Good Eats 4.0

In anticipation of guests (visitor season runs preeeetty much all year), I bequeath unto you, version 4.0. Note, this is not in order of rating or preference.

Good Eats 1.0

Good Eats 2.0

Good Eats 3.0

Baji’s Top Eateries Around Town:

  • Best Brunch: SS: Le Madeline. A chain, yes, but only 10 restaurants in the area and a few elsewhere. Anyway, not only is it around the corner from us, but the Tomato Bisque Soup is smashing and the croissants are tremendously buttery and flaky.
  • Best 24-hour:  SS: Tastee Diner. It’s actually terrible. But it is open all the time. Nowhere near as amazing as DC’s The Diner but it is around the corner from us and the milk shakes are amazing, especially when coupled with hot, crispy fries. Plus, they don’t mind you using their free wi-fi and a/c or heat when the power goes out which, as we found, is about once a season. Also very kid-friendly.
  • Best Burger: BurgerFi. You’d think I’d say Urban Butcher but I actually prefer their ahi tuna and ginger ceviche than I did their unhinge-your-jaw burger.
  • Best Steak: The Classics (formerly known as Ray’s The Classics). Downside: only open for dinner and kind of kid-unfriendly.
  • Best Greek: SS: Big Greek Cafe.
  • Best Sushi: SS: [tbd]. DC: Kotobuki. Bite-sized morsels that melt in your mouth and at a great price.
  • Best Ethiopian: SS: Abol. Although I suspect they stole my credit card info and now only use cash, I still go here because the food is good and the lunch special is a deal. If in DC, Meskerem.
  • Best Indian: DC: Rasika. Seriously amazing stuff including their famous Palak Chaat (crispy spinach).
  • Best South Indian: SS(ish): Udupi Palace. Woodlands. No longer a hike to get there and the all-you-can eat brunch with free dosas makes it worth it. Discovered that the non-buffet sit-down-and-eat-properly fare is even better. The grocery store next door is nicely stocked as well.
  • Best Spanish tapas: Goodbye Jaleo and your stupid new tricks [food in a shoe, indeed]. We’ll choose DC’s Oyamel for now with its absolutely lovely waitstaff and wonderful table-side guacamole show.  
  • Best Vietnamese: SS: Lotus Cafe. Appropriately run down and reminds us very much of St. Louis. Runner up: the new but too trendy (and acc’ to tp, the pho doesn’t have enough subtle layers of flavor) Pho Hiep Hoa. DC: Nam Viet. Haven’t had a bad meal there yet.
  • Best Middle Eastern: Lebanese Taverna. Another crowd-pleaser that we often visit when money-bags parents are in town. There is a cafe version in DTSS which offers tasty falafel and hummus but nothing beats the newly-renovated DTDC one.
  • Best Pizza: SS: Pete’s Pizza. Pete’s offers New Haven-type pizza and delivers AND a opened just around the corner from us! Two Amys offers Neapolitan style pizza and requires driving and I haven’t been there in years but have fond memories of it. DC: Vace. Salty goodness.
  • Best Bagels: SS: Goldberg’s New York Bagels. Goldberg’s is closed on Saturday for the shabbat so you KNOW they are good. DC: So’s Your Mom
  • Best Afghan: VA: Afghan Restaurant. What the name lacks in cleverness, the cuisine makes up for in taste. Way far away in Crystal City.
  • Best Kebabs: MD: Kabob N Karahi. Quite a hike. VA: Food Factory. Kabob Palace. Also way far away in Crystal City but since LB works right there, easy enough to place an order through her and have it delivered.  Through her.  Tip well!
  • Best Butter Chicken: SS: Ghar-E-Kebab. Close by and they deliver. Don’t listen to tp who always insists that the tandoori chicken is the way to go. Get the butter chicken and thank me later (i.e. while I’m helping you eat it off your plate).
  • Best Mexican: MD/DC: Mi Cocina. Technically Tex-Mex, but the “tacos de brisket” are so phenomenal that I will let it get away with anything. DC: Mixtec.Super Tacos. Just click on the link and turn up the volume to get your first taste. Mi Rancho is much much closer but does not even compare. Pity Taqueria Distrito Federal didn’t stay in business.
  • Best Latkes, Pastrami Sandwiches, Matzoh Ball Soup, and French Toast: Open City. SS: Parkway Deli. Don’t let the cranky old people dissuade you from standing in a sluggish line to get seated elbow-to-elbow with them.
  • Best Seafood: DC: Grillfish. Wide selection and since they specialize in fish, you can’t be steered too wrongly as, say, if you visited one of those mix of cuisine joints.
  • Best Ps’ghetti: DC: La Tomate. The other dishes are great too but I love their ps’ghetti.
  • Best Lasagna: SS: Olazzo. Veggie and meat.
  • Best Gelato: DC: Dolcezza. Pitango Gelato. *dies*.
  • Best Ice Cream: SS: Tropical Ice Cream.
  • Best Spring Rolls: DC: Thaiphoon. Crunchy and veggie.
  • Best Thai: SS(ish) Nava Thai   Ruan Thai. Beware, this place is wildly popular on the weekends. One larb-gai-craving evening, we called to place an order to pick up and we were told there was over a two-hour wait.  TO PICK UP! Worth it.
  • Best Tea: DC: Teaism. Lovely wares and calming atmosphere.
  • Best Coffee: Our house. Seriously, nothing much comes close to our Nespresso. MD: Kaldi‘s. Ridiculously uncomfortable chairs, pretty decent cup o’ joe. DC: Illy. Always.
  • Best Cupcakes: DC: Baked & Wired. Who knows how long this ridiculous cupcake fad will last but while it does, this is the place to go.
  • Best Fancy Nearby: GP: Black Market Bistro. SS: 8407 Kitchen Bar. Last time I was there, I got the “8407 Lamb Bolognaise with House Made Tagliatelle” and was well-pleased but ownership has changed hands since then so I’m not sure if I can vouch for them any more. I could have chosen Mrs. K’s Tollhouse but unless you are a 70 year old woman and/or just coming back from church on Sunday morning, you should stick with Kitchen Bar.
  • Best Burmese: SS: Mandalay. Gives me tummy rumblin’s every time but I keep going back.

