Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Guatemala February 2020

All Pictures are at the bottom of this post.

It is rare that I repeat a country, so why Guatemala? There are a few reasons: It is easy to get to. It is a beautiful country. The people are super nice, but that is true for most places I visit. It is a great place to learn Spanish. 

The last one is the big reason as Margarite continues her quest to become fluent in Spanish. I think she is almost there.

While the main purpose of this trip is for Margarite to improve her Spanish, we are also delivering a few Soccer Items to Nuevo Reto. Nuevo Reto is one of the schools we visited on our trip last year.

We want to thank all the folks that made donations. We collected about 100 pairs of Soccer Cleats, 20 or so soccer balls, 70 pairs of soccer socks, 30 pair or soccer shin guards, and tons of soccer jerseys, well not tons, but too many to count.

Some things you may be interested in.

If you want to see the entire Costa Rica Trip, and lots of pictures CLICK HERE.

In January, we ran the 3M Austin Half Marathon and raised over $5,000.00 thanks to all that helps with our fundraiser. CLICK HERE for a short video of our weekend in Austin.

As I continue my quest to visit every country and territory in the world, I have picked the countries for the first half of 2020. Guatemala does not count as I have been already. In May, I will be going to Slovakia and Poland, and in June / July, I will visit Bolivia. Both trips will have a very special guest joining. (NOT - A PANDAMIC HIT)

We do have some guests who decided to join us. We were at the Dallas Airport waiting for our connecting flight to Guatemala and who do we run into, Shriek and Eleanor. They also had a connecting flight to meet up with a cruise ship. Unfortunately while they were flying to Dallas, the cruise line canceled their trip due to the MillerLiteVirus. Since they already had their schedules cleared, we convinced them to join us. 

On Friday morning, we got picked up with all our soccer equipment and headed over to Nuevo Reto. Guatemala is a small country, but the traffic can be horrendous the drive without traffic 20 minutes with traffic one hour. We had traffic. A big thank you to the Council Rock Soccer Association they donated lots of soccer equipment and helped coordinate getting donations from their members.

All the kids and their Families got Council Rock Soccer Association shirts at a minimum. Most of the kids also got cleats and shin guards. Plus the school got 20 soccer balls. 

You can see in the pictures and video (below) the kids are very happy and appreciative.

Each Friday at Nuevo Reto they provide lunch for the entire community. Today being Valentine’s Day we offered to serve. 

After lunch and the soccer tournament, we went to build a bunk bed. One of the project’s Nueva Reto does is called the bunk bed project. It starts out with a donor, donating $250.00 per bunk bed. Margarite and I donated one bed each.

Nuevo Reto then sources, the raw materials and the students build the bed, from design to final project. They build not just the wooden frame but even some of the items like the comforter.

The kids see a practical application for the carpentry and sewing skills they learn at the school. Part of the $250.00 goes to pay the kids for their time. This way, the kids learn about working hard and getting paid for it. 

Once the bed is complete it is donated to a family in need. Since we were in town, we were offered the opportunity to meet the family that got one of the beds we sponsored. We also got to participate in the installation of the bed.

The family had four children three of their own and a niece they took in. Prior to getting the bunk beds all six of them slept in one bed. You can see in the video it was not a big bed. 

Nuevo Reto Soccer and Bunk Beds!

After all the great experiences at Nuevo Reto we headed to Antigua.

We had dinner at Por Que No? Cafe. Audrey our friend we met on our last trip to Antigua joined us. As expected the food and service were exceptional.

Saturday we wandered around the center of Antigua introducing the town to Shriek and Eleanor. We had breakfast at Caobo Farms like Por Que No? Cafe, everything was perfect. 

Late in the afternoon we had a drink at the Antigua Brewing Company they had a roof top bar which was a perfect place to take in the beautiful weather and view the town. Shriek said the beers were very nice.

We had dinner at El Rincon del Conquistador. Dinner was great but a very interesting place. The hours posted outside said it should be open, but the door was locked. We knocked and were greeted by a very nice man who sat us. The restaurant was totally empty except for us, the owner, and the chef. We had a great dinner with a great bottle of wine, but the entire time we were there not a soul showed up. We arrived at 6:30 and left just before 8:00 PM. This was a busy Saturday night in Antigua, but no one showed. I can attest, they missed a great meal.

