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Costa Rica, Pura Vida

Postcards from Costa Rica

The one thing everyone says about Costa Rica is how lush it is. And despite having near drought conditions (it was the rainy season but there was little rain and we heard of water lock-offs), much of the landscape in the northwest still looked green.

Postcards from Costa Rica

Costa Rica from Above

Postcards from Costa Rica

Costa Rica from above

Postcards from Costa Rica

Costa Rica from above

I had traveled to Playa Potrero, Costa Rica in Central America to celebrate a milestone birthday of one of my close friends. It was a welcome break for me. I didn’t bring my laptop – the first time I’d traveled without it in more than 5 years – so I could disconnect totally from the everyday details that filled up the spaces in my life and reconnect with longtime friends.

We played trivia games, read, walked the beach, slept, ate, drank copious amounts of wine and one day the women in the group – all five of us – headed to the nearby town of Tamarindo for a day at Coco Beauty Spa, and lunch. (I chose Coco’s natural volcanic mud wrap – Costa Rica has more than 100 active volcanoes – and relaxed for almost an hour in warm mud. Everyone said I looked relaxed and glowing after. )

Zip lining Costa Rica

Post Cards from Costa Rica

Ready to go zip lining

Did you go zip lining?

It’s the one question everyone’s asked since I returned. I nod as I smile. Seems zip lining is the thing to do in Costa Rica so I was glad to have my début there. Joan, one of the other ladies in our group, and I were the only ones who decided to leave the comfort of the villa for some outside activity.

The Congo Trail Canopy Tour with a total of eleven lines and two hanging bridges caught our attention. The longest line was about 900 feet, the shortest about 400 feet. While it was fun flying through the air, I would have preferred to see the beautiful trees up close.

To avoid losing our cameras, we left them at the company’s office. They took one photo of each of us as we approached the second line (I have proof that I actually zip lined!).

Postcards from Costa Rica

Capucin monkey

As we waited for our guide, we watched several capucin monkeys as they swung from tree to tree. They moved quickly but this one came close enough as if he wanted to see who we were and what we were doing. Isn’t that the cutest face you’ve seen?

Postcards from Costa Rica

“We take care of our natural resources.”

Signs like these remind us how zealously Costa Ricans guard their natural treasures. We were warned not to take anything, not even shells from the beach, when we were leaving the country. 

The dark brown sand, soft and compact under our feet and the warm, inviting waters of the Atlantic called to us from just beyond the gate of the villa. My friend said he saw whales in the distance. I kept an eye out, hoping I’d see one but didn’t.  Most afternoons, we’d stroll the length of the beach, oblivious to the broiling rays of the sun.

Postcards from Costa Rica

Playa Potrero

Each evening, we gathered on the back patio, cameras in hand, and waited for the sun to paint the sky with dazzling purples, oranges, blues and yellows.

Postcards from Costa Rica

Sunset, Playa Potrero

Postcards from Costa Rica

Golden sunset, Playa Potrero

Postcards from Costa Rica

Sunset near Playa Potrero

All too soon, our week of pura vida (real living) came to an end and it was back to long days, busy schedules and long commutes. Every so often, I’ll pull out my phone, look at my photos and smile. Pura vida!

Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, that Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes.

Seafood Dishes From the Road

Three Meals from the Road

Like a lot of people, I look forward to the foods of the cities I travel to as much as the sights and activities. I am passionate about food and because of that, there are places I’d return to just so I can satisfy my craving for the food.

On the other hand, there are some places I doubt I’ll visit because I have no interest in the food.

During my recent trip to Costa Rica, I tasted foods similar to what I’d have in Jamaica – but with a twist. One morning, for example, I chose gallo pinto, the desayuno típico of Costa Rica. Gallo pinto is rice and beans, fried plantains and scrambled eggs. I swapped the scrambled eggs for sausages and left out the cheese. I was almost finished eating when I remembered that I hadn’t taken a photo.

In Jamaica, we usually leave rice and beans for dinner. About 10 years ago, it was reserved for Sundays and special occasions like Easter and Christmas.

Since we were staying near the coast, we had fish or seafood almost every day. One evening for dinner at a restaurant, I had grilled snapper accompanied by risotto.

Three Meals from the Road

Avocado & Shrimp Salad

Three Meals from the Road

Grilled Snapper with Risotto

Near the end of my week-long visit, I took a day trip to Granada, Nicaragua where lunch was sea bass with rice and salad. I can still remember the sharp taste of the lime on the fish.

Three Meals from the Road

Rice and Sea Bass

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A Photo Review of 2013

Maroon procession 2013

Like a lot of people, I can’t believe 2013 is over. While it wasn’t a bad year overall, it presented a major personal challenge that forced me to change course, literally and figuratively, early in the year.

As many of my regular readers know, I’ve been exploring Jamaica, my home country, since late 2011. I’d hit most of the places I wanted to see but there are still more that I haven’t touched. 2013 was the year I had planned to do that. But at the end of April, I fractured my ankle when I fell in my backyard.

