Tag: Beaches

Playa Grande, Costa Rica

Playa Grande, Costa Rica

We spent the last four weeks touring surf beaches with Andrea’s pop (excellent surfer) and sister (occasional surfer). We, The Lingles, aren’t surfers — though Everett is learning! — so we can’t comment much on the surf, but we can on the beach.

No Beer for You!

I’ve commented, ad nauseam, about the piss-quality beer in Central America. Hence when I saw the Delirium signs — one of my favorite Belgian breweries — outside the restaurant next to our hotel, I was excited. Darn near dumfounded.

I marched inside, flashing clumps of colones (Costa Rica’s currency). A scraggy, sweaty hombre sat behind the bar and a laptop. A joint sizzled from an ashtray next to him. Two kids played iPads on a nearby couch. I immediately asked, in Spanish, if I could procure the sweet sweet nectar. May have even claimed it was necessary for medical reasons. I was told, with the tone of a methed-up prostitute, that they don’t sell that beer. Then I asked him why they had the beer signs. Then I was showed the exit.

Beach Score: 7 out of 10

Can a beach be too big? Yes. In my opinion. I prefer bays. Coves. Bights even. More intimate beaches. Where I can see land — preferably verdant land — in my periphery.

Playa Grande is, well, grand. But not too big. Hills are just visible, on a clear day, on either end of the beach. The length lacks intimacy. However, since a strip of protected rainforest (to protect leatherback turtle procreation) gallops between the beach and civilization, the width feels intimate. You don’t see hotels, restaurants, houses, any permanent structures really. Just a few surf shacks, miles of mangroves and palms, and a smattering of sun-dyed surfers.

Dems Da Breaks

The beach drops precipitously a few meters into the ocean. Great for surfers — there’s a break, seemingly, for every skill of surfer — not so much for swimmers. But the golden, pillowy sand is excellent for relaxing and spectating. Andrea’s dad caught a few epic waves here.

(Photos courtesy of Isabella Ossiander, Andrea’s sister)

Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica

Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica

The road to the beach tells you much about the beach itself. Rough and potholed: probably an underdeveloped, lonesome beach. Smooth and paved: developed and crowded. Thus as our van purred closer the beach on perfect asphalt while high-end condos, villas, and resorts peekabooed through the jungle canopy, I figured we’d pay for it. Parking, food, drinks, our general comfort level, whatever. But I was wrong.

Theft

Theft is rampant, nearly omnipresent in Costa Rica. Everyone has warned us about it at every stop. Our paranoia has become palatable. We’ve also secondhand experienced it: our former traveling buddy Steve had cash and clothing stolen, a German couple we camped near on the Caribbean had their electronics and passports stolen, and we met a Swiss couple that had everything except their passports (thankfully!) stolen.

Thus, as we’ve learned and been instructed, you either need to pay for parking or park right on the beach (and keep vigilant eyes on your stuff). Some folks take everything out of the car and just leave the car open, to avoid having it broken into. Fortunately at Playa Flamingo, you can park right on the beach.

Beach Score: 7.5 out of 10

If your teacher asked you to draw a beach, it’d end up looking like Flamingo: crescent-shaped, verdant hills, and whitish sand. If your family asked you to pick kid-friendly beach, it’d end up being like Flamingo: wide, long, and flat with Tempurpedic-like sand, few rocks, and gentle waves. Perfect beach to kick a soccer ball. Toss a football. Or play that one paddle game that I see everywhere but can’t seem to buy anywhere.

Flamingo has most of what makes an awesome beach. Most. What it doesn’t have is funky, inexpensive lodgings and restaurants — what have become our preference on this trip — and snorkeling. Besides one hopped-up stingray, that kept hopping through the waves near us, the only unusual sea-life I saw was a plethora, a virtual sea forest, of sand worms jutting from the sea floor on the north end of the beach. They grossed me out enough to get out of the water.

Finally, despite the luxury looking down at us from the hills above, Flamingo never felt snooty. We never felt underdressed in other words — despite, quite literally, being underdressed; all our swimsuits are a thread or two away from being nude suits. It also never felt crowded. I suspect, most times of the year and days of the week, you’d have plenty of space to yourselves on this near perfect family beach. Just park your car nearby.

Pink Sand

Flamingo’s cream-colored sand has a pinkish hue. Or at least I think it does. I’d read that, certain times during the year, the sand gets pink. Hence the name. However, it’s quite possibly, quite probably actually, that after reading that before arriving, my feeble, easily-influenced mind projected pink into the sand. Preconceived notions and all that.

