3.22.2017

Costa Rica mistakes

First trip to Costa Rica, first time for a lot of mistakes.  This was an ongoing list as the trip progressed and after I got home and thought about what I would do differently next time I went to Costa Rica...

BRING RUNNING STUFF! 

How many times do I need to tell myself this?  I was doing so well and then I blew it for this trip.  I have been fighting getting a new pair of running shoes and then I was up early in a new place with nothing to run in.  Running in new places is one of my favorite things to do and I completely blew it.  Now I know I could go for a walk, and I might, and that kind of leads me to my second mistake……

Bring rain gear if you are going to a “RainForest”.

As I sat there looking at the rain I mean REAL rain gear.  Not the flimsy pocket jacket I brought that will probably be soaked once we start hiking or doing anything outdoors. We took the hotel shuttle from the airport for the THREE hour drive and that was not a mistake as the roads were muddy, had lots of potholes in places and it was POURING rain.  And there were not really street lights…… Our driver (Eduardo) said at one point, “Welcome to the rainforest” and I thought “I am going to get wet here”.  It was really raining and colder than I thought it would be.  I am not sure if I will also think I needed to bring warmer clothes.  That might be one of my mistakes too.

UPDATE:  The hotel had plastic rain ponchos and those saved many adventures in the rain forest.  We still got wet because a big storm came through when we were in the Arenal area as in trees blowing over and even the locals saying it was “mas agua” for that time of year.  I had my water resistant pants from Iceland and those were great for this trip. Eventually you get wet in a rainforest, but the plastic poncho was awesome!

Something that wasn’t a mistake, bringing a headlamp.  

I had joked with my sister that she had booked fancy hotels and we wouldn’t need headlamps.  Hmmmm.  Just kidding.  We arrived at our hotel and a tree had fallen on a power line during the rainstorm we were driving through.  They had a generator for the main lobby, but our rooms were dark.  Good thing we all had headlamps!  It really wasn’t that big of a deal but the hotel had free drinks for everyone and ended up buying our dinner.  It was unexpected and a nice gesture.  So headlamps, a good idea for Costa Rica.

Not bring (or having enough) Costa Rican currency or American dollars

This was another mistake I made. I exchanged some money before leaving and planned to use my ATM if I needed more cash but ended up not really finding an ATM or being near one when I needed.  A few times the ATMs looked questionable so I didn’t use them (as in wires coming out…).  Because of this I was low on cash during the trip and I don’t like having to budget for cash so carefully on trips.  Especially when some items are “cash only” and I am always counting how much money I have left in my head. Next time I will have more Costa Rican currency in hand early in the trip.

Staying at an “ALL Inclusive Resort” in Guanacaste after our zen / nature adventure in the Rainforest.

I wasn’t sure if I should include this as a mistake, but the All Inclusive Resort we stayed at in Guanacaste came as a bit of a culture shock to us after spending time in the Arenal Rainforest region.  The weather was AMAZING, but the drinking, gluttony, and loud party vibe was not our thing.  I feel a little “old” for saying this, but it was not my scene.  It also made me realize how great my first experience staying at an All Inclusive in Mexico was.  I was able to enjoy the “All Inclusive” stuff but also find some peace and quiet when needed.

Not a mistake, hiring a driver and not renting a car.

For our FIRST trip to Costa Rica I am glad we did not rent a car and instead hired drivers.  Especially in the Arenal - Rainforest region as I would not have wanted to drive there during the crazy storms we drove through.  I think we might rent a car the next time we go.  Maybe. Depends on where we are going.

Mistake, some clothing choices.

I mentioned the rain gear above and I don’t know if I should have brought warmer clothes or not as the temperature was right on the cusp.  I think maybe one long sleeved warmer thing would have been a good idea for the rainforest area.  For the Guanacaste beach area I should have packed cheap flip flops.  I had sandals with backs and they were not that great when it came to easy beach walking.  I also think I needed one more warm weather shirt.  I ended up buying one in Guanacaste to wear on the plane home.  Basically I needed to really “Lucky Dozen” my outfits for Costa Rica so I could have mixed and matched, but I didn’t.  Next time for sure.  And clothes I am comfortable in.  I brought some shorts that I just didn’t feel comfortable in and I am even remembering that months afterwards.

Not a mistake, bringing sunblock!

