Hot and Cold in La Fortuna

After our three day yoga retreat in Santa Teresa, we took a six hour journey back to mainstream tourism. We like to mix and match our travels with equal amounts of off the beaten path and touristy stuff. Hey, it’s our first time in the country after all so why not enjoy its popular sights and attractions too.

Anyone who has been to Costa Rica has been to La Fortuna and its surrounding areas. From San Jose (the capital city), it is a quick three hour ride amongst beautiful mountain views. You will never run out of things to do in La Fortuna since it is the town where most everything is based. For the thrill seeker, this place is nirvana. I also found La Fortuna surprisingly clean and not very busy considering the amount of tourists that come every day.

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Arenal Volcano is one of Costa Rica’s more popular volcanos with its near perfect cone. Situated in the Arenal Volcano National Park, it is only about 4 miles from La Fortuna. You can see its majestic presence looming over town like a watchful sentinel.

Hot Springs

Upon arriving at our hotel, we immediately went straight to a hot springs resort. The area, considering its proximity to the volcano has so many hot spring resorts, be it big or small, fancy or simple, expensive or cheap. Whatever your mood is for the day, there is a hot spring waiting for you. There is even a free public one beside a huge spa resort where the locals and the more adventurous tourists go. Why pay when you can go for free? But then again you don’t get the extra amenities that the resort offers. It really is all up to you.

The Eco Termales Hot Springs Resort was the perfect one for us that day because we wanted a smallish romantic hot spring experience without the large crazy water park crowds. It boasts of an almost all natural setting where the pool and its surroundings make you feel like you are in the middle of a rainforest. They also control the number of guests by assigning time slots on your reservations. So if you want peace and quiet and ultimate relaxation, then this is the place.

They only have five pools, each with varying degrees of hotness. I can only take the first one, pictured below. The rest was just too uncomfortable for my body, not even my toes could handle it.

This was the hottest of them all at 103 deg F.

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They also have a cold refreshing pool just behind the others to give your body a chilling shock after being in the hot waters for awhile. No more than 30 mins in the hot springs was the rule. But once your body has acclimated to the heat, jumping into those cold waters can be freezing!

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Cold Waters and Canyoneering

The next day we booked a canyoneering tour from Desafio adventure company. If you haven’t been on one before, you should try it at least once in your lifetime! If you love the outdoors, if you seek that adrenaline rush, if you want to challenge yourself, canyoneering (or canyoning) is the perfect activity.

We started out early in the morning, got picked up from our hotel and then proceeded to “base camp”. We got lucky there were only six people, including us, for that day. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. That means no long waits for everyone to be done.

The drive to the drop off point was super bumpy riding in one of their “jungle limos”. You have to grab a hold of something otherwise you would probably fall off your seat while your body sways back and forth as your ride navigates seemingly endless waves of rocky roads.

Once there, you get fitted with a harness and a helmet and the team briefs you for the safety orientation. After that, it is all systems go!

What exactly is canyoneering/canyoning?

It is trekking through a river, over rocks, boulders and fallen trees…

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Climbing up and going down wet slippery rocks…

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Rapelling down a 150 ft or a 200 ft waterfall… or more!

Jumping into a refreshingly cool pool of water…

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And just enjoying the awesomeness of nature and each other!

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It only took us about 4 hours and at the end, back at their drop off point, was lunch waiting for us.

Which activity do you think you would enjoy the most? The hot springs or the canyoneering? Ultimate relaxation or pure adventure?

Quickie Quad Quests: Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

ATVs or all terrain vehicles… those powerful 4 wheelers, also known as quads, come in many different sizes and shapes. It is usually used for recreation driving off road in the dirt or mud, mostly, the dirtier and wetter the better the experience.

Though in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, an idyllic coastal community paradise where roads are so bumpy and full of pot holes, quads are a convenient means of transportation. So aside from the ATV rentals or ATV tours available, locals can be seen doing their daily business on their quads with a basket or crate at the backseat for storage.

One rainy afternoon after an amazing lunch of local food, we decided to explore the area beyond our hostel. Of course, the rain would make it harder but the sun eventually showed up and we were ecstatic! After three days, there was only so much yoga my hubby can take. He was kicking to do some adrenaline action.

It was our first time to be on an ATV. My hubby was driving and I was just perfectly content to be on the backseat. He had a quick driving lesson up and down the little road and in ten minutes we were on our way!

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The goals of this trip: to check out Montezuma, a hippie beachside town, and that huge banyan tree somewhere along the way. No other specific itineraries, just go and enjoy the drive.

As we drove south past the busy town center, houses and buildings became more sparse and the scenery turned more rural and green. Potholes and muddy roads notwithstanding, the bumpy ride amused us to no end. We thought we got lost several times because there was no one else on the road and road signs were hard to come by, but still, we carried on our way amidst tall trees and rolling hills.

 

 

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We made a left from Mal Pais, the town 5 kms. after Santa Teresa to get to Cabuya on the other side of the Nicoya peninsula. Watch out for the road signs here! From Cabuya, turn left and proceed to Montezuma, about 10 kms. A few minutes down the road will bring you to the famed El Higueron de Cabuya or the biggest banyan tree I have ever seen. I was super excited over this than getting to Montezuma, honestly. But before that, we had a false alarm earlier mistaking another tree for THE big one, it was pretty much a tall tree but not as big as I pictured it would be. As you can see, we were excitedly taking photos.

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Duh. Wrong tree!

 

 

So can you imagine my surprise when this ginormous tree came into view? I poked and poked my hubby telling him to stop, stop, stop, oh my God, oh my God… Wow!!! (umm, yes, really, I sounded that way)

No one knows how old this tree is. Right before we left, I whispered to the tree to stay alive as long as it can…

We went on and drove past hidden beaches, scenic coastlines and not a whole lot of tourists until we got to the town of Montezuma. Nah, it didn’t impress me that much so we just continued on driving. From Montezuma, make another left to get to the town of Cobano, 8 kms away. This was a bigger town, lots of people, vehicles and buildings. We reached this main intersection and we were not sure where to go, we might have missed the sign or something so this was where my limited Spanish came into play. I told my hubby to approach this kind looking elderly lady and I asked her “donde esta Santa Teresa?” She gave me a big smile and pointed to us the correct direction. “Muchas gracias!” Making a left at the intersection would take you back to Santa Teresa.

We reached town just before sunset, all in all it took us about 4 hours to drive around the tip of the peninsula. We did three river crossings (they were more like streams), and that was some splashy fun! My butt was sore and my legs were almost numb from sitting at the backseat even if we did stop at intervals to stretch. We ended our day eating pizza at a popular restaurant by the beach where there were lots of surfers and beachgoers frolicking about. A busy scene yet a relaxing one when people watching and sunsets are involved.

Do you like going on spontaneous adventures? Let’s go!

 

How not to be bored during a yoga retreat

This post is for the tag alongs, the spouses, friends or partners who were either dragged into or had no choice but to join the yoga retreat because the other one was too chicken to travel solo.

Yeah, thats me, the chicken.

I am very lucky and blessed to have a very supportive husband who in spite of his initial reaction upon learning that this was a yoga retreat still chose to come along . He did mention to me not so many times before this trip that I could travel alone if I wanted to. Cue. IF, I wanted to. But, no, not happening. And besides, it was only four days (out of our six day quickie vacation) which we even shortened to three days so we could still set off and adventure to La Fortuna for some “testosterone filled manly action.” After all, there’s only so much planks one can take.

So what does a poor bored soul do?

  1. Eat your way into zen-like bliss by either eating healthy or chowing down some cheap local Tico cuisine at any soda. The casados and the different flavored refrescos were my favorite!
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healthy breakfast of fruits and toast
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yummy casado with fish for lunch

2. Each morning, take a walk on the beach and contemplate on life, love, the meaning of the universe or how to pay your bills next month when you come back from your trip!13417587_10154236836708166_7977532899117265825_n

3. Learn to chill. In whatever form you may see fit. In this case, since the weather was super hot, chilling really made a whole new meaning. Just make sure you have bug spray.

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4. Explore your backyard. Be interested in the local flora and fauna. We did get to hear and see a howler monkey (I didn’t know what that “barking” sound was at first) but disappointed that I didn’t see a sloth. We were in the wrong part of the country to see sloths though. But I got to see a toucan while hubby was delighted at the leaf cutter ants. Sorry guys, no pics.

5. Check out their local “super”. They call their markets or groceries “super” with a name after it, for example, Super Belle. We were in luck there was one nearby as we needed lotion, water and laundry detergent. Plus it was very interesting interacting with the locals in our very limited Spanish.

