Tag Archives: rain

Ko Muk (Mook)

While getting to Koh Ngai (Hai) was easy and cheap, leaving the island was a very different story!  Since it was low season (therefore very little traffic to and from the island except on tour boats that would take you back to Ko Lanta) the opportunities to leave the island were very limited.  Basically it all came down to “if and when” a local taxi boat operator wanted to take us to the next island .  And the price was not cheap either… Of course they could basically charge whatever they wanted (despite our attempts to negotiate) because hey, it’s an island.  You got here, but if you want to get off you’re gonna have to pay what they say to pay or not leave at all!

So it was one semi-stormy mid-afternoon that we decided to head out for Koh Mook (Muk) at the not so bargain price of 1500 baht.  It was just Anna and I so of course the price was pumped a bit. Had there been more people going it would have been cheaper for the individual, obviously.  Funnily enough however we did spot an older couple with a younger child who had arrived on the island in the morning and wondered whether they were staying or going on to Koh Muk.  Neither myself nor Anna were brave enough to approach them to ask whether they were staying or going, but as it turned out, they were on their way to Koh Muk, so had we asked them we could have possibly gotten a cheaper ride there… In any event…

We loaded up on our private longtail taxi boat and headed out on the stormy sea.  The two crew men (brothers- one driver, one look-out) were chatty and quite entertaining as we headed into what originally looked like a calm enough sea.  Pah-ah-ti (wrong spelling but phonetically sound and means “sun” in Thai) was the older and more “experienced driving boats” brother.  When we set out he said his younger brother needed more practice in rougher seas, so he let him drive first, but “not to worry, if the sea gets really bad I will take over”…   The closer we got into the open sea, no longer that sheltered from the neighboring islands, the rougher it got.  Anna wasn’t feeling so hot, but I didn’t mind it so much until Pah-ah-ti climbed from the front to the back to take over driving… Not a good sign!!  The waves got larger and more turbulent.  Sea water splashed over the sides and we were often hit with sea spray from the sides and front of the boat as it crashed into the oncoming waves.  A couple of times it was a bit worrisome (especially when the engine noise of the boat suddenly changed to include an ominous clanking noise) but eventually we made it to the north side of the island and banked onshore.

The motor on the boat was killed and Pah-ah-ti hopped out with us to help us ask whether there was any accommodations available there.  Being low season there too however, all the accommodations were closed and we were directed to go to the east side of the island to Coco Lodge.  Back in the boat we went, however when the engine went to start, well, it didn’t… The brothers fussed over it for 10-15 minutes (mostly by simply hitting the side of the motor with a wrench) until deciding there was something very wrong with the engine and that they would need a mechanic.  Thankfully the engine died when on land and not in the middle of the ocean when the odd noises started coming from it!  And thankfully it was low tide at the time, so Pah-ah-ti, Anna and myself were able to walk (with bags in tow) around the edges of the island, through the sea gypsy village and over to Coco’s Lodge.

Pah-ah-ti bid his farewells and headed further into town to get parts for the boat while Anna and I settled into Coco Lodge.  Now, throughout my travels in Thailand I had stayed at many very nice and cozy places that were also very cheap .  But none had even come close to the quaintness, comfort, style and class that we found at Coco’s Lodge.  The owner and his wife were unbelievably accommodating and the individual bamboo huts were immaculate and very comfortable.

I’m going to have to side track for a bit here just to further sing the praises of Coco’s Lodge.  The location (right on the beach and a 5 minute walk to the pier) was superb.  The food in their restaurant was absolutely delicious (from the massaman curry to the fruit pancakes for breakfast).  When it rained (which was quite often during our time there) the owner or his wife would come around to the bungalows and offer us umbrellas.  A cleaning staff cleaned our room EVERY DAY (something I hadn’t encountered anywhere else in Thailand).  All palm trees located above each bungalow were completely bare of coconuts, so none could fall on the roofs!  The beds were the most comfortable I’d ever slept on.  The rooms themselves had touches of personal details (like seashells lovingly placed in the bathrooms as decoration) that made the place feel like home.  The ever-increasing number of dogs that decided to live there during our stay were all friendly and lovable and while none actually belonged to the place, they would still give them food scraps from left over dishes.  Any time Anna and I were chilling for a long period of time in the restaurant after eating (due to adverse weather and not much else to do) board and card games were offered to us for entertainment.  In other words, just about anything and everything one could imagine needing in a place was offered there!  And all of this hospitality came at only 500 baht per night!!  It blew me away!  I 100% recommend Coco’s Lodge for anyone looking to travel to Koh Muk!!

