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Thanks for stopping by to explore this crazy, beautiful world with me! By profession, I empower women through boudoir photography, creating images that make girls next door look like supermodels. (www.boudoirinbloom.com) When my camera isn't pointed at a beautiful woman, it's clicking away at people I love, new places I'm exploring around the world, or something simple that just wants to be loved. Come share my world with me and if you'd like to share YOUR world, leave a comment and I'll be sure to reply. Hope you enjoy exploring with me!

Lake Powell & Monument Valley

For those who would rather watch a video…

Lake Powell & Monument Valley from LYNN DAO on Vimeo.

There’s something about road trips, whether you’re taking one alone or with someone else. It’s a time to not only see new sights, but to get to know yourself and whoever else you’re with a little more. You can’t help but feel this sense of freedom when you’re out on the road, singing, laughing, or savoring the moment in silence. This summer we decided to drive up north to Lake Powell, Monument Valley, and Arches National Park for a week. Incredible places that all deserved more time than we had allotted, so that just means we’re going to have to make another trip back!

Our first stop was Lake Powell. We have friends that used to hold an annual Lake Powell Houseboating trip and always invited us along, but we never really saw what the big deal was. Man, did we MISS OUT! Once we arrived at Lake Powell, we totally understood. It’s not just the lake, it’s the crazy canyon – Glen Canyon- that’s so awe-some. You feel like you’ve just stepped onto another planet when you get there. Star Wars anyone?
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The best way to explore this canyon area is by boat over the course of a few days, so you have the opportunity to dock in different places and explore the lands. This area goes far back in time, like 300 million years back. Glen Canyon was so many things – an ocean, a forest, a swamp. Fossils are common here and according to the National Park Service, if you find one, take a picture of it and let the ranger know where you found it. Do not take it home with you. Though I’m sure if someone found a fossil, the temptation would be really high to stuff it in a backpack.

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Since we only had one night here, we stayed at Lake Powell Resort right on the marina. From there, they have boat tours of the canyon. We took the one to Antelope canyon, which was the shortest tour (1.5hr).
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About two hours east of Lake Powell is Monument Valley, UT. This Navajo Tribal Park has been in tons of films from Stagecoach to Forrest Gump to the more recent Lone Ranger. John Wayne claimed, “Monument Valley is the place where God put the West.” Damn right.

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We stayed at The View Hotel, where every room has a view of the famous Mittens buttes. (Here’s my “you learn something new everyday”: The difference between a butte and a mesa. Both are flat topped hills or mountains, just a butte is smaller.) Another check mark off the “I’ve always wondered…” list. But back to the hotel, which was seamlessly built into the landscape. There is only one hotel here, thank goodness, and they did it right.

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Sunrise here is spectacular.
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So much so that I had a hard time narrowing down my shots because of the ever changing colors of the sky.
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You can drive through certain parts of the park on your own to see many of the famous formations, but I highly suggest taking a tour with Navajo Spirit Tours. Not only will you get to see parts of the park that others don’t get to venture to without a guide, but you get to learn so much about the Navajo people and the land here.
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If you do book with Navajo Spirit Tours, ask for Don. He has an amazingly rich history and can tell you so much about his people and their beliefs.
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We feel really blessed to have had Don as our guide. He had so much to tell us about his past and his people. It was mesmerizing listening to him sing songs and speak in the Navajo language. While sitting in the Big Hogan, Don told us he was going to sing us a Navajo song to bless travelers. We were super excited.
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When he sang, it was like we were transported back in time, or like we were in a movie. Needless to say, the song was beautiful and I wish I could share it with everyone. But here’s the video blooper footage that came out of this. Yup, my man recorded everything before and after the song was sung because he confused the record button with the off button! (Insert your favorite expletive here). I was so sad about this at first, but can only laugh hysterically now that I’m writing this. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be captured on film. Maybe it’s something that everyone should experience firsthand. It’d send chills down your spine – in a good way.

Navajo Tour Bloopers from LYNN DAO on Vimeo.

From where we were sitting, look up and you can clearly see the eagle. It’s amazing how this land befits the people living on it, people whose beliefs are just so in tune with their natural surroundings. The Navajo actually call themselves Dine (pronounced Dineh), meaning the People. However, Don explained that it’s much deeper than that. It also means Mother Earth and Father Sky coming together, man and woman are equal and one.
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Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation in the United States, spanning about 25,000 miles, or the size of West Virginia. Their story, and the story of every other Native American tribe is a sad one. After the U.S. defeated Mexico, the Navajos were rounded up and forced to walk 300 miles (known as “The Long Walk”) from their homeland to Fort Sumner, New Mexico where they stayed at an internment camp with an Apache tribe. Deaths occurred, not only during the march, but at the internment camp as well. Four years later, the Navajo signed a treaty with the US government and were able to return to their sacred land.
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The Sun’s Eye. I hadn’t expected to see as much beauty as I did in Monument Valley. Before we came, I thought it was just the famous buttes we saw in the movies. But it was sooooo much more. The rocks, the earth, the formations all lend you to feel this surreal sense of being one with the natural surroundings here. It’s like the spirit of the universe speaks to you and is within you all at once. Hard to explain without sounding a bit cheesy I guess, but if you go, you’ll see what I mean.
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What was a total unexpected surprise for me were all the Anasazi petroglyphs we saw here. I knew this ancient civilization was somewhere in the southwest, just didn’t know that they had lived in what is now Monument Valley. Below is a petroglyph of big horned sheep.
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Ancient Anasazi dwelling.
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This is such a beautiful and sacred land. For anyone interested in nature, Native American/Navajo culture, or western movies, Monument Valley is definitely worth a visit. Peace & love my friends.
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The Big Island: Volcano Lava Hike

Volcanoes National Park. This is definitely a must see when you come to the island, so I had planned for 2 nights near the park, but things don’t always go according to plan. We rented another home through VRBO about 5-10 minutes from the park. From the pictures, I loved how the home sits in the middle of the rainforest it seems like, with these huge windows all around.

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A few steps right outside…yup, in the thick of it. This home is actually in a real neighborhood. It’s just that your neighbors are not right next to you up in your business.
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We got there in the late evening and tried to go to Volcanoes that night after dinner to see some lava. The park is open 24/7! Unfortunately, it was soooo foggy that we couldn’t see 3 feet past our car when we tried to drive out. So we turned back around and stayed in. The house itself was kinda quirky, borderline creepy. I didn’t see pictures of the weird stone head propped up on a high pillar outside the upstairs bedroom. It faced the bed (from outside) and had a light shining on it at night, so you can’t help but be creeped out. We ended up sleeping downstairs on the futon! There was another one of those creepy heads facing the bathtub. Then there’s the bathroom accessories themselves. Of course, to each their own, but I’m not a huge fan of body parts on my bathroom walls. The toilet paper hand holders was one thing.
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But the finger towel holders was on another level. Is it Halloween? What the?
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As nice as the view was of the forest outside, we decided to leave a day early and check into a resort the second day. Upon a local’s recommendation, we checked into the Kalani Retreat Center in Pahoa. This place is on 120 acres of land, huge! It is apparently a huge yoga retreat center offering yoga classes, and other workshops and events such as aerial dance and ecstatic dance (not quite sure what ecstatic dance is, but I’m sure we can all take a guess). Lunch is served cafeteria style almost, with very healthy fare. There’s one huge line that everyone gets in to get their food. A lot of the people there were volunteers, I think. Honestly, I felt a bit out of place at lunch time because I wasn’t “hippie” looking enough. But that’s my problem. What wasn’t a problem was our awesome bungalow! No more being creeped out by random body parts all over the place. We were able to comfortably nap in our room after lunch while we waited for our volcano tour.
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Since it was so hot, we decided to go for a little swim first in the half-Olympic pool. Little did we know, it was clothing optional. Surprise, surprise! Or should I say, many surprises everywhere we looked. This was the first time we had ever been at a clothing optional place, so we opted to leave our clothes on. More power to those who free willied, but we’re not quite there yet. :p

At 3 in the afternoon, we met up with our Volcano Discovery group and guide, Neil, who is a geologist so you know the stuff he says is legit. We signed up for the Lava Proximity tour which includes a 6 mile roundtrip hike on lava to see the red, hot lava flows from Kilauea volcano. I had no idea that we would also get a chance to see lava flowing into the ocean. We had the choice of which one we wanted to see first and opted for the ocean lava. I think if I could do it over again, I’d see the lava flow first in daylight and then hike over to the ocean lava since that looked a lot more spectacular after sunset.

The hike itself was like walking on another planet. It’s on lava, which was very uneven, and if you fall, it’s like falling on broken glass. Every step you take sounds like you’re crushing glass. So don’t fall! They recommend wearing long pants, but it was so hot that all six of us wore shorts. Neil was the only one in pants. And a gigantic backpack that carried water, snacks, headlamps, and umbrellas (in case it rained) for all of us. Props! We all got hiking sticks and headed out onto the black lava fields.

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Want to buy a piece of lava land? Only $5000 for an acre!
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The hike itself was already pretty amazing, seeing all the different lava formations.
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This is the Hawaiin Ohia tree. The red flowers on the tree are called Lehua (“sacred flowers of the Gods”), and it’s also the official flower of the Big Island. Legend goes that Ohia (male) and Lehua (female) were lovers. The volcano goddess, Pele, wanted Ohia for herself, but Ohia was in love with Lehua and rejected Pele. Not one to be spurned, Pele turned Ohia into a tree so the two couldn’t be together. Seeing the sadness in Lehua, the other gods took pity on her and turned her into the red flower that grows on the Ohia tree so the two could be together forever. Hawaiians say when it rains that someone has picked a Lehua flower from the Ohia tree, separating the lovers and causing tears to flow from the heavens.
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The bottom of this tree got taken down by the lava flow. Neil had explained why the rest of the tree is still intact, but I honestly can’t remember what it was. :\
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We made it to the ocean! It was pretty spectacular seeing not one, but TWO flows into the ocean. Well, we could see two huge plumes of steam coming from the points where hot lava met ocean waters.
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It gets better and better as the sun goes down. (Notice the boat just a few meters away. There were times when the lava spewed out of the ocean and seemed to hit the boat, but I’m sure they were all safe. I’m sure it must’ve been a great view up close.
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Afterwards, we all put on our headlamps and carefully hiked on that uneven lava terrain over to a lava flow.
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Hallelujah! We found one, or should I say, Neil found it.
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It’s amazing that you can get up soooo close to flowing lava. But it’s moving so slow that you’re not in any danger. It’s just feels like you’re in a 1000 degree oven, that’s all.
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We didn’t finish our tour that night until 10pm…7 hours. But we did spend a good amount of time watching the lava flow into the ocean. It was so mesmerizing, which made it hard to leave the area. When we got back to our room, all we could hear were the millions of coqui frogs singing their songs. It sounded like birds chirping and was a wonderful way to fall asleep. Like listening to a mass frog symphony. Click here to hear what they sound like. Imagine sleeping to the sound of millions of those…I loved it, but there are plenty of natives who feel this invasive species (accidentally transported here from Puerto Rico with plants around 1988) are a HUGE nuisance.

