Travel Costa Rica by Photograph

It is always a strange feeling. The moment you step on the plane to fly back home that feeling of didn’t I just get here envelopes you.

Prior to leaving people kept telling me how much they loved Costa Rica. Would this be like the movie everyone tells you to see and those high expectations leave you disappointed. With Costa Rica it was different. The experience exceeded the hype. Here are a few photos to share a piece of Costa Rica with you. ‘Pura Vida’ the good life.

Howler Monkey relaxing in Tamarindo.

Howler Monkey relaxing in Tamarindo.

Every morning and evening the sounds of the Howler Monkey filled the air. Initially what seemed strange by the end it was comforting as you felt a part of nature rather than an intruder.

The Beach at Sunset enjoyed by all

The Beach at Sunset enjoyed by all

It is hard to imagine a sunset changing the color of the sky, the sand and water but the magic of the sunset was the place to be as tourists and locals all relaxed on beach enjoying nature’s splendour.

 

The waves of Playa Grande

The waves of Playa Grande

Most days the waves were there to surf, bogie board or simply swim as the power of the ocean shared its playground. Some days on Playa Grande the waves and riptides were so strong we were reminded of the strength of nature.

Hummingbird

Hummingbird

 

Iguana

Iguana

White-Faced Monkey

White-Faced Monkey

Crocodile of Palo Verde

Crocodile of Palo Verde

The wildlife of Costa Rica was there to see. Whether it be on a hike through a National Park, a boat ride down the river or sharing the town Costa Rica is the home to a variety of wildlife to please the professional or casual photographer like me.

The ocean paints a mural in the sand

The ocean paints a mural in the sand

A walk of the multi-coloured sand beach of Tamarindo Bay allows nature to use the beach as its canvas.

A trip to Costa Rica as discussed with other travellers who remarked “It truly makes you wonder if somehow we have our priorities mixed-up.” Sharing our world with the environment by letting it be part of us and us part of nature rather than pushing nature out to create our concrete jungles.

All photos taken by James W Hoddinott with his Sony a57

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Leadership: Vision, Action and Integrity

 buffet

Leadership whether it be of our country, province, city, business, education or our local communities and families all have something in common. It isn’t easy and in order to be effective it requires some of the same characteristics. Have you had the good fortune to see the dedication and strength of a parent as they put the needs of their children and family ahead of their own? It takes hard work, commitment, dedication and honesty. It sometimes means making tough decisions, it may mean doing without because of unexpected expenses or just the cost of living. It requires planning, organizing and communication.

This fall Winnipeggers will be going to the polls to elect a new mayor, city council and school trustees. People that have tremendous influence, yet the percentage of people taking advantage of their democratic right to vote continues to decline. It has become blatantly obvious that we need to do our due diligence by not only voting but also electing quality people. Many voters have lost their faith that we can elect someone with the integrity, intelligence and energy to make a difference at City Hall, in government at any level for that matter.

People have grown tired over the last few years of what appears to be a litany of broken promises, back door politics, favoritism and some serious financial over-runs that will negatively affect our City now and moving forward. One could go on at nauseam about the problems plaguing City Hall, but in the end, the current issues will be the starting place for a new mayor and council. The question we need to ask ourselves is which candidate, if any, has a vision for Winnipeg that is sustainable and creates a form of governance and leadership that will instil confidence in an electorate that no longer believes they have a voice. Governance is about more than what we need today, it must also be about ensuring that we create a sustainable future for our children and future generations. It is about balancing a budget and protecting our important assets so that we can have a city that is vibrant now and in the future.

In essence from the outside looking in, if we are to bring about the change required to create an effective municipal government it demands a unified effort by those elected to recognize our municipal government is broken and then put a plan in effect that will have community voice as an integral part of our local government. A daunting task to say the least. Winnipeg’s most valuable asset is the people. We need to value what they have to say about the needs of their community, their local neighbourhoods as well as their views on what our city’s priorities need to be.

