Tag Archives: costa rica

Fear #indie30

Another writing prompt from the BootsnAll 30 day indie project, this one, is fear.

I am all about adventure and trying new things. Even if the activity scares the crap out of me, at least after I do it the first time I can say I tried.

I have been able to tackle my adventurous side and my fears with ziplining and Tarzan swinging in Monteverde, Costa Rica; horseback riding in Patagonia, Argentina and nighttime kayaking in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

Ziplining in Costa Rica

Sure ziplining sounds fun – but in the rain? The guides told us it would be extra fun because the rain makes you go faster. Really? The guides went through the coordination required, these prison looking suits we would need to wear to keep us dry and the caution that was needed because of the rain. And that, was what made me decide to be hooked to a guide for this adventure. My coordination isn’t the best and the waivers we had to sign didn’t make me feel all that comfortable with my coordination on wires over the trees, in the rain.

Yep, me and a 12 year old boy (because he wasn’t heavy enough) were the only people in a group of 20 or so, who went tandem with a guide – one because of weight limits and the other, me, by choice.

A guide had to go first and last to keep the flow of the group going. They wanted me or the 12-year-old boy to go with the first guide. The 12-year-old told me to go first and I tried to get him to go first but was not successful. I’ve got to say, it was good I went first because I don’t know that I would have gone if I saw someone else go first.

I don’t remember much about the first leg, but the boyfriend does. He said the group heard my screams even when they couldn’t see me anymore. He said they had quite a laugh but did not tell me about it until after the third leg. Once I agreed to continue after the third leg, I was in it until the end. You had to do at least three zips, because an easy out exit was after number three if you decided that you didn’t want to continue on the longest zip line experience in Costa Rica.

The guide, Eduardo, had a good sense of humor and didn’t seem to mind that a twenty-something girl was attached to him, and screaming, over the Costa Rican canopy.

2- The Tarzan swing was an option post-zip line before a hike through the rainforest. Nearly everyone in our group did it, and I decided I could suck it up for a few minutes. And that dear readers is definitely one thing I will never do again. Prior to my Tarzan adventure, the guides told us the chances were slim to see animals in their habitat in the rain. After my blood-curdling screams, we were assured that the chances were nil that we would see any animals.

3 – I crossed the equator and went to another continent to ride my first horse. When we arrived to the estancia (ranch) – the main gaucho (cowboy) asked how much riding experience everyone had. I was the only one who had never been on a horse. Of course I was. He assigned me the horse they give to children. The boyfriend got the ranch horse that they bring in for these tourist rides if they need an extra horse. We had to head uphill at several points, so one of the backup gauchos rode alongside me (I think it’s because the first time, I may have pulled on the reins too hard). Riding on this working farm with the Andes as our setting took my breath away, along with some of my nerves – and I’m certain that the Xanax I took before we arrived at the ranch helped too.

Found out after the ride, that riding in the States, one normally sits on a saddle. There were no saddles. Just a blanket. Each rider only had the reins to hold onto, not that horn on a saddle. Because I had the horse they give to kids, there was a rope attached to the blanket that I could hold on to if I needed backup, rather than holding the reins too hard and essentially choking my horse.

Have you seen a pattern? Not only do I have fears about some of these activities I partake in, but it’s always that much harder, with an unexpected twist. I can’t zipline on a sunny day, it has to be pouring rain. I travel to the other side of the Equator to finally get on a horse, and I hardly have anything to hold on to for my sanity.

4 – When the boyfriend and I started dating we went to Puerto Rico a few months later. We visited the island of Culebra. To get there you could take a 3 hour ferry, or a 20 minute flight. The plane was so small and the radar nil, we were able to videotape our plane ride. Also, I sat right behind the pilot in this eight seater. For all but the takeoff and landing all we saw below was water. This didn’t scare me at all.

What scared me was the nighttime kayaking and swim in the lagoon with bioluminescent creatures. Let me go back and say that I was the one who found this and booked it. This was something I wanted to do. Until I had to get into the kayak, in the dark. At the time, I had never even been in a kayak, in daytime, much less, in pitch black. After we got going, I was good. Did hear other people fall into the water because their kayaking skills were not up to par. Thankfully the boyfriend had kayaked before. He had told me to just lift my oars since I did not have much coordination and was probably slowing us down. Instead I used my oars to protect myself from the branches of the mangrove trees he kept driving us into (guess he wasn’t all that good). When I heard from other kayakers that there were bats overhead, my mind immediately sent me to the ER for emergency rabies shots.

