Monday, June 25, 2007
Kalimotxos and Pintxos in Spain
Go to our Spain photo album at our photo site to see more photos.
Troy and I were introduced to some fabulous things and not so fabulous things during our travels in Spain. They both involved food and drink. The best thing was Pintxos (pronounced pintchos) which are appetizers on steroids. We found about these in a small town in north Spain called San Sebastian. Around 5pm or so, all the bars lay out this glamorous buffet table (ok, it's just the bar top) with these amazing plates of pintxos. We found the best thing is to go from bar to bar to bar to try to see who had the best pitxos. The only thing we (ok, I) didn't like about this "happy hour" is that the drinks are only half pours. We couldn't understand why the bartender just couldn't put in that little bit of extra effort to pull the beer tap one more time.
There were actually two bad things we found in Spain. One was a drink called Kalimotxo (pronounced kalimotcho) which is a 50/50 mix of bad red wine (has to be bad) and cola. It was definitely as bad as it sounds. Troy said it was refreshing.... whatever, dude! What made it even worse was that the locals order it by the liter. The second bad thing was another drink called Leija which was beer and lemonade. This was just as bad as a Kalimotxo, but at least it was not drank by the liter.
Basque CountryWhen we originally planned our trip to Spain, we were going to spend several days in Madrid, visit that area then make our way to Barcelona. But on our Costa Rica dive trip, our cruise director invited us to visit him in Basque Country in north Spain. Since it sounded just as fun, we canceled our Madrid hotel and booked a train north. Our first stop was Bilbao which is home to the Guggenheim Museum. This is an amazing piece of architecture right in the heart of the city. Troy and I are not really museum goers, but we both really enjoyed this museum.
One evening our friend, Javier, picked us up and showed us around to some of his local watering holes right on the Mediterranean Sea. These were definitely out of the way places we would have never have found, especially since one was right on the edge of a nudist beach - thanks Javi!!! These are not so bad until you have to witness two guys play ping pong. "Whoops, sorry, wrong ball!"
San SebastianOur next stop in Spain was San Sebastian which I mentioned is home to the famous Pintxos. This was a beautiful city right on the beach that had some amazing churches and small back alleyways where all the bars are located.
One thing that Troy and I absolutely have to get used to in Europe is the different business hours. Places open about 9am or so, close at 1pm then open again at 4pm. They take their siestas here seriously. Most people also don't eat dinner until 10pm which does not make my belly happy at all. It has revolted on me a few times and demanded to be fed with sweets and ice cream. No one wants an angry belly, so I had to meet it's demands! Troy on the other hand is keeping his belly happy all the time by feeding it endless supplies of gelato.
TarraganoNext after San Sebastian was Tarragano which was a city built on Roman ruins from way back in the day. Around the city are old remnants of an amphitheater, arches, Roman circus, etc. This city also had great little back alleyways that we could wind our way around. We are so off schedule with the locals that most often Troy and I were the only ones in a restaurant having a drink or an early evening appetizer.
MontserratFrom Tarragano we did a day trip to Montserrat which is home to the Benedictine Monastery which is located on the side of a 3500' bulbous, stone mountain. This monastery was established when a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary was found in 1025. This place is actually quite cool because the colors of the buildings blend in with the mountain and there is nothing else around the monastery so from a distance it is difficult to see. One thing I found a little bizarre was in the cafeteria where the tourists ate, beer on tap was served. Call me silly but when I think of priests and nuns and monasteries my mind does not automatically jump to beer! Maybe I'm missing something.
BarcelonaOur last day in Spain was spent doing a whirlwind tour of Barcelona. We only had one day so we had to zip through it real fast. So of course we did the tourist thing and hopped on one of those tourist buses with no top that you can get on and off whenever you want. The most fascinating thing of Barcelona was a church called the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia designed by Antoni Gaudi. The construction of this started in 1882 and over 100 years later is still under construction. This is definitely the center piece of the city because not only is it the tallest building (I think) but there is nothing else like it in the city or even on the planet. It is only 50% completed and when done it will stand over 500 feet tall. I thought we would spend 30 minutes there, but 2 hours later, we were still exploring this monstrosity.
