A Travellerspoint blog

Ziplining and El Trapiche Tour

26 March 2017

sunny 75 °F

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So first thing this morning I go to the car to get my Lonely Planet book and see the tire looks kind of flat. After an actually very good breakfast for $6 each at the hostel we attempt to put air in the tire in the hopes that it isn’t a flat. (Breakfast was in the hostel because we couldn’t find much else in the town open on this Sunday morning.) After getting directions to the gas station (turn right, then left, then another left and drive until the pavement runs out) we find that the employees there actually do the work. So we got air and gas without even getting our hands dirty 😊
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First up for the day was a zip line tour with Original Canopy Company. OMG, SOOO fun. The first thing you do is a tarzan swing which looked scary but was a blast. The rest of the tour is through 15 zip lines, the longest being 800 meters. On a few you could look over and see the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
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There was one point where we came to an old hollow tree and we got to rappel down from the top and then climb up rope steps inside the tree. That was really an interesting experience.
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We had our GoPro but for some reason can’t find the batteries or memory stick attachment so I will have to wait to see how the videos turned out.

After the canopy tour, we were starving and this stand called Taco Taco is right next to the hostel. Unfortunately, a couple of G Adventures groups got there before us so we had quite a wait. It was worth it though because the food was good and I got to buy some bracelets from a stand next to the restaurant.
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Oxen cart that carries sugar cane
A short rest later and we were off on another tour, El Trapiche. I’m pretty sure the guide said El Trapiche means sugar cane farm but here they make coffee. The tour includes the explanation of sugar cane processing, chocolate and coffee. The two hour tour takes you through the process of growing the coffee plants from small plants which take 3 years to produce coffee and are cut down after five years of production. The new tree grows from the stem and produces for another 5 years. This can be repeated 3-4 times.
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Curt with coffee plant
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coffee beans
Coffee beans actually need to be dried and shelled several times before being used for coffee.
The coffee pickers wear a basket like this and pick only the red fruits. They make $2 per basket and can only pick 6-8 baskets per day! We also learn of a larva that eat the fruit from the inside and you can’t even tell there is no bean inside.
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It seems bizarre today that a machine like this is the one that sorts the different types of beans. And the timer on the roasting machine is a stop watch.
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Next we go to the coca house where we see the cocoa plant with the fruit on the bottom, when it is ready it turns red. Only 10% of the flowers that start actually grow a fruit! Inside are several cocoa beans which we get to try. Then we try pure cocoa, then with sugar, then with milk. It still never tasted that great!
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So we move on to the sugar portion where we get to taste some sugar cane and then ride in the ox cart down the hill. They show us how the oxen used to be the work force behind squeezing the juice out of the sugar cane. It is 50% juice so here were it rains so much it tastes especially good.
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Next they poor the hot molasses on a chunk of wood and we had to stir quickly with a wooden spoon until it became like peanut butter. The guide was so kind as to bag it up and let us each take home our sugar.
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Finally, we go inside for a sample of the honey processed coffee, lemonade with their sugar cane and a little snack with arracacha. According to the guide, this plant is supposedly only used in food for special occasions like weddings and divorces.
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overlook from El Trapiche
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All the buildings have beautiful murals, not just here but also around Costa Rica.
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Growing right on site is the national flower, is the purple country girl orchid, called Guaria Morada in Spanish.
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We fully intended to eat dinner at Orphos a short walk from the hostel but just weren't hungry so I just took a picture instead :)

