Whitecaps and sugar cane

Every day in Costa Rica was bliss for me. However, despite my adoration for zip lining and the people and the culture and all the amazing nature around us, I think I would honestly say that white water rafting is when I felt the most pure, uninhibited happiness.

That might sound odd. Keep in mind the biggest rapids we encountered were a class III. And we had a fantastic guide in the back of the boat.

As with all our adventures in Costa Rica, I always felt so safe and cared for by all the guides with all of our excursions. Anywhere Costa Rica knows how to pick well.

White water rafting was the second half of the day after we were canyoning We had just assumed everyone was along for the same journey. Apparently not! We were dropped off in town at the office of Wave Expeditions and given a nice snack that included an apple, a granola bar, and a bottle of water. About 5 minutes later, a new van stopped to pick us up.

Our new guide, Dionis, gave us instructions during the 45 minute guide to the rapids. We were rafting in the Balsa River which actually flows north towards Nicaragua.

A few fun facts:

  1. Most accidents occur from one person accidentally hitting another with a paddle
  2. If you fall out of the raft, you have 5 seconds to grab the rope before you are too far from the boat

We were divided into 3 groups. We were paired with a fantastic couple who happened to be staying at Casa Luna as well named Mary and Bill. The boys sat in front, Mary and I sat in the middle and our guide, Carlos, sat in the back as his main job was to steer.  We provided the power.

What a blast! Whitewater rafting enjoyment is largely based on how well you can work together as a team and we made an outstanding team! To make it even better, we laughed the whole time. Every time we would need to “get down” per Carlos so as not to be thrown from the safety of our rubber raft, Mary and I would consistently crack our helmets together. The boys took the brunt of the MASSIVE splashing that occurred when we would go nose down into the waves.

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Every time we would finish a tough patch, Carlos would have us put our paddles together in the air as a “high 5” and yell “Pura Vida!” before immediately slapping the water with the paddle.

About an hour into our adventure, we made a pit stop on a small island for fresh pineapple and watermelon. And it made an excellent photo op time as well!

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Let’s just take a minute to recognize the delightful, unbelievably, fantastic flavor of pineapple in Costa Rica. Nothing will taste as good after that. About 50% of the pineapples in the US come from Costa Rica and you drive past fields of them every day while in the country. However, having them freshly picked is such an amazing treat.

Then we got back on the river. The second half wasn’t quite as wild but we still had some exciting moments. The guides, including Dionis, who were serving as “safety guides” in the water were floating along in tiny, short, one man kayaks and were pulling off amazing tricks I would never have guessed possible. Entertainment on entertainment on entertainment.

At the end, we wound up right at a place where you can change your wet clothes, wash off in a quick shower, and be dry again. Then we pack up in the van to drive to our lunch location.

During the drive, we all got to sample Imperial – the most popular beer in Costa Rica. The most entertaining part is that it is legal to drive around with open containers. Bill is very sentimental about this and insists on a full van selfie with everyone proudly displaying their beer.

I’m not typically a beer drinker. Perhaps it was just the adrenaline from being on the water or excitement of existing in such a marvelous place but it was pretty darn good.

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We arrived at Vida Campesina for lunch which is a self-sustained organic educational center. We were served a traditional lunch of casado — rice, beans, chicken (or beef), salad and yuca. Yuca is a local root and serve with many meals.

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We then got to dry the coffee that is grown right there on the farm. According to the guides, the coffee gets its extraordinary taste because of the cotton filters that are traditionally used for brewing. They are used over and over again so the coffee becomes more and more flavorful.

 

 

After that, we headed over to the building next door to experience the sugar cane that is also grown on the farm.

There are 3 different ways to enjoy sugar cane on it’s own without processing:

  1. Chewing on it (don’t swallow – just chew on the fibers and suck the juice out)
  2. Juice (there is a sugar cane press that extracts the juice from the stalks). The sugar cane is 75% juice/water and 25% fibers
  3. Guara de contrabando (aka sugar cane moonshine)

The contrabando is 60% alcohol (120 proof) and 100% illegal.

