Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Vegan Honeymoon: Costa Rica

We were buzzing with good vibes the morning after our wedding. We woke up feeling so amazing, carrying so much love with us from the day before. We grabbed some brunch at our beloved Northampton spot, The Green Bean, with some friends who had flown across the country from LA to be at our wedding. It's too bad that you can never spend as much time as you'd like with all of your guests at your wedding! After brunch, we picked up some things from my parents that they had collected for us from the wedding night, like a scrapbook from the photobooth that the DJ company made for us of all the photos from the booth, leftover food and wedding cake(!!!), and of course, our gifts. We packed up the car and drove back to New York, did our best to unpack, ate the said leftovers and went to sleep! We woke up at 3AM to get a cab to the airport, and were in the air by 6AM. We had a layover, so we didn't actually land in Costa Rica until around noon. 

We were warned that we'd be swarmed with people trying to take our bags for a fee, and people trying to drive us to our destination. We had arranged for a driver to pick us up at the San Jose airport, and I was able to find him pretty quickly, luckily for us! He didn't speak any English, but lucky for me (and mostly for Alex) I am fluent in Spanish, so we were able to communicate nicely! We found that only the owners of the hotel and one person per tour could speak English. So if you don't know any Spanish, I suggest you either do a lot of sprucing up on it or bring someone along that can help you out. It was a long drive from the airport to our hotel, about 3 1/2 hours. The driver pointed out places that are good to stop and take pictures and enjoy the scenery along the way. The first place we stopped was along a bridge -- under which a very large number of croccodiles reside. 

It was unbelievable how green the countryside was! I almost felt like I was in Ireland. The heat and humidity quickly reminded me that no, I am most certainly not in Ireland, and also: Croccodiles!

We stopped at Jacó Beach, a little ways away from it you can catch a nice view of the town and take some pictures.

 Sayyy "It's been a long day!"

We got to our resort at 4pm, and were greeted by the owners of the hotel. We stayed at an eco-retreat center in the town of Dominical. The resort is inside the rainforest and super beautiful. The resort is vegan and made some amazing gourmet meals. Each meal was accompanied by fresh juice or smoothies. We were excited to try all the fresh fruit that's native to Costa Rica! This one is Wild Berry with Starfruit.

Our first dinner was this amazing vegan lasagna! It was probably my favorite dinner of the trip and it was definitely better than most meals that I've paid far too much for in NYC. There was not a lot of salt in the meals at the resort, and I kind of liked it that way! Though I cook with salt at home, it's nice to just taste the flavor of the vegetables. It makes you appreciate them a little bit more. Am I crazy?

They served us dessert with every lunch and dinner too! This is a chocolate coconut parfait, and it was amazing! Not too sweet, but not bitter. Exactly the kind of dessert you can feel good about.

This is the dining area. I wasn't kidding when I said it's right in the middle of the jungle!

There was a little area to sit and look over some maps or do some research on what kind of local sight-seeing you can do.

It's actually winter there in August, when we went. I didn't realize that, nor did I read up about their wet season, think about hurricanes, or do any research at all for my upcoming trip. I had wedding tasks to manage and lots of other unplanned things to deal with and worry about. So, like I was saying, it was the winter there, or the "wet season" where it rains a lot and is really cloudy most of the day. Tourism dies way down during this time of year and businesses run sales to attract clients. We actually saved quite a bit of cash by coming this time of year, even if by coincidence. We would get up for breakfast for 8, then go off to our scheduled tour for the day, either be fed there or be back for lunch at 2, then relax in our room for a little while until dinner at 6:30. After dinner we were pretty much out of batteries, what with all our adventure sports and events, and went to sleep very very early. Even though it was the "winter" it was pretty sunny all morning until mid afternoon on every day and then we'd get rain in the evenings. It is the rainforest, after all.. We managed to have a fantastic week of weather and came back very tan.

