Hotel Crashing: Westin Playa Conchal, Costa Rica

I’ve got an impressive assortment of bug bites on my legs (and, probably zika), a bruise from ramming right into a concrete stool at the swim-up bar, and a right ear that’s still ringing after a scuba dive.

I have survived another beach resort vacation.

(Actually, we got back from Costa Rica a week ago and luckily, all of those vacation-related injuries have subsided. Especially the ringing right ear, which went on for several days and had me all sorts of freaked out.)

We spent six glorious days at the Westin Golf Resort & Spa, (also known as the Westin Playa Conchal), Starwood’s first Costa Rica all-inclusive property. It’s on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, up north in an area known as Guanacaste. We flew into the Liberia airport, which is about an hour’s drive from the resort.

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Yep, it really does look like that (Image courtesy of Visual Itineraries)

This was actually our third time at this particular property. We first went in 2012 (when I also sustained a few vacation-related injuries) and in 2014, where I don’t remember if I sustained any injuries, so that probably means I absolutely did.

Our first trip, in 2012, we stayed at one of the regular rooms/bungalows (“Deluxe Junior Suite”), which was located on the far northern end of the property (near the beach access).

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Like one of these (Image via Starwood)

It was fine, but when we went back in 2014, we upgraded to the adults-only section known as the Royal Beach Club, which was fabulous! It has its own designated check-in area/lounge, adults-only pool and restaurant with no kids, other than the numerous, painfully young honeymooners we met over the six days.

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RBC area (Image via WestJet.com)

(I will say, the rest of the property is very family-friendly and I highly recommend this place for families).

The rooms at the RBC, as us hipsters call it, were pretty nice in 2014 (I think we stayed in a “Royal Beach Suite,” from what I can remember. We had a balcony with a Jacuzzi tub on it, which seemed a bit odd in a hot, humid, jungle/beach setting.

I’d show you photos except ALL of my previous Costa Rica photos were part of the Great Laptop Meltdown of 2014 and I, quite literally, have no Costa Rica photos…..not from 2012 and not from 2014. It’s all very odd. (And yes, I am currently backing up my photo folders onto an external hard drive as we speak. Thanks for the reminder, Costa Rica)

But, right after our 2014 visit, the property owners closed down both RBC towers and completely renovated the rooms. And they did an amazing job, incorporating lots of really nice (presumably local?) wood, updating the floors and furniture, and replacing the Jacuzzis with cool, modern bathtubs (I still think it’s weird to have an outdoor bathtub on your patio, but XFE used it and was happy).

A lot of the staff at the Westin Playa Conchal and at the Royal Beach Club specifically, remembered us from our previous visits and treated us like total VIPs. We felt really well taken care of.

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Our favorite vacation game at our favorite spot: dominoes at the main lobby bar. 

We chose to return to this property because it’s just an easy fly-and-flop option for us. We know exactly what to expect. We don’t have to make a whole bunch of plans and reservations, which suited us fine since we’re belly-deep in planning our next big trip….to South Africa/Tanzania/Zanzibar.

We did go scuba diving again one morning, mostly as a refresher since we plan to dive in Zanzibar. We went with Pacific Coast Diving, which we used in 2014. Still a good outfit that’s responsive over email, is located close to the hotel, and picks you up and drops you off in a nice, air-conditioned van. Anyone who’s done a bit of scuba diving knows how rare an air-conditioned dive van is! The diving, however, was a bit meh, and the snorkelers said similar.

And there was the whole ear-ringing thing, which I could have done without. I noticed it after our second dive and it got a bit louder over the course of the evening. By the next morning, it had lowered to a semi-tolerable, steady, annoying pitch that could be drowned out in areas with ambient noise in the background (talking, music, dishes clattering). But at night, when things were quiet? Really, really distracting and disturbing. That lasted about a week or so.

We spent most of our time by the RBC pool, reading books, drinking frosty drinks (like the popular Dirty Monkey – a sort of banana/coffee/chocolate/rum smoothie) and avoiding direct sunlight so I wouldn’t spontaneously combust (ie: burn to a crisp).

We did, however, go to the beautiful Playa Conchal beach early one morning so I could try jet skiing for the first time. I’ve got to say: I’m not really a fan. I guess I just don’t feel the need for speed. Any activity where the instructions start with, “It’s much easier/better if you go faster,” isn’t likely to win me over. I prefer life in the slow-to-medium lane. Adventure-man and James Bond-look-a-like XFE, however, took off like a madman and was killing it all over the ocean waves. He’s clearly not afraid of the throttle (seriously, my hands and arms were so sore from squeezing so tightly in the slow, mid-throttle position).

