Saturday, January 21, 2012

Journey to Escazu and then Journey to the OC

The next morning I have some more "world famous pancakes"!  And start talking to some Americans.  These guys are from New York.  We haven't met any New Yorkers on the trip, which we both thought was odd but just figured they like their urban jungle more than the actual jungle. One of the guys looked like he was a cartoon character - for real! His hair was so gelled that is was ridic.

Our ride picked us up and we were off.  I knew it was the last time I'd get to see the parts of Costa Rica that were interesting and beautiful.  I could only imagine San Jose to be dirty and city-like.  I haven't heard good things about San Jose but oh well.  We had to get there somehow to get to the airport the day after. The ride was uneventful except for this amazing full double rainbow. I love rainbows. I love color.  I got a double dose with this perfect double rainbow.

Our final destination was this wonderful little bed and breakfast in Escazu.  The owner used to live in the United States and work in real estate before the market went sour.  She has an adorable 2 year old daughter that can speak Spanish and English.  The day we arrived, we walked around Escazu.  Escazu is made up of 70% ex-Pats and Europeans.  It had a lot of resorts and country clubs, not unlike Orange County.

We headed down to San Jose later that night.  It was pretty uneventful.  There were a lot of illegal vendors on the streets who all seemed to be extremely interested in selling Smurf memorabilia.  The Smurfs were everywhere.  We needed into a church in the middle of the city.  Neither of us are religious but decided to walk in and marvel at the beautiful details.  I also took a moment to reflect on my dear friend Neil Saigal.  He was a really great friend.  He was my first friend at UC, Irvine.  The world lost a magical person (Jan 1985 - September 2011) and I will always miss him.  His birthday was the day before and he would have been 27 years old.  I miss him.

 Outside of Church                           Inside of Church

The night progressed.  It had to end pretty early because it's not safe to be in downtown San Jose as only 2 females. We caught a taxi after dinner.  The cab driver didn't know where we were going...the kicker...the cab driver was listening to Spanish radio porn.  It was ridiculous. We had an early evening and there was a blackout.  It was pretty tame.

The next day, it was time to travel home.  After a lovely breakfast, we went for a walk.  We saw this awesome tree that seemed to peel from orange to green.

We got to the airport early - don't forget to pay the tax at the airport - and headed home.  I had to go to Panama City first.  I was frisked a number of  times but everything went well.  It was a little tricky at the airport because I broke my phone - yay! and I was sick yet again.  I've been sick so many times in the last 4 months, I can't even count.  One sickness rolls into the next.  I'm still fighting to kick it.

Overall, it was a great great trip! I think everyone is jealous. :)

XOXO Rachel

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wooooosh! Zip Line!

Rebecca and I woke up bright and early to eat! And trek back to the bank at the top of the hill.  We had zip line today.  I knew I'd be a little nervous since this particular zip line company had the Tarzan swing at the end.  I don't like roller coasters so the feeling of my stomach in my throat is never my favorite.

We headed to the company headquarters (Adventura). I got all strapped in and looked really good all outfitted in my new gear.  There were quite a few people from Seattle on this particular part of the adventure (probably 6).  I befriended two - Mark and Derek.  Derek seemed high the entire time and Mark was cool.  They ended up taking video off the superman zipline.  The superman is where they attach the zipline to your back and let you fly through the air like superman!

Before I'm off


I really loved zip lining.  It was really easy and fast.  I think I could have gone faster.  There was one zip line segment that Rebecca couldn't stop and actually ran into part of the tree - eeek! I watched it all from behind.  Don't worry, she's OK.

After about 12 runs, we go to the Tarzan swing.  The swing is a 147ft drop and then you swing.  I was all hooked up and ready to go.  Mark was going to go before me.  Except! He chickened out!  And I walked to the end of the swaying platform to feel out the height and drop.  The guys at the company immediately hook me.  I tell them I'm scared and they just laugh at me and continue to hook me.  I protested one last time.  I wish they had just pushed me over but the whole thing got the better of me.  Unfortunately, I have to say that I didn't do it.  Do I regret it? Maybe a little.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it's so short I should have just done it. Oh well...and then the day went on!

Me and the Seattlites

We had the best casada of the trip at the place right next to the hostel!  We even took a picture with the owner.  Loved it!

