Nature, water and no cars

Tortuguero (Land of the Turtles) National Park is a remote nature reserve on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. There are no roads here, access is by boat or plane only.

The airstrip is across the river from where DonQui is staying

DonQui arrives by plane, a small Cessna that lands on a jungle airstrip opposite the Tortuga Lodge and Gardens where he will be staying for a few days.

The verandah is a perfect place to relax

DonQui’s intention is to relax and enjoy the nature surrounding him. The verandah of his ‘cabin’ is the perfect place to do this. There is no glass on the windows — only mosquito netting. This way the sounds of the rainforest are always present.

DonQui enjoys he hammock

The hammock is a particularly good way to relax and to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the surrounding forest.

Water and rainforest are the heart of Tortuguero

The Tortuguero river flowing by the lodge invites further investigation.

Tortuguero Village

A short boat ride along the river brings DonQui to Tortuguero Village. Founded in the 1930s to mill the timber from the surrounding forest the village now makes its income from tourism. Back-packers, ecologists and adventures come here to experience the vast natural beauty of the region.

DonQui enjoyed a beer at this bar overlooking the river

The village has a Caribbean vibe as many of the modern inhabitants have come from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands.

Sunrise over the Tortuguero river

The true beauty of the area can only be explored by boat. So it is that DonQui sets off at crack of dawn to experience the sights and sounds of the rainforest.

A boat trip into the rainforest

It is hard for DonQui to express in a few words the great beauty, rich vegetation and abundant wildlife he experienced in the couple of hours he spent exploring the area under the guidance of a highly knowledgeable local guide.

Into the rainforest

The vegetation alone was worth it but the sights and sounds of the birds, reptiles and animals made it even more special.

The birds are abundant and varied
A cayman pokes his eye above the water

DonQui sees a huge variety of wildlife including howler and spider monkeys, turtles, a three toed sloth, caymans, herons snd many other birds

One of the many intriguing waterways to explore

Water is the best way to explore but behind the Tortuga Lodge there are a number of trails that invite exploration.

A trail through the forest

A walk along the forest trail is muddy. There is a clue in the name of ‘rainforest’. It rains a lot and the ground is always soggy even after several days without rain. DonQui does not see as much wildlife on his walk as he does on his boat tour but the atmosphere is hard to beat. He can hear howler monkeys in the distance and sees a number of colourful frogs.

The trees are filled with birdlife

The grounds around the lodge are incredibly beautiful. Toucans, parrots and monkeys are often seen.

An Iguana sunning himself by the river.

The grounds are beutiful

The grounds of the Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

DonQui always feels that he is part of the forest even when he is enjoying the civilised surroundings of the Lodge.

The dining area

Meals are served on an atmospheric dining area overlooking the river. Menu choices are relatively limited as food has to be flown in.

Seafood rice

After a few days the simple menu begins to grow a bit thin but the seafood rice is DonQui’s favourite staple.

Tortuguero river

So is Tortuguero worth a visit?

Absolutely yes, according to DonQui.

If you like nature, enjoy tranquility then there are probably few places than can beat it. In late summer/early autumn one can also witness the turtle nesting which gives the place its name.

Flying around Costa Rica

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Tortuguero National Park from the air

DonQui’s destination after San José is the nature reserve of Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. There are no roads there. This leaves DonQui with two transportation choices: Four hours in a mini-bus followed by 1 ½ hours by boat; or a 20 minute flight from San José to an airstrip opposite the Tortuga Lodge where he will be staying.

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Sansa is Costa Rica’s domestic airline

Unsurprisingly DonQui thinks the flying option will be the least uncomfortable so he books a flight with Sansa, Costa Rica’s domestic airline. He is very glad he did.

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The domestic terminal of San José airport

Sansa’s 12-seater Cessnas fly to most places of interest throughout Costa Rica from San José Airport’s spanking new domestic terminal. The domestic terminal is just a couple of hundred metres from the international terminal.

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Check-in is fast and efficient

Check in is fast and efficient with careful attention being paid to weight due to the small aircraft. Each passenger is limited to 30 lbs (13.6 kg) including hand baggage. DonQui likes to travel light so this is no problem for him. Those who like to take lots of things on their travels will need to use other forms of transportation.

