travel

My definitive packing guide for a spring trip to Costa Rica

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Pants and sturdy shoes necessary for horseback riding!

A few weeks ago I was here sweating over what I should pack for Costa Rica. Now that the trip is behind me, I can share my experience of what to bring on the trip in a more helpful way. Anyone clicking on this post was probably questioning the veracity of the headline because it left more questions than answers about what to bring on a trip.

I must first do a little bragging that I mostly hit the nail on the head with what I ended up bringing. I made a few notes to myself about what would have been nice to round it out. Here is my definitive list for a week that included San Jose, light to moderate hiking in the rain forest (sans rain) and a couple days of activities that included horseback riding and zip lining.

Here was our seven day itinerary: Continue reading “My definitive packing guide for a spring trip to Costa Rica”

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The people at the airport

When I’m flying solo, the experience is significantly more enjoyable for me (click here for exhibit A), particularly for an early morning flight as is the case today. I arrived at the airport earlier than I needed to be because I overestimated how quickly I’d be ready and we live about 5 minutes from the airport. Plus, I can never sleep the night before a flight as I have a deep seated phobia about missing my flight (this has happened twice).

The airport is prime people watching territory. There are business flyers, families, solos and there looks to be one group of ladies trip flyers (this group grew significantly and looks like a large group of college kids going on spring break!) Of course I’m curious where everyone is going and what they are doing at their end destination. My flight is going through Baltimore and Phoenix with a final stop of Santa Ana. Some of these people will likely be changing planes at any of these destinations.

Continue reading “The people at the airport”

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The Time Zone Challenge

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I am in the midst of writing a post about the last leg of our Costa Rica journey, which was my favorite part of the trip! The weekend was all about catching up on laundry and cleaning and here we are at Monday again. Back to work. And I am exhausted! I’m not sure if it’s due to the time change but it’s leaving all of us sleepless (except my husband, Jim, who can sleep anytime). I had trouble sleeping on vacation too and I think it’s catching up with me.

This is probably not the best time to be traveling to the west coast for a work conference in which I’ll need to adjust to another time change before I’m back on the east coast late Friday night. Hopefully I’ll have time to finish my post about northern Costa Rica during the week. I’ve also asked Liam (the eleven year old) to write an essay about the trip and if he’s up for it, I’ll post it here. It will be interesting to see what he deems important from the trip.

Today will be a bit of a rush catching up on work from the past week and a half. And then packing to leave for the trip west tomorrow morning. This will be my first visit to California, so even though I’m a bit travel-worn, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll also have a large bed to myself for a few days which will likely help my sleep issues.

MC

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The final haul, a travel story with plot twists

The alarm started buzzing at 2:30 a.m., just I was diving into the big sleep. The traveling home phase of vacation was about to begin. This was not the energized, adrenaline fueled leg of our trip that began in the wee morning hours of March 29th. The days of sightseeing, jungle walks, horseback riding, hiking and ziplining caught up with my body and I was achy, tired, sore. It was time to go home and the thought of my own bed at the days end was all that prompted me along.

We arrived at the airport at 3:45 a.m., collected our luggage and made our way to check-in and patiently waited for the airline to open. Thirty minutes later the line began to move as travelers were being checked in. This part was fairly painless and we were soon off to the gate to wait for boarding. Nerves were frayed. A lack of sleep was catching up. My family nearly imploded as we sat in stony silence after a meltdown that left me with tears streaming down my face. Why did I think we’d make it home without a big to do? Why did I put makeup on at 3:00 in the morning? I could feel my eyeliner and mascara pooling under my eyes.

By the time we boarded, over an hour later, we had declared a shaky truce and were looking forward to a bit of sleep while the plane made it’s way to Miami. But this is where an uneventful travel day took a turn. A turn for the worse.

As we were making our way to customs at the Miami Airport, Jim paused to wonder where the passports were. We needed them as we boarded the flight in Costa Rica, everyone holding their own, and I vaguely remembered putting them in the top part of one of the backpacks. I only came up with two, mine and Jim’s. Where was Liam’s? We tore through all our carry on’s but came up empty. No one remembered if Liam gave his to us after we boarded. Liam and I hiked back to the gate but they wouldn’t let us on the plane and an attendant called into the plane to see if anyone could locate the passport. It was just after noon and the next flight was going at 1:10 (this was the only time noted on the boarding pass).

