Embarkation Day

Sunday, September 22, 2019 : San Pedro, CA

This morning we sleep in a little. We’ve decided not to join what is usually a wild, crowded scrum to get to the cruise port as early as possible, and for the first time we will just go later in the morning or early afternoon.

But first, my package. After a quick shower, and a cup of hotel room coffee, I am fortified. While Jeff gets cleaned up, I head down to the lobby. When I get to the front desk, I ask for the manager. (Darn! I can’t remember her name.) The woman says she can help me, and I start to explain. I ask if she got the explanatory note from her staff last night. Apparently not. I am not pleased and as I start to explain she says, “Let me check into your package…” and I interrupt, “NO! I can tell you ALL about my package.” and I relate the entire saga. She asks, “How do you know it was delivered?” Resisting the urge to reach across the counter and throttle her, I say, “Because I just told you not only were the tracking numbers of both packages recorded on your log, but we also know who signed for them.” Then she says, “Let me talk to my supervisor…” Okay, that was the last straw. Now, I’m angry. “I TOLD you that’s who I wanted to talk to in the first place!” She scurries off and returns with a very nice young woman, who has indeed received the note, and is already fully briefed on my complaint. She is well-versed in customer service (and has probably already looked me up to see that I am at the highest reward tier in this company). I show her my Amazon receipt, she refunds my money for the purchase and then arranges for the head bellman to drive us to CVS, wait for us, and drive us back. Good call. Jeff and I get into our private shuttle bus. Well, this is going to be more expensive than a $30 bottle of sunscreen, because we had quickly made a list of difficult-to-find-in-Costa-Rica items that we might pick up. $156 later we get back into the van!

Time for breakfast. We walk up to a lovely coffee shop that we discovered last time – Sirens.

Oh so good coffee and a lemon poppyseed muffin for me and a blueberry muffin for Jeff. This, also, is a local place. There is a little family, old and young couples, and a relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere. And they have the perfect sign on their counter…




Back to the hotel, we figure out how to get our CVS purchases into our suitcase. Happily there is plenty of room in our backpacks as well. Nothing is very large, there’s just a lot of little stuff to shove into nooks and crannies; a lot of this we won’t use before we get home but we remove all the packaging to save space.

Since it is Sunday, and we know the Denver Broncos are playing early, I turn the game on and lay on the bed to watch. As is our norm, we text back and forth with Tom Delaney during the game, mourning the lousy plays (way too many) and celebrating the good plays (what very few there were). The Broncos get pummeled, we commiserate with Tom, and say “bye” as it is time to head for the Island Princess.

Jeff and I are the only people on the shuttle to the ship and when we arrive at the cavernous check-in area we are the only people there as well. Wow! This sure beats the big crowds and hours of sitting on hard chairs waiting to board. As we go through security, we bypass the alcohol check-in station with our two bottles of wine. No one even asks us about alcohol. And we are very quickly on board and in our cabin. That was fast!!

Our cabin is the last one on our deck at the back of the ship, and we are thrilled when we open the curtains and see our balcony.

It is a little longer than usual and curves around the back of the ship a little giving us a much wider viewing area than a normal balcony. It is also covered so we are protected from the afternoon sun and any rain. Hooray!

Our suitcase hasn’t been delivered to our room yet, so we unpack our backpacks, putting stuff into their “usual” spots. Then we go through the list of free amenities we’ve received for the cruise. Let’s see, there will be: chocolate covered strawberries; a bottle of wine; an evening’s dining in one of the specialty restaurants; and a special champagne breakfast delivered to our balcony. Doesn’t that all sound nice? A knock at the door and in comes Rodolfo, our room steward, with our welcome aboard glasses of champagne. We’ll save those for later.

We attend the safety drill that is required of all passengers. Our safe area, where we will gather in an emergency, is the gym. I whisper to Jeff that I would prefer a room that was NOT filled with heavy machines and free weights! The safety briefing takes about 30 minutes, not long for something that may save your life.

Back in our room, not only has our suitcase has arrived, but also the chocolate covered strawberries. We quickly unpack, slide the suitcase under the bed for storage, and get ready to to sail away. Standing on our deck, champagne glasses and strawberries in hand, we wave goodbye to Los Angeles.

Houston, Do you have a problem?

Friday, September 20, 2019: Houston, TX

We are up in good time, I even have time for a shower, and as we leave we snag our “to-go” breakfast bags that the hotel has prepared. Let’s see, there is a bottle of water, a carton of juice, an apple and two different types of granoly bar things. It is dark:thirty in the morning and having had no coffee, I am concentrating on not being snarly.

We get checked in for our flight (since it is an international flight, we can’t do that online ahead of time) and we go to the airport’s second level to eat some of our breakfast. Water and juice have to be consumed, of course, to clear security; the apple will need to be eaten before landing in Houston – so we are fortified with the liquids and 2 of the 4 hardboiled eggs we brought from home.

SJO is a very small airport and we are through security in no time. We buy coffee and sit to enjoy it at our gate. Possibility of snarling is steadily decreasing. As is our norm, instead of sitting at the gate, we walk. Small airport=many laps! As we walk by one area, Jeff says, “Isn’t that Andrea and Peggy? Sure enough there is Andrea and her mother who are friends from San Ramon. We chat for a bit (They are on their way to Cancun for a week.) then continue walking.

