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Costa Rica Wrap Up

Kelly and I loved Costa Rica and hope to make it back someday to explore more of the towns in Guanacaste, Nicoya, and the Caribbean side. These are our final thoughts before we head off to our next destination.

The Landscape and Weather:

Tropical rainforests with a ton of wildlife, palm trees, golden sand beaches, rolling hills and mountains…you get the idea. Kelly and I came during rainy/low season, and we’re so glad we did. Sure, we sat through some heavy rains, but we had sunshine most of the time and we didn’t have to deal with hordes of other tourists. Most of the beach towns are pretty hot, between 85 and 100 degrees, while in Monteverde and San Jose, you needed a cardigan or a fleece at night.

The People:

All of the Ticos we encountered were friendly and helpful. There were a couple of sleazy guys and some cat-calls, but we have those kind of jerks in Texas too. Also, there are a lot of dudes with sweet mullets and rattails.

As far as other travelers are concerned, we met a lot of Americans here, and made friends with people from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and Spain.

Kelly and I with Conrad and Alex, the owners of Vista Serena

Kelly and I with Conrad and Alex, the owners of Vista Serena

Good Times with Good People

Good Times with Good People - Erin and Josh (The Aussies)

The Food:

I had been told not to have high expectations of the food in Costa Rica, but Kelly and I were pleasantly surprised. We ate mostly at local sodas (small restaurants) and the food was fresh, tasty, and CHEAP. Our favorite dishes were gallo pinto, casados (a plate consisting of rice, beans, salad, and a meat such as fish or chicken), fresh fruit (a whole pineapple cost around 75 cents!), fried plantains, and ceviche.

Gallo Pinto, Eggs, and Toast

Gallo Pinto, Eggs, and Toast

The Booze:

We sucked down many local Imperial and Pilsen beers, but our favorite of all was the boxed wine, Clos. I’ve always been kind of a wine snob and have refused boxed wine in the past, but when you’re on a budget, exceptions are made. The determining factor was that Clos cost around $4.50 a liter, which was enough for Kelly and me to drink on for an evening. Kelly even invented a new term – instead of getting ‘tossed’ each night, we got ‘Clossed’. Hilarious. They also have a beer here called ‘Rock Ice’, which I didn’t try based on the name alone.

Kelly Getting Clossed

Kelly Getting Clossed

Jimmy and Rock Ice...Who Knew They Made Crack in a Can?

Jimmy and Rock Ice...Who Knew They Made Crack in a Can?

Costs:

Hostels and local sodas are cheap for lodging and food, but everything else is a lot pricier than we anticipated. Zip-lining, canyoning, hot springs, white water rafting, horseback riding, snorkeling expeditions, surfing lessons…all of these cost anywhere from $25 – $75 a pop per person. Be ready to spend some $$ if you like adventure activities.

Local buses are very inexpensive, but the roads are crap here and getting from Point A to Point B isn’t easy (or safe) and takes hours longer than if you are in a car. Getting a rental car was out of our budget and private shuttles range anywhere from $30 – $50 per person, depending on the destination. We took the public bus most places, but were lucky enough to become friends with some people that had cars and we were able to hitch a couple of rides.

Erin driving us to San Jose

Erin driving us to San Jose

Also, the cost of sunscreen is outrageous…$15 – $25 for one normal sized bottle.

Other Random Thoughts:

If you think you feel something crawling on you, there is definitely an insect of some sort crawling on you. We had to be extra diligent in shaking out all of our clothes and towels to get all of the critters out. Between the two of us, Kelly and I have over a hundred mosquito and ant bites all over! It seriously looks like I have chicken pox.

My red Reef flip flops died. It was a sad day when I had to chunk them. I’ve worn those things for years, through rain, mud, rivers, and beaches and have never had any issues. I don’t know why, but one day in La Fortuna they started smelling like a dead animal and there was nothing I could do to bring them back.. Goodbye old friends!

You can check out all of our Costa Rica pics under our ‘Photos’ tab.

And with that, adios Costa Rica!

Peace Out

Peace Out

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Our first day in La Fortuna, Kelly and I got our bearings around the town and booked our night trip to Volcan Arenal (Costa Rica’s most active volcano) and to take a dip in the ‘free’ hot springs.  La Fortuna has a handful of very expensive resorts that have natural hot spring pools surrounded by lush landscaped gardens…tickets to these resorts run anywhere from $20 – $60 per person.  Since we are trying to do things on the cheap, Gringo Pete’s package of a night trip to the volcano, plus a visit to FREE hot springs for $17 per person sounded right up our alley.   Kelly and I and our new friends all signed up.

