The Coker's

The Coker's

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tamarindo Eats

Luckily we had a fabulous outdoor kitchen to utilize while we were there, so we didn't eat at the local restaurants as much as we usually would have, but we do have some good suggestions.

1. Nogui's- Excellent fish tacos!  They have a cheap deal where you can get a fish taco and a beer (go with Imperial) for like $6.00.  Because Tamarindo is a tourist destination, the food is not cheap, so this is a great deal!  The location is prime for watching the sunset over the horizon while you are sitting on the beach.

2. Bar 1 Sushi Lounge- EXCELLENT SUSHI!  You will find many sushi restaurants around the area, and we hear they are all pretty good... but as many times as I have had sushi in my life, this had to be the best second to a fabulous little joint I used to frequent in Vail, CO.  They play old surfer clips behind the bar, it's all open air, and it sits above the town on the second or third story of a building in the middle of all the action. Great prices too!

3. Khahiki- Now we didn't get to stop by and check it out, but our friends that were staying at Casa Bambora with us went and they LOVED IT!  They frequented several of the higher priced restaurants in the area, and they said this was their favorite!

4. Pizzeria Portofino- We had a great experience here!  We met lots of people that tried other pizza joints and they were NOT pleased, but we actually got lucky with this find!  We had a foccacia and a pizza with several Imperials and it was great!  I would recommend this for your pizza fix while in Tamarindo!

5. Mandarina- GO GET A MILK SHAKE! It's worth the calories!  They have great milk shakes along with juices, smoothies, and other ice cream treats.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Costa Rica- Playa Grande/ Playa Flamingo

Playa Grande & Playa Flamingo

Playa Flamingo
After reading through the Frommer's book, I was sold on spending a little time at this beach.  Driving there from Tamarindo is a little confusing.  There are several signs that point down dirt roads to get you to Playa Flamingo, BUT DON'T TAKE THEM!  You will know you are there because you pass through a small, well-established town.  Once you pass through it, you make a slight left and there is the beach.  There are plenty of places to park right in front of it so you can check on your car from time to time if you feel the need.  The resort that is located on the across the street from the beach happily rents chairs and umbrellas which was a must for me.  I was a little gun shy with the sun in Costa Rica.  Several people told me to be careful because of how close you are to the equator.  I can happily report that I did NOT get sunburned ;)
We laid on our chairs, read our books, took some pictures, did some people watching, took a quick dip in the water, and then packed up and headed back to Tamarindo.  There isn't much to do on this beach except observe the beautiful scenery, layout and read a great book.  Honestly, I am perfectly content with some peace on a beach IN COSTA RICA!  I would definitely suggest a quick trip to hang out for a half day or full day.

Playa Grande
I can see myself renting a house on Playa Grande with a big group of friends.  First of all, the waves a GREAT on this beach.  Second, the beach houses are RIGHT ON THE BEACH.  Third, it's way less touristy than Tamarindo!  If all three of those things sound appealing to you, then by all means book your vacation there!  You will absolutely need a rental car if you stay in this town.  It's still growing but it reminds me of Sayulita when I was a little girl... not much to do, but just perfect for our family vacations.

They have a few surf shops that provide surf lessons.  The waves are pretty consistent.  My favorite thing about this place is a little restaurant called "La Marejada" or "The Swell".  This is a small "surfer" hotel that has a FABULOUS breakfast spot!  We dined there three mornings in a row... no joke!  There are 4 small inns right in a row that are walking distance to the waves.  There were lots of young people at this spot.

If you end up staying in Tamarindo, definitely check out Playa Grande.  It's worth the short drive, and the beach is really beautiful.

Costa Rica- La Anita RainForest Ranch

I knew that I wanted to stay a night up near one of the volcanoes.  From Tamarindo, Arenal and Monteverde are quite a hike, but Rincon de La Vieja is about 2 1/2 hours away so we went for it!  We didnt have any trouble getting there.  The part that was the "toughest" was the turnoff from the main road in Aguas Claras, BUT, it's marked with a sign that says "La Anita" to take a left onto a dirt road.  Now the dirt road goes for a good 30 minutes because you have to drive slow, but trust me, you won't care because it's so darn beautiful!

