Cavernas de Venado Costa Rica 2019

Be prepared to get soaked and maybe scrape your knees on this expedition!

A beautiful 45 minute drive from our eco lodge in La Fortuna brought us to The Venado Caves. Named so because of the deer hunters who first discovered them in 1945 (venado translates to deer).

Eager at the entrance

Entrance to the caves ($28 each in USD) includes helmets, headlamps, guide, and rubber boots. We declined the boots after reading reviews that they fill up with water. For another $20 we hired the photographer to join us for a rare opportunity. Every photo in this blog is courtesy of Fausto Perez. The caves are over 6 million years old but have sea shell fossils even older. Currently they are home to fruit bats, vampire bats, and these lovelies. Scorpion spiders. This female has eggs!

Our guide told us not to be afraid and then proceeded to catch one and let us hold it. They have long antenna to help them feel their way through the caves because they are blind. Eeeeeeee!

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

We had to suck in our guts to make it through the ‘Birth Canal’. This really tested my latent claustrophobia.

Ian made it!

I kept feeling terror but couldn’t stop grinning. Could I be an adrenaline junkie?

We squeezed through tunnels, rock climbed slippery precipices, and walked through waterfalls deep under ground.

You have to go behind this waterfall. Pura vida!!!
Tarantula, one of several we saw in the caves.

We had the amazing luck to be the only ones there today. Sometimes they have entire tour busses come through.

It was only Ian, myself, our guide (Henry) and the photographer (Fausto).
This formation is called The Papaya

We got soaked to the bone, smelled bat guano from fruit bats and vampire bats, army crawled through tunnels barely bigger than my shoulders half full of running water, got spooked by countless spiders and the story of a Fer de Lance snake that was seen just a few weeks ago resting on a rock ledge. Had the time of our lives. Muchas Gracias Costa Rica! Pura Vida!

Hawai’i March 2019

Sunset with black lava in the foreground, Kailua Kona

One of the best ways to survive an Idaho winter is to leave it and head for the tropics. Ian and I had been invited to stay at his parents’ condo in Kailua Kona on The Big Island Hawai’i and we were more than happy to thaw out in our old stomping grounds. Ian and I met each other in Hawaii and lived there with our son for 8 years before moving to Idaho.

View of the coast from The Royal Kona Resort

The Royal Kona Resort offers Hawaiian music every Thursday from 5 to 7 PM for free to the public. Slack key guitar with a happy hour Mai Tai and a Kona sunset, pure Paradise. If you’re lucky you may see the ‘green flash’ as the sun dips below the horizon and lights up the ocean with a flash of emerald.

Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach Park)

One of our all time favorite beaches on Hawai’i is Kua Bay on the West side of the island. When we lived here in the early 2000’s you could drive your 4×4 truck across a gnarly lava road and actually camp on this white sandy beach. These days it has a paved road that even the most timid rental car can drive on and freshwater spigots to wash off your sandy toes after a day of catching waves.

White sand and crystal clear water of Kua Bay

The waves at Kua Bay are perfect for body surfing and boogie boarding and there’s an OK spot for snorkeling on the right side. Sometimes the surf can get dangerously big so be aware of big surf notices. This beach can get pretty crowded and sometimes the wind picks up in the afternoon so head there as early as you can.

Gorgeous bouquet from the farmers market in Kailua Kona

While visiting Kona be sure to check out the Kona Village Farmers Market right in the heart of downtown and open Wednesday through Sunday. A great place for fresh tropical fruits, veggies, flowers and souvenirs.

Ian, his sister Brooke and I at Kona Brewers Festival. Photo by Brooke McCarthy

Kona Brewers Festival is an annual party for those who love tasting beer, wine, and cider while eating all you can and listening to live music. There’s even a trash fashion show where all the outlandish costumes are made entirely from recycled materials. TRAVEL TIP: tickets for this super fun event sell out quick so buy them early online.

