La Paz Waterfall Gardens

The 15 passenger van is careening around curves and buses and school children and parked cars and hairpin turns. Oddly, we are careening UP the mountain. The roads are two lanes: no shoulder, no guard rails. We are traveling at maintained speeds of at least 40 miles per hour and only stop when we are impossibly blocked by other vehicles. The van is cool; the air conditioning is on full blast the entire two hour trip. This is a good thing, because I am getting a little nauseous and if it were warm in the bus there may have been an incident.

We are heading to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, just north of Alajuela in Central Costa Rica. Just a little day trip. My driver, Ray, is competent, even skilled, and the danger I sense is real, but no worse for us than any other vehicle on the road. Our guide, Arlin, and the other passengers, a mother and adult daughter from Mexico and a couple from Argentina, are relaxed and talking, seemingly unaware that the edge of the road drops directly into a deep ditch which would flip us over and send us hurling down the beautiful jungle mountainside should our driver miss the road by anything more than 12 inches.

My husband and I are in San Jose for a sketch workshop he is attending. So while he is walking the streets of San Jose, I am taking this tour alone. The traveling together is fun and good, but he loves to sketch and can spend hours doing so. I ultimately end up entertaining myself for several hours at a time or sometimes full days. Today is one of those days.

Recently I’ve been working intensely on my Spanish. I spoke Spanish fluently as a child because I was raised with a Spanish speaker in my home. But as I grew older I used it less and less and I’ve spent more time trying to get it back than it took me to lose it -many times over. Sometimes I can barely remember English words, lol, so remembering Spanish words can be a challenge. But fortunately I understand it better than I speak it. Since the entire tour group (besides me) were Spanish speakers, we got this tour in Spanish. All day, for ten hours, Spanish in the jungle. I had told our guide that if I missed anything I would ask questions and it worked out wonderfully.

Upon arrival at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, we were treated to a personal tour of the animal sanctuary. This is a beautiful place with photo ops galore. It’s like a small San Diego zoo… only the zoo is exactly where the animals would have originally been found. Lush and green, lovely walkways and enclosures, the nature park and animal sanctuary is a perfect place to spend a day.

After a buffet lunch of local cuisine and typical American fare, we headed toward the falls.

I was a little concerned about taking this trip because I don’t get around as well as I used to. Warnings abound on the tourist sites mentioning the level of difficulty. Not for the first time, I found the warnings to be overstated. In fact, all I had packed for our trip to Costa Rica were some heavy-soled flip flops and that’s what I wore. I was fine. My takeaway is wear whatever shoes are comfortable to you and you’re good to go.

There are a LOT of steps. These warnings of internet lore are true. The upside is most of them are downward. You start at the top, walk down, and a shuttle takes you back to the top of the park. It’s really not too hard and there are handrails the entire walk.

We didn’t experience any rain (yay!) but it is typical for it to rain at some point, so bring along a raincoat or poncho.

This is a perfect trip for people like me, who are not hikers and backpackers, to get out and experience the jungle in the mountains. Don’t let the internet tourist warnings about the difficulties put you off. I saw lots of people older than me and dozens of school children taking the walking in stride. Unless you’re in a wheelchair, you’ll be fine!

My warning to you is this: the ride up and down the mountain is the hardest part. If you are prone to carsickness, don’t stare at your phone or read, try to get a seat towards the front of your tour van or bus, and keep your eyes on the horizon! You will pass coffee plantations, strawberry fields, cow pastures, cute villages and school children walking along the road. As hard as the ride was, the ride was almost my favorite part. I highly recommend this tour.

¬°Pura Vida! ūüá®ūüá∑

Traveler or Tourist?

We’ve been traveling more in recent years and eventually we decided to be more intentional about our travels and really see as much of the world as we can. And as a result, we decided to start this blog.

Of course, one of the first things you do when you start a blog is come up with a name. You’ve got to have a brand, a handle, or something that folks can refer to when they’re looking for you and (hopefully) telling others about you. We discussed options for hours, pros and cons, is it clever, had it been used, and finally came up with Tumbleweed Tourists. Love it. It suits us.

