Coming and Going…. Playa Hermosa de Jaco

comingandgoing

 

Wow! I’ve spent the last three years going on day trips to Jaco (last week was my 3-year anniversary, thank you very much) because it was so simple to take the bus there and back for day trips. Well, I’ve got news for you… it’s just as simple (about $12 more with a cab back and forth from Jaco) to go to Playa Hermosa just down the beach.

A friend mentioned to me that it was now possible to buy and reserve bus tickets to Jaco online, so i tried it out and it was pretty easy, although since I don’t have a printer I needed to ask a friend to print them out for me. (transportesjacoruta655.com) The site is only in Spanish but pretty easy to follow the instructions. Use Google Translate if you want language support. You just hand the Jaco bus driver your printed tickets when you board at the Coca Cola Bus Terminal and all is well.

hermosatortugafrontbeach

Having never been to Playa  Hermosa, I was totally shocked, amazed and delighted at this little hamlet of Costa Rican loveliness. I just assumed all beaches here were as commercial as Jaco… not. A friend and I stayed at the Playa Hermosa Tortuga Hotel (tortugadelmar.net), a small 8-unit hotel with pool, a nice hammock, chairs almost immediately on the beach to either watch the surfers and large waves or to relax after long sets if you’re a surfer, and rooms equipped with small kitchen items (coffee maker, microwave, small fridge, eating bar, and all the dishes necessary to use when heating up leftovers from nearby hotel restaurants).

tortugawavestortugabalony

 

 

 

tortugapoolbeach

 

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There aren’t that many places to stay down by the beach, but they all look very nice and are about the same price. There was one beautiful place at the far north section of the beach that seemed to be primarily Ticos (Marea Brava … mareabravacostarica.com) that has two pools and about five buildings that is quite impressive and very family friendly. I’ll definitely consider staying here with family in the future. We ate at three different restaurants there and were pleased with the food and the service at each one. It was a blast to be sitting by ourselves watching the recent  Heredia and Alajuela match over dinner, surrounded by Europeans and/or gringos who could care less. We and the servers/cooks/security people were on our own and clashing with a fun rivalry. A nice night out for the really private stay-at-home person I am.

If you are a bus and taxi cab person, this is an easy getaway. I’ll continue to shop in Jaco, but for overnight trips and a quiet day under the palms, I’m definitely going to Playa Hermosa from now on.

tortugafronte

A Busy End To Summer Break…

vistaserena

I know for most of you North Americanos there’s alot of head scratching goin on with the title of this blog. The summer school break here in Costa Rica begins around the third week of November and ends next week. The time off of babysitting has flown by. I’ll be able to extend it, though, by connecting with friends who are visiting, and I’ll actually be acting as a tourist myself.

My first visit will be with friends from my last job in North America. They’re staying at the Los Suenos Marriot, located on the central pacific…

sjols_phototour124

As you can see, they won’t be suffering too much. It’s one of the premier 5 star resorts in the country.

Then, a couple of days later a friend arrives and we have a week of scheduled touristy delights to savor.. first stop: double decker bus tour of downtown San Jose…

San_Jose-Costa_Rica

I’m really looking forward to jumping on and off the bus during the day to see sights I haven’t gotten to yet, plus share those that I love… here’s one I haven’t been to: The Jade Museum, which is supposed to have the world’s largest collection of jade objects.

jade-museum-costa-rica

The next day is devoted to the LaPaz Waterfall Gardens, where we’ll see seven different large waterfalls, butterfly gardens, hold toucans and hummingbirds, and get alot of strenuous hill climbing back up the hill.

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Third day we’ll take a 4-hour bus trip to Manuel Antonio where the beaches in the park are supposed to be the most beautiful and clean in the country:

Manuel-Antonio-National-Park-Costa-Rica-11

The park is located at a particular geographic area called The Whales Tail:

Manuel-Antonio-Park

Fourth day we’ll begin our trek back home, stopping in Jaco for one night so my friend can go out and listen to live music and hang with the locals:

jaco_4

I can hardly wait to finally begin my time as a tourist in this beautiful country. So much of these past (almost) three years have been spent settling in, really. Every three months until I get my residency I’ve been on Visa Runs (leaving the country for Panama or Nicaragua) in order to receive another 3 month stamp. So, these Runs have been my opportunity to see a little bit of the country up until now…. and to get acquainted a bit with those two other countries as well (my fave is Nica land). If it weren’t for my familia here

favefamilia

and the opportunity to babysit my lovely granddaughters, I wouldn’t be as grounded as I’ve become… grounded enough to allow myself to be a tourist!

