A Travellerspoint blog

Brazil Comes to America

Rock in Rio in Las Vegas

semi-overcast 75 °F

Many of you who know me know that I'm a bit of a music junkie. I went to my first concert in 2000 to see the Black Eyed Peas, Lit (Remember them?), and No Doubt perform at what-was-then the Sleep Train Amphitheater in Marysville, California. The mother of one of my very best friends, Trent Mason, had gotten tickets and asked if I wanted to tag along. At that point, I had very limited exposure to music and pretty much listened to whatever Carson Daly told me to listen to on TRL. I was 14 - I had no clue at that point what I liked and what I didn't like. When I got back from that No Doubt show, I was not only hooked on No Doubt, I was hooked on live music. Since that time, I have seen No Doubt live for every subsequent album that they released and consistently listened to their music in the 15 years since.

In 2003, my friends, Manny, Christy, and Drew wanted to go to a concert called "Summer Sanitarium" in San Francisco. Manny and Christy had not been together very long (they are now married and have a beautiful boy), and Christy's parents said that she could only go if I came along. I was oddly viewed as the "responsible" friend. We all know that I was undeserving of such a label, but with nine concerts under my belt and thirsty for more, I signed on. We made the drive to San Francisco from Sacramento with Drew at the wheel and Metallica's "...And Justice for All" blaring from the radio speakers.

A friend had shown me the Metallica's S+M concert VHS (yeah, I'm old) , and I remember the first time I ever got chills down my spine to a song was listening Kurt Hammett's solo for "Nothing Else Matters" on said VHS. Impressed with the music, I had picked up a copy of the Black album at Tower Records (yet another reference that dates me). However, at this point, I was still a relative newbie to the Metallica catalog.

We got to Summer Sanitarium, and the concert was nothing short of epic. Mudvayne started off the performance and I remember the mosh pit opening like a huge chasm during an earthquake when they played their hit, "Dig." Sacramento's native Deftones screamed through an amazing set, followed by then-start-up band Linkin Park ripping through their album, "Meteora." Limp Bizkit came out and gave an intense performance and then we stood in awe as Metallica took the stage.

I had never seen a band so incredible, so amazing live, I was awestruck the whole time. Even though I knew very few songs of theirs, I found myself screaming the chorus at the end of each song, having just learned the words through the first two iterations. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett played a stirring rendition of "Of Wolf and Man" as they stared out to the full moon that loomed over the stadium. I walked out of the stadium completely exhausted but with the full knowledge that Metallica was now my favorite band, and I would learn every song they ever played. 12 years later, I have all their albums, have been to four additional concerts across California and Arizona, and they are still, by far, my favorite band.

Since seeing No Doubt for my first concert in 2000, I have been to over 80 live shows from San Francisco to Mozambique. I've seen everything from Afro-Cuban music to Dubstep to Heavy Metal to Pop. I can't overstate my love for music and my passion for live music. Because of this, many of my bucket list items are actually concerts: Wacken in Germany, Rock AM Ring in Germany, Rock in Rio in Brazil, and Tomorrowland in Belgium. Rock in Rio is one of the most amazing festivals in the world with headliners like the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, Iron Maiden, and Metallica. In 2013, it sold out 200,000 tickets in less than 4 hours. It had started in Brazil but had editions in Spain and Portugal. In 2015, I learned it was coming to the United States.

I knew immediately that I was going to buy tickets without even seeing the headliners. This is one of the premier concerts in the world, and I had a chance to cross it off my bucket list in the US. When they announced the line-up, I was blown away by the headliners: No Doubt on Friday and Metallica on Saturday. Here they were, my first live band and my favorite live band, sharing a stage. Two completely different acts (Metallica fans don't typically identify as No Doubt fans), it cosmically felt that the concert was made just for me. I bought the two tickets for Danielle and I, booked our flights, and anxiously awaited the second weekend in May. Rock in Rio would be my 86th live show.

I also convinced one of my best friends, Andre, to purchase his ticket to the festival. Him and I have had numerous adventures together before (see http://mattbeymer0.travellerspoint.com/ for a taste of one said adventure), and I thought this would be the perfect chapter for us to write next. His girlfriend, Kimbrie, a new friend to Danielle and I, also decided that she was down for the concert. Thus we embarked on what would be the coolest double date ever.

