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Chasin’ Waterfalls

You’re in for a special treat today, kids, because this post was written by both Erin AND Katie.  They both loved this particular Costa Rican adventure SO much, that they couldn’t agree who would get to write the post.  So they opted for the third-person introduction, while the blue font that follows was written by Erin and the green font was written by Katie.  Look out, TLC!  We’re chasing some waterfalls, whether you like it or not.

Now that we’re done making forts with our luggage and have finally put them away, let us commence, as promised, with the juicy deets (the kids are still saying that, right?) of our last week in Costa Rica.

So, last Monday we spent five hours navigating an assortment of buses west to stay overnight in La Fortuna, a quaint town with clean streets, high-end restaurants, unique arts and crafts shops and jacked-up tourist prices tucked cozily in the looming shadow of Arenal Volcano.  La Fortuna’s cooler climate, lush tropical vegetation, and proximity to a large number of waterfalls, whitewater rapids and the aforementioned volcano have made it a well-established hotspot for tourists seeking tales of daring outdoor adventure to take home with them.

Which is precisely why we were there.  On the enthusiastic recommendation of Aaron and Becs, our friends, hosts, tour guides and all-around upstanding citizens (ok, they were our bosses, too, but that didn’t influence the description, promise), we’d come here determined to try our luck at waterfall rappelling.

Waterfall rappelling is exactly what it sounds like, and despite the astounding array of travel company reps pitching their packages (ahem, tour packages) to us along the sidewalk, apparently there are only two companies that offer this unique experience in La Fortuna.  But we’ll get to that in a minute.  Stick with me here, people.

So we arrived in La Fortuna in the early afternoon, checked into Gringo Pete’s, a clean, charming and ridonkulously cheap (hello, $4!) hostel recommended by a backpacking Canadian couple we met, and then proceeded to semi-stalk, on the bus ride there.  After dropping our bags off, we spent the rest of the day walking around and window-shopping before making our way to the Lava Lounge to talk with the restaurant’s California-bred owner, Scott, over a couple of industrial-strength piña coladas.  Aaron and Becs had met Scott a few years ago when they were in town for their first rappelling experience, and had asked us to stop by and drop off some hot sauce to him.

Fortunately for us, Scott happened to be good friends with Cynthia, the lovely owner of Pure Trek, one of the two companies that offered rappelling in the area.  So when we mentioned to Scott our plans to go rappelling the next morning with her slightly cheaper competitor,  he phoned Cynthia on the spot and she proceeded to make us a counter-offer we couldn’t refuse.  So Pure Trek it was!

[Editor’s Note: Yes, I admit that, at the time, it was all about the Benjamins.  However, having done my post-trip research since then, I now see that our reasons for choosing Pure Trek should have been:

(a) their commitment to safety.  Their slightly higher price tag covers the cost of regular equipment change-outs and safety upgrades; and

(b) the fact that their belaying technique provides customers a more authentic rappelling experience than the standard zipline style used by most other rappelling companies.

Thus, even though we ended up choosing wisely, it was for incredibly unwise financial reasons.  So don’t be stupid like us and try to scrimp on this once-in-a-lifetime experience, mmkay?]

Next morning arrived right on time, and the bus came to whisk us off on our adventure, which started with a 20-minute drive out of town and then a 15-minute putter up a steep and winding dirt road in an off-road Jeep.

The view from the dirt road.  I could live there.

This being the rainy off-season, our group was small and intimate, consisting of only three other American tourists and five Pure Trek employees.  Our guides were Ticos who spoke English very well and exuded an air of confidence and outdoor prowess befitting their Teva sandals; if they had no idea what they were doing, they at least put on a really good show otherwise.  And it didn’t hurt that every single one of them was cheek-pinchingly adorable.

At the top of the hill, we stopped at a small outpost station where we proceeded to trade in whatever remaining cool points we had for ginormous helmets and underwear made of seatbelts.

Safety first.  Fashion, an extremely distant second.

