All posts tagged “Costa Rica

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Wedding : The Where, Part 1

This was a tough one for us. As I touched on over at my first post on mine and my friend Aimee’s new blog about honeymoons, I have always wanted an intimate destination wedding. Just me, Scott, and maybe a dozen friends at a fabulous villa somewhere exotic.  (Most fabulous villas can be rented for a week at $10k or less, so I figured why spend it all on one day?)

Only in retrospect am I able to see clearly why this was such a strong desire of mine:
Long Island, where I grew up and we live now, is a veritable stronghold of the WIC. Here we have been raised in a land of catering halls, and are bred since early childhood, through years of bar/bat mitzvahs, sweet sixteens and proms, that one day our wedding will take place in such an establishment.

And so naturally, I truly thought the only way I could escape the grasps of the LI WIC and its message of back-breaking conformity was to get the hell out of Dodge.

A love of travel and a want for something small, unusual, and nontraditional seemed to effortlessly equal “destination wedding”. Over the years I have also taught Scott to like to travel, and as he wished for any kind of wedding planning that didn’t involve me doing (and thus crying) much, he was on board with “anything that would make me happy.”

And out of this our dreams of a Costa Rican wedding were born.

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Our Villa Buena Onda sneak peek last May

I came across THE venue in a Gmail header ad, of all ungodly places. Despite the URL reading the very cheesy “www.mycostaricavilla.com,” I clicked. I looked at the prices, then the photos (oh, the photos!), and finally took a deep breath and headed over to Trip Advisor, where a 100% perfect rating caused me to squee and bounce up and down in my chair.

An intensive email dialogue with Joan at Costa Rican Vacations ensued, and within a month we’d booked ourselves a visit to the Villa.

It was a clever excuse for a vacation, which you can read more about here and here.

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Scott looking spoiled and guily, signature drink in hand, as he checks out this view…

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The Villa was our last stop on the trip, and we were totally worn out and exhausted, but oh my god, was it the cure for all that. We were given a tour followed by lots of wedding brainstorming with Dayana the concierge, who was so adorable I wanted to take her home in my pocket, and so clearly on top of her game I wanted to hire her on as my own personal assistant. I definitely could’ve trusted my wedding to that woman.

Then we were given lunch (and ice cream!), and even had time for a dip in the pool. It may have been several of the nicest hours I have ever spent anywhere. Seriously five star treatment. So five star I was almost uncomfortable, and wondered if I could handle a whole week of this…

Gah, writing this actually makes my stomach churn, I still wish we were getting married there! (And here! Two weddings!)

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Even this collage could not convince our friends to come to CR…

But two does not make a wedding, only an elopement, and many variables (that I will discuss in Part 2) caused us to go down a very different path.

So instead, here’s to a Villa Buena Onda vacation in 2012!

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Honeymoon : Brainstorming

The husband-to-be and I have started throwing around some ideas, the result has been the rapid conclusion that deep in the middle of the worst winter NY has ever had is probably not the most neutral time to plan a honeymoon. As in, all we want to do right now is go to places that look like this:

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Big Corn Island, Nicaragua

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Flamingo Bay Lodge, Inhambane, Mozambique by Aquila

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   The Phoenix Resort, Ambergris Caye, Belize by A.J. Baxter

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Koh Tansay, Cambodia by Jason Tabarias  

2310833595_db09b5d998_z Tahaa, Tahiti by Kat Kellner

DSC_0037-2Or even someplace I’ve been before. Tamarindo, Costa Rica by Scott Johnson
 

DSC_0542 Tulum, Mexico by Scott Johnson

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Destination : Guilt

Yesterday, on my daily read of APW, the lovely Amanda spoke about her lovely wedding weekend, and well, I wanted to cry.

Our wedding game plan took a long while to get decided on, and as much as I want to stick to our decisions after all that, some days it’s just fucking hard.

 

Because while our plans are steadily evolving, there’s still a long way to go—namely, how to evoke the feel of a camped-out wedding weekend when you’re wedding is local and you only have your venue for the day…

But we’ve come a long, long way from my initial struggles with the guilt of having a destination wedding. This was written back in August:

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I’m a mess of a wannabe DW bride.


It’s no surprise that I’ve always known I wanted something very small, simple and faraway—I didn’t have birthday parties as a girl, I took friends on trips (courtesy of my amazing mom, who is no longer living), first to the zoo, and then later to Disney World or Hawaii. My closest friends and I have been all over the world together, to Italy, England, Australia, Hawaii, and on. And my fiancé, who hates flying (well so do I) has been successfully peer-pressured into the travel bug, and we’ve been on some awesome trips together already.


We got engaged last September in Mexico, and a year later all we know for sure is that we don’t want (and can’t afford) the traditional church ceremony/catering hall reception model that is so popular around our home on Long Island. Basically we want to gather like 30 of our closest friends at a nice house to hang out and celebrate. Doing this, uh not in NY, seemed practical at first: almost anywhere is cheaper than here, some people are traveling anyway, and I know if we did something local I would get far more wrapped up in details and planning.


