Into Africa: 11 Days in Kenya & Tanzania

Posted in Travels with tags , , , , , , on April 9, 2016 by eclecticlemonadestand

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Day 1: Arrival in Kenya and Lake Nakuru

What I Did: I arrived at the airport at the start of the morning (and after around 30 hours of travel).  East Africa Adventure Tours was the company scheduled to whisk me through Africa and I was met by my guide and a tour manager who reviewed the itinerary for my journey and secured final payment.  We then set out on a 3 hour drive to Lake Nakuru, but to set the record straight; all proposed drive times turned out to be longer than indicated because of traffic and rough roads.  If you suffer from motion sickness, plan accordingly.  Even if you aren’t normally affected by motion sickness, plan accordingly because some of the roads are intense.  The experience is still altogehter worth the lengthy drive times and nausea inducing roads.

We arrived at our hotel shortly before lunch was expected to be over, but the wonderful staff gladly accommodated us and extended the lunch hours.  After lunch, a small wash up and a quick nap; we set out for the afternoon safari.  On my first afternoon in Africa, the breathtaking sights were giving me an unexpected case of sensory overload and I was awestruck.  To see monkeys bouncing around above grazing zebras and buffalos while giraffes slowly stalked past lounging rhinos nearby to sly hyenas observing it all was much more than I expected for my first afternoon.  That was just the beginning!

Where I stayed: On the first evening, I stayed overnight at Sarova Lion Hill Lodge reminiscient of a summer cabin.  The staff was welcoming and the amenities left nothing to be desired.  None of the properties included televisions, but I hadn’t even noticed because I was wholly interested in these new interactions and experiences.  Before dinner, there was a show featuring African ladies and gentleman demonstrating local dances.  All meals were included in the tour package and this property provided buffet style meals with a variety of options including local samplings and standard items (such as chicken, fish or beef).  Also, the properties are able to accomodate dietary restrictions and requests.  The tour company indicated this lodging option as a 5 star accomodation and I was completely pleased.

Day 2-3: Lake Nakuru to Masai Mara

What I did: In the morning, we went out for another game drive at Lake Nakuru.  The morning sightings included an assortment of birds, monkeys, warthogs, gazelle, waterbucks, buffalo, hyenas, zebras, giraffes and our very first lion spotting although the lioness was almost camoflauged by the tall grass. We departed Lake Nakuru for the 4 hour journey to Masai Mara with a stop for lunch and gas along the way.  The roads for most of this journey were paved but uneven, so when our guide announced that the last bit of road would be rough then proceeded to buckle his seatbelt; I knew I was in for a wild ride.  At some point, I figured that my guide was a Nascar driver in his former life. In case you were wondering, Nascar drivers and rough roads are not a good combination. And so for 2 hours, I prayed for deliverance from those unruly Kenyan roads and came very close to leaving the chewed up contents of my lunch on the side of a dirt road. But when I arrived at Masai Mara, all was forgiven…

On the afternoon game drive through Masai Mara, silouttes of elephants appeard on the horizon before they were right upon you.  They moved along with no urgency as they watched us watching them; passing by so close that you could reach out and touch them but resisting the urge because of the respect they command on sheer size alone.  Ostriches flocked by and jackals darted through the brush.  Masai Mara presented numerous wildlife gems including: a baby leopard sighting on our first evening, a cheetah family looking full and relaxed during a morning game drive, families of lions throughout the day and our only up close sighting of a hippo out of water on one evening.  Not to mention the many other sightings of fowl, wildebeest and different species of giraffe (who knew there were different types?)

