Tuesday, 22 March 2016


The Lincoln Park Zoo has to be THE best free thing to do in Chicago. I'm still floored by the fact it's free. Our friend, Iris, suggested we start at the south end and walk through the park on our way to the zoo. It is a beautiful naturalized area with paths, boardwalks and water features attracting the birds.

Still wondering about the "free" part of it (because it's a full size, very good zoo) I checked out their website. It's a privately managed organization and 2/3 of their budget is from fundraising, food service, retail and parking; the remaining 1/3 is covered by an annual subsidy from the Chicago Park District. One of their main goals is to ensure the zoo remains free and open to the public 365 days a year. Impressive! Which inspires me to give a donation.

King of the hill.
After lunch we did the round of outdoor stores (REI, North Face, Columbia - Patagonia was closed for the day) and the Apple store. With a coffee and reading break included, of course!

We passed by this church which was beautifully covered with vines. I love the contrast of old with new.

And we completely lucked out with the hotel room we got with a view down the street toward the lake and a gorgeous sunrise, including reflections off the glass of the buildings. 

Next stop: Home!  :-)

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Costa Rica - Osa Península

The sounds would have been right at home in a scary monster movie. But it was just the howler monkeys. It sounded like they and their howling screams were right outside our bungalow door on the first night (before we knew for sure what was making the sound) and they woke us up at about 4 a.m. every morning.

Our last few days in Costa Rica were spent at Lapa Rios, an eco lodge on a private reserve in the Osa Peninsula. This area is known for its incredible biodiversity in a country that is already known for biodiversity. Yes, we splurged but seeing all that we saw was well worth it. Squirrel, spider, howler and capuchin monkeys (all four kinds that reside in this area), colourful macaws (so beautiful when they fly together), toucans, many other birds, agouti, coatimundi, iguanas, sloths, spiders, bats, an armadillo and much, much more! I can hardly wait to see some of the photos Andrew took.

We did four guided hikes, one longer one on our own and several short wanders around the property to see what we could see.
On our early morning guided walk at 5:45 these squirrel monkeys were in the tree right off the deck of the main lodge.
It was the only morning we saw them there so close so we were very lucky!
The trogons were one of the few birds that actually got close enough and sat still long enough
for me to take a photo will my little camera.
Iguana in a tree.
Bats hiding under the palms. We were shown these on the night hike but they were still there the next morning.
Baby iguana.
Beautiful waterfall.
Lapa Rios is designated by National Geographic as one of the "unique lodges of the world" -- one of only two in Costa Rica with this designation. A large part of that is their environmental initiatives. For example:

  • bamboo straws 
  • no plastic bottles
  • use of biodegradable cleaning products 
  • solar panels for hot water 
  • fans only, no air conditioning
  • methane gas production from the pigs kept onsite (5 pigs produce enough to supply 4 hours of fuel per day)
  • very high percentage of food purchased from local suppliers, thereby supporting the local economy (In addition, 95% of the staff are from the local area.)
  • gradual replacement of real palm roofs with synthetic palm (Real palm has a lifespan of 5 years and destroys the rainforest; synthetic palm lifespan is 20 years. Interestingly, the synthetic palm is manufactured by a Canadian company! And unless you look closely, you wouldn't notice the difference.)
  • and I'm sure much more that I'm missing! 

Winding staircase too lookout in the main lodge area.
Really liked the wood carving at the top of the bar. Andrew working on photos!
Outside the main lodge.
Pool area, looking out towards the ocean. Shockingly, Andrew and I spent a couple hours each day
lazing by the pool and enjoying a drink. Definitely not part of our normal routine but also got to watch for birds,
iguanas, etc. from this location.
I didn't even have to get out of bed to take this sunrise photo!
Outdoor shower in private deck area of our bungalow.

Inside our bungalow.