From there, we locked our valuables in the truck and descended down a rocky yet well-maintained trail into what felt like the beating heart of the jungle.  Even though it was only a five-minute walk, it truly felt like we were the first explorers ever to set foot there—everywhere you looked were palm leaves the size of Volkswagens and thick, tangled vines in a thousand variations of green competing ruthlessly for the sun.

In fact, we were in such awe of our primal surroundings that we almost forgot what why we were there in the first place.  And that little nugget of awareness came back to us just about the time we approached the edge of the 175-foot waterfall.


While the rest of the staff efficiently went about ensuring all the safety measures and belays were in place, our main guide briefed us on how to properly hold the ropes and position our feet so as to preserve our knees and faces in case we wanted to use them at a later date.

And then the time came for us to demonstrate our listening comprehension skills.


Despite the abundance of safety ropes snugly attached to you, it’s still a somewhat terrifying feeling to take that first backward step off the edge of the platform and let yourself dangle in midair, contemplating the 175 feet of nothing standing between the bottoms of your sneakers and the ground.

But just as quickly as that fluttery-stomach feeling came, it went, and the experience was no longer awesomely terrifying but just awesome.  While that first waterfall was by far the tallest, each of the three subsequent ones we rappelled down presented different terrain challenges to keep you entertained, as well as new opportunities for our playful guides to keep themselves entertained by dunking us in frothing 60-degree water.  The little scamps.

What’s that?  You want me to hold you right in the middle of the fall while my friend takes pictures of you gulping down mouthfuls of riverwater like a large-mouth bass?

What’s that?  You want me to hold you right there while your face takes a tsunami-force shower?

By the end of the morning, our little group had pretty much gotten the hang of rappelling and needed the belayers below to keep us from smashing ourselves against the rock wall only a few times.

Soaking wet and a little tired (in a really, really good way) from navigating jungle canyons spider-man style, we thought our Pure Trek experience was over.  But our guides piled us into the vehicle and trucked us back down the mountain to the Pure Trek oasis.  It was really a resort-like compound, but I call it an oasis  with its cozy lodge, open-air restaurant, and the most beautiful restroom we’d seen in Costa Rica.

Erin and I were thrilled to take a nice, hot shower in the spa-like facility, complete with towels, shampoo, conditioner, and even body lotion.

Pure Trek Bathroom

Pure Trek Restroom

That’s it.  I’m moving in.

We felt invigorated and refreshed after our showers, but we also felt something else…  HUNGRY.

Apparently physical exercise does that to people.  Who knew?

We walked through the lush garden to the open-air dining area where Pure Trek’s chefs had an authentic Tico lunch waiting for us.

Pure Trek Dining

A hot plate of rice with chicken and black beans and a wonderful salad (sorry, no picture – did I mention we were hungry?) was brought to our table.  We were able to relax with a glass of fresh pineapple juice and watch a slideshow of the professional photos taken of our rappelling adventure on a monitor in the corner.

After our completely satisfying lunch, we were escorted back through the garden to the main lodge, where hot Costa Rican coffee awaited us.

The space was incredibly inviting and relaxing.  We were waiting for our transportation back to our hostel in town (provided by Pure Trek), but it hardly felt like waiting – we didn’t want to leave!

This experience truly was one of the most outstanding highlights of our trip.  Thanks to Aaron and Becs for telling us about it, Scott at Lava Lounge for setting us straight on where we should go, and Cynthia and the guides from Pure Trek for showing us a completely amazing time.

It’s gonna be hard to top this one…

Mi Taco Es Su Taco

*Please forgive the unforgivably dark/blurry photos in this post and any of my posts hereafter.  By this point in the trip I had busted my favorite low-light camera lens (something I’m not yet ready to talk about) and I was making do with what I had.

On one of our last days in Costa Rica, our friend Becs showed us one hell of a time.  There was a crazy monkey chase (more to come, I promise), pool-crashing at the beach (more to come, I promise), and the most wonderfully orgasmic tacos I’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring.

That’s what I’m going to tell you about now (in case the title of this post led you to think otherwise – again, get your minds out of the gutter).