Moving on however, the main reason Anna and I picked Koh Muk as our next island stay was so we could visit the famed Emerald cave.  Though we stayed on the island for the remaining time that Anna was able to visit (then I stayed on myself for another several days after she departed for Scotland) we never actually made it to the Emerald cave.  This was NOT because we were too drunk or hung over to, but rather because the weather never cooperated and none of the tours were running there.  See, to get to the Emerald cave, the tides have to be just right (low) and then you have to swim with a guide 80 meters through a cave until you reach the other end (the Emerald lake).  So with all the stormy weather we had daily, even with the tides being low, it just wasn’t safe to swim through the cave and visit the lake… Or perhaps lagoon would be a better description?  In any event, we did still enjoy our time there walking the island to the various points, enjoying cocktails on the beach (of course!) or just chilling at our bungalow, playing games and hanging with the dogs.

The island itself I will say was quite a conundrum.  It too had been hit by a tsunami years ago and while some parts of the island had recovered nicely, other more inland parts were very shabby and trashy.  One sea village a bit inland in particular had feet upon feet of trash piled under the homes (luckily on stilts) with seemingly no efforts or cares to clean up.  I will admit when we first arrived on the island, neither myself nor Anna were really sure we liked the place.  But alas, it grew on us.  And while we still marveled as to why no efforts were put (in some areas) into cleaning the place up, I guess it just became part of the character of the island that eventually you just overlook.  Last point, about Koh Muk: the beaches weren’t really all that to write home about.  This may have been due to the bad weather stirring up the ocean waters so they didn’t look clear, but also there were some areas where there were warnings about strong currents.  So needless to say not much swimming was really enjoyed while there.  Oh yea, and while there aren’t ANY ATMs on the island, there is one coffee shop that will allow you to withdraw money for a 7% (or maybe it was 10…) fee.  So just be sure you bring enough cash for your stay there!!

Sadly, it was time for Anna to get back on to mainland Thailand and head to Bangkok to get home, while I stayed on several more days catching up on blogging about our trip so far.  My next destination: Ko Lipe!

P.S. As some may notice, most all pictures were taken on one of the ONLY sunny days there, lol!

On to The Beauty of Koh Lipe

Back to Thailand

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Hangover to Koh Ngai (Hai)

The time had come to leave Ko Lanta (Lantaaaah) and do some more Thai island hopping.  Ko Ngai, pronounced “Hai” was the next destination.  Up until this point in our travels together, Anna and I would enjoy drinking nightly and so far had been very tame about it.  No hangovers, no overdoing it, we had been behaving!  A couple of days before we left Ko Lanta, there was a Buddhist holiday for 2 days where booze were not allowed to be sold in any stores.  You could still get them in restaurants however, but in honor of the holiday, we decided to abstain ourselves.

However… The night before we left Ko Lanta, which was no longer one of the holiday days, we went a teeny bit overboard.  I guess you could say we were making up for lost time!  We were due to leave the next morning at 8am for a taxi boat… And we ended up staying up the night before drinking until about 2am, then chatting away until about 4am.  Or maybe it was 5… So needless to say, when the alarm went off at an ungodly hour of the morning (7ish) we were not happy campers!!  The only good thing that we did do was pack our things before falling asleep, so all that was really necessary was to drag our rears to the front office with all our things and wait for the taxi.

