Tag Archives: Georgia

Road Trip Roundup, By the Numbers

2029: Miles we drove.

7: States we visited. Also, the number of days we were gone.

9: Episode of Dexter Season 5 that I found profoundly disappointing after watching it in hotel that had cable because I couldn’t wait for it to come out on DVD and which I hope is not a harbinger of the entire season.

4: Chicken wings in the “Midnight Train” entrée at Gladys Knight Chicken & Waffles.

13: Years since I’ve had the Beverly at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta.

239: Age of the Old Pinke House in Savannah.

14: Miles over the speed limit I was driving when pulled over for the first time in South Carolina by cop who said he’d have to take me to jail if he wrote me a ticket because I have an out-of-state license and, who, thankfully, let me go.

1: Tire change on a national holiday in a Waffle House parking lot.

24: Jeff Gordon’s number, which I learned at the Nascar Hall of Fame in Charlotte.

12: Cans of Cheerwine we brought back with us.

25: State license plates we counted.

36: Dead animals we saw on the side of the road.

And…about a zillion: Number of Led Zeppelin songs I heard.

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Filed under chickens, dishes, entrees, frying, holidays, pie

Cheerwine Inspires Savannah Road Trip Plot, Alternate Thanksgiving Plans

There is a new fancy-pants (not to be confused with Clancy Pants) grocery store opening up around the corner from my apartment. And I hadn’t thought much of it as it looks like the kind of place that sells $9 jars of mustard and, as I am a penniless writer, it didn’t seem like the kind of place where I’d be popping in for incidentals.

Last weekend, T went out for a newspaper and such…and returned, much later than anticipated, with said paper and a bottle of Cheerwine from the aforementioned fancy-pants grocery store.

I’ve *heard* of Cheerwine. (In fact, I think the sole male blogger at the super-effusive lady-blog [for which I no longer write because I am not cut from the same super-effusive cloth] mentioned Cheerwine in his bio. He is based in North Carolina.)

T’s family, incidentally, is also in North Carolina. So…he knows the stuff and was somewhat excited about finding it here. We split the bottle – that’s right: a glass bottle, just like Coke from Mexico, or wherever it is that produces it with real sugar. The verdict? It was alright. Certainly hit the spot. Maybe kind of like Dr. Pepper? But a little more cherry-y? Or less cola-y? I’d give it a 3 or a 3.5 out of 5 gold stars. (Come to think of it, this may possibly explain why my food-writing career has not quite taken off yet…)

And…because of a photo ID snafu, I’m not sure T and I will be able to hop on a plane in two weeks to visit my parents for Thanksgiving. Christmas, perhaps…but Thanksgiving seems increasingly unlikely.

So, naturally, thoughts turned to spending the upcoming holiday with *his* family. Not sure I am mentally prepared for this, but…no time like the present, I guess.

And…because I am my mother’s daughter, I have hatched a harebrained scheme to tie in a trip to Savannah if we drive south. Is that nuts?

My defense:

1. I’ve never been to Savannah and I’ve heard wonderful things about it.

PLUS 2. I graduated from high school in Georgia, so it seems kind of shameful not to have visited Savannah at least once. (Although, in my defense, I only spent three semesters at George Walton Comprehensive High School.)

PLUS 3. We could go to The Lady and Sons! T (and I) love her! And I would love to eat there! (Although I have to be wary of shellfish as he is allergic. But, still! So much good stuff on the menu to try!)

It might involve a bit of intense driving, but we could totally get down there in two days with a day to spend there before heading north again for Thanksgiving.

I think it could be super-fun and memorable and a nice escape from the city, which has not happened much this year. But…I still have to convince T this is a brilliant idea and that we only live once, etc. Which may or may not work.

(It’s not the first time I’ve pulled something like this. When I heard his roommate was driving to Indiana for a wedding over Labor Day weekend, I tried to convince him we needed to hitch a ride and spend the long weekend in Indianapolis. I failed because he had to work…but if he was planning to take time off that week for Thanksgiving anyway…Savannah just might be my $1,000,000 idea.)

Image via three6ohchris/Flickr

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Filed under Brooklyn, cherries, holidays

Who Cares What Nation’s Restaurant News Thinks? Here’s My Top 10.

On the same day the New York Times wrote about Pop-Tarts World, the Huffington Post added this blurb from a Nation’s Restaurant News report on America’s favorite restaurant chains.

Cheesecake Factory topped the list. And while some of my favorite restaurant chains were on the list, they missed some good’uns. So…if I ruled the world (or at least Nation’s Restaurant News), the list would have looked like this:

10. Quiznos/Subway — I like toasted sandwiches and LOVE QUIZNOS’ CATS. I could also go for a sandwich from Subway with everything in it — even the peppers — just about any day of the week. But only if it has everything.

9. In-N-Out — While I think In-N-Out is somewhat overrated — YES, I JUST SAID THAT — it’s a classic burger joint and it does things right, which earns it a spot at #9.

8. Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s — They clearly won me over with the ads featuring scantily clad Paris, Padma and Audrina + that French-talking mouth app. (Why, yes, I *did* write about it for ClickZ…)

7. Swensen’s — I have found memories of getting ice cream here as a child. Unfortunately, all I can remember is that it was good.

6. Coco’s — I used to go with my grandmother (who hid in a booth in a corner). I have fond memories of Coco’s southwestern melt (see? Told you I like toasted sandwiches….) and boysenberry pie.

5. Panera — This joint has one hell of a muffin…and was also the focal point of my first (…and admittedly only…) story in the Wall Street Journal.

4. Sizzler — A popular joint with my maternal grandmother. I loved the cheese toast and was once a bit of a smartass when the manager asked if everything was okay and ended up with an entire platter of it.

3. Baja Fresh — I perhaps love nothing more than Mexican food. And I think this place does a fine job. I don’t care if Wendy’s owns it.

2. Chevy’s — Annnd…I don’t care what Jonathan R. Duke says either. I love this place. Always have, always will. And I have the birthday sombreros in my closet to prove it. The cookbook proved to be a little overly complicated, but that’s just fine — gives me a more powerful excuse to go there in person.

1. Waffle House — I also have fond memories of the Waffle House, which I will forever associate with my brief stint in Mississippi and Georgia. Plus, their menu development team was genius — who doesn’t like saying, “Scattered, smothered, covered…”?

Image via Stevie Rocco/Flickr

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Filed under books, cheesecake, entrees, grilled cheese, ice cream, Mississippi, pie, UCLA

Mad Classics…and Tips for Feeding Trashy, Homesick Interlopers.

(Thanks, LehighValleyLive.com! I found this by Googling "Jersey Shore food.")

In honor of last week’s Mad Men premiere and the much anticipated launch of Jersey Shore’s second season, I thought I’d take a moment to ponder which particular foodstuffs would go best with each show.

I’ll start with the much-lauded Mad Men.

I was lucky that the Next Food Network Star included modern twists on ’60s favorites the week *before* last, making it very easy for me to (eww…gross!) regurgitate them this week.

I’m not actually very good at cooking without a recipe (It’s the baker in me?) — Reason #2 I will probably never be on the show. Instead, I found some recently updated versions of these classics, thanks to Epicurious and the Food Network (mostly).

