Tuesday 30 November 2010

Violetta saves the game!

Australian cricket batsman Bill Woodfull faces...Image via Wikipedia
Violetta has been a good friend ever since we first bought the house here.

She is a home economics teacher at the local college and, having grown up on a farm, what she doesn't know about what to eat and how to cook it isn't worth worrying about.
We meet up once a week for cooking sessions....the chaps drink beer on the balcony while we get down to a bottle of wine in the kitchen and we take it in turns to cook from our own repetoires.....I've learned a lot!

Apart from traditional Costa Rican food Violetta is also good at  preparing something quick and tasty when coming home from work, a meal she can cook while sorting out the kids, the dogs, the housework and the endless stream of visitors.....

So....Violetta's lasagne.....qantities for four people, but not many measurements.

Use pre-cooked lasagne, or boil up the normal sort.
Poach two chicken breasts in water to cover. Don't use salt.
In the blender put a big bunch of leaf coriander, a big red sweet pepper, de-seeded and chopped, two large cloves of garlic and 250 ml - a small pot -of cream. Blend.
Remove cooked chicken breast and cut into chunks. Keep water.
Add the blender mixture to the water in the pan and whisk in one packet of cream of mushroom soup.....the normal type, nothing fancy with ceps or whatever.
Cook it until it thickens and then make up your lasagne.
Layer the pasta, the chicken and sauce and top with grated cheese.

I haven't used a packet soup for years and I suppose I could use just plain cornflour...but why be snobby?
It works.

And it works with fish and shellfish too.

I need godsends like this because England's cricketers are playing Australia for the Ashes and, thanks to the vagaries of time zones and people living in places where water goes down the plughole the wrong way round, commentary on the match starts at about five thirty in the afternoon so a meal has to be on the table at about eight o'clock...during the lunch interval in Australia......and be disposed of and washed up in forty minutes, ready for commentary on the next session.

I have been informed by Higher Authority that sandwiches are not acceptable, and that soup is also off the menu....as is a leftover balti reheated in the microwave.
Normal service is what is required.
Proper freshly cooked food to be eaten with proper utensils.
I entered a demurrer, claiming that all of the above have proved to be acceptable in other circumstances, but Higher Authority was having none of it.

I feel that suchlike sanctions would not have been imposed if England were playing South Africa...indeed, it would have been two chairs in front of the computer and a drip set up for intravenous orange juice mixed with Complan.... but as they're not, the hunt has been on for something I can make ahead and then dash to the kitchen between overs to shove in an oven, as anything involving grills and gas burners is out of the question.
And let nobody mention salad.
If there is anything for generating last minute work and a ton of washing up it is a proper salad.

I have pointed out that were we to install a Wifi modem I could get a new laptop and listen to the cricket anywhere in the house and garden...thus increasing productivity and permitting use of grills and gas burners.

Higher Authority has pointed wordlessly to advertisements for laptops - about twice the price they are in Europe - and has further indicated that as I was such a smart alec as to work out how to get a free proxy IP address...so that the BBC, who are providing commentary, believe my computer to be freezing its widgets off in that sceptred isle of mainland Britain instead of sunning itself in a banana republic in Central America...I can use that formidable brain power to producing Proper Food at a Proper Time.

So, I need twenty five recipes for things to be shoved in ovens to get me through the five days of five Test Matches.
I refuse to contemplate meals during the Twenty - Twenty matches or the One Day Internationals until closer to the time.
Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof for the moment, thank you, though I have severe doubts about the morrow taking thought of things of itself, and the problem will have to be faced in due course.


Violetta's lasagne..
Ordinary lasgane.

Rice as biryani and pilau...

Beans....as cassoulet.
Beans....with pork skins spiced with ground cloves and pepper...
Beans with smoked Bath Chap.

Chicken casserole.
Flemish stew...beef with red wine, mustard, jam, juniper berries and cloves.
Brother in law's Australian Irish stew as made ...memorably.....in Costa Rica with beef, all sorts of unknown tubers like tiquisque, nampi and yucca (cassava), but cutting down considerably on the whole bottle of chilero sauce which is what made it memorable to all who sampled its red hot delights.
People still talk about it.....through the holes in their cheeks.

Violetta's 'lomo'...marinaded meat stuffed with rice, vegetables and hard boiled eggs.....

But that's not even half of what is needed!

