Monthly Archives: March 2010

Los Animales de Costa Rica

Un poco más Costa Rica comin’ atcha today! This time in the form of animals.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m more of a food/people/pets/street photographer–landscapes and wildlife are NOT my forte. Partly because they generally don’t hold a lot of interest for me, and partly because I don’t have a telephoto lens. My Canon 50mm f/1.2 L prime lens hardly ever leaves me camera, and even when it does–as it did for the following wildlife pictures–I’m still only using my basic zoom lens at its maximum 75mm (with my crop sensor, 75mm equates to about 115mm). So that’s just my warning not to judge these photos too harshly; they’ve been majorly cropped, and the quality is, well, let’s just say I had trouble posting them and my photographic integrity suffered as a result. ;)

The majority of the animals we saw were on our guided tours. Whereas you, as a tourist, might walk two miles through the jungle and not see a thing, more practiced eyes can spot camouflaged wildlife 100 yards away in a treetop, so that’s what you’re paying for! My whole family did a canopy tour (which included zip-lining!), and my dad and I did a mangrove boat tour. My photos are from the latter tour because…would you bring your most treasured possession on a zip-line?!

On the mangrove tour, we saw a lot of camens, which are sort of like small crocodiles. In the water:

And out:

Also, toucans! It’s unreal how colorful they are.

Another bird we saw a lot of was the blue heron. I think I scared our tour guide, Oscar, when I started firing off 8 frames per second as this heron took flight. My camera sort of sounded like a machine gun. Photo poaching?

And my mom’s favorite (NOT): bats! The spotlight you see is our guide’s reflector, which he used to help point out animals.

The coolest animal sightings by far were the monkeys! From our boat, we saw three groups (tribes?) of monkeys swinging through the trees: howler, spider, and one I can’t remember! I couldn’t even tell you which kind this one is, but check out that epic jump!

Monkeys are one of my favorite animals (I feel like one every time I eat bananas and PB, which doesn’t really make sense now that I think about it…), so it was amazing getting to see them in the wild!

I know this sounds weird, but I’m not sure the following sloth is even real. This photo was taken in Manuel Antonio, one of Costa Rica’s national parks, and our tour guide was definitely a scam artist! He was really aggressive in getting us to purchase the tour despite our lack of real desire to do so, and everything he said was of doubtful veracity. He also “knew” in advance exactly where all the animals would be. My dad thinks I’m silly, but I almost suspect this sloth to be a fake–a sloth robot/replica, if you will. Fine, it probably isn’t, but look at how it’s “waving!” I just don’t know…

Of course, Costa Rica is know for its exotic wildlife, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of adorable pets hanging around, jonesing for their portraits to be taken! A.k.a. back to my photographic comfort zone…

This is Cockie! (Nice name, right?)

Immediately after we were shown to our room at the Margarita B & B in San José, Margarita’s dog Cockie plopped down on my pillow. Now that’s my kind of B&B: cuddly friends included!

Here’s one of Margarita’s other dogs! Look at those angel eyes.

Tito, Rancho Pacifico’s owners’ pup, was definitely our favorite though!

This guy’s ego was inversely proportional to his size. Yes, he had quite the attitude. We spent a lot of time with him poolside.

Instead of a tennis ball, Tito played with this spiky rain forest seed pod. These pods were everywhere. Man, this dog is livin’ the life, isn’t he? Organic dog toys falling from the sky, a mountain-top resort for a playground, a constant train of guests cooing over him!

Tito was our favorite, but he wasn’t the cutest. That award goes to these puppies, who belonged to Alex, one of the hotel staffers:

I think Alex is only going to keep the brown one, so unfortunately, they’re going to be separated. Still, I’m sure the black one will find a great casa! :)

Back to food next time!

Primavera en Costa Rica

¡Hola amigos! Lo siento que…Oh, wait–I’m not in Central America anymore! I mean: I’m sorry that I’ve been absent so long (it seems like I start a lot of posts like that, which probably isn’t a good thing!), but I have a good reason. I spent my spring break in the lovely country of Costa Rica with mi familia!