We had an early night since Sunday, we would be getting up very early. Rolando picked us up at 4:00 AM, and we drove an hour to the base of Volcano Pacaya. Volcano Pacaya was our challenge for the day. Unfortunately, most of the hike was cloud covered so not a lot of scenery shots. 

The highlight and the reason we picked this hike was to roast marshmallows on the hot lava field. Yes, you literally put a marshmallow on a stick hold it close to the ground you are standing on and the marshmallow quickly roast. 

What a great experience. It sky cleared a bit on the hike down which gave us some nice views. The rest of the day will be R&R. 

Tomorrow Margarite starts school, and the three Amigos will goof off. 
Monday, Margarite started Spanish class while the rest of us walked Antigua. I showed Eleanor and Shrek all the highlights. We had lunch at The Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. The Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is supposed to be one of the more posh hotels and restaurants in town. I say supposed to be, while the grounds and service were great, the food could use some improving.

We had Luis (Margarite’s instructor) and his wife, Sandra over for dinner.

Did I mention Eleanor and Shrek rode a chicken bus? What is a chicken bus, Google “Chicken Bus” and you will find out? Chicken Bus  

Today we have planned a sunset ATV tour. The tour is at 2:30 prior to the tour, we enjoyed the great weather and culture of Antigua. 

The tour was given by Simoon Tours. Last October we did the village tour with FoFo. This year for the sunset tour Daryl and his other brother Daryl were our guides. We spent most of our time in the high hill sides bordering Antigua. We stop at a few Eco Lodges for drinks and food. 

We had so much fun with the ATVs we decided to keep two of them for cruising around the next day. 

Wednesday is Eleanor and Shrek's last day. We decided to take the ATVs up to Hobbitenango. Hobbitenango was founded out of a love for nature, playfulness, and the desire to disconnect from the hectic, busy world and reconnect with what is important in life. Originally meant to be a small eco-village shared between friends, Hobbitenango has been adopted by the locals and worldwide visitors and has grown into an area that can be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to visit. Since 2015, Hobbitenango built several hobbit-style homes and restaurants, all styled after our favorite fantasy genres and meant to inspire playfulness and wonder in adults and children alike. Currently, they have over 26 areas and attractions to enjoy within the park from the restaurants to their faire games and hotel. You can come for the day or stay the night and enjoy the beautiful views over the Panchoy Valley and the surrounding volcanoes.

The highlight of Hobbitenango was the swing. 
The Swing.


Once we returned to the house, we found Jose and Lois Lane at the house. Jose is a wonderful chef but hates to cook. Can you believe that? We decided to bring Jose out of his shell and take him to a cooking class at La Tortilla Cooking School. We all had a great time, and you can see from the video Jose is a great chef. 

Jose the Chef .


It was a long day and Eleanor, and Shrek are leaving in the morning, so we headed back to the house. Margarite invited Jose and Lois Lane to stay a few days.

For this afternoon Margarite booked us a tour to view Volcán de Fuego erupting. This is the volcano that erupted in June of 2018 less than two years ago, killing a few thousand people. This tour sounds great. Being this might be our last day on earth I gave Jose and Lois Lane the nickel tour of Antigua.

We were picked up by Rolando at 4:30 PM, and drove for thirty minutes to get to a great place to view Volcán de Fuego. While in Antigua you always see Volcán de Fuego puffing smoke and that is what I expected to see. 

We hiked about 30 minutes and then set up camp and watched the sun go down and Volcán de Fuego puff smoke nothing special until it got dark. Then WOW! 

Words cannot describe what we saw the video, and pictures do not do it justice. It was awesome. Volcán de Fuego Erupting 


Well, we lived. Today we are off to the Macadamia Farm, Valhalla Macadamia Farm. We took the tour and learned a lot about the health benefits of Macadamia Nuts. We also enjoyed some fantastic Macadamia Nut Pancakes.

