#RaceRecap: Shipyard Maine Coast Marathon

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Hope you enjoyed my recap of the Shipyard Maine Coast Half Marathon. If you missed it, check out my recap.

Just to refresh, I ran both the Shipyard Maine Coast Marathon and Half Marathon as part of their 39.3 challenge. I originally would’ve just run the marathon, but when I learned about the added challenge I set a goal and am thrilled to say I completed both races.

Now, on to my recap of the marathon!

The marathon is a point-to-point course starting in Kennebunk, Maine, traveling through Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Biddeford and ends at the same finish line as the half marathon on the campus of UNE Biddeford. The bulk of the marathon course was completely new to participants as only the latter few miles of it overlapped with the half marathon course. This meant plenty of new scenery to enjoy!

Like the half marathon, the marathon was mostly flat with some minor hills. The only one that proved to be really tough was at mile 24ish. It just felt really, really long.

Prior to the race I checked out the course preview video, course map and the elevation chart.

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As you can see, the marathon course offered a lot of chances for beautiful ocean views. Thankfully the weather had changed just a bit since the day before. It was in the 50s for most of the race and the sun was mostly behind the clouds making for pretty perfect running conditions, at least in my opinion.

I had originally thought I would ride the shuttle bus from the finish to the start, but my friend offered to drop me off, drive back to the finish and ride his bike along the course. It worked out really nicely and meant I could leave the apartment a little later.

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The start line was in front of Kennebunk High School. We were able to hang out outside the school to stretch and warmup before the closed the street. The race offered lockers for people who wanted to check their bags, which was a nice plus if you needed it. Those lockers then met you at the finish.

After moving into the starting corrals, I positioned myself back near the 4:45 pacers with the hope of eventually catching up to the 4:15 pacer. My goal was to finish between 4 and 4:30. I’d be happy with any time in that range. I realize that’s a large gap, but my PR is a 4:10 and that was without running a half the day before.

I met a few other women in the start area who were running their first marathons. They were nervous, but excited and their main goal was to finish. I told them to just soak in the experience as there’s nothing quite like your first marathon.

The roads were closed for the first bit of the course before they reopened to car traffic. I thought there was plenty of room for runners between the side of the road and the sidewalk especially in the first few miles. We did snarl traffic, but I noticed the race had signs up that were clearly up for a few days warning locals of the impact the race would have on traffic patterns.

One of the things I enjoyed along both courses and just being up in Maine was the architecture. The cedar shingles on many homes, both new and weathered, really are beautiful. The style of the homes and many buildings is just quintessentially New England. One really neat example of exquisite architecture was the Wedding Cake House. We passed it maybe around mile 3. It caused quite a bit of rubbernecking by runners.

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We passed through the cute town center of Kennebunkport twice. There were tons of spectators too and they were so loud and supportive. After our first pass through we got out first ocean views along mile 7 before heading back into town. We crossed a waterway in town and it, too, offered a beautiful and serene scene to take in as we ran.

13232994_10110790979357754_6211840498494562754_nMiles 10 and 11 saw us  back along the shoreline before turning to head inland.

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I finally crossed paths with my friend Scott at the halfway mark. He had ridden his bike back, which seemed to be a popular thing to do for many spectators. Having those people on bikes and moving along in cars, while I’m sure did add a bit more traffic to the roads, it ensured that there were spectators just about everywhere. I appreciated it!

Scott brought his fancy camera along and ended up taking a lot of fun photos along the latter half of the course and at the finish. It was also nice to have a friendly face along the way.

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We didn’t start overlapping with the half marathon course until somewhere around the 22 mile mark. With different weather than the day before, it changed the views a bit and it honestly felt like you were seeing the area for the first time.

I finally decided to take a break to walk around 24.5 where we hit the long hill. I felt pretty good, but my feet and knees were getting to be a bit sore. I walked for a bit and then at the water station at the top of the hill I picked it up and ran the final 1.2.

One of the cutest of the themed water stations was in the final mile. It was a very patriotic group and the little girls were so sweet and excited to see us runners. One even appeared to be dressed as Hilary Clinton.

As with the half there is one final climb to get to the last .2 and then it’s easy. I was even thrilled to find I still was able to speed up to the finish. The final stretch was packed with spectators cheering for everyone.

At the finish after getting both of my medals, I then picked up my finisher’s jacket. It’s quite nice and actually worked a lot better at keeping me warm than one of the foil blankets would have. The weather was starting to change over my last few miles. It never rained, but it certainly started to get windy.

The food tent once again did not disappoint. I grabbed a piece of pizza, cookies, watermelon, a banana, and some pretzels to go with water. Scott and I sat on the grass for a bit watching people finish before finally heading home.

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Since the weather was kinda crappy, I opted to return to the course Wednesday morning to get some photos on my own. It was a beautiful sunny morning so that’s why the sun is out in all my pictures. It was not on race day.

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I ended up stopping in Kennebunkport while driving around and doing a little shopping. I love shopping small and supporting local businesses. It was nice to get a few things to take home, a delicious iced chai from a local coffee shop and some taffy for my coworkers.

I think it’s obvious that I loved this race, both days! It was so well done and so organized. It was a smaller race, but offered amenities that even some of the biggest races can’t even offer. I felt they really put the runners first. I hope to come back and run one or both of the races again sooner rather than later. The race really was quite the advertisement for the Maine Coast and let’s just say I’m sold!

Have you ever run a race in Maine? If not, where was one of your favorite races that you hope to return to again? 