Luckily, we found this article on Jeff Probst’s travel “must-haves” our first day there, so we were prepared!

Okay, just kidding, but my family does love Jeff Probst and Survivor (we’ve watched all twenty seasons!), so we were pretty tickled when we found this.

We stayed in the small town of Uvita, on the Southern Pacific Coast, about 15 minutes from the surfer town, Dominical. The small resort we stayed at–Rancho Pacifico–was absolutely gorgeous, sitting atop an extremely steep hill, er, mountain. We got stuck driving up the first night in our non-four-wheel drive car, and had to be rescued by the staff in their SUV! Oh, and this was just after we’d driven a couple of densely foggy hours on what we later learned is called “the ridge of death.” But the important thing is that we made it, and were promptly greeted by a tray of strawberry smoothies. :)

This was our bathroom at Rancho Pacifico. Check out that view!

The plunge pool had a similarly breathtaking view:

If you’re looking for an easy place to be vegan, look no further! Beans, check. Avocado, check. Plantains, check. Papaya, check. I’m pretty sure 80 percent of my diet consisted of those four foods while in Costa Rica, which, believe me, was NOT a problem.

A typical breakfast in Costa Rica is gallo pinto, a dish of sautéed seasoned rice and beans, often with onions or peppers. In fact, gallo pinto–which means “painted rooster,” referring to the speckled appearance of the rice when colored by the black beans–is Costa Rica’s national dish!

Gallo pinto was my first meal in Costa Rica, at our Bed & Breakfast in San José (okay, that’s only if you don’t count the Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered pretzels I ate while we argued with the people at Thrifty Car Rental the night we arrived…):

Here’s a slightly more upscale version from Rancho Pacifico, complete with avocado, fried pantains, homemade tortillas, and a spicy dipping sauce:

¡Qué delicioso!

And if you thought appetizers were just for lunch and dinner, think again! At Rancho Pacifico, every breakfast starts off with appetizers: mini muffins, sadly not vegan. But don’t worry–I wasn’t left out! Actually, I think I came out on top, as I was served my own specially-made vegan empanada each morning. These cornmeal pastries were filled with whatever the jam of the day was. This particular day, it was spiced papaya. Perfect with a steaming cup of café costarricense!

On days when I desired lighter fare, fruit it was! Pineapple, papaya, mango, banana, watermelon, cantaloupe, you name it!

Always served with a glass of fresh juice, of course. My favorite was papaya-mango. This was watermelon, I believe:

I only had one lunch at Rancho Pacifico, but it definitely hit the spot. They replaced the mayo in their vegetable wrap with hummus, and voilà!

Avocado, onions, olives, lettuce, and mango, all nestled in a homemade tortilla. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Alright, so you’ve seen some plantains already, but the best kind were the ones that were fried into fritters. Like these ones my dad and I had for lunch after our mangrove boat tour in Sierpe:

Served with refried black beans, naturally.

If you haven’t noticed yet, many meals in Costa Rica–or the best ones, at least, in my opinion–are those served casado-style, which basically translates to a medley of small dishes, such as beans, rice, plantains, salad, tortillas, etc. Think of it as the Central American version of the mezze platter.

Such was the style of one surprisingly good meal we had in San José. I say “surprising” because the restaurant was a chain called RostiPollos, a.k.a. “Roasty Chickens.” I know, I know.

We got the buffet, which included chicken and a few dairy-containing items, but I made out pretty darn well as a vegan (I’m pretty decent at Spanish, so I had no trouble telling people I don’t eat “productos lácteos”). I ended up with refried black beans, seasoned rice (there was a separate chicken rice), shredded lettuce, salsa, yuca wedges, and sautéed plantains.

