Monthly Archives: April 2013

Costa Rica – Monteverde and Tabacon

Part two of our vacation recap beings now…part one can be found here.  CostaRica-90

Heading into the weekend, we left the cushy resort and hopped in our rental car to explore some more of the country.  With Jon behind the wheel (thank god) we headed South toward central Costa Rica and eventually began the treacherous climb up to the Monteverde Cloud Forest.  We had read the drive was going to be difficult but it didn’t prepare us for exactly how difficult.  We’re talking miles of hairpin turns up the mountains on a single lane road covered with golf ball, softball, and grapefruit sized rocks.  It was crazy, took forever, but was totally worth it (although it may have aged Jon and the car a few years).

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CostaRica-92I did all of the planning for the second leg of our trip and have to say I was pretty nervous to see how it turned out, particularly the accommodations.  The hotels in the more rural areas of Costa Rica barely give a glance of things at all on their websites (one has been significantly updated since we booked), and the glances they DO give are pretty average.  We were so pleasantly surprised with what we found when we arrived at our first stop – Hotel Belmar.  CostaRica-93This place was beautiful.  It’s set atop the Monteverde Cloud Forest and has view for miles and miles.  The hotel has been run by the same family for many years and they truly care about their guests and property, which shows.  The grounds were stunning, filled with flowers, and quiet with a welcomed serenity.CostaRica-94CostaRica-122CostaRica-121I had never seen such unique woodwork before.  The rooms and attention to detail were great, not to mention incredibly environmentally friendly.  The family prides themselves on ‘being green’ and protecting the country and its natural environment and beauty.

The photo above shows the view of our bathroom from the outside.  It seems a bit revealing, but the hotel grounds were so secluded and well thought out that you can enjoy the privacy of your room while enjoying wall to wall windows offering views of the countryside.  CostaRica-131CostaRica-126

CostaRica-125The view from our room stretched all the way to the coast.  We enjoyed breathtaking sunrises and sunsets every day.  It’s probably obvious but the photos do no justice.CostaRica-123

“Set atop the spine of Costa Rica’s continental divide, Monteverde is a world above the coastal towns that dot the country’s famous shoreline.  Due to it’s altitude, Monteverde is privileged to receive a steady supply of clouds and the life giving moisture that they contain.  This helps to support a complex and far-reaching ecosystem, one that harbors over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, tens of thousands of insect species, and over 2,500 varieties of plants, 420 of which are orchids alone.”

CostaRica-124IMG_3253 CostaRica-95CostaRica-114Our first morning at Hotel Belmar we headed out for a guided tour of the trails and wildlife.  I wasn’t sure how exciting it would be, but it was so nice to slow down the pace a bit and I was really glad we did it.  There was so much to see and so many different species of plants and birds – it was overwhelming.  The eagle eyes of our guide (along with his amazing telescope) allowed us to see some fantastic wildlife, mostly beautiful birds, that we would NEVER have spotted otherwise.
CostaRica-99CostaRica-101CostaRica-107CostaRica-100CostaRica-102CostaRica-103Is it just me that finds those tiny (and yet proportionally huge) eyeballs hilarious?CostaRica-104CostaRica-105

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That right there is the world’s tiniest species of orchids.  They were about the size of a pencil eraser.

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EVERYTHING was covered in green, and we were there in the dry season.  I can’t even imagine the wet season.  We’re talking legitimate rain forest here people.

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CostaRica-128I took hundreds of photos, and I’m sure I annoyed the rest of the group with my constant stopping, but chose only these few for you all.  You can thank me later for not drowning you in floral photos.  CostaRica-120

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On one of the mornings in Monteverde, Jon and I decided we had a death wish needed some adventure in our lives.  We chose zip lining.

Ahhhhh zip lining.  Where you safely and securely clip onto a thick cable in a sitting position and leisurely glide through forests reminiscent of my backyard.

That is so NOT what happened.  I was bamboozled.
P1330921Oh yes they started me off how I imagined (maybe a little higher) just to lull me into a false sense of security.  Even so, you can already see a little fear in my eyes.  I could tell something was up.
P1330927 After about 4 or 5 ‘runs’ like the ones above, they told us to start the hike up the trails to where the next line began.  When we got to the top we were so tired from the hike we barely had time to react to what we were met with.photo 2Look at those idiot ignorant tourists with their silly smiles.  This could have been our last photo together…ever.

