Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tamarindo Day 3

Tico Time--it means pretty much the same thing as Island Time. Things will get done when they get done, which usually won't be when you want them done. It's something that can be maddening for us North Americans who are used to moving at break-neck speed, but it's an integral part of Costa Rica, and therefore something we need to adjust to. Actually we're kind of looking forward to it, as it forces you to s-l-o-w down and enjoy the moment.

We had booked a rental car to be delivered to our hotel so we could go out and explore, and it was due to be dropped off at 8 am. I picked the earliest time I could since I figured we'd encounter some Tico Time, and we wanted as much time as possible to head out into the unknown. Sure enough, 8 o'clock came and went, but hey, we're living Tico Time, right? By 8:30, I was starting to get a little antsy. By 8:45, I'm wondering if we should call the place and make sure they're coming (and I'm not feeling too good about how well I'm adjusting to Tico Time). Around 9 the car arrives, with a very apologetic driver. It seems he couldn't find our hotel. So then I'm wondering why he didn't use the GPS we had ordered to go with the car. "GPS?" he asks. "We don't have a request for a GPS."  Hmmm. Now Gary's worried as we have to drive the car back to the airport at 4 am to catch our flight on Sunday, and the airport is an hour and a half away. "It's easy," says the driver. "Just follow the signs, you can't get lost. You won't have a problem."

Now let me digress a little. We've driven in Costa Rica before. NONE of the roads have signs. There are no street names, no addresses. If you own a house, your address is not something like 123 Main Street; it's more like: from the old church go 200 meters west, right at the mango tree, 400 meters north, yellow house.  We were both starting to have visions of being lost forever in the jungles of Costa Rica, which in retrospect may not have been too bad, but I did want to see my children again.

Thankfully I had brought our paperwork with us, and it did show that we had requested a GPS, so after profuse apologies, he arranged to have it delivered to us later that day. Both Gary and I breathed a sigh of relief feeling more confident we would be able to see our family again.

After picking up the GPS at our meeting point at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, we headed north of Tamarindo to check out some of the beaches. A few miles down the road, we realized the GPS was not working. We fiddled with it, unplugged it, turned it off then back on, but it just didn't work. Hmmm. Back to feeling a little apprehensive again. Not only do the streets not have signs, but half of the streets look like they aren't streets. What if we never make it back to the hotel? Would we see our family again? We decided to continue moving forward, keeping careful watch of where we were turning, and we were rewarded with some great views.
Flamingo Beach
 Flamingo Beach

Playa Grande looking south towards Tamarindo
Playa Grande looking north
 It's hard to tell from the pictures, but Playa Grande had some awe-inspiring waves. There were several surfers out there enjoying themselves, but the beach had warning signs about being dangerous to swim. I went in to my knees, but that was enough for me.

We had been trying to find a restaurant our hotel owner had told us about.  He said it had breathtaking views of the water and was just north of Playa Flamingo. "Just don't take the turn-off to Playa Flamingo, go the other way. You can't miss it." But we missed it. I'm thinking it was the unmarked, very narrow dirt road that looked like it veered off into nowhere. I remember seeing it but thinking, "That can't be it." Sure would have been nice to have a working GPS!

After some more exploring, and some back-and-forth of "I don't remember this part of the road, do you?", we got onto the main road and made it back to Tamarindo. On recommendation from several of the other hotel guests, we decided to give Nogui's a try for dinner. It was awesome!

Chicken with orange and sweet pepper sauce
Watermelon, lemon, and mint smoothie. So good!
View from our table
Nogui's is known for their pies--specifically the coconut cream and pineapple pies. I ordered the pineapple, and Gary ordered the coconut so we could try both. I meant to take pictures, but we started eating them as soon as they arrived. They were sooo good! Made with fresh coconut and pineapple how can you go wrong? Plus the pineapple pie was warm with a scoop of melting vanilla ice cream on top. Muy delicioso! And speaking of Spanish, I must brag a little. My "restaurant Spanish" is getting pretty good. In fact, when Gary asked about the type of fish in one entree, the waiter was speaking in Spanish and looking at me to explain to Gary what he meant. Of course, I didn't have too much of a clue, but I got the basic jist. It felt good to have the waiter think I knew what he was saying. At least with the Spanish I have down I won't starve!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tamarindo Day 2

Day two in Tamarindo was another beautiful day. We decided to stay local and enjoy Playa Tamarindo, but since we had jumbled up the directions to the town the day before, we thought we'd better get them again. The only person we saw available was the groundskeeper, who didn't speak any English. Both Gary and I are learning Spanish, and we're still very limited in what we can understand, but we thought we'd give Eladio, the groundskeeper, a try. After some back-and-forth between the three of us trying to figure out what each was saying, we felt we had a pretty good idea of which way to go. We ended up at the south end of the beach without too much trouble. Here's a video of what it looks like. (Sorry for the "chunky old man" in the middle.)

