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The Not-So-Musical Fruit

So we had an interesting dinner experience the other night.

In an effort to save a little moolah and live more like the locals, we attempted to make rice and beans.

Well.  I’m sure this is something that turns out absolutely delicious for those who eat it regularly and have actual… you know… seasonings in their kitchens.  But I’ll spoil the ending to this little story by telling you that ours ended up tasting a little more like… um… how should I put this?  Paper.

Our very first problem was that I felt it was imperative that I took a nap immediately when we got home.  The “nap” turned into 3 hours, and I woke up at 5:00.  So what?  Even if it takes a couple of hours to cook, no big deal, right?


I first consulted Judy, our gracious host and excellent cook about how we should get started.  She explained how she puts the whole onion inside the rice cooker (it actually roasts while the rice cooks so you can just squeeze the onion out of its outer layers of skin when it’s done), along with some diced pepper, garlic, and “other things” – other things we most certainly did not have.  She was generous enough to give us several cloves of garlic and some celery leaves to throw on in, and luckily we already had an onion and red pepper.

She showed me how to sort through the beans and pick out anything that had split or any pieces of rock or cement that might have found its way into the bag during processing.  (Which I’m told is pretty standard.  You know, like bugs in your pasta.  Oh we haven’t told you about that?  It’s dee-lish.)  Luckily, we had a pretty good bag.  She then explained that they needed to sit in a pot of water for 2-3 hours to soften up prior to cooking.


That’s right, she informed my dumbfounded expression.  2-3 hours should do the trick. Ok, so that’s still not terrible – then maybe 20 minutes to cook and we can eat around 8:30, right?

Wrong again.

When I googled “how to cook dry black beans,” I learned that not only do you need to soak them for 2-3 hours, but the best way to cook them is at a low simmer for another 2 hours!

WTF.  It’s beans.  And rice.  But apparently it takes longer than Coq au Vin to make without the delicious indulgence of all the fat and calories.

So I went back to Judy, tail between my legs.  Um… may I please borrow your pressure cooker?

Sigh.  She had to come back over and show us how to use it without burning our faces off, but this drastically reduced the cooking time and eliminated the need for soaking them.  Just throw all our stuff in the pot, and a little while later, poof! Beans are cooked.

Meanwhile, the rice concoction smelled delicious.

By this point we were starving, so we threw it all into a bowl and hoped for the best.

And it actually looked halfway decent…

Rice 'n Beans

But the taste… Oh, the taste.  How do I say this?

There wasn’t one.

In a true moment of ingenuity, Erin suggested we sprinkle it with our salty plantain chips, which proved to be a VAST improvement.


Next time (har-har) we will be investing in some seasonings.  And I don’t think I ever want to try Judy’s rice and beans.  I would probably cry.

I spent the next morning walking around the yard reassessing this whole “budget” situation and trying to figure out whether we could afford to live off of boxes of macaroni and cheese for the next two months.

When I realized there’s no possible way, I felt frustrated for a second.

But only a second.

Because it’s really difficult to stay frustrated on a morning when – even with bland beans still percolating in my stomach – the world outside my bedroom looks like this:

Costa Rica Sunrise

And this.

Rice and beans?  What rice and beans?

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!

Strange New World

The world here is bleak and full of shadows.

Chile Pepper Row

The plants are foreign and creepy.

Chile Pepper Flower
Chile Peppers

And the beasts are ferocious and wild.

Wild Costa Rica Beast

Okay.  I haven’t taken the camera out much since we’ve been here, because:

a)  It’s kind of hard to take pictures with sweat dripping into your eyes.

b)  It’s kind of hard to take pictures when it’s raining outside.

c)  It’s kind of hard to take pictures when you’re already late to work and sweat is dripping into your eyes.

d)  Sometimes I like to see the world with my own eyes – sans sweat – before I try to capture any of it with a camera.

But yesterday our new boss asked me to take some photos of the farm – specifically black and white photos of chile peppers – that he can use for the company website and various marketing projects.  I definitely need some more practice, but for me it’s really difficult to capture the beauty here in black and white.  The color is the beauty.

So finally, for your viewing pleasure, you can see just a little of what Erin and I see every day.

This is part of the chile pepper patch, where they’re currently growing several different varieties of peppers:

Chile Pepper Farm

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that in neglecting to take the camera out our first day here, I may have missed my only opportunity to get a clear shot of the volcanoes that serve as the backdrop of our little town.  I can see them from the office window – WHEN they’re not obscured by clouds.

Here’s what it looks like on a clear day:

Chile Pepper Farm with Volcanoes

The peppers themselves are quite beautiful…

Chile Pepper

…as are their flowers before they bear fruit…

Chile Pepper Flower

…as well as the rows in which they’ve been planted.

