A Travellerspoint blog

Tasting Tamarindo

(and gulping sea water)

Since studying for final exams have kept me from pursuing activities these past few weeks I thought I would throw my foodie friends a bone and write about some of my dining experiences here. Please keep your expectations about my reviews low. I am not a foodie myself, and I don't have the writing skills to describe my dining experiences using expressions found on the back of a wine bottle.

It turns out the town is named after the Tamarindo fruit tree. I had an opportunity to taste Tamarindo juice at an artisan sandwich shop named La Bodega. I enjoyed it, and I thought it tasted like a dark apple juice. The fruit is not in season right now so I chose to use a picture of it from the internet.

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My favorite breakfast place in Tamarindo is Kahiki. They have a friendly staff, big portions, and bottlomless cups of coffee. The staff convinced me to try a typical Costa Rican breakfast fare dubbed "Tico Tipico." It usually consists of rice and beans, fried eggs, tortilla, cheese, and sour cream. I liked it and would recommend others try it.

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The staff at Kahiki surprised me on my birthday. The birthday custom here is to break a few eggs over the head of the birthday boy/girl. Fortunately the staff gave me my birthday eggs on a plate.

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[http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g309253-d1112690-Reviews-Khahiki-Tamarindo_Province_of_Guanacaste.html]

Costa Rican Coffee

I didn't start drinking coffee until half-way into my time with the Marine Corps. On my first assignment a Staff Sergeant with many years of experience chuckled when I told him I did't drink coffee. He predicted I would become addicted to it in a short time. He was absolutely right. By the end of my service I could relate to the scene depicted below.

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I found an amazing coffee shop known as Cafe Tico. The owner has gone out of her way to find small coffee farmers who grow superior coffee beans using natural methods. She gave me a sample of several different coffee types and they were absolutely delicious. She explained how these coffees are simply not available in the United States because the economics of exporting them are upside down. Fellow coffee lovers will be interested in reading this blog post on the coffees of Cafe Tico:

[http://www.tamarindo.com/coffee-revisited/]

I lucked out having an artisan food store right around the corner from my casita. I frequently went there for lunch and they offered many creative and delicious sandwiches using wholesome foods and fresh, local ingredients. The swordfish steak sandwich was my favorite. They also make unique fruit juices such as hibiscus lemonade and passion fruit. This is where I tried the tamarindo juice. The owners are a married couple who met in Colorado while she was attending a culinary school in Denver.

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Trip Advisor Review:
[http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g309253-d3357173-r151912949-La_Bodega-Tamarindo_Province_of_Guanacaste.html]

One of my favorite meals in Tamarindo is a Mediterranean-style sea bass filet at La Pachanga. I wanted to ask if the sea bass was tempermental, but I didn't think the server would get the reference to the Dr. Evil quote in the movie Austin Powers. (My college friends will laugh at this but all my other readers will probably just roll their eyes or scratch their heads in confusion.)
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TripAdvisor Review: [http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g309253-d2632455-Reviews-LA_PACHANGA-Tamarindo_Province_of_Guanacaste.html]

The best pizza in town is La Baula. The owners are Italian and offer some creative pizza options without losing the traditional roots of fine Italian pizza.

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TripAdvisor Review:
[http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g309253-d1228486-Reviews-Pizzeria_La_Baula-Tamarindo_Province_of_Guanacaste.html]

Surf Lessons

I had a chance to squeeze in a few surf lessons. I gulped enough sea water to make my contribution towards offsetting rising sea levels. It was worth it though as I was able to "pop-up" a few times and have a few good runs. I think I am at the point now where I know the fundamentals, I just need to keep practicing to develop muscle memory and consistency.

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Thanks to my instructor, Nick Holt, for teaching me well and taking pictures only in those few moments where I looked good.

Nick also instructs TRX classes at the gym. I had a great time in his class, and started seeing some good results after one month. His classes were also a great venue for meeting locals. For my birthday Nick gave me a few push-ups.

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Amy and Stephanie helped out with the push-ups. They are from New Mexico, and they are studying spanish in Costa Rica. They have a travel blog going as well:

[http://avalles1.wordpress.com/]

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Nick's TravelAdvisor Review:
[http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g309253-d2452651-Reviews-Nick_Holt_Fitness-Tamarindo_Province_of_Guanacaste.html]

As for now, the sun has set on my time in Tamarindo. I am done with final exams for the first quarter. I think I will do ok in my courses, but it will not be pretty. I have two weeks off before I start the next quarter. I just met up with my good friend Chris from Atlanta. We are going to spend the next two weeks traveling through Costa Rica. We will spend a few days near an active volcano, and then head to a beautiful beach in southern Costa Rica during the Santa Semana, or holy week. Lots of Costa Ricans head to the beach during this time, and I hope to publish some interesting stories in my next post.

