A Travellerspoint blog

Cajun Cuisine in the Beautiful Bayou

Fantastic Food and Jazz in the American South

sunny 75 °F

Although our first anniversary was in America's finest City, San Diego, we decided to venture a bit further afield for our second anniversary. We were both interested in exploring New Orleans, and we decided to make the Mardi Gras capital our next destination. Our mission was to explore the bayou, eat as much Cajun food as possible, and see the famous haunted sites. I typically post these updates as we're traveling, but we only had four days in the area so I wanted to get in as much culture as we could in the short trip.

Captain Brian was the guide for our swamp boat adventure in the Louisiana Bayou. In the Summer and Fall, he gave airboat tours, but in the winter he mainly hunted in order to provide for his family, typically selling meat of duck, alligators, and deer that he had hunted. He also collected government-honored bounties on a particularly interesting creature called nutria.

In the early 19th century, hunters would trap muscrat for their fur. However, the female muscrats only had one litter a year, and the fur trade was so lucrative at the time that the rate of killing from hunting exceeded the replacement rate for the species. Within a few decades, there were no more muscrat to hunt, but their fur still fetched a high price from trappers. When there's still demand, but no supply, the logical thing to do is bring in more supply.

Using this rationale, an individual from Louisiana had the idea to bring in a similar animal called a "nutria" from the swamps of South America. They are between 10 and 30 pounds in weight and have a long round tail, closely resembling a New York rat.

However, the nutria had a shorter gestation period than the muscrat and could have up to 4 litters per year - they can literally have a litter and then become pregnant the next day! Once the fur trade collapsed, the state of Louisiana found itself overrun with nutria and decided to implement a bounty program year-round to "eliminate" the species.

This program was put in place too late, and species elimination is all but impossible with their reproduction rate. However, nutria hunting still provides a bounty and livelihood for many hunters. The bounty is $5 for every tail you cut off (i.e., the tail is proof of kill, the carcas is typically left for the alligators), and the limit is 36,000 PER YEAR. 36,000! Our guide said that the year he turned 17, he killed 10,000. That would mean that he would have had to kill an average of about 27 nutria a day. It seems a bit far-fetched, but he was definitely passionate about what he did and I slowly started to believe the claim.

He also had told us about hunting alligators, and the process of farm-raising the species. Every year, he has a quota to find 1,100 alligator eggs and deliver them to a farmer in Western Louisiana. He only gets paid $20 an egg, and he's only paid for the roughly 80% of eggs that actually hatch. The process can be laborious and usually comes at a loss since he has to rent a helicopter to spot the nests. The advantage for him comes in the form of 15% of the alligators that are raised get released into the swamp after four years, providing him and his crew an ample supply to hunt.

Captain Brian was truly a hunter at heart, and he conveyed an unquestionable passion for what he did. His son at 5 years old had just killed his first alligator, and you could see the father's pride in his eyes as he recounted the story to our small group. I am not a hunter myself, but I definitely understand the love for the sport based on my many conversations with Chris, Al and Marlee on the pursuit of wild game.

Not only did Brian have a hunter's spirit, but he had a textbook like knowledge of animal lifespan, territory, behavior and co-habitating. American media likes to depict the "dumb hick" mentality, but this man could have easily become a scientist in a different situation given his work ethic, attention to detail and passion for learning. In a way, the only thing that differs is what we hunt for: I hunt for answers and he hunts for food, hides and bounties.

Here we go on the airboat

Captain Brian giving a talk on the local wildlife

Captain Brian with a baby alligator

Tempting an alligator affectionally called "Captain Hook" for her hooked tail with a marshmellow (I just got that, it's a food that makes creatures "mellow" in the "marsh")

Another resident watches our movements

Once we got done with the swamps, we decided to try many of the culinary hotspots on our To Do list. In the first 24 hours, we ate at FIVE different places. We had a wonderful shrimp roll at Peche, a rich dish of cajun biscuits and gravy at the Cake Company, homemade root beer, fried alligator and wood-fired Muscles at Cochon, begnets at Cafe de Monde, and a hearty hot sausage at We've Got Soul. Pictures speak louder than words on this one:

Shrimp roll at Peche

New Orleans has the best bread in the country

Fried alligator bites with cajun mayo

Delicious oysters

Pork belly roll at Killer Poboys

We loved these chips!

