North and South

Aha, now we are getting into the swing of things. It is 6:45 a.m. and we’re out of bed and drinking coffee!

Looking out the front windows we see that the view to Puntarenas is fogged in, but there is a rainbow forming. This isn’t any normal rainbow because it is almost flat and lays against the mountains below. A car pulls up outside the house; we don’t recognize the woman driving and she proceeds to try to turn around, completing her 40-point turn just as another woman comes walking up the hill. Walking up is our “down the hill” neighbor, Mae and she is meeting Shannon, who is driving the car. New to Costa Rica, Shannon is NOT about to drive down the hill to Mae’s house and back up – but then she has made this turnaround on a very narrow, steep hill. She looks like she could use a stiff drink.

Mae introduces herself and Shannon gets out of the car. The rainbow has become HUGE and is amazingly beautiful. The four of us go to our upstairs balcony; Jeff, Mae and I take photos. Andy comes walking down the driveway with his big camera. I’ve never seen a rainbow (or actually, it’s a rain-“flat”) like this before!

Mae’s photo of the “rain-flat”

Jeff and I show  Shannon around our casita; she mentions that she might be interested in renting it long term. She and Mae are going to a local art show; a one-woman show and invite us to join them. Unlike yesterday though Jeff and I have plans, so Mae and Shannon head out and we go back inside.

Our plan for this morning is something that we planned to do on this trip and this morning is the only time it will work. We are going to watch church!  Jeff and I are members of Foothills Unitarian Universalist church in Fort Collins and recently (since the 2016 election) membership in our church has skyrocketed; we’ve added an extra service and now the church live streams all three services. We enjoy our church and want to see if we can continue “attending” once we relocate to Costa Rica. So we settle into two easy chairs, fire up Jeff’s iPad, and, sure enough, we can attend church. Nice!  But in the middle of one of my favorite songs, Andy appears at the door. Jeff briefly chats with him  – he has come down to tell us that there is a Bible study group in town if we are interested.  That is the last thing we would be interested in, but we thank him for the information. Jeff mentions that later today we are planning to visit a local sugar factory that a friend told us about but we’re a little confused. One set of directions for the factory direct us to the town of Piedadas Sur, but another guide says the factory is in Piedras del Norte.  So, it is either in Piedadas North or South, does Andy know where it is? Andy says Piedras del Norte but it is only open on Wednesdays. Dang

Knowing now that the sugar factory isn’t open today, we decide that after church we’ll do a little exploring or as Jeff describes it “lets get lost someplace new,”  and we’ll go to both Piedadas del Norte and Piedras Sur. At least we can find the sugar factory so if we do get around to visiting it we’ll have a clue.

Off we go. The drive is very nice and the scenery is gorgeous. The roads are not bad, not great, but not bad. It is easy in Costa Rica to know when you’ve reached the middle of town regardless of  how small the town is, because the middle of town is where the big church will be. Both Piedadas del Norte and Piedadas Sur are very small and in neither town do we see anything that resembles a sugar factory. Hmm…maybe we have the wrong towns?  It doesn’t matter because we’ve had a nice time driving around.  Jeff and I switch driving duties, something we always do so one person isn’t missing the scenery and always trying to navigate the roads.

Heading back to  Magallenes  we stop at a local souvenir shop, El Jardin, to pick up some coffee. As we leave El Jardin Jeff suggests we drive all the way down the Magallenes road to the river.  We’ve done this in the past and it is a STEEP drive but the scenery is great.  Jeff drives and as we go down, down, down the road we realize we’ve made a mistake.  Yes, the road is steep, but it is also in terrible shape with big drop-offs and the asphalt has been torn up in several place.  This road was apparently seriously damaged in the last earthquake.  YIKES! Good golly.  The drive-able bit of the road is at most single lane.  Jeff finds a spot to turn around and we begin the arduous drive back UP the hill. It is very slow going as we look for intact road and with the steepness sometimes we’re able only to see sky! Our little car is 4-wheel drive but is only 4-cylinders and we hope it will get us back up this hill.

Finally we are safely home! Whew, won’t be doing that again. Jeff needed to relax a little afterwards. Here he is in one of the swinging chairs on our porch.