After the Nut Farm, we went to visit my good friend Taller Raton. Taller owns a Chicken Bus repair shop. I wanted Jose and Lois Lane to see the work that goes into repairing and Maintaining Chicken Buses. 

February is one of the busiest months in Antigua. The weather is perfect there is no humidity, no rain 50-55 degrees as a morning low 75-85 degrees as an afternoon high. At the same time, most of the U.S. and Canada are under ice and snow.

Though Margarite is now fluent in Spanish, she knows she must use it, or she will lose it. For those reasons, great weather and a great place to keep up your Spanish, we will be back for the entire month of February 2021.

Over the next few days, we will be house hunting. Yes, to get the right house you need to book a year in advance.

Monday afternoon we went back to the Macadamia Farm, Valhalla Macadamia Farm. Valhalla Macadamia Farm has a program where they sell (at a big discount) new macadamia trees to indigenous communities and other organizations that could benefit. We thought this program would be perfect for Nuevo Reto. We set up a meeting with Emily (The owner of Valhalla Macadamia Farm) and Jacobo (the Pastor from Nuevo Reto). The results of the meeting, Margarite and I bought five trees for Nuevo Reto. 

The way the program works, is Jacobo will send several kids to Valhalla Macadamia Farm for a full day of education on planting and maintaining the trees. In four to five years, the trees will produce 100-300 pounds of nuts per annum. Nuevo Reto can harvest the nuts for their own use or sell the nuts for about $1.00 USD per pound. The result is a profit of $500-$1,500 for each year. Another benefit is macadamia nut trees suck a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere.

I have mentioned previously, Antigua has great restaurants if you want to eat out, and an awesome fruit/vegetable/meat farmers market if you want to cook in. I thought I would document our restaurant choices over the next few days.

Monday being Lois Lane and Jose’s last night in Antigua, we decided to go to Hector’s Bistro. Hector’s is on the North Side of town. The address is 1a Calle Poniente, Casa 9a. Margarite and I have been before, but the rest of the group had not. Audrey decided to join us. Hector’s is a French Restaurant. I had the French Onion Soup as a starter, it was excellent a rather large bowl compared to French Onion Soup at other restaurants. For my main, I had Sea Bass with a lemon, butter, garlic sauce, accompanied with spinach and roasted potatoes, lots of flavors prepared perfectly. Hector’s is very reasonable priced for Antigua, rather inexpensive compared to the U.S.

For dessert, Audrey treated us to ice cream cones at Helados Marco Polo on Calle de Arco about 30 meters south of the Arch. Lots of flavor choices the ice cream had the perfect texture and taste.

Tuesday, Margarite and I are now alone in our big house. We have run out of friends. We will continue our critique of restaurants. Our plan today was to have lunch at Hugo’s Ceviche, but unfortunately it is closed on Tuesdays. Fortunately, we have lots of choices. We went to Epicure instead. A new restaurant for Antigua, the front like a lot of Antigua was unassuming. We entered through a storefront that sells pastries and prepared food all made in Epicure’s open kitchen which you pass by as you enter the restaurant. You can either sit inside or in the garden. We choose the garden. I decided to go simple and have the grilled ham and cheese sandwich, excellent choice, grilled perfectly in butter. Margarite went with the Thai Chicken which she enjoyed. We both received complimentary roasted tomato soup, which was very enjoyable. The food was priced on the higher side for Antigua still very inexpensive. The address is 3a. Av. Norte No 11 “B”

Wednesday, while Margarite was in School and after my morning hike.

I went to the Cafe Sky on 1a Avenue Sur 15. The big reason to go to Cafe Sky is for the views from the roof top deck. I enjoyed a chocolate ice cream smoothie and the beautiful views. If you are in Antigua, this is a must even if it is just for a drink.

After enjoying the smoothie and the views I had a quick visit with Elma. Elma is a local realtor, and I wanted to confirm our house viewing for Thursday.

I still had about an hour before Margarite is finished school. I figured I should experience some street food. Antigua is known for their Cheveres Hotdogs. For 6Q or 78 cents, you get a huge hotdog covered in the works. What a treat.