Posted by ErinDriver 06:58 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

From Dreams to Hostels

25 March 2017

sunny 85 °F

Sadly its our day to leave the life of luxury and sink back to hostel living. Just kidding, I love hostels but we do have to leave our Dreams resort. But not until after breakfast and one more strawberry daiquiri! While we waited for the bar to open at 1000 that turned in to 1030 Dad pointed out some baby birds in a bush right next to their building. They are FLK’s (funny looking kids), black birds I think.
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The thing about driving in Costa Rica is that there really don’t seem to be maps or addresses. They tend to say more like turn left at the church and then go for 10 kilometers and turn right. So it was with a little trepidation we started toward Santa Elena. My Dad had put Costa Rica maps on their GPS but it wouldn’t pick up Santa Elena Hostel Resort. Google Maps on our phone would pick up the Hostel but then would require internet the whole time. I ended up writing down the directions from Google and putting in the town to the GPS.
It all went fine until we were supposed to be about 20-30 minutes away. We sailed down the Pan American Highway but were supposed to turn off on to route 145. We never saw that but did see a sign for Monteverde so we took that road. I don’t know where we were supposed to be but I just can’t believe that 20 mile stretch was correct. It was the most bumpy, dusty, hilly, curvy road I have ever been on. At some points it seemed like our car was ice skating. Curt did a masterful job getting us safely to our resort in the busy little town of Santa Elena.
There wasn’t much time before our night walk so we had some beers to wind down after the drive and had a pizza from the hostels wood burning stove.
The night walk was the Santamaria Night Walks and we were picked up from the hostel. I had pretty low expectations for the thing initially and we couldn’t hear our guide well. But all and all we saw a lot of things. Even a sloth which I will prove with this blurry picture…
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We even got to see the sloth move! He went from one branch of the tree to another while we watched. It was very difficult taking any pictures but I tried. We saw a tiny little snake,
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Green pit viper
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Grasshopper
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Leaf cutter ants
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tarantula
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Another lizard, butterfly, armadillo (sort of), glow beetle and did I mention the sloth? 😊

Posted by ErinDriver 08:17 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Lounge Day in Costa Rica

24 March 2017

sunny 85 °F

Eat, rest by the pool, repeat. This was the modus operandi for today. After breakfast we did start to go for a bike ride. We all got dressed up in our little helmets and reflective vests the resort makes us wear. After a trip down the road near the resort against the wind we decided we would rather lay by the pool and spent the remainder of the day doing just that.
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For lunch I actually had a philly cheesesteak that was pretty good for Costa Rica. Dinner was again at Portofino and even though it took a long time it was fun and Curt even got flambé. Costa Rica vs. Mexico soccer was on which seemed a fitting end to this day in Central America.

Posted by ErinDriver 20:35 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Nicaragua

23 March 2017

sunny 85 °F

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Bright and early we boarded the bus with about 30 other people and our guide Jose for the 45 minute ride to the border with Nicaragua. Thanks to Jose it was a relatively easy border crossing on foot with our passports being checked three separate times in Nicaragua. On their side of the border we had plenty of time for shopping and Curt got a belt made to fit right there in front of us.
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He also got a wallet and I tried some cookies. One lady was selling hammocks that were very soft for like $7. She carried them around on her head! There are a lot of tractor trailer trucks waiting at the border to get inspected because this Pan American highway is huge for moving drugs.
Dad is sad to learn that in Nicaragua you have to pay to use the bathroom. $1 will get you about four trips and you don't get your toilet paper until you pay up!

