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Restaurants: Pig in the Ground and the Beer on Ice

June 2002
I was thinking about some things that I didn’t mention about Costa Rica. And, I am contemplating moving to Eugene, Oregon, in order to finish a book, and thoughts of opening a small restaurant there have crossed my mind – Brandon’s Bayou: The Elegant, Redneck Experience.

Does anybody think that it will work?

So, this article is going to mostly be about restaurants in Costa Rica.

First, let me say a couple of things:

  1. This has been bothering me for some weeks now. BUT, Phyllis Collins, if you see this article� I tried for a solid week to get in touch with you, to no avail… so did Ant. Neither of us could get through to the email address that you gave me. Please try again.

     

  2. Along these lines, I would like to say: I ALWAYS answer everybody that emails me. ALWAYS. Then, WHY, in the name of the God of Self-Importance, can’t those writers that I email on www.BootsnAll.com answer me?

     

  3. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE read ALL of the articles that I have written BEFORE you ask me about a cheap place to stay in San Jose. I have said it like three times in a couple of articles: The Gran Hotel Imperial off of Calle Ocho: it’s $5/night for a single with a shared bathroom, and they have an internet caf� and restaurant/bar on the premises. It is the backpacker hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica.

     

  4. Once and for all, I did not go to the Caribbean coast… it rains too much… I don’t smoke dope… if I wanted to go to Jamaica, then I would have gone, well, to Jamaica.

Now, on to the restaurant scene in Costa Rica.

San Jose
I am really partial to two bar/restaurants in DOWNTOWN San Jose. I have mentioned them before, but I think that they are worth mentioning again.

  • Bar/Soda Morazon in THE HEART of Gringo Gulch across from Parque Morazon. It’s also called The Green Bar because it’s green on the inside and outside. They serve typical Tico fare and it’s pretty good; also, the beer is reasonably priced – that’s what sells me. It is around the corner from The Hotel Del Rey (which is managed by a good friend of mine, Jeff Ruzicka, and partially owned by his Uncle. Even Ruzicka knows that I cannot abide paying $5/beer in his Blue Marlin Bar, when I could be around the corner in The Green Bar paying $.75/beer and getting drunk for $5. The Green Bar is a half-Tico/half-gringo place. There are tourists and locals of all types.

     

  • Also, Bar 1930: this is an all-Tico place, but the last few times that I was in there I saw a few Americans and then, I take American friends of mine with me. Not for the girls though; this place is a cantina. The Tico fare is outstanding at Bar 1930.

San Pedro

  • One of the only cheapie places in San Pedro, the University area, is Soda La U, as in Soda La Universidad. It’s a fast food place at the end of the street behind The Church of San Pedro. Cheap, greasy, tasty cheeseburgers, and even cheaper beer. They close early, like 8pm. It’s a University hang out, obviously.

     

  • Sands it’s just a bar; I don’t even know if they serve food. Sands is across the street from Mall San Pedro and is the cheapest "bar" in San Pedro. On Monday nights they have 2×1 beer and it IS the cheapest bar in San Pedro, maybe even all of San Jose. Two beers for something like C380 – they’re more expensive than that when you buy them in the grocery store.

     

  • Il Ponte Vecchio is an Italian restaurant owned by an American. It is just past the rotunda in San Pedro. Very, very good food, expensive for Tico land, but not if you are used to taking a girl out to a nice dinner in The United States. I was last in there with Grace, my 18-year old gambling date for that night. Grace and I worked together at a sports book and she likes to gamble; I thought that a late dinner would be a nice touch. We had a full meal: salad, entrée, dessert, bottle of wine, etc., and I don’t think the bill was more than $50. The place has plenty of atmosphere: the American owner didn’t forget what was going on once he got to Costa Rica. I highly recommend this place.

     

  • Escazu is the Gringo Suburb of San Jose. El Che is priced accordingly. El Che is an Argentine Steak House with a sort of a sports bar feel. The food is fantastic, beer is reasonable. I was usually only in there with "the boys," so I can’t attest to their wine selection. But, you see couples having dinner there regularly.

At the Beach

  • Jaco
    • El Zarpe is the Gringo bar that you will see at the bus station in Jaco. Zarpe’s has good food and IS a sports bar. Lynn, the owner, is a friendly American woman. Her staff speaks English. The beer is reasonable. Be prepared to pay a little more than a Tico place, but it is worth it.