The van picked us up around 5:30 p.m. and we headed  out on our evening adventure.  Our guide parked on the side of the road a few miles outside of town and led us down under a roadway bridge to the ‘free’ hot springs.  We quickly realized why they were free…it was basically water running off into the river from the fancy resort next door.  We all waded around in complete darkness on the side of the road under some random bridge.  It was pretty ghetto (and funny), although I’m sure it was much nicer in the daylight.
 
We then drove several miles to the Arenal Volcano National Park and walked across an extremely rickety bridge to a viewing area with a covered roof.  It was difficult to see the volcano in the dark and there was cloud cover around the top, but we had high hopes for seeing lava.  It also helped that our guide brought a bottle of rum so that we could have cocktails while we waited.

Daytime view of Volcan Arenal from La Fortuna

Daytime view of Volcan Arenal from La Fortuna

View of Arenal from the roadway

View of Arenal from the roadway

Volcan Arenal erupts constantly, but had a massive explosion that basically wiped out the surrounding area as recently as 1968.  It was crazy to imagine that at any moment, the same thing could happen again…we were nervous and excited to be so close to an active volcano!  After about 20 minutes, we heard a loud rumbling and saw a bright orange stream of lava creeping down the mountain…it was pretty amazing.  The sound of it erupting is what really fascinated me.  We were lucky to see lava three more times that evening before stumbling back to our van and heading to the hostel.  
 
After a sweaty night’s sleep (there is no AC in most places here and our room was the size of a closet with no ventilation.  On the other hand, it was only $5 per night), Kelly and I had a fantastic breakfast of gallo pinto (Costa Rica’s signature dish of rice and beans) and headed out to see La Catarata de La Fortuna (the Fortuna Waterfall).  We had a steep climb down the side of a mountain, but it was worth it once we got down to the falls.  It was absolutely beautiful and Kelly and I spent some time taking photos and just enjoying the scenery around us.  We should have brought our bathing suits and swam, but were idiots and forgot them.

Gallo Pinto and Juevos Rancheros

Gallo Pinto and Huevos Rancheros

La Catarata from afar

La Catarata from afar

La Catarata up close

La Catarata up close

Swimming area next to the waterfall

Swimming area next to the waterfall

 
(Sorry for the sideways view of the pic above, but it took about 10 minutes to upload and I’m not going to go through that again).

We headed back to our hostel to hang out for a bit and then caught our shuttle to one of the fancy resorts, the Baldi Hot Springs.  We just had to see what all the fuss was about.  Tabacon is the more well known hot spring resort in Costa Rica with amazing views of the volcano, but entry here is $60 per person!  Baldi looked pretty nice from the tourist brochures AND it was only $24, including dinner. 
 
Those sixty dollar hot spring pools at Tabacon must be encrusted with diamonds, because the less expensive Baldi was awesome.  There are 25 hot spring pools of varying temperatures (one as hot as 150 degrees!), 3 wet bars, 3 super fun waterslides, and beautiful gardens and trails.  The only thing that we were a little disappointed in was the price of the drinks…$10 for a cocktail and $6 for a beer, which is totally outrageous, but that’s the price you pay at a resort.  We spent all afternoon checking out the different pools, walking around the gardens, getting beat up on one of the fastest waterslides I’ve ever slid down, and splurged on ONE cocktail at the wet bar.  We even got to catch a little bit of the UT game on tv while lounging in the pool!
 

Enjoying our expensive drink at Baldi

Enjoying our expensive drink at Baldi

Under a waterfall at the springs

Under a waterfall at the springs

One of the pools

One of the pools

We headed back to Gringo Pete’s around seven and took it easy since we had to catch a van-boat-van to Monteverde the next morning.  Kelly and I loved La Fortuna, but were glad to be moving on, if anything to get out of the tiny sweaty room at the hostel.  Kelly will soon be posting about our first couple of days in Monteverde, so stay tuned.
 
Also, I’m trying to upload our photos to Flickr, but it is excruciatingly slow and takes literally HOURS to upload one batch.  Please be patient and we hope to have some up soon!