So that’s it. A brief recap of our brief visit to the Westin Playa Conchal. Now the compulsive obsessing about South Africa/Tanzania/Zanzibar can truly begin (and has).

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Sunburns, Manta Rays and Multiple Injuries: Things I Learned in Costa Rica

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m back from Costa Rica and sorta tan! And by tan, I really mean more of a vanilla color. Even this shade shift takes a lot of dedication, involving hours by the pool, high-level sunscreen, and multiple magazines.

This is basically the only time I should be allowed out in the sun. At sunset.

I usually burn within 30 minutes of the first day of vacation. Almost always on just one half of my body. This trip it was my back and the back of my legs, which made my massage at the spa more of a delicate exercise in aloe gel application.

After a week (usually by the time I go home), the angry reds subside, and I finally turn a slightly less pasty version of myself. I never actually attain bronze goddess status.

This crab (well, crab remains) was trying to cross the road at the resort. CRUNCH. I think he was coming back from the beach and heading to the buffet. Crab cake, anyone?

So, since I never seem to learn my lesson on sunbathing (Can’t do it. Don’t even try. Eschew the sun, Poe.), here’s a list of other things confirmed by my recent trip.

1)  There’s never going to be “too much” reading material. I bought $45 in magazines (plus a book and another magazine at the airport on our way out) and still ran out of reading material by the time I boarded our second flight home. (For the curious, I took a UK edition of Hello, Life & Style, OK, US Weekly, Fitness, Vanity Fair, InStyle, and Real Simple. I didn’t pick up InTouch because that just seemed like overkill. I did, however, devour the aforementioned Rules of Civility, a very good book that takes place in 1930s New York high society.)

SIDE RANT: Can people please stop reading 50 Shades of Hot and Bothered in public? I’m actually really skeeved out to think that people are getting all horny while reading by the pool or even worse, on the metro. Ya’ll know it’s considered “erotica,” aka mommy porn, right? And we’re all familiar with that fact? So we know what’s up. Keep it in your bedside drawers, please.

2) All scuba places must be run by expats from somewhere. Our fine dive instructors/animal rescue fanatics at Costa Rica Diving were from Germany. Of course. Because when I think of diving, I think Germany.

Take me to the manta rays, German man.

3) The van to transport you from the dive shop must be old, decrepit and somewhat smelly. When we dove in Puerto Rico, Arnaud’s van didn’t use a key – it used a long screw driver. In Costa Rica, Harald’s van had one very hardworking and totally ineffective tree-shaped air freshener.

4)  Every dive following a manta ray sighting seems singularly unimpressive. Manta rays are impossibly cool. I was gobsmacked. We saw one on our second scuba dive on the first day. It was huge and graceful and just….majestic (like in this video). Everything after that (schools and schools of beautiful tropical fish, a sea turtle resting on the ocean floor, a spotted ray), was just kind of shrug worthy.

5) Soccer tournaments will put me right to sleep. We’ve discovered this in our own private research at home. This theory was reinforced during our World Cup-coinciding stay at an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic. This time, the Eurocup final between Italy and Spain occurred during our trip. My soccer-loving-companion-for-eternity XFE was smart enough to suggest we watch it in a nice, cool public place with drinks and snacks and another couple who I no doubt infuriated with my incessant talking and cheering on of Spain (they were cheering for Italy).

6) Fishing will also put me to sleep. Listen, there’s a lot of downtime during fishing. It should actually be called “waiting hours for 15 minutes of excitement.” The rocking of the boat did me in. I slept much of the 8-hour trip, you know, between bouts of excitement, which included catching 4 mahi-mahi, 2 small tuna, and one very large (45 pound) rooster fish.

XFE calls this the action shot. (And yes, I wore that purple shirt and navy hat for every off-resort excursion.)
My mighty tuna. His teeth were very sharp looking and dangerous. Do not be fooled by his modest stature.

7)  I cannot for the life of me avoid self-injury. Every single entry/exit on any boat whatsoever was marked with wobbles and nerves. Even small inflatable boats that are brought right up to the beach to fetch you and take you to a larger boat (TWICE the death opportunity). Boats are so lame (except for napping purposes).