We met up with Andre and took the monorail over to the new MGM Resorts Village by the Circus Circus casino. Rock and Rio would be the first concert held at the newly created concert grounds, and everything went incredibly smoothly from getting there to navigating different parts of the venue.

Day 1 was filled with great performances from Gary Clark Jr., The Pretty Reckless, Mana, and No Doubt. In my mind, Mana stole the show. Their 30 years of live music experience really came through, and Danielle liked the set other than getting a water bottle thrown at her head.

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Andre and I picked up where we finished our last journey...sort of

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The view from our room

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Danielle having a bit of NY pizza before Day 1 kicks off

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The entrance

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I have no idea what this thing is, but it was amazing

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Beautiful weather for Day 1

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Wasn't this guy in the new Mad Max movie?

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Gary Clark Jr. ripping it on the guitar

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The to-be-wed couple hanging out at the Gary Clark Jr. set

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I hope they're hearing this music in space, so amazing

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Mana

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Mana playing "Como Quisiera"

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The main stage bathed in light

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No Doubt goes acoustic

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And then ramps it back up

On Day 2, Kimbrie arrived in Las Vegas to join us for the last half of the festival. I decided to take a "shortcut" and got the group lost on the way over there, but we ended up making it to see Of Mice and Men open Day 2. I have their album "Restoring Force," which I highly recommend for metal heads out there, but I had never seen them live. They reminded me of an early version of Atreyu. Amazing energy, great live sound, and awesome audience interaction. They were an awesome band to start the day with.

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Of Mice and Men opening up Day 2

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The new Atreyu

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Got my colors on

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The concert had oddly eclectic food

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Look at this beautiful couple!

Later on in the day, we check out Coheed and Cambria which sounded okay, but we all seemed to be generally bored. After they were finished, we saw Sepultura and Steve Vai which Danielle really got into. It was amazing to see Steve Vai live, easily one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Check out this great cover of Highway to Hell with 2Cellos if you want to hear what he sounds like: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfGggAGITwg. After that set, we rushed over to enjoy Rise Against. I have seen Rise Against four times previously over the years, and they never disappoint. Tim McIlrath, the lead singer of Rise Against, always has amazing energy and puts on a wonderful show.

Right after his set, Tim ran over and did a duet with Chino Moreno on the Deftones hit "Passenger" which was so cool to see for a fan like me who loves Deftones AND Rise Against. I was sad that Al Davis (Danielle's dad and Deftones fan) wasn't there to see it.

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Rise Against

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The concert grounds with the Stratosphere in the background

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Chino Moreno of the Deftones and Tim McIlrath of Rise Against singing "Passenger" from the album, White Pony

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I just thought this one was pretty

After the Deftones, Kimbrie, Andre, and Danielle were looking at me like a kid in a candy store because I really wanted to run up to the front to see Linkin Park and Metallica. Many people understandably like their personal space at concerts, but I am someone who wants to be up front for the bands I love. As a younger person, I disdained the idea of "seats," but I know that option has been a more frequent selection as I've gotten older. But for Linkin Park and Metallica, I wanted, NEEDED, to be up in the front.

They assured me I wasn't ditching them and they would be fine, so I ran off like a little kid who is just entering a theme park for the first time. Linkin Park's set was the most amazing I've seen from the group, and Chester even had a duet with the lead singer from Of Mice and Men which was really cool to see.

After Linkin Park played for a little over an hour, Metallica took the stage. They played the usual hits like "Master of Puppets" and "Enter Sandman," but they also played less well-known tracks like "King Nothing" and "Disposable Heroes." They also performed their covers of "Turn the Page" and "Whiskey in the Jar" I sang at the top of my lungs for every track (actually knowing the words this time!). Although I've seen them six times at this point, they have never failed to impress me.

