Tag Archives: Travel

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

 

 

Recent Granada Nicaragua Visa Run…

Well friends, time for the big update on my recent Visa Run to Grenada, Nicaragua. It was SO much easier than the Panama border because I took Tica Bus who pretty much manages most of the process.

Nice, comfortable bus for an 8 to 9 hour ride.... brutal...

Nice, comfortable bus for an 8 to 9 hour ride…. brutal…

I took the tourist bus leaving San Jose at 12:30 in the afternoon. We arrived at the Nicaragua border about 5 pm. We got off the bus and into a line that included only those of us on the bus. I was sent immediately to the front of the line because I was obviously an older woman… the elderly are respected here in Latin America, and while it’s not fun being reminded that you are old, it is very nice to be given that type of respect. At any rate, I was stamped out of Costa Rica and back in my seat on the bus within three minutes. Next we were taken to the Nicaraguan side. Before we disembarked from the bus, we all gave our Visas plus the entrance fee to the driver who took them into the Nicaraguan Migracion office for stamping. While we waited for him we took all of our luggage and put it on a long table to be gone through by Migracion officials. There were many men at the door to the bus as we left it asking if we wanted help with our luggage. These guys would move your luggage to the table and back to the bus for a fee. There were also money changers there to exchange different denominations for a price. This part was the longest time spent waiting for the driver to get back with our paperwork. We probably waited close to an hour. When he returned he called out the name on the paperwork and each person retrieved theirs and re-entered the bus. This process was wonderful because we didn’t have to walk the long way between these two areas and we were in good hands. Since I don’t have very operable Spanish at this time, it was easy to simply follow the leader and carry on. Next stop: Granada, which took another hour and a half.

I stayed at La Islita Boutique Hotel, laislita.com,  located 2.5 blocks from the main tourist avenue loaded with restaurants, hotels and various types of stores, adjacent to the Cathedral Main Square.

La Islita Reception

La Islita Reception

This is a beautiful colonial hotel, as are many in Granada, built around a huge Mango tree. There are only 8 beautiful and spacious rooms. The rate includes a fantastic and bountiful breakfast. There are many hostels as well as hotels and if you do your research you can find some real deals. My decision to stay at La Islita was totally positive as it totally made me feel safe and secure. All the people working there were helpful about where to go and which tour company to use and where to eat. They don’t use the term “Boutique” loosely either. The entire place was an exquisite treat. Exploring was easy since Granada is not that large a city. The first morning I went for a walk at 6am and had a few surprises …  one of which was the kids sleeping in the middle of the street. I’m not talking adolescents, either. These were kids of 8 to 10 years of age. I don’t know the story there, but I did know that there would be quite a bit of begging and assumed these children were part of that scene. There were guards stationed all around the parks and tourist areas so I didn’t worry too much about them and continued wandering.  The main surprise for me was the colonial nature of the city –  it’s breathtaking; really amazing to glance into open front doors and see lush interior gardens. And the sidewalks are tiled beautifully as well.  At night there were many people who moved their chairs outside onto the sidewalks to catch a breeze. The temperature was pretty similar to Heredia and sometimes Alajuela, Costa Rica – probably hovered around the mid-80’s with humidity that had you swimming in your clothes at 9am. But. There are breezes off Lake Nicaragua that lighten that load pretty regularly, plus La Islita had a/c in the rooms and that helped. I can tell you that that humidity was not at all helpful to me when shopping for underwear I had forgotten to pack for the trip…. it was torture, but there were stores like Ropa Americana (new or second hand clothing from the US) that can be found along the street adjacent to the Central Market.

I found most of the information I needed for this trip at wikitravel.org/en/Granada_(Nicaragua). 

Places I shopped that I can heartily recommend include:

Soy Nica for leather goods – facebook.com/soynica.dk

and, Ole’ Ole’ for unusual pieces of art, clothing, ceramics, and furniture. Other wonderful finds included La Calzada Centro de Arte, where an expat teaches one on one art classes of all levels in an open studio adjacent to a restaurant. You can find her at: nicaragua-art.com. She provides canvases at cost plus lets you use the paints and brushes. Nice place. She’s a very generous person who really believes everyone should discover their inner artist and invite them to come out to play!

I went to three eateries while there: El Zaguen which serves the most mouthwatering, tender steak you’ll ever have; El Camello which has tremendous art and really good food and is only a block from La Islita; and Don Carlos Pizza which I was very happy with, located on the main tourist plaza.

El Camello Mediterranean restaurant one and a half blocks from La Islita Hotel... my go to place for late lunch/early dinner. Good prices and the food is marvelous.

El Camello Mediterranean restaurant one and a half blocks from La Islita Hotel… my go to place for late lunch/early dinner. Good prices and the food is marvelous.