At the border we picked up our guide for Nicaragua, Elvis! He was born right before Elvis died and when he passed away his parents decided to change his name to Elvis. It sounded like he got bullied a fair amount when he was younger in a place where everyone is named Jose, Carlos or Pedro. He tells us about the Nicaraguan equivalent of Costa Rica's Pura Vida. They say De Acachimbo?? which means Happy Spirit. He promises that after some rum your spirit is much happier:)
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He promises to show us amazing sites and he is very proud of his country and happy we took time out of our vacation to see it. First up we pass by two volcanoes, Conception and Maderas. We have a two hour drive along Lake Nicaragua which is the same size as all of Puerto Rico. It is so big the first people arriving here thought it was the ocean. It is a beautiful site with the volcanoes sticking out of it.
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Our first stop is a boat ride on Lake Nicaragua. Our driver doesn't speak English but tries to point out things and we all guess as to what we are supposed to be looking at.
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Just towards the end of the tour this monkey was just posing as if that is his job to look cute for photos. He is a spider monkey so now we have seen all three types of monkeys found in this area.
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The highlight was riding by a school just as it let out and seeing all the kids get in their boats to paddle home. Elvis later tells us that there are not enough teachers or schools so the kids go in shifts. One group goes 0730 to 1200 and another 1230 to 1700. They often have to go on Saturday and Sunday to complete the requirements for that year of school.
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As we continue along the lake we see birds, restaurants, hotels and private houses. All the little islands were made years ago by volcanic eruptions.
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Private house
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Restaurant with hammocks
Next up is lunch in Granada at El Tranvia. It is in a huge and beautiful hotel and the service is wonderful and efficient. They actually have coke zero and we try the local beer, Tona. We also sample the national drink, Macua, a tasty blend of guava juice, fresh orange, lemon juice and Flor de Cana Rum.
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Hotel with El Tranvia restaurant inside
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Lobby of hotel
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The lunch starts with a potato salad...
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then either carne (beef), chicken or fish. Curt and I chose fish that came with dried plantains, fried plantains and gallo pintos. It was fantastic.
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It was all finished off with a rice pudding.
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After lunch we had a chance to go across the street and purchase some Flor De Cane far cheaper than in the resort. It is in fact the resort owner who also owns the rum company!
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Lots of people buy coffee also and you could stock up on dried plantain chips if you wanted.
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Spider-Man drink cart
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Methods of transportation in Nicaragua
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chicken bus
We are given some time to walk around the historic plaza and take pictures.
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The church is open for visitors with what looks like brand new paintings on the ceiling.
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We pass one more church that is very beautiful and the first in Granada.
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After our time in the beautiful colonial city of Granada we get back on the bus for another 30-40 minutes. Someone asks Elvis to talk about the conflict that the US was involved in. Sadly he gets very emotional telling us about the Sandanistas and how his brother fought in the conflict as was killed at 16 years old. Because the US government had put an embargo on imports they had to get food from the Soviet Union. Many times by the time it arrived it was expired. He tells us they were lucky to eat rice and beans together during that time period. His parents actually sent him at the age of 8 and his other brother at the age of 7 across the border illegally in to the United States because they feared for their safety. Because of this conflict there is a deficit of men in the country making it 10 women for every 3 men.Now that he sees his country happy he is so proud to be there.

His sad story raps up when we arrive at Masaya Volcano National Park. It is Nicaragua's first national park and we can see an old lava flow on our drive up to it. We stop at the top at La Boca de Infierno or "the mouth of Hell". We actually get to look down in this volcano and see the lava glowing red at the bottom!! We are only allowed to stay 5-7 minutes and are instructed to run to the bus if we hear a bunch of steam or little rocks flying up :)
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On the way to our last site Elvis has the driver stop and get out. we are next to a cashew tree and he has the driver get one of the fruits from the tree. He actually bites in to the reddish part or the fruit portion which they regularly eat. Each one has one cashew on....now I know why they are so expensive.
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Our last stop is in Catarina, another 25 minutes away where we send Elvis on his way, pay for the pottie break and have a few photos over this beautiful caldera.
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I guess you could ride horses around the caldera if you wanted to also.
Our day ends after a 2 hour drive back to the border, border crossing in reverse (much faster at night), and a two hour drive back to the hotel. Exhausted but happy after all we got to see we get room service for dinner and pass out.