Everything changed in that instant. For the following three months, all my attention was on getting whole again so I could continue traveling. Although I still have some pain and stiffness, my ankle’s much better now and I’m anxious to resume my exploration of Jamaica and see other places on my list.

Before I do that, I’d like to do a photo review of 2013. Looking back now at the photos of these high points brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart. Hope they do the same for you.

January – St. Elizabeth

Every January 6th, for the last 275 years, the Maroons of Accompong Town in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica celebrate the anniversary of the signing of their treaty with the British and the birthday of their founder, Kojo. I was thrilled to join the celebration last year.

A Photo Review of 2013

Maroon procession, January 2013

This man and his partner drew a crowd as they danced for a good five minutes. They moved so well together — he matching her move for move – I wondered if they were a couple.

Dancing

Maroon Dancers

February – Falmouth

Thanks to my work with an organization that restores historic buildings, I spent a lot of time in Falmouth and went on several walking tours of the town. On my first tour, we visited this masonic lodge, now the Baptist Manse. Built in 1798, it was the first masonic temple in Jamaica.

A Photo Review of 2013

Falmouth Baptist Manse

March – Westmoreland

I’d never had a fish pedicure and honestly, that wasn’t what I expected to do when I made a return visit to Abeokuta Paradise Nature Park. The property gets its name from Abeokuta, the Nigerian city. Its Olympic-sized pool, which has been on the property since it was part of the 18th century Deans Valley Estate, is fed by water from the Sweet River, which has its source about a 15-minute walk away. The pool is now home to inch-long carp that nibble on the dead skin on your feet. It’s hard to keep still while they exfoliate the skin but they are so sensitive, they disperse at the slightest movement.

A Photo Review of 2013

Fish pedicure at Abeokuta Paradise Nature Park

Seaford Town is the largest German settlement in Jamaica. It was established in 1835 for immigrants who had been recruited from Bavaria, Westphalia, and Waldeck. On my second visit, I accompanied Inge, a family friend from Germany. Here she meets one of the residents, a German descendant. Do they look to you like they could be related?

A Photo Review of 2013

Inge and Mr. Kameka, Seaford Town

April – Trelawny, St. James

I was excited to return to Good Hope Great House and Plantation in Trelawny. On my first visit, I fell in love with its location in the expansive Queen of Spain Valley, the warmth and elegance of the old house with its orange wood floors and tray ceiling. This time, I got to see parts of the Martha Brae River which flows languidly through the 2,000-acre property, tour the estate and see the citrus factory.

A Photo Review of 2013

Good Hope Great House

My neighbor told me about Ahhh….Ras Natango, an eco-tourism spot just outside of Montego Bay. One of the owners, Ian Williams, came to pick me up for the 10-15 minute ride up the winding road to the property. I was blown away by the views, by the garden Ian and his wife, Tamika, had carved into the rocky hillside, and the birds that flitted among the flowers.

Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden & Gallery

Ahhh…Ras Natango Garden & Gallery

May, June and July – Kingston

My travels came to an abrupt stop at the end of April when I broke my ankle. Between May and July, I shuttled back and forth between Montego Bay and Kingston – first for surgery, then for follow up visits with my orthopedic surgeon.

 

Despite my crutches, I took a trip to Holywell Recreational Park with a friend. I couldn’t move around much but the views fed my soul.

Holywell Recreational Park Entrance

Holywell Entrance

Flowers and the mountains, Holywell

Flowers at Holywell Recreational Park

To get to Holywell, we drove through Newcastle, a military center that was established by the British in 1840. Its location, high up in the cool Blue Mountains, was perfect to inoculate the troops from yellow fever, a common cause of death back then. Newcastle is now a training camp for members of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).

Newcastle parade square with medals

Parade square at Newcastle

Barracks for soldiers at Newcastle

Red roofed barracks at Newcastle station

I don’t usually like to see animals in captivity but when I heard that a donor had gifted Hope Zoo with a lion named Lucas, my curiosity got the better of me. I had to see him.

Lucas was sleeping when we arrived. One of his handlers said he was getting acclimated to the heat — it was July and Lucas was in the open part of the enclosure with very little protection from the sun. We waited for several minutes and finally, he raised his head. He looked docile and tired, likely because of the heat.

Lucas, the lion waking from his nap

Lucas, slowly waking from his nap at Hope Zoo

Sharing space with the zoo is Hope Botanical Gardens. After walking around the zoo, I was in no shape to do the gardens justice. I took this photo while I waited for my ride.

Hope Botanical Gardens

Hope Botanical Gardens

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to Devon House for its famous ice cream, and to shop, dine or visit the wine bar. But I’d never done a tour of the house.

For me, one of the high points of the tour is this elegant and impressive 35-foot ballroom. It isn’t difficult to imagine the music that was played on its Broadwood piano, or the dances that took place under its Wedgwood ceiling with its English chandelier.

Wedgewood ceiling and English chandelier at Devon House

The 35-foot Devon House Ballroom

I was excited to see this exhibition, titled Rastafari: Unconquerable! at the Institute of Jamaica and I wasn’t disappointed.

