Creative Retirement Planning

Well Within Your Reach!
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Where To Live?

                 


TAKE THE CREATIVE RETIREMENT CHALLENGE AND RETIRE CONFIDENTLY!
(page 4 of this website)

The 12 Best Warm Retirement Spots Outside the U.S.

Inexpensive, $1000 - 2,000 U.S. Dollars Monthly

Ecuador

Honduras

Uruguay

Moderately Inexpensive, $2000 - 3,000 U.S.
Dollars Monthly

Costa Rica

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Spain

Australia

Moderately Expensive, $3,000 - 4,000 U.S.
Dollars Monthly

Hawaii

Italy

Expensive, $4000 plus U.S.
Dollars Monthly

Tahiti

Seychelles

New Zealand


                                    BEST IN THE U.S

                Inexpensive U.S. - Retirement Spots

San Antonio, TX.

 St. Louis, MO.

 Knoxville, Tenn.

 Louisville, Ky.

 Columbia, S.C.

 Las Cruces, NM

 Port Charlotte, Fla.

 Ithaca, N.Y.

Moderately Expensive

Santa Fe, N.M.

Sarasota Fla.

Raleigh, N.C., Chapel Hill, N.C.

Nashua, N.H.

San Diego, CA

Seattle, WA.

Expensive

Kauai, HI.

Mercer Island, Wash.

Aspen, CO.

Key West, Fla.

Sausalito, CA



Spectacular Spain

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A lifetime of good fortune in travel customarily tempers my temptation to excessive accolades for any one travel destination. However, I must admit I fell hard for Spain the first time we met.

As a young boy I spent a summer or two on Walloon Lake, Michigan. Standing on my Grandmothers deck looking to my immediate left I could easily see the cottage and deck where Earnest Hemmingway wrote several of his short stories.

It has been written he often wrote about Europe while in the U.S. and vice versa. Some of his “Indian Summer” stories were set on the lake. My father, a serious writer, insisted I read everything Hemmingway wrote. My favorite was at bedtime when my Dad would read me Hemmingway. This was followed by a squeeze of my big toe hiding beneath the covers and I was asleep. Out of respect he refused to have his back to the Hemmingway cottage while reading.

I don’t recall writing in – so – much as a postcard while on Walloon Lake. However I’ll never forget the images of Spain seared into my young brain by the master himself, our family’s summer – time neighbor. Regretfully I never saw nor met him. I was a young boy, he an older man, he died soon there-after.

Espana. I’m instantly seduced by her beauty, style, and simplicity. I’m completely captivated. Indeed the quickest way to mans heart is through his stomach. I’ve never been more delighted as when first introduced to the gastronomy of the Basque country. More than the food itself, it’s the actual way one eats. Stunned by her music, art, people, culture, geography and history I was left to my own devices to make sense of it.

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Please forgive me if my words fall short as I would you, for this is no little literary bite- sized chew. Just as an ocean never refuses a river, Spain never refuses to welcome a traveler. Her arms are open wide, organized for guests to get the most out of their visit. She beckons travelers to explore her mountains, oceans, cities, and pastoral countryside. The Spanish people (Spaniards) know how to live.

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She whispers in my ear, we can swim in the ocean, watch the surfers, tan on the sand; play the day away. Ride bikes, stand-up paddle board, kayak, sail, swim. Work out at the gym on the beach. Perhaps tennis on indoor clay courts, what do you say?

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Let’s walk down by the river, visit some museums, galleries, window shop. We can promenade in the park, along the boardwalk, feed the peacocks, and then sit on the dock tethered with boats and listen to what they say. Maybe we’ll pause for shade under an old tree giant and sprawling, read Hemmingway, Joyce, and Twain. Perhaps take in the fisherman with long cane poles that stare patiently into clear water. Feel the sunset bath us in golden light.

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We can walk anywhere, which direction is hard to say, we’ll wander, coble stone on narrow streets and winding alley ways. Colorful flowers peek down from planter boxes hanging off balconies framed in wrought iron. Stopping at street side cafes one after the other old and new, small drinks one or two and of course pinxtos. Listen to the 12 string guitar, leaky accordion, and toss a Euro in the hat. Watch people pass by and unpack their day. We’ll talk, laugh, dance, and embrace; the night will hold us as long as we wish to stay. At midnight lets take off our shoes and walk around Playa Concha Bay, cool sand in between our toes, moonlight no flashlight, low tide; feels acres wide. Let’s savor our rhythm and this precious time

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Today such whispers are but echoes in my mind. A Spanish Olive trapped between my forefinger and thumb, good wine. Spanish music floats up into the air. I’m happy. I now belong to you and you to me.

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                    Sweet San Sebastian Spain

Temperatures reaching nearly 102 and the “Grand Dames” play musical chairs. Constantly leaning one way then another, changing seats, moving left or right, they seek slivers of shade at the Concha Café. Situated at the top of cement stairs that climb straight up from the beach the café overlooks the horseshoe bay dotted with red buoys.

Europe’s finest ensembles topped off with eloquent silk scarves punish their owner’s mercifully. Blue Bloods; sweat droplets trickle deliberately into creases of well aged skin. Creeks quickly become streams that eventually run down embarrassed cheeks like the Bulls in Pamplona.

The strongest willed continue to resist the tortuous temptation to blot. They wish not to join the ranks of the blotchy, those unsightly remains of the weak. Torrents of make-up mud threatens annihilation of the entire table of eight, yet protocol demands continued gossiping as though they were sipping cappuccinos on the frozen arctic tundra. A lifelong lesson learned well, dignity and tradition are displayed proudly despite the day’s unusually high, record setting temperatures.

But alas, adjusting to the suns every movement, caring for the wounded and sick finally proves too much as they flee the umbrella littered battlefield. Not a single woman is spared multiple sun scars. Disheveled, escape route right past my table I engage looks of dismay and exasperation as they hurriedly seek refuge from the enemy.

Here on this picturesque patio the enemy is my friend. I’m an old man of the sea. Freshly rinsed by the Atlantic and showers at the base of the stairs, I enjoy a cool Zurito (half a glass of beer) and a couple of fresh seafood Pintxos (small appetizers out – of – this – world.) Perhaps lounging seaside in Quicksilver surf trunks and a T-shirt is not dignified but it surely is cooler. Large clocks on boardwalk towers distract me from my goal of forgetting the time of day altogether.

Today is characteristic of late spring and early summer – faultlessly beautiful. Refreshing breeze, brilliantly blue, cool clear water, and fine sand. Radiant sunshine pours out of a cloudless sky creating a serene scene with a handful of tourists, just a few Americans.

I knew within my first five minutes of being in San Sebastian that I belonged. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, like I had been here before which was not the case. This place arguably the most beautiful coastal city of its size anywhere in the world reminded me of a super mini Rio De Janeiro, Brazil with a completely different vibe. It wasn’t until the following morning when I first opened my eyes that I realized it actually was Zihuatanejo, Mexico that connected me so deeply to this favorite destination of Spanish Royalty.

La Concha Beach connects to Ondarreta Beach and stretches invitingly around the perfect sized-shaped bay. A horse town, the first lifeguards of La Concha Beach assumed their duties in the most amusing of costumes in 1865. In 1905 San Sebastian became Cable Car town. No coincidence in 1911 one noticed bathing houses on the Beach for Royalty. Apparently Royal feet are best not touched by sand so they brought their own beach/bathing houses.