Friday Afternoon Music Jam: Sandaraa

Hat Tip: 2S

Travelogue: Costa Rica 2005

I just realized that my Costa Rica travelogue was not uploaded when I was updating/shifting my online travelogues. Here ya go. Pura vida.

04.30.05

Are you ready, kids?
(Aye, Aye, Cap’n!)
I can’t heeeeaaarrrr you!
(AYE, AYE, CAP’N!)
Ohhhhhh, here’s the Costa Rica travelogue:

Pre-Day One: Having packed the night before, I was up at 5:00 a.m. and seriously contemplated beginning my vacation by slamming the doors and waking the neighbors (especially the no-named rat-dog) to exact my revenge for their countless pre-dawn antics. But there were still things to be done and so TP and I attended to those instead: throwing away any stinkables, locking down the fortress, and securing the chariot. By 6:30 a.m., we had picked up a sleepy but gracious LB, hurtled through Rock Creek Park in the driving rain, and checked in at the airport. Then, we waited. We shared a cappuccino and an atrocious invention called a “tomazzo” bagel pizza and waited. We read the newspaper from front page to the comix and waited. We listened anxiously as the reports of the storm in Atlanta and the grounding of all planes continued and waited. Our 8:00 a.m. flight became a 10:00 a.m. flight and there was no way we were going to make our connection.

When we touched down and scrambled out at noon, we found out that we missed our flight by five minutes while we were standing in line to find out the status of our flight. Disgruntled, we shuttled over to the international terminal and stood in line to rebook our flight at the Delta counter. With lunchtime approaching, we watched in horror and disbelief as there were four little, three little, two little clerks working the desk for the coach passengers (business class had almost a one-to-one passenger-clerk ratio going on). Inconceivable! An hour and a half later, the line had snaked around the velvet ropes, doubled up on itself, and was nearing one of the gates. Outrageous! When one of the business class patrons tried to jump into the peons’ line, there was much gnashing of teeth and preparations for a battle royale (not to be confused with a royale with cheese) until the one remaining coach clerk apologetically explained that she had to attend to the coach passengers. Revolution! We finally reached a second clerk who had appeared out of the woodwork and was huffing in exasperation even before we got there. No smile, no greeting, no apology. But, we did score some business class seats. Grudging acceptance!

With five hours to kill until our flight, we spent the majority of the time snacking, people-pointing, and clock-watching. Our connecting flight was also delayed but sitting in the comfort of business class, we didn’t mind so much. San Jose came into sight around 9:30 p.m. – a mere nine hours later than scheduled. The immigration line was much more organized and faster moving than the Delta quote customer service unquote counter (Fie! Fie on Delta!). One disturbing observation: not only printed on the entry forms but also plastered throughout the immigration and customs areas are warnings that supporting child prostitution in Costa Rica is illegal. Apparently, the child sex trade is so rampant that they have to drive the point home before you even step foot into the country. According to the National Institute for Children, as many as 3,000 children in Metropolitan San Jose alone are involved in prostitution. Where are those air-sickness bags when you need them?

