July/August 2011 was not a very warm period in the Netherlands, so I was very happy to get out of the Netherlands at the end of the August to still get a bit of a tan. And what better place to get a tan than in the sunshine state? So on August 29th, I travelled to Florida (Paul was already there) to find the sun. My travel experience was not optimal. There is already the nonsense about not being able to bring unsealed liquids on board, but now they are also limiting the size of water bottles that you can bring on board that you paid entirely too much money for at the airport. So I couldn’t buy a litre bottle of water, but had to buy small 33cl bottles instead, that were then put into a single bag and sealed so I could take them on board. The logic of that is beyond me. My flight to the US was quite OK, I sat next to a Spanish teacher who also organised cycling tours for tourists in New York, so we had a nice chat. Atlanta airport was a horror, as it was super busy, and it took me the better half of 2.5 hours to get through immigration and checked in again for my next flight, but I made it and the warm welcome in Pensacola made it all worthwhile.
Paul and I took it easy the first week. We spent a fair amount of time on the beach (under an umbrella, because the sun is super strong there). I got to try out stand-up paddle boarding, which was super cool, especially when the dolphins came within just a few metres of my board :). We also met up with friends of Paul’s, and went bowling, and we hung out with his parents. It also rained a fair bit (tropical storm) but that just meant hanging on the sofa with a nice book (also not a bad way to spend the holidays!).
As we are both keen on travelling and visiting new places, we had also booked a trip to Costa Rica. The waves there are excellent, and it’s just cool to visit a new place. On September 5th, we took a really early flight to Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia, Costa Rica (via Atlanta). We got there around noon, picked up our rental car, and started the trip along the highway (which looked like a carriageway really) to Tamarindo. We only took a wrong turn once, but it wasn’t too bad, and after about an hour and a half, the last bit of it on a dirt road, we pulled up in front of our B&B: 15 love Bed and Breakfast. The B&B was awesome, really nice decor, cute swimming pool, nice tennis courts, fantastic breakfast (most of the days I started with pancakes and fresh fruit smoothies) and only a few minutes walk to the beach.
The first day, we walked around on the beach and the town a bit, enquired with surf shops how much it is to rent a board and to take a lesson (even within shops it varies who you talk to) and we then had a nice dinner at the Longboards barbecue, where I tasted yucca chips for the first time in my life (I tried cooking them myself but that didn’t go so well).
On Tuesday, I rented a board for the week at Kelly’s surf shop, simply because it’s closest to the beach and our hotel. The really nice thing there was also that I could swap the board whenever I needed to, for example if the conditions were smaller requiring a bigger board etc. This also meant that I could try out a fish, or a slightly smaller board, although I was most happy with a 6’8″Webber semi-fish. On Tuesday, Paul took a surf lesson, but the teaching style of the instructor didn’t work so much for him, so after I got done surfing, I swapped my board for a bigger one, and he got to try to catch some more waves which was nicer. We continued this during the week (I went surfing first, and when the tide went down and there was mostly whitewater, I swapped the board and guided Paul a bit, and sometimes caught a few waves longboard style).
On Saturday, we went for a canopy tour (ziplining through the dry forest), which was really cool. The zipline was a bit different from what I’d done before, in the sense that you also had a thick leather glove that you were supposed to keep on the line, to slow down and to keep you steady, but that worked out alright. There was one at the end where you didn’t have to do that and you could go upside down (which I of course had to do :)).
Although it was the rain season, the weather was truly great. There are quite a few advantages to it being the rain season, namely that the forests are green instead of brown, and it’s not as excruciatingly hot (according to the locals). OK, we did get lucky, because they told us that sometimes it just rains for two weeks on end, but we usually had an hour of rain or so at the end of the day, or sometimes rain during the night, which just meant time for a nap after surfing :).
We didn’t visit many different places while we were in Costa Rica, one being that we didn’t feel so comfortable on the dirt roads with our regular car, and we were just having such a good time around Tamarindo that we didn’t feel the need to drive three hours to visit a volcano (maybe on our next trip ;)). We did go to Santa Cruz (the ‘National Folklore City’) one afternoon, but that took ages, and it started raining rather heavily, so after seeing the highlight (a bell tower, the church got demolished in an earthquake) and walking a few blocks around it. We got back into the car and drove back to Tamarindo through the craziest thunderstorm ever. When we got back, it had gotten dark so we went straight for dinner at one of the little places on the main street.
