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Month: February 2015

The vagabond adventures, leg 1

The vagabond adventures, leg 1

vagabond (n): a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job

Costa Rica has a one week break in the middle of their summer school sessions. During this week, we packed up and journeyed across the border into Nicaragua. It was my favorite week of the whole summer. I cannot tell you how much I loved Nicaragua. Although I loved studying abroad, I did a lot more studying, more school, and less adventuring than I thought I would. My classes were challenging. It helped me with my primary goal of learning Spanish, but not with my general desire to experience another country. In Nicaragua, we had no classes or obligations. We woke up each morning and decided what we wanted to do. I felt free.

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To cross the border, I took a bus from San José to Rivas, Nicaragua. We went through customs and spent the night in Rivas.

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The next morning, our hostel arranged a car to take us San Juan del Sur. A constant throughout our week was the amazing people we met. The 6 hour ride was memorable for several reasons. First, 7 of us including the driver were piled into one car. Second, we jammed to the driver’s CD of Snoop Dog, Eminem and other 90’s rap classics the whole way. Third, at one point we all tumbled out of the car so it could make a particularly steep climb up a hill. We arrived safe in San Jual del Sur, found an $8 hostel with breakfast and ocean views, and settled in for the night. DSC_0211c2           DSC_0111c2             DSC_0254c2

San Juan del Sur is a beautiful calm beach town. The ocean harbor is gorgeous and the town is watched over by a giant statue of Jesus up on the mountain. It reads “Jesus en ti confio.” How beautiful! We hiked up to the statue and it was miles of almost vertical roads. Our thighs were burning, but the views were incredibly worth it. The rest of the night was spent at an awesome cheap beach restaurant resting in their hammocks.

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The second day we took an hour boat ride to snorkel, but let me warn you, this is not a spot known for snorkeling. It was still a relaxing day on the water.

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Spontaneity Is Necessary In Life

Spontaneity Is Necessary In Life

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” – Lewis Carroll

This was a spontaneous trip, deciding 2 hours before the bus left that I was going. Two buses took us from San José to Manuel Antonio. It was pitch black when we got there and by complete chance we managed to find an amazing hostel, Backpackers Paradise Costa Linda. It was only $10 a night, clean, had wifi, and a cafe attached. There were giant breakfasts with 2 huge plates of food for only $4. The beach was a minute walk from the hostel and the National Park was a minute walk the other direction. Manuel Antonio is a small lazy area, with beautiful beaches on the Pacific coast.

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We spent our whole first day relaxing on the beach. We rented two surf boards and one of the guys in our group attempted to teach us how to surf. It was SO much fun, but I can confidently check surfer off my list of possible careers. We layed in the sun and explored the coves and rocks around the beach.

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The second day we hiked through the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. There is plenty of wildlife and fauna along with beautiful beaches. The wildlife takes a careful eye to spot and other groups benefited from having a guide, but I still managed to see a couple creatures: a lizard, some crabs, toucans, sloths, and some really weird spiders. We also found monkeys outside the park playing in the trees.

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Manuel Antonio was truly beautiful and reflected the image I had of Costa Rica in my head. Costa Rica has spots of complete beauty, but it is easy to remember that it is still a developing country. Some ways, such as recycling they are far beyond other countries, but there is also trash littering the country side. It is a wonderful marvelous country that is capturing my heart, but there are vastly different sceneries here.

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The Meaning of Pura Vida

The Meaning of Pura Vida

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” -Neale Donald Walsch

They say the phrase “Pura vida!” in Costa Rica all the time. It literally means pure life, but they use it as a greeting, as a salutation, an answer to “how are you?”, as a “let’s do this!”, as everything. Pura vida is the perfect phrase to describe my first experience white water rafting. That’s what it was: pure life. One minute we’d be floating gently down the river with just beautiful selva (jungle) on either side. The next minute adrenaline would flow through you as your guide yelled “forward!” and we charged into a rapid. White water rafting was one of the best thing I have ever done. I’m totally hooked! Pura vida!

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The Río Pacuare is apparently world known for its rapids and the selva on either side was absolutely beautiful. The river floated us past waterfalls, canyon walls, selva so dense you couldn’t see past the first few trees, and indigenous homes that are only accessible through the river. My raft had 6 people in it, plus our guide Ricky. The journey contained 38 level 3 & 4 rapids. A little rapid information for you all: The highest level of rapids is 5, so this was quite a wild ride for my first trip! It was a 4 hour trip on the river, plus we had a lunch break on the side of the river. The river was so cold and soaked us completely through, but with all the heavy paddling we were doing it felt good.

