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From 405 Magazine: Tabacon Hot Springs, Best hot springs resort in Costa Rica

Tabacon, tabacon resort, tabacon hot springs, hot springs, costa rica, arenal,volcano, vacation, costa rican vacations

howler monkey outside Tabacon Hot Springs

Tabacon Thermal Hot Springs and Resort, at the base of the Arenal Volcano and Arenal National Park is one of the most beautiful and unique resorts in the world. The best thing to do when you are at Tabacon? Take a walk. Read about it here in my most recent article from 405 Magazine! Tabacon, Hot Springs and Resort, Costa Rica

Hot Springs at Tabacon, Costa Rica

Hot Springs at Tabacon, Costa Rica

From Communities Digital News: Louisiana Adventure at Fontainebleau State Park

 

Mandeville, Louisiana – As we pulled into Fontainebleau State Park located on the north shore of Louisiana’s famed Lake Pontchartrain, it was silent, still and impossibly dark.

By day, the ten-minute drive from the park’s entrance to its renowned and recently renovated over-the-water lakefront cabins is a beautiful one highlighted by lake views, tangled wood and moss-draped oak trees.

By night, it is far more curious. Punctuating the otherwise opaque night, glowing at every height imaginable and in all directions, were eyes.
Read more at http://www.commdiginews.com/travel/louisiana-wilderness-adventure-at-fontainebleau-state-park-59255/#SbcPp1CB3q2AA5DR.99

Cabins at Fontainebleau State Park, Louisiana

Cabins at Fontainebleau State Park, Louisiana

 

From Vagabondish.com: How I Fell in Love with Turtle Island in Fiji in Just Five Days

Recently I spent five days with my fiancé in Fiji at the all-inclusive Turtle Island Resort, a privately owned island in The Yasawa Island chain. My experience at Turtle Island, from its spacious Grand Bures, complete with personal attendant, known there as a “Bure Mama” to its ingratiating, multi-talented staff and fourteen private beaches can best be described as falling madly in love….

Get the full story here at Vagabondish.com.

Small island off of Turtle Island

Small island off of Turtle Island

Oaxaca, Mexico, El Silencio, and the spell of mezcal

Shortly after 8pm, in an amiable haze, I leave the first of many Mezcalerias I will visit over the next three days and step out into the dry air of colonial downtown Oaxaca, Mexico. Immediately, I am swept into a percussive, frenzied parade of colorful spinning skirts, twirling giants, and brassy horns playing traditional Mexican music through Oaxaca’s narrow cobblestone streets. Caught in the spirit of mezcal and all things Oaxaca, I join the candlelit procession of reds, yellows and greens, having faith that wherever such a kaleidoscopic parade ends, an exponentially larger fiesta shall begin….

Oaxacan parade

Oaxacan parade

From small second story balconies, families watch and wave. At every intersection, more Oaxacans join us. The Latin-infused melody of spritely horns and buoyant tubas repeats, growing louder and drums beat with greater intensity as we make our way toward the town square. There, in front of La Iglesia De Santa Domingo, we will join with other celebratory processions from other parts of town in one massive mezcal-infused celebration that can only be described as Oaxacan.

Famous not only for mezcal but for its cuisine, the state of Oaxaca itself, is an underrated cultural Mexican destination. Famed for Oaxacan cheese, complex moles and seasoned grasshoppers, Oaxaca is one of the world’s best-kept culinary secrets. Oaxaca City, located in the state of Oaxaca, is a day’s drive through agave-covered mountains to the beach.

La Mezcaloteca, Oaxaca

La Mezcaloteca, Oaxaca

crickets and worms

crickets and worms

Lining the perimeter of the square, under a full moon, vendors hawk fruit juices and balloons. Elderly women sell tamales, an exotic variety of worms and grasshoppers while the men cook arrachera (skirt steak), over an open flame, chopping the meat and filling tacos and tortas until late into the night. While it is easy to fear gastro-intestinal problems, my greater fear is missing out on some of Oaxaca’s finest street foods, so I eat and then it is time for more mezcal.