Waiting patiently for our begnets at Cafe de Monde - isn't she lovely?

Beignets at Cafe de Monde

Danielle making a funny face with her Beignet

Delicious French Toast Bananas Foster

Coolest ice tea machine ever

We also got a chance to walk around the French Quarter and take in some of the sites. From Jackson Square (named after former Governor and President, Andrew Jackson) to the riverfront walkway. We also visited the site where most of the Mardi Gras floats are made. Artists take large pieces of styrofoam and then meticulously cover the pieces with paper which is then painted in order to complete the beautiful floats. We saw everything from dinosaurs to strange depictions of Native Americans. The museum was a bit of a tourist trap, but it was fun nonetheless!

Catholic cathedral at the end of Jackson square

Jackson Square with the cathedral in the background

The Mighty Mississippi

Playing dress-up

A float mid-construction

We have a T-rex!

Another cool float

Happy Thanksgiving?

Besides the food, New Orleans is famous for it's amazing Jazz scene. We first saw Jazz at the famous Preservation Hall, but I unfortunately didn't get an photos of that performance. It was just as you would imagine, a full Jazz band sitting in wooden chairs with the audiences on benches listening intently.

We also got treated to two performances on the famous Natchez, the first was a performance on a steam calliope and the second was from a Dixieland Jazz band that was actually nominated for a Grammy. The last was at a club on Frenchmen street which had an amazing blues band. All dressed in Saints jerseys and playing during the Packers-Saints game, they would play a great tune and all their heads would simultaneously turn to the TV in the bar once each song was done in order to check the score. The Packers unfortunately lost the game, but it was a great set and a wonderful environment for music.

An unconventional performance on the calliope

You really have to listen to it to appreciate the novelty

Live jazz on the Natchez

Live blues at Vaso

After the food and music, New Orleans is also renowned for its hauntings. It was the home of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau as well as serial killer and socialite Daphine LaLaurie. If you've seen "American Horror Story: Coven," you may remember Marie Laveau (played by Angela Bassett) and Daphine LaLaurie (played by Kathy Bates) as characters in the show. We were able to not only see their respective houses, but we were also shown where Jessica Lange was living for both "Coven" and "Freak Show."

The Nicholas Cage Masoleum

Homer Plessy's masoleum

Restoring Marie Laveau's masoleum

Delphine LaLaurie's mansion in the French Quarter

Glare in the Photo

More glare

If you look closely in the last three pictures, you can see what look like rain drops on the lens. It was a completely dry night, but every time I took pictures I would get this circular glare in the photos. I kept cleaning the lens because I thought the camera was dirty, but no matter what I did to the camera, I kept getting the glare. When I showed the tour guide the photos, he slowly smiled and asked me to email him the photos.

He described that the glare is hypothesized to actually be spirits that haunt the buildings in the area where terrible things have happened. The house in the above three photos is the site where numerous slaves were tortured and murdered by New Orleans socialite and serial killer Madame Delphine LaLaurie. These slaves were only discovered when a fire broke out at the mansion and screams were heard from the attic where they were imprisoned. An angry mob eventually ran her out of town, and she's believed to have died somewhere in Paris.

I'm not saying that I believe in spirits necessarily, but I am definitely open-minded enough to allow for the possibility that such things exist. Occam's Razor dictates that these are simply just dust particles. I'm admittedly very skeptical, but it's an interesting hypothesis nonetheless. The rest of our pictures were some random pictures that we saw as we trekked on foot from one place to another.

Slow food movement?

A portrait that I felt was oddly captivating

Risque sausage

We need this sign in LA

Found the gayborhood!

