Monthly Archives: March 2009

In The Suitcase: The Costa Rica Packing List

(Apologies for the small hiatus in between blogs; we had to re-route ourselves to Chicago for a family emergency and are now back in the quiet sanctuary of our home in DC. Pictures from Costa Rica coming soon!)

Costa Rica is a beautiful, sandy, muddy, wet, breezy, sometimes cool, sometimes hot and humid country with much to see and enjoy. Here’s our list of packing essentials that we were thankful for bringing and/ or wishing we had.

1. Hiking shoes with excellent tread. I had some aging trail runners that fared okay, except for the extremely muddy areas. Galoshes and wellies can be rented at some parks, if you don’t feel like dragging them on your trip.

2. Travel towels. We like these quick-drying MSR PackTowl Ultralite from REI. You’ll want to wash them between uses because the odor of ocean, beach, swimming hole, river and whatever else you’ve been submerged in starts to fester if you don’t. Which brings me to:

3. Extra socks. And…

4. Laundry detergent. It’s nice to have a little fresh-clean scent even if you’re just handwashing out of a hotel sink.

5. Travel locks. Everywhere in Costa Rica emphasizes not leaving your luggage in your car and to watch your belongings, your pockets, your backpacks; even in hotel rooms and especially campsites. And after our little visit to the police station in La Fortuna, we began locking everything – besides our suitcases, we also wrapped cables around them and locked them to ring attachments in the trunk of our 4×4. In more questionable, open hotels, we locked them to furniture. Yes, we could be called paranoid, but it also gave us a better peace of mind. The PacSafe WrapSafe  can also double as a bike lock and takes up little room in your suitcase. 

6. Binoculars. We took a pair that came from the Sharper Image that double as opera glasses and fit into Jon’s cargo pockets; if you’re a real bird watching enthusiast, you’ll already own field glasses suitable for war. But even if you’ve always thought you were too young to be a bird watcher but are a rubbernecker (like on a highway), you’ll find yourself craining your neck upwards in curiousity to see what everyone else is staring at.

REI

REI

7. Raingear. It will rain sometime (after all, it is a rainforest) so stick a couple Sierra MicroLight Jacket in your backpack. The anoraks come in their own little pouch and do well with wind or cooler temperatures, too.

8. Flashlight. I’m a big fan of the headlamp (see entry here about Yuppie Backpacker Gear) which came in handy during our night hike, dimly lit paths around the hotel, and during the power outtage in Quepos that left the entire town in pitch black.

9. Hydrocortisone. The mosquitoes here work backwards: Unlike the bugs we know which bite and make us itch immediately and scratch until the bites bleed, these first they make you bleed, but not itch; then about 24 hours later you’ll discover itchy welts and start scratching. The power for them lies in not being detected immediately, so they can feast away on you all night, which they did and left very red bumps on most tourists we saw.

10. Lastly, some other helpful items: a first-aid kit, flip-flops, a hat (of course), sunscreen, multiple swmisuits, a sweatshirt (it gets quite cool at night in mountain areas, such as Monteverde), drybag and watershoes (if you’re rafting), and cold-weather clothes if you decide to hike to high peaks like Chirripo where the weather can dip to freezing temperatures. And of course, personal entertainment: deck of cards, frisbee, and a book.

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On my Itinerary: Hasta la Vista, Costa Rica!

Spotty Internet connections for the past few days as we drove from Monteverde to the true paradise of Manuel Antonio´s beaches and jungle hikes with the pristine, crystal clear blue 80 degree bath water. We entertained ourselves with squirrel monkeys, iguanas and the random lizard who crossed our path. Afterwards we headed down to Uvita on rocky roads (this is purposefully done to keep out tourists, and in Monteverde we saw trucks raking out giant piles of rocks over the road to deliberately minimize the number of tourists) and played frisbee in the warm waves there, then hiked over to the secret waterfall- swimming hole where Jon decided to jump off cliffs and slide down the waterfall.

