Panicked in Paradise

“Relaxing” at our cabin

Our next to last day in Costa Rica was snorkeling day! We were staying in Puerto Viejo, and thanks to a certain adopted cat meowing at our bungalow door all night, I was wide awake at 5am. I decided to use this time alone wisely, and headed to the beach to watch the sunrise.

For some reason, I was extra anxious during my Costa Rican/Honeymoon/Family vacation. Sometimes, trying to relax causes me more anxiety. Growing up with an anxiety disorder I conditioned myself to always being on the go. Staying busy constantly was often the only way to not get lost in my panic-stricken thoughts.

I remember several occasions when my Mom would wake up me up at 6:30am, and I’d open my eyes confused and exhausted because I’d accidently fallen asleep on my Physics book with the lights on, and still wearing my complete ballet attire, shoes and everything. I would just go-go-go until I would eventually pass out, only to wake up a few hours later and do it all again.

During spring break my junior year, there was one night that I had no plans. My boyfriend was out of town, my friends were with their boyfriends, and I had nothing to do for the first time in a VERY long time. I helped my Mom cook dinner, took a walk around the neighborhood, and tried to watch TV. That night ended in a major panic attack. I remember running to my Mom, barely able to breathe, chest pounding, crying, and unable to explain to her what was wrong. I had no idea how to chill out and enjoy doing nothing. I was accustomed to being occupied; I could not handle being alone with my thoughts.

Over the years, this has gotten a lot better. Living in Albania last year was an enormous help. I HAD to relax in Albania, there was very often nothing to do except chill out and enjoy life…at which I got better.

This year, with all the wedding planning, I regressed. I was so busy with work, life in NYC, and wedding to-do’s. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was avoiding down time.

When I found myself laying in a hammock in Costa Rica, I was anything but relaxed. It was more like being in shock. I spent SO much time shaking, being nauseous, and desperately trying to enjoy a vacation that I had planned for months. For reasons only a therapist can explain, I was anxious about everything, convinced I was ill, and making myself pretty damn miserable. On top of the panic was guilt. I felt ungrateful for not enjoying this trip. I felt even worse for Husband. Why should he have to put up with this on our honeymoon? It wasn’t fair to either of us.

Keeping busy by zip-lining, hiking, and cuddling animals helped a lot. Practicing all my regular anti-anxiety practices, and breathing techniques also helped. Husband’s reassurance definitely helped. Reminding myself that it WILL pass and I WILL survive, was probably the most helpful.

Fast forward to “snorkeling day”, and I was finally beginning to wind down. I sat in the sand, dogs rolling around beside me, and was relieved that I was able to actually enjoy that moment, alone. I realized at this moment that my anxiety attacks are brutal, but also beneficial. It makes beautiful moments like that morning so much more memorable. My moments of tranquility are rare, but when it happens it’s appreciated so much more. Being calm and feeling relaxed is something I will never take for granted.

Thanks to my serene morning, I was more than ready for a day on the water. We went snorkeling off the coast of Cahuita at two different reefs for a couple hours in the Caribbean and were lucky enough to see giant sea turtles, stingrays, glowing fish, sea urchins, neon eels, starfish, and sharks!!!

Our friend Paul decked out in his scuba gear

Chasing a sting ray

Zoey and I trying to be sloth-like

Unfortunately, spending half the day with my face in the water and bum in the air led to one of the most painful sunburns of my life. My ass has never seen so much sun. I spent the night with my bare bum covered in aloe under the ceiling fan. Zoey, also very burnt, kept me company and we laid together watching Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Can you see just how red those cheeks are?

A blistering sunburn is actually much more pleasant than a panic attack, so it turned out to be a pretty good night.

Actually, it was a pretty great Honeymoon…”excited outbursts” and all.  It was positively panicked, which is actually pretty perfect.

Cheers!

Surprises

Before the wedding, I informed Husband that it’s tradition to get the bride a surprise the day of the wedding. He took me by surprise immediately, and informed me that the groom also gets a present. He’s smarter than he looks. I am terrible at keeping secrets or surprises, especially from Husband, so I “accidentally” told him his surprise a month before the wedding. He is terrible at leaving his laundry on the floor, so I also accidentally found the receipt for my surprise in his pocket.

Husband’s gift to me was taking me on the Wild Africa Trek at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Here’s Disney description of this tour:

Join the ultimate animal adventure! Journey deep into Pangani Forest on a thrilling, privately guided expedition featuring close encounters with exotic wildlife species. Get closer than you ever dreamed possible to Nile crocodiles and massive hippos. Venture on to a VIP safari across an open savanna teeming with native African creatures!

