Friday, January 28, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This was an adventurous morning for the women on the trip – the caretaker of this beautiful property, Marvin, took us on a 3 ½ hour tour, along with his son Josue (maybe 8 or 9?) and the cutest little dog, Perlita. Marvin speaks only a few words of English, and luckily Judie is pretty fluent in Spanish, because he knows so much about the flora and fauna and enjoys sharing his knowledge with us. This was quite a hike, much more so than we expected! It started on a neighboring property, down a hill so steep we had to hold onto saplings to keep from sliding down the slope, and in fact some of us did part of the descent on our behinds! At the bottom, we carefully crossed the creek by balancing on a fallen log, then continued through the jungle, watching birds and tasting the wild things Marvin found for us: wild limes, culantro (similar in taste to cilantro), hearts of palm, a dried berry that is used for stomach problems, the membrane between the seeds of the carao seedpod (a beautiful, long brown pod a little like a tamarind – good for high blood pressure). Each time, after we took a bite, Marvin would say “muerte!” (you’re dead!”), teasing us with una broma, a joke. He is funny! Eventually we ended up walking right down the middle of the creek, which had us in stitches because Judie had just carefully water-proofed her hiking boots. We saw many wonderful plants, including sour orange, sapote, and guanaba, plus the ceiva tree we have admired so much from our beautiful patio. All along the way, as we hiked down the middle of the creek, Marvin lifted big rocks, looking for crawfish. Yikes! Too bad he didn’t find any. He says he and his family come out after dark with flashlights and have better luck finding them. I can’t imagine being out in the jungle after dark! There are so many wonderful and different noises – we saw and heard kingfishers, herons, woodpeckers, wood creepers, squirrels and monkeys, including a pregnant one. The howler monkeys have babies year-around here, and we’ve seen lots of little ones. They are so cute! At the end of the hike we saw a hive of tiny bees, with the most interesting little tubular entrance to their hive – I meant to take Doug back to get a good picture of it and I forgot. Dang. We talked a little politics, too; there are border problems with Nicaragua, analogous to the problems we have with Mexico. About 30% of the population of Costa Rica is Nicaraguan (I think I understood that right, I don’t guarantee these figures), and in the little town we are staying in, 4 of the 8 families are Nicaraguan.

In the afternoon, we drove down the coast and checked out the surfers at Playa Hermosa. What a beautiful beach! The waves are consistent and not too big, so it’s a perfect place for beginners, they say. It sure looks like fun! Maybe next time.

Later, Marvin brought over his private collection of antiquities he has dug up. They are not Mayan (no Mayans in Costa Rica), but from around that same time and they are amazing! Pottery bowls, figurines, all wrapped in newspaper and stored in a bucket in his house. They seem museum-worthy to me! Amazing.

Tonight we had leftovers and loved every bite!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Oh, another wonderful day in paradise . . . we have been getting up at about 6 every morning, with the sunrise. We’re drinking Costa Rican coffee made in an espresso machine here, and it’s wonderful! We’ve had fresh fruit every day, much of it local. The granola here is delicious, too.

