An Unapologetic Long-winded Account of When I Felt Like Anthony Bourdain

6:47PM

“My friend is coming to meet us at 7:30.”

I am slightly hungry/also thinking it is a result of being awake and moving since 4AM. I take an extra few seconds to pause, then have one of those moments where you think you should say something and then you top and you come back later to realize you should have done the opposite. Anyways, I decide an interview in a second language I would not consider myself fluent in to be a bad idea and hold back a question to be revealed later. I respond:

“We should just grab something really quick and be bad before he gets here.”

Really quick turns into a dinner of fish/shrimp ceviche followed by ice cream because the sweet tooth is strong with me this particular evening.

7:34 PM

The friend shows up and we invite him inside for an interview.

“No, we go to my father’s restaurant.”

Duh.

Now the backstory (or if this were a film manifestation, the title and opening credits). I must get all of this out in the span of minutes because we all know as audience members we stop watching those credits as soon as we don’t recognize names anymore. I am a teacher’s assistant for a field course in Costa Rica. The field course is in primatology and I am no primatologist of non-humans. “Then why are you there?” you are asking, it is because I had collected data for my own study on diet and culture during the previous year and this year there happened to also be some students interested in the human promote side of things so my knowledge would be useful. My ticket was paid for so I could assist and travel around and drink wine and watch monkeys and do all of the things but also help out students with the cultural side. This took me and one student from Primavera (a very small town that no one has heard of and can only be located by exact latitude and longitude) to the capital San José. This trip involved a 4 AM wake up call and a little over 3 hours on a bus.

Skip ahead just a tad.

We have been waiting for this student’s friend for half of the day to get an interview and some inside information on the city that will be useful for the student’s and my research. He is useful because he speaks a little English and grew up here and will probably know some people.

Note: we are all caught up now.

Alan comes to the door and introduces himself, a large set latino man with the skin tone of a man who works in software (which he does), close-set brown eyes, and thin dark hair slicked back into a low ponytail. He is relieved I can speak (some) Spanish and we follow him to some midsize black car that is very nice looking and get in.

“You ever had chifrijo?”

“No, but i was wondering what it was when I passed by and saw that Burger King had it.”

He seems to get a little more excited.

We drive in enough directions that I am turned around. A task that is actually….quite easy to do. Many a turn later, we arrive at Rafa’s.

Rafa’s almost looks like a tourist bar, it is covered with mahogany tinted wood panels both outside and in, but inside there is the classic long bar situated on the right, stocked with about 1/3 of the amount of booze you would see at a US bar and a drink fridge with enough bottled beer for a busy night. No, beer on tap is not a thing here, but beer as the primary drink is. You still might be surprised to know that beer choice is limited to a handful of things, with Imperial and Pilsen being the most popular.

Back to the food though.

We pull up and are greeted by Alan’s father, Rafa (short for Rafael), and his two friends Daniel (pronounced Danielle), and Sherman (pronounced very convincingly as chairman). After sitting at a table in the back Morris and I are asked if we would like beers.

“Si, claro.”

“Imperial?”

“Como no.”

Translation:

“Yes, clearly.”

“Imperial?”

“Well obviously, how could I not have an Imperial.”

Note: that last part is not a direct translation.

We sit and chat about the city of San José, where Alan has lived his whole life minus the year he just spent traveling Europe for a study abroad program in English and Business. He really loves it here because the for is great, the people tranquilo (chill), and the beautiful scenery (he keeps trying to take us to this volcano but we have to tell him no because we need interviews for our research).

And then comes the chifrijo. At this moment I also realize that chifrijo emerges from the combination of chi-charron and frij-oles. Just wonderful.

It is served in a small bowl that might otherwise be used for a little side of beans. It already look magical and then we are told that inside this tiny vessel of tastebud glory are whole red beans, chicharron(in this case grilled pieces of what looked to me like pork loin, and topped with what Alan called chimichurri but what appeared to be pico de gallo. The dish is usually served with tortilla chips which were brought out on a small plate along with some homemade chile sauce in a repurposed water bottle.