As we walked farther up the beach, it became nicer. There were also several beachfront cafes where you could sit in the shade, stick your feet in the sand, and order something cool to drink.

One of the beachfront cafes

We walked quite far up the beach, then staked our claim on some lounge chairs under an umbrella. There were several "walking vendors" going up and down the beach looking to sell jewelry, pottery, whistles, drinks, or Pipa Fria. We decided to try out some Pipa Fria which is a chilled coconut that they machete-chop one end off of, then stick a straw inside. It was cool and yummy!

Pipa Fria

We ate dinner at one of the restaurants on the beach. I'd been dying for some Gallo Pinto since our last trip, and noticed they had it on the menu for breakfast, but not dinner, which is normal since it's more of a breakfast food. I did my best job of asking in Spanish if I could get some Gallo Pinto for dinner, and our waitress said she'd ask the chef. It must not have been a problem since they brought out  a wonderful side dish of it with my dinner! 

Gallo Pinto
Gallo Pinto is basically a black beans and rice dish, and I had tried recreating it at home, but I was missing the most important ingredient--Salsa Lizano. It's just not the same without it. Salsa Lizano is a Costa Rican creation that you can find on just about every table in Costa Rica. It's not a hot sauce, but full of flavor!

Needless to say, I brought back the largest bottle I could find of Salsa Lizano. It's great on rice, beans, eggs, meat, and whatever else you want to pour it on or cook in it. Yummy! I'm looking forward to making some Gallo Pinto at home.

After walking back to the hotel, we again watched the sun set from the hotel roof, but when we walked back down and opened the door to our room, we noticed an 8 legged visitor on the floor. It was a spider, but not too big. The funny thing was Gary went to push him out the door with a shoe in his hand (really, he wasn't going to squish him, the spider was too big for that), but the spider must have seen him coming as it bolted out the door ahead of him. It was pretty funny. Another great day in Paradise!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tamarindo Day 1

from Google Earth
I could feel my heart pounding--only $180 for round trip airfare to Costa Rica?? We've been used to paying in the $500-$600 range, so this seemed too good to be true! The only "catch" was that we had to fly into Liberia which is located in the northern part of Costa Rica--too far for us to drive down to our property. But how do you pass a deal like this up? So, Gary and I scooped up the tickets and made plans to check out a different part of the country.

We decided to stay in Tamarindo (also known as TamaGRINGO) which is located on the Nicoya Penisula on the northern Pacific side of Costa Rica. We knew it would be touristy and totally different from where we will be settling in, and actually were a little apprehensive that it would be too Americanized and rowdy for us. Thankfully we were pleasantly surprised. It seems to have a good mix of surfers, tourists, and locals. It is busy, but it was great people-watching, and it never seemed crowded. I'm sure there's quite a nightlife going on there, but since we were back at the hotel each night before it got too dark, we didn't have to navigate through all of that.

Hotel Sign
View from our room

 We stayed at a wonderful little hotel called Casa Bambora. It's a small place with 5 apartments that the owner rents out. Each has a kitchen and, best of all, an ocean view! The hotel is located on a hill within walking distance to downtown and the beach. It was fun to talk with the owner (an American who has lived there 20 years now) and some of the other guests--most of which were from Canada.

View from the hotel patio area
After getting settled in, and asking about walking directions to the beach and downtown, we decided to head out and do some exploring. Unfortunately the directions got a little bit mixed up in our heads, and we took the long way there, including quite a bit of back tracking and head scratching. We did get to see some great scenery along the way at least--Smiley. We finally made it into town and headed straight for something to eat since we hadn't eaten since early that morning.
At our table

Chicken with a pineapple sauce, mashed potatoes, carrots, and mashed taro. It was delicious!

From our table, we had a great view of one of the main streets.

Another view from our table.

After dinner we walked the town a bit more, picked up a few groceries, then headed back up the hill before it got dark since the major up-hill part was a dirt path with no lights. Once back at the hotel, we went up to the roof to watch the sun set. It was a great day!