I can tell you from experience that after a long morning of horsing around with monkeys and a long afternoon of frolicking in both the Pacific ocean and a guest-only hotel pool (a hotel of which we were definitely not guests), there is nothing – I repeat nothing – more satisfying than a tall glass of Costa Rican beer and the best tacos I’ve ever had in my life.

At first I thought Becs was mistaken when she pulled off the main road onto a rocky dirt driveway overgrown with weeds and shrubbery.  Surely the nondescript, unlit home in front of us was not a restaurant.  Was it?

But as we approached, I saw the understated sign next to the front door:


‘Nuff said, apparently.

Tacos in Liberia, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

I’d be lying if the place didn’t make me conjure up thoughts of some crazy old guy in the back butchering up human flesh to serve with tortillas and Lizano al a Sweeny Todd.  (My first “real” date took me to see that play, by the way.  Remind me to tell you about that gem some other time.)

Hey, I have an active imagination.

But the inside was cozy, and I settled down when the owner brought me my cerveza and I saw that at least, if he was going to butcher us and serve us to the other customers (of which there were exactly none), he was at least willing to let us have a drink first.

Imperial with Ice

Yes, that’s a chunk of ice in the glass.  It took us 2 months to get used to it, but non-touristy bars/restaurants in Costa Rica serve their beers with a glass of ice.  It’s actually pretty nice when it’s hot and humid out and the beer bottle isn’t exactly cold.

In a corner of the room there was a large chalk board with the menu (and surprisingly steep prices), along with a gas, flat-topped griddle and a wire shelf hanging from the ceiling.

The first thing we ordered was queso con chorizo, which is exactly what it sounds like – a bowl of delicious melted cheese with bits of chopped up chorizo.  The restaurant’s owner (sorry, forgot his name!), who is originally from Mexico, took several chunks of wonderful white cheese and melted it in an iron bowl over a charcoal grill.

Melting queso on a charcoal grill

We waited as patiently as 3 hungry women who’d been at the beach all afternoon could possibly wait.

Then he threw in the chorizo that he’d cooked on the flat-top, and the result was a greasy, gooey, stringy bowl of deliciousness that really can’t be properly described with words.  We spooned it over grill-warmed tortillas and then we died.

Queso con chorizo

Ask me if I care that this likely turned my arteries into sluggish, gummed-up muck.  ‘Cause I don’t.

Meanwhile, the Taco Guru was working his magic back on the flat-top.  While he’d been making our queso appetizer, he’d put all of the ingredients for our tacos on the hanging wire shelf.  We’d ordered one plate with beef, onions and cheese, and another plate with chorizo, cheese and grilled pineapple.  (Turns out we really didn’t need 2 plates – each plate comes a huge stack of tortillas, and one plate would’ve been more than enough for the 3 of us.)

After the meat was cooked, he piled everything on the plates and brought them to the table.

Beef, onion and cheese tacos

Beef, onions and cheese.

Chorizo, cheese and pineapple tacos

Chorizo, cheese and pineapple.

All I can say is these tacos were ah-maz-ing.

Best Tacos Ever

He served them with shredded cabbage, homemade guacamole and a spicy salsa.

We ate them and died again.

The end.

Erin, Taco Guy, and Katie

Thanks for the laughs, the cries and the jiggly thighs, Taco Guy.  We’ll remember you fondly.

What a Load of Bull

Ed Note:  The pictures in this post are Katie’s because my camera battery died after only 10 minutes of shooting that day.  She agreed to let me use hers because A) she’s a good friend and B) she didn’t want to have to listen to me whine about it for the rest of the day.

This past Sunday, Katie and I visited the local bullring in Bagaces to watch them test the bulls for an upcoming event.

We went with our adorable Tica friend Stephany (far left) and her two equally adorable Tica friends whose names I don’t remember because I’m a terrible, terrible person.

It’s a good thing I don’t live here permanently, because I’d have crippling self-esteem issues.

Noon was when the event was supposed to start, but people didn’t actually start showing up for it until 2 p.m.  Katie and I have learned by now that Ticos exist in a completely different time-space continuum than the rest of the universe.  ‘Tico time’ is a fluid concept that can mean anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours later than the appointed time.  (This is super fun when you’re trying to catch a bus, by the way.)