I read that sunblock was expensive in Costa Rica and it was.  About $30 for a bottle when I can get the same bottle for $10 in the US.  For this reason we brought sunblock to Costa Rica and USED the sunblock.  I mention the USED it section because there were A LOT of people in Guanacaste who did not use sunblock and were very sunburned.  Costa Rica is close to the equator and you could tell.  When we got to Guanacaste and saw all the lobster red sunburns we were glad we brought sunblock.

Some of these mistakes were really lesson for the next trip to Costa Rica.  Some of them were me being lazy and off my travel game.  I mean, I know better!  Hello running stuff and Lucky Dozen clothes that all mix and match.  The headlamp, I am happy to report that I always travel with one now because of this trip.  Just in case the power is out at a hotel again….

What is the saying?

If you are not learning you are not growing?

Well I learned some stuff on this trip!  I am ready for you next time Costa Rica!

Currently in Baltimore

In Baltimore for five days. It is cold, but beautiful.

3.12.2017

New Orleans, Mardi Gras, Food, and Touchdown Jesus

40. Kind of a big deal. Especially in our society and for a woman.

Birthday cake

Well, maybe for other women. I was excited to make it to 40. Much better than my other option and I really have enjoyed my life so far and expect to keep enjoying it. I wanted to make 40 memorable and decided to visit New Orleans for the first time.

Flying to NOLA!

The trip ended up being a “GirlsTrip” when T let me know he would rather go skiing. (Don’t worry, he stayed home on my actual birthday when I had a wine / birthday party). My sisters, a neighbor, a cousin, my oldest friend, and two former co-workers joined me for four nights and five days in New Orleans. It was a crazy trip.

Why?

Well it turns out that “Mardi Gras” starts on January 6th (Kings Day) and goes until Fat Tuesday at 11:59pm. Fat Tuesday this year was February 28th and we visited February 16-20th. What that meant for us was that we were in New Orleans and the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. There were tons of parades, lots of beads, and SO MANY people. Locals told us it is going to be much more crowded the next weekend, so that was lucky. Here is a link to the New Orleans parade schedule for 2017. There were 25 parades going on the weekend we were in New Orleans.

NOLA house

I rented a house in the French Quarter and it was two blocks from Bourbon Street. The house was AMAZING and we really enjoyed it. Mo of Costa Rica and Russia fame had a friend that lived in New Orleans and way before we began our trip we had lots of things we could do and places we could eat. I didn’t want to book too many things and tried to keep events to one a day and only one food commitment. There were two walking parades in the French Quarter during our stay and it turned out that our house was even on one of the routes!

We arrived on Thursday night and were lucky to find a restaurant that might be my favorite of the whole trip, Cafe Amelie in the French Quarter. We had a round table for eight on the courtyard patio under trees and cafe string lights. It was beautiful. Our waiter Michael was so charming and immediately New Orleans stole my heart.

Cafe Amelie, me and Michael
Cheers to 40!

I have to give a special shout out to the Gumbo at Cafe Amelie. For bookclub I had read Gumbo Tales and it was all about food in New Orleans. Each chapter was centered around a specific food or beverage and the first chapter was all about Gumbo. I might of taken it with a grain of salt when the author discussed all the different types of Gumbo. She went on to describe how everyone would say their “Mama made the best gumbo” and then have a backup gumbo place they would go if their Mama wasn’t cooking one. Sure enough Michael told us his Mama made the best gumbo, but his second favorite gumbo was at Cafe Amelie. We sampled it that first night and it was amazing. I tried a lot of gumbo on this trip and Cafe Amelie was my favorite hands down.

Each morning I would wake up about 6:30am and go for a walk. I sprained my foot a few weeks before the trip and had put running on hold, so walking it was. I am grateful for this time of the day in a city and especially in New Orleans. I walked to the Mississippi River and watched the fog melt away as the city was cleaned up from the night before. Everyone was kind and hospitable with lots of “Morning Mam” or “Morning”. New Orleans is filled with music and even as the sun was coming up a lone trombone player welcomed it.

Front side of Touchdown Jesus church
Early morning, empty streets
Cleaning up Bourbon Street
Morning fog on the Mississipi

Traveling with a group can have it’s problems, but our group seemed to do okay. The Friday of our trip those of us who had not been to New Orleans before took a food tour with Taste Bud Tours and those who had already been to New Orleans went to lunch. We met up at the Krewe of Cork Parade in the French Quarter and it was so fun!

