Our hometown (maybe)

Our plan today is to visit San Ramon. We know we love this area but we really don’t know much about the town; and, frankly, our initial experiences last October didn’t impress us much. Granted we did not spend a lot of time there then, so today is important to us.

But first, breakfast! We have our delicious drip Costa Rican coffee, fruit salad (cut up the pineapple, cantaloupe and one of the watermelons) and more herb bread. Jeff and I look all over the kitchen for one of those thingies that you use to make juice, but couldn’t find one. That will be our quest today: find a juicer thingy for our big bag of juicing oranges.

We’re off. It only takes about 10 minutes to drive into town and, since it is Saturday, we are super lucky to find a parking spot on the street by the square. The plaza is busy with lots of people sitting and chatting, there is what looks like a kind of “troop” of boys and girls in uniforms with banners on sticks – maybe a boy/girl scout troop? We cross the street from the plaza to the sidewalk and are right in front of the Museo de San Ramon (Museum of San Ramon) and hearing music we walk in. There, in the center plaza, are dancers in bright costumes. Here is a photo.

We were originally drawn to San Ramon because the University of Costa Rica is here and the town has many cultural events. Looks like we stumbled onto one. As we left the museum (we stayed just for the one dance) I saw a list of events taking place all day today…very cool.

Jeff and I are not shoppers, but if you live here and need household stuff or personal stuff like sneakers, we want to see what is or is not available…so today we’ll go into a bunch of stores. We discover an Ace Hardware type of place that has everything from books (Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice, Don Quixote, all in Spanish), to ginormous commercial restaurant pots. I could have fit inside one! We could buy a nice stainless steel grill for just under $1,000! It is here that I ask one of the clerks to teach me “We’re just looking, thank you.” That phrase came in very handy throughout the day!

Wandering on, we go into a shoe store, a fabric store, a couple of cooking stores and dah-tah! there is a juicer thingy. We spent the $1.10 and are on our walking way again.

Juicer thingy

There seems to be an abundance of Chino (Chinese) restaurants in San Ramon. We step inside one to look at the menu…looks like Chinese food equates to chop suey with salsa! We walk by what looks like a very nice sushi restaurant. There are more fried chicken and fries restaurants or little booth-like store fronts than you can imagine.

While in town, we also want to find the public library and the rec center. Jeff has a general idea of where the public library is located from a rudimentary map we found in the car. Remember, there are no street signs (or very few) or addresses so people navigate by “it is 500 meters north of thus and such.” We get lost so I stop to ask a car watcher where the public library is. “?Donde esta la biblioteca publica?” He says, “Libros?” (Books?). Yes. He gives us directions, and I think the blank and confused looks on our faces concern him – that isn’t at all the direction we thought it was. He gets up from his stool and walks us to…a book store! We thank him very much, give him a tip, wait until he is out of sight and then go back to the plaza (easily found because of the towering church and trees) to regroup and start again. Okay, we set out retracing the route, which unfortunately leads us past the car watcher guy again (at least we are on the other side of the street) and do find the public library – which is closed on the weekend. But now we at least know where it is.

La Biblioteca publica (public library)
University of Costa Rica

Then we walk to the University of Costa Rica campus (we know where this is) and walk around there for a little bit (it is very small). Since it is Saturday there are no classes, but still many student-looking types are scurrying about. Leaving campus, we wander through a nice residential area to where the farmers market is held on Fridays and Saturdays. It has already closed for today which we expected; we’re just learning to navigate.

Now, the rec center. We walk and walk around the area we think it should be. If you had a drawing of our route it would look like concentric circles getting smaller and smaller and smaller. We’re hot and tired and my feet hurt. When in doubt, return to the plaza (main square), which we do. After sitting in the shade in the plaza for a little while, Jeff has a brilliant thought – let’s go back to the museum and surely someone there speaks some English. A great plan! Except the reception guy doesn’t speak English and my “gimnasio y piscina publica” (gym and public pool) doesn’t mean anything to him. I even mimed swimming (fun with charades) and no dice. Right then two guys came in – the reception guy was so happy to see them and no wonder. They were friends of his and spoke perfect English. We explained what we were looking for and learned it was two blocks down and three blocks over (he even knew enough not to give us directions in meters and landmarks!). It is a red building that takes up the whole block. Okay, not sure how we missed that – off we go. His directions were spot on and we had walked by this building at least three times! We thought it was a school. And, it too was closed.

