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Costa Rica // Travel

Costa Rica is an untamed masterpiece. It's a jungle. It's mountains. It's extreme sports. It's... adventure. 

Cloud Forest near Monteverde, Costa Rica

Cloud Forest near Monteverde, Costa Rica

Suzuki Jimney

Suzuki Jimney

It's a travel friendly country without being touristy. Sure, there are businesses that target tourists but it's easy to get around those less authentic attractions to find some genuine Costa Rican adventure. Most people speak at least some English. Flying into San Jose is also relatively cheap. We bought our tickets, round trip, for less than $300 (May 2017 east coast USA). Cost of travel, adventure, food, drinks, and board were all relatively inexpensive as well. We went out to a local restaurant, ordered two dinners and a couple of drinks, and were pleasantly surprised to see a bill that translated to $8. Again, avoid places geared towards tourists. They tend to be wildly overpriced. 

I spent the majority of my time in two towns around the west coast of Costa Rica. Before I get into our experiences in the towns, let's just talk about the roads and our car. We rented a Suzuki Jimney for our journey. The Jimney is a small 4x4 manual transmission SUV that really only seats two people comfortably. It was an absolute joy to drive and it added its own personality to our journey. We looked forward to our drives, windows down in the smallest SUV you can imagine, each time we embarked on the adventure that is navigating the roads of this beautiful country. The roads themselves are rough, but completely drivable. I opted for 4x4, but I wouldn't say it was absolutely necessary.

 

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

Lake Arenal Hotel & Brewery

Lake Arenal Hotel & Brewery

As soon as we touched down, we grabbed our Jimney and headed to the Lake Arenal area, specifically to the town of La Fortuna. We stayed in a small hostel near the fringe, close enough to walk into the city center. La Fortuna is surely one of the most diverse adventures hubs in the world. It's lure is everywhere: ATVs, hiking, kayaking, tubing, waterfalls, natural hot springs, high ropes, caves, canyoning, rappeling.... and more. We could easily have spent a couple of weeks here and just taken the opportunity to embark on a different extreme adventure each day. 

While the extreme sports are a fine embarkment, the real crown jewel of La Fortuna is the Arenal Volcano. This is a must do. We hiked around the volcano and upon completion, enjoyed a beverage on an elevated patio only a hundred yards or so from the base of the Volcano. One of the joys of our trip! Something I have noticed is that in many developing countries, there is more freedom to be an idiot have fun when it comes to adventuring. Despite being only a few hundred feet from an active Volcano (which happens to be due to erupt sometime soon), there was little to no security. We explored the base of the mountain and ventured through black as tar volcanic rock for several hours in bewilderment of the power and scope of this volcano’s last eruption. We stood on top of mounds and mounds of now solid volcanic rock.

Afterwards, we popped down into town for a bite at a local restaurant. Soda Viquez provides a plethora of excellent traditional local foods. Their cuisine depends heavily on local fresh fruits and veggies. A typical meal will often have rice, beans, and fried plantains accompanying your choice of meat. A typical breakfast includes lots of fresh local fruits like pineapple, avocado, etc.

For our journey to the next town, we got an early start and began the drive around Lake Arenal, the lake that sits at the foot of the Arenal Volcano. This is an absolutely gorgeous drive! Remember when I said that driving around Costa Rica in our Jimney was half the fun? This was one of the drives I was referring to! This drive had an additional gem as well. Near the finish of our drive, we happened by a small brewery and hotel on the other side of the lake. While I wouldn't say the brewing of beer is a strong suite of Costa Rica, this was a pleasant malty surprise that I would happily recommend.

After the quick stop, we headed to a small mountain house not far from Monteverde, the famed cloud forest of Costa Rica. From a physical beauty standpoint, this is one of the most jaw dropping places I've ever visited. The mountains were soft and simply flowed from one to another. They're made of jungles, not hardwood forests, and covered in sparse patches of clouds. I've never seen anything quite like it. We spent a lot of time just relaxing and taking in this view (the large opening photo above!). 

Our hosts defined our time in Monteverde. This Spanish only speaking couple was easily one of my favorite hosts of all time. They owned several homes on the property and took it upon themselves to show us around their place, which was covered in fruit bearing plants. They also showed us around town and prepared several meals for us. They directed us to one of our favorite restaurants, not far from their home. I believe so emphatically in staying with locals whenever possible because of experiences like this. It changed our entire trip for the better!

 

On our way back to San Jose, we drove down the coast near the ocean town of Punta Arenas. It was the perfect final farewell to the beautiful country. Despite it’s status as a well-known vacation spot, Costa Rica still has the feel of an untamed and unexplored jungle. Most of our driving was on small roads through farmlands that were void of any other travelers. The people were friendly and welcoming, and rightfully proud of their beautiful country.

