New Zealand: 4/2 – 4/8

(New Zealand) New Plymouth >>> Taupo >>> Lake Okaro >>> Rotorua >>> Oruatua >>> Whakamaru >>> Bethlehem

4/2- Waitomo Glow Worms Cave!
4/3- Bungee Jumping, Hot Springs, and Huka Falls
4/4- Thermal Wonderland and Kitty Wonderland!
4/5- Walking Amongst Giants!
4/6- Gearing Up for our last week of Adventure!
4/7- Hiking the Famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing and Mount Doom!
4/8- McLaren Falls and Fun in Mount Whanganui

Continue reading “New Zealand: 4/2 – 4/8”

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Costa Rica: 2/27-3/4

Tamarindo >>> La Fortuna (Arenal) >>> Santa Elena (Monteverde)

2/27
+ Today we had originally planned for Corey to go surfing, but his thumbs had not fully recovered from the scooter accident so we chose to forgo the free surfboards offered by Pura Vida hostel and just go exploring instead.
+ We decided to grab breakfast smoothies at a restaurant Liz’s relatives recommended called Nougi’s. It was a nice spot right on the beach to hang out in the shade and people watch.
+ After we had our fill of turning down trinket peddlers every few minutes, we left and went down the road a little until we found a Soda (local restaurant that serves Tipico food). One of the few cheap restaurants in town. We had lunch there and planned out our route for the day.
+ Our plan was to spend the day at the beach. We walked along the Tamarindo beach and since it was low tide we explored the rocks and tide pools, looking for sea life. We didn’t see much however, so we continued down the beach until we got to the river crossing, which separated the beach from the Marino Las Baulas National Park.
+ This area was another long beach on one side (with absolutely no trees or shade of any kind) and an estuary on the other side where you can take river trips with local guides to look for crocodiles. We opted to just pay the $1 to cross the river and skip the $20 river tour, since it was basically what we have in our backyard at home.
+ The beach on this side was a lot calmer and had clearer water, so we went swimming for a while. We eventually decided (after our 3rd coat of sunscreen already that day) that it was simply too hot (with zero shade) to stay any longer so we headed back across the river and found shelter at a restaurant on the Tamarindo beach.
+ It turned out the restaurant was connected with the Brewery we had stopped at the night before, even though they had different menus and names. We got their half order of “Big as your Ass” nachos and had some more craft beers.
+ We then headed back towards the main part of town, while we stopped into different tour agencies to inquire about onward transportation the next day.
+ When it was time for sunset, we grabbed some beers and found a nice place on the beach to watch the sky turn orange and purple again. These sunsets definitely weren’t getting old yet!
+ On our way back to the hostel we decided to finally become official backpackers and cook at our hostel for the first time! So we popped into the grocery store but ultimately decided to just go cheap and easy and cook Ramen and Mac n Cheese. Just like the good ‘ol college days!
+ While we were carrying the groceries to the hostel, a Howler monkey crossed the street right in front of us. He was almost crawling across the ground trying to be sneaky as possible.
+ After dinner was over at the hostel and our bags were packed, we chose to spend the rest of the night lounging in hammocks at the hostel (skipping the expensive and rowdy party scene) and prepare for our next Costa Rican destination, La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano National Park!
+ While we were planning in the hammocks, some guys at the hostel next to us started smoking weed out of a seashell and going on and on about it. They were also repeating how amazing Tamarindo was and how they could stay forever. To each their own, because we did not really share the same feelings and felt that 2 nights in Tamarindo was plenty and that we had enjoyed other beach towns earlier in our trip much more.

2/28
+ The next morning, the shuttle bus we signed up for arrived at our hostel exactly on time at 8 am to pick us up! This was a first for Central America! Luckily we were ready and loaded into one of the more comfortable buses shuttle buses we had been on so far.
+ Our 5 hour ride to La Fortuna was split in half with a stop at a touristy rest stop that had a bunch of Scarlet Macaws hanging around in the trees. We skipped the overpriced snacks offered there and instead ate the subway subs we had bought the night before for the trip today. (Corey loves subway and it’s one of the foods he misses most from home).
+ We switched buses at the stopover area and although our second driver was a little more reckless, we managed to arrive safely in La Fortuna and checked into a really nice big private room we had reserved at a newer hotel called El Secreto. It even had AC! This was a welcomed sight after the last 5 or 6 days in dorm rooms.
+ After soaking up the cool air on our comfy king bed for a little bit, we headed out into the city to explore and pick our excursions and tours for the next few days.
+ We ended up picking a tour that included hiking 2 volcanoes, visiting multiple waterfalls, going over some hanging bridges, checking out some nocturnal wildlife, and ending with a soak and mud bath in natural hot springs! We reserved 2 spots for tomorrow.
+ A huge pizza restaurant with flashing lights and delicious looking pictures was too tempting to pass up so we got dinner there and ordered their extra large pizza. Turns out that extra large is for like 6 people so we had more than half leftover to take back to our hotel with us, but that’s Ok because leftover pizza is still just as yummy!
+ Back in our room we got ready for our big long day tomorrow and then passed out.