I really like that fries/chips in Costa Rica are more often made with yuca than potatoes. What a nice change. I piled all the elements of my casado onto a corn tortilla, and ate it like a soft taco.

For a chain, semi-fast food joint, I was really impressed with this meal. Never thought I’d say this, but score one for RostiPollos.

That’s pretty much it for food. We found a great, mostly vegetarian restaurant in Dominical called Maracatú. The food was great, and we ate there twice, but it was too dark for decent photos. They even had vegan-tailored drinks. I got an “orange creamsicle” vodka-based drink made with soy milk there, and if I wasn’t so sensitive to late-night caffeine, I would have ordered the “vegan mistake maker,” a vanilla-vodka, espresso, soy milk concoction. If any of you end up in Dominical, please do yourself a favor and hit up Maracatú!

But of course there’s more to Costa Rica than food! There’s also great beaches.

My mom, looking as young as ever! (And she’s only gonna get younger given that, after reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer on our trip, she has dropped her pescatarianism and become a full vegetarian! Congrats, mom! Even though you’re only just now a true vegetarian, I owe my veganism and love of healthy food to the values you’ve always held and instilled in me as I grew up!). My sister, Olivia, is in the background, picking at her peeling skin from the awful sunburn she contracted our very first day. Poor girl. She really was purple by the end of the trip.

My dad coated himself in sand. He was really proud of himself. Good job, dad.

And of course, the lovely Lauren–or as I’ve always liked to call her, Laurenzo!

One of the highlights of the trip was playing soccer on the beach with four Costa Rican boys, who had jammed some sticks into the sand as goal posts, and were playing two on two. My sister, Lauren, my dad, and I joined them, making it four on four (we split up so that there were two of them and two of us on each team). It was a pretty evenly matched game! I played soccer for ten years (my first year in college included), Liv and Lauren played club together their whole life (and Liv plays DI now at Colgate), and my dad played in college as well, so we all loved getting out there, just playing in our bathing suits and bare feet.

There go nuestros amigos, walking off into the beautiful sunset!

Other adventures we had include zip lining through the jungle (um, if you think I brought my camera with me for that, you’re INSANE), and a mangrove boat tour that I went on with my dad. Our tour guide, Oscar, and the boat driver (¡se me olvidó su nombre!):

Here’s Oscar showing us a mangrove seed!

The tour included beers. :)

It’s hard to ask for more than being with the people you love in an exotically gorgeous place, so I won’t!

I hope this post was enjoyable enough to make up for my extended absence! In my next post (soon, I promise!), I’ll be introducing you to some of the animals of Costa Rica!

Dorm Room Dinners: Raw Avocado Veggie Wrap

Hi, guys! Sorry I’ve been absent so long. I’ve just been eating boring dining hall food (thank God I’m graduating in…nine weeks!), and I didn’t want to bore you. But I think my lunch/dinner today were interesting enough that there shouldn’t be an upheaval of the blogging masses when I publish this post. :)

I’ve been eating a lot of raw food the past few days, which basically equates to green smoothies in my Magic Bullet blender and giant salads for lunch and dinner. Today, however, I felt like having something a little more interesting. To this end, I grabbed some veggies from the dining hall, and combined with a few ingredients from my own stores and a little creativity, I had me some delicious raw wraps!

Basically, I mashed half an avocado with some chopped up cherry tomatoes, a clove of minced garlic, some sea salt, and a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast. Then I just julienned some jicama, carrots, and cucumbers–and lightly steamed some broccoli in my microwave–and laid them all on some gorgeous collard leaves. I topped ’em with the “guacanoochy” and called it a burrito!

I ended up with two of these wraps, but only had time to eat one before my 1:15 class, so I had the other one for dinner (and I added some cubed TJ’s baked tofu to that one).

I’m not gonna lie; I’m pretty proud of myself for making this in my dorm room using all dining hall ingredients except collard greens, avocado, and nooch. Still…get me out of here, into my own kitchen, and off of this godforsaken meal plan!!!