A Travellerspoint blog

Fahaheel Market MWR Trip

17 July 2017

sunny 120 °F

One of the benefits of being "deployed" to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait is the MWR office. They offer trips monday through wednesday of every week that take you to a destination around Kuwait City. The "scubby buses" aren't the most comfortable but they get you there for free! Today my friend Phil and I were on the trip to Fahaheel market.
The kind of questionable thing is that the bus dropped us off by the water and said the mall is to the left, the market is across the road on the right, be back by 2200. That was okay for me as a pretty experienced traveler but I think if I wasn't I would have been nervous. For one, crossing the busy road there was not the easiest. We did pass a McDonalds which just fascinates me when it is written in Arabic. It also had a scooter in the back for deliveries!

Phil and I had our WAYS app out and still had to ask someone where exactly this bazaar was. It is a couple of blocks off the road we were dropped off at. As it turns out it wasn't much. We did a quick walk through but these colored chickens were the most interesting thing for me :) Everything else was just cheap stuff.
Along the walk to the bazaar we passed a lot of places selling gold jewelry. It is very popular here and sold by weight so seems expensive to me. I did end up buying a ring I love but probably paid too much for it.

Kuwaitis seem to eat very late at night butPhil and I were starving so went to one of the first places we saw called Mughal Mahal. There menu was large which I guess should have been a clue but it was okay and we still managed to feel like real human beings for a night. Phil got a plate full of donor kabobs and I got a rice dish. Mughal is a mix of Chinese, Asian and Pakistani food so I guess that is why the menu is so big!
We weren't too hungry to hit the Chocolate dessert place right down the road. Kuwaitis also seem to love their chocolate/dessert restaurants. We enjoyed amazing looking and tasting crepes and coffee at Bell Cafe to further surprise us this could happen on deployment. The food was almost too pretty to eat.
A short walk later had us back at the mall which is interesting to walk through with fancy stores and barely a person in any of them. Just outside the mall was a little port with some VERY fancy and expensive looking yachts.

Posted by ErinDriver 04:17 Archived in Kuwait Comments (0)

Dinner in Kuwait City

14 July 2017

sunny 122 °F

Panto took us on the all day tour of Kuwait and was now leaving Kuwait due to the end of his deployment. A few people accompanied him downtown for his farewell dinner.
But before that he had a deal with one of the Kuwaiti's he worked with to take a ride in one of his gliders. Kuwaiti's are basically rich and these things are their toys. Panto is a pilot and so he wanted to ride in one of these as part of his bucketlist for Kuwait. They don't do it a lot during this time of year because of the heat so the trip wasn't long. The rest of us waited on the ground :)
Ashley hadn't been up to the Kuwait Towers so we took her up to the top and got a photo from inside. Also we needed to waste some time because the Kuwaiti's don't eat until later in the evening.
Downtown Kuwait is a hard place to find a place to park but after that was accomplished we found a table at the Shemmam Restaurant. The place was full of locals and the food was great. I have fallen in love with their bread and hummus here as a started. I had the Shemmam Mix which was a huge plate full of different kebobs, fish and quesidilla sort of things. Amazing local food!!
After dinner we went back to the place with the fountain and watching it again before having dessert at The Chocolate Gate. We sat outside enjoying the night and I split a peanut butter cake with Ashley Hall, our OB/GYN doctor.
Panto had this brownie which was funny that it came with a syringe full of sauce :)

Posted by ErinDriver 04:53 Archived in Kuwait Comments (0)

Full Day in Kuwait City

9 July 2017

sunny 115 °F

I am now in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait for a nine month deployment but the good part about this one is that we are able to go off post. There is a scuba diving club at Camp Arifjan and I was scheduled to go today but it was cancelled due to the weather. Luckily I had met Nicole and ended up going to a crazy fourteen hour tour of Kuwait City instead. Her friend Panto was scheduled to leave in one week and had lived downtown Kuwait City so was able to take four of us on a tour. (Nicole brought another of her aviation warrant officers with us).
We started with a quick look at the Kuwait towers. One is actually a water tower. The other ball has a restaurant, viewing tower and small gift shop. Of course there had to be staged shots 😊
Near here is the Opera House which is a really gorgeous building right across the street from the ocean.
It was late morning so Panto needed a pick me up and took us to one of his favorite coffee shops. The coffee comes with a little donut!!! I’m in love!
I love the building designs here. We also go past the library and get a kick out of the benches.
These two brothers are Kuwaiti royalty who are on every business and building.
You have be careful crossing the street here!
We tried to go in the National Museum but most of it was closed for some reason. We then hit up Martyr Park. It was built to commemorate the lives of those who died for Kuwait in the Iraqi invasion in 1990. In addition to the monument that looks very much like the Vietnam War Memorial there is a botanical garden, lake and walkways. It is kind of amazing how green the park can look in the middle of the desert. It was SOOO hot though, we were sweating so much you could almost see through my pants!!
date trees in the park
It was time for lunch and a cool down so on to Al Balad, a Kuwaiti restaurant. The hummus and bread was just so good that I barely had any room left for my lunch of what looked like little meat quesadillas. I had lemonade which looked and tasted a little bit more like a mojito without the rum.
Panto had promised he could find camels on the way to Camp Beurhing so we took off down the highway. On the way we see a sign that says Good Bless US Troops so though of course we needed a picture next to it 😊
By camels next to the road, I thought he meant the camels would be next to the road but in fact we spotted a guy with 3 camels about half a mile off the road. He just turned the vehicle on to the sand and we went to ask the guy if we could take pictures with his camels. Kuwaiti people (although most aren’t from Kuwait) all seem very friendly so far. Obviously the answer was yes and we spent some time admiring these weird looking animals.
Next us was the Grand Mosque. This is the fourth largest Mosque in the world and just beautiful. Nicole and I had to put on a special outfit to go in and the guys had to put on some skirts 😊 We were lucky to have a guide all to ourselves. He told us each little blue spot on the carpet is for a person to pray on.
He showed us how all the alcoves that people can speak from are made so they can’t be heard by the one right next to them. Nicole and I thought they were better for photography.
I was in love with the architecture and how photogenic it was.
Our guide was asked what the carving said around this door and he took out his phone and said “Thank goodness for the I-Koran”. He looked it up on an app on his phone!!!
I should have paid more attention to what he was saying but was just so excited to have some many things to photograph!

There is a souk downtown that we walked through. It felt very local, busy and colorful. Even the fish market was fun to see.
Believe it or not we were getting hungry again and Panto had something else to show us. The opera house park has a collection of restaurants around a small lake that has a light show every thirty minutes after dark. The show was really awesome. NO one is the same so the music and light combinations was different for each one. Some even had fire involved!
Dinner was at Baker ‘n’ Spice. It is an organic restaurant and we sat outside to watch the fountain show. I had pasta with shrimp that was excellent!
It was a pretty interesting method for paying the bill also.
One last thing before calling it a night was seeing the Kuwaiti Towers lit up and then having dessert.
Al Hamra Mall is a beautiful 3 or 4 story building in the city that you would never guess was even there.
large_Al_Hamra_Mall.jpg It holds The Chocolate Bar which was the objective for our final activity. I had a delicious peanut butter dessert with Butterfinger crumbles on top!

Posted by ErinDriver 02:13 Archived in Kuwait Comments (0)

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)

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