Exploring Playa la Penca, Costa Rica

Playa la Penca, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Guanacaste is famed for its beaches. They’ve earned this slice of Costa Rica global notoriety for their brilliant sand, clear waters and world-class surf. So integral to Guanacaste’s heritage are their famous ‘playas’ that the Pacific coast is peppered with towns which have taken their names from their closest beach; from Playa Hermosa to Playa Tamarindo, western Costa Rica is a veritable mecca for beach junkies. One such beach town, Playas del Coco, became my home for three months of my travels. It’s fair to say that we didn’t have a great relationship, Coco and I. Some days, driven to the brink of despair that any vestiges of natural beauty remained in this over-developed corner of the rich coast, I’d run to the hills in a desperate attempt to escape the sports bars and American diners of the main strip. Just a few kilometres away from the garish lighting and incessant noise, I’d find solace in the quiet, unadulterated calm of Playa la Penca. Not to be confused with Playa Penca – the large, popular stretch of beach which sits squarely in the middle of the long Pacific coast – Playa la Penca is a small, secluded cove which nestles demurely in between the resort towns of Coco and Hermosa.
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Teaching my Dad to scuba dive

Teaching my Dad to scuba dive in Costa Rica

My father has put his life into my hands once in my lifetime already – when he taught me to drive. Stubborn to a fault, I drove my poor Mum to the brink of nervous breakdown – speeding up when she said slow down, insisting that ‘people just don’t drive like they did in your day any more’, and shouting over the discordant wailings of my indie rock mix-tape that my driving instructor said it was ‘totally fine’  to have music playing while driving. It came to a head when, after pulling over for a terse dressing down, I slammed the gearstick into reverse so obstinately that it came clean off in my hand. And there ended the car’s no-claims-bonus and my mother’s patience. After that, I had to wheedle my Dad to take my out to practice as often as his nerves were up to it. Finally, after months of permanently white knuckles from gripping the grab-handle and toes permanently cramped from slamming on the phantom break, I emerged successfully as a bonafide driver. Quite a good one I’d like to think.
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Month #6 – the good, the bad and the unexpected

Month 6 - the good, the bad and the unexpected

Locations: Coco, La Fortuna, Arenal, Monteverde – Costa Rica // London – England // Singapore // Pulau Tioman – Malaysia The good Where do I start? The sixth month of my travels has been defined by so many singular moments of complete elation that it’s impossible to pick just one to eulogise over here. Salsa dancing in the new year on the streets of Costa Rica, or watching the sunset from my favourite local beach. Teaching my Dad to scuba dive, or the consequent time we spent travelling around Costa Rica together.  Soaring through the canopy of a Cloud Forest on zip lines, or squealing in delight as inquisitive coatis sniffed my ankles. Seeing my family and bestest friends after half a year of absence, or enjoying the first hot bath, duvet and cup of tea I’ve had for months. And that’s all before I laid eyes on the paradise that is to become my home for the next chapter of my adventure – the mind-blowingly beautiful Pulau Tioman in Malaysia. January has taken my breath away on an almost daily basis and has left me with a backlog of anecdotes that are jostling for position in my editorial calendar. After such an eventful month, I can’t wait to share the stories with you but, as each seem to deserve their own post, I’ll whet your appetite with a snapshot of my month in pictures…
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Surprise surprise!

Surprising my sister on her 30th birthday

On the 20th January 2015, I spent the evening in a piano karaoke bar in Charing Cross. The year before that, I was in a pub in Victoria, wrapped up against the typical January cold. The previous year, I could be found dancing to Balkan Electro music (yes, apparently that is a genre all of its own) in Battersea. Want to know what I was doing the year before that? I can tell you if you like. Along with every January the 20th there’s ever been, bar a few unmitigated exceptions. That’s because January 20th is my sister’s birthday.
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The World is my Office – Ed

Working as a superyacht engineer

Ed is a good friend of mine and one of the people who actually inspired me to up-and-leave the conventions of a UK office-job lifestyle and travel the world. Watching him leave the safety net of Cambridge and jump head first into the unknown showed me that change is possible. After a year of getting sick of looking at his ridiculously inspiring Instagram photos, I finally plucked up the courage to quit my job and move abroad (and now can give him a good run for his money in Instagram wars…) so I’m excited to share his experiences in the latest ‘The World is my Office’ interview:
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Bucket list item #3 – celebrate Christmas in a foreign country