Although our stay was short, we learned that the people of New Orleans truly love their city. From the second line parades to the "Who dat?" greetings throughout the city to the amazing food, their really is no other city quite like it. People often talk about Bourbon Street, but if you've been to Patpong in Bangkok or Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, it's the same thing - idiotic tourists getting drunk and leaving an absolute mess. I took what I consider the most accurate picture of Bourbon Street (below) complete with cigarette butts, beads and stale beer, but this street is NOT New Orleans at all. As our nice cab-driver Nancy said, "please don't judge our city by that street."

I've all but forgotten about Bourbon street, but I will remember and treasure the music on Frenchmen Street, the food on Louisiana Avenue and the horrors on Royal Street for many years to come.

Bourbon Street - Just another tourist trap

Who dat?

This town loves their team

Indian wedding - New Orleans style!

Posted by mbeymer 20:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

The Southern Peninsula

Exploring Drake Bay and Caño Island

sunny 80 °F

We were dropped off at the tiny Sansa terminal at 7 AM to board our flight to Drake. The commercial Cesna only sat twelve passengers, and we could easily tap the shoulders of the pilot and co-pilot from our seats. As the little plane taxied down the runway, we exchanged hesitant glances with the other two passengers as the exhaust from the much larger 747s shook the tiny craft while we waited our turn on the tarmac. Like a scene out of The Little Engine that Could, our diminutive plane finally had its turn to power down the runway and lift off, banking to show a beautiful panorama of the central valley below.

The fifty minute flight to the Southern Peninsula was breathtaking with the flight path taking us along the Pacific coast. Danielle and I had recently ridden in a helicopter over the Pacific as a birthday gift from her parents, and the scenery and beauty of the experience was reminiscent of that early ride. As the plane approached the gravel runway, an alert went off that said "WARNING! TERRAIN AHEAD." We once again traded looks of trepidation with our fellow travelers, but eased into a smooth landing on the unremarkable landing strip.

Probably the smallest terminal I have ever been to

Boarding the craft

Cumulus clouds

The river meets the ocean

A faint rainbow outside the window of the plane

Our ride to the hotel was no less uneventful as we packed into the back of an old Toyota 4x4. The driver used his memory to navigate where roads had once been in dryer times, with the water level seemingly come up to the windows as we went through various streams. The truck hit water-filled potholes on the rest of the journey, finally arriving at our domicile for the next two evenings, the Pirate Cove hotel.

We checked into our cabana and relaxed by the beach, taking in the words of George R.R. Martin while lying in the various hammocks that surrounded the property. We also got acquainted with the hotel's resident Basilisk, Pepe, as he trolled the grounds seeking stray morsels.

Our little cabana

Resident basilisk, Pepe


Giving way to purple

A sky of lava

The next day we were off to dive Caño Island, a paradise situated ten nautical miles off the coast of the Osa peninsula. Our divemaster, Wilson (yes, like the volleyball in Castaway), explained the procedures for the day and we jumped in the water for our first dive at 9 AM at the Barco dive site. Descending 60 feet into the azure abyss, we saw plenty of creatures with notable species including the whitetip reef shark, moray eels, a massive manta ray (it's tail looked as though it was 5 feet long), and a beautiful sea turtle. The lens was unfortunately fogged during the first dive, so none of the pictures came out well, but the second dive did not disappoint.

Spotted sharpnose puffer

Matt showing his dive apparel

Due to the depth and time of the dive, we had to let the nitrogen escape our bodies for a bit of time before descending again. We took shelter on the island itself, relaxing in the sunshine and being mindful not to stand under the trees where coconuts were actively bombarding the beach. After about an hour, we jumped back in the boat and went to the second dive site, appropriately named "Anchor," to see some more marine life.

Welcome to Caño Island

The boat coming to retrieve us from our respite

The anchor which gives the second dive site its name

Matt trying to break the label of amateur diver - no arms!

The group making our way to the reef

We had the shark take this one for us

Whitetip reef shark

A tiger snake eel snaking its way along the sand

A turtle gingerly swimming by

A couple of blue spotted jack

Posing for my safety stop

Spinner Dolphins jumping in our wake on the way back

That night was met with more relaxation, another amazing sunset and a hearty meal that satiated our appetites. We were also treated to a beautiful lightning show as the flashes danced on the horizon with thunder not too far behind. One bolt actually struck the ground at the hotel, and both Danielle and I let out a few expletives after we saw the blinding flash and heard the deafening thunder.