With breakfast we got a papaya and orange smoothie and coffee! Costa Rican coffee is so delicious, and also very ethical! There was so much information everywhere about the fairly traded coffee and how it is ethically produced. There was literature at every coffee shop we went to outlining the details of the process and programs that help keep the trading ethical. Some of the info I found online and This site details a little bit of what I saw while I was there.

 Oh! And the hotel obviously had soy milk for coffee too! It was great black, but I'm so spoiled in NYC that I've become a little dependent on creamy coffee.

The first morning we got some delicious oatmeal with banana, cinnamon and raisins. It was a giant bowl of it but I ate it all! We also were served a giant plate of pineapple and papaya!

Just down from the dining area, there's a path that leads down to the waterfalls. It was pretty amazing to be able to take a quick hike down to them and listen to the peaceful sounds of the jungle.

Almost every day we took a short cab ride to Dominical Beach. The waves were super gigantic and there was a long stretch of beach you could walk along.

The little beach town was cute and everyone was friendly. People had set up little tourist shops to sell tapestries like these, and there were a bunch of similar shops with t-shirts and towels and the touristy type keepsake.

The official beer of Costa Rica is Imperial. It tastes a lot like the kinds of mexican beers you can get in the US, maybe like a Modelo Especial. I love drinking the beer that's local to wherever I am. It's great to have something you can't get anywhere else. Another cool thing about Imperial is that they fully recycle all their bottles. They don't just take the glass back, melt it down and mold something new out of the glass. They collect the Imperial bottles, steamwash them, refill, and resell them. That way, there's no waste. The company that owns Imperial, Florida Bebidas, also does this for it's other products as well! We found that the entire country of Costa Rica is very green. Not only is it a breathtaking green landscape, but all the people are so concerned for the well-being of the environment. They are very serious about recycling, and the conservation of wildlife. They also take great measures to ensure fair trade of their crops, like their coffee. It's such a difference from how people view the environment in the US. This morning, I watched a FedEx driver toss a balled-up wad of trash from his breakfast into the road while he waited at a light and I walked by alongside, wanting so bad to pick it up and throw it back at him. If the people of Costa Rica can get on board with conservation, most certainly we, in the United States, can too.

This is my super cute husband strolling the beach lookin' all fine ;)

I forgot to take a picture of my lunch one day, but they made us burrito wraps with beans and avocado, and they served us these apricot-date balls for dessert.

So all of a sudden there was this gigantic spider above the dining area. I pointed up to it and the owner of the hotel told me that it was the Golden Orb Spider and that their webs are actually a silky gold color. I liked that they let her stay up there, instead of tearing it down or killing it. She certainly didn't bother us while we ate, though it was good to be assured that by a native.

Starfruit was abundant there, which I love. This is starfruit juice!

Spring Roll Appetizer

Dinner this particular evening was brown rice over grilled pineapple and a citrus tofu stir-fry.

Dessert was a raw chocolate-orange tart. The desserts were on point.

Our ritual Orange Papaya breakfast smoothie

Banana-walnut pancakes with papaya

Going horseback riding didn't seem very vegan to me, but Alex really wanted to go. It was included in our package, and everyone from the hotel was going. I gave in and went, but when we got there and I saw all the horses lined up I had the worst pit in my stomach. I really didn't want to get on a horse. I felt like it wasn't right to make them carry me around pulling on their reigns. Alex got me to calm down and relax and told me to think of how they are all friends and get to run around and get fed by everyone that comes on the tour. They put me on a medium-sized horse, and told me his name was Mosco. Mosca means fly, and there was another horse who looked like she could be twins with mine named Mosca. The woman who was placed on Mosca and I got to be friends since the two horses wouldn't leave each other's side the whole ride there. If one stopped for water, the other stopped and waited. They wanted to be near each other. It made me happy that the horses were friends and that I was able to meet a new friend through their friendship. Alex is real tall, so they had to give him one of the bigger horses who was a little bit belligerent. He had a tougher time controlling him than I did with my horse but I was just lucky because my horse was peaceful and stayed on the path. On the way home, a pack of horses went on ahead and a pack stayed behind me, and I just got to ride alone in between the packs, just me and Mosco, for about 30 minutes until we were all caught up with each other. I pet him a lot and told him what a good horse he was. I fed him lots of banana leaves. 