At first bite, I was in the throes of red beans complimented by diced tomato and onion. At second bite I had found a hunk of the grilled pork which tasted like it was marinated in spices that I wouldn’t mind eating for the rest of my life and had just come off the grill because I even got a tiny bit of char at the end, which I, unlike people who’s taste preferences I won’t comment about, very much enjoy. I continue to take bites and then realize that I also need to keep up in the conversation. I turn away from this tiny bowl and talk with Alan some more while sipping my Imperial to draw out the bites.

IMG_0009

Rafa himself comes out and I quickly tell him how much I loved it, all of it, everything, and don’t offer me more because I will eat it all. He smiles gratefully, whole heartedly even, and I can tell we understand each other. I love these moments, and here is why:

Food is culture, it is a manifestation of the history, the people, and the agricultural resources of a nation. It tells a wild story of conquerors and diseases, of revolutions and the strength of people, of someone’s wild idea to just “throw something together” with a creativity that can only be inspired by knowing one’s nation. When I cook, I love, and I like to believe that those truly passionate about sharing food feel the same. Food is how I connect with people, it is something I can talk about for hours (as my close friends have noticed), and it is offers me the opportunity to learn and teach. Food became a passion of mine, the source of giddy excitement and wonder, and identifying it in myself has allowed me to see it in other people. Do you know how great it is to help someone else find what they are passionate about? Let me tell you that excitement is equal to the excitement of totally nailing a new recipe and people liking it. I’m almost too excited to continue now to tell you the truth, my heart is racing and I can barely form words because how can words describe that? Ok, I’ll calm down (takes one deep breath), we continue.

So Rafa and I share this great moment and then Chairman (yeah, I know Sherman is his real name but I just love this name so much) comes over and tells us he makes patty, a typical Caribbean baked empanada. So of course I have to try one those and talk with him about the Caribbean culture in Costa Rica that is a result of immigrant Jamaican workers back in the 19th century. The patty is a small baked empanada, Chairman tells me he has made beef and chile or plantain. He then says

“My policy is, you try it first, then you pay, if you don’t like it you don’t pay.”

I like this man and his Caribbean ways.

First, beef and chile. Tasty. Ground beef plus green chiles encased in a thin dough. Second, plantain, I take a bite, it’s red! Why is this red? There are no such thing’s as red plantains, are there? Have I been missing out on this crazy fruit/vegetable? It is plantain, cinnamon, and some beet juice for color. Well no wonder I love it, cinnamon is my jam. So I paid for them.IMG_0017

At this point we are full. We have chatted, learned, shared, laughed, and just spent the last 5 minutes trying to get someone to take a picture of us and figure out how to turn the flash on Alan’s camera phone. He drives us back, points out a popular expensive hotel and tells us many prostitutes hang around because of the travelling business men inside, tells us areas to stay away from at night, and we part ways at our front gate.

That question I was going ask earlier before we ate ceviche/before we met with Alan?

“If his Dad owns a restaurant do you think he’ll take us there to eat?”  

Lesson: Second dinner and dessert should always be welcome.

Woman Traveling Alone, Stay Away

QUICK! A SUMMARY! 

Rebecca has been working hard in San Francisco, she has two jobs working as a deli girl at Whole Foods and a waitress to the Marina folk who love brunch (so all of them). She misses school and is still working on a Biocultural Anthropology paper with her super cool professor and will be applying to grad school shortly. She runs and works and tries to fit in drinking good beer on her time off. She was kind of talking to her professor about going back to Costa Rica but was really nervous for a lot of dumb reasons so when her professor called and said she could come down to help out again for 2 weeks she said, with a adventure-ridden mind, yes. 

Cue curtain and the short tale of her arrival begins:

Oh boy I’m in Costa Rica!

Same aggressive behavior from the taxi drivers. Shouting at the confused gringos, assaulting with help.

Henry approaches me and speaks in English asking where I want to go. Even though he speaks in English my mind tangos with spanish and things just kind of pour out of my mouth without the filter of my mind to stop them.

