The World is a Book

Writing about: Family Travel, kids, places, food…

Carara National Park

This was a new park to us and it didn’t disappoint. Located just before you get to Jaco, it took us about 30 minutes from Atenas (morning with no traffic). We followed suggestions and got there early and there were guides waiting for hire. We chose not to because we don’t like to follow a guide (too independent) plus they cost $60 for a couple of hours and we had read they weren’t fully necessary.

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The first loop is an all access one and would be fine for wheelchairs or strollers. It’s close to the road and we didn’t see much there but it’s a pleasant 30-45 minute loop. From it you head off on two others that, while good trails, would not be wheel friendly. Toddlers or preschoolers would do fine though. However it is hot and sticky and there is no water for sale in the park so bring plenty. We did use bug spray but didn’t see mosquitoes. The foliage is pretty dense so there is little wind to cool you off. It is comprised of both dry and tropical rainforest so mixes it up a bit and supposedly they have 45% of all the species of Costa Rica’s wildlife living in it. Entrance fee is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

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We were lucky enough to see a nesting pair of scarlet macaws, two types of monkeys, boa constrictor (slithered right in front of us on the path which made us jump), gorgeous green poison dart frogs, various types of lizards, leaf cutter ants, multiple brightly colored birds, and a range of weird insects.

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Costa Rica Revisited

Well it’s been eight years and we were excited to come back. This time we decided to stay in a house on the opposite side of the central valley than Santa Barbara where we were last time. We chose Atenas because it was rated by National Geographic as having the best climate in the world. Sadly I think that was before Al Gore’s projections on global warming are coming true; Atenas is hot and sticky so having a house with no air conditioning is less than amazing. But thankfully it does cool off at night and we have a pool during the day. Trips to the mountains and volcanoes also mean cooler times.

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We visited Zoo Ave again and it’s still a sweet little zoo with lovely foliage to walk through. Expensive visit though at $20 per person for about an hour and a half. After the Merida, Mexico zoo visit was free this is hard to fund!

The Poas Volcano and park are pretty neat to see. They are doing work on the park so all the hiking trails and picnic area are closed but we got to see the crater before the clouds rolled in. No lower prices for the park even though most of it is closed — $15 a person.

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I love this picture as when I see the ones from 8 years ago it reminds me how big the youngest are now!

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Another day saw us at La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This really is a great place. They have a lovely butterfly garden that is filled with all types but we love the blue morphos the best. The toucans are fun to see and the jaguars impressive.

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After visiting the various animals and traditional house there is about an hour’s walk down through the forest where you can see various waterfalls. Lots of steps but good handrails and pretty easy to navigate (although we were a bit out of breath toward the end) and this time was much easier not having a 2.5 year old to carry! This place is not cheap either at $40 for adults and $24 for children.

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We did the requisite coffee planation tour but this time skipped Britt and did the Doka Estate one. I think this was less cheesy than Britt and a bit cheaper ($22 for adults but hey free unlimited coffee – kids were a bit shaky after it).

http://dokaestate.com/

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Tried to go to Inbio Parque again but sadly we drove 90 minutes to discover it has just recently closed due to new management/bankruptcy. Nothing mentioned on the website though which was a tad frustrating.

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One new spot was Freddo Adventura Rural which is actually a lovely farm up on the slopes of the volcano. We spent the afternoon milking cows, watching calves play, riding in a wagon around the farm, walking in a cloud forest, and learning how they make cheese there (and sampling much of it plus the strawberries they grow). The kids were a bit uneasy at drinking the milk fresh from the cow but Grandma and I enjoyed it. Frothy and warm and full on cream as these were Jersey cows!

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Another day saw us at Jaco Beach. While we love our beach time, this one is not a favorite given the black sand. It’s not volcanic black as in Hawaii but rather dirt from the many rivers that run into the ocean so it sticks to you like dirt from the garden mixed with sand. But it was wide open and pretty from a distance!

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Jaco Beach

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We also visited Heredia and Alajuela. Sadly after loving the town squares in Mexico, we found Costa Rica’s to be lacking. Just not a cafe culture so no outdoor cafes or places to eat at.

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Heredia Church

 

Mexico City/DF/CDMX

I knew it was a huge city but flying into this place makes you gasp at how enormous it really is. Circled by mountains, you fly over a huge valley that is just one entire city. With estimates that the city has about 21.2 million people, it is the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere. It was built on a lake and in the original Aztec times it was known as Tenochitlan. There are large ruins on the outskirts but also a more recently uncovered temple right next to the main cathedral in the zocalo. There is even an Aztec ruin in one of the metro stops that’s kind of neat to see. The name is in mid confusion right now with a change from the in-country name of DF (Distrito Federal) to the new acronym CDMX: Ciudad de México.