Our only disappointment with the lodge was the food service. The staff were very nice and friendly but the service was extremely slow at times and, while there were several vegetarian options, none of the main dishes were memorable or flavourful enough that we wanted to order them a second time. This was surprising given the price and reputation of the lodge. On a positive note, the desserts were good!  :-)

Otherwise the service was great! Upon our arrival, and at the end of each guided hike, we were greeted at the entrance of the lodge by staff with glasses of ice water, juice and cold refreshing washcloths. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and it was amazing how they were able to find all the creatures they did.

Overall, a very nice and relaxing part of our holiday! 

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Costa Rica Paragliding 4

During our last few days of paragliding we stopped at Hacienda Baru (near Dominical) and went through their butterfly garden. I got a few decent photos of flowers while Andrew concentrated mostly on the butterflies. We also went to Reptilandia (which sounds sort of hokey but was actually really good!) I left the photography to Andrew on that one.

We flew a few more times at Dominical and Hatillo. Dominical is definitely my favourite for the beach landings and the last couple flights there I managed to catch some great thermals! Sadly, this may be one of the last years this site is available due to the land where the launch is being developed and some of the owners not really being paragliding friendly.

It's unbelievable how hot is is here! Sweating is a constant state and even immediately after having a shower it doesn't take much movement to sweat again! The past couple days my shirt and pants feel just as damp after I've rinsed them out at the end of the day as before I rinse them!

We now have another six days here and will be heading down to the Oso Peninsula for some bird watching and hiking. Will be good to relax a bit more although I'm sure we'll sweat just as much!

I really liked this flower for the design on one petal and not the others. I thought it was very unique but Andrew tells me a similar flower can be found at Innovation Place in Saskatoon. 
There are many different kinds of passion flowers in Costa Rica.

The skies at Dominical were busy a couple days with both tandem and solo pilots. Fun to take photos with more gliders in the air!

Andrew about to land on the beach.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Costa Rica Paragliding 3

Caldera was on!

After a few days in Dominical, we headed back north to fly at Caldera. It was very busy with tandem flights (two pilots doing tandem after tandem all afternoon long) but there were only about four solo pilots so despite there being a lot of people hanging around at launch, it wasn't that busy in the air.

I really liked this site once I got well above the ridge line and didn't have to worry about trees. And it's a pretty easy bail-out to the official landing zone or the beach so, relatively speaking, was reasonably stress free.

Most of the photos are of Andrew (red, white and yellow wing).

We mostly flew along the front ridge but, with enough height, we were able to head over to the point
(near the lower greenish coloured glider).
If you look closely, you can see 4-5 gliders just left of centre of the photo.

I just happened to luck out getting the other glider and the boat in the photo with me!
The official landing zone is just to the left of the buildings (yes, a cow pasture) but all of us landed on the beach.
The launch site is very nice.  An area with shade and a nice restaurant too! The very experienced tandem pilots top-landed which looked very tricky and required a tremendous amount of skill! 
The launch site is the bare patch along the ridge; the best lift was at the far end of the ridge; when we got enough height we flew over to the point where this photo is taken from. I came in for landing soon after taking this photo. 

We thought there might be opportunity for a second flight but wind shifted and the clouds came in.
All in all, a great day of flying!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Costa Rica Paragliding 2

We've been flying the past few days at Dominical and have had some really good flights! When the wind is right, you get great lift right off of launch and can soar along the ridge and/or thermal up. If you don't get any lift or when the wind starts to back off to a point that you get below launch, you have to head to the beach which is about 3+ km away. There's a soccer field to bail out on but luckily we haven't had to use it.

Photos are from five different flights. Andrew's had six flights here as of yesterday; I didn't do a second one in the afternoon due to cough/cold/headache. Feeling somewhat better today!
The launch site. 
Andrew taking off.
In the air, just after takeoff. 
First turn after takeoff.

Dominicalito Beach on the left, Domincal Beach on the right. We usually landed at Dominicalito after first flight as it's closer to get back to launch again, and then Dominical (where our hotel is) after the second flight.

Gorgeous views!
Andrew coming in for landing.

Safe on the ground!
Cows in the LZ.