Posts Tagged ‘Costa Rica’

As part of the warm up gig for the New Year with all it’s bright and shiny newness, I’m flexing my thinking muscles in December and taking part in ProjectReverb.

Each day I get sent a “prompt” and I write in response, the idea being that it will allow me to reflect on the year and take stock whilst looking ahead to plans and dreams for 2014. Today I received the following prompt into my inbox:

December 1. At the start: where did you start 2013? Give some background to the year.

On my first day of 2013 I rode a horse around the foot of an active volcano in Costa Rica. I was shaking off a nasty cough but in awe of the incredible countryside. My fiancé and I were guided by a Costa Rican cowboy on the tourist path, our horses slightly tired and stubborn. We stopped to spot a sloth lazing in a tree and then took our horses into the lake where they kicked up water to get us wet.

I felt wide eyed and optimistic for the year ahead, and blessed to be in such an amazing part of the world with the man I loved. A great way to start the year.

This year was all about the wedding. Our wedding (and about eight others!!). And a lot of travel. I didn’t really know it at the time but it would turn out to be an incredibly busy year for travel.

Arenal volcano


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In the UK, January is a long month. A long, cold, dark month. And it’s made even longer by the bright sparks of recent memories from my amazing trip to Costa Rica rapidly receding into my past. Over the past weeks colleagues, friends and family that I bump into ask me about my trip, and I retell the stories, flicking through my memories, and I notice a subtle shift in my perception as time passes…

My trip was incredible, of course, full and fresh, technicolour detail can be read here, with posts in real time here, here and here. However, it was not without hitch or incident.

Honey Lime and Ginger

Staying home with lime, honey and ginger, whilst the others went White Water Rafting in La Fortuna

Unfortunately I was blighted by a horrible cold throughout, which morphed into something a little more grizzly with the humidity and my constant refusal to slow down, stop enjoying myself and allow my body to heal. However now, as the experiences start to imprint as memories, the snotty nose and hacking cough fade into the background and the other memories stand out brighter.

That’s the wonderful thing about nostalgia, in fact about travelling in general. A lot of the time travelling is really hard work. You’re constantly tired, on the road, having to get up early to move on. Living out of a backpack (and a toploader at that), so unpacking and repacking nearly every day, stuffing your life possessions back into the bag. Adjusting to new surroundings, getting your bearings, consulting another map. Always get some kind of sickness, whether it’s food related, altitude related, a cold you pick up on the plane, a twisted angle from falling off a bike or hiking down a mountain, travel sickness on a long distance bus or “should of been decommissioned years ago” rusty boat, home sick, sick of eating the same bland food for breakfast every morning…

Hiccups, hitches, and set-backs are absolutely part of the blissful experience that is travelling, but I think it’s that ‘hardship’ (ridiculous to use that word, considering we spend thousands of pounds for the privilege and the context compared to other hardships in the world, but you get my point) that makes it all the more satisfying to get through the other side. The accomplishment of getting from A to B. To have ‘survived’ the journey. And it creates stories. Ultimately that’s what we’re all doing as travellers, we’re creating and collecting stories, to tell our friends, our families, future random travel companions, and to one day recount to all those grandchildren, gathered around the roaring fire (optional chestnuts roasting…).

Now, looking back, there are definitely memories that have pushed my snivelling cold to the back of the queue – the trip on the river boat, the last night with the cocoloco cocktails, the rush and release when jumping off the tarzan swing, the catamaran ride, the hillarious moments with new travel companions… all bright, all overwhelming, all wonderful (sure to get bigger and better as time passes).

I came across a quote today, part of the Rough Guides’ 50 Inspirational Travel Quotes, which sums it up nicely:

“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” Benjamin Disraeli

My tan may be fading, but my memories are only getting brighter…

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Having just returned from one of my new favourite places on Earth, I think it only fit that I reflect on my experiences within the country whose mantra is “Pura Vida” – literally meaning Pure Life, or “Plenty of Life”, and yes, that it is. Here, in summary, are my observations from my trip…

