Adventures

Raw Coffee and the Rainforest

Costa Rican journal entry

31 December 2017

Notes on the bus.

Coffee plantation this morning! I want to write down all I learned, but we’re on a bus and I’m pretty nauseated.

We picked coffee berries, the one I picked was called a ‘peaberry,’ it’s a genetic mistake! One of the beans in the berry absorbs the sugar of the other – it’s sterile, but much sweeter. I ended up buying the roasted ground peaberry coffee.

Peaberry- genetic mutant
The peaberry, the red is the covering, the larger bean is the one that takes all the sugar from the other bean!

We tried raw coffee too, unroasted, called a golden bean. There’s no coffee taste, but lots of caffeine!

I learned there’s a parchment like covering of the bean that is used to make coffee paper, but the plantation we visited uses it as fuel when they are roasting. Our plantation guide told us they try not to waste any part of the plant.

raw coffee
The coffee bean and the paper like covering

We also learned a lot about the workers, how many of them are from Nicaragua and work during the harvest season. They’re given housing and food and transportation, and are paid based on their harvest- a per basket type of system. Unfortunately, many of the workers are separated from their families during the harvest season.

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Coffee berries!

Our guide told us about the process of making decaf coffee. Apparently they send the beans they want to be decaf to a company in Germany who removes the caffeine and sells it to Pepsi and Coke for them to make caffeinated soda! It blew my mind. Our plantation guide told us it’s great for the plantation because of the international relationship, and obviously the money they earn selling the caffeine.


Doka Estate

Doka Estate
Cafe Tres Generaciones (Three Generations Coffee)

The plantation we went to, Doka Estate, owned by the Vargas family is also home to the country’s oldest wet mill. Basically the wet mill separates the high and low quality coffee berries- the high quality float while the low quality berries sink. After that the berries are shucked and the beans exposed, then dried. The beans are still covered in that papyrus/ parchment material that the estate uses to fuel their roasting.

oldest wet mill in the country

The beans are dried outdoors on large cement flats and raked every 45 minutes. We got to rake them! None of us were very good and our lines were pretty wavy compared to the workers impeccable straight line; and we went less than half way across the flat!

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Our plantation guide showing us how to rake the drying beans

The grounds of the plantation were absolutely beautiful. There were so many different plants and trees, natural to the area, but placed by the estate. We met a little dog when we first arrived, he was a big hit, obviously.

sun drying coffe

Our plantation guide let us try a chocolate coffee drink with cinnamon, I can’t remember the name of it, but they made it there and oh man, it was fantastic. We also sampled coffee blends and chocolate covered coffee beans. Like I said, I bought the peaberry blend. It was so sweet, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to make it as well as they did. Haha.

Wet mill
The wet mill, once more berries are added it will be filled with water

After our coffee tour we bought some souvenirs and then walked through their butterfly garden, it wasn’t overstuffed with an unnatural amount like some American butterfly gardens I’ve been to, but the size and variety of butterflies and moths was incredible. The flowers alone would have been worth the visit! Our trip guide, Rhyan, told us Costa Rica is home to over a thousand species of butterfly and moth.

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On our drive leaving the plantation we saw some coffee pickers. We had learned that all the coffee is hand picked. The workers are given money for each basket of coffee they fill as well as housing, bills, and transportation during the 5 month harvest season.

Driving to and fro

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As we made our way to the next hotel, we pulled over at La Paz waterfall. The constant beauty of the landscape amazes me and even though it had started pouring we all got out to get a better look and take pictures.

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It was my first waterfall, and despite being relatively small, it took my breath away. Rhyan assured us it was nothing compared to the waterfall we’d be seeing later on the trip.

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La Paz

Before we made it to the hotel, we again pulled over randomly because Rhyan had spotted a couple of toucans in a tree beside the road! We stayed on the bus this time, but we all rushed to one side to make sure we could see them. My pictures were all blurry from the rainy window, but it’s an incredible memory to have.

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La Paz

I can’t remember if we went to the hotel and then lunch or the other way around, but the spot we stopped at was great! It looked like a little hole in the wall, but everything was delicious.