After a slapdash custom’s inspection of just one of our two bags, we were thrown into the throng of sweaty, determined, and aggressive taxi drivers squawking for our attention. Luckily, we already knew to use the official airport taxis which are sanctioned, safe, and had a set fee: $12 to San Jose. Passing by an extremely fit and voluptuous tranny, we rolled into Barrio Amon, checked into our non-air-conditioned, window-overlooking-the-internal-stairwell, earplugs-offered-at-the-front-desk room at the Hotel Dunn Inn (isn’t it redundant to call a place a ‘hotel’ and an ‘inn’?).

Next Up: potential corruption, pathetic ice cream, and power outages.

 

Day One: 05.01.05
Indulging in a hot but thin shower with the Bliss products LB gave me, I started the day fresh and hungry. The hotel offered an all-you-can-eat buffet that consisted mainly of gallo pinto (black beans and rice), fruit (marvelous mangos, piquant pineapples, and pass on the papayas), eggs, toast, and all-you-can-drink Cafe Britt.

Tummies full, we took a circuitous tour of the historic Barrio Amon neighborhood and the center of town. Located in the Central Valley, San Jose is arranged in a grid that is bisected by north-to-south Calle (street) Central and east-to-west Avenida (avenue) Central with all of the odd streets to the east, even streets to the west, odd avenues to the north, and even avenues to the south. Good luck finding the street signs which are more often than not spray-painted over, mutilated, or completely missing. We were in the north-east quadrant at Calle 5, Avenida 11 so our first stop, a mere three blocks away, was the Parque Morazan at Calle 5, Avenida 5. The centerpiece was the Templo de la Musica which houses concerts but which, today, was empty. After sidestepping some of the many homeless people sleeping on the streets this early Sunday morning, our next stop was the Central Park where the birds in the trees were having quite a heated debate.

Nearby, we saw several police officers clustered around an ice cream vendor’s cart.

TP: (shaking his head) “Look at those cops shaking down that vendor.”
Me: (ever the optimist) “Maybe they just want some ice cream.”
TP: (Debbie Downer) “No, everyone in power here is corrupt.”
Me: (triumphantly) “Look! They are paying him money and getting some ice cream!”
TP: (reluctantly) “Yeah. This time.”

We passed by an open-air market where one Tico (Costa Rican) claimed the long cotton shirt with the Indian elephant motif was worth $13.00 (yeah, right, you know how much I can get that for in Pakistan?! Interrodesi!) on our way to where the two Center streets intersected. The sun was getting pretty intense, the crowds were picking up and by the afternoon, the bottomless cups of coffee were making their presence known. Falling back on a habit I picked up in Paris, we ducked into a fancy hotel to use their facilities. We couldn’t find any on the main floor, so we headed upstairs. There was an open and completely empty room around the corner with the maid’s cart nearby but no maid to be seen. I thought we could totally get away with closing the door, attending to business, and leaving, but Prudence McPrude wouldn’t hear of it. Dios Mio! So back out to the main street we went until we found a bustling restaurant with unattended bathrooms below.

Amid the shoe shops, the clothing stores, and the pharmacists, we saw Pops, touted by one of the travel guide books (can’t remember which one, I just grabbed a bunch from the library before we left, jotted down some notes, and returned them – I loves me them free books!) as being the best place to get ice cream. It was ok, but it was no gelato. Mango = C, Raspberry = B.

Since it was International Worker’s Day, it was only fitting that we stumbled across the TLC (Tratado Libre de Comerio) protest march against the U.S. Central American Free Trade Agreement.

We watched as some of the 4,000 protesters chanted slogans, waved banners, and stomped their way across the city center. A look at our unprotected faces told us we had been in the sun too long so, for our last sight, we climbed up to the top of the hill near the Children’s Museum, (where, despite my hatred for him, I pitied a poor sweltering Barney and his friends who must have been dying in their thick, foam costumes under the burning sun) to get a view of the city below:

After a stop at the supermarket for some water and juice, we returned to we returned to chorreador de cafe, the traditional Costa Rican coffee maker was basically a wooden frame supporting a cloth filter suspended above a carafe. I would liked to have tried some of the rich, steaming coffee, but (a) I had already scalded my tongue sampling Magda’s Agua Dulce – hot sugar cane juice -and (b) I was on Estella duty carrying her around the restaurant to check out the bored mariachi player, the forest of onions hanging from the rafters, and the smiling, friendly cooks behind the counter. We had a lovely time with the family, learned more about the protest we witnessed that afternoon, and called it an early evening at 10:30 p.m. Back at the Hotel Dumb Inn, we packed our belongings, counted out our few remaining colones (the bit we got earlier from the ATM was blown on the we-take-no-credit-cards dinner), and slept to the dulcet sounds of our neighbors bellowing “whar’s mah cigarettes?” which were only slightly drowned out by the buzzing whir of the ceiling fan above.

