Enjoy a Bill-Free Vacation in Costa Rica

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A New York-based author recently returned from a free luxury vacation to Costa Rica. The trip, valued at over $3,000, was awarded as grand prize in a travel writing contest meant to evoke the spirit of travel, which was sponsored by travel agency Costa Rican Vacations. Find out more about the winner's experience and how her entry was chosen for such a memorable award.

I was immediately interested when the idea of the contest was proposed to me

Lauren McCabe, an avid surfer and urbanite, didn't expect to exchange the tame waves of Queens, NYC for the rowdy surf of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica anytime soon. However, on a whim, the avid writer and public relations consultant put pen to paper to depict a life-changing journey across the United States by train and entered it into Costa Rica Pages (CRP's) first annual Travel Writing Contest. The contest, sponsored by Costa Rica Vacation (CRV), called for entries describing "your most memorable travel experience and how it changed or affected you."

Of 111 inspirational entries describing everything from beggar children in Vietnam to parent-sibling bonding trips, fish markets in Spain, contracting malaria in Zimbabwe and countless other moments that impacted the lives of the authors, McCabe's "The Journey as Destination" was chosen as the grand prize winner.

Her Jack Kerouac-style prose and convincing character development in the short, 800-word essay immediately caught the attention of the judges with its focus on the passage of time and place and the sweet uncertainty of travel. "Uncertainty--that same force that sent me reeling in 2007, I was craving now, in 2008," McCabe wrote. "As I make my way to the baggage claim, I am hopeful that the New Year will unfurl exactly how I want it to: in a dazzling, beautiful, mess."

True to tale, McCabe ecstatically accepted the prize for her hard work: a luxury 6-night Costa Rica vacation for two, slated for the end of September. She chose best friend from New York, Carla Bloomberg, to travel to Costa Rica with her.

"This past summer, Carla visited me at my apartment on the Beach in Queens almost every day after work. We'd grab our long boards and go for a sunset surf. How appropriate that she join me in Cost Rica," McCabe said.

The dream trip became a tangible reality on Sept. 14 when Bloomberg and McCabe arrived at Costa Rica's Juan Santamaria Airport where they were met by a representative from Costa Rican Vacations (CRV), CRP's travel affiliate and donor of the free vacation. They were whisked off to the Lost Iguana Resort, set several kilometers back from the Arenal Lake dam outside of La Fortuna amid dense rain forest vegetation. After two nights of watching the eruptions of the active Arenal Volcano, they were transferred to the Central Pacific beach town of Manuel Antonio.

"I loved the richness of the terrain," commented McCabe on the drive to the beach. "The cross country drives were awe-inspiring and breathtaking. Lush, rolling green hills with the occasional fruit stand perched upon a precarious cliff gave panoramic views of the breadth of the land."

In Manuel Antonio, the surf-inclined duo followed their calling, straight to the beach. "Surfing in Manuel Antonio was my favorite part of the trip," McCabe asserted. "Not only were the waves quite sizey and the water oh-so-warm, but the walk to the surf break through a monkey-filled jungle, along the wide rocky coast, and then through a shaded path of bars, restaurants and craft stands, was just as lovely."

In the evenings they rested their surf-battered bones at the Arenas del Mar Beach Resort, a new luxury oceanfront hotel that is making waves in Costa Rica. Already listed on Conde Naste Traveler's 2008 Hotlist, the hotel offers the whole package: 5-star cuisine, a private beach, spa, excellent accommodations and amazing views of the Pacific Ocean.

At the close of the trip, McCabe and Bloomberg had nothing but positive reviews of their time in the small Latin American nation and their host. "Costa Rican Vacations were very accommodating, especially when I had to switch my itinerary around a bit due to Hurricanes and the like," McCabe said. "I was quite impressed by the company's organization. Having traveled Central America before, I know this is the exception rather than the rule."

Richard Bexon, Marketing Manager of CRV, worked closely with CRP to organize the writing contest. "I was immediately interested when the idea of the contest was proposed to me," he said. "It not only provided us with a marketing opportunity to a target audience of travelers, it also served as a constant source of inspiration on our side, and helped remind me why I work in the travel industry."

While declining to provide a definite answer, Bexon did mention that both companies would be very interested in working together in the future on a similar project. "I wasn't sure what kind of turn out to expect, but the participants truly impressed me with not only their experiences, but the insight they provided regarding the meaning and significance of the experiences," he said. "They really keyed into what makes travel so important in our development as human beings."

To read this year's entries, and find out how you could win your own Costa Rica vacation, visit the Contest Website: http://www.costaricapages.com/Competition

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Claire Saylor
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