Have questions about traveling to Costa Rica? Have questions about traveling in general? Have a product you want taken to the ends of the world to be photographed? Feel free to email me anytime: hello@stephenatohi.com

 

Kathrine & Logan's Citadel // Wedding

This wedding was an absolute blast to shoot! Logan and Katherine are the classic Charleston fairytale. Logan went to the Citadel, Katherine to College of Charleston. Logan is tall dark and handsome, and Katherine's the sweet, fun loving gal who brings him out of his shell. They're an awesome mix. 

Coordination: Charleston Blooms
Ceremony Venue: Summerall Chapel at The Citadel
Reception Venue: Charleston Yacht Club
Dress: Allure Bridals, Aurora Bridal
Hair/makeup: Paper Dolls
Videography: Francis West Studios

Amsterdam, Netherlands // Travel

     Amsterdam is a vibrant, progressive city with a wonderful arts, drinks, and food culture. One of the things I'll take away from the city is it's eclectic mix of vibes. It's a really odd place to be. I think I would most readily compare it to some sort of mix between Portland, OR and Venice, Italy. Many of the historical cues and European cultural cues are there, but as with Portland, you get a sense that they take pride in being weird and the city feels like it's brooding with artistic angst. Couple that with canals, WW2 history, Vincent Van Gogh, and then boom. Amsterdam, Netherlands.

     For this post, let's take a page from the yellow journalism that's catching on everywhere and play 5 Things You Have to Do In Amsterdam!

Canal Ride Amsterdam Stephen Atohi

1. Canal Ride
Yeah, it's a cliche in Amsterdam, but it's still a must do. We went in December, right in the middle of the Amsterdam Festival of Lights and it was nothing short of magical. Imagine a Christmas lights display, but held entirely on a river that snakes through an already historic and charming city. Now imagine sipping on Gluhwein as you travel through this wondrous city (Gluhwein is warmed up red wine mixed with oranges and winter spices like nutmeg and cinnamon). That's what it's like doing a winter canal tour in Amsterdam.
 

2. Go to The Anne Frank House
The single most transcendent historical experience I've ever had. There's something so honest and genuine about viewing something from a child's perspective. If you aren't familiar, Anne Frank was a jewish girl who hid away in the attic of a family friend's home in Amsterdam. She was eventually captured by Nazis and died in a concentration camp. However, she kept a journal of all of her daily thoughts and experiences while she was in hiding. Quotes from her journal are used regularly in the museum, along with a tour through her actual hideout. It's tough to describe such an engaging experience as what they've put together over there. Just trust me on this and go see it.
 

Brouwerif 't IJ

Brouwerif 't IJ

3. Visit Brouwerif 't IJ
It's a brewery. And a really good one. The Netherlands aren't known for their IPAs, in fact they readily associate those with the USA, so be sure to try German style Lagers, Belgium Wits, Trippels, Doppels, and Abbey Ales. If you're in the camp, like I was before visiting, that many of those style of beers aren't very good, this is the time and place to reopen that chapter and try them again. If you're in the camp that beer in general isn't very good, this is also the time and place to reopen that chapter and try them again. Beers from this part of the world are normally more drinkable, more crisp, sometimes even a little sweet, but definitely still flavorful! Simply put, here in the US, we don't do a very good job of imitating a beer that they mastered many, many years ago. To pair along with their excellent beer, have a few bites of their speciality sausages and cheeses! Cheers!

p.s. also, it's housed inside of a windmill!!
 

Try Pankonen
You go to Amsterdam, you get pancakes. It's that simple. Their pancakes are A LOT more diverse than what we're used to here in the states. You can find pancakes almost anywhere. There are restaurants dedicated to the craft all around the city and you'll often find street vendors selling a miniature, and very sweet pancake called "Poffertjes." Inside restaurants you'll find they have savory styles, think bacon and cheese, more fruit styles, with bananas and strawberries, and healthy styles, with items like spinach, and then, of course, more dessert sweet styles. Try them all and not just for breakfast! You can chow down almost anytime of the day!.

I would like to give an honorable mention to Stampot, which is this winter dish in the Netherlands that combines sausage, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and other vegetables to give you a medley of hearty warm comfort foods in one dish. 

Pathe Tuschinski Theatre

Pathe Tuschinski Theatre

5. Visit Pathe Tuschinski Theatre
 After a long day of walking, this is definitely the thing to do. This is easily the most beautiful theatre I've ever been to. It was originally built in the 1920s, commissioned as a theatre for plays and musicals. However, it is now a movie theatre primarily. While the exterior boasts dramatic Gothic styling, the interior almost has an asian twist thrown in as well. When we were in Amsterdam, Star Wars Rogue One was premiering. This was a no brainer for me, as I'm a HUGE Star Wars nerd. 

All in all, Amsterdam is really incredible and I'd highly recommend it. I would especially recommend it to those wanting to dip their feet into the world of international travel but don't want to get too crazy. While it isn't as easy as say a resort in Mexico, it has all the creature comforts you're used to. Public transport is easy. Most of the local people speak English very well. Many of the customs and shops will seem familiar as well.

Most importantly, just go! Anywhere! Traveling is the best!

Have questions!? Feel free to email me anytime at hello@stephenatohi.com