At the end of the day, Troy and I were looking forward to our hotel at a Marriott near the airport for our flight in the morning to Rome. Luckily we were able to use points to pay for this $275 a night hotel. Upon arrival at 9pm our evening and good mood came crashing down when we found out that the airport we were near was not the airport we needed the next day. It was over an hour away by bus. Can you say "%&%$$%?&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;%$£&%&?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Lucky for us the concierge was still there so he helped us figure out how to get to the other airport. Some of you are probably reading this thinking "How could you get the wrong airport?" This is how: We are in Barcelona, we are at the airport in Barcelona, our itinerary says Barcelona airport. When we booked the hotel and airfare, how were we suppose to second guess which airport to leave from? It's kind of like leaving from the Denver International Airport, but it's located in Colorado Springs. I did get the kudos for the day since I was the one to think of asking the hotel receptionist if we were at the right airport. It would have sucked even worse if we had got to the wrong airport in the morning and couldn't find our airline.
But all is good, we are in Rome now and I am sitting next to a guy at an internet cafe surfing for porn. He is surfing for porn, not me, just so there is no misunderstanding!
Friday, June 15, 2007
Detour Through Panama
When Troy and I started our travels, we were both open to advice and suggestions from locals and fellow travellers of what cities and towns to visit that we originally had not planned on. That was kind of the point of our travels...to not have a plan. But the one thing we both agreed we would not do is visit a country that was not in our itinerary. Well, that just got thrown out the window last week when we took a detour from Costa Rica through Panama.
We wanted to get from the south Pacific coast of CR to the south Caribbean coast of CR. We thought we would have to back track all the way up to San Jose then back down south. But we met several people that said don't do that, go through Panama. So after getting a few tips of the route we needed to take and what scams to watch for at the border we headed off to Panama. We knew the border crossing was going to be a little tricky because we're suppose to have a return bus ticket out of Panama. We didn't have one and didn't want to buy one because we knew they only wanted extra money. So we played "Stupid Gringo." Everytime the immigration man kept saying "Bus Ticket" Troy kept saying "No, taxi." Troy kept this up for a good 10 minutes letting the line behind us get longer and longer. Troy's persistence held out. The immigration man finally stamped our passports and off we went.
Panama was just like CR, except for two big differences: Their currency is the USD and their roads are beautiful!!! Unlike the horrible, horrible roads of CR. Our destination was a group of islands on the northwest Caribbean coast called Bocas del Toro. We quickly found out this was a total surfer town and there were just as many westerners as locals. We didn't do much here, other then rent some bikes (which after 1 hour Troys chain broke and 2 minuts later I got a flat tire) take a tour around the islands and hang out on the beach.
It's funny. The reason we chose to go through Panama was to get to the Caribbean coast of CR. But after spending a few days in Caribbean Panama, we knew it was going to be just like Caribbean CR with very minor differences. So we decided to skip CR and head in land after leaving Panama. Our exit from Panama was much less stressful then our entry. The most interesting thing about leaving Panama was the border crossing into CR. We had to walk across this old, cranky, skinny bridge that was suspended above a river. The bridge itself wasn't scary. What was scary was when a huge 18 wheeler was coming at you on this skinny bridge. It is so narrow there is literally no room for pedestrians as the truck passes. So here we are halfway across the bridge with our big backpacks and here comes the next truck. We quickly found out how fast we are able to run with our heavy packs on!