Are there buses from here? I need to get to Cariari.

Oh Cariari, you need to get to the bus terminal de caribeno.

Ok, and there’s no bus from here that can take me there?

I already know he’s going to say no, even if there were/is a bus, telling me means losing business. But I take the bait, this guy seems nice. I think about it as he waits there, well why not? It’s faster, and I’m already travelling (read: struggling) with three bags.

So Henry takes my bag and explains to me that his car is parked “over there.”

Oh cool, over there in a dark alley? Over there out of sight? Over there by other cars?  I am slightly prepared to grab my bag back from him and run (read: struggle) back with my three bags. I had been previously advised to only trust the guys with the red taxis in white shirts. Henry was wearing a white polo, but the car would tell all.

We walk across the street.

It’s just a little further, Henry says.

We walk into the parking lot of a gas station and there is sitting a red taxi.

i then wonder if this taxi is stolen and this is all just a ploy. But on the walk Henry tells me he is from Minnesota and he loves the United States so I relax a little. And then I get twice as paranoid because i think he is that smart to pretend he is from Minnesota (a state I know little to nothing [nothing] about).

Traveling as a lone woman is hard, guys.

On the drive Henry tells me he loves the United States, it feels like his first country. He wants to be there permanently but he has to be back here to figure out some paperwork (Also questionable).

Normal conversation topics pass as I hope we eventually end up at the bus terminal I am familiar with from previous travels. Twists and turns, no less than 6 near accidents occur, and then familiarity.

Hey! I know that taller de automaticos.

Hey! I know this bus stop!

Hey! Henry wasn’t trying to capture me after all!

I am lone woman traveler, here me roar! 

The time did that thing again…

You know, that thing when it seems like you have so much of it and then POOF next thing you know you have less than 2 weeks left and you are craving greek yogurt like none other.

Ok the greek yogurt thing is more personal but Central America is not up on their grecian dairy yet which always saddens me.

So recently I’ve been doing oodles and oodles of data collection in the form of observations and interviews which really just entails me going to town and talking to people. It’s a pretty sweet deal but I always feel like I don’t have enough and continue to go out and get more which will be useful in the end…and also lead to many hours of analysis. But since this blog is not really about the research aspect of things (because talking in research language is no fun) all that is important to know is that I have enough data to start some analysis and I am very excited to churn this baby out. I feel like I technically never graduated college which kind of excites me, especially because writing essays was my favorite  one of my favorite parts!

Don’t worry I own the nerdy vibes. I am currently wearing chacos, leggings, and a bright-ass blue tie-dyed shirt with turtles swimming on the front. I am so cool.

So I went to Guapiles last Saturday where there are about 10 types of stores repeated in almost the same pattern up and down the streets and I really don’t understand how any of them stay in business. It was a Saturday so there were some cool little things going on but most importantly a FARMERS MARKET which made me so excited because during school I went to the farmers market every Saturday and have been going through withdrawals since then that a coffee addiction really can’t cure. It was a beautiful sunny day and I tried some new fruits like a columbian zapote that tasted like a pumpkin and a pejivalle which is like a sort of palm fruit. Both bright orange and tasty. Then I bought some pork tamales and took them to the big central park filled with benches to enjoy along with a coconut cookie and some fresh squeezed oj…

another exciting thing: salt in oj is totally a thing, and it totally blew my taste buds away because it makes the sweetness come out.

(It would also taste good with a little tequila if you ask me)

And I listened to a group playing some traditional windpipe music which was just delightful. And then I met three women who brought some little crafts and jewelry to sell and the gift buying voice in my head went off so be ready loved ones you are getting some of this stuff. All in all a great day and I still got back to the station in time to do an evening run in the sun.

A couple days later I went to Cariari with the class and Michelle to do some shopping, get some lunch, and figure out a phone card situation.  This turned into a huge ordeal…basically the place where I had bought phone cards just 3 days before was now denying that they sold them.

Then they told me they sold them next door…

And then the place next door told me they sold them next door…

And then one of the students bought something and was charged 3 times instead of one so I dealt with that whole situation…

And then everybody hated the gringos for ruining the flow at the checkout which is just bound to happen at some point.

Next thing you know I realized that all of that took an hour and it was time to get lunch with Michelle and La Marisqueria which is just Spanish for “We sell good seafood here.” The grilled tilapia and ceviche were great reinforcers to the good seafood reputation and the rum mixed with club soda and lime were great reinforcers to the rum reputation of Central America (Flor de Caña and Centenario are the big ones here). We talked and I met one of her friends that lives in Cariari who knows everyone and can help me get some info for my study. The rest of the trip was just picking up fruits and snacks from the store since Cariari is an “errand town.”

Other than that the station has been it’s usual, awesome self. Michelle’s class is bringing a lot of great attitudes and fun times in the forest as proven by a crazy scavenger hunt mapping activity and the spontaneous singing and dancing that has popped up while they are doing work. We have even gotten treats from the US brought by Michelle like cheese and magic anti-itch cream that we enjoy on the little veranda at the faculty house while watching the sunset and looking for giant potoos (you have to see this) by making wookie-esque noises.

It’s the little things sometimes. But mostly it’s the making giant potoo noises.

So Many Stories, So Little Time to Type

It has been far too long my dear reader(s) (for all I know all my views could be from my mom…Hi Mom!). And even if it hasn’t seemed that long to any of you guys, it seems like I have been withholding information of great times and updates and all of that business. So now is the time for another list!

Prepare yourselves…because not much of this is written in chronological order.

1. SLOTH WATCH 2013 IS OFFICIALLY OVER!!

Yes the day came when I saw a sloth.  Here’s the thing, sloths sleep very high in trees and all just look like big fur balls which also look like termite nests which are EVERYWHERE. Even with my glasses I couldn’t find one for the life of me but I was still hearing about everyone seeing sloths and being amazed and here I was missing out. And then the sloth came to me, right outside the house in a small forested area. So even though I was wearing shorts and Chacos (the greatest adventure sandals ever) which is normally just an outside no-no because of the blood-thirsty mosquitoes I raced out, camera in hand, to get a picture of this big lazy blob anyways. First off it took about 5 minutes to see it in the tree and then another 5 minutes to 60x zoom with my camera AND find it again with the zoom.  Sounds pretty quick, right?

WRONG.

The next day I managed to find no less than 15 bites all along my legs.  And at that time it seemed worth it and I was so satisfied and I now have a couple pictures that I can’t post yet because the internet is like molasses.  And next thing you know I see 2 in the forest a couple days later and then….

2. Tortuguero National Park

15 minutes into our 3-hour long boating adventure to the lodge we saw 2 sloths in a tree. And you know how many mosquito bites I got from that? Zero. It’s all about the experience I suppose. Anyways I’m kind of jumping ahead here just so I could get the sloth watch update in and then the semi-frustration about how easy it was to see them as soon as I got into a boat on a jungle river. But looking at it now if the worst things that could be happening in my life is that I received a lot of bites while looking at wild sloths and then getting in a boat to ride to a national park overflowing with wildlife and 100 different shades of greens on the trees than I’m probably doing something very right.

But yes, after spending a weekend in San Jose (more on that in a sec) we took a 2 hour bus ride to the boat and then proceeded to ride through jungle rivers and canals for 3 hours.  So if you have been to disneyland, think about the jungle cruise ride, subtract half of cheesy tourist-y jokes (our guide Modesto provides just the right amount of wildlife knowledge and jokes), subtract tigers and rhinos and indigenous tribes, add about 20 feet to all the trees, some sunshine, and a lot of birds, then you can basically imagine what this experience was like.

