CategoriesTravel

Traveling with Kids? Go See the Museo de los Niños in Costa Rica

My wife did a pretty awesome job selecting our hotels for the Costa Rica trip. Our final base in San Jose had its quirks – namely, allowing smokers to stink up the air in the courtyard of a nonsmoking hotel. But it had an awesome location that was close to the Museo de los Niños. Anneka loves museums, so we knew this would be a great way to while away the hours. Of course, we hit up a coffee establishment to fortify ourselves beforehand.

Rather than tell you EVERY exhaustive detail about the Museo de los Niños in San Jose, I’ll let these photos do most of the talking. I will say that the museum’s content was refreshingly frank – even delving into addiction and AIDS while also allowing anatomically correct mannequins. It was also super-cheap, as in less than $10 per person. Some of the exhibits were either well-worn or undergoing renovation, but it was still a great place to spend the morning and some of the afternoon. Oh, and it’s apparently built in an old prison that’s been remodeled. Super cool!

Just a word to the wise: The next post will be a roundup of the Costa Rican craft beer scene!

Museo de los Niños
I told Anneka that the pilot goofed up, and they just left his plane at the Museo de los Niños. This is arguably why I am barely qualified to be a parent.
Museo de los Niños
A cool view from the second floor. The dinosaurs are a great way to tie the museum together.
Museo de los Niños
The second I saw this, I was like “Who did the art in this museum, the dudes from The Family Guy?” #Giggity
Museo de los Niños
A cool old helicopter. Some of its maintenance doors are still operable, so I got right in there!
Museo de los Niños
Anneka wanted no part of this T-Rex at first. But she was proud of herself for getting brave and going up to it.
Museo de los Niños
“Who’s this little donkey and why is he photobombing me?” That look on her face is AMAZING.
Museo de los Niños
Another look at the dinosaurs.
Museo de los Niños
Another nifty little vintage flying machine at the Museo de los Niños. There’s also an old electric train and a double-decker bus.
CategoriesTravel

Flying to Costa Rica Kind of Stinks

I love a good long flight. Put me in an economy class seat on a decent airline for 14 hours, and I’m perfectly happy to pass the hours watching movies and devouring books on my Kindle.

Notice the key phrase: a decent airline.

Decent airlines are scarce in the U.S., with an avalanche of nickel-and-diming paired with increasingly cramped airplanes. Then put that on a route that just long enough to be international, but not quite long enough for U.S. based airlines to consider bringing their A Game.

Our recent trip to Costa Rica really brings that into focus: We flew there on two of the three big U.S. legacy carriers – American Airlines and United Airlines. Both flights arrived safely and relatively on-time. At this point, that seems to be the only aim, with on-time more than negotiable.

So what exactly is the problem?

takeoff sky harbor
Takeoff from Sky Harbor

First of all, we live in Phoenix. That means that direct flights to Costa Rica are seasonal, and our flight wasn’t scheduled for the right season. We connected in Dallas via American Airlines. Connections always make things a bit tricky. Fortunately, nothing ran late.

But let’s talk a bit about the seats: The first flight was an Airbus A320, with the second let being a Boeing 737. Both had slimline seats that were absolutely jammed into the seat in front. I’d guess a 30-inch seat pitch. Fortunately, my wife and I had a 3-year-old passenger between us, so we were able to steal her legroom. The seats on the United planes – a 737 from San Jose and an A320 from Houston – were slightly better.

Then there’s the baggage fees. I’ve never flown on an international flight that charged for checked baggage. These "short international" flights seem to get treated like domestic flights, which is really odd to me.

Then there’s the cabin service. American Airlines came out way ahead of United by providing a cold sandwich on the flight from Dallas to San Jose. United had buy on board options on their menu. But apparently they’d sold out on the previous flight. We shrugged it off at the time: Houston has some great food options in the concourse, and we allowed just enough time to pick something up. But, no: An aircraft that was late to push back from our scheduled gate cost us at least 15 minutes. That piled on top of having to go through Immigration and re-check out baggage. We arrived at our gate seven minutes before pushback. And even though there was a grab-and-go restaurant right next to the gate, the gate agents waved us onto the plane as if we were the last ones who would board (we were actually far from it). Fortunately, a brewery near our house was still serving pizza once we got out of the airport (Thank you, McFate, for always being awesome!). Oh, and did I mention that United managed to leave my wife’s backpack in Houston?

