Monteverde, Costa Rica April 2012
The horses knew exactly where they were going. When to stop for the scenery, when to slow down for the grade. A good thing, as our guide, Jose, spoke no English. Los caballos entendían la brecha en el lenguaje.
Soy vegetariana. I am vegetarian.
Bethany and I arrived in Nicaragua armed with a tiny Spanish dictionary and 40 or 50 handmade flash cards with useful phrases, provided by Spanish-speaking friends of ours. My fluency in the language is questionable at best, and all-reliant upon my memories of my C+ average Spanish classes in 1995 and 1996. For the most part, the cuisine of Nicaragua seemed to be free of meat. Despite this, and despite the notecard and the fact that vegetariana is one letter away from the English version of the word, I messed up the phrase without fail, talking around it whenever possible.
Mi amiga no me gusta carne, I’d explain while pointing at Bethany with her fancy eating habits. Directly translated, My friend, I don’t like meat. Not confusing at all.
It was my first impulse upon the return home from my trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica: pull out Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes of the World and try to make some of my favorite foods from the trip. I love the book; that’s no secret. So when I flipped to its last pages to search for Central America, I was disappointed to find nothing. Mexico? Check. South America? Check. Caribbean? Check. But nothing in the middle. No gallo pinto, no casado. No sign that Mr. Bittman, with his knowledge of (it’s in the book title) the best recipes in the world, considers the fare of Nicaragua, Costa Rica or their six neighboring countries to be worthy of his book.
Disappointed, yet still hungry, I followed the natural progression of logic and decided to make a Moroccan dish featuring chicken thighs and chickpeas.
You may have noticed that IF-OH has been silent of late. That’s because I’ve been preparing for a new trip: Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I’ve developed a method for my travels that truly honors the “itinerant” part of Itinerant Foodies. This method heavily involves the use of Google Docs and wikitravel. Basically, I write a middle school report on the country I’m visiting. My many anxieties are somewhat quelled when I fight them with knowledge. So I research every possible thing there is to know about a place in hopes that a) I don’t miss something good while I’m there, b) I don’t get stuck someplace awful and c) I don’t die. Vacations with Jill are so fun!
Bethany (of Tanzania and Philippines fame) will be joining me on this new adventure, and I’m hoping that her complete understanding of “island time” will balance out my we-need-to-be-there-four-days-early-to-catch-the-bus mentality. We’ve been working for months on the trip, interviewing friends who have been before, scouring the backpacking message boards and trying to learn some last-minute Spanish. (Thanks to two years of Spanish in 1995 and 1996, the burden of language is on my shoulders for this trip. In the past, I’ve had the luxury of Bethany pre-learning the local dialect prior to my arrival. There will be a lot of grunting and pointing, I fear.)