Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jugando por el oído (Part one)

My friend Tim started talking about wanting to take a trip to Central or South America about a year ago. Then at our weekly poker game, a friend of ours returned from the region with many stories and photos. I expressed interest in going down there as well. A month or so later, my sudden departure form the 9 to 5 acted as a catalyst to put the wheels into motion. Based on our available time and funds, we decided to keep the trip confined to the country of Costa Rica. We hit the interwebz, booked airfare, and counted the days until departure. We booked a place to stay on the first and last few days of the trip, but decided to wing it for everything in between. I am really glad we chose to travel this way. It made everything a bit more of an adventure, and allowed us to stay longer in certain places if we wanted to.

We arrived in San Jose in the evening, and grabbed a cab to Vida Tropical, to crash for the night. Although were weren't quite sure at first, the cabbie knew exactly where he was going and got us there pretty fast. We walked a few blocks to a restaurant owned by the same guy as the Bed and breakfast, had dinner and beer, and got to bed. In the morning, over a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, and pinto gallo, we talked about where to go. The other owner, Isabella, helped us arrange for a rental car company to pick us up and bring us to their office. A few signatures later we were on the road in our Suzuki Jimny 4x4. Costa Rica recommendation #1: Get a 4x4 if you are going to drive. You never know when you might need it. Costa Rica recommendation #2: Bring or rent a GPS. Most of the streets have no names... literally. Because of that, there really is no numerical address system either. Directions are given in relation to landmarks. So if you were to stop and ask directions you would get an answer like, "Ok... drive for about 5 minutes, then turn left at the big palm tree... not the little one, but the big tall one with coconuts. If you see a bunch of white cows then you went too far. After the turn go about 10 minutes up a bumpy dirt road. You'll pass 2 soccer fields and 3 churches. Turn right at the big green house, and then you're there." Right so.... get a GPS.

The first place we punched into ours was the town of La Fortuna... home of the Arenal volcano. About three hours and a fantastic drive through the mountains later, we arrived in La Fortuna and stopped for lunch. We randomly chose a restaurant off the main road. The food was fantastic. "Lucky us," we thought. Well that would be a common theme throughout the trip. Nearly everywhere we ate (no exaggeration) was fantastic. Most restaurants prepared and served the food with a gourmet presentation for Applebee's prices. I can think of maybe 1 meal that was just "meh". ONce we had our lunch we started looking for a place to stay. Most of the places we read about didn;t have their own hot springs. They all said they would shuttle us to Baldi Hot Springs. We figured we would check out the accommodations there rather than have to take a shuttle. Turns out their prices were good and the hotel room was very nice... offering a really great view of the Arenal Volcano... well the bottom of it at least. The top is often obscured by a cloud of water vapor, as it was for the duration of our stay in the area. So we checked in, threw our bags on the bed and immediately headed out to see the Hanging Bridges before the place shut down for the evening. When we got there the guy at the front informed us that we were too late and it would be getting dark soon. We asked him to please let us go and eventually he said "Ok, but you are on your own you know... there will be nobody here." He also gave us the "local hook-up" price since he had already shut down the credit card machine. So off we went and saw the hanging bridges. I'm pretty sure we probably did it faster than anyone else ever has. I was basically jogging the entire time...up cobblestone paths... around the random tourist... making the bridges themselves sway from back and forth. I scared the hell out of some poor old Peruvian woman. Its not to say we went through so fast that we didn't enjoy it. It was cool. We got some great pictures of the jungle, the volcano and an awesome sunset over Lake Arenal on the drive back to Baldi. We ate at the restaurant at the hotel for dinner before heading off to get, what for me, was the most intense full body massage I've ever experienced. Are your shoulders actually supposed to hurt for the next two days afterwards? Maybe I should have asked her to lighten up... but I thought maybe the pain was therapeutic somehow? After the massage we soaked in the hot springs before heading off to bed. We hung out in the hot springs again the next morning, while they were still filling up. Some of them were ridiculously high as 152 Farenheit! I dipped my toe in just to see what the heck that was like. Yep, pretty much like you would hurt. We found our way down to the much tamer 103-104 pool, and would soak for 5 minutes then jump into the cold dunk, then back into the hot pool. They also had water slides. I don't think Costa Rica has an OSHA in the same way that we do, because these water slides were effing fast. I literally hit the roof of the thing each time I went down it. Here's a video of me flying out the front of it.

We hit the road shortly after. Next stop, Monteverde.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I should pay taxes in Nevada (long)

Oh, they don't have state income tax there? Just sales tax? Jeesh, maybe I should move there considering how much money I've infused into that economy recently. More on that possibility later.

As an avid poker player, I travel to Las Vegas often. In the last 4 months however, I've been there much more than usual. So often, in fact, that I wouldn't remember all the dates if not for the help of all the pictures. Here's recap of the most recent trips there.

Thanksgiving night, just after finishing up an amazing dinner with the Sise family, Sean and I dropped off our grandfather in La Jolla, cut east, and zipped up the 15 freeway. We checked into to the Aria at about 2 am. Nice hotel. It doesn't have a "theme" in the way that most Las Vegas hotels do. I guess its theme is "Nice Hotel". We stayed, we played, we saw the show. It was every bit as phenomenal as we had hoped. I saw Waters do "Dark side of the Moon" about 5 years back. I raved and raved about it being the single best concert experience of my life. Sean had missed it for reasons that he regrets. So when we heard he was doing "The Wall", there was no way either one of us was going to let the opportunity slip by.