After this we get to the Laguna Lodge where they had some towels waiting for us to wipe off residual sea/river water (I will admit I was not used to this luxury business and almost didn’t take because I preferred to have a reminder of the awesome ride I just had). This lodge is basically like a stationary cruise/best summer camp your parents could send you to. River on one side, Caribbean Sea on the other, a small soccer field, volleyball nets, 2 pools, buffet style meals, and rocking chairs on the patio of your room which really bring out the grandma I feel I slowly becoming with these early bed times and wake ups, sometimes I also envy the flowy dresses the older women in town wear.

This place is awesome and currently where I am now, we will be going on a bird watching boat ride through a small jungle canal later, a turtle walk, and zip lining through the canopy. Pretty sweet set up if you ask me.

3. The Weekend in San Jose

Costa Rica is an interesting case in terms of colonial history. I can’t remember if I’ve already blogged about this but basically they have Spanish, Chinese, and African American populations spread out throughout the country.  I have seen about 500x as many Chinese restaurants that I would have thought but to be fair I thought I would only be seeing one…or less. But Costa Rica has not suffered nearly the same level of corruption and prying as other central american countries which is one of the reasons it’s so safe and tourist friendly. (Most of the corruption comes in the form of pineapple and banana plantations, so maybe more on that later). Anyways I was heading to San Jose for the weekend to get a head start on observation work and meet up with the wonderful professor who gave me this opportunity (she may be reading this right now since she has recently joined the Facebook world where I will be posting this) and I’m not sucking up because this is actually true, and everyone should be jealous of how awesome primatologists are.

I did some data collection for research on the general layout of the city and looking at how many western restaurants there are (note: A LOT) but there was also a cultural fair going on in one of the city parks. There were little street vendors with local artisan gifts, some standard tourist trinkets, and a little boutique booth where I bought a dress from the guy that sewed it, looking forward to the moments when I can say “It’s one of ind from Costa Rica.” And even though I am slightly ashamed at that level of snobbiness I am also very excited because it fit perfectly. One of my favorite things about San Jose is that they have a lot of city parks with plenty of benches that people will actually go hang out in and they are all constructed in this beautiful colonial architectural style which had me thinking about Midnight in Paris (except more like in Spain). From the jungle to this wonderfully aged city I can see why Costa Rica is slowly becoming one of the top destinations for retirees.

4. I’ve already lost track of what I’ve done.

I started writing this post yesterday morning with all these great ideas and then I started doing more great things and now I have a brain full of great stories that I just don’t have time to write so if you want more details there than hopefully we will be seeing each other shortly and then have a coffee date that will last 3 hours because I will have so much to say.

5. Zip-lining

This was awesome for 2 reasons. First because it gave me a good idea of what the canopy is actually like and the forest we did it in looked very similar to the forest at the station. The monkeys and sloths and many other things have it pretty nice up there. Second, because my Spanish is now at a level where I get benefits for speaking the local language. The guides were really nice to me and we got to talk about life and culture in Costa Rica and I can count that as part of my research which is another reason why anthropology wins.

6. Turtle walk

Moonlit beach, sky full of stars, no flashlights needed (or allowed). We followed our guide along the beach and met up with a conservancy program, who then pointed out that a turtle was nesting about 10 feet away from us. We gave it some time before walking up and when we did I was amazed. I mean, I knew sea turtles were large (and can live to be over 100 thanks to Finding Nemo), but this mama was MASSIVE. And she was just chilling there popping out 100-200 eggs like it was no big deal and sure let’s let all these tourists come and invade my privacy. And then she used her back legs to cover up the hole which looked like a little child making a sand pile and patting it down and she scurried off into the moonlit ocean to never see her children again.

She was pretty fast mover too.

7. Sunrise

Even though there are still plenty of things missing from this post. The last thing I did is worth telling. 5:10 AM alarm went off this morning and I looked out the window if I could see the sun peeking out and thankfully the cloud coverage was minimal so I grabbed my camera and phone (for twice the picture taking abilities) and walked out onto the beach to see the sunrise over the Caribbean Sea.

There have been few other moments in my life that have made me feel completely appreciative and at peace than that moment.

Pura Vida.