Tuna Casserole

  • Tuna Noodle Casserole — I actually made this recipe once when I was hankering for comfort food. It seemed the most interesting spin with the mushrooms and the sherry and whatnot. It was good…but I haven’t made it since (and I’ve had half a bag of egg noodles in my cupboard, patiently waiting for the day I feel nostalgic enough to try it again…).
  • In general, I am wary of Rachael Ray recipes — I feel like they’re too bland for the required effort and if you really want something “easy,” you might as well really go hog wild and just microwave something (or order in). But…her Retro-Metro Fancy Tuna Casserole sounds okay. And I wonder what using actual tuna steaks would do to a tired-out casserole recipe. Jazz it up? Or would the steaks be lost in the faux-mushroom-soup sauce? That’s basically what Brianna did in that particular episode…but, then again, — spoiler alert — she got the ol’ heave-ho.
  • I feel basically the same way about Martha’s recipes, but her Mediterranean Tuna Casserole sounds like it has potential. I don’t know what makes it Mediterranean though — seems like you’d need to add capers and/or olives or something.

Pigs in a Blanket

First off, I am astounded by the variety of names in the Wikipedia entry. Who knew?

Lobster Thermidor

I confess I didn’t actually know what lobster thermidor was before that fateful Food Network Star episode. I mean, I’d heard of it…but I didn’t know anything about what actually went into it. And…now that I do, I gotta say it sounds pretty gross — egg yolks and cognac?? — and I’m not sure why Tom picked it.

  • I’m also not sure if it’s a recipe that has stood the test of time. Gourmet only has one recipe for it…and it’s from 1940.
  • Emeril has his own version — and it got really good reviews…(although I had to Google “bouquet garni,” so I feel like perhaps I am too ignorant to make it).
  • And…believe it or not, Oprah has a recipe, too…although it’s only because she, too, jumped on the Julia Child bandwagon last year. (Although I guess I have to give her props for not reprinting the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe that was absolutely everywhere…)

Deviled Eggs

I won’t spend too much time here as I have made no secret about my hatred for eggs…and I would never in a million years devil them.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

I actually remember eating this as a kid — I think my grandmother made it. Which makes sense. I don’t think there’s much modern or new about these recipes though — just plain cake. Which is maybe as it should be?

Okay…got that out of your system? Ready for pickles and Ron-Ron Juice?

I am officially thrilled that Snooki discovered fried pickles while driving through Savannah, Georgia en route to Miami in Episode 1. (I’m a little sad that they let one guy represent all of Georgia and dismissed him as a giant hick, but…that’s a post for another day.)

You may recall I once wrote a heavily edited story about fried pickles that made me sound like a complete ditz. I won’t link to it here as I was completely aghast by what the editor did in trying to assume my voice, but…let’s leave it at this: fried pickles are kind of amazing. (Snooki said it was a life-changing experience that put pickles on a whole other level! She’s not far off.)

Other than their family dinner nights, I imagine the cast of Jersey Shore has better things to do than find good food. (Didn’t J-Woww buy ham at a late-night grocery store and eat it in the confessional room to avoid cheating on her boyfriend once?) So…it’s kind of a short list. And then there’s the whole issue that only one of them is actually from Jersey anyway…so it really should be a post about New York and Rhode Island food?

But…my new ball and chain is from Jersey…so, in his honor, I’ll share all that I know about Jersey food — most of which I have learned from him — should Sami want to seek solace in empty calories or something as she embraces singlehood in MIA.

1. Diners. Jersey is famous for diners. So…typical diner food.

2. Taylor ham. I tried to call this “pork roll” and was corrected. He also thinks it’s fascinating that, like Kleenex, Taylor is a brand name that has come to represent the product itself. And you have to eat it in some sort of sandwich form?

3. Gravy fries. (There’s a bar near me that calls them “Disco fries.” I think this is a substantially more fun name.)

4. Clams? Or is that just my warped memory of Sam Sifton’s piece?

And…there you have it.

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Filed under Brooklyn, eggs, entrees, fish, Food Network, hot dogs, Martha, pickles, pork, Uncategorized

Valentine’s Day a la Frank Sinatra

(As in, “My Way…”)

I’ve written about Valentine’s Day a lot in the past week. No matter what your relationship status/budget, I’m pretty sure I’ve covered it: From clueless guys — http://snurl.com/uczq9 — to open-minded folks of either gender — http://snurl.com/uczqt — and cheap women — http://snurl.com/uczrt — to the Nerdy: http://snurl.com/uczsh and…the Neurotic — http://snurl.com/uczjn.

Which is maybe a little funny or ironic or something…as I don’t really even like Valentine’s Day all that much. As noted in my Luxury Spot post (and reprinted below for your convenience!), I think it’s a holiday that gets it right in elementary school with that spirit of inclusion…although, truth be told, I sort of had a little Valentine’s Day Miracle this morning when I received an e-card from a man I’ve never met…but who has always been really supportive of my blog. It’s been about 8 years (but who’s counting?) since I’ve received any sort of valentine from someone who isn’t my mother or a girlfriend I’ve had since elementary school. So. It was a nice surprise…and made me sort of feel like I’m not some sort of heinous beast on the fringes of society today. (Although, truth be told again, I was thinking that I don’t really know him at all…and he could very well be a real-life Dexter or something [I’m totally in love with that show now and super-sad that I have run out of episodes to watch online]…and then — lo and behold — he tweeted about a gun show and said that there was one firearm in particular that he really coveted. So…hmm…food for thought?)

Speaking of food! If I was in love today, there are plenty of things I would make for my special someone. And if you really are in love and panicking about what to whip up as Mr./Ms. Wonderfulpants is en route, fret no more:

I think you have a lot of leeway and can get away with making anything that your Valentine loves. But if your Valentine isn’t specific, you can keep up a red/pink theme with red velvet cake or heart-shaped sugar cookies (that you can then decorate however you please…and make them really super-personal and sweet and s/he will swoon…)…and then, of course, there’s always Sex in a Pan…which one of my mother’s coworkers brought for a wedding shower or something a million years ago and that somehow ended up in our family cookbook…and that was a big hit with my friends in high school. (I was actually just thinking about a time I visited some folks in Georgia and was absolutely insistent — to the point of belligerency — that we needed Cook and Serve pudding…and it wasn’t until we got home and started assembling it that I realized I was wrong and my friend was right and we totally needed Instant.)

If these ideas sound like too much trouble, I suggest Duncan Hines. I have a friend who used to do PR for Duncan and who needed some photos of some Valentine’s Day recipes last year…which I made and then photographed…and I actually thought most of them were pretty good (except for the giant frosted two-layer, heart-shaped brownies with cherry fluff in the middle. I thought those were a little overkill…).

This year, like most years in the past decade, I have no one to feed but myself. Which is basically fine. After all, it’s the Year of Lisa. Although…I *did* find a Grow-A-Date figurine that I’ve had for years and years and years…that I think my mother (or my aunt) sent me while I was living in England. It is *supposed* to be “the incredible expanding date that grows in water” and says it can be used over and over again…but I tried it out once before and — if memory serves — it didn’t do much. But…for old times’ sake, I have immersed him in a large container of room-temperature water again…and we’ll see what happens. (I am documenting it with photos every hour on the hour…so tomorrow I should have definitive proof either way…)

So, I mean, here we are with Valentine’s Day over halfway over and I have not had one single bout of jealous rage. I think it is because of my Valentine’s Day card…which I wrote about — as noted — for the Luxury Spot.

So…without further ado, my post:

Oh, Valentine’s Day…wingéd harbinger of bitterness…

The past several years, I’ve tried to anticipate you and come up with a sensible way to counteract you, thereby maybe enjoying – or at least enduring — the Day of Love…but, sadly, nothing has proven particularly effective – not sending cards to my nieces and nephew; not “going out with the girls…”; not baking heart-shaped treats for my coworkers.

But I think this year I have finally cracked it! And, I mean, I may be getting cocky again and Monday morning will find me curled up in a ball on my bathroom floor after drinking an entire bottle of pink champagne by myself…but…with 48 hours to go, I’m feeling pretty good about my 2010 Valentine’s Day Plan.