Is it worth it, one asks? Could one not miss some minutes of play in order to grill some fish, or make a stir fry?
Yes it is and no, one could not.

First and foremost, the game is wonderful, combining physical skill with mental agility.
I have loved it since first being introduced to it at school.

It has its own folklore, its own life...and this is echoed in the commentary on Test Match Special on the BBC where journalists and ex players describe every ball that is played in the light of their own experience, pull each other's leg, eat cake donated by the worshipping fans of the programme....and indulge in gossip.

Test Match Special  is the Womens' Institute for men.
It beats 'The Archers' into a cocked hat.

And I'm blowed if I'm going to miss one minute of it messing off to grill fish....I know that as soon as I turn my back a wicket will fall, or a catch will be dropped, or someone will spill the beans on what happened on the tour of India all those years ago...and I'll have missed it.

Luckily, Violetta is coming round tomorrow....with more good ideas for winning the Ashes.


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Friday 26 November 2010

Election Time!

A ballot boxImage via Wikipedia
The posters are up, the party flags are waving from the pick up trucks....the local election campaigns are in full swing, ready for polling day on the fifth of December when new leaders will be elected for all the cantons of Costa Rica.

Or old leaders. The current alcalde (mayor) of the capital, San Jose, Johnny Araya, has been in post since 2003 and intends to carry on ....I passed a large building in the Paseo Colon yesterday with his slogans plastered all over its frontage....'San Jose wins with Johnny'.
I might have been more impressed if the pavement in front of the building had been level and had the road alongside not featured something resembling the water jump on a steeplechase course.

The choice in my canton lies between
a) old corruption....long experience in state enterprises...
b) new corruption....ditto plus fingers in the pie of the European Union aid programme..
c) local initiative....education.
So we know c) won't get anywhere.

The  system is familiar to one coming from France. The voter has a choice between the various political parties...including a party representing handicapped people....rather than between individual candidates, so you get whoever the party puts up in your area and in ours it seems to be a question of Buggins' turn.

The retiring alcalde has no more sense of administration than fly....

Central government allots funds on an annual basis, but, to avoid misuse, claws back anything not used.
So, with the canton's roads falling to pieces around him, this alcalde has managed to produce no projects to use central government money....which has thus been withdrawn and which will result in a lower allocation for next year...while making the canton liable for huge bills for repairing damage to property caused by the failure to manage the road drainage systems.

I think if I were his party, I'd let the other lot pick up the pieces....but political parties don't think like that.

Since the European Union began to provide funding in Costa Rica, several unwelcome innovations have been made in the interests of boosting government income.

One of which is that fines for traffic offences have gone through the roof and vast amounts of time have been spent on painting kerbs yellow, to allow the traffic police to haul away any vehicle parked alongside.
This has cut down trade at the weekly farmers' market no end....

Our alcalde has gone one better. Noting that only half the town had been daubed yellow, he started marking out parking spaces on what was left, and demanding that drivers pay for a parking ticket to use them, while employing two men to walk round all day with clipboards to note the offenders.
Everyone promptly began to park in the customer parking areas of the supermarkets and agricultural suppliers who have, not surprisingly, now closed their gates to all but genuine customers.

The result is that you now go shopping accompanied by a driver who drives round the town while you shop and picks you up at an arranged rendez-vous......another brilliant method of increasing carbon emissions.
Or you ride in to town on your horse and tie it up behind the municipal market.

Historically, the canton always votes overwhelmingly for the party the current alcalde adorns.....as the owner of my favourite caff says

'Put up a pig in the right colours and it'll get elected...come to think of it...it did.'

But it may just be that the parking wheeze will be enough to let the other main party in.

'La Nacion', one of the main national newspapers, reckons that of the one thousand and four candidates for local office on the fifth, one hundred and fifty six have blots on their copybook which might deter less rhino-hided people from coming forward.

In   most cases this involves not making social security payments of behalf of their workers, but others are more inventive.
Their activities range from misuse of public funds, misleading statements of eligibility to stand for office, improper use of public office and in one case a term of imprisonment for passing dud cheques.

None of these activities bar anyone from standing for office, unless a court has made a specific order to that effect, so the rhino-hided carry on regardless.

If I were eligible to vote I'd have been tempted by the slogan of one of the candidates in the recent presidential elections, whose appeal to the voters was the following...

'El menos mal'...the least bad!

