A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ErinDriver

Memphis 13.1

7-8 April 2017

sunny 75 °F

Ok, so I lied on the last post.....I had ONE more mini trip before deployment. I had a surprise day off on Friday and as we were walking Emma we decided why not jet down to Memphis and do the 13.1 Race on Saturday morning.

So we did. The Marriott credit card we had just gave us a free night so we stayed right in town for the price of parking the car....$24 :(

Bardog was our pick for dinner because the menu looked good and it was really close. The manager started talking to us and gave us some good recommendations. He kept telling us how they have been voted one of the top restaurants in Memphis and they aren't even really a restaurant.

I liked their bar and the comment on the right of the picture that alcohol actually IS a solution.
I got the meatball hoagie made with Grandmas famous recipe. The manager was telling us the owner and thus the Grandma are Sicilian.
This sign for Piggly Wiggly was right outside our hotel and I thought it was pretty interesting that they were the first store to let people pick out their own groceries!
The race on Saturday started by the Mississippi and went past the giant Bass Pro Shop (the triangular building). It used to be where the basketball team played but is now a store!
It also went right down Beale Street although it wasn't as active at 8:00 in the morning as it usually is :)
The medal was a neat yellow guitar and pizza was at the finish. Just the thing we needed before driving home.

Posted by ErinDriver 16:23 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Run the Bluegrass

31 March to 1 April

overcast 50 °F

A one night turn around is all we had after Costa Rica before we were driving to Lexington, Kentucky for the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon. Being true to myself I was trying to squeeze in one more run before leaving for Kuwait. I knew I loved Lexington and hadn't done one in Kentucky so I figured this one would be great. It is advertised as being the prettiest half marathon in the US.

The whole race experience was really first class. The Expo and start/finish were at Keeneland race track. The expo had tons of choices all in royal blue of Kentucky. They also had a big fake frame where you could get your picture with Lex. Lexington was a alive from 1850-1875 and was groundbreakingly fast for his time. He led to the mass development of the stopwatch and sired 236 winning sons and daughters. He is now immortalized in "Kentucky Blue" as the offical city logo.
He also shows up on the finishers medal for this year.
We ended up staying in Frankfurt, KY at a Best Western we had gift cards for. It was about 20 minutes from Keeneland and the BW has to be one of the most pretty I have seen. I looks like it belongs in horse country. Carb loading was at Da Vinci's a relatively new but local pizza joint where I had baked lasagna and Curt had chicken parm. We split the greatest apple pie dessert pizza I have ever tasted.

Race morning actually doesn't start all that early with a start of 0900. They play the call to post at the start for runners, the same as they do for the horses. Before long we are off and running 13 miles almost exclusively through beautiful horse farms. There aren't many horses hanging their heads over the fence waiting for pictures but it was still pretty.
The finish keeps the excellence going by giving me the choice of a banana or...DONUT!!!! They give a nice bag of goodies and beer tickets from a local brewery if you so chose. All together it is one of my favorite races and my 13th half marathon state.

Posted by ErinDriver 16:17 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Hanging Bridges

29 March 2017

sunny 85 °F

This morning at breakfast the view of Arenal is slightly more typical according to people from the area. We have been really lucky with incredible weather because usually you cannot see the peak of Arenal.
We leave La Fortuna this morning for our tour of the hanging bridges. On the way I stop off for a picture of the cemetery. They seem to be made like legos and in some places you can see empty slots just waiting on an occupant.
Mistico Hanging Bridges Park has fantastic views of the volcano also.
We decide to do a guided trip and honestly if you didn't have a guide it would just be walking across 5 hanging bridges up in the canopy not knowing what you were looking at.
We hear a lot about plants to include this fuzzy plant that is red to attract birds and insects and fuzzy to catch water droplets. The yellow portion is the flower.
The long green portion on this tree is the flower and then the little yellow things hanging down like ropes is when the flower blooms.
The greenery is absolutely overwhelming and there is no telling how many poisonous things we are walking right past. We see two eye lash pit vipers, one high in a tree that the guide had seen eating a lizard a few days ago. We later see this juvenile sitting on a leaf. These snakes apparently only move once every three to four weeks.
He tries really hard to get us a photo of the poison dart frog but he is just so small and hiding under some leaves. It is literally no bigger than my pinky finger nail. It wouldn't be poisonous to you unless you touched it with an open wound or ate three of them! Good to know.
The guide has a scope so we get to see a couple of spider monkeys high up in the tree. He also shows us a couple of sloths. One is two toed and one is three toed. This one is hanging upside down but still hard to photograph even with the cell phone through the scope.
After the tour we hop in our car and head to Café and Macadamia which we saw TONS of signs for on the way to La Fortuna. It didn't disappoint with a view over Lake Arenal and its windmills and delicious smoothies.
All that was left to do was drive back to Liberia for an overnighter in the Hilton Garden Hotel before an early flight. Of course that was easier said than done. We had a GPS with Costa Rica maps on it and also Google Maps on our phone. At one point the GPS said take a right in 5 miles, the Google Maps said take a left in 3 miles and the road signs on the road said turn right now for Liberia!!!! In the end we followed the road signs and made it back with only one detour down a rocky road.