#RaceRecap – Shipyard Maine Coast Half Marathon

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Wow, I’m still on a high after my races and extended stay in Portland, Maine. This is why it’s been over a week and I’m just now doing my recaps. Since I did two races as part of the 39.3 challenge, I’ll have a second recap for the marathon soon. For now, here’s all about the Shipyard Maine Coast Half Marathon!

Prior to this trip I had never been to Maine. I have an ongoing quest to visit all 50 states and I had yet to complete New England. I was able to knock out my final two New England states with this trip to Maine with not only a drive through part of Maine on the way to and from, but also a hike in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Two longtime friends of mine are currently calling Portland, Maine home. I’d been wanting to get up to visit them before they moved again so when I started researching I thought it might be fun to have the trip coincide with a race. In my search I found the Shipyard Maine Coast Marathon, Half Marathon, 39.3 Challenge and Busom Buddy Relay. I decided to go all-in and sign up for the 39.3 challenge, running the half on Saturday, May 14 and the full on Sunday, May 15.

This race has a pretty interesting history. It was ran from 1980-1987, but took a hiatus until 2012. It’s grown steadily each year since. Both courses are USATF certified and the full can be used as a Boston qualifier.

Several aspects drew me to this event. First, it’s on the smaller side of races. The half had 1,500 runners, while the full was just under 900 runners. Both races did sell out several weeks ahead of time. I also appreciated the fact that through the years they’ve surveyed their participants and made adjustments based on what runners want/like most. For example, a shirt is not included in registration, but race photos, a mobile tracking app, personalized video from the half, two complimentary beers (after each race), medals for both races, and more are included. 39.3 finishers even get  three medals and a jacket once they complete the challenge. I opted later to buy a shirt because I loved the race logo, it was a nice tech-t, a unique color, and only $12. Other merchandise was also available including finisher’s jackets for both the half and full, beer mugs, and more.

The race offered a small expo starting Friday and going all through to Sunday. I grabbed a new pair of socks and arm warmers at a nice discounted price while picking up my bibs and shirt. They also had an awesome woodcarving at the race location where multitudes of runners stopped to grab their picture.

Leading up to the event and during, race officials were very knowledgable and communicative about the events and all details relating to it. Parking for the half marathon was at the start/finish and was very easy to find. The race officials were also very upfront about the weather. You just don’t know what’s going to happen on race day until you’re there, especially during springtime in Maine.

On Saturday morning, the race started at 8 am on the campus of UNE Biddeford. The sun was shining and you could tell it would be a warm day. Since Portland is about 30 minutes north, I arrived at 7 am to allow time to park, stretch, and warm-up. I had no trouble parking and relaxed while setting up their free runner tracking app. More on the RaceJoy app later.

Runners were seeded into waves based on expected finish times. Since I was running another 26.2 miles the next day I didn’t want to push it too hard in the half. I was seeded in Wave 1, but opted for Wave 2 so I’d be less likely to go out too fast. The “gun” was actually a conch shell, so that added something unique to the start of the race.

Wave 2 started 3 minutes after the first wave. The course headed out onto Rt. 9 before we eventually turned to head toward the coast.

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The course was mostly flat, with just a few minor hills here to there. The course was not closed to traffic, but for the most part it was relatively quiet on that morning. The scenery was simply stunning. I stopped early to take a photo, but soon realized I’d just have to drive back afterwards to take photos because there was just so much to see. Maine’s coast is truly a sight to behold. My pictures just don’t do it justice.

The volunteers and aid station workers were all great, as well as the local police who helped with traffic. The relay exchange seemed to be pretty smooth when I passed through that area, which was also the start of a looped section and had an aid station. It was a lot going on in a small area, but no one seemed confused.

Mile 11 has a long, gradual hill but nothing overly taxing. There’s another hill near the end of mile 12 when you’re back on campus. The last .1 has you running through a tunnel under Rt. 9 onto a blue painted track to the finish. I was really impressed with the number of spectators throughout the course, but especially at the finish line. Everyone cheered for you even if they didn’t know you. Thanks to names on the bibs, they could even cheer for you by name. It was a nice plus!

I finished in 1:54, which I was certainly pleased with on such a warm day. At the finish the volunteers hand you your medal and offer you a reusable branded water bottle already filled for you. I thought that was a uniquely sustainable idea. From there it’s a short walk to the food tent where there was VitaCoco, pizza, KIND bars, fruit, bagels, pretzels, cookies, and more. I personally loved the fresh cut watermelon!

I hung out to stretch in the sun on the grass watching people finish for a bit. I didn’t want to drive out on the course when it would still be crowded with runners.

Eventually I made my way to my car (a short walk) and headed out on the course to grab some photos.

This was on a looped section around mile 9. The rocky coast and blue, blue water was beautiful.

This was on a looped section around mile 9. The rocky coast and blue, blue water was beautiful.

There were plenty of places to take pics with my medal too. At high tide these rocks are covered in water.

There were plenty of places to take pics with my medal too. At high tide these rocks are covered in water.

As mentioned earlier, the race provides free race photos. It’s always an added bonus when you actually like some of them.

You can sorta glimpse the beautiful coastal setting we were running past.

You can sorta glimpse the beautiful coastal setting we were running past.

After day 1 I was thrilled with how things had gone. They really just did an outstanding job with the organization and flow. I would definitely recommend this event to someone looking for a vacation race. I was a bit more sore than I was expecting, but it was nothing a foam roller and some more stretching didn’t help with. Despite a relatively active afternoon after the race, I was able to rehydrate and refuel well.

