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June 10, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Guanacaste, Costa Rica
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Pura vida from Guanacaste, Costa Rica! I'm down here for the grand opening of an incredible resort right on the Pacific: . The great news for consumers (though perhaps not so much the !) is that because of the state of the economy, guests can get rooms here for a bargain. And I mean, a bargain! Just this past week, they were offering rooms for a third of the regular price: $95! And wait until you see this place. In addition, my sister GeorgieJet is also in Costa Rica and she's checking out the Lost Iguana Resort at the base of the Arenal Volcano.

LIBERIA AIRPORT
Last week, I left off from in Liberia after a quick two and a half hour flight from Miami. The is similar to Kona, Hawaii's because it's open-air but it's not as picturesque. I was the third person off the plane and they had four or five immigration agents working the checkpoints. Mine was friendly, greeted me with an enthusiastic "Hola!" and didn't spend more than 20 seconds processing my paperwork and . Why can't all countries be this efficient and welcoming?



AIRPORT TO RESORT
The /guide from Swiss Travel, which had been pre-arranged through the resort, was waiting just of baggage claim as planned. Jose welcomed me with the typical Costa Rican expression of pura vida, which literally translates to "pure life". Jose was super-friendly, full of life and had and bottles of water waiting for me to refresh myself with. During the hour drive to the , Jose regaled me with stories about Costa Rica (including the fact that there are 130 types of snakes, 25 of which are poisonous -- but they don't bother you unless you go looking for them); and his personal life. He lived in Europe for his high school years. Another interesting fact was that less than 1% of the are pure .

COSTA RICA: FAST FACTS
Costa Rica is in , on the (no daylight savings) and it's about the same size as West Virginia. It borders Nicaragua (to the north) and Panama (to the east and south). The name Costa Rica translates to Rich Coast and rich it is – there are 1,290 kilometers (802 miles) of coastline as the country borders both the Caribbean Sea (to the east) and the Pacific Ocean (to the west). Costa Rica has seven provinces and the total population is around 4.3 million. Other notables: Costa Rica is the first country in the world to abolish its army and it plans to become the first country to be carbon neutral (by 2021).

GUANACASTE
The is located in the northwestern part of the country. Much of it is on the Pacific Ocean and the northern part borders Nicaragua (a one-hour drive from the airport). Ever since the release of the classic retro movie Endless Summer, Guanacaste is highly ranked as a surfer's paradise. Guanacaste has a population around 300,000; it's the least populated of all the seven provinces. In case you're wondering, the name Guanacaste comes from the word quahnacaztlan, which is native for the national tree of Costa Rica, the .

HACIENDA PINILLA
I was surprised that the road to the was almost all the way and totally sane. It wasn't until the last 15 minutes or so that it turned to and got a bit bumpy. Before entering the resort's compound, which is in Tamarindo, we passed the road to the popular surfing town. Tamarindo Beach was just 10 minutes away but like a fool, I declined the opportunity to go, thinking I would find time later but never did. Lesson learned: When you get a chance, take it! One reason I didn't go was because there's so much to do (and not to do) at the and inside the . is a 4,500-acre gated residential community. It has a total of six separate beaches, a world-class golf course, stables, restaurants, a number of and of course the JW.

THE JW MARRIOTT GUANACASTE
When we cleared security at the gatehouse of Hacienda Pinilla it was as if we'd entered an . The roads were , there was no one around but the grounds were all perfectly manicured and there was plenty of on the 10-minute drive. When we up to the , a bellmen opened my door and took care of the bags, while another handed me a and a bottle of water. I didn't know what to expect because many times, hotel websites don't really reflect the actual hotel but this oceanfront resort is stunning with an and luxurious Costa Rican . It's huge too: 310 guest rooms. This place was built not only with leisure travelers in mind but also with an emphasis on hosting meetings and conventions. I know what you're thinking: bad timing thanks to the economy and the AIG effect. But the facilities really are amazing. I timed it right because I was there for their grand opening and the resort is such a big deal that of Costa Rica, , was on for the . He's a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and a crew of plain-clothes secret service agents sporting earpieces and two bulges in their shirts surrounded him.

MY ROOM
It was a long along the to to but I didn't care because the from the pathways were like eye candy. When the porter opened the door to , I was shocked by how nice and large it was. There were rich woods, local artwork and the most comfortable bed with fine linens (a JW staple). Each room comes with a huge with about 80 different channels, mostly in Spanish, but they also have all the local Denver channels (I think it's just to scare the to see how cold the weather is in the States in the winter time). There are also all kinds of multimedia plugs available to watch movies off your laptop or to go over presentations. The has (how often do you see that?) and the Internet ($14 a day) was blazing fast.