Pablo and Ana are nicer than the nicest people you know TIMES 1,000.  Seriously, I have never met two people more passionate about what they do.  At ClubCorp we preach Warm Welcomes, Magic Moments and Fond Farewells and after meeting Ana and Pablo, it's inspired me to eat/sleep/breathe that a little more.

As soon as we arrived Pablo showed us around, took us to our room, and then asked us what we would like to eat for lunch before our horseback ride.  I asked for a salad and Matt asked for Arroz con Pollo. We settled in, changed into our clothes for riding, and then headed back to the dining area.  Our lunch was ready when we got there, and they even had fresh passion fruit juice for us.  The food was out of this world!  Matt loved the fried plantains so much that he asked me to learn how to make them.  I called Pablo over and asked if his chef could teach me... what do you think his answer was.... OF COURSE!  I'll get to that in a second, though. After lunch (which also included homemade Tres Leches cake with a shot of rum over it) we headed to a lodge down the road to go for our ride.

Edgar was out guide for the horseback riding.  He didn't speak a lick of English, but it gave me a real opportunity to practice my Spanish because 99% of the people speak English.  We mounted the horses and headed off to the unknown.  It was a little rainy, the ground was a mushy, but the horses did ok.  We trecked up and up and up until we reached the top where the clouds engulfed us (literally, we were in the freaking clouds!). Once we took some great photos we started our way back down the otherside of the mountain.  It was so much fun/ scary.  Our horses were sliding down the hills like they had on roller skates (YIKES) but when it got too dangers, we actually dismounted and walked them down.  I am not going to lie, it was crazy, but we made it and we lived to blog about it ;)  On the way down, I got a chance to talk with Edgar.  He has 3 children, we passed his house along with many of his family member's houses, his whole family works with horses, and he thinks I am a good rider and that my husband is not (that was the gist of it) hahah.

After our ride, we paid the hotel, tipped Edgar, said hello and goodbye to our new friend Papi (Toucan that sleeps there everynight) and headed back to La Anita.  Once we go there, we showered and got ready for dinner and my COOKING LESSON!

As I mentioned above, I wanted to learn to make these plantains, so Pablo set that up to do before dinner.  He called us into the kitchen and the chef walked me through the process.  It was really easy, and of course we got to enjoy the plantains before dinner.  Pablo also let us sample his fresh roasted Cacoa beans (from the ranch) and this special spicy salsa (which will burn your mouth... in a good way). Dinner was fabulous and we stayed up talking with Pablo about the history of Costa Rica for hours!

Now let's talk about these cabins.  The weather is nice and cool at night so you don't need A/C.  There are no  covers over the windows... just layers of screen to keep the bugs out.  The wood in C.R. is beautiful and that is what all the cabins are made out of.  They all come equipped with a bed, shelf space for your clothes, modern bathroom, hot water shower, hammock on the front porch, doors that lock and they have an alarm, small refridgerator stocked with beer and water (for purchase) and free Costa Rican coffee.  They are set in a lush area of the ranch and are dripping with beautiful tropical flowers.  Behind the cabin is a wooded area and from your deck you see the rest of the ranch.  We saw some of the most interesting birds with vibrant colored feathers and they constantly sing to you as you are walking around the place.  HEAVEN ON EARTH is a better name for this ranch :)

We slept like champs with the rain acting as a sleep aid as it poured on the metal roof.  Seriously, I need a metal roof (my poor husband) and I need a ranch in the rainforest in Costa Rica ;)

When we woke up, we both grabbed our books, made some fresh coffee, and proceeded to the porch to read in the hammock.  AWESOME.  When we got hungry, we headed to the dining area.  Ana, Pablo's wife, greeted us and had breakfast with us.  I already love her and I only spent about an hour with her.  She is the one who helps you with your reservations and she sets up all the activities.  She is truly wonderful.  Side note: Breakfast was delicious with their homemade jams, eggs, gallo pinto, coffee, and their homemade juices. Afterwards, we walked around the ranch a bit more and then decided to go ahead and pack up to make the drive back to Tamarindo.  Honestly, I felt like I was going to cry when we were leaving (no really, I did) so it is my mission to go back very very soon!  Ana and Pablo hugged us both goodbye and we headed out.