Imagine my surprise when I learned a few weeks later that “Tourist” is a derogatory term! I stumbled across a blog the other day numbering all the ways tourists are obnoxious dweebs and travelers are sophisticated eaters of local cuisine who stay out of the way and love all cultures.

I continued to read more blogs, and even news articles about how tourists are. I searched the Twittersphere for others with the ‘tourist’ handle. And I decided to stand my ground. We are tourists. But we are NOT Ugly American Tourists.

Call yourself a traveler if you like. I’ll keep calling myself a tourist. But if you’re like me, neither of these labels mean anything to us because we are, simply put, people. People who love the world enough to go and see it. Those of us who travel go to great effort and expense to experience other cultures and see landmarks and meet people and learn other ways of thinking – in the end, in my humble option, we are all the same.

So rather than divide us into tourists and travelers, let’s list a few things which keep us on the list of folks which the locals love to see coming.

  • We try to blend in, but we retain our uniqueness.
  • We try new foods, and even if we don’t like them, we smile and say thank you and appreciate the experience. (You can now forever tell people you tried blood pudding and it wasn’t that bad.)
  • We try to learn a little of the language and we do our best to use it.
  • We try to learn a little about the culture ahead of time and we refrain from offending as much as humanly possible.
  • We try to spend a little time with the locals.
  • We smile, we say thank you, we appreciate, and we praise, as is appropriate to the culture.

There’s more, but you get the idea. It’s the same as in life: Leave people glad they met you. That’s all anyone can ask!

Sunshine Blogger Award

We’ve been traveling domestically and internationally for many years, but we have gotten older now, which may seem a sad thing, but for our travel life it is a very happy thing. Besides having an empty nest, my husband has now retired so he always enthusiastically agrees to any travel ideas I throw his way. Anyways, a dear Twitter friend, Laura @countryexplores, has nominated our blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award and I am thrilled to participate! Thank you for the nomination, Laura, and I am honored that you thought of me! I also appreciate your posts!

So here I go:

1. Why did you start your travel blog? What was your inspiration?

We have been traveling more frequently so we have had more stories to tell. I’ve been sharing my photos on Instagram for a few years, but although a picture supposedly speaks a thousand words, I think I have a least 400 I’d like to say personally about each experience. I usually tell my stories to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen. A friend actually encouraged me to start a blog.

2. Where is the next place you are visiting and why?

We are going back to Costa Rica next week!  EEEEEEE! We love Costa Rica. In fact, we are considering trying to find a way to live there for a while some day.

3.Where has been the best place you have visited and why?

My favorite place was Paris. We loved Paris. We stayed in the Latin Quarter, which is a quiet and unpretentious neighborhood in the 5th arrondissement with a very intimate¬† feel. We didn’t do a lot of touristy things in Paris. We mostly sat at caf√©s and sipped cappuccinos and ate chocolate croissants. My husband sketches, so this is his bliss.

4.What is your long term goal for your travel blog?

I would love for people to read it. I would love for people to be inspired.

5.What are your top things to take with you on your travels and why?

My phone (which is also my wallet), my lip gloss and my glasses. Ha! Everything I need is this, the clothes on my back, and my passport.

6. What are your top 5 destinations on your bucket list and why?

We want to experience more of Costa Rica, Cape Cod is the very next trip on our list. We are planning a trip in the fall to Branson, Missouri, which is a total tourist trap, but I’ve never been and I’m pretty excited about it. Other than that, we’d like to visit Portugal and Ireland in the near future.

7. What are your hobbies?

Learning Spanish right now. I like to eat. Does that count? And of course, travel! ha

8.Which social media site is your favorite for travel inspiration?

I would have to say Twitter. I have really loved setting up my Twitter account and finding folks to follow. The traveler community on Twitter is a very open and friendly community and I see so many wonderful photos and find a lot of great information and ideas!