One big positive about being in the Maine Coast area in mid-May is that most tourists don’t start arriving until Memorial Day so it’s like the calm before the storm! After the race, I joined my friends for lunch at the Portland Lobster Company in Old Port and grabbed ice cream at Beal’s, a local favorite.

One other thing I wanted to touch on that I mentioned earlier was the RaceJoy app. The app allowed your supporters, whether on site or not, to track your progress on the course thanks to their timing mats. However, if you chose to carry your phone and activate the gps tracking, they would get progress updates almost every mile. I decided to test out that feature on Saturday in the half and it worked well so I used it again during the full. Your family and friends can also send you “cheers.” While I had my volume off, I was able to listen to the cheers after the fact. It was pretty fun. My friends all really enjoyed the updates too!

I’ll be back soon with my recap of the marathon. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

#FridayFive: 5 Things I Did This Summer

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Time for another Friday Five link up with Cynthia at You Signed Up for What?, Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, and Mar from Mar on the Run. This week’s topic is 5 Things I did this summer. What a fun topic, especially as we get back to the grind with school in session and Labor Day approaches. Who wouldn’t want to reminisce about their summer adventures?

If you’re interested in joining in on the Friday Five link up, click the icon below and add your post. Don’t forget to check out the other blogs participating too!

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So what did I get myself into this summer?

  1. Celebrated my friend and her future little boy at her baby shower.
    It was a beautiful and intimate shower back in June. She got a wide variety of gifts and necessities to make her life as a mom a little bit easier. Great news came almost two weeks ago when she gave birth to her little boy and named him Grayson.
Congratulations to my dear friend and her husband on the birth of their little boy!

Congratulations to my dear friend and her husband on the birth of their little boy!

2. Picked strawberries at a local fruit farm.
One day after work, Gabe and I drove out to a local fruit farm to pick strawberries towards the end of the season. There were still plenty of sweet strawberries on the vines waiting to be picked. We enjoyed strawberry shortcake more than once!

Such a beautiful color!

Such a beautiful color!

3. Went camping for a bachelorette party.
This was a first for me when it comes to bachelorettes but it was fun! We set up tents, cooked over a camp fire, hung out by a lake and just had a blast.

One last photo before heading home after a successful bachelorette weekend.

One last photo before heading home after a successful bachelorette weekend.

4. Traveled to my favorite state, Colorado.
Our friends got married on Aug. 1 in a small town called Salida about 200 miles southwest of Denver. It was a quick trip out to Colorado, but we tried to make the most of it when we weren’t busy with wedding things. I now can’t wait to go back and hope it’s sooner rather than later!

We took a minor detour up Loveland Pass on our way from Denver to Salida. The views were amazing!

We took a minor detour up Loveland Pass on our way from Denver to Salida. The views were amazing!

5. Visited Avalon, NJ for the 11th annual girls beach weekend with 6 of my college girlfriends.
We’ve been going to the beach at least once per summer since the summer after our freshman year of college. Some of the beaches we’ve hit include Dewey, Seaside Heights, Ocean City, Virginia Beach and most recently, Avalon. It’s always a fun weekend and for most of the trips we’ve been lucky and had great weather.

This about sums up our friendship!

This about sums up our friendship!

It was a fun summer, but it’s not over yet. Well, at least not officially until Sept. 21. I do have one more beach trip scheduled, as well as my friend’s 30th bday celebration up in the Finger Lakes before it’s officially fall. I’m definitely looking forward to both trips.

The students have returned to campus so it’s gotten quite busy around town. I definitely don’t miss them when they’re gone for holidays and the summer, but they do bring a great deal of energy back to the area.

What have you been up to this summer?

Colorado Adventures

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Beautiful Colorado!

Beautiful Colorado!

Well it’s back to the grind after a quick whirlwind trip to Colorado for a wedding. I’m so glad we got to go even with it being such a fast trip.

Our friends Halie and Mario got married on Aug. 1. Gabe and I were able to arrange our schedules to make the trip, but it had to be a short one due to work responsibilities and a conference. Regardless, we got to see and do a lot despite only being there Thursday to Sunday.

We flew out and arrived in Denver at 11 a.m. We met up with another friend who would be sharing the rental car with us and headed downtown for lunch. On a recommendation from my cousin, we went to Terminal Bar in the renovated Union Station where we had some really good burgers, brats and fries. Gabe and Kevin also had some yummy beers, but as the driver I decided to abstain since being at a higher altitude can definitely make the alcohol hit you faster.

This was the first time I'd been inside Union Station. A few years ago I took the "Ski Train" to Winterpark from here.

This was the first time I’d been inside Union Station. A few years ago I took the “Ski Train” to Winterpark from here.

After relaxing for a short bit, we hopped back in the car and began the trek out I-70 to Salida. I opted for the route that would be a bit longer but very scenic. On our way, we stopped in Morrison to see the Red Rocks Amphitheater, which had just closed for a concert. It was still neat to walk around and the area was very pretty.

Once back on the road, the boys promptly dozed off while I continued the drive. I saw some big horn sheep on the side of the interstate, as well as some other interesting characters including a skateboarder and a cyclist. Not sure an interstate is where I’d do either of those activities, but that’s just me. I took a detour off I-70 to head up Rt. 6 to drive through Loveland Pass. I’d been up there in the winter a few times, but not in the summer. It offered us beautiful views, some snow and way cooler temperatures.

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I ran up the trail to find some snow to stand on. I even made some snowballs!

I ran up the trail to find some snow to stand on. I even made some snowballs!