The rest of the day was left to finding the climbing tree!  Yesss a climbing tree.  I didn't know what to expect from the climbing tree but it was way better than I ever could have expected!  It's like tiny trees growing together, creating a ladder to the top of the tree.  It was completely hollow inside. Each branch was intertwined, almost like each branch was a step.  The tree was huge.  It was probably over 100m tall.  I could only go to where the two tree converged, since my track record with accidents is shaky. Rebecca and I decided it was best to stop at about 75ft up.

The Climbing Tree

On the walk back we were greeted with another beautiful view, with the sun illuminating the wet pavement with a now blue sky.  We saw a rainbow.  I just love rainbows.  Rainbows make me smile and smiling makes me happy!  Oh yeah! And I saw WONG RESTAURANT!! LOVE IT!! All-in-all, it was cold and great.  I was soaking from the whole day, so we changed and headed to dinner.  The rest of the night was pretty uneventful and we were heading to the city the next day.  I wasn't without my headlight again and we just explored the small town, running into people from the day!

Great end to the day!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On the Move to the Windy town of Monteverde

We are on the move the next day and take the taxi (van) - boat - taxi (van).  It's a bumpy road after crossing the lake, so it took forever.  We got in around 12pm and noticed right away that it was super windy.  I mean, the wind was going to push me over windy.  It was also cold. I was just thinking - thank goodness I brought layers.

Tina's Casita

Right away we were greeted by Andres.  He was super happy and proceeded to sign us up for tours. Our first tour was to the Monteverde coffee farm.  It's a free trade coop of sorts.  Our tour guide was Joyce.  She was half Costa Rican and half American.  She looked very fair and we went to her father's farm.  We met some more Seattlites on the tour (I swear, they were everywhere). The tour was great.  I learned all about the new and old ways of preparing the coffee beans before roasting.  I also learned about how the farmers plant other trees and plants, like bananas to introduce different nutrients into the soil.  We got to taste the fruits of the farm as well as the roasted coffee -- IT WAS SOO GOOD!

Dried coffee beans

Brewed coffee and really really good pancake-type bread!

I definitely bought coffee and some sweet coffee candles.  The candles smells so good.  If computers were scratch and sniff then I'd include a sample here. The rest of the day was ours and we walked around the town.  The town is tiny so it didn't take long.  We also needed to find a bank with American dollars and dinner.  Along the way, we ran into a Canadian and an American.  I also found out a sloth reserve in Costa Rica.  I'll have to go there next time!

We found a cute place covered in butterflies! I also discovered my favorite dish of Costa Rica - casada vegetariano!  It had rice and beans, a plantain, avocado, cheese, salad.  It was perfect. I finished it off with some hot mint tea, since it was windy and rainy.  Hot mint tea is delicious.  It's definitely one of my favorite teas.  I think I had 5 cups that night since it was so chilly. We headed back to the hotel.  It was really dark, so I'm glad I brought my headlight - yes my headlight! (The new running joke is my wedding registry will be at REI - soooo true, although, I'll take REI gifts any time of year ;) )

Casada! and Headlight love (the headlight wasn't on, so I'm sad the picture is so bright)!

The wind was so intense that it drove us inside.  We met some people from North Carolina and San Diego.  We talked for a good 1-2 hours before we retired to the room.  The room had a queen bed and a bunk bed.  Rebecca really wanted the bunk bed and I love a big bed so it all worked out.  The wind was so intense that it made it hard to sleep but eventually I dozed off! I had to be ready for zip lining the next day!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Day 1 of 2012

I start the day with breakfast...and breaking my phone.  What is the deal with me and phones and the 1st of the year?  The glass is cracked and the screen doesn't work. Yay! Luckily, no one really calls me.  I do receive lots of text messages but alas I'm in another country so who really cares.  I actually really like being disconnected.

We headed to La Fortuna Waterfall.  It costs $10USD to enter.  You can swim under the waterfall, although, it's not advised because you can be sucked under from the forces of the waterfall.  It was about 90m and the water was so blue.  If you walk down the stream a couple meters, there is a pool that the water drains into and it was full of fish and people.  I met some people from Texas who were on break and taking in the tourism and business aspects of Costa Rica.  I can't believe that they got class credit for that!

Beautiful waterfall! and Beautiful blue water!

It was great!

Rebecca proposed to me at the waterfall.  It was magical!

The Proposal!  Top that future husband! Oh and PS. Look at my calves. Nice. 