Today we took a drive across the bottom of the Nicoya peninsula (from our house in Betel) through Cóbano, Montezuma and Cabuya, to the Cabo Blanco Reserve.  On the way, Judie spotted a bunch of howler monkeys in a tree, including a mother and two tiny babies. When you see something cool on the side of the road here, you just pull over, stop your car and get out to look. Anyone else who comes along on the road either drives around you, or stops to see what you’re looking at. Montezuma is a throwback to the 60s: hippies, the smell of dope, hash pipes for sale on the street, camping on the beach. And the beach is spectacular! The Cabo Blanco Reserve is the first of its kind in Costa Rica. It’s a second-growth moist tropical forest, right on the ocean. We hiked there for about an hour and a half and worked up quite a sweat – it’s hot and humid here! We saw howler monkeys, a few birds, tons of lush tropical vegetation, and a 4-foot-long snake, about as big around as my little finger. Cool! On the way back to Montezuma for lunch, we stopped at a tiny bakery in Cabuya where Judie bought a dessert called tres leches, a delicious, not-too-sweet cake made with three types of milk – regular, cream, and sweetened condensed. Always eat dessert first, she says! We had lunch right on the beach in Montezuma. We’re on Tico time here, meaning service is slowly paced and everyone is relaxed and mellow about it, so we spent quite a bit of time waiting for lunch, enjoying it when it arrived, and watching the beach action, including a guy climbing down from the top of a coconut tree after whacking off a bunch of nuts and leaves. On the way back to the car, we saw white-faced capuchin monkeys, right in the middle of the jungly town. The drive home took about 45 minutes, including a stop (right in the middle of the road) to look at an enormous, 500-year-old strangler fig tree. These trees are soo interesting – they literally grow around another tree, strangling the life right out of it. This tree is said to be the oldest in Costa Rica, and it’s huge! Because the inside is hollow (where the strangled tree used to be), it’s a haven for bats. There is so much to see here!  It’s hot today, and the ride home is very dusty so when we finally get home, it’s straight to the pool. We spent a half hour or so watching a kinkajou eat bananas that we had hung from a tree right next to our swimming pool. Kinajous are members of the raccoon family, with huge eyes in a face that’s reminiscent of a bear. So cute! We also saw a black-header Trogon, about 4 feet from our beach chairs next to the pool. We love this place! At about 4:00, the animals start coming out, and the night-blooming plants start to become fragrant. The noises here are so incredible: howler monkeys . . . well, howling; doves cooing, nightjars and falcons calling, cicadas singing, and much more that we can’t identify! It is so entrancing to hear all these jungle noises.

 As I write this, Mitch is grilling the rest of the shrimp we bought yesterday, while Doug is making rice and a sauce. I’ve got a cabbage and avocado salad just waiting to be out together. Another day in paradise!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mitch woke up this morning feeling much better, so we are all cheered. He still needs to take it easy, so the rest of us left him to explore our local beach while we drove to the next town where we hear there is a bakery that makes good bread, which we sorely miss here! The “road” to Santa Teresa is pretty much 1st gear only. The potholes are huge, and you have to drive through a river – no bridge! Good thing we have a 4-wheel drive, brand-new Toyota. This surfing town is interesting: about two miles long, all strung out along one road, businesses along both sides. The bakery is a fairly new building, and the pastries look enticing, but this is the only day of the week they don’t bake bread! Bummer. So we bought a few bags of their house-made granola and headed out to check out the beach – which is spectacular! We spent an hour or so walking and watching the surfers, before heading to Malpais, the next town, where the road literally ends. Lots of tiny hotels, yoga retreats and houses for rent here, in a beautiful, isolated location. On the way back, we spotted a truck with big insulated tubs in the back: a fish monger! We stopped and bought two kilos of ultra-fresh shrimp for dinner! We had been hoping to find fresh fish, and shrimp is a bonus, so we were totally excited and headed home.

We fixed a luscious lunch of fresh corn tortillas with home-cooked black beans, rice, queso fresco, and homemade chayote salsa. Then we spent the afternoon goofing off – reading, swimming, and napping, in preparation for our spectacular shrimp dinner! Doug briefly marinated the shrimp, then sautéed them and served them with spaghetti noodles in olive oil and garlic sauce, with sautéed carrots on the side. Another luscious meal, and another wonderful day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday we rested up a bit, enjoying our house, getting settled in, and exploring the neighborhood. I use that term loosely since ours is the only house around, excluding the “casita” the owners live in down the road, and the caretaker’s house right next door (hidden by strategic, stunning landscaping). We did make the 10-minute drive to the beach, which is beautiful, long and practically deserted. We are going to be happy here! We tried a local restaurant for lunch – Judie had shrimp seviche, Doug had a chicken dish, and I had the local staple, arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). All delicious!