Getting off a plane, heading straight up a mountain and then running on a trail, albeit briefly, was not my brightest move. I’d never had an issue with altitude out there because I’d always had a day or two to adjust before any sort of physical activity. We first noticed the change at Red Rocks when we were walking up steps. We just felt heavy. We got back in the car after our trek out to the snow and I had a migraine and basically had to grit my teeth as we headed down the pass into Dillon. On the way down we passed two favorite ski resorts of mine, Arapahoe Basin and Keystone.

We stopped in Dillon for snacks, Advil and water. After hanging out for a short bit to let the Advil kick in, we got back on I-70. The rest of the trip was beautiful. Once on 91 and 24, we passed several 14ers…aka peaks that are 14,000+ ft.

We arrived in Salida around 6:30 p.m. and went straight to the Tudor Rose B&B where everyone was staying in really nice chalets.

The chalets were really nice. There were grills, picnic tables, and the chalet was stocked with dishes, serving wear, linens and towels.

The chalets were really great. There were grills, picnic tables, and the chalet was stocked with dishes, serving wear, linens and towels.

We cooked out that night and after a short rain shower, we watched a beautiful sunset.

This just doesn't do it justice.

This just doesn’t do it justice.

On Friday, Gabe and I hit the road early to head to Colorado Springs to see my aunt, uncle and cousin. We stopped in Salida briefly at a really nice coffee shop where Gabe had an egg sandwich on a jalapeño biscuit. I opted for a yummy blueberry muffin and really tasty iced tea.

For this trek we used Rt. 50, which followed the Arkansas River for much of the trip. The scenery on this route was completely different than the day before. We were in a canyon for a nice chunk of it. The rocks were really craggy and it appeared rather dry, with the exception of the river of course. Salida is actually in more a desert area so this made sense. Once again we saw big horn sheep along the road. One even had a radio collar on.

After arriving at my aunt and uncle’s house, we picked up my cousin and headed to Garden of the Gods. I’d been there a few times, but it’s always beautiful and offers great views of Pikes Peak. It was my grandma’s favorite place to go when she lived out there too. They recently renovated the visitor center, and we sat through a new video presentation that was really fun and interactive, as well as a volunteer presentation on Zebulon Pike, for whom the peak was named We then drove around the park before heading to lunch.

View of part of Garden of the Gods with Pikes Peak dealing with a storm in the background.

View of part of Garden of the Gods with Pikes Peak dealing with a storm in the background.

We had lunch on the patio at the Broadmoor, a five-star historic hotel in Colorado Springs. It was a beautiful day for it. The food and drinks were quite good, as was the company.

It was great to connect with my aunt and uncle and cousin (not pictured).

It was great to connect with my aunt and uncle and cousin (not pictured).

We walked around the grounds and the hotel, which now has several buildings. It also boasts three golf courses, a beautiful pool that reminded me of the boathouse in Central Park in NYC, and even a bowling alley. I’ll let you guess how much a night there costs 😉

It was a quick day, but worth the trip. I’m so glad I got to connect with some family. We headed back around 4 p.m. and managed to beat everyone to the rehearsal dinner. It was outside and we had to deal with a minor rainstorm, but were treated to a beautiful double rainbow afterwards that was very vivid.

On Saturday we got up and headed to a local breakfast place before relaxing awhile before the wedding in the afternoon. Gabe and I took a short walk around the grounds where we were staying and took some great pictures, such as the one at the top of this post.

By 2 p.m. we were at the Steam Plant helping with final touches for the outdoor wedding and indoor reception. The weather, which had been beautiful all day, stayed lovely despite some threatening clouds that went by.

Mario is the lab manager in the same lab as Gabe, and he and Halie managed to incorporate honeybees and wildflowers into their wedding decor.

The flowers at each table were different and all very beautiful.

The flowers at each table were different and all very beautiful.

I also loved their cake topper!

I also loved their cake topper!

The ladies of the Pennsylvania visitors who threw Halie her bachelorette.

The ladies of the Pennsylvania crew who threw Halie her bachelorette. We all clean up quite nicely!

Our friend Ariel served as the officiant and the ceremony was written by the bride. It was all really nice and very special. The outdoor ceremony was along the Arkansas river and many people stopped to watch and admire the event. It added a little extra energy to the whole thing.

They're married! Yay!

They’re married! Yay!

After the cocktail hour, we headed inside for the reception. The food was yummy, the music was fun and it was a great night.

Gabe and I headed to bed rather early as we had to be up and out the door by 6 a.m. We opted to get on the road and then stop later for breakfast. On this trip, we opted for a shorter route back to Denver on 285. Once again the scenery did not disappoint. We had mountains to see and climb and lots of beautiful ranch land. We even went through Fairplay, hometown of the creators of South Park. The one thing we did realize was that there was no place to stop for a quick bite to eat. I’m serious. We didn’t see a Starbucks, a McDonalds or even a grocery store until we were practically in Denver. By then I just kept driving to the airport. Still wondering where people buy food…

After dropping Gabe and Kevin for their early flights, I headed into downtown Denver. First stop was Larimer Square where I had a yummy iced chai and a muffin at The Market. People were very friendly and overall I couldn’t believe how many people were out and about on a Sunday morning running, cycling, walking and just being active. It was so refreshing! I then killed a few hours over at the Cherry Creek Shopping District, where I stocked up on some Colorado-themed items, including two shirts from the Boulder Running Company.

My flight wasn’t until 6:30, but I dropped the rental car off around 1:30, checked into my flight and had dinner at a restaurant in the terminal. I’m a nervous flyer and there were storms brewing over the mountains but luckily my flight wasn’t too bumpy and we eventually flew out of the clouds the further east we went. I got into Baltimore around 11:30 p.m. and headed back to PA Monday afternoon.