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The Ecstasy of Gold

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I got close

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Well, not that close, the camera had great zoom

If you haven't had a taste of their live performance, check out my crappy recording of "Sad but True"

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Kirk shredding on guitar

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Rob on bass and backing vocals

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The sixth time = Just as amazing as the first

As I ran to meet my three companions after the show, they laughed as I walked towards them because I apparently had a really excited look on my face. There's a unique joy that concerts bring to my life, and I have been extremely lucky to see some amazing acts over the years. Just five days after we got back, my long-time friend Karina and I went to see Muse play a small club of 500 people in Los Angeles which was quite possibly one of the best shows I've ever seen. I have been incredibly lucky, and I hope Danielle and I can do this until we're old and frail. Maybe we'll just move from the pit to the seats, but time will tell. :)

Posted by mbeymer 18:33 Archived in USA

The Proposal...

...And the diversion three months in the making

sunny 65 °F

Danielle is one smart person. Her intelligence is one of the things I absolutely love about her, but as with any quality, it can have its pluses and minuses. The pluses are obvious including ease in learning new things, excelling at work and solving complicated problems. The minuses come in the form of TV shows, movies and anything I try to do to surprise her.

What do I mean by that? I was REALLY excited to show her "The Usual Suspects," but she figured out who Kaiser Sosay was in a matter of less than 40 minutes into the movie (I didn't figure it out until the end of the movie!). While we watch shows, she guesses the plot twist and 80% of the time guesses it right. She's so good at this that we now have a rule of "no predicting the ending" in place for any dramatic TV shows. With surprises, she's quick to detect any changes in my tone of voice, mood or even things out of place around the house. Therefore, if I wanted to genuinely surprise her with a proposal, I had to move very slowly and carefully.

It all started in September when I decided to surprise her and her dad with tickets to the Chargers/Broncos game for her dad's birthday. Her dad, Al, is a big Broncos fan and Danielle is a Chargers fan, so I thought it would be a fun father-daughter event for them to go to in San Diego. I used to live in San Diego, so I originally thought I would go down there with them, drop them off at the game, hang out with friends and then pick them up at the end and head back. After I gave Al the tickets, I thought it would act as the perfect diversion for the proposal. But as I said before, I had to tread very carefully.

Danielle had training for her job in October that was out of town, and I decided to ask Al and her mom, Keri, to dinner while she was away. I asked for their blessing, and they lovingly gave me their acceptance. I talked about the tickets and told them that the game would actually serve as the diversion for that evening's proposal. Al and Keri loved the idea, agreed to keep it a secret, and we were ready to go.

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Danielle and Al ready for the game

On top of the game diversion, I made sure to wear regular clothes and pack a bag of nice clothes that I could change into for the occasion. Once we dropped them off at the game, Keri and I got to work arranging everything with the restaurant and buying a blue sapphire orchid for the table centerpiece. I also ensured that our friends would still be able to make it to the restaurant before the game was over. Once all that was ready to go, we took a relaxing walk around La Jolla to calm my nerves.

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My favorite Thai restaurant in the US - Spice and Rice in La Jolla, California

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A Blue Sapphire orchid to match the ring

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Calming-my-nerves-view #1

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Calming-my-nerves-view #2

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Mom with her pups at the cove

I talked to her best friends, Wendy and Nikki, and told them what the plan would be a few weeks before the event. Nikki couldn't make it because she was in Northern California, but Wendy made the THREE HOUR drive down to San Diego from Camarillo to surprise her friend. My friends Ed and Andre who live in San Diego also made it out to witness the big proposal.

Keri picked them up from the stadium when the game was over saying I was hanging out with my friend Ed in La Jolla and they would meet up with us for dinner. Keri's diversion gave me time to assemble Wendy, Ed and Andre all in one place.

When she walked in with her parents to meet me for dinner after the game, you can visibly see her face become very confused when she walks in and sees Wendy. By the time she saw me, I was down on one knee asking the question. There was a lot of muffled crying from both of us, hugs and a "yes" somewhere in there.

The proposal

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Keri, Al and Ed

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Wendy and Andre

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The happy couple

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Enjoying the feast

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A lovely turnip garnish

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Wendy's beautiful engagement present to Danielle

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Posing with the boys

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She said yes

The evening went wonderfully, and we had dinner for two hours afterwards, trading stories and passing plates. I couldn't have imagined it any better, and I can't wait for this next chapter in our lives. Chances are the next chapter will come from Greece or Italy, but more to come on that front. For now, we've got ourselves a wedding to plan!

