Saturday, November 27, 2010

On the Road to Monteverde

We have never been so happy to see a sign indicating we were on the right track to Monteverde. We had read the road to Monteverde's Cloud Forest was a rough, steep climb up the volcano, cloud, rain forest, but we began to have our doubts once we turned off the main highway and hit the rockiest, bumpiest, wettest road we've ever been on.

We couldn't believe the road wasn't muddy at all, but by the looks of the lush area surrounding Monteverde, it gets a lot of rain.

We passed by small village areas and seriously couldn't believe people actually lived up here with a road like this, but when the locals would pass us on 4-wheel ATVs and street legal dirt bikes, we understood how they managed. We still had our doubts we were on the right road, until kind locals instructed us we needed to turn off by the church and head up. What? Head Up? More?

As we white-knuckled our way up the windy steep road, we were treated to amazing vistas with steep drop offs and hawks gliding in the distance.

Suddenly we realized we were in the heart of the Cloud Forest. It was beautiful!

An even bigger treat was when we spotted our first howler monkeys, just hanging in the trees.

It was hours before we saw any establishments or people, but it was worth the drive. In fact, we'd say the drive was definitely part of the whole experience.

Rocky Road to Monteverde from Buddha Bellies on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where Life's a Beach

When we thought about Costa Rican beaches we envisioned lush green jungles that trickled down onto a beautiful sandy beach. And well, we were about right.

We decided to dedicate a day to exploring the outer beaches of the area on a rare sunny day, but after some frustration with the rental car we ended up exploring only two local beaches close to our Playa Hermosa.

We trekked over the lush hills to the next coved beach areas Playa Coco and Playa Octocal. We had visited Playa Coco (Coco Beach) a few nights before to check out the disco scene, which is alive and kicking with locals, which was nice to see. We heard Playa Octocal was a white sand beach which meant cleaner water, a great swimming beach and snorkeling. We didn't get a chance to dip our toes in the water, again rental car issues - Boo for Budget! But we did manage to take a few pictures and see the lovely beach area we'll definitely be back to enjoy someday.

We'd go back and enjoy the calm waters and have lunch and shoot some pool at Father Roosters.

We took some photos, soaked up the beautiful scenery and then headed back to return to the Villas to return the rental car.

After returning the rental car we decided to head down to our local Playa Hermosa and soak up the sun and more importantly get in the water.

It was around 4pm and we knew from our week long stay that by 5:30pm it would be completely dark, but that didn't keep the locals from enjoying the beach until the sunset.

We've mentioned how terrifically modern Costa Rica is right? Well here's an example of that. All the beaches in Costa Rica are public, no beach area can be purchased and privatized including the secluded hillside beaches along the coves. If you can get to the beach by boat, you can enjoy it openly and freely. The government also says its a no-no to sell things on the beach so we were not bothered by anybody selling souveniors or trinkets. It was nice because we relaxed and really enjoyed our cute little Playa Hermosa.

Costa Rican Sunset from Buddha Bellies on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grocery Check: Costa Rica

Lara Dunston and Terence Carter have our ultimate dream jobs. They are travel writers who partnered with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals for a year where they are traipsing around the world trading hotel rooms for holiday rentals and writing about their temporary homes, living like locals and giving back to each destination they travel. The ultimate globe trekkers' blog - Grantourismo - 12 Months, 24 Destinations, Countless Experiences is a true inspiration for those who wish to "explore more enriching and authentic ways of traveling, and make travel more meaningful and more memorable".

We love their posts at each destination titled Price Check where they provide a comprehensive shopping list of typical items found at each of their destinations. It's a fascinating price index that provides an idea of what it costs to live like a local all over the world.

The items listed on the price check are similar at every destination in order to make a apples-to-apples comparison of what typical items such as water, coffee, milk and eggs cost. It really is fascinating to see what a bag of groceries would cost you from Barcelona to Buenos Aires. Just weeks before our trip a Costa Rica Shopping List was posted and provided us with a good idea what food would cost us if we decided to cook for ourselves, which we did every morning.