I made it back just in time to pick Margarite up and head to Hugo’s Ceviche. We ran into Audrey on the way and convinced her to join us. Margarite and I both ordered the shrimp and fish Ceviche. While different than what I had expected, the Ceviche was very tasty and enjoyable. This Ceviche was prepared in balsamic vinegar. I had always had Ceviche prepared in some type of citric juice, like a grapefruit juice.

Hugo’s has more than just Ceviche. Audrey has a chicken and cheese sandwich and really enjoyed it. The portions were large and the prices low. Hugo’s is located on Seven Calle just east of 5th Avenue.

As I mentioned we have a full kitchen, and fresh food is easy to come by. It mostly comes directly from local farms and is very inexpensive. For example, you can get more avocados than you can carry for about a dollar. For that reason, I make fresh guacamole each afternoon for a snack.

Now time for a nap before dinner.

Thursday morning, after walking Margarite to school I had some shopping to do, but first breakfast. Like the Cheveres Hotdogs, street food is the best way to get great food at cheap prices. Behind the Central Market, there are several street food vendors. I picked the one with the biggest crowd. Even with my Spanish skills I was not sure what I ordered. I think it was grilled rabbit with beans and guacamole. Whatever it was it tasted great, including a coke the total cost 15Q or $1.96 USD.

We are cooking dinner at the house tonight so I need to grab a few things. First on the list are fruits and veggies. Bananas, Avocados, Jalapeños Peppers, and a Pineapple.

For our main course, we are going to roast a whole chicken. How do you know your chicken is fresh? When it is alive when you pick it out. Then you watch the butcher cut off the head and de-feather it. Do not worry I am not posting those pictures just the finished product and the proud butcher. After all the shopping, I needed a snack before my walk home, fresh fried plantains, 5Q or $.65 USD. I think I paid the Gringo Price.

Off to look at a house for next year and get some lunch.

I had just finished shopping at the Central Market. After dropping the groceries back at the house, I met Margarite to get some lunch. We decided on Cactus Antigua Taco Bar located on Sixth Calle just West of Fifth Avenue. Margarite must have been hungry as she ordered two entrées. We each order a plate of tacos, and I had a strawberry smoothie, then Margarite ordered another plate of Tacos. The service was perfect, the food very fresh, and the price very reasonable three entrées a smoothie, and a soft drink 200Q about $26.00 USD.

Before heading back to the house I had to stop at Glacy Artisanal Ice Cream. Glacy Artisanal Ice Cream is up the street from Cactus Antigua Taco Bar.

For dinner, we roasted the chicken. It was very fresh, less than eight hours ago it was still alive.

Friday, today is Margarite’s last day of Spanish. After walking Margarite to class I roamed the town making my way up the stairs to the cross. On the way I had to eat, my first stop was a small pastry shop called La Reposteria Pandelaria located on Calle De Las Ánimas just off first Avenue. Believe it or not, this is not the first doughnut I have had in Antigua,. While delicious, the texture is more like a stale doughnut would be in the United States, but it was freshly baked, no complaints on my part I enjoyed it immensely.

As I continued to walk I enjoyed the sights and beautiful weather.

There was a restaurant I had walked by several times that I wanted to try. The front of the restaurant made me curious. There was a sign for Artisanal Coffee, a sign for Craft Beer, a sign for Greek food, a sign for Crepes, and several signs listing different specials.

Inside it was a hodgepodge of different places. My goal, try the Greek food. No such luck, I sat at the bar and quickly realized I was in the crepe section. Not willing to acknowledge my mistake, I grabbed a menu. This is when I should have realized my mistake was bigger than I thought. The menu had a very dark background, and the type was black, basically it was impossible to read. Again not wanting to give in, I order an item from the few pictures on the menu, a ham and cheese crepe. 

The bartender / waiter had about as much personality as the food.

Located on First Calle across from the church, I would say the only redeeming quality was the price. The waiter did not even ask if I wanted a beverage.