The next morning before we left the Kalani retreat center in Pahoa, we had to do a little walk across this street to take a look at the ocean. This is one of those places where you want to just set up a hammock and lay there for an hour or two.
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There’s not many beaches on this side of the island and it rains a whole heck of a lot (3rd wettest in the nation), so land is much more affordable.
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On our way out, we picked up this hitchhiker lady who needed a ride to Pahoa town. Quite an interesting character I must say, as were a lot of people we saw in town. The “Big Island Revealed” author describes Pahoa as so: “Known as the Big Island’s outlaw town, this is where guerrilla gardeners (pakalolo farmers), dreadlock enthusiasts, FBI fugitives and the never-bathe crowd coexist…” And we have to say, he’s pretty dead on. Pahoa is definitely worth a visit, not just for its natural wonders, but to also see a whole different culture. If anything, it’ll give you a lot to talk about and a little chuckle too.

Driving up the east coast of the Big Island was like driving through the Garden of Eden. Lush green trees & flowers abound. We stopped for a little picnic lunch at a small park where the river runs into the ocean.
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On our second to last full day, we decided to change course a bit and head back to the west side to treat ourselves with a stay at the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala coast. All I have to say is, it’s niiiiiice. Loved the grounds, the gigantic pool, the food, and the room. Didn’t love the nickel and diming game from an upscale resort. We did their floating yoga class in the morning (yoga on a stand up paddle board). That was one of the coolest yoga experiences just for the mere fact that you see turtles and tropical fish swimming around you as you’re holding your yoga poses.
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Back to Kona for our last day. Drew snapped a picture of this vibrant little guy with my phone. Did I mention his phone got soaked in the ocean water on Day 1 of snorkeling? So much for the waterproof zip bag!
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Also in Kona, lots of proud fishermen who like to display their huge tuna catches for the world to see. Kind of like proud hunters on the mainland who hang deer antlers on their walls.
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The end to another outta this world travel excursion with unforgettable experiences. We’re now toying with the idea of starting a yearly (or bi-yearly) travel retreat where a few others come along with us to explore new destinations. And you’ll have a professional photographer who will take pictures of you along the way! Who’s in? Contact me if you’re interested!
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The Big Island of Hawaii: Kona

Having been to Oahu, Maui, and Kauai, Drew and I decided it was time to visit the Big Island. We didn’t know too much about it before we booked the trip, except that it had an active volcano and that Hilo, one of its cities, gets a ton of rain. So thank God for this guide book: The Big Island Revealed. It seems like the author went through every nook & cranny of the island and detailed it all here in this book. Many thanks to him! Even those who live on the island say it’s the best guidebook out there, so get it if you’re heading to the Big Island.

Since we wanted to do a ton of water activities, we decided to stay in Kona for five nights. I love VRBO. We were able to rent a nice oceanfront condo and had all our meals looking out into the ocean. The condo had a community BBQ and tidepools right in front, where a couple of turtles loved swimming in everyday.
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Here’s Drew with the condo mascot.
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What a cutie!
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Kona sits on the west side of the island, and it’s known for sunny days, clear ocean waters, and gorgeous beaches.
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There’s also a whole lotta lava rocks on this side, which could make for some fun tidepooling.
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You don’t have to book a snorkeling tour to swim with tons of tropical fish on this island. Thanks to the guidebook, our favorite spot to go to (I think 3 days in a row), was Kahalu’u Beach. In the mornings, the water is so clear. One of the first things we saw was this school of butterfly fish.
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Then a bunch of yellow tangs.
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Then there was this little spotted eel just hanging out.
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My favorite, the parrotfish, which we discovered in Costa Rica, makes some very good ceviche. (Sorry beautiful parrotfish of the world – blame the Ticos for teaching me how good you taste in ceviche!)
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We couldn’t get over how clear the water was. It made for some of the best snorkeling we’ve ever done. Man, that’s a gigantic fish. I always gotta make sure not to swim too close or I get a hand in the face.
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After an active day, it’s nice to come “home” and have dinner looking out at the ocean.
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Our first booked activity was what the Travel Channel labeled as “One of the top 10 things to do in your lifetime.” Manta Ray Dive or Snorkel. Did you know that there are tons of manta rays swimming around the big island? And at night, some of them flock to this one area to feed on plankton. So yes, quite a few boats take people out there at night. But it’s all worth it! Plus, since it’s a night dive, the more lights, the better so you can actually SEE them. And the equation goes, light attracts plankton, and plankton attracts mantas. You can choose to dive (and sit on the ocean floor) or snorkel (and float on top of the water while sticking your face in the water). We chose to snorkel with Kona Ocean Adventures. The experience was definitely one of the top 10 things we have ever done in our lifetime. It almost seems like you’re in space with these other worldly creatures since everything’s so dark underwater. I can’t believe how close the mantas get to people while they’re feeding on the plankton. I had a couple swim within an inch of me where I had to move my body or else we would’ve touched. (Thinking back, why did I move my body away?) It would’ve been neat to have felt a manta – but they do say not to touch them – in case you get your human cooties on these majestic creatures.

Here we are heading out after sunset.
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Below is my video of our night snorkel with the manta rays. I couldn’t count how many there were, but definitely somewhere between 10-20 that night. And they’re HUGE!!! The average wingspan of these Pacific manta rays is between 5-8ft, but they could get to be over 14ft wide. They are so graceful underwater and very harmless, gentle creatures. (No barbs like stingrays, so it’s completely safe.)

