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Exclusive Interview: Esteban Tells All!

March 20, 2013

If there was a cutest animal competition in Costa Rica or Nicaragua, We’d bet our colones or cordobas on the sloth. That face. Those eyes. That button nose. Claws down, the white-faced monkey will have to settle for runner up. Here at Morgan’s Rock Eco-Lodge in Nicaragua, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Esteban, a sloth that sleeps in a tree just outside the lobby.

Esteban before he gets his beauty sleep.

After months of nagging, today we finally landed an exclusive interview with Esteban! Here’s what went down:

Irene respects Esteban’s need for rest. Sloths sleep between 15-20 hours a day!

GS: Hola Esteban, thanks for agreeing to hang out & talk to us today. We can’t help but notice your heavy coat. Aren’t you hot? It’s 90 degrees here in San Juan Del Sur! 

Esteban: Hola GreenSpot. If I’m going to do an interview, it’s going to be for GreenSpot travelers. ‘Nuff said. And this old thing? Well it’s not exactly “my coat.” In rainy season it’s home to a whole ecosystem. In fact, one of my buddies had 950 beetles living on him once! It’s because we have algae growing on us. I had to evict a few moths today. Yes. I’m hot which is why I asked that we do this in the shade of my favorite tree. 

 GS: Seriously? That’s wild. You seem so motionless all the time.  We‘re actually surprised to see you’re not napping! What’s the occasion?

Esteban: (Asks if he can say this off the record. GS says no.) I’m just getting ready to take my weekly trip to the bathroom.

GS: Wow, you only go to the bathroom once a week?

Esteban: Yes. We’re not the fastest of creatures and spending time on ground is dangerous especially in the jungle where predators can be found. So we spend most of our time in trees and only go to the bathroom once a week. It also has to do with our diet.

GS: Oh, that’s interesting. Do you mind telling us what’s in your diet?

Esteban: Not at all. We eat leaves, fruit, and Twigs.

GS: You still eat Twigs? We thought Nabisco discontinued them years ago.

Esteban: (eyeroll)

GS: Before you go back to sleep for another 18 hours, is there anything about your species that you want to share with GreenSpot travelers?

Esteban: Sure. We weren’t always small. Our ancestors were huge and some as big as elephants. Back then, thousands of years ago, we even lived on the ground. And not just in Latin America. We also were known to chill in North America. Go Yankees!

GS: That’s fascinating. And you like baseball? 

Hang on a second! And just where do you think you’re going?

Esteban: Love it. It’s the national sport here in Nicaragua.

GS: That’s right. The national sport of Costa Rica is soccer, but you folks prefer baseball. Is it also true you follow the sport of swimming?

Esteban: That rumor IS true. Sloths are no good on the ground, but we’re great swimmers. Well, maybe not as great as Phelps & Lochte…

GS: Haha. Well, look we won’t keep you any longer from your weekly bathroom break, so thanks a bunch for sharing with GreenSpot travelers today. We hope to introduce many of them to you in person one day.

Esteban: That would be cool. Can’t wait. You know where to find me. Well, except that one day a week…

 GS: True! And you know where to find us if you need anything. Twitter @GreenSpotTravel  

No More Border Crossing Blues

March 25, 2013   at

Expect to see very long lines of semis and buses; we even saw a truck driver who had hung up his hammock beneath his rig to take a nap!

Last Saturday, over 15,000 Nicaraguans working in Costa Rica crossed the border back into Nicaragua. Over 50,000 more are expected to cross in the next few days to spend Semana Santa (Holy Week) with their families. Even when there aren’t thousands of people, border crossings by land make TSA screenings seem like a piece of cake. Still, they’re not so bad if you know what to expect. Below are a few tips based on our recent crossing by bus.

After boarding the bus & getting your passport checked by the driver, sit back, relax, and watch Lord of the Rings if your bus has TVs.

Our bus driver giving our passports back to us as we reload.

Come prepared. Obviously you’ll need your passport, but also have a pen handy to fill out forms. Sharing is caring, but it’s more efficient if you bring your own.

Know your number. At some point the bus driver will collect your passport, and sometimes he does this before you fill out your forms. Have a copy of your passport on hand and/or memorize your passport number.  Otherwise you have to track the bus driver down and try to get it back from him. Yes, the bus driver WILL take your passport, but he will give it back!

Cash is king. You’ll need to have cash to pay the entry fees. To enter into Nicaragua, we paid 8,000 colones (about $16 USD) each, and the American couple sitting in front of us paid in USD. The bus driver should have plenty of change in both currencies as well as cordobas. The mysterious part is the amount you pay seems to vary according to the source. Try to have at least $20 USD or the equivalent in local currency easily accessible.

There’s a reason it’s called hand luggage. Keep your hand luggage in your hands at all times. Even if you unload the bus and are told to leave your big bags below, always carry your hand luggage with you. Never leave it on the bus unattended.

Mugshot and one of the immigration forms you’ll have to fill out on the bus.