 We went a little ways, stopping for breakfast at a little cafe. They had prepared some food for everyone on the tour, but the six of us from our hotel were all vegan, so lucky me, I got to explain carefully to our hosts that we don't consume animal products, but thank you. She was very sweet and brought us our coffee and fresh fruit. On the way back while we stopped for lunch, she had prepared us some amazing vegan tacos with the most authentic black beans and veggies. It was probably some of the most authentic and delicious food we had the whole trip. It was amazing to be staying at a hotel that attracted such cool people, and we made instant vegan friends! It was great to be surrounded by like-minded people that had been attracted to this place for the same reasons. We rode the horses up to the Nauyaca Waterfalls. There are two giant falls, one of which is 150 feet!

 Humidity is not easy on my hair :(

The second waterfall is a little smaller and you can swim in the pool it creates. We swam out and through the waterfalls together and it was so fun! That's me sitting on the rock on the right!

There's both of us!

While we were having lunch at the little cafe, a huge parrot came and perched on the roof beam. He was so colorful and I kept wanting to call him Señor Toucan, even though he isn't a toucan.

Someone gave him a tortilla and he picked it up and started eating it like a taco. The way he held it was so funny, he looked just like a little person!

We got back to our hotel in time for second lunch! They made us a raw pizza, but I'm not sure what the crust was made out of. It had a deep earthy flavor that was tough to swallow. I loved the hummus and mushrooms, so I just grabbed those with the lettuce leaves and dipped them in the turmeric sauce.

With second lunch we had some fresh pineapple juice!

This furry little dude, I guess he wasn't very little, came to visit us while we flipped through some travel magazines.

After (second) lunch we went to Dominical beach and grabbed some beers at a coffee shop and indulged ourselves in some wi-fi for a while. There was also a little health food shop in the beach village that had raw peanut butter chocolate pie by the slice. You can't really pass that up..

We just sat and talked for a while, and met with our friend, Ashley, who was staying at our hotel too. She was a great person to meet, and I'm so glad that through the course of events our paths crossed. It's great to meet vegans from around other parts of the country. She was from South Carolina, and said they are starting to open up new vegan shops and add lots of vegan options to menus. If veganism is spreading in South Carolina, I hope the rest of the country takes the hint and does the same!

It was getting to be close to 5pm by this time, and being winter there, it gets dark around 6. We hopped in our cab, and I chatted with our driver, who I'd made decent friends with by then too! He began and ended every interaction with me with "Pura Vida!" and made a peace sign. I liked him.

Not too much later it was dinner time again. New day, new juice. This one was watermelon!

We had soup each night, but I think this was the first one I took a picture of. It was zucchini soup! It had great clean zucchini flavor, and super light on the salt! I was really getting used to this no salt thing and started getting on board the no-salt train!

Dinner was Paella with tofu, and a beet tartar salad. I loved this dinner so much!!

Dessert was a raw black cherry tart with bananas and cinnamon. Dare I say I loved dessert more?

We had an early morning tour the next day, so we had just a few minutes for breakfast. They made us breakfast tacos!! Such a delicious tofu scramble with nice tomato flavor, and amazing hashbrowns. I wish I could eat this every morning.

We took our cab to Domincal Beach to sign up for white water rafting. We got there a few minutes before the surf shop giving the tour opened up so we just walked along the village until we saw a big van with a yellow raft strapped to the roof roll by. They saw us, and yelled out the window, "You ready for rafting?" And of course we were! I loved our guide for this tour. He kept complimenting me on my Spanish and saying that most "blanquitas" don't even try to speak it, so he was impressed. We took a long ride out to the Savegre River, and kept stopping along the way to show us different plants and teach us what they are used for, and explained all about the economy and the way of life of the people of Costa Rica. I thought it was great and made the ride really interesting.