The sunset with Caño Island on the left

Taking it in

This was the first international trip together of what will hopefully be many more. We had a great time and built some amazing memories, present blog included. Thank you all for following along on our adventure, and we do hope you'll join us next time. We're off to explore the beauty in the bayou in November, and we hope you'll follow along as we bring you the sites, sounds and majesty of New Orleans.

Posted by mbeymer 16:24 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Welcome to the Jungle

We got ziplines and caves

rain 55 °F

Our first full day in the Arenal rain forest appropriately started off with a nice deluge of rain as we joined a guide and three intrepid Australians at 7 AM for a guided three mile walk. Our guide taught us how leaf cutter ants go above ground to collect specific leaves to deposit into their nest. These leaves in turn lead to the growth of fungi within the colony which serve as food for the species.

We also got to witness a territorial dispute between two howler monkeys. Although howler monkeys are small in size relative to other species of monkeys, their calls can be heard up to two miles away. We were fortunate enough to witness two monkeys bickering in a tree that was about fifty feet away. We didn't get any good pictures of the dispute, but the sound can definitely be heard in the below video as each tried to lay claim to the tree. With the rain coming down and the seemingly prehistoric sounds, Danielle and I both felt that we had somehow stepped into Jurassic park.

Surveying the terrain

The morning mist of the rain forest

The rain can't damper our spirits

In front of the first waterfall for the day

A howler monkey dispute

At the lookout point

Another beautiful waterfall towards the end of the hike

Just as we walked off the trail to end the hike, the rain stopped and gave way to a bit of sunlight. We shoved some food into our bellies, geared up and got ready for a bit of ziplining over the forest floor. I have ziplined in other places including Puerto Vallarta in Mexico and Chang Mai in Northern Thailand, but this was easily the best ziplining experience I have ever had. We took a short tram up to the the top, received a safety briefing and proceeded to zipline between eight platforms scattered throughout the jungle. After a few practice platforms, our first significant zipline was suspended 1550 feet above the forest floor (see the first video below).

Due to the incredible speed, they had contraptions in place to slow participants down, but you will notice that we both move the handle back and forth slightly to decrease our speed. Even when this action is performed, the force of the stop easy pushes one 90 degrees with both feet pointing towards the sky at the stopping point.

We rode a few other adrenaline-packed lines and the journey ended with two ziplines affectionately named big momma and big daddy. Big momma was over 2060 feet long - that's 0.40 miles! According to their website, the average speed on this zipline is an astonishing 50 miles per hour (see the second video below).

The tram ride up to the platform

Suited up and ready to go

Lake Arenal in the distance

Armed with our video proof!

Danielle's footage from the highest zipline of the course

One of the ziplining platforms on the course

Matt's footage from the longest and fastest zipline of the course

We collapsed at the hotel after the adrenaline wore off and later hailed a cab as the sun started to set out to Ecocentro Duanas to see what the rain forest looked like after dark. We got there early so we decided to watch the sunset over the Arenal Volcano and watch as the clouds gently danced over the volcano's cone.

The Arenal Volcano immersed in a cloud

Danielle says that if you look closely, it almost looks like a dessert covered in whip cream

The tour was small with our party, a newlywed couple from Las Vegas and our guide named Paz. He explained what we would most likely see and to be careful to walk in the center of the path so that we wouldn't disturb any snakes or brush up against something that may be bothered and decide to retaliate. The first animal we were able to see was the three-toed sloth, relaxing in the tops of a nearby tree. The sloth sleeps between 18 and 22 hours each day and comes down from it's tree only once a week. Once on the ground, the sloth defecates, covers the excrement and then lumbers back up to its tree. The mother sloth will actually give birth to the baby upside down and stay with her young for the first year of its life. Once the baby sloth reaches one year of age, the mother will direct the baby out of the tree, forcing it to find a new home. Sloths can live up to about 30 years, but may die prematurely if caught by a lurking jaguar.