A taxi dropped us off at the top of the waterfall and we decided to walk to the town instead of taking another taxi.  On the way down, we stopped at Neptune's House of Hammocks. There were so many hammocks.  Rebecca was obsessed with the hammocks and I can't blame her.  Hammocks are so comfy!  Rebecca sat in a hammock and proceeded to fall out.  It was funny :)

House of Hammocks

We kept walking and found more coconuts and coconut water.  This 12 year old girl was good with a machete. We walked some more AND THEN!!! found another sloth!! Apparently this particular sloth likes to cross the street and climb this particular tree. It was a monster of a sloth.  I enjoyed watching it for almost 10 minutes.  It climbed one tree and then managed to make it to another tree through the canopy.

Costa Rica at its Best.  Pura Vida!

From here, we headed to Baldi resort for a day of relaxation in the many hot spring pools.  I wanted a good tan and some hot water.  I love hot springs.  The place was huge!  There was even a water slide and waterfall. I had a great time, although, I thought the place was a little expensive ($31USD).  We stayed for a couple hours and then headed to town for fooooood and walking around.

I love sitting in the hot springs, enjoying the waterfall and the sunshine. Paradise. 

We went to LAVA LOUNGE!  The drink of the trip was Sangria and they delivered.  In fact, I had mine and Rebeccas and some appetizers.  I liked the Sangria.  I found a sloth stuffed animal, which really made my night.  I didn't buy it but maybe I should have.  I have so many stuffed animals that I thought it might be wise to stop collecting them since I'm 26 and not 10... but then again, maybe next time!



We walked around the town and happened to see Mr. Michael from the club the night before.  Then some other Ticos proceeded to shout something obscene at we decided to leave and head back to the hotel to get ready for the adventure tomorrow...although, not before I decided to mimic the toucan painting on a random wall.

I like acting like a goober! 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

On the move to Arenal for New Years!

We woke up at 5:30am to go kayaking through the canals.  Rebecca and I shared a kayak.  We were out for about 2 hours...and I paddled a good 2 hours by myself :) haha It was a good workout.  I love a good workout.  I considered it weight training. We paddled through some back canals where we saw a spider monkey with its baby chillin' in a tree.  It was a rainy day.  We were caught in a downpour.  I didn't mind so much but the howler monkeys were up in arms!  Apparently they don't like the rain and they were letting everyone know it!

We headed back to the bungalow for breakfast.  I think I had the best coffee at the bungalow.  It was so good - strong! We then headed back to the dock (about 1.5 hours by boat).  On the way, everyone kept their eyes peeled for a sloth.  Our guide, Ivan, has an amazing eye. He spotted a sloth (I named him Jose after el capitan) in the bushes.  We pulled up next to him and hope he'd poke his head out.  Ivan made some eagles noises because usually the sloth will move to see if it can see the eagle (predator).  Instead, the sloth, slowly pushes the leaves and branches out of the way to take a look at us and then slowly released the branches to cover himself.  I can replay the 10 seconds in my head like I was just there - loved that moment!

Jose the Sloth

We reached the dock and headed back to home base where we were greeted with some bomb food.  We had been craving tortillas and they delivered! A group of us then headed to Arenal (the active volcano!).  Ramone was our driver again.  I think everyone feared for their lives as he tailed every car and then preceded to pass on one lane highways with a questionable amount of space.

With Ivan, our heroic guide!

I love food!

We settled into our hotel (Hotel San Bosco).  The staff was extremely helpful and directed us to the biggest party in the city for New Years Eve! But before the party! Dinner and pre-New Years drinks :) We went to Don Rolfinos.  It was full of tourists and some good food.  I had a very colorful drink and watched some American football.  We passed through the town park and waited for the appropriate time to head to the discotheque! Volcan Look is supposed to be the 2nd biggest club outside of San Jose. We arrived and were greeted by drunken Americans, already sloppy on the dance floor (literally falling down). The place was packed! The stage had 4 dancers - 2 guys and 2 girls.  The guys had amazing abs and did some crazy dance moves. The girls danced slow - like porn stars.  It was comical. At New Years! there were pyrotechnics and everyone shook their beers and alcohol rained down on the crowd!

Happy New Years Eve from La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Rebecca and I couldn't escape the Ticos. There was one in particular that would not leave us alone. We left the dance floor (which took about 10 minutes) and moved to the other side...he still managed to find us! haha at least he was impressed by my awesome dance moves :)  The guy to girl ratio was about 7 to 1. I was asked to dance several times and one guy asked me if I wanted to smoke my first joint of 2012.  I turned him down but I was thoroughly impressed by his English.

