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.

arenal

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.

dscn0868

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!

dscn0845

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…

dscn0901

Climbing up and going down wet slippery rocks…

dscn0912

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

Jumping into a refreshingly cool pool of water…

img_6510

And just enjoying the awesomeness of nature and each other!

img_6592

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?

My Favorite Hiking Trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Part Three

It is quite obvious that North Carolina is one of our favorite states, maybe even our number one, we just don’t know it yet. The fact that we have been here so many times AND we chose to have our first travel nursing assignment together in Asheville just speak volumes of our fondness for this place.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast like we are, then there are tons of activities here for you. If you are a foodie and a beer lover, other than Oregon on the West Coast, this charming Southern state on the East Coast perfectly suits the bill.

We have been temporarily living in Asheville for 19 weeks now. We have two more weeks to go till our contract ends then we drive back home to sunshiny Florida for the winter.

In the meantime, this is the third part of my Blue Ridge Parkway hiking series.

If you are into hiking and would like some ideas and tips as to which trails to take, then this series is for you. There is no hard core technical hiking in here though, just doable and enjoyable enough to give you a good work out and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.

Just click here for Part One and then here for Part Two.

brp3

The Blue Ridge Parkway is touted as one of America’s scenic roads spanning between two states and runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian mountain range connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

We try to hike as many trails as we can and not just along the Blue Ridge Parkway but because the Parkway is easily accessible and has lots of trails, then this is where majority of our hiking is done.

Skinny Dip Falls

The name itself piques interest in many. It is one of the many waterfalls around the Asheville area where swimming is allowed, but alas, no you can’t swim in your birthday suit unless you come really early or late. Skinny Dip Falls is a popular swimming hole in the area specially during summer. Sorry, just keep your clothes on here.

The trailhead is located right across the parking lot of Looking Glass Rock Overlook at Mile Post 417 on the Parkway. Note that there are no signs leading to the falls.

It takes you only half a mile to get to Skinny Dip Falls. It is a fairly easy hike. Just follow the Mountains-to-Sea Trail for the most part until you get to a wooden bench and a staircase that will take you down to the falls. There is also a bridge that you can cross to get to the other side and explore more of its nooks and crannies.

IMG_4203
Skinny Dip Falls

Graveyard Fields

Less than two miles away from Skinny Dip Falls is Graveyard Fields Trail on Mile Post 418.8. The trailhead starts on the right side of the parking lot just beside the restrooms and drinking station. You go down a flight of stairs and then follow a “paved” trail where there are rhododendrons on both sides. Depends on the season you hike but rhododendrons bloom around May and June covering this trail with a canopy of pretty pink flowers.

The trail is a 4 mile loop. Graveyard Fields (like Skinny Dip Falls) is another misleading name. In the past, tree stumps and other trees in the area looked like grave stones in a graveyard, hence the name, but after a fire of so many years ago burned down the trees, there has been a noticeable absence of trees around this part, unlike the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

IMG_4241

IMG_4243

Being situated on one of the highest elevations on the Parkway, these bushes and plants are among those who display their colors first. We hiked this trail end of September and as you can see, the leaves are already showing some color.

But before you get to the open fields as shown above, you get to the Lower Falls first and then cross a bridge to get to the real “Graveyard Fields” where you can then continue hiking to the Upper Falls.

IMG_4258
Lower Falls

IMG_4236

You can see wild blueberries growing abundantly too. No wonder there was a warning sign at the parking lot that there was no camping allowed in the area due to increased bear activity. In case you didn’t know, bears love berries!

IMG_4239

IMG_4251IMG_4253

These pretty yellow wildflowers were all over the trail. That and so much more including trees that were showing signs of autumn.

Soon enough, it was getting dark and we didn’t really know how far we were to the Upper Falls. It seemed like we were hiking on and on after the last trail sign we saw and hikers we met along the way on their way back reported there wasn’t much water to see and that it wasn’t that spectacular. If it were not for reports of bear activity and the fact that dusk was fast approaching, we would have pushed on.

Again, my instincts were telling me to go back so we did. Who knows how close we were to the falls but no matter how much we strained our ears to listen to water running, we just couldn’t hear anything. And yet, this wasn’t the first time I listened to this strange gut feel of mine while hiking.

It doesn’t help also that I was stopping every ten steps to take photos. I know. My hubby gets annoyed at this fact though he tries his very best to hide it and go along with me because a normal two hour hike would end up to be four!