I never quite got over how beautifully green Costa Rica is. Seriously.

 Ready for Rafting!

While the guides were getting the raft all ready to go in the water, we met a friend :) Most dogs in Costa Rica are strays. It was the same way in Puerto Rico. This one was very sweet and friendly.

We got all suited-up and our guide gave us the safety low-down and told us all about what to do in case of emergency. Can I remind you that I have never done any kind of adventure sport and just kind of showed up for these things?? While he was explaining what to do if you are thrown out of the raft and left behind, I started getting a little bit nervous.

It got pretty crazy at times, namely during the "gringo-eater" rapids.

We definitely had fun, and I'd definitely do it again.

We stopped in a little cove to see some waterfalls. We swam underneath them and had some fun relaxing in between braving the rapids. They also brought a completely vegan spread of fresh fruit, veggies, beans, and avocados that we snacked on before getting back on the river.

 We got back to the van after rafting and they took us to this little co-operative village called El Silencio. They made us some more amazing authentic food. The plates are known as "casados", which interestingly enough means married. That's what we are! Most of the time the plate includes meat, but they left that off for us. I could eat like this every day! 

We moseyed around Dominical Beach for a while before heading back to our hotel, figuring we had missed second lunch, but we were fed twice by the tour already, so I grabbed a coconut or "pipa" and sat by the beach for a few before we went back.

Juice that night was strawberry-melon. It was very mild, but very refreshing.

Potato Leek Soup! I make potato leek soup about a hundred times during the winter at home, so we were super thrilled to get this homey bowl of soup so far away from our little place in New York.

 Sorry! It was dark out!

For dinner we had quinoa, yuca and a veggie stir-fry with a cashew cream sauce.

Dessert did not disappoint. This was a raw chocolate tart with berries & cream sauce.

Typical morning

More amazing banana walnut pancakes

We had a tour planned for later in the afternoon, so after breakfast we went to the beach to poke around and get a little wi-fi fix.

Part of our package included a "Romantic Lunch" by the waterfall, and so we did that after our beach trip. They put out some beautiful flowers on the patio by the waterfalls and got us some nice red wine. We started with a broccoli tofu quiche.

Lunch was a nice big platter of fruits and fresh baked goods. My favorite was the mangosteen!! There was also papaya, mango, pineapple, strawberries, watermelon, kiwi, and grapes, They made some fresh zucchini bread and some chocolate truffles and raw chocolate coconut cookies. We were too full to move after this lunch.

Later that afternoon we went ziplining! Ziplining through the Costa Rican Jungle might have been the highlight of our trip. Being the winter, no one else was there to take the tour with us, so we went on it by ourselves! The guide explained tons of things to us about indigenous wildlife and the ecosystem, and pointed out lots of animals.

We saw four different sloths, some monkeys, a toucan, and lots of ants and insects. It was so cool to learn so much about the jungle while hiking through it.

Monkeys hide up in the palm trees and come down to open the cocoa plants and palm fruits. They usually hide from people, but we saw a few :)

 I wish we could have taken pictures of us ziplining but we didn't want to take my phone (our camera) up on the wire with us in case it dropped. It seemed too risky. I really wish we could have gotten some pictures, because it was such an amazing experience! I saw a sloth hanging out eating a leaf and hanging upside down while I swished through the jungle. You can see it from a whole different perspective when you ride across on a wire!

My favorite juice of the trip was the Guanábana juice. It was rich and frothy like coconut, but it had some nice sweet notes like a pineapple, but also a smooth taste like a banana. I must have more guanábana!!!

That evening the soup was  tomato-white bean. It was so delicious and I think it was my favorite soup we had during our time there!

Dinner was a Moroccan Tagine with fresh veggies and some tofu-stuffed mushrooms with a cous cous pilaf. I loved this dish!! I ate my mushrooms first and then eagerly eyed Alex's. He was too slow. I got all the mushrooms!