(Photos courtesy of my parents)

Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica

Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica

We’ve been traveling with family — my family first, now Andrea’s family — down Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, hitting most of the major beaches, and a few minor ones, as we inch toward Panama. Figured I’d write shortish posts on each stop. For our memoirs mostly. But hopefully also for your information (and enjoyment), if case you ever venture down here.

Beach Score: 7 of 10

Ocotal checks most boxes: More croissant- than crescent-shaped, but shapely nonetheless. A smattering of islands in the distance. Boats bobbing in the bay. Jungle sights and smells and sounds. The quintessential beach restaurant (Father Rooster, where the picture above was taken). Checks most…

Black Sand

I take back what I wrote about black sand beaches.

While I can’t verify this with any statistical certainty, given the scant samplings, but (I think) I like black sand more than tan. More than beige. Honey. Even cappuccino. While white — the less hue, the better — remains my favorite, black is nudging into second. If only for its rarity.

The Sands of Ocotal

Playa Ocotal, in spots, primarily toward the south end of the beach, has truly black sand. No hue. Absorbs all light. We’ve visited other black sand beaches — like Playa Negra, a beach on Costa Rica’s Caribbean side — but they’re more charcoal. Gray even.

You’d think, or at least I’d think, given its color and source (volcanic rock) that the Ocotal sand would be rough, raw, scrape-inducing. It’s anything but. It’s the softest sand I’ve ever felt. Like walking on black satin.

The satin is, however, limited to the beach. As it nears the water, it swirls with coarser tan sand. It doesn’t blend, like creamer eventually into coffee, but swirls. Coexists with the tan. Two different sands. Side by side. Then, toes into the water, rocks and shells join the sand, like marshmallows on hot chocolate. Only much harder.

Snorkeling & Secret Beach

The snorkeling was good. No coral reef, but a sufficing of tropical fish, sea fans, starfish, sea anemones, and fish fish — even saw a few spotted eagle rays — zigzagging between the rocks abutting the surrounding cliffs. It was just good enough to compel me to snorkel around the cliffs, revealing an uninhabited beach on the other side. Thought briefly about what’d it be like to Tom Hanks on that beach before plummeting back into the sea.

End with a Joke

Here’s a joke written by Everett: “Why do you throw the clock out the window? Because it’s alarming.”

Costa Caribe, Costa Rica

Costa Caribe, Costa Rica

We spent almost two weeks — and I struggled / hated myself for typing this next word, but it just seemed like the right word — chillaxing on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Despite raining nearly 75% of the time, it was epic.

Sloths, Sloths, Two Toed Sloths, Three Toed Sloths

Everett’s song about sloths, performed below, has been stuck in my mind since he penned it. We may have the next John Lennon on our hands.

We saw our first sloth within the first hours of arriving at the beach. I decided to stroll to the granite cliffs jutting from the north end of the beach, witnessed some folks oddly ogling a tree, and then saw the sloth. Sloths actually. The mom (actually, that’s sexist: it could’ve been the dad) was carrying a baby that, like the algae that gives the gray-brown sloth its green hue, seemed to be growing from the mom’s fur.

The baby and mom (or dad!) eventually — eventually — climbed, upside down remind you, over two palm trees to sniff and/or communicate with a third sloth that, unbeknownst to our eyes, was cuddled up in a crevice of a mango tree. Then they began climbing out of site. We never saw them again. Haven’t seen sloths since.

E’s Sloth Song

Winch

Two paths lead to the campsite. One on sand. One on mud. We chose mud. We chose unwisely. Our winch, which had remained complacently dormant in our front bumper, got its first workout.

Arrecife & Punta Uva

We camped on Playa Arrecife, named for the large reef (‘arrecife’ means ‘reef’ in Spanish) protecting the playa, ensuring only gentle waves coddle the shore. This was, using my perfect beach criteria discussed here, the second best beach area we’ve visited on this trip. Soft, like marshmallows beneath your feet, sand, lush jungle vegetation, and spectacular snorkeling. Only the beaches near La Paz have been better.

We also visited the neighboring playa, Punta Uva, a couple times. It’s considered one of Costa Rica’s best. And it deserves the accolades. A recessed cove encased by jungle cliffs. Felt very lost-on-a-deserted-island-esque.

Cahuita

We visited Cahuita Nacional Parque, just outside of the town of Cahuita, on our way back toward the Pacific Coast. The guard, after extracting the remaining colones from my wallet — parks are expensive here — showed us two venomous toxic yellow Eye Lash Vipers a few meters beyond the entrance. I was feeling pretty good about our hike.

