Posted on Sep 26th, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, Family/Friends, Photography, Travel)

So, as you may recall, I returned for another visit to Costa Rica again in June – this time to meet my newest granddaughter, Aysia Mae, born just a week before I arrived.

Isn’t she beautiful?

And doesn’t her family all look so happy to have her in their lives?

I love this family photo… and not just because everyone is color coordinated (yes, I brought clothes for them with me to make sure they would be :) ) but because they look so content and happy… happier and more peaceful than I’ve ever seen them before. It warms my heart.

Brandon and family had moved from Grecia to Escazu, on the hills outside of San Jose. We spent most of our time just relaxing and enjoying each others’ company, rather than fitting in a lot of touring. But we still kept pretty busy.

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Posted on Jun 28th, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, In the Garden, Photography, Travel)

Of the more than 800,000 species of insects on the earth, Costa Rica is home to over 34,000 of them. Let me introduce you to a few that I’ve met while here. You’ll want to click on the images to enlarge them for detail.

I spotted this gorgeous blue/purple beetle on the rug on Brandon’s deck. He was about the size of a small ladybug. Sadly he was dead… but on the bright side, he held still while I photographed him : )

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Posted on Jun 25th, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, Funny Stuff, Travel)

Since I arrived in Costa Rica two weeks ago, I have been delighted by the little frog who croaks outside my window at night. He makes me smile and laugh.

And I’ve commented on numerous occasions that I really want to see him! I want to see a frog – in the wild – while I’m here!

Well, tonight I got my wish. As we were leaving for dinner, I glanced out at the pool and noticed a dark green blob sitting on the floating lounger. Yes – a frog! It was dark, but I still managed to take a few photos of his royal sleekness.
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Posted on May 11th, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, Family/Friends, Photography, Travel)

So where were we? Ah yes. My last post from Costa Rica.

Ashley, Justin and Kennedy arrived on Friday (day 16 of my trip) – and there was much rejoicing. It’s the first time all of us have been together in over a year… and we had more fun together than ever before.

After a grueling 22+ hours of travel, Ashley & Justin were exhausted. But not too exhausted to stop at the local market, where we were given samples of (and then purchased) the most delicious mangoes I have ever eaten. I didn’t realize I love mangoes but I do. At least fresh Costa Rican mangoes. And not too tired to stop for an early dinner and sweet roll and Cafe Delicias. Yum.

We left for La Paz Waterfall Gardens early the next morning. This is an incredible place and well worth it’s price.


We saw butterflies, exotic birds, snakes, frogs, hummingbirds in iridescent colors, an ocelot, and a beautiful Jaguar (who did NOT like it when I meowed at him) and coati.

The golden chrysalis of the Mechanitis Butterfly is breathtaking. No jeweler could create anything more beautiful.

We saw mist, bamboo, traditional ox carts – and the oxen pull them, a traditional Costa Rican home, and waterfalls, waterfalls, waterfalls! The photos hardly do any of them justice.

Sunday, was even more fun than the day before. After what was a walk for everyone else, but a hike for me, we reached beautiful Los Chorros waterfall and natural springs.

We learned it was not safe to drink the water from the river, but the fresh spring water tumbling from the rocks was absolutely delicious and very refreshing.

We traversed the riverbed and, around the corner of the canyon, discovered another big waterfall.

The water was cold but we all got in and had a great time. The “big kids” jumped of cliffs, swam and got crazy. The little kids didn’t appreciate the cold water much…

The Bustillos family joined us for dinner and socializing on Sunday afternoon and evening. All in all, a great day.

Early Monday morning we headed off to our final adventure of my trip – the Monte Verde Cloud Forest. We really saved the best for last.

Day 19 – Zip Line through the Cloud Forest

All 8 of us geared up at Selvatura park and went on the incredible adventure! We literally flew both above and through the lush green forest… and yes, through clouds. It was so much fun… though it took me a bit to get the hang of it..

This is one of the (if not the) largest canopy tour in Costa Rica – covers nearly 2 miles.

Here I am (pic on the left) sailing down one of the 15 zip cables… and the closer arrow is about where I slowed and got “stuck” and basically was hanging there like a sack of potatoes. And I actually had to be rescued by one of the guides…. TWICE! Really embarrassing…. but still worth it.

At the end of the last cable – which was 1000 meters through the clouds (awesome) – was a big “Tarzan” swing. The older kids had a blast on this and Brandon sang out his best Tarzan call.

