezing cold building. She watched the game on ESPN and could hear the cheers coming from the Malecon, about 1 ½ km from her house. But even after the loss to Holland, the town held its head up high. Ticos still celebrated, honking their horns and cheering….Proud to be Tico and to have come so far.

She also happened to be in San Jose after two of the group games and just like in Quepos, everyone was wearing red, cars and people filled the streets, honking their horns and shutting down their businesses for the day. People were not only cheering on the bridge overpasses but were actually in the freeways. The entire nation was smiling. Pure happiness. Pura vida.

One of our clients in Manuel Antonio, Café Milagro, shut down their restaurant and coffee roaster to watch the games all together as a team but after the game against Greece which started at 2:00 p.m., they never reopened that night for dinner. They all went down to Quepos Centro to celebrate with the rest of the country. Chrissy and I both agree…we have some pretty cool clients who put social well-being above their bottom line.

To see Tico pride in action, check out this great video we found on YouTube!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07hdfdPxxJU&app=desktop

And enjoy the slideshow…

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Viva Costa Rica!

Kevin

Traveling Around Peninsula de Osa: Part 2

Adventures on the Osa Peninsula continued…

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The next day we went to Puerto Jimenez to do a tour of a sanctuary but first we went on a boat to look for dolphins in the peninsula.  We only could see one dolphin so that was a little bit sad because we had hoped to see more but you know…mother nature does not always do what you want it to do!  So anyway we enjoyed it because for me it’s always fun to be in the water on a speed boat or any kind of a boat!  After we searched for dolphins, they took us to the sanctuary to see the animals that they take care of there.  We arrived at the beach and met our guide and the founder of the sanctuary, Ms. Carol.  She was a really special lady that loves immensely all the animals.  They have  several different animals there…we first saw macaws that are not able to fly anymore, then a spider monkey call Sweetie who is the most friendly monkey in the world – she is always asking people to scratch her and she shows you where she wants to be scratched!  I never saw anything like that in my life, it was such a funny scene.  We also saw Kinkajous, a toromuco (sort of like a weasel) and some wild pigs.

Then we went to see the white face monkeys.  One of them looked a little crazy, kept rocking back and forth like something was wrong but it’s because of all the suffering caused by humans who held her in captivity in a box.  Next, we fed the sloths with some veggies and puppy chow – what they really love to eat.  It was one of my best experiences hanging out with animals.  They also have a lot of other different animals but the visitors who go to the Sanctuary are not allowed to see them in their cages because they want to keep them as wild as they can be so they cannot interact with humans.  Only the first ones that I wrote about can be around visitors because they cannot be released back into the wild again.  This is because they have various issues with them like diseases or having been held or born in captivity and  that makes it impossible for them live on their own and survive.  That’s why they are cared for at the sanctuary and Ms. Carol educates the public about why it’s so important to leave wild animals wild.

The next morning was horseback riding and we went to a place called Finca Bijagual to take the tour.  We started the tour by riding through the farm and alongside the mountain so it was like the real jungle we were passing by, eventually arriving at a virgin beach, where we saw a lot macaws on the trees.  We stopped at some natural tide pools on the rocks and rested for a little while.  It was really fun and wild to go horseback riding there.  I always love riding horses, anytime I can, it brings me so much joy.

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So what I can say in general about my visit to Lapa Rios is that it is just phenomenal being there and to be able to see all these kinds of animals around and do all these tours without having to go far away.  The hotel is excellent quality and same for the people who work there.  The food you can get there is amazing, they have the most delicious desserts, all kinds of meats, ceviche cocktails, and a really tasty meal with gallo pinto, cheese, eggs, and whatever else you want –  the most typical breakfast in the area. What an amazing week it was at Lapa Rios…all of the awesome things we saw and did. Experiences that I never had before and look forward to having again.

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Kevin

Traveling around Peninsula de Osa: Part 1

There was so much to do and see at Lapa Rios that I’m going to break this experience into two posts!  Here’s the first half of the exciting week that we spent there…

We started our trip from Manuel Antonio to the Osa Peninsula before noon.  Lapa Rios came to pick us up at Arenas del Mar in their Land Rover and our guide/driver, and now our good friend Roger, took us on the really long drive from the Central Coast to the Osa Peninsula.  Even with the long drive ahead of us, I was pretty excited to make this trip because it was my first time going to the South Pacific so I was really interested to do all this traveling by land and see it up close.

Playa Dominical

Playa Dominical

We first passed by Playa Dominical to check out the beach and the surfing culture in town.  It was my first time there so my first impression of the place was that it is a really small and quiet town in comparison to Tamarindo, but also with really good waves and a nice beach.  Definitely it’s a place where I would like to go and stay a few nights to know it better and see how it is like, and also for sure do some surfing in those fun waves. Chrissy tells me there is a new eco-hotel near there, Kurà, and I hope we can return soon to check it out!