Be prepared to be bombarded. “Cambio, cambio?” men will yell as soon as you step off the bus.  Although they’re offering to conveniently change money for you as you wait, they may be ripping you off if you don’t know the current exchange rate. Also, your first welcome is likely to come from the many vendors that will approach you. They sell everything from snacks to sandals and cell phone cards. Others will straight up ask you for money, providing a toothless grin in return. As we understand, the men wearing navy blue vests are authorized to search your luggage, but they too can be aggressive and demand tips if they help you carry it.

Based on our experience, the border crossing into Costa Rica or Nicaragua at Penas Blancas takes at least two hours. Best of luck with your next border crossing, and if you have any experiences to share, please do. After all, sharing is caring~

Note: A version of this post was published in the The Nicaragua Dispatch & can be seen here

Teach a Man to Say Fish

April 7, 2013   at

Ceviche can also be bought as street food. Here we are in Zarcero, shopping for a snack.

The same rule about not judging a book by the cover applies to food.

Tackling another language is tricky, so it’s smart to start with survival words. Teach a man to say fish, and voila! He has dinner. Well, technically he has to say the right word for fish otherwise he may be served something that’s still swimming. In Spanish the word for fish that is still breathing is pez and the word for the fish you probably prefer to have on your plate is pescado. It’s like pig and pork.

Pescado is one of the most memorable foods you’ll experience in Central America. It’s fresh, cheap, plentiful, and delicious. Menus everywhere feature fantastic fish dishes ranging from the appetizer of ceviche (like a cold fish soup/salsa) to the most epic of entrees, the pescado frito entero. It’s a mouthful all right! A mouthful of mind-blowingly tasty fresh fish which is fried to perfection and served on a plate alongside accompaniments like succulent tomato salsa, tostones that will make you forget all about french fries, and a slice of lime if your tongue takes pleasure in an added tang.

Family style is always a fun way to have a feast when you’re on vacation~

Eating it is labor intensive, but that doesn’t seem to stop the locals or the tourists who discover how much flavor is packed into each piece of meat that must be picked off the bone. Yes, picked. First timers may approach the dish with their fork, but it quickly becomes clear that fingers work best. Pescado frito entero can be prepared with a variety of fish—the only requirement is that it must be fresh, and in Central America, lack of fresh fish isn’t an issue.

At any beachfront restaurant in San Juan Del Sur, this dish featuring an entire fish will set you back about $10. You’ll have plenty of money left to souvenir shop in town and just enough room left for dessert. Maybe next week we’ll share our favorite Central American dessert. Well, not the dessert itself because that we do not share!

Start (planning) summer vacation with these tips

March 10, 2013   at

Remember when you were a kid, and you looked forward to summer like it was Santa coming at Christmas? That’s how stoked we want you to be for summer vacation 2013. Even though summer doesn’t officially start for another few months, planning early can pay off. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Consult with the kids. This doesn’t have to mean a free-for-all or throwing darts at a map. Kids do best when you provide specific options. Give them a list of a few destinations to choose from, and they’ll feel you value their input. (If you must, use reverse psychology to get them to pick the place you want most.)

-Seek out a specialist. Once you have a destination in mind, consult with a specialist. Of course, as Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialist for Costa Rica for the past seven years, we’re partial to their list of Top Travel Specialists. Each year Condé Nast Traveler handpicks an elite list of travel designers who are experts on a particular destination or interest. Only the best in the industry make the cut, and they’re the ones who can help you plan your summer vacation sans stress.

-Do your not-home work. Even if you’ve been to your vacation destination before or are having a specialist help you plan your trip, it can be fun and interesting to research where you’re going even before you get there. Get eachfamily member involved and delegate duties. Big brother might like history, Dad may find the closest weird attractions like World’s Largest insert anything, and Mom always knows about the wildlife and when is the best time to view them.

-Save time with templates. If you have pets and/or plants, there’s no need to keep re-inventing the wheel with written lists of instructions. Use free templates like these  by Microsoft Office and just fill them out with the information that your sitter needs. Email it to your sitter to save paper. The best part? They’re reusable. Just edit them as you accumulate more pets and plants!

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @GreenSpotTravel & let us know where you decide to go!

Photos: If the kids insist on throwing darts, feel free to use this map. Heading to Italy? Look up the history of pizza & try to make an authentic pie at home. Speaking of home, sorry Zoe, it looks like you’ll be staying home this trip!

El Sano Banano: Home of the Mocha Chiller

March 6, 2013   at

Two words describe my favorite thing to consume in Costa Rica, and they’re not “gallo” and “pinto.” Rather, “mocha” and “chiller.” I first read about the Mocha Chiller in a Costa Rican guide book, but by no means did I plan my first trip around trying one. After the first taste, I now plan my trips to Costa Rica around this delightful drink served at El Sano Banano in the small beach town of Montezuma. El Sano Banano translates into the healthy banana, and much of their food is healthy. I’m going to consider the Mocha Chiller to be a healthy alternative to a shake since it’s made with homemade frozen yogurt. I’m not yet privy to the exact recipe, but I’m told the other ingredients are espresso and homemade chocolate syrup.