Next up: Go west, young man! And then, head south. And then, go east when you hit the ocean.

Day Two: 05.02.05
First stop: public phones to use the $2.00 telephone card to call home and announce safe arrival. Second stop: ATM to get thousands and thousands of colones (fun fact: the exchange rate these days is $1.00 US to 472.00 CRC so we pulled out about 50,000 colones. Ca-ching!). Third stop: breakfast at Morazan’s only the place was just open for lunch and dinner so scratch that and return to the hotel for Tico breakfast accompanied by oldies songs piped in above.

Me (singing along): She seems to have an in-vis-i-ble touch, yeah, it takes control and slowly . . .
TP (interrupting my solo): You shouldn’t know those lyrics.
Me (defensive b/c I can’t help the fact that my brain retains useless knowledge, stupid stats, and lame lyrics): Why not?
TP: Because they are so bad.
Me: What if a villain captured us and tied us up to a rope dangling over a pit of lava and the only thing that could save us is if we could correctly answer trivia questions about Phil Collins’ songs?
TP: Then perhaps death would be better.

Fourth stop: back upstairs to pack (took all of five minutes), back downstairs to pay ($66/night), and back outside to catch a cab (with no meter which means we may or may not have been cheated when the initial quote of 600 CRC ($1.26) increased to 1000 CRC ($2.11) once we arrived at the bus terminal – it’s not the amount, it’s the principle of the matter. *looks in LB’s direction and recalls blistering walk through Cairo because the cabbie wanted to charge us a quarter more than he should have*).

We arrived at the “Coca-Cola bus terminal” which was basically a marketplace that happened to have a large parking lot in the center through which busses came barreling through. A cabbie attached himself to us and tried to convince us that at $45 US per person, we could travel to our destination, Manuel Antonio, in air-conditioned luxury, we could smoke if we wanted, we could stop anywhere along the way, and we could arrive in style. When we didn’t take him up on his offer, he sported an expression that was part flabbergasted at our passing up such a sweet deal and part disdainful that we were too stupid to realize that he was the best and everyone else (i.e. the cheapo bus-riders) was the worst.

After much confusion over where to purchase our tickets, we finally deciphered a small, hand-painted sign indicating where the booth was and secured our $5 seats. Finding a spot to sit in the bright sun, we spent the better part of an hour watching the locals do their local things: a young man painting a store front while balancing on a shaky, rusted scaffolding; a worker mucking out a sewer or sludgy hole with his bare hands; a woman with powerful lungs selling everything from earrings to cheap, plastic radios; a decrepit old man aimlessly wandering around in a battered cowboy hat, stained pants, and a Star Wars, Episode I t-shirt. The guards in their yellow uniforms were very alert and helpful, telling one woman to keep her purse closer because there were thieves around and informing someone else which bus left and what time. The Coca-Cola guards ROCK!

We boarded our non-air-conditioned but not too shabby 12:15 p.m. bus, put our luggage underneath, and began our steamy drive through Costa Rica’s ubiquitous coffee plantations, cloud-covered mountains, and mango groves.

With only one stop along the way for stretches, bathrooms, and snacks, we arrived in Quepos and then Manuel Antonio about three and a half hours later. Following the directions from the website of Cabinas Espadilla – “Once in the beach, turn left at Marlin Restaurant and follow the street” – we learned that our reservation, while taken, was not held. Luckily, since this was the “green” or “wet” or “low” season, there was one cabin available with a ceiling fan for $52/night with the possibility of upgrading to a cabin with an A/C for $64/night the rest of the week. Sweaty, tired, and hungry, we agreed and were shown our cabin complete with one double bed, one set of bunk beds, a little kitchen, and a clean bathroom. We dumped our stuff off and went back outside for some reconnaissance.

The beautiful beach, Playa Espadilla, was about a two-minute walk from the front door. The National Park was a mere five-minute walk away from that. There were two busy restaurants across the street from each other book-ended by souvenir shops, surf lesson stalls, and internet cafes. And so ended our recon.

Before dinner, we stopped by the pharmacy to get some DEETlicious repellant for my mosquito-buffet skin. We went to the Blue Marlin restaurant for dinner and luckily chose a table under the shelter because within ten minutes, heavy rain poured down and soaked the plein air diners who scrambled inside. Our waiter, Omar from Quepos who spoke his English with a Californian accent courtesy of all the time he spent with the West Coast surfers, was friendly enough but drove us crazy with his constant use of the alleged Costa Rican phrase “Pura Vida” which means “pure life” but can be used for any response from “ok, I got your order,” to “I’m doing well, thank you,” to “it really is great being here during the low season because then I have the hotels, the pools, the beaches, and the jungles almost all to myself!” We started off with the salty, limey, delicious ceviche (hopefully parasite-free) and shared the mahi-mahi and yellow fin tuna dishes. By the time our plates were clean, the rain had stopped. We strolled over to the sister accommodations to Cabinas Espadilla, the Hotel Espadilla, and contemplated a change in rooms to the fancier hotel after returning to our hot, sweltering cabin for the night.

Next up: hanging out on the beach with the mobile home crew.

Day Three: 05.03.05
Sheets of rain. Blankets of rain. King-sized duvets of rain. Rolling thunder, bright flashes of lightening, and torrents of rain smashing down on the tin roof kept us company all night long. The few moments of short-lived silence were punctuated by the piercing croaks of the toads who preferred the areas right outside the cabin doors to the jungle nearby.

When morning finally came, the air was thick with humidity. You’d have thought that the rain showers during the night would promise a crisp, clear day. You’d be wrong. Breakfast at Blue Marlin consisted of a plate of fruit (sin papaya, por favor), scrambled eggs (with a hefty but unwanted dollop of mayonnaise on the side), gallo pinto (cooked in vegetable oil and not lard), and coffee (the day just got better).

A walk along the beach to observe the waves and gauge the crowdedness of certain sections yielded us (a) an appreciation for the low season turn out of surfer dudes and loud, obnoxious tourists, (b) a reminder to watch where we stepped lest we end up with a foot full of crabbie patties and (c) a sip of the sweet agua de pipa (water of a green coconut) from a beach vendor near the Park’s entrance. Note: the dude next to the entrance to the Park charges 500 CRC for lukewarm agua de pipa, but the dude on the beach across from the Restaurant Lobster charges 300 CRC for nicely chilled agua de pipa. See? Now you don’t have to bargain hunt for coconut water because we’ve already done the homework for you.

By 10:00 a.m., we had decided that we should treat ourselves to a break from the heat and humidity by upgrading to the Hotel Espadilla. We paid for our room at the Cabinas, carried our luggage across and slightly up the street, and checked into the air-conditioned, cable tv’ed, second-floor (and therefore toadless) room. Because the hotel’s driveway was under construction, the normally discounted low season rate of $101/night was further discounted to a total of $80/night and included breakfast, a private nature reserve, and did I mention the A/C? Sold!

Finally completely unpacked, we returned to the relatively unpopulated beach (well, unpopulated by people anyway; there were many tiny hermit crabs scuttling around) to swim in the incredibly warm ocean. It is quite possible that the water was warmer than the air. We topped off the ocean swim with a swim in the completely deserted hotel’s pool. Ain’t no season like low season. Gazing placidly at some iguanas who gazed placidly at us in return, TP and I spent the lazy afternoon alone letting the sun slowly melt our brains. Only here for a day, we fell into a routine pretty quickly. Walk to Blue Marlin for lunch and iced mochas. Walk to the room to cool off during the hottest part of the day. Walk to the beach to watch a sandy soccer game. Walk to the agua de pipa man. Walk to the hotel for a nap.

After sunset, we strolled down to the main street and stood for a moment in awe at the cacophony of toady chatter coming from the creek nearby. The wall of sound was nearly deafening. When we came across some gawkers looking up and pointing, we followed suit and saw playful monkeys dangling from the trees! It was too dark to make out any more than their silhouettes, but it was exciting nonetheless.

We checked out the menu of Blue Marlin’s rival, Restaurant Lobster, but opted for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant: chunky ceviche, tender tenderloins in black bean sauce, and sweet plantains grilled to perfection. We counted the number of stupid toads facing the walls along the sidewalk back to the room (10), caught up on some of the world’s news (same old, same old), and basked in the air-conditioner’s glory (until the electricity cut out at 1:30 a.m. for an hour).

Next up: Road-Song of the Bandar-Log
Here we go in a flung festoon,
Half-way up to the jealous moon!
Don’t you envy our pranceful bands?
Don’t you wish you had extra hands?
Would n’t you like if your tails were — so –
Curved in the shape of a Cupid’s bow?
Now you’re angry, but — never mind,
Brother, thy tail hangs down behind!
–Rudyard Kipling

 

Day Four: 05.04.05
The anticipation of seeing all of the wildlife in its natural habitat had me (and by default and design, TP) awake and out early. Girding our bellies with the “breakfast included,” we filled up on coffee, juice, a plate of fruit (note: white pineapple is not as sweet as yellow), saturated pancakes, gallo pinto, eggs, and plantains. Eavesdropping on our neighbors (all American), we learned that to enter Manuel Antonio National Park, you had to cross a stream by foot. The rest of the breakfast conversation was spent on the flip-flops vs. sneakers debate. Soon-to-be-ratty sneakers won.

