a couple month's ago my mom asked me if i wanted to go with her and nathan on a trip somewhere out of the country for her week of vacation. she's a flight attendant and we fly basically for free. for those of you that don't know my brother nathan, he has terminal brain cancer. naturally my answer was "hell yes!" i don't like to turn down many trips, especially with my brother. we started knocking around different ideas and asked nathan where he wanted to go. he told us europe. we ended up deciding on costa rica because it seemed like the best fit. if nathan felt great he could run trails (his favorite) and if he felt bad (chemo) then he could lay on the beach or on the porch with an ocean view. adventures if we wanted adventures and rest if we needed rest. mom met a couple several years back on the plane and they are one of the owners at arenas del mar ..so she contacted him and he gave us quite the hookup (THANK YOU DAVE!!!)
we stayed one night in charlotte with our new friends matt and hannah vaughn who opened their home to us. matt is a pilot and hannah was a flight attendant with my mom. nate and i became quick friends with them and LOVED spending time there. we flew from charlotte > miami > san jose. in san jose we jumped on a much smaller airline (sansa air) and had a 30 minute flight into quepos. we were greeted by a friendly driver from arenas del mar that drove us to the resort where we were handed fresh juice (coconut water, basil, and pineapple.) we were exhausted from two days of traveling and went down to their beachside restaurant for a quick and early dinner. the rain beat on the bamboo roof of the open restaurant while i drank my "pura vida" (rum + pineapple + basil + coconut water with a bamboo straw) and i melted into my chair. peaceful doesn't even begin to describe it. i can't even begin to express how fabulous this resort is and not just aesthetically. sustainability is huge part of arenas del mar... they have ozone filtration system for the pool (no chlorine!), they use electric golf carts for transporting guests around the property, and a grey water management system to clean their water. they worked hard to build around the natural environment and you'll see trees going through some of the floors and roofs! i've also noticed how supportive they are of their employees and that speaks volumes to me. for instance, the bamboo straws are made by an employee. a couple nights of our trip they had one of the employees band play live music, and many times we saw the employees bringing their family to dinner on their nights off. it seemed to lack any sort of hierarchy. EVERYONE was treated like family. you can tell they truly love and appreciate their staff. and let me just talk about their staff real quick.......OH MY GOSH, YALL. i have never met more service minded individuals in my life. they will bend over backwards for you. the kindest culture i have ever been around. such a humbling experience learning how to serve better from the staff here.
ok so, the minute we walk into our room and set our bags down they tell us "make sure to close and lock your doors to outside or else raccoons will come in and eat all your food" naturally i immediately open the door....
the rooms are over the top fabulous too, i might add. the stocked "tico bar" is all complimentary and restocked daily. its got everything from beer, nuts, local snacks, chocolate covered pineapple (TO DIE FOR), to kombucha. the rooms overlook the pacific ocean and have a hot tub on the porch!
so one of the first plans we made was with naturalist michael araya flores to guide us through manuel antonio national park. right when i had finally started trusting the people and the water (because i really thought it was like mexico, but now i feel like its cleaner than our water at home) we were having a total stranger come pick us up. but michael is THE FREAKING MAN. i think he's my spirit animal. he picked us up in a very nice van with some smooth jazz playing. he spoke outstanding english and packed us a healthy snack (+ a cookie) with waters! he knew almost every person we passed on the street walking into the park. he clearly has no shortage of friends. i quickly learned that when you hire michael, you're also hiring about 10 other guides. he asked what we hoped to see and i told him i wanted to see a fer de lance and/or eyelash pit viper..he then called all his other friends guiding and told them to call him if they found one. my mom came here a couple years ago and walked through manuel antonio with a friend and she said she felt like there were so many things she didn't see because they didn't know where to look. thats the main reason we hired michael, we didn't want to miss a thing... and we didn't. michael knew where to find EVERYTHING. what leaves to look under to find leaf nosed bats, what logs to check for poison dark frogs, where to find helmet lizards, you name it..michael knew. he blew my freaking mind. another awesome perk of going with michael is his amazing scope he used and could shoot photos through with our iPhones. my iPhone pics are better than my camera photos by a LONG shot. heres a few things we got through the scope with my phone:
the hike ended up being around 4 miles and was one of my favorite days. michael and i could've talked animals and plants all day long #sciencenerds ....if you are going to be near manuel antonio, you HAVE to call michael! the cost was around $50 a person and i tipped him another $50 because he was so phenomenal. just a few little crazy facts for you...costa rica encompasses only 0.03% of the earth's landmass yet contains 5% of the earth's biodiversity. manuel antonio national park is also one of the most diverse spots in costa rica, with 200 species of birds and over 100 animals. we saw more animals than i would've ever dreamt!
another day that will stick out as one of my favorites was our trip to villa vanilla, a biodynamic and sustainable farm about 40 minutes from quepos. we had gisele as our guide and she did a wonderful job showing us how the farm. we had john and cathy join us from a neighboring resort and we had such a great time together. at villa vanilla they grow cocoa, vanilla beans, ceylon cinnamon,cardamom, ylang ylang, all spice, clove, black pepper, and so many more. they even grow some fruits and veggies just for the animals so that they don't eat the crops. no pesticides, herbicides, or any other crap on the crops around here. the owner of the farm, henry, said the farm has been certified organic since 1992 and biodynamic since 2000. things that have become so mainstream at home are just normal practice down here. people live active lifestyles, thrive on organic plants, vegetables, and fish, and have far longer life expectancies in costa rica.