Second leg on American Airlines – the night flight to San Jose, Costa Rica.

As for the flight attendants, they varied from flight to flight. The first United crew seemed entirely disinterested in their self-loading cargo. The second was far better, with one flight attendant getting some water to our thirsty 3-year-old before the beverage service (we didn’t have a chance to fill bottles on the mad sprint through the terminal).

What’s to be done about this? My hope is that carriers like JetBlue or even foreign carriers start putting the screws to airlines like American and United. I’m perfectly happy to pay slightly more for airlines that don’t charge for checked luggage on international flights, that have good schedules and that offer decent, consistent service in the cabin (that last one is possible – I’ve seen it in airlines abroad).

It would be nice to see a U.S. airline say "air travel can be awesome, and we’re going to make it so."

It’s a long shot, which is why I always try to book international flights on foreign carriers (Asiana is amazing, with Qantas, SAS and Lufthansa also being pretty solid). Foreign flag carriers seem to realize that they’re often a visitor’s first impression of our country, or a resident’s welcome home. It would be awesome to see an US-based airline make it their mission to act accordingly. Flying can be fun, but our country’s legacy carriers seem determined to make it a drag.

CategoriesTastes

Costa Rica Coffee in 2018

costa rica coffee
Some Costa Rica coffee turned into tasty beverages at Cafe del Barista in Arenjuez.

You’ve probably heard that Costa Rica coffee is ridiculously good. That’s true to a certain extent: You can walk into just about any establishment, pour yourself a mug of brewed coffee that’s been sitting around for hours, and still not need to put any cream or sugar into it.

Espresso is another story, and espresso-based drinks are my bag. I judge establishments by their ability to make a cappuccino – and I like the new-fangled style that has latte-style microfoam and arrives in your hand at drinking temperature. This sort of thing is pretty rare in Costa Rica. Most of the caps I had were too hot, which made them bitter. Many of the baristas nailed the foam pretty well.

Anyway, let’s take a stroll through the places where I drank some coffee and espresso. (Note: I usually only drink coffee four days a week. But I seriously indulged myself for all 10 days of my trip.)

Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio

Cafe Milagro in Manuel Antonio and Quepos is well-known. It’s not just a coffeehouse, but a full-service restaurant that keeps going well past dark. It’s a great place to grab a fish sandwich.

costa rica coffee
A cappuccino at Cafe Milagro

They also serve a tasty brewed coffee, probably my favorite of the type that I drank in Costa Rica. Their cappuccinos are so-so.

The short craft beer – or cervezas artisenal – list, is a nice feature for visits later in the day. Not extensive, but still a good start.

Downtown Coffee Roasters, San Jose

Downtown Coffee Roasters is in a pedestrians-only section of San Jose. And it is by far the best place to get espresso. Their cappuccino is absolutely perfect – right temperature, foam and taste. They also do a fine nitro cold brew -- I actually drank both on the same day, and you can imagine the result of that much caffeine. But I regret nothing. Would do again, 12/10.

I know this is a shorter write-up than some of the others. But Downtown Coffee Roasters was my favorite, and there are only so many ways I can say that. 

Doka Estate, Alajuela

I was a little skeptical of a coffee plantation tour. It sounded like boredom to me. But we wanted something to do that afternoon, so I went along with it. And I was proven wrong.

costa rica coffee
My not-so-inner 12-year-old couldn’t stop laughing at this statue.

It was very cool to see the amount of care and energy that goes into a drink so many of us love. There’s also a good bit of innovation. Ray, our tour guide, was engaging and knowledgeable -- and he let us try some of the tasks. Hands-on activities are always good! I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I’ll say that it’s worth your time, even if you think you know coffee.