While we did manage to make the taxi relatively on time, it was just painful to be awake at all!  I wasn’t so hung over from the booze as I was just grumpy and not feeling well due to lack of sleep.  After a very long delay in picking up more people from other hotels, we made it to the taxi boat and headed out.  All morning it had been sunny, but about 10 minutes into our boat ride it began pouring rain!  The poor taxi boat driver looked miserable in the back getting soaking wet!!  Yet somehow he was still able to light and smoke a cigarette…

Moving on, we made it to Ko Ngai (Hai) probably 40 minutes later.  The taxi boat driver ran us onshore and Anna and I got off.  As it turned out, all the other people on the taxi boat were on an island hopping snorkeling tour, so they were heading to a different island first.  Made me wonder how good the snorkeling would be with all the rain around, but I digress.

We were dropped off on the shore of a cheap place (our request of course) and got settled into one of the bungalows.  Well, it really wasn’t that simple.  Anna and I were both still exhausted and grumpy to ridiculous levels.  We barely spoke to each other all morning, neither of us wanted to make any decisions, everything seemed ugly and miserable.  Everything was annoying.  Everything sucked.  We were just plain out of ourselves.  So at first we had turned down the “horrible” cheap bungalows and tried to go elsewhere but were stopped shortly after leaving by an english speaking local who said that every other hotel/bungalow (literally) on the island was MUCH more expensive… I’m talking into the thousands per night!  So really it was (at first) with GREAT reluctance that we settled into the Koh Ngai Villa.

Food was the next agenda item.  Neither of us was really hungry, but we knew it had to be done.  We wandered next door to another hotel where they served food and ordered.  I found a teeny roach in my soup, and honestly would normally not have said anything (it’s just one of those things you get used to picking out and setting aside when traveling) but because I was so darn grumpy still, I pointed out the little critter to the staff.  Mind you, I still continued eating the soup because, well why not?  And I wasn’t expecting anything to come out of it, I just wanted to let them know about it.  But when the bill came, they said they wouldn’t charge me for the dish (though I tried to pay still) and that they had decided to close down for the rest of the low season because they felt like they were “losing face”… I felt absolutely a million times worse after hearing that for even pointing out the bug!!  It broke my heart!  But certainly they will be back up and running again in time for high season.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when we woke up sober and well rested that we really realized what an absolutely beautiful little island we were on!  The water was clear and warm, and had this gentle current that ran parallel to the shore where you could literally swim in it and not actually go anywhere!  Great exercise!!  The beaches were white and clean and the beach dogs were all so very friendly.  It was quiet and serene and every evening the tide would go out so far that you could walk all the way to the Southern tip of the island to watch the sunsets.  We even ended up really liking our bungalow and “princess bed” at the Koh Ngai Villa!  It’s amazing how your view can shift so easily when you aren’t really yourself!  In any event, I would recommend this island for a visit, though I would also recommend showing up for it sober;)

On to Koh Muk (Mook)

Back to Thailand

Elephant Trekking

The morning of our tour started out interesting.  Long story short, Win (who set up our tour on the ferry ride over from Phi Phi) didn’t alert the tour people that we needed a pickup and the women at the hotel (the first unfriendly people we had come across on the entire island) weren’t at all helpful.  In fact, we were even yelled at for not making the reservation through them!  But, eventually we were able to get a gentleman from the hotel to help us call the elephant trekking people to let them know we were scheduled for a tour that day.

We were at least a half hour late from when our tour was supposed to start, but when the pickup came for us the employees were very apologetic for having missed us.  And once we arrived to the tour location, the vibe was so chilled and relaxed that you could immediately tell that even though they had tour “start times” they really didn’t pay that much attention to them!

Instead of starting with the elephant trekking, we went off on a guided hike (on foot) through the jungle to the bat cave and waterfall.  We started with the bat cave and while it wasn’t that deep to walk through, the most impressive thing about it was that there were trees growing just inside the cave and the trunks of the trees had grown through the roof of the cave!  Also there was a very large mushroom (magic??) growing deep inside the cave beyond the point of light reaching, which I’d never seen before either!  The bats were teeny and so freaking cute!!  Every now and again one would stir and fly around a bit or simply stretch its wings then curl back up for a nap.