Let’s see, we think we’ve done a good job of exploring and navigating. Our last stop is to find a supermercado (super market). It takes us a little while to hone in on one, mostly because everything looks familiar: was it this street or that street? Maybe it was a street over? Eventually, of course, we find one and pick up the few things you can’t get at the farmers market: paper towels, milk, coffee (which we could have gotten at the farmer’s market, but forgot), and some granola.
We carry our store purchases back to the truck, now we’re really are hot and tired but have had a very good and productive day.

Local restaurant (chicken fried Jeff!)

But our adventure isn’t over yet. As we drive home we decide to stop at the soda near Magallenes. (Magallenes is the area where we are staying.) A soda is a type of tico restaurant. They serve basic food like: rice/beans, chicken and rice, black bean soup, there are sodas EVERYWHERE and they are very reasonably priced. You don’t usually see gringos at sodas. Our soda is open air, the kitchen in the back, a small counter with 5-6 bar stools, three little tables in the front (kind of in the gravel parking lot but not really.) I order and Jeff says the young woman taking our order had the same “deer in the headlights look” that I had. hahaha! But, we did get what we ordered and it was very tasty. I had “sopa negra” – black bean soup which came with 3 freshly made corn tortillas and rice; Jeff had “pollo y arroz” – chicken and rice which came with coleslaw. Yum!

So now we have accomplished the three important things we wanted to do on this trip: investigate Atenas, explore San Ramon more fully and eat at a soda. We think the town of San Ramon is a-ok. We’ll do another exploratory trip, on a weekday, to see how it is then, maybe Wednesday.

Home again we put away our groceries, and after our big lunch at the soda, Jeff takes a nap while I relax in the hammock for a while.

Pokey and Gumby relaxing in the hammock

Dinner tonight is a large salad. We’re definitely eating well.

Tomorrow we are going to get in some touristy stuff..please join us!

Farmer’s market – JOY

First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many hummingbirds in my life. These little flittery birds are everywhere – well, there are flowers everywhere and there is a hummingbird feeder by the front door. It is so neat to see them. The number of hummingbirds is second to the number of butterflies! Last night when we were visiting Norman and Annie, she and I saw a blue Morpho butterfly go by. She was very excited because blue Morpho’s are not commonly seem in this area. She said it was a sign that Jeff and I belong here. There are roughly a bazillon butterflies here at our casita.

We woke up this morning to birdsong – what a racket!! There are singing, chirping, squaking, and cooing birds in all the trees around us. We left the bedroom window open all night, what a great way to wake up.

We have an agenda for this trip to Costa Rica: check out Atenas as a possible town in which to relocate, and spend time in “our” town of San Ramon and experience a “soda”. We’ve gotta get up because today is an exploring day, and more importantly, a farmer’s market day!

After a quick breakfast of drip Costa Rican coffee and 1/2 of a Clif bar each, we hop in the car and head for Atenas.

Costa Rican Mr. Coffee

Atenas is about 45 minutes (15 miles) from here. I know what you’re thinking…15 miles in 45 minutes? Seriously? Yup…the road, which is in good condition (i.e. paved) is VERY steep and windy. Amazingly we get to Atenas without getting lost!! Atenas, like nearby Grecia, is named after a Greek town. Atenas, of course, means “Athens” the capital of Greece. It is a nice little town and is said to have “the best climate in the world” as the temperature ranges between day and night are small and vary only by a few degrees all year round. The evening temps averages 19 Celsius (about 66 degrees F) to the average daytime high of about 26 degrees C or 78.8 F. This area is popular with ex-pats because of the nice climate, and other things, of course.

We find street parking a couple of blocks from the main square where we expect to find the market. No, it has been moved a bit out of town, but there is a free(!) bus that takes shoppers back and forth. The bus runs every hour and one just left. Talking with a young woman we learn that it isn’t far, maybe a mile and we talk about walking. An older lady joins the conversation (people here are so nice). Her English is better than the young woman’s and definitely better than my Spanish. She advises us not to walk as there is nothing between here and there, just the road, and we might get mugged. Always listen to the locals! We decide to drive to the market and are happy that we did…the road was good, but there really was nothing along the way – no sidewalk and there was one good steep hill. Parking at the farmer’s market was easy, well-organized and free. The market itself was in a huge empty metal building…well, actually a metal roof as there were no sides. It did have a concrete floor which made it easy to push the REAL grocery carts that were available.