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Posted by clarkmw78 09:36 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (3)

Two Weeks of Tico Time

My first two weeks in Tamarindo, Costa Rica have flown by, and I realized it is time to update my blog. Overall I am doing very well here and look forward to another month in Costa Rica. A nickname for someone from Costa Rica is “Tico (men) or Tica (women).” Like many other tropical areas, things move slower here, hence the term “Tico Time.”

For the longest time Tamarindo has just been a sleepy fishing village in the Guanacaste province of northwestern Costa Rica, and was known only to the outside world by surfers. The original “The Endless Summer” movie from 1966 filmed a scene here. In the last 15 years a few condo developments have brought in some retirees, but surfing is still the center of the universe here. Somehow the economy supports about 30 surf shops along a single mile of the main town road. I found this aerial picture of Tamarindo on the internet. We are in the dry season now, so the scenery is not as green as in the picture.

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Quiet Down Kids!
I spent the first few days in a private room of a hostel while I searched for an apartment. I had a nice room, but it turns out I picked out one of the more rambunctious hostels in town. One local told me the hostel has a reputation and shared an incident in which a mattress from the hostel ended up on the roof of a house next door. I was more than ready to move into a quiet cabina by the end of my stay. The whole episode reminded me of how my efforts to resist growing up are not working. Fate decided to further toy with me on this point by sending this eCard across my Facebook news feed while I was at the hostel.

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When Monkeys Attack
The hostel had a few howler monkeys on the property which were fun to watch. The hostel owner explained how monkeys can turn vicious with little warning, and told me about how one attacked and bit him at the age of four. He gave an animated replay of how he had tried to fight off the monkey with a plastic He-Man sword.

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Cabina Sweet Cabina
I ended up finding a nice cabina which is only a ten minute walk to the beach.

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The beach in Tamarindo is a mile long, wide, and flat. It makes for some great runs. There is an estuary on one side of the beach. Locals have warned me about saltwater crocodiles in the estuary. No one has ever been attacked in Tamarindo, but crocodile attacks do occur in the area. Some people ignore these warnings and wade across during low tide.

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There are lots of cozy restaurants on the beach with lounge chairs under the palm trees. It try to do as much of my studying as I can in places like this.

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TRX Suspension Training
I joined a local gym and have been working with a trainer here named Nick Holt. We share an Atlanta connection as he went to school in Emory, though he is originally from New York. I read great reviews about his fitness classes on TripAdvisor.com so I signed up. Nick uses the TRX suspension training system. So far it is working out well for me and I am getting in some great workouts. Below are some TRX pictures I found on the internet. Nick offers some custom workouts as well on his website. He maintains a focus on functional training routines which integrate major muscle groups working together as a connected whole to prepare people for real-life situations. Check them out if you want to try something new: [http://www.nickholtfitness.com/]

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Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah
So far my only adventure has been a zip-line excursion. Zip-line parks seem to be gaining popularity in many parts of the world. I recommend trying it if you find one in your area. It is safe and not as scary as it can seem from the ground.

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Final Exams Time
I will be hunkering down and studying for exams over the next few weeks. I won’t be posting during this time. The academic quarter ends in mid-March, and I will spend the last two weeks in March traveling throughout Costa Rica with an excursion into Nicaragua. After that it is on to Panama and Colombia. Hasta luego! (Until later)

A note on posting – feel free to post a comment. The first time you post you will not see your post on my blog right away. The website asks me to review and approve comments from sources outside the website community.

Posted by clarkmw78 12:12 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (5)

Bidding the Virgin Islands Adieu

I have just finished my time in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. I hope to come back someday, which is statement I reserve for only a few other places in the world. I am on my way to Costa Rica, and plan to stay there for about two months.

Sailing from the Dock of the Bay

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My sailing class was a success! This was my first time out on a small sailboat for more than a few hours, and I didn’t know how I would take to real sailing. I had a great time and will weave sailing excursions in throughout my trip. I am researching sailing trips from Panama to Cartagena, Colombia for April. I am now licensed to rent a sailboat on my own, but I am going to build up some proficiency on skippered group trips before I start striking out on my own.

