Bike MS Training – All the recent rides

Well friends, with all the recent upsetting events like hurricanes and earthquakes I’ve been putting this off – but no longer. For the 10th year in a row I’m riding in a Bike MS event. My goal has always been to ride for 10 years and then take a break. In the past 9 years, I’ve raised $18,410 for the National MS Society, a cause close to my heart. I’d love to break $20,000 in my 10th year fundraising. I know far too many people affected by Multiple Sclerosis and I’m confident that researchers can find a cure in my lifetime.

This year I’m riding in Bike MS: Valero Ride to the River, a ride close to home. It goes from San Antonio to New Braunfels, covering 160 miles in two days, October 7th & 8th.

I’ve been training all summer even though I haven’t been updating my blog. Most of the rides cover the same routes I usually ride so I haven’t taken as many photos (but there are some below for you to enjoy). This past weekend I rode 81 miles on Saturday and 38 miles on Sunday. Follow me on Strava to see all my cycling exploits.

I’ve kicked off fundraising with a personal donation. Will you join me?
http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/laurafeeney2017

 

And now for the photos!

Uh, I think there was a pony in this shot but it’s really hard to tell now.

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These are sheep.DCIM100GOPRO

Old ugly railroad bridge seen through my foggy gopro lens.DCIM100GOPRO

Old country road lined with trees (again with the foggy gopro lens).DCIM100GOPRO

Country church.DCIM100GOPRO

The Cele store.DCIM100GOPRO

Texas sure is big sky country.

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Cows in a flowery field.DCIM100GOPRO

Nicely paved ranch road.DCIM100GOPRO

Donkeys!DCIM100GOPRO

This was soon after Harvey rained on us all weekend so the little creek was quite full.DCIM100GOPRO

I love the open road early in the morning.DCIM100GOPRO

This house has such a cute yard with the little shed and windmill and pond.DCIM100GOPRO

Flowering trees along the road into Elgin.DCIM100GOPRO

An old house down a dirt path in the countryside.DCIM100GOPRO

Elgin town square – I’ve been taking a break in the shade here almost every Saturday.DCIM100GOPRO

I’ve been varying up my routes as much as I can and have found some new cemeteries.DCIM100GOPRO

 

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Recent baking exploits

So I’ve been very, very bad about updating my blog. I have been baking and crafting, just not with the same frequency as I used to. Recently I got some good baking in and thought I’d share.

I’ve been craving apple fritters for multiple months now, but don’t eat them often since they’re fried. I came across a recipe for baked apple fritters and gave it a shot during the weekend where we stayed indoors due to nonstop rain from Harvey. I followed the recipe exactly and the only note I have was that you don’t have to make so much glaze.

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My second delicious baking adventure was a peach upside down cake using delicious in-season peaches that the grocery store has right now. I have a few changes / notes on this recipe:

  1. Used ginger in place of nutmeg. Ginger and peaches are delicious together!
  2. I made extra caramel topping after reading the comments, but I think the original amount would be better. If I were to make extra of anything in the future, it could have used a bit more cake batter.
  3. I baked it in a springform pan because it’s the only cake pan I have that size. I put foil around the bottom to catch any caramel leaks. It did leak a tiny bit.
  4. I did not serve the cake with creme fraiche since Whole Foods was out of it. It was delicious eaten on its own.
  5. The cake took much longer to bake than the recipe called for, like 45 – 50 min instead of 30 min.

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Very shortly I’ll start posting about biking since this year’s Bike MS is just a month away. So stay tuned!

Our biggest house project yet: A kitchen renovation

When we moved in to this house in April 2012 I set a goal to renovate the kitchen at the 5 year mark. And we did! So now you get to read all about it, see the before and after photos, and see how our 5 year dream finally came true.

