16 February 2013

Costa Rica La Paz falls to Jaco beach

Whilst in San Jose we also took a trip out to La Paz waterfalls. We weren't expecting to have so much wildlife on show. It was such a pleasure to walk through huge aviarys with toucans and parrots, into butterfly areas and tropical frog enclosures. The big cats were also on show. The birds will fly down and sit on your arm and you can be covered head to toe in butterflies if you are lucky although some were a little large and freaked me out a bit!

After you have explored the wildlife you take off on a series of trails discovering the waterfall at different stages also getting absolutely soaked at some of the vantage points. 


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After our stay in San Jose I was craving some more beach action and headed out to the Pacific coast town of Jaco. We were told to expect a tourist nightmare but despite being busy (we were there for New Year) the beach was never crowded and you only had to travel 15 minutes and you were into the quietness of the jungle.

The first thing that hit us was the heat, it had been warm everywhere we had been so temperatures up to 30oC hadn't phased us. Jaco was different altogether, every day was hitting 40oC plus and night was around 30oC. It took a good few days to get used to this and we did feel slightly exhausted!

New Years Eve was special, the whole of our guesthouse headed down to the beach just before midnight where people had set up bonfires and were playing music. At twelve a countdown started and fireworks lit up the whole sky for the next hour. Rather than an organised display this was very much a bring your own experience and huge rockets would take off all around you. We had to duck on a few occasions as health and safety wasn't high on anyones agenda here! Walking back from the beach the street parties started and firecrackers went off around your feet and the back of pick ups were used to launch yet more displays of fireworks. Definitely one to remember.

Whilst there I had my birthday and we headed into the jungle for a ziplining experience. 12 ziplines of varying speeds and heights took us from the jungle canopy down to the bottom. I enjoyed this so much, even Matt who doesn't really have a head for heights got the buzz. You can see me swinging from the tree tops on my instagram here http://instagram.com/luxxmint

The beach was our main focus of the days and we hired surf boards on a few occasions to practice what we had learnt a few years back in Brazil. You may remember my last attempt a few months back in Hawaii. (see here) The beach was perfect for surfing, the waves not too rough and the water not too shallow meaning wipe outs weren't painful! 

Best of all was the sunsets, sitting on the beach with new friends and a local beer watching the coral red sun set. It really doesn't get any better.

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Please someone take me back! I hope you enjoyed the photos from central america - has it made it on to your travel lists?

13 February 2013

Costa Rica, from coffee plantations to hitchhiking

This is the first post from Costa Rica and a visit to a coffee plantation and mill. 

The first part of our adventures in Costa Rica started off a little shaky and included arriving in a wet and stormy Caribbean village on  Christmas Eve, staying in a jungle surrounded bungalow which was damp, dark and more than a little dingy, oh and infested with giant bullet ants. 

We tried to make the most of it by heading out to dinner admiring humming birds, butterflies and parrots on route. Everything was shut so we settled for a home cooked pasta meal. Bed time arrived and I was so apprehensive getting in, the mosquito net was beyond damp and smelt revolting, and the dampness came right through the bed. It certainly wasn't the most comfortable night we've ever had made worse when we woke in the night looking over to the uv emergency light which had a moth the size of our heads flying repeatedly in to it, the dust from it's wings puffing up in clouds. Eventually the light blew and and we had no idea of what happened to the dinosaur sized moth. Just before sunrise (I had already decided we were checking out first thing) a bellowing noise came from the jungle, a deep howl that lasted about 20 seconds and got higher ad higher. It sounded like a monster from a film was right outside the window, another five to ten howls then joined in and continued for the next hour. It was like nothing we'd ever heard before. We found out it was a group of howler monkeys in the morning. Merry Christmas!

Anyway monkeys aside this place wasn't for us and despite the beautiful beach and jungle we would have loved to explore, the forecast for the entire week was dreadful and we decided to head inland and chase the sun.

This wasn't without a slight problem of catching the one bus of the day heading to the capital San Jose. There were no bus stops only a rough idea that it would be passing around 7am so we set off with our backpacks strapped on along the road. We had to head for some cover at one point as the heavens opened and we needed waterproof covers on our bags. As luck would have it this was the second the bus thundered passed us. I ran out to the road to try and wave to it but no luck. We were extremely dejected and not the Christmas morning we had planned in any way. 

I heard another car coming along the road so decided hitch hiking might be worth a shot so stood in the middle of the road waving my arms frantically, probably looking a little manic. The driver stopped and I literally begged the guy to chase the bus down, he agreed although not looking too happy and said he'd have to make stops on route. It turned out he was a baker and when we climbed in the back of his van he had warm bread piled up. Bless the baker he put his foot down and after squealing into a few guesthouses he managed to catch the bus up, beeping flashing his lights and pulling alongside it. The bus didn't stop until it reached the next town and after profusely thanking our Christmas angel the baker we jumped on it and arrived in San Jose checking in to the luxury of the Radisson and a fluffy comfortable and dry king size bed!