Our house comes with a resident dog named Flaco (Skinny), a rescue dog! We are so happy to have such a sweetie underfoot.

For dinner, Doug fixed his famous chicken in green curry and we happily stuffed ourselves. All except Mitch, who has developed a cold and isn’t feeling well, what a bummer! At least the curry will help clear his sinuses.

a link to a few of our photos

More to come if we ever have time!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Today we are leaving Monteverde and heading to our rental house on the Nicoya Peninsula. We have an hour drive down the mountain down a terrible, rutted dirt road with spectacular views of the Golfo de Nicoya and the surrounding mountainous area – just unbelievably beautiful. We arrived early for the 1:00 ferry at Puntarenas, so grabbed some lunch overlooking the ferry dock. What perfect weather we have had! It is definitely hotter here at sea level, and it felt good to be in the sun, out of the clouds. The ferry trip was about an hour and a half, uneventful but more beautiful scenery and friendly people. The drive to our house is through lush countryside, punctuated by small towns with lots of medium-size dogs. We stopped in Cóbano to do some grocery shopping, which is big fun – they have lots of things we didn’t expect, like capers, fish sauce and green curry sauce. Plus mangos, pineapples, water apples, lots of citrus, and watermelons. We will eat well!

We arrived at our rental late in the afternoon and the house is better than we expected! I feel like a queen! The rooms are built around a central courtyard with a fountain and many beautiful hanging plants. The rooms are all painted vivid colors, and the décor is eclectic and lovely. Here’s their website: The name of the house is Noche del Mono, night of the monkey. We were so hot and tired that we could barely get the groceries into the fridge before jumping into the beautiful pool. As we cooled off, the howler monkeys started up, the birds flitted through the jungle around us, and we counted our lucky stars to be here!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Today we went on a tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, more well-known and heavily visited then Santa Elena – and there is also a better chance of seeing the Resplendent Quetzal there. Wendy, our bird expert, is very excited! We are too, this bird is amazingly beautiful and not many people get to see it. Our guide is named Melvin and I instantly invented a name for his website: I think it’s a cultural thing . . .

I can’t say enough about these cloud forests, they are so beautiful and hold an amazing variety of life. About 100 varieties of orchids alone! Monteverde has at least 20 times more people today than we saw  yesterday at Santa Elena; it’s at a lower elevation and on the opposite (Pacific) side of the continental divide, so the plants and birds are slightly different. It’s stunning! An earlier tour group saw a female Quetzal so our guide took us to a spot where he thought the male would show up – and we waited for about 30 minutes, full of hope! But alas, it was not to be and eventually we moved on down the trail. Many more birds here than yesterday! Eventually, Melvin takes us down a different trail where he immediately declared: “I can smell a Quetzal!” I’m not sure if he was serious or not, but within 10 minutes he has spied a male Quetzal about 60 feet up some huge, epiphyte-covered tree, roosting on a branch and looking stunningly gorgeous! Melvin had a very nice telescope so we all got a good, close-up view of this so-beautiful bird. That Mother Nature! Plus Doug got some very good photos, which he will post just as soon as we have time to upload them . . . we are very busy on this vacation! You can tell I’m having trouble keeping up on this blog – today is Friday and I’m just getting to writing Wednesday’s adventures!

In the afternoon, Doug, Judie and I went to the Selvatura Park to walk on the hanging bridges, so-called because they are long bridges over gorges in the cloud forest. So you can actually look down on the forest from above it. Spectacular! They have zip-lines here so you can actually zip over the top of the trees if you dare, but I sure don’t! Yikes, they are 200 feet or more in the air. But the people who are brave enough to step off that platform sure seem to be having fun! There are 8 bridges to cross in this park, varying from about 200 feet to over 500 long over the gorges. They are made of steel, but if there are other people on it, it shakes and rattles – and did I say the bottom is mesh so you can see straight down? But the views are totally indescribable and breath-taking! We spent hours here and loved every minute. I think this is my favorite experience of the trip so far.