I couldnt just do a few pictures, I wanted to give you all a full slide show.  These pictures are from the horseback ride, the ranch, the drive in, etc.  Please enjoy ;)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Costa Rica- PuraAdventura

Matt...Comin' in hot!

Pura Aventura
This was a good way to start the vacation- before the adrenaline runs out and the sleep deprived work-a-holic finally attempts to catch up on sleep :)

Joey (if staying at Casa Bambora)  is more than happy to set up tours for people, but since I am a little neurotic about really PLANNING my trip before I get there, I did it myself.  And frankly, it's just as easy to do. I set up a double activity day: Canopy Tour/ ATV Tour.

Getting to the place where adventures happen: They picked us up right at our house.  She was a little early, but remember, NO ONE IS ON A TRUE SCHEDULE ON VACATION!  We picked up a few more risk takers and headed out.  It was around 45 minutes one way, and I couldn't tell you the exact location because during the entire ride I was scanning the beautiful scenery. 

Canopy Tour:
We had ziplined before, and loved it, so it was only natural to try the most stereo-typical Costa Rican activity while we were in Costa Rica.

Once we arrived we payed and waited until the crew was ready to get us started!  They drove us up to the top of the mountain/ large hill, suited us up, gave us a demonstration of what to do, and then the fun began.  The ziplines were really long and the placement of the lines was pure perfection.  It's a lush and green location and there is plenty to see and enjoy for the entire 2 hours.  There are over 10 ziplines to "tarzan" through the forest on and none are disappointing. 

Click on the link below to experience one of the ziplines!

Now don't expect to get the same AWESOME ride that we did because they can't offer the "adventure" ride to everyone.  We both have experience riding ATV's, and since it was just Matt and myself going for the tour, they agreed to take us on something a little more exhilarating than the normal tour.  Our guide was crazy, but as you all know... I like a little crazy in my life :)  First of all, its dusty, so expect to look like one of the chimney cleaners on Mary Poppins when you are done!  It's well worth it.

We started our way through the ranch and up the mountain.  We forged through creeks, dried up riverbeds, up steep hills, over logs (apparently that's not such a good idea because Matt said he was scared for my safety at one point... I don't remember being scared or fearing for my life... but just stay away from those).  On the way up our guide spotted a little family of Howler Monkeys... that was 60% of the reason I wanted to go to Costa Rica.  We stopped, took some pictures, made the monkey howl at us, and then got back on the trail.  Matt's breaks were a little sketchy, but he is the most advanced rider out of the two of us, so I am glad it was him and not me!  Once we reached the top, it was worth all the hard work.  The view was spectacular.  We sat up there, chatted about life, got to know our guide, took in the full view, and just enjoyed being in the moment up there.  It's fun to know that not everyone will have that same moment since we were well off the beaten path ;) 

Once we were done, we headed back down the challenging path and he let us get a little crazy... Matt zoomed by me as fast as he possibly could.  We had a blast racing back to the entrance. 

If you do choose Pura Aventura, TIP YOUR GUIDES BIG!  I don't know exactly what they make, but I know the going rate in Costa Rica is around $2.50 per hour which probably equates to less than $20 a day!  SO TIP BIG PEOPLE!

Getting Home:
After our big day (which was around 5 hours of pure fun), they took us back to our hotel/house.  On the way, we saw another tribe of Howler Monkeys (this one much larger) making their way across the telephone lines.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Costa Rica- The basics of our trip...

Beautiful, Lush, Adventure
That IS Costa Rica

Thankfully my sweet husband FINALLY let me plan a trip to Costa Rica, and I think he is just as happy about the outcome as I am.  It was AWESOME!