Speaking of which, the tour included samples of four different types of brewed coffee. And I plunked down an extra $3 for a shot of espresso. It was a good shot – nice crema, which is always a good indicator. The Doka plantation is too far away to drop in for a casual morning cup, but it was still a nice place to sample some drinks.

Cafe del Barista, San Jose (Aranjuez)

I had some high expectations from the vibe at Cafe fel Barista. I expected them to be as good as Central Coffee Roasters. They were not. They were a cut above Cafe Milagro, though. Be careful if your Spanish is rusty: They serve spiked coffee drinks, too, at all times of day. That’s how the wife wound up with her crazy concoction.

costa rica coffee
The menu at Cafe del Barista

The cappuccino was pretty good, definitely more of a modern style with the latte-style foam. For me, it was a bit too hot and a bubbly. Still one of the better ones I had in Costa Rica, but not a match for Downtown Coffee Roasters.

CategoriesAdventuresTravel

What’s Costa Rica Like?

What's Costa Rica like?
Sure, lots of travelers have been to Costa Rica. But that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy the Original Canopy Tour any less.

You can tell someone is an obnoxiously world-weary hipster traveler if you ask "What’s Costa Rica like?" and the answer starts with a sigh. And then a sneer, and then the words "Costa Rica is so -- Americanized.

I’ve heard this answer countless times, and I find it just as myopic now as I did the first time.

Yes, Costa Rica has McDonald’s and common fast-food chains. But show me just one place in the United States where a jackhammer of a road like the one from Lake Arenal to Monteverde serves a major destination for travelers. Show me a major metro-area mall where guards tote shotguns. Show me a hotel in a capital city that’s surrounded by razor wire.

OK, then.

What's Costa Rica like?
Meet a coati in Costa Rica.

What’s Costa Rica Like?

I might not have made Costa Rica sound very nice right then. It definitely doesn’t sound like the United States. And it’s not.

It’s more laid back, more laissez faire. During my trip, the chaotic traffic through me off. Now that I’ve been to Vietnam, I might be a bit more comfortable with it.

Here’s what you can expect: tasty food, beautiful scenery and people who are genuinely friendly, even those not affiliated with the tourism industry. People there really do say "pura vida" to greet each other. It’s not some travel magazine exaggeration. One traveler friend described Costa Ricans, aka Ticos, as the Canadians of Latin America.

What's Costa Rica Like?
Looks at these little scamps hanging out in Manuel Antonia, Costa Rica!

Living Pura Vida

Here’s a great example of what Costa Rica is like: I was a few hours outside San Jose visiting La Paz Waterfall Gardens. And shit -- I missed the last bus back. Well, an employee from the gardens noticed, and offered me a ride back toward San Jose, where he lives in a different neighborhood. We had a pleasant ride back, chatting the whole way about all that’s good and bad about life in Costa Rica. When he dropped me off at a convenient spot, I offered him some gas money. He wouldn’t take a dime from me. He’s still one of the all-time nice guys I’ve met in my travels. (If you go to La Paz Waterfall Gardens and see someone named Roy, that’s him. And if Cassador the cat is still around, give him a scratch between the ears. Cassador, that is. Not Roy.)

What's Costa Rica Like?
Check out the La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

Advice for Your Costa Rica Adventure

Fly anywhere you can with one of the local airlines. Four hours in a bus on bumpy roads equals 15 minutes aloft in a Nature Air Twin Otter. The views are spectacular, and that’s time you add to your valuable-beyond-money vacation. It is worth every penny you spend (especially since you won’t be holding in a giant pee after a few hours). A quick flight from San Jose puts you in Quepos, where it’s a short ride to Manuel Antonio.

And look, there are tons of blogs out there that will give you Top 10 Most Awesome lists about everything in Costa Rica. They’ll tell you what to add to your – excuse me while a barf just a little from cliche-induced nausea – "bucket list." So I won’t dive too far into that.

What's Costa Rica like?
Go to Monteverde if you like coffee, yoga and easy access to solitude. Just prepare for a rough road.