Mezcal, known for its soulful properties, is an ancient agave-based spirit, exclusive to the state of Oaxaca. Unlike its cousin Tequila, also an agave-based liquor made only by one type of agave, Mezcal is strictly artisanal. Mezcal is made from more than 30 different kinds of agave, and is always locally grown and distilled by fire, hand and horse. Mezcal’s passionate, leathery, uplifting flavor is subject to change based on how it is cooked and what agave is harvested. No matter the method of preparation, Oaxacan mezcal is as enchanting as it is ever-present throughout the Mexican state.

carne asada

carne asada

Mezcalerias, like La Mezcaloteca, are small local family owned bars that can be found throughout Oaxaca. These intimate Mezcalerias have limited seating; serve only, and I mean only, mezcal and the bartenders are extremely well versed in the roots of their particular brand. While La Mezcaloteca and the rest of the Mezcalerias are inviting, given the artisanal nature of the spirit, if I want to truly grasp the spirit, I’ve got to curb my consumption for the evening and then extend my visit outside the city limits into the high Sierra Mountains to the distilleries and the agave fields

Fausto and his team of jimadors

Fausto and his team of jimadors

where the process begins.

Forty-five minutes outside of Oaxaca City, I come to the modest village of San Baltazar Guelavila. Here, Los Angeles based entrepreneurs Fausto Zapata and Vicente Cisneros, distill El Silencio, their increasingly popular brand of mezcal that began as a simple passion project and has quickly begun to appear in some of the premiere cocktail lounges in the United States.

It is here, at a small Palenque, or mezcal distillery, where El Silencio uses more than fifty local hires and a horse to ensure that their product makes its way from the rattlesnake-infested agave fields, to the distillery, and into the bottle before being shipped to the United States. All of this is done under the watchful eye of Master Mezcalier Pedro Hernández, a ninth-generation “Maestro Mezcalero.”

Harvested agave at el palenque

Harvested agave at el palenque

If the previous night parade was an example of Oaxaca’s urban hysteria, the perilous trek into the Sierra Madres could only be described as rural pandemonium. Along with several Jimadors (the men who harvest agave), their machetes and various other impossibly sharp tools, I load up in the back of well-worn flat bed and we begin to zigzag along sinuous ridgelines and narrow, rocky mountain roads.

With little to hold on to, it is easier to stand for balance in the back of the truck, which teeters and totters along an ever-narrowing road. I keep my eyes open for tree branches crossing the road ahead. The tree branches are heavily spiked, home to spiders, and while we are moving at less five miles an hour, no amount of mezcal, no matter the quality, could fix an unanticipated tree branch to the face.

As the last bastions of tire tread give way to an irrationally rocky, unmarked, Martian-like path toward the agave fields, we still have almost an hour to go. As we make a turn, the truck nearly capsizing, I learn the real meaning of the word sideways.

The sun is merciless and the bottle of water I brought may soon simply evaporate. All I can think of is death, an impeding crash into a cactus-lined ravine followed by dehydration induced hallucinations brought mercifully to end by the bite of a poisonous rattlesnake.

Mature agave, a jimador, and the truck

Mature agave, a jimador, and the truck

I consider the mezcal I consumed the previous evening and then the Jimadors who risked their life to harvest it, and for a moment, I feel guilt. Then notice them with all the cajoling and careening, they are laughing and having the time of their life… So what’s my problem?  I guess it’s all worth it for the drink.

Any semblance of humanity has now vanished. A duo of buzzards circle and I’m scratched up. Having narrowly avoided death, I am also invigorated as we make our way from small agave plants along a hillside to the mature ones.

Agave when ready for harvest is between ten and twelve years old. With the agave’s spiny leaves, a blazing arid sun and armed militias of angry bees, removing the thick leaves is a laborious, dehydrating, often painful process. Not to be shamed, take off my sunglasses, grab a machete and, bees be damned, go to town on some agave leaves.