I got DEETed up, TP got SPFed up, we put on our long-sleeved shirts and (as Iman called them) long-sleeved pants, and we walked to the Park. Along the way, we were beset by tour guides (official and not-so-official) who wanted to lead us through the Park. We decided to wing it this day and if we felt we missed out on a lot, we’d hire one tomorrow; and so, we “manana”ed our way to the entrance. If not for the proof of Costa Rican citizenship requirement, I could have paid the locals’ price ($2) instead of the foreigners’ price ($7) as LB and I did in Cairo when Gojira secured our discounted bus fare by claiming we were Egyptian. From morning to noon, we hiked through, up, and down the Park. There was really no need for a tour guide because any time something interesting rustled along the trail, a glut of shutterbugs stopped, stared, and snapped their photos. One really doesn’t need to keep an eye out for the wildlife so long as one keeps an eye out for the wildlife-lovers.

Even at the cusp of the rainy season, the rainforest was lush and dark. The first denizen to greet us was a three-toed sloth dangling in the trees. It was hypnotizing to watch how. Slowly. He. Moved. The sloth languorously lifted his hairy arm as though it was made of lead. His long, yellowed claws sluggishly appeared. Scratching himself took a good long five minutes and probably longer, but we had to move on. For a closer look at this smiling slacker, check out this picture. The huge and lazy sloth won TP’s great admiration and yet, when I sprawl on the couch and scratch myself, I get reprimanded.

In sharp contrast, our next host was a collection of frenzied, frenetic white-faced capuchin monkeys. They leapt from limb to limb with aerial grace. They cleverly scraped and pounded on the coconuts to drink the water. They threw stuff at us. One cheeky monkey came down, nonchalantly strolled over to the beach area nearby where a girl had left her backpack, and tossing a quick glance over his shoulder at us, proceeded to grasp the backpack and open the zipper. With eyes in the back of his head, he sensed when the girl came forward to rescue her bag and he shot back up into the trees. If the bag were lighter, I have no doubt he would have taken off with it; as it was, the bag was half open. Color me impressed. Later, this dude got all up in my grill.

The flora became denser as we ventured further along the trail. Curiosity had TP picking up and tossing around one of the abundant small, round, green fruits that carpeted the ground until we came upon the placard about the Manzanillo tree that warned of the toxicity of the fruit and the poisonous sap which, upon contact, could cause swelling, blistering, burning, inflammation, and temporary blindness. Whoops. TP let go of his new toy, dashed off to the shore, and washed his hands immediately. At least he didn’t suffer the consequences of getting too friendly with the Manzanillo tree like this guy did.

Everything seemed hushed and muted as we hiked over the damp leaves and soft earth. For that reason, the sharp scratching sounds that broke the muffled ambiance had us freeze in our tracks and look around for the great beasts that must have been making that racket. Eyes darting above and below, we tried to visually penetrate the foliage to determine what could have been making that quick, high noise. It wasn’t until we came upon a fork in the trail that we realized what creatures were responsible: hundreds of red land crabs. Also known as the red land crab, these critters danced over the branches, hovered near their holes, and looked as though they had just come back from voting since one (sometimes two) of their claws was painted purple.

The hike took us up to the Punta Catedral Peninsula where we caught a much-desired breeze and had a fantastic view of the beach and bay below. Sitting on a rock, we tried to cool down and dry off but one step back into the rainforest had us sweating again. The film of sweat that coated my arms was like oil; I would wipe my arms from elbow to wrist, but my hands just slid down with no effect. Once I gave up trying to stay dry and accepted the moistness, I could focus on my surroundings more. Zippy chameleons, slow iguanas, industrious crabs, and hoppy nutria kept us company. The beautiful coves below provided wonderful resting grounds and were fairly uncrowded.

The forest was full of dangers and beauty. We didn’t see any parrots or jungle cats, but we also didn’t see any mosquitoes or fer-de-lances either. Gotta take the good with the bad. And sometimes the ugly.

Next up: the winner of this travelogue’s coveted “Grossest Thing Ever” award.

 

Day Five: 05.05.05 (make a wish!)
After being called down by the hotel’s roosters to come and eat our breakfast with some apricot yogurt to help choke down the papaya, we went to the room to prep for our walk through the hotel’s private biological reserve. We got about 2 minutes into the hike before we realized that the Espadilla Reserve had something the Manuel Antonio Reserve did not: mosquitoes. I went back to the room to apply the repellant liberally even though it was too late for my arms and ankles. We managed to conquer about 5 minutes of the hike before TP found out that these blood-suckers meant business. We returned to the room to allow TP to lotion up. Third time’s a charm and we finally started up the hill completely coated in DEET and, soon enough, sweat. The crystal clear starry skies that were glittering and dizzying and fantastic as we walked on the beach the night before had given way to a thick, stultifying layer of clouds that held the heat and humidity close to the earth during the day. Farther inland than the National Park, this reserve received none of the occasional wafts of forgiving ocean breezes.

