Exploring Closer to Home

So now that we’re all experts at navigating the path between the refrigerator and the couch, what about some outside trails?

I recently came back to be with my parents in rural Pennsylvania, and there’s not much to do here in our small town. (Not that I’m out painting the town, anyway. I’m staying home!) However, I was getting restless for new scenery, and a lot of the local parks/attractions I’d already been to. That is, except for Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Ohio.

We opted to spend a weekend out in nature, and who knew Ohio was keeping this gem hidden? I loved climbing over these giant rocks, squeezing myself between crevices, hiking all the paths to waterfalls.

Two weekends later, we woke up on a Sunday and decided to go for a drive. My mom had heard about Freedom Falls in Pennsylvania, and we ended up there. We parked on the dirt road and walked down to the falls, where there as only one other person there. I was amazed at how clear and crystal blue the water was. The gentleman that was there told us the falls weren’t as impressive as they usually are due to the lack of rain we’ve had this year, but I was still blown away by this little teal paradise in the middle of nowhere. We hiked down the river to the furnace and the tunnel, taking some nearby trails. Honestly, it was awesome.

There were also many covered bridges along the way:

Where have you explored lately? Any secret spots that are a close drive from northeast PA? Let me know- I’d love to hear!

                                                          Until then, stay home & stay healthy,

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A Taste of the Pura Vida Life

YOU GUYS….I’d had Costa Rica on my bucket list for a while, but wanted to wait until I was able to take more vacation days so that I could spend longer there.  I knew there was so much to see and explore, and I wanted to take advantage of all of it! Finally though, after obsessively checking flight prices, I decided to just take the leap and go with the short time I had. Jungle, coastlines, extreme sports/adventures, biodiversity- you name it, I knew there was so much to discover about the #puravida way.

Now that I have returned, I can say Costa Rica was not only worth the hype it gets, but also one of my FAVORITE trips to date, especially because of the incredible people I met. (Oh, and the whole run-in with the police is an entertaining story, too.) Let’s back up, though–

I flew into San José and stayed one night in the city. I met an amazing older woman, Lynn, at my hostel. She was in her sixties, divorced, with two grown daughters, in better shape than me, and had been traveling C.R. for over a month. It isn’t often that you meet an older woman traveling solo (let alone staying in hostels) and I instantly was inspired by her story. She was #goals for multiple reasons.

Our hostel was located right near the National Museum of Costa Rica (shown below). A huge fan of street art, I spent the first afternoon wandering around, admiring the murals:

And the early evening relaxing in a hammock at the hostel with a beer after dinner:

The next day, I met up with Cassandra (from Haiti, living in N.Y.), who was also staying at my hostel, and we caught a city bus to Irazú Volcano. Look at this crater! The color is just unbelievable.

This is also where we met Alex and Kayo- two friends/coworkers from Nashville who were traveling together, and Jerdy, another solo traveler from the Netherlands. We were a fast group of friends. On the bus back to San José, we decided to take a detour and get off at Cartago.

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Posing in front of the Templo Inconcluso de Santiago Apóstol.

This is where it became evident that sometimes it’s more about who you are with than where you are. The five of us shared dinner together, so many laughs, and too many stories. Check out some of the sights we saw wandering the town below: La Negrita, the Black Madonna shrine at Our Lady of the Angels Basilica, Santiago Apostól Parish Ruins, etc.

Alex and Kayo, who had rented a car, decided to switch up their travel plans and drive to La Fortuna the next morning with me, so I got to spend more time with them. Jerdy came for the ride as well.

This is where shit gets fun- somewhere near Sarapiqui, along highway 4, we’re cut off by a police SUV, apparently for crossing a yellow line. We were shocked, and a little scared. And then, a little suspicious…

They tried to fine us $500, but with Jerdy’s Spanish and expert persuading, we ended up being able to give them a $20 bill and driving away. Alex’s grip was more focused on the wheel after that, for sure.

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Always an adventure! HA

But, we made it there! First on our list was to visit La Fortuna waterfall. I thought about ditching the boys once I found this friend:

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Kidding. I could never. We became a family so quickly! These intentional, unbreakable bonds that form when you’re on the road, away from home, soaking in moments. And to be able to stumble out of the wooded path into this clearing, where the water rushed down, was a sight I loved sharing with them.

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La Fortuna waterfall was gorgeous, no doubt. And Alex is a fantastic photographer.

We all dove in- well, maybe not dove, because the water was absolutely frigid, but you couldn’t not experience it!