But, first…a brief history:

I feel like this is the one holiday that really gets it right in elementary school and everyone has to bring in cards for everyone else. No one is left out. No one feels unloved or unwanted. Everyone goes home with a heart-shaped envelope full of cards and candy. (I can remember carefully scrutinizing my valentines while addressing them to ensure the boys in my class got the least sentimental ones…lest they get the wrong impression and think I harbored any genuine feelings for them…)

But then I grew up and got a job and started going to work on February 14 (or thereabouts)…and walked into offices that looked like veritable florists…and knew, year after year, that the only sign of life on *my* desk would be the countless knickknacks and office supplies that were there 365 days a year…and as much as I’d like to be a big person and to be happy for everyone else, let’s face it – after X goddamn years, it’s hard to grit your teeth and smile and think, “That’s so nice for you! I am happy that you are having a happy Valentine’s Day!” and actually mean it…and not, you know, shoot laserbeams out of your eyes at her while you’re doing it.

So…this clearly promulgated my Overtly Anti-Valentine’s Day Phase…in which any canoodling couple was subject to my wrath. But…let’s face it – it’s not fun to be angry at the whole entire world…and, truth be told, I really like holidays. (My aunt bought me a decorative plate that says, “Happy Everything!” and includes a montage of every Christian holiday from Valentine’s Day to Christmas…and it is prominently displayed on a bookcase in my apartment…)

And I admit that I *did* enjoy learning that Valentine’s Day is rooted in a pagan ceremony that involved slapping young women with strips of animal flesh after a ritual sacrifice while I was researching a story for another Web site…but I honestly don’t want to be the Valentine’s Day Grinch. (Plus, I was really excited about busting out my Valentine’s Day spatula and my Valentine’s Day dishtowels and my Valentine’s Day potholder this year. So any grinchiness on my part would be disingenuous.)

Nevertheless…

I will never forget the Valentine’s Day I worked for a popular lifestyle magazine in Midtown. I was carefully hidden away in an area adjacent to the conference rooms that was affectionately (…or not so much…) labeled “Intern Alley.” But…it was also remarkably close to the Editor-in-Chief’s office (and, therefore, her assistant). And I found her assistant incredibly intimidating because she was one of those women who was drop-dead gorgeous and had amazing clothes and was super-confident…and, you know, I feel like there’s some justice in the world when women like that are really dumb or trapped in loveless marriages or whatever…but this woman – we’ll call her Genevieve – could speak French. Flawless French. Her phone would ring and she would pick up and fire away en francais as if we were working in Paris or something.

So…it was no surprise to me on Valentine’s Day that year when a mail room guy appeared at her desk with a giant box of flowers.

“Oh, look! My boyfriend sent me flowers!” Genevieve cooed.

And then…merely an hour or two later, another box appeared.

“Oh, look! My ex-boyfriend sent me flowers!” she trilled again.

I began to quietly seethe in Intern Alley.

And then…the coup de grace – the Editor-in-Chief returned from lunch with a huge spread of peach roses (which, according to various Web sites, mean anything from appreciation and desire to modesty) that she bestowed upon Genevieve, declaring, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Gen! These are for you…because you are my Valentine!”

(For a brief period, I thought this meant she was unmarried…and I had this enormous amount of respect for her […and even a tiny girlcrush…] because I thought it meant she had scaled the masthead solo and found herself with huge editorial prowess at the head of magazine with millions of monthly readers. But then June rolled along and she featured a Father’s Day spread with her husband and daughter…and I realized she’s just another wife…and was frankly kind of disappointed…)

So, I mean, the moral of this story is that I understand that beautiful, perfect, well-dressed, well-spoken women inspire flowers on Valentine’s Day. It makes perfect sense. But what I don’t understand is how one of these beautiful, perfect, well-dressed, well-spoken women can inspire three dozen flowers…and I can’t conjure up the inspiration for a single measly bud. Am I really that ugly and imperfect and ill-clothed and tongue-tied? Or, if not, is the universe really just that mean? (I used to also quietly seethe when walking by delis in my neighborhood that had flowers out front…and it was kind of a big moment in my coming-of-age or whatever when I realized that if I wanted flowers, I didn’t have to wait around for Mr. Wonderfulpants…but could rather buy them for myself…which was maybe even better as I could pick out the precise bouquet I wanted…)

Because, you see…other than the bouquets my mother bought me when I graduated high school and college (and a bouquet I sent to myself at work once to make a coworker jealous), I have gotten flowers exactly two times before: Once at work after giving my business card to a weird little man at a bar in Jersey City…who sent them with a note that read, “From, Patrick…” and I had no idea who they were from until he began calling my work number obsessively to see if I got them…and while I thought that if I ignored him long enough, he would eventually give up…I had to finally give in and answer the phone and tell him I had a boyfriend to make him go away.

The other time I received flowers from someone not related to me by blood was when I actually *did* have a boyfriend…but I had to sit him down ahead of time and say, “Valentine’s Day is coming up. You need to buy me flowers…or I am going to get mad.”

I was so excited to actually be in love that year…that I sort of pulled out all the stops with the card that I made for him. I had loved Javier Lopez – the former catcher for the Atlanta Braves (…I lived in Atlanta in the mid-to-late ‘90s…) – for years and years…and the Boyfriend sort of took issue with my obsession…and so for Valentine’s Day, I took an image of Javy and turned him into Cupid and then wrote something about how, you know, I had loved Javy for years and years…but now that I had the Boyfriend, I didn’t really need Javy anymore because I had another person in my life to love. I thought it was poignant and sweet and I couldn’t think of a better way to say, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

But…sadly, the Boyfriend read it and took it in for a moment and then looked at me totally bewildered and said, “You think I’m good at baseball?”

(In his defense, he was English. So…perhaps there was some sort of cultural disconnect?)

Nevertheless, making cards still makes me happy. I sent out one with my cat for the holidays – one of those photo cards that people usually send out with their significant other and/or their children. I decided it would be funny if I embraced my Lonely Girl image and sent a “From Our House to Yours…”-card with my cat. (One friend called it “hilariously empowering…” which I realized is really the only thing I have ever aspired to be in my life…so I was pretty thrilled.)

So…since the holiday card went over so well, I really wanted to do another one for Valentine’s Day. And while I could get away with using the cat for the holidays, I really didn’t want to firmly establish a precedent. Plus, I mean, it’s Valentine’s Day. I like my cat, but…c’mon.

So…a proverbial seed was planted and I began thinking about what I could for Valentine’s Day. And then I don’t know how or when I remembered it, but…at some point last year, I read Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” And…I guess Julia and Paul liked sending out Valentine’s Day cards as there was a whole section in the middle of the book with images of the various valentines they sent out over the years…and there was one in particular in a bathtub that I just loved. And when I remembered it, I really, really, really wanted to use it. The problem, however, is that Paul Child is in the photo. And while I could easily superimpose my head on Julia’s body, I didn’t know how to deal with Paul. So…I started thinking about which men I could use in Paul’s place. In theory, there was Javy…but that seemed a little old and tired. And…I also thought that I could pick a girlfriend and glue *her* face on Paul’s body…but, while potentially empowering again, it seemed a little weird.

So…I was stuck…until I remembered Tucker Max. And I don’t really know where it came from in my head as I’ve never read the book or seen the movie…but, seemingly from nowhere, I recalled the movie poster for “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” and the “YOUR FACE HERE,” on the girl’s body. Et, voila. My Valentine’s Day card was born.

I wish I knew Photoshop and/or had access to it as I feel it would have turned out better with, you know, seamless integration and whatnot…but, as it stands, I’m pretty pleased with the end result. (And…looking handmade = love? Maybe?)