Just an awesome day.

That evening, I stayed with the girls at the Monteverde Villa Lodge (great value!) so Brandon, Jennifer, Justin and Ashley could go out on a double date… I think the first they’d ever been on.

Our hosts served a delicious breakfast the next morning and then we headed back to Monte Verde for the bridge walk through the forest. Was beautiful – but I missed the clouds from from the previous day (they usually show up later in the day).

I took lots of photos… and I’ll let them tell the rest of the story. View the slideshow below (if you hover over it you can choose to view full screen), or browse the photos at your own pace here.

We stopped at a lovely outdoor restaurant on our way back to Grecia for our last night together. Did a little shopping, Brandon modeled a womans’ sweater and Justin got fresh with a giant breasted mannequin.

Got up before the sunrise the next morning and headed to the airport where I bid my kids farewell and they continued on for a few days adventure without me – which you can read about on Ashley’s and Brandon’s blogs.

It was such a wonderful three weeks… beautiful, relaxing, exciting… and the best part was just spending time with my awesome kids and darling grandbabies. I’m looking forward to my trip back next month.

Yes – I’m going back for a little over two weeks in June to be there when my newest granddaughter makes her grand entrance into the world! Bet you can’t wait for those photos :)

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Posted on Feb 13th, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, Family/Friends, Photography, Travel)

The next leg of my Costa Rican journey took us to Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna.

On the way, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant that was frequented by some beautiful, colorful birds. I saw my first toucan in the wild – along with toucanets, pretty tanagers, woodpeckers, and this cool Montezuma Oropendola.

We were very fortunate to arrive at a scenic outlook when the volcano was visible – because the next two days (when we were staying right next to it) it was shrouded in clouds.

On the long drive around the lake to Arenal, we noticed a small, hand painted sign, nailed to a tree, advertising a “German Bakery.” And a few miles later, another one.

Mile after mile, no bakery, but more signs (this is one of the larger, later ones).

And the signs kept getting bigger and bigger . We alternated between feeling anticipation for potential strudel, and aggravation (“Where the hell is that bakery!!”)

Finally, after passing lots of other little restaurants, coffee shops, and road-side stands we pulled into the beautiful town of Arenal and saw this sign.

I dare you not to stop at the German Bakery after that drive. They sure know how to market! If we weren’t craving strudel an hour before, we certainly were now!

Here is what we ordered.

It was a bit overpriced, and the staff weren’t particularly friendly, but it was a charming place and our treats were pretty good, though the chocolate cake (the girls’ choice) was a bit dry… as are most cakes in Costa Rica. It was a nice break from traditional Costa Rican fare.

Arenal really is a lovely little town.

The drive between Arenal and La Fortuna was incredible. Spectacular. The most lush, green jungle I saw the entire trip.

And yet I have no photos because my battery died on this particular stretch of road :(    I made this sad discovery when I tried to photograph a magical bamboo grove.

I had used up the battery trying to capture images and video to figure out what the beautiful, colorful flowers were that covered the roadside.

There were just no good places to pull over…. so I got a lot of blurry photos and a video that made me nauseous.  But I was a woman obsessed and on a quest to find out…  

“What ARE THOSE FLOWERS!?”

When we finally DID get the chance to stop and see just what they were I was blown away. My mom will be so envious.

Impatiens!

Beautiful, colorful, glorious impatiens growing en masse, wild along the hillsides. I thought of my mom and her struggle to get impatiens to survive – let alone thrive – in her garden each summer and knew she’d just love to see them. So these photos are for you, mom.

Brandon booked us at beautiful Los Lagos Resortin La Fortuna, at the foot of Arenal, for two nights.

During the daylight hours we we explored the lovely grounds. We wandered the butterfly garden.

This orange butterfly really, really liked Jen. It followed and landed on her several times. Must be because she’s so sweet :)

We also visited the ant farm, frog farm and crocodile farm. Sadly, the frog farm was being renovated and no frogs were to be found.

I’m not sure why someone would want to farm crocodiles, but there they were.
Notice the impatiens behind him.

We took advantage of the free wifi in the large, lovely lobby during a major downpour. It was fun to see and hear the rain – it came and went so quickly.

We also explored La Fortuna a bit and visited a lovely gallery featuring original art by Costa Rican artists called Coco Loco.

Lots of beautiful artwork – I think the mixed media wall hangings/masks were our favorites.