Posted by ErinDriver 16:25 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Monkeys, hiking and biking

22 March 2017

sunny 85 °F

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Alright, I know yesterday had a lot of monkey photos but I just can't help it, they are SOOO cute. There were not as many hanging around this morning but I swear one came up to the other and said, " Can you do my hair?" I photographed these white faced monkeys for a while before breakfast.
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We decided to go on the nature hike again with Mom and Dad and were glad we did. This guide had many more stories than the first one we had and we saw much more. Very first thing high up in one of the trees was a howler monkey. Costa Rica has three types of monkeys: spider, howler and white faced. We have only one more to spot.
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Next the guide explained about fruits that you could make in to maracas and another one that had "potion" inside that could kill you.
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Nearby there was a turkey vulture warming up in the sun.
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Guanacaste is the only tropical dry forest but it has the corteza tree that blooms only in the dry season. It makes a colorful splash in all the brown!
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He showed us a termite nest that was taken over by bees and also a termite nest with actual termites and my Dad even ate one! Supposedly they taste like wood.

After the walk we tried to go paddle boarding or kayaking but it was apparently too windy. The water looked like glass and it has been windy every day we have been here so my hopes of doing either of these activities is pretty low.

So we rested and ate lunch before taking another bike ride. On the way back to the room I saw this bird eating the flowers on the tree. I think it is a parakeet of some kind.
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We were told every town no matter how small would have a church, school and soccer field. El Jobo is definitely small but it has all the requirements.
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We went down the hill to the next beach over but it was not much to look at. All beaches in Costa Rica are public and this one seemed to be for fisherman. A bunch of boats were tied to the trees. We moved on quickly to have an ice cream in our little shop from yesterday. curt bought some Volio coffee to take home and we got a piece of gum from the owner.
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We rode back for a quick dip in the pool before a pretty weak cooking class on how to make gallo pintos (rice and beans.)
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When we went back to the room for dinner we were surprised to find monkeys on our balcony. We watched them going back and forth for a bit, the mom taking a drink from the pool and another monkey wondering where all the M&Ms went.
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We had dinner at Portofino, the Italian restaurant and went to rest before our day trip to Nicaragua tomorrow!

Posted by ErinDriver 20:43 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Monkeys and bikes

21 March 2017

semi-overcast 85 °F

Ah, I finally get to see my monkeys. Yesterday I heard a rumor that at 0630 in the morning someone feeds the monkeys and there are several that come. I was up bright and early and not disappointed in the monkeys. I was, however, disappointed in the humans who weren't supposed to be feeding them but did anyway. One momma monkey had a baby on her back and was adorable. Myself and a few other photographers had a ball snapping away at the monkeys.

Most of the rest of the morning and afternoon we spent eating or sitting by the pool. Of note was the drink of the day, the Green Monster. It was a delicious blend of mango daiquiri and mojito.

In the afternoon one of the workers led us and another family of four on a bike ride to Jobo Town. It is a miniscule town but it has all the Costa Rican requirements of school, church and soccer field. I was kicking myself in the butt because I have three cameras and a phone that can take pictures but guess how many I brought along.....ZERO! The ride was maybe five miles through the country side but we did stop for some Volio Coffee and I'm sure made for an entertaining show for the locals. The bikes were not the best fits and we probably looked like a small circus.

But as for today all you get to see are a bunch of monkeys.....
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These two must be married!
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Posted by ErinDriver 16:06 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Hike around the resort

20 March 2017

sunny 90 °F

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After breakfast this morning we went on the approximately one hour hike on the property of Dreams. The guide gave us interesting tidbits about Costa Rica. We are in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica and it is named as such due to the Guanacaste tree. It means ear in Spanish and the seeds on the tree look like tiny ears. Supposedly howler monkeys eat the seeds and then howl because they are high. I feel like I need to check that fact on google.
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We didn't see any monkeys but he did point our fire ants, termite nests that were up in the trees and the fruit from another tree that is used to make maracas. He advised us that the main crops for industry are rice, watermelon and sugar cane. The coffee has been ranked the fifth best in the world.
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This area of Costa Rica loves their cattle for the rodeo. Our guide, Christian says a rodeo is going on almost every night of the week and Costa Ricans must be dressed up to go to the rodeo or everyone will be talking about you the next day. We go past some brama cattle that he says would be used in the rodeo.
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The beach near us is called El Jobo. He tells us that the beaches are named by the tree that is prominent in the area. Our area has a lot of jobos :)
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After the walk it was more of the same sitting by the pool. Its such a hard life here. Lunch was overlooking the pool and the ocean followed by a walk on the beach.
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After a bit more sun worshipping that turned me crispy we went for some coffee. Of course this is when we see three white faced monkeys and a iguana, all when I don't have a camera.