I’m not going to lie – it would make me pretty happy to wake up on Sunday and find one of these on my doorstep (…but not from a weird little man who lives with his parents in Bayonne and calls obsessively for weeks…)…but, bar that, I think it makes me happy to send these images out into the world and spread a little Valentine’s Day joy. So…see? Maybe I’m not such a bitter Betty after all.

I’ll even say it: Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Recuerdos de Costa Rica…Or, Ruminations on Similarities Between Costa Rica and Alaska, Among the Usual Anecdotes

Okay, okay…I’ll stop pretending I know anything about Spanish. (Although I *will* say that it is awfully embarrassing/depressing that after six years of studying the language […seven years ago…], my vocabulary is limited to a few choice phrases…and even *those* I am essentially scared to say out loud to native speakers.)

And…because I know how easy it is to forget the day-to-day when you go on a trip like this and then try to recall what exactly happened to everyone back home (“There was a zipline…and then we saw some monkeys…”), I made a concerted effort to record the goings-on at the end of each day. What follows is basically me writing up my notes. (And just to cover my bases, I suppose, I should note that these recollections are mine and mine alone…and I’m only human and it’s possible my memory is flawed and that these recollections may not be precisely accurate…so. Perhaps read with a grain of salt. [Also? This turned out to be really long. (Even for me…) And I’ve been working on it forever…and as I read it for the umpteenth time, part of me is tempted to just click “Publish” already…so Days Eight and Nine may not have received the tender loving care that they deserve…and for that I hope you’ll accept my humble apologies.])

Day One

Our flight was at 5:45 in the morning and a car was coming to pick us up around 3…so we just stayed up all night. It probably goes without saying that we were pretty exhausted and delirious by the time we made it to the airport. And after telling J that the easiest way to get from my apartment to JFK was to just call a car service and that this was a unique New Yorky thing and she was hip to the scene because she was with a local…we ended up with a guy who parked at the opposite end of my street and who didn’t move the car when we came out of my apartment at 3:00 in the morning with all of our luggage. (And he wasn’t driving a black Lincoln! It was, like, a gray Nissan Altima.) And then he drove like a bat out of hell and sort of got lost in Queens…and it wasn’t a Dial-7 sort of experience. We made it to JFK in two distinct pieces though…and literally the moment we walked through the airport doors, the handle on my purse broke. It was obviously too late to do anything about it (although we did search for glue at the Miami airport…only to find a man in one of the gift shops who tried to stick my strap back together with scotch tape and then advised me to “pull as hard as [I could],” and I promptly ripped it right back apart again…so he gave me a big shopping bag…that basically served as my purse for the rest of the trip.).

We were so tired we slept most of the way on both flights…and when we actually landed in San Jose, I could see some green landscape and life going on outside…but it was still sort of hard to believe that we were actually there — even when we were waiting in line to go through Customs. I had reserved a car…so J was able to flex her language muscles for the first time when we picked it up. And once we were at the actual off-site rental counter (and they told us not to move the car if we had an accident as it would render our insurance null and void), I asked for directions to the hotel…but the guy behind the counter was a little dubious. I had picked the Gran Hotel Costa Rica because my book said it was in the center of San Jose and that it was very close to the Teatro Nacional and that it had been around since the 1930s and had some Art Deco charm to it or somesuch…and it just seemed more unique and San-Jose-y than, say, the Holiday Inn. But the guy asked if we had prepaid…and then proceeded to give us directions because we *had*, but he said it would have been a lot easier to have just stayed near the airport.

And as we headed out for the first time in our Toyota Corolla in search of the Gran Hotel, J said something like, “I hope they have parking…” and it was the first time I had actually thought about something like that. I guess I figured parking was a given. (I think this is what they call foreshadowing…)

So…finding the actual hotel wasn’t all that hard. There was a big road called Paseo Colon…and I think we had to make one lefthand turn, but that was about it. We could see the hotel off to our left. However…the hotel was in the middle of a big square…and there was no place to park nearby. So…we sort of ended up going around and around the square, wondering what to do. We eventually figured out that “parqueo” is “parking lot” and saw a tiered structure on one of the side roads…in which we found a very nice group of men who listened patiently to us — J was so much better at speaking than I was — and one of them even drew us a map. We ended up back in front of the hotel…where we saw a road sort of going underneath the hotel and the words “NO” and “something.” “Maybe it means ‘Parking for Hotel Guests Only!'” I guessed optimistically. But, nope. We couldn’t park there either. So…we ended up pulling up in front of the hotel and were sort of despairing over what to do…when a man approached us to pay to park there…and he was the one who finally explained that we had to park in the lot with the hut with the blue roof a little further down the road.

When we finally pulled into the place where we were actually allowed to leave the car, a man approached and asked for our room number. And while, in hindsight, I probably could have come up with something like, “Todavia no sabemos el numero de nuestro cuarto,” I sort of panicked in the moment and said, “Estamos llegando!” to which the man laughed and said that it was clear we were new arrivals. And as we pulled our luggage out of the trunk, he offered to call security and J said it wasn’t necessary as the hotel was just across the street and then he told us a story about a woman he found crying because someone had stolen her $1000 necklace and he said it was best for us to just wait for someone to walk over with us.

By the time we were actually checked into our room, we were both pretty frazzled. We ended up having dinner in the restaurant downstairs. Wine helped. And I had the first of several arroz dishes.

Day Two

We woke up ready to kiss San Jose goodbye and to head north to Arenal.

The hotel served a pretty decent breakfast, including — get this — blueberry juice (…which I actually thought said “blackberry juice” at first…). I was *really* excited about it…but actually found it to be a little too sweet.

After breakfast, we got directions and returned to the Corolla…and were heading back to the airport in order to ultimately go north. However, while looking for Paseo Colon again, we somehow ended up going the wrong way on a one-way street and got all turned around (which made me feel bad as J was doing this big, brave thing by driving and I was supposed to be her trusty navigator…but I swear the map said it was a two-way street *and* there was a yellow line in the middle of the road)…but eventually we found another sign for el aeropuerto and proceeded on our three-and-a-half-hour drive. It was very, very green — a really pretty drive…and definitely not like any landscape I’d ever seen before. The turns were a little hairy…and there were lots of people walking along the sides of the roads — including wee little ones…and we kept seeing signs for “queso palmito…” although I don’t think we ever quite figured out what that was.

It was all worth it when we got to Arenal though. We had the cutest little bungalow with an amazing view out back of a very lush, tropical landscape. The focal point of all the resorts in the area — the very reason they exist, in fact (their raison d’etre!) — is Volcan Arenal. And everyone at our hotel kept telling us how lucky we were to be able to see the volcano that day…as oftentimes there is so much fog you can’t see it at all. (And, sure enough — when we woke up the next day, it was gone and we didn’t see it again the entire time we were there. So. We were lucky to have gotten pictures the first day. And this brings me to the first Alaskan Similarity: Seeing Denali [also known as Mount McKinley] is kind of a crapshoot as it is often hidden by clouds. Plus — Similarity #2 — we were in Costa Rica during the rainy season…which I thought was kind of like going to Alaska in the winter. Obviously the weather is different…but in both places, the off-season means lower prices and fewer tourists and it’s still really beautiful.)

We stuck close to home for lunch on that second day, opting to eat in the one restaurant on the hotel grounds. I ordered another “typical Costa Rican dish” that came with chicken, rice, plantains, salad, cheese (perhaps queso palmito?) and a fried egg that I gave to J.

Afterward, we (bravely) donned swimwear and headed down to the pool/spa where, luckily, we were the only guests for miles and miles. J jumped in the pool straightaway despite frigid temps, but I wasn’t as courageous. Instead, I stood with my feet submerged on the top step as a hotel employee walked by and shouted, “Hace frio?” and I said, “Si!” (one of the few words I can say with much authority) and I *believe* he suggested I jump in right away to get it over with. Eventually I did. But it was darn cold. Sooo…after a lap or two, we retreated to the spa…and before too long a bartender appeared — another one of the hotel employees who commented on how lucky we were to be able to see the volcano — and she asked us if we wanted anything to drink. (There was actually a bar right up along the pool’s edge…and I suppose that in the warmer months, you can swim right up and get yourself a drink.) The special on that particular day was a Coco Loco and so soon J and I found ourselves with drinks in coconuts.

We ate in the same restaurant that night…and, this is such a dorky thing to say, but…according to my notes, I had more arroz con pollo (I was big on anything labeled “typical plate” or that was somehow otherwise blatantly Costa Rican). We had tried to go to the supermercado in La Fortuna that afternoon to stock up on some basics and to perhaps not be beholden to that one restaurant…but there was an accident on the main road and we couldn’t get through.

And –- indulge me in one more small aside – -all the rice and beans sort of made me think of the Bartender as his stepfather is from Puerto Rico and he grew up eating lots of it and it’s what he cooked for himself over and over again after he hurt his foot and was out of work and couldn’t really afford to buy much else…and one of our crises this summer was promulgated by him being stupid after he said he was sick of rice and beans and I said, “You know I can cook, right?” and he said, “You’d cook for me?” and I said, “Of course I would!” and I proceeded to plan a totally elaborate meal with an Asian-style flank steak and pickled cucumbers and whatnot…and the night before he was slated to eat said meal, he texted me to say he was going to the Jersey Shore instead. A real gem, that boy. And…prepare to breathe a sigh of relief: When I was in Costa Rica, the relative smallness of the Bartender’s actual role in the grand scheme of things finally sort of hit me. He felt really far away…and, while I still miss him, it feels like something finally shifted. It could very well be that I felt the act of going to Costa Rica was really, totally 100% moving on with my life…and that this trip was about getting out and doing things that make me happy instead of wallowing in my apartment and getting droopy eyes every time I walk by his bar. Or something. I am even attempted to identify him by name in one final reckless act to close this particular chapter…like, say, Carrie Bradshaw with Big at the end of the series or Julie Powell with D at the end of Cleaving (…more on that in my next post…)…but, then again, there are some things about him that I’d like to hold close and keep just for me. (The end.)

For dessert, the restaurant offered us a tres leches cake…and we were too full to eat it that night, so we vowed to come back for it before we left for good. I had never had tres leches before, but J had fond memories of it growing up (I think) and said her sister had it at her wedding. This, of course, got the little wheels in my head moving and when I got back to reality, I did a quick search and found an Alton Brown recipe. My mother thinks Alton Brown is absolutely IT because he’s scientific and stuff. She is even willing to forsake our family pie crust recipe because she saw an episode of Alton’s show in which he said that a mixture of butter and lard makes for the perfect crust and he backed up his theory by explaining what fats bond to and whatnot. I admit that I, too, have been curious about using butter and/or lard…but I haven’t done so yet…and part of it is definitely because I’d feel like a traitor to my aunt and my great-grandmother. (And when J and I went back a day or two later, they were *out* of the tres leches cake…so I never actually got to try it there.)

Over our meal, we also talked about red velvet cake and J went off on a pretend tirade about how it isn’t really fair that we only use red food color…and I eventually vowed one day to try out blue velvet. (So…perhaps that will come after the Cleaving post…)

Day Three

Not a hugely early start. We had breakfast in the same restaurant…and we got lots of fruit again – including guava (I think…). But pineapple is still my favorite.

The ONE thing that J wanted to do while we were in Costa Rica was to zipline through the rainforest. I was less enthusiastic…but I wimped out of a somewhat similar experience in the sixth grade at a ropes course and so J was able to hold this over my head and to talk about how I had a great opportunity to do it over again and to conquer my fears and whatnot. So…I wanted to get the zipline over and done with early on so I wouldn’t have it hanging over my head the entire trip.

And…the hotel was nice and had given us a coupon for a free activity…so, with a heavy heart, I signed up to zipline through the rainforest on Day Three.

Since the hotel was more or less empty, I was hoping we would be the only ones on this zipline trip…but, alas, there were about ten other people, including four guides. J and I were the last to arrive, so we quickly got into our harnesses and I nervously made a joke about having a big head as one of the guides readjusted my helmet.

There were nine lines on this particular course. Another guide, Ishmael, explained to J and I how to use the brake on our right hand and he said that it was important to sit back and to try to be relaxed, etc., etc. I understood all of this more or less in theory. But when I finally looked down from the platform and saw where we were supposed to *go*, I was substantially less sure. It was SO high! And it was beautiful, to be sure…but it was SO HIGH!

J said she was nervous, but she sailed off down the line with the rest of them like an expert.

I was the last one. It was just me and Ishmael left on the first platform. He asked if I was okay. I said I didn’t know. He was nice and patient with me…but eventually I told myself that I was going to have to go sometime, so I finally let him let go of me…and, wow. I was really, REALLY tense and my hand with the brake kept flying off the line and that made me even *more* nervous and tense…and it was just so fast…

But when I got to the next platform, J (in waterproof pants!) was super-nice and very encouraging. She kept saying, “You’re ziplining through the rainforest! Isn’t that incredible??” But I just didn’t feel *quite* the same way about it. It *was* really beautiful. And I am certainly glad I did it…but it’s one of those things that I have crossed off the list of Things To Do Before I Die…and that’s it for me and ziplining, I think.

For the next two lines, it was just me and Ishmael on the platform again after everyone else had left…and it required a lot of encouragement for me to let go again. (I believe the poor guy had to listen to me say, “This wasn’t my idea! J wanted to do this! I’m here for her!” a little more than once…) It was so beautiful and green and, well, rainforesty…and unlike anything I have ever seen before…but I had to look straight ahead toward the end point and focus on that and that alone or I never would have made it. I could, however, sort of see all the pretty stuff in my peripheral vision…and despite all of the worries I had about falling or lines snapping, I *did* acknowledge how beautiful it was, too. (The guides kept saying to relax and enjoy the scenery, but…easier said than done, man.)

PLUS you were supposed to pull yourself up so they could hook you onto the line…but I have absolutely no upper body strength whatsoever (not to mention that I have been feeding feelings for months and months and have maybe never been so fat in my entire life)…and so…more elementary school flashbacks to those California State Physical Education Tests (or whatever they were called) and my inability to do a single pull-up. So, basically, I failed. And I hadn’t – or, heck, haven’t – failed at much in my short(-ish) life. But…despite my best efforts to pull my damn chin up over that damn pole, it never happened. And then we moved to Mississippi where no one had to take tests like that (…but…where further humiliation ensued after I joined the girls’ basketball team without realizing what I was getting myself into and ended up on the team with a certain Jennifer White who absolutely hated my guts because I was so bad and who went on – I believe – to play for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. [And, ironically, our mothers befriended each other in the stands while watching Jennifer win games and me warm benches…but that is a story for another day]).

So…after not pulling myself up on the line and having two distinct panic attacks, I found myself face-to-face with the longest of the ziplines: Number Three. And, boy, oh boy…after Ishmael let me go, I was cursing in my head to such an extent that I would have made sailors, longshoremen and car mechanics blush. (There was a mom along for the trip – her daughters, probably aged 7 or 8 and 11ish, put me to shame – who told me that it helped to scream…but I couldn’t bring myself to actually do that. It was silent terror.)