Snorkeling at night with manta rays from LYNN DAO on Vimeo.

For a better video that puts mine to shame, click HERE. It’s shot by a pro underwater videographer.

Big Island-107-EditThe next morning, I woke up early to go diving with Kona Diving Company. That’s where the day time manta ray footage came from, and part of the dolphin video that’s coming up later. If you’re a diver, there’s quite a few dive operations to choose from in Kona, but I loved KDC. I’m not an avid diver so I love going with small groups & hanging by the divemaster. On this dive, my little group consisted of me, the divemaster, and another diver. I felt completely safe. We saw so much underwater & above the water (spinner dolphins, manta ray, false pilot whales). What I loved was that they spotted dolphins on our way out to the 1st dive site & gave all the divers on board the option of getting into the water & diving from there. Of course we were going to hop in & swim with some dolphins!
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After we lost sight of them, there were plenty of other interesting sea creatures to see. Octopi (I saw two of them & they shot out ink as us!), tons of fish, turtles (we went to Turtle Heaven), colorful nudibranchs galore, and a ginormous snail the size of a volleyball munching on a sea urchin. Wish I had a camera that goes down past 16ft, but alas, no. (Sigh.)

But at least my little Sony point & shoot was good enough to get footage of our dolphin swim with Kona Ocean Adventures the next day (We also did the Manta snorkel with them). Highly recommended! Captain Danny will not stop until you’ve had your fill of swimming with dolphins. And honestly, I don’t know if I could ever have my fill unless I lived there, but the time I spent swimming in that clear, blue water with the dolphins was unforgettable. After swimming with dolphins in New Zealand, Drew & I didn’t think the experience could be topped. But this was INCREDIBLE. The ocean water off the Big Island is so damn clear that we could see up to 40ft. Plus, it’s a lot warmer so no need for wetsuits. If only I could become a dolphin…or a mermaid. Next life.

Swimming with Dolphins, The Big Island, Hawaii from LYNN DAO on Vimeo.

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And I’ll end this post with some spectacular (if I do say so myself) sunset images of the Kona coast. ALOOOOOOHA!!!
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Dolphin Swim in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Sometime in my early twenties, I fell in love with dolphins. I’m not sure what led up to it, but I became obsessed with them, especially the bottled nosed ones with their ginormous smiles. I heard stories of dolphins rescuing people in the ocean and immediately had thoughts of jumping into the ocean so I could interact with them. Well lo and behold, more than a decade later, my wildest dreams came true. Toward the end of our 2 week trip in New Zealand, we signed up with Dolphin Encounter to hop in the ocean and swim with a bunch of dolphins. I thought it was going to be amazing, but nothing prepared me for this surreal experience of swimming with a pod of 500 dusky dolphins!!!

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The waters were freezing cold, so before anyone jumped in, we had to don these super duper wetsuits that made us all look like seals. I’m sure everyone secretly hoped there were no seal eating sharks in the ocean.
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From the boat, we could see dolphins for miles. Of course, out of a pod of 500, there’s bound to be a few playful ones. They really knew how to put on a show!
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Visibility in the water wasn’t great, but with hundreds of dolphins, everyone was within inches away from a multitude of dolphins swimming by. There were times when I swam in circles and the dolphins would swim around me until I got too dizzy to play with them. Then they thought I was a total bore and continued on their way. For something as playful as dolphins, it’s hard to capture their whole essence with just still images, so here’s a little video from my handy dandy iPhone! I had it encased in a Lifeproof case…either that thing didn’t work properly, or I didn’t seal things tight enough because I had water damage which made my phone go haywire. Thank goodness for Applecare!

Dolphin Encounter, Kaikoura, New Zealand from LYNN DAO on Vimeo.

To swim with the dolphins, we stayed in Kaikoura, a small town on the east coast of New Zealand. Loving the idea of staying in a tree house, we booked a room at Hapuku Lodge. Turns out the tree house wasn’t quite a tree house, but an elevated room supported by metal beams. Not what we had in mind, but oh well.
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In Kaikoura, there’s also a large colony of fur seals. Great for gawking at if you have some time. Look at all the babies in the wading pool!
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But nothing beats the experience of seeing and interacting with some of the most intelligent sea creatures on the planet. Do it if you ever have a chance!
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Abel Tasman Kayaking

Located on the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island is a must explore area called Abel Tasman National Park. It’s named after the Dutch explorer who was the first European to discover New Zealand. We arrived in the late afternoon at our lodge, Split Rock Lodge B&B where the friendly owner, Bert, offered us a couple of beers and showed us around. Two thumbs up for this place already! Great place to kick back and enjoy the view.

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The lodge is in a small town named Kaiteriteri. Bert and his wife Paulette are the sweetest people and will help with great recommendations for things to do and places to eat. After a day of hiking or kayaking, you’ll want to come home, open a beer, sit on your balcony and look out at the bay.
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We woke up the next morning to an incredible sunrise.
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We then headed off to do some sea kayaking with Kahu Kayaks, per Bert’s recommendation. This was probably one of the best, if not the BEST kayaking trip I’ve ever taken! It was low tide when we started with our group so we had to drag our kayaks out a ways, and by we, I mean Drew (well, I did help when it was on sand, but hopped in once we got a few inches of water below the kayak!) There are tractors out on the bay to help pull kayaks in and out during low tide.