I’ll just say the volcano-philes like me will love Costa Rica. So will people who love zip lines, coffee, simple-but-hearty food and soccer rivalries; if you can schedule your trip around Saprissa versus Alajuela, you will have a ton of fun basking in soccer madness. The country is also brilliant-green enough to blind someone from a desert environment.

What's Costa Rica like?
One of the residents of the La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

Costa Rica in a Word: Aware

The powers that be in Costa Rica know what they have on their hands: scenery, scenery, scenery. The country has protected 25 percent of its land area, and is still working to improve.

Just ignore the hipster travelers and their scorn. Go to Costa Rica and have fun, even if you aren’t going before it was cool. Because it still is. Honestly.




CategoriesTravel

Travel Writing – Can You Trust It?

travel writing
Auckland – much maligned by locals. Don’t believe them.

Kiwis hate Auckland – and I can’t figure out why. It’s scenic, relatively laid-back, full of stuff to do. So why the hate from everyone outside its city limits – and even many residents?

This makes me question my travel writing. Every single day, I think about how much I liked the cities I’ve visited. And I wonder if it’s just because it’s different. Is Reykjavik that cool, or is it just the unfamiliarity? (To be fair, Icelanders seem to love it, too). Is Sydney just another sprawling metropolis of worker bees and cubicle drones, or is it truly a world-class collective of all that’s cool?

It’s easy to fall in the trap of being just so done with your homebase – especially if it’s like Phoenix … a young city trying to establish itself, all while dealing with a good four months of scorching-hot, sap-your-soul, make-you-crazy heat. Of course Wellington will seem like Paradise. Of course I’ll want to move to Monteverde, Costa Rica. And yes, Portland starts looking better and better.

Another perfect example comes from a comment in my Phoenix Espresso News post: “True espresso in [sic] only in Naples.” That’s such closed-minded thinking. I’ll hear similar lofty proclamations from a lot of American travelers, especially college kids who recently wound up backpacking across Europe. Invariably, they’re just sucked into the glamor of drinking espresso in Italy versus, say, Flagstaff. They’re tasting the stamp on the passport, not the espresso.

Travel writers are also highly susceptible – we got lured into the unfamiliar. Some get so roped in that they’ll extol the virtues of even the most unlovable parts of their destinations (I now read the word “vibrant” as “ramshackle, crowded and dirty” thanks to travel writing cliches). And we want to say something that grabs your attention.

So how can anyone avoid the hyperbole? Like this: Figure out the specifics. What did you see that you wish you could bring home with you? What’s an innovation that goes unnoticed and unconsidered back home? Put the details in your writing. Be specific. It’s a lot better than just calling it great, amazing or beautiful and moving on.

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesAccommodations

Serenity Now! – Four Places to Find Quiet

[wpgmappity id=”1″]

Photobucket
Morning outside the Gaia Riverlodge.

Sometimes, the din has to stop. You need to get away from TVs, traffic and the white noise of people-people-everywhere. But where? A slice of quiet seems harder than ever to find, but I have some ideas.

The Cayo District, Belize
Far from the legless beggars, heat and general unpleasantness of Belize City, you’ll find the Cayo District. People go there for Mayan ruins, limestone caverns – and quiet. There are probably dozens of cool places to stay. Our stay at Five Sisters Lodge – now known as Gaia Riverlodge – was my wife’s work, not mine. Finding the Gaia Riverlodge involves dirt roads – and it’s at least 30 minutes by car away from the small city of San Ignacio.

And what a find – you won’t hear so much as a hair dryer. Gaia Riverlodge gets its power from a hydroelectric dam nearby. The power flickers according to the flow, and there’s nowhere near enough for power-sucking stuff like televisions. Mornings are misty and serene – perfect for a hike or a mountain bike ride. Nights are great for a stroll -- just know that those little sparkles you see reflected in your flashlight are the eyes of thousands of spiders.

Photobucket
Find serenity in Monteverde – along with herds of curious coatis.