And as I was gearing up for the fourth line and wondering how on earth I could do this six more times, Ishmael finally said, “Do you want me to go with you?” And I excitedly said, “Yes!”

This solved everything. With Ishmael behind me, I no longer had to worry about how/when to brake…and it was completely comforting to think that if I was going to fall into the rainforest below, a strange man was coming down with me.

He was really sweet about it – when we were gearing up to go on the next platform, he called himself my “private taxi” and hooked his line up to mine again. And it was, like, such a damsel in distress moment that I couldn’t help but think of him as my hero a little bit…although, sadly, even though the zipline guys had a little hut on the hotel grounds and we had to walk by it to go to the restaurant and stuff, I never saw him again after that trip. Wistful sigh…

After two lines together, he asked if I thought I could go alone again…and I begrudgingly said I could…and then he said he’d go with me on the final line, which perked me up immensely. And I found that the guides were right and it really *did* help to be more relaxed…although, as noted, it was not easy to do.

And there was also a strange intimacy associated with ziplining…by which I mean Ishmael could get away with saying things like, “Wrap your legs around me!” and he wasn’t just being skeevy.

Later, J and I were in the hot tub and reminiscing about our adventure and I spoke of a moment on one of the platforms when I had been hooked up on the line but was waiting for Ishmael – and I had perhaps just moments earlier confessed my schoolgirl crush, which, in hindsight, may have accounted for her line of thinking – and I was sort of swinging around and not in complete control of myself when I accidentally kneed one of the other guides in the crotch. So…I said to J, “I kneed him in the crotch,” and J looked totally horrified and I said, “It was an accident! I didn’t mean to!” and a wave of relief spread over her face and she said, “Oh! I thought you were saying, ‘I need him in the crotch.’”

After Line Nine was in the can, the guys offered an optional rappelling adventure and I was sort of torn…on the one hand, I felt like I should do it because I was in Costa Rica and when on earth was I going to have another opportunity to go rappelling down a waterfall? But, on the other hand, I had already done a really brave thing that day…and when I realized that I really hadn’t paid attention to what the guy was saying about how to lower yourself off the platform, I figured I had probably had enough boundary extension for one day.

J was brave though. She rappelled.

As I waited for her by the bus, one of the guides pointed out a bat in a banana tree…and lots of vampire jokes ensued. (Blame Twilight?)

Then there was lots of rain and fog…and the volcano was totally obscured – it was like it wasn’t even there…which, again, sort of reminded me of trying to spot Denali in Alaska. Sometimes you get lucky and it’s a clear day…but when it’s cloudy, you get bupkus. We finally understood why everyone had said it was such a big deal the day before. We were concerned it was perhaps *too* foggy to drive to La Fortuna, but we were sick of the restaurant, so we decide to brave it anyway. There, we stocked up on platanos tostados (my absolute favorite), empanadas, and some sort of cheese sticks, among other comestibles…and we had a little picnic on our patio. There was a cat wandering the hotel grounds that appeared again…and I wanted to take her photo, but J initially chastised me for trying to exploit the poor animal…and later relented when she was annoyed that the cat wouldn’t go away.

Day Four

We had to get a really early start because a bus was stopping by to pick us up and take us to Cano Negro. (We still managed to sneak in breakfast at the restaurant though. More plantains. Which, as noted, I love.)

We had two guides, both named Javier. And after stopping at two more hotels to pick up an additional couple/family, one Javier drove while the other regaled us with folklore. Our first stop was an iguana refuge that Javier alluded to by telling us that the particular animal we were about to see is known as, “chicken of the tree.” (Plus, fun fact: Males are bright orange.)

Javier asked us if anybody in the group spoke Spanish…and then he made the dos cervezas joke that everyone seems to make after asking if anyone knows Spanish (“The only thing you need to know how to say is, “Dos cervezas, por favor…”).

When we finally got to Las Chiles, we boarded a pontoon boat…which sort of reminded me of a scene from the African Queen…

The driver of the boat was known as “Eagle Eyes” because of his incredible ability to spot animals…and he was totally deserving of the name. And this was yet another part of the trip that reminded me of Alaska — Similarity Three — the boat ride was sort of like taking the bus in Denali…you have to keep your eyes peeled and what you see over the course of the day is totally a crapshoot. But…as soon as someone sees something and shouts, “Stop!” the bus (or boat) will pull over and everyone oohs and ahhs and takes pictures and then you all set off again…I was a little worried at first because there was a birdwatching couple from England that repeatedly spotted birds…and we initially stopped for each one and Javier explained what it was…and, you know, I like birds as much as the next guy…but I was really jonesing for some monkeys. Luckily, after we’d more or less seen one of each of the birds they have in Cano Negro, the guide politely acknowledged the couples’ subsequent discoveries, but we didn’t pull over anymore. (And then little boy on shore waved at us. And my biological clock began ticking just a little louder…)

And then…a sloth! And howler monkeys (including an orange one that Javier said had a genetic abnormality that happens when the grandfather is also the father)! And another kind of monkey (perhaps spider?)! And capuchin monkeys! And caimans! (Caimen?) It was really quite something.

We crossed over the Nicaraguan border very briefly — really only long enough to take a picture of the “Welcome to Nicaragua” sign and to turn around. But, technically speaking, I have been to Nicaragua now. (Sort of like Kentucky. I was there for about 15 minutes this summer while we were killing time. It was really only long enough to take a picture of some chickens. So…not sure if I can count it on my list of new states this year…which, for the record otherwise numbers five: New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Virginia and Colorado.)

We went back down the Rio Frio, where we saw more birds, bats and another sloth. Javier warned us that you have to be really careful with your camera on beaches as capuchin monkeys really like shiny objects and will run up and steal them from you if you are not vigilant.

And I swear this wasn’t all that I ate, but after we disembarked, we stopped off for more arroz con pollo before the hour-long drive back to Arenal. There, J began talking to a couple from Houston who were in Costa Rica celebrating their anniversary and who really liked Vancouver as well…and they said they had recently visited New York, but hated it…in part because, as the husband said, there are too many foreigners.

It was mostly quiet on the drive back to Arenal…along the way, we stopped off at a farm where we saw some more animals and ate a cassava-cheese thing that was kind of the same consistency as a lemon bar. I liked it.

By then, it was raining again…but we were really lucky that the weather was so nice while we were on the river. It rains eight months out of the year there…which, again, is sort of like Alaska (in that winter — like the rainy season — is really, really long).

That night, J and I returned to the hot tub…where there were a group of youngsters cavorting…including a couple of boys who cut up limes and dropped them into their shorts and squealed.

Day Five

I got up early to go horseback riding. J had opted out of this particular activity…but it had been SO long since I’d been horseback riding and I really wasn’t sure when I would have a chance to do it again, so I decided it was worth going sola. But, unlike the zipline adventure that I had hoped would be just me and J, the morning horseback ride turned out to actually be just me and the guide, Alex.

My horse’s name was Eclipse. Alex asked me how long it had been since I’d ridden a horse and I did some quick math and came up with a 17-year estimate. And…Eclipse trotted and galloped a lot faster than anything I remembered…plus, it was raining and everything was muddy and slippery. The ol’ boy even got up to a canter at one point – which, when I was taking lessons as a girl, was the really big, scary thing that took me a long time to do.

While I was getting ready that morning, I wanted to wear my yellow pants…but because it was raining so much, I *had* to bring my rain jacket…which, unfortunately, is yellow…and I didn’t want to look like I belonged on Deadliest Catch…so I went with my red pants instead…but then Alex gave me a blue helmet…so I ended up looking like a character on a children’s television show (Or worse.).