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So from Dominical to Osa we almost went all the way without doing any other stops but then we got into a traffic jam because they were fixing the road.  So we had to stop for like an hour which made the drive quite a bit longer.  Once we passed through the construction and arrived into Puerto Jimenez, we checked in at the main office where they offered us a delicious and refreshing coconut water (right from the coconut!) with a bamboo straw to drink it with.  From there, we went to see the big population of caimans that live in a small river close to the marina.  There were dozens of them in a really small space, as such you can see them fighting for the space.  We could see them pretty close actually and it got scary when one caiman took me by surprise and moved really fast from where he was and really close to where we were standing!  It really was like a NAT GEO scene watching these caimans chase each other; it was a big experience for me definitely. (watch Chrissy’s video on the RCE Facebook page)

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Continuing our way to the hotel we got onto a dirt road in between the mountains and the Gulf.  And that’s where you feel like you are seriously going to be in the middle of nowhere…which is part of the adventure that they want to give you at Lapa Rios, the escape from reality. So driving along this road, the first wildlife that we saw were the macaws eating on some palm trees.  There were a lot of them so we stopped the car to shoot them because it was just spectacular to see them all flying and squawking around.

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Next we drove through several rivers to finally arrive at the hotel. When we got there, Marijke (Lapa Rios’ General Manager) was there waiting for us with all the Lapa Rios team, welcoming us with a cold and delicious drink which I’m learning is a common (and very nice) trait at each of the Cayuga hotels.  She took us on a tour of the property and I saw how it was a really natural place – definitely in the jungle.  There were millions of things to see and watch all the time there!

For our first morning, we went on the starfish tour.  We saw lots of different species of star fish that are around the area.  We even could touch them because they are really docile water animals.  It was a fun tour because we also started to interact with some of the guests that were staying at the hotel.

After the tour, we went to hang out at the pool and it’s amazing all that you can see just being there.  It is like the animals just appear and come to you, but then I realized that happens in every space around the ecolodge, even from your room when you wake up, you will easily see all kinds of monkeys, birds and insects.  It really made it the most wild experience ever in my life.

The next morning was the birdwatching tour.  I realized during the tour that I actually found it more interesting than what I thought it was going to be like at the beginning.  I enjoyed it a lot –  watching all the hundreds of species of birds, especially the most beautiful ones like the macaws and toucans, all kinds of falcons and hawks, even the spider, squirrel and howler monkeys that we saw during the walk.

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Then that night we went for the night walk around the property by some paths that they made around the jungle.  The walk is really exciting because it is at night time so it makes it really wild and interesting to imagine at the beginning what kind of animals you will come across.  I really enjoyed it even though we didn’t see a lot of things that night.  We did see a yellow bird sleeping under some leaves, then we saw some frogs in a little artificial swamp that the Lapa Rios guides built to make them come and stay there, so there would be lots around the property to study and show to the guests.  We even saw some frog eggs hanging on a leaf which looked really cool and we took some good pictures of it.  After that, other things that we saw were a Kinkajou, some small snakes, a funny mouse sitting on a branch, one young tarantula that was in its cave and lot of different insects.  I think this is the best hike around the area you can try!

The following day we did the Waterfalls hike and you mostly walk through the jungle to a river passing by several really cool waterfalls where you can even take a swim and jump into one of them which was really fun to do.  The water is so clean and fresh that you will want to stay there for awhile.

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To be continued…

Enjoy the slideshow

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Kevin

Traveling to Manuel Antonio

photoWe started traveling early to get to Manuel Antonio…the taxi picked us up just after 6am to get to the little airport near Tamarindo, and catch our flight at 7am straight to San Jose first.  Then we had to take another one from San Jose to Arenal, and finally from Arenal to Quepos.  It was a really fun ride in the plane because it was my first time flying, so I was really excited about it.  When the plane took off we flew all over Tamarindo and Langosta, and wow what a great view.  It’s amazing how wonderful and nice the landscape looks from the sky, especially around the shore.  It was just spectacular to be able to see all those beautiful views from that angle, even when it’s just mountains that you’re looking at beneath you, it’s still really nice to see.

The part of the flight that I enjoyed the most was when we were coming from Arenal to Quepos because we literally flew over my mom’s house, which was my childhood home, so that was just incredible.  I just looked through the window and I said to myself “Oh shoot” that looks just like my home town, San Ramon, and it was, and the first thing I saw was my neighborhood. I took the camera and I couldn’t believe it, I shot my mom’s house and our entire community from the airplane.  Then I shot our beautiful church and central park, it was great.  I never expected something like that, it was super funny.