It will require a mayor that can create a vision and belief in our city that people matter. All people. Many issues will require a leader who can partner with the other levels of government to put together a cohesive effort to unravel the complicated issues related to our faltering infrastructure. Examining the fairness of our current taxation system including the city’s ability to raise the needed capital to fund the projects required to put our city on its feet again. A mayor able to work with all levels of government, including civil servants, and businesses (please note that is plural) to create a strong and vibrant Winnipeg which will help make our province stronger. It is no easy task facing any newly elected officials.

What are the characteristics we should be looking for in our Mayor?

vision

1)      A Vision for the future. The mayor should be able to look at where the city is now and where it needs to be in two years, five years and even twenty-five years. It is looking at the city from above and identifying what pieces of the puzzle are missing and put a plan of action together that allows us to finish that puzzle. We don’t ram puzzle pieces in places they don’t fit.

2)      A great communicator. It is one thing to have a vision but can our mayor articulate that vision and convince others to join in making that vision a reality. The vision needs to become a shared vision. In order for this to happen it means meeting and talking with community groups, business leaders and developers as well as those everyday people who pay taxes to keep our city running.

3)      Be an inspiration to others. In the end it will not be the mayor who does great things but the mayor who creates an atmosphere where the people of Winnipeg are able to make each community a great place to live. The mayor needs to be the leader and facilitator in putting the vision into action.

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4)      Is surrounded by good people.  Decisions need to be made by people who can make the vision and plans happen. We must take the politics, out of action. It easy for a mayor or political leader to lose their way as a result of political and media pressure. An individual who makes promises they can’t keep or is willing to sell off assets to keep the city’s head above water, is not the kind of person or mayor we need. The mayor must have people who keep the vision moving ahead and not get side-tracked because of an issue of the day or the day-to-day management of the city. If we have good people, the management of the city should take care of itself. If the management of the city’s daily affairs isn’t working, then that is another problem to be fixed, another plan of action to put in place. Do the civil servants and leaders in the city’s departments have the ability to advise the mayor and if so, do their voices count? If they don’t have the skills why not? All individuals both political and non-political, need to be focused on what is best for the city and set aside their personal interests and agendas.

5)      The mayor must be a person of action. Change is difficult. If what we are doing isn’t working we need to do something different. It must be done strategically and with an eye on the long-term vision. We don’t do something just to do something. It must fit into where we see our city going or it will cause more problems and cost more than the issue it was supposed to solve.

integrity

6)      The mayor must have Integrity. Michael Josephson in his article HIRE FOR CHARACTER, TRAIN FOR SKILLS: Character is an Essential Competence he states, “If you were hiring a new CEO, what are the most important qualities you’d look for? Surely you’d want a high level of demonstrated competence – knowledge, experience, intelligence, vision, communication, and relationship skills and the ability to motivate, manage, and solve problems. But what about qualities such as honesty, moral courage, accountability, and fairness?”

Each of us can make our own decisions as they read this article as to if any of our current candidates meet any or all of the criteria listed above. In essence it doesn’t matter if it is for government, business, or education, the qualities of a good leader do not change. It doesn’t matter what the situation, we need leaders with integrity, intelligence and energy. We need to have high expectations of our leaders. We don’t need someone whose goal is politics, saying what they think people want to hear. We need someone whose goal is to make a difference, create a better Winnipeg. Give people the facts about our current financial situation, be transparent with the data about our crumbling infrastructure, poverty and openly discuss possible solutions as we work on developing our shared vision for Winnipeg a reality.

We need someone who is willing to put the needs of our city and its people ahead of their own. We need a leader.

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Miravalles Volcano “Harnessing the Energy”

Waterfall #1

Waterfall #1

A visit to Costa Rica, actually any place that is different from your own, gives you a great opportunity to see and experience a different culture, different ideas, as  well as explore the natural and man-made wonders of the country  When the opportunity to visit one of the Volcanoes that are part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” we chose Miravalles which is part of the North Volcanic Mountain Ridge in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, This region is also home to the Miravalles Geothermal Field, which consists of five plants, produces nearly 14% of the National Electrical System’s (SEN) capacity; it opened in 1994.

