Destinations

Aspen, CO: Where Posh Pooches Vacay

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Aspen, Colorado or Bust!

Taking a puppy on vacation for the first time takes courage. Seeing a place through your dog’s eyes is a delightful new experience. Sandi was on a first name basis by day two into our trip. People I didn’t recall seeing, already remembered Sandi’s name. “Hi Sandi!” Bellmen or shopkeepers would greet her. Traveling with a dog serves as a friendly bridge between you and a town full of strangers. Read all about Sandi’s first adventure in my latest published piece on johnnyjet.com here.

 

 

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Top Ten Family Best of Breck Tips

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Ames learns to snowboard

Breckenridge, CO   Don’t put your skis or snowboard away just yet. Two feet of fresh powder just hit the Summit County.  And Breckenridge Ski Resort is open at least through April 24th. Spring skiing doesn’t get more ideal than this. Breck is more than a massive ski resort, it’s a town. Like so many Colorado ski spots, its colorful history is rooted in mining from a century ago. Breck offers skiers 6 peaks (almost 3000 acres) in one resort. There’s more to do than take advantage of quintessential awesome Rocky Mountain snow on skis or a board. It’s so big it might seem daunting at first to know what’s not to miss. I recently visited with my 9-yr old son, Ames and compiled our top ten Family Best of Breck Tips. 

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Beaver Run’s 2-bedroom suite steps from the lift

1) Best Digs for Convenience  You can’t beat Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center. Located at the base of Peak 9 Super Chair, away the more crowded Peak 8. With a multitude of room options, you’re likely to find a vacancy to fit any size group. Ski lockers are situated just steps from the lift.

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Painful reminder about ski boots

Tip: Store your boots in your hotel room and walk down in shoes you can leave in your locker. The locker room is semi-heated but not warm enough to keep ski boots (especially brand new ones.) Let my bruised foot serve as reminder of what happens when you try and shove your foot into a cold, stiff ski boot. It took the aid of two men in what felt like the opposite of the Jaws of Life to get my ski boots on. Ouch! When you’re staying right on the slopes, it’s nice to stay put and cook in your room (ours had a full kitchen) or grab a pizza from the Skywalk Market and enjoy in the comfort of your lodge. Treat yourself to Beaver Run’s Spencer’s restaurant for breakfast. The Southwest Eggs Benedict with chipotle hollandaise sauce warmed the palate and the belly.

 

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The view from our room at The Lodge at Breckenridge

 2) Best Room with a View  Perched a mile up and on the other side of town is The Lodge at Breckenridge with stunning, panoramic views. A dedicated lodge van shuttles guests into town or to the slopes. The Lodge’s Traverse Restaurant serves up a complimentary hearty breakfast buffet. We opted to avoid the crowds in town and had dinner there too.

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Our 2-bedroom mountain view suite

3) Best endorphin high  The Gold Runner Alpine Coaster is a must do year-round in Breck. In Winter, dress in your ski garb with hat and gloves as you’ll be whizzing down 2,500 feet of coaster track through the forest at breakneck speed (or slower if you prefer, as you control your two-seater coaster car).

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A screaming good time

4) Best peak to avoid crowds   They say a black diamond (advanced) run at Breck is a blue (intermediate) at other resorts. Knowing this, we looked at the trail map and ventured over to Peak 10. With only  black runs, it intimidated the masses, leaving the groomed blacks practically all to ourselves. Still nursing injuries from an auto wreck, we found Peak 10s “expert runs” pretty confident-boosting.

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Peak 10: Eenie-meenie-miney-moe,

 

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Living proof we saw BigFoot

 

5) Best family-friendly ski spot New for this year is a slower-paced Bonanza Family Zone where you won’t have to worry about your little one being mowed over by more aggressive-paced skiers/boarders.

6) Best place to be a kid  There are plenty of kid-friendly tree skiing spots where adults must be accompanied by a child. Keep your eyes peeled for Bigfoot!

 

 

 

 

 

7) Best people watching   The Vista Haus Restaurant on Peak 8 has ample outdoor seating right by an Epic Mix Photo station where you can sip hot cocoa and watch the parade of people pose for photos. All photos snapped by an Epic Mix photographer are linked to your ski pass (via RFID). Simply use the Epic Mix app to share on Facebook with friends.

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Cheers to people watching

8) Best Fest   Breck is one big series of festivals with one going on almost every week of the year. As luck would have it, we happened to visit during the Ice sculpture fest. And if you catch the town in between formal fests, you can still revel in its year-round festive vibe.

