Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lots of agua, but not yet Managua, in Nicaragua

We are now in lovely volcano-covered Nicaragua. As in most countries we have visited, the people are very nice for the most part. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Latin America, and that shows mostly in the number of people who come up to us on the street asking for money. In general, they have been more aggressive here than other countries. Rooms and tours are cheap, but food is surprisingly expensive compared to other countries in the region. Now for some pictures:

Tara was enthralled with the Nicaraguan sunsets, which would have been nicer without the city wires, but it still looks nice. This is from outside a church in Rivas, which has a colony of parrots nesting in the church. They are really cool, but so loud that I have no idea if anyone hears the priest speaking.
Most of Nicaragua seems to celebrate one or more religious festivals on any given night. Some of them have accompanying rides. In Rivas, they had a ferris wheel that went backwards at about 5 times the speed of a normal ferris wheel. And the whole thing looked like it was built out of extra scrap metal in someone's yard. This meant you felt like you were falling each time you went around. It was a lot of fun, and we were happy to have survived.

We traveled by boat to Ometepe, an island in Lake Nicaragua that is the largest lake island in the world. It was created by two erupting volcanoes. This is the smaller of the two covered in clouds.

This is the ferry that we took to Ometepe. We don't have a picture of the boat that we took back, but it was half the price of this one and looked like it was built of popsicle sticks. This one was very full going to the island. For some reason, the boat that could barely float on the way back was almost empty...

We didn't realize it, but the devil apparently lives at the bottom of this lake in Ometepe. According to local tradition, if you want to make a Faustian deal with the devil (and a lot of people apparently do), you go to this lake in the night and talk to him. They have many local stories about people who suddenly became rich or powerful after taking trips there.

In Ometepe, we went swimming in a nice large pool filled by natural springs. Here, Tara tried to show off her diving skills and I agreet to take a picture underwater of her entrance. As it turns out, Tara dives much like a cat would. Arms and legs pointed down and entering first and then the belly hits. I was laughing too hard to take the picture right as she went under, but here is one a second later.

We took maybe a half dozen underwater pictures. In this one, we agreed to keep our eyes open and stick out our tongue. Somehow, Tara configured her face to look like a diseased gnome.

This is a view of the pools, advertised as natural pools. Many things on our journeys have been advertised as natural, which translates to "slightly more natural looking than a cement block". It was very nice, though.

At the pool, we saw this lizard. It sat still just long enough for me to snap a shot, but not long enough for me to get the better camera.

We also saw these birds, which the locals apparently hate because they eat the crops. We thought they were terrific. Look at the crown on its head. We plan to introduce them to New York in hopes that they supplant pigeons.

Also on Ometepe, the natives there used to build huge statues. Not Easter Island size or anything, but bigger than life size. This was apparently a likeness of a king. This is clear because he is looking straight ahead. Everyone else has to look at the king's feet.

The primary method of transport for most of Nicaragua (and much of Panama) is old school buses. Some are painted, but many look just like the yellow Blue Bird specials that delivered me to school each day as a kid.

While sitting in an internet cafe one night, we heard what sounded like an explosion. Then a band. Then saw a float coming by. Part of a random religious procession, but they had a full marching band leading the way. That's the virgin on the back of the float. They really, really like the Virgin Mary here.

This is the larger volcano of Ometepe when the clouds cleared for a moment. This is considered the most dangerous volcano in Nicaragua because it is active, due for an eruption, and the 30,000 or so people on the island are sitting ducks if it erupts.

Tara took this picture in an attempt to Jew up Nicaragua since Adonai is one of the names for god in Judaism. Truth be told, I suspect the Jewish population of Nicaragua is a donut. (For more on donuts, see Tara's food post.)

At the market in Masaya, they had these colorful piggybanks stacked up for sale. Not sure who buys them, but they looked so nice all piled up.

In Masaya, we went to see some folk dancing. All the local professional dancers perform every week. Tough to take pictures in the dark, but you might be able to see here that most of them have these huge dresses that they have to hold the whole time they dance. One of the traditional dances is somewhat Halloween like and everyone wears crazy outfits. Really funny since they can't really see out of the masks and frequently collide.