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Self drive safaris are permitted, but personally, I would not recommend it as navigating the expanse can be quite challenging and there are no road signs, road maps or even real roads for that matter.  Traversing the area is better suited for the experienced and guides communicate via radio to share information on wildlife sightings. Unless you are fluent in Swahili or thoroughly familiar with the terrain, I would highly recommend a guide.  There were several occasions where our guide made radio contact with other guides then relayed to us that there had been a sighting at a certain location.  He would zoom off to the location sans GPS and thereby solidifying my faith in his navigating skills because in every direction, all I could see were flatlands but he knew exactly where he was taking us. There was an incident where another guide pointed out a problem with the tire of our vehicle and I couldn’t help but think that this was about to be an experience straight out of the game Oregon Trail. I just knew we were going to have to grab a buffalo, caulk the wagon or ford the river and buy a wheel at the nearest town… Basically, a set up for failure! But our guide examined the faulty tire and we continued on without incident.

While in Masai Mara, we visited a Maasai village where the tribes have historical claim to the Motherland and have held fast to their traditions and nomadic lifestyle.  They continue to be resourceful, living off the land and they breed warriors who (at the age of 15) spend 3 years in the wilderness to learn the skills that turn boys into men and men into warriors. The children are educated in traditional schools learning both English and Swahili, but they do not abandon their culture and are cultivated in Maasai customs outside of the classroom.  I had the privilege of taking part in the traditional Maasai dances and toured the village; witnessing traditional fire starting, home building and cattle herding.  They tutored me on their age-old customs and their daily routines.  I was humbled to learn how far the children walk to get to school and how everyone makes a daily journey for clean, drinkable water (I soon learned that these lengthy walks for water and education were common throughout Kenya and Tanzania, but it made me all the more ashamed of the things I take for granted and the privileges to which we are so accustomed in the Western world).   I met the medicine woman of the village and was adopted as granddaughter by a skilled toolsmith.  That just means I’m family now! This was a cultural experience that I highly recommend to all visitors of Kenya.  There was a small cost associated with the visit, but the monies are pooled together between the villages and are used to better the learning facilities for the local children.  In other words, money well spent!

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On my last night in Masai Mara, as the sun began to set; the moon looked as if it were standing atop the mountains.  I have never seen a moon as beautiful as the Kenyan moon over Masai Mara.  It was almost as if I could reach out and touch it.

Where I stayed:  In Masai Mara, my accomodations were at the Mara Sarova Luxury Tented Camp.  The rooms were exactly what the name suggests: luxury tents.  The bathroom was the only solid structure about the room. I embraced the novelty and enjoyed every minute of it.  In Masai Mara, the weather was slightly cooler in the evenings during February.  Being that the room was a tent, heaters were not an option.  While most of the guests were at dinner, the room attendants would bring hot packs for the bed and would enclose the beds in the mesh mosquito netting and zip up the tent “windows.”

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Several of the properties observed a lights out, power off period to conserve energy and provided flashlights and candles in the absence of power.  This generally occurred very late in the evening when most guests were fast asleep so it went unnoticed.  This was another 5 star option that aimed to please.

Day 4: Masai Mara to Serengeti

What I did: After a long and rough 7 hour drive, a stop at Kenyan immigrations then at Tanzanian immigrations and a guide swap; we arrived in the famed Serengeti. The long drives will really wear you out until you realize that you’re surrounded by beauty and majesty everywhere you look. We saw many more of the same animals, but it never seemed to get old.  We saw types of birds that we had not yet seen, crocodiles and a strange little animal called a “Dik-dik,” which I didn’t know even existed and had to get clarification on the spelling because… well… I’m sure it’s obvious! On that day, I also saw first hand why self-drive safaris probably aren’t the best option. Let’s just say that “wheels up” is a term that should be reserved for planes and not vehicles on safari.