We are planning a fun excursion for tomorrow and though we DO know where the place is located, we’re not sure of the best route; so I message Mae and ask if we can stop down at her house, which we do.  Mae’s house is very cool; she designed it herself and it is perfect for her and her three dogs. We got the tour and loved how functional/industrial everything was…a woman after our hearts! We visited with Mae for quite a while. (For those of you who know me well, you can imagine how excited I was that she had an Instant Pot! hahaha!)  Mae has helped us with our driving directions and it’s dark out now. I pull out my trusty flashlight and we trudge back up the hill. It’s time for dinner!

After dinner we sit and play Phase 10 until I noticed something moving on the floor.

Jeff bravely captured this tarantula with a water glass and piece of paper while I danced around the house going “Oh my god! Oh my god!”  In Costa Rica, it is important to bang your shoes before you put them on in case little guys like this (or scorpions) crawl in; and you should always assume that whatever the animal is that it is poisonous…

We have a fun day planned for tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us…





Lazy day

Acting more like Ticos today we wake up at 6:15 and get out of bed. The sun is shining into the bedroom and it is hot.  Outside there is a strong wind but inside it feels wonderful.  We make breakfast…coffee, Jeff has eggs and I have cereal and we both have the cut-up fruit. I could live on watermelon!

Today is our “lost” day, seriously. We sat outside on our comfy swinging chairs and chatted, sat inside reading, I did a couple of Suduko puzzles. We did take a long walk up into Las Terrazas where we had rented a house a couple of years ago. It was interesting to see what new houses have gone into the subdivision, what new landscaping other folks have put in and generally just have a nice walk.

Pokey and Gumby hanging out at home.

For dinner I sauteed some onion and green pepper, sprinkled Italian seasoning and added a can of spaghetti sauce. Spaghetti and green salad and wine – very tasty. After cleaning up the dishes, we need to keep the kitchen spotless because there are lots of ants, we play two rounds of our Phase 10 card game. Suddenly it is late and we go to bed.

Tomorrow we’ll be more active (probably).


San Ramon and Magallenes

We did not get up with the sun…we are not on “tico time” yet where everyone gets up early. There are a couple of reasons people here do this: 1) the sun comes up around 6 a.m. and sets approximately 5:30 p.m. pretty much all year-round. Costa Rica doesn’t observe daylight savings time and life revolves around the natural order of things. But we are up now, 9-ish, and Jeff has made coffee. I step outside in my shorts and tee-shirt, coffee cup in hand (delicious Costa Rican coffee, by the way) and listen to the birds. It sounds like millions of birds. Oh, and look, there’s a hummingbird.

We have only one thing on our agenda today and that is to drive into San Ramon to the feria agricultura (farmer’s market.) Today, Friday, the market is open from noon-6 and tomorrow 8-noon. We definitely need to go today because we need food. When we travel, I always pack dehydrated peanut butter and this morning was delighted to discover I had grabbed my bag of chocolaty peanut butter – kind of a dehydrated nutella. For breakfast I had two pieces of peanut butter bread and Jeff had some of the cereal we bought at Walmart yesterday.

For lack of anything else to do we decide to take a walk and start up Calle Morales (our street) which is rough gravel and rock. As we walk by the Hacienda, owned by Nancy and Alex, who also own our casita, we stop to introduce ourselves to the couple who are renting another of the properties. We meet Harvey and Annette and continue on our way.  The walk is steep and the steepest part is paved which is nice. I glance into the yard of a gringo house we pass and see the largest chicken I have ever seen in my life –  I thought it was a dog! I’ll bet it lays eggs the size of dinosaur eggs.

When we reach the end of our street, we decide to walk further (up!) the Magallenes road toward the autopista (highway). As we pant our way up, an older couple is walking down. “Hola” we all exchange greetings. People here are very friendly and it is important to wave at passing cars or greet others as you pass them.  The woman stops and asks “Do you speak English?”. Why yes, as a matter of fact we do.  Turns out this couple, Emma and Francisco, are Nicaraguans who have lived in Toronto for the past 35 years and they are moving to Costa Rica.  “We just bought a house,” she tells us, “would you like to see it?”  Of course!  Naturally, the house is back down the road but not too far.  It is a teeny tiny Tico house – maybe two rooms.

Emmaand Francisco’s house

The kitchen has a tiny electric 2-burner hot plate; the minuscule living room is outfitted with 2 lawn chairs. They are just moving in.  Their pride in their house could not be more evident and we exclaim over the view from their property and we sit and visit for a few minutes.  We’re happy to meet some non-gringos and now that we know where they live we’ll look for them whenever we go by.