It was such a holy scorcher of a day that everyone crowded in the shade under the bleachers.  I, for one, hadn’t been under the bleachers since the 9th grade, and it gave me such a wicked case of nostalgia that I almost tried to make out with the old man squatting next to me on a three-legged stool just for old times’ sake.

Avert your eyes, children.  It’s going to get handsy down here.

Anyhoo, the first bull came out…

…and put on quite a show.

You could tell he was a performer.  An artiste.  And the rider wasn’t too shabby either.

They looked like graceful dance partners.

Does anybody else have the R. Kelly song “I Believe I Can Fly” in their head right now?

(By the way, I hope the guy with the flag has a good insurance plan.)

I believe he’s indicating the size of his cojones here.

The next bull, however, was not so tranquilo.  Right out of the gate, you could tell that this bull had anger management issues.

And you could almost hear the rider’s thoughts:






Aw man, he got my chinos dirty.

Even after his rider was off, this bull seemed determined to learn them whippersnappers a less’n.

After they finally managed to get the beast back into its pen, they had a lassoing event:

I’ll bet that guy got bonus points for having the snazziest hat.

We only stayed for about an hour lest our pale gringa skin melt off us under the heat of the Costa Rican sun, but we were happy to have had a taste of a real live bull riding event.  All in all, it was a fun time for everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses

As you might recall, Katie and I horned in on the guys’ plans to spend Saturday afternoon watching football at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Tilaran.

Sometime during the six hours they spent watching back-to-back football games, Katie and I got a little antsy and decided to go out and explore.

The guys enthusiastically approved our decision, almost as if they didn’t enjoy our constant chatter while football was on. Strange.

Fortunately, the 5 Corners Grill sits on a hill overlooking majestic Lake Arenal so we decided to find a closer vantage point to take some photos for the blog.  How we suffer for you finicky people.

Like Lewis & Clark.  Except, c’mon, totally cuter, right?

From our spot at the top of the hill, we spotted a nice grassy knoll a half-mile below us with an unobstructed view of the lake, so we commenced hoofing it down the steep, curving road, all the while narrowly trying to avoid an untimely death under the fenders of speeding mopeds and pick-up trucks whose drivers leaned out to wave enthusiastically and shout “grrrIIINNNGaaas!” as they passed.

This place does wonders for a girl’s self-esteem.

Only after we arrived, sweaty and winded, at the unpaved road that would lead us to our photo-op site did we notice the barbed-wire gate and “Private Property” sign.  The nerve.

After considering our options, which were: (a) Turn around and walk back up the hill, photo-less but otherwise unscathed, or (b) Go for it and risk the possibility of being bitten in the nether regions by an angry Rottweiler, we did the sensible thing.

Well, sensible for us, anyway.

We shimmied around the gate and sneakily (or as sneakily as two giggling girls who may have had a few beers can) hightailed it down the road and up the hill.

And we were richly rewarded for our loose morals:

And we didn’t run into a vicious Rottweiler, although we did encounter a different kind of beast…

While we were enjoying the view, this curious little guy (Or maybe gal?  We didn’t bother checking under the hood.) trotted up to check us out.

And if it had any qualms about us being there, it did not make them known.

It didn’t seem to have any qualms about sharing personal space, either.

The view was breathtaking and our new friend was accommodating, but we decided we’d better get back before it started getting dark.  So we made it back to the road, congratulated ourselves on pulling off a successful caper and that was the end of our little adventure.

Oh, except Katie slipped while scrambling down the muddy hill and had to trek all the way back to the restaurant with a foot that resembled the Swamp Thing.

So I guess the lesson here is:  Crime doesn’t pay.  But only if you’re Katie’s flip-flop.

Ninety-Nine Bottles of Sauce in a Box

Ninety-nine bottles of sauce… Take one out, pass it about…

Wait! We just put those in there.

Okay.  Many of you have probably been wondering just what the heck we’ve been doing with our time during the day here in Costa Rica.  How do we earn our keep in this beautiful place?