So we hiked/trotted as fast as we can. No more stopping to take pictures. The trees were throwing creepy looking shadows on the trail now and I was trying my very best to not think about bears. I talked in my loudest voice, mostly nonsense, making some noise to ward off potential bears lurking and other animals nearby.

I do have my hiking pole and my hubby has his knife and whistle. But because, bears.

Once we got to the parking lot, phew, what a big sigh of relief! That was scary, a little…okay, a lot, for me, that is. But the sun was out shining brightly ready to set behind the mountains. We were greeted with this view. And just like that, all our fears went away.IMG_4215

IMG_4213

IMG_4269IMG_4271

“Beautiful sunset you have there! Endless mountains in sight.

Blue Ridge Mountains, we bid you good night.”

Any interesting hiking stories you want to share? Tips for the “bear-y” scared hiker?

My Favorite Hiking Trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway: Part Two

In every walk with nature,
one receives far more than he seeks 
~ John Muir

I have a long list of favorite hiking trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway. They range from easy to moderately strenuous. To put them all down in a single post would be too lengthy (you all know how much I love to take photos!) so I decided to break them up into sections. I guess I would consider this post or series of posts a work in progress because we will forever be hiking trails when we are around this area.

If you missed the first part, please click here.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is touted as one of America’s scenic roads spanning between two states and runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian mountain range connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

Along with that you can find more than 100 trails for all skill levels from Virginia to North Carolina. How incredible it would be to do at least half of them!

blueridge2

Over the years, so far, these are what we have accomplished.

Linville Falls

Our very first major road trip was in 2009. We took nine days off work and our goal was to see the Niagara Falls. We stopped at different states along the way and made sure to visit and explore a couple of cool and interesting tourist spots.

Cruising along the Blue Ridge Parkway, we chanced upon the Linville Falls sign along Mile Marker 316. I wanted to do something spontaneous and unplanned so we stopped to take a quick look. We had no idea at that time that the Linville Falls is the most popular waterfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains because of its accessibility along the Parkway. We just wanted to see some waterfalls.

Because this was a detour, we took the shortest and easiest trail which ended up in the first overlook with the small double falls. From the double falls, the water came in a swirling gush through a narrow channel of rocks down to a foaming pool. We didn’t know there was another big one after that! Take note, this was before smart phones so researching stuff on the internet was pretty much basically done at home on your desktop.

IMG_8287IMG_8299

So, fast forward 2013, my parents came to visit us for three months. On one of our trips we took them to Asheville, North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Parkway was on our list. Naturally, we had to stop at Linville Falls again.

IMG_8261
My mom doing the hiking thing with us
IMG_8304
The parents at the first overlook

We followed the same route. This time we were more prepared gear wise but we couldn’t go very far because of my parents. They weren’t really physically prepared for this activity and we didn’t want to tire them out or much worse, get them sick! But if you want to hike some more, there are more beautiful trails where you can see the river, the falls from different angles and the Linville Gorge.

I couldn’t help but try to compare photos taken from the very first hike. Spot the (obvious) differences if you will.

linvillethennow

Grandfather Mountain

Seventy miles North of Asheville, Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. Like Mt. Mitchell, you can also drive up almost to the top. It is close enough from Linville Falls so if you simply plan to sightsee and not to do some serious hiking, then you can probably do both attractions in one day.

When we came to Grandfather Mountain, hiking was not on our itinerary since we brought our parents along. We just decided to check this place out and after crossing the famous Mile High Swinging Bridge, we found out that they have a short “challenging” rocky trail to the very top of that peak.

IMG_8213
Mile High Swinging Bridge

Challenging because my mom can only see with one eye making her vision not as good. Eventually, all three of us ended up coercing her to go with us despite her unheard pleas of staying behind and waiting. My hubby promised my mom he wouldn’t let her hand go and guide her every step of the way.

So this was how it basically started and ended.

My dad and my hubby, both of them guiding and guarding her step by step till she reached the very top of the rocks.

IMG_8202

By the looks of this photo, my mom was mighty proud of herself for getting up here, that is, after giving my hubby a very tight death grip which almost hurt his shoulder. Regardless, it was an accomplishment since she was never an adventurous person and led a very sheltered life growing up. So all these outdoor stuff is unfamiliar territory for her. We were all glad she came even if it was against her will initially.