Posted by mbeymer 20:31 Archived in USA

Cajun Cuisine in the Beautiful Bayou

Fantastic Food and Jazz in the American South

sunny 75 °F

Although our first anniversary was in America's finest City, San Diego, we decided to venture a bit further afield for our second anniversary. We were both interested in exploring New Orleans, and we decided to make the Mardi Gras capital our next destination. Our mission was to explore the bayou, eat as much Cajun food as possible, and see the famous haunted sites. I typically post these updates as we're traveling, but we only had four days in the area so I wanted to get in as much culture as we could in the short trip.

Captain Brian was the guide for our swamp boat adventure in the Louisiana Bayou. In the Summer and Fall, he gave airboat tours, but in the winter he mainly hunted in order to provide for his family, typically selling meat of duck, alligators, and deer that he had hunted. He also collected government-honored bounties on a particularly interesting creature called nutria.

In the early 19th century, hunters would trap muscrat for their fur. However, the female muscrats only had one litter a year, and the fur trade was so lucrative at the time that the rate of killing from hunting exceeded the replacement rate for the species. Within a few decades, there were no more muscrat to hunt, but their fur still fetched a high price from trappers. When there's still demand, but no supply, the logical thing to do is bring in more supply.

Using this rationale, an individual from Louisiana had the idea to bring in a similar animal called a "nutria" from the swamps of South America. They are between 10 and 30 pounds in weight and have a long round tail, closely resembling a New York rat.

However, the nutria had a shorter gestation period than the muscrat and could have up to 4 litters per year - they can literally have a litter and then become pregnant the next day! Once the fur trade collapsed, the state of Louisiana found itself overrun with nutria and decided to implement a bounty program year-round to "eliminate" the species.

This program was put in place too late, and species elimination is all but impossible with their reproduction rate. However, nutria hunting still provides a bounty and livelihood for many hunters. The bounty is $5 for every tail you cut off (i.e., the tail is proof of kill, the carcas is typically left for the alligators), and the limit is 36,000 PER YEAR. 36,000! Our guide said that the year he turned 17, he killed 10,000. That would mean that he would have had to kill an average of about 27 nutria a day. It seems a bit far-fetched, but he was definitely passionate about what he did and I slowly started to believe the claim.

He also had told us about hunting alligators, and the process of farm-raising the species. Every year, he has a quota to find 1,100 alligator eggs and deliver them to a farmer in Western Louisiana. He only gets paid $20 an egg, and he's only paid for the roughly 80% of eggs that actually hatch. The process can be laborious and usually comes at a loss since he has to rent a helicopter to spot the nests. The advantage for him comes in the form of 15% of the alligators that are raised get released into the swamp after four years, providing him and his crew an ample supply to hunt.

Captain Brian was truly a hunter at heart, and he conveyed an unquestionable passion for what he did. His son at 5 years old had just killed his first alligator, and you could see the father's pride in his eyes as he recounted the story to our small group. I am not a hunter myself, but I definitely understand the love for the sport based on my many conversations with Chris, Al and Marlee on the pursuit of wild game.

Not only did Brian have a hunter's spirit, but he had a textbook like knowledge of animal lifespan, territory, behavior and co-habitating. American media likes to depict the "dumb hick" mentality, but this man could have easily become a scientist in a different situation given his work ethic, attention to detail and passion for learning. In a way, the only thing that differs is what we hunt for: I hunt for answers and he hunts for food, hides and bounties.

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Here we go on the airboat

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Captain Brian giving a talk on the local wildlife

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Captain Brian with a baby alligator

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Tempting an alligator affectionally called "Captain Hook" for her hooked tail with a marshmellow (I just got that, it's a food that makes creatures "mellow" in the "marsh")

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Another resident watches our movements

Once we got done with the swamps, we decided to try many of the culinary hotspots on our To Do list. In the first 24 hours, we ate at FIVE different places. We had a wonderful shrimp roll at Peche, a rich dish of cajun biscuits and gravy at the Cake Company, homemade root beer, fried alligator and wood-fired Muscles at Cochon, begnets at Cafe de Monde, and a hearty hot sausage at We've Got Soul. Pictures speak louder than words on this one:

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Shrimp roll at Peche

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New Orleans has the best bread in the country

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Fried alligator bites with cajun mayo

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Delicious oysters

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Pork belly roll at Killer Poboys

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We loved these chips!

