Category: Places

Fun Jardin Quirks

Fun Jardin Quirks

Jardin has some fun quirks. Thought I’d quickly share a few.

Just Leanin’ Around

The town, like many colonial-style towns, is built around the main square. The Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepcion (Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception) new-gothic cathedral casts a shadow over the square, likely judging all those vendors hawking knockoff Western sneakers.

Most of the business happens in the square, especially on Sundays when the smaller villages surrounding Jardin come into town to sell their products and do their business (both kinds, seemingly). And as business is conducted, everyone else not conducting, is sipping coffee, rum, cervezas, or often a combo of all three, and ogling the spectacle while leaning back in chairs against the colonial buildings surrouding the square.

This is, partly I posit, because the chairs, straight-angled and wood-framed and wrapped in leather, aren’t comfortable. Leaning takes off the edge, quite literally in this sense. I find myself wanting to lean, not only for comfort but also to posture that I understand the local customs. We are living here for nearly three months after all (that’s the sarcasm italic).

Free Range Horses

Three horses live in town. I’ve never seen their owner. And they free range wherever they darn well please. Perhaps they’re on the city’s payroll. They do a remarkable job keeping the grass lining the roads trimmed.

Postulating Horses

Horses don’t walk here. Or trot. Or gallop, cantor, or lope really. Their gait is unique — though a quick internet search revealed it may be called the Classic Fino Paso Fino (or some different combo of those words) gait. It’s basically a rapid-fire march. Sounds like ten not one horse marching up the street. And since the steps are short and staccato, it takes the horse a minute to travel a block.

How the caballeros riding the caballos don’t suffer perpetual and permanent back pain, I’m not sure. But they clearly enjoy the attention, as do the horses, both marching with the bravado of Sven in front of his new sleigh in Frozen (one of three kids movies we have downloaded on our iPad — probably should’ve downloaded more).

On the weekend, they step up and swagger and have a, sort of, Pitch Perfect (another downloaded movie) march-off on one side of the square. Horses Classic Fino Paso Fino gait sideways, backwards, and forwards, occasionally pausing to posture. Everyone slops it up. An ever-present dance circle of spectators envelop the spectacle.

I’ll video a clip of the gait and add it later.

Kid Horses

The first weekend we arrived, seemingly every kid road into town on a stick toy horse. A festival of unbeknownst origins (to us). Was cool to witness nevertheless.

Beethoven

We live across the street from Pahel’s school — Everett’s school is a few blocks down the street. We are indeed lazy parents, but this wasn’t intentional. Just happened to the apartment we found. Fortune favors the loafers.

Jardin’s high school is also kitty corner from the apartment. Every morning, as the procession of kids parade through the streets to the school, they blast Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C-Minor. Can be heard for blocks. This is the famous “done done done done” number.

Part of this piece is kinda energizing, like Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyers”, but other parts are kinda enervating. Daunting really. I can’t quite get what the Director of the school — whom we’ve had the pleasure of meeting; an affable dude — is going for. Excite them. Scare them. Intimidate them? All seem covered in this symphony.

Some Cock-of-the-Rocks

Some Cock-of-the-Rocks

Caught a few of these Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks just outside Jardin, Colombia. Beautiful, crazy birds.

The males, as you can see, have disk-like mohawks and brilliant blood-orange plumage. They head-bang and squeal (kinda sound like pigs; see video below) when courting females. We didn’t actually see any females, however. At least we don’t think we did. Andean Cock-of-the-Rocks, like many birds, exhibit sexual dimorphism: the females are much smaller and duller than the males.

Jardin

Speaking of Jardin, we’ve decided to stay here for a month. It’s a gorgeous pueblo, and we fell in love with it the moment we arrived. We even got the kids enrolled in the local schools and Everett’s joined a soccer team and Paheli’s taking ballet. I’ll update the blog with more stories as we further explore the city and surrounding countryside.

Medellin, Colombia

Medellin, Colombia

They have some great, um, pastries here.

The Road

We’ve hit some bad roads. Namely this one. The road from Cartagena to Medellin is near the top. Countless potholes. Ceaseless construction. Cluttered with semis. All while climbing nearly nearly five thousand feet up a windy, single-lane carretera sin shoulders. My life flashed before my windshield on several occasions. I may have even weed in my trousers at one point.

Bricks

City planners here are consistent. It seems, based on a somewhat cursory observation, that the exterior of every residential structure must be constructed by at least fifty percent red bricks. It gives the city — the entire metro area really — a warm and uniform look. A sea of red parting green mountains.

