A family vacation to Costa Rica

The world is definitely a surreal place right now, and being on vacation in a foreign country a seven-hour flight away from home during a world health crisis is definitely the most conflicting experience I have ever had.

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A frangipani tree blooming (and a sweet reminding me of Bali)

Now, to be fair, the trip didn’t begin with such a sense of tension.

Our March family trip to Costa Rica had been booked in November 2019, an amazing gift from my generous mum and her partner, Orville.

I knew that I would have the month of March completely free so I decided to extend the trip by one week and do some solo exploring once my family went home, so my return flight was booked separately.

Near the end of the first week of March of 2020, the number of cases of covid-19 in Canada was less than 40, and the only travel advisories were regarding avoiding non-essential travel to China, Italy, and Iran.

We felt confident we would do all that we could to remain safe as informed & proactive travellers. We armed ourselves with plenty of soap, hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and an added air of caution about not touching anything or anyone unnecessary, and we headed to the airport for a red-eye flight.

We arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica on March 6, 2020 at about 7am, and drove to our resort, still sleepy and adjusting to the time and temperature, and folded ourselves into the shaded hammocks by the pool. When we left Calgary, it had been about -4 degrees Celsius. In Costa Rica it was +34.

Hammocks are one of the greatest inventions of all time, by the way.

Pina coladas aren’t too shabby, either… 😉

We stayed in the area of Guanacaste, at Playa Hermosa on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, where it is nearing the end of the dry season. Aside from the hibiscus bushes, palm trees and manicured gardens trimming the edges of the resort property, the view of the hills and landscape around us was primarily brown; almost entirely scratchy bare-branched trees and dry grass. We were informed that they even have forest fires occur at this time of year and there were some hazing smoky days while we were there, strangely reminding me of summertime back home.

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The local fruit stands were always full of delicious choices, and we loved the local mango and pineapple, and even tried new-to-us fruit like purple starfruit!

Our first adventure was on Saturday, when we had a tour booked to Monteverde and the Selvatura Adventure Park for ziplining. On the way, our amazing driver and tour guide Harold pointed out some beautiful photo op spots and promised to stop on the way home, in addition to finding a little spot in a town on the way to get a snack of delicious chicken skewers and grilled corn on the cob.

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As a bonus to the day we got to watch dozens of shimmering emerald and sapphire feather humming birds flutter around feeders at the edge of the bridges trail. If you were patient enough and stood at a feeder with your fingers balanced between a couple spouts, there was a chance a tiny jewel-tone humming bird would use your hand as a landing place! I couldn’t believe the magnificent rush of joy when one bird’s micro feet perched on my knuckles as it drank out of the feeder! It felt like such a gift. 🙂

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We spent almost 90 minutes walking back and forth across the cloud forest through numerous suspended bridges, marvelling at the view and the height we got up to, occasionally hearing the whiz of zipline travellers passing through the canopy on either side of us. It was misty and surprisingly cool up in the mountains, and even rained while we ate lunch before heading out to zip line. (We agreed we would all highly recommend bringing something with long sleeves, and windbreakers/rain jackets just to be safe!)

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After some hot Costa Rican coffee to warm us up we then geared up for ziplining. I still marvel at my fearless mum and Orville suiting up for this thrill seeker activity!

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There were 13 lines and a lot of hiking in between platforms, so this trip is not for the mobility-challenged adventurer! A few of the lines were short and quick in little zigzags through the canopy, but a couple were much longer and even required pairing up with a zip line buddy to get across with your combined weight.

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I was the odd man out in our group so I spent two of the long trips across clipped to one of our guides. This is the first zip line I have done where we were given gloves and were taught how to keep from spinning by holding an ‘okay’ sign with our dominant hand up above and behind us and brake ourselves by pressing the thick reinforced leather palm of the gloves onto the wire.

I have always thought the best lines are the longer lines where you actually have time to look out at the view and down at the tree tops below. The whir of the trolley rolling over the cable and the wind in your face became this wonderful humming underscore to a view that was hundreds of shades of green and gilded with trailing mist and clouds. Disappearing through the low mist on one particular line made it feel like we were entering some mystical place for a few seconds.