Panic began to set in. We were about to come loose again, the clean slate declared after the early morning meltdown was in danger of busting wide open. I texted Jim they were unable to locate the passport and we’d have to formulate a plan B. A security attendant gave us instructions to go to an information desk and just as he was about to take us through, Jim received a call that the passport was located. But he had to return to the gate through many corridors to retrieve it, Liam on his heels. I waited in the customs line as I watched the minutes tick away.

With 30 minutes until the next flight, Jim and Liam finally came into view but I was nowhere near the front of the line where we had to enter our information into a bank of computers to pass through customs. I was frantically texting the friends we traveled with not to let the plane leave without us. When the three of us were together again, I asked another attendant to help us but she said she’d have to find someone in an orange vest. Several minutes passed before she pulled us from the line and sent us to a customs agent line that was five deep, all foreigners who needed fingrprints and photos. The time ticked away and the line moved s-l-o-w-l-y. It was 20 minutes until takeoff.

By the time we made it through customs, there were about 15 minutes until we were to depart. I texted our friends we were almost there, relieved we would make the connecting flight. We sprinted to baggage claim, collected our bags and dropped them in the area to be loaded onto the next flight. We rounded the corner to another long line – security again! We have TSA clearance but I couldn’t find a line that would express us through to the gates. I flagged another security attendant where I exlpained our flight was leaving in 12 minutes. She let us jump ahead to the document checker but from there we were giving no further assistance. I looked on as they brought through a group of disabled passengers to express through our line. Tears were just below the surface. I pleaed with another attendant to help us but he remained stony faced and said we’d have to wait. The tears bubbled up as a traveler ahead of us said we could go ahead.

A few minutes later, our bags were on the conveyer to be x-rayed, and we watched as they monitored the bags going through thinking we’d be making the final dash to the gate soon. They stopped at one of our bags for several seconds as they eyed a cluster of balls they found suspicious and pulled the bag aside. The magnetic balls we’d purchased for Liam at a gift shop the day before. My heart sank. We were so close but the clock had now arrived at 1:10. Not knowing what else to do, I sent Jim and Liam ahead while I remained with the bag. A fleeting thought came to just abandon the bag but I figured that would only lead to more trouble and it contained all of our souvenirs and the Costa Rican coffee we’d brought home with us. The bag was examined and I started running to the gate. Our gate was number 5 and I was at 25. The gate was a half mile away but I couldn’t keep up the pace and started walking as briskly as my tired body could go. I had already contemplated having to find a new flight home. This would be an added complication because our group of six had a car service meeting us at JFK to take us on the final 150 miles home. I passed gate after gate, looking for a security cart to whisk me to the end but the few that I saw along the cooridor were abandoned, no personnel in sight. As I closed in on gate 5, I pictured the gate area empty, doors closed, plane pushing away from the gate. I blinked to see Jim and Liam in line to board. The plane was not anywhere near it’s final boarding pass. Relief washed over me as I let my overheated body finally relax. We made it with time to spare. Our flight was at 1:40.

MC

Daily prompt: haul

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A Walk in the Jungle

Today is already day six of our Costa Rican adventure with two very full days left. Yesterday was a very long day of travel from the eastern Caribbean coast of Tortuguero Nation Park, where we explored the jungle, to the northern area where we are staying at the base of the Arenal Volcano. You know how you get a butterfly feeling when doing/seeing something awesome and new? I’ve had that fluttery feeling so many times on this trip. And we have yet to do zip lining which I imagine will be a new level of flutteriness (and fear).

I have to say, I’m not adjusting to the two hour time difference well. I’m wide awake at 4:15 every morning but not too tired until late evening which is good. It gives me time to lay in bed to reflect on our time here and how blessed I feel for the life I have. We have passed through many poor looking towns on this trip and have seen some of the hard physical labor that goes into harvesting bananas from the soft, air conditioned seats of our tour bus. It gives me pause. Today we have a tour of a coffee and sugar plantation which will likely be eye opening too.

Our visit to Tortuguero was quite interesting and a little different than what I had in my mind as a rain forest. We have been so lucky with the weather and while it was fairly hot directly in the sun, the jungle allows many opportunities to find shade. It is humid, though, and when I went to unpack at our next stop last night I found much of my clothing to be damp from the humidity. I realize I also didn’t pack enough clothes as I was taking a couple of showers a day while in Tortuguero. Fortunately they have a laundry service at the Arenal hotel and I could get a few things washed.

