Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Review: Alvins, Bastimentos Island, Bocas del Tor, Panama

After a couple of days relaxing in Cahuita, Costa Rica, we heard that there was a group of islands further south on the carribean coast just over the border into Panama where you could relax in tropical paradise.  We saw a few pictures in a magazine whilst having breakfast one morning and decided we would leave the next day!

The journey over the border is an interesting one.  You must first stamp out of Costa Rica and then walk across a ‘bridge’ to the Panama side.  I was so excited to get to Panama that I didn’t at first notice the state the bridge was in….the gaps between the slats became larger and larger, with the odd missing plank here and there!  This didn’t seem to phase the ‘local’ looking people crossing for what looked like the millionth time, they casually strolled and biked across, like it was perfectly safe and stable.  You’ll be happy to hear that we made it to the other side with all our belongings, limbs and shoes!  The next challenge was that we had to prove we were leaving Panama before they would stamp us in…so we all purchased return bus tickets to Costa Rica for later in the week.  (luckily for us we were actually heading back to Costa Rica, but for many this is a wasted purchase and something to bear in mind if you are going to be making this crossing).

On the other side we negotiated two small mini vans to take us to the dock where the boats leave for the islands.  The drive was beautiful, through mountains and lush green forests.  At the boat terminal the drivers waited eagerly to pounce on us.  They also did the classic price game – agreed a price per person, and once we and our luggage were on board the boat said the price was only for the people and not for the bags so we needed to pay a dollar more each!  Finally we were on our way.  The boat ride was longer than suspected and initially we sped past houses built over the water where we waved at children playing.

We headed for Bastimentos Island – one of the ‘quieter’ less touristy islands as we had heard that Bocas itself was fairly chaotic and just covered in bars and touts trying to sell you everything you could imagine.  This was definitely a good decision; we pulled into a jetty with a small wooden hotel where we first met the ‘Jaguar’.  Totally Caribbean friendly guy who had enough rooms there and next door for the 13 of us!  It seemed too good to be true!  A couple of us checked the rooms and negotiated the price but we were very happy to be there.  Through some of the floor boards you could see water and the hammocks and beach loungers at the end of the pier allowed you to relax and take in the stunning scenery.

We were really hungry when we arrived so took a wonder down the path.  A local passed us by and asked if we were hungry – sure, we said, a little suspicious as always!  But he said he had a restaurant that was very good and so we thought why not!  We followed him down a path and through the back of a wooden house we never would have noticed out onto a beautiful small veranda…we couldn’t have picked a better spot if we’d have tried.

Admittedly we did have to wait quite a while for our food, but we didn’t mind as the sun was shining, the views amazing and the balboa beers cool.  It was definitely worth the wait however and it encouraged us to revisit the restaurant a few more times during our stay.

A popular choice was the popcorn chicken or fish.  The chicken was so popular that gradually every time we visited the restaurant the options available became less and less!  Another good choice was the carribean fish – different to that I had eaten in Cahuita – more tomato based, but also very tasty.  She also made very tasty batida’s – these become more and more important to you the more you travel and drink good ones!  Banana is my favourite!  The only criticism of this restaurant would be that they did get confused over orders for a lot of people and you might not always get what you asked for!

If you have the chance to visit Bastimentos Island then definitely don’t miss a meal at Alvins.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Review: Sobre las Olas, Cahuita, Costa Rica

Cahuita is a small beach town on the carribean coast of Costa Rica.  It is the perfect place to relax for a few days.  It has a small town with plenty of restaurants and bars to keep you busy for a few days along with a couple of beaches and access to a national park.

If you have spent time on the pacific side or in the central area of Costa Rica you will notice a drastic difference when travelling to the carribean side.  So noticeable you might even think it is a different country.  The people are more afro-carribean for starters, but the difference in standard of living is the most striking difference.

We enjoyed one of our first post-Raleigh meals out in Cahuita at a small seafood restaurant ran by an
Italian man.  The restaurant has a really nice feel to it with big floor to ceiling windows and an outside seating area overlooking the beach.  The staff were very friendly and helpful and they handled a large table of customers well!

We ordered the bruschetta for starters which was gorgeous and fresh, with lovely basil leaves on top.  That was quickly polished off and so we enjoyed our wine whilst waiting for the main dishes.

I ordered the ‘filete de pescado de la caribene’ – carribean style snapper fish and James ordered a steak.

The plates came out with sides of rice, chips and salad.  They were large portions and were very tasty!  The carribean fish was delicious.  The sauce was not what I was expecting, it was creamy with onions, peppers, cheese and a wine flavour.  The fish was perfectly cooked, falling off the bone.  James’s steak was also perfectly cooked and in a beautiful mushroom pepper sauce.  We were not going to order a dessert….however a few others had ordered the chocolate cake and icecream and it looked amazing so we decided to order one between us.  This was our only mistake of the evening!  The cake was really dry - we were disappointed, considering how good the rest of the meal had been, but didn’t let it ruin the memory and taste of the first two courses.

I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting Cahuita.  The prices are not budget but the food is fresh and delicious, and the setting lovely.

My fish main cost 8250 whilst James’ filet minon cost 8000 colones (roughly 4 - 5 dollars).