The poster of the hottest party to bring in the New Year!

Tico party (Link to part of the party I caught on video: )

The Ticos love their fireworks.  There were pyrotechnics inside and lots of fireworks outside. We had a cab drive us back with fireworks in the background...and with that, it was 2012!  Hello 2012! You will be awesome!

The Ticos know how to party!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pura Vida! To Tortuguero National Park!

Early the next morning we were picked up in a van and started our journey to Tortuguero National Park. We were dropped off at the Exploradores Outdoors headquarters where breakfast was provided.  It was absolutely delicious! I love fresh papaya in the morning :)


Most people were going rafting (which will be on the next trip).  Rebecca and I were the only ones going to Tortuguero, which was fine by me!  Ramon was our driver and he drove us to the boat docks.  On the way we passed by the Chiquita and Del Monte plantations.  We stopped at the Del Monte boxing plant.  The bananas are harvested by hand and this guy puts them up on a pulling rack, attaches the load to his waist and walks to the boxing plant. The bananas are green.  It takes another 30 days for them to ripen, so I couldn't steal one to eat. It was all very cool.
I love bananas!

After the really bumpy road we stopped at a Botanical garden.  It turned out to just be a guy's house.  He showed us around and gave us some really good information about the plants - lots of ginger.  We found a poisonous dart frog, which he let me hold. He had to confuse it first (this comes in handy later that night).  It stayed really still on my hand - long enough for a picture.  I also got to hold a turtle.  The guy had a great eye and found this orange, male iguana up in a tree that was a good 50meters away and probably 20meters into a tree. His garden had ylang ylang which is used to make Chanel No.5.  I wanted to rub it all over my body but I felt that might be a little, I didn't want all the bug bites.

The cocoa plant (it was delicious!)

Poisonous dart frog! 

We were dropped off at the boat dock where we met our guide, Ivan, and el capitan, Jose. We had an hour and a half boat ride before reaching our bungalow. We found a caiman, American crocodile, and lots of birds.  I already expressed my interest in finding a sloth - I love the slothy. My goal for Costa Rica was to find Mr. Sloth. Jose and Ivan let us ride on the very front of the boat.  It was amazing! Wind in my hair, sun beating down on my face - heaven.

Getting some sun! Wind in my hair!

Caiman in the wild! It's all WILD!

We arrived at the bungalow and we were greeted with a mixed fruit drink and lunch.  After settling in...right next to a taranchula hole...we headed to Tortuguero village.  The Village separates the canal from the Caribbean coast. We saw old sea turtle nests and walked along the beach.  There was about a 2 foot ledge of sand.  I was admiring the ocean, standing on the edge, and the sand gave way underneath me.  Rebecca totally laughed her ass off.  I had a good laugh too!

Caribbean coast :) No one was surfing but I definitely wanted to go into the water!

We headed to the village to walk around.  It's mainly souvenir shops and some locals.  We stopped to get a coconut from the crazy coconut man.  His nickname is Shakira.  He used to have long blonde hair and would walk around saying - Hola, I'm Shakira.  haha...he lost the blonde hair but is still crazy.

Drinking coconut water in front of a very colorful house.  I loved all the colors of the houses!

Went back to the Crazy Coconut man to have him split the coconut in half so I could eat the coconut meat :) PS. don't you love my Seaworlds hat? I felt it was super appropriate!  Everyone also got a kick out of the bunny love t-shirt. 

Lovely sunset

After sunset, which was gorgeous, we went back to eat and settle in before another early morning.  It was pretty humid and hot the whole time, so it was nice to take a shower with some warm water. While Rebecca was in the shower, I noticed a crazy huge grasshopper.  The grasshopper was as big as my hand.  If you know me, then you know I have massive hands.  It was probably 12 inches including antennas. We had to devise a plan to get the grasshopper out of the room because I really didn't want to eat it while sleeping...since it was near my bed.

The plan: Take the trashcan, trap the grasshopper, cover the opening with a towel and drop it off outside.  