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Being that it was early morning, the water was calm and looked like silky smooth waves.
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This video better illustrates how beautiful it was that day. Couldn’t have asked for calmer waters. Wish I filmed a bit more, but I had to start paddling before we got left behind!

Abel Tasman from lynn dao on Vimeo.

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We ended up paddling out to an island since the sea was so calm. Saw a couple of seals (no image since my iphone got fogged up in its waterproof case!)
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Drew was so excited about seeing seals that he walked around on his hands the rest of the afternoon.
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We found a huge rock formation that looked like a gigantic kiwi!
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Seafood around town is always fresh and delish. These mussels reminded us of a good friend of ours who went to harvest mussels one day while the rest of us were in class in college. He filled up two huge black garbage bags only to be swooped upon afterwards by a park ranger who took them both. I’m sure the ranger’s family had a feast that night! Oh well, se la vie.
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The next morning, another inspiring sunrise. What a great way to start the day.
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Interesting fact: the Maori name of New Zealand is Aotearoa. It means “the land of the long white cloud”. There were so many days where the clouds were just laying low in one long white line. Not big puffy ones, or wispy ones, but one long white cloud low in the sky. So the Maori Aotearoa is the perfect name for this land.

Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks), New Zealand

Three hours north of Fox Glacier is Punakaiki, otherwise known as Pancake Rocks. It’s a gorgeous drive up the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island from the glaciers to Punakaiki.

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We arrived at The Rocks Homestay, a beautiful home with incredible views. The Swiss owners (Roli, Eva, & their baby) have 3 bedrooms in this home that they share with guests.

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Since we had plenty of daylight left, Drew and I decided to go kayaking first. The water level was really low – sometimes we had to get out and drag our kayaks across rocks. I’m sure winter is a different story here. The neat thing is that it was really easy to spot schools of fish swimming by.

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Oooooh…that looks a puma’s head staring him down. Drew – totally unphased by it.
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Later that evening, we went out to see the Pancake Rocks where the ocean waves and blowholes have eroded these limestone rocks to form an incredible sight.

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On the way out, we saw a couple of wekas, one of New Zealand’s flightless birds. Did you know NZ has the largest number of flightless bird species than any other nation? That’s because there’s no large land predators. So why bother flying when nothing’s going to come eat you? An Aussie we met told us they got stuck with all the deadly creatures (crocs, snakes, venomous spiders) while New Zealand got stuck with sand flies. I don’t know which is worse because by day 7 of scratching my sandfly bites, I’m sure I said “Kill me now!” a few times.

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New Zealand: West Coast, Fox Glacier, & Lake Matheson

After four days in Queenstown, we finally got our driver’s licenses (and thus car!) and were able to get on the road. New Zealand’s South Island does not disappoint when it comes to scenic drives. Throw in a couple of great playlists and you’re set!

Kiwis drive on the left side of the road while seated on the right side in the car, so that took Drew some getting used to. Every time he wanted to turn on the signal, the wipers came up instead! Then there was a lot of drifting to the left side, since we normally sit on the left side of the car. It was all funny, but sometimes not a good feeling for the passenger when there’s a rock wall inches away!

Renting a car or campervan (which a lot of folks do) is definitely the way to explore New Zealand. Go at your own pace and stop when the scenery calls you.

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Tons of one lane bridges along the drive.
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Our destination on Day 5 was Fox Glacier township. We arrived right around sunset…good thing since the roads are windy and street lights are nonexistent it seemed. There are two glaciers around the area, Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. We chose Fox Glacier -it’s a much smaller town, but I wanted to check out Lake Matheson, which was less than five minutes away from where we were staying. I had read the reflection of the mountains on the lake are breathtaking. The plan for the next day was to do a heli hike, where they helicopter you up the glacier, land, and hike around for a bit. Unfortunately, we didn’t book things ahead of time and being that it was the week of Chinese New Year (tons of Chinese tourists in New Zealand at this time) everything was booked. We lucked out though and were able to at least take a heli up to see Fox Glacier. It was AMAZING.

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A waterfall? Wasn’t expecting that, but I like.
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And for a peek into what it was like up there, a short video, set to LOTR music of course!

After the heli ride, we headed to Lake Matheson. I thought we’d park and the lake would be a few steps away. You actually have to walk a bit to get there and around the lake, but it’s a beautiful walk filled with greenery everywhere.

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We were hoping to see a real kiwi, but got this one instead. Still pretty neat!
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Our first peek at the lake.
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On a sunny day, you can see snow-capped Mt Cook and its incredible reflection on the lake. Obviously, this day was not it. But it was still a wonderful hike nonetheless.
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We heard there were eels in the lake and started looking for one.
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Found one. Awww, look at his cute little smile!
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Found a great spot to rest near the end of our roundtrip hike around the lake.
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An even better place to chill? Lake Matheson Cafe. The food there was GREAT!
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If you’re headed to see the Glaciers, and are trying to decide between the two, here are some things to consider:
1. Book a guided hike or heli-hike ahead of time if you’re on a tight schedule.
2. Fox Glacier and Franz Josef are about 30 minutes away from each other. Franz Josef township is bigger and therefore has more accommodations and restaurants. They also have hot pools in Franz Josef, which is pretty popular for those who hiked the glaciers during the day.
3. We stayed in Fox Glacier because we wanted to see Lake Matheson, but if you’re having a hard time deciding between the two, here’s a great blog post on the differences between the two glaciers.