We spent the rest of the day at a water hole where tons of locals hung out and did the rope swing. I was impressed by their talent! I, for one, knew my nonathletic self and also got my fill of the cool water. Later that evening, we connected after the hike with a guide, Daniel, who took us to a local hot springs. It was honestly amazing, being able to slide down the rocks like a gigantic waterslide, traverse underwater caves, drink whiskey from the bottle, and talk about life under only the moonlight and the soft glow of a lamp, hung on shore.

The next day I had booked a tour to Arenal National Park, where we hiked Arenal Volcano and walked across the hanging bridges. It was otherworldly. We may or may not have been slightly hungover from our late night. But we powered through, admiring the beauty of rainbow trees and watching for monkeys swinging through the branches. Just scrolling through the collage below, you can tell, it was easy to disconnect, and feel connected here…

I’ve been traveling for almost a decade now, and I have met a lot of people as a solo traveler. And as anyone who travels frequently or long term can attest to, there are friends you make that do become like your family. These guys carved out their own…the way we instantly felt as ease with one another, made each other laugh, let stories flow as swift as that water rushing into the natural pool below- some things are natural.

And some natural things, like the lushness of the jungle, rugged beaches, towering volcanoes, or the biodiversity in Costa Rica, are just unreal. I loved this country, and I can’t wait to return someday. I want to soak a little longer in the simple life, the pure life. There is meaning here. Until then-

 Pura vida!

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Jamaican Me Want to Go Again

My family and I went to Jamaica over Labor Day weekend for a short, tropical getaway. Though the country’s economy has been a struggle, and many visitors choose to stay at the all-inclusive resorts for the duration of their vacation, Jamaica is its own paradise away from those high-end hotels– complete with natural gems, lush rain forests & mountains, delicious cuisine, vibrant colors, and the ever-steady sounds of reggae music.

 

We stayed in Runaway Bay, just north of the birthplace of Bob Marley. Once we arrived Friday, we got settled into our stay with a relaxing trip to the beach. That evening, we tried ackee and saltfish and listened to locals play reggae music.

The next day, we set out for Ocho Rios and the Blue Hole (also known as Island Gully Falls, etc.) There are many around the island, as Jamaica is sprinkled with these natural pools of water. “Ochi” is a port town that has blossomed with tourists, due to the surrounding attractions. It was a long and winding road to the Blue Hole, but once we got there we instantly knew it was worth it. The water was the most beautiful crystal clear blue color! We jumped off cliffs, climbed into caves, and even did a rope swing into the pool!

 

On Sunday, we ventured out to Dunn’s River Falls. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was speechless when I looked up from the Caribbean sea to find this magnificent waterfall stretching up to the sky. We climbed the waterfall, something I have never done before, all the way up to the top! There were lagoons throughout the climb that we dropped into, natural rock water slides, and terraced rocks that provided steps. A group of us made a human chain holding hands, guiding each other through the swift, rushing water and over the slippery stones.

Monday was purely for relaxation, as we had a short time before our flight left. With cold drinks in hand, we reminisced about sunsets, jerk chicken, and the color of the water while listening to reggae beat in the background.

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It was amazing to share this experience with my parents, and to see the more adventurous side of them! Even though they are over 60, they hiked the falls and did the rope swing into the Blue Hole! How’s that for retirement?! We loved the Patois language, the mouthwatering food, and the spirited people of Jamaica. I have no doubt that we’ll be back! #yehman

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Land of Fire & Ice (And Everything Nice)

Bright rainbows breaking through clouds, the rush of a waterfall around every corner, rolling green fields, and the nicest people you’ve ever met?

Sounds like heaven, but the name is Iceland.

I was lucky enough to visit this incredible country this past week- this time with my boyfriend for our three year anniversary. It was our first international trip together, and his first time outside of North America- something I’ve been wanting to experience with him since we started dating!

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We got a sneak peek of the mesmerizing Northern Lights as we flew over Greenland. Our captain woke us up to instruct us to look out the left side of the plane for the show!

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Due to the weather, this would unfortunately be the only sighting we’d have the rest of our trip, but the views alone of this country and the adventures we went on more than made up for it! We spent the first full day exploring Reykjavik. The country’s capital and largest city, and it charmed us from the very start. Take a look at some of the city’s gems:

We saw the Sun Voyager, a striking steel sculpture along the water.

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Harpa, a concert hall near the harbor where we saw an awesome exhibit.

Hallgrímskirkja, an immense church that boasts outstanding panoramic views of the entire city.

Perlan, a glass dome rotating restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious dessert after a long day of hiking.

 

Lake Tjörnin, Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (City Hall), Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat,  etc.