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Our fav from the ice sculpture fest

 

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Ames (middle) with pals, Alex and Ella Schiavone

9) Best local deal   Colorado K-5th graders score big at Vail Resorts’ Epic School Kids Pass offering 4 days free at each of the Vail resorts in Colorado including Vail, Keystone, Breckenridge and Beaver Creek plus one never-ever full day  group lesson (includes equipment and lunch.) My third grader who is an avid skier took advantage of a never-ever snowboarding lesson at Breck with some of his buddies.

10) Best time to visit   Now. Lodging and lift tickets are at bargain prices. So load up the car or hop a flight. It’ll be the best thing you’ve done for yourself this Spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Steamboat: Best of the West

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Teepee fort along a ski trail at Steamboat resort

Steamboat Springs, CO  After living in Colorado five years, we discovered what very well could be our new favorite ski town. A horseshoe’s throw from the Wyoming border, rich in Western history is Steamboat Springs. We spent ten action-packed days trying a little of what Spring ski season offers, which includes a lot more than just skiing. Read the full story that published today on johnnyjet.com.

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Ames and his buddies: Cade, Alex, Nick and Cecelia (R-L) 

The Madeline-like dorm room at Moving Mountains’ Trail’s Edge Lodge sets the stage for a slumber party. Few lodging spots we’ve stayed in our Mommy n’ me adventures have included such a treat as this room (one of just 7 in this epic-sized lodge). Perfect for large families or your family of friends. This slumber party room sleeps 5 and is equipped with its very own X-box. Kiddo comfort at its best. Read the full story here.

 

 

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Old Man Winter piles on 3 feet at A-basin.

IMG_6254Three feet of fresh new snow this past week made for terrific timing  for my latest piece on johnnyjet.com. Check out  Spring skiing at Arapahoe Basin. Johhnyjet.com is undergoing a new web design so excuse the dust (or my squishy face on my bio) for now while they clean things up.

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Baja: Whale Touching

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There’s whale watching, then there’s whale touching.

Magdalena Bay, Mexico  I’d been on my share of whale watching trips from Southern California all the way up the coast to Alaska and never spotted more than a blurry gray mass through binoculars.

This was different. The trip marked my last chance to travel kid-free as once I returned, I was to embark upon the arduous journey of trying to conceive via the fertility path as a single mom. (Read Last Call). It was an opportunity to not just whale watch but actually reach down and touch one from a small skiff boat in Magdalena Bay near Baja, Mexico. A photo opportunity for sure and I came armed with both still and video cameras.

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We’d gone over how to operate my video camera again and again. The plan was I’d operate my still camera, my friend and kayak partner Lori, my video camera. This must-do add-on excursion was what I was looking forward to more than the week-long kayak trip with Sea Kayak Adventures in Baja we’d just finished up.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 3.20.37 PMDon’t get me wrong, the kayak trip was great insofar as sleeping out in the blistering heat of the desert, not bathing for a week, and having to pack up your loo in a kayak goes. No one organizes a trip like SKA. Guides are great. Food terrific.

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You’re given a packing list that if adhered to, covers all the bases and fits neatly in the provided waterproof bags. And even if you don’t know which end of a kayak paddle is up, the instruction given allows you to hold your own for a week out on the water without worry.

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Sea kayaking the clear turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez

My friend I’d gone with, Lori, greeted each day with something along the lines of, “this is the best vacation I’ve ever been on.” And me, “I’m too old to camp, my back is in agony.”

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I was just biding my time until we got back to Loreto and could venture out to finally see a whale. While kayaking, in the Sea of Cortez side of Baja, we could see whale mist off in a distance but no close encounters.

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Finally back in town, showered, rested and off to the other side of Baja’s narrow strip of land, to the bay we headed. What was explained to me is that the whales are motivated to come up to the little skiffs to scratch their itchy barnacles on the boat’s bottom. Kind of like a floating back scratcher. It apparently brings some relief to the long journey these gray whales make 5000 miles from the Bering Strait to mate and bear their young in the protected waters of Magdalena Bay.

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A Baja sunset never disappoints

Not 20 minutes into the excursion, as we neared the deeper waters, like a slow-motion ride at Disneyland, this massive whale surfaced and floated almost stationary for several minutes. I snapped away on my Nikon camera, entrusting Lori to follow suit with what could only have been the best footage ever captured on my video camera.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my trusted friend toss my video camera onto the boat seat, lunge towards the whale giggling like a schoolgirl to touch the whale. She’d completely aborted any plan of capturing this moment on film and even sat on my expensive sunglasses in the giddiness of the moment, bending the frames.

