Tuesday, August 14, 2007

La Comida Tipica de Costa Rica, Nicaragua, y Honduras

This is a very special installment of "La Comida Tipica" for three reasons. First, it's the last one.

Second, it combines three countries. I would like to say that there's a good reason for this, but really it's because I drafted all the remaining blog posts for the trip already and forgot to draft "comida tipica" entries for Nicaragua or Honduras. Because as far as I can tell Blogger doesn't allow you to insert an entry before the end (thanks Sergei and Larry), if I were to create them now they would be all out of order--and we just can't have that now can we.

Finally, it's special because I would like to dedicate this entry--and the whole series--to my good friends Adam and Susie who got engaged in Costa Rica while I was away. Adam and Susie are a fantastic couple and, as serious foodies, are the inspiration for this series. They're going to have a delicious life together.

Costa Rica

Here is a typical Costa Rican breakfast, called gallo pinto:

Some tacos for lunch:

Casado con bistec:

A typical variety plate:

This is a "soda" which is a typical Costa Rican fast food restaurant:


This is the most typical food of Grenada, called vigoron. It's yucca with fried pork skins and slaw served on banana leaves.

And, here's a fried stuffed taco:

This is tamarind-flavored juice, modeled by Jaser and Guadelope:

And, this is the kiosk where I got the vigoron and juice:

Here's some real legit Nicaraguan street food. These two I got at the famous Masaya market. A pork taco-type thing with some chocolate drink in a bag:

This was an entire meal I got behind the big church in Grenada. It was dirt cheap and delicious, and they even had tables set up outside.

And desert:

Here are some typically Nicaraguan drinks. This is Flora de Cana, a rum-like drink made from sugar cane and drank with coke.

Here's one of the two popular Nicaraguan beers, Tona. The other is called Victoria and the joke is that every Nicaraguan guy has at least two girlfriends.


My primary activity in Honduras was a trip to the Mosquito Coast to canoe into the jungle. For the first night, I stayed in a coastal Moskito village called Raista. The proprietor was named Elma and she served us the most delicious lobster in red sauce with rice and fresh bread:

As you can see, it came from Elma's Kitchen:

After Raista, we took a motorized canoe up the Rio Platino to another indiginous town called Las Marias. From Las Marias, we hired guides and hiked into the jungle.

We had to purchase all of our provisions before the trip, even though our guides were going to bring their own food and do all the cooking. The food was incredibly cheap and we tried to explain to the head guide that tourists like us would gladly pay double for the food if the guides just brought it themselves and took care of everything; but he didn't seem to get it. Anyway, here's where we bought our food:

And here's the breakfast our guides made for us in the jungle. Rice and beans are essential elements of every meal. They fry the uncooked rice in shortening before cooking it in water. We also added a packet of chicken soup mix for flavor. On the right is a pancake-like thing made of flour and lots of shortening (they love the stuff). It was a bit bland, but certainly weighty.

And, here's some fish I had in Las Marias:

And the family that hosted us in Las Marias and served our food:

Finally, here's the popular beer in Honduras. Like most Latin American beers, it was unremarkable.

La Fortuna

After a full day in Monteverde, I booked a combo trip the next day--a bus and boat ride to the city of La Fortuna; a hike and view of Volcan Arena (an active volcano); and a few hours at the local hot springs.

The Journey

Here are a couple of shots taken during the bus and boat ride:


The town of La Fortuna is beautifully situated beneath the volcano. Here are some shots of Volcan Arena during the day and at night.

Hot Springs

After viewing the volcano at night we were dropped off at a beautiful resort featuring natural hot springs. The water varied from cold to scalding hot; and there were a few cool bars in the pools that served pina coladas out of pineapple skins. If you fall off your barstool here, no big deal...

A highlight of this day's adventure was meeting a great crew of women from the Peace Corps who were just starting their two years in Costa Rica.

Alexia and I are still in touch. I call her "mi mexicana linda pero republicana." She's actually from Texas, but she has Mexican heritage and speaks fluent Spanish. And, yes, she's a Republican AND in the Peace Corps. I'm working on that first part...