There were two other students with me: a physician from Chicago and a businessman from Vancouver. Our instructor was a 31 year-old electrical engineer who spent most of his life sailing around Boston. He said he had tried to work a “big-boy” job twice, but the sea kept pulling him back. He was mulling over whether to go back to the real world for a third try, prompting long talks within our group about the tradeoffs of Caribbean and corporate lifestyle choices. I had heard some horror stories about personality conflicts among sailing students at sea, but I was fortunate that our group meshed well.

Our boat was a 45 foot catamaran named Mighty Oak. Catamarans offer more stability but do not sail upwind as well as traditional sailboats. There were four staterooms (cabins) with heads (restrooms) on the boat, with a sizeable galley (kitchen) and mess (dining room area). Catamarans also offer a nice lounging area on the stern (rear) and bow (front) parts of the boat.

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We took our lessons at sea and put them straight to use. I learned how to rig sails and lines, steer the boat according to the wind, and navigate with ocean charts. The most fun I had was turning the boat around quickly during simulated man-overboard drills. The hardest part was learning how to back the boat into the pier and squeeze it between two other boats while minding an anchor in the front. I also need some improvement with my knot tieing skills.

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Where the *&$! am I?

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Back That Boat Up

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All Knotted Up

Our boat meandered through remote beaches and bays in both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Many of these places had restaurants and bars catering to the sailboat crowd. Most notable was Willy T’s, a replica pirate ship turned into a bar/nightclub. Bartenders there offered free temporary tattoos of the Willy T's skull and bones logo. As the night went on some of the women started getting bold about where they placed the tattoo.

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How do I get this job?

In another case of it really is a small world, I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen since college at Willy T’s. Katie and I are pictured below. We caught up on each other’s lives and happenings within our circle of friends. She told me all about her family, and how she wants to bring her little girls sailing someday in the Virgin Islands. She was there with a big group which was splitting a large yacht. I might get an opportunity to join them someday. For the record, Katie did not get a tattoo.

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Pictured below is Sandy Spit Cay in the British Virgin Islands. My instructor said Corona had filmed a commercial at this beach. It is the one from years ago where a pager rings and the guy turns it off and reaches for a Corona instead.

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Rainbows were a common sight throughout my trip.

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I had a delicious lobster one night a remote restaurant catering to boaters. I was surprised to see the lobster was the same price as in the American heartland. The restaurant catches its own lobsters, but fuel and electricity are much more expensive in the islands. The restaurant also know boaters anchored there are a captured audience.

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I woke up one morning to see a guy swimming a horse through the bay by our boat. I didn’t know horses could swim like this. My instructor said it was common and it is a good way to cool horses down after a run.

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Some interesting bird species can be found on St. John in the early morning.
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Wrapping up at the Westin

I spent my last few days relaxing at the Westin resort on St. John. I am glad I signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest plan two years ago. I received a room with a really nice view at a discount because of it. The resort was amazing, and I enjoyed doing a whole lot of nothing (except for the statistics take-home exam and database query language lecture).

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I copied this picture from the resort website.

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View from my room.

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Gravity is especially strong in these chairs.

Note: Several friends of mine have said they have been unable to post a comment. I have to publish your comment from my end the first time you post. After I approve your post the first time the blog website will put you on an approved list.

Posted by clarkmw78 09:40 Archived in US Virgin Islands Comments (2)

School, Beaches, and Jungle Trails

Back to School
My graduate school classes are in full swing now. I had forgotten how much fun school can be – that is sarcasm, in case you couldn’t tell. I am slogging my way through the information blizzard, but it is not pretty. I am getting a lot out of my classes though. I read something once that said “Experience is a comb life gives you after you have lost your hair.” I feel that way in my Statistics for the Social Sciences class. I could have really used the things I am learning now for my assessment projects in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I have hit a few technical glitches with these online classes. Finding a good internet connection has been problematic on some days. One day I ended up in a video poker casino because it was the only place I could find with a good connection. I threw the bartender $10 to let me sit there and use the internet without drinking or playing the machines. I caught strange looks from some hard-core gamblers in the joint, but it worked out. I have also had problems installing Microsoft software I need for my class. Another Microsoft product is blocking the installation, and I lost a lot of time implementing a workaround. After I figured it out I received an email from Microsoft offering me a special free customer service call. Gee, thanks. If I come across a voodoo practitioner here some engineers at Microsoft are going to feel a burning sensation on choice parts of their bodies.