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Waiting patiently for our begnets at Cafe de Monde - isn't she lovely?

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Beignets at Cafe de Monde

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Danielle making a funny face with her Beignet

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Delicious French Toast Bananas Foster

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Coolest ice tea machine ever

We also got a chance to walk around the French Quarter and take in some of the sites. From Jackson Square (named after former Governor and President, Andrew Jackson) to the riverfront walkway. We also visited the site where most of the Mardi Gras floats are made. Artists take large pieces of styrofoam and then meticulously cover the pieces with paper which is then painted in order to complete the beautiful floats. We saw everything from dinosaurs to strange depictions of Native Americans. The museum was a bit of a tourist trap, but it was fun nonetheless!

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Catholic cathedral at the end of Jackson square

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Jackson Square with the cathedral in the background

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The Mighty Mississippi

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Playing dress-up

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A float mid-construction

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We have a T-rex!

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Another cool float

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Happy Thanksgiving?

Besides the food, New Orleans is famous for it's amazing Jazz scene. We first saw Jazz at the famous Preservation Hall, but I unfortunately didn't get an photos of that performance. It was just as you would imagine, a full Jazz band sitting in wooden chairs with the audiences on benches listening intently.

We also got treated to two performances on the famous Natchez, the first was a performance on a steam calliope and the second was from a Dixieland Jazz band that was actually nominated for a Grammy. The last was at a club on Frenchmen street which had an amazing blues band. All dressed in Saints jerseys and playing during the Packers-Saints game, they would play a great tune and all their heads would simultaneously turn to the TV in the bar once each song was done in order to check the score. The Packers unfortunately lost the game, but it was a great set and a wonderful environment for music.

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An unconventional performance on the calliope

You really have to listen to it to appreciate the novelty

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Live jazz on the Natchez

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Live blues at Vaso

After the food and music, New Orleans is also renowned for its hauntings. It was the home of Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau as well as serial killer and socialite Daphine LaLaurie. If you've seen "American Horror Story: Coven," you may remember Marie Laveau (played by Angela Bassett) and Daphine LaLaurie (played by Kathy Bates) as characters in the show. We were able to not only see their respective houses, but we were also shown where Jessica Lange was living for both "Coven" and "Freak Show."

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The Nicholas Cage Masoleum

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Homer Plessy's masoleum

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Restoring Marie Laveau's masoleum

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Delphine LaLaurie's mansion in the French Quarter

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Glare in the Photo

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More glare

If you look closely in the last three pictures, you can see what look like rain drops on the lens. It was a completely dry night, but every time I took pictures I would get this circular glare in the photos. I kept cleaning the lens because I thought the camera was dirty, but no matter what I did to the camera, I kept getting the glare. When I showed the tour guide the photos, he slowly smiled and asked me to email him the photos.

He described that the glare is hypothesized to actually be spirits that haunt the buildings in the area where terrible things have happened. The house in the above three photos is the site where numerous slaves were tortured and murdered by New Orleans socialite and serial killer Madame Delphine LaLaurie. These slaves were only discovered when a fire broke out at the mansion and screams were heard from the attic where they were imprisoned. An angry mob eventually ran her out of town, and she's believed to have died somewhere in Paris.

I'm not saying that I believe in spirits necessarily, but I am definitely open-minded enough to allow for the possibility that such things exist. Occam's Razor dictates that these are simply just dust particles. I'm admittedly very skeptical, but it's an interesting hypothesis nonetheless. The rest of our pictures were some random pictures that we saw as we trekked on foot from one place to another.

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Slow food movement?

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A portrait that I felt was oddly captivating

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Risque sausage

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We need this sign in LA

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Found the gayborhood!