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My first Costa Rican casado

We had our first casados, the veg option omitting meat and replacing it with a side of steamed vegetables. We also got a fizzy pineapple and peppermint drink. It sounds disgusting and strange, but was actually magical. I wish I could post a video of it!

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Arenal Volcano

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After our lunch was our hike on the Arenal volcano! I keep using exclamation point because I’m still in shock that I’ve done these things- hiked on a recently active volcano! Though, because of its status we weren’t allowed at the very top.

greens

path

We didn’t see much wildlife, which disappointed some people, but honestly the forest itself and the noises were amazing. It was windy so everything was kind of rustle-y, especially at the base of the volcano where things weren’t growing as close together.

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A coati that was digging for food in our path! (Had to zoom since we didn’t want to get too close, so it’s blurry)

The colors were so vivid- mostly green, all exquisite, but also rich, deep browns in the structures and the Earth- broad tree trucks and spindly tan branches; fast growing light bamboo and older, dying, nearly grey leaves.

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Occasionally there were pops of brilliant blues, almost neon oranges, and yellows that reminded me of the crayons we used as kids to draw the sun. Once or twice we spotted pale purple orchids with light yellow centers. This was towards the top and they were covered in rain drops.

tree

In a text to Boyfriend I bragged on the mud that covered my shoes, the rain that soaked my clothes and skin, and the smile I couldn’t contain. I don’t know what exactly had come over me, I don’t know what exactly had taken my soul so hard and refused to let go as I stared up at the branches, pour umbrellas that they were. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking, I couldn’t recreate the awe, the wonder, the delight- when would I ever be here again, when would I feel this good again?

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The view from the highest point of our hike (not the top of the volcano)
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This is Lake Arenal

We came across a tree, some jokingly calling it ‘the tree of life,’ so wide and tall we couldn’t have gotten it all in a photo. It was awe inspiring. I know I keep using that word, but it’s all I’ve got that makes sense, that captures the slack-jawed, wide-eyed stares that continued to cover my face- not just on this hike, but on this trip. Nearly everything in Costa Rica has filled my heart with the awe and joy I’ve already written about and will definitely continue to mention.

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The “tree of life”
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These roots!!

Stuck in my head

After our hike we went to our hotel, The San Bosco Inn of LA Fortuna. It was a block from the center of town and across the street from a fast food place I desperately wanted to try because of their vegan option, but they were closed for the holidays.

Everyone was soaked from the hike so we showered, some of us napped. We had our first group dinner. I got pasta and tried my first Imperial. It wasn’t great- something I would drink again because of what it is and where I was, but I’m really not a beer drinker to begin with. Boyfriend would probably love it and that’s exactly what I thought when I finished it.

He crossed my mind a lot during that dinner. I thought about how miserable he’d probably be soaked in that rain forest, but how much he’d excel at the physicality of the muddy, rocky steps. I thought about how many pictures he’d take when we got to the highest point. I missed him suddenly and difficultly, I felt lonely suddenly, realizing I was so in my head that day that I hadn’t used our long hike as an opportunity to bond more with my roommate, Nicki. I made a silent promise to enjoy the group part of my “group travel” a little more.

After dinner we picked up our tickets to the disco we were going to- they were throwing a New Year’s Eve party. It was called Volcán Look Disco and honestly was the sketchiest looking building I’d ever seen, but when we arrived later that night it was much more appealing (with security and colorful lights).

Before actually heading to the party, we all had to get ready (less post-hike clothes and more party clothes). I, of course, had not truly thought about the full itinerary when I was packing and so had no ‘disco’ clothes and had only brought some light foundation, eyebrow mascara, and a nude lip.

Among all the full faces I saw others putting on I felt angry at myself for being so thoughtless. But, also a glimmer of pride because I’d left my makeup behind under the sentiment of not caring what others thought, and not needing to impress anyone. However, that confidence had fled now that Boyfriend wasn’t standing behind my suitcase telling me how beautiful I was and triple checking I didn’t need him to buy me something or give me spare spending money.

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I complained lightly to Nicki, already completely ready while she finished her hair and makeup. She lent me mascara and another girl we met lent me an eye shadow palette and glitter glue (it was New Years after all).