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Review: Panaderia, Samara, Costa Rica

I ended up in Samara – a small surf town close to Camaronal, Costa Rica, for a day back in August.  Samara is a popular spot with backpackers and has plenty of surf schools, language schools and small bars and cafes to keep people entertained for a while.  It has a laid back relaxed feel and the white sand beach is just beautiful with good waves for beginners.  We needed to kill some time before being collected and taken back to the rather more secluded Playa Camaronal, so we had a wonder down the beach, watched the surfers having their lessons, laid on the beach, watched the loyal school drum practice, shopped at the fruit markets, made ‘food art’ pictures from our shopping, had a quick browse in the expensive trendy shops and then came across a strong smelling, enticing bakery where we decided to stop for lunch.

This was a very good decision as we discovered the owners were german and well known in the area for their pastries and cakes.  I chose a cheese and bacon croissant which melted in the mouth and then I couldn’t resist the chocolate brownie cake!  I asked for it hot which they seemed very surprised and curious about (?!).  The cake was delicious!  So chocolatey and moist!  There were plenty of other wonders to try along with fresh fruit smoothies which always taste amazing in Costa Rica!

If you are in Samara make sure you don’t miss this bakery!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Cooking lesson 8: Energy bombs

Ingredients (serves 13)

1 can condensed milk
200g cocoa (chocolate powder)
Porridge oats


Simply mix all the ingredients together – condensed milk, porridge oats, raisins and milk powder and then place out in circles on a tin.  Place in the fridge and allow to cool for maximum yumminess although they can just be eaten straight away.

Cooking lesson 7: Brinky Cake

Ingredients (serves 13)

13 brinky biscuits or shortbread/butter biscuits or granola bars
1 can condensed milk
Cocoa (chocolate powder)
Banana or pinapple
Small bag of marshmallows

Optional extras:
Porridge oats
Cocoa pops cereal

1. Crush the biscuits and layer the bottom of the cake tin with the biscuit crumbs.

2. Use approximately 1/3 of the condensed milk to pour an even layer over the biscuit base.

3. Slice the banana or pineapple and layer over the condensed milk.

*At this point if you are using any of the additional extras you can add now – e.g. raisins are good or cocoa pops cereal.

4. Use a small amount of water or milk to mix with the cocoa powder and drizzle the chocolate sauce over the layer.

5. Next place marshmallows around the edge of the cake tin.  You can also do a think layer of porridge oats at this point.

6. Use another 1/3 of the condensed milk and again layer the fruit on top.

Repeat this until the cake tin (tins – we usually filled 2 normal size cake tins) is full.  You can use popcorn on top instead of marshmallows.  Also, you can do another biscuit layer half way through if you wish.

Another variation is to mix the crushed biscuits in with some condensed milk to begin with for the base.  This recipe is very basic and you can vary it as you please – that’s the beauty!  It always tastes amazing though!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Living jungle camp style by the beach, Playa Camaronal, Costa Rica

In August/September 2010 I spent 3 weeks living in a basher bed 30 metres behind the beach at the Playa Cameronal marine national park in Costa Rica.  I was working here for my final phase, a turtle conservation environmental project, as a project manager with Raleigh International.

This project was not only focused on supporting the rangers in their efforts to protect turtles, but also to experience living very simply, away from the usual luxuries of life, in hammocks or basher beds, building furniture and a communal area, kitchen etc and cooking with the famous ‘Raleigh rations’ and fresh food we could get hold of.

So, what was a typical day like at Playa Cameronal?  Well we designated 2 people each day to be on ‘camp duty’.  Whilst the rest of the team went to work in the morning, camp duty would be responsible for preparing all meals that day as well as cleaning up, ensuring enough water was available and making ‘home improvements’ to the camp.

Every morning we started our day with porridge – the best breakfast my mum always says to kick start your day!  Then for lunch and dinner we devised a menu using our dry ingredients and adding the fresh food we could buy.  We were lucky that where we were once a week a big fruit and veg van came and so we bought some healthy fresh additions!  I was amazed that at the end of the phase everyone in the group commented on how good the food had been and that they had not been expecting it!

So here’s a peak at some of the tasty meals we were able to cook in the camp:

In addition to this we got creative with the sweet additions and made several ‘cakes and ‘energy bombs’ to keep us going!  These were very popular, take a look…

If you would like to replicate one of our very simple yet tasty camp cakes (highly recommended!) then click here for the classic brinky cake recipe or for the simple energy bomb mix!

Next time you’re camping, get creative with your food.  If you can get hold of plantain it is a tasty addition to any meal!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Cooking lesson 6: Elizabeth's Rosquillas

Ingredients (makes a lot!)

12 lb cornflour
7 lb cheese (preferably cuajada if you can get hold of it)
1 litre margarine 
12 eggs
pinch of salt
3 ½ litres sour milk 
cinnamon and molasses 


Short and sweet – simply bind the ingredients together and cut out into circles.  Put the cinnamon and molasses on top of each.  Cook in the oven for about 10 – 15 mins or until golden brown.  They taste delicious warm and you will find these everywhere in Nicaragua.