Although our stay was short, we learned that the people of New Orleans truly love their city. From the second line parades to the "Who dat?" greetings throughout the city to the amazing food, their really is no other city quite like it. People often talk about Bourbon Street, but if you've been to Patpong in Bangkok or Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, it's the same thing - idiotic tourists getting drunk and leaving an absolute mess. I took what I consider the most accurate picture of Bourbon Street (below) complete with cigarette butts, beads and stale beer, but this street is NOT New Orleans at all. As our nice cab-driver Nancy said, "please don't judge our city by that street."

I've all but forgotten about Bourbon street, but I will remember and treasure the music on Frenchmen Street, the food on Louisiana Avenue and the horrors on Royal Street for many years to come.

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Bourbon Street - Just another tourist trap

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Who dat?

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This town loves their team

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Indian wedding - New Orleans style!

Posted by mbeymer 20:15 Archived in USA

The Southern Peninsula

Exploring Drake Bay and Caño Island

sunny 80 °F

We were dropped off at the tiny Sansa terminal at 7 AM to board our flight to Drake. The commercial Cesna only sat twelve passengers, and we could easily tap the shoulders of the pilot and co-pilot from our seats. As the little plane taxied down the runway, we exchanged hesitant glances with the other two passengers as the exhaust from the much larger 747s shook the tiny craft while we waited our turn on the tarmac. Like a scene out of The Little Engine that Could, our diminutive plane finally had its turn to power down the runway and lift off, banking to show a beautiful panorama of the central valley below.

The fifty minute flight to the Southern Peninsula was breathtaking with the flight path taking us along the Pacific coast. Danielle and I had recently ridden in a helicopter over the Pacific as a birthday gift from her parents, and the scenery and beauty of the experience was reminiscent of that early ride. As the plane approached the gravel runway, an alert went off that said "WARNING! TERRAIN AHEAD." We once again traded looks of trepidation with our fellow travelers, but eased into a smooth landing on the unremarkable landing strip.

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Probably the smallest terminal I have ever been to

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Boarding the craft

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Cumulus clouds

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The river meets the ocean

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A faint rainbow outside the window of the plane

Our ride to the hotel was no less uneventful as we packed into the back of an old Toyota 4x4. The driver used his memory to navigate where roads had once been in dryer times, with the water level seemingly come up to the windows as we went through various streams. The truck hit water-filled potholes on the rest of the journey, finally arriving at our domicile for the next two evenings, the Pirate Cove hotel.

We checked into our cabana and relaxed by the beach, taking in the words of George R.R. Martin while lying in the various hammocks that surrounded the property. We also got acquainted with the hotel's resident Basilisk, Pepe, as he trolled the grounds seeking stray morsels.

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Our little cabana

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Resident basilisk, Pepe

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Lounging

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Giving way to purple

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A sky of lava

The next day we were off to dive Caño Island, a paradise situated ten nautical miles off the coast of the Osa peninsula. Our divemaster, Wilson (yes, like the volleyball in Castaway), explained the procedures for the day and we jumped in the water for our first dive at 9 AM at the Barco dive site. Descending 60 feet into the azure abyss, we saw plenty of creatures with notable species including the whitetip reef shark, moray eels, a massive manta ray (it's tail looked as though it was 5 feet long), and a beautiful sea turtle. The lens was unfortunately fogged during the first dive, so none of the pictures came out well, but the second dive did not disappoint.

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Spotted sharpnose puffer

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Matt showing his dive apparel

Due to the depth and time of the dive, we had to let the nitrogen escape our bodies for a bit of time before descending again. We took shelter on the island itself, relaxing in the sunshine and being mindful not to stand under the trees where coconuts were actively bombarding the beach. After about an hour, we jumped back in the boat and went to the second dive site, appropriately named "Anchor," to see some more marine life.

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Welcome to Caño Island

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The boat coming to retrieve us from our respite

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The anchor which gives the second dive site its name

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Matt trying to break the label of amateur diver - no arms!

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The group making our way to the reef

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We had the shark take this one for us

Whitetip reef shark

A tiger snake eel snaking its way along the sand

A turtle gingerly swimming by

A couple of blue spotted jack

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Posing for my safety stop

Spinner Dolphins jumping in our wake on the way back

That night was met with more relaxation, another amazing sunset and a hearty meal that satiated our appetites. We were also treated to a beautiful lightning show as the flashes danced on the horizon with thunder not too far behind. One bolt actually struck the ground at the hotel, and both Danielle and I let out a few expletives after we saw the blinding flash and heard the deafening thunder.