I managed to play up my eyes and use the palette for a darker lip- though it didn’t last past my first drink. And even though I was in a shirt I only wear to work, my only pair of jeans, and my water shoes, because my only other shoes were soaked by mud, I was ready for my New Years Adventure at a Costa Rican Disco. ♥

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Today

24 Things I’m Glad I Did Before 24

Last week I celebrated my 24th birthday and I can honestly say it was the best one yet. I know that’s such a cliche and people tend to say that every year, but Boyfriend surprised me and I spent quality time with my family (including a great phone conversation with my out-of-state sister). It was just pure joy all day. And it’s not over! I am “one of those” and celebrate my birthday all month long. Boyfriend’s been great about that. Haha!

All the love I felt so far this month has me feeling very reflective. I started thinking about the things I’ve loved about my life. So here’s a list, they’re not in chronological order, just kind of brain dumped. Haha. Enjoy ♥

24 Things I’m Glad I Did Before 24

  1. Travel internationally: alone!
  2. Got my Bachelor’s Degree
  3. Made six North-South cross country trips- two of which I drove!
  4. Attended the D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival
  5. Saw Pope Francis when he came to the States!
  6. Got my first “real” job after graduating high school
  7. Managed to end an unhealthy relationship (took me months…)
  8. Got chlamydia… not all that glad about this one, but like… it was an experience.
  9. Hiked on a volcano
  10. Swam in the Ocean
  11. Became a vegetarian… then a vegan… then a half assed vegan..
  12. Witnessed a perfect game at Boyfriend’s bowling tournament- HIS perfect game ♥
  13. Got into Graduate school
  14. Got kicked out of Graduate school
  15. Got back into Graduate school
  16. Saw a musical on Broadway (Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Taye Diggs!)
  17. Saw Kenny Chesney live! And Journey! And Paul McCartney!
  18. Got into my first “real” fender bender
  19. Started this awful blog. Lol.
  20. Brought a significant other to my family’s Christmas morning
  21. Registered to vote
  22. Drunkenly arm wrestled a stranger in a pizza place around 2 AM
  23. Spent a week in D.C. serving the poor and food insecure
  24. Fell in and out of love a few times.

 

There are definitely some great stories in there, and some not so great. All of those things make me who I am- and I’m kind of a bad ass. I am the happiest I’ve been in a long time, I feel healthier, I feel braver, I feel more like myself than ever before. I still get sad, things still suck sometimes, but I’m in a better place overall.

My 25th year is going to be a great one. The best? Maybe.

Comment and let me know what stories you want me to post about!

EJ♥

Adventures

San José, Round 1

30 December 2017

I stepped off the plane and it was humid.

I turned a corner and snapped a picture of the mountains surrounding the airport.
“Is this real life?”

Is this real life

I lingered by that window, wide-eyed and in awe of how far I’d come in the past year, shocked at how different my life is from the day I booked this trip, trying to imagine how the cynical, cold, unhappy October 2016 version of myself would have felt staring out the doubled-paned airport glass in the country of her dreams.

Eventually I made my way down to immigration and waited. At first I was patient and reveling in the Spanish signs and the touristy ads, but after over an hour I was quite sure I was either going to piss myself or faint.

Neither happened and I made it to a booth, got my first ever passport stamp (that wasn’t related to military orders), a tired welcome from the guy with the ink pad, and was ushered towards baggage claim and customs with a huge smile on my face.

I wandered around baggage claim for more than ten minutes with no luck until I had rehearsed the Spanish phrase for “I can’t find my bag” in my head enough times to feel comfortable asking for help. With a mere glance at my boarding pass, the agent simply pointed at my bag- less than 2 feet behind me. I laughed at myself, determined not to panic.

A few deep breaths later I walked out of the airport. Before I could even see the sky there were hoards of people holding signs for groups or individuals and just as many people asking if I needed a taxi. I found out later that these extremely zealous taxi drivers are kind of infamous, but my experience wasn’t bad. While they were quite abrupt when asking, they were very polite when I muttered, “No, thanks” and sometimes “No, gracias” when I was aware enough. One driver even asked if I was looking for a particular shuttle or group and pointed me in the right direction.

all i want for christmas

I got a little panicky when I realized I was disconnected from the airport WiFi and was still unable to find any sign, shuttle, or person with a logo for my tour group. But I reminded myself that worse case scenario I walked back into the airport, got back on the WiFi, and called my guide to find a way to the hotel. Though I knew this wasn’t the actual worst case scenario, I refused to allow myself to think about anything remotely inspired by Taken. But then my phone’s low battery warning came on and a small lump formed in my throat, realizing my dad could never pull off a Liam Neeson style rescue.