After the cave we walked to the waterfall, which unfortunately due to lack of rain was rather lackluster.  However, it was still quite pretty and due to the heat of the day felt very nice to stand under the water to cool off!  The best part about the waterfall were the cleaner fish AND a cleaner shrimp!!  After cooling off under the waterfall Anna and I stood around in the shallow areas of the waterfall pool and watched as the fish surrounded Anna’s feet nibbled away.  None of the fish were interested in my feet until suddenly I felt a little tickle on my pinky toe and looked down to see a cleaner shrimp nibbling!!  He was just adorable to watch as his little front pincers hacked away dead skin around my toe:)  I could have stayed there all day getting my free shrimp pedicure, but alas it was time to head back and hop on an elephant:)

When we had first arrived to the elephant area, another couple were coming in from their elephant trek and one of the people was sitting in the “saddle” while the other was riding on the front of the elephant… I wasn’t sure if this was allowed for everyone to do, but I was going to ask anyway!  I was informed that it was ok to sit on the front of the elephant, but I had to properly, meaning I had to sit as far forward as possible on the elephants neck so that the sensitive area would not be damaged or strained.  We climbed the stairs to a platform and first I mounted on the head (essentially) of the elephant while Anna got on in the saddle.  I asked if I was sitting forward enough to which the trainer said “more forward”.  So I pushed forward.  “More forward” he said again, so I moved further forward…

Now, I’ve been a horse back rider for over 20 years, so I do know my way around riding horses and the feeling and sensation of that, so I figured it couldn’t be THAT different to ride an elephant… I was wrong!!  You literally had to sit so far forward on the neck so that you were tucked directly behind the elephants ears and all you had in front of you was the head of the elephant and then the ground.  You would think that with the size of the elephant’s head, that it would give you comfort of not falling off, but seriously, once on top, it really isn’t that much space!  The safe space on the neck is so far forward and so narrow that it was hard to feel 100% comfortable about not falling off.  I had to keep my palms flat on the top of the elephant’s head to help with balance and her movement was so foreign that I had to hold on for dear life with my thighs too!

About half-way through the trek Anna and I switched places (with the trainer again telling Anna several times to “move forward” before continuing on) and what I found amazing was we both had similar stories in that every time either of us felt like we were losing balance to the left or right, the elephant would flatten her ear against our leg as if she was holding us steady!  Throughout the ride her ears were constantly flapping around to keep the mosquitos and flies off of her, but the minute we felt like we were losing balance in either direction, the corresponding ear would stop slapping and it would snap shut around our leg for a couple of seconds until we were back in balance, then they would resume their regular fly swatting action.  Absolutely amazing!!!

That experience was one of the most amazing I’ve had.  And again, while I was a bit reluctant at first to sign up for the tour because of not knowing how they treated the animals, I can say with assurance that these elephants are well taken care of and loved.  The trainers were constantly loving on them in one way or another, none of the trainers had a hook prod that you often see at other elephant places, but rather they only had a thin bamboo stick, which they used as walking sticks for themselves more than anything else.  They never once struck an elephant and during the trek, they walked behind the elephants simply chatting amongst themselves.  If the elephants stopped to grab a bite to eat, the trainers would say something to them, give them a pat, and wait until the elephant was ready to walk on.  They were all so chill, comfortable and good with the elephants that it was amazing to see.

After our trek we spent, I don’t even know how much money, buying bananas for the elephants to nibble on as a thank you.  Of course a gazillion pictures were also snapped and lots of loving and praise was given to the beautiful beasts.  It was an experience I won’t ever forget and feel so grateful to have been able to do.  Thank you Anna!!!

On to Hangover to Koh Ngai (Hai)

Back to Thailand

Katakolon

Katakolon itself is just a little port town.  Nothing terribly special about it per se; numerous restaurants and shops line the main street where tourists can wander and stroll in search of gifts.  Olive wood in particular is quite popular there, and I might add very beautiful!