Booking Flights: We set up a fare alert through FareCompare.  The tickets during high season were consistently at $800 and up.  Every time we saw a low fare alert, we would check into it, but we really wanted a GREAT deal.  Finally we saw a low fare come through so we went for it.  Matt moved our dates up a week (the week before Xmas instead of the week of Xmas) and the ticket prices plummeted!  I don't usually disclose prices on here, but I wanted to give everyone hope... $256.00 round trip from DFW to Liberia on Continental (one stop in Houston). SO USE FARECOMPARE for your next trip!

Booking a hotel: We did a lot of searching on VRBO.  Once I had an idea of where I wanted to stay, I checked reviews on TripAdvisor.  That is the best way to get a true picture of how the place really is.  We picked Casa Bambora

Booking a Rental Car: DO IT DO IT DO IT!  Seriously DO IT!  You will want to go explore, possibly split your time between different beach towns, etc.  We booked through Avis and they were great.  There are always tons of discount codes that you can google and apply when booking your rental car.

Towns we visited: Tamarindo (Home Base), Playa Grande, Playa Flamingo, Rincon de la Vieja (several small towns)

We arrived in Liberia a little after Noon.  Unfortunately our bags did not arrive with us, but honestly, I didn't even care!  We gave them the address to Casa Bambora and just prayed that they would eventually get there.  When I have a bonafied reason to shop to ensure survival, I AM ALL IN!

Avis was waiting right outside of customs to take us over to their car lot in an air conditioned, spacious van.  They talked us into the full coverage insurance (which I highly recommend), quickly got the contract done, got the keys, and we were off to start our adventure. 
Liberia Airport (small, not a full building (open walls facing the runway))
Liberia to Tamarindo
It's easy!  From the airport, you take a right and head away from the airport.  There are plenty of signs that point you towards Tamarindo.  It's about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  If you are flying in at night and are making the trip for your first time, just opt for the GPS.  (Just don't leave it laying in sight when you are not using the car)
Casa Bambora
Once we arrived we went through a very easy/quick walk through with the owner, Joey.  The setup is perfect for several couples looking to vacation together on a budget or if you and your companion just want a budget friendly place to stay.  The house is set up on 3 floors with a pool, an OUTDOOR KITCHEN, locked entry gates, a viewing deck on top of the house, and several outdoor sitting/reading areas.  Floor 1: Pool, outdoor kitchen, Joey's room, and 1 rental room.  Floor 2: A larger room and a medium size room. Floor 3: 1 room (that is where we stayed) Floor 4/roof top: viewing deck with a million dollar 360 degree view.  All rooms are set up condo style.  They all have a full bathroom, kitchen, refrigerator, bed, A/C, TV and couch.  They all have hammocks outside of the room which is fabulous for reading. I highly recommend Casa Bambora.  Joey has built a special place (literally he built it) and he is a fabulous concierge!  He made time to give us insider tips, he sat and had a beer with us a time or two, he even made time to get us shrimp from the fish truck one day so we gladly treated him to some home cooked meals! The outdoor kitchen and pool area are more than worth the price!  Joey also provided us with an Iphone doc that doubled as speakers so we could play our music in our room or out by the pool.

Grocery Store Situation
Expensive Option: Auto Mercado- This is on the right hand side as you are first entering the town of Tamarindo.  It's located in a group of shops that are next to the big Asian inspired statues. They have everything you need but its VERY expensive.  A bag of shredded cheese is around $6.00 US.  They have a decent veggie selection, a meat section, dairy, bakery, beer/wine/liquor, etc.  Very much like a Kroger. 
Cheaper Option: Mega Super- This is a much more affordable option.  This is a place that the locals would utilize on a daily basis.  In fact, every time I went into the store, I was the only American.  They will ask you to bring back glass beer bottles or charge you extra for them. So its just easier to get canned beer :)  The store is on the way to Playa Grande on your right hand side coming from Tamarindo.