Rafting Rio PacuareOur next and last stop was Turrialba. This is where everyone heads to raft the Rio Pacuare. This river is one of the best in Central America for white water rafting and is also known as one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. Rafting the Rio Pacuare was a blast! It didn't have quite the huge rapids as the Arkansas River in Colorado, but the rapids were much more consistent, more fun and quite hairy at times. The guide was a lot more adventuresome then we are used to in Colorado. He would try to back surf into the surge or take us backwards down rapids. We had so much fun, we actually did it twice. Near the end of the trek we rafted under an old railroad bridge where we had the chance to jump from it into the river. Troy was up for it but I said hell no! It was way too high. Troy was all for it until he got to the top and realized it was a lot higher then it looked from the river. He toughed it out though and did the 45 foot (yikes!!) leap into the river.
Costa Rica has been a blast and is probably one of the most beautiful countries we have ever seen. Next we are off to Spain and southern Europe for 2 months. Not sure how much we will be able to blog from Europe since it won't be cheap.
If you are interested, Troy has posted more photos from our Cocos Island trip, plus there are more from our last week or two from Costa Rica.
Friday, June 08, 2007
La Bus El Broken O Down O
As I said in a previous blog there is a mode of transportation in Costa Rica called the Collectivo. Remember, it's that 1983 broken down thing that sometimes passes for a truck? Anyways, for Troy and I to get back to the town we started from, we had to take the Collectivo again. This time we were not as fortunate as our last Collectivo ride and got the wooden plank seats instead of the cushy padded seats. The wooden planks ended up being the least of our problems.
Troy and I were the only passengers the morning we left which also ended up not being a good thing. After Ricardo (I have no idea what our drivers name is, but Ricardo works) finished his leisurely breakfast, he roll started the truck and off we went. Roll starting his truck was another sign things were not going to go well. The road we are on is about as crappy as they come. So our friend, Ricardo, is taking his slow sweet time going over the potholes. So slow that he stalled. As we all know, this is normally not a problem. Just restart the car and off you go. But since he had to roll start the car originally we knew this was not going to be so easy since the road we were on is as flat as they come. Up to this point all we cared about was getting to Puerto Jiminez to catch the noon ferry.
What does Ricardo do when the truck stalled? Nothing. Literally nothing. He sat there, draped his hands over the steering wheel and did nothing. We didn't know if he thought Puff the Magic Dragon was going to come along and save the day or what (another Troy quote of the day). After a few minutes of nothing, Troy says "Amigo, you going to start the car?" Reluctantly he gets out, opens the hood and does the obligatory poke and prod of the engine to make it look like he is doing something. Troy steps up beside him and sees that the battery cable is corroded and is causing the problem. Troy twists the cable on tighter and tells Ricardo to try again. Ricardo says no. What a stupid man. Troy says ¨Try again!¨ Reluctantly Ricardo does a few times and the engine tries to start but still not enough power.
What do we do next? We push the truck along the flat, dirt road to try to push start it. This does not work after several attempts. What does Ricardo do next? He walks off. He doesn´t even say anything to us (not like we would understand him anyways). We figured he was going to walk around the corner where we couldn't see him and sit and do more nothing. So Troy and I are left with this broken down piece of shit in the middle of nowhere Costa Rica. About 10 minutes later, Troy tries the ignition again and lo and behold, the car starts. Whoo hoo!! Troy says "What do we do?" I said "Let's go. Let's go find our driver!" So Troy jumps in the driver seat and off we go. I'm still in the "passenger section" scanning the forest around us trying to find Ricardo. We drive for about 5 minutes with Troy honking the whole way and eventually come across a lady who had not seen a guy walking along the road. She is looking at us like "Why do these 2 gringos have the Collectivo?" This is not a good sign. We're thinking he took a shortcut path and we totally missed him. So we look at each other and say "What do we do now?" Do we keep keep looking for Ricardo, do we hi-jack his truck and try to make our noon ferry? We eventually decided to keep looking because we thought it would bring us bad karma to steal the dudes truck.