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By the end we really wanted to go back to the beginning and go through it again! We left absolutely delighted and still felt like we were flying as we stopped for photos to admire the mountain and valley view, complete with a rainbow to frame the scene.

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It was an incredible day, and we thought Harold was such a great tour guide we made sure to book him for an adventure later in the week.

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I relished the quiet early mornings at the main pool, as the daily blaring party music had not yet been turned on and all you could hear was the bird calls and bubbling water jets of the pool. This was a great time to see flocks of lime green parakeets flitter around the treeline, and see pretty little kiskadees swooping around the pool.

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Seriously, the birds here are all beautiful. Even the scavenger black birds (aka ‘great-tailed grackles’) had tails that looked like swooping black ink brushstrokes, and the white-throated magpie jays (looking like a sophisticated version of the blue jays we see in Canada), had beautiful crests of feathers on their heads that somehow made them look like royalty.

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The beach at Hermosa has dark sand (it looks lighter in photos) and boy oh boy is it HOT! Thankfully, the granules are fine and smooth and once you are in the water it’s heaven. If you are lucky, you’ll catch pelicans corkscrew-diving to catch fish, and a couple times we were stunned to see the shining white diamond bellies of stingrays doing full twists and flips out of the water!

The beach has these great bending tree branches that offer sandy shade and are perfect to hang your stuff on, towels to dry, and even better to secure hammocks to dangle above the lapping waves as the tide swept in each afternoon.

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There were kayaks available through our resort so of course at my first opportunity I took one out and spent about an hour following the shoreline all the way to the other end of the shore and back. The rip tides of the Pacific Coast are strong so you boat and swim with caution. My habit is always to stay along the shoreline to be safe in case a storm or wind picks up and I need to paddle in to shore.

I actually ended up joining in to play beach volleyball after kayaking, which if anyone had offered it up before as an activity I would have thought “no way- it’s way too hot” (35 degrees and all, in full sun)! Somehow the time flew and I played for over an hour with a combo of locals, tourists and the activity staff and we had an amazing time, cheered on by my mum and Orville and other folks enjoying the shade and lounge chairs along the tree line!

I love travelling with my family. On our stay-in days at the resort we had a great rhythm of meals, pool time, beach time, sunset watching, and card games. Naps were often added bonuses, and then we felt extra rested and relaxed when we went out on our exciting exploration days.

Sunsets here are beautiful, with a perfect gradation of pastels in peach to yellow to rose to periwinkle. And the vast sky sure showed off a great deal of stars after dark!!

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We could hear the howler monkeys call out from the treetops in the evenings and occasionally could see them jump and swing from branch to branch high up in the hills. Once we even saw them down at the beach make their way over our heads!

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photo compliments of Orville

I was always on the lookout for wildlife and I regularly amused my family when I took to calling out “monkey monkey monkey!” before I was certain of what it actually was, and in two cases it turned out I was pointing out racoons and coati (a similar type of animal with a longer nose) that were regularly seen in the area. We also came across loads of iguanas here ranging in sizes from small to very large, and tiny lizards that clung to walls like magnetic decorations.

Also, many stray cats seemed to live on the resort property and were always around at meals. We named them as we saw them, and somehow the theme for naming them all became: nuts. We saw ‘Cashew’ and ‘Pistachio’ regularly, and ‘Peanut’ often joined us at the pool, hanging out in the shade under our chairs.

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Another regular sighting during meals were the magpie jays. These birds were so bold they would swoop down through the windows or down from the rafters in the restaurant and confidently perch on the back of an empty nearby chair, landing on a table the moment people stepped away. We saw them steal sugar packets, bread slices, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and even a huge pineapple wedge right out of someone’s drink.

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Our next adventure away from the resort was a beach and snorkel adventure, and we were told that Playa Conchal was the place to go. A whiter, shell beach was about an hour drive south of us, and then we actually had to walk in from the beach town Brasilito that is the closest place accessible by road.

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We were told that we could rent flippers and any necessary snorkel gear on the beach once we got there, which was great because though we all brought our own masks, we did not pack flippers. If you have ever done that you’d know it dictates a much larger piece of luggage!