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Don’t check in too early as there is not much to do inside the terminal

The waiting area is comfortable but facilities are limited. DonQui checked in far to early and ended up sitting around for ages. One hour before take off is more than enough time to arrive at the terminal.

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Descending towards Tortuguero airstrip

The flight itself was quite a bit of fun with the small plane flying low enough for DonQui to get a good view of the country.  After 20 minutes he is descending towards the jungle airstrip.

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The Tortuguero airport taxi

There a small boat is waiting to take him to his accommodation across the river.

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The Tortuguero terminal

The check-in facilities at Tortuguero airstrip for the return journey are slightly less luxurious than at San José.

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The beach right beside the Tortuguero airstrip

But the view is much better.

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Tortuguero airstrip

And the flight just as much fun.

Overnight in San José, Costa Rica

On his way to Tortuguero on Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast, DonQui Oaty decides to break his journey in the Costa Rican capital. It seems more restful after a long international flight to spend the night in San José before hopping on a domestic flight to the coast

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San José is not the most attractive of cities

At first glance San José doesn’t seem to have much to offer. DonQui notes the urban sprawl, dusty streets and dull architecture. He is fairly certain that those that know the city will tell him that there is much to see and do. But it is a Sunday afternoon, not much is happening and the restful atmosphere of the low-rise Hotel Colonial invites DonQui to take a siesta rather than go out to explore Costa Rica’s capital.

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DonQui stays at the very pleasant Hotel Colonial

With its pleasant neo-colonial architecture, large spacious room and friendly staff, the Hotel Colonial is a great place to stay. It is right in the centre of town close to the Jade museum which would have been handy had DonQui decided to explore.

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The hotel courtyard

Instead, after his siesta, he has a coffee and plays a game of cards with Duchess in the pleasant courtyard by the small pool.

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Esquina de Buenos Aires Restaurant

The Esquina de Buenos Aires restaurant is right across the street from the Hotel Colonial. DonQui has learned that it has an excellent reputation and is hugely popular. He is, therefore, thankful he had the foresight to make a reservation as the place is hopping when he gets there for dinner and he would not have had a chance of a table without it.

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DonQui imagines he is in a classic black and white film

DonQui immediately sees why the restaurant is so popular. It oozes with atmosphere. The wood panelling, ceiling fans, posters from classic Argentinian films and old photos of Argentinian celebrities, make DonQui feel at though he has been transported into classic black and white film set in old Buenos Aires. All that is missing are two gentlemen in fedoras smoking cigars in a corner as they plan some dangerous adventure.

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The ‘mini’ striploin is plenty big enough

The food, drink and service are as good as the atmosphere. It being an Argentinian restaurant, beef steak is the thing to have. DonQui’s Bife de Chorizo (striploin) is superb and he is glad he ordered the ‘mini’ portion as at 250g of beef it is more than enough. The full portion is a whopping 400g!

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Banana crepes flambéed in rum

There is more than steak on the menu. Duchess’ sopa de zapallo y choclo (pumpkin and sweetcorn soup) is delicious as are the rum flambéed bannana crepes that DonQui has for desert. The house red wine, a Pequeña Vasija is excellent. Prices are a little on the steep side for Costa Rica but quite reasonable by European/North American standards. Reservations are essential.

rice and beans

Certainly, DonQui could have been more energetic to make more of his short overnight stay in San José. Nonetheless he thoroughly enjoys himself. He feels perfectly relaxed as he eats his breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans) with egg and sweet fried plantain the next morning. He is now ready for a proper adventure.

 

A Matter of Class

DonQui Oaty is quite excited to be flying British Airways First Class across the Atlantic. Not business class but real proper first class!

‘Will it be worth it?’ He wonders.

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BA’s exclusive First Class check-in and security area at Heathrow

On arrival at London Heathrow terminal five he is whisked into the private First Class check-in with its own security screening area. With no queues DonQui thinks this is how flying should be like — no crowds and no stress.

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The Concorde Lounge

The British Airways Concorde lounge is quite a step up from the usual business lounges.