To celebrate our wonderful day, we headed back into town for another delicious seafood dinner at Marquesa (the same dinner place we went to Monday night), so Mitch and Wendy can experience those fantastic shrimp! This time we added hearts of palm salad to the mix (fresh hearts of palm, grown just over the mountain!). Home to bed. We love this place. Pura vida!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The alarm went off at 6:10 this morning so we could get to the Santa Elena Reserve by 7:30 for our tour. The weather is perfect! We’re prepared for cold, but I didn’t even need a sweatshirt and we haven’t had a drop of rain. Henry (our guide) is charming and we set off on our 3-hour tour. What a wonderful day! I spotted the first bird of the tour, a big, dark-blue guy whose name we can’t remember and whose photo Doug will post later. Surprisingly, cloud forest tours do not usually result in lots of animal sightings, because many of the inhabitants are nocturnal, and the rest hide in the dense undergrowth. Everyone wants to see the queen of the jungle, the Resplendent Quetzal – an unbelievably gorgeous bright blue and red bird with a huge long tail that was revered by the Mayas and is the national bird of Guatemala. We did see cyanide-producing millipedes, a tiny frog with a huge voice, some beautiful birds, including 7 – yes, 7! different varieties of hummingbirds. And a huge list of amazing plants, many of which are familiar to us as houseplants and many stunning new varieties! The tour lasted about 3 hours and was totally wonderful. This reserve isn’t as well-known (or as near to town) as the Monteverde reserve, and the trails are delightfully empty (delightful to us, not so much to the locals who are suffering from the downturn in the global economy). Our certified tour guide is so knowledgeable! Trivia example: Tarzan did NOT swing from vines, he swung from (what our guide called) lines. Vines grow from the ground up into the trees and so can’t support much weight. Lines, on the other hand, are actually aerial roots that are integral to the limb structure of the tree, and grow down toward the ground, eventually rooting and providing more support to the tree. Fascinating, eh? I certainly think so!

After a wonderful tipico lunch (beans and rice with vegetables, for instance), Doug opted to stay home to finish his book and wait for Mitch and Wendy to arrive from San Jose, while Judie and I went out to visit the CASEM women artist cooperative, the local cheese-making factory, a tiny organic market called Whole Foods, and the hummingbird station (where we saw all the hummers and I got some great pictures which I’ll post if I ever find the time!). What a great afternoon. We contributed greatly to the local economy and had a wonderful time. The Ticos (what the Costa Ricans call themselves) are the friendliest, most wonderful people I’ve ever met, and that’s saying a lot! Did I say we’re in heaven?

When we got home, Doug was enjoying his book while Mitch and Wendy – who had arrived shortly after Judie and I left – were out exploring the neighborhood. After a wonderful drink made with local, fresh mango juice (and imported vodka), we went to dinner down the dirt road (1st gear all the way) for an amazing meal of paella made by immigrants from Barcelona, Spain. The salad course – avocados stuffed with perfectly spiced tuna/avocado and topped with a huge shrimp – was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten! We ordered way too much food and had way too much fun! By the time we made our way back home, we tumbled into bed exhausted.

Tomorrow we are going on a tour of the Monteverde tour with a guide named Melvin – meeting at 7:30. It is supposed to be one of the highlights of a trip here!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Monday January 17, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011
We arrived last night at the Pura Vida sometime after 9 p.m. and were welcomed by some nice dogs, luscious sandwiches, a cold bottle of wine, and Judie! This place looks fantastic, but we are ready for bed.

This morning I woke up with the first light and was seduced out of bed by the birdsong. What a beautiful place! It’s totally clear and we have a view of the Poas volcano from our patio. (Doug not so much – he’s still in bed). The flowering plants here are amazing: bouganvilla, passion vine, salvia, heliconias, orchids, unbelievable daturas, hibiscus and tons that even Judie, a trained botanist, can’t ID. Doug will not get out of bed because of the sign that says “don’t feed the boa constrictor”.