Well, I’ve mentioned before that we came here primarily to work for an up-and-coming, family-owned hot sauce company called Chile Town.  We knew before we arrived that there would be some office work involved, including writing press releases and blog posts for the company website.  We also knew that we would potentially be making some of the sauce itself.

What we didn’t know is what, exactly, making hot sauce entailed.

It starts with the chile peppers, most of which are grown and hand-picked right here on the property.

Without giving away too many trade secrets before the sauce gets released to the U.S., I will say that some of the hottest peppers in the world are grown and used right here.  For that reason, caution must be used even during the picking-process.  Notice the gloves.  You don’t dare touch your eyes or exposed skin after handling hot peppers.

Chile Peppers

At this point some type of magic happens and the peppers are somehow washed, seeded, and mashed up into what we call… well mash.  By the way, at Chile Town each individual hot sauce uses an individual type of chile pepper – unlike many other hot sauces, which just use an extract to bring the heat, the sauces we’re helping to make here actually use the heat and flavor that come directly from the chile variety itself.  So a mild(er) sauce like the one called La Muñeca (“The Doll”) uses a less-spicy variety of pepper (yellow scotch bonnet) than the sauce called Bandito (“The Bandit”), which uses orange habaneros.

It’s all very scientific.

And if you think habaneros are spicy, some of the Chile Town sauces get even hotter than that!

*By the way, thanks to Becs for taking most of the following photos.  My gloved and mash-covered fingers were not about to get anywhere near my beloved camera.  Or my hair, apparently, which is a mess.  Apologies.

So what we end up with is this mash.

chile pepper mash

Appetizing, no?

Of course, the color/consistency vary depending on the type of pepper we’re using.  These are smoked jalapeños for the smoky Don Fuego (“Fire Boss”) sauce.

The first part of this entire process is really just basic cooking – we mix all the ingredients according to Aaron’s (aka “The Mayor’s”) top secret recipes and stick ’em on the stove to simmer.

Simmering Chile Town Hot Sauce

Here’s where it gets tricky.  Once all the ingredients are partying together in the pot and the sauce starts to thicken up, it’s time to blend.  This ensures a smoother, even consistency and that all of the flavors are truly melded to perfection.

The problem?  An industrial-sized blender, Aaron owns not.

So we use the small one.  Again, and again.  And again.

Blending Chile Town Hot Sauce

I’ll admit that this is probably the scariest part of the process for me.  I mean – you have this substance that is 2 kinds of hot – temperature and spicy – so if the blender decides to say… I don’t know… blow up in your face, you’re seriously burned.  Heat burned and heat burned.  Not pretty.  I’ve caught a splatter or two to know.

So we try to use the utmost precaution, especially during this phase of sauce production.

Blending Chile Town Hot Sauce

Once everything is blended, it goes back in the pot and back on the heat.  This time it needs to get to a certain (extremely hot) temperature before it can be bottled.  The goal is to have everything nice and evenly cooked to the desired level of thickness.

Don Fuego Chile Town Hot Sauce

Aaron’s stove takes a beating.

While the sauce is cooking, we need to wash bottles.  Lots and lots of bottles.

Hot Sauce Bottles

And of course, since no one wants to buy empty hot sauce bottles, we need to fill ’em.

Bottling Chile Town Hot Sauce

This step is a tid bit precarious, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.

Boxing Hot Sauce

We are sauce-making machines.

No thanks to this punk, who didn’t even bother to watch.

Stella Dog

Once they cool a bit, we add the seals and labels.  Eventually, they look like this:

Chile Town Hot Sauce

Pretty groovy, huh?

Ironically, the most stressful part of the process is after all the sauce is made and we’re cleaning out the pots.  When the cold water hits the warm hot sauce remnants, the noxious chile fumes somehow get set off and I’m thrown into an ugly, hacking and sneezing fit.  It ain’t pretty.