I went in for the trap and covered the grasshopper with the trashcan.  It started moving like crazy.  The antenna and legs were reaching for any opening on the trash can.  I had to let it settle down so Rebecca could put the towel over the opening.  Unfortunately, the grasshopper wouldn't stop moving.  I used the confusion technique (same as the frog) to try to get it to calm down. By this time, I think we had woken everyone up since the roof only had a mosquito net.  We were screaming a little, laughing a little, etc.  Ivan came by and asked if we needed help.  He came in and was really laughing at us, not with us.  He made it look so simple.  He just lifted the trashcan and the grasshopper stayed inside.  Here is a youtube video: Giant Grasshopper

It was huge! This does not do it justice. Don't laugh (OK you can laugh a little) but I'm pretty sure most of you (both guys and ladies) would have screamed just a little or you would have peed in your pants, just a little. 

The adrenaline was rushing after the grasshopper incident of 2011, and we couldn't sleep for a while. We thought we could be the next youtube sensation! LOL.  Also we could hear the music from the village (which was across the water from us).  There must have been a real party over there!

It was a great night!

Back to Panama City and then off to Costa Rica

Our stay in Panama was too short. I would have liked to go to Bocas del Toro (that's where everyone was going for New Years - everyone was planning on sleeping on the beach)...but alas, we had made plans to head to Costa Rica for another set of adventures.

The next day, we left Tony's Island but only after being woken by the loud blow of the conch and some breakfast.  The Kuna took us back to the landing where the jeeps were waiting to take us back to the City.  The road way to the boats was "new".  I use "new" lightly because  the roads were built in 2008 (I think) and they were already falling apart.  On the way back, I got a good look at part of the road way that had completely collapsed already.  Literally half of it was gone and you could see over the cliff to a fall that would certainly result in being severely maimed or death.  Our jeep ride back wasn't pleasant.  We were in a car with a bunch of Israelis that did not want us there.  In fact, the girls didn't even want to sit next to us - and she told us that, straight to our face. Yay for being friendly! So back to the City!

Food on the streets of Panama City

We made sure that our stuff was still in the hostel/hotel.  We didn't tell them that we were spending the night and we were a couple hours past the check out time.  The lady didn't seem to notice at all, so all our stuff was still safe.

We took a shower and headed to the rain forest that is located in Panama City. Our cab driver was the slowest driver in the whole wide world.  He was also running out of gas so we had to make a detour.  He then couldn't find the right turn off.  Worst cab ride but he was a nice guy and I think he felt bad so he only charged us $5USD.  We went on a short hike.  Some turtles were feeding on a carcass and we saw a small animal running (looked like a small pig).  The coolest were the lines of ants carrying huge leaves.  I took some pictures but I couldn't really capture it through a photo. It's just something you'll have to see for yourself!


View from the rain forest

After exploring for a while we had a couple hours to kill before heading to Costa Rica. We went to the mall. The mall was huge and included a grocery store.  I also saw Angry Birds - in the plush! They had a sling shot ready to take down the evil pigs (If you know me, then you know I get great enjoyment out of the game.  I don't play that often but it's still super fun! I also thoroughly enjoy using a sling shot).  The mall was like a 1990s American mall with knock off stores that were supposed to be Hollister, etc. We decided on some crepes and waffles for dinner.  It was not typical Panama food at all but it was delicious. We had to get a cab back to the hostel/hotel and then head to the airport.

Angry Birds at the Mall

Food Porn! Dulce de Leche waffle!

The cab driver kept telling us we were going to be late.  So we ran into the hotel to get our stuff and hopped back into the cab.  The cab driver said we could pay him to go faster to get to the airport (scary because he was already being reckless).  He proceeded to tail gate every single car and then started to drive on the highway shoulder. The cab driver started honking at every single car on the highway, including a cop car! He was honking at the police on the highway for about 45 seconds! It was crazy.  We were just hoping that no one would shoot us.

We were early to the airport.  We saw one of the guys from Tony's Island (he was traveling to Columbia by himself).  Turns out that we booked executive class tickets to Costa Rica, since we booked them a little late.  We got early entry into the plane and a dinner! plus a drink!  It was a surprise and crazy different from the places we had been staying!

Executive Class!

Then we were off to Costa Rica where we stayed in a lovers sweet.  Hotel Luisiana (Santa Ana, San Jose, Costa Rica) had the best bed ever and our first decent nights sleep in a couple of days! It was like a honeymoon sweet.  We also noticed that Costa Rica really likes it towel animals...and so do I!

Hello mister towel peacock!

 PS. I also try to review the places we stayed on TripAdvisor.