Chile Pepper Row

And while the peppers don’t look bad in black and white…

There’s nothing more vibrant in my world right now than a red hot chile pepper.

Red Chile Pepper

Just Another Day at the Office

This is the planter outside the front door of our office.

Notice anything… unusual?



Big Snake


Big Costa Rica Snake

Is this our new office pet?

Office Snake

Because if it is, well… I might have a problem with this.

Giant Office Snake

Just a little.

Livin’ La Vida Costa

Well folks, as Katie mentioned earlier, we made it into Bagaces safe and sound despite our best efforts to get kidnapped and sold on the black market.

We showed up on our host family’s doorstep late Monday night exhausted, sweaty, and smelling like animals at the county fair.  And, for some reason, they still let us in.  Partly it’s because they’re the nicest people on Earth.  And partly it’s because they knew we wouldn’t last an hour out in the Costa Rican wilderness on our own.

There seems to be a vast assortment of wildlife just waiting for a couple of clueless gringas like us to try to befriend it–and, considering my appalling lack of survival instincts, I probably would’ve been mauled by parakeets and lizards by the time I reached the end of their driveway.

Anyway, we’ve been extremely busy since we got here (hence the embarrassing lack of posts from me) getting to know our gracious host family, learning what we’ll be working on while we’re here, scoping out the area, settling into our super-sweet digs, and maintaining a code-red level of alertness for all potentially sting-y/bite-y things.

So busy, in fact, that we haven’t really had time to take any pictures.  Gulp.

But we will.  And toot-sweet.  Promise.

In the meantime, you’ll have to settle for my first impression of Costa Rica, which is:  It’s beautiful, humid, breathtaking, unpredictable, buggy, wild, quaint, laidback, green, quiet, noisy, and rugged.

And here Katie and I are, living all up in the mix.

On any given day, we see birds and volcanoes and horses and cows and huge thunderstorms and green fields and dogs and friendly locals in old pick-up trucks who wave and honk hello as they nearly run us off the narrow dirt roads.  And that’s just on our mile-long walk to and from work.

Still, by far, the best commute than I’ve ever had.

It’s Hot as F*ck in Chile Town.

Well, crap.

So apparently we’re a lot more efficient at this travel business than anyone gave us credit for, because we ended up arriving in our host town a bit earlier than our host family expected us.  Apparently, they thought we’d get hung up in customs or at the bus station and have to hole up in San Jose for the evening.

But our dirty, sweaty selves made it in record time – thanks to the help of a couple friendly strangers and sheer luck.

We took a cab, plane, another plane, another cab, a bus and finally a truck to get here, but we are here.

After waking up at the ass-crack of dawn this morning (thanks east-coast time zone), we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and cup of excellent coffee overlooking some distant volcanoes, went on a tour of our new small town, were introduced to the other interns and employees here, grocery shopped in a nearby town, ate chicken burritos for lunch, and are finishing up the day doing some office tasks in an attempt to earn our keep.

I promise we will be sharing pictures soon.  But I actually have to take some first.  There’s been a lot to soak in.  And a lot soaked, period.  At one point today I thought I could wring out my shirt.  And no, it wasn’t raining.  But we did witness our first torrential downpour this afternoon, complete with sideways rain, nearby lightning strikes, and about a half-a-dozen mini power outages.  No one even blinked.

We’ve been overwhelmed, but excited.

Exhausted, but eager to learn.

Sweaty, but happy.

I’ve Got Baggage

Today we’re making the seven-hour road trip up to Maryland to see our dear friends Erin and Chuckles.  From there, Erin and I will fly to Costa Rica in a couple of days.  I’m all packed and ready to go (I think), and all I can do now is sit here twiddling my thumbs waiting for the hubs to get off work.


I think I’ve forgotten what that is…

All I know is that I’ve managed to squeeze my life into two bags.  My entire world, for 2 months, will look like this:

Travel Bags

For 2 months, these two bags will function as my closet, bathroom vanity, library, pharmacy, “home” office, and primary source of neck and shoulder pain.

As you can see, I have left no room for souvenirs.  That’s why they invented digital photography, memory cards, and the post office.

Packing light is not my forte.

Regardless, how do I feel about the fact that my life has been condensed to a couple of backpacks?

Pretty.  Damn.  Liberated.

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.

Recreational Equipment Impaired ®

Ok, I hadn’t planned on mentioning Saturday’s fateful episode because I’ve already done a few of those “Hah, how delightfully kooky I am!” kind of posts and I figured I’d better cool it on those for a while before you guys start thinking a typical day for me entails sobbing hysterically in the shower, scratching the eyes out of people in magazines, writing rambling letters to the President warning him that Wilford Brimley is trying to poison the local water supply, etc.

