Quepos, Costa Rica

We arrived in Quepos on August 10th. The Airbnb host was very nice and picked us up at the bus station. The apartment was located on a very local street with a lot of ticos (Costa Ricans) homes. There was a friendly local family living in the house below our apartment. Unfortunately, they did not speak any English but he introduced himself and we always said hola while passing by. The family had two very friendly dogs and the small Chihuahua would come to visit us on our porch. The larger dog was kept down below, but on our last day, he got out to visit us and was very friendly. It amazed us that he could fit between the columns to access our porch.

 

On our first full day, we went to explore the shops in Quepos. It was a pretty small town, probably about 5 by 10 blocks, right next to the water. There was a very nice walking path around the water leading to the colorful Quepos sign right on the edge of town.

We continued walking on the path in the opposite direction and reached the Quepos Marina. This was a newly constructed plaza with shopping, restaurants, and tourist excursions. We came to the Marina a couple different times just to sit, relax, and listen to the ocean. One day, we walked past the Marina and found a nice park with an outdoor gym and exercise machines.

The biggest highlight from our trip to Quepos was visiting the Manuel Antonio National Park. The entire time we had been in Costa Rica all Tim had wanted to do is see a monkey. He talked about it all the time and anytime we were near what might have been considered a rainforest, he would start calling out for George. You know, George the curious monkey? Well, George never came when he was called until we went to Manuel Antonio National Park. And after that, we saw George and all his friends quite often.

 

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The Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest, but most popular national park in Costa Rica. The park had multiple beaches and hiking trails, which mostly consisted of walking up and down stairs. My legs were very sore the next day.

We saw a group of monkeys on the path while walking to one of the beaches. They were jumping and swinging from all of the trees. When we were relaxing in our hammock on the beach another group, or maybe the same group, of monkeys invaded the trees above us. One monkey actually tried to steal our plastic bag with our flip-flops. After a short tug a war match between Tim and the monkey, Tim won and the monkey ran away empty-handed.

We were in the middle of the last hiking trail of the park when it started to downpour. We had to get out of the park and run to the bus in the pouring rain (around 3 miles). Who would have thought it would rain in the rainforest?

One evening we went to eat at the Tico Rico restaurant that was located in a hotel on the side of the mountain. It was covered by the trees and had a beautiful view of the water and sky. While we were eating a monkey walk across the restaurant’s roof and jump into the trees below us. Our waiter told us that in the mornings they had to be extra careful because the monkeys would try to get into the kitchen and steal the food. We went back another night to this restaurant and got to enjoy the pool and water slide.

We took an hour bus trip and spent a full day in Uvita and went to Marino Ballena National Park, which is actually just a beach. What makes the beach special is that it has a huge sandbar shaped like a whale tail that is only visible during low tide. Unfortunately, we got to the park right when the tide was rising and we weren’t able to fully enjoy the sandbar. But, we were still able to relax on the beautiful beach.

Our last day came too soon, literally. We got the dates mixed up and thought we had another full day. We were planning to go back the Manuel Antonio National Park and do a couple other last-minute things. Oh well. Lucky our host sent us a message the night before asking us what time we were planning to leave. This allowed us to wake up extra early to pack and clean up.

This was a beautiful area and we are blessed that we were able to create these lasting memories.

Heredia, Costa Rica

Our troubles all started when we stepped off the plane and realized we were no longer in America. Okay, I’m being overdramatic, but we did have a rude awakening coming to a Spanish speaking country without knowing any Spanish. English was the second language listed on all of the signs in the airport (weird, right?) and the further we went into the airport the less English there was. None of the guards at our apartment building spoke English and trying to tell them our room number was quite difficult. The guard finally asked “something something Español?” and we were able to tell him “no!” Thankfully the Uber driver could read our room number and then we showed our IDs and were good to go! All of the guards knew who we were after that interaction.