Some butterflies are gray…

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And although they are gray, they are as incredibly beautiful as those extremely colorful ones you see most often… this is a beautifully captured photo from Tom Murray I found at: http://www.pbase.com/tmurray74.

So…. haven’t been online with my blog for almost a year… and as I look back on the ‘why’s’ of that a gray butterfly came to mind. I wasn’t as vivacious, as motivated to communicate with others as I was with myself. But, it’s all good, right? Turns out that way every time… I moved three times within this last year and that plumb wore me out! And in each place I didn’t have a reliable internet connection…. but… NOW I DO!!!! Yippee, I’m Back!

I’ve been to central markets (centro mercados) where you could find almost anything you were looking for. Every mid-sized town has an indoor mercado where the fruits and veggies are enticing and endless:

centromercadoveggies

 

And to outdoor markets, called Ferias, where the focus on organic is paramount:

feria-verde-de-aranjuez

I’ve been on Visa Runs to Grenada Nicaragua four times and let me tell you, I enjoy it there much more than Panama, although it’s just as hot, if not hotter.

So, I’ve been busy expanding my horizons, but primarily my time has been spent babysitting my youngest granddaughter who is an absolute pistol, and experiencing the elder granddaughter emerge with her hormones and all that jazz that accompanies a young lady developing… yikes galore! Still, throughout all this downtime I’ve had from you faithful friends, I continue to live in a small barrio with roads like this:

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And vistas like this everywhere:

barva

I continue to love this country every single day and wake up at 5:30 am, after most ticos have awakened, to watch the sun fill the valley behind my apartment, and the cows being delivered for the day to chomp down the chaff therein.

One of the reasons I think I’ve had this downtime was to discover a little knack for painting… purely whimsical representations:

pineappleposter14birdposter14butterflyposter14

And to develop a deeper relationship and understanding of my Journey process, of which you can find more information here.

So, I’m alive and very well and living in a 3-bedroom typical tico apartment two blocks from my kids and on the main drag between barrios, with a store next door and a Cafe Britt Outlet store across the street…. room for you to stay a coupla days… so, come on down and I’ll show you around! More to come…

 

Staying Busy in Costa Rica – Coffee Coasters

There’s alot of time on your hands when you retire, so finding a hobby or an activity that not only fills up the time but can actually feel like time doesn’t exist when you are doing it is imperative. I create coffee coasters.

Finished coasters

Finished coasters

A couple of people have asked how to make them, so today I’m sharing a step by step tutorial.

Supplies: poster board, paints, brushes, straight edge, ruler and lotsa patience

I use both tempera and acrylic paints

I use both tempera and acrylic paints

You will need a straight edge, ruler, a sized template for final product

You will need a straight edge, ruler, a sized template for final product

To get started, you need to paint the poster board, deciding whether you want a plain background or a colorful one. I do a colorful one, allowing the paint to thoroughly dry between each layer. I also use sponge brushes for this initial process, doing up to six layers of different colors.

In progress, this medium sized poster board has 4 layers of colors, but more to come.

In progress, this medium sized poster board has 4 layers of colors, but more to come.

Once the paint gets to where you want the background to be and it is totally dry, you’ll cut the poster board into strips, and then into individual coasters.

Here I'm showing you how a finished coaster is used to line up the ruler to cut a strip of painted poster board. Since these are handmade there are going to be some differences in final sizes.

Here I’m showing you how a finished coaster is used to line up the ruler to cut a strip of painted poster board. Since these are handmade there are going to be some differences in final sizes.

Use your primary template to line up your ruler, then very intentionally and with great concentration use the straight edge to cut a strip of poster board from the main painted piece. You then cut each individual coaster from that strip.

Use your primary template to line up your ruler, then very intentionally and with great concentration use the straight edge to cut a strip of poster board from the main painted piece. You then cut each individual coaster from that strip.

Determine now if you are ready to waterproof each coaster, or go onto the next step, which is drawing/tracing images onto each one.

Trace the outline of your image onto the backside of a cold cereal box and then cut it out and use a permanent marker around the edges.

Trace the outline of your image onto the backside of a cold cereal box and then cut it out and use a permanent marker around the edges on the coaster.

Use carbon paper to trace the images onto your coaster if your background is light enough or just one color.

Or use carbon paper to trace the images onto your coaster if your background is light enough or just one color.

Use your cardboard cutout and a permanent marker to outline the image.

Use your cardboard cutout and a permanent marker to outline the image.