Sisters and cousin
Food tour fun

I should mention that my New Orleans trip was rated PG-13. There was no nudity and I never saw someone flash for beads. I did see a lot of people drinking on the streets (legal in New Orleans) and Bourbon Street turned into a crazy drunk fest at night, but for the most part the worst was nothing more than I remember seeing at Frat Parties in college way back in the day. I mention this because Krewe of Cork was my first parade during Mardi Gras in New Orleans and I LOVED IT. The parade was all about wine and it was just fun. The streets in the French Quarter are one way and small. They were closed to traffic during the parade and the sidewalks were lined with people. The members of the parade tossed a few beads, but most of our group had members of the Krewe come up and place them over our heads. The marching bands had us cheering and yelling and dancing along to the parade.

Krewe of Cork Parade

Later that night we learned that parades can shut down the city when it took our Uber driver over an hour to get to Atchafalaya. The driver was newer in the city and half of our group were in another Uber with a local who knew all the back ways to avoid the parades. They arrived half an hour before us. The convenience of Uber is awesome but driving in a car during parade times can be ridiculous. We did it the next night to have dinner at Commander’s Palace and ended up walking a few blocks before and after dinner. I declaired Sunday, “No Uber Sunday” and was happy to walk everywhere.

Atchafalaya private room party
All dressed up for Commander's Palace.

Even though I tried to keep our trip simple, the days seemed jammed packed. Here is what we had planned:

Thursday: Arrive. Uber to house. Walk the French Quarter and have dinner at Cafe Amelie.

Friday: Tastebuds Food Tour. Krewe of Cork Parade. Dinner at Atchafalaya.

Saturday:Garden District walking architecture and graveyard tour form Two Chicks Tour. Dinner Commander’s Palace

Sunday: Brunch at Mr. B’s with live jazz. Barkus Parade. Cafe Amelie for dinner again.

Monday: Leave New Orleans.

Additionally we visited the Flea Market where I got a fabulous ring that looks like a green jelly bean. It is almost the green of Mardi Gras and I love it. My cousin and I saw the Krewe of Femme Fatale parade because we wanted to see a float parade. I went to Frenchman’s street with my cousin and my neighbor and we saw a reggae band and then a funk band. One night a few of us went to Bourbon Street and the Cat’s Meow where my neighbor rocked Karaoke. We visited our local grocery store often and I was amazed that it was open so late at night. I love visiting grocery stores whenever I visit someplace new! Speaking of that, did you know the bars in New Orleans only close once a year for one hour? Yep, once a year. And our Tastebuds Food Tour guide told us it was so they could close the books for that year and then open next year’s books. The bars have a three month period where they all take turns closing for that one hour.

Jazz brunch at Mr. B's

The house I rented was perfect for this trip. It was beautiful and we enjoyed the time we spent there. The kitchen was awesome but we only “cooked” coffee. My two former co-workers got a King Cake and birthday cake from a local bakery that were delicious. It was a decant trip and coffee and cake might of been breakfast a few days…. I mentioned earlier the house was close to Bourbon Street and it was a great location. Far enough away from the noise, but close to everything. Our first night in town we were trying to figure out how to get home and the Little Sister said, “Turn your back on Jesus and walk home”. This is because there was a big church at the end of our street and a statue of Jesus with his arms raised. At night Jesus was lit up and his HUGE shadow covered the church wall. We just needed to find him, and then keep him at our back as we walked home. We learned the locals refer to him as “Touchdown Jesus” and that made me laugh so hard!

Touchdown Jesus!
King Cake

I was always full of food in New Orleans, even though I worked so hard to not over schedule any meals. I feel like the majority of places I ate were more upscale than I usually eat at. They were DELICIOUS, but next time I am going to look for more hole in the wall kind of places. NOLA is an amazing food city.

Hot pickled okra! AMAZING!
 
The SMALL cup of gelato....

I had such a good time in New Orleans and can’t wait to go back. Maybe T will go, or the same group of girls. Either way, New Orleans is going to be a city I visit often. Thanks to everyone there for such a warm welcome and continuous hospitality. Your city has captured my heart.