We were right about not changing our flight because of the weather – there is no delay at all in leaving, and, even better, the plane is less than half full! Jeff and I each have a row to ourselves, as did pretty much everyone else; I lay down across the three seats and snooze. It seemed like a fast flight, but we did have time to eat our apples and the other two hard boiled eggs.

Oh my goodness! Houston Hobby airport is a mob scene. Turns out that many of the people whose flights were delayed or cancelled the past 2 days are on stand-by. Loads of people everywhere. We have a four hour layover here, so we walk some more. And since we have a long layover we decide to have a real sit-down meal. But first, we walk. As we do so we check out the various eating venues, looking at menu choices and prices. Whoa! Expensive! Finally we settle on 6” sandwiches from Subway and Jeff buys waffle-shaped french fries from Chik-A-Fil. At least the sandwiches are healthy.

Back at the gate we learned our flight has been delayed. It is coming from Kansas or Oklahoma and there is bad weather between here and there. So that’s where the remnants of Imelda went… Delayed again, and again…our 4 hour layover stretches to a little over 7 hours. We aren’t worried or annoyed because we built in 2 days in Los Angeles before the cruise. Three of the sixteen people on stand-by for this flight get on, so there are no empty seats on this plane. Before we take off, well after our LAX arrival time, I send a message to the LAX shuttle company with our updated arrival time.

We fly Southwest a lot and I have 4 free drink coupons: two for going to LA and two for our trip back to Costa Rica. I order a mimosa and Jeff orders a beer. Since the flight was delayed, and the airplane’s WiFi is not working, the drinks are free. See there is always that silver lining. LOL

Whew, it has been a long day, but we are here. The shuttle is also full and Jeff and I are the last stop, the Crowne Plaza hotel near the port. It is 1 a.m. and way past time for bed…

See you tomorrow.

To Panama and Beyond!

September 19, 2019 : San Jose, Costa Rica

Two years ago Jeff and I, along with our wonderful friends, Mary Linscome, Eve and Leroy Measner, and Eve’s sister, Trish Nelson, took a 15 day Panama Canal cruise. We had a great time. This month, Jeff and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary and thought repeating this relaxing cruise would be a fun way to mark the occasion. It won’t be the same without our friends, though. Happily Pokey and Gumby are joining us.

Yesterday our neighbor, Dale MacIntosh, picked us up at 12:30 pm to drive us to SJO (Juan Santamaria International) our new home airport. Dale, being in Costa Rica, has replaced our long-time “personal chauffeur” Tom Delaney. Don’t worry Tom, you are still on the hook for our trips back and forth to Colorado.

Our drive to SJO was uneventful, well, for Costa Rica, and we arrived at the airport arrivals area in good time. Yes, arrivals. We had Dale drop us at arrivals where we will catch the free shuttle to the Holiday Inn Express. As Dale pulls into the pick-up spot, the shuttle van is behind us. Wow, what great timing! I leap from the car, madly waving my arms to flag down the driver. With quick goodbyes to Dale and grabbing our suitcase, we get on the shuttle and are to the hotel in less than five minutes.

We’ve arrived before check in time and hang out until our room is available. I have a cup of coffee and Jeff prints our cruise boarding passes and luggage tags. The Holiday Inn Express is being renovated and we have one of the new rooms. Very nice…

Do you remember that I said “grabbing our suitcase?” Yup, we’re getting good at this. A 15 day cruise plus 3 hotel nights beforehand and 1 night afterward, and we’ve managed to put everything, including snorkeling gear, into one suitcase, and we’re still under weight. We each have a day pack for incidentals.

We spend the evening lounging around, watching the Thursday night NFL game not caring about either team (Jaguars vs Titans). I read some news. “Did you know there’s a big storm over Texas?” I asked Jeff. “No…”. A little more research tells us that Tropical Storm Imelda has dumped roughly 35+ inches of rain around Houston and its environs in the last 2 days. And, yup, both Bush and Hobby airports have been affected. Bush has closed because of flooding; but we’re going into Hobby and then have a connecting flight to LAX. A quick check on Flight Aware (a great app, by the way) shows HOU has no major delays. Feeling a little better now, I check our Southwest Airlines reservations. Oh dear, they are doing the ‘Your flight(s) might be affected and you can rebook for free.’ thing. Decision time…. We decide to keep our original flights thinking the storm will probably move on; anyway we’re spending two hotel nights in LA so if we get delayed a day it probably won’t be an issue.

We walk down to the front desk and ask the to pop our microwave popcorn – and enjoy a frugal traveler’s dinner of popcorn and beer.

The Jaguars beat the Titans. ho-hum, time for bed.

2019 Adventures

A little culture…

This morning as we are enjoying our coffee we talk about what we want to do today. We go online and search “Top 10 things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica”  where we discover there is an event every Tuesday (today!) at the Teatro Nacional at noon. We had planned to visit the National Theater and here is a great opportunity.  We need to hurry though because it is a 35-40 minute walk to downtown. Snarfing down a quick breakfast of toast and coffee, we grab our phones (i.e. cameras), umbrella, raincoats and hurry out.