A few other random facts:

  1. Sugar cane was brought over from New Guinea in 1523 (not native to Costa Rica). Coffee wasn’t brought over until 1803
  2. Authentic brown sugar is made from sugar cane and sadly is not available in the US. Our brown sugar is white refined sugar with molasses added in.
  3. They harvest it once per year (February-April)
  4. Juice has medicine properties because it contains antioxidants, calcium, iron and phosphorus
  5. They used to use sugar cane to clean their teeth!

 

In case you’re wondering, the photos of us on the water were taken by Dionis with a super fancy water proof camera from his tiny kayak – I’m not brave enough to hand over my iPhone under those conditions.

 

Pura Vida

 

Have you been white water rafting? Where did you go? Would you go again? 

For any other questions regarding travel in Costa Rica, feel free to contact me at runwayjoy@gmail.com.

All opinions, as always, are mine and mine alone.

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Sunday Evening Moment of Zen

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This photo was taken the morning we left Poas Volcano Lodge to head to La Fortuna and Arenal.

Our van driver was a few minutes late (“Tico time!” he said with a chuckle and a huge smile upon arrival). We were standing around in the sunshine taking in the scenery one more time. This photo brings back those feelings of calm and peace and happiness. We weren’t in a hurry. No one was interrupting my train of thought every 90 seconds. We could just BE.

Ok that sounds majorly corny. Apologies.

However, if you are like me and the stress from your job makes Sunday night a time of anticipation and anxiety, travel moments like these can help as a reminder that I don’t actually spend my entire life at the mothership.

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I came back from Costa Rica changed. Not in an obvious way. But in a way that provides just enough unrest in my soul to want to keep it there because it means I’m growing. God is showing me something. I haven’t exactly figured out what that means yet but I’m excited for the adventure.

Here’s to a good Monday.

 

What helps you on Sunday night?

 

Pura Vida

 

 

Science and nature: Hiking Rio Celeste

An unexpected surprise during our time in Costa Rica was discovering Rio Celeste.

It had been recommended by people at home who traveled to Costa Rica before us as a “can’t miss” experience.

We booked this tour through our hotel in La Fortuna, Casa Luna, with Ecoterra Costa Rica. The tour is aptly named the “Blue River” tour.

We were picked up at Casa Luna at 0800 and drove about 2 hours to Tenorio Volcano National Park which is near Guanacaste in the northern part of the country. This was a much smaller tour and only included 2 other tourists, our tour guide and the van driver.

Again, I have to sing the praises of the tour guides in Costa Rica. As we were driving, we suddenly stopped because the guide spotted a Howler monkey in a tree in someone’s backyard and wanted to show us.

 

Point of note: Howler monkeys are the 2nd loudest mammal on earth — blue whales are the first. Waking up to their unique “ooh ohh ohh” monkey noise in the morning makes the cows mooing at our first hotel not seem so bad.  (More on staying on the farm at the  Poas Volcano Lodge later) 

 

When we arrived in the parking lot, there were several tents of ticos renting out rubber boots.

Since we had intentionally brought shoes we didn’t plan on taking home, we decided not to rent boots. This was definitely a poor life choice. RENT THE BOOTS.

You start off on a short stretch of pavement but as you start to hike up the hill, you quickly wind up on a dirt path which, when combined with the torrential rain the night before, becomes mud so strong it wants to suck your shoes right off your feet. Adds a whole level of complexity to your already challenging hike.

Remember you are doing this in the humidity of a tropical forest. If you are like me and have issues with exercise induced asthma, keep in mind that inhalers are our friends and function much better OUT of your day pack.

After a decent incline, you reach the first point of interest — la cascada (waterfall in English).

The view from up top is incredible. I have never seen water so literally blue in my life.

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Rio Celeste is SO turquoise because of science that’s above my pay grade.