2/29
+ Our hotel stay came with a free breakfast of Gallo Pinto so we ate that up before we set off at 8 am for our first destination, La Fortuna Waterfall! This was a huge 70 foot tall waterfall that you reach after walking down 500 steps. Corey went swimming at the bottom of the falls, but Liz was too chicken for the cold water.
+ On our way back up the steps, we passed a couple that had just gotten married and were walking down the steps to the falls still in their wedding dress and tux! We hope that dress stayed white and not too muddy!
+ We then met up with the rest of our tour group for the 2 volcanoes tour (we did the waterfall part on our own). On the tour, we met some nice Canadians and tons of Germans. This seemed to be common in our travels, as Canadians seemed to be the most prevalent, followed by Germans, Australians, and British folk.
+ Our hike up Cerro Chato was about 2 hours through cloud covered rainforest and got progressively muddier and steeper as we went along.
+ Along the way we stopped for a break and while people were snacking, a Coatimundi was running around trying to get free food from people.
+ At that point we were on the highest point of the mountain and from there it was a 30 minute hike down into the crater to swim in a volcanic lake! But those 30 minutes were by far the steepest and muddiest. This made for tough hiking and climbing.
+ At the bottom we went swimming and ate lunch as a few more even braver Coatimundi were actually stealing people’s lunches right from their bags! Just like monkeys or raccoons.
+ During the 2.5 hour hike back up and down the other side of the mountain to our next destination, we didn’t see any wildlife but we did enjoy walking through the cloud forest/rainforest.
+ Along the way we walked over 2 hanging bridges, and saw another impressive and secluded waterfall, plus a toucan flying overhead!
+ By the time we made it to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, it was dark and we got to hear some of the nocturnal sounds of the jungle. At the lodge, we walked to a pond and viewed some of the famous, red eyed frogs that Costa Rica is known for.
+ Wet and cold because it had been raining for 1-2 hours now (and we didn’t have our rain jackets), we loaded the bus and traveled to a natural hot spring in the river. It’s popular amongst both locals and tourists so it was pretty packed but it was still neat to be in a natural one as opposed to a man made one. At the springs, we were served Costa Rican cocktails and given mud facials by our guide with exfoliating volcanic mud.
+ After an hour or so of making new friends and letting the mud dry to make our faces look like a ghost, our 12 hour excursion came to an end and we were driven back to our hotel. We then spent the next hour cleaning all of our muddy stuff off before taking a nice hot shower and climbing into bed to watch some cable TV, what a luxury!

3/1
+ Today we are going to just lounge around our nice room and catch up on some things we had fallen behind on, such as research + planning, uploading pictures, and the blog (and a wonderful nap!)
+ After relaxing in the room and some more leftover pizza, we went into town to book the rest of our desired activities for our remaining 2 days here.
+ We booked hanging bridges through a different part of the Arenal Volcano National Park and a hot springs excursion at a really nice resort nearby that we had heard great things about. We actually found a great deal with the springs that included dinner and was about $22 cheaper than anywhere else we had seen (they gave us the national Costa Rican price).
+ Dinner was at a very busy Soda that came recommended and was a good, cheap meal (although again service was severely lacking – a theme in Costa Rica so far).
+ In our room we just watched some stuff on our tablet before calling it a night.

