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Karaoke vs. Popped Collars: A Cultural Debate

Here’s a little Saturday morning SAT logic problem for all you brainiacs out there:

Costa Rica : Karioke :: America : _________

A. Popped collars

B. Justin Bieber

C. Bicycle shorts worn by anyone not presently competing in the Tour de France.

D. Metrosexuality

E. The Deep-Fried Twinkie

Here’s a hint:  It’s a trick question.

The answer is F: All of the above.  They are all awful, disturbingly rampant phenomena in the U.S. from which there is literally no possible escape.  Just as karioke is in Costa Rica.

Every weekend, all the hardworking Ticos and Ticas of Bagaces flood the five bars in our small town to take turns belting out played-out 80’s ballads and mournful Spanish songs about lost loves and painful memories and, for some inexplicable reason, cats.

Yeah, we couldn’t figure that one out, either.

And these people don’t just sing.  They sing.  They shut their eyes tightly, clutch the microphone and sway their hips.  They pump their fists and lean into the high notes like they are possessed by the vengeful ghost of Celine Dion.

My bad, Celine.  I hadn’t seen you since the early 90s, so I just assumed you were dead.

They have absolutely zero qualms about publicly displaying a level of raw, unharnessed emotion that most Americans would be embarrassed to show in the privacy of their own closets.

And while it’s not always pretty—okay, 95% of the time it sounds like this:

–even then, Costa Rica’s love affair with karioke is still far less offensive than any of the above-mentioned phenomena we’re forced to bear helpless, silently screaming witness to in America.

Allow me to elaborate:

… I rest my case.

And you can’t really blame the Ticos because it’s not like they’re out blowing off a week’s worth of steam by crushing 15 beers, getting into violent fisticuffs with traffic signs and puking in the backs of cop cars.

They’re just happy to be here, peacefully doin’ their thang.

And if their thang is belting out an off-key rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to a crowd of strangers every Friday and Saturday night, so be it.

Just pass me a beer and the mike.

Nothing Says “I Care” Like a Kitty Cat Doormat

Last weekend our friend Karla took Erin and me to the beach.  Two beaches, to be exact – Playa del Coco and Playa Hermosa.

As with most car trips, I found the time on the road to be half the fun.

I love taking photos from a moving vehicle.

Costa Rica Countryside

When we got there, we saw that Coco is an adorable little beach community absolutely packed with souvenir shops.

Playa Coco

We arrived with the intention of buying a couple small gifts for friends and family – though, I never understood why anyone would really want a token from somewhere they’ve never been.  But it’s apparently a “nice thing to do” so we set out to do it.

Honestly, we did.

But it turns out there was a slight problem with the souvenir selection at Coco Beach.

At first glance it seemed there were plenty of cute dangly earrings from which to choose.  The problem?  They were the same in every shop, which indicated they were probably imported from Nicaragua.

And we all know it’s impossible to pick out sunglasses for other people.

Sunglasses Galore

(Though it turns out Erin is quite talented at picking them out for me.)

Crazy Big Sunglasses

And once we ruled out earrings, t-shirts and sunglasses, we were really at a loss.  The rest of the souvenirs at Coco Beach are, it turns out, heinously hideous at worse and insanely tacky at best.

What do you think, mom?  Didn’t you just tell me you were looking for a giant rooster statue?

Make your guests feel welcome by setting him on your front step in lieu of a boring old welcome mat.

Or if you’re looking for something a little more travel-friendly, there’s always the one that hasn’t quite finished hatching.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…

And if poultry isn’t your taste, there’s always naked statues.

Naked Limbless Statues

My, what nice abs you have.

And not-so-naked statues.

Weed People

Yeah mon.

And  of course, the copulating couples.

And now for position #179…

My, were there copulating couples.

Apparently they couldn’t be bothered to remove their skirts.

I can’t help but be impressed with their balancing skills.

If you want something a little more National Geographic, you could always go with one of these:

She does NOT look like she’s having a good time.

Don’t worry – I can help you find a bra with the right support and comfort to perk those babies back up.

(Yeah, because we all know THAT’S realistic.)

Not into people or poultry?  No worries, they have plenty of other animals, too.

OMG, I’ve been LOOKING for a red-vested monkey!

I already have this doormat.  In tabby.

I think this monkey might be stoned.

And the art… well the art is just exquisite.  I didn’t find anything to add to my “collection,” but I definitely enjoyed looking.

Ladies, doesn’t this look like something you had hanging in your room in the 80’s?  Minus the boobies, of course…

And this guy totally would’ve been going home with me in the 90’s.

Okay, now here is where you may want to turn away.

I know, I know.  I didn’t warn you before the creepy half-hatched rooster egg or the blowjob pipe.  That’s because those things were small potatoes compared to this.


The following image is – by far – one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen.

So don’t scroll any further if you don’t want to have nightmares.

I mean it!

Last warning…

Okay here goes:

What is it??!!

I’m sorry I didn’t get a closer shot, but I was worried it would jump out of the frame and peck off my face.

What would possess someone to paint something like this?

Is this how the artist views women?

