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?