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It turned out there was no place to rent snorkels but it was just as well. This month had apparently been particularly windy for Costa Rica, which was a blessing for us with the heat, but it made for choppy, murky, and cloudy water.

Staying somewhat close to shore we bobbed and kicked our way through the silt and sand curling around the black rocks and saw a couple of small schools of fish swim by, and then one zebra-striped angel fish gliding along the swirls of the sand on the bottom. And that was sort of it. I imagine you need to either be on the Caribbean coast or take a boat further out to islands off the coast to really get to prime snorkelling areas. Next time, we decided. 🙂

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We dried off in the partial shade of the beach trees and drank from coconuts we bought from a wandering seller.

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On the way home, our driver Luiz stopped on the side of the road to show us a cashew tree, one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Each flower produces one cashew nut that needs to be dried and roasted in order to be eaten. The fruit that grows above the nut is also edible and often made into jams and chutneys. Raw, this ‘cashew apple’ tastes like a chalky, sweet and tart and soft red pepper.

The activities team at the resort had many events planned during the day and I was asked to join into the foosball competition one afternoon while everyone else was having a nap. I love foosball so I was happy to join in. I ended up winning the tournament and I was awarded a beautiful bottle of sparkling peach wine, which we ended up enjoying on our last night all together on our balcony at sunset.

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Our third booked adventure was aimed to check three boxes: waterfalls, sloths, and toucans. (Yes, those very specific things! We even told Harold that we weren’t going home until we saw all three, and we were only very slightly joking.)

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We left early in the morning to get to the Llanos de Cortes waterfall, which was only a 45-minute drive from us, and gets busier as the day goes on. The water was beautiful and we soaked and swam and floated, snapping a few photos in the morning sunshine (it was already 32 degrees at 9am), and then ventured back to the van headed towards the jungle again in hopes of catching sight of some more wildlife.

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Costa Rica has a strong “no animal selfies” policy as they want to protect their wildlife and don’t want any unnecessary impact on animals and wildlife, so we jokingly took photos of toy/stuffed/souvenir gift sloths when we came across them (and we came across them a lot).

We arrived at Bijagua Ranas, a Frog observation site in the Alajuela area and were showed around by our volunteer tour guide Stéphanie. She pointed out all sorts of local flowers and plant life as we walked through the lush grenery. My favourite was the ‘maraca’ plant that holds water and a liquid between its petals that is a natural bug repellant and actually smelled wonderful in a sort of citrusy way. (Somehow I did not get my own photo so this reference photo will have to do.)

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maraca (yellow heliconia)

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Stéphanie showed us a bright green bump on the underside of a leaf, and then she washed her hands and picked up the hiding frog, setting him gently back on the leaves so we could see him stretch out and move and it was amazing!

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As we wandered the winding pathway we kept our eyes up to the treetops and caught sight of howler and capuchin monkeys swinging in the trees, and then one sloth, then another, and by the end of the afternoon we had seen a total of six sloths up in the trees!

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another shot captured by Orville on his amazing zoom lens camera

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Cute capuchin monkey! (Orville’s photo, again!)

This area is actually along a travel route the sloths take to get from one jungle area further north to another jungle further south and east of us, so there are both two-toed and three-toed sloths that regularly pass through the area.

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The first sloth was a ball of grey-brown fur high up in a tree, likely sound asleep, hard to see in a photo even with a good zoom because he was tucked into the shade and was similar in colour to the branches he was wrapped around. We learned that sloths go higher up to sleep safely, and also will climb further up in trees when it rains.

The most exciting sight was a mama sloth and her baby hanging upside down and eating leaves only about 10-15 feet above us.

Photo courtesy of Orville

And before we left we even were able to see a toucan way up in a treetop before making our way back to the van to head home! All boxes checked! 🙂

Zoom in camera for the win!

 

Lunch was delicious local food at a local restaurant (which they call ‘Soda’s in Costa Rica). We were given the option of chicken or fish, plantain, queso fresco, pasta and beans and rice and veggies!

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There was a butterfly enclosure attached to the restaurant so we were delighted to watch several kinds of butterflies flutter between tropical flowers and bushes and occasionally land on the slices of pineapple set out for them.