This is your traced butterfly ready for decorating.

This is your traced butterfly ready for decorating.

Decorating the traced object is fun for me – and just like decorating Christmas Cookies, there are never two that turn out the same.

To finish the coasters I use the sponge brush again to paint around the coaster to give the illusion of a frame. Then I use a large brush to cover one side and then the other with polyurethane to waterproof them. Be sure and let them really, really dry at this point. You’re done! Be sure and look for my coasters in the Tico Pod Art Store when you’re next in Jaco!

A River Home in Costa Rica

Looking upriver from the vantage point immediately below my house.

Looking upriver from the vantage point immediately below my house.

Living in Costa Rica is a marvelous experience for many reasons, but for me the primary one is living with nature. I began by living on a farm on a mountain above a small town… pretty close to  my son and his family. That I had family here was a bonus for me and allowed my introduction to the Tico culture and the neighborhood/barrio I was living in a  smoother transition than for those who move here without a connection. Reputation, especially family reputation, has huge importance in this culture. Aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone is interconnected here, so just mentioning a name of someone leads to understanding which family you are from and, thus, who you are. It’s a valuable commodity. I bring up this type of connection because when those moving to this country don’t have family here, the creation of a network within the Tico community has to be dealt with consciously to ensure a comfortable living – and eventually a comfortable place to live. Getting close to the land within a Tico community is difficult without a viable network working on your behalf.

So, here is where I’m living after 2 years on the farm:

View of the front of my house from the river.

View of the front of my house from the river.

When I first moved to Costa Rica, I was lucky enough to find a place on craigslist.org and it worked out as I became acquainted with this new retirement lifestyle. I’d never envisioned living within another neighborhood where English was the primary language; the difference in cultures was alot of what drew me here (not to mention the inability to live on social security in the US or the fact that my son and his family lived here). What endears me to Costa Rica are 1) the people and 2) their connection to the Earth. There’s a respect here that is new to me between those that live with the land instead of on it.

It’s now the rainy season, and by that I mean monsooning every afternoon, so the river is roaring, swollen and loud…

This after days of monsoons... usually the water doesn't reach half the width seen here.

This after days of monsoons… usually the water doesn’t reach half the width seen here.

 

But one of the delights of living above or close to a river is the sound. It’s not white noise. Rivers have their own language, too. Their wildness and unrestrained movements are fascinating to sit and watch. And the birds! So many different types around a river. One day as I was having my morning coffee a young deer wandered into the property. A little later a hawk came charging right at my head through the trees with a baby bird in it’s claws, screeching at the mother bird hazing it from behind. And there are mot mot’s living just a bit of a drop from where I sit with my coffee, so I get to watch their blue and green feathers flitting through the forest most of the day. This is a very special place, and I wouldn’t be living here if it weren’t for the 2 years spent establishing myself in this community. I feel those 2 years were kind of like an initiation, a time during which I was observed and accepted.

View of the living room end of my house. Notice the windows... incredible, like living outside.

View of the living room end of my house. Notice the windows… incredible, like living outside.

So, I feel that I’ve earned this place. I feel that I’m living among the trees and birds and the river life. Living in a house close to the water like this is not all roses, though. Everything, even my clothes, are damp. I have to sweep and mop the floors every day because of the wind and walking in all kinds of detrius from the trees and grounds. It’s a bit moldy and there are bugs galore all day and especially at night around the lights even in the house because the house is old and not as plumb around the windows and doors as I’ve been used to… and there is wildlife that lives and then dies all around me. Squirrels who use an adjacent limb as a diving board to land on my tin roof, possums climbing over the roof at night moving from one set of trees to another, ants that are simply incessantly into everything. And then this:

Don't know if it's dead or resting and haven't had the guts to go back and see if it's still there or has slithered to parts unknown, hopefully not my yard..... the door is closed just in case!

Don’t know if it’s dead or resting and haven’t had the guts to go back and see if it’s still there or has slithered to parts unknown, hopefully not my yard….. the door is closed just in case!

It did turn out to be actually dead, so soon the vultures will gather and we’ll have a hellovatime keeping the dogs away from the carcass as well. But it’s all about the nature, the life of which includes so many wonderful surprises and mysteries and glowing fairy lights at night.