So that's what I'll be hoping for on the fifth....but I wont be surprised if it's a pig in coloured clothing either...

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Tuesday 23 November 2010

Someone to watch over you

                    The Laughing Falcon ( Herpetotheres cachinnans)

We were having lunch on the balcony when the noise started, a cackle that rose in volume for about a minute before falling silent only to start again.
We had heard it before, but up in the trees among the coffee bushes, high above the house, whereas this was close at hand. Very close at hand.
The bird, the Laughing Falcon, was perched in the branches of the guapinol tree, just some eight metres away from the balcony...and this is the photograph I took. Not a brilliant photograph...but good by my standards!

The Laughing Falcon eats snakes and small rodents and there are plenty of snakes in the cafetal...the  area where the coffee bushes grow...so why was it so close to the house?

Well, two days ago we saw signs of rats near the chicken houses, so we can only suppose that the Laughing Falcon had seen them too and was on the lookout for prey.

We have always been astonished at the fearlessness of birds here....put out over ripe bananas on the balcony and the birds will descend....toucans, mot-mots, chacalacas, tanagers, flycatchers... with hardly a side glance at us, though the whirr of a camera sends them up and away for a few minutes.
The flycatchers have made two nests in the chandelier on the balcony...very eco-chic of them..so that's supper indoors until they have reared their babies. .
In France, we preserved our rooks against all comers, but there were very few other wild birds in evidence...owls, the occasional buzzard...but nothing like the company of mixed birds we had always had in gardens in England.
Blame 'la chasse'...the shooting fraternity.... and the farmers with their pesticides.

Not that people don't go out shooting things in Costa Rica...they do, but it has no organisation behind it.

Not that there are no pesticides in Costa Rica.....there is stuff being used here that has been banned for years in Europe.

As Danilo said while eating cauliflower cheese at lunch the other day......

Pure toxin!

He remembers much more wildlife about when he was a boy forty odd years ago and is convinced that pesticides are at the root of the problem...together with the advance of houses into what used to be countryside.

We live some three kilometres from town...three kilometres vertical, that is!

There are just three of us in this valley, which is down to cattle, goats and coffee and our house is on the end of the rough gravel road, so despite being so close to shops and transport we're lucky in having a real rural environment .....thus all the birds.

And I'll leave you with a much better photograph......the blue crowned mot mot....

.Just imagine having this chap five foot from your breakfast table...

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Friday 19 November 2010

From morning to night....

This is how my day starts....the view from the balcony at five thirty in the morning.

Why so early? Because by six thirty at night it will be dark and there is a lot to pack into the day.

First, breakfast. I have not and probably will not adopt the local staple...gallo pinto with either eggs or sour cream. Gallo pinto? Precooked rice and precooked beans spiced and mixed together to give a speckled appearance, like a cockerel's feathers, thus the name. I've eaten it with pleasure, it is tasty, but I'm stuck in my ways so it is bacon...bought in the slab and sliced on the commercial slicer we bought years ago in Belgium...and eggs from our own ducks and hens, or porage, or just a soft boiled duck egg. And then it all gets going.

Let out the young hens, keep the layers and the laying ducks inside, let out the drake...an obnoxious bird...and try to chase the 'ostriches' - bantams with naked necks and absurd topknots - out into the fresh air. Like sulky teenagers they will resist this with all their considerable guile.

Washing into the machine in order to get it out as soon as the sun hits the washing line.

By this time the man who keeps the finca working has appeared.
He has boiled up maize overnight on his wood stove and takes it down to the pigs....who jostle and grunt with delight as it hits the troughs which he made by laying large pumpkins in wooden moulds and pouring cement round them. Ideal for cutting down on feed wastage.

Morning coffee to discuss the day. Washing out on the line.
American expats find this idea of hanging washing outside most odd. They use dryers. I find this most odd.

The skillsaw needs repair so we are taking it into the capital, San Jose. Danilo drives us into town to the bus station where, as it is still relatively early, the buses are filling up and driving off in rapid succession to get the commuters to work and we are off for an hour's scenic drive through the hills at the cost of the equivalent of one euro.

Guide books do not wax lyrical about San Jose, grizzling about its traffic and its air of dilapidation, but I like it. It has a certain manky charm. However, it behoves you to keep your eyes open. You can be walking along here
and end up here....People have an unfortunate habit of removing the manhole covers and selling them for scrap.