First, I knew that I wanted to make the kitchen more open to the rest of the house and since that involved restructuring walls, we hired an Architect / Designer to create new plans for our kitchen. As you’ll see in the photos, the design included restructuring the pantry to open up the dining room opening, removing the drop ceiling, opening up the wall next to the stove, removing the wall between the living room and kitchen, and installing pocket doors in the laundry / half bath area. We are extremely pleased with the layout as the kitchen is now the focal point of the house. We highly recommend working with a designer if you’re doing more than just replacing what already exists.

As for the actual renovation process, it took much longer than initially planned. I’ve always heard that Texas houses have foundation problems and it seems the walls and floors in our house may suffered some of this fate as nothing in the house was level or square, leading to extra work throughout the process. The Austin permits also have certain construction requirements so we also had to upgrade the electrical service into our house. However, the biggest overrun in our budget wasn’t cabinets, or countertops, or electrical – it was our contractor’s labor. Lesson learned: Understand your contractor’s confidence in their estimate and what the process is to notify you if they are headed for an overrun. That’s the least fun part of the kitchen remodel… so let’s get to the fun stuff: the before and after photos! Oh, and I guess play the game of how many pets can you count in the photos.

Before

In the original kitchen layout, the opening from the dining room into the kitchen was very narrow and if the fridge was open no one could get through.

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The kitchen suffered from the fate of many kitchens in our area – a drop ceiling! We previously removed the ugly fluorescent fixture and put in a new fixture. Last fall, we replaced all the windows in the kitchen and half bath and put in a back door with a window.Kitchen - Before-2

The house had the original oak builder cabinets, and ugly yellow tile countertops with brown grout.Kitchen - Before-3

The area of the kitchen next to the laundry room was meant to be a dinette, but we never used it for that so we had a random assortment of furniture in that space.Kitchen - Before-4

Looking back towards the dining room. The pantry is behind that ugly brown door at the end of the kitchen.Kitchen - Before-5

The kitchen sink was one of those sad, small stainless steel sinks with a tiny little faucet. The water also took forever to get hot, like minutes, because the hot water tank is at the opposite end of the house.Kitchen - Before-7

I love this large window so we made sure to frame it in the new kitchen.Kitchen - Before-8

Across from the large window is the opening into the living room, which used to be a doorway and an interior window with a narrow ledge. Kitchen - Before-9

In prep for the new kitchen, we bought a stacking washer and dryer set. The laundry room had ugly metal cabinets on the wall. The half bath is also accessed from the laundry room. Both had ugly brown doors that would hit each other when you would open them both. It was awesome. Kitchen - Before-10

Looking from the living room into the kitchen.Kitchen - Before-12

Kitchen Goals

Now that you’ve seen our old kitchen, you can probably imagine what we wanted out of our kitchen renovation. In case you can’t, here are the goals we set:

  • Replace all cabinets, countertops, and flooring
  • Widen the opening from the dining room into the kitchen
  • Open up the kitchen into the living room
  • Remove the drop ceiling
  • Install good lighting
  • Create a bar area for entertaining – with a beer fridge and wine cooler
  • Install a utility sink in the laundry room
  • Fix the door problem in the laundry & half bath
  • Match the aesthetic in the rest of the house

After

And now for the exciting part… what it all looks like now! If you can’t tell, I struggled a bit with the differing lights causing issues with my camera’s white balance, especially because some of the photos were taken at different times of day. Some of the photos are probably a bit too yellow – I’ll have to fix that one of these days.

First, the view from the dining room. The doorway was widened which meant that we had to swap the location of the wine rack and the glassware cabinet.

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Goodbye to the drop ceiling! Look at those lovely LED can lights! You can sort of see the under cabinet lighting, LED strips, under each of the upper cabinets in the kitchen. We also ended up with a new fridge because the old one was damaged during demo. The cabinets above the fridge and the panel on its left side make the fridge look built in, and the cabinets have special vertical dividers for baking pan storage.