I went on one tour to Masaya Volcano through Tierra Tours tierratour.com. It was about a 4 hour tour that included going through the Interpretive Center, arriving at the edge of the crater, then traveling to the  city of Masaya where we walked around and shopped at the Old Central Market, then off to a community center in an adjacent village where ceramic pots are made. It’s a fantastic place and was the highlight of the tour for me. The government supports the center and kids from the very impoverished community are encouraged to learn how to build these ceramics – from helping to gather the clay(s) of various colors – no artificial substances whatsoever – to learning to throw and bake the pots in the same way their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.

One afternoon was spent lazing by the pool here:

$7 for a day pass to hang out around and in the pool at Hotel Granada.

$7 for a day pass to hang out around and in the pool at Hotel Granada.

A final plug for Seeing Hands Blind Massage, located on that main tourist thoroughfare across from the blue school in Euro Cafe. The cost is very inexpensive for the professionalism and incredible work they do. I had one guy give me a massage for three days in a row – no, not really – just one hour-long massage on three consecutive days. Wow, WHEW, now that’s a kind of therapy I hadn’t expected and the breakthroughs for me emotionally were really powerful. Highly recommended. Fantastic service for those folks who learn to be practitioners of the art and really understand the body. I’ll go back to Granada just for massage!

After three nights and four days it was time to go back to San Jose. This time I left on the early bus, and this is what we bussed into:

No kidding folks... it's a busy border and this pic doesn't show you the line of people who are surrounding a large block waiting to get to this point.

No kidding folks… it’s a busy border and this pic doesn’t show you the line of people who are surrounding a large block waiting to get to this point.

First, the bus driver gathered all of our Visas as before, along with the price of departure, and we waited for his return to call out our names and re-board the bus to the Costa Rican Migracion building. The picture above is very close to what was actually waiting for us there. So many people I was disheartened. Since I’m considered an elder, I was again placed in the line for pregnant women, children and their parents along with us old folks. The Agent at the Costa Rican window wanted to see a departure from Costa Rica ticket – he didn’t say what kind of ticket, whether it was bus or plane. I had a plane ticket (make sure there are dates on your copy) and that appeased him. I noticed on the paperwork that it was asked if you’d been out of Costa Rica for three days. I hadn’t noticed that on previous border crossings. After he gave me my 90-day stamp I was processed out into an airline-like area where a big machine xrayed everything I was carrying. There were five militia guys surrounding a table next to where the baggage came out of the machine but cuz of my age and guilelessness I guess, I wasn’t asked to give up my baggage for review, so that was the end of that process. I did get through the entry more quickly because I was older, but then had to wait more than a couple of hours for those others on our bus who had to go to the end of the line at least a block away.

The trip to Granada was about the same amount of time on the bus both ways, but the process at the border crossing was much smoother and well organized then what I’d experienced at the border with Panama. And I enjoyed Granada so incredibly much more than I did in David or Boquete, Panama. I’ll definitely be a regular on this trip with Tica Bus to Granada!

Visa Run to Grenada, Nicaragua…

Yes, it’s almost that time again… another Visa Run this coming October to extend my stay another 90 days.  This time I’m going to Grenada, which means the Penas Blancas border, hothothothot weather, and new adventures. I’ve not been through this border before. From what I’ve heard, I better be prepared with water on hand, a hat, and lots of patience.

I’m gofrontera-penas-blancas-460x270ing to take Tica Bus there and back. Since the earliest bus is at 3am, I’ll stay at their little hotel, located above the bus station, the night before. The cost is minimal, but you get a clean room with private bathroom for only about $20, so it’s worth it!  The trip has a couple of options – one of which is Executive Class and the other Tourist Class. I’m gonna take the Exec bus because it’s faster, they stop for breakfast, have a bathroom on board, and help you through Customs… well, at least they point you in the right direction.

photo of tica bus

As you can see, the bus is plenty plush and comfortable. Sometimes, though, they have the a/c cranked up to uncomfortable levels, so as hot as you know it’s going to be in Nicaragua – no matter where you go – it’s prudent to bring a sweatshirt, at least….. some people even travel with blankets!

I found an incredible site online as I was searching for potential places to stay in Grenada…. wikitravel.org/en/Grenada_(Nicaragua). It’s a thoughtful listing of lodgings, activities, eateries and asides regarding everything Granada broken down from budget to very comfortable options.

I’ve chosen Casa San Francisco Hotel which has a Visa Run special at 3 nights for $139/single and $159/double, which is an outstanding deal for this boutique hotel.

Casa San Francisco

hotelcasasanfrancisco.com. It looks like a great spot in a great location. With a pool, a/c, cable tv, wifi, and an ambiance that feels personal, I’m really looking forward to this vacation!

Dawn…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADawn from my front porch … the Central Valley below is a glittering pink panorama.