Monteverde, Costa Rica
Getting to Monteverde by road involves pummeling – the road seems like it was paved by having a B-52 carpet-bomb the jungle with a line of bowling balls. Monteverde is your reward. the first thing I noticed was light rain floating down despite the sunshine – locals call the fluffy, vapor-like rain pelo de gato, or cat’s hair.

Yoga retreats are big in Monteverde thanks to the solitude. But you can still find good food everywhere, from Italian staples to the best damn veggie burger I’ve ever had -- served from an unnamed outdoor kitchen by the roadside. Take a hike and see coatis and purple hummingbirds the size of sparrows. And let’s not forget the zip line thrills of the Original Canopy Tour.

Our "room" at Woodlyn Park. We even had the cockpit!
Greenery, blue skies, quiet, cool

Waitomo, New Zealand

The search for cool caving expeditions put Waitomo on our radar. And when I found out about Woodlyn Park, I was sold. No normal hotel, this one: The rooms include suites made from a Bristol freighter plane, railroad cars, a yacht and even Hobbit holes. We booked a room in the airplane, which has a mini-kitchen.

Our caving adventure was amazing, and so was the pastoral quiet. Between the comfy room and the silence, we slept deep. When we wanted a bit of pre-sleep fun, Curly’s Bar (which burned down in November 2012 – thought the website is still up) isn’t far away. Or we could drive up the road to the Thirsty Weta on some quiet streets. Convenience, yes – but you’ll feel far away from it all.

wandering justin myvatn iceland
On the shore of Myvatn at Vogar campground.

Myvatn, Iceland
Solitude is hardly in short supply when you visit Iceland. But certain places are more peaceful than others – just try getting any sleep when a bunch of college kids are singing Joan Osborne songs at the Skaftafell campgrounds! The campsites in Reykjahlid are a different story.

Not only is the area quiet, but the shoreside campground are nice and grassy. Put up your tent, crawl into the sleeping bag, relax -- and you’d swear you’re on a mattress. After a busy day of hiking the Krafla Fissure, Dimmuborgir, Hverir Crater and other crazy places nearby, you’ll be ready for a rest. And if you really want to apply the knockout to a restful night, visit the Myvatn Nature Baths. It’s like the famous Blue Lagoon, minus the price and crowds.

Enhanced by Zemanta
CategoriesUncategorized

La Mansion Inn a Great Place for Costa Rica Luxury

Monkeys hang out down the road from La Mansion Inn - the presidential suite was booked on the night they wanted.

Nothing livens up your breakfast like having a monkey come flying in through an open window and stealing a banana from a nearby table – all before shimmying up a telephone pole, crossing the wire and sharing the bounty with his troupe.

This isn’t the sort of thing that happens at luxury hotels. That’s one of the reason I prefer low budget.

But  I saw a place in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica (where this monkey business took place), that made me open to the idea of some luxury accommodations now and then.

La Mansion Inn is surrounded by jungle and ocean. At night, it’s dark and peaceful. It has a bar called The Bat Cave for people who want a high-quality beer (not easy to find in Costa Rica) and a taste of La Mansion’s luxury.

How luxurious is it? Well, presidents have stayed there. It lives up to the name, with a flavor more like you’ve stumbled into someone’s private estate than into a hotel. But it was also friendly – none of that “are you here to steal the silverware?” vibe from the staff. That might come from what are some pretty reasonable prices: $125-$295 for a standard room, depending on the season. The presidential suites, though, run $650-$850.

The views from the pool and balconies are amazing. La Mansion is up on a cliff, so you’ll have lots of visibility. You can also get hooked up with a tour or a deep-sea fishing trip.

I’m certain I’ll get back to Costa Rica one of these days. After spending a day or two in San Jose to take in a Saprissa match and load up on pupusas, I will head right back to the airport and catch a flight to Quepos, followed by a brief taxi ride to Manuel  Antonio.

Even though the odds are against your breakfast fruit getting pilfered by a primate, you can get your fill of monkey and iguana encounters just by taking a quick walk down to Manuel Antonio National Park. Check out the trails, lounge on the beach, grab a fresh coconut – and watch for the monkeys!