The pantry wall was squared off in place of the original diagonal wall and we had a custom barn door made to match the colors in our house.Kitchen - After-4

We selected cabinet colors that are light gray on the uppers and a dark grayish / brown color on the lowers. Both cabinet types have a dry brush finish.

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Most of the backsplash tile is a 3″x6″ subway tile in seafoam green. I’m really happy with how that color brings out the bits of recycled glass in the countertops that have a faint green color to them. The countertops are GEOS recycled glass in White Birch by EOS. We put an accent tile behind the stove that you can see in the next photo. Our sink is a granite composite in dark gray with a kitchen faucet that I love made by Delta. We debated getting a faucet that you could tap on and off but ultimately decided against it out of fear of the cats turning it on when we weren’t home. Cats – the reason we can’t have nice things.

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We got rid of our over the stove microwave and instead installed a nice stainless steel vent hood and put the microwave under the countertop. The countertop above the microwave overhangs the half wall a bit into the living room, making for a nice large space. In the old layout, the wall went to the edge of the counter so the cutout above that counter is new and gives a better view of the living room and TV. We’re happy with how the accent tile matches the subway tile and decided to have the tile installed vertically. We purchased the tile locally at the Tile Shop.Kitchen - After-6

I picked up a “build your own dividers” kit at the container store and organized the heck out of the utensil drawer. Which is good because without the organizers it felt like the drawer was way too full and sometimes wouldn’t close.Kitchen - After-8

And now for a glimpse into the pantry. I planned a shelf specifically for pet food containers since each cat gets a different type of food (I know, I know…). We also had outlets put in the pantry and now keep our toaster on a pantry shelf and use it in the pantry. The outlets forced our pantry shelves to be spaced out vertically quite a bit so I got inventive with some other pantry storage solutions from the Container Store. My new 2 step step-stool lives in the pantry as well and gets a ton of use.Kitchen - After-10

Here you can see one of the sets of floating shelves. They are Lack shelves from Ikea that I sanded, primed, and painted to match our upper cabinets. We had to cut them to size to fit in our space, which meant that we didn’t get to use as many support screws as we probably need. The shelves did not end up being very sturdy so I will be looking into a replacement solution.

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The far end of the kitchen is the bar area! The set of drawers and cabinet next to the wine fridge are where we store our liquor bottles and random jars / other glassware that I use for storing infusions and such. We had the spacing between the pull out shelves of the liquor cabinet adjusted to fit a bottle of St. Germaine, so almost all liquor bottles will fit.Kitchen - After-14

Across from the wine fridge area is the butcher block bar top! The L shape gives us a convenient spot for a beer fridge and space to have 3 counter height stools for when we’re entertaining. It also makes a great place to sit and eat if you’d like to watch TV. Our contractor installed the butcher block, which is Walnut and purchased at Floor and Decor. I took care of the sanding and finishing – I used Howard Butcher Block Conditioner which is a combo of oil and wax. It has to be reapplied often but I love the natural look of the counter. I had the metal leg support manufactured by a local metal worker. We’d like to do something on the wall above the bar top, but have yet to figure out what that might be. We may still hang our little kitchen TV up there. The pendant lights give a nice rustic look that ties in well with the chandelier in the dining room.Kitchen - After-15

I really like the thin metal transition strip between the wood and tile floor, even if it took me forever to find it online. I eventually was able to place an order through Floor & Decor.

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The space between the kitchen and living room is so much more open – we love it. I often sit at the bar top facing the living room while eating my breakfast or lunch. We sanded, stained, and sealed the beam using a dark gel stain by Minwax.

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I’m also quite excited about the plant hanging rail above the large window. I love plants, and so do the cats, so hanging plants are a great way to keep them from eating my plants. The rail is a curtain rod that I picked up at Target that is designed to look like the heavy duty metal iron pipe and flanges. I used some leftover trim to anchor it firmly to studs.

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I’m so happy with the laundry room – having a utility sink is the best ever. The stacking washer and dryer are a LG steam set that we picked up during the holiday sales last year. The counter overhangs so that we can stash a hamper underneath.