Incredible April: Granada, Granny Nanny & Great New House

Astrologically, April was supposed to be a b___ buster, and for me that turned out to be totally true even tho I’m not the correct gender. First, I had to find and move to a new home; Second, I had to go on my second Visa Run to Granada Nicaragua; and Third, I learned what being a granny nanny really means… not actually in that order, but suffice it to say, the month was one helluva ride…

Here’s a coupla pics of my new home:

View from my new front door

View from my new front door

View to the left of my front door

View to the left of my front door

View to the right of my front door

View to the right of my front door

Beautiful, isn’t it? Situated above what is now a roaring river with the recent rains, it’s a pristine, private casita… all I would ever ask for. There are birds galore, the sounds of the river, and I’ve been adopted by one of the property’s dogs who comes and goes, occasionally dropping by for a hug and a scratch. A mot-mot nest is just over the embankment from the front door and there are now baby squirrels tumbling about the trees in front of the computer window. Paradise found. This being the second move for me within six weeks, has cemented my decision never to move again.

I recently enjoyed my second Visa Run to Granada Nicaragua where I went on two jaunts – one around the Isletas in Lake Nicaragua (of which there are 136 from a volcanic eruption), and the other on land in a horse drawn carriage around the town itself. I stayed at a new place for me – Hotel Patio del Malinche – http://www.patiodelmalinche.com/

This Hotel is the bomb! I’ve written a review in Trip Advisor about my experience there. Short story: the place is a beautifully restored colonial home that I can’t even begin to imagine living in as a family because of its size. The facilities are clean and inviting; the staff incredibly accommodating and friendly; it’s one block off the tourist drag; the price is great and the pool just the right size. It’s now my go-to hotel in Granada.

The trip to Granada was on Ticabus and I’ll never travel another way there because they take care of most of the immigration/customs process and it’s as quick and painless as it can get for a border crossing. Seven hours on a bus is grueling, especially when the overhead booming tv’s are trying to show movies that aren’t interesting to me…. although I will say that seeing Jurassic Park while traveling through the same type of landscape was a little bit weird.

This was the second time in Granada and the second time I used Tierra Tours for jaunts around Granada. (Another Travel Advisor review) The Isleta Tour was incredible, not only for the views, but for the history of Granada and Nicaragua. Evidently 136 islands were created as a result of a volcanic eruption; must have been one heckofa boom! These individual islands are either inhabited by individuals or are for sale. The price of each varies but the mean is around $300k… not much for your private island, and that includes a house already built if you’re lucky. I guess the only drawback is the need to drain the septic tank regularly as they’re particularly small. Electricity and dish reception for cable and internet are already installed on most of them as well. It’s seen as a way to make money by the government and the places I saw in this teensy tour were a mix of magnificent mansions and/or very nice homes, or the tico-type…. course, most of them have to put up with these tours passing by regularly all day long… just sayin. Here’s some photos from the tour:

View from atop the Pirate Fort to one of the small islands on the Isleta Tour

View from atop the Pirate Fort to one of the small islands on the Isleta Tour

Oropenda nests

Oropenda nests

Kingfisher

And then we went on a horse-drawn carriage tour through the urban areas of Granada. Let me tell ya, if you ever want to know more about William Walker and his imperious/egoic challenge to the countries of Latin America, go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Walker_%28filibuster%29

He was an absolute creep who burned down Granada en total. We saw many burned churches that have been restored, with the surrounding stairs or gates still showing the charring.

We also saw the original train station that ran from the port of Lake Nicaragua in Granada to other primary locations in the country carrying fruits, tobacco, vegetables, etc. When the only female President of Nicaragua created the national roads system in the country, which coincided with the train system breaking down for the last time, the station was mothballed until it’s current President decided to restore the building and create an Art Institute that could be utilized by high school aged students.

Original train station, currently converted into an Art Institute/School for high schoolers

Original train station, currently converted into an Art Institute/School for high schoolers

Quite fancy wooden train carriage for the politicos and rich

Quite fancy wooden train carriage for the politicos and rich

Steel train carriages for the poor

Steel train carriages for the poor

While touring, the driver/guide also showed us these little burial containers for the ashes of family members who died during the Sandinista uprising. They were aligned along a main arterial of the city away from the touristy avenue. We were also shown a huge, and I mean gigantic, area where the original hospital was located. It had been destroyed in an earthquake. Current plans for the location include restoring the reception areas and utilizing the remainder of the area for a University for Art, the City Hall, plus outdoor areas for vendors/ferias and indigenous art markets.

