Warming our Cockles

I hardly know what to say about the past two weeks except that they have been rich and busy and wonderful. In the past 14 days we’ve driven through 10 states plus the District of Columbia and visited 10 different groups of family and friends. It’s the most familiar faces we’ve seen in the rest of the trip combined!

Now that Patrick and I are getting married, the rare opportunity to spend time with East Coast family and friends is even more meaningful. Over leisurely meals and cups of coffee family tales were trotted out and told from various points of view. Photos were pulled from albums and folders. My Aunt Alice even had a letter to Santa from 1957, in which my father requested a hunting rifle, and all the siblings together begged for a puppy. I don’t know the status of the rifle, but I know a blonde Cocker Spaniel was beneath the tree that year, decked with a red bow and wriggling. Taffy, as the pup was called, later went on to eat a couch.

Thank you to everyone for being so generous with stories and laughter; for packing our cupboards with homemade goodies; for filling our RV tanks with water and our bellies with delicious meals. Alice, Ryan, Johany, Nicole, Henry, Dave, Sarah, Emily, Kathleen, Mike, Carla, Katie, Raymond, Connie, Andrew, Docky, Dick, Bob, Anne, Annie, Rob, Molly, Phoebe, Donna….We love you.

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The Importance of Plucking Your Eyebrows…and Other Tips for Long Term Travel

1. Make Enemies

Having an outside enemy can help dispel the tension that inevitably builds up during travel and prevent you from snapping at your beloved travel partner. No matter how well you get along, it’s possible to get snippy with person you’re spending every day with, usually for really nonsensical reasons. Picking on an outside scapegoat helps vent that frustration. Here in the Propane Kitchen, we’re against people who use hiking poles on paved trails, Vibram 5-Finger shoes and a certain radio DJ. The more absurd your scapegoats, the better. The point isn’t to genuinely dislike people; the point is to laugh a bit and remind yourselves you’re on the same team.

2. Get a Job

Not a real job, of course, but a Trip Job, a task which you own and take responsibility for every day, something along the lines of cleaning the sink, reading the map or preparing snacks. Divide what needs to be done to give your leisure days a little structure. Easy, right? Now comes the tricky part – don’t comment on how your travel companion does his/her jobs. The right way isn’t always your way. Just shut up, let them do their work and be grateful it’s done.

3. Find a Way to be Alone

There are big ways and small ways of being alone. Big ways are obvious things like taking solo hikes or spending a few days apart. On this trip, I’ve found it’s harder to come by the small moments of alone time that happen easily when you have a house with multiple rooms and separate routines. Whether by putting on headphones or diving into a book, it’s important to snatch a few moments of privacy and find a way to be alone even when you are sitting right next to another person. This is where plucking my eyebrows comes in – it’s an excuse to shut the bathroom door and do my own little thing for 15 minutes. I emerge well groomed and more content.

4. Take a Break

 Oh, another stunning vista? Yeah, wake me for the next one.

You know how the first bite of a ripe peach is so incredible, but by the end of summer a ripe peach just isn’t as special any more? The same thing happens with scenery. Over-saturation with sight-seeing and constant active appreciation can dull your senses. Yet, on any kind of vacation, the urge is to constantly See! Do! Experience! Building regular breaks into your travel schedule allows you to more fully take in that next National Park or historic site. Contrast natural beauty with a few days in a city. Active days with lazy ones. At least one full day off every two weeks has worked well for us.

5.  Indulge in the Ridiculous

Also known as, keep yourself entertained. Though hard to imagine, a long-term trip is not constantly exciting. When you’re cooped up inside on the third rainy day in a row, talking exclusively in fake Southern accents keeps things lively.

Y’all be sure to come back now and read about more of our adventures, ya hear?

Pensacola Beach, FL

All of Saturday the rain played the roof like a snare drum. A wet morning slid into a wet afternoon passed with Words With Friends and cups of tea. The wind slashed at the bushes. Someone put a raincoat on a dog. With dark nearing, we lumbered into town for chowder and a beer. The restaurant was an enclosed patio, excellent if there’s sunshine to bask in, but despite heat lamps and tropical shirts on all the waitresses, it felt chilly during the storm. The Minnie was warm and snug, glowing like a lantern and welcoming us back home.

Pensacola Beach, white sand beach, Florida

Pensacola Beach, White Sand Beach, Florida

Sunday dawned bright and blue as if there never were things called clouds. The sand here is the whitest in the world, if you believe the tourist information. I wouldn’t be one to argue, because the sand is amazing. Pure clean white, with a texture that begs for bare toes. All through the campground people were jolly and blinking in the sun as though the rain had stayed for months, not just a day. “This is the life,” shouted a shorts-wearing sunbather as I strolled by. At sunset the sand turned pink as the orange orb slowly sank into the sea. It was the kind of day that makes a gal feel lucky. Continue reading

Ocean Springs, MS

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This little Carolina Anole put on quite a show yesterday at the Gulf Islands National Seashore. We watched, rapt, as he changed colors from bright green to brown. Then, with a flourish, he proceeded to pull the old skin off his tail and eat it. Perhaps not your idea of a tasty snack, but incredible to see nonetheless.