Now, I know a lot of people will say “hey I’ve zip lined before“.

I’m here to tell you that no.  No you have not.

I’m not even sure what WE did should be called zip lining.  It should be called flying.  We went flying that day.  Over a valley of death.  My life flashed before me at least twice and it was very, very green.

I was already scared just knowing we were going to be whizzing that far, alone, down a zip line. Scared does not even BEGIN to describe how I felt when they told me what we’d actually be doing.

Guide: Alright, go ahead and lie down on your stomach.

Ali: I’m sorry…what?

Guide: It’s no big deal.  We strap you in by the back, take away all controls of the breaking mechanism you became accustomed to, you lie down on your stomach and we push you off a cliff.  Be prepared though because this is over 300ft above the tree line and you will reach very fast speeds.  It’s called “The Superman”.

Ali: Mmmmmmk no.

Jon: You’re doing it.

Ali :

(that’s me giving him the silent treatment)

P1330964 As Jon did the ‘Superman’ hundreds of feet over the tops of the trees, he chose to be all cool and pose like superman.  P1330974I went with barbie hands.
P1330976 That look is not joy.  Do not be fooled.  THAT, my friends, is apparently what my face does when I’m terrified, paralyzed with barbie arms, and about to throw up into my dirty man gloves.  photo 1JUST KIDDING!!   It was so much fun (afterwards) and the adrenaline rush was the best I’ve ever had.

…or so I thought.P1340091 JUST when I thought I was in the clear.

I had been wondering where all the screams echoing throughout the jungle had been coming from.P1340092 They really had a penchant for the dramatic around that place.  They send you out one at a time to walk down a very long and very unstable plank.  This allows plenty of time to think of all the things you would have done with your life had you just said no to the guide/husband with the crazy eyes.

Jon went first and as I watched him walk the plank I was repeating ‘please don’t die please don’t die’ over and over again in my head.  I was SERIOUSLY asking myself questions like, how does a devastated widow get home from Costa Rica by herself, and was getting mad at Jon for even making me have those thoughts.  They threw him off the platform.  A few seconds ticked by and I heard a huge “WHOOO”!

Alas, we were there for adventure and I wasn’t about to wuss out now.  My shaking legs walked that plank like they owned it and I allowed two Costa Rican men to strap me into a harness and push me off a platform hanging almost 200ft in the air.

Easily the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
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The adrenaline rush lasted about an hour, but five minutes after being on the ground I was wishing I could go do it again and again.  I was hooked.  The superman zip-line could go to hell, but the Tarzan swing was awesome.

Our stay in Santa Elena at the Hotel Belmar was a big highlight of the trip for me.  We were completely cut off from the world and surrounded by people who didn’t speak our language.  There were no TV’s, no internet, and everywhere we looked there was beauty.  It was by far the most relaxing and peaceful few days of the vacation.  Except for the almost dying part.  Otherwise, totally relaxing.  : )CostaRica-97 CostaRica-96

Our last stop in Costa Rica was set to be the Tabacon Hot Springs, near the volcano Arenal.  I have to admit, we were pretty ready to get home by this point.  What had been a week was feeling like several and I think all the adrenaline from our death defying stunts had worn us out.

Lucky for us the several hour drive from Hotel Belmar to Arenal was so much better than the treacherous trip up to Monteverde.  CostaRica-133CostaRica-134The definition of ‘rolling countryside’.  Who knew?  CostaRica-135We drove all the way around Lake Arenal and stopped a few times for coffee and also at Costa Rica’s only brewery, Volcano Brewing Company.   We could not recommend stopping there more.  After a week of a foreign country this place brought us a little bit of the homeland (it’s owned and run by a former Californian).  Sitting at the restaurant inside the brewery, eating one of the best meals we’d had all vacation while listening to reggae, it felt almost like we were at the Minnesota Lakes…almost.  CentralAmerica2012_CostaRica_LakeArenal_002IMG_3255 IMG_3257Feeling refreshed and ready for the last leg of our trip, we jumped back in the car, turned a few corners, and BAM…CostaRica-136…volcano Arenal.

SO COOL!