A few days out from the trip, I finally feel like I caught up on my sleep. I had such a great time and I can’t wait to go back for another visit…hopefully a longer one. There is so much to do and see!

How was your weekend? Have you ever been to Colorado?

 

Costa Rica #Recap – Part 3

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I’m back with the final installment of my trip to Costa Rica. It’s been really fun remembering it all. I know I’ve probably left some things out, but it’s been great keeping the memories so fresh in my mind.

So we left off with our journey from Monteverde to Manuel Antonio. It was a long one, but eventually we got off the bumpy mountain roads and were on paved roads for much of the latter part of the trip. We stopped at a big rest stop where we got some fresh fruit smoothies and wandered around the gift shop until it was time to continue.

Gabe and I were the last hotel stop so we got to see where the other couple people in our transfer were staying. Almost all of them were in hotels high up from the beach and not really within walking distance to anything except other hotels. I was curious to see where we’d end up.

We stayed in the Jungle Beach Hotel, which was across the street from the ocean. It was tucked in the trees so you really got the feeling of being in the jungle. Within minutes of being at the hotel, I had already found a huge lizard. At night we’d hear howler monkeys calling and a variety of other critters.

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We had just a short 2-3 minute walk to the public beach entrance where we encountered a second lizard even bigger than the one hanging out at our hotel.

Loved the dark sand and beautiful views.

Loved the dark sand and beautiful views.

We had the rest of the first day to ourselves so we spent it on the beach. It was very hot, in the 90s. Even the locals were commenting on how hot it was. We hung out in the shade of the trees for a bit rather than rent an umbrella. While Gabe grabbed a nap, I enjoyed just being on the beach.

Trees make pretty good umbrellas.

Trees make pretty good umbrellas.

Later we walked down the beach toward the downtown area. We stopped a  guy pushing a cart with a giant block of ice for slushies. He hand shaved the ice and had about 10 flavors to choose from. You could also get condensed milk on it.

We ended up eating at a local restaurant, saw some monkeys attempting to terrorize patrons at another restaurant and caught a beautiful sunset. We then headed back to our hotel via the road, which was maybe a 10 minute walk.

Some of the monkeys in downtown Manuel Antonio.

Some of the monkeys in downtown Manuel Antonio.

The beautiful sunset our first night in Manuel Antonio. This doesn't even begin to do it justice.

The beautiful sunset our first night in Manuel Antonio. This doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

The next day we had an early pickup for our hike through Manuel Antonio National Park.

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We had a great guide who was very knowledgable. He carried a scope that helped us see some of the animals in the jungle that would’ve been impossible to find otherwise. It was great going in the morning because it wasn’t as hot and it was also a good time to see a lot of animals. A tour later in the day might not have been as successful.

This is a nocturnal hawk. When you looked with the naked eye, it simply looked like a bump on the tree branch.

This is a nocturnal hawk. When you looked with the naked eye, it simply looked like a bump on the tree branch.

A sloth mama and her baby (on the right).

A sloth mama and her baby (on the right).

A sleeping sloth.

A sleeping sloth.

The jungle in the national park is known as a secondary forrest because it’s regrowth that’s only about 40 years old. The jungle was originally torn down by the Chiquita Banana company. When the company moved to another part of Costa Rica, the forest came back and so did the wildlife. You honestly wouldn’t have known that it was all regrowth. It was very dense.

While at the park, we got to see two of the three beaches in the park. The first is sheltered so the water is very calm. The other, just across a narrow isthmus, was where you could see the public beach we had been on the day before. It wasn’t as sheltered so the waves were pretty big. Apparently they also get crocodiles there occasionally. While we didn’t see any crocodiles, we definitely saw plenty of whiteface monkeys.

The alpha male of the troupe.

The alpha male of the troupe.

Our guide told us before we even started the tour that we would not be bringing food into the park with us because of the monkeys. However, general visitors to the park do bring food with them. We ended up getting to see the monkeys and their thievery in action.

This fella was one of the successful thieves. He ran right up to someone's bowl of fruit, grabbed watermelon and took off before the person could even react.

This fella was one of the successful thieves. He ran right up to someone’s bowl of fruit, grabbed watermelon and took off before the person could even react.

There were about 6-7 monkeys in the troupe, including a mom and her baby who was doing a good job of learning the tricks of the trade!

We had a bit of extra time to wander around the beach areas before continuing the tour so I headed over to a rocky area and found a bunch of lizards sunning themselves.

This guy was regrowing his tail.

This guy was regrowing his tail.

After our tour, we walked to the public beach where we had a great snack of fresh watermelon and pineapple, as well as water and iced tea. We then hopped on the bus back to our hotel where we changed and headed to the beach.

After walking the other direction of the beach, we went and had lunch. It wasn’t as hot as the day before, but it’s amazing how quickly you can get dehydrated. Lunch was delicious and so was my daiquiri! We checked out a bunch of the souvenir shops, but ended up not buying anything. The prices were a bit high compared to other areas we’d been so I decided to wait and hope for some stores in San Jose.

We headed back to the beach and ended up hunting for seashells. It was amazing the types you could find. So very different from the beaches along the Atlantic coast in the U.S.

I found some of the most amazing seashells among these piles of rocks. There were also tons a itty bitty hermit crabs.

I found some of the most amazing seashells among these piles of rocks. There were also tons a itty bitty hermit crabs.

To close out our visit to Manuel Antonio, we decided to wait for the sunset. We plopped down under some trees and watched it slowly make its way down toward the horizon. At this point I couldn’t believe we only had one more day in Costa Rica.

Our last sunset in Manuel Antonio.

Our last sunset in Manuel Antonio.

The next day we got picked up to head to San Jose. The trip, despite being entirely on paved roads, was not much fun. I ended up getting nauseous from the driving. However, once we got to San Jose I felt much better.

We stayed at the historic Don Carlos Hotel. It had lots of charm! It was also only a short walk to the market area, which is set up as a pedestrian mall. We walked up and down it, had some food at a Colombian restaurant and found some souvenir shops. The prices were much cheaper than I’d seen elsewhere so I picked up some small things for my family.

Later we redeemed our coupon for a free drink in the hotel restaurant and had some nachos before heading to bed. We had an early flight out the next morning.

Traveling back to the U.S. was about as challenging as it was getting to Costa Rica, mainly due to weather in the states. First, due to the high winds in San Jose, we had to sit on the runway to burn some fuel because we were too heavy to take off. After a thankfully uneventful flight to Atlanta, we thought we had missed our connection due to the delay. We got through customs, hopped on the train to the right terminal and found our plane was still there and on a rolling delay due to a snowstorm in Maryland.

We hung out on the plane for about 90 minutes. The pilot was very nice and kept us all informed. Eventually conditions improved in Maryland and we took off for the short flight up north. Upon arrival, we found that our bag wasn’t on the plane. Because so many flights had been canceled prior to ours and many of the people on the canceled flights ended up on our plane, our bag got bumped to the next Atlanta/Baltimore flight. It arrived about 30 minutes later and finally we could go home.

I honestly don’t think I did this trip justice. It was such an amazing time. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I still go through my pictures periodically and different memories come to mind. If you ever get the chance to go, I’d highly recommend it. Using a travel company is also very helpful and we noticed was very common among visitors.

For the most part, prices were comparable to the U.S., but rarely more expensive. You can definitely do a trip on a budget and not be staying in hostels. Do your research, work with a company, and get ready for an incredible adventure! Let me know if you have any questions about planning your own trip to Costa Rica 🙂

 

 

Costa Rica #Recap – Part 2

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I’m back with part 2 of my recap of our trip to Costa Rica!

So after leaving our hotel in La Fortuna/Arenal, we got in our transfer bus for a short ride to a water taxi. I didn’t really look too closely at the itinerary previously, so this was a bit of surprise. I’m not a huge fan of water taxis. This stems from when I was a kid and an enclosed one flipped due to bad weather in the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and people died. It’s amazing how a sad news story like that will stick with you. Thankfully, these water taxis were all open air and the weather wasn’t bad at all 🙂

While waiting for the water taxi to fill up, a member of the egret bird family stopped by. I don’t have a photo of it (they’re on Gabe’s camera), but it was a beautiful white bird who planted himself on the boat next to us. He seemed to enjoy being the subject of a bunch of photos.

Once we departed we had a nice journey across Lake Arenal. It’s a huge manmade lake created by the electric company to support a hydroelectric dam. The dam provides 30% of Costa Rica’s energy. Another interesting thing we learned was that much of the land around the lake is owned by the electric company and protected as a preserve. Fascinating, right? I think it’s safe to say our electric companies (and our country in general) could learn a lot about natural resource preservation from Costa Rica.

Enjoying our water taxi ride across Lake Arenal.

Enjoying our water taxi ride across Lake Arenal.

A little island in the lake. We were riding out of those rain clouds and arrived at our next stop with sunshine.

A little island in the lake. We were riding out of those rain clouds and arrived at our next stop with sunshine.

After reaching our next stop, we once again boarded transfer vans to continue our trek to Monteverde. It was, at times, a pretty harrowing ride. The roads were rutted, rocky, steep and curvy. It was also very bumpy. The AC didn’t work in the van, but thankfully we were in the mountains and the air was cool with a nice breeze.

I tried several times to take photos of the roads we were on, but you just couldn’t effectively capture it in a way that truly portrayed the steepness and rockiness. As I think I mentioned in my previous post, I was once again impressed by the skill of our drivers, especially since they were driving manual transmissions.

We stopped at a rest stop in a small mountain town. We grabbed some snacks and enjoyed the sunshine before reboarding the van to continue the rest of the four hour ride. It was a pretty clear day coming into Monteverde and one of the first things we saw were some of the lines for the Selvature Canopy Tour, the zipline adventure Gabe and I would do the next day. It looked absolutely insane so we got a little nervous but excited at the same time.

We got a nice tour of town while dropping off guests of other hotels before we made it to Cala Lodge. It was about a 15-20 minute walk from downtown. It had amazing views of the mountains, a lot of wildlife and an incredible breeze making AC unnecessary.

After checking out the hotel’s property, we made the short walk to town…down a bunch of steep hills. Unlike in the U.S. where we just blow up or bulldoze land to make roads and bridges, in Costa Rica it’s like they embrace the challenges the land presents. The steepness of some of the hills we descended on foot and in vehicles we incredible, and as I said before, the skill the of the drivers was always impressive. I’d probably be off a cliff somewhere!

Our first stop was a smoothie shop. It was truly delicious. I can almost still taste how fresh it was! We also checked out some souvenir shops before going to a taco place for something to eat. They were honestly some of the best, if not the best, tacos I’d ever had. Gabe even ventured trying their hot sauce and thoroughly enjoyed it. We stopped by a coffee shop before heading back and booked a tour at the Don Juan Coffee Plantation for the next afternoon.