We continue our walk, back up the hill, to the autopista (highway) about 2 kilometers from our casita. Then we turn around and walk back. Back down Calle Morales (our street) instead of turning left to our ‘driveway’ we walk past a partially closed gate that marks the beginning of new construction area. There is a set of houses – more like casitas- that are being built and they are weird. First of all, they are wooden, there are huge termites here, and second, they are on stilts, which you’d think with Costa Rica’s numerous earthquakes cannot be a good design.  Jeff figures they are being built as rentals.  We walk around on the “not quite” roads before heading home. We need to get to the farmer’s market.

I’m excited that we drove from Magallenes to the feria agricultura in San Ramon without getting lost! We’re trainable.  I know I’ve described other farmer’s markets in past blogs so suffice it to say that we got a LOT of wonderful fresh fruits, vegetable and cut flowers for not a lot of money! The most expensive thing we bought was some red snapper. It was one of the few fish we could identify and bought one whole one and asked the kid behind the counter to filet another one. He was completely flummoxed but we made ourselves clear and he did it. (Thanks to Google translate!)  Though we’ve eaten plenty of them we’ve never cooked a whole red snapper, so this will be an experience.

Dinner. Recipe compliments of the internet

We spend extra time at the feria – walking around, looking at everything. It is truly amazing.  Jeff brings the car down from where we parked on the street so we can put our groceries in the car – I’m not carrying that watermelon and pineapple up the hill!

At home, we start putting stuff away.  I chop up 3/4 of the watermelon and all of the pineapple to keep in a large bowl in the refrigerator. Then I take one of the two giant heads of lettuce, a tomato, cucumber, and carrot and create a large green salad to also have handy in the refrigerator. We have mushrooms that we’ll add at serviing time. I have 2 cucumbers, a head of lettuce, more carrots, broccoli and green beans left. Lots of everything.

While in the kitchen I decide to go ahead and cook a large pot of gallo pinto (beans and rice) and using my handy homemade spice box season them with cumin and cayenne.  A quick meal with our corn tortillas. YUM!

This afternoon we’ve been invited to our landlord’s hacienda for a sunset and drinks gathering.  Did I mention that it has been VERY windy here?  This has a good side and a bad  side. The wind keeps the air clear of fog so we can easily see the peninsula at Puntarenas 30 miles down (we can see the cruise ships go in and out)  but the wind also makes it chilly up here.  We didn’t know that enero (January) is this area’s windy month and we’re happy to have learned that. Luckily, I have the blue jeans, wool socks and fleece sweater I wore on the plane down to Costa Rica and put them on before we go to the party.

We walk up to the Hacienda and meet several other folks who have arrived. I really want to describe the Hacienda to you,  but 1) I’m not sure I really can and 2) I don’t think you’d believe me if I did.  When you first enter the house, you walk over this little tile  bridge in the foray, under which is a small lap pool.  The main area is the size and has the look of a huge hotel lobby – the bathroom even has a sign that says “toilet.”  Apparently Nancy and Andy do a LOT of entertaining!!  The kitchen is huge, as is the eating area; the table seats 10-12. The best part is the back deck. It is gigantic and gorgeous views!  We meet all the other folks, some of whom we’ve met on previous trips, have drinks, ceviche, guacamole, homemade tortilla chips and a good time. The sunset, though, is a non-event as the wind has stopped and the fog has rolled in.

The Hacienda. Our casita is the smaller building to the left.

It is fun to hang out with everyone. Andy’s brother, Henry, is a sailor and sails his 42 foot catamaran back and forth from here to Canada; he and his little dog, Shiner, are visiting now. There is interesting conversation and too soon it is time to head home.  Always thinking ahead, I have a flashlight in my pocket and we walk down the hill.

As we go to bed the wind is blowing hard again. So hard, in fact, that leaves and tree branches swing in front of the motion sensor security lights and the lights flash on at unpredictable times.  In the night both Jeff and I get up because the wind is banging the shower door (remember, it has no roof) and we stuff a rug under it to keep it quiet.

This feels like it was a very lazy day, but turns out we did do more than I thought!

See you tomorrow!