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The sunset with Caño Island on the left

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Taking it in

This was the first international trip together of what will hopefully be many more. We had a great time and built some amazing memories, present blog included. Thank you all for following along on our adventure, and we do hope you'll join us next time. We're off to explore the beauty in the bayou in November, and we hope you'll follow along as we bring you the sites, sounds and majesty of New Orleans.

Posted by mbeymer 16:24 Archived in Costa Rica

Welcome to the Jungle

We got ziplines and caves

rain 55 °F

Our first full day in the Arenal rain forest appropriately started off with a nice deluge of rain as we joined a guide and three intrepid Australians at 7 AM for a guided three mile walk. Our guide taught us how leaf cutter ants go above ground to collect specific leaves to deposit into their nest. These leaves in turn lead to the growth of fungi within the colony which serve as food for the species.

We also got to witness a territorial dispute between two howler monkeys. Although howler monkeys are small in size relative to other species of monkeys, their calls can be heard up to two miles away. We were fortunate enough to witness two monkeys bickering in a tree that was about fifty feet away. We didn't get any good pictures of the dispute, but the sound can definitely be heard in the below video as each tried to lay claim to the tree. With the rain coming down and the seemingly prehistoric sounds, Danielle and I both felt that we had somehow stepped into Jurassic park.

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Surveying the terrain

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The morning mist of the rain forest

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The rain can't damper our spirits

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In front of the first waterfall for the day

A howler monkey dispute

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At the lookout point

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Another beautiful waterfall towards the end of the hike

Just as we walked off the trail to end the hike, the rain stopped and gave way to a bit of sunlight. We shoved some food into our bellies, geared up and got ready for a bit of ziplining over the forest floor. I have ziplined in other places including Puerto Vallarta in Mexico and Chang Mai in Northern Thailand, but this was easily the best ziplining experience I have ever had. We took a short tram up to the the top, received a safety briefing and proceeded to zipline between eight platforms scattered throughout the jungle. After a few practice platforms, our first significant zipline was suspended 1550 feet above the forest floor (see the first video below).

Due to the incredible speed, they had contraptions in place to slow participants down, but you will notice that we both move the handle back and forth slightly to decrease our speed. Even when this action is performed, the force of the stop easy pushes one 90 degrees with both feet pointing towards the sky at the stopping point.

We rode a few other adrenaline-packed lines and the journey ended with two ziplines affectionately named big momma and big daddy. Big momma was over 2060 feet long - that's 0.40 miles! According to their website, the average speed on this zipline is an astonishing 50 miles per hour (see the second video below).

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The tram ride up to the platform

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Suited up and ready to go

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Lake Arenal in the distance

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Armed with our video proof!

Danielle's footage from the highest zipline of the course

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One of the ziplining platforms on the course

Matt's footage from the longest and fastest zipline of the course

We collapsed at the hotel after the adrenaline wore off and later hailed a cab as the sun started to set out to Ecocentro Duanas to see what the rain forest looked like after dark. We got there early so we decided to watch the sunset over the Arenal Volcano and watch as the clouds gently danced over the volcano's cone.

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The Arenal Volcano immersed in a cloud

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Danielle says that if you look closely, it almost looks like a dessert covered in whip cream

The tour was small with our party, a newlywed couple from Las Vegas and our guide named Paz. He explained what we would most likely see and to be careful to walk in the center of the path so that we wouldn't disturb any snakes or brush up against something that may be bothered and decide to retaliate. The first animal we were able to see was the three-toed sloth, relaxing in the tops of a nearby tree. The sloth sleeps between 18 and 22 hours each day and comes down from it's tree only once a week. Once on the ground, the sloth defecates, covers the excrement and then lumbers back up to its tree. The mother sloth will actually give birth to the baby upside down and stay with her young for the first year of its life. Once the baby sloth reaches one year of age, the mother will direct the baby out of the tree, forcing it to find a new home. Sloths can live up to about 30 years, but may die prematurely if caught by a lurking jaguar.