Sabaneta

We stayed in a suburb for a couple reasons: one, we couldn’t find any camping spots in or near the city, and two, it was the first spot we found on AirBnB (we literally booked it in the van in route).

When we arrived, Sabaneta was having a street fair. I didn’t and don’t like driving our big ol’ North American van through Central and South American cities — the streets are narrow — thus when I saw the thousands of people roaming those narrow streets, I felt a bit like a bull in the streets of Pamplona. Fortunately we didn’t hook anyone.

We eventually — third time was the charm — found a parking lot that could fit our van. Then we scampered, Patagonia backpacks in tow, through the madness to our apartment, a clean, modern two-bedroom in a bricked high-rise that overlooks Sabaneta square and the fair. The kids rode the Ferris wheel, which looked a loose screw or two away from rolling off its axis, the first night.

Portland with Palm Trees

Medellin has a district, Poblado, similar to Portland’s Northwest District (or Alphabet District). Beautiful, old residences intermixed amongst eclectic, modern residences. Ample breweries, restaurants, and bars. Local, boutique shops galore. It’s Portland with palm trees. Or I suppose, since Medellin (1616) was founded long before Portland (1845), Portland is Medellin sans palm trees.

Parque Explora

What the Discovery Center in Boise would be if was exposed to gamma rays (think Hulk). Three floors spread over three city blocks. Even features a playground and an aquarium.

It’s one of the more impressive museums we’ve ever seen — well planned and organized — and the exhibits were muy interesante and informativo. Everett spent an hour or so just constructing (or making inventions, as he calls it) a ball maze from channels, brackets, and levers. Paheli spent almost an hour rock climbing.

A must stop if you’re in Medellin.

Cartagena, Columbia

Cartagena, Columbia

Colonial meets Caribbean.

Bureau-crazy!

Fortunately, I had the pleasure of sharing this pain with our new best buds and fellow overlanders, Wendo, Chris, and Tyler. For two full days (8am to 5pm), in long pants and closed-toed shoes — not allowed inside government offices without them — we trekked across Cartagena through swampy heat, sweating pit stains the size of basketballs, to fill out papers and wait for God-knows-what. Our van eventually emerged from its container. No worse for wear.

The Walled City

The more prominent, more touristy area of the city is behind a doubly fortified wall built by the Spanish, as are most of the churches and colonial structures. It’s gorgeous and quaint inside. Worlds and (literally) miles away from the stark white, Miami-like towers flanking the walls. In this way, and in many other ways, Cartagena reminds me of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Spanish, despite their faults, at least built sweet cities.

Fun fact: Just ten to fifteen years ago, the walled part of the city, the old town if you will, was nearly in ruins. Due to crime and lack of tourism. You could buy a colonial house for as little as fifteen thousand dollars. That same house today will cost you over a million. Man, if only we’d had the foresight….

Blue-and-yellow Macaw

Caught this guy (or gal?) munching on berries during one of the many boring, bureaucratic waits. Didn’t have my fancy camera at the time.

The Most Interesting Conversation(s)

Before we left Idaho, Everett’s kindergarten teacher passed along her sister’s contact information in Colombia. We reached out to her in Panama.

Andrea and the kids were able to lunch with her, Patti, a retired schoolteacher, and her husband, James, a nearly retired DEA agent during one of the two days I spent filling out forms I didn’t understand.

Andrea WhatsApped me as soon as she finished, still beaming from the conversation. I was jealous. Then she told me that James, current Assistant Regional Director for the DEA Andean Region — the cocaine capital of the world! — wanted to meet with me — the current Cheetos cheese puff champion of the world — for drinks. I was stoked.

The Meet And Drink

It did not disappoint. I, with the confidence inspired by a Club Colombia Negra, brazenly asked every question that I’ve ever wanted to know about drug trafficking. And James, with the confidence inspired by career-long civil service, answered the questions he was allowed to answer. Here are a few of the highlights from the conversation:

  • Colombia is still the biggest trafficker of cocaine in the world, even more so than the Pablo Escobar era. It’s just not as reported because (thankfully) the crime has significantly decreased.
  • The drug cartels in Mexico are controlling most of the drug trade in the Americas. And they’re bad bad dudes. Make the Cali and Medellin cartels look like ninnys.
  • One of his agents caught like four tons of coke while we drank our two beers.
  • Do this math: Cartagena has had five mayors in the last seven years. All jailed for corruption.
  • Bushels of coke are grown in Bolivia and Peru as well.
  • Speedboats and semisubmersible submarines smuggle drogas from southern Colombia to Central America.
  • The Ecuador / Colombia boarder on the Pacific is ground zero for cocaine distribution from South to Central and North America.

Then, just five minutes after this conversation, I got offered (didn’t buy Mom and Dad!) coke on the street. What a world.

Islas de San Blas, Panama

Islas de San Blas, Panama

Find your beach….

Sailing to Panama

I’m fascinated by sailing. Partly because I have a healthy fear of the ocean. And it’s healthy to confront your fears…right….right?! Part of that’s because it feels primordial. Sailboats were constructed as early as 4000 BC. And part of that’s because of the romance. Finding that hidden white-sand beach. For these reasons, I got my sailing license this year.

Also for these reasons, we decided (or I forced us) to sail versus fly from Panama to Colombia. We arranged a private sail with six other overlands.

The Experience

The experience was incredible, not only because of the sailing and the islands but also because of the people. Despite being the definition of close quarters — thirteen humans, one boat — we all quickly became best o’ buds. The other overlanders — Wenbo and Xi, a couple from China traveling in a Jeep Compass, Chris and Mark, brothers from Colorado traveling in a vintage Landcruiser, and Tyler and Meghan, a couple from Colorado traveling in a diesel Ford 150 and truck camper — tolerated us just enough that, even after the five-day sail, we rented an apartment in Cartagena for four nights. It took us that long to get our vehicles out of their shipping containers.

The crew — full-time captain Ayelen from Argentina, former nurse and current explorer and first mate Thomas from France, and sabbatical-ed medical doctor and aspiring gelato entrepreneur and current deckhand Sergio from Italy — was experienced and uber-friendly. They comforted us on our extremely uncomfortable sailboat, a 44-ft regatta-style monohull se llama Victory. We hit two epic storms in route, the first and second to last nights. Thanks to a good crew and good drugs, none of us vomited. Though few slept. We were certainly wet for wear. Every cabin leaked. Victory isn’t watertight.

The crew also prepared amazing meals in a kitchen about the size of a washing machine. All of us were amazed how fresh and funky and fantastic everything was, despite at times being in the middle of the ocean. One night they even arranged for twenty lobsters to be caught and cooked by some of the indigenous Kuna Indians on one of the islands. That meal alone would’ve been a fifty spot in the US.

A Swallow on a Winch

This guy rode along for a few hours.

(Photo courtesy of Colorado Chris.)

Beach Score: 9.5 out of 10

This is where they film the Corona commercials (seemingly). It’s like one Corona beach after another. You can truly find your beach here. There’s one for every day of the year.

We visited four islands in total (saw many more) — can’t remember any names, though I suspect many don’t have them — the last two were the most idyllic. The last one also had a reef encompassing one side of the island that was more scenic than anything I’ve seen thus far on this trip. Spectacular snorkeling.

Wild Night

Parenting is challenging. Especially when you’re around your kids twenty-four hours per day seven days per week and for the last (almost) three hundred and sixty-five days. Occasionally, however and of course, your kids give you these insane bursts of joy, insane bursts of pride. Paheli did that on one of the islands one night.

We’d been sailing, snorkeling, and swimming most of the day. Most of us were pooped. But we decided to burn the night away anyway. We made a massive bonfire from fallen palm branches.

A dozen songs later, Everett and Andrea retreated to Victory. Paheli wanted to stay. Despite my eyelashes feeling like miniature dumbbells were attached, I agreed. And I’m stoked I did. Paheli stole the show! She danced, she sang, she danced more. She got other people to dance, culling folks one at a time or all together — she was very specific about whom could dance and when — into her electric dance vortex. A legendary performance.

(Photo courtesy of Colorado Chris.)

Panama City

Panama City

As alluded to in the previous posts, we’d reached a beach / heat / humidity / questioning whether that smell is coming off us or from the sewer by this point in the trip. We needed AC. And comfy beds. So we crashed in a Radisson.

Radisson Panama Canal

It was our first stay in a hotel since we left Idaho — we have, however crashed in several AirBnBs. And it was glorious. I shed, mas or menos, five pounds of sweat that had caked to my body. I showered, mas or menos, every other day. I even shaved, mas or menos, twice. The grunge was gone. At least on the outside.

Other than visiting the Panama Canal and scurrying around town to wait in lines, fill out paperwork, and complete a barrage of seemingly unnecessary bureaucratic steps in order to ship our van, we mainly just lounged. Watched shows. Ordered room service. One afternoon I sat by the pool, drank a local Ley Seca Pale Ale, and watched the tankers line up in the canal — oh, and ensured my children didn’t drown. It was blissful. But short. I retreated back to AC at the first spec of sweat.