Nirvana! We spent at least 90 minutes selecting our fruits and vegies. We splurged on two ready-made tamales and two little containers of rice pudding. I know this is weird, but here is a list and photo of what we purchased for about $18.
3 cucumbers, 3 gorgeous tomatoes, 4 ears of corn, 4 white potatos, 1 cantalope, 1 pineapple, 2 small watermelons, 1/2 kilo of green beans, 1 liter of delicious, creamy yogurt, 3 lbs of carrots, 2 heads of green leaf lettuce, 1 large head of broccoli,, 1 bunch of kale, 1 loaf of delicious homemade herb bread, 6-8 pound of juicing oranges, the tamales and rice pudding and a bunch of flowers.
If you take out the cost of the flowers, we spent about $16 for our food for the week!

Farmer’s market goodies

There are farmer’s markets every week all year round. Nice, healthy fresh vegies…though I did just recently learn that Costa Rica ranks #1 in the world for pesticide use – including some that are banned in the US. Bummer.

We begin to unload our shopping cart into the cloth grocery sacks we always pack. There is NO WAY all of that is going to fit in these bags. Thank goodness we drove!! How would we even carry all this stuff on the bus?? We get it all packed away in the back of our borrowed 4-Runner and go back into Atenas proper.

We explore Atenas for most of the afternoon…nice clean town, friendly people, well-stocked stores. Unfortunately we don’t know anyone here and won’t have a chance to check out the residential areas.

Back to the car…we are ravenous. It has been a long time since that 1/2 Clif bar and coffee. Jeff rips off a hunk of herb bread and opens the yougurt while I unwrap and snarf down one of the tamales with a rice pudding chaser. Yum!

Time to head home. To get to Atenas you need to go through the town of Palmeras, and you guessed it! We got lost going through Palmeras. We thought “maybe we could just follow that bus.” Dumb idea! Time for Google maps…just as I got our geographical, electronic location on my phone, Jeff recognized a turn and we were back on track.

Safely home we unpack and relax.

Jeff sleeping in our hammock

Now, back to the promised answer to the burning question: “why are there lentils in Jeff’s suitcase?”
First of all, it was my suitcase and more importantly it had more than lentils in it . Before leaving Colorado, I put together two different, homemade dehydrated soup mixes and put the ingredients into baggies. This is something I’ve adopted doing whenever I know we’ll be arriving late somewhere or if we need food before going grocery shopping. That’s what I did last night, I made red lentil soup for dinner because we knew we would not buy any food until today. So, I’m happy the little customs guy asked if I had beans and not lentils! Actually, what I think he saw were my bags of roasted peanuts.

Tonight we finish last night’s red lentil soup and enjoy a fresh salad and yummy bread.

Tonight is also experimentation night. We brought our Chromecast device with us to see if it works in Costa Rica. Success! We can “cast” Netflix and Hoopla from our iPad to the TV. We don’t watch much television at all but do enjoy Netflix especially. Good to know for future reference. In our testing mode, I start up the disaster movie “2012” (you do know that I have a penchant for disaster movies, right?). Next thing we know we’ve sat through the entire movie and it is after midnight. We go to bed!!

Hasta manana

Do panthers eat snakes?

When the United States is on daylight saving time, Colorado and Costa Rica have the same time; so when I woke up at 7:15 this morning I was a little ticked. I wanted to sleep in; but when I looked out our hotel room window and saw the greenery and sun, all was good.

View outside our hotel room

It didn’t take long for us to have our free breakfast and pack up. The hotel reception person called a cab to take us to the bus station in Alajuela where we will catch a bus to San Ramon. Annie and Norman will pick us up on the other end.

The bus station was about 5 minutes away and much more manageable for us than the first time we were in a Costa Rican bus station. Part of the difference is that I am more comfortable attempting to communicate in Spanish and this station is MUCH smaller than the big one in San Jose. We successfully buy our tickets and are given two slips of white paper (receipts) and two little foam pieces about an inch square with numbers 5 & 6 written on them.

