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A Recent Trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua (Part 5)

Recently I spent a couple of weeks traveling in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It was my first land border crossing in a while, and I think my second ever on a bus. I got to see tons of great things, learned a lot about Central America and myself, and got to relax and enjoy the world. All in all I’ll give it a 9/10. If you missed any of the previous pieces, catch up starting with part 1,  part 2, part 3 and part 4.

After having spent a week in Nicaragua doing humanitarian work I was on my way home. That meant going back into Costa Rica to fly out. I had a couple of days to kill so I thought I’d stop by a hot springs area and relax a bit. Only the directions for how to get there I found on the Internet were wrong. I was stranded at the Liberia, Costa Rica airport.

Time to check options. It’d be about 5 hours by 3 local busses, assuming time tables were correct, and I was pretty sure they weren’t given the rainy season tends to play hell on them. Taxi would be $150 minimum. Rental car would be $70 plus insurance and gas and is have to bring it back to an airport 100 miles away from where I was flying back home from.

Different strategy: lose a half day for better options, more certainty and lower cost. Going to San Jose would be about 2h or so and it would give 3 direct, fast bus options to La Fortuna the next day. And if I took the 6am bus I’d get there in the morning around 9:30. Also more flexibility. Perhaps a flight change to come home sooner. Yep. Good options.

So back into Liberia to the local bus station. Busses every hour from the country’s second city to its first. And the bus passes through Cañas on the way so I can check it out and see what’s up. If it looks like I won’t get stranded then I can bail on that plan. Sweet. I set off.

An hour later, Cañas looked very promising with several hotels and some shops. Not a city by any means, but not the jungle either. I’m up for an adventure so I’ll try the 5 hour, 3 bus option. If the next city is like this one then getting stuck won’t be an issue. Quick bus change and I’m on my way to Tilaran. Problem. No buses  to La Fortuna until the next morning. Oops. The info desk at the airport must have had bad info. Stymied again by the travel gods.

A quick stop at a cafe lets me talk to the folks at the hostel I’m supposed to stay at in La Fortuna. It ought to be $50 for a taxi. Alright that’s better than $25 for a hotel and a delayed start in the morning. Also cuts travel time in half. Found a driver with good English but he wouldn’t go below $70 even upon threat of losing the fare to somebody else. Boo. But I’m low on time, it’s raining and I want to knock out my travel. $20 extra to the travel logistics gods and I’m on my way along the gorgeous circum-volcanic lake road.

Dark fell an the rain fell harder. A torrent at one point. We pressed on and the rain feigned resignation. About halfway in, we were greeted with a set of parked cars. We stopped. The road was flooded near the lake and trees had been washed onto it. Bad news. We were advised to turn back. The rain had struck again. But a cabbie with a fare on the line is undauntable.

When we reached the spot we found the gossip to be true. But men clad in galoshes were fording the stream. I thought maybe I could do the same and hitch a ride with someone on the other side. Unnecessary. The heroes were rolling and floating the tree pieces out of the way.

So we watched the trucks cross the rushing river. They were all large diesel trucks or SUVs. We were in a small Kia.

“Que piensas?” I asked. What did the driver think? “Pasamos.” We pass. But not before both of us made the sign of a cross. And pass we did with an expression of joy and relief.

Arenal Hostel Resort is exactly as it sounds. Quite nice. Went to my room and dropped of my bags. Grabbed a bite to eat at the bar and my free “welcome drink” and went back to the room. Pulled the curtains closed to change and heard one of the voices on the balcony say to the rest of the group “don’t shut us out come and join us.” I don’t think they knew I heard but I did. So I did go and join them. It was a group of Germans and one guy from Mexico City.

The next day I signed up for the hot springs river – a free trip. Piled into the bus and headed over. I was expecting a kind of a resort but it wasn’t. It was a drainage channel under the road where the river was warm from the hot springs upstream. Since it was raining, though, there was a large stream of cold water that made staying warm a bit tricky. When we arrived there were a couple of small groups there. The driver was coming back in a couple of hours and we figured it’d be a boring wait.

But more and more groups started showing up. Some of them had coolers of booze. And the rain stopped so the water got much warmer. The booze flowed cold and the river flowed hot, as lightning flashed in the sky. Someone had brought mud from the volcano and was giving out mud masks. Someone else found a condom in its wrapper (likely from someone else’s pocket) and made a balloon out of it. We batted it around like a beach ball among the 50 or so people there. When the appointed time came to leave we were disappointed to be going.

I spent a night in San Jose with a couple of the friends I’d met at the hostel. They made authentic Bavarian schnitzel for dinner – a real treat! And I got to meet their host family from a couple of years earlier when they’d been exchange students. It was great fun. We all stayed up past our bedtime drinking and laughing together.

The next day I was off to the airport back home. It’d been a great couple of weeks but I was ready for clean clothes and to get out of the heat and humidity. The trip was fantastic – I couldn’t have asked for better. Even the misadventures turned into great stories. It’s the kind of travel you always hope to have but seldom do.