But the real treat was the hot springs.

We swam both nights and had so much fun in the naturally heated pools – and the cooler pools along side them.

They are designed to look and feel like natural pools – maybe 12 or so of them – ranging from smaller, hot tub size to large swimming pools – some hot, some warm, some quite chilly – and with some of the smaller ones being covered or having private little nooks.

Would make for a great romantic getaway. There actually were several couples cuddled up in those nooks the first night – but the second night we practically had the whole place to ourselves.

It was magical.

The large, hot pool also had a big, very fun slide (yes I went on it once!) and a bar/restaurant you could swim right up to. We sat at the bar and enjoyed piña coladas in pineapples, soaked, splashed and swam – surrounded by joyous frog song.

I actually saw three frogs - one right on the rock in front of me in one of the smaller pools. I love frogs.

On our way back to Grecia, we stopped in San Ramon for Jen’s ultrasound appointment (was very fun to be included in that). While there, we checked out the beautiful church in the center of town. Lots more pictures in the slide show below – or access them here.

Next up – Ashley, Justin and Kennedy arrive! So do you want to visit Costa Rica yet?

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Posted on Feb 3rd, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, Photography, Travel)

You’re probably getting tired of my Costa Rican adventure… but there’s still so much more to share!

I promise that one day soon I’ll return to mundane posts about politics, the weather or what’s happening in my garden (yes, there are things happening!)

But for now, I will continue to regale you with thrilling tales of my adventures in Costa Rica.

Lucky you. (At least you’re not being forced to watch vacation slides in my living room :) )

So, here is my report on days 9 – 11

Day 9 we relaxed. And had the car serviced. And went to the farmers market. So much fresh fruit!

Day 10 – to the beach!

We invited the Bustillos family to join us for a day at the beach – and, in turn, they took us to a great ‘locals’ beach – Doña Ana.

We made camp under an almond tree and enjoyed watching the flock of frigate birds circling the cliffs.

We played in the water, built sand castles and turned Marie into a mermaid.

The wet sand was very black.

That evening, after dinner with the Bustillos, we ferried to the Nicoya Peninsula and Guanacaste.

The shoreline view and sunset were breathtaking…

I must say that the roads on the peninsula leave something to be desired…

We arrived after dark and made our way over very, very rocky roads to a cute little hotel Brandon had found on his iPhone.

We checked in, and went for a refreshing night swim – all alone in the beautiful pool.

Alone, that is, except for the swimming grasshopper.

After two rescues, only to have him jump back in the pool, we realized that he WANTED to swim. So we let him. He jumped in, swam around, crawled out, jumped in, swam around, then crawled out several times on his own. Once he’d had his fun for the night he hopped away into the bushes. It was pretty entertaining.

The girls enjoyed swimming the next morning after breakfast, and then we were off for a day filled with adventure…

…including several hours on painfully rocky dirt roads and 4 rivers that we had to drive through.

Don’t try this without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Or GPS.

This is one of the smaller rivers we drove through…

The last river we came to – just as it was getting dark – looked way too wide and too deep, as the tide had recently come in. Brandon was tempted to drive through it anyway, but I insisted he go wade out in it to see how deep it was. He wasn’t thrilled about the idea – considering there could be crocodiles in the river. But he did – and it was above his knees, just a few feet out.

Needless to say, we backed up, turned around and found another way… still through a river, but not quite as deep (higher upstream). Even still, we barely made it through – the car almost got stuck about 10 feet from shore, and the car was a bit waterlogged the rest of the night. Whew!

But those rocky roads and rivers took us to some awesome places.

We passed through the artsy town of Montezuma… which reminded me a little bit of Hanalei on Kauai.

We met some interesting people.

There was a sign in front of a little shack house, out in the middle of nowhere, offering ice cream treats. We needed a break from the rocky roads so stopped and got some – and visited with home/ice cream shop owners/farmers. He is originally from Quebec, and moved to Costa Rica to live in Montezuma – back when the only way to reach it was on horseback. Before it was ruined for tourists, he says. :)

We visited some beautiful beaches. Saw little sandpipers running as fast as crabs along the sand.

Ate some good food.

And saw a glorious sunset.

Still, I was very, very happy once we arrived back on paved roads with bridges.

I took a lot more photos… you can view about 70 of them in the slideshow below, should you so desire – or here, if you can’t view the slideshow.