We think we know which bus to get on – if it doesn’t say San Ramon, it should say Puntaneras (a larger city down the coast.) Haha! We need not have worried. A bus pulled in with both town names scolling along the top and a man walked up and down the sidewalk calling “San Ramon, Puntaneras…”
We put our suitcases under the bus (Travel tip: If you do this, be sure your suitcases are locked and watch when other people with luggage underneath get off so they don’t make off with your bag or that your bag gets left behind)
A man at the bus door started calling out numbers in Spanish and I was pleased, shocked and surprised when Jeff stepped forward when the guy said “cinco, seis” and handed him the little foam numbers. When you get on, you give the white receipt things to the driver and pick a seat. These buses are not fancy, but they are comfortable and our trip to San Ramon was relaxing.

Once we arrived it wasn’t long before Annie and Norman pulled up. It was WONDERFUL to see our friends again!! Norman introduced himself, which I thought was odd, and “hey, this is a new truck!” Annie gave me a quick look, “Yes, we just got it a few days ago and we have so much to tell you” and I recognized the “later” warning look in her eyes.

Ah, so nice to recognize the roads and sites, we turned to Magallenes, drove past Las Terraces, where we stayed last October, and then arrived at our casita. Annie and Norman’s house is right “next door” – which in Costa Rican translates as, open the barbed wire gate, walk through the jungle a little bit and when you get close to their house starting calling out the dogs’ names: “Here, Red! Come on, Canela! Here Menschie!” so they don’t attack when you come walking onto the property.

We carry our stuff into the house and they give us a quick tour and information we might need. We have also rented Kyle and Diane’s car, so there is a piece of paper with their mechanic’s name and phone numbers on it and a note that he speaks English. Sure hope we don’t need that!

Our car and casita

Last month when Jeff was looking at Ana’s website (she is a realtor) he found the most wonderful house – even in our price range! Before we arrived in CR, he asked Annie if she could show it to us – she knows our plans are a couple of years out and we are going to rent – but she said yes. Turns out that property is on the OTHER side of our casita. So, we make plans to unpack, walk over to Norman and Annie’s house, have lunch and then walk to the property for sale.

While we are enjoying Annie’s Cuban black beans and bread, she tells us about the new car. In February, Norman and a friend were in a terrible car accident on the same ROAD FROM HELL that Jeff and I accidentally drove last fall. Norman’s brakes failed and because the road is gravel and super super steep, he had the choice of going off the cliff or driving into the mountain. He chose the mountain. The car had so much momentum it rolled 5 times ejecting Norman’s friend, rolled over him (he was badly injured but will be okay) and generally getting smashed to bits. It took 2 hours for the ambulance to arrive and when it did the driver said he could probably get down the road but would not be able to get back up. So good samaritans that had stopped and stayed to assist helped carry the two men up to the ambulance. Unbelievably, the tow truck driver had the same issue! Anyway, Norman had 5 broken ribs and a serious concussion – which explains why he introduced himself to me. Not good for a 78 year old man… but he is okay.

After lunch we walk up to the for sale house. The owners aren’t expecting us and we shout “Upe” (Anyone home?) as we walk down the drive (They don’t have a dog!). We are welcomed in and shown around; their son, a Southwest Airlines pilot, is visiting them for the first time and we all sit and have iced tea and chat. Jeff and I excuse ourselves to walk down to the river and waterfall which is pretty but not very watery. The high season in Costa Rica is the dry season and this one has, apparently been really dry.

We walk home after making plans to walk over to Annie and Norman’s to watch the sunset and have drinks. I brought Annie the bags of carob chips she asked me to bring her, and thought I was going to have to take them away. I was afraid she was going to make herself sick! Haha

Bananas growing in our backyard

Afterwards we borrow their flashlight to walk back through the jungle – there are BIG snakes in this area AND a panther in the neighborhood. Norman offers us a machete, but if I see either of those animals I know I’ll just drop dead and won’t have need for a defensive weapon! Jeff will be on his own!

Sunset here is about 5:45 so we entertain ourselves. I write, Jeff reads and we listen to all the night sounds. What a nice day. It was long but fun.

Time for bed. Hasta manana…

On our way!

Yippee! All packed and ready to go – our friend, Tom, arrived early to chauffer us to the airport. Apparently he slept later than he intended and still got to our house early. I’m sure he enjoyed watching us eat breakfast.

Our extra-legroom, exit row seats were nice and roomy and our flight to Atlanta was quick and uneventful. Though there is a train at the Atlanta airport we decided to walk to our international gate.  It was a pretty long walk and felt good to get some exercise. Our layover was almost 3 hours, which gave us time for a non-snacky meal and we both settle on spaghetti. Very tasty.