During the tour they gave us our own water canteens, name tags, and safari vests. We walked all over the “backstage” area of the Kilimanjaro Safari, and we got breaks often for water and jungle juice.

Disney only allows 12 people at a time to sign up for the tours, which makes it really personal and relaxed.

Whenever we’d get close to the animals, they would force us to harness ourselves into these long metal rods (kind of like being harnessed to a closet). We could stretch out pretty far, but just far enough to not put ourselves at risk.

At every animal stop, the guides would tell us all about the animal we were viewing. Not only would we get a nice science lesson on the species, but we would get a history lesson about the specific animal we were watching. This hippo, for example, is a male and has to live alone because he is very aggressive towards other males, and is not allowed to mate with the females right now. He also loves to eat corn on the cob.

About halfway through, they took us over some 30 ft tall rope bridges that crossed over the alligator swamp. Disney is a little ridiculous with their safety measures. We were triple protected as we walked over the bridges.

After all the walking, they put us in the back of what can only be described as pick-up truck with benches, and drove us through the Savannah. They gave us more water, some ice-cold, scented cloths to keep us cool, and binoculars. They stopped in the middle to allow us to use our binoculars and ask several question about the giraffes, wildebeests, and other wild African animals. During our stop several animals decided to stand in the middle of the road used for the Safari. It took them over half an hour to get them all off the tracks. This turned out to be great for us because several giraffes came right up to our car to get a closer look at us. I also got to take advantage of the tour guides and really pick their brains about the animals they keep at Animal Kingdom.

Disney actually works with numerous other zoos around the world who are all on a big zoo committee together. Each zoo in this group is really careful that each species live in a perfect environment with the right amount of space. To stick to these rules, they have to be VERY careful that no animals breed unless they are POSITIVE there is room for the baby. Soooo for example, if the Animal Kingdom wants two of their giraffes to have a baby they have to make sure that, if they are at giraffe capacity, another zoo has to agree to take the baby. If no zoo has room for the baby, then Disney has to make sure the giraffes do not mate.

Once the roads were clear, we drove to a little hut in the middle of the Savannah for lunch. My vegetarian meal was unbelievable! Eating in the Savannah while watching the wildebeests and the elephants was a pretty unbelievable experience too.

As we were eating, a storm started rolling in, and we had to pack up, jump in the truck, and head back. This storm turned out to be the best part of the whole tour. It made all of the animals go wild! Typically, when you go on the Kilimanjaro Safari, you will see lots of sleeping, hiding-in-the-shade, or under-the-water-animals, but this storm woke everyone up. The giraffes were racing for shelter, the cheetahs were alert at the edge of their field, and the lions were stretching and sharpening their claws.

The tour was really fun, and a week after we got back to NYC, Disney sent us a DVD with hundreds of pictures from out tour.

My surprise to Husband was SUPPOSED to be a day of swimming with manatees. Turns out, Husband was less than thrilled about taking a manatee excursion during our Disney vacation. (Who doesn’t want to swim with manatees??? What kind of  person did I marry????) I decided to cancel meeting the manatees, and planned on a special NYC surprise once we returned. But, I’ve typed enough for today so that will just have to wait until tomorrow!

Cheers!

The Wild Side

I took a break from all the animal talk yesterday, but that’s really as long as I can go when discussing our Costa Rican Honeymoon. Besides spending a large portion of our time snuggling dogs and cats, we also spent some quality time with the wild animals of the rainforest.

My number one goal for this trip was to get upclose and personal with some Rainforest creatures. This is one thing we have yet to do on any vacation. So, while staying in La Fortuna we booked a tour at the Wild Animal Rescue Center. This rescue center not only takes in numerous injured and rescued local animals, but they offer tours, volunteer programs, Spanish language classes, and a pretty unforgettable experience.

We signed up for a tour/volunteer program. For the first couple of hours we were introduced to each different animal, informed of why they where there, if/when they’d be released, what they eat, what eats them…etc, etc. The best part was that they allowed us to pet almost every animal! It was amazing!

After all the animal greetings, we had a coffee break with juice, snacks, and of course, coffee. Then, it was time for us to be put to work! They had us cut up fruits and veggies, and make a mixture of seeds, flour, and water (It was like cookie dough for animals). After, preparing all the food they sent us to the cages, rooms, and areas where the animals lived for feeding time.

