Great food, beautiful beaches and giant man-eating reptiles

Technically, I live in a temperate rainforest, which is a fancy way of saying we get 100+ inches a year, which feeds our giant trees and keeps everything green. 

Costa Rica is home to some of the best tropical rainforests in the world. And since tourism is the country’s No. 1 business, they work hard to protect their forests, beaches and wildlife.

The wildlife is what really impressed me. We were lucky enough to have two naturalists show us around, and both of them could spot a rare bird, insect or monkey long before we did. Some of these shots (especially the ones of birds) are actually using my phone through a spotting scope, which is tricky. 

 

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As a kid, I loved monkeys and would spend hours at the monkey section of zoos in Germany, Holland, New York–wherever we lived. So for me, Costa Rica was amazing, because you couldn’t step outside without seeing monkeys: capuchins, squirrel monkeys and howlers.

The howlers make scary noises and are bigger than the others, and they don’t come close to people, but they’re not aggressive. Vegetarians with a bark far worse than their bite.

The capuchins are pretty common and aren’t afraid of people. You’re not supposed to feed them, though some people still do, but even if you follow the rules, the capuchins hang around waiting for people to (a) drop food or (b) leave fruit or other goodies unattended. Because they will jump in there and steal your fruit.

Squirrel monkeys were a special treat. They travel in packs of up to 90 members and the males try to impress the females by jumping insanely large distances between the trees. Like the capuchins, they aren’t afraid of people and would come down on lower branches to check us out. Not to beg or steal food, just to be curious. Beautiful little guys.

The crocodiles were intense–and you don’t swim in the rivers anywhere near where they are.

For folks thinking about traveling here, two things stand out: the food was amazing, regardless of what restaurant we visited. World rankings right now: Costa Rica, Greece then Japan, I kid you not.

The second thing is the level of service. Prices aren’t as insanely cheap as you’ll find elsewhere, but I’ve never seen such good service, top to bottom, from the naturalists on tours to the hotel staff to the bus drivers. Maybe it’s because tourism is their No. 1 industry and they make it a focus instead of an after-thought. Everything ran smoothly.

It’s a clean, safe country. 11/10 would recommend. 

Photo of the Day: A castle passageway in Luxembourg

Tunnel below a castle in Luxembourg. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Tunnel below a castle in Luxembourg. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Tunnel below a castle in Luxembourg. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.

Castles are the best — but hard to shoot. The light in tunnels and dungeons is usually terrible. This passageway was a happy exception and I love how the shadows intersected.

This is part of a huge network of passageways beneath fortifications beneath a castle guarding the river in the capital. A great position. There was no cover, no way to get up the cliff, and there were cruder tunnels carved into the rock with firing positions. An interesting place. I’ve seen a lot of castles and this one was both ancient and well-preserved.  Continue reading “Photo of the Day: A castle passageway in Luxembourg”

Photo of the Day: How many students can fit in this autorickshaw?

The Nikon of Infinite Beauty
I counted about 15 students inside, on top or hanging from the back of this auto-rickshaw. It's the Indian version of a cab, with three wheels and a lot more excitement than boring Yellow Cabs back home. With the right driver, an autorickshaw ride can be like a Formula One race through side streets and packed traffic. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
I counted around 15 students inside, on top or hanging from the back of this autorickshaw. It’s the Indian version of a cab, with three wheels and a lot more excitement than boring Yellow Cabs back home. With the right driver, an autorickshaw ride can be like a Formula One race through side streets and packed traffic. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.

If you travel to India, autorickshaws are everywhere, working as cabs and hauling cargo. They have three tiny wheels, itty bitty engines and are more like motorcycles than cars, but they’re cheap and useful, especially in big cities.

These students commuting home after school broke what has to be a record for how many people can fit inside an autorickshaw. Well played, students.  Continue reading “Photo of the Day: How many students can fit in this autorickshaw?”

Photo of the Day: Hand this tiger a script and he’ll read the nightly news

This tiger is cooler than the other side of the pillow. He's got authority, doesn't he? Like you could hand him a script and he'd read the nightly news. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
This tiger is cooler than the other side of the pillow. He's got authority, doesn't he? Like you could hand him a script and he'd read the nightly news. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
This tiger is cooler than the other side of the pillow. He’s got authority, doesn’t he? If feels like whatever he said, if he could talk, would automatically have weight, as if he had a British accent and the rumble of James Earl Jones combined. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.