We went to Masaya Volcano, which actually has five different craters, one of which is currently active. This cross was erected by an early Spanish missionary in hopes that it would stop the local people from sacrificing women and children to the volcano. Not surprisingly, it didn't work.

Here we are by the active crater. The smell of sulfur is definitely strong there. We didn't see them, but there are parakeets that live right down in the toxic fumes.

One more shot near the active crater. You can see how the crater falls off. We couldn't see any lava--just lots of steam. The last eruption in 2001 was a small one, but threw up lots of rocks that destroyed many of the cars in the parking lot, but no deaths. The signs warn you to hide under your car in the event of an eruption.
This crater is no longer active, but was responsible for one of the largest eruptions in Nicaragua's history. It is right across from the active crater, so it certainly isn't impossible that it could blow again someday. Fortunately, it didn't the day we were there.

Two cities in Nicaragua were historically the most powerful: Granada and Leon. Managua was the compromise capital between the two. Both are nice colonial cities. Then you find out that they have both been destroyed and rebuilt about a half dozen times, with both being in really bad shape after the civil war that ended in 1979. Here is a shot of Granada.

Here is a closer shot of the church. About as colonial looking as it gets.

From Granada, we took a kayaking trip around the 365 small Granada Islands in Lake Nicaragua. Well, we didn't see them all, but a lot of them. The current trend if you own one of these islands is to sell it to a dumb American willing to pay a minimum of $100,000, so if you have some spare money and want to buy one, they are available. Here is Tara in her kayak.

This is a tiny fort built on one of the islands to defend against lake pirates! That's right, Lake Nicaragua is so big that it historically had a ton of pirates who would show up, burn Granada to the ground, and loot everything in sight. So, they built this fort that apparently saw a lot of action and had to be rebuilt several times. I wonder if lake pirates were laughed at by ocean pirates. Are you a real pirate if you sail around a lake?

If you are a lake pirate, you only get a parakeet rather than a full sized parrot. Arrgh!

And there we have the first half of Nicaragua. More to come.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A short trip through Costa Rica

Okay, we ran through Costa Rica in only two days because we were there a couple years ago. So, here are the Costa Rica pictures from this trip along with a few "best of¨pictures from a couple years ago.

They had some really nice bus stops in Costa Rica. Here is Tara waiting on a bus north. I took this standing on the beach. Thought about going for a swim while waiting, but it was only a few minutes until our bus left.
For our one outting in Costa Rica, we went to a beach in Uvita. We walked about an hour (our book said the beach was just outside of town...) and then ended up at a national park entrance where we had to pay. So, we bit the bullet and paid the $6 each. We later found out a free beach existed, but it was nice to be two of the three people on a couple miles of beach.
Walking along the road we found a turtle trying to cross. We helped him get across, but he didn't want to return the favor an pose for us. So, we ate him for dinner. Just kidding. We left him to be on his way.
On the beach, we found a nice tiny sand dollar. If we could have gotten a real dollar for it, we would have sold it, but we couldn't.
I won the picture contest for getting closest to a crab. They are really fast. Tara wondered how I got so close to this one when she couldn't get nearly as close. I shouldn't have told her it was dead...
On the way back from the beach, the sun was raging and I was burning, so I covered my head. Later, it got windy, so, at Tara's suggestion, I kept the towel on my head with a pair of swimming goggles. Fortunately, no pictures exist of that.In Uvita, we stayed in a cute little cabin. I look like a doll in a doll house in this picture. Well, except that dolls don't normally have sweat stained clothing.
This sunset from Quepos was a great one since it had been raining about five minutes before. Nice photo, Tara.
Okay, now a few from the past. This first one is a quetzal, considered the most beautiful bird around unless Tara and I are in the forest. This was at Monte Verde Cloud Forest, through a scope.
A nice pic of us on the way to Corcovado National Park. Aren't we cute? We should get married. Oh, right, did that.
Some hummingbirds at the feeder. They like sugar almost as much as I do.
Ready to glide through the canopy like monkeys. Monkeys attached to a couple wires, but monkeys nonetheless.
Lastly, this guy came out to see us one night while Tara cowered in fear in a corner.
Okay, that's all for Costa Rica past and present. I don't have any pictures from the future, or I would share.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A taste of (the) America(s)--Foods of Panama and Costa Rica

Considering that we spent a week in Panama and only two days in Costa Rica, this post will be heavily skewed toward Panamanian foods. Which, it turns out, thanks to its long history of close ties with the United States, often strongly resemble American foods. (But not always!)