Manhole covers are not the only hazard. Unlicensed street sellers lay out large plastic sheets of knock off DVDs on the pavement, while on the kerb somewhat derelict gentlemen sell strange assortments of items garnered from sources I would rather not know about, so keeping the eyes down rather than up becomes a habit...which is a pity because San Jose has some interesting architecture.

Skillsaw put in for repair, shopping in the Central Market for fish and meat and in the wholesale Mercado Borbon behind for vegetables, topping up from illegal street vendors for coriander and sweet peppers, then back on the bus to be met by Danilo at the bus station.

Lunch at home...a stir fry....Danilo has cut sugar cane for the pigs and fed them again.

The sky darkens and I get in the washing before the afternoon rains begin, let out the layers and collect the eggs. 
The postman arrives, we all have coffee and it's time for Danilo to go home with the maize to boil for the next morning.
I pick any ripe papaya before the toucans can get at them.

The rain starts, and it's reading and internet time until it eases off, at which point it is time to feed the pigs again...maize meal with molasses and sticks of peeled cane...and try to get the poultry in before the rain starts up again in earnest. As always with poultry at least one group is recalcitrant and the wretched drake always manages to appear at the wrong time and send all the rest fleeing in squawking confusion.
Inevitably, if the rain has started up again, the ducks will descend to the ponds and will have to be driven up again by which time I'll be drenched.

Wet or dry, the time is getting on, dusk is setting in and it's time to close down for the night. And this is what I see from the balcony as I bring in the books and the papers.

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Sunday 14 November 2010

David Hume's billiard balls.......

March for Peace in San Jose
I took our visitors to the airport yesterday morning.....we left at four o' clock in order to drop them there three hours before their flight for the absurd and ineffectual processes of 'security'.

I have been decidedly sceptical about such processes since bringing back a fillet of beef from Costa Rica which dripped blood on the floors all the way through customs in Amsterdam airport without a hair being turned.
It could have been a severed head for all they knew...or cared.
Just as long as I didn't have it in a pot of basil as the importation of plants is 'strikt verboden'.

We left in the dark, the lights on the hillsides glowing golden in the dark blue night, and travelled down to the Central Valley through banks of cloud until the sun rose over the mountains to the east and the sky took on a lemon light before turning to a soft azure blue.

The visitors left, much to be missed, and I went back into the capital for an early appointment with the Immigration Department to process my application for residence.

On the way I noticed a number of the pick up trucks so characteristic of the vehicles here were sporting large Costa Rican flags, which were being sold at numerous points by vendors along the highway......and at the Immigration Department offices there were much smaller crowds than usual.

Normally 'Migracion' is a seething crowd scene from a Cecil B de Mille  cinema epic.....babies scream and are fed, toddlers play hide and seek among the legs of the adults and grannies are helped along by their teenage grandchildren while the younger adults hold the batches of papers which hold the key to being able to live legitimately in Costa Rica.
I would not go so far as to say that all human life is here, but on some days it certainly feels like it.

The majority of those seeking legitimate status are from Nicaragua, Costa Rica's big northern neighbour, still impoverished from the years of civil war in the 1970s and, like Ireland in a similar state in the twentieth century, exporting its people rather than its products.
But yesterday there were few Nicaraguans and the harassed immigration staff were having a light day.

My business done, I headed into the centre of San Jose to change my library books.

On my way to the Teatro Nacional for a coffee in their cafe...all painted motifs on the ceiling and marble floors...I had to walk through the pedestrian area in the centre of the city......and could hardly move for groups of kindergarten  age children dressed in white tee shirts with accompanying adults, many wearing white masks pushed back on their foreheads and a sort of ribbon bow in the national colours pinned to their clothing.
Now, I am blind to images and icons...show me a modern graphic road sign and I will puzzle over it for ages....so it wasn't until I had seen several of these masks that I realised that they were supposed to be doves.
Then I saw that the groups were gathering behind placards upon which was the name of their school and various slogans in favour of peace.

So it was a demonstration....but I'd never seen kindergarten kids demonstrating before.

Over coffee I read my copy of 'La Nacion', one of the major Costa Rican newspapers and learnt that one at least of the areas wiped out by the recent landslips has been marked as being ineligible for future construction....so those rendered homeless are in a sort of limbo, like those rendered homeless by the Chinchona landslip of last year most of whom are still without permanent housing.