 

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Say no to self drive

 

Where I stayed: Serengeti accommodations were handled by Mbalageti Lodge.  This property was a mix of wood cabin meets luxury tent.  The lodge provided no fencing as some of the other properties had so we literally slept in the wilderness.  At check-in, we were informed that guests should not walk the property alone after 6:30 pm as animals may approach and the rooms had walking sticks for daytime walks.  We were also notified that armed escorts would be provided to accompany guests to dinner and it was also recommended that no food be left in the room to avoid scavaging animals.  Dinner was served in the hotel restaurant with outdoor seating providing amazing views of the Serengeti.  Never had I felt so close to nature, even after spending days on safari.  The one drawback of this property was the minimal wi-fi provided.  Up until this point, all other hotels provided wi-fi in the common areas which sometimes extended into the rooms.  However, the wifi provided by Mbalageti was only capable of handling emails and minimal usage.  No social media or wifi calling was supported, but I suppose this was only a minor shortcoming.  This property was considered a standard option as compared to a  5 star property by the organizing tour company.

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Day 5: Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater

What I did: After a morning game drive on the Serengeti, we were on our way to Ngorongoro Crater with a stop for lunch at a small picnic site.  We were joined by a multi-colored lizard and an odd, giant bird.  Before arriving at Ngorongoro we stopped for a visit a the historic digging site known as Oldupai by the locals and incorrectly termed Olduvai many years ago.  We received a history lesson from one of the excavators and had a glance at some of the archealogical findings before making our way to the Sopa Lodge for the evening.  On our way, a young child flagged down our vehicle and our guide translated that he was asking for water. How can you not be humbled when so many among us desire just the basic necessities that we take for granted on a daily basis? Of course, we gave him bottles of water and I only wish that I could help with a more permanent solution instead of a temporary band-aid on a gunshot wound.

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Where I stayed: The Sopa Lodge was one of the more modern properties throughout the trip and was more comparable to standard Western hotels and lodging.  The Ngorongoro area was increasingly cooler than anywhere we had been thus far and the hot pack was a welcomed addition to the bedding.  One quirk about this hotel was that the hot water was turned off around 8:00pm but the lights and power remained on all night.  The excellent service and luxury accommodations at this 5 star property were just what I needed after activity full days and long drives through Tanzania.

Day 6: Ngorngoro Crater

What I did: In addition to the poitns of elevation that provided spectacular views of the crater, it was at Ngorongoro Crater that I was able to get my first up-close views of the elusive African rhino.  My guide informed me that the park rangers encourage Rhinos to keep their distance from humans by scaring them away from vehicles.  This may seem slightly disruptive, but since poachers have almost completely eradicated Rhino populations throughout the world; it is a necessary measure.  I was also told that if park rangers see you attempting to kill an animal, they will shoot you on the spot. No jail time, no questions asked.  So, in order to get a decent picture of the Rhino, I had to focus my camera through my binoculars: Resourceful!  It was also at Ngornogoro Crater that I saw my first adult male lion with a fully grown mane and paws large enough to forever reinforce his place as King of the Jungle.  I saw Wildebeest herds with week old calves and flamingos were so abundant that the waters looked pink tinted.  For some reason, we asked the question: “How can you tell the difference between male and femal wildebeest?”  The answer was As Simple as Snow: “You can have a look at the balls.  The males have balls and the females have tits.” <– Well, there you have it!

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Where I stayed: My overnight was at Eileen’s Trees Inn.  It was a quaint property tucked away amidst a bustling city.  It was almost as if you had walked into a Secret Garden where blooming flowers and fruit trees abounded.  Most of the properties had impressive pools, but it was at Eileen’s where I first sat by the pool for just a few short moments to revel in the beauty of my surroundings.  At dinner, we enjoyed a few laughs with our guide and, despite my aversion to hops, I sampled the local beer: Tusker.  If I had to give this property a rating, it would definitely be 5 stars!