One of the first things we bought on our first morning in Panama City were batidos, or fruit smoothies, from one of the many blender-filled stalls on the street that was whizzing them up fresh for passers-by. Many Latin American countries have batidos, but Panama's stood out for 1) being cheap and 2) having the secret ingredient of a dash of vanilla extract thrown in. (The other ingredients were fruit, evaporated milk, ice, and a few spoons of sugar.) My favorite was papaya and my spouse's favorite was banana, though the peach and pineapple ones we tried weren't bad, either! Sadly, we have no pictures of said batidos, which came in not-very-photogenic (or environmentally-friendly) styrofoam cups.

On to the foods we do have pictures of!

Andy's "second breakfast"--a grape sno cone. Again, sno cones are not uncommon in Latin America, but Panama's were cheap (25 to 30 cents) and came in all of Andy's favorite flavors: His third breakfast that day was a pineapple sno cone and his fourth breakfast was a mint one.

Panama had a different treat in store for me...lots of different kinds of yogurt! Even including some locally-produced, preservative-free ones with crazy creative flavors--here I am about to try a papaya-melon-pistacio yogurt. It wasn't quite as amazing as the label made it sound, but still pretty fun.

Andy and I went out to dinner on our first night in Panama City. I was excited that the local beer cost just $1...

...and Andy was excited that we got free tap water at our table! Panama is the very first country we have been to that apparently felt confident enough in the quality of its tap water to serve it freely at restaurants, American-style. Being usually disgustingly sweaty and thirsty by dinnertime, we enjoyed this perk immensely.

Peanut M&Ms! Another yummy piece of America that was newly available/affordable in Panama. Only 65 cents, less than I'd pay for a pack from a streetside vendor in NYC.

In the Colon free zone, we took a break from searching for a new camera to eat pancakes. Yup, good old American-style pancakes, with good old fake-maple, Aunt Jemima-like syrup, sold from a street vendor (of course) at the rate of two fluffy ones for 90 cents.

That morning on the fancy tourist train, we had received some complimentary snack boxes, filled with American-style treats like Pringles and sandwich cookies. Also included were some mint sucking candies, and I gave mine to Andy because I hate mints.

Hours later, I noticed that Andy's tongue was bright blue. Since we thought we had eaten all the same foods all day, we had to wracked our brains for a good 10 minutes trying to figure out what could possibly have turned it that color, before I finally remembered that he had eaten one of the icky mints.

I' ve already posted this picture, but I think it bears repeating. It is hard to overstate Andy's joy at discovering that that American institution and his favorite restaurant of all time, Dairy Queen, has seven branches in Panama City. When we finally spotted one in the distance at the bus station food court on our second day in town, Andy practically ran over some poor little Panamanian who had the misfortune of standing in between Andy and his DQ.
Two more things that Andy loves are smoked things and cashews, so when we found these packets of smoked cashews at the supermarket in Panama, we had to try them. Turns out that they were not actually smoked, just covered in a crumbly, smoke-flavored coating. Not terrible, but not worth the $0.99 we paid for each packet. (And it turns out they were imported from Brazil, btw.)

Moving on to the purely Panamanian, but completely inedible, here are some fun palm fruits that were hanging off a tree along Pipeline Road where we went birding. I was just testing out the super-zoom on the new camera with this shot. (Conclusion: Pretty super.)

On to Boquete, a cool-climated, flower-filled highlands town in Panama that I really liked. In part because I could sit in the garden outside of our hostel room and eat tutti-frutti flavored yogurt (70 cents) with a fresh granola bar (75 cents) from the bakery around the corner crumbled into it. Ah, breakfast bliss!

Andy's breakfast one morning in Boquete from the local "Central Park" cafe: A fried pancake, a slab of smoked beef, and a hash brown, all for less than $2.

For a small town, Boquete sure had a lot of Mexican restaurants! (A trend we are noticing more and more as we continue north through Central America.) We ate dinner at one, and Andy got a dish called something like "carne in su jugo" (meat in its juice), which actually turned out to be more like a black bean soup with some beef and bacon in it and tortillas on the side. Pretty tasty.