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We had another beach day where my mum and sister and I went out kayaking, which was a blast! I was really surprised more people don’t take this opportunity to use the freely available kayaks at the resorts here, because it was easy and relaxing!

Shade was a vital part of beach time because the sand is so hot, so we would chase the shadows created by the trees along the shoreline as the sun moved across the sky (even if that meant changing hammocks! 😉

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well, I don’t hate it. 😉

On this day, we enjoyed an iced snow cone made by a local walking up and down the beach pushing a cart that had a huge ice chunk inside. He would shave the ice into a cup, and then mix it with powdered milk, cherry syrup, coconut cream, and sweetened condensed milk! (Garnished with a wafer cookie and a marshmallow).

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Unlike anything I have ever had before!

On Saturday night we went for dinner at the beachside restaurant of Aquasport, and it was one of the best meals of the trip. We shared easily the most delicious onion rings we have ever eaten and then all had different dinners, from Mahi Mahi Chaufa rice to Tuna Poke, all the while listening to live music and watching a group of kids enjoying the huge tree swing in the middle of the restaurant’s courtyard. Carly and mum had a bit of a swing before we walked back to our hotel along the shore, enjoying the smell of a couple bonfires locals had going on the beach, and the vast clear sky of stars.

 

 

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Last sunset together in Costa Rica (photo courtesy of my sister)

As I bid my family farewell on Monday morning, they jokingly threatened to kidnap me and bring me back on their (likely) full flight home. I was definitely a little bit nervous to stay another week solo with everything escalating and I promised to keep in touch and stay informed about airlines and airports and border closures and look into the possibility of getting an earlier flight back just to be safe.  Until then, I would get as much sun and beach time as possible before heading back to winter and self-isolation!

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My first week in Bali!

Good morning, Indonesia!!

I woke up on the other side of the world and couldn’t believe I had an entire month ahead of me to explore this island.

At this point I had only planned the first two weeks: I would spend the first two days in the trendy/touristy area of Seminyak, then four days further south on Balangan Beach. The second week I had booked my first ever yoga retreat in the rice fields near Ubud.

A continental breakfast was included at the Aswana Seminyak hotel, which I thought would be the easiest way to start the first morning of my vacation. It was picture perfect and was served to me with a cup of hot tea in the quiet lobby of the hotel with a view of the pool.

We had wind and a little rain on those first couple of days which kept it a bit cooler, but I was still very aware that the moisturizer I brought was completely superfluous and any sunscreen I put on my face would inevitably melt off as the day went on.

Oh the humidity!

Just a beautiful stone carving in between restaurants…

People watching on the beach…

It wasn’t weather for swimming, and in fact the beach had red flags up all along the shoreline, some with skull and crossbones on them, and ‘swimming is prohibited’ in English and Indonesian.

This of course meant it was ideal weather for surfers, and many folks took to the waves to practice. I was thisclose to trying it out myself…

Instead, I bought my first young coconut and sat at a coffee shop on the beach watching the waves.

In addition to January being the off-season, the stormy weather made for quieter waterfront restaurants, although they looked like they were ready for throngs of tourists at any moment.

Walking down the streets I saw many small and large temples and small offerings on ledges, shelves, or even just on the sidewalk, and it was clear how much the Hindu faith is part of the culture here. Colourful flowers, food, and incense were the most common offerings I could see.

Shops and spas and restaurants lined the streets and you couldn’t go halfway down a block without coming upon Balinese women saying “massage, Miss? Spa treatment, yes?”

Well, twist my rubber arm.

When a one-hour reflexology massage is $10, you are tempted to get one daily.

And maybe because the day before I walked 17,000 steps in Seoul, I went deluxe and tried out the fish tank foot treatment first…

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I wish there had been a camera on me when I first put my feet in the water and the tiny fish started nibbling. I squealed like a little kid. It’s the strangest thing ever. Not sure I’d do it again, but it was an interesting experience.

The pool at my hotel was gorgeous and no one used it while I was there except me. It felt like I had booked it for my private use. I did not hate this.