BALCONY
You have to love a room with a and a magnificent . Pretty much every afternoon I worked on the deck. Unfortunately, the handsomely furnished and were comfortable to sit and work at but not too comfy for lying down and taking a nap. But who's complaining? At least they have balconies! At night I kept the door open with the screen door shut so I could listen to the waves while the ceiling fan kept me cool. During the day when it was hot, I would switch on the air conditioning.

THE BATHROOM
My favorite part of the room besides the balcony, bed and wireless Internet was the bathroom. Just over the separate deep soaking was a open space that could be closed with wooden shutters for privacy but I was by myself so they always stayed open and I would just stare out at the view while taking a . The bathroom was stocked with soft, oversized towels and robes but I always use just one the whole time to minimize my carbon footprint. There was also a phone next to the secluded -- gotta love that! Speaking of phones, there were three in the room so there was no running around trying to run or reach for them. The water is safe to drink in Costa Rica (in most parts) but the cleaning staff leave two bottles each time they clean, which is twice daily.

THE NEGATIVE
The only thing I didn't like about the room was that the shower temperature changed once in a while and there's a pretty good-sized gap under the door – so when it's windy, the wind howls and some bugs find their way in ... which is probably why I found two small spiders in my room. They weren't poisonous and they weren't the I've seen at other Costa Rican places.

DINING
I'm not sure if I was getting special treatment or not but the service was fantastic. The speak Spanish until they find out you no hablo Espanol. Then they all pretty much speak English. Every day, the waiter called me by name and said it was a pleasure to serve me and assured me that he could do anything for me. I was thinking … anything? The resort has four and two all with unique ambiances and different culinary styles.

LUNCH
When I first arrived, I went straight to the and had lunch. They feature seven kinds of ceviches but I'm not a seafood man so I had the chicken with bibb lettuce, white rice, guacamole, "pico de Gallo" and sour cream ($14). The following day I had a fantastic salad with turkey, cucumber, tomatoes, and passion fruit dressing at . Normally, I tend not to eat salad in Latin America (and some other parts of the world) but as I mentioned before, the water is safe here. Did I mention ?

MONEY
By the way: All the menu prices come in U.S. dollars but the bill is in both dollars and Colones and 10% is included for service. U.S. dollars are accepted in many of Costa Rica's tourist areas but outside of them, they use Colones (1 USD = 570 CRC).

BREAKFAST
Every morning I really looked forward to the ($25) at because it's as can be with a Costa Rican flair. They have all the usual fixin's of eggs at the but I was more into the , rice/beans, tamales, and the and smoothies. My favorite juices were (soursop) and berry. The here are much sweeter than those in the States and Europe so I fancied them. I satisfied my sweet tooth with the stuffed with a of caramel del leche! Ariba, ariba!

POOL AND BEACH
I couldn't wait to go down to the and – so after lunch, me and my bloated belly took a stroll down the beach. The had about a hundred and not one of them was taken and no one was in the -- so it doesn't look like it's a good swimming beach. However, it sure was nice to down the beach by myself for some quiet downtime. All the guests (there weren't a lot) seem to congregate around the 25,000 square foot pool, which was absolutely beautiful. There were countless of choices for and a prime location so no need to worry about getting up early to reserve a spot. The hotel is staffed with a ton of pool boys and girls, well dressed in bright, colorful red shirts, who are eager to help. I took a dip but the water temperature was a bit chilly!

ZIP-LINING
I had the option of playing golf on Hacienda Pinilla's 18-hole championship course, zip-lining or horseback ridding. I didn't feel like playing golf alone and I've zip-lined a number of times, including once before in Costa Rica, so instead of driving off-property I decided stay close and go horseback riding at . BTW: Zip-lining was created in Costa Rica but Jose said a Canadian guy made it famous. Jose also said that Costa Rica has between 200 and 300 different zip-lining courses. Imagine that!

HORSEBACK RIDING
The to the ranch was eight and I thought it was crazy that they made wear until they said, "Who wants to run fast?" Every place I've gone horseback riding in the past, they never allow the horses to let . One Argentine guy in my group grew up riding horses and rode the horse like the Lone Ranger. He said afterwards that it was one of the best horses he's been on and that it was like driving a Formula One car. I rode like Pee Wee Herman.