Arriving at the Theater we’re stunned by the beauty of the lobby. We ask and discover that to buy tickets we need to go outside and around the corner. In order to get there we had to walk by a large group of senior citizens sitting on risers by the entrance; a woman was in front of them talking. We tried to walk behind her but she stopped us and everyone began to clap and cheer!  Jeff continued on, but she grabbed me for an impromptu conversation in Spanish. They were a senior citizen group from somewhere in Costa Rica who had come to the city for the concert.  Finally, I shout “Pura Vida!!” at them to which they all laugh and clap again.  What fun!

We buy our tickets at the booth, “Dos boletos por el concierto, por favor.” The cost is higher than we expected; we thought the tickets were 1,000 colones but they are 3,000 colones each (which is about $5 USD a piece) Still quite a bargain!  While buying those, I asked about a tour. The theater tours are held every hour, so we buy tickets for that as well, it will begin immediately after the concert.

We have good seats on the 2nd floor and can see the whole theater. The lady next to me, a Tica, is pleasant and we chat a little; she helps me with a verb tense. The people of Costa Rica that we’ve encountered are very nice.

The concert is excellent.

Concert program and ticket

In total there are six opera singers and one pianist. The singers do solo pieces, duets and finally the entire ensemble performs together. What a great concert; we’re so happy we stumbled upon this.

Afterwards we return to the lobby to meet our tour guide. Turns out there are only three on the tour: Jeff and I and a young Chinese man, who went to college in the US and is now working and living in Mexico City. This is his Mexican border run. We like him immediately and the three of us are awed by the things we learn.  For example, San Jose, Costa Rica was the 3rd city in the world to have electric lights -> behind only Paris and New York City. Who knew??

The theater, built between 1891-1897, was designed in a Palladian Neo Renaissance style by Italian architects and the many frescos on the ceiling and walls were painted in Italy, shipped to Costa Rica and glued in place!  The artists who painted these beauties had never been to Costa Rica and our guide pointed out that the women in one specific painting, done by Italian artist Alearo Villa, who was working from verbal descriptions of Costa Rica,  look like buxom Italian women and in it a man is holding a bunch of bananas incorrectly. Despite those rather obvious errors, the painting, Alegoría del comercio y la agricultura de Costa Rica (Allegory of commerce and agriculture of Costa Rica), was, in 1971, used as the image on  Costa Rica’s 5 bill. Indeed, outside the theater there are hawkers selling these old bills with the painting on them.

Below is a photo of one of the many Italian ceiling frescoes.

An Italian ceiling fresco

The National Theater would never have been built if it weren’t for the local coffee barons.  The coffee plantation owners banded together and agreed to add a tax to every bag of coffee sold in order to finance the construction of a national theater. And this beautiful building is the result of that self-imposed tax.

The artwork in the theater isn’t the only fascinating thing about this building…the architectural stuff was wild. For example, in the basement beneath the orchestra seats in the auditorium, there is a manual mechanism that used to be turned by donkeys, but is now pushed by hand. This mechanism lifts the floor of the auditorium to the level of the stage. So, the auditorium now becomes one huge room where balls and presidential banquets are held.  So, step one, take out all the seats on the floor of the hall; step two, take a bunch of folks to the basement (and we saw a photo of the current president of Costa Rica doing this) to push the big wheel around and around until the floor is level with the stage; step three, perform CPR on all the pushers.

The photo below is of the “widow boxes” which are private boxes on each side of the theater near the front of the stage.  This is where widowed women could come enjoy the theater without being subjected to people seeing them and debating whether they should be out enjoying themselves. (Apparently widowers were free to party anytime.) Famous people also had access to these areas so they could be at a performance and not be bothered.

Widow Boxes (the tall ones)

The widow boxes are now used for storage and for audio equipment.

There were also private men’s and women’s salons in the theater. Perfect for gossiping or getting away from your spouse for a bit.




Where we had been seated during the concert turned out to be right next to the President’s box. And the President of Costa Rica does use this seating area when he is at a performance.

Incredible wooden flooring

This photo of some wooden flooring is not only of gorgeous wood working, but it is significant in that the floor contains twenty different types of Costa Rican wood.  This small area was left uncovered when the area was carpeted. Naturally it is blocked off so you can’t walk on it. It was beautiful.

Our hour tour ends on time at 2pm, but with our ticket sticky badges we are free to wander the building as much as we like. We take the opportunity t0 explore and to take lots of photos.

It is 3:30 and our hurried breakfast of toast and coffee seems forever ago. Happily the Teatro has a cafe and when we walk in I see an enormous piece of pie. I say enormous because it is so overfilled with chunks of fruit that is it huge. We order a piece of pie with ice cream to share, and sit at a window table to watch the passing crowd. Great pie! Now I think we’ll have enough energy to walk home.

Though the weather forecast indicates a 100% chance of rain every day we are in San Jose, so far there have only been a few drops; but I guess that counts; after all, it did rain.
Back home, we relax and turn on the World Series. It is a bit disconcerting to hear it in Spanish, so I fire up my Ipad thinking we’ll listen to the English broadcast while we watch TV. It was a good plan, except the game on TV was a full play ahead of the audio. That was much worse!  Back to Spanish.  Jeff did like it when the count was 2 balls/2 strikes because the announcers would say “dos y dos” (dose ee dose) which he found very funny.

Time for bed! See you tomorrow?