The hike was cool, temperature- and sight-wise. It rained, on and off, mas or menos, most of the hike. Even when we took a break to swim in the ocean. From what we could see, as we winded along the windy path kissing the beach, the park is beautiful. Wild. Captivating. The type of beach and jungle that would claim your soul, prevent you from returning to reality if you stared too intensely into it eyes.

We hiked in our snorkel gear to check out two of the reefs beyond two of the more scenic beaches we’ve experienced in Costa Rica, Punta Vargas and Punta Cahuita. Unfortunately, once we got there, signs warned us that you can’t snorkel in the reefs without a local guide. Too bad they didn’t have the same signs near the entrance…. Oh well. Dems da breaks.

Playa Negra

The following day, we visited Playa Negra just north of Cahuita, named for it’s volcanic black sand, which was quite possibly the softest sand we’ve ever felt. The beach is also flat, wide, and long, making it the perfect beach to harness your inner negligent parent and let your kids roam free (as our kids did).

Between bouts of negligence and scouting sloths in the surrounding trees, Andrea and I did swim with the kids. During one swim, both Andrea and I got bit by something. Me in the buttocks. Andrea in the calf. Andrea’s bite drew blood. Later that night, we corned our hosts — an affable North Carolinian and Costa Rican (Tico, as the locals say) couple — and, likely dramatically, told them about our encounter with the nefarious sea beast. Our hosts were bewildered. They’ve been swimming in the same stretch of sand for twenty years and have never been bit. Dems da breaks.

The Three Toed Sloth

The Three Toed Sloth

(Written by Everett; typed by Dad)

When we were walking down the beach, we saw people looking at something in the tree. We went over. There we saw a sloth. It was moving slowly. We watched it move three trees.

The Sloth Song

Sloth sloth

Jungle sloth

Three toed sloth

Two toed sloth

They eat lots of leaves

In the trees

Sloths are slow moving animals

Oooo oooo

Sloths sloths

Oooo oooo

Slooooooths

El Salvador

El Salvador

Home of the MS-13. And pupusas (stuffed tortillas)!

Crossing the Border

El Salvador is certainly one of the, how do I say this without frightening my parents, more murder-y, err, less safe, countries we’re traveling through. And border towns are typically less safe than other towns. We were determined to van through. Rápido. Then we saw a three-mile long line of semi-trucks….

We paid a fixer, a local that works for tips and speeds you through the crossing. Other overlanders seem defiantly against using fixers, as if it insults their travel expertise. We’ve loved the service. Saves mucho tiempo. Plus you get a new buddy for an hour or two.

We would not have made it through the border that day without our fixer. He told us exactly what copies to deposit in what rooms. Where to flash our passports. He weaved us in and out of traffic. Hustled. Bribed a few truck drivers. He even at one point held up traffic on a bridge, thus allowing us to pass a dozen semis. Earned his tip in other words.

The Roads

The roads were instantaneously better upon crossing the border. Smooth. Relatively trash-free. Canopied by flamboyantly red Árbol De Fuego trees (brachychiton acerifolius). Lined by an ocean on one side and quaint tiendas on the other. Gorgeous. I suppose, given my preconceived notions of El Salvador, I was expecting worse. Less developed. Bodies hanging from telephone poles. To be robbed at least twice — we even prepped both our fake wallets. But we’ve only had one attempted robbery on this trip….

That One Time in San Felipe

Our third night in Mexico.

Andrea was, as per usual, tossing and turning. Or so I thought. Then I heard her whisper-yell: “Someone is stealing our bikes!” I busted out of the van doors, launched toward the thief with my arms up in what only can be described as the “attacking gorilla” position, and released a guttural, primordial scream that, at least in my mind, sounded like a grizzly — it could’ve been a chirp, however. Whatever it was, it worked. The thief, who had successfully picked our bike lock and removed three of the four bikes, dropped his stolen bag of goodies and ran off. It was probably the manliest thing I’ve ever done — though I may have wept silently for the remainder of that night.

Rancho Carolina

Pronounced Care-o-lee-na, as we were quickly corrected.

We stayed here our first two nights. A black sand beach around the corner from one of El Salvador’s most famous tourist and surf destinations, El Tunco. Probably a great spot for surfers. Not for swimmers. The current was intense. Fortunately, the campground had a clean, cool pool.

Cadejo Brewing

Andrea spotted a brewery around the corner from the campground. I almost didn’t believe her. I didn’t want to believe her. I couldn’t be let down by another water-flavored beer. I have too many other first-world problems to deal with.