I thought so anyway.  I had never seen an active volcano and I kept suspiciously peering at it out the window and thinking you’re one ominous piece of earth.

Shortly thereafter we arrived at the hot springs, which are heated from the volcano (obviously) and set directly in Arenal’s lava path should there be a massive eruption.

Comforting eh?

They actually had safety warnings on the website of the resort and we had to park our car nose out so we had a quick escape route.  Livin’ on the edge.

CostaRica-137CostaRica-138CostaRica-139CostaRica-140We did one afternoon of exploring the extensive grounds of the resort and all the many many hot springs.  Before too long, however, we decided it felt incredibly touristy and almost like a water park, which was disappointing (unreal people watching), but we found some other activities in Arenal to do.  CostaRica-141CostaRica-151Pretty sweet/scary view from our balcony.  That thing was mesmerizing.

On an overcast day we decided to get in a little hike up and around the volcano.  It was pretty funny how used to tourists this area was.  The ‘hike’ as they called it was said to take around two hours and could be strenuous (warning the tourists).  Maybe it’s since we’re Coloradans, but it took us roundtrip about 30 minutes and was more like a tough walk rather than a hike.  We were pretty ego boosted when we were done. : )CostaRica-142CostaRica-143CostaRica-144CostaRica-145CostaRica-146CostaRica-147After the ‘hike’ we went in search of a tough to find spot that supposedly housed a spectacular waterfall.  The hike down to the water and back up was the hike we’d been looking for that morning, not for the faint of heart.  Once we got down and were nice and sweaty, a dip in the very cool water was just what we needed.CostaRica-148CostaRica-149It was during this trip to the waterfall where Jon and I both agreed what an amazing trip it had been.  Swimming at the base of that enormous waterfall was such a treat and something we’ll probably never do again, and certainly will never forget.  We just sat there staring and soaked it all in.

Speaking of a soak…CostaRica-153…our final afternoon in Costa Rica was spent lazing by the pool in the sun, getting the last bits of relaxation we could before heading home.  CostaRica-154CostaRica-155CostaRica-152CostaRica-160CostaRica-156CostaRica-157CostaRica-158CostaRica-159CostaRica-161I know I’ve said it already, but we had such a great time.  Experiencing Costa Rica was strange in a way.  I think since the majority of the trip was a pseudo work thing, paid for, and organized for us, we didn’t really give it a lot of thought beforehand.  In fact, I was making last minute and final reservations for our leg of the trip down to a few weeks before we left.  I usually do a TON of research before our vacations to make sure we see everything we want to see, but this time we just kind of went in blind, having no idea what to expect.

It could have gone very poorly, but instead it was one pleasant surprise after the other.  Costa Rica was FULL of surprises.  It really was like an adventure.  The multitude of different landscapes, the differences between the resort areas, the beach towns, the valleys and the mountains, it was all so beautiful in such different and unexpected ways.  I am a fan, is what I’m saying, and I finally understand why people go back over and over again.

Happy Tuesday and thanks so much for reading!

*sorry for the updates for those of you who follow by e-mail, I found some spelling mistakes.

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Costa Rica – Papagayo Peninsula

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Costa Rica.  What can I say?  We had an absolute blast.  It was easily the best vacation we’ve ever been on together, and given the chance, we would love to go back.  It’s a wonderful place and if you ever have the chance to visit…do it!

I’ve split the trip into two parts, the first being our arrival in Costa Rica (we flew into Liberia) and stay at Papagayo Peninsula, which is located in Northwestern Costa Rica.  We had the privilege to experience the exceptional Four Seasons resort for five glorious days thanks to Jon and his being a rockstar at work.  Marcus and Millichap brokers gathered from all over the country for a week of getting spoiled, rewarded, wined and dined.  It was amazing.  The yearly trip is called The National Achievement Awards and they took such over the top great care of us.  Also, it was pretty special for me to watch Jon get acknowledged for his hard work and accomplishments.  CostaRica-33 CostaRica-61 CostaRica-60 The resort itself was unbelievable.  The property where the resort is located is so unique and so spectacular.  The staff was absurdly nice (which is a well known fact about Costa Rican people) and that truly is what made our stay at the resort as fabulous as it was.  CostaRica-58 CostaRica-57 CostaRica-56 CostaRica-59Most of the brokers were lucky enough to get their own private bungalow located in the hills and bluffs surrounding the property.  This made it necessary to take a chauffeured golf cart back and forth (boo hoo), but the beauty and views from the bungalows was way worth it.CostaRica-12 CostaRica-13 CostaRica-11 CostaRica-7 This is right off our balcony.  Monkeys.  Monkeys for everyone!CostaRica-8 CostaRica-9 CostaRica-10One of the great features since the resort is located on a peninsula is the access to the ocean on both sides, mere steps away from the several pools.  So spoiled.  
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Enough of all that pesky rest and relaxation.