Rastafari exhibition, Jamaica

Installation

It takes perfect timing to catch the night blooming cerebus, which blooms only once per year. Luckily, I was no longer on crutches so I was able to go back and forth several times to catch it as its petals opened slowly during the night. These were taken near midnight and it’s still not fully opened.

Night Blooming Cereus

Blooms by night

Wilted Night Blooming Cereus

Wilted by morning

August to December – New York, New Jersey and North Carolina

I returned to New York at the end of July and got right back into the swing of things. Since I was still nursing my ankle, I didn’t want to risk being in the large crowd that typically gathers on Eastern Parkway to celebrate the West Indian American carnival on Labor Day but I didn’t want to miss out all together. So I made my way to the smaller Kiddies Carnival that Saturday. It was my first time at the carnival and it was thrilling to see the future mas players.

West Indian American Carnival Queen

Taking photos with the queen

Wine festivals abound in New York and New Jersey in the fall. At the Jersey Skyline Wine Festival, my friends and I sampled wines from several vineyards and left with a few bottles of our favorites.

Jersey Skyline Wine Festival

At the wine festival

On a beautiful October Saturday, we traveled by train to Villa Milagro in southern New Jersey for a tour and tasting. I could have bought all the wines we tasted but returned with my two favorites.

Villa Milagro wines

Villa Milagro wines

In November, Elizabeth, a friend and blogger at Mirth and Motivation, and I met at The Cloisters for a lovely afternoon of art and music.

The Cloisters Museum & Garden

Entrance to the museum

A Photo Review of 2013

The Cloisters

Then it was off to work in Charlotte, North Carolina, where except for Thanksgiving and food related posts, I never took a photo.

A Photo Review of 2013

Deep fried turkey

By December, I was already daydreaming of the trips I plan to take in 2014. Here’s what I have in mind:

* a more in depth look at Kingston, including a tour of St. Andrew Parish Church
* Port Royal
* South coast Jamaica

Further afield:

* UK – April
* Nicaragua – August
* Canada – February or March
* Tanzania or Kenya – both would be ideal!
* Gabon or Zimbabwe – October

USA –
* Charleston
* New Orleans

The New Year is time to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Here’s wishing you joy and peace for 2013.

Happy New Year!

If you had unlimited airline miles, where would you go?
What would you like to see more of on InsideJourneys in 2014?

 

 Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

 

Our 3rd Blogiversary – in 3 Takes, Take III and a Giveaway

Flowers near the sea

My visit to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Lesotho starting me blogging, but Jamaica was my inspiration to get in to travel. Though I was born in Jamaica, I don’t know it as well as I think I should.

When I got laid off from my job in November 2003, I was excited. For several months prior, two friends and I had been planning our next professional moves. Mine was to start a tour company that would showcase Jamaica the way I see it, not the sand, sun, reggae and rum tour that many people associate it with.

At less than 4,500 square miles, Jamaica is slightly smaller than the Connecticut yet it is as diverse as many countries twice its size. Part of the island’s beauty is its lushness. Jamaica is a garden full of a variety of flowers, including orchids – about 200 species, nearly half of them endemic to the island, several hundred types of ferns and trees which bathes this little piece of rock in a riot of color year round.

It was not surprising then that my first post was about flowers, the kinds of flowers that my mother, grandmother and countless Jamaicans grow, the flowers that make my heart smile. Since then, I’ve blogged about flowers several times.

Our fruits…

Me no drink cawfee tea, mango time. Care how nice it may be, mango time. Mango Time, Jamaican folk song

We’re passionate about fruits but especially mangoes, which is celebrated by its own folk song. Yes, when it’s mango time in Jamaica we eat it at every meal. Almost.

Our food…

3rd Blogiversity in 3 Takes

Little Ochie’s Jerk Lobster

Jamaica has more than 300 species of birds, more than two dozen of which are endemic to the island. The doctor bird, a swallowtail hummingbird is our national bird.

3rd Blogiversary in 3 Takes

Doctor Bird, Roaring River, Westmoreland

Domestic animals are also quite common. You’ll notice goats, cows, as well as donkeys, especially in the rural areas. 

3rd Blogiversary

Holy Goat, Trelawny

Sometimes, it's the Characters that Make Travel Memorable

Dunns River Falls Donkey, St. Ann

Horse

Horse

From large great houses, opulent castles such as Trident to small board houses, we have them all. Take a look.

3rd Blogiversity in 3 Takes

Trident Castle, Portland, Jamaica

 Our churches….

Our landscape

Blue Mountain sunrise

Blue Mountain sunrise

 

Our beaches…

Twenty or 30 years from now, I’m going to be on a beach in Jamaica. – Idris Elba

Mobay Beach

Montego Bay Beach

Our people

3rd Blogiversary Giveaway

In celebration of our 3rd Blogiversary, we’re giving away three prizes – two (2) copies of the Lonely Planet travel guide to Jamaica, and a copy of The Real Taste of Jamaica by Enid Donaldson to three lucky winners. Enter by December 22nd by leaving a comment, tweeting about the giveaway #3Years3Prizes or liking us on Facebook. It’s that easy. The giveaway is open only to addresses in the United States and Canada. Good luck!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday, which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.