But a magic deli appeared tucked in the side of the airport and it had WiFi. It didn’t take long after that to track down my guide and the other group members that had already found him. Moments later our bus appeared and we were on our way to our first hotel.

Rhyan, our guide, spoke the entire drive. He went over our itinerary, told some jokes, was so welcoming and funny. The drive was beautiful and insane. I couldn’t stop smiling, nothing felt real yet! We filled out room assignments, but I hadn’t really met anyone yet so I just wrote my name down next to the first empty slot and hoped for the best.

I got really lucky. The girl I roomed with had arrived a day early and was already at the hotel. I got up to our room (#16), knocked and met Nicole who goes by Nicki. This was her 7th tour with EF and she’s a 27-year old pharmacy tech in northern California. She was so fricken nice!

The day caught up with me and I fell asleep for like half an hour before abruptly waking up and needing food. Nicki told me there was a restaurant in the lobby and offered to come with me if I wanted her to, but she wasn’t hungry so I decided I was brave and independent and went alone. I met two more group members at the bar, Eric and Jacob. They were also from California and on their first EF tour, like me. More tour people joined us, but I couldn’t hear their names.

We chatted a bit, but the conversation died because I was the only one eating and a row of a people at a bar wasn’t exactly the easiest format for mingling. I didn’t mind. I was sleepy and hungry and feeling gross after a day of airports. I had an incredible vegetarian spaghetti with a coke, paid in U.S. dollars, got colones back, and wished everyone a goodnight.

first meal

The hotel was smallish, but beautiful. The restaurant opened to the pool area and the lobby into the courtyard. Things were still decorated for Christmas and were adorable. Our room keys were actual keys! The rooms had three single beds with bright orange quilts, very few outlets, and a tiny bathroom. Surprisingly, the water pressure in the shower was amazing, but it didn’t drain very well.

Rhyan had mentioned that the plumbing in Costa Rica wouldn’t be what we were used to and that we shouldn’t flush our toilet paper, but throw it away. So I was terrified to shit.

The view from my room overlooked the pool and you could just see the mountains on the other side of the wall. At night the mountain side was covered in lights, it was beautiful. Everything was beautiful, even while it sprinkled rain.

I spent the rest of the night chilling with Nicki, messing around on my phone, reveling in things as simple as SnapChat filters and texting my family and Boyfriend about how happy I was and how great things were going. Nothing felt real yet.

best fucking life

Adventures

Arriving in Costa Rica

30 December 2017

I woke up this morning in Benton, Louisiana next to a groggy boyfriend and an equally sleepy dog. I’d had trouble falling asleep because I was nervous and excited and, admittedly very uncomfortable trying to share a bed with those two.

I snoozed my alarm, snuggled back into bed and made a noise of contentment before waking Boyfriend up to share in my uneasy pre-travel feelings and inevitable rushing around.

Everything was fine, a little rainy so I was kinda nervous, but Boyfriend sweetly reassured me that flying is safe and I’d be fine and blah blah blah amazingly kind stuff. I said my goodbyes, had my bottle of sunscreen confiscated and was off.

Atlanta was surprisingly cold so I fished a second coat out of my bag, grabbed some Auntie Anne’s, and settled into the nearest gate to eat, play Pokemon, and wait. My nerves flared up every once in awhile, but were mostly drowned out by the excitement and anticipation I’d all but lived in the past few days.

Boarding was slightly stressful because I wasn’t allowed to gate check my bag, but really the stress came from it being unexpected, not actually difficult. So I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that this trip was about facing and overcoming my fears- and not just the big ones like heights and flying over the ocean, but the small, irrational ones like things not going exactly as planned.