The entrance to Ecocentro Duanas

A beautiful flower at the entrance

A sloth during its extended sleep

Once the sun was fully set, we checked out many of the creatures that are most active at night. Our first stop was to view the butterflies at rest in a conservatory. The butterflies were absolutely massive, and one seemed to start attacking Danielle and I, seemingly out of anger for disturbing its rest. The wings were so big that the flutter against my skin felt like a bird was trying to fly past me. This particular butterfly was very interesting because one side of its wings was patterned like an owl to protect it from predators and the other side was a brilliant blue.

We got to see numerous other insects from a stick bug under a leaf to massive spiders standing frozen on the stems of leaves. We also got to see the famous Costa Rican red-eyed tree frogs and tiny tapirs which were sliding into a creek for an evening swim. Danielle took some amazing pictures of the nightlife, and this tour is a must-see if you visit the Arenal area.

The chrysalises of the species of butterfly on the left are actually gold colored, no special effects!

This butterfly's patterns mimic an owl when its wings are retracted

The top of the wings of the butterfly shown above

Thoas swallowtail butterfly

A Costa Rican Red-Eyed Tree Frog

A snake relaxing on a large leaf

A resting bat

Zip-lining and night hiking was fun, but it definitely left us in dyer need of a rest day. We spent the day with a small hike to the La Fortuna waterfall, about 20 minutes outside of town. The hike down only took about 20 minutes, and there weren't many people brave enough to take a dip in the pool that surrounded this natural wonder. Danielle and I decided we were up for the challenge, and we made our way slowly across the slippery rocks that met the base of this massive waterfall.

Right this way

Emerging from the pond to see the spectacle

The falls from a distance

That afternoon we headed over to the Tabacon hot springs. Many hotels boast hot springs in Arenal, but this is the only one that actually uses water from the volcano's river. The price to visit the hot springs was pricey at $60 a person, but the assortment of pools and beauty of the grounds more than justified the price. Danielle and I relaxed in each pool for about thirty minutes, letting the warm water nurse our sore upper and lower body muscles made sore from the white water rafting and jungle trekking, respectively. I usually don't like resorts AT ALL, but this was one of the best things we have done this trip and was definitely worth the price of admission.

The entrance to the resort

A beautiful bridge connecting two pools

A beautiful sculpted water fall

Cascades of the thermal pool

Our last day in Arenal was spent 45 minutes outside of town in place called the Venado Caverns. These caverns were discovered by indigenous peoples hundreds of years ago during a hunt when their prey escaped underground. Legend has it that the indigenous people looked at these caves as the gates of hell, and they were terrified to enter the rock formation. In the early 20th century, the caves were rediscovered and mapped by a family that had purchased the land. The caves were opened to tourists in the early 1990s, and this set of caves is the only set open to tourists of the 20 known cave complexes scattered throughout the district.

This cave was formed by an underground river that is still very much active. This means that we had the chance to get dirty and wet as we crawled through tight spaces in search of the animals that lay inside. We were privileged enough to see common rain frogs, tailless scorpions, and an amazing red legged tarantula. We also saw a lot of bats, and a lot of bat guano, as they scattered around in response to our inquiring head lamps.

I was so excited that most of the pictures from my GoPro did not come out well due to the combination of my shaky hand and poor lighting, but I have a few videos that show what we saw in the caves. Like the lost GoPro in Thailand, sometimes the sites you see have to remain in that place. I call it nature's price for giving you the chance to see her beautiful secrets. It's a shame I didn't get better pictures and video, but those caves will always hold great memories.

As excited as a kid on Christmas

A lizard frozen to the side of the cavern wall

A stalactite formation

To give you an idea of how dark it can get

The red legged tarantula

According to locals, the Arenal volcano is covered in clouds about 70% of the time, so we weren't too surprised that we never got a complete glimpse of the mountain. As we ate lunch after our cave exploration, the clouds opened up one time before we departed Arenal that afternoon for the South of the Country. We're off for diving in the Southern part of the country, more to come in a few days!