Exploring San Jose


San Jose sign

Because we are in San Jose specifically to attend our “ex-pat 101” seminar this Thursday and Friday, and because we haven’t rented a car, we’re thinking it would be a good idea to walk to the ARCR (Association of Residents of Costa Rica) offices where the seminar will be held. We want an idea of how far and how long our trek will be.

After a quick breakfast of coffee and cereal, Jeff checks the location on his phone. Hang on… This shows that our condo is a lot further from ARCR than we thought, like a long cab ride further. But then we realize Jeff entered the address the condo owner gave us where the calle/avenida’s were backwards. Correcting that error, we see that ARCR is indeed within walking distance (about a mile), and off we go.

Any research you do on San Jose, Costa Rica, will tell you it is a high crime city with lots of pick-pocketing and non-violent mugging. In my mind, that sounds pretty much like any major city in the US, still we are careful to put our money and ids in zippered pockets. Of course we stand out as gringos, but we walk purposefully and I don’t think we put off that “we’re clueless tourists” vibe. Well, considering the amount of international traveling we do, I sure hope we don’t give off that vibe!

Our walk is along a busy street which is easily crossed on  a long, steel pedestrian bridge accessed by about a million steep steps up and a million steep steps down. Along the walk we pass the National Art Museum, a small unassuming building along the side of the road. This little building and the surrounding area used to be San Jose Airport. It was teensy.

Our walk takes us around La Sabana, a large, beautiful park. Think of it as the Costa Rican equivalent of NY’s Central Park. There are people strolling, running, using the exercise equipment in the park and makes the area so vibrant.

A turn down a side street takes us to the ARCR offices. We go into the building and introduce ourselves. “We wanted to walk down to see how long it would take so we aren’t late for the seminar on Thursday.” We tell the receptionist. “Oh, the meeting isn’t held here,” she responds with a cheery smile. “It will be at the Palmares Hotel.” I did NOT say, “Are you kidding me???” but I sure wanted to.  She takes us to meet the meeting organizer so we can pay our registration and officially get all the details. At least now we know. Turns out the hotel is only 4-5 blocks from the ARCR offices. Jeff and I pay our registrations, look around the office where I’m pleased to see a free member library. Leaving there we look at each other. “Okay, lets go find the Hotel Palmares,” Jeff says. I jam my hat back onto my sweaty head and we start out. It is an easy walk and we both sigh with happiness when we get there and feel the air conditioning.

Our return to the condo, retracing our steps, around the park, over the pedestrian bridge (like a giant stair stepper over a 4-lane highway), and back up the hill to the condo. Golly it’s hot!

Jeff has a response from the guy, Roy, who is the owner of the cabin we might be interested in.  He and Jeff have a couple of messages back and forth. We’re hoping he can accommodate our timing and he does allow pets! (I’m not going anywhere with my Rufus-kitty.)

Tonight’s dinner is spaghetti with one of those cute little sauce packets. Very tasty!  We hang out…Jeff looks some more at la puerta del cielo and I read.

After our hot walk, we go to sleep early.

San Jose

We do sleep in a little bit this morning, but eventually get up and make breakfast. While Jeff straightens up the kitchen, I make the bed and take out the trash. We want to leave the house as tidy as it was when we arrived.

We decide to send an email to the owner of the Puerto del Cielo cabin and tell him we are interested and to share our time frame. We’ll see how/where that goes.

Soon Pedro and his wife (whose name I cannot say or spell, but it sounds like Patricia) pull up and they come in.  They seem stunned at how clean the house is. I mention that I had not washed the towels or sheets because I knew no one would be here to put them in the dryer and Pedro says “You can rent from us anytime! Anytime!

We load our luggage, including a grocery sack filled with food that we are taking to our condo in San Jose, hop in and the four of us are off to the capital of Costa Rica.  We stop for gas (all the service stations here are full service) and are soon on our way for real.

I knew Pedro had made lunch reservations for the four of us and before leaving the house, I decided to exchange my tee shirt for a blouse and necklace, figuring any restaurant that needed reservations probably needed a nicer appearance. Boy, am I glad I did because, first of all, Pedro’s wife is a knock out and second, she is wearing the tightest, most gorgeous dress I’ve seen in years, along with high heels and make-up. (There’s no way I can step up my game that much!)

It is 45-50 minutes to San Jose and as we drive through the city, they point out various sites.  We arrive at Tin Jo, a very, very, very nice Asian restaurant. This place is great, and the menu is wonderful. I order miso soup, paneer with tofu and ginger/lime ice tea. Jeff has the same soup and salmon with some sort of glaze, veggies, and a glass of wine. Wow! YUM!

In Costa Rica, you eat your food when it arrives at the table and the dishes come out at different times. You eat while it is hot, not waiting until everyone at the table is served. And, the check is not brought automatically, but you must ask for it. Meals are to be relaxing and enjoyed…and this one was.

Now, to our condo. We are staying at “Condominio 6-30” and it’s a darn good thing I have Waze on my phone because we never would have found this place. The owner had mixed up the Avenida (avenue) and Calle (Street) numbers, but luckily, I had entered the name of the condo and not the address.  It takes some time to find, but here we are.  We say good-bye to Pedro and Patricia and start our big city adventure.