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New Orleans, LA

Window shop for chandeliers and antique suits of armor on the way to Sylvain on Royal for silky chicken liver pate and a crispy fried chicken sandwich, all washed down with a glass of rosé. Let a magician wave you in for his performance, suspend skepticism, let yourself be impressed when he cuts into a kiwi fruit to reveal a $20 bill. Hear an old man beat out the blues. Walked and walk and walk some more. Have a daiquiri in a plastic cup, because it seems like the thing to do. Café du Monde for powdered sugar deep-fried dough & chicory café au lait. Keep the energy up!

New Orleans, Jackson Square

New Orleans, daquari, French Market

New Orleans, Jazz, Drummer, Soul

New Orleans, Cafe du Monde, beignets

Nightfall. All the doors are open spilling sound to collide in the neon street the tunes of a hundred musicians amplified by booze, frozen rum rainbows in a plastic cup held by a sorority girl in a mini skirt who can’t walk in her platform shoes. Come on in! Come inside say the hucksters with their signs and flyers they want you to just come on in, hey girly, come on now, two-for-ones and just a dollar will get you through the door for tonight’s special is right on stage. You don’t need a sign post to know you’re on Bourbon Street because the balconies are dancing and someone’s still throwing beads into an entertainer’s upturned hat and the swamp smell is sticking to the edges of the gutters. Then turn the corner and all is quiet.

New Orleans, Bourbon Street

Follow a different kind of crowd tumbling down Frenchman Street. This is where we like to be. Grab a seat at The Three Muses bar to nibble crawfish beignets and sip an Old Fashioned while the band swings. At set break, the brass blare of a trombone calls from outside where a 12-piece band covers Billie Jean and the cars are honking ‘cause people are dancing right in the street. I’m enchanted. Here the notes jitterbug out onto the sidewalk with the flip of a skirt and a backward glance to lure us inside The Spotted Cat Club where a small stage is crammed with talent and soul. Everyone’s feet are tap tap tapping and even the doorman is grinning under his mustache. Hey!

New Orleans, Frenchman Street, Jazz

New Orleans, Spotted Cat, Jazz

Then it’s time to sneak past the ghosts in the high walled cemetery, feeling the music still in our tired feet, to slip through safe gates back to our Minnie to sleep.

New Orleans, Cemetery

New Orleans, Cemetery

The Restless Ones

Invariably, when telling new people about this trip, someone always asks, “what do your parents think?”

“They’re thrilled,” I say.

You see, they did the same thing.

In 1974, just a few years into their marriage, my New Jersey-born-and-bred parents boxed up their apartment, quit their jobs and packed a VW bus. Knowing they didn’t want to settle in a big city and feeling the pull of the great open West, they set out on a journey to see the country and find somewhere new to call home.

Slides document their trip. In the darkened room, the bright bulb of the projector makes dust motes flash like tiny satellites and the old carousel whirrs and clicks. Each photo is a story they tell together, filling in details, complementing each other. The day they woke with the camper surrounded by a herd of cows. The campsite by the river with a little laundry and lending library. The meadow where they first saw bear grass.

They were a decade younger than Patrick & I are now. Their pictures look so much like the kinds of photos we’re taking. And my parents – my beautiful mom, long hair parted in the middle, smiling up from a book, my handsome bearded dad, grinning as he holds a just-caught fish – look just like the kind of people we’d be friends with. In a way, this trip lets me get to know them better. Or, imagine their lives before me better, at least.

In Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck theorizes the urge to explore and seek out new places is genetic. “The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there,” he writes. “But every one of us….are descended from the restless ones, the wayward ones who were not content to stay at home. Wouldn’t it be unusual if we had not inherited this tendency?”

I’m grateful to my restless parents. Parents who passed down, perhaps, an itch to see the country. Who said, “GO!” when I told them about this adventure. Who showed me that working hard and having a good career are important, but not the only important things. If Patrick and I ever have kids, I’m glad this trip will be part of our family narrative. And I hope I pass down curious, restless DNA. I can think of no better legacy.

Montezuma, Costa Rica, Part II

This is not a blog worthy picture*. It’s blurry and grainy and a bit out of focus. But! Do you see that aqua streak in the water? That wave is glowing.

Let me say that again. The waves. Are glowing. Lit from within by a bloom of noctilucales, a kind of  bioluminescent dinoflagellates, bright as if each wave was threaded with LED lights. (This photo from Wikipedia is a much better example.) Montezuma really pulled out all the stops for us.

Even without the glowing waves, we would’ve been impressed with the food. The most outstanding was Playa de los Artistas, which nearly warrants a trip to Montezuma all on its own. Sitting directly on the beach at a table made from driftwood, we had wahoo tuna sashimi so fresh, so perfectly dressed in a light vinaigrette, so divine I have dreams about it.  Then came seafood lasagna in delicate pasta that somehow managed to be both rich and light and pork tenderloin so tender it didn’t even require a knife to cut. And that was just on our first visit. The menu changes daily to make the most of the day’s catch.

