Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Osa Oh ****!s

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Here in Costa Rica, the scientists are dreamers, and most dreamers natural scientists with an instinctive grasp of the stuff that governs their days – meteorology, seismology, tropical ecology, and so on. All conversations in the Osa move back and forth between observation and imagination, and from objective to subjective without warning, the result, I think, of being ensnared in the rhythms of the natural world while having the time and intelligence to think. Park guards will reveal a deep-held belief in the guiding hand of a capricious higher power; cooks, captains, farmers, fishermen, bar staff will predict and explain the weather along with the behaviour of snakes, whales and pizotes using a fusion of facts and folklore without adding more weight to one or the other, or even seeming in any way conscious of a distinction. There are people who hold conversations like this on the London underground, but here it’s usually illuminating and charming, rather than extremely irritating.

I’ve been reading Reflections and Studies of a Biologist in the Jungles of Corcovado by Alvaro Wille Trejos, a national classic up there with Dan Janzen’s Costa Rican Natural History, and most books by Alexander Skutch. Ostensibly a biology text book, its main thrust is philosophical, eccentric, meandering and sentimental. It could only have been written by a Costa Rican – possibly only a Costa Rican who had spent a year waking up to noises in the night and lying awake until dawn. Dr Wille (who went on to write about yogis) ponders altruism and spirituality, along with man’s search for contentment, while identifying complex rainforest ecosystems and patterns of animal behaviour.

It’s a heady (airy) mix that I’d find totally unreadable if it wasn’t all presented as a boy’s own adventure story in which the self-deprecating Dr Wille, and his luckless research assistant, Enrique, find themselves tackling the complete set of Osa ‘Oh ****!’s from capsized boats, storms, fallen trees and collapsed tents, to close encounters with fer-de-lance, peccaries, jaguars and crocodiles. If he was writing it now he’d probably need to include a run-in with a droguero guarding a stash of coke on an isolated beach, but aside from that, he faces every possible misfortune with great cheer.

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Rain

This afternoon it got dark, and, a few minutes after I had set off home in flip flops, carrying my heavy bags, water was released at full force from the 100 square km showerhead suspended over Corcovado. The sea went greenish and frothy. That night  phosphorescence lit the breakers from beneath creating 500-metre rollers of neon white – as bright as a search light – that lumbered up and smashed in a brilliant neon spray at the rocks in front of the house and against the wall of the bat cave at the end of the beach.

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12 Uplifting Observations: USA Motels

Palm Springs motel: Dave Har1. The protective plastic covers have been removed from the lamp shades;

2. The No Soliciting sign on the door has been replaced by an Emergency Evacuation Plan;

3. The two sachets of coffee are Wolfgang Puck;

4. The mugs are made of something other than Styrofoam;

5. There is a lamp;

6. The plug is still attached to the lamp;

7. The lamp has a bulb;

8. The windows open;

9. The receptionist is not sitting behind reinforced glass;

10. The sink is not pink;

11. The usual synthetic brown blanket has been replaced by a duvet inside a white duvet cover – and it doesn’t appear to have been used;

12. There’s nothing on your Google search to confirm your suspicion your room has been the scene of a gruesome crime.

[Incidentally, the picture was taken – by Dave – at the Royal Sun, Palm Springs, which is really nice . . . in an old-fashioned way].

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Nashville Country

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Nashville was the final stop on the USA road trip, chosen partly because it’s located within driving distance of Atlanta where the car needed to be dropped off, and partly because it’s a city that’s soaked in the love-hate, bitter-sweet poignant stuff that is country music, and the end of one trip, the start of who knows what, deserves a little poignancy.

I, personally, don’t like country music much (although Joaquin Phoenix is alright); I don’t think it travels, but in the right place a good country singer with that big round sound with a scratchy edge, plus some slide and honky tonk and lyrics about girls, trucks and revenge is just what’s required. There may well be more country music fans in New York City than Nashville, and some people may call this little city Trashville or Nash Vegas (which is pretty good actually) but if you were playing a game of word association and someone called out ‘country music’ you’d snap back ‘Nashville’, as quick as a flash. It may be past it, or a blousy version of what it once was, but iconic things generally are.

You don’t have to stroll through a barrage of songs along Broadway and 2nd Avenue, but why not? On a warm weekend night every bar in this neon-lit strip has at least one live band playing, and sometimes three – all at the same time on different floors. You can hear a dozen just by standing and turning full circle by the traffic lights. Past the flashing signs, through every window in every direction, you can see drummers and bass players and the back of a singer in their cowboy hat; singers coming up and old-timers, dreams unfulfilled, on their way out, all playing Ring of Fire to drunk students.