Queenstown, New Zealand: The Adventure Capital of the World

New Zealand! I can’t believe we finally made it down to this incredible island nation. Two weeks is definitely not enough time to even see the South Island of New Zealand (let alone the North Island), but we made an unforgettable trip out of the time we had. Wasting no time, we flew into Auckland (in the North Island) and immediately took a flight down to Queenstown. When researching before the trip, I read that the best way to see NZ is by renting a car and driving so that you can take in all the outrageous natural scenery throughout the South Island. So, after arriving at the Queenstown airport, we headed to pick up our car. Why, for the love of God, did we NOT bring our driver’s licenses, I don’t know. I guess it’s because we’re used to just packing our passports since we’ve never rented a car in another country before. Needless to say, they wouldn’t give us a car without a driver’s license. Um, stupid, stupid, stupid! Thank goodness for good friends back home whom we called to mail us our driver’s licenses ASAP through Fedex. ASAP, according to FedEx, meant five days. Good thing I just booked our lodging for the first three days so we didn’t have to cancel anything.

So here we are on day 1, car less, waiting for the bus to take us to our first night’s stay.
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Of all towns in the world to be stuck an extra day or two in, I was SO glad we were in Queenstown. It’s known as the adventure capital of the world, and deservedly so. There is SO much to do here! But be ready to fork up some dough to do these adventurous things. Bungee jumping, skydiving, river rafting, river surfing!, hang gliding, paragliding, mountain biking, kayaking, you name it. But not everything has to cost a fortune here.

We decided to stay at a hostel on our first two nights to get a feel for the town and see if there was anything we HAD to do. Without a car, it was nice to be smack in the middle of town since most things were within walking distance. Adventure Queenstown had a few private rooms with a bathroom and was actually pretty clean.
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This was my first time staying at a hostel and it was a pretty good experience, except for the noise at night (but I wasn’t sure if that was from guests at the hostel or drunkies out on the street heading home from the bars). AQ’s owner, Brett has done an outstanding job building up this hostel in just a couple of years. The hostel has been repeatedly rated #1 hostel by several different organizations. Great service, clean rooms, tons of free stuff – free internet use & international phone calls, free rentals of GoPro’s, frisbees, and bikes. Here’s a look at our room, which had a sweet balcony hangout spot, where we drank our morning coffees with our delicious meat pies from Fergbaker.
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The guest sign-in wall at AQ:
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On our first day in town after a long day of travel, we decided to take it easy and explore this little town, first with a walk to Queenstown Gardens. They did an awesome job with this park. There was every single type of magnificent tree imaginable and great views of Lake Wakatipu as you walk the perimeter.
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The Gardens also has a bowling lawn, tennis courts, ice-arena, and one of the best frisbee golf courses in the world!
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Restaurants nearby are amazing. We had lunch at the Bathhouse. Incredible food with an incredible view.
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The view as we walked around the lake.
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Within the park.
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The frisbee golf course looked so enticing that we had to grab a couple of frisbees from the hostel and play.
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In the evening, we took the gondola up for some incredible views. The name of that beautiful mountain range is The Remarkables. Very fitting.
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On Day 2, we decided to do a You Vs Wild guided hike where our guide, Pete, taught us a plethora of survival skills. The first one was bird calling. Ok, not necessarily a survival skill, unless you can catch the bird when it comes by. And you’ll need some glass and a piece of styrofoam to rub against the glass to make a squeaking noise that attracts the birds. I caught it a little too late, but a bird really did fly to us and land on the stick Drew was holding out. It was like we were in a Disney movie for a split second!
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As we walked into the woods, we saw a creature by the stream – panning for gold. Yes, there is gold in New Zealand, so naturally there will be someone who sets up shop for a few hours hoping to find a small fortune. Not a bad place to be gold panning though.
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The hike itself was beautiful, and we could’ve easily done it ourselves, but we both have been wanting to take a survival skills class for a while, so this was a great way to do it. Bottom left image: Drew filling up our water bottle with some pure, fresh water (99.8% pure, says Pete). On the right, we learned how to make a noose trap to catch small mammals. And the bottom right, my new favorite berry EVER, the snow berry. These are the most fragrant, delicious tasting berries I have ever had in my life! No exaggerating there. I wish they would farm these and sell them here in the States. (Just please don’t genetically modify them like you do everything else food industry!)
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In the New Zealand forests, there are huts for backpackers to rest for the night. It’s no five star accommodation, but it’ll keep you warmer than sleeping outside with a tent.
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When backpacking, remember to always pack a couple of bottles of wine. Actually, what everyone should really pack is sand fly repellent. These are the most vicious little creatures on the face of the planet. Their bites are the itchiest of all itches and they last for days on end. Day 7 and we were still scratching ourselves. I went crazy one night trying all sorts of things to relieve the itching. At one in the morning, I found out that ice cubes worked best. As I write this almost four weeks later, I still see the sandfly bites on my legs!
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We learned several different ways to make fire in the hut.
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This was with a cell phone battery.
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Although I can’t say I’ve retained all of the information Pete taught that day, I can recommend his You Vs Wild tour for anyone who’s interested in more than just a hike.
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On Day 3, we decided (or should I say, Drew decided) to do a ginormous canyon swing. It was either Shotover Canyon Swing or AJ Hackett’s Nevis Bungee jump. (Little known fact: AJ Hackett created the world’s first commercial bungee jump off a bridge near Queenstown.) We decided to go with Shotover Canyon Swing since it was only a 15 minute drive from Queenstown vs 4 hours roundtrip for the Nevis jump. The Canyon Swing is 109m (357ft) vs the Nevis’s 134m (440ft), what’s an extra 80 something feet?