What puts Katakolon on the map as a port of call for cruise ships is that it is only about an hour drive to Ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.  Olympia, as it is inscribed on the plaque out front “stood out historically as the most important Panhellenic religious, political and athletic centre of the ancient Greek world”.  It is rich in mythological tradition and was founded as the sanctuary of Zeus.  Structures include a gymnasium, greek baths, the Temple of Zeus, the crypt, the Temple of Hera and of course, the Lighting of the Olympic Flame.

While we had purchased tours for Ephesus and Santorini, we didn’t for Katakolon figuring it would be easy to just do our own tour.  In that regard we were quite right as the second we disembarked there were people lining the streets with signs for bus rides to Olympia.  We opted for one of the buses and headed out to Olympia.  Once there we immediately went to the ancient ruins.  My sister in particular wanted to see the ancient structure where they lit the flame for the Olympics.

Thankfully we had heard before leaving the ship that there was a possibility for rain so we brought a poncho and an umbrella (won during a round of Bingo on the ship- but more on that in the ‘cruise critique’ post).

We made our way to the ancient ruins which were just around the corner from the main street of the now town of Olympia, paid for tickets to get in the site and started to have a wander around.  By the time we were at the ticket office, it was gently raining.  No biggie.

By the time we were basically in the center of the ruins, it began to rain hard… Then about 5 minutes later (only about 20-30 minutes after we had entered) it started to pour down rain!!  And thunder, and lightning and more rain!!  For those who know me, you know at this point I’m in 7th heaven as I LOVE a good thunderstorm!!  However, it wasn’t just me involved.  My dad and sister were with me (my mom decided to skip the Olympia trip and stayed behind to shop in Katakolon) so I wanted to make sure they were being taken care of.  My dad was using the umbrella and my sister and I shared the poncho.  I kept snapping photos of various ruins under the poncho as we made our way around to ensure that we saw the site for the lighting of the Olympic torch!

Lighting of the Olympic Flame
Lighting of the Olympic Flame

At one point the rain was so heavy that we (and all the other tourists there) started to huddle under the trees for a bit more shelter… Not the best idea with lightning around, but hey, strength in numbers?? 🙂  The rain kept pouring but what made us all start to leave the site wasn’t the rain exactly, but that it was starting to flood!  The umbrella and poncho did little to really protect us as we were getting soaked from the feet up.  My sister and I, concerned for our dad, decided we’d better head back.  It took us probably 10 minutes to find a shelter where we could fit (most of the close ones were already taken up by tourists) and that wasn’t flooding out.  We only stayed under the shelter for a few minutes then decide to keep going back to town.  All three of us at a certain point just started walking through the water instead of trying to skirt around it, since we were already wet!

We finally got out and back to town, drenched and chilly, but generally in good spirits!  Since we kept walking to town instead of stopping longer for shelter, we were among the first people back to town, which gave us first dibs on chairs in a restaurant with lovely outdoor heaters!!!  We huddled around the heater, ordered some drink and food, and listened to the rain pour down all around us.

We thought it rather ironic that we had gone just the day before from a place that barely got rain (Santorini) to a place that was now pouring with rain, lol!!

One funny observation my sister made at the restaurant was from a picture in the menu.  It was advertising an Amstel natural brew Radler beer with the caption: “Natural Beer with non-alcoholic lemon”.  My sister then said “hey, look.  They have alcoholic lemons here!!” LOL!! 🙂

Alcoholic Lemons!
Alcoholic Lemons!

After enjoying our meal, the rain had basically stopped but as we only had about a half hour until the bus was going to pick us up again, we opted to hang around town.  Once on the way back the skies turned blue and remained that way until we boarded the ship again.  Go figure!  But there’s my reason to go back:)  AND we did at least get to snap off a photo and see the site of the lighting of the Olympic torch:).