After the whale dipped back under Lori went on and on. “Did you feel how spongy the skin felt? Wasn’t that cool?” She asked, grinning ear to ear.

No I hadn’t. I sulked the whole way back miffed she hadn’t captured so much as a nanosecond once-in-a-lifetime footage on my camera.

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Me (blue visor, left) fiddling with my camera missing the sheer joy of the whale experience

 

Then, this past week I was reading a touch-n-feel book to my precious three-month old son that involves uncurling his little fist to touch the smooth, slippery skin of a whale. Ames kicked his legs and waved his arms up and down squealing in delight. The movie that played in my mind was of me in Magdalena Bay and now wondering if I’d been the one in the wrong. I’d been stuck behind my camera lens trying to harpoon a photo but missing the childhood delight of feeling the skin of a rubbery spongy gray mama whale.

IF YOU GO:   Seakayakadventures.com

Magdalena Bay & Sea of Cortez Combo Trip

$1575 adults, $1417 children 12+

This story originally was published on divinecaroline.com. I have to chuckle looking back at stories I wrote right after having my son are in an altered state of pospartum nirvana. 

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Sundance Mountain Resort: Where art meets skiing.

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Mt. Timpanagos , Sundance Mountain Resort, Utah

Say “Sundance” and most people think celebrity spottings and movie buffs bustling Main street at the film festival which actually takes place in Park City, Utah. Few people know Sundance itself is a hidden gem of a resort located about an hour’s drive from Park City nestled just beneath Mt. Timpanogos near Provo, Utah.

In fact, cliché as they may be, the words nestled and hidden gem are as deserving to Sundance than any ski resort I can think of. In winter, it’s more than a place to avoid the crowds and long lines found at many other ski resorts. You won’t boast the most vertical feet skied in a day or find umpteen speed quads or gondolas. What you will find, among other unique offerings, is peace and quietude in a gorgeous setting.

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If Goldilocks were going skiing (or snowboarding for that matter) she’d want to stay in Sundance’s cabin lodges. The western and Native American influenced décor with a flavor of “the three bears will be coming home any minute” is just right. You can choose from a small studio cottage or if you’re bringing the whole family, one of the larger mountain homes for let. The layout of the resort is unlike anything normally bearing the name resort. It blends in with the aspen groves and spectacular postcard-esque mountain scenery.

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Named after the movie that put Robert Redford on the map, Sundance was built in keeping with environmental conservation and artistic experimentation. Après ski activities include spinning a pottery bowl, glass blowing or making jewelry. I opted for the latter and hammered out a silver ring with a purple amethyst semi precious stone under the direction of one of the resident jewelry artisans. Just as much fun as making snow angels and lasts longer.

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Sundance Art Studio

And the spa at Sundance? I can still hear the Indian flutes, babbling brook meditation fountain and smell the aroma of burning sage. I tried not to break wind during my four-winds massage (something about altitude and someone kneading my buttocks does that to me). Spa treatments are American Indian themed with names like the Sage and Sweetgrass rub or the Turtle Balancing treatment based on a Navajo legend.

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I lived in Salt Lake City a decade ago and used to make the Foundry Grill buffet a destination on Sundays for brunch. Buffets typically make me cringe (tasting more like sterno fluid than anything else) but Sundance’s is not to be missed. The award winning Tree Room (named for the tree growing up through the center of the restaurant) serves exceptional mountain cuisine and showcases Redford’s private Native American Art collection. With dishes like Buffalo Pot Au Feu for a beginning, and Grilled Elk Loin or American Pancetta Wrapped trout for an entrée topped off with Pluot Crisp with Homemade Roasted Almond Ice Cream, you won’t be getting cabin fever anytime soon.

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Foundry Grill Restaurant

Sundance offers some of the best Women’s specialty clinics for skiing and boarding. I went to finesse both my skiing and boarding form. I’ve skied since I was a kid and boarded the past 10 years but had heard great things about the alpine instruction program. I skied one day and boarded the next. Workshops will even videotape you to fine tune your form. There was marked improvement on my technique from both lessons proving you can teach an old ski dog some new tricks. Just to round out the weekend, I also added in a day of Cross-country skiing in Sundance’s 26-kiometers of pristine backcountry trails. They also offer 10 kilometers of dedicated snowshoeing trails.

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If the name Sundance conjures up the famous Sundance catalog, you’ll appreciate the General Store on the resort property with handcrafted Native American and western-style jewelry, home décor and casual apparel. I scored some hand-spun coffee mugs to bring a little bit of Sundance to my java back home.