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When Kim told me she was planning this amazing trip in the fall of 2006, I instantly wanted to go.  To most, it would seem impossible to save $30K in 2.5 years.  Not to mention I was already $7K in debt.  But if you know anything about me, you would know that if I want something, I GET IT. I work my butt of until I achieve whatever goal I set my sights on.   Whether it is 2 senior trips, graduating from UT, moving to Spain, or saving a crap-load of money for a once in a life time opportunity, if I work hard, I usually accomplish my goals. 

CashFirst off, I looked at lowering some of my daily/weekly costs of things I “wanted”.  Everyone knows there is a difference (sometimes a very fine lineJ) between wants and needs.  Here are some of the things I started doing to pay off my debt and start stackin’ up the cash: 

Quit smoking

Okay, so this only lasted about 4 months with a couple 1-2 month stints afterwards.  I’m currently still smoking but STILL plan on quitting before I leave. AHH! But with the amount of cigarettes I smoked, this saved me $5-10 a day.  Smokes are insanely expensive but I would also always end up buying gum, drinks, beer, etc. when I went in to by cigarettes. This would average out to almost $3k/year. 

Cook meals at home

This is pretty self-explanatory.  I would literally cook every meal, Monday through Thursday at home.  This was obviously before I got the second job.  Eating out can cost anywhere from $20-$50 for a drinker like me.  Only eating out 1-2 times a week vs. 3-4 would save me almost $4k/year.

Gotta love that FLASK!!

I know what some of you are thinking, what a cheap ass!  But hell, when you are working toward a goal like this and still want to have nightlife and go out with friends, sometimes you have to do things you aren’t proud of.  I would carry my flask full of Vodka in my purse every time I went out.  I’d order club soda or juice at the bar, give em’ the ol’ “I’m the DD” speech, along with a huge smile and tip, and head to the bathroom to mix it up! They usually wouldn’t even charge me for the “mixer”.  I would literally spend maybe $20 for a long night of fun!  $20 vs. $50-$60 could save you up to $5k/year. 

Weekly Transfers/Discipline

For the past 4 + years, I’ve been paid weekly.  At the end of every week, whatever money was still in my account, I’d transfer to my savings account.  I would never let it roll over or set it aside for something else. If it wasn’t in my checking account, it didn’t exist.  So I would just get it out of there. I was very strict with this.  Even when I was out with friends and I would make a comment about only having a few beers because “I was broke”, they would say, “whatever! You have a ton of money!”  And I would immediately snap back, “that money doesn’t exist.”  You HAVE to have that outlook if you want to keep building up your balance. 

Decrease Rent/Bills 

I lived in a one bedroom apartment for 4 years up until April 1st, 2009. One summer I had a friend crash in my dining room and pay me $300/month.  I cancelled my cable in the fall of 2008. As of April 2009, I have lived at my sister’s place paying $325/month total for rent and bills.  On July 1st, I moved into another friends place, paying about the same.   This decreased my expenses by about $430/month.  

Sacrifice 

Again, this one is a given.  One of the main things I had to do without is air conditioning in my car.  And with 105 degree Texas weather, this had to be one of my biggest sacrifices.  IT’S SO HOT! However, the cost to fix it is how much I’ll spend my entire time in Costa Rica plus some. I just can’t seem to justify it.  

I also pretty much eliminated personal shopping.  For everything. I’ve spent maybe $1000 on clothes in the past 3 years.   And that includes work clothes for my second job.  

That leads me to one of my other biggest sacrifices.  TIME.  With only $14K in the bank and only 9 months to go, I Cover 3started my second job in December 2008.  I work 40 hours a week doing sales and then another 25-30 hours at Cover 3, an upscale sports dining restaurant.  Luckily, it’s the best second job I could have asked for.  Great place, amazing food, great staff, great money, and I love the guys I work for.  It’s perfect. But again, working as many shifts as I do, I have had no time for TV, the gym (and I was a GYM RAT for 2.5 years), and I barely have time to hit the grocery store.  It’s crazy.  I also have A LOT less time to spend with friends and family. I hate that.  But it will all be worth it!   I literally don’t touch a dime of what I make at the restaurant.  It goes straight into the bank.  I average about $350-$400 a week. In all 9 months, I should have about $14K from the second job when we leave.  

WOW. I myself still can’t believe what I’ve done!  But, anyone can do it.  You just have to DO IT.  Good Luck!

 

 

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