I was kind of hoping for rain in the rainforest. I have always loved listening to nature sounds, especially rain. Our accommodations would have been perfect for an evening rain shower – with a long rooftop porch and comfortable rocking chairs, surround by palms, flowering trees and grasses. White headed (capuchin) monkeys have been as prevelent as our northeaster US squirrels, but much cuter in my opinion. We took a canal tour and a jungle walk and while we saw a variety of wildlife, the sloth, disappointingly, remained difficult to spot. There were lots of weird spiders and beetles and yours truly dained to try a termite as if I were on Survivor. My report is they are minty.

The jungle walk we went on was paved and highly civilized which was not what I was expecting. We saw more wildlife walking around the grounds of Evergreen Lodge where we were staying, so that was a little disappointing. On our way back to the boat, near the pool of the resort where we took the walk, we saw the biggest Iguana I have ever seen and the boys were estatic!

This has been a fantastic adventure for the eleven year olds. They still have that unending sense of wonder, playfulness and energy that starts to dissipate as they head to their teenage years. It has been wonderful to watch this experience through their guileless filter. Of course there have been moments where we’ve wanted to throttle ours for his sarcasm and moments of insouciance. I try to remind myself it’s the hormones.

In addition to the sugar and coffee tour, today we’re also going on a long horseback ride through this part of the country. Hopefully I’ll be able to walk tomorrow!

Until next time…

MC

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Hola from Costa Rica

We are on day two of our Costa Rican adventure and while everyone is resting in the rooms, I decided to run downstairs and hop on the computer for a bit. I absolutely love our hotel, Hotel Presidente. It has a great vibe, is very eclectic and there are a bunch of little sitting areas in the lobby to just sit and enjoy the atmosphere. The computers were in use so I’m sitting on the coziest of leather sofas while I type this on my phone.

After a busy day, this is the kind of relaxing I like to do. There’s great jazzy music in the background but when I tried to find out what it was through Shazam, nothing came up. Today we visited the Irazu Volcano a couple hours outside San Jose. The weather was perfection. The forecast called for rain but we saw only clouds and blue sky. The roads here are bumpy and sometimes circuitous but our driver, Eduardo, handled them beautifully. As you can imagine, the ground around the volcano was ashy. We were at 13,000 feet elevation and the air took a little getting used to. The walk wasn’t long but by the time we headed back to the bus, my lungs were desparate for a break. After all the running I’ve been doing to get into shape, this felt a bit like a betrayal to me. Once back in the van, I was able to easily recover.

From there we wandered through a couple of towns. Easter week is a major holiday here and we saw a couple parades celebrating The Passion and it was very moving. We went into the Bascillica of Our Lady of Los Angeles to say a prayer since we are missing mass this week due to heading to the jungle tomorrow. Then we were on our way to a hot spring for the afternoon. It was beautiful and relaxing and they fed us a wonderful traditional Costa Rican meal. Not sure if I’ll be able to eat again today.

Better go check on the troops! Adios until we meet again.

MC

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What to wear, Costa Rica edition

We are in the mad dash to the final days of prepping for our trip to Costa Rica. There are still a few days before we go but I’m anxious about forgetting something important. I’m also fretting about what to wear which should not be such a consideration – what’s more important, having a great time with my family or looking good? Preferably both.

I’ve researched and re-researched the climate we’ll be going into. I’ve scoured videos and blogs for lists of what to bring. There are also different kinds of Costa Rica vacations. We are doing less the beach kind and more the jungle kind. I looked at all the hotels we’re booked into and found one place we’ll be staying for two nights doesn’t have a hairdryer. This was mentioned in many of the Trip Advisor reviews so it was also important to other travelers so I don’t feel so vain.

My mind keeps replaying a trip Jim and I made to England many years ago where I didn’t bring a hairdryer and for the most part everywhere we stayed had one. The London hotel did not and that was also the least of our problems with that place. The fact that we had to run out and purchase our own toilet paper was a much bigger problem. But I digress. When I look back on our pictures of this truly amazing trip – it was the number one place I wanted to travel to from when I was young – the thing that stands out for me is how FLAT my hair is. So that’s why whenever we travel, I try to be sure there will be a hairdryer or I will bring one.