CategoriesAdventures

Going to Costa Rica? 9 Tips to Help

Costa Rica is not showing any signs of slowing as a popular destination for Americans. And for good reason. The place is flat-out fun, with beautiful rainforests, rampant wildlife and

Sarah on the Original Canopy Tour
Sarah on the Original Canopy Tour

genuinely wonderful people (even those who don’t work in the tourism industry). It’s been a few years since my visit, but I still have some tips that’ll help.

Costa Rica Tip 1: Don’t Drive

If you’re from the United States, the driving situation is a lot like the opening 10 minutes of Revenge of the Sith (but with better acting and dialogue). Oddly enough, while their driving would spark road rage incidents in America, Costa Rican drivers honk and wave at the people who cut them off or pass them on the right at high speed with three inches of clearance.

Continue reading

CategoriesAccommodationsTravel

7 Cool Ways to Recycle an Airplane

These days, recycling is cool. And so are airplanes – even the Honda Civic of the skies that is the 737.

That makes recycling airplanes an off-the-charts, Ricardo Montalban-level of cool. I’m not talking about turning Cessnas into aluminum cans. I’m talking about turning Boeing jumbo jets into backpacker hostels, or shady old military cargo planes into jungle restaurants.

Here are a few really cool places where you can eat, sleep and/or drink in a recycled airplane. The small but vibrant Costa Rican town of Manuel San Antonio seems to have the largest number, per capita, of such projects. (NOTE: If you know of any others, e-mail me and I’ll include them in a future post).

Not So High-Flying in Costa Rica

El Avion (Manuel San Antonio)
Photobucket
This Fairchild C-123 is linked to the Iran-Contra Affair – but these days, it’s as benign as a glassful of house-made sangria. You’ll find ticos and touristas side-by-side chomping bar food and downing cans of Imperial. And enjoying an unmatched ambience – perched on a cliff, with the occassional monkey cruising by (especially if there’s an unattended trash can nearby). El Avion has history, scenery and a low price. Some of these aircraft carry a hefty price to enter, but at El Avion, a few colones for a pint is all you need. Last Visited – 2003

Hotel Costa Verde (Manuel San Antonio)
Most of the Hotel Costa Verde is pretty typical upscale jungle fare. Unless you book passage in the 727 suite. This room is not only cool for being inside a Boeing’s fuselage, but also more opulent than even U2’s 727! Costa Rica is pretty progressive about protecting its timber resources, and this suite is absolutely jammed with teak: Hotel Costa Verde might pick up some eco-points if it had a good source of sustainable wood for the project. Your seat on this flight comes at a premium: $300 per night in the off-season.

Grounded in the Wop-Wops
Woodlyn Park (Waitomo Caves, NZ)

A perfect respite after a day of hiking, driving or caving – all in the nose of a plane!

Kiwi bloke Billy Black doesn’t do typical hotels – some masonry, a blocky design, the same ol’, same ol’. No – he scrounged an old Bristol freighter and turned it into a two-suite mini hotel. The cockpit room is where it’s at: Families can stow the kiddies in the 747-like cockpit hump for the night, and take the downstairs bunk for themselves. The room also includes a perfect shower and a kitchenette. The price was also very reasonable at $160 NZ per night – that was about $82 US! Be sure to check out the train room, boat hotel and hobbit rooms, too. Last visited – 2009

Outside the Woodlyn Park Bristol freighter

Sweden Goes Jumbo

Jumbo Hostel (Stockholm, Sweden)
When it comes to recycling an airplane, it doesn’t come on a much bigger scale than a 747-200. I first heard about this from my friends at SpotCoolStuff.com. Jumbo Hostel is parked at Arlanda International Airport – convenient! You can get anything from bunk bed-style rooms to a private room in the cockpit. The only other re-used 747 was turned into a restaurant in Korea. Since it went belly up, it doesn’t get a space on the list – Jumbo Hostel retains the biggest designation! (Update: Been there, stayed at it.)