More on Munich

If you’ve read my other posts on Munich, about Oktoberfest and the Starkbierfest, you might think that beer festivals are all the town has to offer. But that’s not all that’s cool about Munich, as I found out. The Marienplatz is a distinctly different type of European old town square area. Instead of many of them where there is a square formed around the original old church, the Marienplatz is just outside the ornate Gothic city hall. Though churches do flank the area. And in looking for the Cafe Glockenspiel I’d heard about I realized that there are about a half-dozen clock towers in the area. (By the way, the cafe I was looking for was not in any of them but in a modern building.)

I went to the Hacker-Pschorr restaurant near the Marienplatz for a lunch. I had the Bavarian meatloaf (offenfried liebenkäse) and a Radler. A Radler. I didn’t know what it was either, but it’s apparently a half beer half citrus drink. Fairly refreshing, but too sweet for me. The meatloaf looks like, and is basically cooked spam. Not recommended.

And no blog post would be complete without a post about a bar. The Euro Youth Hostel bar is a good one. Though the sign on the door says it’s for guests only, if you’re nice to Burt the bartender, he won’t give you much of a hassle.


I Went to Munich and a Beerfest Broke Out

You ever get the feeling that people celebrate wherever you go? I’m not talking about people smiling when you announce you’re leaving – I get that a lot. But I’m talking about thousands of people coming together with you in a celebration of you being there. Well it feels that way whenever I’m in Munich.

I’ve been here before, as you may recall. On my mystery trip I ended up in Munich for Oktoberfest. Now I’m not claiming that Oktoberfest was just for me. Clearly that’s not the case. But it did kinda lose some of its oomph (but not it’s oompapa) when I left. Or so I hear.

Now I’m back in Munich and come to find out there is another beerfest coinciding with my arrival. The Starkbierfest or Strong Beer Festival, is to be held the weekend I’m here at the Paulaner am Nockherberg Brewery,  just a stones throw from town. These are semi regular events but I highly suspect that they plan them around the schedules of visiting dignitaries and soon-to-be-legends like myself.

So I walked along Fraunhoferstraße which turns into Ohlmüllerstraße across the river on the way to the festival. It’s a pretty cool street. Record shops. Antique shops. Place to get what look like real dirndls. But why is there a Confederate Battle Flag?

Went in to the festival – a combination outdoor and indoor venue. First thing I did was went and got a maß (literally “measure” but use here for a liter) of Salvator, a schweinefleisch haxe (which is like a pigs knee or something) and a bretzel and dug in. The haxe was interesting – seasoned with rye an deep fried so the outside was crispy and tasted like a pork rind (which it is) but fairly dry inside despite being full of fat. Tasted great though.

When it started getting dark and cooling down I went inside the festhalle and accidentally sat next to 3 Americans who are here working at a hotel on a military base. They’re students studying hotel management at the University of Oklahoma. On my other side was a group of Germans. It was one of their birthdays. The guy would randomly look over and loudly sing “I’m proud to be an American! And I’m proud to know I’m free!” It was so funny I didn’t correct him but let him just go on butchering Lee Greenwood for hours.

After a while of that we all split up an I headed up to near the front where the band was playing and where a lot of volks were singing and dancing. Every once in a while the band would strike up an English song like Country Roads and I would belt out the lyrics like the rest of them. I left as they were shutting the place down, having thoroughly exhausted myself on singing, dancing and drink. The event was definitely reminiscent of Oktoberfest and I guess most Bavarian beer fests would be the same.

Nuremberg; City of Brats and Beers

Nuremberg, or Nürnberg in German, is famous for their bratwurst. And rightly so. Several types of sausages are made in the Franconia region. And about 300 active breweries in the area! Gutmann Dunkel is a good one that you likely won’t find elsewhere. All the beers and wursts I tried were great.

The Bratwurstkuche lays claim to the title of oldest bratwurst restaurant in the world! They’ve supposedly been serving up sausages here since before Columbus’ parents were even born. And though I’d suspect the place has been improved and rebuilt a time or two, it still seems pretty authentic – low ceilings, exposed beams, bricks and stone, etc. The famous dish here is the grilled version of their sausages that come with a pretzel and some potatoes or cabbage. It’s wonderful.

If you’re in need of an Internet fix when you arrive be sure to stop into the little Internet cafe in the main train station. From coffee to beer to wine to Jägermeister, they can quench your thirst. And you can sit all day on their Internet, unlike many cafes.

All through St. Sebald church in Nürnberg are photos of the area before, during and after World War II. You can see how the place looked and how they rebuilt. Some poetry crudely translated from German adorns the placards. Some of it is funny. The place is certainly worth a look if you’re in the area.

As I was on the way out of town I saw they had some kind of booth set up in the train station with a wheel of fortune and a line with people waiting to spin it. I had some time to kill so of course I decided to hop in line. When it was my turn I spun the wheel and it landed on 10. They gave me 10 little coins. I asked what they were for and they said it was good for 0.50 Euro each in spending at the train station. Cool!


Quick Tip on Train Travel in Bavaria

To save some money traveling by train in Bavaria, get a Bayern-Ticket. Get a few folks together and take advantage of the 29€ ride all day pass – good up to 5 travelers. Don’t know 4 other people? That’s fine just hang out by the ticket machines and ask folks. Seriously! Regular fare is 30€ or so, this way it’s only 6€. that’s for the local not the express trains. Express is about 50€ and saves only 30 minutes or so from Nürnberg to München. But for 10% of the cost it’s definitely worth it!