If you find yourself in Panama City, the Radisson Panama Canal is a good stay. It’s slightly upscale, recently renovated, features granite and tile and exotic woods on nearly every surface, and has a gorgeous pool overlooking the entrance to the canal. All for about $70 USD per night.

Panama Canal

It’s true: travel does made you intelligenter.

The Panama Canal is a marvel of history and politics and engineering. I had little knowledge of any of it — Andrea and the kids, who had studied it in homeschool before arrived, were much better edumacated. I’d simply, naively thought, in yonder years, the Americas helped dig a deep trench through the skinniest part of Panama. And that ships passed through that trench. I had no idea the French first attempted (and failed) to construct it. That over 30,000 people died building it. And that it’s not a single, continuous canal: it’s a series of manmade locks interconnecting various rivers and lakes. But I’m not the sharpest crayon in the box.

The locks were the most interesting part. To me at least. Basically, a ship is pulled by a train on the side of the canal into a lock — an enclosed chamber, kinda like a pool, in the canal — and water is either added or removed, thus raising or lowering the ship to the level of the next body of water. Gigantic tankers do this. In a matter of minutes. And they must enter three sets of locks to part the land. Cuts thousands of nautical miles. But costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Las Lajas, Panama

Las Lajas, Panama

We spent five nights here waiting to confirm our shipping arrangements from Panama to Colombia.

Beach Score: 7 out of 10

We were (and are) beached-out by this point. Thus I’m not convinced any beach of any brilliance could’ve satisfied us. Appeased us even. Nevertheless, this is a nice beach. A fútbol-playing beach. Long, wide, and flat (see video below). You can seemingly walk pitches into the ocean before the water even hits your knees. As such, the tide marches great distances. At low tide, I had to use binoculars to see if it was our kids that were screaming and throwing sand on the other kids.

The End of the Road

Panama’s beaches and sites likely get overlooked, at least for those of us traveling down the Americas, because it’s the end of the road. Literally. You can’t cross the Darian Gap between Panama and Colombia on land. Thus, after trekking through the tropics for months in the past, and knowing the complications of shipping our van between continents in the future, we didn’t see much of the country. Just this beach, Panama City, some ports on the Caribbean side, and a few islands in route to Colombia.

A Bird on a Wire

Cue Rogue Wave song in your mind.

Servicio Extraordinario

The owner of the restaurant and cabins at the Las Lajas Beach Cabins, and the cousin of the landowner, Roy, was one of the most friendly and accommodating hosts we’ve met on this trip. He made us double batches of coffee every morning, let our kids volunteer in the kitchen (though I suppose that’s, sort of, child labor), and regaled us with stories of traveling the world as an engineer on some of the world’s most expensive yachts. He just took over the operation a year or so ago, after many years of neglect. Which shows. Using minimal resources and maximum elbow grease, he plans to turn it around. Given his enthusiasm and gumption, I’m sure he will.

Suntanning Iguana

Warming up that cold blood.

Playa Dominical, Costa Rica

Playa Dominical, Costa Rica

Our last stop in Costa Rica.

Beach Score: 6 out of 10

Not the most scenic beach. Though it’s probably because it looks like many of the other surf beaches we visited — namely Playa Grande, Playa Guiones, and Playa Santa Teresa — and thus its score suffers from redundancy. The sand isn’t whiter. The views aren’t prettier. It did, however, seem to have some good waves. If that’s your thing (as it was with my father-in-law, who caught several).

Craft Brew Score: 7 out of 10

We ate comida and imbibed cervezas one night at El Fuego Brew Co. The design of this place is awesome. Completely open floor plan overlooking the jungle and with filtered views of the sea. Modern yet tropically rustic. A rainstorm plummeted the brewery while we ate, drank, and were merry, firing smells and slights and sounds down from El Fuego’s metal roof and making the merry that much merrier.

The beer was tasty albeit flat. As has most of the craft beer we’ve tried thus far in Central and South America. Perhaps it’s just a Northern hemisphere thing. Northern hemisphere temperament. US and European beers have a more carbonated kick. And proper carbonation — and temperature, on the frontier of freezing — seems necessary in tropical climates. Drinking flat, warm beer near the equator is the equivalent of drinking a slushy near the Poles.

Whale Tour Score: 8 out of 10

Spent one day spotting humpbacks in the waters outside of the Parque Nacional Marino Ballena. While we didn’t see as many whales as when we visited Bahia De Magdalena in Mexico, it was a fun and scenic (where the picture above was taken) tour nonetheless. See video of a mom and her calf below.