The next day we woke up to what you could call a rainstorm, except it was really just a cloud sitting on top of Monteverde. The wind would blow and you’d get wet, but it wasn’t really raining consistently. We had a delicious breakfast at our hotel. They cooked everything to order. I indulged my sweet tooth, of course, with some pancakes, while Gabe enjoyed eggs with veggies and meat. We also had fresh fruit and freshly baked bread.

Soon after we were picked up for our zipline adventure at Selvatura. We were excited, but as mentioned earlier, a bit nervous. After checking in at the park, we got fitted in our gear and headed off for some instruction before hitting the lines. We had a pretty mixed group with a set of great grandparents, a few young couples like Gabe and I, and a family with a little boy. The tour was constantly moving so you didn’t have too much time to dwell on being nervous. I don’t have any pictures from the adventure as my camera was sealed in my pocket by my gear. Gabe snapped a bunch though so hopefully I can share those at a later time. In between some of the lines, we actually had to hike which was really neat. It was muddy, but it was so cool to be walking around a rainforest in weather that’s very typical of a rainforest. We even saw some monkeys!

The weather made things interesting. At times the zip lines would literally disappear into fog. Sometimes the wind gusted as you were going across. But ultimately that just added more to the experience. I never felt unsafe and I thought our guides were all very nice.

After the adventure, we hopped a bus back but decided to get off downtown to grab some food. I have to say I definitely enjoyed the food. We didn’t have a bad meal anywhere regardless of the price. It was as we were beginning our walk back to the hotel that I realized my camera was missing. After having survived an entire zipline tour zipped in my pocket, it was now gone. I ran back to the restaurant with no luck and then just started thinking about when I last had it. It was on the bus back from the zipline. I had taken it out, but distinctly recalled putting it back but didn’t remember zipping my pocket back up.

Part of me was resigned to the fact that I had lost it, but then I remembered the tour office for the park was just up the street. The young man working called the bus driver and he said he’d check and call back. With amazing luck, he found my camera and would be by in about 30 minutes. I guess when I didn’t zip my pocket back up, the bumpy roads bounced it out and I never noticed. I was so very thankful!

On our walk back we stopped at this cute cafe and grabbed some dessert. I so felt like I needed a treat after the camera fiasco! I had some sort of chocolate cheesecake, while Gabe got a pastry. They were both quite yummy. After relaxing for a bit, our bus to the Don Juan Coffee Plantation came to pick us up.

Despite how chilly it was, I opted for shorts and a long sleeve shirt. Even with the tour being almost entirely outside in the wind,  I was never really cold. Take that, old couple who was talking about my choice in clothing behind my back!

We learned a lot on the tour, and not only about coffee, but also chocolate and sugar cane.

Our guide who was very knowledgeable and entertaining.

Our guide, who was very knowledgeable and entertaining.

A roaster...did you know the light roast is the most complex in flavor and the least bitter?

A roaster…did you know the light roast is the most complex in flavor and the least bitter?

Gabe got to help with the sugarcane press...we got to taste it with a bit of lemon juice after and it was quite yummy and oh so fresh!

Gabe got to help with the sugarcane press…we got to taste it with a bit of lemon juice after and it was quite yummy and oh so fresh!

Gabe ended up buying some coffee to bring home, while I picked up some chocolate covered almonds and cocoa butter.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel while waiting for our transfer bus to Manuel Antonio. While at breakfast, we were visited by a few animals, including a beautiful bird and a coati.

His colors were so vibrant!

His colors were so vibrant!

And then this fella came and ate all the fruit.

And then this fella came and ate all the fruit.

At some point during breakfast, the grandfather of a little girl came running in to the recepcion (hotel lobby) to ask the attendant to call the hospital. Meanwhile outside her dad was carrying her while she was screaming her head off. They ended up getting in the car to head to a medical clinic. There was one right up the road thankfully. When her mom, grandmother and little brother came in, Gabe asked if everything was ok. We had been on a tour with them back in Arenal and they also did the zipline adventure, so we had seen quite a bit of them. Turns out they had left their shoes outside overnight because of the mud and despite shaking them out this morning, a scorpion had managed to stay in the little girl’s shoe. She was walking and suddenly started screaming after getting stung.

To satisfy my curiosity, Gabe googled information about scorpions in Costa Rica. Apparently their venom isn’t very strong and usually just causes swelling and numbness for a few hours. Hopefully the little girl was on the mend soon after.

Around 8 a.m. we were picked up to begin our 4.5-5 hour journey to Monteverde. The first part of the journey was slow and very bumpy. The roads were rough, narrow and often steep and curvy. At some point we crossed into a more arid climate in the mountains. Things became very dry and the vegetation changed pretty dramatically. It also provided for some amazing views of where we had just spent the last couple days.

The cloud forest where Monteverde is.

The cloud forest where Monteverde is. I took this from the moving van.

As you can see, in the foreground the land is very dry, but where the cloud is sitting on the mountains it’s very lush and green. It was an incredible view and this photo doesn’t do it justice at all.

Well that’s all for our visit to Monteverde. I’ll be back next week with the third and final recap of our trip to Costa Rica, which will cover Manuel Antonio and San Jose.

Costa Rica #Recap – Part 1

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Costa Rica

Costa Rica

I’ve been a bit MIA the past two weeks, but that was because I was out of the country on a vacation to Costa Rica. I didn’t think ahead enough to plan any guest posts, but I figured recapping our adventures might make up for my absence. These posts might be long, but I’m hoping to share lots of photos too.

We headed to Costa Rica on Feb. 25. Our itinerary was all mapped out already through a company called Anywhere Costa Rica, minus the airline stuff. I’ll be recapping the trip in three separate posts, rather than one long one.