A break in the clouds

Posted by mbeymer 19:58 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Semana Santa

Holy Week in the Cradle of Catholicism

sunny 76 °F

The first stop on our tour of Costa Rica was the quaint capitol of San Jose nestled in a mountain basin occupying the central part of the country. Most people opt to skip San Jose because the capitol does not have a huge range of activities for tourists. We planned our trip so that we would arrive in the country on Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the year for Catholic followers. Since just over 70% of Costa Ricans identify as Catholic, we thought this would be the perfect place to view holy processions that were planned throughout the country.

We dropped off our things at the hotel, washed off the "plane feeling" that seems to accompany all red eye flights and got breakfast. Most of the restaurants in Costa Rica are mom and pop owned places called "sodas." Our driver gave us a wonderful recommendation for a soda within walking distance of our hotel where I had my first experience with Gallo Pinto. This dish is just a mix of black rice and beans, but it is the staple of the Costa Rican diet, and I figured it was worth a shot.

Recovering from the Red Eye

Gallo Pinto, a quintessential plate of black beans and rice

After breakfast, we walked about 2 miles to the center of the city to begin watching the religious procession. I thought it would start in the national cathedral, so I tried to sneak in unsuccessfully. A kind gentleman knew I was lost and pointed Danielle and I in the correct direction. We walked towards a mass of people waiting for the procession to begin, and we followed the journey as Jesus of Nazareth was escorted to the cross for sacrifice. The procession would walk a bit and then act out a scene from the day of his execution. The first such scene was Pontius Pilate sentencing Jesus to die, with Roman soldiers giving him his cross to bear to the execution.

The National Cathedral

The procession of clergy

Christ bearing the cross

Pontius Pilate

The Roman soldiers taking Jesus of Nazareth to the cross

The procession proceeded throughout the city with other stops including his mother Mary mourning her son, later followed by Mary Magdalene, a female apostle and possibly wife, professing her love for him. The grand procession ended when it met up with another procession bearing the trinity of God: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

A silhouette of Christ in the procession

The Father, the Son

And the Holy Spirit

Once we finished watching the procession, we decided to try and see if there were any other points of interest open in the city. We went to the National Theater and pre-Columbian Gold Museum, but both were closed for the national holiday. This wasn't a huge surprise, but we got a few good pictures of the outside of these edifices.

The National Theater with the Costa Rican flag in the foreground

The National Museum of Gold Artifacts closed due to the National Holiday

We decided to make our way back to the hotel, but we ran into some other interesting and/or random sites on the way back. There was a beautiful tree in bloom next to a statue of their first president, a chicken shop closely resembling "Pollos Hermanos" in TV's Breaking Bad, and an individual selling fresh coconut drinks from a shopping cart.

A statue of the first president of Costa Rica set next to a beautiful tree in bloom

Gus Fring LIVES!

A coconut vendor selling fresh coconut juice: he would chop off the top with a machete, throw a straw in it and then collect his payment

I just thought this was random

We also came across an awesome public health poster that I had to share. I am always fascinated to see these public service announcements in other countries - from Dengue fever vaccination in Argentina to condom use in Thailand. This particular advertisement loosely translated to "neglect is also child violence." It was accompanied by a picture of a pill, firework and marble standing in a animated line-up. I love to share these since I know many of my virtual travel companions are public health enthusiasts.

My Costa Rican public health colleagues spreading the good word, translation: "Neglect is also child violence."

Reminding you to not leave fireworks and/or marbles unattended

The massive drainage ditches of the capitol city

Costa Rica also receives a heavy amount of rainfall with over 77 inches per year. There were massive drainage gutters throughout the capitol which could have had signs that said the Spanish equivalent of "Mind the Gap." The next day we skipped the culture and went looking for the rain that these gutters carried eastward to make the famous rivers of Costa Rica. It was time for white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare.

Our tour for Day 2 picked us up from our hotel at 6 AM to make the long journey out of the central valley and into the Eastern side of the country where we would raft the Rio Pacuare. The river is a hot spot for rafters because it is rated by National Geographic as one of the top five commercial rafting rivers in the world. It is also famous for the backdrop of the 1995 movie, Congo. Congo was a terrible movie, but it's a random fact for you, nonetheless!

