Sunday, July 22, 2012

Costa Rica (Part 1 of 3): Manuel Antonio National Park

After the overwhelming success of driving an RV around Arizona and Utah last summer, I suggested an encore for 2012 but was voted down.  Other destinations such as Florida, Northern California, Hawaii and even Alaska were debated but the consensus was it was time to leave the friendly confines of Uncle Sam.  We pulled out the atlas.  Mexico was considered and quickly dismissed. As we went further down the North American continent and over Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, we came to Costa Rica and the last stop before Americano de Sud.   Kieran has a friend in school who lived in Costa Rica and loved it.  I had a friend who vacationed there and loved it.  Sheila's nieces had both gone there recently and loved it.  So it was settled, then, we were off to Costa Rica.
One of the benefits of Big D is direct flights to many major cities and San Jose, CR was no exception.  We left on July 4th, foregoing fireworks and the most frustrating part of our journey occurred at the get-go when our incompetent cab driver could not find our house or the departures area at DFW.

We got into San Jose in the evening and did not see much any of the city but temperature wise it felt good to be out of the Dallas furnace and into the 80's, albeit a bit humid.  We grabbed a quick dinner at a soda and devoured the inevitable cosada of rice, beans, plantain and choice of meat.  It was bueno.  We stayed in Hotel Aranjuez, a quirky hotel in a relatively quiet residential part of San Jose.  The hotel is comprised of five adjoining houses (former residences) that have been combined over the years.  This leaves a veritable maze of interconnected hallways, alleys, dead-ends, courtyards, reading rooms, nooks etc.  The rooms were clean and comfy, the breakfast was awesome.  Tons of fruits, cereals and an accommodating omelet man. The breakfast setting is a leafy courtyard brimming with all kinds of crazy colorful flowers,  plants, and trees (including hummingbirds flitting about).  We were quickly being introduced to the fact that everything in CR is lush and green.
Senor Colibri @ Hotel Aranjuez
Behind the hotel.  Many of the houses in CR are small tin roofed affairs.
After breakfast we took a quick walk around the Aranjuez area - mainly to see the local church.  At 10am our shuttle to Manuel Antonio arrived promptly.  Our driver, Cesar, was to be a constant as we traversed the country and he was a great guide, friendly and knowledgeable.  He was quick to point out things we would have otherwise missed and had very good English but was also willing to work with Fiona on her Spanish. The drive from San Jose to Manuel Antonio was uneventful, other than the opportunity to see the giant croc's at Tarcoles and partake in eating some of endless varieties of native fruit from an adjacent roadside mercado.
These beasts were about 12 foot long

We could never remember the name of this fruit (not Fiona). When we opened it up it was like a plum without the skin -  so we called them "eye-balls".  They were delicioso.
Coconut(s) drink(ing)

Manuel Antonio is a small but renowned national park halfway down the country on the Pacific side.  We stayed literally 100 yards from the park and about 400 yards form the public beach.  Since we arrived in the afternoon, we hit the town beach first, saving the park for the next morning.  The beach was nice but busy, with lots of natives hawking chairs, umbrellas, drinks, horseback rides, etc.  The sand was great and the water near perfect.  Dinner that night was at El Avion, a restaurant built around a Fairchild C-123 plane.  Its claim to fame?  It was one of two planes involved in the whole Iran-Contra scandal from the 1980's (remember Oliver North?) and this one ended up being abandoned in San Jose and in 2000 moved to MA. Food was meh, view was awesome, historical setting kind of cool.
I'll have the Sandinista Special
Next morning we were rudely awakened at 5am by the raucous antics of Howler Monkeys in the jungle behind the hotel.  We could not see them but such a racket you never heard.  We scarfed down a mediocre hotel breakfast and tackled Manuel Antonio National Park at 7am and within minutes it lived up to its billing.  Sloths, Capuchins monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, Iguanas, huge butterflies, spiders, etc. all come at you.  The trees were huge and the dense lush jungle goes right down to the beaches.  And the beaches.  They were the epitome of paradise.  White fine sand, turquoise water, hardly anyone there.  It was like Eden, only better.  Our admission was only good for one day but we met several tourista's who planned on going again and again.  It really is that spectacular.

Various images from inside Manuel Antonio National Park
We left the park by mid-afternoon and signed up for an evening boat tour of the mangroves which allowed even more close-up's of the mono's and snakes.  And of course the mangroves, which somehow survive the brackish estuary water, perched high on roots that seem like stilts.   After another cosado, we retired to our hotel exhausted.  The CR sun goes down by 5.30pm so by 9pm it felt like bed time and we knew the Howlers would be at "it" what ever "it" was, at 5am the next day.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hang 'em high

On more than a few weekends this summer Kevin and I have arisen before it gets too hot and embarked on what has come to be known as the "20 Mile Bike Ride".  Passing through some of the prettier parts of Southlake, Westlake, Roanoke and Keller, we hustle out early and get home by 9am.

Along the route and of particular interest is the Roanoke IOOF Cemetery, which opened for business in 1897 and is still doing trade, sadly mostly infants apparently.  IOOF stands for Independent Order of Oddfellows, an order I never heard of but per Wikipedia (the definitive source for all truth...) has lodges worldwide and counts Charlie Chaplin and Wyatt Earp as members.  Now that would be a fun meeting with those two.  The IOOF's creed to "visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan."  Sounds like a solid plan.

Most remarkable about the Roanoke IOOF Cemetery is that an alleged horse thief was hung and buried here in 1906.  That is how they did it back then.  If they as much as thought you stole the hoss, they hung ya.  Better yet, to save time, the hanging was done IN the cemetery - maybe even over an open grave to save further effort.  And that is how they used to do things in Tejas.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Concert Review: Merle Haggard

A subtitle could be "Tonight The Hag Let Me Down".  His visit to Billy Bob's in Fort Worth came about a week after a good documentary on Haggard was shown on PBS and one night after a friend of mine seen him in Austin and proclaimed him legendary.  His status is undoubtedly cemented - he is one of the stalwarts of "old" country music.  But at 75, it might be time to hang it up.  Maybe it was the venue, the crowd or the sound but the performance was flat and dull.

Sure he played the hits like "Okie from Muskogee", "Fighting Side of Me", "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" but it was a 60 minute performance with limited banter and no encore.  I get the feeling Merle was counting the gate and figuring out how much alimony he took in - he is on wife # 5 after all.  Speaking of the current Mrs H; she is in the band, along with two daughters and a son.  Just too bad they couldn't put on more of a "show".

I never did get to see Cash.  But I can say I have seen Willie and now the Hag.  And Willie was way better.