I went later to look for the monkeys when the guide said they would be around the entrance but all I found was this bird.
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We had dinner to celebrate our 10th anniversary a bit early since I will be deployed on the actual day. Portofino is the Italian restaurant on the resort and we enjoyed this meal before passing out.

Posted by ErinDriver 20:07 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Dreams, Costa Rica

18-19 March 2017

sunny 85 °F

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Block leave time before the deployment has FINALLY come around. Our flight to Atlanta was uneventful and we had a nice lunch/dinner at the airport TGIF with my parents before taking off. The flight was about 45 minutes late taking off due to what was thought to be a leak in one of the bathrooms. The carpet near the bathroom was wet and apparently smelly but no leak was found. The pilot assured us when they decided to take off that the dry air on the plane would dry up the carpet quickly :) We watched The Girl on the Train and before we knew it were landing in Liberia in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. I believe it was the fastest I have ever been through customs and passport control.
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The Budget car rental place is not in the airport so they pick you up in a shuttle and take you to the rental site. This is where they inform you of the mandatory insurance from Costa Rica that is an additional $20 a day more than you thought. The rental guy then takes us out to the car and proceeds to go over the car with a fine tooth comb, documenting every slight scratch. This is all done under the light from our cell phones as it is completely dark now. We did save some money by downloading costa rican maps on Mom and Dad's GPS. This wasn't really needed as the guy from Budget rental cars gave us good directions that sounded like this: "Go right out of our parking lot and drive for 12 minutes. You will see a bridge and then McDonalds. Take a left here, that will be Route One. Take that all the way to the resort." The GPS was slightly less helpful telling us the entire time that we were on "road". Despite all this we found it by midnight and checked in without difficulty.
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By 0800 we were up again having room service in the room. Mom and Dad didn't have room service but they did have a monkey outside their room. After a huge breakfast at The World Café we booked some excursions, had a drink in the Preferred Lounge and hit the pool. By 1200 all the seats are taken but some really nice worker brought over four more chairs for us to bake on. Curt and I did some weak water aerobics but otherwise were pretty lazy. The drinks and snacks flowed until about 1500 when I couldn't stand the loud music anymore and indulged in nap in our deliciously dark and cool room.
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towel cart
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A new and fantastic drink, the mini beer!
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Mai Tai in paradise
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Costa Rica green
Dinner was at Oceana with some amazing corn and crab chowder. I was hoping for some wine and the waiter was helpful when he gave me my choices. He advised that the wine selection included white AND red. I went with beer, Imperial is the Costa Rican brew. My snapper was then served whole which wasn't my favorite but Curt had a nice Swordfish loin followed by dessert. Way better than a day at work :)
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Sunset view from our room

Posted by ErinDriver 20:46 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Washington D.C. Run Weekend