The first leg of our flight to Costa Rica was a short trip to Atlanta where we’d catch our connection to San Jose after a two-hour layover. Due to a rain/sleet storm in Atlanta with their unseasonably cold temperatures, we got delayed several hours. After boarding the plane, the pilot announced we’d all have to deboard so they could run a pressurization test. Thirty minutes later the plane had failed the test and the airline was off trying to find us another plane.

An available plane was located two gates down so we all headed there, rechecked in while our luggage was transferred and boarded the plane around 10:30. At this point, I had reached out to Anywhere Costa Rica so they could alert our hotel that we’d be late. Despite the weather, the flight started out pretty well but for some reason we ended up taking a path right into a pretty intense section of bad weather. Drink service was discontinued with haste by the crew, the pilot said it would be about 10 minutes, and I proceeded to brace myself against with the window and squeezed Gabe’s hand. I was terrified and the movie, Big Hero 6, was not at all a distraction. Let’s just say a few tears were shed and leave it at that.

Eventually the weather calmed down and we touched down in San Jose shortly after 1 a.m. After a bit of confusion at the pick-up zone, we grabbed a taxi to our first hotel, The Adventure Inn. Thankfully they were waiting for us and took us right to our room where we settled in for a few hours of sleep.

Breakfast was included. I opted for just some fresh fruit, while Gabe enjoyed what looked to be quite a delicious meal. We headed back to the room to pack up and meet our transfer bus to Arenal.

After a beautiful trip to Arenal, we arrived in La Fortuna and our hotel, La Pradera. It had beautiful views of the volcano and was only a 20 minute walk down to town. We stayed in a private bungalow, which was really cool. We saw lizards, a gecko and plenty of birds.

View of Arenal Volcano from our  bungalow.

View of Arenal Volcano from our bungalow.

Gabe outside our bungalow.

Gabe outside our bungalow.

We arrived around noon and had the rest of the day free. We killed about two hours hanging out by the pool, where I had the most delicious pina colada ever. The bartender cut up a fresh pineapple for it. Doesn’t get any better than that!

Our first afternoon we hung out by the pool for a bit and were joined briefly by this pretty moth.

Our first afternoon we hung out by the pool for a bit and were joined briefly by this pretty moth.

The rest of the afternoon we spent walking down to La Fortuna where we browsed some shops and checked out the town square. We decided to eat at a restaurant we passed on our walk down. I remembered I’d seen its 5-star Tripadvisor rating and thought that was a good sign. We weren’t disappointed.

We shared this plate for dinner. It was delicious!

We shared this plate for dinner. It was delicious!

We had a busy day the following day with three activities. First up was the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Tour. Our guide was very knowledgable and explained why certain plants grow the way they do, how animals and plants interact and even how different plants interact with one another and the environment. The bridges offered incredible views and you were often incredibly high up in the canopy. There was also a nice amount of hiking.

From the base area of our natural history hanging bridges tour.

From the base area of our natural history hanging bridges tour.

The bridges were quite large, but offered amazing views of the rainforest and the volcano.

The bridges were quite large, but offered amazing views of the rainforest and the volcano.

This waterfall went most of the way up the mountainside, but this was the only section you could clearly see.

This waterfall went most of the way up the mountainside, but this was the only section you could clearly see.

After returning to the hotel, we had lunch in the hotel restaurant and then waited to get picked up for our volcano hike and visit to the Baldi Hot Springs.

We had a small group for our hike, just the guide and another couple from the Chicago area. It was a short trek over to the national park, but we got our first taste of the bumpy roads we would encounter during the rest of our visit to Costa Rica.

Upon entering the park, the ranger told our guide about the snake you can see below. We all hopped out of the van to check it out. It was an eyelash pit viper, known for their scales above their eyes that make them look like they have eyelashes. It was a beautiful color. They’re apparently nocturnal, so my guess is he wasn’t too worried about us. They also only tend to bite humans if threatened or if they’ll get trampled on.

We saw an eyelash pit viper at the start our of volcano hike. It's one of the smallest poisonous snakes in Central America.

We saw an eyelash pit viper at the start our of volcano hike. It’s one of the smallest poisonous snakes in Central America.

During our hike we saw a variety of wild birds, a troupe of coatis, and some agoutis. We hiked through an area that was mostly regrowth from the last eruption. The top soil was only about two feet deep so we saw a number of felled trees due to their shallow root systems.

I got three good shots of this fella. He seemed keen on getting his photo taken.

I got three good shots of this fella. He seemed keen on getting his photo taken.

Our entire hike was about a 6k. We got to head out on old lava rock, which offered stunning views of Lake Arenal and the volcano. Some interesting facts about the volcano include that it’s actually rather young, only about 7,000 years old. It’s also active and it’s last major eruption was in the late 1960s, but it’s had smaller eruptions since then. That eruption killed about 67 people, but people have died in recent years illegally hiking the volcano due to rock slides and other such dangers.

Arenal Volcano is tucked up inside that storm cloud. It never ended up raining on us, but it made for some neat photos.

Arenal Volcano is tucked up inside that storm cloud. It never ended up raining on us, but it made for some neat photos.

The hot springs were really fun. There were numerous pools of all different temperatures. A lot of them had bars. My personal favorite had these great lounges in the water so you could just relax. Afterward we had dinner before catching our shuttle the short drive back to our hotel. It rained almost all night and it sounded incredible on the roof of our bungalow.

I feel like that was a really short summary of our first taste of Costa Rica. It was just the beginning, but it was a great first few days. There were plenty of more memories to make and I’ll share those with you next week in part 2!