I gripped my boarding pass with white knuckles as I walked on to my plane and found my seat. An aisle seat near the front of the plane, the most tolerable way to fly in my opinion. I immediately put headphones in, ignoring the safety demonstration, but reviewing the safety card. You know, in case anything had changed over the four hours since my previous flight and previous review of an identical card.

For the first time in over ten years I slept through take off. I was in and out of sleep, completely disoriented. I would come-to half aware of what was going on, nearly leaning on the person next to me, mouth wide open, unsure if I’d been snoring or if it had just happened. Eventually I realized we were in the air and I sprawled out on my tray table.

Two hours later I woke up with a customs declaration tucked under my head and a meal about to be served. I woofed down some pretzels and was again in and out of it for nearly the rest of the flight.

It was a terribly bumpy landing. The turbulence in the last 20-30 minutes made me wish I’d never flown, but that feeling fled when we finally broke through the clouds and a green, mountainous, brick and stucco speckled land appeared before me. I smiled bigger than my cheeks could handle and tears filled my eyes.

“Welcome to Costa Rica.”

Today

Post Vacation Blues

I’ve been back from the rain forest for a week now and I haven’t posted a single thing like I promised I would. But let’s not act surprised.

The joy I was high on from my Costa Rican adventure was slowly murdered in the Atlanta airport. First by the weather, then the shitty food, and finally by the delay of my flight until the following morning.

My first day back was great, though. I hung out with my dad while I unpacked and did laundry, telling stories and showing off souvenirs. Later I went to see Boyfriend as soon as he got off work- which on a Tuesday night meant crashing his bowling league (which I secretly love to do).

My vacation joy returned every time someone asked about the trip, it was in tiny flares as I recalled the adrenaline, the awe, the bumbling Spanish and currency exchange, the rain, the people…

But it all crashed down around me after an eight hour work day turned into rushing out of work and puking. And puking. And puking. I was nauseated and generally ill three full days, during which I ate saltines and some original Pringles (courtesy of my sister). Didn’t manage to keep down anything else.

Now here I am, well again, but dreading going back to work and starting school. Thankfully today it snowed! Here in Louisiana, despite it being only a few inches, snow means everything is shut down, delaying the full return to my real life. While I would still prefer to be on a beach in Jacó, I am glad for the quiet blanket of fresh white snow that will surely only last the day.

Forgive me for this post not being a more detailed account of my trip, I promise those posts are coming!

EJ♥

Adventures

Budget Friendly Weekend Away

Hiya, this is a draft from waaay back in April! Enjoy ♥


When ever I feel stressed or overwhelmed I make wishlists on AirBnB and dream of all the places I’m going to go and the people I’m going to meet and the adventures I’m going to have.

AirBnB lists
My copious AirBnB wishlists

A few weeks ago, I was doing exactly that, but was feeling so down I decided to book Lauren and I a weekend away over Easter. I texted her to make sure she was free and told her not to make any plans!

We drove to Hot Springs, Arkansas and stayed two nights in an AirBnB. The first full day we explored the historic district and relaxed. The second day was really the point of the trip: we went to Magic Springs Theme Park and embraced our inner children! We left on Holy Thursday around 6 PM and returned home early Saturday evening, a quick and successful weekend away!

Overall we had a short and sweet adventure that recharged both our batteries.

Our Budget!

Gas: ~$60

It’s about $30 to fill my tank and I had to fill up twice. This is obviously the most varied aspect of a budget. It depends how far you’re going and even the terrain! I filled up before we left and again before we returned. Hot Springs is only about 3 hours from where we are, but it’s a pretty hilly area so we used more gas than if we’d gone some where flatter, like Texas. Haha.

The lodging: $187

Hotels can be the most expensive parts of travelling, but sometimes AirBnB can save you hundreds! I easily could have spent double if I’d stayed in a traditional hotel. This trip was my first experience with AirBnB and I can honestly say I will utilize AirBnB every time I travel. (Future post coming: Tips to utilize AirBnB. Lol.)

Our hosts were Mickey and Jill and we stayed in a little apartment space they created out of their basement. It sounds like it could have been sketchy, but was actually beautiful and very cozy! Their property is located in a neighborhood called Hot Springs Village, a gorgeous gated community that is literally packed to the brim with things to do.