9. Do you have any advice for other travel bloggers?

Mostly to work your Twitter account. It seems to be one of the best places to get exposure and find readers. Also, be yourself and share your stories, even the stuff that goes wrong.

10. Have you ever used Couchsurfing when travelling? If not, what are your reasons for not using it?

Well, we travel as a couple, so I don’t think this is an option for us.¬† We have used Airbnb, but I mostly prefer hotels. We enjoy our privacy and solitude at the end of a day.

Thanks again, Laura, for nominating our blog. I found this to be a great opportunity to share a little more about us and our travels!

My Kind of Town

Chicago is a best kept secret. I’m fairly convinced that if it were summer year round in Chicago, everyone would live there. No one would ever leave. I have never so quickly and unexpectedly fallen in love with a city as I did Chicago last summer. I really didn’t see it coming.

Long ago, I had passed through Chicago. I had attended business meetings in the suburbs of Chicago. I had watched Oprah, recorded from her studio in Chicago, for years. I had wondered why she lived there when she could live anywhere she wanted.

My past image of Chicago was this: rough and tumble inner city, gangsters, corruption, some nice neighborhoods around it, wind and miserable weather. But the truth is downtown Chicago in the summertime is paradise.

Have you seen the color of Lake Michigan along the Monroe Harbor? Sublime. Grant Park and its regal Buckingham Fountain are found along the lake’s shore and are perfectly manicured, lush, and welcoming. It’s a place where you’ll see folks on their lunch breaks, walkers, joggers, moms with strollers, and tourists galore. It is alive with activity and blissfully peaceful all at the same time.

There must be a half dozen bonafide upscale shopping districts in downtown Chicago. Just when you think you’ve seen the best of Chicago, turn a corner and there’s more. Chicago Dogs are legit. And Chicago-Style Pizza is surprisingly different and amazingly fantastic. So. Much. Cheese.

When you plan your trip to Chicago, stay at the Congress Plaza Hotel and ask for a room above the third floor with a view of the fountain. From there you can walk almost anywhere you want to go, but Uber is also available and quick. We took the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour and ended up circling through twice we loved it so much. You can purchase tickets and catch the bus just a couple blocks from the hotel in front of the Hilton on Michigan Avenue.

We got off the bus at Shedd Aquarium (which was fantastic and the cafe offers stunning views of the city) and also at Portillo’s (which is not to be missed – try the Italian Beef Sandwich). From the bus you can plan many stops including the Navy Pier and the bean (Cloud Gate) in Millennium Park.

Chicago has a colorful and interesting history. You will see lovely and remarkable architecture in Chicago. The city is well planned and this is a story in and of itself. It’s an iconic city in our nation and well worth the visit. In fact, summer is coming! Excuse me while I plan my next trip.

Playas del Coco, Costa Rica

Usually when we travel, we stick to the big cities. We spend our time walking city streets or trying to figure out train schedules. We Uber. And we do love the city. But this trip out, on a lark really, we decided to visit the arid and quiet western coast of Costa Rica.

The airport near Liberia is a short three hour flight from Houston Intercontinental and we were in our rental car headed to our hotel on the Pacific Coast well before noon. By 2:00 pm, we had eaten a delicious traditional Costa Rican lunch of arroz con pollo, checked into our room, taken a walk, seen monkeys sleeping in a tree and realized those loud birds carrying on high up in the trees were parrots.

We saw so many iguanas it was funny how impressed we were with the first one we saw. By the way, I am told the black ones are not actually iguanas, they are called ctenosaurs, but it seemed like the general consensus was that all large lizards are iguanas. Ctenosaurs lay real still until they don’t, and then they move fast like a tornado. We were walking along the road and got too close to one which unexpectedly bolted and scared us half to death. I actually attempted to jump into my husband’s arms. I thought surely those things must weight 20 pounds, but I looked it up and they only¬†grow to¬†four pounds. I’m telling you when a three foot, four pound lizard goes from zero to TWENTY MILES PER HOUR in a split second it will send a shock right through you. But I digress.