Day 7 and 8: Ngorongoro to Moshi town and Mt. Kilimanjaro

What I did: From Ngorongoro, a relatively short drive brought us to the town of Moshi where we met with our next guide. On that first afternoon, we visited the Kinukamori waterfalls and learned of the legend behind the name.  We toured the ancient Chagga caves and became aware of the tribe’s resourcefulness in times of war. We also discovered that the Chagga and the Maasai were once enemies who fought over land and resources.  We visited traditional Chagga homes and learned of customary practices before heading to our lodging for the evening.  On the following morning, the ascent to Mandara Hut was underway.  Mandara Hut is a stopping point on Mt. Kilimanjaro at 2720m.  This is the common stopping point for a day hike, but it is no small feat.  This test of my limits only made me want to come back and conquer the beast mountain! As an added bonus; my guide was extremely knowledgeable, exceptionally experienced and particularly entertaining.  By this time in late February, he could boast 6 successful hikes to the summit for this year.  This is not to mention his 15+ years of experience climbing this vastly challenging mountain. I’m certain that when I return for the summit, I will undoubtedly call upon the same guide.  When I completed the 8 hour, 35k step, leg burning, sweat pouring hike; I felt like I had conquered the mountain (well, a portion of it at least) even though I looked more like the mountain had conquered me… It was an accomplishment for which I am still most proud!

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Where I stayed: Over the 2 day span in Moshi, accommodations were at the Marangu Hotel.  The staff was most welcoming, but there were a few drawbacks to this property that left more to be desired.  For one, the absence of wifi was a major peeve.  There was a sign that indicated that their wifi was awaiting repair, but that sign aided me none the more…  You can take the girl out of the city, but don’t take the wifi away from the girl! Also, meal services were below average and although the meals were filling and appetizing; service was slow and sluggish.  On the evening after the Kili hike, I opted to skip dinner but was awoken in the middle of the night when the staff realized that I hadn’t come down.  I’m not sure whether to count this as a positive or a negative so I’ll just leave those facts there and let you decide.  Another downside was that this property did not accommodate the guides with meals as did the other properties and the “to go” lunches provided were poorly packaged and caused a bit of a mess.  The property itself was great and the staff was helpful, but I would definitely recommend an overhaul in service to earn this property the excellent ratings secured by other properties.

Day 9: Amboseli

What I did: In the morning, we set out on our way back to Kenya where we met with our original guide and said our goodbyes to an incredible experience in Tanzania.  It was at this point that I realized how much I preferred the Tanzanian roads… A few hours drive brought us to our hotel and we decided to skip the game drives and opted for an afternoon of relaxation and rejuvenation after a long week.  Monkeys littered the property and a hippo was spotted in the distance from our porch as we settled into our hotel.  Views of Amboseli National Park and Mt. Kilimanjaro at were clear at every turn.  We relished the wifi access from the lounge as unobstructed views of Kili became visible through passing clouds.  Aching feet and sore muscles prompted us to enjoy a full body massage and a touch-up pedicure from the hotel spa, which was just what the doctor ordered. Sleep came easy after a day of unwinding.

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Where I stayed: The Ol Tukai Lodge provided 5 star service through and through.  From their attentive waitstaff to their excellent spa services, every need was met.  The food was exceptional and the grounds were beautiful with outstanding views in every direction.  The rooms had an attendant (identified by name on a welcome card), who was always ready to assist in any way possible. The simplistic luxury was most welcomed after days of rough roads and difficult hikes!

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Day 10 and 11: Amboseli to Taita Hills and departure

What I did:  An early morning game drive through Amboseli provided picturesque views of Mt. Kilimanjaro as a backdrop for wildlife roaming the lands.  In this park, over 60 families of elephants take residence so there were ample sightings of the massive beauties.  Hippos, hyenas and other wildlife grazed the lands which are relatively free of big cats and seemingly a paradise for the hunted. From Amboseli, we made our way to Taita Hills for lunch and an afternoon game drive.  As our time in Africa was coming to an end, I took one last opportunity to revel in the majesty.  On the following morning, we made the 6 hour drive to the airport (luckily on paved roads). By the time I boarded my plane back to the states, I had learned how to say “hello!” in Swahili and Maasai, I had learned several words and phrases in Swahili and I enjoyed a thoroughly humbling cultural experience that cannot be aptly described with words.