Basically, it’s not a simple chemistry experiment but something called “Mie scattering”.  Two colorless rivers, the Buenavista River and Sour Creek, come together at the area called “Teñideros” or Dyers. The Buenavista River contains a large amount of aluminosalicilate particles which are very small. When it meets Sour Creek, the pH of the water drops to 3 (about the acidity of an orange) and causes the particles to clump together and increases in size to about 566 nm. These larger particles produce Mie scattering which gives the river it’s color by reflecting light in a specific way. The turquoise glory lasts about 14 km.

After spending a few minutes at the top marveling in the rich pigmentation, you are then invited to walk 250 steps down to the base of the waterfall for a closer look and another great photo op.

IMG_7496Only problem is the 250 steps back up. Luckily these are man made so you mostly get a break from the intensity of the mud.

You continue on up and up and up to the next point of attraction – the view point where you can take in the glory of the Tenorio Volcano. Sadly, the day we went, it was quite foggy so our view was hindered. However, our guide continued to impress us with her sharp attention to detail and continued to point out plants and birds and bugs along the way.

After checking out the volcano, you hike down to the Blue Lagoon, a photogenic spot in the river where the water has slowed and is even more exquisitely turquoise.

Next, you walk past the Borbollones which look like hot springs but actually are not any warmer than the rest of the water. It is simply a spot where carbon dioxide is being release from the volcano action underground.

You continue walking along the river and across several questionable looking foot bridges to reach “Teñideros” or Dyers to see where the magic starts. It is quite incredible to see the drastic change in the water.

IMG_7503Example of the questionable bridge

IMG_7516Teñideros

Once you have soaked up as much turquoise joy as you can, you turn around and retrace your steps back out, up and down the mountain. The hike is about 7 kilometers and takes approximately 4 hours to traverse. IMG_7509

The most refreshing thing was waiting for us back at the van — wet wash clothes that had been  on ice in a cooler. When you’ve been battling the humidity on a relatively strenuous hike, these are glorious.

We piled back into the van and drove just a couple kilometers up the road to stop at a local restaurant for lunch. Then back into the van for the hour drive back to La Fortuna.

I tried to stay awake to take in the beauty of the country along the drive but I was exhausted and took a nap in the back of the van. Luckily no one seemed to notice.

Overall Experience: I would agree that if you get the opportunity, this is indeed a “can’t miss” experience. Seeing water as intensely blue as Rio Celeste is worth the physical exertion. It is a moderately challenging hike so be prepared to do a little work and get dirty. 

Practical Advice: RENT THE BOOTS! Also, make sure to wear bug spray. And as always when abroad and especially in this magical country, make sure your camera battery is well charged!

Despite this being a water themed adventure, swimming is NOT an option on this excursion. Costa Rica is very conscious about enjoying but not disturbing their unique ecosystem.

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I still maintain that I left part of my heart in Costa Rica. I have such a love for this country and the ticos. I came back to the US changed in a way I haven’t been before and despite my usual decree that I want to continually visit new places since there are so many to experience, I am already dreaming of the earliest second I can return.

Pura Vida

Where have you hiked that is a “can’t miss” experience?

For any other questions regarding travel in Costa Rica, feel free to contact me at runwayjoy@gmail.com.

All opinions, as always, are mine and mine alone.

Just don’t get stuck! Zip lining in Costa Rica

When my friend suggested Costa Rica as our trip destination, we knew we wanted to have a more adventurous experience. And one of the first things on our bucket list was zip lining.

After a lot of research, we decided to use Anywhere Costa Rica to book our trip. Our travel planner, Harold, recommended Selvatura Canopy Tours as our zip lining initiation.  They are proud to have a zip lining excursion over a virgin forest. There are over 850 acres of protected land in the park.

Additionally, you can experience multiple Costa Rican experiences all in one park. The parking lot is the gateway to the gift shop, restaurant, hanging bridges in the cloud forest, butterfly garden, hummingbird garden, herpetarium (ew), and – most importantly – the zip lining tours.