Continuing the flight, after a few more minutes, the African palm tree plantations that are all around the Quepos area came into view so we knew we were really close to our destination.  Once at the airport, our driver and good friend now, Mr. Berny, from Arenas del Mar picked us up there to take us to the hotel.  We passed by some towns in the area like Quepos City, and we made a little stop there to buy some tasty and cold beers.  Perfect for the moment because it was really hot at that point.  Arriving at the entrance to the hotel, Mr. Berny pointed out several sloths sleeping in the trees.  It was really fun to watch how they lay on the branches just like they were in the most comfortable hammock, so so funny.

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Once at the outdoor reception area of the hotel, we got a golf cart to take us to the main lobby.  It is just beautiful going through the paths on the golf cart, enjoying the jungle views where you can see a lot of wildlife like monkeys, sloths, lizards, birds, and more.  They have a huge green reserve around the hotel, you’re really in the middle of the jungle and next to the beach, which creates an environment for all kinds of animals to come and hang out.  You can see them all day, you even have to be careful about some of these little friends because if you leave your door open on your balcony you will definitely have some visitors trying to steal and eat your food.  These are the monkeys and they’re pretty curious about the food that they can find in the rooms, and they can be really messy too, so make sure to close – and lock – your doors after you go out, just to avoid these little troublemakers. There are also the other most common visitors around the hotel where there’s food, those are the raccoons who show up at the restaurant at dinner time to see what tasty and free food they can get from humans (although feeding the animals is discouraged).  So all these situations make for such a fun stay.

Capuchin caught in the act of breaking in

Capuchin caught in the act of breaking in

And so many other factors also made the stay at Arenas del Mar unforgettable…the people, food, architecture, activities and wildlife. The people because they are amazing…the most social, friendly, funny and kind team you can get in a hotel.  I became really good friends with a lot of them;  they make you feel like you are a part of the big Arenas del Mar family.  They make you feel really special all the time in the way they treat you.  And then the food – they serve the best and most delicious food in the area.  You can find on the menu a lot of appetizing dishes for lunch at Playitas Restaurant and dinner at El Mirador.  You have all kinds of options to choose…even if you are vegetarian, they have really good dishes.

Another big thing I enjoyed were the tours around the area.  Like the Rainmaker Reserve for a hike to see and check out the different regions of the Rainforest like the primary forest and secondary forest.  The big difference I could find was that it’s hotter and the trees have to grow up quite more to get the sunlight in the primary forest because it’s lower than the secondary.  Another tour we did and the one I probably enjoyed the most was the zipline canopy tour north of Quepos.  They also have a serpentarium and  a butterfly garden with really nice specimens.  So after we checked out the butterflies and snakes, we went for the next adventure, the zip lines, some hikes and a couple rappelling lines.  It was so fun, I enjoyed it fully.  After, they served us a delicious typical casado.

On one of the mornings, I had some time to go surfing and try for the first time Manuel Antonio waves.  Once at the beach, the waves looked pretty heavy and powerful in the way they were breaking because it was kind of shallow.  I started catching some fun and really fast waves but then I caught this huge close out that became pretty choppy because the wind was onshore.  I had bad timing on the wave which made me stay right on top of it and it broke with me on top. I thought I could still do the drop but the wave didn’t help me in that way, it just kept me on the top so I had to jump off the board so as to not break it if I were to fall on it pretty hard.  But even so, the heavy lip ended up doing that for me and broke the board in two pieces.  That was the saddest part of the trip.  Fortunately, one of the local surf instructors let me borrow one of his boards to use on another day.

Anyway I really enjoyed all my time at Arenas del Mar, and for me it was one of the best hotel experiences I’ve ever had.

Enjoy the slideshow…

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Kevin

The Most Harmonious Hotel Ever

DSC06819This time our trip starts once again in Tamarindo, not really early in the morning but just enough to enjoy the heat of a beautiful sunny morning in November.  We rented a car to get there and it was a really nice drive along Guanacaste province.  It was my first time going to Guiones so I was really excited to get there and see how the beach looked because I was told by a lot of my friends that it has a perfect beach break along the whole beach, so there I was…getting mentally prepared for all those nice and beautiful waves I was going to catch.  The travel time was not that long coming from Tamarindo to Guiones and once you arrive at the dirt road you can definitely feel that you getting closer to the beach – that’s the way it is around all of Costa Rica.  So finally we arrived at the Harmony Hotel and the first person we saw was our friend Norberth who we met just a week ago at our trip to Jicaro.  He had been there on vacation as well with his siblings.  He welcomed us with a cold and much needed drink and a wet towel because it was really freaking hot out there!  It was the perfect way to cool off and start our day at the hotel.

We went straight to our room to change our clothes and wear something more comfortable for the beach.  My first impression of the room was just like wow… this is a really cool room with a small living room, an outdoor shower, a hammock and chairs on the outside patio just to relax and enjoy the peaceful harmony of the place.  After we settled into our room, we went straight to the beach to see what it looked like and check out the surf.  The beach is nice and really similar to what I’m used to seeing around Tamarindo because of course they are close to each other.  But the big difference of course is that Tamarindo is pretty developed and Guiones is still really quiet like it used to be in Tamarindo maybe 8 or 10 years ago.