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We arrived late at night but had pre-booked a large suburban taxi to take us to Coyoacan where we had booked cute two-bedroom apartment. This ended up being near the university and over looking a lovely little park. Sometimes you hit it just right with booking lodging and other times not. As I reclined on the purple chaise longue overlooking a park with a library of academic books around me, I thought this was a good one!

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Coyoacan is one of DF’s 16 boroughs and was a separate village until early 1900s when the main city grew into it. Now it’s just one of the many areas but it still has a smaller charm to it with cobblestone streets and colonial buildings. It has a sweet town square with all kinds of restaurants surrounding it. Great coffee and pan/bread so it makes a good spot to people watch from. There were also loads of market stalls that popped up at the weekend but since we were there for Easter, I’m not sure if that is every weekend.

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Getting around DF is no problem when you use the Metro. Really easy (one ticket costing 5 pesos (28 cents US) got you across the city. Taxis were about 200 pesos ($11) and Uber cost us a third of that – both for about a 30-minute drive. Since it’s so nice and cool there we did a lot of walking combined with Metro as that’s just more fun. We even found China town and ate bao (not that good sadly).

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One day we reserved for the big Museum of Anthropology. It was very good and we sure learned a lot but some reviews said reserve a day or two – 3 to 4 hours did us just fine though. Perhaps this was because we had visited the wonderful new Mayan museum in Merida a few weeks prior. It was neat to learn more about the cultures and places we had already been to and I think that made the kids more engaged in learning – doing the museum after the real places.

We also found the Trotsky museum/house which was interesting. One thing that intrigued me was the picture of John Dewey at the house and so I had to research their link. Turns out he was the chair of the “The Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials,” and travelled to Mexico to head this inquiry. I was possibly the only one interested in this but it’s that educator side of me!

http://www.publicseminar.org/2014/03/john-deweys-encounter-with-leon-trotsky/#.VvVHQGQrLL8

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More from Oaxaca area

It’s hard to stop sharing pictures of Oaxaca because it was so colourful and vibrant.

 

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Roof top dining

Roof top dining

Mitla and markets. New built on top of old and yet “new” is still quite old!

 

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Nearby Oaxaca City

Just outside of the city is what was the capital of the Zapotec civilization from 500 BC – Monte Alban. This was our favorite ruin to visit and was huge with incredible views all around. Not sure pictures do this justice but it was so quiet getting there in the morning with this amazing view. The air is crisp and clean and it was so quiet. Very easy to just sit and ponder history.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monte_Alb%C3%A1n

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We also went to Mitla, which is another ruin about an hour away. Nice and located within a very traditional town. Glad we had a car and were heading that way because I don’t think paying for a tour just to see it would have been worth it; although there were some cool tombs to climb into. Stopping at Arbol Del Tule was a good addition when going that way. This is a huge and old tree reported to be anywhere from 1200 to 3000 years old.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81rbol_del_Tule

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The markets were amazing as well. We went to a couple of huge ones and found just about everything for sale including live animals. It was funny to see tiny old ladies in traditional dress wandering around with a shopping bag and a chicken or turkey tucked in with it’s head out (live for now). Great food and very friendly people.

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The small towns surrounding the main city are each known for varying handicrafts. One for green pottery, another for black and others for carpet weaving or tapestry and clothing. We went to Teotitlan del Valle a couple of times and had a demonstration of how they gather the wool, card it, dye it and then weave it into carpets. The dying process was all natural using little bugs from cacti and plants.

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We also went to a famous restaurant there called Tlamanalli. Run by three sisters who cook traditional Zapotecan food. It was “interesting” to eat. Not sure I’d race back but a lovely building!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teotitl%C3%A1n_del_Valle

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Oaxacan Food

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The offerings in food within the main city though were very good. Throw out all you think you know about Mexican food as this is nothing like Tex-Mex in the US. We liked the tlayudas (bit like a big pizza) and the grilled meats hall in the markets.

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Jicama, water melon, mango, and oranges are all available from the many street vendors selling bags as are grasshoppers – chapulines. Funny watching my kids play cards and snack away on a bag of these. Small ones are crunchiest and larger – well chewy! These are sold all over the place and on many menus so not just for tourist shock. They also grind up agave worms and mix it with chili which is served with mexcal. We tried it but can’t say have embraced it.

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One thing we did embrace was the hot chocolate with milk or water coupled with a soft bun to dip is absolutely the best. I want some NOW. It’s drunk for breakfast or dinner but we broke tradition and had it whenever we could.

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This site has the best pictures and descriptions of foods there. Really worth browsing:

 

From Tlayudas to Tamales (Eating Our Way Around Oaxaca)

 

 

Oaxaca City

We decided to spend a few weeks in Oaxaca City (pronounced wa-hah-kah), capital of the same-named state as it’s renowned for it’s food and art. It’s about 300 miles south of Mexico City and quite high up – about 5500 feet. The mountains surrounding it and bright blue skies, low humidity and warm days/cool nights reminded me of southern California. This is another city that is heavily populated with indigenous peoples (about 50%) and the mix of traditional clothing and foods is lovely.