Sunny Skies
Sunny Skies

On to Cruise Critique

Back to Europe

Santorini

I have a song working in my head that once completed will be published about Santorini, but well, for now it’s plain text:)

What a beautifully unique place!  Santorini as we know it today is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea that was formed by a large volcanic eruption that destroyed the previous civilization living there.  Now, it is the largest island of a circular archipelago that has remnants of a volcanic caldera.  The island isn’t your typical flat land island.  It is a mountain jutting from the sea with what looks like snow on top.  Upon closer inspection the “snow” are the little towns sprinkled along the top of the mountain.

Because of it’s volcanic history (pun intended) the land of Santorini is rich and fertile and very diverse!  Black lava rock, red clay and white pumice stone are visible around just about every corner etched into the land.  Homes in fact used to be built out of cooled black lava rock, which made them somewhat invisible to travelers coming by sea.  A clever way to be invisible to your enemy in my opinion.  However, in the 1930’s  the government made it law that each structure had to be painted white because it keeps the homes cooler and saves on energy.

While the Island itself is not all THAT attractive, the towns are absolutely adorable!!!  The rest of the island is rugged, rocky and not terribly interesting.  However due to the fertile nature of the volcanic rock, a large variety of produce are grown there.  The most popular of course, is wine:)  Part of the tour we took included a winery tour where we were able to sample the various wines and even purchased several to take back with us.  Growing grapes on Santorini is a bit trickier than one would think however.  Due to the ferocious winds Santorini is plagued by quite often, vines are not able to grow upright as in a normal vineyard.  Instead, people train the vines to grow in circular nests or baskets on the ground so they aren’t damaged by the winds!

Along with the hard winds, Santorini rarely gets any rain.  Water is a HUGE commodity and isn’t to be wasted at all.  The lack of rain is why their wines also have such a distinctive taste (the grapes are very concentrated due to lack of water).  The lack of rain has even inspired how the buildings are built.  One will notice 2 kinds of ceilings on buildings in Santorini: a flat roof and a circular or arched roof.  The flat ones are designed to collect rainwater that then gets funneled to an underground cistern, while the arched/circular roofs are the best design for buildings to withstand earthquakes… Yes, they have earthquakes too on top of the lack of rain and violent winds and there is still that volcanic caldron to think about… Sounds like a rough life to me, what with having to battle nature in so many different ways!

While wine, capers and olives are among the favorite products of Santorini, their favorite and most revered animal is the donkey.  They love their donkeys!!  Several statues of the honored donkey can be found in every town, and several times over.  They are working donkeys of course but are well taken care of and once they are of retirement age, they even have a proper retirement home for them to live out their lives.  Too cute, I love it!!  One of the ways to get back down from the town to sea was via a donkey ride:) I was absolutely on board to do that, however our tour guide made a mention that the donkey’s aren’t really a fan of it, so I decided to spare the donkey a trip down the rugged terrain (sigh).  Dogs are also very popular on the island and seem to run the place.  It reminded me of dogs in Costa Rica- how they do what they want during the day, but have a place and home to go to at night.

We wandered around Thera after our tour of Oia and the winery and stopped for some lunch at Arcobaleno.  The food was delicious and the view was unbeatable as it was overlooking the center of the archipelago where the volcano remnants remain.  I had a beer filtered with volcanic rock called Volcan while my parents and sister had wine.  And of course, since I was in Greece I had to have a teeny bottle to Ouzo to finish off the meal:)  From there we did some more shopping for gifts and such, had a pedicure at the Dr. Fish Spa where they use cleaner fish to nibble off all the dead skin, then had one more drink and a wee dessert (baklava anyone?) before taking the tram back to the loading area for the small boats to take us back to the ship.

Oh, one last interesting story about Santorini: the poor houses.  Wealth was signified not by the kind of house you had (large or small) but rather by how much land you owned.  So those who weren’t wealthy, instead of having homes on land lived in homes carved out of the rock along the top edge of Santorini.  Looking at the pictures of Oia and Thera, you can see how many of the homes are practically on top of each other and built right on the edge of the land.  These were the homes for poor people.  Today of course, these homes are worth millions of dollars… Go figure!