Although we kept our eyes and ears out for any parrots or squirrel monkeys (mono titi), the only life coming out in full force were the salamanders, bees, and crabs. The highlights of the strenuous walk were the incredibly quick hummingbird that flitted from flower to flower and the brilliant black and emerald poison dart frog who was too swift for me to photograph.

The trial had a rope guide, but it was deliberately kept in a ‘natural state’ (which is code for completely unattended and unused). Leaves, thick and slippery, covered the path and made navigating the uphill and downhill portions tricky. Branches (liberally sprinkled with itty bitty bitey ants) and, at one point, an entire tree created obstacles to climb, crawl under, and yank aside. Keeping in mind Angelus’s warnings about the Fer-de-Lance , we fashioned a sturdy walking stick from one of our obstacles which we used to pound the ground along the way to alert and hopefully scare away any potential snakes. Unfortunately, I suspect that we scared away everything else as well. Everything, that is, except the mosquitoes. Ten bites on my hands, ankles, and back (I forgot to apply the DEET to my clothing or else they flew up my shirt! Fresh!). And Costa Rica and I were getting along so well. Not so pura vida after all.

Upon our return, we peeled off the sopping wet hiking clothes, rinsed off, changed into resort clothes, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in lounge chairs by the pool and drinking pina coladas complete with funny straws, wedges of fruit, paper umbrellas, metal gears, antennae, and a GPS device attached. For lunch, we hit the Blue Marlin for some ceviche and tunaburgers and then walked along the street to see if there was any more to the “town” than what we had already seen. There wasn’t. We returned via the beach and stopped along the way for some fresh, chilled mangos, agua de pipa, and a game of billiards (which was very pathetically played by yours truly and the only saving grace was that I still won).

Now, as many of you know, each travelogue comes pre-packaged with highlights and lowlights. Per tradition, each trip seems to include an awful, hideous, atrocious thing that often receives the most attention and glee. In China, it was the mephitic nastiness of the Hangzhou train station bathroom at the end of the day after being visited by countless travelers with their full bowels. In Scotland, it was the black pudding that Gojira seemed quite content to enjoy eating. Here, it was the white-nosed coati. Part raccoon, part R.O.U.S., this fuzzy, cuddly guy ought not have won the coveted “Travelogue Travesty Award.” Even almost stumbling over a dead one on the beach didn’t elevate the coati to that honored status. What did it was this: he was completely stripped. His fur had either been shredded by another animal or else loosened and separated by the ocean. The once fluffy creature had been transformed into a raw, puckered pink slab of meat. It looked as though the heat had gotten to him and he just pushed his furry sleeves and bared his arms and legs in order to cool off. After making out some of its features and determining what it was, we turned away to enjoy some more pleasant views: the natural rock formations, the sun setting on the ocean, the clouds blushing and darkening. When we walked back to photograph it for you fine folks, the coati was gone. My theory was that the tide took the body away. TP’s theory was that the Ticos who came bounding behind us when we first discovered the coati took away to cook it up for unsuspecting tourists. Either way, we have a winner! Just so as not to leave you with such a gruesome image, here’s a pretty one instead:

Next up: Bargaining at Brittania

 May expand and expound. May not. Meh.


Day Six: 05.06.05
Things seen in Manuel Antonio:

Things zipped passed on the drive back to San Jose:

  • Bony Goats
  • Bony Cattle (each with its own personal bird valet)
  • Crocodile (Crikey!)
  • People selling watermelons and strawberries on the highway
  • Turtle
  • Traffic

Things said at Hotel Brittania upon arrival in San Jose:
“Do you have a reservation?”
“No, but I was told I could just walk in on Friday and a room would be available.”
“Did you get the rate?”
“Um, $80?”
“Ah. Yes. $80 plus tax.” (pause)
(aware of pause) “Is there another discounted rate you’d like to tell me about?”
“Well, if you want, you can pay in cash and not pay for the tax. Flat $80.”
“Ok, I’ll do that.”
“Do you know which room you have?”
“No, but I’d love the best one you have.” (huge grin)
“Ok, I can give you the king-sized bed with A/C which is normally $120.”
“That’s great! I’ll be sure to tell everyone how awesome Hotel Britannia is.”
“Yes, please do! Ha ha.”