Under the watchful eye of the El Silencio donkey staked a few yards away, the thick agave leaves are hacked off and discarded until all that remains of the once six-foot succulent, is the giant pineapple at the core, also known as the piña. This is then extracted, rolled and loaded onto the back of the truck and taken back to the distillery.

Jimador cooking the agave

Jimador cooking the agave

The labor-intensive process repeats until the Mexican sun finds repose and the tumultuous ridgeline ride back to El Silencio headquarters begins. Before we take off, Fausto pulls out a bottle of El Silencio and we taste a drink. With my foot on an agave pineapple, as it burns its way down my throat, I look out forever into the Sierras and taste a lot more.

Back in the truck, and having survived the first trip up the mountain by simply standing and ducking branches there is now the added challenge of an eighty-pound agave pineapple rolling around as we traverse our way back to civilization, but with a little liquid courage, the ride is far less daunting.

We return to the Palenque, ax-wielding employees hack furiously dense, sticky pineapples into quarters. Once the harvest is appropriately hacked, the pieces are loaded into a hand-dug hole filled with volcanic rock and burning mesquite wood. The choice of wood dictates the mezcal’s flavor. Once the pineapple pieces have filled the smoldering hole, the pile is covered with a tarp, then three inches of soil and left to cook underground for seventy-two hours.

Upon completion, the pieces are moved into another pit to extract the cooked sugars. A scrappy horse pulls a giant

El Silencio bottling process

El Silencio bottling process

grinding stone in circles, crushing the pieces of pineapple until the charred remains of wood are merely a sticky pulp. The pulp is then mixed with spring water and fermented, turning it into an agave wine at which point, it begins making its own alcohol.

Finally it is distilled. The alcohol is vaporized and ultimately twice distilled and held to an intensive taste test done only by the Maestro Mezcalero to make sure that it meets the El Silencio standard. Once it has passed the test, it is bottled on sight by local women, boxed and put in storage where it waits to be shipped to the United States.

Under the shade of the Palenque, we join the villagers and the team from El Silencio for carne asada and a variety of several moles so complex that each is worthy of it’s own story. The village is alive, as it has been for centuries with the spirit of mezcal.

As I marvel over the spread and slow sips of mezcal, I notice that the sun is setting, and as I look out into the Sierras as Mexican sol dips away, I also realize that somewhere out there, under the watchful eye of the El Silencio donkey and the fledgling agave plants of mezcals to come, are my sunglasses.

The following night, there is no parade. The streets of Oaxaca are emptier, and though they are, now there is so much more there. We make our way to a rich mole dinner to close out the day. I’m sunburned, dehydrated and elated. As we walk, I look into the Mezcalerias and watch as mezcal is poured. That night, poolside, as we toast the successes and the journey of the day, I know that the mezcal with which we toast has had a journey of its own… But it’s not just a journey. It’s a parade… A giant, timeless, parade. And where that parade ends, the fiesta begins.

El Silencio, poolside

El Silencio, poolside

 

Ten minutes in Mexico: An unnecessarily tense moment with Customs and Border Protection

The Border Patrol and Customs agent along the US border in the Mexican town of Mexicali was built like a bulldog puppy with suspicious eyes, a mild Mexican accent and an intense, unexpected lisp that was accentuated when, snake-like and terse, he asked me to remove my “sunglasses” and “step outside the vehicle.”

photo-2

Never before had such a harsh firing of hissed “S” sounds made me so nervous. Dutifully, I removed my shades, exited my vehicle and walked toward a chain-linked cage where an armed guard then directed me to sit on a well-worn wooden bench where I would remain until a team of agents decided whether or not I could return to my motherland.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised at my temporary holding situation at the inspection station. After passing the agent my passport, he asked me where I lived. I told him Los Angeles. He then asked why I had come to Mexico. I told him I was researching a script I was writing. He asked me what it was about, which gave me pause.

The script, among other things was about0 a corrupted and inept border agent who had taken a bribe to allow ten million dollars worth of cocaine go over the Mexicali Calexico line. Probably not something he’d want to drag his family to see.