Monteverde is about 2.5 hours from San Jose and 3 hours away from La Fortuna / Arenal Volcano where we had been staying prior to traveling to Monteverde. The town of Santa Elena is right next to Monteverde and provides lots of options for restaurants and souvenir shopping. We were blessed in being able to walk right into town from our hotel, Poco a Poco.

IMG_0639.JPGThe view of Santa Elena from our hotel room

Selvatura company transportation picked us up at our hotel and after a short van ride, we arrived at Selvatura Park. We got to the front desk and elected to pay for the photos taken by the guides so we didn’t have to worry about losing our iPhones or cameras. Definitely worth the colones – they take a lot of pictures and took them from angles that you can’t get on your own. Cost is $25 and includes one print plus a CD with your images (just your group – they sort them based on faces). You can also rent a video camera that attaches to your helmet for $35.

You gear up, get in a different van (vans are a daily experience in CR), and off you to go the beginning of the course.

There are 5 guides that go along with the group. You start with a quick safety demonstration before getting up on the first platform. If you find yourself too nervous to fly alone, a guide will go along with you.

There are 13 cables in total with the shortest being 72 meters (236 feet) and the longest being 1000 meters (3280 feet).

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The most unexpected part — having to brake for yourself. You wear thick work gloves and if you start coming in too quickly, you push down on the cable WITHOUT grabbing on (this can dislocate your shoulder). The guides can (and do) brake for you but it’s a lot less jarring if you slow yourself down first.

That being said – my biggest fear wasn’t being so high in the air. It was the possibility of getting stuck. Now, based on anecdotes from the guides, the only people that get stuck are tiny 14 year old girls who don’t have the body mass to make it the whole distance. But the only two options are:

 

  1. Turning around and going hand over hand to pull yourself to the next platform
  2. Giving up and yelling “Ayuda!” until one of the guides comes to rescue you and has to haul your ass in along with their own body weight

I felt either option wasn’t good for my ego. The choice of letting everyone witness my complete lack of upper body strength or letting a cute tico guy pull my dead weight in seemed like a lose-lose situation. Luckily, this never came to pass.

 

My only exposure to ziplining prior to this was on a very small scale at the GoApe  where you always end on the ground in a pile of wood chips and my friends only other experience with ziplining in West Virginia was designed for the guides to brake for you at the end.

The guides are excellent about a quick transition from one cable to the next to keep your adrenaline going. You go across 2 or 3  or 4 in rapid succession before you get a break which makes it even more exhilarating.

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Towards the end, they offer 2 extra options for additional adventure before you run out of cable. The first is the Tarzan swing, where you essentially jump off a platform and then swing back and forth like a pendulum. This was a bit past my enjoyment zone (free falling isn’t fun for me) but my friend took the leap like a champ and had a blast.

The second is the “Superman” where you wear a special fully body harness and instead of going along the 1000 m cable in a seated position with your feet first, you are suspended face first on your stomach to feel like you are Clark Kent for a moment. The suit is also red with yellow and you have a blue helmet to complete the similarity in costume. We didn’t elect to do this. However, if you go along the cable the regular way as we did, you have to go with a buddy to make sure you have enough weight to make it to the end. Your friend simply connects their harness right behind you and locks their feet under your armpits to keep the train from separating.

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The view prior to letting yourself fly for 1000 m

 

Overall experience: Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Such a blast! I felt safe the entire time and there is NO better way to experience the extraordinary views while soaring high above the canopy. Definitely part of the pura vida experience. When finished, my first comment was “I want to go again!”

Major shout out to the guides – they are funny, friendly and, like all Ticos, clearly love their country (as they should – it’s an amazing place). They are knowledgeable about the wildlife and will teach you small things as you go about the course.

 

Practical advice:

Costa Rica is a tropical country but long pants were definitely welcome being in the forest with the bugs and foliage. I wore Athleta’s La Vida Pant which was nice and light weight but also has FOUR zipper pockets which is great to stash stuff in and feel secure when you are flying high over the canopy. The view is way too beautiful to be distracted by worrying if your iPhone or chapstick has fallen to the canopy floor never to be seen again.