So when we found an all-inclusive private villa in Costa Rica (where we had always wanted to visit) that fit the bill (and was 100% recommended on Trip Advisor), we were super excited. After a preliminary survey of whether friends would even considering coming down to CR we took a trip to check it out. The villa was everything I imagined it would be, and I know we would be in good hands there. And yet I’m totally stuck in terms of moving forward.


I think 2 things in particular are holding me back.


1) I had imagined finding a venue that was THE ONE. Like everyone says about the dress, and of course, the fiancé. Is it OK to go with a very solid option, even if it doesn’t speak to you?


2) I’m paralyzed with the thought that it is totally unpractical to ask our friends to actually do this. I know they can decline, but it seems downright wrong to even ask them to fork over ~$600 to come to our wedding. Even though the handful of potential invitees are as close to family as I’ve got (my immediate family is deceased), and they’ve all said over and over no matter where we go, they’re coming, it seems like too much to ask of my struggling twenty-something friends. We’d cover airport transport and hopefully even some of the all-inclusive accommodations, but it’s hard to know what kind of subsidizing we could do without even knowing how many people will come…it just feels like it would be so wrong to NOT pay for our guests.


While we’re seriously considering the local wedding route to go easy on our guests, I feel like it’s compromising quite a bit of who I am and what I want. Not to mention, every time we go over the numbers we end up saying, but this money (that we still don’t have) could pay for everyone to stay in Costa Rica…

I know if we go the destination route it must be expectation-free, we must be prepared for everyone to say no. But of course that’s easier said than done… 

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Yep. I was stressin’. And that was just the beginning. And I felt soo ALONE. Indie-wedding-blog-land seems devastatingly devoid of helpful sane people talking about DW’s. If I had gone that route, I wanted that to be me. But I’m not going that route, so if you are, GO!, DO! Reign with benevolent sanity and DW expertise!

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Costa Rica : Tamarindo

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Tamarindo was muy caliente. Physically. I thought I just couldn’t hack it in CR’s Pacific Northwest/Guanacaste region. Then a local told us no, this isn’t normal, it’s awful. So I decided to amuse myself by looking at the weather report. The day we arrived in Tamarindo it was 98 degrees F, with a humidity of 100%.

 

I kid you not.

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Our hotel, Capitan Suizo was decidedly more rustic than Arenal’s Hotel Mountain Paradise, which attempted to be sort of plush even if it didn’t quite succeed. Capitan Suizo’s no fuss European sensibility dictated the decor (and lack of TV). I was prepared for this, but in that weather? I just wanted to feel pampered.

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"Ants" and mosquitoes do not = pampered. The "ants" that flooded our room about 2 hours after checking in, were later revealed by our helpful travel agent to be termites, err, "exploding" during the annual termite "explosion". The staff were really great about coming right over with a can of Off, and spraying away, but you can only call them so many times in one evening before taking things into your own hands—or flip flop, as the case may be. AND, as there were LESS termites outdoors than in our room, it might’ve been nice to sit on the patio, but that’s where the mosquitoes came in. Mosquitoes had not yet been an issue on our trip (possibly due to my rampant use of 100% DEET—one week of DEET won’t kill me, but Dengue fever might…), but they really flourished in the 100% humidity. 

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The lesson learned? May in CR is the rainy season. If the rain doesn’t bother you (it didn’t last longer than a few hours at a time until our last day), the termites and mosquitoes and humidity will. (For us other stressors included the boy’s camera battery charger breaking, and him leaving his debit card in an ATM and not noticing for a day. Banks in CR, much like the States, are not open on Sundays… I promise he’s usually [more] together.)

I learned something else on our Costa Rica adventure. If you don’t look at traveling as an adventure, if you lose sight of the "disasters make the best stories" mentality, if you forget to laugh—you have a shitty time. It wasn’t all bad. We had fun. I could see this as it was happening but sometimes…it’s just so hot.  

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Though it nearly broke my budding love of Costa Rica, we survived. The heat broke, we enjoyed a nice day by the pool and exploring the beach, a great dinner (Dragonfly Grill – fun menu, beautiful, secluded and relaxed), and less termites.

 

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And again, monkeys running rampant are cool on paper, but surprisingly normal sitting on your patio. I was more enchanted by the cats—especially the one that hung out with us on a late night walk on the beach (chasing bats up a tree!) and then tried to come in and sleep in our room. And the squirrels! Now they I wanted to take home with me.

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After Tamarindo came a quick detour to our potential wedding venue. I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but I will say it = pampered. The few hours we spent there were HEAVENLY.

 

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For more deets on Capitan Suizo—which was a cute place—it totally reminded me of the kind of place my mom would’ve taken me as a kid, and I would have died of happiness with the animals, and great stuff and places to run around, and the our Tamarindo experience, find me on TripAdvisor.