Costa Rica is attempting to become less reliant on fossil fuels and already harnesses hydro-electric, wind and to a smaller extent solar power and increasing the country’s ability to access the geothermal energy from the volcanoes would create a cleaner and more environmental solution to the counties energy needs. The balancing act will be to harness the power through the development of more Geothermal Plants and continue to protect the National Parks and Eco-Tourism which is important both environmentally and economically.

Close-up of Volcanic Mud

Close-up of Volcanic Mud

To visit Miravalles Volcano we went with Xplore Costa Rica and were fortunate enough to travel with 5 people from New York City. It is highly recommended when exploring Miravalles Volcano and Las Hornillas Volcanic Hot Springs you utilize the services of a guide. This is the second time we had local Naturalist Eugene as our guide who was accompanied by Felix who was making like us his first trip to Miravalles Volcano. Eugene knows the flora, fauna and wildlife of Costa Rica and understands the importance of the environment.

The tour includes horseback riding, a 90 minute hike through the rainforest, over suspension bridges to see 5 waterfalls with each one getting better as you moved further up the volcano. After a traditional Costa Rican lunch (pescado, pollo or cerdo, beans and rice as well as plantains and cheese) you had the opportunity to explore the crater and enjoy the steam and bubbling clay before taking a natural steam bath, a relaxing soak in the hot volcanic mud, then finishing by dipping yourself in the three different pools as you cleansed your pores and skins.

Felix and Fernando and the base of the Waterfall

Felix and Fernando and the base of the Waterfall

Fernando or as he is playfully known as ‘Mono’ led us on the hike and is quite the photographer. He borrowed my camera to take some amazing shots of our experience as you walked across the suspension bridge or in front of the one of the magnificent waterfalls. You have a choice to go by tractor or horseback and as a group we took the horses. All of us were novices to say the least, with three of our group never have been on a horse. The horses being trail horses were well-tempered and any initial concerns anyone had were eased by our three tour guides.

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

The hiking although not strenuous does require a moderate level of fitness and balance. It is rocky in places and a natural rainforest. A couple of the well-built suspension bridges were long but offered spectacular views of the majesty of Miravalles Volcano. The hike is certainly worth the effort. Cooler because it is out of the sun and you start to enter parts of the rainforest with an opportunity to see some unique flora and fauna.

Sulfur Deposit in Crater

Sulfur Deposit in Crater

The crater itself is a geologists dream with deposits of sulfur, iron and the bubbling volcanic mud creating steam vents as you meander through this wonder of nature. Although a bit reluctant at first the natural steam bath is hot and wonderful as you prepare yourself for a dip in the volcanic mud. Initially we sat in the closest mud bath as the water streamed into the pool but it was very hot. The second mud bath was cooler and we were able to cover ourselves in nature’s skin cream. The showers to clean off the mud is a must as you finally take your time as you relax in the three natural pools. It was a great time to relax with a cerveza or some agua before the journey back into Guanacaste.

The trip to Miravalles Volcano was fantastic but a few tips:

1) Don’t take your best swim suit

2) Towels are a must

3) They say mosquito repellant, but so far I have found Costa Rica almost bug free

4) A Camera

5) ALWAYS end your day with a spectacular walk on the beach at sunset

Tamarindo Beach Sunset

Tamarindo Beach Sunset

 

For more information visit Xplore Costa Rica or The Costa Rica Travel Blog

or

Las Hornillas Volcanic Activity Centre

All photos taken with my Sony A57

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Birth of a Story

writing

It has often been said the writing of a story, a novel is like giving birth. I am not sure about that, as one look at my photo and the amazement of childbirth I have obviously not fully experienced. As a father you can feel the kicking, watch the growth of your child though ultra-sound, reading and talking to your child as they grow inside of the mother’s womb and even be there at birth, but you will never experience the gift a mother feels as the new life grows inside of her. The creation of story is an incredible release of something inside of the writer that in the beginning, at conception, is growing from a mere idea, to vivid images and thoughts that grow in you until it is born, is given life.