Most of the week we’d been eating ‘casadas’, which is a dish that consists of some meat or fish, together with a salad, beans, rice, and fried plantains. Usually we would share a casada for lunch at the little beach bar, and at night we would each have one someplace else. We also had some really nice mexican food one night, and we also once had casadas delivered to our hotel because it was raining so hard and we were tired :).
One day, we also took a trip to Playa Avellanas, a little place just 10k from Tamarindo (but a 45 min drive over dirt roads that also take you quite far inland before going to towards the coast again), with a nice beach bar and a supposedly friendly reef break. Since I’m a chicken, I didn’t go surfing, but I had a good time watching other surfers from one of the marvellous beach chairs at Lola’s bar. Just before lunch, a truly torrential rain shower started, so we were forced under the overhang at the bar where we shared a table with an American guy who had moved to Costa Rica. He was a bit full of himself, but had some funny stories to tell, and some nice tips on the area, so it was a nice way of sitting out the rains.
Monday was our last full day in Costa Rica, and I’d wanted to surf another spot too, so I booked a lesson at the Roxy all girls surf camp to go to Playa Grande. My instructor turned out to be former national surf champion Andrea Diaz and she was really nice. The waves didn’t look so big from the beach, but turned out to be 7-8 ft. basically scaring the shit out of me. But I got to learn to deal with them (best advice of the day: ‘the bigger the wave, the harder you need to paddle’) and I made it through the surf, and back in in one piece so I was quite chuffed with myself :). When I got back in Tamarindo, I found out that Paul had been out surfing too on his own, and he seems quite stoked too now, so I foresee more surf trips together :D.
We ended our day at longboards barbecue again (where we started our first night), because the other place we meant to go to was closed and we knew the food was fine there.
On Tuesday morning, Paul played tennis again with the owner of the hotel, while I took one last splash in the ocean (this time walking to the beach barefoot as a few days earlier my flip flops had been nicked). And then it was time to go back to the airport again :(.
On the way to the airport I bought a coconut (something I’d been wanting to do all week), and at Atlanta airport we had a cocktail to finish off this part of our holiday in style. But luckily we still had another 5 days in sunny Florida!
Those five days were not bad either, as on Thursday afternoon I attended Denise’s bachelorette party, which was a high tea at a lovely old house in Pensacola overlooking the beach. I also got to go to a concert at ‘Vinyl’ on Thursday night, a fairly new concert venue in town. Paul didn’t go because he had a bachelor’s party to go to, so I hung out with one of Paul’s friends, and the concert turned out to be quite good actually. The support act was “Wye Oak”, which was OK. They had a pretty full sound for just a guitarist/singer and a drummer/keyboards combination, but unfortunately their songs were getting a big predictive and I also didn’t quite feel the singer’s passion (yes I’m picky). The main act, Okkervil River, was superb though. Many of the band members played several instruments at some point during the performance, and I was also instantly a fan of the female lead guitarist. One thing that they haven’t figured out in American bars yet is that you shouldn’t put the airconditioning to ‘freeze mode’ if you want your audience to drink much, but it was a cheap night for me ;). I also scored a autograph of the base guitar player on the way to the car, so it wasn’t a bad night at all.
On Friday, Paul and I hit the beach again, this time ‘upscale’ as we lounged by the pool of one of the hotels in Pensacola beach. After taking a nap on one of the chairs, a refreshing splash in the pool and a glass of chilled lemonade we did try going for a swim in the Gulf, but it was still infested with jellyfish so we stayed close to the beach, but it was nice to get my feet in the sand and collect some more sea shells. In the evening, we went to the Gallery Night in downtown Pensacola. The city centre was one big open air party (as the temperature was obviously still fantastic), all the galleries were open, there also were little stalls selling art and bands playing outside. We finished the night with dinner at Dharma Blue, a really nice cozy restaurant just off the main streets.
Saturday was our last day in Pensacola, and what a day! As this the day of Denise and Niranjan’s wedding. The ceremony was very different from Dutch ceremonies (the couple stays standing for example), but it was great to witness. The venue they had chosen had a fabulous view of the Gulf on three sides, and afterwards there were refreshing drinks, fabulous food, great music and dancing! A great way to end a great holiday :).