Things seen and/or smelled on evening walk through San Jose neighborhoods:

  • Cigarette Smokey Luxury Room of Hotel Britannia
  • Creepy, Shaking Drug Addict Teen picking the paint off of a corner of a dark alley
  • Puddles of Urine on the Sidewalk
  • Black Skies threatening storms but not delivering
  • Piles of Garbage in the Gutter (if the storm had come, the piles would be converted into rivers flowing through the streets)

Things enjoyed on our last night in Costa Rica:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trip Radio

I have a friend who grew up in Indiana/Illinois and, like many of us mid-westerners, went on many a road trip. One year, her family and mine had a great big convoy from IN to FL. Another time, we drove together from DC to NYC. She now lives in Texas which she enjoys but for this one quirk: “you drive for hours and you are still in Texas.” She decided that her son was missing out on a great childhood experience of a nice, long road trip where the scenery, accents, and even weather changes. I never thought about that but am glad that we have had the opportunity to travel on the road with our kids. Baltimore is an easy 45 minutes away. Greensboring takes 6 hours (5 if I’m driving alone). The farthest we’ve gone with the kids by car was Connecticut. New vistas to gaze upon, new “welcome centers” to pee in, and new radio stations to listen to.

On past road trips, I’ve come prepared with mix tapes (when my sister and I would drive from St. Louis to Louisville), mix CDs (until that technology fell by the wayside), and now mix MP3s (which always runs the risk of the batteries crapping out before you’ve reached your destination). Sometimes the mixes would have a theme: the kids’ trip to Greensboring, NC was replete with TMBG and Kidz Bop; the Philly mix had the requisite “Eye of the Tiger” I put on there just to annoy TP; the IN to MD trip that KG and I took featured an eclectic mix of tunes we could both agree upon. On our recent trip to Lancaster, PA, however, the kids were busy with their new “eidPods” and with their headphones on, couldn’t hear what was going on in the front seat. Although I was armed with recent music downloads and podcasts, I decided to forgo the prepared mixes and listen to the radio. Other than our NPR fix, radio is just as bad as it ever was. So many commercials, so little diversity. When I found a station that was actually playing a song, I stopped to listen. And then to sing along. And then to shock TP.

“How do you know the lyrics to this song?”

How could I not? Growing up in the ’80s in southern Indiana/Louisville, KY didn’t give me a lot of choices music-wise: public radio, Christian, bluegrass, or Top 40 which is now touted as “classic rock”.

Back then, I didn’t have access to or even knowledge of indie/alt/college rock. I didn’t have MTV and so couldn’t tune into 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation. The closest university (U of L) offered sports radio or nothing (that I can recall). It was only thanks to movie soundtracks (which I consumed voraciously) that I would even hear non-mainstream music (thank you, John Hughes). Why is he still surprised by my abilities? Does he not remember this exchange during our Costa Rica trip in 2005?

Me (singing along): She seems to have an in-vis-i-ble touch, yeah, it takes control and slowly . . .
TP (interrupting my solo): You shouldn’t know those lyrics.
Me (defensive b/c I can’t help the fact that my brain retains useless knowledge, stupid stats, and lame lyrics): Why not?
TP: Because they are so bad.
Me: What if a villain captured us and tied us up to a rope dangling over a pit of lava and the only thing that could save us is if we could correctly answer trivia questions about Phil Collins’ songs?
TP: Then perhaps death would be better.

Top Ten Foreign (non-English because technically the U.K. is “foreign” for this blogger) Films

I love subtitles even when the movie/show is in English.

  1. Amores Perros
  2. Fear and Trembling a version of …
  3. Amélie
  4. Y Tu Mama Tambien
  5. 8 Women
  6. The White Balloon
  7. Dil To Pagal Hai
  8. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
  9. Once Upon a Time in China
  10. The Lives of Others

 

Top Ten Movies I Can See More Than Once … And Have

Anytime one of these pops up while I’m channel-surfing, I can’t not stop. This list supplements all the other lists just so I don’t have any repeats.

  1. The Princess Bride
  2. Star Wars (pre-reboot)
  3. This is Spinal Tap
  4. Fight Club
  5. The Cornetto Trilogy (a cheat to lump three in one but who you gonna call? ooh, that reminds me…)
  6. The Godfather (you thought I was going to say Ghostbusters, didn’t you? and I would, if I were stuck in the ’80s)
  7. Pulp Fiction
  8. The Shawshank Redemption
  9. Raising Arizona
  10. Young Frankenstein

Top Ten Mystery Movies

So many to choose from but these are the first to come to mind as gasp-worthy or as noggin-scratchers. As requested:

  1. Usual Suspects
  2. Memento
  3. L.A. Confidential (coincidentally starring two actors who appeared in the above)
  4. Chinatown
  5. Rear Window
  6. Primal Fear
  7. Fargo
  8. Inception
  9. Silence of the Lambs
  10. The Sixth Sense

 

Honorable Mention but really really really disturbing: Oldboy