We decided to base ourselves in the capital for a few nights as it was so central and easy to get to some of the sights we wanted to see.

First was a coffee plantation, the main export and lifeline of this country. It was nice to breathe in cool air up in the mountains, see the process of making the coffee and of course tasting it.

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After an early morning start at the plantation we headed even higher to visit the Poas Volcano and after a long wet hike we reached the top only to be greeted with a huge wall of white cloud - we could see nothing! So then we attempted a trickier hike to the sulphar lake which (on a good day) glows the most amazing turquoise colour. Of course yet again we were inside the cloud! Still it was a good active morning and as you can see from the photo below the trail was like a set from Harry Potter's forbidden forest!


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Sorry for the lengthy post, I hope some of you enjoy reading about the minor dramas of backpacking, it keeps you on your toes and life interesting!!

Next post will be some stunning scenery and wildlife, stay tuned!

Food Explorer at Merry Hill Westfield

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One way to grab my attention is delivering a dozen shiny glazed and cream filled Krispy Kreme treats to my door! Westfield Merry Hill are celebrating all things food with their Food Explorer month this February.

You will be able to taste dishes from around the world in the 50 food outlets. Make sure you look out for the Market Stall Kart offering tasty samples and don't forget to pick up your food explorer passport which gives you discounts and offers throughout Merry Hill.

There is a Krispy Kreme offer included for those of you who love them as much as me!

Find out more here http://uk.westfield.com/merryhill/news-and-events/food-explorer-2013 and download your Food Explorer passport or pick one up at the concierge desk.

6 February 2013

Pacific to Caribbean in Panama

Our next stop whilst in Panama was to head out to the Pacific coast staying in a very small place called Santa Catalina. We stayed in small bungalows which overlooked a small rocky bay. It was lovely just to switch off and we had the town to ourselves so we walked along the beach, scaled rocks, watched the surfers and lounged around the pool. This tiny town is relatively undiscovered by tourists, apparently the only time it feels busy is when a surf competition is in town.

We ate so much fresh seafood here, I had the largest prawns I have ever seen and delicious snapper. The sunsets were amazing, it was a real struggle to up and leave this little piece of untouched paradise.

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After we decided it was time to move on from the Pacific Coast we had the long journey heading over to the Carribean coast in the most Northern corner. We had a long day of travel which included a taxi, three buses and two water taxis, about 13 hours in total. Our destination was a small island off the larger well know island of Bocas Del Toro. Isla Bastimentos is a lush little piece of Caribbean paradise with palm fringed beaches and jungle backdrop. We were back staying in a hostel with a short walk from the water taxi landing and a ten minute jungle hike through to the beautiful beach below. We woke up to jungle sounds each day and although the weather was very hit and miss we managed a few gorgeous sunny and hot days here.

This beach is Red Frog Beach named for the tiny inhabitants that live in the damp humid jungle just behind the beach. The Strawberry Poison dart frogs are about the size of a thumbnail and quite easy to spot due to their shocking red skin!

We spent a day under a little palm frong umbrella sipping on fresh coconuts before heading to the beach bar for amazing home cooked caribbean food and lethal rum punch.

The beach is unspoilt, the water crystal clear and although the waves were large it was safe enough for children to play in the shallows

One rainy day we ended up in the beach bar starting an impromptu party with reggae tunes making new friends as we danced barefoot with a tropical storm raging around us. It brings a smile to my face remembering it!


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I hope you enjoyed my Panama photos!

Our next port of call was over the border into Costa Rica which i'll tell you about in the next post, it was quite an adventure!

4 February 2013

Panama City

The first of my travel posts from the end of last year. Panama City was our first stop and the capital city of Panama. We stayed in Casco Viejo which is the historical and cultural part of the city. It was declared a UNESCO world heritage site 15 years ago and I would definitely say it is a work in progress. There are beautiful buildings literally crumbling to pieces and construction work is along every street and alley way. The parts of the old city which have been restored are such a pleasure to walk around and the amount of cafes and upscale restaurants are a definite indicator of how popular this area is becoming. In 10 years I can only imagine how lovely this part of the city will be.

The old city stands across the bay from the the ultra sleek and modern skyscrapers towering above beaches and pools. Banking is huge business in Panama and a good proportion of the skyscrapers are international banks. Giant shopping malls with all the US brands you can think of and chain hotels and restaurants sit in this area too. We didn't spend much time here at all as Casco Viejo is far more pleasant to be in.

We of course visited the famous Panama canal a huge engineering feat and were lucky to see it in action as a cruise ship passed through. Truthfully this didn't appeal to either of us, glad to have seen it but wouldn't visit again.

We also had a lovely afternoon out on Isla Flamenco where locals keep their yachts in a plush marina, and restaurants and bars make the most of the stunning view over the rest of the Panama City coastline.



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Are any of you planning a trip to Panama City or have you visited ? What were your thoughts?

Next post will include some beautiful beaches when we travelled further north through Panama.