Our guide for the day, Ray, joked that Costa Rica has two seasons: rainy season and rainier season. We were rafting the river when it was relatively low, but during peak times, the river can produce Class V rapids that often flip rafts. Despite the lower waterline, we were told that the journey would be a lot more technical since we had to dodge a lot more rocks which aren't typically seen when the water levels are high.

On the bus at 6 AM to the Eastern side of the country

Our guide for the day, Ray

A river we passed en route, Rio Sucio literally translated to "Dirty River." The red coloring comes from the mineral rich volcanic ash that is common to the Central valley

We left our non-essential gear in the van and donned life jackets, helmets and our GoPros and climbed in the boat with Ray and three others to make our aquatic trek downstream.

Danielle getting ready at the Rafting Put-In

Meandering down the river

Laughing maniacally as we hit the rapids

A beautiful waterfall in the distance

Hitting the rapids again

Our team made it to lunch without having anyone fall out of the boat or get hit in the face with an oar. For those of you who raft often, you know that those two criteria usual spell a successful outing. We gorged ourselves on pineapple and watermelon and then ate as many sandwiches as our stomachs could tolerate before we disembarked yet again down the river.

Replacing the burned calories at our lunch stop for the day

Another view from our rest area

Danielle taking a well-deserved dip

Heading back into the rapids with a collision and an unexpected drop

After we cleared the most technical rapids, Ray and the guides from other boats started to play a game of frisbee between boats in the calm water with numerous guides opting for diving catches into the water. We got involved and laughed as many people made dives just short of the frisbee. Other individuals decided to do other things that would probably not be advisable had the guide been in the boat. The video below is a perfect example of shenanigans that people film and put on YouTube. Watch closely at the man in the background standing on the boat...

A testimonial of what NOT to do when standing on the front of a boat

As we reached the end of the river, we noticed a good number of locals had come out for a meet and greet. As our boat passed under a railroad bridge, preteens and teens jumped off the bridge that we were passing under and did cannonballs next to our boat. Given that the bridge was at least 30 feet high, one couldn't help but be scared once the first couple jumped off. When we realized they weren't actually aiming FOR the boat, we all had a good laugh and made sure that each of them surfaced after their jumps given the height!

If all your friends decided to jump off a bridge...

We docked the boats shortly after our brush with the locals and checked it off as another item successfully completed from the bucket list. We're off to the volcanic region of the North for zip-lining and cave exploring. More to come soon!

Danielle smiling for the camera

Posted by mbeymer 08:55 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

From Thailand to Tolna

Exploring the Great Plains

sunny 20 °F

Our first out-of-state trip together took us to the tiny town of Tolna in the Great Plains of North Dakota. Although Danielle and her family are from Ventura County, her brother received a football scholarship from Colorado State University. While at a bar near Ft. Collins, a nice North Dakotan woman jokingly asked if a fellow patron actually hunted as suggested by his camouflage hunting cap. Not expecting an affirmative answer, she was a bit taken aback when the stranger answered that he not only hunted but ALSO fished. She made sure he didn’t leave the bar without her number, and they were married just nine months later with the couple eventually relocating to her hometown in North Dakota.

Although I had explored the Midwest before on previous sojourns to Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived. I thought we would mainly sit inside, the cowardly Californians protecting themselves from the harsh elements, watch football and gorge ourselves on cheese curds and other football fare. The trip ended up being a lot more eventful, and I was lucky enough to experience a lot of local culture.

When we arrived at the Grand Forks airport, we were greeted by a good amount of snow, brown landscapes and rather warm temperatures for late November (by warm, I mean about 20 degrees F). We made a quick stop-off at the Culver’s burger chain (think the Midwest’s answer to In N’ Out) and then made the hour and a half trip West to the town of Tolna. We arrived pretty late in the evening and visited with their oldest son Cast and met the new addition, three week-old, Eli, before heading off to bed.