I continued my walk until I stopped at Amanecer Juice Bar on Sixth Avenue close to Seventh Calle. I had the Mr. Muscle smoothie, which includes protein and peanut butter. This was not my first time at Amanecer Juice Bar, in fact; I belong to their club, buy six smoothies get your seventh smoothie free.

It was now time to visit a couple of houses. We are getting closer to narrowing down our pick.

I was asked, do I worry about eating street food when I travel to these developing countries. The answer is no! The reason I have had all the Hepatitis Vaccinations, and I stay current on the Typhoid Vaccine. Plus I carry lots of antibiotics. (Thank you Doctor Bob and Nurse Trish). As far as I know I am very fortunate the vaccinations have not given me autism, I guess it all the hope and prayers.

Dinner was last night’s chicken made into chicken salad.

Saturday, we have lunch plans with Luis and Sandra. We looked at one more house before meeting for lunch. The good news, we found a house for next year. There is no bad news.

Lunch was at Osteria Di Francesco, which is on Seventh Calle, if you did not guess it, Osteria Di Francesco is an Italian restaurant. Like most restaurants in Antigua, there was a beautiful outside garden which is where we sat. Everything at Osteria Di Francesco was perfect. A bit pricey for Antigua, $75.00 USD for four people still very inexpensive for the U.S.

I had another smoothie at Amanecer Juice Bar.

Believe it or not I skipped dinner, cannot figure out why, but I was not hungry.

Sunday, our last full day in Antigua, Guatemala, first things first, burn off some of the food I have been eating. I walked ran to the stairs to the cross and then went up and down the stairs five times before walking back to the house, over 16,000 steps and over 80 flights of stairs.

The good and bad news, on my walk I saw there was a 15 Kilometer/10 mile running race. Bad news, I would have loved to have run in it. Good news, it is on cobblestone roads, so I probably would have hurt myself.

Breakfast was at Brasas y Bistro, which is right around the corner from our house, beautiful outside seating. Everything was perfect and very affordable, 100Q about $13.00 USD.

Today is a big day in Antigua, Guatemala as it is the first Sunday of Lent. We are off to see the celebrations. 

Of course there were street vendors selling tasty treats. I enjoyed a cup full of whip cream with jimmies on top. 

Lent Parade Antigua Guatemala. My Wicked Mother-in-Law (WMIL) would love to see this Parade. Hope she is feeling better.


After the parade, we went to the Cafe Sky to enjoy a smoothie and the view.

Being our last afternoon in Antigua, we enjoyed the sites and the great weather.

Before heading back to the house we stopped for a quick bite at Taqueria Dona Lupita. On our last trip to Guatemala, this was one of our favorite stops. They had recently moved, I guess out of sight out of mind. The new location is on Alameda de Santa Lucia between Calle one and Calle two, a perfect place to grab a great meal. The best part about Taqueria Dona Lupita, two taco platters and two bottles of water, 70Q about $9.00 USD. 

That is it for now, next trip will be to Vienna, Austria, Slovakia, Poland, and Berlin, Germany. (NOT)


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Austin January 2020 - 3M Half Marathon

Nothings better than a week in Austin, Texas. This year we thought why not do some good while we are having fun. We raised over $5,000.00 for A Love For Life. This money will go to Pancreatic Cancer Research. Thank you, to everybody that help us beat our $5,000.00 goal.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I wonder how many words a video is worth. Take 2 minutes and watch the video. As you will see we did have some fun while raising money a great cause.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Off to Costa Rica December 2019

I might be the last American to visit Costa Rica. Yes, many of you have already been to Costa Rica. Hopefully, I can show you parts of Costa Rica you have not experienced. The first few days will be spent in the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, a vibrant city that many tourist skip.

We (Margarite is tagging along... Again) arrived in San Jose right on time. The airport is small and very easy to navigate. We arranged to have a driver pick us up. We have learned over the year, having a driver meet us with a sign, and a limo/van is one of those small luxuries that makes arriving in a foreign country much less stressful.

We will be spending the next two nights at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, Curio Collection by Hilton. The building was built in the early 1900s, but recently renovated. We booked a Junior Suite but were upgraded to the Presidential Suite, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Suite. Some of the furniture in the suite was the same furniture used for President Kennedy’s stay, back in 1963. The year Margarite was born.