But the front page news was that dealing with the confrontation on the Rio San Juan, the river which forms a large part of the frontier between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Unlike most international river frontiers, this one is not shared fifty fifty, but belongs to Nicaragua entirely and the Nicaraguans have recently begun to dredge it, dumping the dredgings on the Costa Rican bank, which did not rouse any great enthusiasm on the part of the Costa Rican government.
However, worse was to come.
Some days ago a Nicaraguan force - well a few guys in camouflage outfits - landed on an marshy island in one of the meanderings of the San Juan as it heads for the sea on the Caribbean coast and started cutting trees and digging a ditch.
In an area of wetland, this would be a crime against conservation practice anyway, but as the island belongs to Costa Rica it is a great deal worse.
It is the occupation of national territory by a foreign power.

Why should Nicaragua do such a daft thing?
Well, it is supposed to want to make the river more accessible from the Caribbean, by straightening out some of its worst meanders - though how digging a ditch will help much is beyond me - while rumours circulate that the 'big idea' is to revive the old scheme of having a canal using the San Juan and the huge Lake Nicaragua to reach from Atlantic coast to Pacific coast, thus cutting out the Panama Canal.

The idea has been around for ever.....Vanderbilt, busy shipping people from the U.S. East coast to the Californian Gold Rush via the San Juan in the nineteenth century dreamt of it, but the Gold Rush trade died out before anything concrete could be done.....
The Russians, while they were still the Soviets and helping impoverished countries in Central America also dreamt of it...but their empire crumbled before anything could be done.....
And now it seems that that bane of U.S. foreign policy, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has got his hands on Iranian money to build the long awaited canal.....but that seems as much of a pipe dream as all the others....

As always in these affairs, there is a ludicrous moment. Pastora, leader of the band of Nicaraguan armed navvies, claims the island he is busy digging away at belongs to Nicaragua because it is so shown on a Google map!
I'd like to see the faces of the judges of the International Court of Justice at The Hague faced with Google as jurisprudence!

What is Costa Rica to do? Be like Palmerston and send a gunboat?
Not very likely.
It doesn't have an army, let alone a navy.
It is a country which has renounced arms since the civil war of 1948, when in the following year the military junta decided that the best way of avoiding further civil wars was to abolish the army!

So it will negotiate, as it has started to do before that generally ineffective talking shop the Organisation of American States, and when that comes to nothing, as it will, Costa Rica will go to the United Nations...jaw jaw, not war war.

And what will Nicaragua do? Just keep on digging that ditch until sometime next year.
Why until then?
Because the Nicaraguan President, Ortega, is seeking a third term of office, which is unconstitutional.
In order to get it he has suborned the judges of the supreme court and falsified the existing constitution....but he needs popular support and what better to do than to whip up nationalist fervour against Costa Rica...the rich neighbour who exploits the poor Nicaraguans seeking work as servants and coffee pickers?
He will inevitably be re elected next year, at which point the shovels will be put away and the Nicaraguan army will retire to its own shore.

I suspect that the Costa Rican government knows this too.

But they have their own interests to serve.
The new President, Laura Chinchilla, has made a less than scintillating start to her term of office and has spent a great deal on a PR campaign to improve her ratings.
Then came the landslips and the floods.
Then came the scepticism about the effectiveness of government intervention.

As my librarian said as we chatted later

Well, where did all the money that was raised for Chinchona go to?
The National Emergency Commission did themselves pretty well out of it, buying quad bikes and whatnot. but the people still don't have houses and with the Banco de Costa Rica matching donations made by the public there was enough to buy land and build houses twenty times over.
What's going to be different this time?

This time there is the Rio San Juan.

Thus the flags on the cars.
Thus the 'spontaneous' demonstration by little children organised 'spontaneously' by their teachers.
Thus the photo opportunities for the President.

David Hume, the Scottish philosopher, reckoned that we assume that A is caused by B because A and B generally happen in sequence and from the sequence we assume causality.
We play billiards and we see the cue strike ball A and ball A strike ball B which then moves and we say that the action of the cue sets all this in motion.
Hume's point is that it is perfectly possible for cue, ball A and ball B to 'do different' as one says in Norfolk....for ball A to turn back from ball B, for example.
Nature is not regular and predictable.