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Costa Rica : Arenal

About ten years ago, when I was a wee lass, I went to Australia and New Zealand. It was terribly exotic, and yet I realized that everywhere looks a lot like somewhere else. Cities are cities, deserts are deserts, seasides are seasides, and as my globe-trotting mother’s dear friend "Aunt" Ruthie was known to say: "You’ve seen one church/pyramid/wonderoftheworld, you’ve see them all." Wise woman.

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And yet somehow, Costa Rica was different. Yes, it was one part Spanish-speaking Hawaii, one part run down Caribbean island, and one part monotonous scenery a la Pennsylvania, but it reminded me of so many places, it became uniquely itself. (And we only visited 2 destinations in our short week there.)

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Our first stop was La Fortuna de San Carlos at the base of Volcan Arenal. It was reached by a beautiful and challenging three hour drive through the mountains. The pic above was taken when our driver (I didn’t say it was us being challenged…) stopped halfway at one of those restaurant/rest stop/gift shop type places that’s an oasis in the midst of nothing but hillside farms. As we enjoyed our first Costa Rican cerveza (because this was vacation…), we watched weather roll in unnerving quickly, and soon were happily driving along in our first Costa Rican monsoon. This was followed by unhappily napping along, as we struggled to stay awake, and not miss a single grazing pony. This did not so much happen, but I woke up in time for a first glance at the faraway volcano. It had promptly disappeared again by the time we got to the town of La Fortuna.

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The "elusive" volcano proved to be a running joke for the 3 days we spent near Arenal, as it was consistently visible despite our constantly being told that we were lucky to see it. I know this must actually be true, and not local lure, because of the number of people on Trip Advisor who spoke of entire weeks spent in Arenal without seeing it. Yes, it was clearest in the morning, and in the afternoon after a rain, but the clouds moved so quickly it was always being covered and uncovered.

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We stayed at Hotel Mountain Paradise a few minutes outside of town, and it was a beautiful boutique-y place. (Search DiscerningDilettante on TripAdvisor to read my opinions on the hotel itself.) The rooms are little casitas facing the volcano, and the grounds are amazing. The flowers and the birds there alone made the entire trip. Next time I might upgrade to the Arenal Nayara down the road, or downgrade to the Observatory Lodge or the Treehouse, but this was a great middle ground for a first trip.

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Our first evening was spent at Eco Termales, which it was lovely. It’s not large, but it’s peaceful (even when it got more crowded as the nite went on), and the drinks and food were some of the best we had in CR–simple, well-prepared fresh ingredients that weren’t trying too hard. And I know I would have been disappointed to go to Tabacon in the evening and wonder what it actually looked like! Even at Eco T, I really longed to see what birds and animals were making all the noise in the trees. When at Eco Termales, I recommend the smallest, hottest pool with the waterfall and misters, a mango daiquiri, and having dinner early—most people chose to eat right before leaving, and so we had nearly the whole place to ourselves for the last hour.

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Our second day featured a visit to the Arenal Hanging Bridges with our awesome guide Javier. Our trip to the Hanging Bridges taught me that there is a such thing as too much Trip Advisor, as I knew what Javier was going to tell us before he said it. This made my visit to the rain/cloud forest kind of anticlimactic. But the bridges and scenery were beautiful, and not nearly as scary as I’d imagined. And the fact that we saw almost no wildlife made me feel less guilty about all the times we go birdwatching at home and see nothing. I mean, if Costa Rica can disappoint then obviously NY can.

 

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We spent our third day at Cano Negro wildlife refuge, with Javier again, and we saw some neat things, but to be honest it felt very Nature Sighting 101 on the Jungle Boat Cruise. Animals you think are going to wow your face off, are not necessarily all that exciting once in a tree 30 feet away doing their thing. [See Ruthie’s Law above.] Sadly, I’m guessing I could be on safari in Kenya and be like, yea that zebra is just like the zebras I saw [insert zoo/wildlife preserve] when I was 6.

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Sightings included some caimans, lots of howler and white-faced monkeys, tons of egrets and herons, kingfishers, lizards, and more cormorants that I could really stand. Several of the other couples on the tour (we were lucky to have a small group of about 10), had been to Madagascar, etc. and were still excited about birds we literally have in our backyard! Birding, I thusly determined, is all relative–I should confess to acting terribly jaded and disappointed until we saw an Amazon Kingfisher, the cutest little green bird that I fell in love with at the San Diego Zoo’s aviary.

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I was sad to leave Arenal, (the blow was softened by a hilarious driver who played hip hop and pop mash up videos that kept us entertained for close to 2 hours en route to Tamarindo)–I simultaneously knew that we barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do there, and was amazed by how content I was to just sit on the porch or in the pool and watch the birds and clouds roll over the volcano, and wish we could stay another week…

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If you love details like I do, you can read them all over at TripAdvisor.