here's the steps of getting chocolate:
if you're any type of foodie, this is definitely an excursion to take. john and cathy took home some fresh vanilla to make a homemade vanilla porter with! the tour ended with a sampling of things made from the the crops of the farm: cinnamon bark tea, chocolate, vanilla bean cheesecake, vanilla bean ice-cream, and a cocoa nib cookie. SO DANG GOOD. fresh and from scratch. a few other photos from the farm:
also, speaking of good food... the food at arenas del mar's restaurant (el mirador bar and restaurant) is TO DIE FOR!! i did some research and found that costa rica was never known for good food, even though they have some amazing fruits, vegetables, and fish. One of the owners of arenas, dave, often visited a restaurant named blackfish outside of philadelphia owned by his friend and outstanding chef, chip roman. as luck would have it, we ended up meeting chip and his adorable wife amanda and their 4 kids while we were down there. chip completely revamped the food at arenas and y'all...whether you stay there or not, YOU MUST go eat there. i truly never had one bad meal... coconut milk chia pudding, mahi mahi, nachos, corn tortillas, pizza, you name it! it was all over the top good.
so on the last night of our trip, we spent the night in San Jose because our flight was too early to catch to leave from arenas del mar. we spent the day in San Jose shopping at a mall bigger than any mall I've ever been to. it also had every store you could ever want, with an ice cream shop every 4th store. nate opted out of shopping (per usual) for a run and a trip to the casino. he clearly doesn't know how much cardio mom and i can get trailblazing a new mall, haha! so we shopped around and got some things. we planned on meeting nate for an early dinner since we had to get up around 3:30am for our flight. there's a great Japanese restaurant in the hotel we stayed at called fuji (which also happens to be nate's favorite place in Knoxville) ... with a hotel casino + fuji nate was in his happy place! we ate a quick dinner and headed to bed. mom gave each of us an ambien so we could fall asleep easily at such an early hour but then at 8:28 (one hour after the ambien) the room started shaking, scratch that, SWAYING. we were 10 floors up in a 12 story building. as it swayed my first thought was "was that a bomb? high winds? a volcano?" And then it hit me "holy shit it's an earthquake!!!!!"
my whole body started shaking like it does when i have panic attacks. nate came running in our room as it continued to sway and he said "were the tenth story!" And I said "on the news?" I was convinced he had already googled it and it was making headlines. He said "no! 10 stories up!!!" he wasn't afraid but more wondering "wtf do we do?" thoughts no one should ever have racing through my mind "what's above me about to crash on me? do I put a pillow over my face? if we run out to take the stairs what if we don't make it all the way down before the building collapses? are we safer up here where only two floors fall on us? is this how our life ends?"
i could hear the waves being made in the toilet and splashing out on the floor. i could hear things shaking but didn't know what,if anything at all, was about to fall. i sent out a quick text with my trembling hands to cal: "We're having an earthquake" and he said "a big one?" i replied "omfg. i'm having a panic attack" i decided to facetime him because it seemed easier. the swaying of our room stopped after a couple of minutes but my body continued to shake. SO. MUCH. ADRENALINE. we felt one aftershock. i facetimed my dad and stepmom who urged us to leave the hotel and go on to the airport. i looked out the window to see most of the hotel had evacuated and we debated going out. we truly believed the worst of it was over so we decided to try to sleep. i laid in bed researching tectonic plates and effects of earthquakes. i checked the news and saw it was on the front of cnn. i was stunned. in one hour there were earthquakes in Costa Rica, Iran, and Japan. Costa Rica's measured a 6.5-6.9 (varying reports.) once the adrenaline started to wear off and i realized we were safe, i just couldn't help but think about how cool it actually was. the earth so alive under us. however, being in a 6.8 magnitude earthquake on ambien is NOT the way to do it.
the next day nate talked about how he wasn't scared. he said he's actually not scared of much of anything anymore. the minute i feel life out of control, i panic... but not nate. one of the many things i learned from him this week. very grateful for our time together and even more thrilled it was at such a fabulous place.
a few other things i took away from the trip:
1. costa rica water isn't like mexico. i legit think its safer than ours at home.
2. spend more time with those you love and less time on your phone.
3. the garden of eden HAD to be in costa rica.
4. hummingbirds are tiny little assholes to each other.
5. the waves on the pacific are terrifying and show no mercy.
6. rain makes the garden grow.
7. if you want to learn how to serve others well, learn from a costa rican tico or tica.
8. i actually don't hate coconuts or fish when they are fresh.
9. raccoons can open doors and locks and WILL eat everything in site, like your drunk college friends.
10. sunrise and sunset is at the exact same time every day of the year in costa rica because of its close proximity to the equator.
11. cinnamon bark straight from the tree is better than cinnamon gum.
12. and dark chocolate covered pineapple is better than any reese's cup.
13. always make enough time in case you get behind someone in security at the airport that has a desktop computer, multiple laptops, and 8 iPads in his bag.
14. you don't need phone service in costa because literally EVERYWHERE has wifi, even the cars.
15. travel often. pura vida!
(more photos below)