Asbury Park Boardwalk

The beach. Fresh ocean breezes, the sound of the waves tumbling to shore, toes dug deep into the cool sand. Nothing compares. I was raised in the southwest, so any time I had the pleasure of visiting the beach, it was a treat. As a child, the saltier, stickier and more sunburned I was, the better.

As an adult, the sticky, gritty, beach is a bit less appealing. Sipping a cold beverage in the shade whilst sitting in a comfortable chair- much more appealing. Imagine my delight to discover the concept of a boardwalk.  I mean, California has its piers and Florida has, well, mostly sand. It wasn’t until I first came to the greater New Jersey/New York area that I discovered the sublime addition of a boardwalk to the beach.

In my perfect world, all beaches are Asbury Park.

With its long, smooth, wooden walkway, its variety of eateries and shops, and its lovely beach, Asbury Park is the best of all worlds.  Stroll along with your family, grab a Korean Fusion Taco or a Coney Waffle cone. Linger with your lover and enjoy a martini at Stella Marina in the cool breeze. Stay into the evening at The Anchor’s Bend. Dig your toes into the sand, enjoy the fresh air, sip a beverage – you might even get to experience some terrific live music.

the anchors bend
Enjoying an Evening at The Anchor’s Bend

I can regale you with tales of relaxation and tranquility, describe to you the riches to be found in the various shops, tempt you with lunch, dinner and treats, but don’t take my word for it. Check out the awesome and informative Asbury Park Boardwalk website.

There’s plenty more to know than what I can tell you!

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! 🇨🇷

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!

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) 😉
  • 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.