And you don’t have to visit the Grand Ole Opry. To be honest, I didn’t. But I like the idea of the Opry as a historic hub for talented, troubled, ill-fated, drunk and plucky people, and I’m definitely going to read music journalist Robert K. Oermann’s  Behind The Grand Ole Opry Curtain: Tales Of Romance And Tragedy. It’s not new, but it is definitive. They say the Opry is cursed, that a large number of people linked to it have met untimely deaths, from Patsy Cline and Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Jim Reeves in plane crashes, Dottie West in a car accident, Stringbean (of Hee Haw fame) who was murdered, Hank Williams from drug-related stuff in the back of a car at 29 – and so on. Anyway it was at the heart of a world, that must have seemed a pretty exciting one for a time.

I’ve got a problem with Hank Williams. ‘Hey Good Lookin’ ‘ is about as fun to listen to as ‘Yellow Submarine’, however he did also write ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ so: OK. Anyway my point was going to be that despite the Hey Good Lookins there’s a lot of heart-wrenching stuff about being poor and having no pa in old school country, and I’m not sure today’s country singer-songwriters have such peaks and troughs in their lives anymore. If they do, it doesn’t seem very convincing when the backing singer is chewing gum and doing hi-de-hi waves to men at the bar.

But one theme that has been at the root of country and survives intact today is the push and pull of moving on or staying put. Nashville itself is a place that everyone is either keen to reach or desperate to leave. ‘gotta get back to Nashville or my heart will break in two’ say the Everly Brothers; Catherine Britt wants to hop an old freight train (which, I have to say, sounds quite tempting) and ride it to Nashville so she can learn to play honky tonk guitar; the Delmore Brothers ‘aint got no hat, aint got no shoes’ but they do have the Nashville Blues and want to get back to Arkansas, and Hank Williams III wants to high tail it out of ‘Trashville’ to Texas, and so on. Life on the road, partings, break-ups and loss, lonesome quests, regrets, the seduction of comfort and a good woman (rarely a good man) – it’s all there in verse chorus verse chorus verse chorus chorus.

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I’d like to interrupt this travel blog to say a big thank you to everyone who has ‘Liked’ it, and /or who is following somewheresville. Your interest and support is truly appreciated.

Thank you

16hrs in San Francisco

That’s 16 hours in San Francisco with 6 spent asleep. Much to see, no time to waste. If you too happen to be passing through in winter, exhausted with an urgent desire for alcohol and lettuce, follow the blind and try the following:

Do the Golden Gate Bridge thing: Over you go & back you come.

Drink in Mission. This is San Francisco’s old heart: edgy, arty, tatty, wearisome and energetic in equal measure. Population is predominantly Latino and Hipster plus flamboyantly dressed old writer/artist types; a fair few wealthy arrivistes joining in, and a fair few people shuffling by with shopping trolleys in the street waving their fists and holding animated, abusive conversations with lamp posts. Parking’s tricky but there are plenty of people eager to look after your car.  Head for Mission, Valencia and 24th streets and find the party. “I’m so-o-o-o happy. I’m in love with life” said the friendly man who joined out table outside some bar. “I’m. In. Love. With. Life. Man” . (A friend who lives there recommends Doc’s Clock).

Do the driving up and down the steep hills thing. Yes, like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, but slower, and pausing at the intersections.

Check into Cow Hollow Motor Inn in Cow Hollow, a relaxed neighbourhood which is either in the Marina District or on the border of it, depending on who’s talking. It’s not the most glamourous choice but it’s good and nice and affordable and an easy, easy option with parking. And it also has a load of fine restaurants and bars within walking district.

Eat healthy food at Plant. This was a right treat. Almost everything in the streets around Cow Hollow is a restaurant or bar, but there are only so many nachos and tacos a girl can eat, and Plant Organic Cafe proved irresistible – and it was fabulous. There are a number of branches in San Francisco but this one’s on Steiner St and Chestnut St.

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Have breakfast at Mel’s Drive-in (opposite) on Lombard St. Maybe ‘The Elvis’: scrambled eggs, chorizo, green chile, Monterey Jack cheese and a whole load of other stuff, like toast and jelly. Plenty of chrome, booths and jukeboxes, staff in black and white and a menu of 50s staples (root beer, banana splits, spaghetti and meatballs, sundaes). Mel’s declined, closed and reopened in the late 80s, but now has its kitschy charm preserved by grateful and nostalgic patrons. The original Mel’s was demolished shortly after starring alongside Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford in American Graffiti but this one’s just like it.

Cow Hollow Motor Inn 2190 Lombard St 415 921 5800 http://www.cowhollowmotorinn.com.

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