I wore these pants for several of our excursions and couldn’t be a bigger fan! I also have a pair that is lined and great for running errands on the weekend when it’s cold and snowing.

 

We wore old running shoes and left them there in an attempt to make room in our suitcase for souvenirs on the way home. You definitely want something that will be secure on your feet  – not only for when you are mid-cable but also for when you land on the platform. You will do a bit of hiking on this excursion so you have to be prepared for walking in the woods.

 

They DO have lockers there for rent ($2) which is a huge plus since we had a backpack with us as we were planning on walking through the Hanging Bridges in the Cloud Forest after our zip lining excursion had ended.

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More on the hanging bridges in a different post

Since we had such a blast at Selvatura, we decided to use our “free day” the following day to try out another zip lining experience. This time we booked The Original Canopy Tour through our hotel’s front desk.

We wanted some time to sleep in so we booked a tour that left around 11 AM. Again, transportation comes right to the front door of your hotel which is so nice being that public transit isn’t really a thing there.

 

This is clearly a much smaller operation. However, they boast being, as the name suggests, the first zip lining adventure park in Costa Rica, started in 1992 by Darren Hreniuk, who moved to Costa Rica from Canada.

 

It’s the same scenario where you gear up and then head out. This time you walk/hike the the beginning instead of being carried by a van.

Their Tarzan swing is the first stop on the tour and is actually a much gentler first step that at Selvatura. (Gentlemen, you may appreciate this even more than us ladies.)

This park has 14 cables (the longest is 850 meters) and only THREE have brakes the guides can use. Therefore, the hand brake skill becomes less optional.

A big difference is that the platforms you land on are MUCH more narrow and lack railings. You are still securely attached with your heavy carabiners so the possibility of falling to your death is equally small but it is still more intimidating when you land.

A difference venture they offer is the chance to rappel down from one of the platforms and then climb back up inside the tree. I had a contact lens situation going on so I stayed on the platforms while the others went down. However, my friend, who never passes up an opportunity for adventure, went on ahead and said that while it was fun, climbing back up was VERY strenuous.

 

Overall experience: More weeeeeeeeeeeeee! A different but still fun experience. Guides are also friendly and have tons of experience. And again, the view is one you’ll never forget. You can see the Pacific from one platform.

IMG_0298Way out in the distance you can see the ocean

Practical advice: Lockers are also available here but for free!

They don’t offer photo service but the guides are willing to take pictures/videos with your own device with the understanding that they aren’t liable if it winds up on the canopy floor. They had my iPhone and took 2 fantastic videos while gliding along the cable. That only made me like 40% nervous. Ok maybe 60%.

 

An unexpected perk of both of these tours was meeting and getting to know other travelers. Everyone is so happy and making friends, however temporary, is an added bonus to these grand adventures.

One final tip – when traveling in Central America (or anywhere really) keep tissues in your purse. They had good bathroom access at Selvatura but I definitely had to reach for my trusty pack of Kleenex as someone had “forgotten” to refill the TP dispenser.

WARNING: Costa Rica’s sewage system (really all of Latin America) isn’t powerful enough to handle the extra load of toilet paper surging through the pipes along which whatever you contribute. The expectation is that you support their ecofriendly culture and place used TP in the garbage can next to the commode. Since this goes against our industrialized ways, it might be nice for you or your fellow travelers to be warned ahead of time. You’re welcome.

 

Also – make sure you utilize the bathroom before you leave for the beginning of the tour as bathroom facilities are NOT available along the way.

 

I still maintain that I left part of my heart in Costa Rica. I have such a love for this country and the ticos. I came back to the US changed in a way I haven’t been before and despite my usual decree that I want to continually visit new places since there are so many to experience, I am already dreaming of the earliest second I can return.

Pura Vida

 

 

Where have you been zip lining?

What country do you love so much that it became part of you?

 

For any other questions regarding travel in Costa Rica, feel free to contact me at runwayjoy@gmail.com.

 

All opinions, as always, are mine and mine alone.