I agreed to go somewhere without knowing where it was….

One of the best parts about doing cultural anthropology research is being able to go to other parts of the country and see the cultural differences.

You could also call this a mini vacation.

Whatever you want to call it, a group of us decided to make a trip to Puerto Viejo this weekend. I had no idea where this actually was until the morning after we had gotten there and looked it up.  Turns out its right next to the Panama border, never would have guessed that.

One of the girls was heading back to the States to start law school at NYU and she wanted to make one last trip that didn’t involve examining monkey poop under a microscope to see what they were eating.  That seemed pretty reasonable to me.

While I greatly appreciate the public transportation system in Costa Rica (and the fact that I can actually take the public transportation), there are always some drawbacks.  This one just happened to be taking 4 different buses with a total travel time of about 7 hours. That was just getting there.

But hey, it was cheap and a good way to see some more of Costa Rica.

Then I found out that if you just drove there it would take 3 and half hours. I must admit my jaw went from closed to dropped pretty quickly at this point. Thankfully this was after we had arrived so I didn’t have the time to consider splurging on a cab.

It was dark when we arrived and it turned out the hostel we had planned to stay at was full.  Then again I don’t imagine many hostels will have enough beds when you’re rolling 8 gringos deep (technically one of the guys was Costa Rican, but he was with enough gringa girls that I don’t think it mattered).  Since it was dark we settled on one that had a large dorm-style room with 9 beds in it for $8 a night. The beds looked slightly sketchy and the windows weren’t all that close-able but we could lock the room up and keep valuable safe and there was wifi so I was pretty happy, the $8 thing was pretty great as well.

Puerto Viejo, I came to realize, is a very “backpacker” town. It’s small with plenty of cheap hostels and restaurants, a little dingy but for a backpacker that’s not necessarily important so it gets away with having a cool local art scene along with plenty of your typical tourist shops FILLED with “Pura Vida” branded items. You could walk anywhere within 10 minutes depending on how distracted you got by the ocean or the couple horses roaming around, or in my case the delicious smells of the bakeries and the health food/all natural stores.  I was geeking out a little but it was all completely justified.  I mean, I found fresh brewed Kombucha Tea at a farmers market where there were also locally made bracelets and other foods, how could I not get super stoked on that?

I was also introduced to the dish of “riceandbeans” during the trip.  I’m sure you are wondering why this is an exciting thing. Haven’t I been eating rice and beans for weeks now? And basically with almost every meal? And loving every bite of them? All yes. BUT. This riceandbeans is different. Yeah it’s different (I’m sorry I couldn’t help myself).

Because they also cook them with coconut milk.  This seems like a pretty hard thing to imagine because there are a whole lot of flavors going on in there but it’s a very delicious combination of white rice, black beans, some spices, and coconut milk. It’s a pretty wonderful combination of salty and ever so slightly sweet and tropical-y. I think I might have actually had this in Belize and not realized it, but eating it again was like a re-awakening that everyone just had to know about.

There are basically 4 bars in town that everyone gravitates towards, so we could walk to each one and check things out.  Then it turns out that the 4 bars turn into 2 just because people will naturally go to where the crowd is in terms of bars. More people = more chances to find someone you can go play chess with right? If you haven’t picked up that playing chess doesn’t mean playing chess then here is a clear indication that playing chess is a cover up for other…slightly more physical activities. I could actually make a whole metaphor out of this…perhaps another time.

So first we hit up a Reggae Bar, grab some drinks and dance the best you can to Reggae, usually just some swaying, if you’re lucky and have a partner you can do some spinning action but then when you couple that with drinks you end up making far more enemies than friends. And you just hog the dance floor, which is kind of rude.

No matter what, Mango is THE place to end up at. Big dance floor. Lots of tourists looking to dance to a collection of American top 40 hits and some classics like “My Humps,” and also kind of weird amount of locals standing on the outskirts of the dance floor doing too much staring and using all the wrong pick up lines/being aggressively forward. Sorry you have to read this Mom, but it’s a cultural experience, right?

There was dancing, more spinning, drinks, semi-creepy dudes, all the things you need (maybe not the creepy dudes)….and then there was rain.

So much rain.

The hostel was probably less than 300m away from Mango, and in one trip there and back the rain managed to soak through all of my clothes including my lightweight rain jacket.  I was wearing a white tank top. I guess I should have known that vacationing on the beach always involves a wet t-shirt contest. It actually wasn’t that bad, I just felt compelled to put something about a wet t-shirt contest in there.

I’m slowly realizing how much I am typing so I will now super speed up the summarizing.

That night finished and we went to bed only to be woken up by torrential downpour and thunder and lightning multiple times in the night, later I heard it rained 5 inches which was not hard to believe because I could hear zero things over the rain pounding on the steal roof separating our uncomfortably sleeping bodies and the closest thing to a hurricane I have ever experienced.

The next day was also decently rainy.  Enough to make me want to get a blanket and watch a movie even though it wasn’t even cold outside and I was right by the beach. We walked through some of the shops, went to a farmers market where all the cool Costa Rican hipster artists sell things and hung out. Some people got a deal on a scuba diving lesson but I wasn’t too down to spend money to not be able to see underwater because the rain made it really muggy.

That night we went to El Pescador get fish for dinner, I was budgeting money and had only eaten oatmeal, bread, and an apple with peanut butter so I could get some fresh fish at dinner.  It was well worth it because I ordered a Red Snapper casado.

Note: Casado is a Costa Rican dish that you can get with all types of meat. It’s kind of similar to a sample platter because it will have meat, some form of rice and beans, plantains, and a small salad.

So I get the casado and was ever so pleased to find out that when the waitress said the cook slightly fries the fish she meant the entire fish, head and all.  It was a sad moment realizing I didn’t bring my camera or phone because it was raining outside and it didn’t seem worth it to damage it. But this was a decent sized fish, with decent sized riceandbeans, patacones, the cook’s special Caribbean sauce, and a salad.

And I ate it all.

And then I ordered a brownie with ice cream.

And I ate all that too.

And I was happy (really full).

*shakes hands in air like champion*

And we go out to the same two bars and dance even though I can’t really move all that much so I just adapt a form of waddling and call it dancing. And it was the same deal as the night before but with less rain and slightly more spinning because I was wearing a dress that is fun to twirl around in.

Of course the next morning when we would be stuck in buses all day it turned out to be sunny but I made the most of it by getting up a little earlier and walking around, drinking some coffee on the beach and talking with an interesting, slightly-off man who lives in Costa Rica for 45 minutes in Spanish about life and culture and education and he seemed to be not as off as he first appeared and had a great philosophy about life.

After that I met up with everyone else for breakfast at Bread and Chocolate which blew my taste buds away and sent them off with the perfect meal sitting in my belly for the 7 hours of bus hopping back. Cinnamon oatmeal pancakes, eggs scrambled with a little cream, seasoned potatoes, jerk BBQ sauce, fresh fruit, and to top it all off my own little French press full of coffee all for me. I would ride the 7 hours in the bus just to go back to that place.  Everything made in house with organic eggs and a selection of truffles and dessert to take with you. I got a mint chocolate brownie for the trek back and the mint was so fresh I’m pretty sure people around me might have thought I was chewing gum.

That was probably the worst attempt at quick summarizing I could have done.

Woops.

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