Wednesday, March 28, 2012

costa rica: part 3

after our wonderful time in monteverde, we were off to the beach! playa tamarindo was described as a laid back hippie surf town so it seemed like a good option to visit. we were given the heads up by locals that apparently the night life in tamarindo is big and we knew that since it was spring break, we may be in store for more than we had originally planned.

the drive wasn't as nice since it was so hot and dry (costa rica's dry season runs from around december - april); however, we stopped and had lunch at mi finca's (recommended by javier) which was really nice. outside the restaurant, there are these mango trees that are filled with macaws (they naturally come to these trees). we had the typical vegetarian casado lunch with rice, beans, eggs, avocado, and plantains!
then we were off to the beach! we got into playa tamarindo around noon and went straight to our hotel. we had booked a bungalow at hotel arco iris, but they moved us into the "deluxe" room. although the room was apparently an upgraded room, we were super bummed because the bungalows had more of the costa rican feel and hammocks outside. this hotel was a hard transition from our other hotels, but they at least moved us to a room overlooking the pool (and not the laundry area like our first room).
our first night was spent walking down the [very] crowded beach and then eating falafel wraps. we knew we needed to spend time at a different, more isolated beach so we asked for some suggestions at our hotel and planned for our next day.

after our breakfast of granola, fruit, coffee, and toast (so good) the next morning, we headed to playa penca. we were told it was a very beautiful and quiet beach only about 20 minutes up the road. this was another reason that having a rental car made our trip so fun - we had complete flexibility! playa penca was so beautiful and we basically had the beach to ourselves!
after a few relaxing hours, we decided to grab lunch at lola's, a restaurant suggested to us by some other travelers that we had met. lola's was about 5 km away on playa danta. we enjoyed nachos, cerveza, and some mango smoothies. then we walked along playa danta which was nice because it was a black sand beach!
we came back to tamarindo and walked the beach at sunset. it was so magical because we started to film the sunset and within 2 minutes of filming, we saw the sun completely disappear over the horizon! we ended the night with pizza at la baula. the vegetarian pizza was really good and the restaurant's atmosphere was great.
our second day in tamarindo started off with an estuary tour at las baulas national park. it was only a 5 minute drive to the park and saved us over $20 since we could drive ourselves instead of relying on a driver. our boat guide was named george and he was awesome. we got to see tons of birds, mangroves, and howler monkeys!

after the tour, we ate burritos at FT's and then we swam at the beach and tried relaxing on the sand; however, the winds were kicking tons of sand onto us. so we decided, despite my previous hesitancy, to try surf lessons and we had a blast! we went to the banana surf club and met up with our instructor, maurice. i assumed i would be horrible at surfing, but i was actually pretty good! i got up a lot and kept trying my hardest to the very end! it takes a lot of muscle to surf so now i understand why surfers have such great bodies! i can't wait to try my hand at surfing again sometime soon! we ended our night with a mediterranean dinner on the beach at copacabana's.
we were exhausted after surfing so we packed up and planned to head out early to our last stop before coming home. we woke up early on monday to head to alajuela to relax before our flight home on tuesday afternoon. despite our initial disappointment with playa tamarindo, we actually left loving it. the freedom of having the car really helped though. since tamarindo is a very popular tourist spot with lots of americans, there wasn't anywhere to get costa rican food. i was surprised to miss it after eating it all week, but i did!

next stop, alajuela!
(to see parts 1 and 2, go here)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

mandala's and morelli's

what a wonderful weekend! on saturday, we cleaned house (which is never fun, but necessary) and picked up some new flowers to plant in our yard. j is more of the green thumb in our family so while he planted, i handled some other errands (again, not fun, but necessary)! we grabbed a late lunch of falafel vegetarian wraps at med grill and then headed to the michael c. carlos museum at emory. it had been so long since i'd been that i forgot how incredible their permanent collections are! they had an amazing gallery of central and south american art with a strong focus on peru and costa rica - it was so inspiring and captivating! their egyptian exhibit with the mummies and tombs were so interesting. i can't wait to go back and spend more time there.
on sunday, we woke up early to take a long family walk in the neighborhood to enjoy the weather. then we headed to grant park for shayda and lockett's engagement party! they did an incredible job! the venue, decorations, and food were insane! they had persian food, sandwiches from highland bakery, tons of desserts, and they even had morelli's ice cream! i had to splurge and get the salted caramel ice cream! so worth it.

afterwards, we headed to dinner with j's family to celebrate his grandparents' birthdays! we're really lucky to still have 3 grandparents on my husband's side. i'm very thankful for these times (even if we have to eat bland salads, because outback steakhouse isn't vegetarian-friendly).

we ended our weekend by watching "boardwalk empire" season 2. it's so good and even by episode 3, some the scenes have me on the edge of my seat!

Friday, March 23, 2012

spring has sprung

happy friday! i'm looking forward to taking it easy this weekend. the flowers are in full effect and so our walks have been so lovely (minus the insane pollen counts). it's also so nice to have our new trees blossoming. we're planning on planting more flowers this weekend!

i hit my 10% body weight loss goal this week! i am officially down 20 pounds since the beginning of the year and i'm feeling so great! i still am a work in progress but i feel so happy to have made it this far and i am loving being fit and active. i should add that i have been losing an average of 1-2 pounds a week (which is a healthy weight loss) so the 3.6 pound loss from last week was really due to me just getting back from vacation the previous week and my weight fluctuated a bit. here's to hitting more goals and finding more ways to be kind to my body!

this weekend, we're going to walk (weather permitting) to the michael c. carlos museum to see the tibetan mandala exhibit - it's here until april 15th, if you're interested! we have some dear friends' engagement party on sunday and then a birthday dinner to celebrate j's grandparents. i'm really looking forward to both parties and getting to see people we love!

hope your weekend is superb and stay tuned for part 3 of our costa rica travels!

"behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!" - sitting bull

Thursday, March 22, 2012

costa rica: part 2

we woke up early on thursday to head to the town of santa elena. we knew it was going to be another 3+ hour drive so we got an early start to ensure we'd have time to enjoy the monteverde region. the drive was absolutely stunning and very windy around lake arenal.
we arrived at our hotel, el sol, around noon and we were instantly mesmerized. we were immediately greeted by javier and his lovely wife, emma. they invited us into their home, offered us lunch, and made us feel so at ease. javier and j discussed iphone apps (this is always inescapable with my husband) and i wanted to kidnap javier's adorable MIL maria (although she spoke no english, i loved her immediately)!
we were upgraded to the large cottage and fell head over heels! we had originally planned on doing some excursions in the rainforest (i.e., zip-lining) but after walking around el sol, we knew we just wanted to soak it in and stay on property as much as possible (since we were idiots and only booked 1 night in monteverde). although there was a kitchen in our cottage, we ended up having lunch prepared for us by the local neighbors at a cost so we didn't have to leave! the lunch was incredible (cauliflower, rice, plantains, and potatoes)! we hung out at the pool with an adorable dutch family (the only other people staying on site besides the family who owned el sol) and it was purely magical!
that night, javier took us out on a guided night tour. he was so knowledgeable and very passionate about being a guide. we got to see hummingbirds, tarantulas, and an awesome strangler fig tree. sadly, we didn't get to see any sloths but hopefully next time! interesting fact from javier, although costa rica's land mass only makes up 0.03% of the world's land mass, they have 4% of the entire world's biodiversity! isn't that incredible?
we ended the night with dinner and then we enjoyed being completely removed from television, wifi, and phones. we didn't even have locks on the door (as americans, this is unheard of)!

we woke up with the sun the next morning and were able to catch the sunrise. we read for a while and then spent time in elisabeth's (javier's mother) house with the other guests and just enjoyed each other's company. the stories and laughter were wonderful and we already can't wait to return. i was so sad that we didn't get a picture with our hosts and new friends.
el sol will always have such a large part of my heart, because in this one day, i felt so energized and peaceful. the land and the family there were wonderful and breathtaking. i miss it all so much! ♥

after we finally forced ourselves to leave, we headed east towards playa tamarindo. despite the landscape becoming more and more dry and hot throughout our drive, we left with a calmness and renewed energy. life is good.

stay tuned for part 3 of our amazing trip!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

costa rica: part 1

after a lovely week of adventure and peace, we are back from costa rica. since we rented a car during our vacation and were able to see a few different regions/ areas of the lovely country, i've decided to break up the posts in parts. i hope you enjoy!

part 1 of our trip includes our first drive from san jose/ airport to la fortuna. la fortuna is the town that is home to the arenal volcano. right before our trip, i started to get a bit weary about driving in costa rica and thought that maybe we had over-committed to driving all over. if you read online, there are very many negative reviews about driving in costa rica and even the locals warn you not to drive past 5 PM (at dark). so when we got the rental car company and saw how local time works (as in everything in costa rica happens at a much slower pace than the us) i started to worry that we'd be arriving at our first destination in the dark.

we got on the road around 1:45 pm and headed for la fortuna. we got a gps from the rental car company, but to our dismay, it didn't work properly. on our way, we only got lost once in the town of san ramon and we learned quickly that getting directions from locals without being able to speak spanish wasn't going to get us anywhere.

thankfully we found some signs and made it to our hotel, arenal observatory lodge, right at nightfall. the road to our hotel was 9 km past the national park entrance and it was all desolate and unpaved roads. we learned quickly that this is normal in costa rica!

the arenal observatory lodge was incredible and our room had a great view of the volcano. the arenal volcano has been active since 1968 and it is beautiful. on our first night, we just ate dinner at the lodge and relaxed (since we'd been traveling non-stop for over 12 hours).
the next morning, we had scheduled a canyoning excursion. i misunderstood the confirmation and we missed our pick up. thankfully we had a rental car and were able to catch the group before they left! we were told to "drive with energy" and we definitely did! it was worth it and we had so much fun! pure trek did a great job and we loved all of the guides.
afterwards, we came back to the lodge and hiked around the property. we hiked down to the most beautiful (and powerful) waterfall! the wind and mist coming off of the waterfall were so intense, but that didn't keep j from getting in!
then based on a recommendation from estaban at the lodge, we headed into la fortuna to eat at garra pata. it was apparently the best place to go for authentic costa rican fare. it's basically inside a garage in a neighborhood outside of the downtown area and the owner was wonderful. we had cas (sour guava) juice and the best meal by far that we had during our whole stay. the mashed yukka and plantains were to die for!
we ended the night at the tabacon thermal springs. the place was huge, but it was awesome! at night it felt like a maze but the water was incredible. such a fun experience.
we were asleep by 10 pm this night due to all of the fun!

the next morning, we ate breakfast and saw some white-nose coati's on the property. so cute! we then headed for santa elena and the monteverde cloud rain forest. stay tuned for more of our trip!

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