Still a Mile High in Colorado

The Airplane Restaurant (Colorado Springs, Colo. USA)
It’s pretty fitting that you’ll find a place like this in Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The restaurant is alternately called Solo’s, or just The Airplane Restaurant. The centerpiece of the dually monikered eatery is a KC-97 tanker, but the rest is regular ol’ dining room. The food doesn’t appear to be anything really unusual, but I’ll give any place props for having a buffalo burger.

Southwest in the South

Parachute Inn (Walnut Ridge, Ark. USA)
This is the least exciting entry. It’s a 737 still in its drab rusty orange and faded yellow livery. It’s tacked into an existing restaurant. Its specialty seems to be southern cooking and seafood. It doesn’t have a Web site.

CategoriesUncategorized

Viva el Monstruo – Capturing Costa Rican Character

When I landed in Costa Rica back in 2003, I was pretty underprepared. This was my wife’s trip. She planned it and sweated the details. I packed my backpack (and actually remembered my underwear, for once), got on the plane and went along for the ride.

Unfortunately, this means I had little concept of the awesome soccer culture of Costa Rica. We woke up the day after our flight to a soccer mania that, we learned, would literally sweep the nation. We had little idea of this until we boarded a shuttle from San Jose to La Fortuna. As I got on the bus, I noticed that the driver, one of three employees on the bus, was decked out in purple: some sort of purple jersey, purplish jeans and even purple mirrored sunglasses.

As we drove off, I asked the older employee, who seemed to be the boss, what the deal was.

“Is for Saprissa, the football team. We are playing today against Alajuela, our rival. It is very big game,” he explained.

And wouldn’t you know it! Our route would take us straight through the heart of Alajuela, where fans of La Liga Alajuelense were parading up and down the streets in their striped jerseys. Our driver, apparently not one to let a sleeping dog lie, leered at, wagged his tongue at, gesticulated at and honked his horn at roving mobs of Alajuelense supporters. Everywhere we went, La Liga fans were boring holes in our bus with our eyes. And mind you, the match hadn’t even started yet!

The bus crew explained to me that Saprissa is the biggest team – which I took with a grain of salt, because every Leeds United fan in England will still insist that their team is “a massive club.” But Saprissa was apparently ahead on points, but La Liga had had their number for the past few seasons. A victory today would be a famous win for the ages.

We made a stop halfway to La Fortuna at a roadside market. And they sold soccer shirts, so I could get in the mania! They mostly had La Liga and Saprissa. I selected an extra large Saprisa knock-off jersey (really more like a large in U.S. sizes) and stepped up to the register.

“No, no!” the clerk objected, pointing at a La Liga shirt. “You have to support the local team!”

I insisted on the glowing purple Saprissa shirt, which set me back something like $17 … I can’t remember what that was in colones. Anyway, I came out of the store with my new Saprissa shirt, and the bus crew saw it. They start whooping, patting me on the back, shaking my hand and high-fiving until their arms were about to fall off. They also clued me in, saying the club’s nickname is El Monstruo, or The Monster. That Jarvis Drummond is a god. And all sorts of other things I can scarcely remember.

By the time we got to La Fortuna, the match had started. The bus crew wanted to drop everyone off quickly and get to a TV. The clerk at Las Colinas could barely tear himself away to check us in, but he was really friendly and wanted us to get to a TV to watch, too. We headed to a nearby restaurant for a helping of gallo pinto. There, they had a TV. And all of La Fortuna was urging Saprissa on. Televisions everywhere were blaring. The entire town cheered, groaned and gasped in unison.

By the time were left the restaurant, La Fortuna was in rapture: Saprissa battered La Liga 4-1, breaking the cross-town rival’s hold on the derby. The entire town was upbeat.

And here’s the funny thing: About that time, I noticed that my sunglasses were gone. They must’ve slipped off sometime in the bus. Which meant I’d have to grab a cheap pair of sunglasses somewhere … bummer, I really liked those Spys.

But the next day, Sarah and I were having a morning stroll. We heard a bus honking behind us. Behind the wheel was my purple-wearing friend, waving my Spys out the window. We exchanged more handshakes, and they were on their way back to San Jose. Think they would’ve done that had I bought a La Liga shirt?!