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Owl Bar

Nightlife at Sundance is pretty atypical as well. Sure you can grab a drink in the Owl Bar but for something more unusual, don’t miss winter star gazing or birding in search of night owls. And Friday is Film night in the Nature Center where you’re sure to catch an award-winning flick from the namesake film festival.

See website for other calendar events from everything from photography lessons to other writing workshops.  For a sleepy resort not on most people’s radar, Sundance has lots to shout about.

If you go:   Sundance Resort

This story was originally published on divinecaroline.com. I’ve since returned with my son in tow and plan to publish that piece here. Sundance is a terrific spot for families, couples or a girlfriends getaway spa retreat.

 

 

 

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ALTA: A favorite for skiers

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                                                                                          Alta, Utah

Alta ski resort in Utah has long been referred to as the locals favorite so I asked a local riding up the chairlift if he skis anywhere besides Alta. “If I do, I feel like I’m cheating on my wife.” He said.

He went on to compare the various resorts in the area. “Deer Valley’s a bunch of corduroy groomed trails. It’s ribbed for her enjoyment.”

Most would argue, there’s not a bad place to ski in Utah and certainly Alta is the choice for many. It’s old school skiing at its best and holds out as one of the few resorts in the country that doesn’t allow snowboarding. I kept quiet that I do both.

Barring snowboarders isn’t the only reason locals love it. “The greatest snow on earth” is the moniker on Utah license plates. Rightfully so. It’s something about the desert air mixing with altitude that produces talcum powder-like snow conditions. It isn’t the Sierra cement we get in my home state of California.

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                           Powder so deep you practically need a snorkel to breathe.

And there’s something about where Alta is positioned in Little Cottonwood Canyon. People joke that the powder gets so deep there you need a snorkel to breathe. Those a bit timid of steep and deep powder can find groomed trails at Alta.

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                                                                                   Alta Lodge

Alta Lodge is a throwback to skiing of yesteryear—reminding me of places I stayed in as a kid in Europe, where I learned to ski. Room rates which start at $129 in low season up to $533 in high season include breakfast and dinner. Alta Lodge’s dining room is family style. If you’re traveling solo as I was, you’re seated with others which makes visiting alone not so lonely. (You can also request a private table if you prefer.)

Alta_Lodge_Dining_Room80% of visitors there are repeat guests and it’s easy to see why. There’s nothing pretentious about Alta Lodge. It doesn’t try too hard because it doesn’t have to. There are no TVs in the rooms which encourages guests to mingle and interact. You will find some subtle frills like Aveda bath products in the bathroom. It’s got hot water, it’s clean. Ski in ski out. Food is decent to good. And I concur, it is the best snow on earth. What more do you want?

Alta_Lodge_East_RoomBecause they don’t over groom the area, it produces some of the best moguls of anywhere I’ve ever skied. I jumped at the chance to take one of the renowned mogul workshops. Having spent more time in recent years on a snowboard, I’d practically forgotten how to ski them.

An hour into the class, thighs on fire, I remembered how much fun they be. The Alf Engen ski school is world-class. And while the guy I talked to on the lift may think of Alta as a man’s place to ski, it has lots to offer women. The ski area’s website lists lots of ski camps specially designed for women.

Even if you’ve skied as long as I have there’s always room for improvement. Nothing makes for a great ski trip than feeling like you’ve improved your technique. What I learned too is you don’t have to be a local to make Alta your favorite ski spot too.

IF YOU GO:  Visit altalodge.com or alta.com

This story originally was published on divinecaroline.com. I’ve since returned with my son in tow and will be adding a new story here at globetrotter.com soon!

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Alternative vacations: oh the tangled webs we weave.

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Samasati’s treehouse-like casitas

Puerta Viejo, Costa Rica. I never considered myself to have arachnophobic tendencies until I found myself in the middle of the jungle at a seven-day yoga retreat in Costa Rica.

Samasati Retreat and Rain Forest Sanctuary, a vast expanse of rainforest, is perched atop a mountain 10 miles inland from the Caribbean near the town of Puerto Viejo, just north of the Panama border.  The name Samasati derives from what are said to be Buddha’s last words.  This single word is supposed to mean, “Remember you are one with the ocean, trees and stars.  Remember you are Buddha.”

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  At Samasati, one is quickly made aware— you are also one with the scorpions,            cockroaches, bullet ants, geckos, neon-colored frogs, snakes and giant-horned    rhinoceros beetles easily mistaken for small,  low-flying helicopters.   

 I was no stranger to the outdoors. I’d just  come from eight days of mountain biking,  river rafting and trekking in the northern part of the country with REI Adventures.  Samasati was supposed to be the relaxing part of my vacation. 