King Kam Beach (Kamakahonu)

A small sandy beach that is great for swimming, snorkeling and photo ops is Kamakahonu Beach, known by the locals as the King Kam. It’s situated in front of the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel and has a view of King Kamehameha’s personal temple. This is a great spot for keikis (children) to play in mellow waters.

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

The best snorkel spot on the island is called Two Step because of the naturally formed flat “steps” that are used to get in and out of the water. Located on the South West side of the island in Honaunau and right next to The City of Refuge Park (Pu’uhonua O Honaunau) you can see plenty of tropical fish in the clear water. Just be careful not to step on a wana (sea urchin) or you’ll have to ask someone to pee on you.

Part of the grand entrance to Waikoloa Beach Resort

Perhaps a bit less adventurous but super fun thing to do is to visit the sprawling, dramatic Waikoloa Beach Resort on the North West side of the island. You can ride a boat or tram around the beautifully landscaped grounds laden with art and wildlife. We stopped for lunch (and a Mai Tai) at The Lagoon Grill overlooking the saltwater lagoon where dolphins swim and you can watch participants in Dolphin Quest. At first I had some qualms about dolphins being kept in such a small area but it turns out they are let out every day and return of their own accord!

Waterfalls, a water slide and hot tubs can be found around the pools at The Waikoloa
Sea turtles warm themselves along the shore at Waikoloa Beach Resort

We had the amazing opportunity to go on a Manta Ray night snorkel cruise with an old friend on Torpedo Tours. I highly recommend braving the chilly water (they provide a wet suit) to see these magnificent cartilaginous fish do belly rolls beneath you just inches from your nose. The lights are provided by scuba divers below which draw the plankton that the Rays feed on each night. It’s a magical experience like no other!

Enjoy a Mai Tai at Huggo’s On the Rocks!

We had an amazing time full of Aloha while on The Big Island and hope to return soon. Old friends made us feel right at home while warm breezes melted our chilly Idaho bones. Mahalo Nui Loa!

Sunset from Honl’s Beach on Ali’i Drive



Las Vegas, NV February 2019

The Vegas Strip and Full Moon

Can you see Vegas in 24 hours? I believe so. Did we? We certainly gave it our best shot!

We took an Uber (our first ever Uber ride, FREE with a promo code) from the McCarran airport to The Venetian. It was too early for check-in so we took a stroll through the streets of Venice where gondolas carried happy couples under medieval bridges. Looking for lunch and getting lost in The Palazzo ultimately led us to a salivating raw fish lunch at Sushisamba.

View from The Venetian on our way to The Palazzo

We used our IHG anniversary night to stay in this ultra luxury resort/hotel for FREE. At the front desk we were treated like royalty and given a room on the 31st floor with an incredible view of The Strip and snow-caped mountains, a giant soaking tub and living-room suite. After a quick change of clothes and room exploration which included my mistake of lifting the bottle of Patron out of the mini-fridge and having to call the front desk to tell them not to charge me because I was putting it right back (yikes!) we went out to explore The Strip.

The lobby at The Venetian
Inside Caesars Palace

First up was Caesars Palace and The Forum Shops to see the free show “Fall of Atlantis”. While the show was pretty cheesy and we could hardly hear what the giant animatronic Greek Gods were saying to each other the real pleasure was truly in the journey. Along the way we passed gorgeous fountains while sipping on cocktails. Yep, it’s legal to carry a gin and tonic in one’s hand while perusing art on The Strip.

The Trevi Fountain at The Forum Shops

At the top of my “to-do list” was the Bellagio fountain show. Another free show (see the pattern?) and best viewed outside from Las Vegas Boulevard. Before we braved the rare cold snap happening outside (temperatures in the 40’s during the day) we decided to check out the beautiful Chihuly Glass display in the lobby.

Inside the Bellagio Lobby the Chihuly Glass ceiling sparkles above a dramatic stallion

Also free to enjoy in the Bellagio is the 14,000 square foot Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. This is an ever changing visual extravaganza that updates with the seasons. Right now you can see The Year of The Pig display for Chinese New Year.