A good "first night" food option to soak in your surroundings
Nogui's- Get a fish taco and a beer... its around $5.00, AND you are right on the beach.  Go there to watch your first Tamarindo sunset (spectacular), enjoy the local beer (Imperial or Pilsen) and kick off your vacation right!  The shops are typically open until 8 or 9 pm so the evening is a nice time to do some shopping.

Blogs to come:
PuraAventura, Tamarindo Eats, La Anita Rainforrest Ranch, Playa Grande/Playa Flamingo

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sedona & The Grand Canyon

Nearly six months ago American Airlines had an incredible domestic sale so Matt and I swiped up tickets to Arizona to get away during the SuperBowl. February is an excellent time of year in Arizona. Cool in the mornings, perfect in the afternoons and clear, clear skies.

We certainly were not expecting to be delayed due to snow on SuperBowl weekend, but we dealt with it.  Once we arrived in Phoenix, we went straight to Joe's Farm Grill.   We are big fans of Diners Drive-Ins and Dives so of course, we had to stop and try one or two on this trip.  The food was surprising and fabulous!  I had the ahi-tuna sandwhich with sweet potato fries and Matt had the buffalo chicken sandwhich with their famous onion rings.  High quality food, fast service, quaint set-up... all good things in my mind ;)

Hotel: Hilton Sedona Resort & Spa

I give this hotel a 10 out 10. Our room was big, comfortable and clean. The staff was friendly and helpful. The location is perfect for hiking Bell Rock. The view was exceptional!

Saturday: We woke up early, as usual, headed off to Flagstaff for breakfast (45 minutes north of Sedona) and enjoyed an incredible drive. Brandy's Cafe, another triple D,  is off the beaten path through a run down neighborhood in Flagstaff. Don't be scared... it's worth it once you arrive! Matt ordered the Italian Egg's and I had Eggs Benedict which came with a gigantic pancake. I would highly recommend this spot for breakfast. Make sure to take home their pancake mix and a wheat apple scone (I should have bought a few more because they were the best scones I have ever had).

 After breakfast, it was time to head towards the Grand Canyon. It's roughly a 2 hour drive from Flagstaff to the entrance.  I suggest burning a CD for the drive in your rent car because not only do you lose service for part of this trip... there is a whole - lotta nothing to look at.  I kept asking Matt... "So where is this giant canyon"... because the landscape gives you no indication that there is a hole in the earth a few miles ahead.

The entrance fee is $25 (a mandatory 7 day pass)... it's the best $25 we spent the whole trip.  We entered through the South Rim entrance.

We drove around to several points and were truly blown away by the canyon.  I can not wait to go back during the warmer months and white water raft, hike, camp, etc. 

We took the long drive home to Sedona to catch the sunset.  Our camera is ok, but we really didn't capture the true vitality of the red color of the rocks.  Regardless, it's a must see for everyone.  It's romatic, surreal, and a perfect end to a day I won't ever forget.

For dinner, we read good reviews for a local brew house so we headed there after the sunset. 

Most breweries boast good homemade pizzas so we went straight for that.  This one is called the Smoking Gun Pizza.  I would have it again.  We also had fried pickle spears and apple crisp... oh and of course we had to sample their award winning brews.  All surpassed my expectations. 

Day two was meant for hiking and getting some red dirt on our shoes... literally!  We chose to hike in the Boyton Canyon near the celebrity favored resort Enchantment.  Now, for my Wilderness buddies who heard me cuss for a week while hiking the Continental Divide.... this was different... it was shorter ;)

I could not shake my fear of snakes and mountain lions.  If you hike this canyon, take a bell to hang on your pack with you. 

It was well worth the fears... the canyon is beautiful, peaceful, and not too difficult for an inexperienced hiker such as myself.  We will go back for long to really experience all the hiking spots have to offer.  By the way, if you are planning to hike in Sedona, you must have a different recreation pass each day!  It's $5 which goes towards the maintenance of the trails.

After a day of hiking, we watched the SuperBowl and dozed off.

A second blog coming later in the week....