Lest you think that Costa Rica is pure perfection, here are a list of the things that I didn’t really love about it…

  • Not flushing toilet paper. Fortunately, we did at Brandon & Jennifer’s – but at most public places, you’re expected to wipe and toss in the garbage. I understand that’s the norm in most south American and even Asian countries. I don’t like it. It’s smelly (though, to be fair, most places garbage cans were not full – I expect they are emptied regularly).
  • The bugs. Butterflies and dragonflies were cool, but the mosquitos and other biting bugs gave me huge, itchy bumps – many of which ended up bleeding and are still healing.
  • Spiders. Lots and lots of spiders. Big ones. This was the biggest one I saw…. and it was in my bedroom…. at the foot of the bed.
  • Bad hair days. Nearly every day was a bad hair day – not sure if it was the heat (and it wasn’t all that hot) or humidity or what, but my hair was in a constant state of frizz.
  • Narrow roads with crazy, crazy drivers where cars always have the right of way. Very pedestrian un-friendly.

But these are small inconveniences when compared with the beauty, adventure and great food to be experienced. There is so much to love about Costa Rica – and I’d go back again in a heartbeat for a visit.

But not sure I’d want to live there… though I’m really, really missing the really cheap fresh fruit juices…. In fact, I could use a refreshing glass of guanabana right now.

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Posted on Jan 23rd, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, Family/Friends, Photography, Travel)

Day 8 of my Costa Rican adventure took us first to the mountain town of Sarchi – Costa Rica’s main “artisan” town.

Sarchi is famous for it’s colorfully painted oxcarts (once used to haul coffee beans – now more for decoration) and home to the “World’s Biggest Oxcart.”


From there, we headed to Zarcero.

I loved the bright green hills with the swirling mist of clouds dancing through the trees.

And the charming town park featuring funky topiary made a fabulous backdrop for photos. Of course we had a another bit of hug/photo drama :)

Also on display was the most elaborate of the hundreds of nativity scenes I’ve come across since here. Notice the woman doing laundry in the photos below…

On the way back to Grecia we stopped at a small butterfly house. Very cool.

I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story today… enjoy!

(View full screen by clicking on the icon in the lower right corner of the slideshow)

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Posted on Jan 15th, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, Family/Friends, Photography, Travel)

Day 5 of my trip to Costa Rica I worked a 10 hour day. Not much else to say there….

But on Day 6, we ventured out beyond Grecia and visited a bird zoo.

Saw many beautiful, colorful and cute birds.

And assorted other animals.

And a clump of really big bamboo. I love bamboo…

On the way back, the girls played at a park.

And we stopped by a streetside vendor to purchase fresh pineapple and watermelon – plus some tomatoes, cilantro and onions to make fresh pico de gallo.

Then on to Cafe Delicious in Grecia for a smoothie and the world’s best sweet roll. The sauce on that thing is AMAZING.

That night when I took a shower, about 1am, the power went out. Pitch black. Kind of scary. Especially since we have an unidentified creature tromping around in the jungle like garden outside my cabina late at night… it sounds big…

The power company had to come out and fix it the next day – which meant that….

On Day 7, Brandon and I had to go into town in the morning so I could do some work. I’d committed to a couple of hours work, but we had no internet access because the power was out. So back to Cafe Delicious for breakfast, a smoothie and another sweetroll (and work) :)

Fortunately the power was back on when we went back home.

While in town, we saw a man in a suit wearing these bright yellow shoes.

I love the purple wall behind him. Lots of colorful, brightly painted homes and walls here.

Brandon loves this road lined with palm trees.

That night I watched the girls so Brandon & Jennifer could go out on a date. We were silly and had lots of fun, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset together.

So that sums up my first week in Costa Rica. More to come!

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Posted on Jan 12th, 2011 by Allison (Costa Rica, Family/Friends, Travel)

On Day 4 of my visit to Costa Rica, I enjoyed something most vacationers will never experience: The hospitality of a Costa Rican family in their own home.

But first, church.

I attended LDS church services for the first time in many, many years because Brandon wanted me to meet some of the wonderful friends they’ve made in Costa Rica. As a former mormon, I avoid these like the plague – but (other than the heat) this one wasn’t bad.

Every one was so very friendly, and everything was in Spanish (of which I understand very, very little) so I didn’t get irritated with whatever was being preached or testified about (it was a fast and testimony meeting).