 

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In London with a waxy Dalai Lama circa 2002

The nice thing about Costa Rica is they use the same electrical outlets we do so I can just pop one in my luggage. I don’t know why I’m getting stuck on this seemingly insignificant detail and Jim rolled his eyes when I told him there was a place, deep in the jungle, without hairdryers. But it’s the pictures. I don’t want a scrapbook of flat hair!

Also the clothes. I am not a fan of the exercise, hiking attire look for myself. I feel dowdy or something. I decided to buy a few moisture wicking tops but they decidedly have very little flair. And the L.L. Bean hiking pants, because they said we need long pants for some of the things we’re doing. I’m keeping the tags on just in case I don’t need to use them because it was a rather expensive purchase for something I might not use again. I ended up getting a couple of cute looking tops so I’m not always looking like I’m about to go on a run.

The other thing I stress about is the temperature. I really hate to be too hot or too cold (doesn’t everyone?) so I want to be ready for any weather. Does it get cool at night? Some say yes. Is it super hot and humid? Some say yes. Will it rain? Better be prepared. Will I run out of clothes? Maybe. Will it matter in the end? Probably not. I was also worried about wearing a hat because of my hearing aid that is attached to my scalp behind my ear. I bought a jungle type hat but it was too big so I took an old baseball cap and cut a hole around where my hearing aid goes. I will probably just try to work with that.

You may say this is pretty trivial. We are going to a foreign country that will be full of adventure, beauty and cool wildlife. I just have a certain style that I want to keep to. And when I look back I’ll probably be thinking how silly it was to worry. To worry about packing the right stuff and the kind of clothes I wore. That’s just me.

At the end of the day, I might make a little youtube video of my packing because I find those type of videos very helpful, myself. Most of the videos I found were geared toward beachy Costa Rica vacations so this one will be more about visiting the jungle, zip lining, horseback riding and such. We have a couple of GoPro’s so we’ll be able to capture all aspects of the trip.

 

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Packing for Costa Rica

 

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I consider myself a seasoned traveler with a few stamps on my passport(s), but whenever I’m going to a new location, I get all sorts of anxiety about what to pack. This will be my first foray into South America and while I want to be prepared, I also want to pack light because we are going to be moving around a lot. We’re leaving in a couple of weeks so it’s about time to start thinking seriously about this.

I feel so fortunate to be going on this trip since I floated the idea last February after seeing a gorgeous brochure for Costa Rica while visiting with friends at a hotel. It was completely random but while we were waiting for them to come down from their room, I meandered over to the brochure table, curious about what sights they were recommending to their visitors. I was captivated by the beautiful photos and description of the sights of South America.

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Blue skies above

Today is supposed to wrap up my Florida vacation but a storm in New York may keep me here for a couple more days. Jim has sent me a picture of our snow covered cars along with the news that school has been canceled. I have refrained from responding with a picture of my blue sky above. I guess I wouldn’t mind being stranded here a couple more days while the snow sorts itself out.

This is my cleaning day here. Time to do the laundry, run the dishwasher, vacuum and clean the bathrooms. Unfortunately, I don’t know whether I won’t be flying in the morning so I’ll have to do all this “just in case”. It’s ok though because cleaning this house is a piece of cake because we don’t have a lot of stuff here and I’ve been keeping it up as I go.

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A Run Like No Other

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The train ride was a bit of a hassle if you don’t know Spanish, which we didn’t. The day before our trip from Barcelona to Pamplona, we took a trial run to the station, to see if we could navigate our way. July in Barcelona is hot and sticky and if you are twenty weeks pregnant, which I was, it is even more so. But the excitement carries you through because you are in Spain, about to embark on an adventure that has been months in the planning. The trek from the hotel to the station is interminable, but finally, you are there.

The signs on the walls and indeed above the station agents are unreadable and finding someone to translate or help is impossible. After hours of wandering the crowded station, full of hopeful travelers like ourselves, we complete our transaction and are on our way. We are out on the streets of Barcelona again, finding a different route to our hotel. How easy all this would be today with smartphones, digital maps, translating apps. But it’s 2006 and our fancy smartphone purchases are a year away.

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