And while Erin’s superior writing/editing skills have since earned her a place back in the air-conditioned office, I really don’t mind toiling over a steaming hot chile pepper concoction several days a week.  A true sense of accomplishment accompanies every seal of every lid; and while I dread the potential day when Aaron opens a bottle of sauce I made from one of his recipes and, God forbid, something just doesn’t taste quite right, I will at least savor the experience until that time.

Even though all of the bottles that eventually get sold in the U.S. will have been made to exact specifications in a factory by qualified professionals, I know I will smile every time I see one because I am now a first-hand witness to just some of the frustration, sweat, and determination that goes into creating a product.

A livelihood.

A passion.

And it’s pretty damn sweet.  And spicy.

Celebrate Good Times

Two days ago the Central American country of Costa Rica celebrated 189 years of independence.  It was kind of a big deal.

And while we didn’t see any fireworks here in the little town of Bagaces, the people here proved that they do, without a doubt, know how to celebrate.

People lined the streets to watch a parade put on by school students of all ages.  Some were dressed in beautiful (I’m assuming traditional?) clothes.

Bagaces, Costa Rica Independence Day

Don’t let all the jeans fool you – it was HOT outside.

Bagaces, Costa Rica Independence Day

I think the entire town showed up – lining the streets and even climbing trees to watch the parade.

Bagaces, Costa Rica Independence Day Parade

Our friend Karla’s son played the drum.

Parade Drums

Oh, the drums.

Bagaces School Band

This isn’t your typical American high school marching band.  This was something else.  Something spectacular.  The rhythm was palpable.  And the energy of the players – even through the heat – was incredible.  They jumped in the air, throwing the barrels behind their backs like it was nothing.  It wasn’t just music.  It was a dance.  It was intense.

Bagaces Costa Rica School Drums

What I learned that day about this town is that the people here are really no different from any small community in the U.S.  They love gathering for celebrations, and all of the related accoutrements: eating great food, listening to fun music, and of course, showing off their babies.

By the way, I really think Erin and I are finally starting to blend in.

Don’t you think?

Ride ‘Em Cowgirls

Today, Katie and I stuck our pale, bugbite-riddled city legs in the stirrups and went on a trail ride with our awesome new girlfriends Becca, Maria, and Wiebke.

We were thrilled at the chance to get to gallop freely through the Costa Rican pastures, feeling the wind in our hair, the sun on our skin and the extremely hard saddle under our butts.

The horses were maybe less thrilled.

Ok, and maybe Katie wasn’t exactly ‘thrilled’ either.

But I was.  And this is my post, so I can remember it however I want.  So, hah.

It turned out to be a truly fantastic day.  At seemingly every bend in the trail, we’d come across something that made me so eternally grateful that I’d decided to grab my camera, after all.

Such somethings as this:

And this:

Just keep it movin’, sister.

And this adorable little guy…

whose large, less adorable mom arrived on the scene with a quickness. Fortunately, she ended up being a really good sport about us camera-stalking her child.

We even spotted capuchin monkeys!

There he is!

Ok, technically Weibke did all the spotting.  I’m not entirely sure I would’ve known how to spot a capuchin (or even what a capuchin was) even if I’d had a pair of binoculars and a Spotting Capuchins for Dummies handbook.

In the end, we got to see some amazing things and no one was bucked, bitten or trampled.

Even Katie was a happy cowgirl.

It was a supremely fantastic day that we’ll remember for a long, long time to come.

Which is about the amount of time it’ll take us to walk normally again.

Yipee-kai-yay, y’all!

Meant to Be – Like Cheese Under a Mattress

When I was little, I used to ask my mom to drive really, really fast down this hill with a dip at the bottom on our way to daycare.  I got such a thrill from that tiny uprising in my stomach – that flutter that happens when your body is thrown off-kilter from gravity.

Why don’t we get the same happy rush when the same thing happens with our emotions?

Today was a helluva day.  You see, the airline on which Erin and I booked our tickets to Costa Rica is having some financial troubles, so they decided to cut back on their flights.  They decided to cut back on our flight just over a week ago.  The online booking agency through which we booked our flight *cough*CheapTickets*cough* did not notify us of this fun fact until a couple of days ago.