On our second morning in Boquete, I stupidly let Andy convince me to try a new type of yogurt he found on the shelf (though considering it was locally-made and cheap, I might have tried it anyway if I had noticed it). It looked like it had fruit on the bottom, but that turned out instead to be jello. Ew! Jello is disgusting. Who would contaminate lovely yogurt with nasty jello? I stuck to the national Panamanian brands after that.
Panama was the first country we had been to in a long time that had fresh milk on the supermarket shelves, rather than just Parmalat and powdered milk. Another American-style perk we greatly enjoyed. We didn't have cups, so Andy taught me how to drink straight from the carton (yes, I had a sheltered childhood and had never done that before).

At that same breakfast, we enjoyed some foraged fruit that Andy had collected the day before. He found the orange under a tree at a garden we visited and the guava at the side of the road somewhere, I think.

The guava only yielded about one bite of edible fruit for each of us, but it was tasty.

I didn't enjoy our muddy hike up a hill near Boquete that day, but I did enjoy these fresh blackberries picked from a bush alongside the trail!

And I enjoyed these fresh raspberries even more. Yum, berries! Panama was the first place in a while where I had seen berries growing as well as your more standard tropical fruits.

Speaking of tropical fruits, this is a naranjilla, which I believe only grows in Panama and maybe a handful of other countries. Our hiking guide said that the flesh looks like a tomato, but tastes like an orange. Or maybe it was the opposite...

My reward for hiking all day (and falling on my butt in the mud twice)--fresh kiwi ice cream! Just 50 cents at another local panaderia called the Shalom Bakery. (We thought that this might be a kosher bakery, but we were wrong, I guess they just liked the name. So much for trying to Jew it up in Boquete!)

Dinner that night was at a local pizzeria recommended by our hiking guide. The standard pizza came with your choice of four toppings, so we got three types of meat and...peaches. Hey, they were on the toppings list, right alongside pineapples and melon! We were a little wary, but the combo actually turned out to be quite tasty.

The backyard of our hostel in Boquete had some fruit trees, including one bearing these cherry-like fruits. We didn't eat any and still aren't sure what they are. Any guesses?
On to Costa Rica! The first thing we got were a couple of empanadas at a bus station near the border. Turns out that all empanadas in Costa Rica are very fried, and that the breading is made of cornmeal, which makes eating an empanada kind of like eating a gigantic, stuffed tortilla chip. Greasy, but tasty. (This particular empanada was stuffed with chorizo and fried rice--we'd also never had an empanada with rice in it before. Pretty good.)

Costa Rican restaurants are expensive, so we bought some groceries and made most of our own meals during our two days there. My first dinner consisted of roll-ups of corn tortillas and avocado slices sprinkled with a little salt. Here's a glamor shot, pre-roll.

Andy made a couple of peanut butter and jelly tortilla roll-ups before digging into this bucket of Dos Pinos ice cream. Dos Pinos is the big dairy conglomerate in Costa Rica, and you see their trucks and their products everywhere. We remembered this well from our first trip to Costa Rica in 2007.

Another product we remembered quite fondly was the Tropical line of "juices"...really mostly sugar-water with a small percentage of fruit, but so refreshing and tasty. It was HOT in the beach town of Uvita where we stayed on our first night in CR, and we downed this bottle of mixed-fruit Tropical rather quickly.

In Costa Rica, I was happy to return to a country that sold big bottles of drinkable yogurt. Dos Pinos brand, of course. (I got the blueberry flavor simply because I hadn't seen blueberry anything in a long time!)
A peanut butter and jelly tortilla roll-up, pre-roll. The jam is pineapple, the PB is Peter Pan Creamy Honey Roast--Andy's favorite--which we found for a decent price in Panama. Between the PB and the DQ, I feel pretty confident that Andy could survive in Panama for a long time.

And that is what we ate in Panama and Costa Rica! I should also mention that we saw a lot of frozen turkeys and Thanksgiving sides for sale in Panamanian markets...not so much in Costa Rica, and almost nothing here in Nicaragua ,where we are now. What kind of T-day meal, if any, we will actually find this Thursday is definitely up in the air, but we'll be sure to report in our next foods post!