Breakfast was an amazing assortment of fresh fruit: pineapple, watermelon, grapes, papaya, red and yellow bananas, starfruit, passion fruit, cantaloupe, plus the best, fresh-squeezed pineapple-orange juice imaginable, served garnished with tropical flowers. Granola topped with yogurt, grapes and banana. AND bread pudding with raisins and rum—butter sauce. This was all included with our room. Then Doug had a three-cheese omelet that came with roasted tomatoes, bacon, and toast. OMG. We are in heaven.

Our Toyota Rav4 was delivered at about 8:30, right on schedule. The drive to Santa Elena was fantastic! We stopped at a roadside stand and bought mangoes, a watermelon, oven-dried bananas, a yummy, thin, corn/cheese chip (Goleta polaca) and pipas frescas (chilled fresh coconut water served in the coconut). $5.20 for everything. We are in heaven. Once we turned off the pan-American highway, the road gets worse, eventually becoming just a dirt track. Bumpy and slow! But the view is amazing, much more than we had realized. The house we have rented is fantastic! The woodwork is incredible, with a wall of windows overlooking the Golfo de Nicoya – the weather is unusually clear and just fabulous.

Next we head out on a shopping adventure. The bakery just down the street has a surprising variety of fresh pastries, fresh sandwich bread, and the lightest, fluffiest “French” bread imaginable (reminiscent of Wonder bread, only fluffier). Also granola and tiny pizzas, good for breakfast. Then into town and the grocery store, to buy a few supplies: vodka, juice, beer, milk, local cheese. After a drink and some cheese, we headed into town for a wonderful dinner: avocado and shrimp salad (the best shrimp I’ve ever had); Covina (sea bass) in garlic butter; pulpo (octopus) in garlic butter; and grilled lobster. We are stuffed and tired, going home and to bed early. We’re going to the cloud forest at Santa Elena Reserve tomorrow at 7:30 with our guide Henry.

Buenas noches!

Sunday: from Sacramento to the Pura Vida Hotel in Costa Rica

January 16, 2011
Sitting in the Dallas airport, contemplating the fog and how perfectly this trip is going so far. B dropped us at SMF at 4:30 this morning, our flight to Denver was on-time and pleasant, and the weather there was picture-perfect. However, the departure board showed our flight to Dallas would be delayed by 30 minutes, and since our connection to Costa Rica was a tight hour and 30 minutes, the anxiety switch turned on. Looked like we could make the earlier flight though, if they would let us. American Airlines initially told us we had to fly with our checked luggage and therefore could not take the earlier flight. (Note: although we could have traveled with all carry-ons, we decided to check one bag since we have to make 2 connections.) Funny how that rule is waived as soon as they realize you aren’t going to make your connection! They immediately gave us boarding passes for the earlier flight, and now we’re thinking about a leisurely bowl of gumbo at Pappadeaux, Doug’s favorite Cajun restaurant that happens to have a branch here. I love travel!
Dallas gets points for having great restaurants at their airport, but what’s up with charging for WiFi access? $8 seems like a rip-off to me, especially since it’s good for 24 hours and being here that long would indicate lots of other things to be unhappy about. Ah well, write now, post later.
Postscript: We had a wonderful supper at Pappadeaux, with oysters, gumbo and crayfish bisque. Totally delicious! As we wandered back to the boarding gate, we glanced at the departures board just out of habit. It said our flight was on final boarding! We thought we had another hour! Turns out Doug hadn’t changed his watch (and I don’t own one that works). We ran the last few yards and were relieved to board just a few minutes before take-off – how lucky are we??

Friday, January 7, 2011


Is it possible to go on a two-week trip with only carry-on luggage? Maybe! It does mean we need to buy some travel-size stuff like contact lens solution and sunscreen. But I have hope we can make it happen. Now off for a much-appreciated Greyhound!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Blog day 1: getting started

Today I'm preparing for our Costa Rica trip and planning how I'll send updates to friends and family. What do you think?