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The town is very colonial with the main zocalo (main square) and big cathedral. Buildings are form the 16th Century and sport many bright colors. Walking is easy around the city but can get busy in the zocalo areas. Everywhere you turn in Oaxaca is colorful from art museums to street art and music plays everywhere. We saw multiple wedding processions with huge puppets and bands playing. Dancers with baskets on their heads encourage everyone to join in.

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There were free ballet folklorico shows going on in outside temporary settings as well as other free dance shows in the multiple theatres around the city. It really is rich in culture.

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Dancing and music and churches!

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Colonial Buildings and Color and even Mayan breastfeeding art!

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Flying with Interjet

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We had a few flights booked on this trip with Interjet as they were extremely cheap and had decent times etc. Never having flown with them before, we weren’t sure exactly what to expect but the website luggage policy was pretty amazing:

“In all national and international destinations, you can check up to * 75 kg of luggage per passenger distributed in two suitcases (no suitcase can weigh more than 25 kg). As part of your baggage you can carry your pet, surfboard, bicycle, or your musical instrument.

If you get to exceed your baggage allowance, the cost per additional kg is $ 50 MXN national stations and $ 5.00 USD on international stations. If you need to travel with additional luggage, please check in counter that no limitation of space in the cabin baggage.”

We have now travelled from Cancun to Mexico City and on again to Oaxaca, back to Mexico City and then to San Jose, Costa Rica. Each time we boarded in a very laid back and relaxed manner. No one rushed or pushed in the craze to be able to get their huge carry on in the tiny space that always runs out. In fact there was very little carry on luggage brought on. The flights were about ¾ full and we were stunned with the amount of leg-room. My 6’4” son could spread out easily. I have never had this much space even on international flights. This is from their website:

“You can be up to 20% more space between rows! For us it is very important your convenience so we decided to remove up to 30 seats in each of our aircraft.

The most comfortable space consists of 34 inches between rows of seats , this allows you to stretch your legs and travel in comfort. The passenger in front of you, you can recline the seat without bothering you .

You can also choose your seat at the time of purchase of your flight, at no additional cost .

In short, the more comfortable space and seat selection at no extra cost , what you see is what you pay.”

And then to top it off the drinks and snacks were FREE – including alcohol; wine/beer and liquor. It was a little early for my gin and tonic but it would have been free even on the 35-minute flights.

Flight attendants and check in people were friendly and polite too.

I can honestly say this was a wonderful experience and I am so glad to be flying them again. Oh and the flights from DF to Oaxaca were about $45 per person (remember all that includes loads of luggage/animals and FREE booze:)  They are flying from the US now so watch out for this airline.

And no — we don’t have any freebies for saying this!

https://www.interjet.com.mx/Home.aspx

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Leg Room!

 

Merida: Colonial Beauty

Merida turned out to be one of our favorite places in the southern area. It’s the capital city of the Yucatan and founded in 1542. It is about 60% Mayan and a big mix of cultures. We stayed in this amazing colonial house turned into a hotel. It was a little shabby and the bathroom perhaps Victorian in age but the ceilings and décor sure made up for it.

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We were just around the corner from the wonderful theater and we got to see the symphony play one day.

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There are loads of museums and city squares loaded with outdoor restaurants. Perfect places to spend the afternoon people watching and evenings dining slowly.

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There is also a huge new Mayan museum in the more suburban north side of the city. It’s an impressive building and houses fantastic exhibits about the region including dinosaurs as it was apparently built on the site scientists estimate the meteor hit and wiped things out then. Much of the information is in Spanish but it’s easy to get the main ideas of things just by looking at the wonderful exhibits.

And in the main city there are weekly classical dance shows (every Thursday for the last 50 years or so) and even Mayan ball games set up. Music is always happening and we got to see a big police band playing on the main square. If you are to look closely behind the Mayan ball players there is a familiar face — Jake photo bombing!

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This is a great city to just wander in and take in the architecture.

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Izamal — A Yellow Gem

This city is fascinating place. All the downtown buildings for quite a long way are painted yellow. There is a huge cathedral/monastery in the main square that has an atrium second in size to the Vatican. Throughout the town there are multiple Mayan ruins just blended into the regular streets and easy to wander into. As with many of the other churches and cathedrals in the area, the huge main cathedral and downtown houses were actually built with stones from the Mayan ruins the Spanish knocked down.

http://www.tourbymexico.com/yucatan/izamal/izamal.htm

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Touring the town by horse and carriage was our favorite transportation. Yes the horses wear sombreros.

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I love windows and doors in Mexico. Details are important and they always seem to capture a more magical element than modern fibre glass inserts do!

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