Playa de los Artistas, Montezuma, Costa Rica

At Puggo’s, half an eggplant was baked until it was nearly creamy on the inside, then topped with bubbly parmesan, served with a garlicky tomato salad. Fresh focaccia hot from their brick oven was the perfect accompaniment. We also tried “Cuban Cigars”, savory beef rolled in crispy phyllo dough, paired with lentils and hummus. Soda Naranjo, already mentioned last week, had excellent Tico food, from Casados (literally means things that are “married” on the plate – imagine beans, rice, chicken/fish/pork and salads) to Rice with Seafood and Rice with Chicken.

roasted eggplant, Puggo's, Montezuma, Costa Rica

We stayed at the Mariposario, a bright, modern B&B run by two welcoming brothers from Portland, OR. The breakfasts were the best of our entire trip, with French toast, omelets, or home fries greeting us each morning on the jungle-view veranda. Pineapple, watermelon and papaya, some of which are grown on site, tasted so much juicier than what we get here in the States they almost seemed like entirely different fruits.

The Mariposario’s on-site butterfly garden offers an up-close look at the famed Blue Morpho butterflies along with a dozen other species.  Plus, it’s a quick walk from the B&B to the top of the Montezuma waterfalls.

* There’s one more reason this blurry photo is so special…that beach is where we got engaged! Patrick popped the big question at sunset, and we celebrated with a memorable dinner at Playa de los Artistas. We’ve made a pact that we’ll visit again for our 5th wedding anniversary.

Montezuma, Costa Rica

I’ve never considered myself a “beach vacation” sort of person. I typically choose sightseeing & museums in big cities or camping (or, ahem, a trip around the country) when I need a break.

Montezuma, Costa Rica may have changed that. Set on the Nicoya Peninsula right on the bathtub warm Pacific, Montezuma is a relaxed haven populated with ex-pats, surfers and Ticos. The palm-fringed beaches curve gently down to the turquoise sea where swimmers bob like rainbow-colored buoys.

It’s idyllic, of course, but not for scenery alone. There’s a laid-back vibe permeating the town, a feeling you breathe in on hibiscus-scented, humid air. Languidly reading in a hammock or lolling on the beach, I’ve never felt so completely disconnected. I literally forgot what month it was.

Motivation disappeared with the tides. Our planned three-night stay turned to nine and only the nagging thought that we should probably see more of this country caused us to move on. More photos and details about where to stay & dine when you visit (because you should) still to come. Pura Vida.

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Is it cruel to post a photo like this in January?

Monteverde, Costa Rica (one week ago)

Howling winds, part of Tropical Storm Arlene, whipped down the streets in Santa Elena, a little touristy town perched in the mountains in Costa Rica. Clouds of fog and rain thrashed around like ghosts. “Not a good day to go to the Reserve,” said the man at the cafe where we stopped for coffee. “You won’t see anything.” The cold gusts blew us into the hotel to pout.

We’d planned to visit Monteverde Reserve, a park protecting a swath of cloud forest and home to the Resplendent Quetzal, a flamboyantly plumaged bird which was number one on my “hope to see” list for this trip. Early afternoon the storm seemed to lighten; though it was still blustery we donned our rain gear and hailed a cab. By 2pm we were on a muddy trail plastered with fallen leaves. The forest looked beaten. Broken limbs littered the undergrowth and the wind tossed the trees as if it wanted to bring them all down. Drips and drops were all around us but there were hardly any other noises. We saw few smallish birds, a huge tree fern, a fungus.

Then my eyes focused on a striking green bird – could it be? We watched as the bird flew for a few yards and perched on a mossy, plant-covered branch. I immediately thought, quetzal!, but wasn’t completely sure. We ran into a guide who confirmed it was female quetzal, and told us she’d seen the male farther back on the trail. We retraced our steps and spotted him a few minutes later, his long tail unmistakable. Later we heard this was the first time they’d been seen in three months! We watched until a blast of wind sent the pair flying out of sight deeper in the forest. (Pic is through the binos…not the best photo but proof we saw him.)

Resplendent Quetzal
On the long, wet walk back to our simple hotel we saw a watercolor-perfect sunset. The day was capped off by a fantastic meal at Trio, a little cafe with the freshest, most imaginative dishes we’ve sampled yet, then a shower that was tolerably warm but ten degrees shy of “hot”.
Monteverde Costa Rica,

Incredibly satisfied with our day, we crawled into bed, drifting off to sleep with the raucous sounds of the bar next door filtering into our dreams.

Vacation from Vacation

The Minnie is parked, her water lines winterized, her fridge emptied, her heater turned off for the season. Like migrating birds we have flown south and will be in Costa Rica until February 1st.

Our inaugural test Winnebago outing was on NYE just a year ago. Now we send our thanks and gratefulness out into the ether, and wish you all the most merry of New Years! May 2012 bring your biggest, most audacious dreams within reach.