We saw a howler monkey at the very beginning…but, despite Alex’s best effort to hoot at it, it didn’t make a peep. We also saw a lot of vultures and some toucans…but, sadly, the toucans were sort of hard to make out (distinctive beaks, I guess…but that’s about it…) and so Toucan Sam remains my benchmark. (I hate to whip out Alaska again, but I was really excited about seeing puffins for the first time at Prince William Sound [also where I saw otters in the wild for the first time…]. They’re so tiny! And I think this is maybe Similarity #5?)

The ride was really rainy and muddy…and, like I said, Alex kept telling me to make kissy noises at the horse to make him go faster, but I was perfectly happy with taking a more leisurely pace. (Alex also kept calling me, “Vacara!” and “Cowgirl!”) There were lots of rocks and streams and stuff…so we definitely got out beyond where I ever could have possibly walked on foot…and it was all worth it when we got into the rainforest…which was my absolute favorite part. It was so beautiful and green and just like I had always pictured it (instead of, you know, sort of taking it in peripherally as I flew by in the trees)…

We ran into another group along the way…but, as noted, my Spanish is perhaps less than conversational…and so other than, “Buenas!” I was pretty much out. There was a big lake near the volcano that had lots of water lilies in it and Alex had me bring Eclipse out into the middle of it so he could take a picture of me and the horse in the water. (Alex was really sweet and took a lot of photos of me and the horse along with way…which is just one of the reasons it is so unfortunate that I looked like such a buffoon.)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the volcano again because of the fog…but Alex still had me tie up my horse when we reached the top of the mountain so we could give him a breather…which I maybe thought was a little strange as the other group came up right behind us, but went on without a break. And then Alex asked me how old I am and if I am married and it was a little awkward…and I, in turn, asked him all the questions I could possibly think to ask…but then I ran out and we were still just sort of sitting there and I was trying to think about how to nicely ask about when we were going to untie the horses and hit the road again…but finally — after an interminably long break — we took off again.

On the way back, Alex took us through a pen with a bunch of bulls in it — big, huge bulls with jowly necks — and I guess he could tell I was maybe a little nervous as he said, “Don’t worry! Bulls are afraid of horses!” I am not entirely sure I believe him…but, no harm, no foul…and I guess in hindsight, it is kind of fun to be able to say that I rode a horse among Costa Rican bulls.

Along the way down, we ran into the owner of the bulls…who was also on horseback. He was wearing a black cape and had a black cowboy hat and his horse was black, too, and Alex took a picture of him giving me a thumb’s up and I couldn’t help but think that he looked like a Black Bart-type character.

Alex said we should keep our eyes peeled for wild pigs on the way back…and I was tempted to ask about whether they are javelinas as my parents have wild pigs near *their* house…but I was still feeling a little awkward from our “Why are you not married?”-conversation at the top of the mountain and it was still raining and my pants were soaked through and I had a pool of water in the hood of my jacket and, while enjoyable and memorable and everything, I was sort of ready to be done with the whole thing. (We didn’t find any pigs anyway.)

And, you know, the whole time I was thinking, “Boy, Lisa, you’re really going to pay for this tomorrow,” and I was scared that I was going to be sore forever…but, amazingly, I was fine. If anything, my stomach muscles hurt after ziplining…and I really didn’t even pull myself onto the line all that much. One of the poor guides (not my beloved Ishmael) had to help me. (Cringe.) Is it perhaps possible that worrying can make your stomach muscles hurt?

In the hot tub that night, J and I met a guy named Jeff from Jacksonville…who was a big surfer and was talking about perhaps moving to Costa Rica…at least for six months out of the year so he can catch lots of gnarly waves. He seemed rather disappointed with Arenal as he couldn’t see the volcano and there wasn’t much of a nightlife there. At dinner, J said that if I wanted him, he was all mine. I had – not arroz con anything! – tilapia a lo macho…which was supposed to be spicy…but either I am tough or it wasn’t that bad. And…I had seen a lot about a beer called Imperial, which billed itself “La cerveza de Costa Rica,” and this was the first night that I tried it. Good stuff. (Although every meathead American guy at the airport was wearing an Imperial t-shirt on the way home, so it may just be that I have bad taste…)

Day Six

We had to finally say goodbye to Hotel Montana de Fuego. And…I was kind of sad about it. I had gotten (mildly) attached to our cute little bungalow and – here’s unequivocal proof of how clingy I am – I would officially never see Ishmael ever again. (I also finally summoned up the courage to take a picture of the oxcart at the restaurant there by thinking about my mother’s “What are you worried about?? You’re never going to see these people ever again!”-advice.)

J expertly maneuvered our Corolla back down south to Alajuela (which, we learned, is far superior to San Jose when it comes to accommodations near to the airport. MUCH more low-key). We wanted to eventually head further south to Manuel Antonio, but to sneak in a tour of a coffee plantation while we were at it…and Alajuela seemed the perfect halfway point.

We tried to retrace our steps…but it got a little confusing in San Ramon…which was the first place I had to pop out to ask for directions. (By the end of the day, I had never said, “Estamos buscando X y no sabemos donde estamos,” so many times in my life.)

Along the way, we stopped off for more plantain chips…but, sadly, these weren’t as good as those first ones from that supermercado in La Fortuna. (I think they had some lime. SO good.)

We had a devil of a time finding our hotel…it was on the same road as a giant aviary called “Zoo Ave” and I got a lot of mileage out of saying, “Estamos buscando Zoo Ave…” and then we saw a sign that said the hotel was in 1200 meters (damn the metric system!) and I swore we had gone 1200 meters and then some and there was no sign of a hotel and so we stopped at a furniture store and I used my phrase on a guy on a motorcycle…and, while he hadn’t heard of our hotel specifically, he told me that all of the hotels were down to our left…and I really wanted to say, “But there’s a sign right over there that says our hotel is in 1200 meters!” But, alas, I could not…and so I was pointing to where the sign was and trying to say something about the hotel as he was saying, “There are no hotels that way!” So, sadly, after all those Spanish classes in high school and college, I was left on that street in Alajuela, thinking, “How in the hell do you say, ‘sign’?” Sigh again.

We *did* finally find it though…and it was a cute little cabiny room…with a very bizarre showerhead.

J and I were *supposed* to go on the 3:30 tour at Doka Estate…but, alas, we got really lost again…and I tried to use my phrase…but to no avail. (The guy who owned our hotel in Alajuela was a very chatty Canadian who later told us that Ticos – that’s Costa Ricans – find it very rude not to answer a question…and so sometimes they will tell you something just to tell you something.) So…we totally missed our tour, but were determined to find the damn Estate so that we wouldn’t have so much trouble the following morning…and the lady at the front desk at our hotel had said that we’d just go two kilometers and then turn left and then go another two kilometers until we got to the fork in the road and then turn right and then we’d see tons of signs…but…we didn’t see any signs…and facil it was not.

Along the way, we *almost* stopped off for dinner at a place called El Mirador that was supposed to have amazing views…but we ended up going back to our hotel and then walking to a seafood joint called La Princesa that had a giant anchor out front (it was one of the landmarks they gave us when giving us directions to Doka Estate). I had more rice and shrimp and Imperial…and we ordered tres leches…but J didn’t like it very much. I liked the flavor…but thought the texture was a little bit like watery cheesecake.

On the walk back home, we saw giant leafcutter ants all in a line, each carrying a single leaf. And…it wasn’t exactly a restful night as there were very loud Englishmen outside *and* there was a storm.

Day Seven

In an attempt *not* to get lost again, we got very long-winded directions from the Canadian guy who owned the hotel.

And, as luck would have it, we *thought* we had found Doka Estate the evening before, but…really all we had found was one of the signs…and so we had to keep going up the hill and we still sort of struggled to find the damn place…even after all that legwork from the day before.

