Category Archives: Nature

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…

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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

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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…

graybutterfly

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…

 

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.

Tortuguera, Costa Rica…

My second trip this month was with family to the Atlantic side of the country, into Tortuguera country… where you would expect a dinosaur to jump out from the jungle or a snake to fall from a tree at any moment.

It's wild Jurassic Park territory!

It’s wild Jurassic Park territory!

The weather is humid and hot, beautiful and wild. The Lodge we stayed at – Mawamba Lodge – (grupomawamba.com) offers round-trip bus transport to and from San Jose barrios and hotels, the last leg of which is by boat through the canals to the Lodge which is only accessible by boat or plane.

Boat that transports passengers from bus dock to lodge and back again.

Boat that transports passengers from bus dock to lodge and back again.

But let me introduce you to our guide, Frank. He met us on the bus as it left downtown San Jose and stayed with us the entire trip which lasted three days and two nights.

Frank Simms, our tour guide in Tortuguera. Find him at frank-simms.com, or call 506.8826.3305. Fully fluent English/Spanish, Costa Rican, heckofa nice guy.

Frank Simms, our tour guide in Tortuguera. Find him at frank-simms.com, or call 506.8826.3305. Fully fluent English/Spanish, Costa Rican, heckofa nice guy.

Known by all the locals, positive and totally fluent in English. He’s a Costa Rican tico with exemplary English skills and knows the country of Costa Rica inside and out. Frank’s available for private tours of all types and can hook you up for a tremendously comfortable tour of all or parts of the beauty found throughout the country (frank-simms.com) … but back to our trip…

Places to stay in Tortuguera. The little town is at the bottom.

Places to stay in Tortuguera. The little town is at the bottom.

Here you can see all the lodges located on this wonderful bank of land located between the ocean and the main canals of Tortuguera. Here’s an aerial picture of the Lodge:

Between the canal and the ocean.

Between the canal and the ocean.

It’s a large place and extremely well kept. Our itinerary on the first day included stopping for breakfast after pickup in San Jose; a look at banana plantations along the way; arrival at the dock where our boat delivered us to the Lodge after a 20-minute or so trip on the water; a get-acquainted with the property chat from the Lodge General Manager, lunch (way yummy food!); swimming in the huge pool; a boat ride to the little burg of Tortuguera with a walk back to the Lodge; and dinner.

Our second day included an early morning (optional) 5:30am tour of the local canals where lots of nature was seen and experienced in an open boat; an afternoon tour of the gardens, the turtle enclosure, butterfly enclosure and frog enclosure; and another open boat tour in the afternoon (included) of the canals…. where sunburn instead of the cold air during the morning tour was heartily enjoyed by all participants! Swimming, breakfast, lunch and dinner were included as well. Along the way during all of these activities, even in the restaurant, Frank was very busy answering questions, taking photos (of which you’ll see some of his work on his website), spoofing with the locals and other guides, and generally making everyone feel very comfortable. Here’s a picture of the kids enjoying one of the boat tours:

5:30am tour Tortuguera canals - Kids trying to stay warm in front, Frank the tour guide in back.

5:30am tour Tortuguera canals – Kids trying to stay warm in front, Frank the tour guide in back.

Interestingly, there were only those in our group who were actually Costa Rican… the Lodge was full of Europeans, people from Denmark, Germany, the US to name a few. So… Very popular international destination.

The ocean is wild, fierce and strong on this side of the country and particularly along this stretch of coastline. There are four types of huge turtles who come here to lay their eggs, so there are ecological outposts here to protect the turtles predators (including humans) and hatchlings as they make their way to the water after leaving the nest. Females return every four years to lay eggs and the males never return. We were told not to swim in the ocean as the undertows were particularly strong here.

The little village of Tortuguera is about five blocks long and two, maybe three, wide. Teensy, caribbean-like in the colors of people and buildings. You can find all kinds of souvenirs here, including fine jewelry and art. There are sodas and a couple of restaurants and a local school that serves all ages.  It’s provincial and the poverty is evident, and I hoped in my heart that the money spent in the little town helped those who looked less fortunate.

Our last day included breakfast (If I could have bought the bread back home, believe me, I would have…. I seriously considered stuffing my purse with it!) As it was I had two pieces of toast and then two pieces of french toast for breakfast… my syanara (sp!) to bread for a while – with memories I’ll cherish… After breakfast we gathered our luggage, got back on the boat, arrived at the dock to meet our bus, then stopped for lunch before arriving back in San Jose.

What a trip. What an incredible geographic and biological education. It was all busy and interesting enough to keep all of us entertained. Not expensive at all for the value received. Highly recommended. I’ll leave you with this last happy picture:

Fantastic Fun at Tortuguera!