 

As much as we adored the city, we loved the countryside even more. We couldn’t pass up one of the most famous routes out of Reykjavik- the Golden Circle- featuring Þingvellir National Park, Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur), and Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall– This double-tiered waterfall reminded me at first of Niagra Falls, but I loved how close we could get to it!  Not to mention the way the sun reflected off the water- the rainbow was a gorgeous payoff for the long climb and the downpour of rain we got caught in!

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Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park the site of two tectonic plates (American and Eurasian) that drift apart at a speed of 2 cm/year, and also the site of Althingi, the oldest functioning parliament in the world. We couldn’t get enough of the history and autumn colors here.

 

Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur, etc.)

Bright blue bubbling pools, hot springs, and mud pots, this place was a delight to see! Although the sulfur smelled like rotten eggs, you forget all about it with the excitement of seeing Strokkur explode every 5-10 minutes.

 

We made a stop at Fákasel Horse farm to see the famous Icelandic horses. They are all pure bred- once an Icelandic horse leaves the country it cannot ever return, and no horses can be imported. They also have five gaits instead of four, making them very unique.

 

We didn’t think we could top the Golden Circle, but we were proven wrong during our exploration of Iceland’s South Coast shores:  Skógafoss waterfall, Reynisfjara’s black sand beaches, Sólheimajökull glacier, Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and Seljalandsfoss waterfall, among others.

Skógafoss We were able to climb to the very top of this powerful waterfall. (Look to the top right of the photo- that’s where we were!) The slippery steps led us to an unbelievable view looking down below.

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Black sand beaches of ReynisfjaraThis world famous beach was like nothing we had ever seen before! Gray pebbles, dark sand, basalt sea stacks, rocky pyramids towering over us. The impressively strong, high waves crashing into the shore and gusts of wind were scary and wonderful all wrapped into one spectacular visit.

 

Sólheimajökull glacier- This glacier emerged right as we rounded the bend after a 10-15 minute hike. It completely took our breath away- it was the first time either of us had ever seen a glacier in real life! We learned it covers Katla, a dangerous volcano that is threatening to erupt in the near future. (Which we were glad we missed.)

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Eyjafjallajökull – You can’t see the glacier here in this photo below, but the left photo is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and stopped air traffic throughout all of Europe. The photo on the right is a massive rock in which houses have been built into. It’s been called the “elf house.” Many Icelandic people believe in elves. JJ and I weren’t convinced, but it is ironic that after we took this photo, our camera stopped working…

 

Seljalandsfoss– By far one of our most favorite destinations. This magnificent waterfall has a path that leads you BEHIND it, so you can actually walk to the other side for an even more stunning view. But beware: you absolutely will get soaked to the core. Definitely worth it!

So okay, you get it. We saw some extraordinary things in nature and played under a lot of waterfalls. But what did we eat?

Pylsa– Iceland is known for their hot dogs, and I certainly had my fair share of them. Not joking, I could really go for another one as we speak! The picture on the right is at Bæjarins Bestu, which proudly displays a picture of Bill Clinton enjoying his meal. If you order one with everything on it (which I recommend), it includes raw onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, special Icelandic mustard, and remoulade.

Don’t believe me about how AMAZING and renowned they are? Check it here.

Flatbrauð- rye bread with smoked lamb & Malt drink (non-alcoholic, typically mixed with orange soda for holidays)

 

Skyr– A thick yogurt that was very filling.

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Several different soups to help warm up on colder nights:

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Traditional Icelandic Meat Soup.

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Turnip soup- never had a turnip in my LIFE but this was delicious!

And, of course, who could forget FISH?

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The best fish either of us had ever tried at the Drunk Rabbit.

Chuck Norris Grill– we couldn’t stop laughing at all of these sayings!

 

Dillon Whiskey Bar– Sampled some Balvenie (aged 12 years) here that I loved!

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Drinks- Icelandic Pale Ale & White Ale, Viking, Thule,  Egils Gull beer, Somersby cider. etc. We tried it all but the Black Death, Brennivín, which we plan on trying in the States.

 

Blue Lagoon– How could we come to Iceland and not visit one of the 25 wonders of the world? On our last day, we spent a full day here relaxing and literally soaking it all in. With blue water the temperature of 100° F, a swim up bar, and silica mud masks that left your skin feeling 10 years younger, there was no better way for us to wrap up our romantic, fascinating, and completely breathtaking vacation.

 

We could not have asked for a more beautiful adventure together, and already can’t wait to go back. Iceland captured our hearts from the beginning, but if you’ve read this post, it’s not hard to see why.

 

 

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