Sometimes, body language is everything.

When I shot this tiger with the Nikon of Infinite Beauty, the tiger didn’t even look in my direction. He didn’t care. I don’t think anything would phase him.  Continue reading “Photo of the Day: Hand this tiger a script and he’ll read the nightly news”

Photo of the Day: This is NOT the set for a sci-fi movie

Dubai train station and skyline. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Dubai train station and skyline. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Dubai train station and skyline. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.

This looks like something George Lucas had his CGI wizards do for STAR WARS EPISODE 12: THE REVENGE OF JAR JAR BINKS, for the scene where Jar Jar lands his shuttle for serious diplomatic negotiations with Trade Federations robots or whatever.

But no, it’s a real photo. I shot it in Dubai, which has the craziest buildings in the world. Some neighborhoods look very old school, like it’s the 1500s, and others are going hard for the Buck Rogers vibe. And until somebody builds something bigger, they’ve got the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which Tom Cruise put to use in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL.

 

Random Photo of the Day: Houseboat in Kerala, India

Houseboat in Kerala, India. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Houseboat in Kerala, India. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Houseboat  floating along the backwaters of Kerala, India. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.

So I’ve been on houseboats in Kerala twice now, and it’s something I’d happily do again. Beautiful.

There’s a network of canals, with rice fields below the canals and villages alongside, all connected to giant lakes. An amazing place. You sleep in the houseboats, eat there, and visit villages. Also: we ate huge local tiger shrimp with massive claws. They looked like extras from STARSHIP TROOPERS.

Bonus photo: closeup shot from the houseboat.

Detail from a houseboat in Kerala, India, floating on the backwaters and canals. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Detail from a houseboat in Kerala, India, floating on the backwaters and canals. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.

Random Photo of the Day: A simple river valley

Columbia River Valley. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Columbia River Valley. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Columbia River Valley. Yes, this is a ginormous river. Do not try to swim across it. There are also giant sturgeon in here, which are like dinosaur fish, unchanged for a zillion years. Interesting creatures. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.

There’s something special about black-and-white landscapes, and not simply because Ansel Adams turned the genre into an art form. This is a stretch of the Columbia River, which is not in Columbia at all, but in Washington state — not to be confused with Washington, D.C., with the D.C. standing for “District of Columbia.” It’s like they WANT us to be confused.

There’s a petrified forest near where I shot this, and on the other side of the river, a row of giant steel horse sculptures that you can hike up to see. Worth your time, if you’re driving on I-90 and need a break. The entire northwest corner of ‘Murica is glorious to photograph: Washington state, Alaska, Hawaii — you could spend a lifetime hauling around a Nikon of Infinite Beauty and shooting up the place. I recommend it.

Random Photo of the Day: A sunset in Germany

Sunset in Germany. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Sunset in Germany. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
Sunset in Germany. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.

Shot this at a wedding rehearsal dinner for a cousin, who got married in an actual castle. NOT TOO SHABBY.

Also: we drove around Germany, Belgium, Austria and such in the Citroen of Itty Bittiness, which could get up to about 160 kilometers per hour before shaking to pieces. Everyone is required to rent a car in Europe and zoom-zoom on the Autobahn, which will make you come back to ‘Murica and think that 70 miles an hour is completely nancypants.

Here’s a gratuitous shot of the Citroen, and yes, it had a red roof for some reason. Nobody knew why.

The Citroen of Itty Bittiness goes faster than you think. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.
The Citroen of Itty Bittiness goes faster than you think. Photo by Guy Bergstrom.

Zooming on das Autobahn to Belgium, the friendliest place IN THE WORLD

random thursday crazy kittteh meme

So I’m driving on the Autobahn from Frankfurt, Germany to Goze, Belgium on zero sleep for about 36 hours, which is not the wisest thing in the world when you’re going 160 kilometers per hour, seeing how closing your eyes and napping for half a second will be fatal.

But I do not nap, and the Citroen of Itty Bittiness does not slam into the guardrail and burst into flames.