Kitchen - After-18

The utility sink is stainless steel with a commercial style faucet. I really like the combo, although the first time I was using the faucet not in its holder, the spring caused it to fly up and spray me in the face. In our old kitchen we stored all over our souvenir magnets on the side of the fridge. I didn’t want to stop the tradition so I ordered a frame to fit a 2′ x 3′ piece of sheet metal and made a magnet board for the laundry room. I also hung a collapsible drying rack which has been quite handy so far. Kitchen - After-19

We got the chance to get a price break on our countertop if we purchased more, so we decided to do the half bath, which was originally out of scope. I also used the same paint as on the floating shelves to paint the cabinet. Since the paint was peeling, I had to strip everything, prime and paint. Kitchen - After-22

One final look back towards the dining room.Kitchen - After-24

If you can’t tell, we’re quite happy with the end result and have had a great time entertaining family and friends in our new space.

Contractors, Suppliers, and Materials

Architect / Designer: Plumb Architecture. Denise did an amazing job taking our ideas and formulating a design that surpassed our expectations. She also consulted on colors with us to help us understand what palette would go best in our house.

Kitchen cabinets: Designed by UB Kitchens, Cabinets by Urban Effects. Although our cabinets had a number of issues arise during shipping, UB Kitchens provided phenomenal service making sure we were happy. The cabinets are beautiful, with both the darker lowers and the lighter uppers having a dry brush finish that has faint brush strokes.

Countertops: Geos Recycled Glass by Eos in White Birch. After a bad experience trying to order this from Home Depot, I ended up using Empire Countertops in Austin and definitely recommend them.

Backsplash Tile:

Faucets

Sinks

Cabinet pulls: Amerock Blackrock Satin Nickel in different sizes, including knobs for the bathroom

Lights

Floor tile: MSI Dimensions Graphite 12″ x 24″

Transition Strip: Schluter RENO-T Satin Nickel Anodized Aluminum 1in. 8ft. 2-1/2in. Transition

Plant rail: Drapery Pipe French Rod (curtain rod)

Stools: Ira 24″ counter stool

Wine Cooler: Frigidaire Gallery 46 Bottle Wine Chiller

Beer Fridge: GE 31 Bottle Wine / Beverage Cooler

Microwave: Frigidaire Gallery Countertop / Built in Microwave

Vent Hood: RA-14L30SS – (1) Windster RA-14L Series 30″ Vent Hood

 

Costa Rica days 7 & 8: Arenal Volcano and back to San Jose

On Friday we explored the Arenal Volcano region after enjoying the Costa Rica typical breakfast at our resort. During breakfast, it started raining. We knew to expect rain so we had jackets, ponchos and umbrellas. We started off the rainy day by visiting La Fortuna waterfall, a private waterfall that has lovely walking trails, an overlook, and 500 well maintained steps down to the bottom of the waterfall. It was raining so my photos are limited, but I did get a short video at the bottom with my GoPro.

When we first started our waterfall visit, you could see it from the top despite the rain. It rained the whole time we climbed down the steps to the bottom, and most of the way back up. It was done raining by the time we got back up, but the waterfall view was then blocked by fog.

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Bottom of the La Fortuna waterfall

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There’s a waterfall back there somewhere

After the waterfall we headed to the Arenal Volcano National Park. As we parked, there was an Agouti in the parking lot – they kinda look like large guinea pigs.

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Then we walked down the gravel road to the Volcano overlook and during the walk saw tons of birds, including Toucans! It was quite exciting. We still need to figure out what some of these birds are, but one is definitely a Toucan.

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After the overlook walk, Carl and I headed out on the volcano hiking trails so that we could walk out on a section of rock created by a lava flow in 1992. We got a great view of Arenal lake and almost saw the top of the volcano.