One of my bosses once said to me, “You can’t be passionate about everything?” I understood his point, as at times one’s passions can have you lose focus on the task at hand. However, when it comes to writing, it is those passions, life’s experiences that feed the story providing the nutrition for the story to grow into something powerful, meaningful and lasting.

One of my favorite quotes is “If your writing doesn’t have a point, why write.” It is through issues of social justice, human rights, poverty, education, the rights of children, photography and the sustainability of our planet that feed my imagination to look at what was, what is and what could be. I use my blog to write and express my thoughts and ideas about all my passions. Blogging for me has had a positive impact on my writing. It has taught me to take an idea, read, research, and expand my understanding and then write. Just write.

When writing, even sleep is different. Dreams are more vivid, more real, more dramatic. The world around you changes. Faces of strangers become characters, the simple becomes complex and for the mind there is no peace, no rest, just words bouncing about trying to get out. Long walks on the beach, staring out the window to the casual onlooker may appear to be times of relaxation, but when you are in the midst of writing, the story is always there. Lurking in your subconscious making you appear distant and lost. People talk and their words fall in amongst all those other ideas and thoughts and sometimes disappear without a response. Writing can be solitary, but never lonely as the characters take life, become real.

I have started my next novel so conception has occurred, each word, every sentence seems to reach a point where it takes on a life of its own, Where each word leads to the next and before long that mere idea you started with evolves. Characters are created breeding new life, new conflict, raw emotions and at times I no longer feel I am writing the story but it is using me as the scribe.

The birth of a story is exciting and more that just a little frightening. Like raising a child, you give it your time, your love and attention but you don’t always have control and eventually, once released out of your arms and into the world, then a new life and journey will begin.

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Endless Sand Beach: Playa Grande

Playa GrandePlaya Grande is probably best known for being the hatching ground for one of the world’s ancient and spectacular reptiles the Leatherback Turtle. Even during nesting time during the winter months, sightings of this beautiful creature are rare. It is hard to imagine the enormity of a 700 pound turtle sunning itself on the beach. That is what the many tourists hope to see when they come to Playa Grande.

As school holidays permit the summer months are the time given to me to experience the wonders of Playa Grande. A short boat ride for a small toll to cross the river that leads from Tamarindo Beach into the magnificent mangrove forest of Baulas Marine National Park that is home to an abundance of flora, fauna and wildlife. A boat ride down the river will lead you through numerous species that make this National Park one of Costa Rica’s many wonders.

crab

An early morning walk along Playa Grande Beach from Tamarindo Beach will take a leisurely 90 minute stroll until you arrive at Playa Ventanas which is a secluded bay that on many days would be your own playground. The beach leading to Playa Grande is the home to many sea creatures and shells that find refuge in the sand along this quiet passage. Many an experienced surfer crosses the river from Tamarindo to Playa Grande to remove themselves from the crowds in hope of catching that bigger wave.

Playa Ventanas2

With every step you come across a new shell that seems more beautiful than the last. Sand dollars both living and dead are spotted everywhere along the beach. These amazing creatures have beautiful designs that appeared carved by the hand of an angel. It is hard to imagine that such a magnificent beach can be so peaceful. A discovery of your own piece of paradise.

bird

At sign post 9 if you take the trail inland it will take you to some of the many vacation homes, condos and hotels that are part of Playa Grande. Colourful crabs and birds make the short trail to the main road that is sealed from the oils of the sugar cane enjoyable. You will come out at the Rip Jack Inn. Where on the second floor you will be greeted by a beautiful restaurant with refreshing cold water to quench your thirst. An inexpensive tropical breakfast will satisfy your hunger as you dine in amongst the dry forest watching the butterflies and birds fly amongst the flowers.

If paradise is lost, it truly can be found on the sand beach of Playa Grande.