My hotel was a 20 minute walk to the beach and I saw a good sample of what sort of souvenirs and crafts I could get here. From handwoven dreamcatchers and lantern covers to carved wooden statues to candles and jewelry and beautiful fabrics, I realized that it may be a very good thing I can check two bags on the way home…

The beach here felt like it was definitely more of a touristy/party area and it reminded me of the resort spots in Mexico or the Bahamas. I even walked past a sports bar with a huge pool in the middle.

This restaurant had coconut trees on top and a ladder set up and ready to go to collect them!

I enjoyed my first Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and a mango lassi at this beautiful little hotel and restaurant. With its own little waterfall.

A mango lime lassi! Delicious!!

It was while I was in Seminyak that Anna, a childhood friend (that I had not seen in, oh, 25 years), messaged me on Facebook. She has been living in Germany for the last seven years, happened to be in Bali on her honeymoon, and suggested we meet up! We planned to get together later in the week.

In the meantime I enjoyed some excellent meals, massages, and window shopping in Seminyak.

Amazing salmon poke

Before I knew it I was heading to my second location on Balangan Beach, a surf hotspot on the south peninsula of Bali, and I was hoping to get in some surf lessons while I was there.

My driver had trouble finding the resort and ended up dropping me off on what looked like a rocky cliff face, where I was instructed to hike my gear down the pathway to my hotel.

As I waved goodbye to my driver and carefully stepped my flip-flop wearing feet down the rocky hill, I thought “Well this place sure is remote!”

I got to my hotel at the bottom, and the girl in the lobby/restaurant/poolside area basically took me at my word that I had a reservation, and ‘checked me in’ by writing my first name (“Serrah”) and “Room 2” in an ancient looking ledger.

“Retro!” I thought.

And then she took me to my room.

We walked behind the main building to a long thatched-roof building. The doors were woven palm leaves and looked very old. I felt a twinge of concern as she unhooked a very rusty padlock from the door and opened it into my room.

I may have let out a slight gasp.

Now the kindest word I could give this place was RUSTIC.

Like, shockingly rustic.

I feel I should have been more prepared for the rusticness I came upon.

In fact this may be the place where the word ‘rustic’ originated… 😂

All (somewhat true/panicked) jokes aside, this place first made me think of Belize and their small villages and typical rural homes (see: huts). Just add one light switch and running water.

The walls/roof of my room were rattan/palm leaves. There were places I could see right through them.

My shower was a bamboo pole with a switch halfway up that opened and closed the hose that lets water pour out the top.

There was a large knothole in my floor that I could see the jungle below through.

The way I ‘locked’ my door from the inside was by jamming a piece of bamboo in a notch. I locked it from the outside with the rusty padlock and a key that look older than me.

The one tiny and dim lightbulb hanging crookedly from the ceiling, the grey mosquito nets, and the ancient dusty floor fan in the corner were the most humorous juxtaposition to the ‘welcome to your honeymoon suite’ look of two ridiculous towels folded into kissing swans that had been so delicately placed at the foot of my bed.

I honestly had to take several deep breaths and tell myself I’d be fine.

My first thought was: This is the place I got all those vaccines for.

#jokingnotjoking

I tried to put myself in the mindset that maybe this is more like what I should expect in Bali. Maybe my hotel in Seminyak was an overly fancy and rare example of what places are like here.

Either way the photos of this hotel that I saw online did not tell the whole story and did not meet my expectations. (Buyer beware.)

To get my mind off what I had gotten myself into I took off for a walk down the beach to the north end where the water and waves were stunning, and many people were making using of the photo opportunities with that view.

Along the way I saw several people learning to surf and particularly enjoyed watching one guy triumphantly punch his fists into the air as he succeeded at his first surf in to shore. I hoped I would enjoy it as much as that!

I couldn’t believe the number of stray dogs here. They almost outnumbered the people. They would lie in the shade of people’s beach umbrellas, tussle in the sand with each other, and hang out next to the restaurants likely hoping for scraps.

Just a pooch chilling by the pool.

And then I got to the end of the beach and the wedding photographers almost outnumbered the stray dogs!

I counted 9 or 10 couples taking either wedding photos or engagement photos; on the sand, in the water, and up along the cliff overlooking the water.

I got some Mie Goreng (fried noodles with egg) at one of the restaurants on the beach and booked a surf lesson for the next morning.