Maybe it’s a portrait of his ex wife…

Can you imagine actually buying this thing?  Oh yes… that would look just PERFECT on the living room mantel.  Or better yet, above the bed!  You know, because there’s nothing like a large-breasted naked veiny chicken to put me in the mood.

I will never look at a chicken the same way again.

The things we did like were pretty pricey and would’ve cost even more to ship home.

Like this funky mirror:

Or these pretty chimes:

Or this ornately carved chair, complete with butt print:

Needless to say, we didn’t end up buying anything.  Oh well, I guess my photos will be souvenir enough.  Because friends and family love looking at my vacation pictures, right?


After exploring the cavernous shops at Coco, we drove on to Hermosa to spend a relaxing afternoon on the beach.

The weather was perfect.

Exactly what we needed.

We even made a friend.

Here’s to another day in paradise.

Costa Rica Critter #3

Okay, remember this little incident?

We were only on our first or second day at work when we realized it was perfectly normal for someone to show up at the office with a giant freakin’ SNAKE in tow.

This is why it came as no particular surprise when Derby showed up the other day with something quite interesting in his hand.

Costa Rica Scorpion

Something any normal person would not want to carry in his BARE-ASS hand.

Big-ass Scorpion

That’s right, my friends.  It’s a scorpion.

It’s a live scorpion.

And no, I did not ask him to flip it over so I could get a better shot.

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.

Tasting the Local Flavor

I’ve told you before about how I’ve been craving certain foods from back home, right?

Well it seems I have a problem.

I realized today that when I go home, it’s almost certain that I’m going to crave certain foods from Costa Rica.

You see, every now-and-then Erin and I splurge on a meal at a restaurant.  And after watching some bull riding yesterday (more on that to come), we craved nothing more than a couple of beers and some patacones at one of our favorite restaurants in Bagaces.


Patacones.  (Pat-a-cone-ays.)

Basically, they’re fried plantains.  Plantains are very similar to bananas.

Costa Rica Patacones

No, they’re not served with chocolate.  That black stuff you see is actually frijoles molidos – a type of refried black bean.

Hey – don’t knock ’em ’till you try ’em.

You spread the frijoles molidos over the patacones, and then you top it all with this slightly salty white shredded cheese.

Patacones con frijoles molidos y queso



Oh, and let me take a moment to point this out:

Salsa Lizano is a Costa Rican condiment that is commonly found on restaurant tables and in refrigerators all over the country.  We have a bottle (or two) in ours, and we will likely have several bottles in our backpacks upon our departure.

Anyone know the export rules for Lizano?  Anyone?

And speaking of mmmmm….

Erin and I each ordered fish tacos at the beach on Saturday.

Much to our surprise, they were fried!

Fried Fish Taco

I can’t say this surprise was unpleasant.  Although my arteries would probably disagree.  Especially because they drizzled Costa Rica’s infamous mixture of mayo and ketchup all over the top.  And of course, you can’t forget the cabbage.


Karla just ordered a boring old burger.

Costa Rica Beach Lunch

But even that, paired with an ice-cold local brew, can’t be beat on a hot day at the beach.

Costa Rica Bavaria Dark

Ironically, the one type of food I will probably miss the most is not even technically from Costa Rica.  It’s the ingenious invention of Aaron and Becs, and let me just say…. holy craptastic, batman!

They call them torti burguesas, which basically translates to grilled burgers wrapped in tortillas.

Oh, but that’s not all.

Add to them some cream cheese, crispy bacon, caramelized onions and a slice of cheddar on top, then bake them in the oven, and you have a tailgater’s wet dream.

I really, really wish I had a finished picture of these.  I do.  But I only thought to bring my camera on the day we made torti salchichas, one of my all-time favorite foods (hot dogs) done up torti burguesa-style.

*Warning:  If you’re not a big fan of meat – especially of the hot dog variety – you may want to skip the next couple of photos.

First the boys grilled up a bunch of hot dogs.

Bowl of hot dogs

Then they put the tortis together assembly-line style.  A dab of cream cheese, hot dog pieces, caramelized onion, and a bit of crumbled bacon.  They may have sprinkled a few crunchy Cheetos in there for fun, but we can’t be sure.

crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese, cheetos

Finally, they wrapped ’em up and stuck ’em on a baking sheet with a slice of cheddar cheese on top and popped them in the oven.

And when they came out… wow.

Worth every single one of the 52,876 calories.

Okay, okay – 52,877 calories when dipped in Aaron’s homemade ranch.

But who’s counting?

Costa Rica Critter #2

Look, dude.  I have something to tell you.

You’re not gonna like it, but it needs to be said.

You know that whole… camouflage thing you have going?

Yeah… it’s not really working for you.

Hey – don’t get offended.  I’m just trying to be honest with you.  If I can’t be honest about this, then what can I be honest about?

You know, you always do this.  I say something just the least bit critical and you get all defensive.  Did you ever stop to think that just maybe I want what’s best for you?  For us?

Ok, fine.  Just walk away.  It’s what you do best.

Hey… where’d you go?