It was fun to see that they had decorated their ‘chapel’ with a Christmas tree and garland. And I enjoyed singing the hymns – which is probably the ONLY thing I could ever say I miss about church.

Speaking of Christmas – there are nativity scenes EVERYWHERE. It’s mid-January now and no one seems in a hurry at all to remove their decorations. I’ve seen them on roofs, in parks, in hotels, restaurants – everywhere. I’m wishing now I’d started photographing them all – I could have a post devoted just to Costa Rican nativity scenes.

OK, now for the real fun.

After church we drove an hour to the beautiful area of Atenas, where the Bustillos family welcomed us into their home.

Each week, after church, the two families take turns hosting each other for lunch. This week was the Bustillos turn.

Along the way we saw this waterfall.

Brandon and Kincho are very similar – both in build and in their goofy personalities. They are two peas in a pod and have become dearest friends. Kincho said to me, “Brandon es mi hermano!” (Brandon is my brother).

Kincho proudly took us around the yard – showing us fruit trees, dogs and the absolutely HUGE leaf cutter ants marching in a row. They can devour a small tree within a day or so.

Kincho speaks about as much English as I do Spanish – but we’re able to communicate with gestures and expressions – and with the help of our bilingual counterparts. His wife, Maggie, and their darling girls Jimena and Sigrid both speak some English. And Brandon and family all speak Spanish.

I’d like to add here that Jimena is about the most photogenic person I’ve ever met. I have taken dozens of photos of her and she looks beautiful in every one of them!

Not a single bad photo in the bunch.

Anyway, the girls played on the computers and with the dogs while I took photos – and Brandon, Jennifer, Kincho and Maggie visited and prepared food in the kitchen. And no chauvinism in this house – Kincho jumps right in and helps with dishes and food preparation, child care and anything else that needs attending to.

Maggie is an excellent cook. Dinner was delicious – a traditional Costa Rican meal of arroz con pollo - (chicken with rice). Also a delicious salad of spinach, cucumber and the juice of lemon. So refreshing!

After dinner, we all hopped in Kincho’s Landrover so he could give us a tour of the area. Atenas is really beautiful.

Kincho taught us the local way of greeting each other - basically with a low voiced “hup” (rhymes with pup, cut off abruptly at the end) while raising a hand up. As we drove around town with the windows down, we took turns greeting people walking on the street to see if they’d respond in kind – and nearly every one of them did. A very friendly country.

We stopped and looked at land for sale.

We saw some cows (cattle are abundant in Costa Rica)

We picked and ate oranges right off the tree.

After our drive, we went back to Bustillos for grilled cheese sandwiches and cooled off with an ice cream treat. And stopped in Maggie’s parents home for a visit. They live on the same property – about 20 feet away. Very sweet family.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country. But it’s the people here that really shine.

P.S. It’s so hard to pick which photos to include in my blog, so I’m working on a slide show so you can see more of the scenery and people – so check back soon!

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Costa Rica: Day 3

New year’s day was nice and relaxing. Friends of Brandon & Jennifer came by to visit and share what they’d learned about the process for gaining residency and the various hoop jumping necessary to prepare for the birth of the baby in June. The Engelhardts are really great people and we enjoyed some very interesting conversation. I’m glad I got to meet them.

I also took photos of them for their newborns birth announcement for their family in Holland.

And here are the lovely Pearce ladies in the garden.

We went out for an early dinner at a wonderful little open air restaurant just down the street – Monte Companas.

I experienced my first Costa Rican mixed fruit drink here – and it was delicious. This was peach, mango, papaya and starfruit. And I think it was only about $2.

I was lost looking at the menu (in Spanish), so just took Jen’s recommendation for a traditional Costa Rican meal – Arroz con pollo – rice with chicken. It was served with french fries (which seemed a bit odd) and steamed vegetables. It was very, very good – something I’d order again. I was so eager to eat it I forgot to snap a photo first. Sorry.

The food is only one of the great things about this restaurant. The staff is friendly, the atmosphere comfortable and inviting, and the prices very reasonable. They also have a playground for the girls (making it a great “date night” restaurant for Brandon & Jennifer), and an absolutely incredible view.

I give it 4 clams.

I’ll leave you with a couple of scenic photos I took on the way to dinner. You can click them to enlarge a bit. These were taken from the same place in the road – one shot to the southwest, the other to the southeast. Costa Rica is a beautiful country, isn’t it?

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