My first night there however, was anything but. I sat bolt upright, awake in bed, hyper-vigilantly listening and watching for anything that moved or looked as if it might.  Each nerve stood on highest alert, too paralyzed to kill the light for fear of creepy crawlies.

A phobia is an irrational fear.  Mine was substantiated.  I’d just brushed my teeth, spitting toothpaste on a scorpion trying to fight the stream of water to keep from going down the drain.  I thought I’d won but one could never be too sure if the scorpion wasn’t simply playing possum, waiting until it heard the rhythmic breath of sleep to make its counter move.

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Beware of the menacing bullet ant

Bullet ants are the most feared of all insects in Costa Rica.  They easily span two inches in length, like some Arnold Schwarzenegger of ants.  It wasn’t clear to me if they were called bullet ants because their bodies were shaped like bullets or if the sting felt like being shot by one. 

Bart, whose job it was to sweep the steps with bleach to keep to slippery moss from growing, warned ominously at check-in, “It is a pain like you will never forget.” A bullet from a gun wound sounded more welcoming. I’d been stung by fire ants and could only magnify that pain infinitely in my mind. 

Bart went on, “Olivia, one of the cooks, was getting dressed for work one morning, pulled up her panties where a bullet ant was hiding and,” he smashed the broom handle down firmly and pointed to his backside, “bit her right there on the cheek, she couldn’t sit for three days.”

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 My Casita was one of 10 on this 250- acre rain forest with a spectacular view of  the sea that far surpassed what the website  promised.  The décor spelled organic rainforest—hardwood floors, walls and  ceiling, accented in ivory linens, fresh-cut  rainforest flowers, leather rockers and an  inviting hammock swaying on the veranda.  By day it was relatively peaceful except for  an occasional toucan squawk.

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Inside the casita

 Nighttime is when the jungle awakened with a symphony of nocturnal noise that was almost deafening.  A cacophony of what sounded like hundreds of thousands of frogs ribbeting, howler monkeys shrieking, locust-like creatures of all sorts reverberating in a range of pitches. Anything that could chirp, squawk, howl, clatter, hiss, buzz or twitter joined in. Alone in my bungalow, I felt like a human trapped in a bug’s jar.

Eyelids heavy that first night, I finally managed to turn the light off—fingers clinched on blankets pulled taut over my head.  Under the covers, I was sure I felt things biting me. Bed bugs?  Fleas?  Or just my imagination creating adrenaline-induced delirium tremors? This was like a seven-day episode of Fear Factor. 

I awakened my first morning to a howler monkey hurling a coconut on my tin roof. “Hey, stop that monkeying around!” I shouted. (I’d always wanted to say that to a monkey.)     

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Good morning!

 I rose and opened my blinds, startling a  gecko, which scurried up the window and  sent my heart rate soaring.  Climbing in the  shower I noticed an otherwise innocent fly.   Back home in Los Angeles, I’d ignore the  same insect as a common housefly. Here, I  suspected it had fangs, venom and a  personal vendetta; the buzz I felt certain sounded a little off.  I flinched every time it hovered near me as I washed my hair in record time. 

Walking to breakfast it was clear some of the sounds I’d heard the night before were insect construction noises.  The spiders had been busy spinning massive webs large enough to capture a 125-pound human.

Staying one step ahead, I devised a way to walk that knocked down the invisible webs by windmilling my arms. If my propelling appendages missed a spider’s web and I inadvertently stuck my head in one, I’d spasmodically brush off every limb, while running in place, bending over upside down, running my fingers through my hair, thrashing my head side to side.  This display of insanity provided great entertainment for those on the dining deck. 

845066Yoga took place twice a day. Time to relax and get centered—for some.  The studio was a hexagonal, screened-in structure that appeared to be inviting to two-legged as well as six-legged yogis.  There were those New Age types who gingerly, picked up bugs and lovingly guided them outside— the same way a boy scout might assist a little old lady crossing the street.  Not me.

Middle finger to thumb, I flicked the ants away from my mat with a scud missile force that launched them halfway across the room.  I watched especially for the ones that tried to blend into the brown hardwood floor.  Sneaky bastards.  I kept asking people “Is that a bullet ant?” 

“No, not big enough.”   

“Om” vibrating from our larynxes must have sounded like a mating call to the insect world, luring them into the glowing hut. I meditated with one eye open and when I was certain the other meditators had both theirs shut, I’d give the six-legged creatures a kind shove into their next incarnation with my yoga block.  Crunch. 