Let the activities drinking begin!

CostaRica-62 The first big evening event was the welcome reception on the beach.  There was dancing, tequila, great food all while listening to the ocean roll in right beside us.  It was a pretty clear picture of what the rest of the week would look like.  More food and drink than any group (even our large group) of brokers could possible consume.  Although we did try.

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CostaRica-90CostaRica-63Just like the photo above, things got a little blurry after that.  : )CostaRica-14 The next morning there was a first time attendee reception/brunch where we hobnobbed with other newbies, took prom-esque photos and looked like we were standing in front of a green screen.   Weird.  CostaRica-65 CostaRica-66After we busted outta there we signed up for a tour of the beautiful golf course and it’s wildlife.  It ended up being the place where one of the strangest things of all time happened to me (I’ll explain in a minute).

CostaRica-22 CostaRica-18 CostaRica-16 CostaRica-15 CostaRica-17 CostaRica-21 Jon had the choice to golf while we were there, but he chose not to because he wanted to spend all of his time with me.   Awwwwwwwwww…………. : )  As a reward I caught him this monkey.  CostaRica-19

In case you were wondering, yes those are monkey nuts and yes we find them hilarious around here.CostaRica-20 CostaRica-25 CostaRica-26 CostaRica-24

So on this day this happened…

CostaRica-27…lend me your ears while I explain how INSANE that photo is.

Jon and I signed up last minute for a tour of the beautiful golf course, so last minute in fact that they almost didn’t let us do it.  We got the OK so we climbed into an empty resort van that was going to take us over and we began to pull away.  Suddenly (it’s very exciting) a couple comes running out of the hotel and jumps in the van to head over with us, for they too had signed up for the tour.  We get to chatting in the van, Jon asks if they’re with Marcus and Millichap and they sigh heavily and say no, but that it’s kind of frustrating being two of only 13 other people at the resort that aren’t with the company (there were 300 of us overwhelming a mere 15 others).  I totally get their frustration because we were an obnoxious partying group.  Anyway, we start talking about the Superbowl game that was taking place later that day and ask if they’re a fan of the teams.  The man says no, I say we aren’t either and that we’re actually Vikings fans.  The man exclaims that he is as well, being from Minnesota and all.  Jon and I are in shock that the people that hopped in our van just happen to be from Minnesota just like us(just. you. wait.)!  They explain that they currently live outside of the Twin Cities, but then the man explains that he’s from a very small town that we’ve never heard of.

Jon: Oh really?  Where?

Man: Trust me, you’ve never heard of it.

Jon: Just try her (referencing me) she knows a lot of small towns.

Man: Alright.  Well I’m from a small town called Ada.

Ali (after her head spun around three times):  SHUT UP!  (I think I almost slapped him out of shock) I’m from Ada!

Man: Haha very funny. (I think he called me a liar)

Ali: No, seriously you aren’t from Ada.  That’s not possible because I’M from Ada and I don’t know you and I know everybody from Ada.

Man:  I grew up there!  Name somebody you know.

Ali: Uhhh Dr. Kinkade?  Bob Kinkade?  Mindy Kinkade?

Man:  You know Mindy?

Ali:  Ummm yes only so much as she’s my mom.

Man:  What?  Mindy is your MOM?!  I went to high school with her.  I know your mom.  We both know your mom.  And your Dad, and your relatives, and everybody else you can possibly list.

This went on and on and on and nobody could believe it.  I couldn’t stop looking at Jon and saying can you f#$*ing believe this???  Pardon my french.

Let me drive this home for you (bewilderingly nobody is as stunned by this as we all were).