That night was …interesting. The mosquito netting was an absolute must-have as this place was SO buggy. That and probably full of other creatures I didn’t want to think about. A foot-long gecko occasionally creeped in and out of my bathroom and I just hoped he would be hungry enough to eat all the scary bugs. The hole in the floor made me wonder what sort of things regularly crawled through so I put my flip flops over it so I wouldn’t be reminded of it. Plus it was a dusty, stale oven in that room; I was so hot that the ancient floor fan was just effective enough to keep me from dragging my pillow down to the beach and hoping for the best.

Needless to say, I was delighted when morning came and I could get some fresh air and breakfast. And my first banana pancake of the trip.

This beach is definitely a hotspot for surfers and folks learning how to surf. The waves aren’t very big this time of year, but they are constant so it’s a good place to try out your skills as a newbie at high tide.

Armed with a surf shirt and surfer booties (neoprene slippers) we found some shade on the sand to do some intro lessons on how to lie on a board, paddle, and stand up and balance.

The best part was when we went out to the ‘white water’; broken foamy waves. My instructor Jack would hold my board ready and then give me a push when a wave came along and yell “up!” when it was time for me to stand up on my board.

I was absolutely overjoyed when I first succeeded, getting up to standing and riding my longboard into shore, jumping off before reaching the spot where the coral reef broke through the sand. I turned around and raised my arms in triumph and Jack cheered from the waves!

I was able to get to a decent balanced standing position about seven or eight times during our 60 minute lesson. It was amazing!!

I booked a second lesson with Jack for the next morning and went in to get some shade.

A large bottle of water, and a chicken sandwich and fries for lunch, followed by a swim in the hotel pool, brought me to the early afternoon. I had been thinking of finding a new hotel as I didn’t quite feel like I could do the dark, grass-walls, hot room for another two nights. Plus, my friend Anna invited me to their resort in Nusa Dua on the Saturday and I thought maybe I should just find a room in that area.

I was sitting by the pool (where I could access the wifi) and started looking up hotels when I wondered if I’d had a bit too much sun. I needed to lie down so the hotel search was paused.

At about 4:30, I still couldn’t pull myself out of bed and felt awful. I ended up staying in bed through the night and what turned out to be food poisoning made me fully sick at about 10pm. It was after that that I dragged myself to the lobby to send off an email to my friend and travel agent that basically said “I cannot stay here another night, please book me something with real walls and air conditioning in Nusa Dua.”

I texted my driver Purna and asked him to pick me up the next morning and take me to Nusa Dua. I apologized to Jack and cancelled my 2nd surf lesson.

We got to Mercure Nusa Dua and I was relieved to find a cool and quiet room in this 5 star resort. I’d got a good deal on the room but I would have given them all my money to have a good night’s sleep at that point! I was happy to drop off my gear and know I was coming back here that night.

When I arrived at Anna’s resort and was brought to the Villa lobby, I knew that I was upgrading my day exponentially.

Anna came to get me and bring me down to the beach to the reserved chairs she and her wife had booked for the three of us that day. She also had surf board rentals organized, and ordered us all fresh coconuts to drink when I arrived. Deluxe!

How does one start catching up on 25 years? The last time Anna and I saw each other we were in elementary school!

We had a great time chatting and sharing stories of our lives and clearly Anna and Samantha were having a fabulous honeymoon with one week in Nusa Dua, and then heading up north to do some “glamping” for their second week.

We went back to their villa and went swimming in the unbelievably gorgeous lagoon that runs all along the back of the villas there. (Sorry, no photos of the lagoon!)

Their private pool

The secret lagoon is through that gate. Best discovery ever!

Anna and Samantha were doing a day trip to Ubud the next day and offered to take me to my yoga retreat if I wanted to share a driver.

We were picked up at 8am by their driver Ketut, and we proceeded to have an adventure-filled day.

A driver costs about $60-70 (CAD) for the day (10 hours max), and we got more than our money’s worth with Ketut!

Ketut was like a driver and tour guide in one, telling us all sort of fascinating aspects about the sights along our way and the Balinese people. In addition to all the temple offerings we were seeing in the streets and in buildings, there were also tall decorative bamboo poles lining all the streets and Ketut explained that these penjor are for a festival that happens in Bali every six months. People put these up to celebrate and they stay up for weeks at a time. The last festival was Dec 25.