SO. FREAKIN. FUN.

There was one baby monkey (2 years old) named Coco who was extra friendly and playful. Since, he is a baby, they do not consider him a threat and allowed him to wrap his tail around us, lick us, and play with us.

Coco getting a little excited with Zoey’s hair.

At one point he tried to take my sunglasses, but I quickly snatched them back before he pulled them into his home.

Coco did NOT like this.

Coco went ape$h!t. He immediatly started screaming like a banchy, began shaking the gates, shaking his head rapidly, reached through the gates, grabbed my shirt, and started pulling at it with all his might.

If I were in the wild and this happened, I am sure I’d be pretty defensive and try to fight the monkey off of me. I was not in the wild though. I was in a rescue center where I’d just spent a half hour feeding, playing with, and getting to know baby Coco. There was no way I’d consider hurting him! So I just stood there…in shock…allowing him to yank and attempt to tear my tank top to shreds.

Eventually the tour guide came over and stopped him. It was a quite a show for everyone else on the tour.

We had such a good experience (minus the attacking monkey) that we visited another animal rescue center in Puerto Viejo. This place turned out to be 100 times better than the first place!

First of all, this place returns WAY more animals to the wild, it is bigger, nicer, better equipped, and has a more knowledgable staff. (I mean no offense to the first place, I know they are doing everything they possibly can with everything they have.) Not only, did we have a better, more informative experience, but we got to actually hold monkeys, touch sloths, and play with a deer!!!

This poor little girl has brain damage and was just learning to walk again.

UNBELIEVABLE!

We had such a great time that I suggested to Zoey that we spend the entire next day volunteering so we could get some more quality time with the animals, especially the baby sloths. Well, we asked about volunteering, and it turns out that  you have to stay for at least 3 weeks if you want to volunteer.

Obviously, I could not commit to 3 weeks. Zoey, on the other hand, has all the time in the world….AND exactly 3 weeks until our family Hilton Head Island vacation. How convenient!

So, after a little persuasion and motivation, Zoey stayed! That’s right, we left our little Zoey in Costa Rica. So, if your interested in how she’s surviving in this tiny Caribbean town, read her blog here! Spoiler alert: She loses a sloth on only her second day!

Miss you Zoey!

Cheers!

Oh a Hiking We Will Go…

During our wedding, one of Husband’s best friends gave a really nice speech. In this speech he stated how I am a perfect match for Husband because of my adventurous spirit, and Husband needs a partner who is willing to cliff dive, jump out of planes, and eat out of street carts in China with him.

I am MORE than happy to do all of these things with Husband. I love traveling, being spontaneous, and even a little dangerous. As active and adventurous as I am, I do not hold a candle to Husband. That boy NEVER stops. His ADHD and energy level competes with that of a first grader.

By our 5th day in Costa Rica we’d already been hiking, zip lining, swimming, and more. It was late afternoon and I was ready to relax in one of the hotel’s natural hot springs with a book, but Husband was still running circles around me, and looking for something more exciting to do.

The five of us agreed to take the “waterfall hike” advertised at our resort. The walk started off gorgeous. It was a downhill hike through the rainforest, shady, cool, and scenic. About ten minutes in we came across a few signs…

Hike at own risk!

Danger!

For advanced hikers only!

Do not pass!

Being us, we ignored the signs and kept walking. We are those annoying people who believe that nothing applies to us and that we are invincible. So we continued on our journey.

Surprisingly enough, the trail became ridiculously dangerous. It was muddy, slick, very steep, covered in vines and broken limbs, and eventually became no trail at all. Mom-in-law, Zoey, and myself, turned back. We were nowhere near a waterfall, and climbing back up was definitely looking like the smarter option.

Husband and Dad-in-law kept trucking a long. I was happy they found something to keep themselves busy, and even happier to finally have some time to relax and maybe read some of my book.

My view from one of the hot springs.

However, it wasn’t long until Zoey and I started feeling left out. We were worried they’d get to the waterfall and it would be amazing, but we were more worried that the two boys were lost, and were most likely walking back in the wrong direction.

Lucky for the boys, we took the rental car, drove through the woods, got a little lost, eventually parked, hiked a ways, and found them. They’d barely made the hike (which they said was the most treacherous hike of their lives), found the waterfall, and were scared away by a howling monkey.

Lucky for us there are A LOT of waterfalls in Costa Rica, and most of them are much easier to get access!