During one of the evening meditations mid week, I was laying with my rear-end pressed up against the wall, legs straight up, arms out to either side, palms up and open— this time managing to shut both eyes for more than a few seconds. Breathing the ujjayi breath, I had entered into a state of deep relaxation just when an exceptionally oversized cockroach mistook my palm for a landing strip.

I went from Zen bliss to full-blown fight or flight syndrome. Letting out a shriek that rivaled a howler monkey’s, I flung the cockroach into the air behind me, jolting the rest of the class from their calm, meditative states.  Quickly, I tried to regain some composure and hyperventilating whispered, “sorry, grande cucaracha.” If ever there was a time to take dead bug pose.

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Massages were available day and night.  I opted for an evening massage as after a proper one, I’m usually rendered vegetable-like and drift off to sleep afterwards.  But naked on the massage table, coated in oil, surrounded by candles, I imagined every insect on the 250-mile reserve with their antennas pressed up against the window, buzzing to have at just one artery of my blood.  If a dust particle touched me, I’d flinch.  Robert, the massage therapist would ask, “is the pressure too much?” 

“No, I thought I felt a mosquito.” 

“Maybe you need to embrace the rainforest life force, not resist it,” he offered.

I took at least one excursion a day off the Samasati premises.  My favorite was the canopy tour with Terra Aventuras— a thrilling adventure where you see the jungle through the eyes of a monkey.  At tree top level, a hundred feet up, secured with a rock-climbing harness, one leaps off a platform, careening via suspended cable the length of a football field to a total of eight platforms before rappelling down the final tree.

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Ziplining through the treetops of the rainforest

 While en route through the jungle to the launch  site, our guide caught a poison dart frog in his  hand.  In an attempt to get the neon-spotted  amphibian to hold still so I could snap a photo, he  propelled the frog around and around in his hand  as if dislodging ketchup from a bottle.  On about  the ninth rotation the slippery creature flung out  of his hand and onto, naturally, my chest.  Needless to say I didn’t get the photo I’d hoped for, but had anyone else been poised with a camera, they’d have captured a real Kodak moment.

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A rescue sloth named Buttercup

Angie, the yoga instructor and I ventured off to a sloth sanctuary and river cruise along the Estrella River Estuary one afternoon.  We first embarked on a two-hour tour via dugout canoe through the narrow river.  A British entomology photographer also happened to be in our boat. Lucky for us.  Never mind that he had a foot-long lens on his camera, he insisted on getting as close to any freak of nature along the riverbank.  Just a few feet away from a chartreuse lizard that Cali, our Caribbean guide said  “that baby iguana, nickname Jesus Christ Lizard.”

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Iguana plotting its move to attack me

 Staring eye to eye with its red beady ones, I  pondered which aspect of Christ the mini-  dinosaur was like. Has it been persecuted  by its predators, conceived immaculately,  when the mini dinosaur bolts towards me  walking on water with its webbed feet like s  something out of Jurassic Park.  I almost back flip off the other side of the canoe. A swift pan on the camera, followed by a loud thud hitting the bottom of the boat with Cali laughing uncontrollably, was all that was captured on home video of this miracle.

The Sloth sanctuary is where baby sloths like “Happy” whose mother was killed by dogs are brought for care and rehabilitated back into the wild. “Buttercup” is the teaching sloth meaning visitors can hold her.  Able to turn their heads 180 degrees, little Buttercup tilted her head around and lifted her arms for me to hold her like a small child wanting its mother to pick it up.

My maternal instincts gave way and I cradled this coarse-haired creature like an infant on one hip, it’s arm wrapped around my back and holding my finger with its three big toes.  I pressed my cheek against Buttercup’s, taking my massage therapist’s advice and embracing this adorable force of jungle life.  I was ready to adopt Buttercup and raise her as my own.

Another day a few brave souls went trekking in the rain forest along the beach in Punta Uva. We encountered giant 10-inch millipedes and finally, scores of bullet ants trying to find cover.  It was pouring—day five in a row of what the guidebooks called Costa Rica’s “dry season”. The rain turned the jungle floor a rich orange mud, which we spread like tribal war paint on our faces— mine in hopes of warding off any bullet ants. It proved affective.

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The not-so-eensy-weensy Costa rican Millipede

While waiting for my ride to the bus station, I boasted to Bart that I’d made it through the entire week bullet ant-bite free. He offered no congratulations but instead a few parting scary bug tales. 

Most sounded like Costa Rican urban myths, like the jungle urethra worm that “set up residence” in a local village man’s appendage while relieving himself too close to a tree. The unfortunate man’s penis swelled up so large, he had to cart his inflamed mass in a wheelbarrow to get into town and have it seen to. I was overcome with a feeling of whatever the opposite of penis envy is.  Vagina gratefulness?