We´re now back in San Jose and splurged on a Holiday Inn with a real shower and AC, considering our room at the Tucan Hotel & Hostel last night had mediocre air conditioning at best and I sweated the entire night out. (The place does have a very cool outdoorsy atmosphere hung with fun lamps, hammocks everywhere and classical music on the stereo). Jon got up at 2AM to take a cold shower before getting back in bed. We even slept on separate bunks – yes, our room came with a double bed on bottom and twin on top – and I opted for the top bunk because it was just way too hot. However, the Holiday Inn does not allow me to up load any photos, so those will have to wait. Until then!

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On My Itinerary- Zipping around Monteverde

kuvatSomehow, Jon has convinced me to strap into a rock climbing harness and clip me onto some steel cables stretching way across the treetops of Santa Elena rainforest so I could go flying and shrieking along the way, while mentally praying that the harness would not slip apart, or the cables snap, or the trees to which they are tied do not decide to die and fall down while I am ziplining. This coming from someone who used to rock climb regularly and eat a morning bagel on the windowsill of the 41st floor of Rockefeller Center (with the window open). In my aging 30’s I have developed a bizarre fear of heights and heightened sense of mortality, and I have never really been a fan of rides that left my stomach high above while the rest of me went crashing down (rollercoaster, bungee jumping, metro trains).

Anyway, that is what I woke up to do this morning – and with the Costa Rican guides at Selvatura barking orders at me to keep my right hand behind on the cable, left hand holding the ropes under the caribiners that they didn’t bother to lock, my knees bent, I went soaring over the jungle canopy like a bird. And after a few cables, I finally began to relax and trust the harness and the trees and the cables, and finally began to really have fun. I even partook in the “Tarzan Swing” which I shouldn’t have, because that was basically free fall on a rope and that one I did scream my head off.

Afterwards we took a nature hike through Santa Elena, which was pretty muddy, and stopped to watch a blue-beaked bird, a waterfall, and examine giant trees hosting a wealth of other plants and fungi. Yesterday we spent the morning driving around Lake Arenal which was incredibly blue, and the surroundings incredibly green, and stopped for apple streudal at some German bakery filled with German tourists. A slight bizarre encounter in the middle of Central America. In the evening we embarked on a night hike and our guide made us turn off our headlamps and hike in the dark to admire stars and fireflies; we also saw a viper snake curled up in a tree high up, some local creatures I’ve never encountered before, even a tarantula hiding in its hole. Now we’re headed out to Monteverde for some more jungle excitement Some more pictures later since this computer is incredibly slow and Jon is complaining that he is hungry.

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On My Itinerary: Fortunate in La Fortuna

juan-001Like many a spring breaker, sometimes you find yourself at the police station. That´s where we spent our first evening in Costa Rica. First we were enjoying a hearts of palm and avocado salad, I was admiring the khaki outdoorsy hat of the solo tourist at the next table. The next thing I knew, our waiter told us: ¨Your book is on the floor, sir,¨and Jon picked up our copy of Lonely Planet, went to put it back into our backpack and realized it was gone. And so was the khaki hatted tourist at the next table. Our waiter then shouted: ¨There are the police!¨outside the restaurant. Jon ran outside, and there was a man handcuffed in the backseat, our precious backpack in the front seat. He was not the khaki hatted man, but apparently a friend of his. A crowd had formed around the cop car and the local business owners were angry because he was setting a very bad reputation for Costa Rica, it was explained to me.  So we all rode to the police station to file a report. It took over an hour, and by then my stomach was grumbling, but it was extremely satisfying to know the police were on our side.

juan-0041In the morning, Jon´s birthday and a rainy sky, we packed up the same lucky bag and drove a few extremely potholed, bumpy kilometers to Arenal waterfall where we hiked down to the bottom for a perspective from the jungle floor. Then we headed to Arenal volcano and hiked along the lava rocks formation from the eruption of 1992. We ate avocados while sitting on some craggly rock, listening and watching little explosions and rocks roll down the volcano. After a breezy volcano view lunch of rice and calamari, we spent the rest of the afternoon soaking in one of 16 hot springs pools at Baldi Resort. There were waterslides and swim-up bars serving costly drinks, sun benches and garden paths. It was like Disneyland meets the tropics.