This one was on another slippery trail at our last resort, but just slippery enough for me to make it.
Mom-in-law being the bravest (or maybe the hottest..) of all near Mt. Arenal.
Can you see me???

The La Fortuna waterfall, was easier, but still over 700 steep steps down and back up. (Yeah…we counted!) This waterfall was by far the prettiest, and the coldest. We swam and relaxed for a while, but I spent the majority of the time laying on a big hot rock trying to get warm.

Costa Rica also has volcanoes…the two we visited were Mt. Poas and Mt. Arenal. My new Dad-in-law was a little camera happy when it came to the volcanoes, so it only seems right that I post a few pictures of them…in his honor.

Oh, how nice it was… I guess I’ll have to find a new adventure to keep Husband busy here in NYC.

Cheers!

Must Love Dogs…and Cats

I’m going to sound a little repetitive after yesterday’s blog, but I love animals. My favorite is obviously Belle. Poor Belle. While we were out gallivanting around Orlando and Costa Rica, she was left in NYC with Zoey’s cats. And, to add insult to injury I spent a large portion of our “honeymoon” snuggling orphan dogs and cats.

No matter where we went in Costa Rica, the stray animals, and some not stray, sought us out! (It may have been the bag of cat food Zoey we carrying in her purse…) Either way, we were able to get our “pet” time in with the local animals.

A couple days ago, I introduced you to Girl and Cat, the animals of Paos Lodge.

Our next stop was our resort in La Fortuna at Mt. Arenal. Immediately we found two scrawny cats (whom I deemed Costa and Rica) and fed them our leftovers. Two days later there were about 5 cats and they’d each be waiting on the porches of our bungalows for leftovers, cat food, and lots of petting.

I was feeling such a connection with the Costa Rican cats that I started feeling a little invincible towards all animals. While visiting one resort, I decided it was perfectly safe to pet the wild ocelots.

They nuzzled my hands, licked my fingers, pawed at me for me, and eventually bit me. It probably wasn’t the best idea.

The next hotel we stayed at was in Puerto Viejo. This hotel was made for nature lovers! It’s located across the street from an unspoiled beach, in the middle of the jungle, and surrounded by hammocks and animals.

The first morning we were there Zoey walked to the beach to watch the sunrise. As she passed a group of palm trees she heard a tiny “meow”, and looked to the tree to find a teeny baby kitten. Immediately she picked it up, knowing it needed help. As she is scooping up the baby, another baby kitten falls from the tree and lands on her back!

At 5:30am, Husband and I are woken by Zoey pounding on our door. I opened the door to find her swaddling the two kittens.

We spent the next three days keeping the kittens fed, watered, and warm. Oh, and we named them Mary Kate and Ashley. Mary Kate is the skinny one..obviously. After lots of pleading, the hotel owners (who had already adopted 3 dogs and a few cats) agreed to make sure these kittens were also taken care of.

This cat, who I named MooLatte, adopted us. She woke us every morning by meowing at our door, and even brought us a dead mouse as a present one morning… so sweet, and disgusting.
Two of the adopted dogs.

Even the last place we stayed, a super nice hotel right outside of San Jose, had a cat…a very well fed cat…for us to love on.

I’d like to tell you this is the end of the animal posts and pictures…put I haven’t even touched on the wild animals of Costa Rica!

Cheers!

F.O.B.

When Husband forced me to see the Flights of Wonder bird show at Animal Kingdom, there was a character in the performance that claimed to have F.O.B. (Fear Of Birds). I immediately connected with this character.

I love animals. I even like birds. In fact, I had a pet bird when I was little. It was a cockatiel named Spikey. Maybe, Spikey is where my bird issues began. I LOVED animals as a child. I wanted to be a veterinarian, live on a farm, and rescue every animal I came across. Also, I wanted to hold and snuggle every animal, including Spikey.

Birds, however, do not enjoy snuggling, or even being pet. I found it very difficult to interact with Spikey. I took it personally, and never understood what Spikey had against me and my cuddling ways.

I had issues with parrots too. The pet store in my hometown was my favorite place in the mall. They had hamsters, mice, guinea pigs, and rabbits out for people to hold and cuddle anytime! I often stayed in the store snuggling these rodents while my Mom racked up the sales items at JCPenny.

My favorite snuggle partners were the bunnies, which were also the most challenging. You see, two giant parrots guarded the bunny container. These parrots sat on top of perches above the bunny home, and angrily squawked and pecked at anyone who reached their hand towards the bunnies, namely, me.