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The entrance to Ecocentro Duanas

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A beautiful flower at the entrance

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A sloth during its extended sleep

Once the sun was fully set, we checked out many of the creatures that are most active at night. Our first stop was to view the butterflies at rest in a conservatory. The butterflies were absolutely massive, and one seemed to start attacking Danielle and I, seemingly out of anger for disturbing its rest. The wings were so big that the flutter against my skin felt like a bird was trying to fly past me. This particular butterfly was very interesting because one side of its wings was patterned like an owl to protect it from predators and the other side was a brilliant blue.

We got to see numerous other insects from a stick bug under a leaf to massive spiders standing frozen on the stems of leaves. We also got to see the famous Costa Rican red-eyed tree frogs and tiny tapirs which were sliding into a creek for an evening swim. Danielle took some amazing pictures of the nightlife, and this tour is a must-see if you visit the Arenal area.

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The chrysalises of the species of butterfly on the left are actually gold colored, no special effects!

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This butterfly's patterns mimic an owl when its wings are retracted

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The top of the wings of the butterfly shown above

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Thoas swallowtail butterfly

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A Costa Rican Red-Eyed Tree Frog

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A snake relaxing on a large leaf

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A resting bat

Zip-lining and night hiking was fun, but it definitely left us in dyer need of a rest day. We spent the day with a small hike to the La Fortuna waterfall, about 20 minutes outside of town. The hike down only took about 20 minutes, and there weren't many people brave enough to take a dip in the pool that surrounded this natural wonder. Danielle and I decided we were up for the challenge, and we made our way slowly across the slippery rocks that met the base of this massive waterfall.

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Right this way

Emerging from the pond to see the spectacle

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The falls from a distance

That afternoon we headed over to the Tabacon hot springs. Many hotels boast hot springs in Arenal, but this is the only one that actually uses water from the volcano's river. The price to visit the hot springs was pricey at $60 a person, but the assortment of pools and beauty of the grounds more than justified the price. Danielle and I relaxed in each pool for about thirty minutes, letting the warm water nurse our sore upper and lower body muscles made sore from the white water rafting and jungle trekking, respectively. I usually don't like resorts AT ALL, but this was one of the best things we have done this trip and was definitely worth the price of admission.

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The entrance to the resort

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A beautiful bridge connecting two pools

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A beautiful sculpted water fall

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Cascades of the thermal pool

Our last day in Arenal was spent 45 minutes outside of town in place called the Venado Caverns. These caverns were discovered by indigenous peoples hundreds of years ago during a hunt when their prey escaped underground. Legend has it that the indigenous people looked at these caves as the gates of hell, and they were terrified to enter the rock formation. In the early 20th century, the caves were rediscovered and mapped by a family that had purchased the land. The caves were opened to tourists in the early 1990s, and this set of caves is the only set open to tourists of the 20 known cave complexes scattered throughout the district.

This cave was formed by an underground river that is still very much active. This means that we had the chance to get dirty and wet as we crawled through tight spaces in search of the animals that lay inside. We were privileged enough to see common rain frogs, tailless scorpions, and an amazing red legged tarantula. We also saw a lot of bats, and a lot of bat guano, as they scattered around in response to our inquiring head lamps.

I was so excited that most of the pictures from my GoPro did not come out well due to the combination of my shaky hand and poor lighting, but I have a few videos that show what we saw in the caves. Like the lost GoPro in Thailand, sometimes the sites you see have to remain in that place. I call it nature's price for giving you the chance to see her beautiful secrets. It's a shame I didn't get better pictures and video, but those caves will always hold great memories.

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As excited as a kid on Christmas

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A lizard frozen to the side of the cavern wall

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A stalactite formation

To give you an idea of how dark it can get

The red legged tarantula

According to locals, the Arenal volcano is covered in clouds about 70% of the time, so we weren't too surprised that we never got a complete glimpse of the mountain. As we ate lunch after our cave exploration, the clouds opened up one time before we departed Arenal that afternoon for the South of the Country. We're off for diving in the Southern part of the country, more to come in a few days!

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A break in the clouds

Posted by mbeymer 19:58 Archived in Costa Rica

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