I was thankful Bart waited until my last day to launch into his litany of entomological horror stories. To a comparatively large degree, I’d desensitized much of my phobia to a reasonable watchful eye.  By now I let the smaller spiders share my bathroom and even went so far as to name my bungalow’s geckos, which I viewed as guard lizards against more dangerous insects.  I was after all, a guest in their home. And they were probably thankful the five foot nine giant who kept the light on half the night was finally leaving them in peace.

IF YOU GO:   And, despite my initial bug aversion, I DO recommend going. Samasati is spectacular whether traveling solo (pre-mommyhood) as I did, or as a family. Children are welcomed and half price.

2-story, 2-bedroom/2-bath casitas start at $130 per person per night (children under 12 are 50% off), which includes breakfast and dinner along with complimentary shuttle to the beach. Excursions are a nominal fee extra.

Check Samasait’s website for guest artist retreats to coincide with your favorite yoga instructor and special packages. Costa Rica’s Samasati offers an affordable and memorable beach vacation.

HANDY TIPS FOR THOSE BUGGED  BY INSECTS.

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“What’s that wild scent I’m wearing?” you ask?

  1.Pack plenty of mosquito repellent— OFF,  Cutter or Jungle Juice will do.  Even if  you’re there in the “dry season” of winter  like I was and there really aren’t any  mosquitoes, it’s comforting to know you  reek of something that wards off insects of some sort.

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2. For that same reason, you can’t have too much of an arsenal of Benedryl, sting stick, cortisone and the like.  Arm yourself well.

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The fashion-forward arachnophobic look

3. Let’s talk clothing.  A mosquito hat (a goofy thing that fits over your head with netting that extends down the neck, tucking in the shirt collar) might allow for better breathing than covers pulled up over your head.  I’ve also seen full-on suits made of mosquito netting.  Severe phobics might opt for a beekeeper’s suit.

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Bee keeper gloves sold separately

As good of an idea as it may seem to wear one of those strap-on headlamps for walking through the jungle at night, freeing up arms for the spider web windmilling move, remember bugs are attracted to light.

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Hi-ya, spider webs!

4. A long stick makes for a nice “spider web machete” in a pinch.  Trekking poles work better and serve a dual purpose should you actually see a spider and need to “shish-ka-bob it”.

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Work on your backhand while swatting bugs

5. While you might not make yourself popular with the extreme “entomology lover types”, a portable bug zapper disguised as a tennis racquet won’t raise eyebrows when passing through TSA. The zapping noises sound like electric chair frying to an insect.  At the very least, you’ll feel part of the reincarnation practice for kamikaze-ing bugs.

This story originally was published on divinecaroline.com but has been updated with current pricing. If I’d realized earlier just how kid-friendly  Samasati is, I’d have gotten back here as a mom sooner. Ames was a natural at yoga from his early days. Hopefully he’ll still embrace yoga now.

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Ames’ first downward dog at Mommy n’ me yoga in Santa Monica

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A New Kind of Vail Night Life: Night Ski Biking

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Vail, Colorado   Vail has been a favorite ski getaway of mine since my college years. Its world-class, international flavor reminds me of places I learned to ski in Europe as a child.  On any given day in Vail, you can hear an assortment of foreign languages riding the lifts, strolling through its quaint village with horse-drawn sleighs or from a nearby table at one of the plentiful gourmet restaurants.

Visiting with my university’s ski club in the late 80s, I was equally attracted to Vail’s nightlife. These days, party revelry holds little interest to me.  But there’s another kind of nightlife going on in Vail.

Adventure Ridge, at the top of the Eagle Bahn gondola offers, among other activities, ski biking—at night.

Some say fear is the unknown.  Perched atop the mountain in pitch- black darkness on a ski bike (think squatty bike with skis instead of wheels) with foot-long mini skis attached to my boots and a headlamp strapped to my helmet.  I was about to meet fear head on.

Franz (as best I could decipher underneath my helmet and through his thick German accent), our bike guide, announced, “We follow one by one, please staying together.”

This wasn’t like night skiing where the mountain is lit up by bright, street-like lights.  The only illumination shone from our helmets, spelunking style. The fact that I was the only woman, almost twice the age of these boys should have tipped me off that I was getting in over my head.

My inclination was to snowplow with my feet, which proved ineffective in slowing this kamikaze missile, pointed straight down.  When I nearly rear ended the rest of the group, Franz instructed, “Don’t try to stop with zee feet, turn zee bike like zis into the mountain, like making parallel ski stop.”