Okay, so there was no true hiking done here to say the least but there are a couple of very challenging (for real this time) and strenuous trails going up to the mountain. Maybe, one day we happen to pass this way again.

________________________________________________________

Update:

**Is it legit to say that we adore Linville Falls so much that a couple of days ago we hiked it again? But this time it was totally different. We were there for the leaves. Plus, we got to go all the way up the overlooks!

Stay tuned!

IMG_4285
I didn’t have a tripod with me and we were too shy to ask strangers for a photo of us with our backs turned away, so the old photos of us walking together were not recreated!
IMG_4339
Just had a hoot sitting on almost the exact same spot again, for the third time! It was a challenge this time though with the hordes of people around.

IMG_4334

My Favorite Hiking Trails on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is touted as one of America’s scenic roads spanning between two states and runs for 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is a part of the Appalachian mountain range connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

That’s a lot of mountains in between.

There are numerous references and information you can read about the Blue Ridge Parkway online not to mention hundreds of free tourist brochures on display in rest stops, visitor centers, restaurants, gas stations and hotels along the way. They even have a Blue Ridge Parkway app! So if you are in the area, there is never any reason you stay uninformed about this pretty popular drive. Take a quick detour and go on a few miles along its winding roads. Whats more, there is also never any shortage of fun stuff to do.

thebrp

There is something for everyone along this long stretch of concrete and its nearby areas. From the adventure seekers to the quiet creative ones. You can joyride with your car/truck/motorcycle/RV (traffic can be slow at 45 miles/hr specially during peak season in Fall), take thousands of pictures, camp at private or BRP designated campgrounds, take a hike, bike, view/swim/play in waterfalls/rivers/streams, visit museums/vineyards/wineries/farms, enjoy whitewater rafting/kayaking/canoeing/stand up paddle boarding/tubing/horseback riding/zip lining/canyoneering, go on a hot air balloon, attend festivals/flea markets/farmers’ markets, you get the idea… The.List.Is.Endless.

My husband and I both love nature so every chance we get, we like to go out hiking. Over the years, we have been coming back to this part of the country to stay for a few days. You could say we can’t help but fall in love with this place every time we visit. It just keeps on getting better. When we landed this travel nurse opportunity this year, we grabbed it head on.

We’ve done a couple of hikes here and there along the parkway. So far, we haven’t been on one that we didn’t like. Each trail offers something different hence, every experience is different. However, some of them were way off the parkway so I am not including them on my list here.

Craggy Gardens 

From Asheville, head up North along the Blue Ridge Parkway till you reach Mile Post 364. (Tip: Mile Post 0 starts in Virginia, so the further North you go, the lower the Mile Post will be) There is a visitor center once you get there, bathrooms and drinking water. Picnic areas can also be found close to the visitor center.

IMG_3659

IMG_3658

The weather can quickly change up in the mountains, as you can see in the photo above. Fog and clouds can creep up as quickly or as slowly and the next thing you know, it is a few degrees cooler than the city. Or worse, it could rain. So, bring a jacket!!!

I didn’t. It was a nice warm sunny day in June in Asheville. Who needs a jacket? You will be hiking and sweating anyway. Boy was I wrong. Good thing my hubby left his sweat shirt hoodie in the car. He didn’t need it. He doesn’t get cold right away, unlike me.

IMG_3666
My oversized instant cold weather gear. Thanks to hubby. And no, I wasn’t doing any business behind that rock.

Now that we got the essentials out of the way, there are two trails here. Craggy Gardens Trail, which we took, the shorter one since we were pressed for time and Craggy Pinnacle Trail which boasts of panoramic views at the top.

Check out this old post about this hike.

IMG_3701
This was the end of the trail, a “bald patch” on top of the mountain.

Mt. Mitchell

The highest peak east of the Mississippi River with an elevation of 6,684 ft. This one is a few miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway laying Northeast of Asheville and is part of the Mt. Mitchell State Park.

There are several trails leading to the top of the mountain ranging from easy to strenuous. Heck, you can skip walking and just drive up to the peak, well, not to the very peak since you have to park your car and then walk a short distance uphill on a paved road to get to the summit.

We took the Old Mitchell Trail which was marked as moderate to strenuous. It was a 4 mile roundtrip hike starting at the Park Office.

It started out as this.IMG_3981

Lots of beautiful flowers along the trail. The bees were busy pollenating and there were even raspberries that my husband was snacking on as we walked. Eventually, the trail got steeper and steeper, the woods denser, lots of roots and rocks to watch out for and to make matters more exciting, we “almost” got lost when we missed the switchback.