Unpacking is a breeze. I find a safe in the bedroom closet and before putting our passports into it, I make sure I know how to open and close it. Umm…no. Now its locked and I can’t get it open. Thank goodness it is empty.  Jeff tries and now the stupid thing is beeping. Oh dear. We text Elena, the owner, (she lives on the 11th floor) and she says did you use the code?  “Code?” I text back.  “Yes, there is a code in the message I sent to Jeff.”  Well, okey dokey then.  Yup, there’s the number and it does work.

After a while, Elena stops down to meet and greet us and to see if we need anything. The only request that we have is for more coffee.  Though she lives in Costa Rica, home of some of the best coffee in the world, Elena has a Keurig; I guess that makes sense because this is a VRBO. And it is great of her to supply coffee at all.

For dinner we finish up our beans and rice with tortillas, and afterwards explore the little complex.  We find the swimming pool, which is a wide lap pool next to a kiddy pool. Eventually, after two tries, we find the workout room. It is small and has some weights, a couple of bikes and an elliptical.  It is going to be too cold to use the pool and we think we’ll get plenty of exercise walking everywhere.  Exploring for the evening complete we go back upstairs, where we are flummoxed by the condo door. It has an electronic lock, which is what we have at home, so that is not the issue; the issue is that we are supposed to touch the pad, two numbers will appear and then after you press those, the full keypad pops up, so you can type in the code. We take turns pushing on the keypad to no avail, but finally it works. Weird. It shouldn’t be that hard.

We hang out watching a Netflix movie for background noise while I cross-stitch, and Jeff does some more research on the Las Puerta del Cielos cabins. Soon it is time for bed.

Stop in tomorrow…we have some plans.

Pura Vida

First of all, pura vida is the Costa Rican way…strictly translated it means “pure life” but is used as “that’s the way things are”, “have patience” sort of stuff. It is a catch all term commonly used for various situations.  Today was our pura vida day…

Today is going to be a Pedro-free day! We get up to wonderful sunshine and about a million birds chirping outside. Jeff makes breakfast and then we execute our plan, which is to drive to Alajuela (all the way back to the San Jose airport) and go to Walmart.  No, we are not enamored of Walmart, but there are certain things we buy there that we want to check the availability of here.  We have a list.

Getting in the car, we check: sunglasses, money, Walmart list, etc., etc.  The car doesn’t start right off but the second time it is fine and we’re off. For the first time in the 7-8 visits we’ve made to Costa Rica, we do not get lost going to WalMart!  Google maps is almost useless here, and Waze (pronounced ‘ways’) is what everyone uses. Waze takes us straight to Walmart, where we spend 2 hours walking around the store. No kidding…2 hours of wandering up and down the aisles looking at products, sizes and prices and writing them down.  As we’re finishing up, I realize I’ve been hearing a tremendous roaring sound and Jeff says, “Let’s wait for the rain to let up.”  It is POURING outside! So, we pick up a couple of little souvenirs for friends and buy ourselves a bag of Lays potato chips and a 15 can case of beer (splurge!)

Eventually the rain stops, we pay for our goodies and scurry to the car. That was all we had on our list today; except maybe looking at another rental opportunity.  We haven’t done our due diligence on this one except asking a couple of questions of the owner. We know the house is in Los Angeles de San Ramon, but we don’t know if it is South Los Angeles or North Los Angeles; and it really doesn’t matter, it will be a nice drive.

And it was a nice drive – until it wasn’t.  I had forgotten that this highway, according to a San Ramon Facebook page, was under construction. When we got to the road construction we were the first car in line – or the car that didn’t get to go. So, we waited. And waited. And waited.  The construction guys walked up the growing line of cars selling watermelon slices, lottery tickets. Still waiting. Happily, we had stopped for gas in San Ramon and had a full tank. And waiting some more. After 30 minutes, we decide to open the chips. I had to convince Jeff that we were not opening the beer. Waiting…waiting.  FINALLY!!  We waited for almost 45 minutes! When we get up to Los Angeles (South), a mile and a half from where we were waiting (we could have walked up here and back in the time we had waited) there is a small restaurant on the side of the road. Since we have no idea where the potential house is or even if we are in the correct town, we decide to have a bite to eat and then just drive home. What is interesting, and a wee bit puzzling/annoying, is that the road construction is past the restaurant and stopping us a mile down the hill was bizarre. We will be able to just drive down without a long wait because we are below the construction area. So odd.

For lunch we order a vegetarian plate to share. It’s delicious. Lots of fresh vegetables, and one of my favorites, fried plantains. YUM!  But, it is getting time to head home. We are at a higher elevation here and the fog is starting to roll in; we don’t want to drive back down in the fog. So, we hop in the car and… it won’t start. Seriously??  Jeff tries several times; the car wants to start but won’t kick over.  Pedro had told us to ignore the check engine light which has been on, but not to worry about it. Well, now we are worrying about it… Still won’t start…and now it’s thundering.  Jeff and I both think it is the car’s fuel pump because when he turns the key, the car starts, runs for a split second and then sputters out.  Okay, pura vida.  Jeff tries to start it off and on for about 20 minutes. Time to call Pedro.

“Jane! How are you?”  “I’m stranded, Pedro. In Los Angeles del Sur outside the Mi Rancho restaurant.”  It takes a while to convince Pedro that it wasn’t the car’s battery that is the problem – I finally hand the phone to Jeff thinking maybe he needs to hear it from a man. So, we are stuck, and we are going to spoil Pedro’s Saturday as well.