It was not until today that we were able to negotiate an itinerary change and get ourselves on another flight.  Because as much fun as it would be to get stuck in Cancun with unlimited funds, our funds are not, to say the least, unlimited.

Just a minute ago I received another call telling me the new flight has been canceled.  That fluttery, uprising thing happened with my emotions.  The guy from Cheap Tickets might have heard me cry.

In 2004 it took me over 27 straight hours to get from Valdosta, Georgia to Strasbourg, France.  I traveled by car, plane, subway, another subway, train, and another car to get there.

So it’s really no surprise to me that this happened.

The thing is, cliché as it sounds, I’ve learned to try to make the trip itself part of the fun.  I know it can be a pain in the ass to get somewhere – especially when I really, really, really want to just be there.  So I have to do what I can to enjoy the ride.

Even if what I really want to do is punch someone in the face.

After all, 27 hours is 27 hours.  That’s more than a full day of my life that I can never get back.

It took me a month to get from Omaha, Nebraska to Omaha, Nebraska (by way of Washington, California, Arizona, and Colorado, to name a few).  I traveled by Tracker.

When people ask what we’ll be doing during our free time in Costa Rica (if we ever get there), they seem surprised when I tell them we don’t know.  But it’s like the Gin Blossoms said, “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.

The same holds true, I believe, for a trip.  Too much planning can only lead to disappointment and missed opportunities.  We won’t be lethargic in our off-time – but we’ll always be open to something we didn’t plan – especially because we didn’t plan anything.

For the Tracker’s Wild Western Extravaganza road trip, I didn’t even know I’d be traveling with anyone until a couple of days prior.  I had just given notice to one of the restaurants that employed me, and a fellow server thought my trip sounded fun and asked to come along.

We had never really hung out, but Lizeth was a 5 foot-nothing feisty Latina who shared my freestyle travel philosophy.  She ended up coming with me all the way to San Francisco before flying home (she actually had to go back to work – sucka!), and it ended up being much more fun than if I’d gone alone.

At our own leisurely pace, we were able to explore Seattle’s colorful, energy-packed Pike Place fish market…

Pike Place market

…get a free bottle of whisky from a sketchy motel employee…

…hug a soldier…

..and even stumble across Seattle’s famous wall of gum one night when we became completely and utterly lost.  We didn’t know it was famous.  We just thought it was a gross (but cool) wall of gum.

It turned out getting lost on those downtown streets was a great way to learn our way around the city.

If we had been on an itinerary, we might not have climbed the Astoria Column and ruined our ability to walk without a limp for the next 2 days.  (Lesson learned?  Calves do not like spiral staircases.)

Astoria Column

Nor would we have stopped for a tour of the cheese factory in Tillamook, Oregon, land of, “Cheese, trees and ocean breeze!”  If we hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t have been able to leave my souvenir brick of spoiling cheese under the mattress of that hotel in San Francisco.  (That’s another story for another time, but trust me – they deserved it.)

Tillamook Cheese Factory

Sure, you miss a couple of things when you don’t plan.  We’d hoped to catch the famous sandcastle contest in Cannon Beach, but instead all Lizeth caught was soaking wet pants when we had to wade across the bay to get into town.  All I caught was a kite to the back of the head.  No joke.

The sandcastles had already washed away with the tide.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.

And without a GPS, the excitement of seeing the unmistakable bright orange peaks of the Golden Gate Bridge rising behind a hillside caused us to stick our heads out the windows like a couple of terriers attempting to taste the wind.

First glimpse of the Golden Gate

And even though we didn’t plan, we were still able to hit many of the major tourist attractions.

We drove through the giant Redwood tree:

Redwood Drive Through

We embraced the culture of Fremont:

And we soaked in the famous San Francisco architecture:

San Francisco Architecture

It’s comforting to know that as long as I have my mind, I’ll never forget the barefoot, guitar-playing hippie who offered us pot not 3 minutes into our lunch stop in Arcata, California.  Or getting lost on the BART and ending up in The Castro (where the look-but-can’t-touch eye candy was excruciatingly palpable).  Or seeing Kurt Cobain’s old house in Seattle.