       

    • Suzy-Q’s. This place is the reason that I even wrote this article. Marvin, the owner, is a friend of mine. Suzy-Q’s is only open from 5pm-9pm, Tuesday through Sunday evenings. There is one waitress, Sue, and they don’t serve beer or liquor (supposedly). Marvin does all of the cooking himself – and Marvin makes a mean rack of ribs. The food is ridiculously low-priced. I highly recommend this place when you are feeling a little homesick, as it’s all American fare… hell, I highly recommend this place anytime. As far as the beer goes, just tell Marvin that I sent you and he might be able to scrounge up a six-pack to sell you (nudge, nudge).

       

    • El Rincon del Mar is on the opposite side of town from Suzy-Q’s. This place is primarily a bar, with one catch: for every beer or drink that you order, then they serve you a boca (appetizer) to go with it – and I’m not talking about peanuts and popcorn. The bocas are huge and are some of the best food in town; they vary everyday. The bartender writes them down on the back of a cigarette carton – that’s your "menu". You’d better get drunk before you go, because after a couple of beers and bocas you’ll be stuffed.

     

  • Quepos/Manuel Antonio
    I more or less covered the best restaurants in Quepos/ Manuel Antonio in my article Manuel Antonio is for Lovers, but I am still pitching La Liga Bar for your Tico bar with good food and cheap beer. The owner’s name is Henry and he speaks no English. Go to Karola’s for tasty seafood at Gringo prices and El Gato Negro for Italian food made by real Italians (that translates to "really good"). Finally, it’s The Mar y Sombra for breakfast on the beach.

Now, back to my restaurant idea� who thinks that it’ll work?

 

 

On the Occasion of My Third Deportation from Costa Rica (1 of 2)

Or… Scrapin’ My Shank Across The Floor
Just In Case The War Breaks Off

March 2002
The Last Qualifying Statement on Costa Rica
I am everything that I say that I am, with little or no exaggeration. In fact, most of the time I have toned it down quite a bit. For instance, if I were to say that one day I was in my office in Atlanta – the US stock markets closed – and I wandered across the street to The Ruth’s Chris and started drinking Manhattans… And then if I were to further say that three days later I woke up in a Days Inn on Interstate 40 just outside of Dallas with three employees from the local nude dancing establishment, what was left of half an ounce of cocaine strewn across the coffee table, and an empty half-gallon bottle of bourbon on the dresser, then that would be the truth…

Or maybe it would just be most of the truth. I would have probably omitted the part about the transvestite midget passed out in the corner. The transvestite midget probably (we hope) wasn’t a major player in the nights’ events. And, quite frankly, transvestite midgets are just too hard to explain. So, it is with complete honesty that I relate the story of my last 12 days in Costa Rica.

 


Day 1
I had gone to Quepos/Manuel Antonio to meet up with the editor of another travel site for which I write and to do a little research on any drastic changes that had been made since I lived there in late 1999 through early 2000. My editor had already returned to San Jose and things looked the same, so I had resolved myself to return to San Jose on an early bus.

I was walking by the Quepos Police Station on my way to the Quepos bus station when a policeman stepped out and asked me to show my papers. I have written in an earlier article about being deported that I barely ever saw the police during the seven months that I lived in Quepos/Manuel Antonio, and that by law you should be carrying your passport or a copy with you at all times. Apparently, that was one of the things that had changed.

They were now Fuerza Publica just like in San Jose, rather than the Policia Rural, Costa Rica’s version of the Mayberry Sheriff’s department. I was stopped in front of the station and I produced a copy of my passport. Not good enough. The police proceeded to call the local immigration officer. This was a Sunday morning at about 8am. The local Immigration Officer was a real hard-ass. After arguing with this guy for about two hours and talking with the US Embassy (they were ZERO help), there were two main issues: 1) Since I had a copy and the copy was not very clear, then was I who I claimed to be on the paper? and 2) what date had I entered the country? It was determined that I would be held there over night and taken to Immigration in San Jose early the next morning.

At this point, I knew that I was going to be deported again, because I had been deported for the second time in August 2001. The occasion of my second deportation was more or less like the first time: I was processed and then given a letter of deportation and allowed to go free, except they held us in immigration holding for two days before releasing us. I was with another American, "Randy," at the time. Now my major concern was how long they were going to hold me before they released me.

Despite the Quepos Immigration Officer being a colossal ass, the Quepos police themselves were pretty friendly. They didn’t lock me up, and let me do what I wanted except leave. And they made me promise not to "escape." I promised. Some of the younger guys wanted to learn or practice English, and I watched TV. All things considered, that night was a relatively painless experience.