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Note: These photographs were obviously not taken by me. They were purchased from the tour company.

Ring of Fire

Ring of Fire

“Love is a burning thing and it makes a fiery ring. Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire.” -Johnny Cash

Costa Rica sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Most sources site there being as many as 50 dormant volcanoes and 6 which have been active in the last 75 years. Perhaps the three most popular active volcanoes are Volcán Poás, Volcán Arenal (the most active volcano), and Volcán Irazú (the tallest volcano) next to the city of Cartago.

Parque Nacional Volcán Poás is in the central highlands of Costa Rica and only about an hour and a half ride from San José making it a popular day trip. It’s last major eruption was in 1910, but it is active to this day. There are two craters near the volcanoes summit. The main one being Laguna Caliente, which can at times shoot water into the air like a geyser. We did not see an geysers, but you could see smoke curling out of the crater. On a clear day you supposedly can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean from the summit, but we could only see a glimpse through the clouds.

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The fauna around the volcano is interesting as well. The humidity from the volcano makes these ferns grow to enormous sizes. They are called Poor Man’s Umbrella, and probably would provide some shelter in a down pour. Which happens every afternoon around here; this is the RAIN forest for a reason.

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Nearby Volcán Poás is Catarata de La Paz, commonly referred to as La Paz (The Peace) Waterfall Gardens. There are 5 waterfalls and wildlife preserve (think zoo). The animals include 5 types of jungle cats, monkeys, the ever present but rarely seen sloths, birds, snakes, and frogs.

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One of La Paz’s claims to fame is the largest butterfly observatory in the world. Here you can see butterflies at all stages in life and they will rest in your hand if you’re gentle.

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I only remember seeing 3 out of the 5 waterfalls. I believe two are off a side trail we did not take.

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Templo Waterfall 85 feet

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Magia Blanca Waterfall 120 feet, the viewing platform is actually behind the waterfall

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La Paz Waterfall, 121 feet

While both of these places are beautiful and showcase the rich bio-diversity of Costa Rica, they are very touristy. All the paths are paved with handrails and a lot of stairs. You view the waterfalls from afar (although they were so misty I’m not sure you’d want to get closer). This was a good introduction to the landscape of Costa Rica, but left me wanting something more authentic. I was on a quest to find a waterfall where I could swim right up to it. My love for Costa Rica was only just beginning.

Anhelo una reina

Anhelo una reina

“Smell the sea and feel the sky. Let your soul and spirit fly.” Van Morrison

We spent a weekend in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. This is a typical touristy beach town with a little bit of a night life. Puerto Viejo lies on the Caribbean coast and the water was quite warm! We stayed in a motel across from the beach with lines of hammocks outside the rooms.

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Our first morning was spent at Parque Nacional Cahuita. It was created in 1970 to protect Costa Rica’s largest coral reef. A trail takes you down to the ocean and along the way you can spot a variety of creatures. There were lizards, crabs, a purple locust as big as my hand, and monkeys and sloths high up in the trees. We swam in the Ocean for a while and walked back along the beach. The water was unfortunately too rough to go snorkeling, but they are supposed to have wonderful snorkeling on calm days.

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The afternoon was passed on the beach in Cahuita, nextdoor to the Parque Nacional. A man stood by the beach selling fresh whole coconuts. He used a large machete to slice off the top and I poked a straw through to sip out the milk. It was not what I expected. When we had drunken the milk, he chopped it in half and sliced off a bit to be a spoon to scoop out the inside fleshy coconut. They were baby coconuts and the inside had a texture sort of like fish. I can’t say coconut will be added to my grocery list, but it sure was an experience! The man talked to us for a while. He told us about how he has a nice relaxing life, but “anhelo una reina,” he craves a queen to share it with. It was quite sweet.

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On the ride home, the program director had the bus pulled over and we walked through the selva not sure where he was taking us. Once we emerged, we were on the edge of a cliff with the ocean crashing beneath us. It was a hidden perfect place.

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The final day was spent on the beach in Puerto Viejo. There’s a restaurant there called Pan y Chocolate (bread and chocolate) and you can’t go wrong. The owner used to live in Pennsylvania before moving to Costa Rica and opening this shop. I highly recommend the caramelos, chocolate covered caramels. I wanted to stay on that beach forever eating as many caramelos as I could.

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