And after Lizeth flew home, I drove down the 101 to L.A. and absorbed the art and energy of Venice Beach.  I crashed on a friend’s couch in Phoenix and climbed Camelback Mountain.  (Okay, I only made it halfway – but it was Phoenix in July!  I don’t care of it’s a “dry heat” – 111-degrees F is HOT.)  I changed into shorts on the side of the road in the middle of the deserted desert when my a/c decided it’d had enough.  I got food poisoning in Albuquerque and had to sleep it off in my car at noon with the windows cracked.  I witnessed a red-hot sunset behind the Rockies, a lightning-riddled rainstorm between myself and the sun causing the colors to blur like a saturated watercolor painting.  Fireworks welcomed me into Colorado Springs later that evening, and I watched more from the deck of my great-aunt and uncle’s home, cocktail in hand, overlooking the Garden of the Gods and the rest of the city far, far below.

These things – these things that happened by chance will always resonate because I remember them the way they were – not the way they should have been.  And that’s why it’s okay that we still don’t have a flight.  We will.  When we do.

I’m not completely zen.  If I could leave a brick of stinky cheese under the airline’s mattress, I would.  But I can’t.

So, my friends, that is why I don’t plan.  I happen to like being a terrier with my head out the window.

Redemption Is Tasty Like Cupcakes

So I know the Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run is so last week’s news and right now you guys are probably rolling your eyes, wondering how much longer I plan to trot out that little anecdote every chance I get. 

Well, I’m here to tell you:  Not only am I trotting it out one more time, but I’m saddling it up and riding it off into the sunset, pardner.

‘Cause Chuckles just e-mailed me this:

That’s right, folks — the missing money shot has surfaced! 

Wait, there are more photos!  And despite the fact that they capture my stomach in all its pale translucent, deep-sea jellyfish-like glory, I must say I’m damn proud to show ’em off…

Seriously.  Wasn’t kidding about the mud in the mouth-hole.

Ha-HA!  I said.  That race was laughably easy for my superior skills!

My sneaky husband is being extremely coy about how he procured these shots but, judging by their low resolution, I’m going to go ahead and assume it was by nefarious, illegitimate means.  He does that sometimes, the lil’ scamp.

Nevertheless, I am finally able to prove to you all (and myself) that I ran it! 

My conscience is clear. 

My sins have been absolved. 

I have attained sweet, sweet redemption.

And now that I have closure, I am  ready to move on with my life and find other interesting topics to post about.  


Everyone Likes to Get Down & Dirty

So I mentioned yesterday that I ran my first 10K race in Philadelphia’s first annual Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run this past weekend.

However, in all the post-race chaos, I failed to snap a photo of Chuckles and me in all our dirty glory.  I wish I had the excuse of being on hardcore hallucinogenics at the time, but I don’t.  I just totally didn’t even think about it. 

I am, in the words of Napoleon Dynamite, a frickin’ idiot.

Anyway, despite being a total flake, I still pulled it together enough to take some candid photos of my fellow runners braving the mud pit.

And, man, do I love these people.

Everyone seemed to have a different strategy when it came to the mud pit. 

Some tackled the challenge head-on.


Some tried a more delicate approach. 

And some came prepared for whatever happened. 

Goggles.  Genius. 

Then there were those who got by with a little help from their friends.

While some required other forms of, uh, gentle encouragement? 

“You’re a very nice person!” this drill instructor was yelling.  “You’re also a snazzy dresser and I admire your haircut!”

 Basically, the moral of the story was this:  You either embraced gettin’ down & dirty. 

Or you didn’t.

But, it didn’t really matter.  Because, either way, you got down & dirty.   




After all, this wasn’t the “Merrell Clean & Sanitary Mud Run”.

This man had no sympathy for anyone, by the way.

And we all made it to the Finish line with smiles on our faces and mud in our teeth.

And the crowd goes WILD!

And, in the end, it was well worth the dirty running shoes. 

Or maybe not. 

But, hey, at least we got free burgers afterward.

And that’s all I need to call it a good day. 

Long live the Down & Dirty!