A Hop To Houston

The plans all started on New Year’s Eve. We stayed home and we were watching the usual NYE celebrations on TV. Jimmy Buffett came on and put on a good show and I casually mentioned to Keith we should really see him before he stops performing. Keith was game so when his summer lineup was announced, I decided on Houston to drive to & finally take in the Jimmy Buffett experience.

Since Houston is a long enough haul from Denton, we decided on going down a night early. We’ve made the drive from Houston a few times now, and have continuously seen billboards advertising Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas. This time, we decided to stop and fill up on sugar. The cookies were quite good and kept me awake while I finished the trek south.

The Bakery
Collin Street Bakery

Since we had the entire day before the concert at night, we decided to visit a museum. Keith found the Art Car Museum and what a treat it was. It’s technically free (although we gave a donation) and they have a rotating display of art cars that have been in past parades.

Detail on one of the art cars
Detail on one of the art cars
Art Car Museum
Art Car Museum

After wandering for a bit, it was time for lunch and we decided to take advantage of being in a multicultural city by seeking out a Vietnamese restaurant. We visit Huynh and it was beyond delicious. It also pointed up the need for me to be much better with chopsticks for our future travels. I am a bit clumsy with them. While we were walking to the restaurant, I noticed several groups with baseball jerseys on.

Delicious Vietnamese food
Delicious Vietnamese food

Wouldn’t you know, the Astros were in town and the stadium only a few blocks away! We snagged some nosebleed seats and watch the game until the seventh inning stretch. It is a covered stadium and while I appreciate the why of a covered stadium, it just didn’t feel the same. My favorite stadium remains Camden Yards and it’s not baseball if you don’t have to worry about the sun or wind or rain right?

The 'cheap' seats
The ‘cheap’ seats

We left in enough time to head back up to The Woodlands, grab a bite to eat and head to Jimmy. I bought lawn tickets so I was less than happy when it decided to POUR. Luckily, the weather gods weren’t entirely crappy, as the rain stopped a few songs in and the lawn ended up being only a partial mud pit. Jimmy was just as great live and has an insane amount of energy. Maybe I will never be a Parrothead (people watching was almost as entertaining as Jimmy!), but I really did enjoy the concert.

Lawn View for Jimmy Buffett
Lawn View for Jimmy Buffett

We then hauled back on Sunday to Denton and finished our move into the RV – just a few short days later, we need to head to North Dakota!

6 days in Jaco

I think this is the longest beach vacation we’ve taken and coming right on the heels of Cerro Chatto, I was seriously grateful we planned 6 days of beach time.

It was another long haul from Arenal to Jaco and even though we left in the early afternoon, we didn’t arrive until well after dark. Costa Rica may look like a small country, but the road systems – while not horrible- are very often 2 lane windy roads which take some time to navigate.

Jaco Beach
Jaco Beach

We checked into the hotel and I was surprised at the space. I didn’t remember when I reserved it being a 2 bedroom condo, but it was and the space ended up being glorious. The only downside to our stay was while it was on the beach, it also bordered the road with a curve and an elevation change. Trucks using their brakes were extremely loud and most of the living area didn’t have windows to cut down on the noise. Luckily the bedroom we chose to sleep in was pretty quiet and away from the road. That quibble aside, it was a lovely stay.

Found Beavis and Butthead on one of our walks
Found Beavis and Butthead on one of our walks

The first day I was still a bit wiped out so it was pretty low key. A walk on the beach, a visit to the local grocery store, an afternoon siesta, drinks while watching iguanas, telehit on the tv, sleep.

Surfer headed out for some sunset waves
Surfer headed out for some sunset waves

In fact, most of our days followed that pattern and it was rather nice. The balcony we had overlooked a cluster of trees that the iguanas loved. It was highly entertaining watching them eating leaves. At one time, there were 7 we could see! There was also an iguana that hung out on our roof, his claws creepily sticking out from the roofline. We spent many hours just watching them scurrying, climb and eat.

Iguana viewing from our balcony
Iguana viewing from our balcony

We visited the grocery store a few more times, and since the condo had a kitchen, I ate many meals the first few days there. My body was rebelling against most things after the hike, so eating broth and noodles, instead of going out to eat, helped.

Our rooftop creeper
Our rooftop creeper

The beach was rather quiet and we loved watching the surfers, and the sand crabs. On the weekend, the beach really came alive and it was an amazing contrast from the tranquil mid week. It is a locals beach and I loved seeing everyone out enjoying the water. Tents were pitched, football (aka soccer) games galore – it just teemed with life.

Nothing more exciting than watching sea life slowly move
Nothing more exciting than watching sea life slowly move

We spent one afternoon soaking in the pool and learned that our sunscreen had expired years ago, making the waterproof not so waterproof any longer. Luckily it wasn’t too bad of a burn. The next day, Keith went out for a walk on the beach while I napped and came back burnt to a crisp. I swear he is still peeling from that mistake.