We stopped at the Tegenungan Waterfall and got in some good photos and a little refreshing mist to our faces on a beautiful, sunny day.

Please note the smaller sign.

We were elated when we discovered we were able to order cold coconuts after climbing the 115 tall stone stairs back to the top of the hill afterwards.

We went for lunch on the edge of beautiful rice fields outside Ubud, and had delicious crispy duck, and chicken saté that came steaming hot on a tabletop clay oven.

Out next stop was the Monkey Forest in Ubud, which I had heard was a must-see spot.

As we pulled up, Ketut said we could borrow his umbrellas in case it rained while we were in the forest. It was still really hot and not very cloudy so we declined, not wanting to have anything extraneous the monkeys could grab, as we had been warned they will try to steal anything from purses to cell phones to the glasses right off your face.

Do not panic. The first rule of the monkey forest.

The amazing sign at the front gate.

Right away we were delighted to see monkeys all over the place, many filling their faces with papaya and sweet potato and corn.

I never felt like they were going to grab something off me (or even were interested in me at all). Apparently you used to be able to buy bananas to give to the monkeys but they got too agressive… so that’s no longer a thing.

One particular monkey showed a little agression at Samantha only after she stood near him for a picture for a little too long. He hissed and bared his teeth at her and she quickly moved out of his reach. He then proceeded to not only stay sitting there, but he leaned back and crossed his legs like he was just relaxing!

It was only about 15 minutes after we walked through the front gate when the skies opened up and there was a huge downpour.

We were soaked to the skin by the time we got back to the car and we sheepishly told Ketut that the next time he offers us umbrellas, we are taking them.

It was about time for my to check in at my retreat, and then we were going to go back into town and grab dinner.

So now, the story of Finding the Firefly Hotel.

To say I was a little gun shy after the sketchy beachside literal-hole-in-the-floor hotel is an understatement.

So when Ketut used google maps to find the gps location of my yoga retreat and we drove further and further away from anything that looked like civilization, Anna and Samantha’s voiced concerns about my next accommodation were completely valid and I was a little worried.

When we had to drive down this steep tiny road to the bottom of a hill with what looked like an abandoned outdoor community centre, I was thinking ‘oh noooo’.

When we arrived at the bottom, and turned right along a grassy path to arrive at a dead end next to a house and a hill, I thought, “I have been scammed, this place isn’t real. I look like an idiot.”

The gps looked like we should have driven directly into the massive grassy hill to our left.

Ketut got out and walked up this sidewalk along the side of a tall building (that was definitely a private residence) to ask someone for directions.

He came back with another man who said he could carry my bag up the hill to the resort.

We were still skeptical, but at least this man claimed to know that the resort existed.

We walked up this ‘road’. (The only “road” to the hotel, by the way)

And at the top, saw this:

My first view of The Firefly Resort

It turns out, the man who came for my bag is the owner. His name is Ariel, he is from Israel, he is an astrophysicist (because of course he is), and built this place himself.

He checked me in, handed me my welcome package and our week’s itinerary, and then picked some wild passion fruit that was growing in front of the office building for all of us to try before taking me to my room.

Anna and Samantha still wanted to make sure the actual buildings were safe and came with me to see where I was staying.

That’s when Samantha saw the infinity pool and decided “this place is probably okay” and then joked she wanted to stay here too.

With that we went back into town to do some shopping and exploring, and stopped into a Starbucks that just happens to look out over a gorgeous lotus pond and temple. No big deal.

Yes, this Starbucks has a gong.

Pura Seraswati

Samantha found a restaurant called Hujan Locale she wanted to try for dinner and it was by far the best meal I have had so far in Bali. Soft-shell crab, locally-caught tuna ceviche with watemellon, and fancy cocktails. Even the menu was perfect with very conversational descriptions of each dish.

The description for “Sate Buntel” is my favourite.

A perfect way to end this reunion/meeting/weekend with friends!!

So clearly, one of my next trips needs to be to Munich, Germany, to visit these two!!

One fantastic week down, 3 incredibly eventful weeks to go!