We shortly came across a turn-off to a lodge. I waited with the truck while Troy walked to the lodge. Half-way there, here comes Ricardo. So off we go again. About 20 minutes later we pick up two more locals and the truck is doing well. But, 15 minutes later, the truck starts freaking out again. It doesn't stall but starts doing this bucking bronco kind of lurch. Kind of like when a 15 year old is learning how to drive a stick shift. It is jerking so hard that we are flying around the back of the truck and I am laughing so hard I am crying. The truck doesn't stall on the flat part of the road but decides to stall on the downhill of a very muddy, slippery part of the road. Since we can´t use the gears to down-shift and slow down, we are slipping and sliding precariously close to the edge of the ravine. By this time, my tears are not from laughter anymore.
We safely get to the bottom of the hill and because he didn´t make the most of the downhill opportunity to roll start again we are dead in the water. What happens next? We start walking... with 19km to go to get to town. The driver and the 2 other passengers turn off at the first sign of a beer (which sounded like a good idea at the time) but Troy and I forged on. 10 minutes later at our first water crossing I realize I have lost one of my beloved flip flops. Troy was not happy with me. Luckily we found it half-way back to the truck and we continued on with our journey.
It is hot and humid with very little shade and we knew things were starting to take an even worse turn when vultures started circling above us. About an hour later only 3 cars have passed us, all who were unable for various reasons to give us a ride. Ahead of us Troy sees a car pull onto the road. He is able to whistle and flag it down. By the time we caught up to it another car had pulled up behind us. Inside this second car is our driver, Ricardo, and the 2 other passengers. I am looking at them in this car and we are both thinking ¨There is no way we are leaving this spot with out a ride of some sort! Even if it means we pull Ricardo´s ass from the car he is in and make him walk.¨
We got a ride with a very nice man who took us all the way back to Puerto Jiminez where Troy promptly got our money back. Needless to say, we missed our noon ferry ride. Ricardo needs to do a serious overhaul of his Collectivo.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Costa Rica: Land of Rice and Beans and Ticos
Go to our Costa Rica photo album at our photo site to see more photos.
Outside of diving Coco's Island, Costa Rica has been amazing. Everyday, Troy and I are greeted with phenomenal views, stunning landscapes and incredibly lush rain forests. So often we say "Wow, look at that! That is gorgeous!" We still have 8 more days here but we wanted to share a bit about our land experiences.
La FortunaWe flew into San Jose which is a place you want to get out of as soon as you arrive, stayed the night then hopped on a bus to La Fortuna which is known as the Gateway to Arenal Volcano. This is the most active volcano in Central America right now although I'm not really sure if that is saying much. We were hoping to see lava flowing down the mountainside, but the top half of the mountain was covered in clouds our entire time there. We talked to several people that were there a day after we left and sat and watched the lava flow for hours. Bummer. We did an awesome hike to Cerro Chato which is a crater lake on the side of the volcano. On our way down from the top it started pouring rain like we have never seen before. Our trail literally became a gushing river and was gooey with mud. We kept telling each other to not fall and get hurt because it was a long way back to help.
After we arrived back on the main dirt road from the hike and were heading back to town, we saw a cow running down the middle of the road towards us with a man running after it. We (ok, Troy) quickly figured out that the man was trying to get his cow back. I was just wondering why a man was chasing a cow. Troy says "Shelly, don't let the cow pass you!" What? Are you insane? Who do you think I am? He says, "Make some noise, scare it." So I start clapping my hands and jumping up and down and yelling "Hey, cow, stop!" thinking I'm going to stop it. Instead it runs around me and keeps going. What do I do? I start running after it! Troy says "Shelly, you can't outrun it!" Oh, yeah, I guess I can't. We eventually somehow got him turned around. Oh, wait, I think the farmer did that. But we did help the farmer get the cow back into his pen.