  • On arriving in San Jose, after hearing many stories of pickpocketing and theft, our first experience was a very friendly and knowledgeable cab driver whose main advice was not to carry any valuables when out in SJ. He did reassure us by saying that although there wasn’t much evidence of police on the streets, that they were watching at all times as there were cameras on every corner, so not to fight the thieves, but hand over any valuables, and rest assured, the police would be with us within minutes. Not entirely reassuring as a welcome! However, we didn’t experience any trouble and throughout the trip I felt extremely safe. We didn’t spend any time in San Jose either. Co-travellers on a public bus had their bags pinched, but they were warned not to leave them on several occasions…
  • The weather was crazy and intense. Intense rain on the Caribbean, relentless pounding rain in the rainforest, winds whipping up in Monteverde, hot and humid most of the time and then heavy heat on the Pacific coast. However, Costa Rica, literally the Rich Coast (named by Christopher Columbus when he came ashore), is ALIVE with the biggest and brightest wildlife – technicolour birds (over 800 species), giant lizards, snakes, spiders, all bigger and weirder looking than any I’ve ever seen, huge overblown fruits bursting with flavour (grapefruits bigger than our heads) and plants that look like they’ve just busted out of the latest Avatar movie – without that larger than life climate scenario, NONE of this would be possible. Embrace the extremes, buy a bright and strong brolly and rain pocho and get used to being damp (with rain or humidity!)
  • Sloth spotting from the river is a lot of fun. At the time we didn’t realise that we’d get up pretty close to a sloth on the pacific coast, but whilst on the river heading to Tortuguero, it was exciting trying to spot the sloth in the branches from the boat.
  • The food is pretty darned tasty! We’ve heard a few tales that this wasn’t the case and so had set our expectations pretty low, and yes, there are a lot of meals with rice and beans, but there is also a lot of fantastic seafood, delicious chicken, creative uses of the plaintain with marvellous guacamole and various spicy salsa sauces. At every bus stop we would top up with the various different versions of cheese flavoured snack and the supermarkets offered interesting bakery goods to keep our breakfasts varied.
  • Everything is super expensive. Well, it’s priced like you’re at home (in the UK). I think this is again about expectations, it’s easy to presume it should be cheap as it has that developing country/backpacker vibe, but actually it’s a hot-bed for American tourists, so no doubt that pushes the prices up. The best thing is not to let it bother you too much – if you can – just enjoy the moment (and the constant confusion of colones to GBP conversion)
  • Everywhere has free wifi, which is fantastic as it enables blogging on the go to really capture the spirit of the live experience – I posted some of my first ever “blog posts on the road”, which has transformed my travel diary habits!
  • The people are literally some of the nicest and friendliest people I have ever met on all my travels. And I don’t like to generalise about an entire countries population, but literally everyone we met went out of their way to be polite and friendly – and everyone has the “Pura Vida” attitude – you can’t help but smile!! 
  • A big mention has to go to the wonderful owner of the Cabanitas resort in La Fortuna, he is also a doctor, and I happened to have a cold which took a wrong turn and moved into bronchitus (yuck)  – the lovely doc helped me out by giving me a check up, writing a prescription for anti-biotics, driving me to the pharmacy on a Sunday and THEN asking his wonderful wife to cook me up “mama’s soup” to make me feel better – all from the good of his heart. I *heart* Costa Ricans!
  • Travelling as part of a group we got to use a variety of interesting vehicles, from public bus to mini van to tractor to boat, which was a great way to move around a country with such variety of landscapes. I felt like I was really moving through the country, not just past it.
  • Costa Rica is definitely a place to have a lot of fun – with activities a go-go. In fact almost too many if you are on limited time (or fall ill). White-water rafting, canyoneering, ATV (quad-biking), horse-back riding, lots of hiking, kayaking, and of course the unmissable and one of the best things of the trip – Zip Lining! This is SO much fun and the BEST way to see the canopy and feel at one with the world. You zip from platform to platform through the trees gradually getting longer runs which are higher above the canopy. You are professionally manoeuvred by the staff who un-clip and reclip you onto the wire before pushing you off on your next line. The final stages include the “Superman” where you are clipped on from a harness at your back and you fly head first over the breathtaking forest below – this is 750 meters of pure joy (a little uncomfortable but you soon forget it) – you are flying, high above the canopy, you have no visibility of your harness, you are literally flying. The wind whistling in your ears, you are as a bird. Very special.
    Then the professionals adjust your harness and it’s time for the Tarzan Swing. You walk, alone, to the end of a bridge and jump off. This is terrifying, many chicken out, but it’s absolutely AWESOME (and you go crazy with adrenalin fuelled chattering afterwards). Much fun to be had.
  • The pacific coast sunsets are amongst some of the most beautiful I have seen. Each different and dramatic, from coral pink sundowns to moody grey cloud covered sets, people line the beaches staring towards the centre of our solar system hypnotized by its dramatic goodnight.
  • Traffic is bonkers. I had less of a view of it that most on our trip, the majority of gasps and shocked expressions came from my fellow travel buddies who were sitting with a view through the front windscreen. I heard of overtaking buses and large lorries on the single carriageway roads. I felt less safe in Italy, but then I was in the passenger seat…
  • Costa Rica has one of the greatest creatures on earth – the red eyed tree frog – when we found one it was asleep and looking very unassuming and camouflaged  We then woke it up and PAZZOW! It is one of the craziest, most beautiful, eye-boggling wonders of the natural world. I fell madly in love with the red eyed, red footed, blue stripy bellied chap. SO beautiful and special to meet.
  • The sky seemed to constantly be filled with vultures, circling in packs overhead. This trip redefined my idea of vultures, previously known from Jungle Book, here in Costa Rica they are majestic birds who are extremely graceful in the skies.
  • This is one of the most photogenic countries in the world. I was kicking myself that I didn’t get a new camera for Christmas ahead of the trip. Despite everyone else having a mega zoom lens for their camera I am still really pleased with my photos – because there is so much to photograph, but my advice would be if you are thinking of buying a new camera, don’t wait until you get back from Costa Rica!
  • One of the best experiences was experiencing the beauty of the pacific coast from a catamaran – we went with a family company in a smaller boat (not the big boat with the  slides and trampolines) and had 1/2 day in paradise, enjoying the crystal clear waters and bright skies, spotting a friendly pod of dolphins, and generally basking in the beautiful sunshine. We cooled off with a welcome snorkel spotting rainbow fish and a couple elusive puffas – amazing!
  • Creepy crawlies ROCK! We got to see snakes and big spiders (and hold big spiders) and huge iguanas and geckos and all kinds of bugs, and just having the proximity has made me more excited than ever about being close to these wonderful creatures, so I’m hoping that next time I experience a spider in our flat, I’ll be more likely to give it a helping hand out of the window, rather than running for the hills.
  • Finally, not really to do with Costa Rica, but the trip itself, I went along with G Adventures, who are one of my favourite tour groups (having been on 3 of their tours now) and I was part of an interesting, diverse, wonderful, supportive and fun group of people. As ever, travelling is as much about the people who are experiencing the new landscapes and cultures with you, and this group played was a huge contribution to my time in Costa Rica – it was a privilege to share the experiences with people who loved the country as much as I did!