We are in a different country.   On the same days out of the entire year.  We are at a remote resort.  We are with 300 other people.  They happen to be TWO of the only FIFTEEN other people at this resort.  They jumped in OUR van that we almost didn’t get on, we get to talking only to find that they and I ALL grew up in a tiny tiny town in Northern Minnesota of 1,700 people and we met each other for the FIRST time in Costa Rica.

W. T. F.

It was easily the strangest thing to ever happen to me and I’m still in complete shock when I think about it.  We had a few rounds of drinks and necessary Ada gossip with them, saw them again for breakfast before they left, and it was such a great addition to an already great vacation.

So bizarre.  SUCH a small world.

CostaRica-67We wrapped up with our insane run in and proceeded with the evening, which happened to be Super Bowl Sunday!  CostaRica-28 CostaRica-29 The company threw another great party for everyone, Jon gambled (weird) and won some money, and we all had a blast…again.CostaRica-30 CostaRica-31 CostaRica-53 CostaRica-54 CostaRica-68 CostaRica-69 CostaRica-70 CostaRica-71 CostaRica-72 CostaRica-73Bright and early the following morning we headed out for our group activity of choice…we chose SURFING!!  This was our third time trying it out and it’s pretty safe to say that neither of us have progressed much in our skill level.  Still, surfing is so fun and a great workout.
CostaRica-35 We went with our little group of 20 or so M & M people to Tamarindo, a bohemian little beach town south of the resort, for a full day of fun in the sun.CostaRica-34 CostaRica-36 CostaRica-76 I’m actually not horrible at surfing.  I feel no shame in bragging just a little because it’s the ONE athletic activity that I’m better than Jon at.  Maybe just barely, but it counts.  Jon will tell you it’s because I was teachers pet with our instructor, my side of the story is that I was willing to ask for help…unlike some people.  CostaRica-75 CostaRica-74 A lot of people quit early, but he and I were out there all afternoon.  We had so much fun.CostaRica-77 It just wouldn’t be fair if I forgot to point out my incredible instructor and his great abs smile front and center.  CostaRica-37 CostaRica-38 CostaRica-39 CostaRica-40 CostaRica-41 CostaRica-42A little lunch on the beach and then back to the Four Seasons.

Oh…you think our day ends after surfing for 10 hours?

Nay.

We had the big awards dinner that night.  Heels to stuff our swollen feet into, dresses to cover up our sunburn with, and yet more food and alcohol to consume.  Hey, somebody’s gotta do it.  CostaRica-78 We cleaned up pretty nicely (Jon’s face was a little rosy) and spent the evening listening to some great speeches and watching some deserving people get big fat awards.CostaRica-55 It was way more than I imagined it would be (production wise) and I was pretty proud of Jon for being part of such a great and successful company.

I wanted to make sure I took no attention away from him that night, so I went with a bright neon fluorescent pink flowing dress.  NICE and subtle.  CostaRica-79 If you can’t wear it in Costa Rica, than really where can you.CostaRica-81 CostaRica-82 CostaRica-80After all the hoopla, applauding, music and dancing we ended up a little tipsy on the beach with some friends and champagne to celebrate.  CostaRica-43 This next one is for my critics that say I only post flattering photos of myself…CostaRica-44

…WOOF!

CostaRica-89 I didn’t feel like giving an intro for the above photo.  Just wanted shock and awe.  Hahahaha.

Yep.  That happened.

I’ll admit, when I found out we were expected to show up at a costume party (for which I’d been told people go ALL out – and I mean all out hire makeup artists, fly in costumes etc.) I was NOT happy.  That meant packing MORE stuff that seemed unnecessary, plus I don’t like dressing up, especially not by force.  Long story short, I made Jon dress like a fool and I slapped on some wings and antenna.  The night ended up being really fun, again – way way way over the top as far as overall production – and Jon got up on stage for having one of the best costumes.  It was cool.
CostaRica-83 CostaRica-84 CostaRica-85 CostaRica-86 CostaRica-87 CostaRica-88After a long night of partying, we prepared to say goodbye to new friends, everything being free, and the incredible resort.

We got as much sleep as we could, packed up our suitcases and loaded ourselves into our rental car for the next leg of our adventure.  Little did we know, the adventure had barely begun.