The flight from Atlanta to San Jose was a blast. Our upgrade included free drinks and a sandwich (too bad we ate the spaghetti). We also had free movies, so I got to watch “San Andreas” again which gave me my disaster movie fix for the week. We make it a point to give small gifts, usually chocolates, to the flight crews when we’re flying. The flight attendants work hard and I’m sure most of their work is thankless. We bought two bags of fancy chocolates before leaving home. We don’t expect or want anything in return – just to show our appreciation. Well, good golly! This flight crew was so appreciative!! By the end of the flight each of them had come to personally thank us, they kept us plyed with booze and when we started saying “no, thank you” to that, they delivered coffee. I could feel the other premium seat people around us wondering…especially when Marvin brought us chocolate chip ice cream with REAL spoons from the first class area. At the end of the flight the head steward brought us a thank you card and we were hugged as we deplaned. All because of some kind words and a $5 bag of chocolates.

Jeff was correct, landing in San Jose felt like coming home; well, except for the tremendously long line at immigration. Then going through customs, where they x-ray your luggage, my bag got pulled off. What the heck? The examiner was saying something in English, but I couldn’t understand him. Then he said “Tienes frijoles?” Do you have beans?” Ah, no…I don’t have any beans. There are lentils in Jeff’s suitcase but I didn’t mention those – we think he got the suitcases mixed up. (More later on why there are lentils in Jeff’s suitcase.)

We have our routine…go to the ATM, go to the liquor store (best liquor prices in Costa Rica are at the airport!) and then walk outside to where the Holiday Inn Express shuttle stops.
At the liquor store we get three bottles of wine and a bottle of coconut rum for me. Not sure what I’m going to mix that with – maybe just ice.

As we walk out the airport we see the hotel van and get right on – no waiting at all. I’ve been a little annoyed about the hotel because, even though I am the highest member class (Spire Elite) I couldn’t book a free night with my points, so we have to pay for our room. Oh, well, now I have even more points. I asked the checkin clerk and she said that the hotel has been completely full – I had forgotten that it is high season!

All checked in and time for bed! See you manana

The Prelude

Hogar, dulce hogar, translates to Home, sweet home.

If you are a faithful reader of our blogs you know that Jeff and I are very frugal travelers – or maybe we are travelers because we are very frugal? Anyway, we often get our accomodations through sites like VRBO (vacation rentals by owner) or occassionally Airbnb. We are returning to Costa Rica this week and several weeks ago, on a lark, I wrote to our friends Annie and Norman in San Ramon, CR telling them we were planning to come down and we were going to stay in Atenas because we want to check out that area. I asked her if she knew anyone around who might have a place to rent and that we did not want to spend more than $150-175/night. (This is high season in Costa Rica)

Well, holy crow! Yes, she did! Annie’s neighbors are going on vacation and have very flexible dates. Okay then – we love San Ramon and it is within easy driving distance to Atenas. A couple of emails back and forth and Jeff and I will be staying at “Kyle and Diane’s” house for 7 days for only $500! AND, we’re renting their car for $150 instead of getting one from Budget for $350+. Yippee!

So, we have had this trip planned for several months and bought our airline tickets in January. Can you imagine my surprise when I printed our boarding passes to discover that we didn’t have seat assignments. Hmmm…obviously that’s not right. I started digging around on Delta’s flight info and discovered that not only did we not have seats, we were numbers 5 & 6 on the standby list. What?? Time for a little person-to-person. After a call to Delta and an extra $100 we have seat assignments. Supposedly there were only middle seats, one behind the other, left, but if I wanted to pay for 2 seats together they could put us in an exit row. Generally I would not even consider doing that, I mean, we already bought our tickets, but since both flights are 3 or more hours long and we do want to sit together, I spent the money.
So, LESSON TO BE LEARNED: if you buy airline tickets through Expedia or a similar site, call the airline right away for your seat assignment!
NOTE: Delta has the best customer service I’ve ever experienced.

As we drove to work this morning, Jeff said that he could feel stress melting away and that he felt like he “is going home to Costa Rica.”  Hence, the blog title.

We left work early today because before we leave tomorrow I need to mow the lawn, we need to finish painting the kitchen (long story there) and PACK! It is also Jeff’s mom’s birthday so we need to work her into the mix…

Success! Everything has been accomplished, including an unexpected meeting with the “granite guy” (part of the long story) when he swung by the house.

Tomorrow we leave.