The Queens beach house was the only one that rode on private cable car rails that literally ended in the sea. No doubt moving the beach house back and forth depending on the tide helped to keep the queen happy all through out the day. Other less fortunate royals (the royal court) were forced to jockey for position to her Majesties immediate right. Each Royal strived to be closest to the water with their horse drawn beach homes. The degree to which they were successful was dependent on their position within the family. Stacked side by side and one behind the other they had no choice but to stay a good distance back from the waters edge to allow for changes in tide. The Royal family of Spain still frequents San Sebastian today.

How is it that American travelers are just now finding out what the Spanish people have known since the late 1800’s? The same thing the French figured. San Sebastian is sweet. From the shallow, clear calm water, wide-breathtaking beaches, to the unparalleled cuisine, a lengthy boardwalk (cement promenade) complete with bathrooms, showers, lockers, sports club, faucets to rinse one’s feet, cafes, marinas, parks, churches, plazas, bike paths, gardens, rivers, museums, shopping, cultural events, everything is organized and within easy walking distances making travelers welcome and comfortable.

San Sebastian’s size is deceiving with population of 200,000 it feels more like 2,000. Frommer’s once described San Sebastian in 2005 as simply a side trip from nearby Bilbao. I would skip Bilbao altogether. I don’t consider San Sebastian a tourist trap yet many tourists do visit in the summer. For me it escapes this degrading definition by virtue of its physical lay-out and superb infrastructure designed for visitors. The absence of any tawdry in your face tourist pitches is icing on the cake. The key is timing one’s visit properly. I recommend the months of Mid May, June, Mid September and October.

San Sebastian is the capital of the province of Guipuzcoa. Half of the residents of San Sebastian speak Euskera a language of mysterious origins. The city is central to Basque nationalism. This has caused problems in the past but a new more balanced approach to governance seems to have somewhat improved things politically.

This symmetrical horseshoe bay is punctuated by an Island (Isla Santa Clara) and is enclosed by green mountains on all three sides staring out to sea. San Sebastian is super clean. Even the white trash trucks are spotless. The streets, the beach, the town’s sidewalks are clean. The air is fresh. Incredibly I could detect no foul odor of any kind anywhere I walked. San Sebastian is safe, the perfect place to wander, get lost in, and discover something new and unexpected.

This jewel on the Bay of Biscay is engraved with 17thcentury architecture. The vibe is exceptional. Visitors will find it relaxing, and comfortable. One easily finds themselves mesmerized by San Sebastian’s sheer beauty, hypnotized by out-of- this- world food, and willingly held captive by the over-all romantic ambiance.

The Royals got it right long, long ago. This truth still holds true today. Armed with a beach towel instead of a rolling beach house one can still tap into greatness. This Spanish jeweled crown provides the everyday traveler with great pleasure, comfort and maybe even a little dignity.


Magical Mallorca, Spain

I'm handed my cabin key and directed down the narrow hallway. Mark Twains writing of his travels to the World’s Fair in Paris by steamship in the early 1900’s resonates in my head. His humorous description of the passengers projectile vomiting, the crew watching his every move, the tour drivers shenanigans brought a smile to my face.

Lights sparkle across the water, dancing up into my portal which looks out onto the dark Mediterranean Sea. Close to midnight the sky is filled with stars. My I pod plays beautiful piano, Yellow is the Color by Mezzanine de alcazar. Red wine ripples suddenly appear in my glass born out of vibrations from gigantic engines warming up.

I keep my cabin draped in darkness. two beds, more fold down from the wall, modern bathroom, table, chairs, and closet. I’m a passenger on the Balearic +. This first class ferry ride puts the ferries of the Pacific Northwest to shame. Swank Lounges, Swimming Pools, Luxurious over – sized leather seats, restaurants, spa services, and gift shops await passengers.

After touring the ship I’m happy in my cabin watching the lights of the port (Porto) grow smaller and smaller in the distance. The mainland disappears as we set course for the Island of Mallorca. Finally retiring my head to the pillow, I close my eyes noting the sun will rise over the Mediterranean in the morning.

Awakened by loud pounding on my cabin door I grab a quick shower and charge my camera battery. Sipping apple juice, still dark, I watch the day unfold, the ship docks at Palma, then a bus whisks us away to the terminal where each of us can disconnect from the sea and be on our way. I’m no hurry so I walk leisurely over to the Yacht Club, Club De Mar. The Bar De La Marina is still 20 minutes from opening. I watch the sunrise, shoot pictures, masts bob up and down. Soon I order café con leche, and a chocolate croissant, each does its part to complete my early morning concert by the sea.

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Yahties awaken, stir about amongst the clanging of masts swaying to and fro. Memories of sailing with my father are interrupted by an older Wayne Newton looking character walking arm and arm with a younger, and very beautiful woman up the ramp to an awaiting taxi. His smile, twinkling blue eyes, skip in his step, he then unleashed a powerful embrace followed by an equally passionate kiss that literally lifted him a few inches off the ground. Taxi long gone, shoulders down he orders a cappuccino, and sits in the corner to avoid contact with others. It can be tough coming to terms with becoming invisible to women. Much is lost and gained in these moments. A bit later perched on the bow of his sleek ship, staring into blue water he adds some salt of his own making to the Mediterranean Sea.

DSC_1842I walk around the bay and greet locals on their way to work. Palma is a city with all the hustle and bustle one would expect of one of Europe’s favorite tourist destinations. I hail a cab to the local bus station and make my way out to Bahia de Alcudia. The first thing that one notices is the sheer size, the enormity of the Island. Figuring out how to best attack it’s geography is key to maximizing enjoyment of this incredible Island. I’ll return to the mainland and Barcelona by air but I’ll never forget my early morning arrival by sea.

Where to Stay on the Island

In the event money is no object then one can quickly find the types of things one expects at www.vipservice-mallorca.com. This upscale service will connect you with your Yacht, Private Plane, Helicopter, over – the - top accommodations, Limo, luxury sports cars and a guide for one’s every desire at a cost of course.

In the event one is on a budget but wishes to enjoy a few of the finer things in life for a night or two by mixing and matching then one is in luck on Mallorca. In the event one is on a budget of approximately 100.00 euros per day one can still have the time of one’s life.

To keep daily expenses relatively low (approximately 100 Euros a day) I recommend staying at the Hotel Playa Esperanza, Playa Del Muro. It is the last Hotel right on the beach with lots of open beach, large pool and grassy open areas. The other Hotel I recommend is the JS Alcudi-Mar which is across the street from the beach and $15-20 cheaper.

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DSC_1849The JS Alcudi-Mar is an older remodeled Hotel with a rate of approximately 40 - 45 Euros and includes a killer breakfast. Orange and brown themes, clean rooms, small fridge, safe, excellent bathrooms, ocean view, spa, sauna, steam, Jacuzzi. The beds are older which takes some getting used to. Bartender is happy to supply one with glasses, ice and limes to take to the room for drinks which helps keep expenses down. Experience the Hotels professional whirlpool and then take a massage under the waterfall designed for pounding on one’s lower back which is conveniently on a timer. If you wish to be pampered I recommend the Spa Sensations directly across the street at the Alcudia ParkApart Hotel. Walk a few more steps and one finds themselves under the shade of a palapa, on a sandy beach, with drink service and neck rubs for the asking.