Oh, Greeks also love their churches.  If memory serves, people in the town were allowed to build their own churches and name them in honor of a Saint (each church was in honor of a different Saint).  While the churches weren’t used every day or week, when the day came around to honor whatever Saint was associated with their church, the church owner would give it a face life, clean it up and invite the town to the church to celebrate the Saint.  Lovely:)

Last, last thing… There are actually ruins that were discovered on Santorini from the previous civilization (the one wiped out by the volcano eruption) and it has been compared to Pompeii… We didn’t have time to look into that further but it’s certainly a reason to go back:)

On to Katakolon

Back to Europe

Scots in Italy??

The reason I had been traveling through Europe so fast was so I could make it back to Italy by mid-October… I got news while in Berlin that Anna (my neighbor in Costa Rica who I visited in Glasgow) and her friend, and now my new friend Morna were coming to town for the week!!  Yay!! But, that meant to push the gas on the pedal for my other travels.  Hence, after visiting the Neuschwanstein Castle I booked it via train through the Alps back to Florence to prepare for their visit:)

Preparing for their visit is really just code for stocking up with lots of wine, lol!!  I believe during their visit, my dad got 20 liters of wine and between the two of them, they probably went through 12-13 liters… LOL!  But hey, I can’t blame them, they were in Italy for crying out loud!  If you aren’t going to enjoy yourself while here, why bother at all?

I met them in Pisa and we stayed the first night and the next day doing all the tourist stuff, i.e. getting a picture taken holding up the tower.  Morna didn’t want to get in on that action, but we got her later when we were in the top  cupola of the Duomo in Florence cupping another dome of Florence… I Should now mention that all the pictures in this post were taken by Anna and her camera.  Gotta give credit where credit is due:)

In any event, our time after Pisa was spent hanging out at my dad’s place eating delicious home cooked Italian food; getting tipsy on wine and beer and chatting about good times both past and present; taking hikes in the National Forrest to Vallombrosa and Secchieta; going into Florence about 3 separate times trying each time to get into the Duomo but failing until our last try (which we then ended up walking to the very top for a panoramic view);

Going to see Michelangelo’s David, of course!  (the picture below is of my favorite part of David… (no, not THAT part;)))

My favorite part of David
My favorite part of David

Making a wish at the porcellino;

Wishing on the Porcellino
Wishing on the Porcellino

And staying after dark in Florence to watch night life a bit.

Night Artists
Night Artists

Probably the most humorous time for me was the hikes… The first day we went, not more than 3 minutes after we left the house it started to pour down rain.  Did we turn back?  Naw, it was just a bit of rain and we were SURE it would stop soon.  Thankfully I had brought an umbrella and poncho “just in case” since it was a bit cloudy, and while I caved and took out the umbrella for shelter after about 10 minutes of walking in the rain, Morna and Anna were still braving it with the light jacket/sweater they brought for the walk.  About 20 minutes later they were drenched!!  They took the poncho, which was large enough to share and onward we went.  Along the way we spotted several deer!!  And that was probably only because the deer figured “no human in their right mind would hike in this downpour!”  They were wrong, lol!!

We eventually made it to Vallombrosa all cold and quite wet.  Thankfully there was a teeny bar on the side of the road:)  We had cappuccino’s, a sandwich, some wine, beer, some more wine and beer… Then shots to warm up a bit more (we were still chilly) then another shot or two until it was starting to get too late and dark to walk back down, so we called my dad to pick us up, lol!!

The second day of hiking was much less wet, but still cold and windy!  We did make it all the way to the top to Secchieta (where we had planned to go the first day) and once again at the end of the trail, what was there to meet us??  You guessed it, a bar!  We brought our own lunch that day so we just purchased some cappuccino’s, two wines and a beer:)  We behaved that day knowing we had to walk down but not entirely… You see, along with sandwiches for lunch, we also packed about a liter and a half of wine to sip along the way:)  We did behave on drinking it however because we barely cracked into it until we were heading down:)  Ah, good times!

More Florence pictures- notice the very artistic pictures on the Ponte Vecchio done by Anna:)

The three of us posing as stereotypical Italians (Mamma Mia!)