Frankfurt is a big city full of skyscrapers, the Manhattan of Germany, and this is because after World War II, cities razed by bombs had citizens vote: (a) bulldoze the rubble and start over or (b) rebuild on the ancient, narrow cobblestone streets and painstakingly restore all that was destroyed.

The people of Frankfurt picked “start over.” And you can tell, with just a glance, how any random city in Germany voted after the war.

Goze, Belgium was not bombed to rubble during the war. It’s a tiny little town full of brick homes and brick business and stone churches.

If you’re not familiar with Belgium, let me give you a primer:

  • The Netherlands (Holland) is to the north, Germany to the east, France to the south and Luxemburg also hidden nearby, so people in the north speak Dutch / Flemish and those in the south speak French, though nobody really speaks German
  • Belgium is home to European parliament, NATO headquarters and 72 other important things, maybe because Belgium is friendly and has the best chocolate and beer IN THE WORLD
  • They are NOT French fries, but Belgium fries, invented right here, and the one thing that will make Belgium peoples unfriendly is to repeatedly ask for “French fries,” which I do not do

Just like three years ago, we stayed with my wife’s host family from when she lived here as an exchange student. I lived in Holland and Germany as a kid, so this whole area feels like home.

Battle of the beer: Germany versus Belgium

There’s a huge difference between Germany and Belgium when it comes to beer.

Back in 1516, a German king got tired of people going blind, getting sick or dying from moonshine and bad beer.

This king wrote the Reinheitsgebot (food purity laws), which said the only ingredients allowed for beer were water, barley and hops. He also set the price of beer and standardized things. Today, you can also use yeast, which is quite important, though they didn’t know about yeast back in 1516. Also: wheat malt and cane sugar. But you can’t use unmated barley anymore. NOBODY KNOWS WHY.

The Germans do a lot with those few ingredients. I drank many beers in many towns. Despite the lack of variety, they were all smooth and good.

HOWEVER: Belgium crushes Germany into powder when it comes to beer, because they have 250 different beers that are all excellent. Want a chocolate beer? Done. An IPA with hot chile peppers? They probably have it.

Belgium also has trappist ales — beer made by monks — with many recipes unchanged for almost 1000 years, which is longer than Joan Rivers has been alive. Chimay is probably the most famous. If you haven’t tried Chimay, hit Trader Joe’s and buy some. The stuff is as smooth as silk. If your lips ever touch a can of Budweiser again, you’ll spit it out and say, “Put it back in the horse.”

Things to do in Belgium

The country is small, flat and pretty, with all kinds of beautiful old villages and green fields. Do you like riding bicycles? Ride all over the place with a camera and a picnic basket. Go crazy.

It’s one of the friendliest places, too. People greet you with three kisses (right cheek, left cheek, right cheek) when they first meet you and one kiss whenever you see them again or say goodbye. This is much, much better than standing around or an awkward handshake. Everybody does it, and this breaks the ice.

Also helpful: everybody is handing out beer and wine like it’s going out of style, though they don’t binge. I never saw anybody staggering around, drunk out of their mind. They are professionals with the alcohol, and drink slowly and steadily rather than breaking out beer bongs and losing their heads like a college freshman who’s just discovered Bud Light comes in keg size.

So: ride around the countryside, meet people – and have dinner, which is not 20 minutes at the dining room table while people play with their iPhones. Dinner is a big social event that takes hours. Breakfast is a social event.  Also, lunch.

Basically, people in Belgium prefer the company of OTHER PEOPLE rather than televisions, iPhones and romance novels involving men in kilts.

This is refreshing and fun, despite the fact that I don’t speak a lick of French — because the secret is to listen rather than talk. In Iceland, Sweden, Belgium, France, Germany and elsewhere, people tended to talk to me in Icelandic, Swedish, French or German, as long as I (a) walked around like I knew what I was doing and (b) didn’t say anything.

This came naturally from being a kid in Germany and Holland, and from not speaking at all except to my sister for many years. She was my diplomat: “Guy is hungry for breakfast” and “Guy wonders if we can paint the dog white” and “Guy has just declared war on Syria.”

Over in Europe, I walked around not saying anything, pointing at stuff I wanted to buy and handing over monies. This works great. Try it sometime. If they ask, tell them Guy sent you, and that in solidarity, you also are cutting off diplomatic relations with Syria.