We had raw carrot cake for dessert! It was cinnamony and delicious.

Of course we had our juice and coffee the next morning while we pondered what we would do with our last day in Costa Rica.

These are amazing yuca cakes with some more of that delicious tofu scramble from breakfast-taco day. I thought they were potato, but then one of our hosts asked me how I like the yuca, and I was so surprised! I loved it! I had thought it was potato the whole time I was eating it, but now I will go home and make some yuca cakes!

After breakfast we hung out by the waterfalls until it was time for our surfing lesson!

Like I said, I really don't do adventure sports, so I am not sure what had gotten into me on this trip, but the more we did, the more we wanted to try! We went to the same surf shop that took us rafting and got the same guide as well! He was great, and really fun to surf with.

Surfing proved to be the biggest challenge for me. For starters, the board is too heavy for me to carry. There are tinier boards but they aren't good for beginners. I had a really tough time maneuvering it, but my guide helped me position myself and gave me a push when a wave came. I was able to stand up and ride the waves almost every time!! It was really fun! Alex had luck as well, and since he was a little stronger, he could get up and turn around all on his own. I was totally exhausted from all the paddling and it took a lot of effort to balance enough to stand up! I also had scraped my knees up like crazy from sliding on the board. I had some serious surfing scars later, but my guide reminded me, "No pain, No gain."

Bet you'd think we couldn't surf because we're not from California? Our guide says he's surfed all over the world, and if you can surf here in Dominical, you can surf anywhere. He said the water in California is too cold and the waves too small. Only a serious surfer says that! We surfed while the tide started to come in, and by the time it was fully high tide, it was certainly no place for beginners. The current is stronger than any I've ever seen. The waves are so gigantic that Alex stood and filmed them for about 20 minutes. It's kind of something you have to be there to see, but man do I have a lot of wave-footage!

We took our cab ride back home, away from Dominical Beach for the last time :(

We were sad to leave, but at least we had this nice mango juice to come back to!

 We had pasta for lunch!! It was the first pasta I had since beginning the salad/smoothie diet I implemented on myself during the month before my wedding. Let me tell you about it. This pasta with pesto was the most delicious thing in the world. Pasta is my spirit food. I am a grouch without it.
I am so happy we were reunited.

For dessert we had these little raw cannoli bites with coconut cream!

We hung out in our room for a while after lunch, went in our jacuzzi, packed up our bags and got some reading in before dinner.

I don't recall the exact flavor, but I think this was a pineapple/papaya hybrid juice.

The soup was a nice butternut squash bisque. I am not sure if butternut squash is native to Costa Rica, but I sure enjoyed it!

We had Seitan Stroganoff for dinner with brown rice and mixed veggies. I love stroganoff, you guys. I think I need to make the tofu one from Isa Does It ASAP.

Our last dessert was a homemade coconut ice cream over a vanilla poached pear with fresh fruit. A very nice way to say goodbye.

Our cab arrived early the next morning so we only had a few minutes to put as much fruit as we could into our mouths before setting off for our very long journey home.

We snapped a few more scenic shots of the countryside as we rode away.

We had to stop and see the crocodiles one more time on the way back!!

Overall I really recommend checking out Costa Rica if you're vegan, and also as an alternative to your average all-inclusive resort. We really enjoyed learning about the way of life here, and chatting with everyone we met along the way. Needless to say, the food was fantastic, and it was refreshing to be in a place full of people who cared so much about preserving the earth they live on. One of my guides said after we hiked to the top of a mountain, looking out over all the trees and plants that make up the scenery, "I never kill a plant. You never know if it is the last one of it's kind." It reminded me of the Lorax, and without the help of people like him, we might wipe out the vegetation that makes places like Costa Rica so beautiful. It was also nice to see people living in such harmony with their environment. No one kills the bugs. They learn about them and coexist. It was an eye-opening way of living that reminded me that we all are sharing the earth together, and that it belongs to no one. We had such an amazing week, and I'm sure we'd like to make our way back someday.