Monday, December 20, 2010

The last few days on St Thomas... I know why people stay for a lifetime now :)

Sorry the blog has been a bit delayed, but I do have some neat tid-bits to share with you all.  After our day on Jost Van Dyke and on the catamaran, it was hard to top that.  Since Friday was a day without cruise ships, we headed downtown to do some shopping.  Matt was looking for a watch, but we didn't end up finding one.  The downtown area is very clean, there are SEVERAL jewelry shops, watch shops, liquor shops, and souvenir shops.  It's laid out like a grid and the streets are well marked.  After several stops at stores like Tiffany's, David Yurman, Little Switzerland, etc.. we were hungry.  We stumbled upon an alley cafe called Cafe Amici.  We shared a house salad and a thin crust pizza.  Quick, fairly inexpensive, and clean.

Then it was back to the whole "BEACH AND A BOOK" vacation.  We just sat on the beach, feeding the ducks, having a drink, watching a wind sufer for a few hours!

These were the condos we stayed at.

I fell in LOVE with these ducks!  They were adorable!

We cooked dinner, watched TV and went to bed... isn't that what vacation is about... relaxing!

SATURDAY- Adventure in St Johns!

We made the 10:00 am Ferry over to St Johns.  The best part about staying in Red Hook is the every hour on the hour ferry that takes you to the other islands.  It's $6 per person each way and it takes about 20 minutes.  Once we arrived, we spotted a jeep rental place and snatched one up for a cool $77... YIKES!  St Johns is very hilly and it basically has one road all the way around the island.  It has beautiful vegetation and the views are breathtaking.  We started on the path to the side of the island where Caneel Bay is located.  The most stunning beaches line that entire water front.  We made it up to Annaberg to see the old sugar plantation. 


This map shows you which islands are which from the view you are looking at.

This is that view...

The vegetation is lush and green all over the island.

This is part of the sugar mill.

Then we made our way back down to Cinnamon Bay... I could spend forever there :)

You get the gist... clear blue water, white sandy beaches, it's Heaven!

Then I started to break out in a rash. It had been building for a few days, and all of a sudden I lit up like fire. Dont worry folks, it has nothing to do with the pristine conditions of the island... I take a drug called Remicaid... long story... and it's very possible that my body was reacting to the sun, the salt water, the sunscreen, or any given combination. So at 2:00 we raced over to a pharmacy, hopped back on the ferry, and went to shower for dinner... yes I was going out even if I was uncomfortable!!!!!!
If you go to St Johns and you do NOT go to Asolare, you are C-R-A-Z-Y.... CRAZY

Make reservations or forget having the opportunity to dine at this establishment. It's on a hillside over looking St Thomas and the Cruz Bay on St Johns. The building is built into the side of the hill and it's completely open.

First we had a drink in the bar and of course I had the fabulous Pain Killer (to try and kill some of the pain I was experiencing) and then it was time for dinner. 

The menu changes every night so don't expect these dishes, but here is what we had:  Matt started with Jerk Grilled Shrimp atop a bed of pineapple salsa.  I started with the house salad with wonton bits, chees and shallot vinagrette.  For dinner Matt chose a pork tenderloin topped with fried onios, cippolini onions, fingerling potatoes with a pineapple barbeque sauce.  I chose the butter poached mahi mahi atop a bed of french string beans and lentils.  Then of course, we endulged in dessert: Puffs with coconut ice cream sandwiched in between with dark chocolate sauce drizzled over mouth is watering just thinking of it :)

Right after dinner we rushed to a shop to buy some Benedryl, and headed home on the ferry. Truly, a spectacular evening and a fabulous end to our vacation! 

Side Bar:  If you are trying to choose between St Thomas and St Johns, CHOOSE ST JOHNS... Its beautiful, not as commercialized, and they offer a more island small town feeling.  The restaurants are fabulous, the beaches are pristine, and the feeling is just more of a vacation.  If you can afford it, go straight for the gold... Caneel Bay.  It will run AT LEAST $400 per night to stay, but for a honeymoon or special vacation, it's well worth your money.  If you are budget traveler who likes to take SEVERAL trips per year, then staying on St Thomas is not bad at all :)