This Island is a favorite Northern European family vacation spot. Restaurants flank the hotel to the left and right. Try Gigi Popo for dinners and great homemade soups. It is not uncommon to see bikes with 2 –6 riders reminding me of the Flintstones. German cyclists ride all over the Island by day often times supporting the obscene number of doctors living here at their beckon call. For those not training for the Tour De France one can rent a bike next door to the hotel and pick up super easy bike trails in the park a few blocks to the left of the hotel. One can also ride out to Can Picafort to the right of the Hotel, a moderate ride. Otherwise one might opt to ride towards the port of Alcudia avoiding the commercial center while getting to the other side where the bike path follows the bay around to the Cape; Cabo Formentor. This is an long relatively easy yet rewarding ride. Incredible rides and views await those willing to make the climb up the Formentor. This is not for the faint of heart.

DSC_1883The advantage of staying in Bahia Alcudia area is the economical Hotel rooms, easy access to affordable rental cars and the famed western coastline of the Island. I rented a Ford Fiesta for 25.00 euros a day including insurance from Partiro car rentals just a 5 minute walk to the right of the Hotel. The paperwork was almost non-existent, the whole experience was hassle free.

With the possible exception of drinks at sunset at the Aqua Bar offering an exceptional view of the bay (complete with fleece blankets, skip the martini) in Port Alcudia I recommend avoiding the port scene itself completely. Truthfully this entire region popular Northern Europeans including the area around the Hotel reeks of the tawdry tourism one would expect. Spending one’s time at the Hotel relaxing or exploring the Island by car is the name of the game on Mallorca sometimes spelled Majorca.

Future posts will detail Mallorca’s magnificent Western stretch of coastline, what to see and do. I’ll also list the best coves providing solitary experiences on the Island, once in a lifetime romantic hotels, inexpensive adventures and must-see- places to visit.

DSC_2272 Few places in the world offer the level of beauty found here. Enormous drops off sheer tree covered cliffs fall straight into the deep blue sea below. Winding roads, mountains, lakes, nature reserves, farms and ranches, vineyards, orange, cherry, and lemon trees, olives grow everywhere. Gorgeous beaches, bays, and coves invite one to twiddle the day away in the finest of European traditions. Its no wonder the Romans, Moors, and even Turkish pirates all took their shot at owning a piece of these Balearic Islands even if only briefly. Once seen this spectacular Island is never forgotten



Menorca Spain, The Ideal Smaller Island Experience

Small is good sometimes, especially in the internationally famous Balearics Islands off the coast of Spain. A great place to get mellow, this smaller local provides a level of quiet remoteness not found in other parts of Spain.

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Arriving by ferry on Menorca one is struck by the natural beauty offered by the smaller sized Island. Like Mallorca the coves are where it is at on Menorca. Renting a car and getting out around the Island is recommended. Like Mallorca I taken hundreds of coves and narrowed it done to a handful of time - tested proven gems. Here are the best of the best on Menorca, undeveloped, clean, and precious.

Cala Turqueta

Cala Galdana

Cala Macarella

Cala Macarelleta

Cala Mitjana

Cala Es Talaier

Calan Bosch

Cala Morell

A must - do is a visit to Ciudadela a small noble city. If history is your thing then visit Naveta des Tudons, Torre d’en Galmes and Torralba d’en Salord. There are plenty of Hotels on the Island most of which are a bit pricy. Because Menorca is more remote the best shot for hotels is to look for deals on the internet, lastminutedeals.com for example to get affordable rates on Menorca. The Hilton at the end of the road near Ciudadela is nice, great location. There are typically plenty of empty rooms on the Island so it pays to shop it.

Whether one decides to hunker down at the Hotel or get out and explore the Island this is a special place. A place to avoid crowds and truly unwind. A place less visited, a natual wonder experienced by few.


Driving the West Coast, Mallorca Spain

The golf course and stunning view of the bay at Playa Sabater gets my engines rev-ving. Gunning my Ford Fiesta I shout excitedly, “let the party begin”. I Grip the wheel tightly and begin my ascent up the famed Cape Formentor. Not 15 minutes from the hotel and I’m already eyeing and aweing. The views are spectacular and I’m quickly transformed into Mario Andrade. I’m now driving Le Man’s, whipping my Ford Fiesta around like a go-cart on narrow winding roads that give way to sheer cliffs and the rocky blue sea hundreds of feet below.

Cape Formentor

German tourists constantly push the limits of BMW’s. Crotch rockets (motorcycles) take off regularly on my left leaving me in their noisy trail. I worry not; for I’m in no hurry today. This Internationally, jet setter, party popular Island is also a wild, winding racetrack perfect for tourists that enjoy a good drive. The starting flag is waved at 9:00 A.M. and their off. Some start in the North like myself today, others start in the South, yet still others begin in the East. Daily race events include tight turning, passing, parking, photos, bathroom, food and drink stops. Apparently drivers are given extra credit on their scorecards for the more places of interest they see in a given day.

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My strategy is to cross the finish line late as possible and break – out of the flow of tourists as often as practical. I refuse to hurry up and wait.

A veteran mainland Mexico driver (survivor) I thought I’d seen it all. But the long winding curves of Mallorca are a sight to behold. Despite the fact the roads are good one’s driving skills are immediately called into play. Finding easy places to pull over is difficult and at times frustrating due to spectacular vistas and scenery. The key is to find one’s own flow on the road, keep one’s headlights on at all times, avoid night driving, and pick – out landmarks to help remember where one’s parked. Be-a-ware (beware) in the unlikely event one hits a sheep it will undoubtedly turn out to be one of Spain’s finest and most expensive. I would avoid speeding, local cops are writing tickets whenever they can in the current economy.

I descend from the cape (Formentor) down into Pollenca on old highway C -710 and suddenly find myself drifting back in time. Farms, ranches, horses, sheep, stonewalls, olives, almonds, banana plants, fruit trees, vineyards all pressed into small communities along the highway. I spot a John Deere tractor working the fields. A Majestic range of mountains hug the rocky western coast of the Island. Typically each inland town has a corresponding port with the same name often times separated by only a few miles.

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At the 4th traffic circle I see the sign point to Soller. Priceless entertainment awaits one at these circles as drivers go around and around often times occupying all three lanes, invariably they dodge the divider ending up stuck on the side road until the next circle where it starts all over again.

I’m already anxious to break – out of the flow of tourists that I no doubt started out with at the cape; they also are heading south to Soller, Deia, and possibly Valldemossa. I unexpectedly make my move darting quickly, undetected into a secluded, empty, mountainous campground. From here I hike and explore steep peaks, rolling hills, and even visit a nearby nature reserve.

Camping Spanish Style

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These are tranquil landscapes. Back at camp I enjoy the birds, wine, cheese, olives, almonds, ham, olive oil and fresh baked bread. Back on the road continuing south I periodically stop to take in a large lake, several ranches, sheep's and dogs. I might even see a deer.