3/2
+ We spent the first half of the day doing the same thing as the day before and enjoying our comfortable bed and A/C.
+ We headed out to town for lunch, again at a local soda to pay 1/2 or 1/3 what we would at the touristy restaurants.
+ When we were finished with that, Corey got a hair cut at a local barbershop! His first haircut overseas and conquering another milestone that officially makes us long-term travelers!
+ After that we grabbed our bathing suits and day pack and caught a taxi to Baldi Hot Springs Resort. We were worried the place would be super crowded and resemble Wet n Wild back home (as it’s the largest hot springs resort here and most family friendly), but we were pleasantly surprised to find most of the 27 pools empty or at least sparsely populated and still very serene and tranquil.
+ We spent the first 4 hours there pool hopping between all the different pools of varying temperatures. Most of them were the natural thermal pools ranging from 96-115 degrees, but they did have an area with a natural sauna with 152 degree water, as well as some cold water pools dispersed around the property too.
+ In one spot, they had 4 fun slides that you could go down, so Corey went down all of them a few times while Liz hung out in the pool at the bottom and served as the videographer. The slides were surprisingly fun and best of all, there wasn’t a 30 minute wait each time like in Orlando!
+ Our dinner reservations were at 8 and it was an all you can eat buffet! Needless to say, this was a welcomed break from our normal meals and the first time we had eaten at a resort during our travels. We stuffed ourselves with all the different foods and about 6 kinds of dessert, including a chocolate fountain!
+ The last hour was spent pool hopping again and Corey managed to make it to all 27 pools! The pools were even more empty now and we felt really pampered having these massive luxurious pools (complete with steam, lights, waterfalls, swim-up bars, etc.) all to ourselves!
+ The rain started coming down just as we finished up and we changed and caught a taxi back to our hotel.
+ Back in our room, it was finally time to pack up our bags to leave the next day, despite Liz’s plea that 4 nights wasn’t enough! This place definitely was one of the nicest and most comfortable places we had stayed at during our trip so we were reluctant to leave.
+ While flipping through channels in bed, we managed to find Mary Poppins in Spanish! So we watched that for a while listening to the dubbed songs and laughing.

3/3
+ We were checking out today and catching the Jeep-Boat-Jeep transfer tour to Monteverde in the afternoon. But beforehand, we were doing 1 last adventure in Arenal, a Hanging Bridges tour through the canopy and jungle!
+ After breakfast our shuttle picked us up at 8 and it was a bumpy 45 minute ride through the jungle. When we arrived, we met our guide Nancy who gave us a debriefing before we started our hike. Nancy was a great tour guide and took her time to explain all the different plants and find us as many animals as she could.
+ Even though we didn’t see any monkeys or sloths, we did see 2 Crested Gwan’s, spiders, birds, a morpho butterfly, a toad, an eyelash pit viper, and she got a Tarantula to crawl out of it’s hole!
+ We also stopped at a couple of great view points, 2 waterfalls, and hanging bridges where we got to see different parts of the jungle. Nancy was also a very creative photographer and took some really great and unique pictures of us!
+ We would have stayed around the lodge longer to explore other areas and keep searching for wildlife, but we had to catch the first shuttle back to town to make sure we had time to eat lunch and be ready for our next shuttle pick up to Monteverde!
+ Ate lunch at Rainforest Cafe. (No, not the tourist trap at Downtown Disney). Liz finished her meal with a delicious “Choco Vienna”. Expresso, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and crushed cocoa. YUMMMMM
+ Arrived back at Hotel Secreto JUST in time to catch our shuttle for the Jeep-Boat-Jeep (actually bus-ferry-bus) to Monteverde.
+ The first bus ride was unremarkable followed by an hour boat ride through the man made Lake Arenal- almost comparable to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala  (almost!) After we crossed the lake and boarded the next bus to Monteverde, the scenery changed completely!
+ Because we are traveling during the dry season, most of the countryside had been brown as we traveled each country. But here, on the outskirts of Monteverde, everything was covered in a lush green carpet!
+ So the 2 hour bus ride to the little town of Santa Elena was very pretty and our shuttle bus driver was very nice and would even stop to point out some of the cool different birds around.
+ When the bus pulled into town, we hopped off and checked into our hostel, called Pension Santa Elena. We had booked a private room for 2 people and they gave us a room with bunk beds. Despite it being relatively early (around 6), when we asked for a different room with a double bed, he said they were fully booked and there weren’t other options. I highly doubt everyone had checked in already and he couldn’t switch us, he just seemed like he wanted to dismiss the idea and didn’t care.
+ So we dropped our bags and went walking around town to check out different restaurants and speak with tour agencies. We got some info on different activities like zip lining, bungee jumping, canyoneering, hiking, etc. So many different options in this really cool area of the world!
+ We decided to eat at the Mexican restaurant right next to our hostel, Taco Taco. The burritos were relatively cheap (compared to other Costa Rican options) and big and yummy, so we were happy.
+ The rest of the evening we did work on our tablets and we had some of the Costa Rican craft beers they offered right there on site. Then we watched some Parks and Recreation on our tablet before bed.
+ This hostel was weird because they closed the common area and kitchen at 10, so everyone had to leave and go to their rooms. It was the first time we’d encountered this and found it very strange.

3/4
+ Hiking was on the agenda again today but this time we were visiting another famous place that had been on Corey’s bucket list for a long time, Monteverde Cloud Forest!
+ So we ate our free breakfast at our hostel, which actually came from the Mexican restaurant next door – Taco Taco. We then shared a taxi with other people from our hostel to Monteverde in time to meet our guide for the day.
+ We opted to pay extra for the guide since we were told that was the only way we’d be able to see the animals. That turned out to be true, but the only animals we saw were birds. We even got to see the famous Quetzal bird! 2 of them actually! This was special because they have to be in season to have a chance and even then sometimes people don’t see them. If you don’t know what they look like, look them up online because they’re very pretty and unique. We also saw a mot mot, 3 wattled bell bird, centipedes, and even got to hike along the continental divide which had some magnificent views!
+ After our 2.5 hour hike with the guide was over, we went to the Hummingbird garden on the property and got to watch a whole bunch of hummingbirds flying back and forth between the different feeders. Liz really loved that and took a ton of pictures. Plus you could get really close to the hummingbirds, within a foot!
+ We hadn’t done a whole lot of actual hiking with the guide since we would mainly look for birds, then once he found them he would set up a telescope, we’d all look and then take pictures through the telescope. Because of that we didn’t cover a lot of ground in the forest. So we decided to go back into the forest and explore some of the other trails. It was really nice and peaceful and although we didn’t see any sloths or monkeys, the cloud forest and all of the different old growth plants and trees it contained was still awesome and different from anything else we had ever seen.
+ At 2 pm (6.5 hours after we got there), we finally caught the bus back into town and grabbed lunch at a nearby restaurant called Tico Rico. Except instead of getting typical food again like so many meals previously, we chose to get hamburgers instead. Not as delicious as they are at home but still really good and filling.
+ Since we didn’t like our room (or the staff and weird rules) at Pension, we looked around online for a different place to stay for the next 2-3 nights and found a good place nearby called Moon House. We walked over and talked to the owner, checked out the room, and decided we liked it so we booked it. The owner, Francisco, also gave us the best prices for our excursions so we ended up booking all of those through him as well.
+ We then spent the next few hours hanging out at Pension and uploading pictures before splitting a burrito from Taco Taco for dinner.
+ Tonight it was time for another guided hike. This time through the jungle at night to look for nocturnal animals, different from what we could see during the day. We had heard great reviews from people about all the different animals they saw, but read some online reviews that made us wary. We decided to try it anyway but our worries ended up being justified as it was basically a glorified staged hike in someone’s backyard. The guides obviously knew just where every single animal would be residing because not only did they do the tour just a couple hours earlier, but the animals are there everyday. So the 10 people in our group tromped along behind the guide as he “found” different animals like sleeping toucans (maybe real? They didn’t move even with 11 flashlights on them), a Tarantula, snakes, and other types of birds. We however did not get to see the one animal we had most hoped for: A sloth. That was the 1 thing that sold us on the tour is that every person from our hostel that had taken the tour saw at least 1 sloth. Of course our recent string of bad luck stuck with us and despite the guide seeing multiple sloths on the 5:30 tour, we didn’t find a single one on our 8 pm tour. So not only were the animals basically staged, but we still couldn’t find them! Disappointed that  we wasted $40, we went back to the hostel.
+ We were determined to end the night on a high note so we decided to go grab a drink at a cool bar we had heard about. Turns out they wanted a $4 cover charge because it was Friday night and we decided that it definitely wasn’t worth wasting any more money than we just had so we went to our next choice only to discover they had closed 2 minutes earlier. Whaddaya know! So we instead just went back to our room and watched some Parks and Rec on our tablet before sleep.
+ Not our favorite end to the day, but at times like these we have to remember we are blessed to even be here!

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