Year of The Pig display in the Bellagio

Realizing we needed sustenance to make it through our concert and beyond we crossed the street to The Flamingo for some Mexican food at Carlos n Charlie’s. Are there real flamingos at The Flamingo? Yes. Maybe 5 or so.. (please don’t sue me, that’s all the birds we saw). Then it was back outside for viewing The Bellagio fountain show! Which was very pretty and set to music but sorry all my pictures are blurry. You’ll just have to go see it yourself.

The String Cheese Incident at The Chelsea in The Cosmopolitan

Now I have to explain that this trip was a surprise birthday present from me to my Sweetie. One of our favorite bands is The String Cheese Incident, and when I saw they would be in Vegas (where I have never been) it was an easy choice. So we made our way to The Cosmopolitan where we danced our booties off on the famous bouncy floors in true Vegas style.

After the show we hopped on a bus to Fremont street for some vintage Vegas and gambling. It was around 1:30 AM Monday morning by the time we arrived so the streets were a bit tamer than I was expecting. We ducked inside a casino to get out of the cold (in the upper 30’s at this point). After winning and losing at slot machines and the derby horse racing games we quit with a $10 loss. Had a blast. Went to bed at 4:00 AM.

Breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi

Thank goodness for Ambien and alarm clocks! We slept for a very brief interlude, checked out of The Venetian and walked to The Paris hotel for our French breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi. Although it was a bit blustery on this rare chilly Vegas morning we were kept warm by the heaters on the outside deck and our endless love for each other. And the strawberry mimosas. Seriously, try them. Viva Las Vegas!

Moose Lake, Idaho September 2018

Moose Lake

An easy 2 mile hike leads to this beautiful cold water mountain lake. You won’t pass many other hikers on the way but you may see some wildlife.

A mother grouse keeps an eye on her brood below

The songs of birds in the canopy above and the chitter of squirrels are the only sounds you’ll hear if you pause to soak in the sunlight.

Sunlight dappled moment in the Kaniksu National Forest

There are several options for extending the hike that include other lakes and you can make it  7 mile trek if you like. Along the way keep an eye out for mushrooms in the fall. In early September we found plenty of sweet huckleberries that stained our hands and tongues deep purple.

Sweet huckleberry pickings along the trail

The drive to the trailhead is half the fun. It’s a 20 mile National Forest dirt road with some rough patches. It takes us 45 minutes off highway 200 at Trestle Creek. Majestic panoramas are a feast for the eye.

On the road to Moose Lake trailhead

Enjoy this heavenly paradise before the snow falls!

Summer 2018

Finished our house!

This summer kept us very busy with finishing our home and starting a spec house at the same time. When we arrived home in late April from the Philippines our home was bare studs without running water. Four months later we have completely finished and moved in! The fact that Ian and I both quit our day jobs a year ago really gave us the time we needed to make it possible. 

The first step when we got home; insulation.

Of course it’s important to have balance in life (my motto is play until you can’t, work until you can) so we enjoyed some lake time, river time, and a couple family vacations.

Fishing for Small Mouth Bass (picture courtesy of Chrissy Ponsness)

Tubing on The Coeur d’Alene River

Morels hide in the best places (this was in Montana)

Hiking Squaw Valley with Ian’s parents, Lake Tahoe

My parent’s celebrating the completion of their barn renovation in NJ

Awesome old barn wood paneling

Our spec house is now priority numero uno and with the trusses on order and our big framing lumber package in the driveway we hope to have a roof on by late September. We have hired an expert framer to help Ian so I get to be Paint Girl for all the siding and trim. 

Spec house floor is finished. Ready for concrete in the garage and walls to be framed!

We say goodbye to a hot and dry summer in beautiful Northern Idaho and hello to mellow fall. 