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Photo taken from the AirBnB listing, for more information click here.

While the AirBnB as a little farther from where we were visiting, it made more sense to make the drive to/from a few times than to pay nearly $50 more a night for the convenience of being a few miles closer. I was also sold on this listing because it had a fridge and microwave! If you want to read my ravings about my wonderful AirBnB experience you can check out my review on the pages linked above, I really go into detail. Haha!

Food: ~$23

Along with accommodations, food can be one of the most expensive parts of traveling. I find that when I travel I want to try new places that my home town doesn’t have or I like to indulge in treats I avoid at home.

To save money on food we made frozen pizzas to make and eat on the road the day we left. As mentioned, I chose our AirBnB because it had a fridge and microwave. This meant we were able to pack foods for lunch and dinner (Mickey & Jill provided breakfast foods/ snacks in the room!). We packed microwave rice/ soup for our in-room meals and a picnic lunch for our day out.

 

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Naan!! Taken from the Tosha Kitchen website.

We planned to eat out once, so before we left I found a restaurant near Bath House Row that was accommodating of our food allergies and was different from what we could find at home. This led us to Tosha Kitchen, a delicious and cozy Indian/ Pakistani restaurant located right off the main street of the Hot Springs Historic District. We spent about $23 there, opting for lunch specials and sharing an appetizer.

Activities, Day 1: ~$57

Our first day was spent exploring the main street right off of Hot Springs National Park. We walked around Bath House Row, a street full of historic bath houses that have been around since the late 1800’s utilizing the areas natural hot springs. We went in antique shops, boutiques, a lot-park, a old-fashion toy store, and of course the Bath Houses.

Exploring the area was free and allowed us to talk, relax, and enjoy everything the area had to offer. We paid for admission to two things,  Hot Springs Mountain Tower ($10 with military discount) and Tiny Town Trains ($12). Both of which were entirely worth it! Check out my post Exploring Hot Springs, Arkansas to read more about those adventures!

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A view from Hot Springs Mountain Tower

The non-essentials that we spent money on were some macaroons ($5) at a sweet boutique, postcards and souvenirs ($12), and a spirograph that we fell in love with at an old-fashioned toy store ($18).

Overall, we had so much fun and didn’t spend quite as much as I had anticipated! The best part is that if we hadn’t bought snacks or souvenirs/toys (that we didn’t really need☺) we only would have spent $22 on admission to the tower and Tiny Town!

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Some of our spirograph doodles!

Activities, Day 2: $53.80

Obviously water/ theme parks can be very expensive. I decided to add Magic Springs to the itinerary because I knew Lauren would love it (she’s a kid at heart ♥). Mid April turned out to be the best time we could have planned the trip. The weather was perfect, and since the water park wasn’t open yet, the admission price was reduced! There was also an April special going on since it was the last month before the water park opened. And of course we had to pay $10 to park.

We saved by packing our lunch, not purchasing a locker, and only playing Plinko ($5) once! Haha. Lauren won two free funnel cakes! Which also saved us money because we definitely had to get funnel cakes!

♥♥

At the end of the weekend we spent a total of: $380.80

However, you can subtract $40 if you don’t count the souvenirs, spirograph, and the game of Plinko. Lol. It was definitely worth it. We had so much fun! I got to revel in the history and charm of the historic district and Lauren got to let out her inner child at Magic Springs. We didn’t break the bank, but we got to have a little vacation.

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Selfie in the park ♥

 

Adventures

Front Street, Natchitoches, LA

A few weeks ago, Lauren and I went to visit my younger sister, Bobbie in her new house in Natchitoches, Louisiana. We left pretty early in the morning and when we arrived Bobbie wasn’t answering her phone- she was still asleep! To kill some time we got gas and did a little exploring on Front Street and the surrounding area, playing Pokemon and snapping photos.

We’d both been before, but Lauren had only seen it at night. Natchitoches is a really historic and adorable town, especially Front Street. I wanted to share with you some of the pictures from our adventure! For more information on visiting (and pronouncing) Natchitoches, you can visit this site.

water featureSignsprettyCutesyChurch St.