Cafe Score: 9 out of 10

Unfortunately we discovered this place after we dropped Andrea’s dad and sister off at the airport. Cafe Mono Congo. Perched just up the mouth — would that make it down the throat? — of the Rio Baru and Pacific Ocean. The coffee and tea, brewed through a traditional chorreador, a wood stand holding a cloth bag, was exceptional. The breakfast burritos were the best we had in Central America. The service impecable. The vistas incredible. We saw Fiery-billed Aracaris, Cherrie’s Tanagers, Bluegray Tanagers, and Yellow-Throated Toucans in our short visit.

Bird Score: 10 out of 10

These Yellow-Throated Toucans were having a good time in this mango tree. Managed to catch one catching a piece of mango.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

This may be the most visited area in Costa Rica. Tried to find a stat to prove that, but failed. Sure felt like it, however.

Leaky Hose

During the epic rainstorm and on the disastrous road to Playa Santa Teresa, the van flexed enough to cause a pin on a steering rod to slice our radiator hose. Because of the rain, and inertia at the AirBnB we rented, we didn’t notice the leak for several days.

It wasn’t until we attempted to visit Playa Mal Pais one afternoon that I heard what sounded like a fountain firework beneath the car. At first, I thought it was our transfer case, which made me panic. Then my more mechanically-inclined father-in-law informed me it was the hose. And thanks to good ol’ duct tape and stinky man sweat, we were able to temporarily repair the hose to get us to the nearest town with a radiator mechanic.

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

The world’s first national park. And one of it’s most beautiful. While it’s a miniature park, especially compared to ones in the US, its massive in biodiversity. Over a hundred species of mammals and nearly two hundred species of birds exist in less than three square miles. We saw a few brown-throated three-toed sloths just, you guessed it, hanging out. I hummed Everett’s sloth song (heard here) nearly the entire hike.

Beach Score: 8.5 out 10

Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio has four beaches within the park. The locals, and seemingly the park rangers, refer to the beaches as Playa 1, 2, 3, and 4. Wikipedia calls them Manuel Antonio, Espadilla Sur, Teloro, and Playita.

Playa Manuel Antonio, the most scenic and visited beach in the park, is throned Costa Rica’s best. It deserves its accolades. And crowds. It’s the most scenic beach we’ve seen in Central America. Picture postcard perfect. A cozy cove on a jungle peninsula, replete with silken, cream-colored sand.

This beach could easily be a 9, even a 9.5, if not for the fact that you have to pay ($15 USD for foreigners) to access it and then fight the crowds. (I’m reserving a 10 score for something that challenges my favorite beach, Maho Bay on St. John.)

Espalda Beach Score: 8.5 out of 10

We also spent two afternoons on the public beach just outside of el Parque, Playa Espadilla.

This beach has all the looks — gorgeous bay, whitish sand, lush rainforest, a few picturesque islands in the distance — for all the folks — surfers, loungers, partiers, and adventures. Andrea and her sister parasailed. Andrea’s dad surfed. The kids boogie-boarded. I lounged while testing the fortitude of my gut on beach vendor ceviche.

If this beach had Playa Manual Antonio’s visual quaintness — it’s much longer and wider — I’d rate it higher. Of course, if it was quaint, the crowds would be condensed and then much of its appeal would be lost, but let’s not bother with facts.

Playa Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Playa Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Whoa there Mother Nature.

The Road

The post-apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarthy with the same title is one of my favorites. The road off the highway to Playa Santa Teresa could have been featured in — even inspired by — the novel. It was the worst road we traversed in Costa Rica. Topped by the worst weather. You’d have to change your shocks and suspension every other month if you drove this road often.

Beach Score: NA

I was beached-out when we arrived — that, and/or still recovering from the drive. Besides some errant glances, I didn’t actually visit the beach. Step foot in the sand. Andrea and the kids did one afternoon, however. They described it as: “Another surf beach. Not very calm.” It rained most of the time we were there anyway.

Habanero Mex-Grill

On one clear night, perhaps the only clear night, we splurged and hiked down to a local Mexican restaurant recommend by our AirBnb host. The Grill, nestled beneath palm trees on cozy sand and between a resort and an ocean, was the best Mexican food we’ve had outside of Mexico on this trip. Perhaps the best overall meal outside of Mexico. Also, perhaps, our most expensive. I’m still calculating the cost benefit analysis. But I think it was worth it. I think.