Driving south the mountains bend towards the sea, pulling one closer to hillside farms, vineyards, and the deep blue.

Suddenly a mountain’s mist kisses the sea. The streets of Soller comes into view. Andre Bocelli - Romanza – Con Tu Partiro fills the air. Nestled high on a mountain top Soller’s port provides safe harbor a few miles below. One can easily drive or take the cable car back and forth between the town and beach. The bay and beach are both excellent with many restaurants, shopping etc. but can get crowded.

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Soller is a bit more developed than one would like but it has charm never-the-less. A good place to bring your swim trunks it also provides for great walks in and around the 17th Century town. Street side café’s in the center of town are a must - do. I always ask for the fish of the day at the market price in Spain. Then I know it is fresh. I recommend the Sacovia restaurant in the center of town directly across from the church. I had the Dorado which was excellent. Locally grown cherries, lemons, oranges, olives, and fresh bread make for a delicious and healthy lunch. A stroll around downtown with an ice cream is delightful. It’s easy to spend an entire day here.

Instead of spending the afternoon at the beach I opt to continue south just a bit further to Deia. This inspiring place of sheer beauty has attracted famous artists, writers and Hollywood types over the years. Green pines, sheer cliffs, blue sea. I listen to Radio Nacional de Espana – Radio Classica like our PBS. Breath – taking views and chic villas dot the cliffs promising privacy, extraordinary natural beauty, and real pampering.

Here I enjoy a café con leche and soak in the ambiance, stop in at the now Cliff side Museum (Son Marroig ) for some of the finer costal views one can ever experience. The scale, the size and sheer enormity of the physical landscape is at times overwhelming.

Returning to the Hotel driving north on past Soller and the lake on C – 170 I stop at the cove Cala Calobra which is off the main road quite a ways. Very quiet, fun winding drive down to the sea. Desolate, great place for a homemade snacks and cocktails. Puig Mayor is spectacular and a bit further down the road but I opt instead to try to catch the sunset at the Cape, Formentor. From there it’s a quick easy 15-20 minute drive back to the hotel.

I could easily have broken today’s drive into two. I could also spend another day shooting down side-roads. I must spend a day coming up from the South starting at Sant Elm and ending in Valldemossa. Then there are must-see-coves, beaches (Calas) the best of the best listed here of the 100 or more possibilities , these are tested, proven winners, standing the test of time!

Portals Vells

Torrent de Pareis

Porto Petro

Cala Mondrago

Cala Tugores

Isla Cabera – Island - One hires a boat to visit

Playa de Es Trenc

Clearly it takes more than just a day or two to get familiar with Mallorca. The sheer size of the Island demands more time. Like all good things it requires some effort, driving can be tiring so I recommend short distances followed by frequent relaxing stops all throughout the day. Safe travels!

Driving the West Coast of Mallorca Spain II

Dizzy from negotiating twists and turns on long winding roads yesterday I opt for a straight shot this morning. Driving south down the gut of the Island on Highway 713 is awesome. Driving in a straight line at high speeds is a real treat. I can’t help but feel a little auto-bahn - like experience coming on so I move over to the slow lane.

A leisurely breakfast followed by an easy freeway drive towards Palma fits the bill today. Starting on the southern end of the West coast and driving up to Valldemossa will complete my west coast driving tour of Mallorca. I take the exit to the right 719 to the Andraxt and then 710 Sant Elm.

Sant Elm

Sant Elm is a small unpretentious port town. Developed but low key, on the water but not really a beach lovers destination. Boats are key to enjoying the water of which many are for hire for a myriad of activities. Sent Elm boasts some great hikes in their natural reserve complete with knowledgeable tour guides.

Restaurants and cafes hug the rugged coastline providing a peaceful, relaxed ambiance. In the event one decides to spend a night here the Hotel Aqua Marina is right on the water and centrally located. Completing a great hike rich with wildlife I begin my drive north up the west coast in earnest.

The grade steepens and cyclists in brightly colored spandex dig in. Fertile farm land gives way to trees that grow denser and greener as I climb higher and higher. Olive green hills, rugged cliffs, distant fog covered peaks. The ocean on my left today is dark blue. Sunlight filters through lush canopy. Panoramic views stretch to the horizon. Natures beauty is on full display.

Arriving in Valldemossa one is struck by the intimacy of the local. The perfect blend of green hills and 17th century architecture. An ideal place for a romantic overnight stay. Classy, historical, clean, easy to explore, charming, arts centered, expansive gardens, cobblestone streets, the best shopping, and church bells on the Island.

Valldemossa

The drive down the port of Valldemossa is not for the weak of heart but is an accomplishment worthy of acclaim. Half way down the narrow winding road to the sea is a giant rock face popular with rock climbers. The port itself is small, lacks any scent of tawdry tourism, simply provides access to and protection from the sea. One is automatically a certified west coast Mallorca driver after completing the road to the Port of Valldemossa.

Port Valldemossa, Gold at the End of the Road for Those Who Dare!

As Fredric Chopin once said about Valldemossa “ The most beautiful place in the world”.

One’s stay in Valldemossa can be story book like. I recommend the Valldemossa Hotel www.valldemossa.com . Set on a hill on the backside of town, within easy walking distance this first class, peaceful villa style experience exudes beauty, class and relaxation. Rates are in the low 200 euros range and deliver on the promise of an unforgettable experience.

If this is a bit too pricey for ones budget I recommend the Es Petit Hotel www.espetithotel-valdemossa.com and eating at the Es Cos Croissanteria. A visit to the Cappuccino café is a must-do. I can think of few places in the world one can easily feel at home so quickly. The vibe is very different from Soller. Less developed, more intimate and personal. Europe at it’s best. This is a truly unique place which stands out and away from the crowd.

Palma the biggest city on the Island is worthy of a visit, time and finances permitting to better understand the unique blending of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish culture. The islands many German and English tourists frequent the Medieval parts of town, the Palacio Ca Sa Galesa, and the Castillo Son Vida, and Castillo de Bellver (castles).

The Hotel Es Born offers great patios and is centrally located in downtown Palma. Outside of downtown I recommend the Hotel Punta Negra (34) 971-68-07-62.


A Walk That Changes Lives

Biding my time at the train station, waiting at the border between France and Spain, increasingly impatient, I decide take a cab into Biarritz, France. While engaging the driver I notice two ladies approaching us. They inquire as to what I’m doing and I offer to split the cab ride 3 ways to which the happily agree.

Making our way into France I’m excited to chat with two Irish ladies fresh off the trail of Camino de Santiago. Literally within hours of completing their historic walk they are with me ready to share their adventure. I pretend not to know anything about this legendary pilgrimage in hopes of getting the whole scoop and nothing but the whole scoop so help me God.

The Way of St. James or St. James' Way (Spanish: El Camino de Santiago, Galician: O Camiño de Santiago, French: Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle, German: Jakobsweg, Basque: Done Jakue bidea) is the pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried.

The Camino de Santiago (The way of Saint James) is more than a thousand years old and is one of three Christian pilgrimages during which all sins are thought to be forgiven. Others look further back in time to Celtic legends that the walk was a fertility ritual or that Galicia was the gathering point where the dead would follow the sun across the ocean.
Many pilgrims walk the last 100 kilometers (62 miles), or 200 kilometers (124 miles) if by bicycle. Some even come on horseback.