Acting Italian
Acting Italian

On to Venice

Back to Europe

Volcan Poas

Volcan, as you may guess, means Volcano in Spanish.  This particular volcano however was not a cone volcano, but rather a geyser.  It is apparently the largest active geyser in the world! But I’m getting ahead…

I took a bus ride to the volcano with all my gear in tow thinking there was a town nearby where I could stay for the night, and not really fully understanding that the volcano was located in a National Park… Therefore NO sleeping facilities… In any event, the ride there was almost entirely uphill and quite cloudy.  There literally were times when I had to stop watching the road and just trust that the driver knew what he was doing because it became so cloudy at times that it was hard to see more than a few feet ahead!!

We reached the National Park entrance and all tourists on the bus were asked to get off so we could pay.  All National Parks in Costa Rica cost $10.00 for tourists to enter, but if you are local it’s cheaper.  I’m not entirely sure how much cheaper, but none of the locals had to get off the bus to pay, but rather they were all counted up and paid for by the bus driver.  It was standing in the line to pay for the park where I met two fellow Americans.  One was teaching English to students in Alajuela, and the other was a retired gentleman who was going to head to Puerto Viejo after a short stay in Alajuela to potentially retire there.

Once all the payment business was over we loaded onto the bus and were dropped off in the bus parking lot…  Perhaps now is the time to bring up again that since I was thinking that I could stay the night in or at least very near the park, I had brought my backpack with me… Well, when we were all getting off the bus, since I wasn’t sure whether we were going to have the same exact bus on the way back down, I thought it best to bring my backpack with me.  But what this meant was that I was going to get a bit more exercise than I had signed up for originally, lol!!  Basically I hiked all around the park with my dang backpack cinched on me and cursing every time I had to walk uphill, lol!!

In any event, after getting off the bus I simply followed the signs and my two new friends up the trail to the volcano.  My oh my what a view…

Isn’t it just fantastic?!?!?!  Ok, now I know it doesn’t look like much, but believe it or not you are actually looking at the volcano in this picture.  Everyone looked and looked and looked around for some sign of where exactly this volcano was, but because of the low clouds, all you could see (as above) was mist.  My two friends and I hung around for a little while longer and agreed that this (the dense fog) was probably the reason we were given 3 hours to hang around the park.  Apparently dense fog is quite common at this volcano and one must be very patient if they want to actually see it.

Patience wasn’t very high on our list however, and since there were two other trails that led to a lake beside the geyser volcano, we decided to try our luck and see whether the lake was visible.  Up and up and up we hiked through dense jungle forest on teeny concrete paths until again meeting our final destination.  And can you believe it???  The lake looked exactly like the picture above!!  Nothing but dense fog!!

Once again we resolved to simply hang out for a little bit and got to chatting.  And then it happened… In mid-sentence one of my new friends gasped at the image that unfolded in front of us.  The clouds suddenly lifted revealing a beautiful green lake!

This beautiful view literally only lasted about 10 minutes and then the fog once again swept in and obscured the lake from view. Thinking perhaps to try our luck at the geyser we immediately left (all downhill thankfully) and headed back to the geyser.

The rain started to pour down on us as we went down and I even had to stop to put on my poncho before getting too soaked! Once back to our original station at the geyser, the fog once again showed no signs of lifting. But about 10 minutes later, just as it had at the lake, the fog miraculously lifted and you could see the geyser!!

Just as the mist came and went within 10 minutes at the lake, the same was true for the geyser!  We really lucked out on our timing for this trip!!

After waiting for the fog to close back over the geyser, we headed back for a snack at the cafe in the park and awaited our bus.  It was on the bus ride back that I was offered a free couch for the night at the girls place.  I accepted the generous offer and we were all dropped off in Alajuela.  The rest of the night was spent hanging out with my two new friends and the girls boyfriend.  We had a great dinner at a local soda then wandered the streets for some ice cream at a chain place called Pops.  Personally I wasn’t impressed by the ice cream there, but many people seem to enjoy it, so to each their own!

On to La Fortuna

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