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So DonQui settles down comfortably with a glass of good Champagne and a few nibbles to await his flight in comfort.

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The spacious first class cabin on board

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There is plenty of room for a Donkey with relatively short legs to stretch out and have a good snooze.

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There are some seriously excellent wines on offer and the food it pretty good too. 

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Without a proper kitchen on board it is never going to be haute cuisine but they make a good stab at it.

‘So is it worth it?’

 

DonQui’s view is that it all depends on what you pay. First class  is marginally better than business class on board but the private check-in and superior lounge makes it much better. Bear in mind that these will not be available at all airports. 

Having now flown across the Atlantic on every class of BA cabin, his assessment is as follows:

Economy is no better and no worse than other airlines — long queues, cramped seats and rubbish food.

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The BA premium economy cabin

Premium economy is a big step up for not that much more money. With much more spacious seating and better food it begins to turn the flight into a moderately pleasant experience.

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DonQui buckles up in business class to enjoy a good night’s sleep

The big advantage of business class is the flat bed seat which allows for a proper sleep. You also get lounge access and priority boarding. The problem is that the cost can be be double or more that of premium economy.

DonQui prefers to book premium economy and snap up any upgrade offers if available as a full price business class seat is probably not worth the price differential.

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The first class seat takes up twice the space of a business class seat

The First Class experience is very pleasant but it is not significantly enough of an improvement on business class to warrant the sometimes eye-watering full ticket prices. It is really only worth it is you get a really good deal, or use air miles to get an upgrade which is what DonQui did in this case.

 

Festive Cumberland Sauce

Cumberland Sauce is a traditional English accompaniment for a Christmas goose or ham. It also goes well with game. These days it has largely been supplanted by cranberry sauce which, like turkey, is an American import.

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DonQui’s Cranberry Sauce

DonQui likes cranberry sauce with turkey. A couple of years back he described his recipe for a simple homemade cranberry sauce.

This year DonQui will be having ham (gammon joint) on Christmas eve and he wants to try his hand at making Cumberland sauce to go with it.

This is his recipe:

Ingredients:

½ lemon, zest and juice
½ orange, zest and juice
4 tablespoons, redcurrant jelly
a good splash of port wine
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cornflour

Note: Traditionally Cumberland sauce is made with mustard. DonQui has a mild allergy to mustard so he leaves it out, using instead the cornflour to bind and thicken the sauce. If you like mustard then leave out the cornflour and use a good teaspoon of mustard instead.

Method

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Warm up the orange and lemon zest in the port, letting it reduce slightly

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Add the redcurrant jelly and whisk it in over a low heat until the jelly had completely melted and it is blended with the port.

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Put the ginger and cornflour (or mustard) in a small glass or bowl. Gradually add the orange and lemon juice. blend it together until well mixed.

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Add the juice mixture to the pot and bring it slowly to the boil, whisking it as you do so that it is nicely blended.

Remove from the heat and pour into a serving jug.

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There you have it.

Essentially Cumberland sauce is jazzed up redcurrant jelly. The ginger and citrus zest/juice gives it a real Christmassy flavour. DonQui tries it out with venison and it goes perfectly. He is looking forward to trying it again with his Christmas eve ham.

Christmas Stuffing

Christmas is still a few days away but DonQui Oaty is working on perfecting his stuffing recipe which he previously described for his Canadian Thanksgiving feast.

He thinks he has really perfected it now so here is is recipe for stuffing a Christmas bird, be it a turkey or (his favourite) a goose.

Ingredients

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Two chicken livers, or one turkey or goose liver, chopped
Two teaspoons of sausage meat (If you cannot get sausage meat from your butcher then simply cut the skin off a sausage and use the inside filling)
Half an onion finely chopped

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A good bunch of chopped parsley (about ½ a cup)
½ teaspoon of dried rosemary
½ teaspoon of dried thyme
A bit of grated nutmeg
zest of ½ a lemon
3 slices of stale white bread cut into squares leaving crusts on
a handful of chopped dried cranberries (optional)
a handful of chopped chestnuts (optional)
a splash of milk
a splash of chicken stock (or water)
salt and pepper to taste
butter for cooking (mix with a little vegetable oil if desired)

Method

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Gently pan fry the onion in butter until it softens and begins to colour

 

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Add the chopped livers and sausage meat. Stir fry over a low heat until the pinkness is gone.