We *finally* arrived at about 10:15 and were luckily able to sneak into the 10:00 tour that only included one couple from Michigan. There, we learned lots and lots about coffee-making from a guide who reminded me a lot of my friend Carmen. And there was unlimited free coffee at the end of the tour.

We got a little lost on the way back, but we ended up finding a gas station…so sort of kismet.

Afterward, we wanted to make our way to Manuel Antonio…and the Canadian guy had sworn up and down that the route was easy and there would be signs and stuff. And, luckily, he was right! It was a good three-plus-hour drive…but we didn’t get lost! And there were lots of signs! And we crossed a bridge that had crocodiles underneath and were able to pull off and see them and get right back in the car and go on our merry way…and the monkey hotel (when I read its motto was, “Still more monkeys than people,” I was totally sold) had room for us even though we didn’t have a reservation…and we got a room that looked like it was straight out of Swiss Family Robinson that was pretty much all windows and wood…and had a giant sliding door and two rocking chairs that said “Costa Rica” on the seats out front. Plus, our towels were folded into hearts and the toilet paper was folded into flowers. (I am easily impressed.) And the view from the pool was amazing and open and tropical and very much paradise-y…

We had an early dinner at a restaurant called the Anaconda (which made me think of the big butt song) and a bat flew by us over and over as we looked out on the trees and the water and swooned. I had a weird melony drink and J helped me compose a list of traits of my ideal man. (If you’re a brunette with big arms, you’re still in the running!)

Day Eight

Official Manuel Antonio Day. I was *really* looking forward to this day as the park was supposed to be crawling with wildlife. And even though I eventually outgrew the ape/monkey phase inspired by my report on orangutans in the sixth grade, I still really like them and have never had an opportunity to see them in the wild before.

The park was only a short drive from our hotel…so we quickly encountered a guy with a whistle who blew us over and told us where to park and tried to talk us into taking a tour with him. We had heard mixed reviews of these tours (including invaluable advice from Jeff from Jacksonville) and decided we might as well try to go into the park on our own as Jeff advised and that if the trip was totally a bust, we could easily go back the next day and cough up money for a guide. (This particular guide told us that we would only see two lizards the entire day if we attempted to go on our own, but he finally relented when we said we’d maybe be back…)

But as we were walking toward the park, we saw him blowing his whistle at other cars…but they ignored him and swerved around…and he had also said that the park was in 500 meters, but there was a sign around the corner as clear as day that said the park was in 1 kilometer…and then we sort of put two and two together and decided to move the car to a more accessible location.

And…even without a guide, we were still able to sort of mooch off of the tour groups in the park as we knew there would be animals wherever they were stopped. Howler monkeys were easy to spot because they’re so damn loud…but sloths were harder and were where mooching really paid off.

We eventually made it out to a beach and I took a photo of the “Don’t feed the monkeys”-sign while desperately hoping I would see some actual monkeys.

Out on the beach, J found some tadpoles in a pool in some rocks…and I followed behind but then slipped and fell in my dumb tennis shoes…and my knee really hurt…so I was perfectly happy to sit on the beach for awhile afterward while J went swimming. So…as I sat there and watched J swim and marveled at how pretty it was and pondered what to do with my life, a raccoon appeared behind me…and it surprised me, so I jumped up…and, remember that shopping bag that doubled as my purse? Well…that ballsy little raccoon came right up to where I was sitting and made a grab for it and I wasn’t quite sure what to do…but luckily a man saw what was happening and shouted and clapped at him and the raccoon ran away without my bag. (I got a photo of him though…)

And…after J was finished swimming and had showered off and everything, we walked back…and decided to pop off on one of the other trails called El Mirador. And…this is where it all happened. Out on the trail, we found so many capuchin monkeys! And they were right above our heads! And they were eating berries and talking to us…(and, yes, pooping…). And it was just so incredible — it was one of those things I will always remember. I never wanted it to end. And then on the way back, we saw more howler monkeys and sloths. It was quite a successful morning!

We had lunch at a quite little spot in Quepos called Cafe Milagro and then hung out by the pool with the magical view for awhile before changing into fancier duds and hitting up Salsipuedes (one of my favorite names *ever*) for tapas and one of the most beautiful (and fast!) sunsets I have ever seen and a black cat that ended up in my lap. I then talked J into a cantina crawl, so we hit up El Avion, La Cantina and Anaconda again…except this time they were playing that song about hos in different area codes and I was once again able to marvel at the fact that I have lived in SO MANY different places and yet the only area codes I know in that song are from Georgia and New York. And — funny enough — there was a big flat screen TV at one of the bars on which you could watch — get this — the CU/OSU game en vivo. So. A bizarre little reminder of home smack-dab in the middle of Central America.

Day Nine

Our trip was coming to an end…so we had to say goodbye to the monkey hotel, too, and make our way back to Alajuela once again.

But, as our hotel had bragged about having more monkeys than people, I really wanted to go out on one of the trails to find some of the little buggers before we left…but, alas, it was wet and there was a precipitous drop and so J and I decided to quit while we were ahead and we made our way back toward the middle of the country. The drive was pretty much okay…although we got lost a little bit more than we did on the way there…and Hotel Orquideas had a room for us (despite all of my worries that we would be high and dry without reservations for every single night that we were there…). The hotel even had a Marilyn Monroe-themed bar, where we spent the early part of our final evening there…and then we retired to our room, where I happened to catch my very favorite Costa Rican TV commercial one last time. (I *believe* it was for a deodorant…and it showed women in long sleeves who lifted their arms toward the sky and then their sleeves shot off and turned into fireworks. I cannot *believe* that I did not think to write down the name so I could search for it on YouTube.)

And, with that, Costa Rica was basically over. And soooo is my blog post.

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Cue the Lynyrd Skynyrd…

Boy, am I going to sound like a wet blanket, but…the job woes continue, etc., etc.

And…as noted in my previous post, I’ve been sad about The Bartender. So…I was talking to my oldest childhood friend and she reminded me that maybe the reason everything is so uncertain for us now is because of our Saturn Return. So, I mean, this is fantastic news. I can’t even tell you how comforting it is…especially since I can now start thinking about 30 as the end of chaos…rather than the beginning of the end.

Big J’s other revelation? Welll…I was *also* saying that I think maybe my love affair with New York is coming to an end (although, then again, something like the Michael Jackson birthday party comes along and reminds me why I fell in love with Brooklyn in the first place…)…and there are so many cities I’d love to try out before all is said and done: Seattle, Chicago and Atlanta, to name a few…and then I start looking for jobs in those places and then I end up with a totally overwhelming number of jobs to apply for and then I start thinking, “I don’t even know if I want any of these jobs!” and I don’t actually apply for anything and I get nowhere.

That is when Big J said (more or less), “You big dummy! You don’t just apply for anything! You look for the jobs you really *want* and *those* are the jobs that you apply for outside of New York!”

And of course she’s right!

So…I did just that on Friday…and came across a job in Alabama that sounds like it would be a really good fit — writing and editing stories about food, home and travel. I don’t actually know anyone in Alabama…and I’m not sure how I feel about starting all over *again*…but I spent four years in Mississippi and Georgia growing up…and was actually surprised by how nice it was to be in the South again when I went on the trip in the trailer with my mama in July…(see my post about that meal in Carlisle, Arkansas. Whoa.)

Plus, I’d be living on the coast…which is 1) super-beautiful (if memory serves)…and 2) only about five hours from Atlanta. So…I could get a car and visit some of my favorite people on the weekends…and I could finally get a Golden retriever. And imagine the kind of apartment I could have — I’m thinking washer/dryer *and* dishwasher. My heart be still…

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