Off we went again, through a black diamond mogul field abyss.  Traversing cautiously made things more difficult when the others got ahead leaving my lone headlamp to lead me down the mountain like a timid firefly.  These weren’t snowmobiles, so there’s no way for Franz to zip back up to find me. That in itself was motivation to keep up.

Trying to keep pace with these speed demons proved challenging. My depth perception, make that any kind of perception, was virtually nil; I was on the verge of tears and I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom and be done with this.  At the gondola base, I was stunned to hear Franz say, “Next time down…”

“Next time? You mean, we’re going again?” I shuddered.

“Yes, that was just zee warm up run.” Franz said. I told them to go ahead, I’d had enough.

Vail's Adventure Ridge

“No,” Franz and the college kids chimed in, “you have to come with us.” I was surprised to hear they wanted the slow poke to tag along. On the gondola ride up, I listened to them recount a very different ride with euphoric laughter and token, “dude did you see me catch air?” remarks. I felt torn between bailing and wanting to feel what they’d experienced

We exited the gondola and Franz said, “This way.”  I begrudgingly followed.

This time looking down the mountain, it didn’t look quite so daunting.  We started out and I relaxed into the turns, carving left, then right, linking free-flowing turns and giving into the unknown. A few times I went airborn off a mogul. It was like being on a rollercoaster, Space Mountain to be exact.  In pitch blackness, flying through the air, and landing with a forgiving cushion from the shocks.  At a fork in the trail, the group was waiting. “You okay?” Franz asked.

“Yeah,” I said, taken aback by my grin starting to widen.

“Now we go thru zee woods. We must stay close together to not hit zee trees.” Franz instructed.

This meant I couldn’t linger.  I abandoned all fear, which to my surprise was replaced with that silly uncontrollable giggling thing that happens to me on amusement park rides.  It’s the kind of uncontrollable laughter accompanied by a stream of tears from crying in pure euphoric, scary fun.

I felt the whoosh of the wind and spray of the snow, going up and down on the groove of the path, winding through the shadows of the trees. Each of us let out a “Whoo-hoo!” coming off the ridge out of the woods onto the catwalk.

Franz was waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain to turn the bikes in.

“That’s it, we don’t get to go again?”  I asked.

Vail remains one of my favorite resorts for all the same reasons as it did before—and now for a whole new one— the nightlife, on that crazy ski bike thing. Best of all, unlike my college days, there’s no hangover.

HOW TO GET THERE  Colorado Mountain Express provides transfers to and from either Denver International (110 miles away) starting at $69 one way or Vail/Eagle County Airport (30 miles away). Reservations: (800) 334-7433 or www.ridecme.com

WHERE TO STAY  Vail Marriott in Lions Head is situation in a prime location at the base of the mountain with an on-site spa. $189-$669/night; Reservations: (800) 648-0720 or www.marriott.com

WHAT TO SEE AND DO  Skiing and Snowboarding Vail is the largest single-mountain ski resort in North America offering 5,289 acres of skiable terrain. Check the website for value ski packages and girlfriend getaway skiing and snowboarding deals.

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Night Ski Biking Guided tours take bikers through powder, moguls and groomers. Headlamp and special boots are required and provided. Tours offered at 5, 5:45, 6:30. and 7:15 p.m. $80 per person (includes equipment.) Ages 10 and up.

WHERE TO TREAT SORE MUSCLES  Golden Leaf Spa located in Vail Marriot. An Extreme Defrost ($200) includes a soak in a hydrotherapy tub (with aromatherapy), a Signature Facial and 50-minute Swedish massage. Add on a Hot Oil Scalp Massage ($35) to treat hat/helmet hair, adding shine and luster to combat dry mountain air. Reservations: (970) 479-5004 ext. 5004

 Colorado Ski Museum honors the legacy of skiing and snowboarding with photographs, films and artifacts documenting more than 130 years of Colorado skiing. Located on the third level of the Vail transportation center. $1 donation. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue-Sun (970) 476-1876

WHERE TO EAT  On mountain: Game Creek Situated atop the Game Creek Bowl with spectacular valley views. Take the Eagle Bahn Gondola up, the restaurant will limo you over in a heated snowcat. The four-course gourmet dinner is divine. Don’t miss the filets of turbot with truffle essence or lavender honey crème brulee. Reservations: (970) 479-4275.  :  Cucina Rustica At The Lodge Nestled in the heart of Vail Villiage at 174 East Gore Creek Dr. The Spinaci e Capri salad is legendary. Reservations: (970) 477-3743

This story originally was published in Women’s Health & Fitness Magazine by Lori Mayfield

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