MY HORSE
got stuck with the . You could just tell my guy wasn't happy. I've forgotten his name since I've repressed the entire experience. I'm just relying on my daily notes to tell you this story. All I remember is the guide saying, "You have to let him know who's boss!" But I'm not a cowboy and I don't like to manhandle animals. The first (45 minutes) he was going really slowly with sudden and rapid bursts. At the , we had a break and we walked up a to see the and the guides handed out . The way home was more fun since we rode through the . We saw some quiet and then on the , which was great . The cowboy in me started to make an appearance but after 90 minutes, was ready to go back to the hotel.

SPA
After my crazy horse experience, it was the perfect time to check out the health club. There was no problem getting an appointment since they have 22 in the 13,500-square-foot . could have had a variety of treatments, indoors or out, but I opted for a Swedish massage inside. First, I warmed up in the , then roasted in the , bypassing the beauty salon and fitness center on the way to the room. My was cool but she rubbed my body way too gently. I was going to say something but I didn't want to hurt her feelings and her English wasn't so good so I didn't want her to get into trouble when I yelled, "Harder!"

SAVANNAH FIESTA
Later that night I was back at the of Hacienda Pinilla not to go riding but for Savannah Fiesta. It's a followed by by dressed in their traditional fine clothing, accompanied by their cowboy partners for a sampling of the province's customs, traditions and typical dances. We arrived at 6pm, just around dusk and the whole was amazing as the was a perfect color and they had in paper bags lining the dirt walkway. I felt like I was in a movie or watching one of my old 8mm home movies from when I was a kid – it was a surreal feeling. When we first arrived, they handed out in a little , along with . They begin with , "the ", in some and then there was the horse show. They use the same horses that we went riding on but I didn't see my beast. The was just a little too long but it had some fireworks at the end and overall it was a fantastic time from the to finish at 8:30pm. The traditional Costa Rican buffet was filled with all of , , beef, rice, beans, and t. I way too .

MARRIOTT'S DEAL OF THE DAY
I found that $95 dollar deal on . They offer up to 60% off leisure rates for their resorts in the Caribbean, Hawaii and California. The deals are announced daily at 7am EDT, Monday through Friday and are only good for 24 hours. The last deal is scheduled to be announced June 14th but they might extend it since it's been so successful.

BACK TO THE AIRPORT
My flight back to Los Angeles was at 8am on via Houston. The resort recommended I leave for the at but that was way too early since it only takes an hour to get there. My driver was flying, at some points 120 kilometers per hour (75 mph), which was way too fast on the winding roads, so I had to tell him to take a chill pill. There's nothing to do at the airport except some last-minute at some tiny and get some food at a . It took a minute to check in. I used Continental's self-service kiosk and then went and paid Costa Rica's of (you can pay with Visa or cash) before going through security (laptops out, shoes stay on, no liquids and they do , which I hate).

LIBERIA - HOUSTON - LOS ANGELES
Flight time to Houston was three hours and 16 minutes and I got for having elite status on one of their partner airlines ... and for being nice, the agent said. The flight attendants were cool, the was good and I was impressed with Houston's Bush Intercontinental (IAH) customs area. It's new, bright, clean and quick. There were only four people in each line and they processed people quickly. On the three-hour, five-minute flight to LAX, I didn't get upgraded but my Continental experience was still great. In addition to having a to myself, you have to love an airline that still serves free in coach (cheeseburger, salad with Caesar dressing and a mini Hersey's chocolate bar). I was starving so it tasted like one of the best burgers I've ever had.

VIDEO
Here's a four-minute of my trip to the JW Marriott Guanacaste, Costa Rica. We also have all the ever made on YouTube.

NEXT WEEK
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Note: This trip was sponsored in part by





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Pictures From

The Trip

 

Welcome to Guanacaste!

 

Liberia Airport

 

Jose

 

Costa Rican License Plate

 

Drive to Resort

 

Fruit Stand On The Side Of The Road

 

Costa Rican Countryside

 

Guanacaste Tree

 

Costa Rican Beauty

 

Costa Rican Beauties

 

Hacienda Pinilla Residence

 

JW Marriott

 

El Presidente

 

JW Quad

 

Walk To Room

 

My Room

 

Flat Screen

 

My Balcony

 

View From Balcony

 

View From Shower

 

Azul Grill

 

Azul Grill Lunch

 

Friendly Staff

 

Breakfast Buffet

 

Breakfast Fruit

 

Breakfast Pastries

 

Hotel Beach

 

Chilly Water

 

What Is That?

 

Pool

 

Pick A Chair

 

Horseback Riding

 

On The Beach

 

Hello!

 

Spa Time!

 

Back At The Stables

 

Almost Showtime

 

Our Goodies

 

Folk Dances

 

Horse Show

 

Traditional Dances

 

My Chariot Home

 

Food In First

 

Food In Coach

 

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    June 6, 2009

    June 6, 2009


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