But the experience was amazing, especially when we got into the lagoon. The guide had us all get into a circular formation so he could tie up the kayaks so we could use it as a dock for when we jumped into the water. I freaked. Totally froze. The boyfriend went into the water and was telling me that I was the one who found this (true), I was the one who was totally excited for it (true) and I was the one who even bought an underwater camera to capture the bioluminescence (true). So I jumped in and after freaking out for a few seconds, calmed down and was totally able to enjoy the bioluminescent bay experience. (I can’t find any of our photos, so either we didn’t take any, or they didn’t come out).

For those readers of you who joined me on Spring Break in Cancun back in college, I had a similar reaction when we drove the jetskis out for a snorkeling trip and we had to jump in the water. The last jetski tied up had to be the first duo to jump in. Guess who was on that last jetski to be tied up…

As I attacked each of these fears, I realized I am afraid of getting hurt. I think signing waivers makes me nervous. But once I jump in, whether it’s off a cliff for a free fall or into a lagoon in the pitch black darkness, I attack those fears, one adventure at a time. If you miss out on experiences just because of fear, whatever the fear is (mine is getting hurt) how will you know you won’t just enjoy the experience if you don’t at least try?

“Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.” – Mark Twain

The Haimish Line

I had never heard of a Haimish Line before reading this New York Times article but after reading about it, I totally understand it.

This article points out the exact reasoning of why I enjoy staying in locally owned bed and breakfasts, and try to partake in locally owned business for tours and activities. It’s all about the local experience and the truly familial feel.

Do the boyfriend and I remember Malania and her husband, the owners of  the B&B in Arenal, Costa Rica and their kindness? Do we remmber Malania’s husband, who spoke zero English, who kindly drove us to his favorite restaurant down the road from the B&B in the pouring rain (because we didn’t yet have a rental car)? Yes.

Do we remember Alejandro, Marta, Elda and Elda’s husband at the family run B&B in El Calafate, Argentina? They repeatedly brought me fresh ice for my knee after my glacier hike and told me the word for knee so I could get a brace for my aching knee. Do we remember how Elda kept telling me I would be fine when she was booking our horseback riding excursion, and not laughing when I asked her if she would come to the hospital if I happened to get hurt? Do we remember being dropped off by the Alejandro’s brother (Elda’s husband) at the airport, not just at the curb, but inside at check-in where there were hugs and handshakes and tears? Only my tears, but still. Of course we do.

What about having breakfast in the kitchen of the family, with the family, in Monteverde, Costa Rica where Reina, the mom, easily handed the boyfriend their baby daughter while she made our eggs…straight from their neighbor’s chickens. Again, yes.

What about Zoran who picked us up in Dubrovnik and drove us to Bosnia-Hercegovina, with one other couple from London in his family’s van? He took us to a local restaurant, did the ordering and introduced us to local Bosnian fare like burek (amazing doughy goodness stuffed with cheese or sausage or spinach) and cevapcici (spicy sausage sandwiches with a red pepper paste).

 

 

Zoran was our own personal guide and because we were such a small group, he was able to take us to see several towns along the way to Mostar. He spoke about the turbulent history from an extremely personal perspective (to be fair, everyone we met in Croatia that spoke about the war, had a very personal perspective). And as he handed over all of our passports at the border, he knew we all (well three of the four of us – guess who was indifferent) coveted a stamp from Bosnia, so he asked Border Patrol in the local language to stamp each of our passports, which they did.

What about Ana and Ralph at Delta Unplugged in Tigre, Argentina? We had an amazing day with them at their home and on their boat. In fact we are still penpals.

What about the feeling at some of the wineries on the Finger Lakes where they treat you like family, and not just another taster? Yes agains.

And what about Bube and her mother in Dubrovnik? Her mother, who spoke a few words of English, was the only one there to greet us after our 13 hour expedition to get from Newark, NJ to Dubrovnik, Croatia by way of a race through the airport in Frankfurt.

Bube’s mother showed us to our cottage where we dropped our bags, and then she brought us up to her roof, for an amazing view of Dubrovnik.

Once we realized that the walk up 300 or so steps (cars were not allowed where we were going) was absolutely, positively worth it, she asked us “Drink?”

After spending ten minutes with this lovely woman, we realized that her English vocabulary was limited. Wanting to make this as easy as possible I replied, “Water?”

She replied “Beer?”

And that was that! Yet another resounding yes.

These are just a few of these memories that make me smile. You don’t, typically, have these experiences in hotels where you are one of hundreds of guests. There are very few fond memories from my time staying in hotels. Do I remember the kindness and the hospitality they had? Yes, of course. But do I remember those memories as fondly as these truly personal touches of kindness and local hospitality? No, of course not.