XOXO Gossip Girl

I’m going to let you in one some secrets and gossip going around the field station.  It’s highly classified so consider yourselves lucky.  Also be forewarned that not all of this may be true in the first place and it is also possible that some was lost in translation but I enjoy the telenovela aspect to it.

So the head woman of the field station is named Rosie, her husband Palomo is the super badass forest-trekking machete-wielding dude and they have 3 kids Deibe, Augustin, and Nelson.

Augustin is 19 or 20 I believe and works around the station doing forest work and helping Palomo out. At one point a field school came here and there was this super babe Italian girl named Fabiana.  Fabiana and Augustin fall in love or however you would like to put it but sadly she has to go back to Italy when the program is over.

Side note: She speaks Italian and Spanish so there is no language barrier.

We are pretty sure Fabiana also has a boyfriend in Italy who may or may not be aware of this romance. Anyways, Fabiana comes back to visit and everyone is all hither and tither with more gossip and wondering if they go by girlfriend boyfriend or if they are just keeping it casual or what Rosie thinks of her son seeing this Italian girl who is around 6 years older than him and coming to visit him FROM ITALY.

And then when I tell the girls at the station that when I met her Augustin had his arm around her all sweet-like they were on-cue awww-ing at the whole thing so moral of that story is that even if you do have a boyfriend in another country you are still cute as long as the boyfriend here shows some affection.

Fabiana decides to give us a real treat and make pizzas for dinner.  This is a huge change because this will be the first meal where neither rice nor beans are served…crazy, I know.  This is also very impressive because pizza-making ingredients are no where near the most popular items found in Costa Rican grocery stores. I rode with Rosie 30 minutes down the road to get cheese from a woman’s house for crying out loud.  But Fabi, as she is known here, goes on pounding out 21 pizza dough rolls to make sure we have enough for everyone.

If you could see the size of this woman you would be even more impressed. She is probably 5’3 and 110 pounds. As far as I’m concerned being a pizza-making Italian woman needs to be the new diet craze because she looked uber fit and had the energy of an 8 year old.  She danced around the kitchen and sang to the songs on the radio. Eugenio, Rosie’s brother, also showed up and grabbed Fabi to start dancing around and then I saw his hand was kiiind of low on her back and I was just thinking, “woah is this ok? Is there a weird cultural thing that says it’s ok to sensually dance with someone else’s girl?”

And then Eugenio goes and sits down next to Gretl, a 21-year old girl who also works at the station while taking classes in Cariari. He proceeds to put his arm around her waist as she pre-cooks the rolled out pizza dough before toppings are put on them.  At this point I have just been thrown for a loop because Eugenio stays like this for a good amount of time and Gretl doesn’t seem to be uncomfortable but ALL of the other people in the kitchen notice and start whispering jokes and commenting on it RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.  I mean there is no way they didn’t hear. And Eugenio has to be at least 10 years older than Gretl but I understand his moves because Gretl is pretty much a Tica (Costa Rican word for local) babe and she intimidates me sometimes because she seems so cool.

And if this wasn’t enough to keep track of there is another woman in the kitchen named Nana who is large frame and even larger personality whose phone keeps ringing with texts.  Everybody keeps asking her whom she’s talking to and she just smirks so you can get a glimpse of her gold-capped tooth as she happily and very-knowing mumbles I don’t know. And at the same time Fabi keeps telling her she is putting too many toppings on the pizza, especially the oh-so-tender looking pork they have been slow cooking all day and Nana just makes a mimick-y voice and continues to pile meat on when Fabi turns her back which is a very Nana thing to do. Then everyone starts chiding her about having multiple boyfriends and my brain is still trying to catch up with the fact that Eugenio, Rosie’s brother, still has his arm around a young girl that works for Rosie while her 19 or 20 year old son has an Italian girl that is multiple years older than him visiting and staying in her house. That Rosie is one to stay cool under pressure.

 

So that’s a snapshot of how romance in a small Costa Rican rural town works.

 

Who knew summer made people so love crazy? (Actually I’m pretty sure a lot of people know this considering “summer romance” seems to be a thing).