Once we hid in our room for a little bit trying to regain our confidence to step out into the non-English speaking world, we decided it was time to get food. We had only eaten granola bars and cheese-its all day. We walked down to a little shopping plaza pretty close to our building. There was a subway, a chicken restaurant similar to KFC, a convenience store and other little shops. We decided to get some food from the convenience store so we didn’t have to try to order off a menu. We bought two pre-prepared meals with rice, beans, meat, and some veggies, a container of eggs, bread, and milk. We learned that eggs do not come in packages of a dozen but groups of 5. Also, Costa Rica has cold and warm options for milk. The cold option has a shorter life while the warm milk has a longer life. We decided to stick with the cold milk for now; maybe later on we will try the warm milk. One adventure at a time. The cashier knew right away that we were not local. I think my “Hi” gave it away. The first thing she asked was, “Español?” thankfully she was very nice and showed us the total on the screen instead of trying to tell us.

Our goal for this week was to become more comfortable in uncomfortable situations, like being in a store where no one speaks English. We were very thankful that Tim’s phone had data and Google Translate, we are not sure how we would have navigated our way around without it. We focused on the small wins during this time. Going a little further on each walk, visiting Wal-Mart, getting on the bus, and exploring a new area each day. We never had any expectations of where the day would take us but it somehow always turned out great.

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When we finally had the courage to ride the bus, we rode it to the last stop. It happened to be a very popular shopping/sightseeing spot in downtown San Jose. We spent the day walking up and down the streets and viewing the stores and restaurants. There was a small park area filled with pigeons. Many of the locals were selling bags of food to feed to them. Tim and I sat and watched a little boy trying to catch the pigeons, he was actually successful a couple of times. After the park, we went to a small restaurant on one of the side streets. This was the first time we were brave enough to order off a menu. Thankfully it had pictures. Tim had a very traditional meal with rice, beans, and some meat. I thought I had ordered a cheese quesadilla, but it turned out to be just a plain rice cake.

The area had two large malls. Yes, apparently malls are still quite popular in Costa Rica. We stumbled upon the first mall during a long walk. It had two floors and was a traditional mall layout. The second mall was brand new and pretty difficult to describe. The layout was very futuristic and had just as much outside space as it did inside. The food court was in the center of the mall, open to the outside and covered by a dome-like ceiling. On the outside, the dome ceiling was covered with grass and it looked like it was a perfect spot for a music venue. It was a very unique space.

This week was a great success. We were able to experience the local culture and step out of our comfort zones. This time helped prepare us for the rest of our stay in Costa Rica.

South Bimini, Bahamas

Take a moment to close your eyes and try to picture paradise. Imagine sitting in a hammock under palm trees, the sunny salty air all around, and the sound of waves crashing on the shore.  Yep, that was Bimini. Honestly, we would have been happy if Bimini was the only traveling we got to experience.

The Diaz family kindly welcomed us to their beach house and showed the most gorgeous sights around the island. We got to snorkel through SS Sapona (a sunken concrete ship), ride jet skis, drive and ride the golf cart all around the island, feed and swim with stingrays and sharks at Honeymoon Cay, fell in love with Bimini bread, ate conch fritters and conch salad for the first time, and found a countless amount of sea glass on the beach.

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Feeding the stingrays and sharks at Honeymoon Cay was one of my favorite highlights. This was an experience that people would pay big money for and we were able to tag along just because it was a local spot that they knew about. There were dozens of stingrays and sharks swimming around waiting to be fed. The stingrays would swim right towards you and then turn at the last second, but their fins would brush up against your body. This is a memory we will keep with us for the rest of our lives.

We were in Bimini during the 4thof July, and Uncle Wayne brought a ton of fireworks to set off. Tim, Máximo, Isabel, and I had a blast lighting the fireworks and watching them explode in the sky. One of the firework boxes ended up tipping over and shooting under one of the neighbor’s beach house. Thankfully no one and nothing got hurt, but it sure is a funny story to tell.