The basics seem to be the same

Sometimes I get asked, how do you find food you are accustomed to when you travel?

WHAT?! Not knowing what are the staples to the local country is one of the best parts of traveling!

My grandpa is laughing somewhere in heaven right now. Once I got addicted to sushi, he was amazed that the same girl who would only eat grilled cheese and cereal as a child would like such a thing. Especially because some of my favorite pieces of sashimi are some especially strange, but that’s a story for another time.

Truly, the basics are the same all over.

Several years ago the boyfriend and I were traveling from the San Jose airport in Costa Rica en route to La Fortuna, where the famed Arenal Volcano sits. We were famished. The drive is about 60 miles so somewhere halfway, on these back roads, we pulled over into a Sam’s Club kind of place. It was a big food shopping warehouse. We got some water and some small snacks. (You didn’t need to buy everything in bulk, just most of it!)

The woman in front of us had several dozen eggs, huge sacks of rice and a couple of loaves of bread on the conveyor belt. These three items are pretty basic no matter where in the world you may be.

Also in Costa Rica, there was a dish called ‘casado.’ It is a large plate with rice, beans, plantains, tortillas, salad and your choice of chicken, beef or fish. We were told it means marriage in Spanish but it’s called that because that’s a dish that men eat when they get married. I guess because it’s a real meal. It’s not all that different from what you might eat in America either.

And again, in Costa Rica, one of the parts of breakfast we were once served was cheese. I had never met a cheese I did not like enough to eat the whole thing. Until that one piece. A thick piece. It almost looked like you were served a large square of a sponge soaked in butter. I had thought, cheese? I told the waiter, of course, I will try it, and I did. And when I did, I realized I had met my first kind of cheese I could not even stomach. I took a second bit just to confirm I hated it. I absolutely did.

I don’t know what kind of cheese it was, I don’t remember what it tasted like, I just remember I covered it with another plate because there was no way I could take another bite. I was so embarrassed because before I tried it I had told the waiter I loved  all kinds of cheese. Note to self: never tell anyone you love cheese until you try what they are serving.

But let’s go back to basics that you count on at home. What about all the pizza and pasta in places other than Italy? So many options in Argentina and Croatia because they are influenced by Italian cuisine, just like the US.

Of course in some places, you can get your ‘American burger’ or your ‘New York pizza’ – but what’s the point of adventurous eating then?? Obviously sometimes you are homesick, or craving a certain something, but don’t think for one second that the ‘New York pizza’ somewhere outside of Edinburgh is going to taste like New York pizza.

Although once while in Amsterdam, my dad (who is not at all an adventurous eater) managed to find a Chinese restaurant. That had the biggest eggroll we had ever seen. Ever. I don’t recall if it was any good, but most eggrolls that I’ve seen fit into a little paper bag, and are an accompanying piece to the meal. I will never forget that it was so big, it came out on a properly sized entrée plate.

More on adventurous eating in another post. My dad may not be an adventurous eater but my mom certainly is!

And when you are out and about trying to figure out your meal, having translation trouble is really fun too!


Airport Insecurity

Ah so.

Setting: International Departures. Near gate for JFK flight at San Jose airport in Costa Rica. June 2008. [For one to be at this point, one had to go through airport security already.]

Main Character: A man (we’ll call him shopper man) shops at duty-free before boarding his flight (incidentally, it’s also my flight). He buys a huge bottle of Jack Daniels.

Act 1; Scene 1: Boarding starts. But before passengers get to the actual gate to get on the plane, travelers must go through a second round of security. Tables, wands, security is at the ready to search bags again. 

I didn’t see shopper man purchase the bottle of JD, but I am nosy, and right behind him, and he told security that he bought it at duty-free…he even showed his receipt noting the purchase just a few minutes prior! But security takes away his HUGE bottle of JD. The duty-free shop was probably less than fifty feet (I’m bad at math but the boyfriend said that’s a good guess) from the gate. In fact our gate was next to duty-free. It was RIGHT.OVER.THERE.

Both of our mouths, as observers, drop in shock. Shopper man’s mouth did a little more than drop with some key phrases and emotions. He was given the option to check the bottle in his luggage. We moved through and left the poor guy at one of the tables not knowing what he would do.

Act 1; Scene 2: Shopper man boarded sans bottle.