Not cool, dude.  Not cool.

Cemented In Time

I hate to admit it, but I have a routine.

I hate to admit it because part of the reason I came to this place was to get away from a routine and live a little.

But as much as I wanted to get away from regime, there are two things here I cannot not do every morning.

One is something I did before:

katie's sugar

Except now it looks like this:

But the other is something new.

I wake up almost every day at 5:30 a.m. here.  I’m not sure why – I think Erin is to blame.  But the first time I did it, I went straight to the window to make sure we were really… you know… here.

And this is the sight that greeted me:

View out window

Not too shabby, huh?

It’s no wonder I now routinely find myself walking to the window and peering through the curtains every. single. morning.

We’re not exactly roughing it here.

Take a closer look:

Notice anything unusual about the cement around the pool?

We discovered shortly after arriving that Gifford and Judy have a very unique way of remembering their house guests and interns.

The entire patio is surrounded by these.

Cement Signatures
Cement Designs and Hand Prints

They’ve been doing this since the early 90’s.

And for some reason, when the sun decided to show itself last Friday, they decided to include us!

Donovan was in charge of adding the date for our group of interns.  Turns out this was a lot of pressure.

Contemplating Cement Design

The rest of us dug on in…

And Donovan got started eventually…

I think we all felt pretty good about being commemorated pool-side when we were done, and we learned a little bit more about each other in the process.

Like Erin enjoys symmetry:

And I apparently lack spatial recognition skills:

And Matteo has gigantic feet:

And Robert has really nice handwriting:

And Donovan?  Well Donovan takes a really, really long time to draw in cement.

Maybe someday I will be able to come back for a visit and still see our legacy by the pool.

But even if I don’t, I’ll know it’s there.

And maybe routines aren’t so bad, after all.

What starts as routine can inspire traditions that reach back generations.

And, perhaps even more impressive, my new routine imbues in me the desire to greet each day with a touch more enthusiasm…

a bit more inspiration…

and yes, just a pinch of caffeine.

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.

Costa Rica Critter #1

We have seen all kinds of cool critters here in Costa Rica.  And we’ve even managed to get pictures of a few of ’em.

You’ve most likely already seen the kind I’m showing you today – I know I have.  But the thing that makes these different here is that there are swarms of them.  They’re everywhere.  All I had to do was hold still long enough in one spot and wait for one to land.


I love dragonflies.  I think they’re absolutely beautiful.  And this one was no exception.  Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that they eat mosquitoes, which practically makes them my best friends.

As promised, Erin will share the rest of our weekend adventures later today.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

After over a week and a half of nonstop Noah’s Ark-style rain, the sun finally came out to play over the weekend, and Katie and I were hellbent on soaking up every single second of it.

Our original gameplan was to take off to the beach since we hadn’t yet been despite the fact that we’ve lived here for over a month.  (And, yes, we’re well aware of how pathetic that is.  Thank you.)  However, our ride fell through at the last minute leaving us high and dry without anything to do on a beautiful Saturday, so, naturally, we decided to horn in on the guys’ plans.

Remember these knuckleheads?

Homesick for some authentic American grub, Aaron, JJ and Matt had done some internet sleuthing and found a Tex-Mex restaurant located a few towns over.  Their plan was to spend the afternoon there watching college football, talking smack, giving each other noogies and whatever else guys do when chicks aren’t around.

Fortunately, they let us tag along and after an easy 45-minute drive through scenic countryside to the town of Tilaran, we found ourselves at 5 Corners Grill, a beachy little gem of a restaurant situated on a hill overlooking sprawling Lake Arenal.  Once there, we proceeded to spend the next six hours gorging ourselves on burgers and beer and hanging out with Jason and Cindy, the amazingly cool Austin, TX, couple who owns the joint.

A candid shot of Jason.  Cindy was wily enough to dodge me.

Despite having been open for less than a year, 5 Corners has a comfortable, well-established quality and loyal following of friendly regulars, many of whom are ex-pats themselves.  From the open-air patio bar with live trees growing right through the floor…

…to the Chicken Shit Bingo (which is exactly what you’re imagining it is) board and live scorpion on display in the breezeway…

I assume they put this down your pants and make you dance around for 10 minutes if you try to leave without paying.

…to the small garden and chicken coop located out back and assortment of squirmy, wiggly, disgustingly cute puppies of varying sizes and shapes milling about the premises, there is no shortage of interests to hold your attention.

Don’t get us wrong–Katie and I have been thoroughly enjoying the Costa Rican experience, but we had to admit that the smattering of Longhorns and Dallas Cowboys paraphernalia decorating the windows and good ol’ fashioned burger and fries were a pleasantly familiar taste of home sweet home.

This burger made my toes curl.  Don’t even ask what the bananas foster for dessert did to me.

By the end of the day, we were a few colones lighter, a few pounds heavier, and a few anecdotes richer (stay tuned, more on that tomorrow).

For anyone who happens to be passing through Tilaran or visiting the Lake Arenal area, I highly–highly–recommend this place.  No need to even thank me.

Just ship me a burger.