Fantastic Fun at Tortuguera!

Beware Poisonous Caterpillars in Costa Rica…

Crapola to the max, man…. I didn’t shake out the clothes on the line before bringing them into the house…

This is what died a month ago inside one of my blouses:

A poisonous caterpillar in Costa Rica

A poisonous caterpillar in Costa Rica

And this is what happenned when I put the blouse on without realizing there was a dead poisonous caterpillar inside the arm of the blouse…

Results of a poisonous caterpillar encounter

Results of a poisonous caterpillar encounter

The results are insidious… what started out as a major ‘ouchie’ cuz of the quills embedded in my skin, ended up continuing to move around my body with results akin to the above. Not pretty, certainly, and itchy painful besides. It happened yesterday afternoon and the pic above was taken this morning… it’s now 24 hours later from the event and I’m experiencing small blisters and peeling skin all over just this one side of my body… this is one of the things that you ‘learn’ and isn’t in any of the books I’ve read about Costa Rica… The lesson: keep away from spiny looking caterpillars! Jeesh. They’re pretty, but trechorous (sp)!

 

A Quick Tour of Beaches…

Jaco beyond the rocky shore

Jaco beyond the rocky shore

Last weekend I went to the beach and the weather cooperated in the midst of the rainy season…. which is actually a misnomer because during the rainy or green season the world is lush and breathtaking and it usually only rains for an hour or two in the afternoons, so the mornings and late afternoons are brilliant, sparkling and not to be missed.

I’d booked a tour with my friend Roberto, who does tours all over the country. He’s a gentleman with a fantastic sense of humor and gracious sensibiilty. If you need help creating an itinerary, or a pickup from the airport and/or transfers throughout the country, you couldn’t do better. And he speaks English fluently!

Tour Captain Roberto (roberto76543@yahoo.com)

Tour Captain Roberto (roberto76543@yahoo.com)

We were supposed to meet up early and go to Quepos, but my bus connections were slower than usual so I missed the first bus, the second bus was sold out standing room only and packed to the gills, so I waited for the third bus, which got me into Jaco too late to go as far as Quepos from Jaco within the time we had. So we went to Esterillos instead…

Esterillos beach - miles of beach and no one there

Esterillos beach – miles of beach and no one there

I took the pictures in this post and if you don’t agree this is a wonderful vision, then you’re not a tropical person… Esterillos comes in three different locations, actually and this place was the first we visited. It’s MILES of beach… deserted beach. It gets really busy during countrywide vacations when Tico families arrive to camp along the beachfront, and during surfing competitions. This is a pretty good place to surf if you know what you’re doing. The breaks are long here.

Esterillos beach, looking the other way

Esterillos beach, looking the other way

With a gleam in his eyes Roberto told me he wanted to show me The Mermaid of Esterillos, a very prestigious sight as it was only second to the mermaid found in one of the Netherland countries. He was very excited to show it to me. So, we drove for about a half hour or so, taking turns onto dirt roads and climbing and descending potholed sections with chickens in the way and macaws flying overhead, parrots screeching and the smell of salt air wafting around us, and ended up here:

My first introduction to the mermaid in Osterillos

My first introduction to the mermaid in Esterillos

Roberto had gone on and on about this mermaid and how excited he was to show it to me. How important it was to the community and a sight to behold and remember forever…. and this was IT? I have to admit that my first impulse was to hit the guy for tricking me into this seeming ridiculousness, but he just didn’t get it, he was so proud of the mermaid that I just couldn’t say ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, right?’  Well…. actually I did clowningly hit him on the arm and let him know I got the joke. ‘Since we’re here, let’s take a look at the beach,’ he said, so we parked and got out of the car and turned to the beach…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd there she was.

Evidently there was a sculptor who lived with his family here in town. He sculpted out of natural rock in the location in which it was found. He was working on a huge sculpture further down the beach when one day his daughter, who was around 16 or so, died in an accident. His way of grieving and honoring her was to create this sculpture of her. Her face is distinctive as it’s a true rendition of her beauty in life. Originally it was plated in brass and filled with concrete. Very impressive and poignant.

Me with the mermaid in Esterillos.

Me with the mermaid in Esterillos .Last look at Esterillos before going back up north to Herradura and Los Suenos Resort:

Where's the pilot?

Where’s the pilot?

Although the beach had lots of beautiful white sand, it was pocked with tidepools and rocky outcroppings easily walked along. Many hermit crabs and plant life and little fishes in the tide pools. There was even one large enough to accommodate a family who was using it like a swimming pool… which it was. The beauty of this part of the coast was incredible. The little burgs adjacent to the ocean were very very low key. But remember, these two spots were rural compared to the third Esterillos that had many hotels, bars and restaurants. We were in Esterillos West (I think… might have been East) and Esterillos Center.