In addition to their drinks El Sano Banano serves incredible food, and their menu is like nothing I’ve seen elsewhere in Costa Rica. In addition to the typical Costa Rican fare, they serve sushi, sandwiches made with fresh-baked brown bread, colorful salads, and desserts showcasing their homemade frozen yogurt and baked goods.

At El Sano Banano vegetarians can mingle with meat lovers while watching a free movie on their projector. Every night they play a movie, often new releases in English, but you’d better show up early if you want a seat. Otherwise, they have outdoor seating on their front and back decks where you can people-watch. Actually, you’re far more likely to be plate-watched as people passing by will do double takes at the sight of your food. For dessert, indulge in the Mocha Chiller or another one of their specialty drinks. In my dreams El Sano Banano has free refills…

 Photos: A collage of a FEW of the MC photos in my extensive collection. The chicken sandwich served on homemade brown bread with homemade honey dijon mustard and homemade pickles! If you choose to sit on the back balcony, you’ll share the ocean view with the birds who like to help with breakfast service. Speaking of birds, the early bird gets a good seat at movie night to watch Argo. 

Our Ladies of Chachagua

February 25, 2013   at

Chachagua. It sounds like the name of Chewbaca’s sister, but it’s actually a town in Costa Rica.  Despite its proximity to Arenal volcano, it’s a pass-through place and tourists seldom stop here. However, GreenSpot knows it’s a must-see for travelers looking to experience an authentic Costa Rican community.

When I found out I would be visiting Irene’s mother, Dona Mara, who lives in Chachagua, I was intrigued despite not being able to find it on any maps. Upon arriving late at night by bus, I was worried since I had no idea where Dona Mara lived or even her last name. But, perhaps the best thing about small towns is that everybody knows everybody. My worries disappeared after I asked four different people where Dona Mara lived, and each of them gave me the same directions. Across from the school and next to the yucca plant.

The best way to get to know a new place is to walk it, and that’s why I took Dona Mara up on her offer to join her and her lady friends on their morning walk around Chachagua. None of them speak English, but with my basic Spanish, I was able to find out that they walk every day of the week at 7am for ninety minutes.

No sooner then after we had turned down the old dirt road, Dona Mara began rambling. Five minutes later, it seemed she was still in the middle of a monologue. Naturally, I thought this was odd. Especially since there was little inflection in her voice, and the story she seemed to be telling was far from animated or interesting. Why didn’t the other ladies interrupt her and change the subject? Of course, I didn’t know what she was saying because it was in rapid Spanish. About the time she passed some beads to one of the other ladies who immediately launched into her own monologue, I realized that they were saying the rosary. Richard had told me to expect small town gossip during the walk, which admittedly I was looking forward to, but instead, the walk began with prayer.

It was a surreal sanctification of sorts—to be speedwalking in the Costa Rican countryside while praying in another language with three local women. It’s normal for them as they do this every day, but for this traveler, it was an honor and the highlight of my trip to tag along. While you won’t find the Rambling Mara in any guidebooks (yet), we would be happy to set you up with this enlightening experience/exercise on your next trip to Costa Rica.

(Photos: The Catholic church in Chachagua. Dona Mara has the keys & gave me a private tour. She was in charge of decorating the church for Lent. Bottom, the papaya plantation we passed on our walk. No surprise that our post-walk snack was very refreshing fruit!)

Better not propose at this beach

February 14, 2013   at

Meaning “Cape White” Cabo Blanco beach on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica sounds like the perfect place to pop the question. But this serene, white sand beach located within a huge nature reserve is one of the worst places to propose. Here’s the logic: there is a 50/50 chance she’ll say no. That probability exists everywhere, but Cabo Blanco beach isn’t the place where you want to test it. Why not? Because it takes two hours of strenuous hiking in the jungle to reach it! I recently made my first trip to Cabo Blanco with a male friend of mine who is a tico*. At least I thought we were just friends. The hike was challenging, but thanks to a well-marked trail and the abundance of flora and fauna, it was well worth the work. Upon reaching the secluded beach, Jose cut to the chase and commented that this very spot would be the perfect place to ask his future wife to marry him. There may have been a wink involved, but before I could even blink, I blurted out that it was the worst idea ever because if she said no, he’d have two torturous hours of hiking back with her.

Crushed, Jose did not appreciate my candor, and there has been a substantial rift in our relationship ever since. That was two months ago, but yesterday I returned to Cabo Blanco solo and made the trek again. I couldn’t help but notice it was mostly couples I passed on the trail. Today being Valentine’s Day, I was toying with the idea of returning. Last night a local artisan was hard at work crafting ring bands at his table on the main street in nearby Montezuma. Although I’m working on having a more optimistic outlook on love, I wonder what his return policy is like.

Established in 1963, the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve was the first protected area in Costa Rica. It is still home to a diverse population of trees, birds, and many other species. If you’re interested in visiting Cabo Blanco, solo or as a couple, we’d be happy to provide more information and maybe, upon request, a few proposal tips.

The price for a *tico(a) to visit is only $2 compared to $10 for a foreigner.                                              Regardless, it’s a small price to pay to experience nature at its finest.

*Ticos or ticas if female, are the terms Costa Ricans use to refer to themselves. 

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