At the Shotover Canyon Swing office in town, there’s pictures and descriptions of the type of jumps you can do. They rate them by how many pairs of underwear you should have on, should you shit in your pants.
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I was getting nervous while the jumpers were getting ready, and I wasn’t even jumping! The freefall for this thing is almost 200ft – no thank you. I loved skydiving, but this is an entirely different animal. My crazy husband decided to do two jumps that day – the Pin Drop, where your hands are pinned behind your back and you jump off sideways, and backwards with a ukelele. Both required 5 pairs of underwear.
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These pics are from me, on the sidelines. I love how the rafters drifted on by for his jump.
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But pictures don’t do this type of experience justice. That’s why we have video! And yes, a whole years worth of brownie points to the hubby for what he said here!

For lunch that day, we had to see what all the hype was about with lines out the door at this joint called Fergburger.
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Down by the lake with the sea gulls was the perfect place to enjoy this massive burger. Yeah, it’s just as good as it looks.
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If I ever feed seagulls, I wanna see them work a bit for their food and put on a little aerial show.
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Later that evening, we checked into an apartment called Marina Mantra which sits right on the lake. LOVE this place! They have bikes for you to use, so we took a beautiful lakeside bike ride to the grocery store to buy some seafood for dinner.
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Day 4, it was a toss up between river surfing or horseback riding through what Drew likes to call Middle Earth. Being that Drew is a Lord of the Rings fan, we opted for a horseback ride in Glenorchy where they filmed some scenes for the movies. This was hands down the most scenic horseback ride experience we’ve ever had. Mountains, river crossings, and we even learned to let our horses run as we held on tight to their manes. (Most images here are via iPhone since they had me put my DSLR in a side bag for safety reasons.)

Here are the horses of High Country Stables. Mine was Big Red, who loved to stop and eat the flowers and grass.
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I can see why so many movies have been filmed in NZ. Wolverine and Narnia were filmed in Glenorchy as well.
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And for the most awesome horseback ride movie set to Lord of the Rings theme music…

Ok, sorry. Since it was all shot with an iPhone while I was riding a horse, it was more shaky than awesome, but the river crossing was pretty cool, right?

After the ride, the owner showed us a few of his favorite animals on the farm. Piggies!
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Since we had only planned on staying in Queenstown for 3 nights, but had to wait for our licenses to arrive, we needed to find a place for an extra night. We lucked out in finding that Pounamu Apartments had one room left since our other place no longer had vacancy. Pounamu is the Maori name for New Zealand jade.
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The next morning we woke up to these amazing clouds.
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And to the great news that our driver’s licenses had finally arrived!!! Road trip up the west coast on the next blog post!

Mini Adventures

Little adventures in Nov/Dec of 2012.

Surf yoga in Costa Rica, Roosevelt Row in Phoenix with family, and my little Tovikins. =)

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Vajra Sol Surf Yoga Retreat on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica

In November, Drew and I did something that we’ve never done before. Traveled to the same place twice in one year. Excluding trips to visit family in nearby states, we usually like to explore new places every chance we get since there is so much out there to do and see in this world. But being that we only had a week (so no crazy long plane ride was worth this short amount of time), and it was November, which limited our choices since we can no longer handle anything below 60°F after four years of living in Arizona, we decided to head back and spend a week at what was one of the best adventures we’ve ever had…the surf yoga retreat with Vajra Sol in Costa Rica. Our first time there was February of this year.

A hop, skip, and a jump away from Phoenix (more or less), Vajra Sol surf yoga retreats are held in the beach town of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, on the Nicoya Peninsula facing the Pacific Ocean. For us to get there, we had to hop on a plane, land in San Jose, Costa Rica, spend the night, then hop on a tiny plane (you can either go through Sansa or Nature Air) to the Tambor airport, and then take a 45 minute car ride along a mostly dirt, sometimes bumpy road.

You really gotta want to be there, but once you’re there, you’ll find it’s all worth it. There are pros and cons to this bumpy, dirt road in Santa Teresa. So it’s not the most comfortable car ride, and the road gets dusty during dry season.

But because of this, large resorts don’t set up shop here, which keeps the beaches beautifully pristine. When you’re walking out on the beach, you feel like it’s just you and Mother Nature. No hotel in sight along the coastline. Just ocean waves, beach, and jungle.

Sandra Tedeschi, the amazing and beautiful spirit who founded Vajra Sol Yoga Adventures, runs her yoga retreats at Pranamar Villas in Santa Teresa. When Susan, the lively Pranamar owner, and her partner Greg designed this place and hired their staff, there was no compromise. It’s an intimate, beachfront hotel, with six two-story villas and three bungalows.

The open-air restaurant serves the most delicious and healthy meals and drinks (tropical fruit smoothies and cocktails were all well made!) Below are pics of some of my favorite meals: huevos rancheros on corn tortilla, yucca chips, banana pancakes, and fish tacos. Yummy.

Not only that, but every single staff member here gives you a warm, genuine smile when you greet them. The grounds are beautifully tended to by Greg, who by the way, also cares for the landscaping at Mel Gibson’s nearby home. (All feelings regarding Mel Gibson should be tossed aside, as I was just trying to point out just how good Greg is at landscaping.)

Although you can do a surf yoga (or yoga only) retreat on your own here, we much prefer going through Sandra for the group experience. For one week, a group of strangers from different parts of the world gather together with her here in this semi-secluded beach town and embark on a journey, individually and together. I say individually because you get to learn so much about yourself while you’re here, along with learning about and from others. Our group this time consisted of (going counterclockwise) me & Drew, Jocelyn -a truck driver from Quebec, Lori -in advertising from Chicago, Leonora -a tax accountant from Seattle, and Melanie -a medical resident from Calgary. All wonderful people with whom we had the pleasure of spending one adventurous week.

The first evening before we all met, Drew and I explored the beach for a bit.

During low tide, you can walk among the tidepools.

Sunsets here are breathtaking. Sandra says common conversation starters here are either “How was the surf?” or “Did you see the sunset last night?” Facebook posts from locals are splattered with sunset images. And no wonder…

The retreat schedule is laid out perfectly. Every morning, Drew and I get up at 7 to have breakfast, take some time to digest, and then meet Melanie, Jocelyn, Lori and the surf instructors from Del Mar Surf Camp at 9 for our surf lesson. We carry our boards about 10 minutes down the beach to the clear area since the spot in front of Pranamar is full of tidepools.

Ismael is the head surf instructor and he is, IMO, the BEST surf instructor you could ask for. Everyone gets up on their board and he knows how to read your abilities so well, that he’ll know when to push you and when to back off. And yes, he literally pushes you too. Drew and I graduated from whitewater to the clean waves in the back this time, and Ismael was right there treading water and reading the waves so that he could push our boards for us as we popped up and rode the green curves of ocean water. Talk about love for the sport and wanting to share it with your students.

After surfing, we’d usually hop in the pool for a bit, then wash up and meet for lunch with Sandra. After that, some relaxation time before yoga at 3:30.

Yoga is practiced at Pranamar’s yoga shala which faces the ocean. I can’t think of a better place where I’ve practiced.

Sandra has been practicing yoga for over 14 years and is an excellent yoga teacher. Her practice is varied and she’s great at accommodating all levels. She gently reminds us of how the practice connects to our lives, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Those of us who surfed can see how much yoga adds to our surfing skills as well.

What I love about my husband is that he’ll try anything, even yoga. Even when it hurts. He doesn’t practice regularly (or really, at all anymore), so I totally admire him for doing it every day during the retreat, grunts and all. Sometimes I’ll peek at him during class and it makes me chuckle to see his facial expressions while he’s in poses.

On Wednesday morning, there’s no surf instruction – unless you want to. But it’s open for you to do another excursion outside of Pranamar, be it ziplining, hiking, riding an ATV to the next town and seeing some waterfalls, or the latest and greatest addition – spearfishing! Sandra has a friend named Pablo, who is a jack of all trades with knowledge about everything from the trees to the fish in the ocean. He runs Sapoa Adventures and will take you on any excursion of your liking in the Nicoya Peninsula. If you’re not into surfing or yoga, but would like to get to know the area well through other adventures, get in touch with Pablo.

So early Wednesday morning, four of us got up and drove to Santa Teresa’s fish market to meet Pablo and Emilio on the beach where the local fishermen hang out. Quick introductions and the next thing we knew, we hopped in a small boat and were off to spear some fish. Along our way out to a tiny island, Pablo went over the basics of using the speargun and the strategy of spearing a fish. You gotta dive down and be on the same horizontal plane as the fish since there’s more area to the side of most fish than from the top. So yes, you’ll have to be a pretty decent swimmer (these big, muscular thighs of mine come in handy sometimes!), be able to hold your breath underwater for awhile, and dive down with snorkel gear.

(Bottom right: we stopped at one point so Pablo could show us this random gas bubble coming from the center of the earth. Very interesting. Even more interesting to me was how they knew where to find it in the middle of the ocean…but I guess there is something called GPS nowadays.)

It was a cloudy day, and there were some currents, but this is where we fished most of the time. Lots of beautiful looking fish swimming around down there. Although visibility wasn’t that great, the water temp was perfect.

I got to go first with Pablo. Once I hopped in the water after him, Pablo handed me the speargun and off we went in search for some fish. Visibility was poor and my untrained eyes had a hard time finding fish at first, so I followed Pablo. Once he saw one of a decent size, he pointed it out to me underwater. Hold my breath, dive down, get in line with the fish, aim, and fire. And just that like, in milliseconds it seemed, I speared my first fish. It was exhilarating to say the least! Turns out I caught a trigger fish. Good eatin’ says Pablo. We go down again and after hitting my second fish in a row, Pablo was ready to hire me as his assistant, and I seriously contemplated that idea. So, so tempting. Of course, no one does it better than the man himself, so Pablo snagged a parrotfish after we all had a turn at spearfishing.

After a few hours at sea, we headed back to shore with our catch. Success, as we all caught something! As Emilio cut and cleaned the fish for us, we got to have some very fresh sashimi right then and there. A little concoction of lemon juice, soy sauce, and hot sauce is all you need. Delicious!

While we waited, we stood in awe of this gigantic amberjack caught by one of the locals.

When they gutted it, they found inside its stomach a lobster and another fish! The food chain in action.

Our crew from Vajra Sol.

With the Sapoa Adventures crew. This was truly one of the best adventures we’ve ever been on. Afterwards, Drew and I fantasized about living in Hawaii and spearfishing for dinner every night. As if we’ve become expert spearfishermen or something. Sheesh.

The best thing about fresh parrotfish? It makes great ceviche! On our way back, we stopped by the market to pick up some groceries to make ceviche back at our place. Happy hour at the Dao bungalow that evening!

Even though we fretted a little about going back to the same place in less than a year, we had no regrets. New adventures, new people – the week was every bit as rewarding as the first time.
(For images from our first trip with Vajra Sol, click HERE!)