He tells me that he will call his mechanic to come to us, and he will be on his way immediately. So, we wait.  Knowing that there is probably a 40-45-minute delay coming up, Jeff and I relax and chat. About 10 minutes later, we are surprised to see Marcello –Pedro’s construction foreman; I guess he knows something about cars because he has Jeff pop the hood.  He checks the oil (seriously??),  the battery connections (good lord).  Okay, now he has pulled the floor mat out of his car and is climbing under ours.  My phone rings. It is Pedro and he is calling to tell me that there must be some sort of big accident or something on the mountain because he is sitting in a long line of stopped traffic. I tell him about the construction.

Now it has started pouring rain and Marcello jumps back into his car to wait for a lull. The rain stops after a while; fog is rolling in for real. Jeff and I get out of the car to stretch our legs; I’m happy that we are stranded here because there is a bathroom and, if needed, alcoholic beverages! Marcello is back under the car banging away at something with a wrench or hammer.

Car trouble!

We walk across the road to look at what is left of the view and hear a car roar up. Pedro has arrived much more quickly than we imagined he would, maybe 30 minutes after he called.  He chats quickly with Marcello, who has stopped hammering on the underside of the car, and tells Jeff he thinks it is the fuel pump (I do not roll my eyes).

Pedro calls a tow truck, pays Marcello to stay with the car and Jeff and I climb into Pedro’s car. What a riot!  He drives us home a different way which is fine, until at one intersection he stops and says, “I’m a little confused here.” but he guesses correctly and about an hour later we arrive home.  Pedro is concerned that now we don’t have a car – and he’s out of cars! LOL Since we are leaving tomorrow at 11:30 and he is driving us to San Jose, and we don’t drive after dark, that’s not an issue.  We thank him, go in the house, pop open a couple of beers and finish the chips.

Because we are leaving tomorrow at 11:30, we need to pack tonight; then, if we want to, we can sleep in a little.  Pura Vida indeed!

This n’ that

This morning we have several things to accomplish. Things that fall under the “can we live here?” banner.  After a quick breakfast of sharing my leftovers from yesterday’s gringo breakfast, our first priority is housing and to that end, we go to see the long-term rentals we were told about yesterday at breakfast.

This small development “La Puerta del Cielo” (translates to “Door to Heaven) is comprised of 5 completed (2 more planned) 2 bedrooms, one bath cabins in a gorgeous 8 acre pastoral setting. Freddy, the caretaker, has left the security gate open for us and we drive down (steep!) to Cabin #3.  OMG! This place is wonderful!!  It is small but the furniture and stuff like the kitchen appliances and decor are great. It is a secure neighborhood and the house has an alarm system. It is rented fully furnished and the rent of $950/month includes all the utilities, (trash, water, electricity, gardener, cable, and internet) except propane. The neighborhood has its own cell tower so there is excellent Internet connectivity. However, no ocean view and no monkeys.  Now what??  We both like it a lot, the price is perfect, and it is available; but that is actually serious drawback –  it is available now.

Freddy tells us that Cabin #1 is also available and we walk up, up, up to see that one. This cabin is a little different from the other. For example, you have to go outside to get to the laundry room – a definite drawback during the rainy season. In addition, it is RIGHT ON the road, and it’s a busy road. I look at Jeff and simply say ‘no.’  But the other cabin…we need to think about that one.  Before we leave the neighborhood, we walk down the (steeper) drive to Susan and Ben’s cabin and pop in on them. They are delighted that we are looking at the cabin and we chat for a few minutes before going on our way. (Susan and Ben said their propane runs about $40/month.) We wave to Dale who is sitting out on his patio as we drive back up the mountain.
You can see photos/videos of this little neighborhood here.  These photos are of Cabin #3.  The photos at the end that look like paintings are the utility boxes.
We have more stops to make today.

La Puerta del Cielo is close to downtown San Ramon which is where we are heading. It is a straight shot on a good paved road into town. Parking in San Ramon is a nightmare, but Jeff finally finds a spot only a couple of blocks from the farmacia (pharmacy).  I take  several prescription medicines and I need to know if I can get them here. The farmacia we are going to has a reputation for being very helpful and some of the staff speak English. We walk in, take a number and wait our turn. As the English-speaking clerk helps me, I dump my bottles on the counter and she checks them one by one. Of the five, only ONE requires a prescription!! One is not available in Costa Rica (which isn’t a problem) and all the others are available over the counter. I can’t believe it! Then she helps me figure out the monthly costs – without any insurance my costs will be about $60 U.S. That’s amazing and I am sooo excited!

We go back to the car and head for the feria agricultura where we pick up a few things: half a watermelon, lettuce (23 cents/head), a large tomato (45 cents), cucumber (40 cents), onion, 2 potatoes and some broccoli. We pay less than $5 U.S for our fresh produce.