Yellow signs mark the route to Compostela The pilgrims are issued a “passport” which allows them cheap lodging along the way at various hostels (“refugios”) and must be stamped at each one. This is then presented at the Pilgrims office in Santiago where they will receive a certificate of their journey.

I’m a big fan of walking but this is over the top. As one of the Irish ladies begins to unravel memories of her journey the other quietly reflects inwardly. I’m told the story surrounding Shirley McClain making a secret walk in disguise. Of the walking, the praying, the walking, the people along the way, the food and accommodations. This is serendipity travel on steroids. After a few minutes its clear to me one of the ladies has just had a life changing experience. Clearly religious she is the zone so to speak. Her informative talkative friend seems less so.

They slept in Albergues 4 to 10 Euro a night for a dorm bed. There are municipal ones and private ones. They might be in a room of 10 people or 50 – they never know for sure until they get there. Folks share bathroom/showers and a kitchen.

If you don’t mind sleeping with a crowd this seems the way to go, beats hauling camping equipment down the trail. There are Hotels along the trail for those seeking more privacy but it seems to me a bit odd. I can’t imagine sleeping in a suite with room service and then spending the day being a pilgrim, it seems a bit contrived.

However waking up with back pain, knees etc. is to be expected. Weather aside, rain and mud can make things tricky it’s really an issue of endurance. Some folks pick up the trail for a day or two. Others make a 5 week adventure of it. Most have their luggage transported for them by a company dedicated to this service.

Most every village along the trail offers a Pilgrim Menu for 7 to 10 Euro. Pilgrim Menus are normally very simple with lots of carbs. Many choose to get food at the grocery store and cook themselves.

Arriving in Biarritz I bid farewell to the Irish ladies. If not for the fact I needed to stay focused on my photography I might well have spent more time with them. One gal had a transformational experience, life altering to be sure. The other seemed more like a good friend, she had her friends back.

Not sure that her friend really needed a guardian angel on this particular journey. Either way if you want to do something really unique, something that will test your serendipity mettle, something that could change you forever, this is it.

Popular Routes

Pilgrims on the Way of St. James walk for weeks or months to visit the city of Santiago de Compostela. They follow many routes (any path to Santiago is a pilgrim's path) but the most popular route is Via Regia and its last part - the French Way (Camino Francés). Historically, most of the pilgrims came from France, from Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy and Arles and Saint Gilles, due to the Codex Calixtinus. These are today important starting points. The Spanish consider the Pyrenees a starting point. Common starting points along the French border are Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port or Somport on the French side of the Pyrenees and Roncesvalles or Jaca on the Spanish side. (The distance from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostella through León is about 800 km.). Another possibility is to do the Northern Routethat was first used by the pilgrims in order to avoid travelling through the territories occupied by the Muslims in the Middle Ages. The greatest attraction is its landscape, as a large part of the route runs along the coastline against a backdrop of mountains and overlooking the Cantabrian Sea.

However, many pilgrims begin further afield, in one of the four French towns which are common and traditional starting points: Paris, Vézelay, Arles and Le Puy. Cluny, site of the celebrated medieval abbey, was another important rallying point for pilgrims and, in 2002, it was integrated into the official European pilgrimage route linking Vézelay and Le Puy. Some pilgrims start from even further away, though their routes will often pass through one of the four French towns mentioned. Some Europeans begin their pilgrimage from the very doorstep of their homes just as their medieval counterparts did hundreds of years ago.

Another popular route is the 227 km long Central Portuguese Way, which starts at Sé Catedral in the city of Porto in the north of Portugal. There are two traditional routes from there, one inland (the Central Way) and the Coastal Way (Caminho da Costa). On the central route, Rates is considered the central site in the Portuguese Way.[11] The way has been used since the Middle Ages and the ancient monastery of Rates gained importance due to the legend of Saint Peter of Rates. The legend holds that Saint James ordained Peter as the first bishop of Braga in 44 AD. One of most tiring parts of the Portuguese Way is in the Labruja hills in Ponte de Lima, which are hard to cross. The camino winds its way inland until it reaches the Spanish border throw Valença. The Coastal Way gained importance since the 15th century due to the growing importance of the coastal towns. The route splits from the central way in the countryside of Vila do Conde and enters the town throw the Monastery of Santa Clara and the Matriz Church of Vila do Conde was built by king Manuel I of Portugal while in pilgrimage. The rising importance of Póvoa de Varzim imposed this new direction,[12] which also crosses Esposende, Viana do Castelo and Caminhabefore reaching the Spanish border.

Final Thoughts

The pilgrim route is a very good thing, but it is narrow. For the road which leads us to life is narrow; on the other hand, the road which leads to death is broad and spacious. The pilgrim route is for those who are good: it is the lack of vices, the thwarting of the body, the increase of virtues, pardon for sins, sorrow for the penitent, the road of the righteous, love of the saints, faith in the resurrection and the reward of the blessed, a separation from hell, the protection of the heavens. It takes us away from luscious foods, it makes gluttonous fatness vanish, it restrains voluptuousness, constrains the appetites of the flesh which attack the fortress of the soul, cleanses the spirit, leads us to contemplation, humbles the haughty, raises up the lowly, loves poverty. It hates the reproach of those fueled by greed. It loves, on the other hand, the person who gives to the poor. It rewards those who live simply and do good works; And, on the other hand, it does not pluck those who are stingy and wicked from the claws of sin.

Codex Calixtinus

Be An Aristocrat For A Night - Birraritiz France

Enjoy a great overnight side trip from San Sebastian Spain to Birraritiz France. After having lived like Spanish Royalty on summer vacation in San Sebastian Spain why not get even more noble, French style. One’s Dignity restored, stomach filled with delectable seafood Tapas it’s time to entertain a quick easy train ride. Riding the rails north through beautiful Basque country, cruising along the Northern Atlantic coast and crossing the open border into Southern France is a hoot.

I recommend leaving your bags at your Hotel in San Sebastian and packing super light for an overnight stay in Biarritz. Be sure to include your best duds for a royal entrance into the world of French culture.

It’s an easy walk to the train station in San Sebastian. Below is the train info. Depending on your schedule and train connection in France you can always split a cab at the Spanish/French border (Hendaye) and enjoy a 15 minute drive into downtown Biarritz.

Arriving at the grand, opulent Hotel Du Palais one’s memories of railroad tracks, beautiful scenery, and common folk fade quickly. Entering the Lobby one’s quickly transported back in time to a different era. The lobby is grand. This large French Royalty summer home of Napoleon III in 1855 (Villa Eugenie) was converted into a modern Hotel (Hotel Du Palais) which is authentic and awe inspiring.

One can’t help but walk more regally up the winding stair case to one’s room. Once inside one’s room it feels unique. Sipping a glass of red wine looking out over the Atlantic it’s easy to see why the French Royals picked this spot to relax from the grind of Nobility.

The service is over the top. The food exquisite. The ambiance screams you are special. A short walk to the beach, restaurants, café’s and shopping awaits. Perhaps a promenade along the cliffs to watch the surfers and boats. Maybe a visit to the saltwater spa or try one's luck at the tables in the Casino next door is in order.

