Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rum, beer and relleno

Merry Christmas from Nicaragua. Today is dead day here. Folks here celebrate Christmas Eve much more than Christmas Day. That is because everyone drinks a lot on Christmas Eve. The preferred Christmas drink here is rum. The best and by far most popular brand is the Flor de Caña.

While the tragitos (shots) of rum are the most popular Christmas drinks, the beer is not far behind in popularity. The brand that you see most often is Toña. It is also my favorite beer in Nicaragua.

The most important Christmas dish here is the gallina rellena (stuffed hen) or just relleno for short. It is really good. The dish has shredded chicken, carrots, beets and a couple of other vegetables.

Well, it is time to rest as the whole country seems to have a hangover. Feliz Navidad. BTW the best way the folks here seem to deal with that hangover is to eat and drink...just a little more.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Feliz Navidad from Nicaragua

Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas from Nicaragua. I am currently in the northern, mountainous part of the country. I am in the city of Esteli: famous for cowboys and producing tobacco. The weather is cool with mountain air and people are very friendly. It is a very different type of Christmas atmosphere but one anyone familiar with the holiday would recognize in its hybrid forms. Santa even got sexy as you can see from the parade photo below.  Yes, those are hot girls dressed up in Santa suits that you see.

The central park in town is all decked out with lights and Christmas decorations. It is a nice and fun atmosphere. You would think it would be absurdly hot since I am in Central America but this mountain climate is very cool and you actually need a jacket or sweater.

Gallina Rellena or stuffed hen is a typical dish. I had some of it today and it’s very tasty. However, most  folks here in Nicaragua find Christmas to be more of a time to get together and celebrate and place less of an emphasis on gifts and gift giving. They do like to drink beer and rum on this holiday…and the night before and the night before that. Etc. Merry Christmas from Nicaragua.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Costa Rica's Caribbean Port City Limón

I want to take you all to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Limón is the largest city on the Caribbean Coast. It is an interesting and often misunderstood place. In this city a traveler can witness an interesting ethnic mixing of Indigenous, Mestizos (mixed indigenous and Spanish), Spanish and Afro-Caribbean populations. In this post I want to share some brief history of the city and personal observations.

Much of this cultural mixing is present because of North American corporate interests. U.S.-based United Fruit Company (UFC) established itself as fundamental to Central and South American fruit production and exportation. Railroad scion Keith recruited thousands of Afro-Caribbean workers, primarily English speakers from Jamaica, when the railroad’s oppressive work conditions were rejected by a small and unwilling Costa Rican labor pool. After the construction of the railroad these English-speaking workers stayed in Costa Rica. The United Fruit Company embedded itself so deeply in Central America that Spanish speakers referred to the corporation as el pulpo or the octopus.

The majority of Costa Rica’s black population still lives along the nation’s Caribbean coast, primarily in Limón. Many of these residents continue to speak a dialect of English called patois in the home and often elderly residents will be monolingual English speakers. It would take almost 50 years from the railroad’s completion for the ethno-linguistic minority to gain full rights of citizenship in Costa Rica.

Limón is an often forgotten city for many Ticos (Costa Ricans) and the government. National services are slow to arrive here. The city has a reputation for poverty and crime. Some of this is deserved and some not so. I know of one friend whose computer was stolen on a bus in Limón. As with any place you should use caution when travelling. Limón is only a three-hour bus ride from the capital. However, the city has much to offer for a day trip from San José and/or on the way to one of the Caribbean beaches. If you go I recommend trying all the various tropical fruits, pati (meat-filled pastries) and rice and beans (often made with coconut milk).

 The beaches are nice but not the best on the coast. However, a short taxi ride to playa bonita is worth the trip.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Getting To Know Costa Rica's Central Pacific Coast

When I ask Costa Ricans what are the best beaches in the country most of them tend to direct me toward the country’s Pacific Coast. This coastline is extensive and it’s beautiful. It is also much more developed. It seems to be where most of the Costa Ricans vacation and where many of the tourists tend to congregate. However, I don’t feel that I should lump all of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica together as one beach. These beaches vary greatly with types of sand, vegetation and access to reach them. In this post I will focus on the areas of the Central Pacific Coast.
Map Courtesy of

The first beach I visited on the Pacific was Jacó. It is the closest to the capital city of San José and is easy to reach by car. It is also the one of the most heavily visited and I find that it offers very little in terms of natural beauty. It is very popular for its nightlife and has many discos and nightclubs (which in Costa Rica generally means strip clubs). It has become a rather seedy town but is easy to take a bus or drive there. It only takes about 2 hours to get there by car and slightly longer in bus.
Many Costa Ricans really enjoy visiting the town of Quepos and its nearby national park of Manuel Antonio. This park is incredibly beautiful. You can see iguanas, birds, sloths and monkeys. Be warned there is an entry fee of $10 for foreigners and a lower fee for Costa Ricans. I don’t remember what the entry fee is for Costa Ricans I always had to pay the higher fee and you will too unless you have a cédula (residency card). The best beaches by far are the ones inside the national park. It is worth the money to see the incredible beaches. However, it is a long walk. Here are a couple of pictures of the beaches inside the park.

I really like Manuel Antonio. The area has good infrastructure and you can stay at a range of places from hostel-type settings to very pricey hotels. One thing I do not like very much is that the entire community is built up a mountain so it is really difficult to walk as there are few shoulders to the road and traffic whizzes by at a breakneck speed. Access to the town of Quepos and the nearby community of Manuel Antonio is good. You can take an inexpensive bus from San José for just a few dollars. The ride only takes about 4 hours (but can vary depending on traffic and the current condition of the road). You can also fly into Quepos and take a taxi and/or bus from the airport. The airport is very small and has a tropical laid-back vibe to it.

The price of the airfare ranges depending on the season, advanced booking and the airline. There are two primary domestic carriers, Nature Air ( and Sansa ( which is part of the Central American Airline Taca. I seem to have better luck finding cheaper fares on Nature Air, however, both provide very fast half hour or less flying time and are both reliable. The planes are small and travel at a low enough altitude that if the sky is not too cloudy you can get some amazing ariel views of the country, but if you are not a good flyer you should know that the ride can be a bit bumpy.

So, my advice is that if you want to travel to Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coastline Jacó is more of a party beach town while Manuel Antonio has better beaches. But, you can certainly find places to have some beers in both Quepos and nearby Manuel Antonio.  If you want to visit during the peak times of Semana Santa (Holy Week), Christmas and school vacations know that both hotels and transportation sell out fast.
¡Pura Vida!