We arranged a city bike tour for 3:00 PM with Chepe Bike’around. Tomas our guide met us at our hotel. Tomas took us around the city for a few hours. After sitting on a plane for half the day, this was a great way to get the lay of the land and get some blood to our legs.

Bike tour video

San Jose is not a tourist city, it is a living city. What I mean, Venice, Italy, Cartagena, Colombia, and Dubrovnik, Croatia are what I would call Touristic City, it is rare to find locals living in these cities. The locals have all been forced out by the tourist industry.

San Jose is a city full of energy and culture, not tourists. Our bike ride took us through many unique
districts of San Jose. One, in particular, known for its restaurants. Every corner has two or three restaurants. Each night people (locals) come to this area to enjoy the food.

Another nice thing about San Jose is the number of public parks. These parks are not huge, usually a few square blocks, but lots of them.

Today we did a free walking tour. Rod, our guide works for Amazon four days a week (he is responsible for stopping product knock offs in Europe) and does this walking tour on Fridays. While we covered some of the same areas as the bike tour, we went into a little more depth. We spent time touring the local graffiti art wall. This wall is near the parliament building, and some of the art makes political statements.

We finished the tour just before lunch. One of my goals during my visit to San Jose was to get ice cream at Lolo Mora’s ice cream. Lola Mora is located inside Central Market since 1901 and since then one of Costa Rica’s favorite ice cream. After more than 115 years, only one ice cream flavor is available, and they say you don’t need more to be happy.

We headed to the Central Market and grabbed lunch at a very cool, local restaurant. We sat family-style with San Jose locals each as friendly as the other. What a great experience.

Shortly after lunch, we found Lolo Mora’s ice cream. I am sure for Costa Rica standards it was excellent, but it did not live up to my expectations, a bit icy and not very creamy.

In the afternoon, we took a tour of the National Theater, the pride, and joy of San Jose, built about 100 years ago. Originally financed by the local coffee growers, though they quickly (three years into construction) ran out of money. The government taxed the peasants to finish the project.

Most of the material used to build the theater were imported from Europe. The tour was given by
actors who stayed in character most of the tour. This was a great way to get a feel and understanding of the history of the theater.

Today is the Festival of Lights. There will be a huge parade tonight starting at 6:00 PM and going until midnight. We went for a run at 6:00 AM, and people were already camped out on the parade route to ensure that had optimal parade viewing. A positive of the parade being tonight was that the main road was closed to all traffic, this made for a great morning run with no traffic.

After the run, we decided to head out of town before the city got too crazy.

If you come to Costa Rica, plan a day or two in San Jose, you will not regret it.

Our final destination today will be La Fortuna / Arenal Volcano area. La Fortuna is 90 kilometers from San Jose but a three-hour drive. And for all of you that have already been to Costa Rica, why did you not warn me about all the tolls. Just by luck, I had a bunch of coins with me.

We arrived at midday. We rented a beautiful cabin, actually a shipping container made into a cabin. The owner did a fantastic job of building this cabin even building a hot tub with a volcano that erupts hot water.

This evening we did an Eco-Garden Night Hike. We did this hike at Eco Garden Arenal. Eco Garden Arenal is a family operated project, Mom (Patricia), Dad (Jose), Son (eleven-year-old Joshua), and Daughter (eight-year-old, Elizabeth).

The hike started at 6:00 PM. Jose and Joshua spent two hours walking us through their nature preserve. We saw sloths (too far for pictures at night), some birds, lots of different frogs, and lots of insects. After the hike, Patricia served us home-made empanadas. What a great ending to a fun day.

We will be spending the next four nights in Fortuna.

This morning we scheduled a Lost Canyon Adventure Tour. A family from Atlanta, Georgia joined us.

This activity is hiking to the top of a waterfall and then repelling, climbing, and jumping down. It was a ton of fun. The guides were great and believe it or not, safety was their top priority.

Rather than I try to describe the activity, watch this short video.

In the afternoon, we relaxed at our cabin/shipping container. It is really a cool cabin.