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Add the herbs, nutmeg, lemon zest, cranberries, chestnuts, salt and pepper and continue cooking over a low heat until well mixed.

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Add a splash of chicken stock or water to moisten. Then set aside to cool.

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Break the bread up into chunks. If you prefer a smoother stuffing you can use soft breadcrumbs instead, or whizz the bread chunks in a food processor to make the same.

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Moisten the bread with a little milk and mash it up with a fork until it becomes dough-like but not too soggy, If it seems a little too liquid you can squeeze out any excess milk with your hands.

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Mix in the meat/onion/herb mixture along with the cranberries and chestnuts if you are using them.

DonQui finds that cranberries and chestnuts give a real Christmassy feel. They add a delightful taste burst and a bit of crunch to the finished stuffing.  .

When it is throughly mixed it should have the look and constituency of a course paté. Cover and put in the fridge overnight.

 

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The following day stuff the neck end (the ‘back’ ) of the bird.

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Draw the flap of skin over the stuffed end and secure with a couple of cocktail sticks.

 

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Today,  DonQui is stuffing a small chicken which gives him lots of left-over stuffing (there will be less left over with a larger Christmas turkey or goose). He forms the left over mixture into 2 inch balls with his hooves well coated in olive oil. The balls will only need 20-25 minutes baking in a hot oven and will be dryer and crispier than the moist stuffing inside the bird.

DonQui prefers the moister internal stuffing but some prefer the stuffing balls.

Both are excellent.

 

 

 

Homemade Pizza Sauce

DonQui is pleased that he has just about mastered the art of making a good pizza base but what about the toppings? DonQui’s current favourites are tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, basil, olives, capers and anchovies.

While he will vary these from time to time, the key is the tomato sauce.

 

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DonQui Oaty admires his handiwork

This is how he makes it:

Ingredients for 2 individual pizzas

1 400 g tin of San Marzano tomatoes

a pinch of salt

1 crushed garlic clove (optional)

a bunch of herbs — basil or oregano (optional)

San Marzano tomatoes are a unique southern Italian variety grown on the slopes of Mt Vesuvius near Naples. They are meatier than most other varieties with less seeds and less acidity. They, therefore, make perfect pasta and pizza sauces. Even though tinned, the taste is so sweet and fresh that DonQui prefers not to pre-cook it before putting it on his pizza.

DonQui orders his from Amazon and although more expensive than normal plum tomatoes they are not a hugely extravagant purchase.

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DOP San  Marzano tomatoes

The variety is protected in the EU by the denominazione di origine controllata (DOC). This protection does not extend to some non-EU countries.  In the USA many of the canned tomatoes sold as ‘San Marzano’ (often at very high prices) are nothing like the real thing.

Method

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Gently fry the crushed garlic

If using garlic (he does not always add it), DonQui likes to gently fry it in olive oil until it becomes fragrant but before it colours. This takes down the pungent rawness that can be a bit overpowering in a sauce.

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Drained tomatoes, salt, herbs and garlic in the blender

Drain the tomatoes and put them in a food processor/blender along with the salt and any herbs. If using basil you can use stalks as well as leaves. Add the garlic along with the oil it was cooked in.

 

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The blended mixture

Whizz it all up until it is blended. It does not have to be completely smooth.

If you do not have, or do not want to use, a food processor you can crush the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle.

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Drain the mixture to make it thicker

Tip the mixture into a strainer to drain a little more.   If the sauce is too watery then it may make a thin dough crust a bit soggy.  You could thicken it up with a bit of concentrated tomato purée (tomato paste) but this will alter the taste as the highly processed concentrate can take away from the fresh taste of the San Marzano tomatoes.

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Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza base with the back of a wooden spoon.

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Add your favourite toppings and put in the pre-heated oven at maximum temperature (250º+), ideally on a pizza stone (which radiates the heat). Then bake for  6 minutes or until the cheese is nicely melted and bubbling but before it burns.

Then enjoy!