Dawn’s a special time when the Oropendas call to signal it’s time to get to work, the rest of the birds are chirping or yelling – depending… all adjusting to what the weather has presented them with as the sun is rising.  Usually the farm cats or squirrels are crawling over the tin roof, and at one point all the dogs on the mountainside break into the most amazing caterwauling I’ve ever heard – a special kind of dog concert. … I’m sure they’re talking to one another, maybe checking in to let one another know their status? I don’t know, but they do it at dawn and again at around dusk.

Don’t know why I’ve awoken at 1 am the past couple of mornings. The only downside to it, really, is missing dawn… when I wake up this early I usually sleep through dawn, which for me is a disappointment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is my favorite spot at dawn, after standing at the window overlooking the Central Valley sparkling lights while filling the coffee machine, I settle down in my overstuffed chair with a cup of coffee and watch the sun come up on the jungle behind my casita… comfortably ensconced with the smell of Cafe Britt coffee wafting around me, contemplating my day and what I’d like to make of it.

Lately my life has changed. I’m beginning my second year here in Costa Rica. I’ve gone through the honeymoon stage and am now really feeling settled. Retaining the love for this country and the initial delights that captured my heart to begin with a year ago, has offered me a new depth of feeling I haven’t experienced before. To use an analogy: it feels like the flirting/crush stage I’ve had with Costa Rica has now evolved into love – there’s so much more to discover, and there’s all the time in the world to do it. I’m really here to stay and it feels as if  the country is loving me back.

So is my new granddaughter… she’s experiencing a dawn of a different type. And this is how my life has changed recently.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAObserving her discoveries has shifted me into a … what can I call it? A state of grace? I don’t know, but after an afternoon of watching her blossom, I feel a new sense of community with everything around me… and I think that must be part of what she is experiencing. When I get home from babysitting I have this marvelous hangover of that unconditional love we all read and talk about, but rarely hold onto long enough to feel the attendant bliss it provides.

Then… after a stimulating couple of hours…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s time to rest in the hammock for a short, but profound nap…

At this point I’ve been awake for about three hours and it’s about time for me to hit the snore slab for an hour or two before the cacophony of nature welcomes me with a new dawn, and a new opportunity for bliss… night night…

 

 

 

 

My Favorites in Jaco, Costa Rica!

JacopicSurfMy Number 1 favorite thing about Jaco is the beach… surfers, waves…. just listening to the waves crashing is a powerful experience… and then sitting on the beach watching the surfers is a component that simply lulls you into hours of relaxation filled with laughter and gasps. Pure entertainment…. unless you’d like to learn to surf yourself? They’ve got it all here!

Jacopic2A picture of the south end of this 2.5 mile long beach… looks like morning.

Jacopic3NorthAnd here’s a picture of the north end of the beach. This end has quite a few high rise condominium projects. As you can see, the city has been careful to retain the ‘green’ of the natural geography and that lends to the marvelously laid back morning vibe of this little town.

JacoPic1Here’s a picture of the middle of the beach, where you’ll find a nice little park with benches and some tables, plus a nice play structure for the kids.

Around ten it begins to get busy with lots of tourists doing touristy things, or getting ready to be touristy, at any rate.

And speaking of getting touristy, there are lots of things to see and do around Jaco. Since Jaco is only an hour and a half from the capital – San Jose – you’re not far away from zip lining, river rafting, national parks, deep sea fishing… you name it… And that leads me to my second favorite thing about Jaco…

JacoRobertoAn absolutely fabulous tour guide who can chauffeur you around the entire country if you like. Roberto has had 12 years of experience doing just that and as a Costa Rican knows this country very well indeed. What’s special about Roberto is his fantastic attitude, knowledge, willingness to help you out, and total English fluency! I’ve been in this country for a year and a half now and he is by far – in my experience – the person I recommend and trust to make sure my visitors have a relaxing and enjoyable trip. You can reach him via his email at roberto76543@yahoo.com.

So, now we come to my third favorite thing about Jaco…

JacoCatalinaGateLa Catalina Hotel. This is their front gate. As you can see, it is immediately on the beach! It’s on the southern end where the beach is quieter, but still right next to a surf school, so the scene, while quiet, is still fun to watch. They have units with complete kitchens totally stocked with dishes, pots and pans, regular sized refrigerator… and the price is fantastic!

hotelcatalinacr.com – 506-2643-1237

JacoHotelCatalinaThere is a road right in front of the gate. Little restaurants to the right and left. You can walk the beach to the shops in town, or wander through the meandering streets and check out interesting housing choices. At the far south end of the beach a bit beyond the hotel is a rock outcrop where the locals throw nets, hopeful of catching fresh lobster for local restaurants. Do you see the lounge chairs in this picture? Well, here’s your final photo treat… exactly what you see while sitting in them passing the time of day…

JacoCatalinaBeach

Can it get much better than this ? I think not. This is my oasis in the midst of an oasis… my home away from home… my respite from the city… my favorite walking routes… my favorite views. Hope you can come and enjoy it with me sometime soon!