Costa Rica is very modern with every mercado, super mercado and super grande mercado listing out prices at check out in US Dollar and Costa Rican Colones. Change was always given in Colones. We found an incredible array of local goods and brought back many as gifts and by requests from those familiar with the local salsa and sauces. Here is a list of our favorites.

Beers - the local beers in Costa Rica mimic German style beers with light pilsners dominating the scene. Imperial seemed to be the beer of choice by the locals.

We actually preferred the darker richer, but still fairly light Bravaria beer.

Costa Rica had a dizzy array of hot sauces, but the one requested even by brand was Banquete's Salsa de Inglesa, a spicy thick worchester-like salsa that punched up our morning spuds. We brought back many bottles of this stuff which we think prompted TSA to do multiple searches of our bags leaving them wide open at baggage claim and even breaking a zipper and tag off what we thought were our invincible Kiplings! It was worth it though!

Another local item we absolutely loved was the creamy beans made in Costa Rica. We found out later what made them so delcious was the fact that they were fried not once, but twice! The boil-in-the-bag was convenient and efficient. Of course we snagged numerous bags for a quick meal back home.

Another bagged creation we loved was the local sour cream. Placed in a plastic bag with a screw-corner-top. Now why don't they do this with sour cream back home? This item we had to enjoy in Costa Rica, but will remain in our memories and hearts!

Did you know you can drink the tap water in Costa Rica? We told you it is a very modern country - Latin America Lite is what we liked to call it, more like Hawaii than Mexico, but we still bought bottled water, if for only one reason to say "I'll have some Cristal today."

Coffee is delicious in Costa Rica and there are many brands. With beans growing in the wild at Monteverde's Cloud and Rain Forest the country is ideal for growing top-notch coffee beans. We bought the Brit brand at the local grocery store but came across a small roaster while dining in Santa Elena at the base of Monteverde. We bought the coffee beans without trying it and as we were paying for our delicious dinner was offered up some and we marched back in the rain to pick up many more bags. Soon to be available online - Tree House Coffee Beans. Delicious!

There were many other items we purchased, but while we were in Costa Rica we bought fresh fruit, the yummiest avocados, plantains, the best tortillas, chocolate and of course some Cuban cigars!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Memorable Meals: Costa Rica

Ok, we'll be the first to say it, Costa Rica what is up with all your restaurants selling pasta, pizza, and burgers? We're not saying those pastas and burgers weren't good. In fact the burgers are crazy good in Costa Rica, the beef in general. Pizza we never had, but it was on every menu! Yes, we understand Costa Rica's European historical ties, but we wanted some Costa Rican food!
So we high-tailed it to the next beach area Playa Coco for some "Typical" Food or Costa Rican food. Yes, they call their food "typical", oh but it is anything but!

It was breakfast time and we were on the lookout for a casado plate at a Costa Rica soda or traditional food restaurant. We could spot sodas all along the PanAmerican Highway - all outdoor with bar stools on the outside just like the picture above.
During the first part of the week we had alittle bit of difficulty finding any place that sold even just beans and rice. Even asing politely if they had rice and if they had beans and could they mix them together? To be honest if you aren't into carb loading all the time being a vegetarian in Costa Rica can be difficult. However, if you aren't a vegetarian you can enjoy the best fish there is. The ceviche can be found on most sodas and restaurants and they are fantastic as was this tangy, herby, sour, and acidic all white fish (we think it may have been sea bass) ceviche.

Served with plantain chips, the freshness of each ingredient made this dish and leisurely late-morning breakfast memorable!

After a bit of mime and broken Spanish we were presented with a vegetarian casado plate with fried plantains, cheese, the creamiest black beans, fresh salsa, and the yummiest sour cream.

At last we were able to find some Costa Rican food. The setting, cute little server, and food were beyond our expectations. Down to each perfectly set bite.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Birthday Snapshots

Here is a photographic time-line of what Mike saw on his birthday this year.

He also had an hour and half long massage on the beach and the best steak of his life ( brought a tear to his eye). Not bad for a birthday huh?