As we traveled through Costa Rica, a theme repeated itself: I would meet a resident, and we’d talk a bit. Inevitably, I’d ask if they supported Saprissa. And nearly to the word, they’d say “I am THE BIGGEST Saprissa fan!!!”

I only ran into on La Liga fan: She was employed at the airport by Costa Rica’s version of the TSA. As she was screening me, she noticed a flash of purple jersey under my long-sleeve Lost Dutchman Marathon shirt.

“Tu eres Saprissista?” she growled, raising an eyebrow. That’s when she pulled me out of the line, gave me a wink and proceeded with the full-service search.

Be careful where you wear your Saprissa shirt, kids …

CategoriesUncategorized

The Final Australia 2007 Post

Friday, Aug. 31

Seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen an F-111 fly a few hundred feet over your head with its afterburners lit. This was part of a crazy celebration called Riverfire. If you ever visit Australia, do yourself a favor: Be in Brisbane for Riverfire. The video is lengthy, but it gives you a great idea of the fireworks display, and the jets that open and close it. Awesome!

We woke up early and took a stroll around the downtown area. This is a very outdoorsy city, lots of people running and cycling. After some breakfast, we picked a direction and walked. We also noticed that everybody was getting all aflutter about Riverfire. People were already lining the riverbanks to grab primo spots for the evening’s festivities. Sarah and I aren’t much for parades and shindigs, so we largely ignored it. We were pretty happy to be proven wrong later, but more on that toward the end.

Our first stop was the excellent Queensland Museum, which is really strong on science and nature. There was just too much cool stuff to see. We spent a few hours easily cruising around in there before heading out for general walking about. There’s a very neighborly feel to Brisbane, with a lot of non-chain store types of places. This particular section of Brizzy is like a big college town, even though Queensland University is down the river. Speaking of QU, we thought it would be fun to check out the campus.

We hopped on the CityCat, a huge, fast-moving catamaran, to scope out the river banks and get us a lift to the university. QU is actually a bit dumpy and not surrounded by as much funky cool stuff as, say the University of Washington in Seattle (talk about the epitome of a perfectly awesome university). We were pretty amazed by the sports facilities and the very athletic-oriented vibe, though. We returned to our area via the CityCat and headed to the area near our hotel. We strolled around the Queen Street Mall, which is a termite mound of activity at any hour.

We also stopped at The Brewhouse, which certainly doesn’t swing in the same weight class as Sydney’s Redoak. At that point, it was about time for us to look up Sarah’s former roommate, who happened to be living in Brizzy with her new dude Michael, who is in the Ozzy army. We were soon on their 23rd floor flat, which was right across from out hotel. This provided a great viewing point for Riverfire, plus it gave us a great chance to hang out with a bunch of Ozzies in their natural habitat. They were a very fun bunch, very lively and welcoming. The occasion, aside from Riverfire,was Michael’s birthday. Those cats sure enjoyed their karaoke! Well, we had a full last day. Time to pack! Boo, as Sarah would say.

Saturday, Sept. 1

Man, I can’t make any of this travel sound cool anymore. It’s depressing packing and heading for the airport. Especially when the lines are long and slow.

But still, what a great vacation. You don’t really need to know more than that, do you?

Sunday, Sept. 2

Back home, in Arizona. Tired, time sense jacked up. But this feeling is worth it, and more. Quit saying you want to go to Australia someday. Just go do it.

Well, that wraps it up! Thanks for reading … I hope you enjoyed reading as much I as I did writing. So what’s next here at Wandering Justin’s blog? Well, plans for New Zealand 2009 are well in the works – Sarah and I are filling up notebooks and plotting our course on a dry-erase board. We’ll share what we learn as we book hotels and activities, and pick up the necessary gear.

In the meantime, I’ll do a little time travel with some far shorter accounts of our adventures in Vancouver, Belize and Costa Rica. I might even go REALLY far back in time to my famous aerobatic journey in a WWII-era AT-6 Texan. So stick around – there’s more fun to come!