6. Find ways to goof around. By the way, these masks carved by the Boruca tribe we bought for a quarter of the price sold at the airport souvenir shops!

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Organic market day every Saturday

7. Learn how to surf or just watch all the surfing action.

8. Take a walk (again) on the beach at sunset. It’s always good for the soul. 13343089_10154236837363166_6784550220333850870_n

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9. Learn how to drive an ATV or if you already do, perfect! You are ready to explore some more. Vroom vroom! In my next post, I will share the details of our speedy expedition around the tip of the Nicoya peninsula in less than half a day.

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10. Make new friends. Traveling always allows you to meet lots of interesting people if you are open to conversation. It may be fleeting and sometimes these friendships last, sometimes they don’t. But even then, there is something about talking to strangers who are fellow travelers and kindred spirits that colorfully enrich your life as you share experiences and stories.

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This list isn’t actually just for the poor bored soul. As you can see, I am also enjoying and actively participating in these activities with my hubby. So in between yoga sessions, there are still lots to do in Santa Teresa apart from just surfing and yoga. We didn’t even do hiking, horseback riding, canopy walks or zip lining because we didn’t have enough time. You will definitely never get bored!

My Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica

Costa Rica, the land of Pura Vida.

You hear some people say it. You see it on ads and billboards. You read about it. But, what exactly is “Pura Vida”?

Urban Dictionary defines it as: the law of the land in Costa Rica, literally translated in Spanish as pure life; the expression is used in many forms, from a greeting, to a synonym for “excellent.” They follow this lifestyle and are some of the most wonderful people on earth. A synonym of “hakuna matata.” Life is wonderful; enjoy it!

I randomly found this article on Pura Vida (<— click on this link to read more about it) as eloquently written by Ryan Van Velzer. He says:

Transient in meaning, in relevance, in purpose. To define pura vida is to misunderstand the term….
….Pura Vida’s a parable for the Costa Rica’s relaxed attitude and paraphrase for thoughts that need not be said. In short it’s a way of life….
….Pura vida’s shouted from the rooftops at parades and festivals, it’s a response to como estas? (how are you?) and you’re welcome. It’s both a greeting and a goodbye. It’s a statement about life, how it is and how it should be…. 

Now, if the rest of the world would only adapt this philosophy to our everyday lives, it would be so much simpler! Then again, not everybody is Costa Rican and to live by this “motto” if you will is much deeper and profound that just saying pura vida or wearing a shirt with a pura vida logo.

What comes to mind when you think of Costa Rica?

Lush greenery, cloud forests, rain forests, volcanoes and exotic waterfalls. A perfect playground for the adventurous and outdoor lovers. At first, those were my impressions too. Then a friend mentioned she went to go surfing in Costa Rica. I was surprised to hear that there are a lot of good size surfing communities along its coasts. I don’t surf so what do I know, eh?

Then this perfect opportunity came along while browsing online for budget vacations. I am such a cheapskate sometimes I embarrass myself. As long as I get to go somewhere, as long as I can pack my bags and get on that airplane, I don’t care, take me away!!!

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Casa Zen Guesthouse and Yoga Center answered my wanderlust this time. Out of the many yoga retreats I have checked out, not just in Costa Rica, this one fit my budget plus its location interested me.

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If you are an avid surfer, you would probably have heard of Santa Teresa in the Nicoya Peninsula. But where is that?

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As you can see, it is a tiny little spot in the map that is Costa Rica. San Jose, the capital of the country and the international airport in Alajuela is about six hours away and that includes a scenic hour and a half ferry boat ride across the Gulf of Nicoya. There is Liberia airport which is closer but the flights didn’t work for our schedule. We had to stay overnight in Alajuela because the shuttle ride to Santa Teresa was only at eight in the morning. So all the considerable time and effort we have to put into this journey made it all the more exciting for me.

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A little unassuming coastal village facing the Pacific, Santa Teresa became popular because of its swells and long stretches of sandy beaches. After the surfers made camp here in the early 60s and 70s and foreigners falling in love with the place and deciding to stay, Santa Teresa together with its adjacent neighbors, Mal Pais and Playa Carmen have all become popular surfing destinations.

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A few years later followed the emergence of the yoga retreats. Yogis and surfers all living in harmony in paradise. All striving to achieve that balance and simplicity in life. From the most luxurious spa resorts to the simpler hostel type accommodations, there is a yoga center for everyone.

I have never been to a yoga retreat before in my life so this was the perfect time and place for me to do so. I have been practicing yoga for about three years now. I do not claim to be an advanced practitioner nor do I consider myself a beginner either. Lucky me, my hubby also does yoga sporadically through his own fitness regime so he is not totally ignorant of the poses. I drag him along, naturally.

Our day consisted of waking up early around 6am due to jet lag (Costa Rica is two hours behind Florida) and mostly because my hubby was woken up from the heat. This was a budget place so there was no air conditioning. The bathrooms were shared and there was no hot water either (which you didn’t really need). They did have a fan in the room and also provided an extra standing fan but the heat was just too much for my hubby. The concrete house a few feet across our room didn’t help  much with ventilation and air circulation. I didn’t anticipate that he would be totally miserable. And if he was miserable, his attitude made me miserable too! So much for pura vida.

So I tried to do my best to make my stay a little less miserable and not be affected by all his negativity. After all, I wanted and planned this off the beaten path kind of travel. Once my hubby cooled down, his mood changed. Everyday we ate a healthy breakfast of toast and fresh fruit which was included in the yoga package. At least the coffee was good enough for him so that helped his sour mood a lot. He certainly likes his coffee and Costa Rica is well known for that.

After breakfast was morning yoga, an hour and a half sometimes two hours depending on the instructor. It was THE best yoga I have ever done! Grueling, challenging yet beautifully good for my body. I have never sweat that much doing a downward dog! The open air wooden deck and the sounds of the waves crashing from a distance helped with the ambience.

After class, if it wasn’t raining, we went for a short walk along Santa Teresa’s bumpy, muddy, pot hole filled roads checking out potential dinner and lunch places or if there was a downpour, which most of the time there was since it was the beginning of the wet season, we stayed inside Casa Zen and hung out by the rancho socializing, reading or playing with our phones since Wifi was better here than in our rooms. One time, hubby and I decided to go to the beach in the rain and played in the waves. Much to my surprise, the waters were deliciously warm!

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It was a short two minute walk to the beach through the public access road that was just outside Casa Zen. We could see surfers with their boards pass by but we couldn’t see them surfing. Maybe because it was too rocky around the area. Must be some secret spot a few minutes down the beach.

After lunch, again because it was too hot to go back inside our room, the second floor of the rancho became our second bedroom where we took short naps.

Every Saturday afternoon, an organic market was held near the beach. Locals and expats took part in selling fresh produce and whatever trade or trinkets they have to sell. Our stay fell on a Saturday so we decided to check it out. It was all very communal and family-like. Everybody was oozing the pura vida vibe, even the dogs have embraced this lifestyle! We bought some yummy freshly baked banana bread which came highly recommended.

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In the evenings, there was another yoga session. These weren’t mandatory by the way so depending on the instructor, the class size varied. Some of the guests have been staying here for weeks so they know the teachers already. I haven’t done this much exercise since I was in high school so by the time evening yoga came, I fell asleep every time we did Savasana, the candle light definitely does not help at all. Talk about ultimate relaxation.

I have never felt so healthy and flexible in my life. I fell asleep easily and woke up energized. Again, thats me, not my hubby. However, he admitted that he liked the yoga work outs because it helped his sore neck and shoulder muscles. Though I learned my lesson not to sit beside my hubby because he makes me laugh and lose my concentration especially when it came to the difficult ones when he attempts the pose and ends up clumsily doing it.

From the start, we decided to leave a day early instead of the 4-day retreat that we booked for. We still wanted to do touristy stuff and check out volcanos and waterfalls. And I’ve had enough of my hubby’s complaints about the heat so off we go next to regular air-conditioned hotel rooms. He was also complaining about the lack of activities/things to do that he was obviously bored. He definitely needs to learn the art of doing nothing.

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I left our itinerary for Santa Teresa open because I really didn’t know what we would end up doing. Spontaneity was the name of the game here where the weather dictates your activities. One day after raining most morning and well into after lunch, the sun decided to shine so I decided that we explore the area and rent an ATV. Because of the terrible road conditions, this was the preferred mode of transportation for most of the locals and visitors anyway so there were plenty of ATV rentals around.

Coming up next… our ATV adventures in Santa Teresa!!!