A crab on the beach
A crab on the beach

We visited Beer House and chatted with the owners. They had only been open a few months and the concept of local beer and European tapas, while we loved, has been a bit of a challenge with the locals. I loved the space, enjoyed the brew and dug into some seriously tasty potato pancakes.  We had a fine dining experience at Lemon Zest, and overall enjoyed the meal. I don’t think I would recommend waiting if there is a long wait list, but it was well prepared food.  We also made a stop at the Green Room and I adored this space. The beer and food were also good, and they have live music every day. It was a perfectly beachy, arty space and I almost wished we would have found this place earlier in our stay.

A local brew at Beer House
A local brew at Beer House

I found Jaco to be a perfect mix of relaxation, without being overly touristy and high end.  One note that we were rather surprised at is overall, we did find Costa Rica to be rather expensive, and on par cost wise with any beach vacation you would have in the states. The groceries, much of the food venues (even the sodas), all seemed to be pricier that we anticipated. Still worth the travel down to see a few spots in Costa Rica? Absolutely!

Happy Hour sunsets in Jaco
Happy Hour sunsets in Jaco

The Vertical Climb of Cerro Chato

Vacation self, is crazy.

Here in Texas, if someone challenged my overweight, out of shape self a nearly vertical walk up a volcano, going from 0-3700 feet in 1.5 hours, I would think you were mad for even offering.

On vacation, this sounds like an adventure!

The lodge we were staying at was a starting point for the very difficult hike up Cerro Chato. Cerro Chato seems rather tiny when compared to Arenal but take it from me, it’s not when your climbing it! On the day of the hike, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to take on the adventure of such a difficult hike, so while we prepared for being out in nature and walking, we didn’t prepare for a 5 hour vertical trek. Mistake #1.

We started the day meandering through the trails, bird watching and enjoying the moderately cool temperatures. When we got to the starting point of Cerro Chato, I looked up the gnarly knots of tree trunks and decided – this hike could be fun! Mistake #2=not going right to the start of the trail to complete the climb earlier in the day.

That little hill? That doesn't look so bad...
That little hill? That doesn’t look so bad…

So up we went, hauling over limbs, scrambling over rocks. I quickly realized this was going to be more than difficult. After some time, we ran into another hiker headed on the way down. We asked how we were doing and he mentioned we were about 1/2 way there. yay! He also cautioned that the ‘trail’ gets worse and to find a walking stick if at all possible. boo! I quickly found a stick and sure enough, it helped tremendously with leverage.

We continued up the volcano and at a certain point I realized I was soaked. Not just a little sweaty because we are hiking, but because we are hiking a near vertical mountain in a jungle. I have gotten lazy about wearing contacts over the last few years and don’t even have a current prescription. There was so much exertion that my glasses were fogging up, which isn’t a big deal until Keith yelled: STOP. SNAKE.

A nice section of the 'trail' on Cerro Chatto
A nice section of the ‘trail’ on Cerro Chatto

Yep, a snake that I almost stepped on because I had serious foggy glasses tunnel vision. Wisely, it was decided that Keith start leading on the trail so he could point out anything.

Eventually, we made it and it really was beautiful. We couldn’t see as far into the distance as I would have liked, and there was no clear view to Arenal but it was still a treat to make it. We chatted with a few people from Switzerland, and a couple from Vancouver.

View of a beautiful volcanic lake
View of a beautiful volcanic lake

After about 45 minutes of rest, it was time to head back down. Here is where proper planning could have been better. We were down to one bottle of water, and knowing that the hike down was going to be strenuous. What we should have had was some gatorade and snack bars for the top, which would have made the end of the hike a little less painful.

Made it to the top!
Made it to the top!

Going down was, surprisingly, easier than going up. We navigated the trail well and gave thanks to the recent lack of rain the jungle was having – it would have been a nightmare in slippery conditions.

About 1/2 way, we ran into a couple that spoke French, and a little English. After we communicated to watch out for the snake that was in the trail (seriously, the cutest ever and I don’t like snakes. It was a tiny thing in the middle of the trail and was all fierce about NOT budging) they asked how far. I wish my French was better because I don’t know if they got ‘ halfway up the mountain’ in English but they did get a chuckle after I told them ‘Je suis fatigue’.

The last 1/2 hour my knees started to complain, and then my ankle. 3 surgeries on my left knee and ankle has left me a bit of a mess. I stressed my body and was actually impressed how well it did.

When we got to the bottom of the volcano, we still had about a 2km walk back to the lodge. This was actually the worst part of the trip. We were out of water, and it was midday in the heat. The walk had little shade, and I was completely wiped. When we finally got to the lodge, Keith actually went ahead (after I assured him I wouldn’t pass out) to grab some water. As we sat outside the lobby, one of the front desk clerks saw us and asked if we just finished Cerro Chatto. I laughed and said yes – which means we look pretty rough. He mentioned most hikers have ‘that look’ when finishing but offered his congratulations. He said it’s a badge of honor to have made it up & down the volcano.

After several PowerAids, a lot of water and food, we went to the room to crash. I didn’t leave until the next morning and it was a pretty rough night of shivering, then sweating, then shivering with all my limbs screaming while my body recovered from the day.

Last look at Arenal Volcano - time to head to Jaco!
Last look at Arenal Volcano – time to head to Jaco!

Was it worth it? It was a great experience. Should we have planned better so the after effects weren’t as bad? You bet. When Costa Ricans say a trail is difficult, believe it!

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