We need to hurry home to meet Pedro for our tour. He wants to show us around; I think it doesn’t register with him that we’ve been here at least four times. Let me explain Pedro a bit. He is famous (or maybe infamous) in this area because he is the big developer. He has developed a couple of the high-end neighborhoods and knows everyone, and everyone knows him. Pedro is Cuban but has lived here in Costa Rica for the last 12 years. Before that he lived in the States where he worked, quite successfully, on Wall Street and then retired to Lake Tahoe. Tiring of that lifestyle he landed in San Ramon. He says now he is working harder than ever. LOL

Anyway, he is not only the developer, but also has part interest in several of the luxury homes in Magallenes (the neighborhood that Jeff and I fell in love with a couple of years ago) and in Casa Mostaza.  These homes do not rent long-term; in fact, they don’t rent at all because the owners want to sell them and can afford to just let them sit empty. But Pedro and our friends, Joe and Debra, said they would make an exception for Jeff and I because “everyone knows us.” Pretty funny.

We head off to see Joe and Debra’s 2nd house which is empty and for sale. We have been thinking about seeing if they would rent this to us. And apparently, they are willing to do that, though it would still be for sale. (We would have right of first refusal and if we didn’t want it, 90 days in which to move.)  The house is gorgeous and in the right neighborhood.  Jeff is mainly interested in the view and as we look out toward Puntarenas (the coastal town on the Pacific), we notice that the ocean view is obstructed by some trees. Hmmm.  Also, there are a bunch of power lines and a streetlight on that side of the house.  I feel like I’m in a ‘too close’ neighborhood; I would like more space around me.

After seeing that house, Pedro insists on taking us to other places; we don’t get out of the car, but ride around while he describes different lots; who has built what where and stuff like that. It is fun but exhausting because he talks almost constantly and very loudly. I feel badly for Jeff who is in the front seat.  Pedro talks to us about the booming real estate market and the fact that houses here are selling very quickly and prices are going up. Well, we’ve been watching this market/area for around three years now and know that isn’t true. On top of that we have no interest in buying and are sure as heck not going to build a house!  But it is interesting to hear Pedro describe the different options. What we do know from our years of research is that homes for sale stay on the market a long time; but rentals (long-term especially) get snapped up very, very quickly. We end our tour stopping by Andy and Nancy’s hacienda – Jeff and I stayed in their casita in January and it is nice to see them again. We are with Pedro for just over 2 hours and my ears are tired when we get home.

Pokey & Gumby at home

We say good-bye to Pedro, tell him we’ll think about  Debra and Joe’s house and go inside.  Jeff takes a short nap while I do Sudoku puzzles. It is dark out now, and Jeff asks if I’d like to walk back up to Deborah and Joe’s house and check out the night-time view. So, we do.  You remember the steepness of our hill, right? Geez Louise. We got a workout.  And the view was not better in the dark. Too bad as Jeff has his heart set on an ocean view.


It has been a full day.

Back home we eat our beans and rice with tortillas while we talk about the pros and cons of the cabin. Afterwards, Jeff plays around with our Chromecast to see what all we can do with it in Costa Rica and it works great. We watch a disaster movie that he had downloaded to his IPad and it casts to the television just fine.

Tomorrow we have some errands to run; more stuff to check off our ‘relocation’ list. Want to join us?

The Mustard house

These first four days of our vacation we have rented Casa Mostaza (Mustard house) in San Ramon. You can tell from this photo

Mustard house

that the house is mustard color, hence the name. San Ramon is the area to which we are planning to relocate. We’ll be at Casa Mostaza until Sunday afternoon, when we’ll got to a VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) condo in downtown San Jose.  We’ve never been to San Jose and are looking forward to exploring a little.

This morning we are going to the ‘gringo breakfast’ in San Ramon, but first we need a car!  It is 9a.m. and here is Pedro arriving with our borrowed car. He is charging us only $25/day which is an amazing price. He has a couple of cars, but we need his 4-wheel drive because of the road we are living on.  Here is a photo of the road sign at the top of our hill and it is NOT an exaggeration!

Check your brakes!

The gringo breakfast happens every Thursday morning and is an opportunity for all the gringos in the area to get together and visit. Café Delicias is a nice little restaurant and the gringos have been meeting here for so long that the staff can bring some folks their orders without them asking for it.  We have been to the breakfast once before, so we see a few familiar faces.  When we walk in, I announce, “We are Jeff and Jane” to the group of about 25, and a man next to me stands up “It can’t be!” he practically shouts. It is our friend Butch and he is as excited to see us as we were to see him. (We thought Butch and Margarita were on vacation, so we hadn’t told them we were going to be down.) And there’s Norman, my friend Annie’s husband.

We order breakfast. I have a vegetarian skillet and coffee, Jeff has a skillet also, but I can’t remember what kind. Breakfast is hot and huge.  As we begin to visit with those around us, a woman, Linda, sits down next to me  and gives me a hand-drawn grid paper map of the town of San Ramon.  She also has her card and a brochure about a local group called the “CAA” which stands for the Community Action Alliance. (More about that later.)  Linda is extremely nice and informative. Next to Jeff is Susan (married to Ben, who takes Linda’s seat later). Susan has brought a newcomer to the group. She introduces Dale and I ask how long he’s been here.  “17 days” he says. Okay, now get this…Dale is 82 years old and being alone in the States, he has uprooted himself and moved to San Ramon. I hope I’m that adventurous at that age. I ask him if he’s experienced any culture shock and he says “not really.” He and his wife lived abroad for several years in Hong Kong and he said the biggest culture shock they ever experienced was returning to the U.S.