Sunset on Lake Pend Oreille

 

Idaho, USA May 2018

 

Kayaking on Lake Pend Oreille

We arrived home to beautiful Northern Idaho to see snow on the mountain peaks. Mornings were still cool in the 40’s but temperatures rose into the 70’s by late afternoon. Perfect for some kayaking!

Morels about to simmer in red wine

It was also time to hunt for our favorite forest morsels, the elusive morel mushroom. There’s a very short window for collecting these tasty tidbits, about six weeks in our area.

Sandpoint is named after the sandy beach that juts out into Lake Pend Orielle. The lake can reach flood levels during spring runoff when the snow is beginning to melt in the mountains. We have rarely seen the water this high.

Paths under water along Sand Creek

Spring traffic at City Beach, Sandpoint

In order for us to fund our passion for travel we need to build a couple houses! We quickly unpacked our tools and set up the scaffolding to continue where we left of on our house last October. In the month we’ve been home we worked on the outside trim and finished the shingles, fascia and batts. Meanwhile we had the insulators and drywallers working on the inside while we worked outside.

Back to work

At the same time we broke ground on house number 2. After much clambering around the forest with a tape measure we estimated where the best view would be and hired the excavator to dig a septic test hole while the county health inspector was there to give approval. After passing this first test we cleared the housepad and burned the slash piles.

Clearing a house pad can look a bit chaotic

Our closest city is Spokane Washington, an hour and fifteen minute drive away. After a day of running around shopping for appliances for our house we enjoyed the view of Spokane Falls while having lunch at Anthony’s. The falls change dramatically throughout the seasons and Springtime is the best time to see them really raging.

Spokane Falls

It  was a bit of an adjustment when we got home but after a month we were right back to Idaho life!

Palawan Island, Philippines April 2018

It’s easy to dream away a day on White Beach, Palawan 

Our last stop on our six month journey and the fifteenth country. The Philippines!

A water buffalo in the tropical inland of Palawan

Palawan is lacking in convenient public transportation so we rented a motorbike for the whole two weeks of our visit. It was a great deal at $7 US per day for 15 days. We repacked our bags so that we could leave one at the bike rental office and just had one bag left to strap to the front of the bike. Now we’re really traveling light!

Our ride for two weeks. And only one backpack!

We flew from Hanoi, Vietnam to Manila, then a short hour and a half trip to Palawan Island, landing in Puerto Princessa. Our research told us Puerto was not much of a destination (one of the tourist sites is their prison) so we drove 100 miles (sleep deprived) to Port Barton. Yay Port Barton! So peaceful with a laid back vibe, lazy beach and some good restaurants to chose from.

Paradise Found in Port Barton

For $14 US (700 pesos) per person we had an all day snorkel cruise with just a few other tourists that took us to several different places and fed us a picnic lunch that included barbecued fresh fish.

On our island hopping snorkel cruise from Port Barton, view of Maxima Island 

We relaxed and enjoyed the warm water for a few days and then hopped on the bike for the 4 1/2 hour ride to Corong-Corong.
Travel Tips: expect limited electricity, cold showers, almost no WiFi and there are only a few working ATM machines on the whole island. Ladies, just imagine shaving your legs in the dark with cold water.

Sunset Beach near Corong-Corong

El Nido is a 10 minute drive from Corong-Corong so we enjoyed several dinners in El Nido after dodging all the tri-cycles (the Philippines version of a tuk tuk). El Nido is nestled at the base of a sheer limestone cliff. There is a crowded beach with lots of bar and restaurant choices and plenty of party-party options as well that we avoided.

El Nido after dark

Island hopping tours are offered on practically every corner and through the guesthouses as well. We choose Tour A, that went to five stops including Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon. The tour also included a lunch on the beach with fresh fish. This tour was much larger than in Port Barton with 22 tourists, cost $24 US per person and we saw lots of other boats the whole time. But it was worth it!