I came in second in a poker tournament at Aria the next day to offset the entire cost of the trip... plus a little extra. I ended up putting that money into play for the next couple of days in cash games and ran it up a bit more. I stayed an extra day rather than attempt to drive home on a Sunday. I walked over to Harrah's from the Venetian at about 3 am and asked for a room. "Do you have a reservation?" I was asked. "Nope, just need something for the night." $40 and an elevator ride later, I found myself on the top floor of the hotel in a luxury suite. Huh? I guess the front desk guy just felt like hooking me up nice. It's amazing what a smile can get you. I took a soak in the jacuzzi because... it was there. The drive home the next morning was swift and easy.

The next trip would be just a few weeks later with the Hunter family: Greg, Wendy, Meredith, Eddie, and Bruce the dog. I got a free first class ticket on Hunter Air and deluxe accommodations at City Center.

We had a great weekend. The weather was very cold and rainy, but there is a lot to do and see around City Center. We checked out the mall at Crystals, went and had dinner and drinks the new Cosmopolitan. There is an Irish pub right next to the condo that has a gazillion beers on tap. They also have a gimmick that if you can finish one in less than 7 seconds...its free. When Greg and I heard that, we thought it was too good to be true. Nope... its true, but limit 2 per customer, per night. We chugged the first couple with seconds to spare, and even got so cocky that on the third day we were taking the time to clink our glasses together before downing them. Once again, we stayed longer than planned. This time it was due to poor weather and icing conditions all the way from Las Vegas to San Diego. Its just a little too dangerous to fly a small airplane through that. It persisted for days. We eventually drove all the way back in the rental car.

The weekend after returning from New York, I would be out there once again. I drove again... this time on the inaugural mission of Operation Tally Ho. 6 hours and a crazy wind storm later, we arrived in Henderson Nevada. I bunked with Tim at the Green Valley Ranch. He and most of his soccer team were staying there, so he let me crash in his room. It was another fun trip. It included another trip to the Cosmo, some time at the Wynn, and a stop downtown to a sort of tattooed and pierced up bondage scene, where Bree and Joyce decided to dress up in lingerie and get pictures taken on the balcony. Fun. My back-line betting craps alter-ego "Donny Don't" made numerous appearances at dice tables around the city. When he first arrived the tables were full. Before long... they'd all be gone. Awww yeah. The cooler finally figured out how to win. :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Not working a regular job has afforded me more time to travel around. I'm not sure if I have spent more than two weekends at home since late November. In early Jan, I flew out to New York to check on Kent and Seth. My travel karma seems to be pretty good, as I managed to land just as the snow started to fall on their 3rd giant storm of the winter... and managed to take off 5 days later about an hour before their 4th one hit. :)

My ticket was into MacArthur Airport in Islip, so I rented a car and stopped off in Long Island to see Dianna and Graig before eventually making it into Brooklyn. Kent was having some landlord issues and needed to get his stuff out of his apartment in Hoboken. Since I had a car, we headed over there to grab his stuff and get a slice of pizza at one of the many awesome places in town. They say its the water over there that makes the dough so good. Makes sense to me, the tap water in New York is some of the best I've tasted anywhere. After filling up the trunk with his personal affects, we took a driving tour of lower Manhattan. It was sort of trippy to look around and be the only car that wasn't a yellow taxi.

Because of Kent's untimely housing issues, we were bunking with Seth and Ollie in Brooklyn for the night. The next morning, Kent, Seth and I took the subway into the city and spent all day on a walking tour. It was really cold, but we still managed to see a lot of Midtown and Lower Manhattan. We grabbed dinner in Koreatown, and then met up with Brian, an old high school and college buddy of mine, at a bar near the Empire State Building. I drank about twice as much as I should have and managed to convince Brian and Kent to go to Atlantic City the next morning. Later that evening I found myself on the upper east side in a bar full of Jets fans. I'm not really sure I remember how I got there. But there I was. Somehow I made it back to Brooklyn in the early morning hours, but not without a raging headache. Doh! I still drink like I have a 20 year-old liver.

I woke up to Seth handing me two slices of peanut-butter wheat toast, and a giant bottle of water. I ate the toast along with 2 Excedrin Migraine caplets. 30 minutes and a hot shower later, I was feeling as good as new. True to my word, I gathered up Kent and Brian and we hit the New Jersey Turnpike bound for Atlantic Shitty.

We stayed at the Borgata, which is not on the main boardwalk. That is just as well seeing as how the Boardwalk is a sewer. The hotel was very nice. Half of the point of the trip was to give Seth and Ollie their space for the weekend, and also for us to sleepo in some nice comfy beds. We mostly gambled while there. I started off down but managed to make a score before the end of the trip. I got a knock on the hotel room door from Security... informing me that my friend Brian was being taken to the hospital for food poisoning. Holy hell! They wheeled him out on a stretcher. His wife came down from the city to pick him up. I guess he has a sensitive GI tract because I had the same pizza that he did and I felt fine. He was ok a few days later, but wow.

We headed back toward the city in the morning. I dropped off Kent and said my goodbyes to him and Seth before heading back out to Long Island to drop off the car and catch the last flight home before the next giant snow storm hit. I had a great time, but as always, its a joy to come home to San Diego.