Another neat thing about Bimini was meeting and interacting with the locals. Every Saturday night the locals would have a huge bonfire on the beach. The local residences were a mix between actual local Bahamians and retirees. One of the local residences carved faces, or full people, in the dead trees. His name was Mike and he drove his tractor around the island. We tried to find all 13 cravings, but were only able to find 6.

But, even in paradise there are bumps in the road. In Bimini, those bumps were noseeums. These were tiny little bugs that are very similar to mosquitoes but even smaller and more annoying. Tim and I both got eaten up, my legs getting the worst of it. But on the bright side, neither of us got sun brunt!

We can’t thank the Diaz family enough for allowing us to spend the week with them in paradise.

Florida

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Spending time in Florida was a great start to our adventure. We were able to relax, research our trip, and spend time with family. The time in Florida felt like a transitioning period. It was very different from our normal everyday life in PA, but we weren’t yet on our own traveling. Tim and I had multiple “I can’t believe this is actually happening” moments and spending time in Florida allowed us to mentally prepare.

It was such a blessing to visit and stay with Tim’s Aunt Diane and Uncle Wayne. We learned some cooking tips that will be helpful for our travels and got to do some exciting activities. We went to an out door market, bowling with Aunt Barb and Thumper, spent a whole day out on the boat at Sebastian’s Inlet, had a family pool party/cook out, and a midnight trip to the beach with Aunt Barb. These were just some of the highlights that we were able to enjoy.

We also took a couple days to visit my brother John in Jacksonville. We spent one evening exploring the local restaurants in the JAX beach area. On John’s day off, we took a day trip to St Augustine, which is the oldest town in America. We started at the Fountain of Youth and learned about the first settlers and then went to the downtown area for lunch. Tim and I did not know much about St Augustine and didn’t know what to expect. The downtown area was much larger than we had thought and we spent the rest of the day exploring the shops and restaurants.

For our last adventure in Florida we were able to spend a couple of days in Orlando. Aunt Diane had a hotel room for a conference and she let us stay with her since our flight left from the Orlando airport. It worked out perfectly. Tim and I spent most of the day lounging in the sun at the hotel pool. One evening we ate at Morimoto Asia in Disney Spring, formally known as Downtown Disney. We ordered tuna, ribs, and salmon and each of us had some of each. The food was excellent and the restaurant atmosphere was just as good. We walked around Disney Springs and were amazed by how large the area has grown.

Our flight leaves on Wednesday, July 24th at 8:48am and then we are on our way to Costa Rica!

 

The Adventure Begins!

We have been officially planning our trip for the the last couple months, but have been dreaming about it for years. This was the opportunity we had been waiting for and we jumped head first. 

We started researching and found out very quickly how much planning would need to be involved. From the bigger details like where to travel, to the tiny details like deciding whether or not to pay extra to sit together on a flight. (We decided for some flights, such as California to Germany, it was worth paying extra.) The research stage involved learning about what to pack, and most important what destinations to visit. We went back and fourth a lot during this stage, and even now some details may still change, but the main outline is set: 

Florida > Bahamas > Costa Rica > California > Germany > Thailand > Australia > Florida > Home

We will start the trip in Florida visiting family. Tim’s aunts and my brother live in Florida. Aunt Diane’s house will be considered our ‘home base’ during this time. We even packed an extra suitcase just for the time we would spend in Florida and leave it at aunt Diane’s during our travels. 

For the rest of our travels, we are traveling with two backpacks and one duffel bag. The size of the backpacks are within the standard size to be considered a personal item on airlines and the duffel bag fits within the carry on standard size. This means we won’t have to check in baggage and we won’t have to worry about it getting lost. Packing cubes were a huge benefit during this stage. They helped keep our items organized and condensed our clothes in order to get rid of wasted space. Packing cubes are definitely something we will use for future trips.

Thursday June 27 was the official start of our trip. We packed up the car, said our goodbyes, and drove straight through the night. We left at 7pm and arrived at Aunt Diane’s at 11:30am on Friday morning. The next two days were spent recuperating on lost sleep and the realization that our adventure has started.