That's 5:45.....AM

Off to Grand Forks!

The Best Burger in the Midwest

Grandma Meets Little Eli

The next morning, we woke up and were given the grand tour of the property by Danielle’s brother, Chris. We then met up with his wife, Marlee, and took off to Marlee’s parents' house for Thanksgiving with a side of football. Although my beloved Packers did not do well, getting trounced by the Lions 40-10, we had a great time with Marlee’s family and had some amazing food. Among the delectable dishes, were Oreo balls which were nothing short of amazing. We also had a chance to explore the town and take a few pictures of the surrounding area.

Older brother, Cast, with his little brother, Eli

The homestead

Cody, the corgi, on patrol

Water Tower

The Tolna Post Office

I just thought this was ironic

Gives a new meaning to stillwater

At Thanksgiving dinner

The table is set

He likes football too

Chris and Marlee

Ready for dessert

Oreo bites

Relaxing after a nice dinner

The following day was filled with outdoor activities and ice fishing was first on the docket. When I think of ice fishing, I typically think of a few men in a small shack, huddled for warmth, surrounding a small hole in the ice with lures patiently drawn and waiting for the big catch. When we were there, the ice was only three feet thick - safe to walk on, but not safe enough to put a shed on the ice. Since Chris was planning a fish dinner, he decided to cut a hole in the ice anyway and show us how it was done, sans the shed. Danielle and I cautiously ventured out with him, slowly finding our ice legs, and watched as he caught a beautiful Northern Pike for dinner. As he reeled the fish in, their lab, Bella, tried to claim the fish for her own, but Chris would have none of it.

Don't slip!

Inspecting the lines with Bella

We've got dinner!

Once the fish was secured and in the ice box, Chris took Danielle and I out for a little education on trapping. Coyotes are considered an invasive species in the Dakotas, and the local government sanctions a trapping season in order to reduce the population. Individuals can either sell the dead carcass to a dealer that pays them about $100 per hide or they can skin the coyote themselves and earn up to $1,500 at the North American Fur auction (also known as NAFA). The skinning takes a bit more time and skill, but the profits can definitely add up. Provided one catches 15-20 coyotes in a season, trapping can end up becoming a very lucrative venture.

Checking the snares

Catch of the day

Trapping assistant

Sun over the plains

After we checked all of the traps, and hauled in two good sized coyotes, we headed back to the ranch for a little bit of target practice. Most individuals in the Dakotas have wide expanses of property which gives them the freedom to do things that may be frowned upon in more population-dense environments. Tannerite is a binary explosive of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder which makes a nice effect when shot as a distance with an AR15, or the civilian version of the military M16. I may have been a little rusty with my shooting abilities, but I was able to rebound pretty quickly.

Preparing the targets

My version of pumpkin pie

Grandpa and grandson taking in some football

Fresh caught Northern pike and homemade bread

Venison stew

An early sunset

As we packed up and ventured out on the long drive back to Grand Forks, I reflected a lot on my visit to the Great Plains. Californians (myself included) are often very egocentric when it comes to our state. We think that we live in the best state in the U.S. and that everywhere else is not as interesting, and in many cases, uninhabitable to our delicate temperature sensibilities. Other states are dismissed with a dismissive scoff, and we continue acting in a way that is deserving of mockery from the other 49 states in the union.

Although the town I visited only had 202 people, I really came to understand why small town life is so beautiful and cherished by so many. The great outdoors serve as ample entertainment as you walk out your doors, neighbors genuinely have your best interests at heart and you are able to bond with nature on a daily basis. While these places may not have grandeur of Broadway or the chanting masses in arenas, they have the unmistakable beauty of hundreds of lakes and the unrivaled tranquility of the wild.

We thanked Chris, Marlee and the kids for their hospitality and traversed the snow and ice to the Grand Forks airport to return to the massive expanse of Los Angeles County. Similar to many trips before, these experiences enlightened and humbled me, leaving an ever-increasing respect for nature. It was a beautiful journey, and I hope there are many adventures to come on the Great Plains.

Posted by mbeymer 21:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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