If you are feeling more adventurous and have time try the Oihana Eco Park for zip lines and paint ball. Maybe the CablePark for wakeboarding or rent a surfboard and catch a wave or two. The caves at of Sare, the aquarium, and the Museum (Musee Asiatica) are popular tourist attractions however the incredible Hotel and it's central location lend itself to staying put.

With everything so central its easy to relax and enjoy a quick yet memorable stay. With a mini introduction to French culture it is fun to compare and contrast the Spanish Culture to the French Culture in real time.

Granted Biarritz is a French surf town. Skateboards, surfboards, wet suits, sun bleached hair are local sights too. The vibe is youthful and chic, yet the new is deeply embedded into old French culture.

As one rides the rails back into Spain it’s easy to see why the Royals of France and Spain both selected this unique Basque area to spend their summers. It’s easy to see why the locals feel such tremendous pride in their region of the world. It’s also easy to see why I fell in love with this part of the world. Natural beauty, style, and culture all blend together helping one to feel a bit different, perhaps Royal, even if only for a moment.

Travel Directions

1. Arrive in Biarritz France. Take local train from San Sebastian Spain which leaves every 30 minutes; travel time approximately one hour to Spanish/French Border (Hendaye) take a 1 minute walk across border then take local French train into Biarritz, and take a taxi from train station to Hotel ( Hotel Du Palais)

2. Return to San Sebastian Spain. Take taxi to train station in Biarritz and board train to the border ( Hendaye) 1 minute walk across border back into Spain, board train leaves every 30 minutes, walk or taxi back to Hotel in San Sebastian Spain.

Contact info

Hotel Du Palais - 800-223-6800

www.hotel-du-palais.com


  
                                Visiting Costa Rica to Solve a Mystery

     How to Best Arrive In and Explore Costa Rica

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Awakening in San Jose, the Capital of Costa Rica I try to sleep in. My feeble attempt to rest up after my flight quickly becomes a wrestling match fraught with images and even imagined whiffs of the best breakfast buffet in the city, a scant few floors below. This morning I sleep, in hopes I will shake off any lingering jet lag. While living in Mexico I grew up hearing about Costa Rica. It seemed so cool-even hard to believe. Little did I know years later, as an adult, I would visit this lush tropical paradise repeatedly in search of perfect, sand bottom, left – handed surf breaks.

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A sunny morning I pushed back the thick grey curtains in my superbly located hotel room (Inter Continental Hotel). There, just across the street, almost close enough to touch is Costa Rica’s famous mall Multiplaza in Escazu providing any and everything I could possibly need busily trying to open. I didn’t know where to look first. The good looking couple playing tennis? The tropical gardens? The cabanas poolside?

I left the curtain open and side-slipped into the bathroom. A glance in the frame- lit mirror over the thoroughly modern sink revealed a sight anything but grand. Sure I now recognize that when the lady at the store says “Sir” she’s talking to me. Yes, the backs of my hands look like my fathers. I buy dime store glasses to read. I put orthotics in my shoes; and intentionally mis-calibrate the settings on my digital scale. I survived cancer and divorce. More Absent –minded, forgetful, not that I can recall. Disciplined in my respect for the power of the nap, you betch ya. And I now finally understand what former president Bill Clinton meant when he stated that the close proximity of the Presidential bathroom to his office was key to his affair with Monica Lewinski. Sure, I used to work out to be attractive to women, now I work out to stay alive. Boo hoo, so what now what! A short drive to Cartago that’s what.

Regularly hailed Costa Rica is one of the coolest places on the planet. After stuffing myself with plate after plate of delicious foods featuring dizzying varieties, tastes and textures I can barely walk to the pool. A quick check of the pool scene reminds me to call and get my rental car delivered to me here at the Hotel.

It’s cheaper, safer and easier this way rather than going directly from the airport to the rental agency. Save taxi fare and the Airport Rental Car Tax, and potentially a days rental fees if you end up hanging out at the hotel the first day. Better to get picked up at the airport by the courtesy hotel van and go directly to one’s hotel. For rental cars I usually book with Dollar but check around for the best deal, they all speak English quite well so it easy to make your reservation.

You’ll happily discover Costa Rica has excellent technology making things surprisingly efficient. Call early on the morning you want your car and they’ll bring the car, keys and paperwork to your hotel to complete the transaction. Typically your U.S. car insurance coverage is sufficient (bring proof) so no need to buy extra in country insurance. For a few extra dollars surf racks and GPS systems are available. This isn’t Mexico. In the off season (our summer) I’ve been rewarded with unbelievable deals by calling around and shopping rates on the morning I need the car with no reservation.

Relaxing in the hotels Botanical Garden, sipping on a Mimosa surrounded by tropical plants I sign multiple times and receive my car keys. Typically I get the smallest SUV class Hyundai etc. which are best suited for and handle admirably on the roads of Costa Rica. I recommend keeping your gas tank half full in the event of a breakdown you’ll appreciate having air conditioning. Worth noting you can drive practically from one end of this small lush country to the other in a day.

Today I’m determined to solve a mystery. The Mystery of the City of Cartago. A quick visit to the mall across the street ends at the Super Mercado where I buy a Styrofoam cooler for a whooping $5.00, an umbrella and lots of drinks and extra ice. Driving during the day in Costa Rica is a breeze, plenty of good paved roads. However one’s very near the equator so it is hot and humid sprinkled with sudden brief intense rain showers. Stopping roadside at Starbucks for regular refreshment is a bit fanciful. I recommend you bring your own drinks, lots of water and snacks in the car. For lunch keep your eyes peeled for unique restaurants dotting the highways of Costa Rica and you’ll be deliciously rewarded.

Driving out of the city past the airport, I make my way to Cartago. Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful exotic tropical places on earth. Warm friendly, educated people make you feel relaxed and welcome. The Ticos (Costa Ricans) version of “Aloha” is “Pura Vida.”

Costa Rica in many ways resembles Hawaii 25-30 years ago and is somewhat unique in Central America. Ticos enjoy democracy, a higher standard of living, excellent infrastructure, a good education system, excellent health care, and friendly police.

No army is decreed in their constitution and strict environmental protection policies are enforced. This plant rich country understands the significance of its precious resources which has helped put Eco-Tourism on the world map.

Passing public buses (Mercedes) on the highway to Cartago I’m reminded of Costa Rica’s somewhat unusual beginnings. The Spanish Conquerors arrived on the shores of Costa Rica in 1524; Francisco de Cárdoba founded Villa Bruselas, in the East Coast of the Gulf of Nicoya. This was the first settlement founded by the Spaniards in Costa Rica. they were completely blown away by its beauty, climate and natural resources. What should have been easy living turned out to be anything but due to the fact there were very few natives for the Spaniards to conquer and put to work building this new nation.

So totally hooked on this spectacular natural resource the Spaniards bit the bullet and against best practices decided to do the work themselves. Consequently the food in Costa Rica has a decidedly European feel, mayonnaise vs. hot sauce, wine vs. tequila so to speak.