Dinner was at Nenes Restaurant, the service was great the food good, not fantastic, but there was lots of it.

In the morning, Jose picked us up for a birding hike, the same Jose from the night hike two days before. We saw all kinds of birds before going to his nature reserve where we saw more birds, a crocodile, and had a great breakfast.

We spent the afternoon walking in the town of Fortuna. Not my cup of tea, while the surrounding area is beautiful, the town could use some zoning. Think of the Jersey Shore crossed with Little Italy, New York. The largest restaurant and most crowded was a pizza place, and the amount of billboards and neon signs rivals the Jersey Shore.

This evening we had a cooking class at a locals’ home. Their property was once a large farm but as the couple got older and the farm work harder they decided to build a few beautiful homes that they rent out on Airbnb as well as hold cooking classes in their home.

We made a fantastic dinner, that we enjoyed with the couple. Antonio, the husband makes his own moonshine. It tasted similar to Grappa, very strong and extremely hard to swallow.

This morning we scheduled our last activity in Fortuna, a mountain bike ride around Lake Arenal. We had half a dozen other riders join us. It was a medium-level ride with a few river crossings.

This video will give you an idea of the ride.

Tonight we have dinner at the hot springs, and tomorrow we are off to Monteverde.

Many of the people that we met are staying in resorts, I understand why. As much as San Jose was not touristy, Fortuna is. There are many places in the world to enjoy outdoor activities and spectacular views of volcanoes that I would recommend before recommending Fortuna, Costa Rica.

We left La Fortuna (also known as the Jersey Shore) on Wednesday morning. Our destination this afternoon is Monteverde, Costa Rica also known as the Cloud Forest.

We headed north along the eastern shore of Lake Arenal, which is the largest lake in Costa Rica. After we passed the north shore of Lake Arenal, we headed Southwest along the western shore. We continued on a more westerly path driving South between Lake Arenal and the Pacific Ocean.

The total drive time will be a bit over three hours. To break up the drive we stopped at Viento Fresco Waterfalls only 26 kilometers from Monteverde but an hour of driving. While the roads are in fairly good shape, they are windy and topped with gravel.

Viento Fresco Waterfalls was the perfect stop. You would never know there are these wonderful waterfalls just off the road if it not for the signs. The area is rolling hills not really mountainous and fairly dry, lots of wind from the West. In fact, during the last hour of the drive before to reaching the falls, there were hundreds of windmills generating electricity. I guess they did not hear about these windmills causing cancer. Just saying!

We hiked down and viewed three of the falls, each slightly different. We spent 45 minutes walking and viewing the falls.

As I said we had 26 more kilometers to go, an hour of drive time.

Monteverde is a tourist town, but not touristy like La Fortuna. There were similar shops and restaurants but not the large billboards and neon signs.

We had not planned any activities, so we checked out the information center to get an idea of what to do. Hiking the Cloud Forest is the big attraction in Monteverde.

Today we will visit the Curi-Cancha Reserve. One of the smaller reserves in Monteverde but known for lots of birds. Our goal was to spot a Quetzals. This bird is known to hang out in the Cloud Forest. It is the National Bird of Guatemala, but we did not see them when we were there.

Being the Cloud Forest, there is a lot of rain, mostly a constant light mist. This morning it was raining a bit harder than normal, which kept most of the birds away. We did see a lot of hummingbirds, but they are too fast to photograph.

The reserve was still worth the visit.

The best part of Curi-Cancha Reserve is there is a Cheese Factory not too far from the entrance. Guess what they sell at the company store? Ice Cream!

We had an excellent lunch at Taco Taco. They served the best homemade salsa, unfortunately, they do not sell it to the public.

We heard that the University of Georgia has a satellite campus/research center in the area that was worth a visit. After a bit of trial and error, we found the place. It had been part of the University of Georgia for about 18 years but was now Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). Once we found the right people, they gave us a map and allowed us to wander the property. Lots of butterflies, but most moved to fast to photograph.