We made our way to Playas del Coco on our second day. I’m not saying this place is some major tourist destination, but it was perfect for us. It’s basically about ten blocks of shops and restaurants all on one street that dead ends into the Pacific Ocean. They have created a lovely space along the water with sidewalks, landscape, restaurants, shops and seating areas. It’s a wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon.

In Playas del Coco I met Tina, the best snow cone maker in all of Costa Rica. I know this because it says so on a sign posted on her cart. And my snow cone was very delicious and topped with a large marshmallow covered in sweetened condensed milk and sprinkles, then a strawberry and a little pink umbrella. I’ll have to take her word for it that it was the best snow cone in Costa Rica, but it was definitely very good!

We both fell completely in love with this quaint corner of Costa Rica. More than its raw beauty, its amazing wildlife, and the laid back atmosphere, it was¬†the Costa Ricans we didn’t want to leave behind.¬†We knew very little about the country before we visited. We picked it¬†for the criteria it met: warm climate, close destination. What we¬†discovered is that the people there are kind, warm, friendly, funny and easy-going. They love to visit with you in your broken Spanish and tell you how well you speak the language after you’ve only managed a few words. They are quick to tease and quick to laughter.

Costa Rica is a rare find indeed. I can’t wait to go back to explore and learn more!

Travel Light

Often when I travel¬†folks comment, “Wow, you travel light!” I’ve heard it from TSA agents, gate agents, other passengers and flight attendants. Even before it cost money to check bags and they forced gate-checking because of full flights, I never packed much.¬†It’s probably just me. But maybe if I share my ‘travel light’ strategy, I can make someone else’s life a little easier.

My husband doesn’t like to check a bag either, but he did love his overhead bin carry-on roller bag. He would stuff that bag full and insist on bringing it every trip. And he has had to gate-check it a couple times.¬†Eventually, I bought him the under-the-seat-sized roller bag and we reached a satisfactory compromise. They don’t make him gate check that bag – they don’t even really notice it – because he collapses the pull handle and carries it on.

So here’s an example of what is usually¬†in my mid-sized over the shoulder bag:

  • One or two spare pair of pants and/or shorts (tightly rolled)
  • Two-three tops (tightly rolled)
  • MAYBE one extra pair of shoes (usually I wear the same shoes the entire trip)
  • Undergarments for each day (of course) ūüėČ
  • My clear bag with a minimal amount of liquids

In my purse I carry my passport, phone, headphones, charger(s), makeup, and other necessary miscellaneous items.

That’s it. Two bags. Both of which easily fit under the seat in front of me.

If the weather will be cold at my destination, I wear the heavier clothes and carry my jacket.

Most of our trips run about four-five days, but I have been on more than one ten day trip with only about this much clothing. I can wear each outfit twice and easily be clothed for 7-8 days.  If I plan a longer trip, I wash everything at the half way point.

I have never lost luggage. I have never been delayed because I’m waiting for my luggage. I’ve never had to gate-check a bag and hope to find it at the end of my journey. I don’t fight for overhead bin space with my neighboring passengers.

And I have never once done without anything I needed.

A View of Manhattan

Apparently, tomorrow we are expecting the ‘Blizzard of 2018’ in New Jersey. I really hope it doesn’t complicate our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico on Thursday. We will see.

But today the skies were crisp and brilliant blue. Knowing what is coming tomorrow, we wanted to spend as much time outside as we could today. We didn’t waste any time getting bundled up and outdoors this morning.

We decided to have brunch at a nice little place called Turning Point in Hoboken. The food and service are great, but the big attraction here is the view of the city. What a view! Close and unobstructed, there are few places like it. And on a clear day and it’s an amateur photographer’s heaven.

Street parking can be a bit tricky, but there is a public parking garage on 12th between 15th and Sinatra Drive. If you park in the garage, the three block walk along the water to the restaurant is quite pleasant. Come when the temperature is moderate and you won’t ever want to leave!