I had a bad feeling about the path that we took because it was just so many trees in front of us, they were literally in your face. We were climbing straight up the mountain with no clear marked trail until we got to a fallen tree that looked as if it was there forever with moss and lichen covering it when I insisted we go back track to the last trail sign we saw because my gut tells me that this is just wrong.

Further, to make matters worse, upon turning back because it was so steep, my husband slipped and almost hurt himself because he was hurrying to get to that trail sign.

It couldn’t be that hard. All we need to do was follow the yellow dots.

IMG_3998

Suffice it to say, I was more or less huffing and puffing most of the way up. Thank God for hiking poles! Not to mention I was scared shit from that earlier wrong turn we took. I didn’t want to run into any bears (hikers reportedly heard someone seeing a bear in the area) nor did I want us to fall off an unseen cliff or something horrible like that. 

IMG_4025

Two hours later, we get to the top along with several others who either hiked a different trail or drove up.

After all our efforts, we were rewarded with this.

IMG_4028 IMG_4033 IMG_4040 IMG_4043

After a few minutes of breathing in the summit air while enjoying the breathtaking 360 degree scenery and at the same time taking some photos, it was time to go back down again.

Can’t we just hitch a ride back to the parking lot, I say out loud? Fat chance, hubby gave me that look. But I knew going down is much easier than going up so off we went to finish our hike for the day.

Not that we were warned to begin with.

IMG_4008

For more hiking stories, stay tuned for Part 2.

Week Three: Exploring Work and Dupont State Forest

I have a confession to make.

I have been lousy keeping up with my blog lately. Not even getting on my Reader and catching up with everyone else’s. Blame it on our new environment. Blame it on change, on adjusting. What’s more, there is so much to do here in Asheville that finding time to sit on my computer and think about writing appears quite boring compared to the myriad of fun and exciting stuff you can do.

*I know, makes me a bad blogger!!!*

Not that people will miss me because there is also so much stuff going on in your lives as well. Maybe because it is summer. Or maybe, just maybe, because, Asheville.

Tonight happens to be one of those “slow” nights when hubby is out to work. So here I am. Pounding away on my keyboards and catching up with y’all. I work best when I’m alone anyways.

The past week was spent exploring the outdoors and exploring our new work environment. Of course, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for work, right? I finally was on my own, had 3-4 patients give or take. This is so much better compared to the crazy work load I had in Florida! The people at work are friendly and helpful which is such a big plus when you are the newbie and thrown in immediately in the middle of everything after only two days of orientation. Mind you, it can be quite chaotic. I always ask whenever I don’t know something and try to be a team player inasmuch as my thirteen weeks will let me. After my thirty six hours of work that week are done, I happily take off my nursing cap and eagerly put on my adventure hat.

This week, it is…

dupont

The DuPont State Recreational Forest is 10,400 acres of natural beauty located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. It is an outdoor lover’s paradise. It has miles and miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Hunting and fishing are also permitted. The Little River and Grassy Creek provide the source for the many beautiful waterfalls you will see along the trails.

Since we are into hiking (and not any of those other activities mentioned above), we decided to check out the waterfalls. There were three of them on the trail that we took, all gorgeous and picturesque in its own unique ways. We hiked about three hours with lunch break and short stops for rest included. And don’t forget photos and some play time too. So we were never really rushing, we took our own sweet time walking and enjoying the views.

At our last waterfall stop, we had to come back to the first one (High Falls) since we wanted to just get our tootsies wet and stay for awhile, we found out that there were more waterfalls and rivers and lakes out there. Ah, wish we had more time! We definitely will be back to check out the rest and make sure to have enough time to wade and swim in the refreshing cool waters.

Happy summer!!!

IMG_3911
High Falls from above
IMG_3975
High Falls from below

IMG_3905

triplefalls
Triple Falls up close
IMG_3949
Triple Falls from a distance

IMG_3951 IMG_3953

The last one was where we saw almost a hundred young people playing and swimming in the pool below the falls. There were families with young kids and dogs too. It can get pretty crowded around here specially during summer and around lunch time. So best to start early to avoid the crowds.

IMG_3959
Hooker Falls
IMG_3948
shoes anyone?

Fun fact: did you know the movie “The Last of the Mohicans” and part of “The Hunger Games” were filmed here?