Posted by ErinDriver 18:06 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Cerro Chato Hike and Hot Springs

28 March 2017

sunny 85 °F

Breakfast this morning was under the watchful eye of Arenal Volcano. La Fortuna Suites has a really great open but covered patio with unbelievable views of the volcano. We continue to be blessed with beautiful weather and it is so nice we can see the smoke coming from the top of the volcano.
Today we have two objectives, Cerro Chato hike and then soaking in the hot springs at Tabacon. The Super Christian is a grocery store here and before we take off on our hike we get some makings for a sandwich. The hike starts at The Arenal Observatory Lodge but the only thing in the GPS was Arenal Lodge. We drive there only to find that it isn't the right place. We find out from broken English the arenal OBSERVATORY lodge is in Arenal Volcano National Park. After another five mile of dirty, bumpy roads we find the observatory, pay $10 to get in and begin taking photos of the volcano.
We get a map that is suprisingly easy to use and have a nice leisurely 30 minute walk with views of the volcano.
You can even see steam coming out of it from this vantage point.
The trail is marked in meters but to us it looks like mountains.
Before it gets to difficult we see some pretty neat looking plants.
We also see another coati going about his business near the parking lot.
According to Lonely Planet this hike is a challenging hike up the dormant Cerro Chato volcano. It is expected to take 4 -5 hours with an elevation gain of 1500 feet. It is marked as an 8 km round trip and the rim is at 3740 feet. At the top is a pool in the crater but boy do you have to work for it. The Cerro Chato trail is muddy and rocky in some parts, basically like doing a stair master through tree roots.
start of the Cerro Chato Trail
the trail
Curt on the trail
At the top there is another 20 minute hike down to the edge of the water but we opted to just enjoy our sandwiches from the upper view point.
Curt wanted to make sure I documented how messy the trail was for him.
Just before the finish there is one hanging bridge we have to cross.
We came in right around 4.5 hours and were exhausted. Showers and naps were in order before our date with the hot springs. Most of them have passes good for designated hours and ours was 1800-2200. We chose to include the buffet with a seating at 1800 and it really exceeded expectations. The cannelloni was excellent and they had great kabobs from the grill.
For the next 1.5 hours we luxuriate in hot springs, under tiny waterfalls and resting in peaceful pools. It was neat to be there at night with the stars in the sky and the dim lighting in the foliage. The waters were not extremely hot so it was possible to stay in them much longer.

Posted by ErinDriver 16:24 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Arenal and a Night Frog Tour

27 March 2017

sunny 88 °F

This morning it is time to leave Santa Elena but not before we have breakfast at The Orchid Coffee shop. It is located right next to one of two medical clinics we saw in this small town.
The number might have something to do with number of dirt bikes that people ride all over that town. The most we saw was one adult and three children on one bike.
But back to breakfast, I had Crepe del desayuno that was a crepe with eggs and bacon inside, covered with hollandaise sauce. Curt enjoyed waffles with eggs and mushrooms. He also enjoyed some coffee poured through what looks to us like a dirty sock but is the way to strain the coffee in Costa Rica.
For desert we shared their version of red velvet…..more like chocolate cake for us.
We filled our tire with air again and set off for La Fortuna, near Arenal Volcano. The first hour was over pretty bumpy slow roads but we found a stopping point at Viento Fresco. It was a costly $32 and a scary 20 minute ride requiring four-wheel drive but Lonely Planet said it was a site not to be missed. For about 1.5 hours we hiked past four waterfalls and got a ton of pictures. I believe Lonely Planet was correct.
On the drive out from the waterfalls we see this bird that I thought was a toucan. He actually has a small lizard in his mouth.
After another approximately 20 minutes we were back to paved road and shortly after that have our first siting of Lake Arenal and the volcano.
The rest of the drive was GORGEOUS around the lake past a multitude of adorable restaurants and multiple photo ops for the volcano.

Another photo op for these precious little coatis that are in the racoon family and were just snacking on some fruit in the middle of the road.
With the GPS we find La Fortuna Suites without difficulty. Lonely Planet says it is a bit of luxury at midrange prices but I’m not sure I agree totally. It did have two small rooms and everything we needed so after a short rest we hit the town for dinner.

Nanku ends up being our spot and I have a decent cordon bleu and Curt has a typical Costa Rican meal of rice and beans, chicken, plantains and vegetables.

The next mission was to find Arenal Oasis for our Night Frog Tour. Ian, the manager of our hotel, had booked the tour for us and we decided we didn’t need pick up. Thanks to that we nearly missed our tour because the place has a sign that is basically camouflaged.

The Frog Tour was one of my favorite things so far. Our guide, Brandon was really great and he specializes in nature photography. He was able to get this incredible picture of the Red Eyed Leaf Frog.
Common Dink Frog
Toad belly
Our guide, Brandon was really great and he specializes in nature photography. He was able to get this incredible picture of the Red Eyed Leaf Frog.
We ended up seeing 4 species of snakes and 9 of frogs/toads.
Cicada shells were all over and I caught this one coming out of his shell.

Posted by ErinDriver 20:12 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Ziplining and El Trapiche Tour

26 March 2017

sunny 75 °F

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 😊
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.
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.
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.
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.
Curt with coffee plant
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
overlook from El Trapiche
All the buildings have beautiful murals, not just here but also around Costa Rica.
Growing right on site is the national flower, is the purple country girl orchid, called Guaria Morada in Spanish.
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.
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…
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,
Green pit viper
Leaf cutter ants
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.
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)


23 March 2017

sunny 85 °F

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.
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:)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Private house
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.
Hotel with El Tranvia restaurant inside
Lobby of hotel
The lunch starts with a potato salad...
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.
It was all finished off with a rice pudding.
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!
Lots of people buy coffee also and you could stock up on dried plantain chips if you wanted.
Spider-Man drink cart
Methods of transportation in Nicaragua
chicken bus
We are given some time to walk around the historic plaza and take pictures.
The church is open for visitors with what looks like brand new paintings on the ceiling.
We pass one more church that is very beautiful and the first in Granada.
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 :)
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.
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.
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 (1)

Monkeys, hiking and biking

22 March 2017

sunny 85 °F

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.
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.
Next the guide explained about fruits that you could make in to maracas and another one that had "potion" inside that could kill you.
Nearby there was a turkey vulture warming up in the sun.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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)

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