We mention that we are interested in a long-term rental and Susan jumps right in. There is a house that just went empty in her neighborhood. She describes the area, the house, and says that this little neighborhood was built specifically for long-term rentals. This is where Dale has settled, too. Hmmm….Jeff takes down the information and we decide it is worth checking out.  Jeff has his heart set on an ocean view and I want monkeys in my yard. This neighborhood has mountain and valley views, so no ocean; and sloths but no monkeys. It is worth checking out anyway.

After breakfast we walk back through the town’s main square which is quite crowded. There is some sort of concert going on. I’m not sure if it is a school group or what, but we sit for a while and listen to the music. What a fun thing to stumble upon.

We need a few groceries and drive  to MaxiPali, one of the local grocery stores. We pick up just a couple of things like milk, cereal and eggs, beans, rice and tortillas, cheese and pasta and two cute little packets, one salad dressing, one pasta sauce.

Aren’t these cute little packets?? And just the right size, too.

We don’t get any fruit or veggies because la feria agricultura (farmer’s market) is tomorrow.

I’m proud of us (of Jeff actually) as he’s found Las Delicias and the grocery store without getting lost. We’re getting good at this!

Returning to Casa Mostaza, we unload our groceries and I make a big pot of rice and beans to go with our tortillas for dinner. Jeff contacts the owner of the house that Susan and Ben told us about at breakfast and we arrange to go see it tomorrow morning.

In Costa Rica the sun comes up around 5:30 a.m. and sets around 5:30 p.m. year-round; and since this is the rainy season the fog rolls in around 3:30.

As we eat dinner, Jeff has a beer and I have my Cubra Libre – a canned Rum and Coke that you can buy at the grocery store(!)

Ron y Cola

We watch the Thursday night NFL game: Denver Broncos vs the Cardinals. The game is in Spanish, of course, and since the Broncos are decimating the Cardinals, we switch to the Boston Red Sox playoff game, also in Spanish.

While we watch, Jeff looks up the cabins where Susan/Ben and Dale live along with a couple of other housing possibilities on his iPad and I work on my cross-stitch. Suddenly it is really late, and we have got to go to bed! Tomorrow we have some “can we live here?” errands to run; and Pedro is coming by at 1 to take us on a “tour.”

Hope to see you tomorrow!

Hogar, nuestra hogar (tal vez)

Title translation: Home, our home (maybe)

Pokey and Gumby are comfortably snuggled into a backpack pocket, suitcases are locked, passports in hand…time to go!

Tom Delaney arrives to take us to DIA (Denver International Airport) and we’re off; we arrive at the airport in plenty of time.  Tom is going on vacation tomorrow and is going to have to make this same hour long drive again in the morning.  Thank you, Tom, for doing this for us!

DIA is undergoing some massive remodeling (who knew?) and will be for about 2 years. For a few minutes, Jeff and I are discombobulated. We want to go to the north security gate because it has the shortest wait time, but we can’t figure out how to get there.  The airport is well prepared as there are information people everywhere. We learn that we can’t get there from here. We need to go down the escalators to baggage claim, walk as far north as we can and turn left. Ta-dah! Since we are both TSA pre-approved security is a breeze. Part of the security area is being remodeled  and some of the changes look very modern.

Our first flight is into Houston where we will have about an hour layover before leaving for San Jose, Costa Rica.

This trip, in addition to what we hope will be a relaxing vacation, has an agenda. First, we will be looking for a place to live. WHAT?? While some of you know, most do not. Jeff and I are going to relocate to Costa Rica for at least a year. He turns 65 in January, retires February 1st and we plan to move sometime mid-to-late February 2019. During this trip we will be looking for potential long-term rental opportunities.

The second purpose is to attend a seminar in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose. This seminar is conducted by the Association of Residents of Costa Rica (ARCR); an association we’ve belonged to for the past 3 years. The seminar will cover the legal, medical, banking (etc.) ins and outs of being an ex-pat in Costa Rica. Jeff calls it “ex-pat 101”; I’ll let you know how that goes.

Oh, we are so lucky! For both of our flights we have a row to ourselves. We have flown into the San Jose airport several times and in past blogs I’ve listed our itinerary for getting out of the airport: baggage claim, ATM, liquor store, customs/immigration (not necessarily in that order!). Then we always walk out of the airport, across the drive, and catch the shuttle to the Holiday Inn Express where we spend the night.  This arrival is going to be different for two reasons. First, in addition to the usual ATM, liquor store, etc., I am going to stop at the “Kolbi” kiosk and buy a Costa Rican SIM card for my phone.  I’ve brought my old IPhone 4 to use here. We’ve never done this before and are curious as to how it will work.  The second difference is that instead of going to the hotel, we are being picked up at the airport. Pedro manages Casa Mostaza (Mustard house) and he and his wife have driven into the airport to pick us up. And, Pedro is renting us one of his 4-wheel drive cars for only $25/day. That’s a HUGE bargain!

Getting the SIM card is not difficult; for about $10 US, I got 2 gigs of data and I’m not sure how much “talk” time. The staff tells me that their system is down, and I’ll have to activate it tomorrow. Okay, the instructions for doing that are clear. I’m good.

We are pretty much the last people out of the baggage area, so it isn’t difficult for Pedro to find us.  We climb into his car and we’re off to San Ramon.

I hope you enjoy this trip with us…


Return to 2018 Adventure Page           Next: the Mustard House