Taking all things into consideration — food and beverage quality, atmosphere, service, etc. — it was the best meal we’ve had in Central America. Awesome tacos. Amazing burgers. And great beers. All with incredible views and service to boot. Oh, and the sweet sculpture below.

Motmot

At one point, in the middle of our bliss and as if on cue, the state bird of El Salvador, the Turquoise-browned Motmot, landed on a post below our table. Andrea, disbelieving, asked: “Is that a real bird?” I quickly quipped: “No, the brewery invested in flying mechanical birds.” It was surreal, however.

The Turquoise-browned Motmot has a turquoise brow and wings, a grassy-colored back, and an orange belly. It also has a crazy, long, turquoise and black tail that splits at the end; each end looks like a broom. See video below.

Playa De Esteron

We’ve spent the last three nights, and tonight, at Adela’s Hostel, Campground, and Restaurant. It’s an awesome locale. The beach is wide and flat and has some of the softest latte-colored sand we’ve ever encountered. If the sand were whiter — as mentioned before, I’m a beach color racist — it’d make my top ten list. And the water temperature, unlike most the Pacific coast beaches we’ve visited thus far, is perfect. For Andrea at least. It’s almost too warm for me.

And Adela is a wonderful host. Perhaps the nicest human we’ve met on this trip. She even went out of her to get medicine and electrolytes for Everett, who spent two nights ago upchucking everything in his belly.

Ya Feel Bad

Every El Salvadoran we’ve met has been innately and refreshingly friendly. It’s too bad a few gangs in a concentrated area in San Salvador have converted their beautiful country into the murder capital of the world.

I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from visiting. I’m guessing, based on the prevalence of dying resorts near the beach, El Salvador could use the tourism. And bang for buck: you’d be hard-pressed to find a better beach vacation. Just fly into San Salvador during the day, and then get out as soon as you can. The rest of the country is, somewhat literally, waiting for you with open arms.

Tillamook Factory Outlet

Tillamook Factory Outlet

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My obsession with meat sticks is recent. I had been attempting to solve one of life’s greatest conundrums: how to consume and transport meat easily. Raw steak in my pocket wasn’t cutting it. Shortly thereafter, in a moment of serendipitous splendor, I bought a pepperoni stick out of the oft-handled and likely hepatitis-infected plastic bin below the register at a Jackson’s Food Store near our old house. I knew I had had a Slim Jims in the past, a distant and perhaps drunken memory at least a decade old, but my tastebuds and arteries couldn’t remember. Then I devoured two, perhaps five, Tillamook pepperoni sticks in rapid succession. I felt both alive and near to death at the same time. And it was a feeling that I wanted, nay needed, for the rest of my life. That’s where’s this category on this blog begins.

Over the last few months, I have familiarized myself with several meat stick varietals. While all have merits — merits I’m hoping to elucidate on this blog — I found myself continually craving Tillamook pepperoni sticks. And I purchased lots of them. By the dozen. Thus when I saw the sign below attached to the side of a trailer across the street from a trailer park, I knew I had found my meat Cloud Cuckoo Land.

The Tillamook Country Smoker Beef Jerky Factory Retail Outlet had been bragging for miles before we arrived about getting a two-foot stick for only one dollar. At first, I thought, if only. Then I thought, dang, that’s an excellent price per linear foot. I’d been getting pillaged at a buck and a quarter per foot in Boise.

Upon entering the outlet, I immediately focused on the open chest cooler stuffed with two-foot sticks. They were all labeled “fresh” and “must be consumed in five days”, which made me think of all the wonderful preservatives and chemicals I must’ve been consuming prior with the store-bought sticks. At first, after examining the sticks, I thought about going exotic, like jalapeno pepperjack, but I eventually decided to start my meat stick and blogging journey with the original: plain pepperoni.

The two-footers were noticeably fresher than their gas station siblings. They tasted like how I imagined real meat taste like. Their caramel-colored skin suit was also looser than I was accustomed to, occasionally popping in my mouth and reminding me that he who gets the freshy-fresh shall get the sweetest thing in the world (name that reference). I’d also noticed that the liquid fats inside the fresh skin suit had not fully mobilized — I was used to squeezing fat drops from the sticks — suggesting that, perhaps, the fresh sticks had not fully matured. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I fully intend to investigate further.

Later that night, I bragged to a hip couple we met in the campground about my meat stick excursion and about how I had consumed five two-foot sticks, so ten regular sticks, a certain record for me, in one van ride to the campground. Then they invited us to their campsite for fresh-caught oysters fire-roasted in butter and topped with cilantro, tomatoes, onions, and lemon juice. I had never felt so white trash, proud, and confused at the same time. But that’s what meat sticks do to you.

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