That’s strictly a Sunday thing.

I’m watching you, Quaker Oats man.

However, since Katie brought it up — with a little dramatic flair added for comedic value — I feel I should explain the situation so that my mother-in-law doesn’t have to worry that I’m going to snap under the stress of packing some day this week and go after her baby boy with a frying pan.

So, it went like this:  I drove to the REI in Rockville on Saturday for what started out as an entirely innocent errand to exchange a rain jacket I’d bought online for a smaller size.  The exchange went smoothly and that might’ve been the uneventful end to the most boring cocktail party story ever except, just as I was turning to leave, some dark, twisted thought sprang from the bowels (ew) of my mind.

Oh, what the hey, I thought to myself.  Shucks, since I’m here anyway, I might as well take a look around this here shoppin’ establerment and see if I there’s anything else I might could use.  Git ‘r done!  Earnhardt forever! Because, naturally, that’s how I talk in my head.

When I finally made it out of the store two and a half hours later, I imagine the parking lot surveillance cameras caught a wild-eyed, disheveled person who vaguely resembled me bursting through the front doors like I’d just been released from a 48-hour hostage situation, pausing just long enough to whip my head wildly left and then right, and then tearing off in a dead sprint across the parking lot without looking back.

For those unfamiliar with REI (which stands for “Recreational Equipment, Inc.”  Droppin’ knowledge like bombs!), it’s a national outdoor and sporting goods retail chain that supplies every conceivable brand and type of gear for the knowledgeable climbing, camping, mountain biking and general outdoors enthusiast.

Which, basically, translates to the seventh circle of hell for people like me.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I consider myself an outdoorsy person — I like to hike, camp, trail-run, mountain bike, eat possum, etc. — but me stepping foot into an REI is akin to someone who likes to read attempting to plow through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica series in one sitting.  You’re just in way over your head, my nerdy little friend.

The thing is, I’m not what you would call a “decisive” person.  If you give me two options, I will choose Option A, then change my mind and choose Option B.  Then change my mind again.  Then ask which one you’d choose.  Then try to listen to which option fate is telling me to choose.  Then make a list detailing the pros and cons of each option.  Then convert said list into a color-coded Excel bar graph.  Then, if given enough time, have a nervous breakdown.

So, it goes without saying that I don’t do well in scenarios where I’m given too many choices.  And, being a major retail chain, choices are what REI is all about.  So, being the person I am in the situation I was, I ended up spending half the day wandering aimlessly up and down each aisle (and possibly through part of the Men’s Big & Tall next door somehow) trying to discern the difference between 10 similar shiny packaged products, praying that someone would swoop in and save me from this private hell of personal freedom.

Every once in a while I’d see a busy store clerk bustle by, at which point I’d shuffle after him a safe distance, whimpering and holding out two items like a toddler asking to be picked up.

What is a ‘nonadjust Poly/Neoprene retainer’ and why is it trying to make me insane?

And on the rare occasion they actually stopped for me (and didn’t break into a jog after looking back and seeing my hungry eyes and quivering lip), here’s how the exchange typically went:

Me: Please.  I’m looking to buy a hydration bladder for my backpack.  Just tell me which one I should get.

Bearded, Teva-Wearing Store Clerk: Well, that depends.  How many liters is your pack’s capacity?  Is this for a technical daypack or a multiday excursion pack?  Does your pack have an internal frame or external?

Me: Um, see, it’s a backpack.  It’s about yea wide and yea big (hold my hands appropriate distance apart) and it goes on my back like this (mime putting on a backpack).

Bearded, Teva-Wearing Store Clerk: What capacity is the pack’s reservoir sleeve?  How many drink tube exit ports does it have?  What type of access port design are you looking for?

Me:  (Blink several times.  Maybe drool a little.)

Bearded, Teva-Wearing Store Clerk: Do you want a rigid or molded hydration bladder?  Made of rubber or flexible plastic?  Do you intend to use a water purification-adaptable system?

Me:  Lookie here, Brent.  I guess your carabiner key chain and your “Life is Good” T-shirt qualify you for some sort of Eagle Scout merit badge in smug condemnation, but I will not be suffering your crap today, my friend.  So just tell me what to get or I will rip off your stupid ponytail and make you eat it.

Okay, so that last part was in my head.  What I actually did was mutter something incoherent and then scuttle away like a crab.

So, by the time Katie called, I was a bit stressed out.  I mean, I was so confused and uncertain that I almost bought a fanny pack.  Fortunately, I regained my senses in the nick of time, paid for the few items I’d manage to decide upon, and got the hell out of there.

So, hopefully, explaining that episode has now put everyone’s mind at ease that I’m not a neurotic nutjob.

Wait.  I guess that really didn’t…

Aw, crap.