You can see this blog as well as see other important information about travelling to Costa Rica at the Costa Rica Travel Blog

 

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Eco-Tourism: Palo Verde National Park

_DSC2777 (2)Eco-Tourism is becoming more and more popular. Countries like Costa Rica are starting to take notice and make this a big part of their tourism industry. It is also becoming more and more a part of culture. They are establishing Green Zones for development as well. Having an opportunity to visit Palo Verde National Park provided a fantastic opportunity to visit some of the over 33 000 acres of preserved wetlands that provides a refuge for an abundance of wildlife.

Going with Xplore Costa Rica provided us not only with the transportation to the park but also provided us with a guide to explain the region as well as talk about the variety of wildlife we encountered. It is not far in distance from Tamarindo but the road is gravel and takes you through a region where Sugar Cane and Cantaloupe are harvested. The small communities are often made up of migrant workers from Nicaragua who leave in very basic homes that are often flooded in the wet season.

Having the opportunity to take a boat down the Tempisque River provided this Canadian an opportunity to see some wildlife in their natural habitat. I used my Sony a57 to take most of the shots using my 75-300 zoom lens. I was amazed at the quality of the photos. I have posted three photos to give you an example of the wildlife observed.

The photo of the White-Faced Monkey gives you an example of how close you come to nature. The monkeys are fearless. This is a result of tourists and locals feeding the monkeys.  The White-Faced Monkey has now got the taste of protein which has changed their eating habits. This puts the monkey in jeopardy as the craving gets so bad at times it will go into the tourist boats or worse yet they will now eat meat. Locals have observed these monkeys now killing each other to get that taste of protein. So as great as it would be to see these beautiful animals on the boat eating out of your hand, ‘Don’t Feed the Animals.’

The tour promised an opportunity to see Macaws, crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas and an array of birds. It delivered on all counts. We were able to observe numerous Iguanas of different shapes and sizes.

iguana

We were also able to see countless crocodiles swimming in the murky waters of the Tempisque River that is lined with Mangrove trees. Our guide cast a net into the river retrieving the shrimp the crocodiles were dining on. We also were able to see the Nocturnal Boat-Billed Heron relaxing on a branch. This strange looking bird gets its name from the shape of the beak.

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After the boat ride we went back to the small village of Ortega for a traditional lunch prepared for tourists like us who pass through everyday. The lunch was excellent from freshly made corn tortillas, to rice and beans, squash, an assortment of fruit and juices as well as a sampling of some chicken and beef. My favorite was the tortillas and the fresh jalapeno. The day ended watching a young man demonstrate the painstaking process of making a clay pot. This skill was passed on to him from his father.

It is fortunate to have the opportunity to see people and parts of the world as a child you only dream about. In all my travels be it in now Central America, to the Caribbean, to Australia and New Zealand to some of the small islands of the South Pacific it is not how different we all are but how similar we all are that strikes me. We often spend so much of our time thinking we all are so different when in the end our similarities are more prevalent. There are people who do good and bad things everywhere and that connects us as well. We are connected with each other and connected with nature.

To book your a tour through Xplore Costa Rica click here

To Read Trip Advisor Reviews on Xplore Costa Rica click here (2014 Certificate of Excellence)

 

 

 

 

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Where My Sandals Take Me: Costa Rica

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Getting back to  sun, nature, walking everywhere you go helps you find yourself. Living life simply. A coffee in the morning as the sounds of the Howler Monkey, the songs of the array of birds, or a hummingbird feeding somehow reconnect you to those things that matter. If the morning doesn’t bring you peace then sitting on the beach at sunset as the sun kisses the ocean good night certainly will.

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Tamarindo, Costa Rica has it all. You can be as busy as you wish from surfing the ocean waves or for those not into surfing perhaps a boogie board will do. Even on a hot, humid day the ocean breeze will bring respite from the heat of the sun.

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The streets are mixed with the new to the more traditional. Restaurants with a taste of the Tico (local) to all the flavours to match your taste. It can all be found just a few footsteps away.

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Where do your sandals take you? Hopefully wherever it is you will find the inner peace that reminds each of us who we are.

 

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