MonteverdeOur next stop was Monteverde. After arriving there from a really gnarly, bumpy van ride, we were quickly caught off guard by the dense number of backpacking tourists in this little tiny triangle of a town. And yes, we are backpacking tourists as well, but we're different, we're better :) We quickly found a hotel off the town center because it was just way too noisy with the locals and their dirt bikes. The area around Monteverde is known as the Cloud Forest because of it's elevation (roughly 3500') and because it is always raining, the town is always in the clouds. It was actually a little cold here which didn't help when we would get absolutely soaked walking back from dinner. While in Monteverde we did the Costa Rican famous Zip Line! You don't go to CR and not do one. These are just a kick in the pants. We did one that had 18 lines that totaled over 3km in length. At one point we reached a speed of 40 mph. (We know this because of a friends sophisticated GPS.) There was also a Tarzan Swing which is exactly what the title implies. There is something to be said about an activity that makes a grown man scream! And no, I'm not referring to sex.
From Monteverde we headed to Puntarenas to catch our diving liveaboard. While on the boat, we met an incredibly smart and geeky guy from San Francisco that gave us a ride down to the southern peninsula of Osa. He could give professional off-roaders some serious driving tips. There was one stretch of nasty dirty road that literally everyone said it would take at least 3 hours to cover. Our friend did it in 1 hour! Days later and we still haven't recovered.
Osa PeninsulaOnce in Osa we gathered tidbits of information from the locals to find out what we should do next. Early on a Tuesday morning, we packed an overnight bag and headed out to the "town" of Carate. I put town in " " because even though it is on the map, all Carate consists of is a building (what is inside, we have no idea) a grass runway for two tiny single prop airplanes to land and a couple of wooden plank tables under a blue tarp with a coffee urn in the middle. "Can I get a double shot, skinny latte to go, por favor?" You may ask "Why the hell did you go to Carate?" I'll get to that in a moment. Our transportation of choice is locally called a Collectivo. A Collectivo is a 1983 Nissan truck, beat up to hell, then in the bed are placed two long benches for the passengers to sit in. If you are lucky to get the deluxe Collectivo, you get the padded seats. The ride there was non-eventful. (I will post a separate blog about our return trip. It was eventful enough to earn it's own blog posting.) By now, Troy and I are used to the swiss cheese dirt roads. Our destination was not Carate, but the La Leona Tent Camp right on the edge of the Corcovado National Park. To get there, we had to walk 3.5 km along a black sand beach that is also lined by rainforest. Remember earlier when I said we are greeted everyday by CR beauty?
We were the only guests at La Leona which was kind of cool. So even though it was shared bathrooms, we had them to ourselves, even though it kind of sucked walking to them in the early morning when you had to pee. Troy took the shortcut and just peed off the front porch. National Geographic has called the Corcovado National Park "the most densely bio-diverse area in the world." We did a few hikes and saw 2 species of monkies, several types of frogs, snakes (yuck), Peccari (wild boar), Coati (member of the Racoon family) and tons of bugs and spiders. Every so often we would stop and go "WOW! Look at that tree" Take a few more steps "Wow, look at THAT tree!" Take a few more steps... you get the idea. I have found out that I am a pansy when it comes to night hikes (who wouldn't be) and I think I also have a new found fear of frogs. I don't know if it's because they jump on me and cling to my jacket or the fat f**kers run after me and my light. You can only guess how much shit Troy gives me now.
We have found the CR people are really nice. They are very patient with Troy when he is trying to speak his high school Spanish. He was doing really well until he called a lady's son a chicken. Even with my limited Spanish I know pollo is chicken not son! We have found that CR is slowly getting overtaken by Americans. We went to Osa because we were told a lot of tourists don't go there because it is too hard to get to. We're trying to get away from them. But we get there and the hotel we had reservations at is owned by an American couple from DC. The best internet cafe in town is (you guessed it) owned by an American couple. On the plus side, since they do speak Spanish, they can help us make other reservations or find out the ferry schedule for us. So they are useful!
Tomorrow we head out to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica where we have absolutely nothing planned so it will be one of those "by the seat of our pants" destinations! Stay tuned.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Hammerheads Here, Hammerheads There, Hammerheads Everywhere!