10-13 March 2017

all seasons in one day 30 °F

March 10, 2017
All Seasons in one day:
We arrived to a rainy day in Washington by 0930 and our friend Lindsay drove us right to the Rock n Roll Half Marathon Expo. After a quick walk around the expo and a lot of traffic we got back to her town house in the Shaw neighborhood.
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We immediately set out for lunch at Bus Boys and Poets, a funky restaurant within walking distance that also holds a bookstore.
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Our day began at 0245 so Curt was ready for a nap while Lindsay and I walked her dog Calla around the neighborhood.
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I love the brick townhouse look with the cherry blossom trees starting to open up. During our walk we had snow, sprinkles and sun!
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Thanks to our run tomorrow we were destined for pasta to carb load so Lindsay made us a reservation at Ghibellina. It’s an adorable and crowded restaurant serving up wood oven pizza that was just right. The pizza comes out with scissors so you get to “cut” your own slice. I am in love with how we can walk to all these places from the house as a bonus!
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SATURDAY 11 March
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I was very impressed with the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. race. There were a few things that hit me and here they are:
1. The start was near the Washington Monument and I got some photos before the race 😊
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2. Most races during the National Anthem runners are still talking, joking and stretching but here it was silent for the song!
3. Going up one of the hills they had a display commemorating fallen Soldiers, Sailers, Airmen and Marines. Every 2 or 3 feet they had a picture of one of the fallen. At the worst part of the hill were tons of people cheering and holding huge American flags.
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I am still enjoying the city life, now to include the metro. We rode to and from the race very easily using public transportation. And after finishing in the cold it was nice to go underground where it was cozy and warm.
All you can eat brunch at El Centro was next on our agenda. D.C. loves their brunch and the Mexican restaurant was packed. For $35 you could get as much food and drink as you wanted from their menu. Mimosa’s were flowing and it was like having tapas in Spain. We got small portions of each item, enough for everyone to try. Curt ordered this benedict that reminded me of green eggs and ham.
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The rest of the day was spent napping, walking Calla and watching the movie Arrived.
SUNDAY 12 March
Another beautiful thing about city life is walking to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast in the morning 😊 We indulged in donuts and lounged until it was time to take the Metro to Alexandria to meet a couple of Lindsay’s friends. Roxie and Kennie are moving to Clarksville in the summer so it was fun to meet them and hopefully get them excited about their move. We ate at Magnolias in this adorable and historic town. I had Chesapeake Benedict (with crab meat) and Curt did away with some chicken and waffles. A little bit of shopping in downtown later and then we were on the Metro back home.
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I get to be 10 feet tall in Alexandria.
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Beautiful street in Alexandria.
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Dock in Alexandria.
I’m really in to this city living and Calla seems to enjoy it on the walks also. Lindsay was sweet enough to get me some Moscoto and a chocolate chip cookie cake for my birthday so we enjoyed that with pad thai from DC Noodles. They mixed up our spice levels but was otherwise very good.

MONDAY 13 March
Ted’s Bulletin is an old time sort of restaurant that features homemade pop tarts so naturally I wanted them for my birthday.
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We had breakfast while watching I Love Lucy on their big screen TV before hopping on the Metro to get some photos of our National Monuments. We first walked to the White House so Curt could see if he was able to jump the fence. After a few photo ops we continued by the Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and finished with the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials. This was all we had time for before catching the Metro to the airport for our return to Nashville.
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Treasury Department
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White House
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Cherry blossoms in danger due to coming storm!
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Lincoln Memorial
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Korean War Soldier
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Formation in Korean War
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Curt contemplating the Korean War Memorial
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Vietnam War Soldiers
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Vietnam War Memorial

Posted by ErinDriver 18:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Little Rock Half Marathon

4-5 March 2017

rain 52 °F

After a ten day training exercise to prepare for our upcoming deployment I finally had a weekend off. I had the Little Rock Marathon on my list because they are famous for their large medals so we decided to make it happen.

Saturday we drove the 5.5 hours, hit the expo and mediocre pasta at Ciao right across from our La Quinta. We did get to have that mediocre pasta with a fellow runner we met in Antarctica so that was really neat. Eileen has done over 175 half marathons so it was a treat to talk with her over dinner.

Our La Quinta was perfectly placed only a few blocks from the start and finish so I didn't have to walk far in the rain to the start line. The entire two hours I was running it rained but the route was otherwise nothing to write about.
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The medal was pretty with a candy theme this year. I didn't get a dinner plate size medal for the half though :(

Posted by ErinDriver 15:36 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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