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.

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Arroz con Pollo

Aaaaaaand we’re back. Tanned, relaxed and missing the monkeys. Here’s a recipe to whet your appetite; more to come about our full adventure!

white faced monkey, montezuma, costa rica, capuchin

Even though the beaches and tropical forests feel very far away on this cold rainy day, we can still eat as though we’re in Costa Rica. Costa Rican cuisine is simple, with beans and rice at the heart of every meal. One of our favorite dishes was Arroz con Pollo, which we often ordered at the sodas, or causal diners, that are common in every city. This was from Soda Naranjo, one of our favorite eateries in Montezuma. My recipe, below, is inspired by this dish, but isn’t necessarily authentic.

arroz con pollo, costa rica, montezuma, chicken and rice

Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken) 

2 lbs bone-in chicken thighs

3 Tbs vegetable oil

2 C long-grain white rice

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1 small carrot, shredded

1 tsp dried oregano

1 15-oz can chopped tomatoes

3 C chicken broth

1. Add oil to a large, deep frying pan that has a lid. Heat over medium-high. Add chicken pieces and brown on both sides. Remove chicken and set aside.

2. Add rice to pan and cook for a few minutes until lightly browned, stirring regularly. You can add another 1 tsp of oil if it seems too dry. Add onion, cook until translucent. Add garlic, bell pepper and carrots. Cook until softened. Add oregano.

3. Stir in tomatoes (and their juice). Return chicken thighs to pan, placing them skin-side up on top of the rice. Pour in chicken broth.

4. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook over medium-low until rice and chicken are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can either chop the chicken and mix it back in, or serve a chicken thigh on top of each serving of rice.

Suggested side dishes: fried plantains, avocados, cabbage salad and cucumber slices. Or, pile on french fries for a true Costa Rican experience!

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.