So Costa Rica has left quite an impression, I would have loved to have spent a few more days in each of our stopping points – especially Puerto Viejo, La Fortuna, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, and we didn’t get out to the Guanacaste peninsular, which I need to save for another time. But time is always against us, work and “real life” beckons. I need to work on my cunning master plan to be able to travel the world forever and get paid for it, and then I can return and of course, report back!

The trip I took was Costa Rica Adventure offered by G Adventures. The route was San Jose > Puerto Viejo de Talamanca > Tortuguero > Sarapiqui Rainforest > La Fortuna > Monteverde > Quepos/Manuel Antonio > San Jose.

Caribbean beach

Wild beach of the Caribbean

Seafood soup

There’s a crab in my soup

REd eyed tree frog

One of my favourite Costa Ricans – the Red Eyed Tree Frog!

Beach life

Beach life



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I’m not sure which the wettest country in the world is, if my jungle tent was 100 metres closer to the camp reception, I’d have wifi access and would be able to check. Right now I’m willing to guess Costa Rica is in the top ten, at least.
It’s raining again, not a light spritzing of misty cloud forest drizzle, or even the short sharp dump of a tropical downpour, no, this is relentless patter patter all afternoon and deep into the night stuff. And it’s been like this for the best part of 6 out of 7 days now. Oh and it’s the dry season!
So, as with so many things when you’re travelling (as opposed to holidaying) there are small lessons and revelations to learn about yourself at these moments.
How to adapt and accept gracefully a change in plans…
How to prioritise movement about your surrounds for fear of getting swept away…
How to while away the hours in a confined space with your nearest and dearest with very little for amusement…
Months and years after a trip you forget all the torrential downpours. When I consciously look back I remember being stuck in a small guesthouse in Acapulco,Mexico for the best part of 3 days. So that time I decided to learn Spanish.
It rained a lot in the jungle in Borneo and we just sat with our new friends enjoying the moment.
I even remember when I was really young being confined to our tiny bright green caravan on a campsite in Brittany watching the rain trickle down the windows. I drew pictures to pass the time.
These confining downpours offer a real chance to be in the moment, faced with your patience, imagination, and resourcefulness.
I’m going to embrace this one and remember that it’s the rain that makes all the plants and fruit here twice the size of those elsewhere, nourishes the 800 species of most beautiful birds and really does bring the “Rica” (Rich) to this Costa (coast).
Besides, I have cheeseballs and travel scrabble so I’m good for an hour or two…


Contemplating tent-based activities


Pleased I brought my brolly now


Lovely weather for frogs


Cheeseballs and travel scrabble

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Day 6 of our Costa Rica adventure and we are deep in rainforest territory. The Serepiqua rainforest and I have never seen so much rain.
We were supposed to take a tractor up a mudslide earlier to get to our rainforest retreat but there has been so much rain the river has swollen rendering even the tractor, with his mud-ready claws, useless.
So we have taken a serendipous diversion to our new home, Hacienda Pozo Azul, Tents in the rainforest. This is my kind of tent – more of a tent reinforced within its own marquee structure with real beds and a bathroom.
Still the sides are open so we can watch the forest activity and a frog gained exclusive access to our banos via the plughole.
I’m excited by the frogs, I hear they’re the size of dinner plates out here and in a couple hours, once the skies fall dark, we’ll be taking a walk to the frog pond to find those beauties…


View from inside our tent


Our rainforest tent


Leaving Tortugero


A local, sunbathing

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So this is more of an experiment than anything. As well as a testament to just how far things have come since I started travelling many tropical moons ago.
I’m in the jungle right now, the helicopter beat of our ceiling fan overhead and the carcophany of whistles and cheeps and squeaks and trills of the jungle outside our cabana.
Today is Christmas day and I’m in Costa Rica, having spent a day on a boat spotting sloths, monkeys, toucan, vultures, crocodiles and
more. Stopping for Christmas lunch of chicken, rice and beans.
Amazing. There was a time I used to turn up my nose at the kids who fell over themselves to get the wifi key on arriving at a new remote hostel. That time was around 2 years ago. Now I’m travelling with a group where one lady is 70 years old and blogging (as well as, no doubt, ziplining and white water rafting later in the trip). I think it’s time I embraced the wifi and smart phone combo and joy in being able to continue to blog, at Christmas, in the jungle. Merry Christmas everyone, whichever remote and random corner of the world you’re in, you can probably read it with the right wifi key 🙂







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South Park

A beautiful Oxford day

I’ve been really reflective of late. Spending more time on blogs, browsing people’s thoughts and dreams. Downloading books and samples of books to read, started reading them and then flitted over to something else. Thought about the courses and workshops I should attend. Planned out my fantasy round-the-world trip. Pondered alternative careers and lifestyles, once I have my theoretical family (after weighing up the pros and cons of having that family in the first place). I realise I am spending more and more time in my head, and less out in the world doing stuff.

ACTION. I need action. It’s all very well sitting on my sofa twiddling with the laptop, or up at my desk tapping away, or in my bed, under the covers with my kindle and its built in light into the wee hours, reading about it all. I need to start doing stuff, otherwise it’ll remain in the realm of possibility forever.


At the botanical gardens

It was a beautiful day today, the sun finally made an appearance and the rain, that seems to have been falling steadily for the last month, finally ceased. I went into town with zero purpose and headed to the Botanical Gardens for some quality time with the flowers.

OxfordAfter that, I started walking up the high street and stopped to sit down by a bus stop and just watched people carrying out their business for a while (behind my sunglasses). It felt good just to be amongst people, not interacting, just being there.

I then went to Trailfinders and booked a holiday to Costa Rica.


Well, it’s not 100% booked, just “on hold” for a few days. But I’ll confirm it tomorrow. I’m such a creature of impulse, this is me trying to be less impulsive and giving myself 24 hours before releasing the funds on the credit card.
I just couldn’t help myself.

The guy on the phone (at Gap Adventures, my favourite travel tour company) said that the worst thing about Costa Rica is having to come home. I’m so excited.

So I think I’ve had enough action for today. Back to thinking tomorrow, it’s much cheaper.

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