On my way back onto the dive boat, I took a non-water dive on the slippery deck in full diving gear and tanks. I banged my knee up pretty bad and caught, my ankle on a sharp metal lip. I had to bite my lip to not cry.

I also hit myself in the head with our glass patio door at one point (I was distracted by the fireworks), resulting in a red knot above my right eyebrow. Doors are so lame (except for room service purposes). And, I pretty much fell off the sidewalk every time we walked from one place to another because I was afraid of getting hit by a golf cart if I walked in the middle of the road. Sidewalks are also lame (except while riding on a golf cart and squishing crabs).

Packing Strategy for a Week in Costa Rica

We leave tomorrow for a week on the beach (And in a fishing boat. And a scuba boat. Basically, we can’t or won’t sit still.)

Nevertheless! Vacation looms. Which means so does my favorite part of vacation – packing!

I’ve already referred to my obsession with packing.

And, I’ve come up with a tentative packing list for Costa Rica, thanks to the ladies of RHoOC. However, as I mentioned in that post, my closet and drawers are oddly bereft of hot pink and bedazzled items.

Which of course necessitated a quick(ish) trip to H&M.

To summarize, my packing strategy for a week in Costa Rica (in less than 30 steps)

1. Run to H&M on a Friday at lunch.

2. Dodge mobs of sweaty tourists.

3. Head directly to the swimsuit section since that’s all you really need or in the market for and grab every available size of swimsuit separates.

4. Go to ridiculously packed dressing room line and wait. And wait. And wait.

5. Finally get into a cramped dressing room with no air conditioning and fluorescent lighting.

6. Begin the torture of trying on bathing suits pieces.

7. Cry.

8. Throw bathing suits around cramped dressing room, hitting yourself in the eye with the plastic-yet-oddly-sharp hanger.

9. Leave the dressing room empty-handed and depressed.

10. Grab armfuls of anything tropically-themed or sequined and priced $10-$15. This includes items that may be dresses but are more likely just swimsuit cover ups. Including a leopard print, spaghetti-strapped romper that you most definitely cannot wear a bra with.

11. Avoid the now even more packed 7-item-limit dressing rooms. You have too many items.

12. Go back through the store and drop off anything that might be fitted and might need to be tried on.

13. Replace fitted items with elastic waist items or flowy items with belts.

14. Swoop through accessories and snap up electric blue feather earrings ala Gretchen that you will never in your life wear outside of a tropical locale or bachelorette party.

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I know, Gretchen! I’m excited too!

15. Stand in stupidly long line, debating every item you’ve dragged to the register but not tried on, eventually justifying each item as “eh, it’s only $10.”

16. Hand over $100 bucks for like, 22 items. Vacation shopping: complete.

17. Head towards the exit, checking watch to see if you have time to swing by Pret A Manger for a sandwich on the way back to work.

18. See a rack with a cute silky black $10 top that’s (a) tropically themed with an adorable red/orange/pink orchid-y print running down one side of it, and (b) has cute little short sleeves so your arms won’t look like sausages (which they surely will in that other sleeveless sequined top you just bought. Eh, it was $10. Two silky shirts won’t kill anyone)

19. Run around the store playing a very grown up version of the Memory Match game, trying to remember where you saw the hot pink (finally! RHoOC here I come!) pleated shorts that would just perfectly match the cute tropical top you just found.

20. Find the shorts after 13 laps around the entire store.

21. Fret over what size might fit. “Let’s see, normally I wear a size 8 or 10, but this is H&M, which skews much younger than me, so what’s the juvenile equivalent of a size 8 or 10?? And, H&M is a European brand, which always runs smaller. If I remember correctly, in European sizing I wear like a 12 or 14, so what I really need here is a juvenile size 20?? Is that right? Wait, what time is it? Crap!”

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22. Do the old “hold this up to my hip bones” sizing method.

23. Grab a size 10 in the shorts and go back to the stupidly long line, which is now at a COMPLETE standstill as cashiers go on break / to restock / to break up fights in the dressing room lines / to administer first aid to a woman with an injured eye who was trying on swimsuits she shouldn’t have been trying on in the first place.

24. Reach the cashier who is taking her sweet ass time about everything.

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This guy actually has paper. My girl did not.

25. Listen patiently as she explains that she’s running out of printer paper so she seriously hopes you’re not paying with a credit card.

26. Shove $24 cash at the cashier, who then informs you that she’s out of printer paper and cannot print you a receipt. For items you have not tried on. And might need to return.