 

Oh and one more thing…

The pizza was pretty delicious.

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.

Adventure Time with Palomo

Palomo is one of the forest workers at the station. He is Nicaraguan and for a while a lot of the students thought he was so mysterious that Palomo was actually the only name he needed, so basically he was like Madonna. He is also from Nicaragua and fought in the civil war, but I don’t know too many details about that…yet.

Palomo knows the forest better than anyone else on site, it’s hard not to when your workday consists of going out and clearing trails. I was invited by some of the other long-term researchers here to go out and explore the primary and secondary forest with him Saturday morning.  Weekends are oddly not really a thing for primatologists since monkeys don’t really know what a weekend is and the primatologists need data, so this little break with Palomo was going to be well worth not getting monkey data.

Therefore, my response was hells to the yeah I will go into the unmarked trail rainforest with super badass/mysterious Palomo.

Breakfast is still served at 7 and we leave around 8.  David and Marvin (pronounced Dah-veed and Mar-veen), 2 other workers at the station, also come with us. We take the marked trail, crossing the river by walking over some rather shaky bamboo and almost falling a few times because the bridge washed out, and walk all the way to the end. On the way Palomo points out some ocelot tracks, some types of fruit, and different types of trees that all look the same to me but are amazing nonetheless.

Once we reach the end its time to pull out the 16-inch machetes and clear the trail.  Both him and Marvin carried machetes and chopped away with the ease of a natural, a slight tap here and big swing there and we were through. At one point we emerged from what some of the girls call “the rabbit hole.” Very appropriately named because we emerged into a field of just tall grass and no tree coverage, then when we looked back to what we came from it was this tiny hole leading into the dense forest.  And we were still just coming from the marked trail at this point.

Next we went into the part with zero marked trails. We walked in the trees instead of on a path around them.  Wonderfully tall Almendra trees were pointed out and Palomo said they are a favorite of the Macaw bird.  Unfortunately, no Macaws were out, but there was something even better…a white hawk. Apparently it’s super rare, it was also super far away, this did not stop me from utilizing the super intense zoom feature on my camera to get a semi decent look at it. I also discovered Instagrams new filter, rainforest humidity, it made a cool vignette-like edge blur around the picture.  And while I’m sure it wasn’t the greatest thing for my camera I really think I could be onto something with this instagram filter.

We continued walking around, though I don’t know how much you can call it walking because the floor is so slippery from humidity and there are tree roots sticking out everywhere and those are slippery and then you have to watch out for spider webs because those just come up out of no where and sometimes we have to cross more sections of river which is actually pretty tricky because you never know what parts of the mud are 3 inches deep versus the parts that are 2 feet deep.  One of the girls found that out the hard way. Also, not all pieces of wood/logs are as atable as you think they might be because of the humidity and sometimes they will just crumble right out from underneath you. As far as I can tell there are a lot of downsides to humidity, most of the upsides involve some chemical reactions all happening below the surface/help the plants breathe and whatnot. But in terms of laundry it is about the least helpful thing you can imagine, some of my clothes smell sour.

Anyways, so we are gallivanting around the forest and I’m channeling my Joseph Conrad to see if there are any grand speculations about the nature (and horrors) of humanity I can make but then I get distracted by Palomo pointing to a small little leaf sprouting out of the ground, then pointing to a very large tree a couple feet away and tell me they are the same thing which just absolutely blew my mind and I was so in awe that I just stopped and looked up and gave nature a mental high five…make that mental double high five with some extra gusto because she deserves it.

There was also a point when we couldn’t find ourselves on the small GPS one of the researchers brought and a few points where I saw Palomo look around one too many times. But after about 4 and half hours of walking in what I could only perceive as a bunch of squiggly lines we made it back and I filled a bowl with white rice and black beans, not even bothering to change my sweat and dirt stained clothes or wash off my deet-ridden body…and I ate until I was full, took a very lazy shower, and fell into bed with a happy stomach and a slightly aching body.