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I thought this was a wonderful coincidence when taking a picture of a family playing in Lake Nicaragua

I thought this was a wonderful coincidence when taking a picture of a family playing in Lake Nicaragua

You can barely see the heron trolling on Lake Nicaragua's shoreline

You can barely see the heron trolling on Lake Nicaragua’s shoreline

 

Aside from all this frivolity, my son’s father and my ex-husband died unexpectedly mid-April. Thus my nanny granny note in the header. The day I moved into my new place my son left for the US for ten or so days. Two days in my new casita and I was off to Granada for one full day, returning to do the nanny stuff… an incredible spate of time in which the connection with the family overall was strengthened and I learned to let go of the children when parents returned. That was surprisingly difficult to do. Mostly all mine during the day, when the parent/s returned, it was time to let go and step aside. I’ve read so many books with nannys who get possessive… now I understand that fine balance between granny and nanny that I’d objectified for decades. Long live healthy successful nannies, is what I say! They deserve special grace for their ability to meet and understand this very specific challenge. So my son is now returned, and I’ve now the wonderful opportunity to simply chill in my new place. I’m in earth heaven here.

 

 

Living Arrangements in Costa Rica…

I just moved about a month ago. After two years in a rural setting in the mountains, I’m now in town..  in urban… in ticolandia. I’m paying less than half the rent in half the space and it’s an eye-opener. Don’t get me wrong. I like this new place, especially because it’s amongst locals and their lively lives. But I like it for alot of other reasons, the primary one being that I can save money at this place… which I need so that I can apply for Residency. Since it’s such a dramatic change, I thought I’d share with you the range of possible options for homes here in Costa Rica.

First of all, construction … concrete. It’s tropical here – hot and sweaty. For most of the country’s population, life in either the city or the country is fraught with not only the heat, but dust, bugs, next door neighbors, tin roofs and cats who like to hunt for birds on them.

Concrete construction.

Concrete construction.

I don’t know the ‘why’ of it, but concrete is not so much of a sound barrier… just sayin… My apartment is built onto the side of the owner’s home, which is behind a huge metal sliding garage door. Their house and my apartment are underneath a warehouse type roof structure. And the owner of the place built this little jewel himself. You can tell,  believe me. It’s a railroad apartment with myriad locks on the doors. Evidently at one point there were two different doors into the two primary rooms of the place, and these rooms shared the bathroom that was built between them. These rooms were rented separately. When I came to look at the place they were shocked I wanted both rooms, which turned into a living room and a bedroom… I guess there are many people who work so much here that having a room to simply crash in is common. I saw that in other places we looked at. I realized finally that I wasn’t seeing more than two rooms during our search, and no windows to outside. There is a law here that you cannot build a house that looks into another home, apartment, whatever. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why these places we were visiting were, to me, dismal. Sure, there are houses with plenty of windows here in Costa Rica, but most of them are covered. You can’t see in, you can’t see out. I’m sure this began with the idea that being in a sheltered concrete spot created protection from the sun. Another reason I was seeing smaller compact apartments had to do with the fact that I live alone, and how much space does one person need? That’s an interesting set of thoughts here in Costa Rica where familial generations live together in very tight spaces… In the US a 2-bedroom place usually means three or so people; here it could mean anywhere from 4-6. And did I mention concrete construction does not harbor secrets? No sound barriers? My place might be a bedroom with an open door in the owner’s house. Noise works both ways, and noises of all types.

But back to the original premise of this article… types of living spaces here in Costa Rica:

There are mansions here with fake lakes.

There are mansions here with fake lakes.

A colorful wooden house.... with a tin roof.

A colorful wooden house…. with a tin roof.

Adjacent homes in city/town spaces.

Adjacent homes in city/town spaces.

There's an out-of-country design influence here.

There’s an out-of-country design influence here.

Photo Courtesy of: helloimscott.com.  Family spending a day at the beach.

Photo Courtesy of: helloimscott.com.
Family spending a day at the beach.

All of these different types of places offer a living that’s comfortable in it’s own right. The European inspired designs are much more expensive, of course, since they’re inhabited by those who have considerably more money to spend than the ticos I know do. It’s the less generous spaces that intrigue me because they’re authentic to the country and the culture. I’m learning alot in this new space I’m living in and I’m proud to be sharing life in a neighborhood of diverse types of homes and living  arrangements. I feel like I’m in the soup of the country as a new spice for the rest of the folks who live around me here. It’s a responsibility I’m aware of to represent the expat in the midst of the locals.  One of these places is my new spot… can you figure out which one?

My new front door.

An exterior front door that’s actually interior.

 

Costa Rican condominiums.

Costa Rican condominiums.

Rural, colorful, along a dirt road.

Rural, colorful, along a dirt road.

There are colorful detached, concrete homes with tin roofs.

There are colorful detached, concrete homes with tin roofs.