Having not prepared a more appropriate, less insulting answer, I feebly croaked “all this…”

“All what?” He said with no sign of a lisp.

“The border?”

“The ‘Border?’” he parroted with an eye roll and then continued before I could elaborate. “How long were you in Mexico?”

Upon my answer to this, he was officially suspicious. Given my half assed attempt not to offend him given the premise of my script and having only been in Mexicali for a grand total of just under ten minutes, minus the forty-five minute wait to get back into the US, I understood why.

If a lone American wanted to get their hands on recreational and illegal anything, it seemed that even a short, shallow venture into Mexicali would yield nefarious fruit of any kind. So when I said I lived in Los Angeles and had driven four hours to Mexico only to enter for fifteen minutes then leave, it was time for them to do their jobs.

(Disclaimer… I am not in any way above having fun in Mexico. I’ve been….)

With its taco stands and souvenir stores, the border town was not without its cultural appeal, but within two blocks and thirty seconds of being in the country, a disheveled man approaches my window, pantomiming first the “Popping” of a pill, followed a giant dopy toothless smile. He then gesticulates to one of five or six pharmacies that line this one particular street where said sleepy pill may be purchased.  Not deterred by my lack of interest in pharmaceuticals, he begins humping the air, rubbing his chest and tweaking imaginary nipples urging me toward a gentleman’s club impressively already open at 11:30am on a Tuesday. This event with different casts and incarnations repeated itself three times in my brief stay.

Now relegated temporarily to a well-guarded cage between two nations, I could see the wheels of homeland security spinning. Aside from a well-worn miserable bench in the holding area, there was nothing but a fifty-inch flat screen TV playing an “informational video” about the purpose of border control. Impossible to ignore given the video’s volume, it outlined each and every potential transgression that might occur whilst crossing the border and assured the viewer that if any such crime has occurred, life will change dramatically and for the worse.

The cage is also within view of your car as it is searched. And when I say searched, I don’t mean glanced over. If your car were your body, these border guards would not stop at spread your cheeks and cough. They get up in there. I make nervous chatter with the guard watching me. “Not quite as easy to get to the US as it is to get into Mexico, is it?” He pretends not to hear me.

I watched as everything from my glove box, console and my extremely cluttered trunk were inspected. Gym bags were opened and containers within gym bags were sniffed. Sniffed! Pockets of jackets emptied. Gas tank opened. Mirrors are used to look under the car. Everything under the hood is studied with the eye of a German auto engineer and the nose of a German Shepherd.

As my car was violated, I began to worry. I have many pot loving friends whom I’d driven to the golf course… Perhaps an errant nugget of weed might have fallen at some point from a pocket. Maybe a drug-dealing valet accidentally dropped a bag of a white powdery substance while parking my car. They could find anything. Like many caged before me, I began to pace.

The longer it took, the more nervous I became. Especially as I listened to the video outline the severity of such international violations. I had done nothing and yet I was squirming like a teenager who comes home to find his bong and a bag of weed on the bedside table next to his folded laundry. How anyone smuggling mass quantities of drugs could remain calm doing such a search and under the watchful eye of armed guards is beyond me. I had done nothing and felt I was about to face the executioner.

Finally it ends and I’m clear. Yet now, I felt dangerous. Like I had gotten away with something massive. So too, given the brevity of my trip, did the agents. Having come back into the US many times from many locations all over the world, I am almost always greeted with a “welcome home.” Not the case after my fifteen-minute trip to Mexicali. “Looks like you can go….” He says, still suspicious as hands me my passport.

“Got a restaurant recommendation in Calexico?” I ask. He tosses a sideways smile, as though somehow I’d won this battle and says nothing, waving forward his next suspect.

As I drive back into the US, My heart finally begins to slow down. It had been an intense hour between two borders. My car is full of nothing but water bottles, dirty gym clothes, and my waning anxiety. Even though I hadn’t even gotten out of my car,  I can’t help but think… “Suckers….”

Glad to be stateside, I crank some Springsteen and head home, glad that those guys are keeping our borders safe.