27. Snatch bag and glare.

28. Dash back to work. Close office door and try on shorts under your work skirt.

29. Do happy dance in office half-dressed because by some miracle, they fit perfectly. And they’re hot pink.

The final step will be to shove my bag of H&M-ware into a suitcase along with previous years’ bathing suits, floppy hat, a couple of pairs of strappy sandals and some flip flops. Done and done.

 

Now I’m Too Old to Run?

Young people of the Internet: I am the voice of the future. Heed my warning. Do everything in your power to stop aging.

Aging is not good for you. It’s really not. Your metabolism will desert you (10 years ago, I was a size 4. Today…well. I’m not a size 4.) You’ll have to go to the restroom before you get in the car. That’s every time you get in the car. Don’t test that one even once. You’ll fall asleep on the couch before 10 p.m. every night. Well before 10 p.m. Eating blue cheese will give you heartburn.

The latest symptom in my downward spiral into decrepitude (that’s a word, right?) occurred Monday morning. I got up at 5:40 (one of the perks of going to bed before the sun has disappeared is that you wake up before the sun rises) to go for a run. I coated my entire body in a layer of Body Glide, got dressed and went downstairs for a little stretching/petting Petunia while she eats session (oh, another thing: with age, you have to stretch before AND after exercise to avoid injury. It’s exhausting and time consuming.)

I left the house, synched up my watch and put my iPod onto “blaring” (did I mention that you’re hearing slowly disappears as you get older? Just a tiny bit at first. You’ll notice yourself saying “huh?” and “what?” a lot. That’s how you’ll know.)

I went literally 10 steps and about died. I had a sharp stabbing pain in my back on the left side, kinda close to my spine. It basically felt like my liver was trying to escape my body. I hit pause on the iPod and did a few upper body stretches. When it felt like I could breathe without doubling over, I tried to run a few more steps. Nope. Excrutiating, radiating pain. I turned back the 20 paces and went back inside the house.

This stock image is so freaking disturbing. How do I know I DON’T have some face on my back?

During this whole escapade, one of my neighbors had pulled up, gotten out of his car, witnessed my entire “run,” and walked to his front door, shaking his head as if to say, “Yep, another one down.”

I hobbled through my morning routine. I was just in so much pain. I even considered going to the doctor, something I never do since my physician has the bedside manner of Frankenstein. My own personal WebMD XFE told me that it was probably just a spasm and I’d be fine.

 

Let me reiterate: I did nothing NOTHING at all that would have caused any kind of muscle spasm or contraction of any sort. Unless you count bending over and petting a cat or pushing a button on an iPod as strenuous activity, I had not done any moves that would cause that kind of blinding, breath-stealing pain. This is purely a case of Random Age Pain. It’s similar to Restless Leg Syndrome, I suspect. Or even, heartburn.

Now I’m on a steady diet of ibuprofen and glum, pitiful looks, accentuated by sharp intakes of breath whenever I move wrong. I had a heating pad on it all morning, but a quick Google search indicated that I had gotten even that course of treatment wrong. You’re supposed to use ice packs, apparently, not heat. Which really bums me out because I hate to be cold.

We have less than four days until vacation and I was really hoping to get my old and slowly-rotting, ancient body in shape for bikini wearing. Because by my calculation, four days totally would have been all it would take to turn back the hands of time and get into a size 4.

Real Housewives Vacation Packing List

Our trip to Costa Rica is only a couple of weeks away, so, of course, I’ve begun obsessing over what to pack.

Usually, beach vacations are pretty easy to pack for. But, then I saw the Real Housewives of Orange County on their trip to Costa Rica and much like Gretchen, I’m now having a packing and planning meltdown because I have NONE of the proper Real Housewives attire for an action-filled adventure to Costa Rica (that’s in Mexico, according to Alexis).

She’s got jungle-appropriate shoes covered.

 Here’s my list:

Lots of hot pink. Including Lululemon zip up jacket (x2)

Lots of camouflage (including in hot pink)

Brett Michaels headbands/and/or baseball caps ablaze in rhinestones (preferably crosses or other articles of faith)

A variety of straw hats (fedoras, panamas, etc.)

Bikinis – lingerie inspired and/or/ animal print. Trimmed in hot pink.

Tamara’s whole sheer white genie beach get up. And Gretchen’s white denim short shorts.

Alexis’ entire zookeeper safari look.

Waterproof mascara for melt downs.

MOST importantly, a canteen for booze.