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The development really makes a huge difference in infrastructure.  At nighttime, in Guiones, there’s no streetlights anywhere so you have to walk in the the dark to go from one place to another – I recommend always carrying a flashlight with you or you’re gonna be totally walking blind in the darkness even with the moonlight.  We went to have dinner out of the hotel with some friends, and we were lucky that they had flashlights or it would have been impossible to find the way to the restaurant because I just couldn’t see anything at all and I kind of got lost so I just followed the people that were walking in front of me.  Looking back now, it’s really funny as I wouldn’t be able to tell which way we took that night because it was so dark all the way to the restaurant.  But at the same time it was a nice and new adventure – living these moments in the way that you are just not used to.

So going back to my main important thing to do here: the surfing.  The waves were not really amazing for those days because the swells weren’t hitting pretty much in the whole north pacific shore, so even though I caught some nice rides, they weren’t too big and not really strong but enough to have a good time and enjoy the water.

I cannot wait to go back there now that the season for waves is totally better, and it will be perfect to have this awesome combination of great surf, pleasant service and delicious food and drinks that I can’t wait to try again like the veggie sushi rolls, the gallo pinto in the morning and the sandwich from the Harmony Juice Bar made with goat cheese, tomato salsa, avocado, greens and honey.  I just remember how delicious it was, eating it combined with the tamarindo, lime and ginger juice that they prepare in the restaurant’s bar. So I’m anxiously waiting for the next opportunity to go back to the most harmonious hotel ever!

Enjoy the slideshow…

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Kevin

Exploring Nicaragua

Note from Chrissy: I’ll be working on a big project for the next 10 days or so, so I asked Kevin to write about his travels with me in October and November.  After all, this blog is about “Experiences” and I thought it would be interesting for you to read his versions of our travels together around his country and Nicaragua and see how they differ.  These are his stories…enjoy!

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These are my stories of traveling in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and the moments that were most memorable. First we started on our way to Lake Nicaragua coming from Tamarindo to the border. It was my first passport stamp and my first time out of Costa Rica. Our trip started early that day, getting out of Tamarindo at 7 am under some of the last heavy rains of the season and getting to the border around 9 am.

Once we got out of the car, all these Nicaraguan people jumped all over us trying to sell us the immigration form, the one that you totally get for free once you are inside with the border agents. The economic situation in Nicaragua is pretty bad so these people are just trying to get some extra money or actually, it might be the only income that some of these Nicaraguans can get, so is a little crazy once you get there but definitely a lot crazier on the Nicaraguan side. They charge you even to get inside with the border agents, so once again you can tell how they try to get all that they can from tourism; that it is one of the most important incomes for the country in this area.

Well once we were done with all the check-ins, we started our drive to Lake Nicaragua just stopping for a little while to see the volcanoes Madera and Concepción that are on Omotepe Island. Those are two wonderful creations of mother nature. From the mainland shore, they look really nice, right in the middle of the lake. Because it was pretty cloudy, it wasn’t really easy to see the bottom of the volcanoes but we could see the two tops (on the way home, we stopped again and it was sunny with no clouds). Continuing on our tour we got into the port where we boarded a panga that took us to the hotel, passing by many island homes on the lake.

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Once we arrived to Jicaro’s Island, they welcomed us with a delicious drink called grama tea which is made from a local grass and lemon and it was just perfect and refreshing after all that traveling. My first impression of the hotel was that the architecture went really well with the environment of the island, taking good care of the existing flora and fauna.

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All the areas of the hotel were really beautiful, the casitas were just perfect to spend time in – to just chill, relax and have a peaceful time. The restaurant has an amazing view of the lake and Mombacho volcano, the pool’s design was really cool, and they have many perfect spaces to just to hang out at. The best part of the weekend for me was the cocktail class which I tried many of the different drinks they prepare there, and my favorite, the one that I like most, was definitely the national cocktail that they call Macua.  It is made with lime, orange juice, guava pulp, sugar syrup and the main ingredient for sure was the Flor de Caña Rum – one of the best rums ever.       DSC06245

Another really fun day was when we were doing a tour around Granada City…there we saw all the nice churches they have; there’s like 8 on one street so that was really interesting. Also the wonderful houses that are there from the colonial times that they keep in perfect condition. It gives the city that touch of nostalgia that makes you feel like you are back in the 40’s or 50’s.

Talking about the staff, they were the most kind people. Always helpful and pleasant in every situation, they made our trip really joyful. Thanks so much to Jicaro Island Eco Lodge for making our vacation the best it could be!

Enjoy the slideshow…

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Kevin