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On our way back to the car we went by a GIGANTIC tree that is supposed to be over 200 years old. It’s so big I thought it should definitely be older than that.

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During our trip we saw numerous Brahman cows which must be well adapted to the climate given their prevalence. They are very wrinkly and kind of ugly though and I finally got a photo of them.

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For lunch we headed into La Fortuna and stopped at a little cafe that had good drink specials. After that we walked around the church and little town square.

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For dinner that night we went to a place called Lava Lounge right off the town square.

The next morning we headed to breakfast and saw a two toed sloth just above the resort dining hall.

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We took a stroll around the resort grounds, checking out the pools and hot springs in daylight.

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Carl and I took an exciting zip line trip, photos and videos to come. It was just at the back of the resort where there is a valley and river and some really long zip lines.

After that we headed to San Jose for our last night in Costa Rica. We stopped at the little town of Zarcero which has a cute church that maintains an elaborate topiary garden on its grounds. We also had another typical Costa Rican meal for lunch there.

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After an adventure in finding our reserved hotel, realizing it had no AC, then finding a new hotel, and finally finding a gas station and returning our rental car, we had dinner at a Peruvian restaurant and finished the night with some Christmas photos.

It was a lovely trip!

Costa Rica days 5 & 6: Quepos to Jaco to Arenal Volcano

On Wednesday we packed up all of our stuff for our last ride down the crazy hill that our condo was located on and headed to the beach town of Jaco, about an hour drive north. During the trip we pulled over to take a look at Playa Hermosa, a black volcanic sand beach with huge waves.

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After checking into our condo we walked around Jaco for a bit, checked out the beach, and then had lunch at the Tacobar.

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The condo courtyard

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Playa Jaco

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Tacobar has swings you can sit on along the bar, and a salad bar for extra taco fixings

During a later afternoon walk, Carl and I finally saw some Macaws! There were 6 of them sitting in a tree near the beach until Carl got too close and scared them off. They sure do squawk a lot!

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We also found a microbrewery in Jaco called Puddle Fish. We later went to the attached restaurant, Side Street for dinner.

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On our way to dinner we went through the town park and took in the Christmas lights. Dinner at Side Street was good, but they were out of many menu items and almost all of their house brewed beer due to some holiday party they hosted the night before. Needless to say, Carl was disappointed.

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On Thursday we left Jaco after picking up some pastries from a local Panaderia and headed north again, this time towards La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. On our way we paused at the Crocodile bridge, a place where many crocodiles apparently hang out. This fearless white bird just stood in the middle of them until one came too close and it would flutter to a new spot about 10 feet away.crblogjacotoarenal-8

We stopped for a short nature walk at Carara National Park. Immediately after I stopped for this photo of me and an anteater statue Carl pointed out a live one! It took some patience to get a photo of him through the trees in the light, but eventually I did.

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Anteater! Furrier and cuter than I expected.

The next part of our trip was quite an adventure. We were using a combination of offline Google maps and Maps.Me for GPS navigation and both sent us on a very rough back road towards Arenal Volcano. We got some lovely views up in the mountains.

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The road turned to gravel at some point, and had some very steep inclines. Eventually, not too far past the photo below, we came to a section that our rental car absolutely could not make it up due to the incline and ruts in the road. We had to turn around and head back to a more established route, no thanks to Google or Maps.Me.

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After driving most of the daylight away we finally arrived at the Arenal Paraiso Resort & Spa just in time to watch the sunset. We kept our fingers crossed that the top of the volcano would show itself, but the cloud cover would not go away. Our cabin did have a nice little porch with a view of the volcano. The resort has hot springs on site so we made sure to take advantage of that amenity in the evening.

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Costa Rica days 3 & 4: Day trips around Quepos

On Monday we headed south from Quepos to Dominical and Uvita to check out the beaches. We first stopped at Dominical, navigating the extremely rough dirt road to check out the beach where the river Rio Baru meets the ocean. It had good surfing waves.