Where I stayed: Sarova Salt Lick hotel was an interestingly designed property in the middle of the wildlife reserve.  This was my first experience with bats in Africa as they swooped overhead on an evening stroll… Needless to say, I panicked until I assessed the situation.  Comical at best.  The staff at the reception desk were mostly oblivious and apparently distracted, but all other attendants provided exceptional service.  This property had an assortment of craft cocktails (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and their desserts were mouthwatering! Another 5 star lodge to wrap up an amazing journey.

 

Through my experiences, I have decided that the beauty of God IS Africa. God lives there.

#onebrowngirlaroundtheworld

“How can you afford to travel?”

Posted in Travels with tags , , , on March 16, 2016 by eclecticlemonadestand

IMG_3950With airlines competing for your business (yes, YOUR business), there’s no reason why anyone can’t afford to travel. In the world of ultra low-cost carriers and dirt cheap fares, you can buy an inexpensive ticket to just about anywhere in the world. Gone are the days of air travel being exclusive and elite and now is the time of travel opportunities for every budget. Of course, you can still purchase a pricey plane ticket if you’re into that or splurge on first class if you’re feeling fancy.

When people talk about not being able to afford travel, I have to avoid rolling my eyes right out of my head. Take for instance my most recent trip to Africa: For the price of $829.16, I was able to fly round trip to Kenya and back. This was not a discounted fare, an industry rate or any type of special kickback. I purchased my full fare, round trip, economy ticket for a 15,000+ mile journey at less than $1,000. And while it was a coach fare (I have been completely spoiled by my non-rev, first class flight experiences) with over 20 hours of flight time and around 10 hours of connecting time each way, it got me there at a price I was willing to pay.

If you looked at the price tag and felt faint, consider this: if you eat out 3x a week at $15 a day for 52 weeks, you would spend $2340 in one year. If you cut back on your fast food consumption, your health and your passport will thank you. Maybe eating out isn’t your thing, but unless you’re a part of the small percentage of the population who never splurges, pinches pennies and has a perfectly balanced budget then I’m sure you can pinpoint one, two or a few weekly budget blunders… Manicures, pampering, shopping, electronics, candy crush upgrades? There are even apps to help you figure out where and how you spend most of your money!

I recently read an article that answered the question of how world nomads finance their travel. Although the article was a bit crude and written in the style of a true travel snob, I understood the essence: You pay for your passions whether it’s hundreds of dollars on MAC makeup or the newest electronics or designer labels. With that in mind, travel can be affordable for everyone (or everyone who wants it)! If you have no interest in leaving your hometown, ever, then so be it. I personally would encourage everyone to see the world or at least some of the world, but don’t let new age travel elitists convince you that you’re not on their level because you have varied interests that don’t include traveling. I also get that life happens and not everyone will be able to afford travel at every point in their life; but before you go buy the newest iPad, Google search trip ideas and you may be surprised where your pennies can take you!

Once you’ve picked a place, see how “user-friendly” the destination. Some places are ideal for tourists on self led excursions and some places might be better experienced with a knowledgeable guide, but always shop around for the best price! Tour guides also understand that you can take your business to one of their abundant competitors so they will almost always work with whatever budget you propose (don’t have champagne dreams on a beer budget). I generally base my need for a tour guide on the level of difficulty navigating the particular area, my comprehension of the local language, the amount of time I have to travel and, of course, my budget. If I’m going to a place where I don’t speak the language, I won’t be able to read any of the signs, I’m staying for a short while and I want to maximize my experiences without getting lost then I generally opt for a tour guide. Then again, sometimes the best part of the experience is getting lost in where you’ve found.  Off-peak or slightly off-peak travel also makes a huge difference in the costs associated with travel. As a general rule, I prefer to travel off peak or slightly off peak when it makes sense to my itinerary and my pockets.

Whatever the destination, whenever the time, whatever the budget: Travel more.

Ready, set, travel!

#OneBrownGirlAroundtheWorld

When to Travel

Posted in Travels on May 1, 2013 by eclecticlemonadestand

Airports are often busy and crowded then once you arrive at your vacation destination; attractions are often busy and crowded.  Avoiding congested travel takes a little planning.  Here is some travel advice to beat the crowds:

Best days to travel-  Tuesday and Wednesday are the best days to fly.  Why? Because most people are at work in the middle of the week so flight loads are always lighter.  Tuesdays will only present a problem when preceded by a Monday holiday.  Saturday is also a great day to travel because most people prefer to be at their destination by Saturday.  Since most weekend events take place on Saturday, people usually prefer to fly in before Saturday. This results in light flight loads.  Keep in mind, all of this advice becomes less applicable during winter break, spring break, summer break or near major holidays and as a point of reference; the busiest days to travel are always Friday, Sunday and Monday.

Best months to travel- October to Early November and May.  During October and the early part of November; there are no major holidays, kids are getting settled into their school routine (since school starts in Aug/Sep) so not many family vacations are being taken, teachers are back to work, Summer is over and the yearly routine begins again.  Additionally, most people are preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas trips around this time so flight loads are virtually empty to light.  May is a good time to travel because the Summer hasn’t yet started so school is still in session and there are no major holidays.  These months are considered “off season” but are a great time to travel if you want to avoid larger crowds and busy airports.

By planning your trip midweek or during off season, you can not only avoid large crowds but, often times, save money since tour groups, vendors and airlines are itching for any business during these times.

Best Margaritas for Cinco de Mayo

Posted in Miami! with tags , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2013 by eclecticlemonadestand

Usually, I don’t advocate for anything in Broward County  because, for some reason, I’m extremely biased to Miami.  I’m somewhat of a city snob… Sue me! So me recommending Azteca Real in Davie as the BEST margarita I’ve EVER had should speak volumes! One because it’s in Broward and two because I’ve had a lot of margaritas… Just ask my liver.

I happened across this place and didn’t really expect more than a standard dinner.  Of course, I ordered a Margarita (because anything else would be uncivilized).  A few sips in and I had found a winner! I thought that maybe my particular bartender had a divinely inspired gift, so I went back again and ordered another margarita.  Time after time, bartender after bartender, margarita after margarita; they were always amazing. Passion fruit, mango, strawberry, peach, kiwi and original are the flavor options.  I haven’t had the kiwi yet, but the others don’t disappoint.

I go there so often that I now have a favorite bartender, which is something that I can’t say about any other establishment.  (When you go, ask for Carolina– she’ll be going on maternity leave soon so hurry!)  I honestly feel like Carolina is one of my friends and one tequila filled night, I considered what I should buy her for her baby on the way.  Meanwhile, to her, I’m probably just that girl that comes in front time to time and gets buzzed after just a few sips.  Regardless, the service is always excellent.

I recommend you sit at the bar and socialize with the other patrons.  After a few select beverages, everybody is your friend… This is how I discovered the amazing queso dip that they make (much better than the free salsa).  One drunk girl got to rambling and raving about it and I’ve been in love ever since. This Cinco de Mayo Drinko, make your way to Azteca!

If you’re hungry, they’ve got more than just margaritas. Their menu options are very satisfying and very delicious. They serve up large portions of authentic Mexican cuisine. I can recommend the coconut shrimp, shrimp tacos and sizzling fajitas; but it’s the margaritas that I live for!

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Minneapolis

Posted in Travels with tags , , , , , , , on April 28, 2013 by eclecticlemonadestand

Minneapolis is definitely a good choice for a quick getaway. I hopped on a plane on Tuesday night and was back in sunny South Florida by 6am on Thursday morning. No need for fancy hotel stays or lush accommodations. I decided on a hotel with free airport transfers, a complimentary shuttle to Mall of America and continental breakfast.

The main purpose of this trip was to visit Mall of America, the largest Mall in the USA. This description is based on the number of retail stores as it is the second largest mall in the USA based on square footage (with the planned additions including golf courses, ice skating and a hotel; it probably won’t be second, in terms of square footage, for long). The mall has 4 floors and I recently discovered that there might be a basement level.

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After breakfast on Wednesday morning, I shuttled to the mall and spent the day shopping and exploring. I browsed a few stores of interest (even though South Florida has the same variety of stores), got lost in the enormous Forever 21, then made my way to Nickelodeon Universe. I was looking forward to Nickelodeon Universe more than the shopping and for around $30, I was able to purchase an unlimited ride wristband.

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For a theme park inside of a mall, the rides were pretty decent. There were a few coasters and thrill rides that provided a little too much excitement for me… Three rides in and I realized that I’m getting old!  (Meanwhile, kids that probably can’t even see over a steering wheel were bragging about getting on rides over 7 times.) My original goal was to get on all of the “thrill rides” but somewhere along the way, I came up with a million excuses as to why I should save the other rides for my next trip back to Minneapolis.  One of those reasons being the fact that I was the only person of legal drinking age getting on rides. In my defense, it was the middle of the day on a Wednesday when most normal adults are at work.

At this point, I had been in the mall for over 3 hours and had explored 1 floor and 3 rides. I contemplated exploring the remaining 3 out of 4 floors, but I had had enough shopping for one day. I’m a fan of local eateries so I googled searched a few restaurants (Minneapolis seems to have a good variety of organic and fair market eateries) then decided to make my way back to the hotel before heading into downtown for dinner. Somewhere between the sleet, rain and pending snow storm; I changed the plans and decided to grab a quick bite at the hotel before my flight back home.

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I’ll be back when the weather warms up and on my “to do list”: ride all rides, explore floors 2-4 and sample local eateries.

Pura Vida: Best of Costa Rica

Posted in Travels with tags , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2013 by eclecticlemonadestand

Costa Rica is a beautiful country with lots to see and do.  Despite warnings of the safety risks, I booked a flight that landed at Juan Santamaria International Airport around 1a in the morning and felt completely safe.  With the large numbers of American tourists and nomad travelers that make their way to Costa Rica, I wasn’t worried. We exchanged our dollars for colones in the airport and a cab took us to our hotel for a reasonable price.

In the morning, we were ready for action, but before I chronicle our trip, let me just take a minute to rave about the excellent complimentary breakfast at our hotel.  Not just donuts and danishes, but a full breakfast buffet of fresh cooked omelets, french toast, eggs, sausage, rice& beans, platanos and more. I will forgo anymore rants about how amazing the breakfast was, but for a free breakfast it was pretty great.

Now, since I pretty much travel sans a set itinerary, all of our trips were booked via the ever so helpful hotel concierge.  On our first afternoon we took a relaxed city tour highlighting local culture including: Catedral Metropolitano, Teatro Nacional, Museos Banco Central de Costa Rica, coffee production, various other local sites and an introduction to the country’s catch phrase “Pura Vida” (a recurring theme throughout the trip).  Our tour guide also recommended some local restaurants serving up traditional Costa Rican cuisine.  In the evening; we hailed a cab and, for about 10 American dollars, he took us into the city.  We made our way to Nuestra Tierra for a slightly pricy, but very delicious and filling dinner.