Leaders sat down over the years and discussed transportation needs; infrastructure, roads, bridges etc, the public transportation system, buses etc. and an interesting fact revealed itself. The mothers, sisters, daughters, granddaughters and their friends were neighbors of the gentleman making public transportation decisions. These were the primary customers of public transportation. The homogeneous nature of the people of Costa Rica ensured a high quality transportation experience for all Costa Ricans. Unlike Mexico Costa Rica lacks the mixing of many races producing politically based class distinctions and warfare.

Intel computer chips are made here with the precision of small productive Tico hands. Good technology is the rule not the exception (sometimes called the Silicon Valley of Central America) as is foreign investment, as well as strong ties to the U.S. and global economy. Next time you have a banana it likely came from here. Coffee is a big export item as cocoa, sugar, lumber and wood products, beef and tourism is increasingly important to Costa Rica’s future.

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The Mystery of the City of Cartago

In 1963, a volcanic eruption of Irazu Volcano which for two years covered San José in ashbadly damaged some agricultural areas around Cartago, but not the city.

Cartago is a city in Costa Rica, about 25 km (16 mi) east of the capital, San José. It is at an elevation of about 1435 m (some 4,707 ft) above sea level, at the base of the Irazú Volcano. Cartago is the capital of Cartago province. The city covers an area of 152,68 km². It includes the districts of city downtown: Oriental, Occidental (known as the typical downtown area), San Nicolás (the main entrance to the city, at west), El Carmen (north), Dulce Nombre, San Francisco (at south, San Francisco is known commonly as Aguacaliente), and Guadalupe (Arenilla). The city is part, with the cities of San Rafael de Oreamuno and Tejar del Guarco, of a continuous urban area that, in 2008, had a populationof 156,600 inhabitants, according to the Statistics and Census Institute of Costa Rica.

The city was granted a coat of arms by King Philip II of Spain in 1565, and the title of Muy Noble y Muy Leal (“Very Noble and Very Loyal”) by the Cortes (Spanish Parliament) in 1814. It served as the first capital of Costa Rica until 1823, when Republican leader Gregorio Jose Ramirez, moved the capital to the bigger city of San José, because Cartago wanted to unite the newly independent province of Costa Rica to the Iturbide’s Mexican Empire while San Jose and Alajuela supported a Republican system. The city was severely damaged by major earthquakes in 1822, 1841 and 1910. In 1963, a volcanic eruption of Irazu Volcano which for two years covered San José in ash badly damaged some agricultural areas around Cartago, but not the city.

Many pilgrims come to Cartago annually, to visit the nation’s principal church, the enormous Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles, on the feast day of the Virgin of the Angels (August 2). The church has a statue of the Black Madonna known as La Negrita, who supposedly had great healing powers. The sick come to her statue in hope of a miraclefrom La Negrita.

According to folklore in Costa Rica, the statue was found by an indigenous girl in 1635. She brought it home several times, but it mysteriously reappeared at its original site.The rock where she found it is now kept in a backroom in the basilica and is revered as a sacred relic and object of inspiration. The rock is supposed to be in the same location it was when La Negrita was found, but it has been moved as the basilica was rebuilt. It is common for pilgrims to touch the rock in reverence.

Turning left off the main highway I make my way to Basilica de los Angeles. I’m meeting my historian and guide shortly. Hopefully he will have the answers I seek.

Completing my no nonsense onsite investigation and interviewing several experts at Basilica de Los Angeles I was left excited and perplexed. I decided to catch a George Clooney movie which I’ve been dying to see the “Descendents”. It was playing at my favorite theater in Costa Rica located at TerraMall in Tres Rios on the way back to San Jose from Cartago. Here I can enjoy great food even Sushi or traditional popcorn, and not so traditional cocktails delivered to me in my fabulous leather, comfy oversized seats surrounded by industrial strength air – conditioning. I rationalize this distraction will help to briefly take my mind off unraveling the mystery. This could be the exact break I need to blow this mystery wide open. Plus I can’t wait to see the 20 minutes of the film shot on a beach on Kauai that I used to hang – out at religiously.

Kauai revisited, and back at the hotel poolside; I attempt to solve the mystery of Cartago. Laptop, books, notes, my taped interviews, and photographs clutter up my cabana. After a dip and receiving my ice cold beer (Imperial the local favorite) which I keep in an ice bucket I get down to brass tacks. Evaluating, sorting, indexing, analyzing, connecting the dots CSI style I burn a sunspot into heart of this enduring mystery. Requesting a pool side phone I make few calls, take more notes and further evaluate the evidence before me. Re-applying sunscreen I dig deeper.

At my wits end I dive into the pool ordering a Cuba Libre at the swim up bar. The bartender noting the perplexed look on my face inquired as to its origin. After another round of drinks and relaying the facts as I saw them and he smiled knowingly simply saying “Pura Vida.” pure life, live life to the max. Good advice, time to get out of the city and head up to Tamarindo for a little R&R.

I Grab a quick shower and a three dollar cab and head over to the Cerutti Restaurant offering Gourmet Italian Cuisine, in San Rafael, Escazu just minutes from my hotel. I listen to Antonio Bochelle on my IPod just for good measure. This place is hands down the best Italian food in Costa Rica. Everything on the menu is awesome, excellent wine, decadent desserts and over the top service in a setting straight out Italy leaves one wanting for nothing.

Sipping an aperitif, lost to more opera I mull over the findings of my investigation yet again. Smiles and laughter bounce around this intimate room as I sift through the facts one more time. Confident I’ve missed nothing, no rock left unturned I make my way from Cerutti’s back to my hotel. Too full to sit and wanting to get an early morning start on my drive to Tamarindo a tiny costal village (5 hours north) an easy drive through rolling backcountry, farmland, jungle and beyond to the Pacific coastline. I opt to walk around the upscale mall across the street indulging in window shopping and a gelato instead of dancing the night away in San Jose’s many nightclubs.

I enjoy learning from the past in hopes of better understanding how I can best live today. Yes, I’m disappointed at not finding the answer to the mystery of Cartago. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this lack of understanding was unavoidable. Perhaps falling in love with Tamarindo, its people, farms, rivers, jungles, wildlife, beaches, surf, fishing, diving, seafood and volcanoes was just unavoidable too.

Contact Info

Inter Continental Hotel

http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/intercontinental/en/gb/locations/costarica-sanjose

Movie Theater in TerraMall in Tres Rios – Cinépolis Terramall – VIP

Mall Multiplaza Escazú;

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=Multiplaza+in+Escazu+Costa+Rica&view=detail&id=F225E81062C4C49E1343065498542BCD080B2211&first=31&FORM=IDFRIR

Cerutti Restaurant, Italian Cuisine

http://www.luxurydirectorycostarica.com/

Paradise Found in Guanacaste Costa Rica 

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Provinces, Cantons, and Districts

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Provinces of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is composed of seven provinces, which in turn are divided into 81 cantons (Spanish: cantón, plural cantones), each of which is directed by a mayor. Mayors are chosen democratically every four years by each canton’s people. There are no provincial legislatures. The cantons are further divided into 421 districts (distritos). The provinces are:

  1. Alajuela
  2. Cartago
  3. Guanacaste
  4. Heredia
  5. Limón
  6. Puntarenas
  7. San José

Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus, lying between latitudes and 12°N, and longitudes 82° and 86°W. It borders the Caribbean Sea (to the east) and the Pacific Ocean (to the west), with a total of 1,290 kilometers (800 mi) of coastline, 212 km (132 mi) on the Caribbean coast and 1,016 km (631 mi) on the Pacific.