We then drove down to Uvita to visit Ballena Marine National Park and walked along the expansive beach to Isla Ballena, a small little sand bar type island only accessible during low tide. During low tide when the sandbar and connecting sand bridge is visible, it’s shaped like a whale’s tail – hence the word Ballena! Well, they also say that whales migrate past this beach in the winter, so maybe that’s also a contributing factor.

After taking a dip in the calm waters sheltered by the sandbar, we made the long walk back to the car, during which we spotted many sanddollars on the beach. Afterwards we went to Dominical for lunch, stopping at the rather disappointing Patron’s Bar and Grill.

We then drove back south to take a quick stroll at Playa Hermosa before returning to view the sunset from our porch once again.

We dined at Emilio’s Cafe which had delicious food, good service and a live jazz band. We topped the night off with some awkward family photos on the porch.

On Tuesday we drove north to Rainmaker, a rainforest conservation project. We took the self guided river walk and suspension bridge canopy tour. The tour was more strenuous than it sounded, but we saw many waterfalls, little pools you can swim in, and the suspension bridges were pretty awesome. After climbing many stairs on the tour, we enjoyed local craft beer Perro Vida, brewed on site. It was quite good. A hummingbird visited us while we were hanging out.

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We then headed back down south to Playa Espadilla, which is the beach just outside Manuel Antonio Park. We had lunch at Marlin Grill, another disappointing lunch spot but at least that had a view of the beach. After lunch we headed to the beach for some lounging under a beach umbrella and strolling down the beach.

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The tide was coming in right before sunset, so we packed up and headed back to El Avion for a drink at the bar while viewing a particularly lovely sunset. For dinner we went to the Marina and tried Z Gastropoda, where the food was good, souls vide chicken was on the menu, and my kale salad was missing kale.

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Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica days 1 & 2

Early Saturday morning we boarded our flight from Houston to San Jose, Costa Rica. After an hour delay, we were on our way. After arriving in San Jose, we picked up our luggage and rental car and hit the road to Quepos. After some exciting driving getting out of San Jose, we were on the toll road for a while before stopping for lunch at a roadside stand selling authentic Costa Rica food – we all had rice & black beans, plantains, and either meat or fried cheese.

Upon arriving in Quepos we met the manager of the AirBnB property I booked and took a truly terrifying drive up a steep and curvy hillside to our house with an awesome view.

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Rental house up a steep hill

 

We settled in, hit up a local supermarket, and then had birthday dinner for Mom at La Luna at GAIA Hotel & Reserve. The food was good and I imagine that the view would have been good if it weren’t dark outside.

Sunday we headed to Manuel Antonio National Park for hiking, beach time, and to meet the monkeys. The hiking trails were well maintained with a ton of steps. We saw a ton of wildlife at the park: white faced monkeys, squirrel monkeys, three toed sloths (including a mamma with a baby), leaf cutter ants, iguanas and other lizards, coatimundi, and agouti. The white faced monkeys were particularly numerous and excited about people, we definitely saw people feed them when they shouldn’t!

Beach at Manuel Antonio Park

Beach at Manuel Antonio park

Viewing the fish trap built by natives a long time ago to catch fish at low tide

White faced monkey

Squirrel monkey

Coatimundi (similar to a raccoon)

Iguana

Leaf cutter ants

We stopped for lunch at El Avion and enjoyed a great view and good food next to an old airplane converted into a bar.

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Carl enjoying some seafood curry

After that we went on a bike canopy tour… which basically is a little carriage hanging from a cable amongst the trees and you use a throttle to go fast / slow down. The bike part is simply that there are bike pedals that you can put your feet on but don’t do anything. It was pretty fun to slowly move amongst the trees, even if only one of us saw a sloth. I did see a vulture with a red head.

We watched a lovely sunset from our porch and then eventually headed back down to Quepos for dinner at Runaway Grill in the marina area.

Our porch view