Seafood Ceviche

Nuestra Tierra

Our next day started off with an arranged tour  beginning with a 3+ hour drive to the La Fortuna area.  Along the way, we made a stop at “The biggest Oxcart in the World” (who knew?), a local souvenir shop and Restaurante La Finca for a traditional lunch.  After finally making it to the La Fortuna area, we arrived at the volcano looking point with excellent views and photo ops of the Arenal Volcano.  There was also some unplanned bird watching as a group of blue jays posed for a picture. I was interested in taking a volcano hike, but time did not permit.  However, we made our way to the Tabacon Hot Springs and enjoyed a day of relaxing in the warm waters and attempting to capture a picture of the oh-so-elusive hummingbirds.  After dinner, which was included in our tour, we made the long drive back to the San Jose area.  The roads are not so smooth and the ride is rough, but it was worth the drive (if you suffer from motion sickness, plan accordingly).

The biggest Oxcart in the World

The biggest Oxcart in the World

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

Blue jays

Blue jays

Tabacon Hot Springs

Tabacon Hot Springs

For our last day in Costa Rica, we planned an action packed adventure of ziplining, rappelling and, unbeknownst to us, a few “sorpresas.” The tour driver picked us up from our hotel and we discovered that it would be just us on this particular tour.  We set off on the rocky roads and probably had more near death experiences in the vehicle than at the adventure site, but I digress… After arriving at the San Luis Canopy Tour company in Cloud Forest and being outfitted with our excursion gear, we were on our way.  My mom (my travel partner), was extremely nervous and not in the mood for jokes.  I, on the other hand, had done this before and was ready for excitement (I’m also a thrill seeker so I live for this kind of stuff). Our tour guides were great and in no time, my mom was calm.  We started off with rappelling down a series of mountainsides and in between time, I had conversations with my tour guide where I was speaking English and he was speaking Spanish (thank you, Miami, for the Spanish I acquired).  We were both too shy to speak in each other’s language except for a few words/sentences so he carried on in Spanish and I in English.  Probably an interesting conversation to listen to, but again…. I digress.  After rappelling it was off to ziplining. We did a few lines through the forest, then came the first sorpresa.  They explained it quickly, but I didn’t quite grasp the concept until they pushed me off the edge of a cliff and had me swinging high above the trees on a rope.  This they call “The Tarzan.” Exhilarating! My mom didn’t participate in this one. There’s only so much excitement she can handle. After a few more ziplines, came the next sorpresa.  They thought it would be fun to drop us from the highest canopy in the forest (75ft) on just a rope. At this point, I didn’t know how much more excitement I could take in one day.  The final zipline was called “The Superman.”  They harness you in Superman style then send you face first on what seemed to be a never ending line, high above a river of rocks.  This zipline, the grand finale, was the most fun and had amazing views.  After leaving my stomach somewhere in the forest, they served up another great lunch and I was finally able to snap a picture of the elusive hummingbird.  Then we headed back to the hotel (I napped the entire ride back to avoid losing my lunch inside the tour van).

Rappelling

Rappelling2

Ziplining

The Tarzan Swing

The Tarzan Swing

Lunch at San Luis Canopy Tour

We packed up our things to head back to the states and said goodbye to “Pura Vida!”

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Reflections at 5,000 feet

Posted in Miami!, That's Life with tags , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2012 by eclecticlemonadestand

I’ve always considered myself a thrill seeker: a fearless adventure  junkie, if you will. So jumping out of a plane at 5,000 feet above the ground seemed normal, in theory… Then comes the moment when you’re strapped to a stranger, staring out at your fate and his untimely sense of humor warrants him to ask: “Any last words?”  As your heart drops and you consider changing your mind, the free fall to earth begins. Herein lie the longest 7 minutes of your life. The anxiety of jumping has subsided and the fear of landing ensues.

While the awesomeness of the experience puts you at peace, there is that lingering thought that all is not well until your feet reunite with the ground. The surrealism of the experience hits you as you survey the beautiful territory beneath you; never once forgetting that you’re still at the mercy of nature, your parachute and one stranger turned best friend (for the moment). Upon landing, my tandem instructor asked “Would you do it again?” and of course the daredevil in me answered with a resounding “Yes!”

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