Jost Van Dyke
I took a day trip to Jost Van Dyke, a small island on the British side with 300 people and several immaculate beaches. I spent most of the day lounging by the Soggy Dollar Bar, which gets its name from people pulling up in their boats and wading ashore with the dollars in their pocket getting wet. The bartender casually rattled off several celebrities he had served over the years. My Atlanta peeps will be interested to hear Ludacris was recently there.

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Old Jungle Trail
I joined a National Park Services tour through one of the rainforests on St. John. The trail originates with Danish merchants who came in the early 1700s to set up sugarcane fields and rum distilleries. Ruins from this time period are visible all along the trail. The guide gave us a good overview of the forest and pointed out a few trees not native to the island. Biologists theorize Native American groups moving through inadvertently spread tree seeds on the island. One group, the Taino, carved out some petroglyphs in some stones between 900-1500 AD. A spring-fed pool sits below and reflects the carvings. Archeologists believe the Taino did this deliberately to symbolize how life on earth should reflect the spirit world. The Taino lived on Puerto Rico, but came to this site for religious occasions.

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Oh Deer!
I looked out of my window one morning to see several deer outside. It turns out the Danes also brought deer so they would have something to hunt. The deer population is very large now since they have no predators here. One long-time resident I spoke to said he still feels odd when he walks onto some of the removed beaches in the morning and comes across a herd of deer there.

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Shipwreck Cufflinks
As many of you know, I developed a little bit of a cufflink problem in Afghanistan. This addiction almost struck again when I found a pair of shipwreck coins turned into cufflinks at a store on St. John. The store attendant explained the history of the coins. They came from the El Cazador, a Spanish ship which was on its way to New Orleans to pay France for the Louisiana Territory when it sunk. If the ship had made it to New Orleans then Thomas Jefferson may not have been able buy the Louisiana Territory and the United States might have ended at the Mississippi River. The cufflinks turned out to be $570, so I eased my way out of the store. I found similar coins on the internet for $70 apiece. I will order them someday and make my own cufflinks.

Magens Bay Beach
This beach in St. Thomas is frequently ranked in top ten beaches of the word articles in travel magazines. I found out about a conditioning class on the beach and joined a few long-time residents for a workout. I ran the beach and captured the GPS data for it. I will upload it to a running route mapping service I am experimenting with on Trainingpeaks.com, affiliated with Runners World.

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My Favorite Spot for Morning Coffee
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Sunset View from a Restaurant on St. John
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Fine Dining in Red Hook, St. Thomas.
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Posted by clarkmw78 08:13 Archived in US Virgin Islands Comments (2)

My First Paddle Boarding Experience

(Only One Rescue Boat Was Involved)

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I decided to give paddle boarding a try at Cinnamon Bay, St. John. Paddle boarding is like canoeing on a surfboard. Formal instruction is not needed. After a five minute tutorial, the equipment shop clerk turned me loose. Her parting words were "The wind is a little strong today in this bay. If you can paddle through the wind and make it past that point jutting out at the end of the beach you can slip into another neat, little bay with lots of coral and without any wind."

It takes about ten minutes for a beginner to find their balance and fluidly coordinate their movements. I took a few minutes to get my sea legs and headed straight for the point. It was tiring to paddle straight into wind, but I was making good progress. As I neared the point the wind got stronger and a current started pushing me out to sea.

I was determined to make it past the point and into the other bay so I kept paddling harder. I kept telling myself if I could only get past this spot I would be home free into the windless bay. I inched along and it seemed like I only had to go just a little further. This went on for about ten minutes until I noticed a small rubber boat approaching. I also realized the current had pushed me out a little farther than I had thought. The boat circled near and the guys asked if I was ok. They thought I was in trouble, and came out to check.

I told them I was all right. They meant well, but the wake they generated as they left tipped me over. After getting back on my board I decided it might be better to turn back. I turned around and enjoyed having the wind work to my advantage on my return trip. I was never in any real danger. I had a life jacket and good craft beneath my feet. There were plenty of nearby small islands and sailboats if the currents had really pushed me out.

Overall it was a fun experience and I am going to do it again.

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Posted by clarkmw78 12:47 Archived in US Virgin Islands Tagged st_john Comments (3)

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