Costa Rica also borders Nicaragua to the north (309 km or 192 mi of border) and Panama to the south-southeast (639 km or 397 mi of border). In total, Costa Rica comprises 51,100 square kilometers (19,700 sq mi) plus 589 square kilometers (227 sq mi) of territorial waters.

The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripó, at 3,819 metres (12,530 ft); it is the fifth highest peak in Central America. The highest volcano in the country is the Irazú Volcano (3,431 m or 11,257 ft). The largest lake in Costa Rica is Lake Arenal.

Costa Rica also comprises several islands. Cocos Island (24 square kilometers / 9.3 square miles) stands out because of its distance from continental landmass, 300 mi (480 km) from Puntarenas, but Calero Island is the largest island of the country (151.6 square kilometers / 58.5 square miles). Over 25% of Costa Rica’s national territory is protected by SINAC (the National System of Conservation Areas), which oversees all of the country’s protected areas. Costa Rica also possesses the greatest density of species in the world.

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This land was made for growing!

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Costa Rican Volcanic Wonders

Guanacaste is a province of Costa Rica located in the northwestern part of the country, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. To the north it borders Nicaragua. To the east is the Alajuela Province, and to the southeast is the Puntarenas Province. It is the most sparsely populated of all the provinces of Costa Rica. The province covers an area of 10,141 km2 (3,915 sq mi) and as of 2000, had a population of 264,238.

Guanacaste’s capital is Liberia. Other important cities include Cañas and Nicoya.

The province is named for the guanacaste tree, also known as the ear pod tree which is the national tree of Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Loves Soccer

Bags unpacked I see Futbol everywhere

Costa Rica loves Futbol, this is no passing fancy

This is no spectator weekend warrior sport;

Futbol is life, played, played and played.

Curling my toes in white sand

I watch futbol played everywhere,

No hands, head, chest, shoulder and feet.

Traditional games along the shore

Children, old men, everything in between,

Dribbling with quick feet

I marvel it’s as though the ball is on a string.

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Tamarindo Area, Guanacaste

One of Costa Rica’s great delights is it coastlines. A great place to stay when exploring the Nicoya Peninsula and Guanacaste is the Paradisus Playa Conchal a 5-star all inclusive resort on Playa Conchal just outside Tamarindo proper. Opulent, spacious guest suites overlook Playa Conchal the best beach in Costa Rica. Slap this link into your browser and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

http://www.paradisus.com/destination-guanacaste-costa-rica.php

My old man, a master fly fisherman, taught me the importance of being satisfied with just sticking to fishing the fishing hole where they are biting. As a boy I often wondered if the fishing wasn’t better somewhere down the road. Believe me paradise is paradise and down the road in this case means Tahiti which is quite a haul. This I’ve got-everything-you-could-possibly–want-to-do, every room’s a suite, all inclusive resort walks the talk. The list of activities is mind – boggling. Checking in the first thing you’ll notice is the scale of the property, beyond huge, filled to the rim with all the world class obvious beach, pool, golf, spa, and casino stuff. Riding in resort driven carts winding their way to your suite is a trip in itself.

Beautifully appointed suites, private patio, 24 hr. room service makes things easy for most any type of travelers. Families will find this place perfect on many different levels. I like it because it is the perfect base from which to explore the areas many beaches. I like to hit the beach, Playa Conchal, in the morning before breakfast (awesome buffet). Down where the golf course meets the beach there is nice easy trail for bird watching. Don’t be surprised if you see monkey’s too. Snorkeling is spectacular and the beach offers clean white coral sand pleasing to the touch. I enjoy shooting hoops in the pool, playing tennis, ping pong, and then hitting the links. Great golf course! Otherwise I’m out exploring the Nicoya Peninsula.

In a departure from and overlooked by tourists, is little-visited Playa Grande. Perhaps you tire of the multitude the resort activities, and people. Maybe you find that you’re interested in looking for something more private; quiet and exclusive. I’d recommend the privately owned and rented condos out on Playa Grande (famous for turtles) about 15-20 minutes north of downtown Tamarindo. Most units are private beach front with massive decks. You’ll likely find yourself cooking in your gourmet kitchen but in a pinch plenty restaurants are but a stones throw down the road 15- 20 minutes or so in Tamarindo proper.

The best approach is to drive out to Playa Grande while staying at Paradisus Playa Conchal and cruise the private dirt road that hugs the ocean heading north, soon you’ll see lots of for rent signs, you can easily inspect the property, get a rate, and make your decision after checking out few you thought promising from the comfort of your suite at Paradisus Playa Conchal.

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Calling lovers of wildlife! Whether you take a tour, ride a zipline through the tree-tops or explore on your own, binoculars in hand it is hard to beat Costa Rica when it comes bird and animal watching.

I urge you to avoid the temptation to speed on the drive up from San Jose to Tamarindo. Often times it seems you are in the middle of nowhere but lurking behind old trees soaking up the shade are police with radar guns aimed at getting money out of your wallet. Passing is common so no need to worry, following trucks up hills is to be expected.

A dazzling concentration of natural beauty is forever painted in one’s mind. After being dined-out, activitied-out, beached-out, and tiring of resort living, explored jungles, visited secluded beaches, surfed world class waves, deep sea fished, rode horses on the beach at sunset, and generally lived the life of riley you realize its time to get back to San Jose and the airport for the flight home. Next time you return maybe you’ll fly in direct to Tamarindo maybe not. There are so many great places to experience in Costa Rica however San Jose is central to them all. Domestic flights within Costa Rica are probably best avoided unless one is a genuine risk taker and a true air travel adventurer.

Fortunately you have an extra night to spend at the Arenal Lodge – great views of the active Arenal Volcano on a secluded and quiet location with comfortable rooms, trails and excellent bird watching. Rooms are nice enough and really fit the feel of this unique area. The restaurant has decent food while overlooking the mountains. Shifting gears in the mountains of Costa Rica is trip, hike, even fish and maybe even put on a sweater but I doubt it!

Once returning to San Jose I recommend staying at the reasonably priced Best Western Irazu Hotel & Casino directly across from the airport. It is very close to the car rental returns that will drive you to the hotel in minutes. The hotel shuttles you to the airport every 20 minutes making things easy. After spending a relaxing and fun time in Guanacaste one treasures the warmest of feelings produced by the beauty in nature found there. This small friendly relaxing country is a spectacular example of the earth at its best. Feelings like these will last well beyond the moment your plan touches the sky.

 

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Pura Vida!

Contact Information

Paradisus Playa Conchal Hotel

http://www.paradisus.com/destination-guanacaste-costa-rica.php

Arenal Lodge http://www.arenallodge.com/navegadores/home.html

BEST WESTERN Irazu Hotel Casinohttp://book.bestwestern.com/bestwestern/CR/San-Jose-hotels/BEST-WESTERN-Irazu-Hotel---Casino/Hotel%20Overview.do?iata=&promoCode=&corpID=&propertyCode=70604

 

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