Day 2
Early the next morning, two Immigration Officers: Butthead and another fellow, a police driver, another policeman just hitching a ride to San Jose, a Nicaraguan kid in my same situation, and I piled into the Immigration Vehicle and headed to San Jose. When we pulled up to that old, familiar jailhouse, I thought, Here we go again.

They processed us. They took our belts and shoestrings and took us to cell #1, aka "Club Nica." They house Nicaraguans in the first two cells until they have collected enough of them to justify putting them on a bus and taking them to the border. I had been in this cell on the occasion of my second deportation with "Randy."

Since it was early Monday morning, I thought that there might be a slight chance that I would be released that very day. After you have dealt with this sort of thing once or twice, then you realize that Tico governmental bureaucracy is pretty slow and there will be some waiting. With this in mind, I laid down on the nearest foam mattress and fell fast asleep until lunchtime.

I woke up to the sound of: Almuerzo! and the sound of a stream of urine hitting the inside of a heavy plastic container. There is nothing like the smell of urine mixed with stale cigarette smoke to enhance the appetite. There had been no breakfast during transport and I was hungry so I ate the food. It appeared to be Gallo Pinto (rice and beans commonly served for breakfast) and a piece of chorizo (sausage) with some kind of kool-aid. It all tasted bland.

After lunch, I bought cigarettes from the Peruvian guy that had been dishing out the food. "Peter" was about my age. I didn’t find out his given name for a few days. This brilliant collection of minds being held for various immigration infractions had elected to simply call him: "Peru."

I spent the majority of the rest of the day explaining to my Nicaraguan cellmates that I was an American and not a Nicaraguan. By the time dinner rolled around at about 6pm, I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere that day. I ate my dinner, once again rice and beans, this time with mortadela (lunch meat) and then tried to get some sleep.

At this point, I must say that a weaker man would have been pissing his pants and bawling himself to sleep. I know this because of the episode with "Randy" on the occasion of my second deportation. He was a school girl. Granted, the place is overcrowded, you urinate in a plastic jug, and the Nicaraguans, with their lack of social training, are loud and rambunctious, and you can’t get answers from anybody about the status of your case. It is unnerving. But that is when you have to have the testicular fortitude to deal with it. And, it has been my observation over the past 28 years that people don’t deal very well with adversity.

I fell asleep that night a long time before lights out.

Day 3
At 5:45am, we were rousted for breakfast – Gallo Pinto and coffee. It was freezing cold. San Jose is the same elevation as Denver. And, even though the country is nine degrees from the equator, the mountains and the Central Valley – aided by the fierce wind – are cold.

I was beginning to realize that I hadn’t taken a shower in almost four days. But, with the temperature and with knowing that a "shower" would consist of standing under a pipe that only spouted cold water – I couldn’t bear the thought. Besides, I might be released that very day.

I bought more cigarettes from "Peru" at C50 a piece. On the street they cost C35 and a pack of Marlboro costs C400. The prison economy has a substantial mark-up. It turned out that "Peru" was the trustee who could "locate" things. He could get anything from the supermarket, including alcohol.

There were four trustees: "Peru" (Peter), "Jamaica" (Anthony), "Colombia" (I never got his real name), and "Chino" (I never got his name either). Peru, Jamaica, and Colombia were being held for the same reason that I was – immigration violations and they were all in their third and fourth months of detention. Chino, however, was a different story. Chino was from China. He had killed his best friend in self-defense on a boat in Costa Rican waters. Costa Rica wanted to deport him, but they oppose and do not have the death penalty. They did not want to deport him back to China where he would certainly face the death penalty. Chino, therefore, was petitioning every country that he could think of to take him as a refugee.

By the time lunch was served, I still hadn’t been called into the Immigration Office, but the guards let us stay in the common area for a while. And it was in the common area that I met "Andrew" from South Africa. He was a self- proclaimed criminal, drug addict, and Satanist. He had served several years in South African prisons. INTERPOL had finally caught up with him in Costa Rica. Andrew had faked his own death and collected the insurance money and traveled around the world spending it. He was guilty, in South Africa, of DEFEATING THE ENDS OF JUSTICE – punishable by up to 150 years in prison. He ended up in Costa Rica with his last two thousand dollars on his way to Colombia to do a drug deal. I passed the rest of the day wondering if I was going to get out of this mess anytime soon.