Next we went to Los Suenos Resort and let me tell ya, it was a resort you could find almost anywhere in the world. It was put together like a village and was on rolling hills that went right into the bay. Very picturesque, very populated with wealthy people. Everything was top notch looking, including the harbor which catered to many many largish boats with on-board captains who saw their owners a couple of times a year… what a life, huh?

Los Suenos Harbor

Los Suenos Harbor

And then to Herradura Beach, which is on the other side of the bay from Los Suenos. Herradura is populated mainly by Ticos who work at resorts or hotels in Jaco and Los Suenos, or those who prefer the less glitzy access to the beauty of the area. We had lunch at a soda immediately across from the local beach lined with palm trees. It’s a safe place to swim, no undertow, no surfing; the bus stop is right there, and the food was delicious and very reasonably priced.

Herradura Beach

Herradura Beach

Another look at the beach before heading back to Jaco..

Herradura beach with Los Suenos across the bay

Herradura beach with Los Suenos across the bay

I’d built a blog for Roberto to advertise his tours of the country (robertoscostaricatours.wordpress.com) and invited him to come over to Hotel Catalina to review how to utilize it the next day. After meeting and shopping for lunch items we arrived back at the hotel and were told he couldn’t stay because the hotel didn’t allow guests or visitors on the property (!) Alas, that ends my enchantment with this hotel which is a real shame cuz I loved staying there, but as I’m making friends and wanting to share time with them there in Jaco, it’s just not a fit that works for management or for me… so, I must discover another wonderful place in Jaco to enjoy relaxing, and rejoicing, in paradise.

Early, early morning in Jaco... saying goodbye to Hotel Catalino

Early, early morning in Jaco… saying goodbye to Hotel Catalina

Antsy…

WARNING!!!

There are pictures of those damn kitchen ants in this post… As most of you know, I am a peaceful person who has learned to reign in an Irish temper ‘issue.’ Well, I thought I had, but these Costa Rican ants are really, excuse me – bugging me!

ants3This is not an uncommon site in my house if I forget to put a spoon in the sink after I’ve served myself a meal with it.  You’ll notice that the entire area around the spoon is spotless. It takes less than a minute for a swarm to show up and attempt to get away with the goods. These ants are smart, too… they’ve learned that when they ‘hear’ me or the vibrations of my using the counter they freeze, hoping I won’t see them I guess. Or maybe they’re hearing me say bad words and that’s the freeze trigger?

ants2This is not an unusual site, unfortunately, if I haven’t cleaned off the counter for an hour after fixing a meal.

This is the deal… most of my life I’ve not had to pay that much attention to keeping surfaces relatively clean – certainly picked up – but relative is, well, a relative word, isn’t it? Yep. Since I’ve not had to deal with pests of this type before my cleaning skills were passable to spontaneous people dropping by my house and having a cup of something in the kitchen while we chatted. But after a year and a half here on a farm in Costa Rica, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that deep cleaning is on the agenda following every single meal I make… or I’ll just continue to get crazier and crazier about the issue.

This is one of the trade offs when living in an original tico house where not every surface falls flush to another surface… nothing’s actually plumb: all window sashes show the sky around at least two of the edges;  there are holes drilled large enough to move piping into the sinks in the kitchen and bathroom, without sealing or caulking to finish the job; there are holes in the walls to run wiring that have not been sealed… you understand where I’m coming from by now. So, it’s either accommodate the ants – which to a certain extent I do by telling them over and over again “I love ya, but if you’re in my house, you’re DEAD!” (maybe that’s why they freeze on the counters …)

ants1So, for a year and a half I’ve lost my temper innumerable times with the ants, none of which survived I’m happy to report, but which also doesn’t mean much cuz there are torrents of them just waiting for the opportunity to replace those who have fallen in battle…

This morning I reached under the counter to pull out a pan to make breakfast and found it covered with dozens…. dozens of ants. That was the last straw. I am now going into bitter battle mode. Time for the boric acid solution which they will voraciously eat and take back to their leader wherever she is, and then the colony will die. Yippee she said dancing with her hands in the air to a happy beat!

At least I won’t have to inhale the ever-present Raid vapors anymore once I have a supply on hand and that’s the good part… the bad part is that I do have guilt about killing an animal, even if it is an ant. I guess that’s why I’ve waited so long to do something about it.  I know, I know, I live in Costa Rica, get over myself.. everyone here deals with ants in their coffee or juice once in a while, but this is just ridiculous. Time to grow some and welcome the Boric Acid Sword of Righteousness!!