So while I might think that two Presidents in search of popularity might well be behind the Rio San Juan conflict, the march of kindergarten children, the flags waving from the trucks and the absence of Nicaraguans at the Immigration Department, David Hume would rebuke me for my credulity.

Thursday 4 November 2010

A state of emergency declared.....

Costa  Rica has had a month of heavy, persistent rain. Major roads have been closed as the foundations of bridges have been washed away. Rivers have overspilled their banks, flooding houses and forcing people to go to shelters. The vital Pan American highway, carrying traffic from Panama to Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El  Salvador  has been cut several times.

But now, this morning, dreadful news. Tropical storm Thomas combined with a low pressure area over the Caribbean sent driving, torrential rain over the country in the night and this was the straw that broke the camel's back...at least it was in the village of San Antonio de Escazu in the hills above the capital, San Jose.

A massive landslide started, taking with it ten houses.

So far eight bodies have been found, while about thirty people are reported as missing.

The emergency services...the police and fire brigade, the Red Cross... are at full stretch all over the country where communities have been cut off and no assessment of their situation has been possible.

Access is hampered by the state of the roads...washed out in parts, dangerous in others, so what the country needs is helicopters to get help to those who need it.

But the country doesn't have any.

Not public ones, that is, for emergency use.

It has to rely on the civic sense of the institutional bodies like the electricity board and the generosity of private owners.

It has to call upon neighbouring countries.

A fortnight ago, the President, Laura Chinchilla, toured affected sites...by helicopter.

I hope it's being put to better use today.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Follow the guide...

The inside of the Teatro National de Costa Ric...Image via Wikipedia

Friends are visiting...they have a fortnight to 'do' Costa Rica!

They have used the first couple of days to visit the capital, San Jose... where they were astonished by the wealth of architecture.....and volcano Poas...which was broody and would not reveal its secrets... then used the internet to arrange the nuts and bolts of their trip.

As I have discovered, there are two ways to tour Costa Rica...the tourist way and the local way.

In the local way, you check where you have family and go to stay with them, using their home as a base for touring.
If you don't have family, you  look around for 'cabinas', individual accommodation, varying from wooden huts with cold water only to proper small houses with fans and hot water.
They're advertised in the newspapers, or you just ask around when you get to where you're going, except in the peak local holiday seasons when anything decent has long been taken.

Then there's the tourist way. You use the guide books.

Our visitors had done their homework...they wanted to visit several different areas in order to enjoy to the full the variety of climates and environments which Costa Rica has to offer.

They wanted to go to Tortuguero...the maze of wetlands on the Caribbean coast.
But there is limited public transport and all the hotels have to offer are inclusive tours from the capital...the cheapest being two hundred and eighty seven U.S. dollars per person for a two nights all in.
All in, unless you would like a glass of wine or beer with your dinner...
All in, unless you would like to tour the wetlands in a  boat at dusk or dawn to see the astounding bird life.
Which is why you go there.

Tortuguero was off the list, then.

Arenal...the volcano in full activity, with nocturnal lava flows...was next on the list.
We looked at the website for the hotel to which they had had a recommendation from a friend.
Yes, it was on the side of the volcano where the lava is currently flowing....but the view of the volcano was all there was to offer and if the nights were cloudy they would see nothing, just hear the eery crack of the tumbling rockfalls.
It was miles from the nearest town...over a rough road...so once you were there you were the prisoner of the hotel.
If you wanted to eat somewhere else, it was a taxi ride costing some ten dollars at least each way...
If you wanted to visit the hot springs in the area it would be at least twenty dollars each way....
To get to the hanging bridges, the butterfly farms or whatever...it would cost you.

Why not, we said, stay in the cabinas with similar views of the lava flow situated alongside the hanging bridges and the butterfly farm, in a village half way to the local town with a few cafes and ask locals about the non touristy hot springs establishments?
Both our guests spoke Spanish, after all.

No. The cabinas were not in their guide book.

But they are on the net...you can see how nice the rooms are and they have hot showers and breakfast is included.

No. They would follow the guide book and the recommendation from their friend...who had probably used the same guide book.

Well, check Tripadvisor. See if the reviews bear out what the guide book says.

No, the hotel would be fine.

At that point I gave up.

I would like to have spared them paying one hundred and twenty nine dollars per person per night to be stuck out in the wilds of nowhere....but the power of the guidebook shows how worthwhile it is for the hotels to advertise with it.
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