He was seated near us and the boyfriend asked what happened after we went through. Shopper guy told us he was given the option to check it (which we knew) but what we didn’t know was that the process to ‘check it’ required him to go back to the main terminal so they could try to retrieve his bag. Then he could put the bottle in and check it. 

Because of the time and uncertainty involved, the likelihood that he and his bag would both make the flight was not worth it to him. With the departure time closing in, shopper guy declined and basically donated the bottle to the security team at that gate at the SJO airport for their after work party I am sure. Cheers.

***

 There was no way to know. And there was no way to argue. If he had chosen to check it at that point, who knows if it would have made it on the flight since we were already well into the boarding process. I’m pretty sure he dropped a nice sum on that bottle thinking it would be okay to bring home. Alas, it wasn’t. It was an expensive lesson for him, and a good one for us.

We also experienced the unexpected during a layover in Frankfurt. After flying from Newark to Frankfurt, we had to go through security before we could make our way to the gate for the Frankfurt to Dubrovnik leg. At Frankfurt’s security we were scrutinized for having carry-on approved (via US standards) liquids in our carry-ons. Mind you, this passed muster on the flight from Newark. So major screening ensued.

More recently, we had some extra pesos to spend before boarding a flight baack to the States from Buenos Aires (EZE). Like shopper guy in Costa Rica, we were drawn to the Malbecs at duty-free. We had quite a bit of money to spend (failing miserably at my mission to spend all funny money before arriving at any foreign airport) so we loaded up on boxes of famous Argentine cookies, and one bottle of wine. We both had the Costa Rica incident on the brain and we were only willing to gamble with our funds to potentially lose one bottle. Lucky for us, we didn’t lose it. At EZE they package the bottle in a sealed bag that once broken, you’re safe. That seal must not be tampered with and remain as is until you pass through US Customs to avoid confiscation.

Security screening is not consistent within the US. Don’t expect it to be elsewhere around the world. I’ve seen it first hand and I know that you’ve got to take it in stride. Because the rules are inconsistent across the board, and the world, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Traveling is all about expecting the unexpected and sometimes you are simply at the mercy of what that particular airports rules are that day, at that time. It’s all for our safety anyway, isn’t it?

What have YOU seen in airports that makes you go hmmm?


Best Breakfast … another kind

So my post about best hotel breakfast got me thinking. I prefer staying in bed and breakfasts to get the local feel of a place, and to really interact with locals. There are so many memorable places I have stayed, and I think that a place can make a trip. Even if a place sucks, it’s going to give you a good story, of which I have plenty.

I have encountered such amazing hospitality at bed and breakfasts on my travels, and it’s really hard to say which breakfast beat others. Not for the taste, or the portions, but because you are getting a taste of cultures, and how can you really compare those experiences.

However, one experience that stands out was in Monteverde, Costa Rica. This couple had a farm and on this farm they had built a few cabins for guests to stay in. Because it was the rainy season, as noted by our experience with tropical storm Alma, we were the only ones staying there at the time.

At breakfast, we were invited into their home. Their beautiful kitchen was connected to the living room where their two children played. We were served such a local breakfast. The coffee was from the beans on their land, the eggs were from their neighbor’s chicken, the fruit was grown on their land and the milk was from their cow, who was due to give birth any day.

Our hosts: the husband spoke no English and the wife spoke very good English
Their children: the toddler spoke Spanish and the baby said ‘mama’
Us: my boyfriend speaks a few words of Spanish and mine is decent – my grammar backwards is – but I can get by with a pretty solid knowledge of vocabulary and hand motions where my vocab is weak.

We were all able to communicate over breakfast and the baby crawled right over to my boyfriend and held her hands up to be held.

These are the kinds of experiences I love. It’s so much more than about the food.


Best Breakfast?

This morning on Facebook, Independent Traveler asked their fans ‘What’s the best hotel breakfast you’ve ever had?’

Everyone has one, but of course there’s a story how I found one of the best hotel breakfasts ever.

Now, I normally don’t choose to stay in proper hotels when I travel, as I much prefer the authentic feel of a bed and breakfast and staying with a local family, which I planned for during a trip to Costa Rica in May/June 2008. For the most part we stayed local, but thanks to Tropical Storm Alma things got changed up a bit.

“This is the first time a tropical storm has hit the Pacific coast in this location in 120 years,” said José Joaquín Aguero, an IMN meteorologist. “The last time this happened was around 1887.”

OF COURSE 1887 was the last time this happened. Obviously our hearts went out to the people above all. It was incredible to see how they dealt with the devastation. I remember seeing women walking out of their homes while carrying children on their shoulders. Not to mention that they were wading in water that was easily up to their waists. We only saw this from the road, which was maybe 50 feet away, but I remember that we were both very emotional watching this from the sidelines.