Christmas in Costa Rica

Roaring fires, presents under a lovingly decorated tree, family gathering together over a delicious roast dinner, novelty jumpers – that’s what Christmas means to me. It’s my favourite day of the year and no amount of scroogery (yep, that’s a word) will pop my festive bubble. Or bauble if you will. And yet this year, for the very first time, I found my self struggling to get into the traditional Christmas spirit. Where oh where is my Christmas spirit? OK, I have a confession to make. I have in fact spent Christmas in a foreign country a few times when I was younger – both in Canada, Italy and, a couple of times, in Germany – but these are all cold and snowy Winter countries where chestnuts on the fire and carols at midnight are still very much the norm. So in my constant quest for new experiences, I first penned this addition to my list with visions of palm trees, beaches and scorching hot weather shimmying through my mind. Last year, in beautiful Costa Rica, my vision would become a reality.
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Becoming a PADI diving instructor – Part I, the IDC

Step 1 in becoming a diving instructor - the IDC

People choose to travel for many different reasons: to see new sights and marvel at the wonders of the world; to meet people and make new friends; to give themselves the time and space to heal from the pain of loss or heartbreak. My list of ‘why’ was long and complex, but right up there at the top was the chance to learn something new, to challenge and test myself. With half a decade passing since my university days, I was aware of just how sluggish my ‘learning’ muscle was becoming. Of course I learned things over my five years of work, lots of things in fact. I picked up new skills, became well versed in the nuances of office culture, and eagerly rose to new professional challenges. But the problem was, once I’d mastered something new, I’d start to feel just a little bit bored, unfulfilled. This was the driver that lead me down the road to professional diving. Not only would I be learning a whole host of new skills – communicating underwater, teaching, the art of perfect buoyancy control – I’d finally be putting the sleepy corner of my brain that was responsible for acquiring new, academic information back into action. Not just palm trees and rainbows – I wanted to travel to challenge myself by learning something completely new
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Vive la resolution!

Making resolutions for 2016

I never used to be a big fan of new years resolutions. By which I mean, I never used to be very good at keeping them which is tantamount to the same thing. I tended to pick grandiose new challenges that I thought would make me a better, more rounded person, and then suffer the frustration and sense of failure that would come when I inevitably failed to have mastered Italian, learned how to kick box, and got a boyfriend by the end of the year (oh 2002, what a cruel year you were!) But last year, when this blog was still nothing more than my guilty little secret, I set about making a list of achievable goals for 2015. I tried a new approach, I focused on concepts rather than things – ‘say yes’, ‘be honest’, ‘live in the moment’ – and, in the main, I’m pleased to say I succeeded.
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Month #5 – the good, the bad and the unexpected

Passing the PADI IDC

Location: Playas del Coco, Costa Rica The good Becoming a certified dive instructor Oh my god, you did your divemaster?? Why didn’t you say?!…she says sarcastically, well aware that I’ve spent the last couple of months inundating my readers with posts about becoming a divemaster. Well I am pleased to say that I am finally done with the divemaster chapter of my life, excellent thought it was, and am stepping proudly into the next part of the story – actual real live instructor.
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Bucket List Item #5 – Celebrating Thanksgiving with actual Americans

Celebrating Thanksgiving with actual Americans - another item ticked off the bucket list

Bucket list item #5 – Celebrate Thanksgiving with actual Americans who can explain the full meaning of this holiday, and yams, to a clueless Brit like myself. Christmas is coming and Ellie’s getting fat. This is in a large part thanks to my first ever experience of the great American tradition that is the Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is a holiday that has baffled me for some time now, ever since I first saw movies featuring quaint little children prancing around a stage dressed as turkeys, Indians and pilgrims – what the hell was this holiday all about? Is it like the American version of Christmas? And what on earth is a yam? All very valid questions for a young Brit to ask, and so I reserved a place for this mysterious holiday on my bucket list and vowed to get to the bottom of it one day. As it turns out, that day was Thursday November 26th 2015.
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