Here's our whole crew outside the resort:

Monteverde, Costa Rica

On Thursday morning, August 9, I walked across the Panama/Costa Rica border and hopped on a bus to San Jose. On this busride it really hit me that I had to throw my trip into high gear. I had 18 days to get through Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras and get back to Guatemala City for my August 28 flight home. I also had delusions of spending some more time in Guatemala since there was so much there I didn´t see the first time around. After six months of being ¨muy tranquilo¨I was now in a serious rush.

I passed an uneventful night in San Jose and got on a 6:30am bus out the next morning to Monteverde a small town that´s become a tourist destination due to jungle-related activities. I arrived at 11:30, checked into a hostel, and signed up for a 12:30 canopy zip-line tour.

Flying (Through the Jungle)

It was pretty sweet flying through the top of the jungle. One of the lines was about 500 meters long. Here are some cool shots of the closest I´m ever likely to get to flying (until I finally try sky diving).

And, towards the end they had a free-fall, tarzan-style jump. Here´s me swingin´from my artificial vine:

Nightwalk (Through the Jungle)
After flying through the jungle by day, I decided to see it at night. Several companies in Monteverde offer guided nightwalks. I was a bit skeptical at the $12 price for a two hour walk; but it was well worth it. Our guide was excellent and I saw more cool animals on this trip than on most of my other vacation combined.

At the beginning of our walk very high in a balsa-like tree we saw what our guide said was a two-toed sloth. We had to take his word, because it just looked like a dark blob way up there (not even worth posting a picture).

Sloths are fascinating animals. They live for 20-25 years, mostly alone. They used to live on the ground, but they now spend 95% of their time up in the trees to avoid predators (wildcats and eagles), mostly upside down. They come down only to defecate, which they do ONLY ONCE PER WEEK. They will actually bury their shit in the ground so that the smell doesn't attract predators. The reason they seem so "lazy" is that they eat very rough leaves and their digestive system has to work very hard to consume them.

Next, let's talk spiders. I hate spiders--especially hairy ones. But, I have a morbid fascination with them as well. Plus, I always thought that tarantulas were deadly poisonous, but it turns out most of them can't really hurt you that bad.

This is a female, orange-kneed tarantula, which lives 18-20 years:

And, here's an albino tarantula:

And this little guy is a relative of the wolf spider:

Our guide said this was the find of the night, a very poisonous side striped palm pit viper:

This cool bug looks exactly like a leaf and is called the "leaf mimic katydid."

This is a giant ant hill which houses a colony of at least 3 million ants--all with only one queen.

Here's a nice shot of a cricket:

It was a very full day--the kickoff of my new (rushed) life as a traveler with severely limited time. But, it was quite fun.

La Comida Tipica de Panama

Panama's cuisine is not what I would describe as "inspired." It is heavily rice and beans based, and not very strong in flavor.

Here are some shots of the most typical Panamanian "comida" there is. Rice and meat with beans or another side.

This is a very typical Panamanian dish called hojaldres con carne ahumado. It's basically deep fried bread with deep fried beef jerky--and it's delicious.

This is not exactly "typical" Panamanian food, but it was the best meal I had in the country--and perhaps the best meal on the whole trip that wasn't Argentine steak. It was a beautifully cooked and crusted tuna dish with wasabi mashed potatoes and a ceviche appetizer that I enjoyed in Bocas del Toro with my German friends Jenny and Claudia:

Shifting to the other end of the culinary spectrum, I couldn't resist this imitation McDonald's. I know this seems crazy to folks in the U.S., but this place was way more downscale than the original.

Careful blog readers will recognize this as my own chicken parmesan from the previous post. Obviously not typical Panamanian--but I cooked it in Panama and this is my damn blog so shut the hell up.

Finally, another non-typical dish that had to make the cut. The Peace Corps volunteers in Panama are always passing through the city of David in their various travels. Well, they've discovered that a particular casino in David offers a huge plate of nachos for a very reasonable price. Eating lunch at the casino has consequently become a popular Peace Corps pastime. I was fortunate enough to join them one day: