Tag Archives: Adventure travel

South Padre Island : Kiteboarding

Last summer, Drew and I tried a new sport that a friend of ours has been talking up for years – kitesurfing! South Padre Island in Texas was the perfect place to learn too because there’s a huge bay with very shallow water, great for beginners! We booked lessons for the week, but everything was contingent on weather, or wind to be exact. No wind, no kiting.

Sunsets on the bayside were gorgeous though. You can walk out for miles during low tide it seems.
SPI_1

Our instructor was excellent. Very step-by-step guided instruction and all about safety. Day 1, we stayed on land and practiced controlling the kite. It took a little getting used to, but was easy once we got the hang of it.
iphone2013-(433-of-764)

We felt like we were on call the whole week, depending on when the winds were cooperating, and when our instructor had time for us. Sometimes we’d take nice long strolls on the ocean side while we waited. We ended up seeing the most beautiful sea creatures washed up on the sand. Portugese man-of-war. So Wikipedia just schooled me because I thought they were jellyfish since I knew their tentacles are poisonous.

“The Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, which differs from jellyfish in that it is not actually a single multicellular organism but a colonial organism made up of many highly specialized minute individuals called zooids.” – Wikipedia

Got that kids? Good. Thanks Wikipedia. Now I know this one animal is actually made up of a bunch of living organisms, which the nerd in me totally appreciates!
iphone2013-(425-of-764)

What was really cool was that some of them were still alive and moving on the beach. You had to watch where you step, but they are such strangely beautiful creatures, it was kind of exciting looking out for them as we walked.

iphone2013-(428-of-764)

On Day 2, our instructor had us practice flying the kite while standing in knee deep water. Day 3, we went body dragging. That was kinda fun! You hold onto the kite and let it drag you across the water while controlling your kite. If you wanted to, you could make the kite lift you up out of the water for some air!
iphone2013-(441-of-764)

Unfortunately, Day 4, where we would’ve learned how to get up on the board and actually ride never came. No wind. But we still had a GREAT time learning and will be back to pick up where we left off – some day.

iphone2013-(442-of-764)

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.
New-Zealand-698

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.
New-Zealand-177
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.
New-Zealand-4

The guest sign-in wall at AQ:
New-Zealand-5

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.
New-Zealand-11

The Gardens also has a bowling lawn, tennis courts, ice-arena, and one of the best frisbee golf courses in the world!
NZ7

Restaurants nearby are amazing. We had lunch at the Bathhouse. Incredible food with an incredible view.
New-Zealand-719

The view as we walked around the lake.
New-Zealand-21

Within the park.
New-Zealand-33

The frisbee golf course looked so enticing that we had to grab a couple of frisbees from the hostel and play.
New-Zealand-22

NZ8

New-Zealand-198

In the evening, we took the gondola up for some incredible views. The name of that beautiful mountain range is The Remarkables. Very fitting.
New-Zealand-46

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!
New-Zealand-123

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.
NZ4

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!)
NZ5

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.
New-Zealand-70

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!
NZ1

We learned several different ways to make fire in the hut.
New-Zealand-103

This was with a cell phone battery.
New-Zealand-86

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.
New-Zealand-116

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.
New-Zealand-126

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.
NZ3

These pics are from me, on the sidelines. I love how the rafters drifted on by for his jump.
NZ6

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.
NZ2 We shared a burger since it was practically the size of a person’s face. (Not mine, since I have a big face.)

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.
New-Zealand-717

If I ever feed seagulls, I wanna see them work a bit for their food and put on a little aerial show.
IMG_0468

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.
New-Zealand-207

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.
New-Zealand-725

New-Zealand-734

New-Zealand-211

I can see why so many movies have been filmed in NZ. Wolverine and Narnia were filmed in Glenorchy as well.
New-Zealand-214

New-Zealand-730

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!
NZ9

New-Zealand-216

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.
New-Zealand-229 It’s not lakefront, but had great views of the lake.

The next morning we woke up to these amazing clouds.
New-Zealand-230

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. =)

Nov2012

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!)