Today is our last day in Monteverde. We got up early and spent five hours walking the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, one of the largest reserves in Monteverde. This morning the rain was heavier than the day before and the wind even stronger. Still, the forest was delightful to walk through. With the rain as heavy as it was there was not a lot of wildlife but plenty of green plant life and some crazy flowers.

Here is a quick Video

Of course, we had to stop for ice cream.

I had mentioned we had stayed in a cabin made from a shipping container. This seems to be a thing around here. We spotted this one as we drove around. It is a very cool design, with an awesome view.

We will be spending the next seven days at the beach Playa Manuel Antonio. Hopefully, we will find some cool folks to hang out with. I will keep you posted.

Wait, what about the Quetzals? Our timing was off, they do not return to this area of Costa Rica until January to nest. We missed by just one week.

The drive from Monteverde to Playa Manuel Antonio was more windy roads from the mountainside to the beach. Some of the roads were gravel, but many were paved asphalt roads.

We had not booked a place to stay and planned to figure things out once we arrived. The drive was about four hours. We arrived just before noon. We decided our first stop should be the beach. We found a gravel road where you could drive right onto the beach.

We arrived at a deserted beach except for a family that must be famous as several photographers were taking their pictures. It was like they were being swarmed by paparazzi. The day had a slight overcast so the sun was not too hot, we decided to stay and watch the photoshoot.

The water, Pacific Ocean, was like bathwater with waves, maybe 80 degrees in temperature. We watched and swam for a few hours. There was no one else on the beach, just us and this mysterious family.

Finally, the photoshoot was over. The sun was setting. This family must be the Kardashians of Costa Rica. Now that the photoshoot was over, we chatted up these folks. They were very interested in our four-wheel-drive SUV. To make a short story long, this family are heirs to Del Monte Foods of Costa Rica. They bought a mansion in Playa Manuel Antonio several years back, and this is their first visit. As they arrived, they found out you cannot get to the mansion, Casa Castillo without four-wheel drive. They had a stretch limo and a Ferrari neither had four-wheel drive.

They offered us a room in their mansion if we shuttle them back and forth to the mansion for the week. We of course agreed.

The house overlooked the Pacific and had a staff of six, the pool boy, maid, three chefs, and Alex the house manager. Talk about luxury.

The house was surrounded by jungle, which meant lots of monkeys.

We spent a good bit of time at the pool and shuttled the family to the beach when asked.

Not having children, we did learn one thing about the next generation, socializing no longer means talking with each other. Yes, they hang out together sometimes for hours but not a word is spoken. I think they call it social media. I think a better word would be unsocial media.

One day, we took the family to Manuel Antonio National Park a couple of miles from the mansion. We had our guide Nathan gave us a tour of the park. Being Christmas week the park was very crowded we still saw some iguanas and lizards. After the tour, we all hung out at the beach and then had a nice lunch at Morpho Beach Bar.

On Thursday, we booked a Mountain-Bike tour, we convinced six of the family members to join us. Three stayed back at the Mansion.

We took a taxi van since our SUV would not carry eight people, and the trip was too far to shuttle. Clearly, the Taxis are not happy with Uber.

It was good we left the other three behind.

The ride was rolling to steep hills on a gravel fire road. We stopped three times to swim in the waterfalls and rivers. We had one big crash but not major injuries.


This is a video of the ride, a bit long, five minutes, but worth the watch.

That is it for Costa Rica, my sixth country visited in 2019, 68th country/territory visited in my life. I hope everybody’s 2019 was as good as mine. For 2020, I hope to visit at least six new countries. What I have booked so far, Slovakia and Poland in May, I will have a special guest on that trip. In June, I will be visiting Bolivia, with yet another special guest. I will be doing one of my first repeats. In February, I will be going back to Guatemala, by special request.

Remember if there is a country you would like to learn about CLICK HERE and put your suggestion in.

Have a great new year.

WATCH this - Bonus Update - Costa Rica

We made it back in one piece. The Kardashians of Costa Rica or I should say their film crew sent me the trailer for the next episode of their reality show. It is only two minutes long but worth watching. It gives you a much better idea of what our week was like.

Kudos to Charlotte and Cam for filming and producing the video.



All Pictures: