Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Arenal Hanging Bridges, Walking in the treetops!

We arrived at the Hanging Bridges with our guide, ready for a great hike and hoping to see some wildlife.  We had the same guide as we had for our morning hike at the Observatory Lodge the other day, but this time it was a hike with just the six of us so maybe he would be a bit more talkative with a smaller group.  The Hanging Bridges is a hike through the rainforest in Arenal, and is a combination of hiking on paths and suspension bridges.  Some are quite long and very high up in the sky!  While others are just short and not too high up in the air.  It was another beautiful day, with the sun shining and a beautiful view of the volcano.

Even though we got a bit of a late start, we did see quite a bit of wildlife!  We got very lucky and our guide ended up searching high and low for us!  We saw a poisonous blue jean dart frog, which he heard and spent a good five minutes searching for by sound until he found the little guy! 

We saw a few lizards, some howler monkeys, many birds including a toucan, and even a eyelash pit viper - up close and personal!

We had beautiful views and all of us, the kids and my parents included really enjoyed the walk, spotting wildlife and learning about the ecosystem!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Zipping Along!

Our afternoon was going to be spent flying through the sky!  Ziplining that is!  Sky Trek is the best known zip line in the area, and they also have the Sky Tram which I thought would be a nice way to ride up to the platforms! We all pile into the rental and head out on the bumpy road. The good thing is that Sky Trek is close to AOL. My mom is already talking about backing out. She's asking all kinds of questions about what it will be like. The kids and I zip lined on our last trip at Los Lagos and loved it! But it wasn’t at Sky Trek. So, even though we've done it before, we don't know exactly what this zip line will be like. We get there for our 2:00 scheduled zip and while we're filling out the paperwork, my mom and Keith are watching the video in the waiting area. That's it for my mom. There's no way she's doing it. Not a chance. My dad tries to convince her that once she tries it and does the first line she'll like it, but there's no way she'll even get the gear on. Keith says he could do some of them, but he sees that their longest line is nearly half a mile. He doesn't think he can do it, but he does gear up and agrees to take the tram up. My mom doesn't even hold the ticket. Alex is a bit annoyed when they tell him he'll have to go tandem with a guide. He'll be 11 years old in two weeks, he tells them. He went without a guide at the other place 2 years ago, what's up with this! I tell him to stop pouting and be thrilled he gets to go at all. Better to go with a guide then be stuck half way in the middle of a half mile zip line! Suck it up! The tween years, so much fun! Megan is thrilled to go with a guide - she wants no part of being alone out there! But she's looking forward to it!  We had beautiful views of Lake Arenal going up on the Tram and of the Volcano once we were up at the top, where the first zip line was!

The guides get us all set, safety seems to be a huge priority, our hooks and straps and gear are checked more than once. We go to the Sky Tram and they convince my mom to ride up, and then she can take the tram back down. She paid for it after all! We're met at the top with a refreshing glass of fruit juice. We're in a group of about 15 people, which is a bit large, but there are 4 or 5 guides. We get our instructions and it's nice that we don't have to use our hands to break at all. There are two "practice" lines, which are just really short and don't give you a feel for the actual height or speed, but more for how your body feels hanging there. One girl in our group decides this isn't for her at all. Keith doesn't even do the practice line. He sees the length of the first real line, which is the 3rd longest line. He immediately takes his gear right off. He says he's un pollo grande! No way! If that's not even the longest or the highest, he's not going!

My mom and Keith watched us take off on that first real line. Megan and the guide were the first to go. As I went all I could think about was how glad I was that Keith didn't do this. He would so NOT have liked it! But me, I thought it was great! The lines were very fast and long. Alex, he even did get to do a couple on his own afterall, which thrilled him. My dad had a blast as well. There were 8 zip lines in all I think and they were all very high up in the air and they were very fast. It was a really great afternoon! In retrospect, if Keith could have conquered that first one, maybe he would have enjoyed the rest, but I don't think he would have gotten past the first one! My mom, I don't think she would have liked it one bit. So good decision for her. As we got to the last platform, it started to rain. The last platform is short and you climb down a metal staircase a bit to get to it. There was a snake on the stairs, which everyone enjoyed checking out.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hiking and Waterfalls!

Our first stop was Arenal.  Keith and I have been here twice before and no matter how many times I see the volcano I am still just amazed at the sight of it!  Some people come here and never get to see the volcano....it is often clouded over.  When we pulled into the town of La Fortuna I felt so fortunate that the rain had stopped and we had a clear view of Volcan Arenal!  Even if my parents didn't get to see it the rest of the trip - which was a possibility - they'd get to see just how spectacular it was! 

We decided to stay at Arenal Observatory Lodge on this vacation.  This was a great choice for us.  We were in the midst of nature here!  There were spider monkeys in the trees and we had a perfect view of the volcano from our patio!

There are hiking trails and waterfalls on the property!  This was a perfect beginning for our trip!

On our first morning we decided to take the Morning Hike on the Arenal Observatory Lodge property.  It was a big group that was going, but our guide was good.  He pointed out several birds including toucans and hawks.  We saw monkeys too!  The walk even took us down to the Waterfall.

Alex and Keith had a great time climbing on the rocks and cooling off.

We also discovered how beautiful the Eucalyptus tree is!  So colorful!

It was a great first hike for everyone!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back to Costa Rica - Family Style!

I have been a horrible blogger!  I'm sorry for that!  I hope to get back to posting on a much more regular basis!  We just returned from a fantastic trip to Costa Rica.  This trip was a bit different for us because not only was it my husband and I and our kids, but we also brought along my parents for the adventure!  We were gone for eleven days and had an amazing time!  This was the third time Keith and I had been to Costa Rica, the second trip for our kids, who were 9 and 11 this trip and it was the first trip there for my parents, who are in their early 60's.  It was a very active vacation, and I think that everyone had a great time!

We started our adventure by having our driver take us from San Jose to the beautiful Volcano town of La Fortuna.  That would be our first destination.  However, one of the benefits of having a driver is getting to stop at some of the more hidden gems in the country.  On past trips we've mixed it up a bit.  Keith and I have done self drive - we've rented a car and driven from location to location at our own pace and really enjoyed that.  We've also hired a driver in the past for the ease of getting from one place to another.  On this trip, with six passengers and luggage, we decided a driver with a van was the best way to go!

Our first stop was lunch in a little town on the way to our destination.  The rain had started, but we had an amazing view from our table in this tiny little restaurant!  There was no menu here, but just platters of fresh food brought out to us family style.  We had fresh fruit juices made from the fruit on the trees right outside the windows!

The women in the family who owned this lovely restaurant were at one of the three or four tables here making homemade cheese empanadas.  They were making the dough, mixing the cheese and showing the youngest of the children how to do this process.  They even went outside to pick banana leaves to lay the empanadas on to cook them.  We were happy to get a lesson ourselves on how to form and fill a perfect empanada!

Lunch was wonderful - it was a perfect introduction to the country.  We all were feeling great as we continued on our journey to Arenal.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Walking in the Trees!

When you're in the rainforest, you learn that there are different types of environments to explore.  You can be down on the ground or up in the trees.  Up in the trees is called the canopy.  In Arenal there are the Hanging Bridges.  There are fourteen bridges suspended up in the trees of the primary rain forest.  We chose to go with a guide so that we could learn about the ecosystem.  This was our first real exposure to the rain forest and boy did we learn a lot!  The hike was about three hours long and it wasn't difficult. 

We saw many howler monkeys and we even saw an eyelash pit viper!  It was down below one of the bridges in a ravine!  We saw so many frogs, including a blue jean frog, which was another highlight!  We learned about the leaf cutter ants which was just fascinating!  Our guide pointed out so many different birds. 

Doing the hike with a guide was a great idea, we would have missed out on much of the wildlife we saw had we not had the guide.  He found so many hidden gems!  And we learned so much about the ecosystem and the history of the area.  It was well worth the extra cost for the experience!  We also got to hear the volcano rumble while we were there!  It was very cool!!!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Our first adventure in Costa Rica

Costa Rica....what was it going to be like?  I'd read so much about this country, done so much research and spent so much time at online travel forums learning about where we'd be staying and things to do while we were there.  But, we'd never been on a vacation like this before!  This was the first time we'd be in a foreign country totally on our own.  We weren't going with a tour and we weren't just going to one hotel as a home base and doing excursions from there.  This trip was all self planned and it was going to be an adventure! 

What did we have planned?  Three different hotels in three different regions, renting a car and driving on what some rumors were said to be horrible roads and one flight within the country on a small plane.  Add to that a couple of transfers between the flight and hotels where we didn't have the car and some strict luggage weight limits for the small plane and we were good to go!

We were ready!  We landed and got through customs and immigration with no problem.  We found the airport in San Jose to be very efficient and very clean.  We were met outside by a representative from our car rental company and off we went.  After we picked up the car, we set out with some directions we had printed out from the hotel we were heading to and a map I had picked up before leaving home.  Once we drove a bit and were away from the airport the scenery was beautiful.  The roads were windy and became a bit mountainous but there was nothing we considered to be horrible, at least not yet!  They were fully paved and sometimes we had to pass a slow moving truck, but the ride was great.  We were heading for the town of La Fortuna. 

The main attraction in La Fortuna is the Arenal Volcano.  I've heard that some people visit La Fortuna and never get to see the volcano because of cloud cover.  Yet some people are lucky enough to have a clear view all the way to the perfect cone top.  Some people are even lucky enough to get to see lava trickling down the sides.  Would we be lucky enough to see the volcano?  Would we get to see the lava or maybe even hear it rumble?  Well, as we turned the corner and faced the charming town of La Fortuna we saw the volcano and it's magnificant!

I felt like if we didn't get another peek at the volcano the entire time we were there, at least we had this amazing view just this once!  However, we wouldn't be let down.  The entire three days we spent in La Fortuna we had a perfect view of the volcano.  We even did hear it rumble!  It sounded like a train roaring by.  One night we joined a crowd of people on the bridge by the Arenal Observatory Lodge and watched the lava come tumbling down the side of the volcano.  The crowd "oohed" and "ahhed" just like watching fireworks on the 4th of July. 

We found so many amazing things to do and explore in the Arenal area.....I was hooked already and our journey had just begun!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pura Vida!

It was about four years ago that I first started to get the idea to plan our first trip to Costa Rica. For about a year before that I kept hearing about people here and there that had been there, or had known people who and went there and they just had such wonderful things to say about Costa Rica.  The people there were so kind and loved talking with the tourists.  The wildlife - like nothing you could imagine!  The diversity of the types of places you could visit - there's rainforests and beaches, mountains and even volcanos, cities and rural areas.  I heard about the roads - not so great.  I heard you should do a tour and then I heard you can plan a trip on your own.  I was so intrigued! Up until this point, the only foreign trips we had taken were pretty traditional Caribbean vacations - mainly staying at one resort and doing excursions, or staying at all-inclusive resorts in Mexico.  This sounded like a challenge I was ready to take on!

I began my truly obsessive research and initially thought about doing a package.  I began to look at the different options available, I bought some travel guides and started online shopping.  I sent out for several quotes.  While I was waiting for prices to come back, I was starting to become involved in an online travel board - Fodors - and realizing that people here were planning their trips themselves.  They weren't using agents or getting packages.  So, I started to look at the individual hotels that the packages were using and priced them out with what the combined deals were and the packages were so much more expensive!  I dove in and decided with a little help from who I would soon come to rely so much on - the on line community, and some internet research I could do this on my own!

Costa Rica is a very easy country to "trip plan" on your own.  Most of the hotels are online and will give you price quotes very quickly by email.  The hardest part is deciding which parts of the country to visit!  As I soon realized, the country is not one that you usually settle in one spot for the duration of your trip.  Travelling within the country takes a lot of time because of the mountains and the roads.  Many people pick two or three regions for their vacation.  That's what we did for our first trip. This will give you the chance to see a bit of the different parts of the country and how different it can be.

So, four years later, I'm planning our third trip back and we haven't come close to seeing and experiencing all there is in this amazing country.  Our first visit was just Keith and I and I can't wait to share that here!  It was so amazing that a year later we brought Alex and Megan back with us and went to some places again, but also to several new regions and saw some pretty wonderful things.  And then this summer, we're taking the kids again, and also my parents.  This is part of the lure of Costa Rica....some may attribute it to Pura Vida....simply translated as Pure Life, but it means so much more to the people of Costa Rica.  And when you visit you feel that meaning.  It's almost a feeling you get, some may feel it as spreading cheer or appreciating life and what you have in life.  It could be a philosphy of community or of enjoying life and celebrating good fortune, no matter how small or large, and when that is a philosphy of an entire country - how could you not want to keep returning?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Planning is half the fun!

One of the things that gets me through the winter is planning trips.  It's also what gets me through busy seasons of work and the daily grind.  If I'm not travelling, I sure better be planning where I'm going next!  I don't even have to be the person going on the trip - I can live through other's travels - although, it's much more fun when I'm the one going on the vacation for sure! 

So, it's official - we're going to Mexico in March.  I can't wait.  This has been one heck of a January.  I own a payroll company which means that January is the busiest time of year for me.  So the trip to Mexico is going to be a time to just relax and do nothing after the nonstop pace of this month. 

The Mexico trip will be fantastic.  Just Keith and I, relaxing, a few excursions.  The beach, a great pool, great food and drinks...a week to regroup. 

Now this summer I'm planning a big family trip.  This one involves a lot more planning, which is what I thrive on!  We're going to Costa Rica.  Bought the plane tickets last weekend!  This will be our third trip there but this time we're taking my parents.  I love this type of trip.  Multiple destinations, flights within the country, renting cars, hiring driviers....and in the end - it's all going to come together and be an amazing experience for us all!  My kids have been there once, but they'll be two years older this time and will love it even more.  My parents have never been to a place like this and I just know they will love the eco-adventure.  The volcano and the wildlife are things most people never get to experience.  A lucky few can even hear the volcano rumble and see the lava flow! I just can't wait to share it with them.

My next entries will be from our past two trips to Costa Rica....a trip down memory lane for me so that I can share it with you!