Getting a bunny out was like going shopping with Husband. He screeches at me, tries to knock the item out of my hand, but I still get what I want in the end.

The parrots never physically hurt me, but they scarred me, emotionally.

Costa Rica is known for having some really beautiful birds. While traveling through Costa Rica we stopped at several places that kept birds in a bird type sanctuary or in a rescue facility. The first place we visited with birds is called the Peace Lodge. I chose to keep my distance from the birds, but Husband had different plans.

He decided the best way to get over my fear is to enter the Toucan house. Can’t you see the excitement on my face?

Again, why do I cover my ears?

My Mom-in-law happily allowed one on her arm. So, Husband tells the worker that I too would love a toucan on my arm.

SO brave

Even as we walked around the grounds and Zoey spotted a pretty bird in a faraway tree, you can see the fear in my eyes as I curl my hand towards my face… It could attack at any moment!

I know this fear is irrational, but I still chose to spend my time with the butterflies instead. I think that’s a good start to working my way up to birds.

“here butterflies, here little butterflies”

By day four I had a real break through. We visited the Animal Wildlife Rescue and Reserve in La Fortuna where we got to volunteer and meet and pet lots of wild animals. At the end of the tour we were allowed to feed the animals after preparing their food. I REALLY did not want to miss out on any aspect of this, so after skipping the first 10 birdcages, I finally entered one.

Yay me!

I’m not the only one who conquered a fear. Zoey and Mom-in-law went zip-lining (although Zoey has done it before, and Mom-in-law only did the beginning..). Still counts.

Yay Zoey!

AND Peter, Dad-in-law, and myself did the Tarzan swing! The Tarzan swing is a terrifying free fall where the rope catches you at the end and you wind up swinging up as high as the tree tops, just like Tarzan. Attached is my video. Spoiler alert: I scream like a fool.

Our entire trip was thrilling. I don’t think I’ll be adopting a bird anytime soon, but maybe I’ll actually look at them next time I visit a zoo.

Cheers!

Hotel in Heaven

The first half of our honeymoon was spent with my family and several friends. We loved our time at Disney, but we were ready for a romantic getaway. So, the second half of our Honeymoon was spent in beautiful Costa Rica… with Husband’s family.

Anytime I mention that we spent our honeymoon with family, people look at me like I’m insane, followed with the response “Why?!?”.

Well, we chose to travel with them because, lucky for us, we really get along with both sets of in-laws, enjoy spending time with them, and we were also trying to stick with tradition.

For the last four years we have gone on several international trips with Husband’s family…including China, Japan, Italy, Paris, all of Scandinavia, and Iceland. Our goal has been to go to at least one new country each year. Husband and I didn’t want to ruin that goal by going to Costa Rica without them.

It just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have someone handling the maps, someone getting lost, someone getting sick, someone reading, someone getting in trouble, and a car full of people screaming at each other whether or not Doug Funny is a considered a celebrity.

The first stop in Costa Rica was Poas Lodge…located near Poas Volcano. This lodge looked like a tiny dinky restaurant, just big enough for 5 tables, when we pulled up, not at all like a place to stay the night.

As we entered we were greeted by a friendly dog named Girl, a cat named Cat, and two super nice guys named Oliver and Mark, who ran the place.

 

Girl
Poor Cat had a huge scar from an injury on her mouth

 

But, even better than the friendly ensemble, was the giant wall made entirely of windows with the most incredible view.

 

Husband enjoying the view with Girl

 

And, it just kept getting better. All the rooms, 6 in total, were built under the first floor and into the side of the mountain. Every room had it’s own giant wall of windows with the spectacular view. The bed was made of clouds, and the animals were allowed anywhere they please, including our rooms. It was heaven.

 

The owners made all the meals, and were thrilled to whip up dinner as soon as we arrived. We ate a fantastic meal of rice, beans, chips, salsa, plantains, quesadillas, soup, fish and salad (all homemade) as the sun was setting. Then, they started the wood burning fire place by our table, and we all got to curl up on the couch with blankets. It was surprisingly cold.

 

 

I slept like a baby, woke as the sun was coming up, and had a breakfast equivalent to the previous dinner. We hated to leave Mark, Oliver, Girl, and Cat, but we’d yet to venture into very far into Costa Rica, and a long itinerary was awaiting us.

 

 

Stay tuned for stories of volcanoes, waterfalls, monkeys, sloths, scary scary birds, and a surprise ending!

 

Cheers!