We had been headed down the Pacific coast to Manuel Antonio from Monteverde. We had to stop for the night in Playa Hermosa (a beach town) because the rain was so hard and it was dark. In the morning we continued, but only got as far as Parrita. We were told we couldn’t go any further because the water on the road (yes, one way in, one way out, wouldn’t recede for four DAYS.) Alma was fierce and we saw the waves as we stood on the beach (probably not the smartest thing we have ever done) to prove it.

While out for drinks in Playa Hermosa, at a bar on the beach, I remember the lights going out and the bands equipment shorting out. We were basically in a bar on the beach (it was on the water but other than a roof there was no protection) so we could feel the rain since it was coming in sideways and easily see the lightening right over the ocean. Instead of sending us home, the staff put candles on the tables, the band decided to sing acoustically and we ordered another round.

The next morning we needed to make a change of plans, and quickly, as the water was getting out of control. We met an ex-pat American who rearranged our itinerary for our last few days. He directed us to another part of the country, closer to San Jose, but still far enough outside that we felt like we were still in the countryside. We also had to make a few calls because we were going to be dropping off our rental car in Manuel Antonio to fly back to San Jose for our connecting international flight. Getting a refund proved to be a bit of a challenge because it was a non-refundable airline ticket, but being that we couldn’t physically drive to Manuel Antonio due to the road closures, it would be impossible to get on the flight. Also needed to reroute our rental so that we could return it in San Jose.

Anyway, through the kindness of this ex-pat American who gave us ideas for where we could spend the next few days, we were able to visit the surrounding towns outside of San Jose which were lovely. In addition to the excellent hospitality we had already received, we had the opportunity to stay on a coffee plantation and we were able to enjoy Alajuela, a less touristy Costa Rica.

We decided to stay in San Jose on our last night, which without this storm, wasn’t on our itinerary. We decided to live it up our last night in a lovely boutique hotel, complete with cocktails and a dip in the roofdeck hot tubs. (If you know me, you know this is not the way I travel!)

Dinner our last night we cabbed to a local restaurant keeping with my passion to keep it local, but breakfast the following morning, in the hotel, our last in Costa Rica was probably the best HOTEL breakfast ever.

I point the hotel distinction out because I have enjoyed many amazing breakfasts when staying at bed and breakfasts and I wouldn’t be able to pick the best. The best part of those is being able to share with local families and really experience the local flavor, both literally and figuratively. More on that in another post.

Thanks to the season, we had juice and smoothies, made from Costa Rica’s finest fruits. Fruits I never heard of, or tasted before, and we had a field day trying them all! I don’t remember the rest of the breakfast but those juices were the best.

What was your favorite hotel breakfast?


WHY leave?

This week’s WHY Wednesday questions why some travelers leave their comfort zone, only to eat foods that they are familiar with and know.

This was in the NYT and is crazy! The best part of traveling is eating like the locals…I don’t travel to faraway lands so I can eat cheese fries.

I have so many fond food memories from my travels but some of my favorites are getting freshly sliced cheese from a Swiss cheesemonger, spicy sausage on a roll with the local sauce in Bosnia and some unidentified tapas plate in Spain that the bartender sent over.

Personally, I’m not traveling just so I can eat something that I would eat after a night out at the bars when I was 22.

Eating while traveling is about finding a local market, tasting things on the menu you can’t get at home and being offered foods that you wouldn’t otherwise try. I ate fruits I never heard of in Costa Rica, I ordered fondue in Brussels only to find out that was actually mozzarella sticks and drank locally sourced milk at a market in Denmark!

Yes, sometimes there can be a negative experience. Like the time the boyfriend ordered the daily special in a small town in Tuscany and wound up getting a plate of fresh meat. So fresh, and chewy, in fact that he, a meat lover, had to follow each bite with a glass of water and a sip of wine. The place was small, and the staff attentive. Not wanting to insult, he finished most of the plate. I went with the pasta special of the day. Even now, years later, I remember how good my gnocchi and wine tasted. But he tried his, didn’t like it and didn’t insult anyone either and now we have a great story.

If something is on the table that you’ve never seen or tried, at the very least, take a bite! You’ll find yourself eating foods you wouldn’t have otherwise found!

Now the exception to this french fry story is ordering pommes frites in Belgium…you’ll need to get them topped with a few squirts of mayo, just like the locals!

Do you have any fond food memories? Feel free to post in the comments section.