Go to our Coco's Island photo album at our photo site to see more photos (sorry the pictures need a little cleaning up but that wont happen until we are back).
Troy and I just finished an absolutely, incredibly, adrenaline filled week of diving Cocos Island, Costa Rica. Most people have never heard of Cocos Islands including a lot of Costa Ricans. It is located about 350 miles in the Pacific off the west coast of Costa Rica. You might ask yourself "How long does it take to cover 350 miles by boat?" Well, I'll tell ya... 32 hours. Most people didn't have their sea legs going out so there were some sick people, but most were better on the way back. Which was good because the water was much worse. The swells were so bad at times that during lunch drinks, food and people were flying all over the dining room!
The second question you might ask yourself is "What made the diving at Cocos Island so great?" Well, I'll tell ya... hammerheads, hammerheads, hammerheads!!!!!!!!!!!! You ever watch one of those Discovery Channel shows about sharks and in one sequence they show hundreds of hammerhead sharks swimming above being silhouetted by the sun? Been there, done that! (Troy has pictures to prove it and no, they are not stock photos from the internet!)
After conquering the delightful boat ride over, our first dive in the water started out great right away. Cocos Island is known as a "truck stop" in the Pacific for all type of large pelagics so there were sharks on every dive. Our first encounter with sharks were with White Tip Reef Sharks. These are nothing compared to Hammerheads. They actually got to be quite annoying, because they were everywhere. They sleep during the day so it is easy to approach them to get photos but at night is a different story. We did a night dive with them and at night they are awake and huuunnnggggrrrry! They swarmed around en masse, bumping into you, your camera, pushing you out of their way. Think about what a packed fish tank looks like, put about 100 sharks in there along with a few divers, give it a good shake and there you have our night dive. It was actually quite freaky not knowing if at any minute they might get impatient trying to find a fish to eat and choose to see what you tasted like instead. Talk about adrenaline!
We came across several other species of sharks including Galapagos, Silky, Silver Tip, and Black Tip. The Galapagos, Silky and Silver Tip were monsters! They individually measured 9-10' long. They were not afraid of you either (which is a good thing???). They would get quite close to you trying to figure out what you were. We heard stories about divers having to use their camera to push these giants away from them. It was very exhilarating to hang out and watch them slowly circle around.
Ok... the hammerheads! They were everywhere! These guys got spooked a little more easily then the other sharks, so you had to really control your movement and breathing when they got close. We're controlling these movements not to hide but to get them closer. And yes, believe it or not, we wanted them close. The closer the better! They were amazing. They averaged about 6-8' in length and at times their schools numbered in the 100's. We were always looking around us full circle because they would be above, below, behind and in front of us. Talk about getting dizzy. The most spectacular thing was looking up and seeing these massive schools slowly swim by. I can't imagine what else on our future dive travels will compare to this encounter. But by no means are we calling it quits to our travels just because we just experienced thee dive of all dives!
Of course, sharks is not all we saw. We saw a ton of rays - marble rays, sting rays, spotted eagle rays. In past dive trips, we were excited to see 1 ray out of 15 dives. In Cocos, we were seeing anywhere from 1-8 rays on each dive. Eels, turtles, huge schools of fish and lobsters. On one dive there were more lobsters then at Red Lobster during Lobsterfest. (That was Troy's quote of the day!)
We were able to do a short land excursion to the island one day. The island is a mere 24 square km and the only people who live on it are park rangers. Not many people have visited the island, but Captain Morgan did make a landing here in 1843. There is a rock with carvings of past visitors and his name is among the carvings. The island gets about 24' (that's feet not inches) of rain a year so you can imagine how green and lush it is. Because of it's remote location there are hundreds of species of birds, insects and mammals that are indigenous to the islandWe are back on land in Costa Rica planning our next few days. We have found we only have the ability to do a few days of planning at a time. More then that and we go into information overload. I know I have yet to say anything about CR, but let me just say it is stunningly gorgeous here. I will post another blog in a week or two before we head to Spain!!