Some more photos below.

juan-002 Horses in the road blocking our path.

juan-005

The one of few active volcanos worldwide: Arenal Volcano

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On My Itinerary: Spring Break!! (i.e. Costa Rica)

source: iivnetwork.com

source: iivnetwork.com

Like, OMG – Jon and I are heading to Spring Break. Whoo hoo! Break out the yard long beers and the beads! I have to admit, this is actually my very first spring break. I did not participate in beachy spring break back in college (I did partake in an Alternative Spring Break one year, volunteering my good soul to helping flood victims in San Francisco). However I don’t think we will actually be partaking in any dancing-on-the-bar activities and will probably be in bed by 10:00pm every night.

In any event, we have a mini-itinerary planned, except this will be the first trip in which – wait for it – we don’t have ANY RESERVATIONS MADE. Normally we set out into the world with every hotel confirmation page printed and velobound with the itinerary spreadsheet (yes, spreadsheet), plus our various modes of transportation and different possible trains/ planes/ buses/ ferries we can catch… however, we’ve thrown caution to the wind. We are MARRIED COUPLE GONE WILD. We don’t know if we will stay in La Fortuna for two or three days. We don’t know if we will go to some secret waterfall that Jon’s friend has forbid me to reveal in my blog, or if we’ll go to Montezuma. We do intend to hit Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio at a minimum, but the rest is up in the air. This is our version of Going Crazy over Spring Break.

Please stay tuned to My Travel Hats while we roam about the country freely in our 4×4! I will try to post pictures unless Jon starts grumbling about how much time it takes. And we welcome many suggestions through our week in Costa Rica.

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Now Boarding: Frommers on Kindle

When choosing the right travel book(s) to take with me, I have to give the book’s weight and size much consideration if I’m going to hoist it around all day. After removing items like housekeys, extra credit cards, American currency, random shirt, large versus small sunscreen – suddenly your load feels tremendously lighter. At one point I’d even gone to the point of printing parts of my itinerary on double sides and trimming the white parts with scissors.

source: Amazon

source: Amazon

Back to the travel book. If you’re traversing across Europe and the Frommers Guide to Europe is too bulky, heavy and/ or condensed for your taste, and you don’t want to shlep several books around in your luggage, you don’t have to tear your books apart (as my friend Janice does – tears and tosses as she goes). Amazon’s Kindle electronic book reader can carry the new digital Frommers CitySet for only $40 plus the cost of the Kindle (the sleek Kindle 2 is $359), at a fraction of the size and weight that a paper Frommers guide would be. The cities on the CitySet include Frommers’ top selling books: Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, London, New York City, Paris, Rome, San Francisco, Tokyo and Washington D.C. In addition, you can download any number of novels, newspapers, and magazines that you might like to pack along with you on your trip. How’s that for some light reading.

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In the Suitcase: Cultural Etiquette

I have to give credit to my fellow travel-addict and friend Christie, who posted this article from Yahoo! Travel entitled “World’s Worst Cultural Mistakes” on her Facebook page. It is a great summary of a handful of cultural offenses around the globe, though I think some of them may be arguable. For example: blowing your nose in public should be offensive in ALL countries, particularly at the dinner table. I’m not sure where in the world it is a good thing to blow your nose at the table. Also “road rage” is particularly acceptable anywhere, I’m sure. Apparently “talking over dinner” is a cultural no-no in China. However, having sat through many years of my dad’s formal dinners with Chinese diplomats and United Nations colleagues, I assure you that once the Chinese wine is poured, there is absolutely no silence at the table. Still, this is a good background and guide to showing a little class and etiquette in foreign countries, and to prevent being squelched into the “ugly American” stereotype.

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