7 Commandos Beach

Kayaking in Small Lagoon

Deciding to escape the crowds, noise and chaos in El Nido we drove North to a gem of a beach at Nacpan. Rated as one of the best beaches in Asia, Nacpan offers beautiful uncrowded stretches of sand. We did a couple day trips to get our feet wet at Lio Beach and Duli Beach, then it was time to head south again.

Sunset at Nacpan

Sabang has a beautiful long stretch of beach with towering coconut palms and limestone karsts breaking up the deep blue sky. It also is the site of the world’s longest subterranean river. You need a permit to take a boat tour into this protected natural wonder. Inside the cave are fluttering squeaking adorable bats, dramatic cathedral sized rooms full of enormous stalagtites and the sound of rain water dripping through tons of limestone after filtering through an entire mountain.

On the mangrove boat tour in Sabang

We enjoyed a mangrove tour, swam in a waterfall that falls into the sea and some relaxing beach time as the grand finale of our six month trip. One night in Manila and then a trip of 24 hours and four flights to get us home. How did six months go by so quickly? We are sad to end this chapter of our journey but excited to get back to working on house building so that we can plan our next adventure and continue 2 travelight! 

White Beach will beckon to me in my dreams of future adventures…..

 

Northern Vietnam, March 2018

Kayaking back to our boat in Lan Ha Bay

The 14 1/2 hour train from Da Nang up to Ninh Binh was an interesting adventure. We paid $16 US per person for a first class sleeping berth. The berths have 4 beds, and we shared ours with a little old lady who showed us pictures of her family and talked our ears off in Vietnamese (we understood nothing). Then she left and a mother with three children came in and stayed until morning. I awoke to children climbing on my legs and the food cart man offering us breakfast from a plastic bucket. All in all it was relatively clean and somewhat hilarious.

7 AM on the sleeper train

We then took a taxi from Ninh Binh to the quaint town of Tam Coq.

Tam Coq

Two days in Tam Coq was not enough to fully explore this beautiful area. We took the three hour boat tour (Trang An) through nine caves and several temples. A Vietnamese lady rows the boat along the river and through caves in the limestone karsts. Sometimes you have to bend down very low to avoid hitting your noggin on the stalagtites.

Peering out from a cave in Trang An

Goat is a popular menu item and we enjoyed some mouthwatering dishes. That was until we drove by the area on the road where the goats are for sale and lost our appetites for it.

This lady is swatting off the flies on the Goat meat for sale

Another must see sight is Bai Dinh, a Buddhist temple and the tallest pagoda in Vietnam.

Ian gets good luck from touching the saints

Bai Dinh Temple

After goodbye kisses and a care package of pineapple and bottled water from our lovely guesthouse (Lys Homestay) we boarded a bus for the 4 1/2 hour journey to Cat Ba Island. The bus took us the entire way, including the ferry ride for $13 US per person.
We stayed three nights on Cat Ba Island exploring all it’s natural wonders. This incredible view from our balcony treated us after caving and swimming during the day.

The view from Cat Ba Island

We felt like little kids at Christmas when it came time to board the boat that would take us for a two day, one night trip to Lan Ha Bay and Ha Long Bay.

Getting to know our boat mates

We saw amazing limestone karsts in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay

Kayaking through caves into private lagoons, swimming among the behemoth karsts, witnessing the galaxy of glowing plankton at night and feeling like we had a private tour with great friends was one of the highlights of our entire six month journey.

Cruising Lan Ha Bay

After the cruise was over and one night more in Cat Ba, we made the journey inland to Hanoi. A delightful, rustic dinner of street food in an alleyway with our new friends topped off our Cat Ba Island adventure. Onward bound!

Authentic street food in Cat Ba

A peaceful moment near Tam Coq

 

 

Central Vietnam, March 2018

A woman adjusts her wares in Hoi An

Vietnam lives up to its reputation for sweet people, delicious food and beautiful scenery. Granted there are some places with bus loads of tourists but the culture hasn’t been corrupted by the influx and the locals are still curious and friendly towards foreigners.

Dragon boats on The Perfume River in Hue

Hue is a city of less than 300,000 souls situated on the Perfume River. We visited the Imperial City which is being restored after all the damage that was done in the Vietnam war. You can still see bullet holes in the walls.

Imperial City, Hue

On the outskirts of Hue there are several historical sites to visit. We spent a day visiting gorgeous tombs of emperors.

Minh Mang Tomb, Hue

We rented a motorbike for a one way 100 mile trip from Hue to Hoi An with an overnight stop in Da Nang. The company we used (Cong Jeep Adventures) had our backpacks shipped to our hotel in Hoi An so we only needed a tiny overnight bag. We drove over the Hai Van Pass with its twisting roads through tropical jungle and breathtaking views of the coastline far below.

View from the Hai Van Pass

Once we reached Da Nang on the other side we had our first glimpse of Vietnamese fishing boats.

Fishing vessels in Da Nang

We wondered how the round fishing boats could be paddled in a straight line without going in circles :).

Fish traps and round boats in Da Nang

While in Da Nang it’s worth the climb of 300 stone stairs to see The Marble Mountains. There are several caves and pagodas to gawk at. Go early in the morning to beat the crowds and avoid the heat.

Giant Buddha in the grotto

The ancient town of Hoi An is an Unesco World Heritage site. At night the streets are closed to motorized traffic and lanterns light up the night with a magical glow. The river seems to glitter with stars from the floating prayer candles you can buy for a dollar.

A charming prayer candle vendor

Lovely ladies in Hoi An

Back on a motorbike we drove an hour outside of Hoi An to explore the My Son ruins. This temple complex was built by Indian kings between the 4th and 14th century AD. Hindu temples and palace walls are standing next to giant pits where bombs fell during the Vietnam war.

Hindu temple at My Son

After spending a day at the beach decompressing we boarded an overnight train for the 14 hour trip up north to Ninh Binh for some caves and karsts. Good night Hoi An!

Lantern making in Hoi An

Kampot, Snooky and the Island Paradise, Cambodia

On the island of Koh Rong Samloem

The perfect beach. Everyone has their own version, some we visit and others we dream of. We found ours off the south coast of Cambodia, on the dreamy island of Koh Rong Samloem. But first I will tell you how we got there :).

It was a long, 13 hour bus trip from Siem Reap to Kampot. Travel Tip: Don’t get on the bus that stops in Kep before going to Kampot!

Cambodian river life

We were rewarded the next day with a visit to the bat cave at Phnom Sorsia. There are two caves. After climbing a flight of stone steps you arrive at the colorful temple in the jungle. The path that leads away to the left is the white elephant cave and the one on the right is the bat cave. 

Inside the bat cave

We were the only people there to enjoy a whirlwind of flying furry mammals inside a pitch black cavern. Exploring the cave revealed that it had several portals of penetrating sunlight and the bats swooped in and out on almost silent wings. I like bats.

We stayed at a super cute place with individual bungalows on the river. Travel Tip: beware the firefly tour boats! Make sure it’s legit or your two hour firefly tour may actually be a four hour party boat.

Bamboo BungaloWs

Next was Sihanoukville, otherwise known as Snooky. International airport, busy town, lots of giant resorts being built. Not much to say about Snooky except for a massage on Otres Beach is recommended. Then head to the islands offshore! 

Beach paradise on Koh Rong Samloem

No cars or scooters, white powder sand and crystal clear turquoise water are some of the key ingredients for my ideal beach. Now add a night swim with mystical glowing plankton and we have found perfection! 

Our hut at Greenblue Beach Bungalows

We enjoyed a rustic stay in actual grass hut (it had a shower too!) for a couple days before moving down the beach for a taste of luxury. 

Our house at Saracen Bay Resort

After doing pretty much nothing for four days it was time to pack our bags, take the return ferry to Sihanoukville for one night and then fly to Vietnam! 

Goodnight Paradise!