Going to San Ramon

I am sound asleep when Jeff turns on the hotel room light. I look at the clock – 9:45 a.m., mumble something rude, pull the covers over my head and try to go back to sleep. I can hear him moving hurriedly around, he’s getting dressed. What the heck? “WHAT are you doing?” “The free breakfast is over at 10; I’m going down to get us some food.” How sweet, I can’t be annoyed by that plan! He goes dashing out of the room, and helpful mate that I am, I stumble to the shower. It is a very pretty morning.

“View” from our room. Notice the Denny’s

Just as I am finishing my shower I hear someone rattling at the door. Jeff can’t get the door open….so I step out onto the bathmat and shuffled my wet, naked body to the door to let him in.

He has eggs, sausage, yogurt, a banana and coffee for himself and for me, coffee, gallo pinto (beans and rice), some corn, a banana, and an English muffin with mango preserves. Nice way to begin the day. Oh, and the coffee was delicious.

My breakfast

After dressing and enjoying our breakfasts, I walk down to the reception desk to ask for a late checkout. We had planned to be at our casita, “Casita Vivace,” in Magallenes outside of San Ramon before noon. Not gonna happen, so Jeff texts the owners and tells them to expect us in the early afternoon instead. We decide it would be smarter to pick up our rental car and come back to the hotel for luggage than to drag our bags with us. Our plan worked really well;  we took the hotel shuttle back to the airport, then took the Alamo shuttle to the rental cars and pretty soon were on our way back to the hotel. I had asked for a 1 p.m. checkout and because traffic is heavy we are cutting it close, but we arrive with 15 minutes to spare. Good timing…except our key has been deactivated. Luckily a housekeeper working nearby let us in and we were off.

First stop? Why, Walmart, of course. We want to pick up a few things that we probably won’t be able to get at the farmer’s market in San Ramon tomorrow: milk, whole wheat bread, juice, beer. Despite knowing exactly where Walmart is, we can’t find it. Hmmm. Thirty minutes of lost driving later, we decide to go back to the hotel and start over. On our way back, we drive right past Walmart! What the heck? But it is on the other side of this divided highway.  We drive almost all the way back to the Holiday Inn before we can make a U-turn.

Luckily we have a grocery list because our brains are busy doing translations and currency conversions (560 colones=$1). Seems like we are in Walmart forever. I have a devil of a time finding small bags of rice and beans but eventually we get out of there and are ready to drive to Magallenes.  It is roughly a 45 minute drive…unless you get lost…leaving the Walmart parking lot…

Okay, now we are on the right road, all is well with the world. As we drive we notice several areas where military looking guys and police are standing around. They seem to be randomly waving people off the road. Wonder what that’s about? About halfway to San Ramon we get to the 9th or 10th such group and WE get waved over. What in the world?? The cop is very nice. He asks for Jeff’s passport and license (he was driving); asks where we’re from, where we’re going, says “Pura Vida” (Good life or happy life) and sends us on our way. Well, we learned something very important that we knew but always ignored, that is:  we need to carry our passports when driving.

We don’t arrive at the casita until almost 4 pm! So much for an early start. Andy and Nancy are the owners of Hacienda Vivace, also the casita we are renting, along with a couple of other properties. The casita is great! Very modern, sleeps 6, (but has only one bathroom). There are wonderful views out of every window and we can see the Pacific Ocean 30 miles away.

After Andy shows us around and leaves, we scout around more on our own. There is a HUGE shower. “Why,” I ask Jeff, “is the shower floor all wet?” “Look up.” Ohhhh, it’s an outdoor shower, and it has been raining! Cool!

Outdoor shower


Everything  you see in this photo that isn’t glass block is open to the outside. Be aware that an outdoor shower may mean you have unexpected guests drop in on you – like this not-so-little guy.

Shower guest

We are pretty tired and luckily have planned ahead for dinner. I packed some “boil in the bag” brown rice and we have two vacuum sealed servings (like you’d get at a camping store) of salmon in Thai lemon-grass sauce. I boil dinner (!) – easy, quick and yummy!

About this time we realize there’s no TV!! We don’t  watch TV very often but now the fact that we don’t have one is an issue. LOL. Happily the Internet connection is excellent so we fire up Jeff’s Ipad and watch yesterday’s Rachel Maddow show.

Now it’s late and time for bed… we hope you will come on the rest of our trip with us…

Denver to Oklahoma City to Houston to…

Sunset at 42,000 feet

Denver to Oklahoma  City to Houston…are we there yet? Not yet…to San Jose, Costa Rica

A brand new year and what better way to celebrate than to travel? Jeff and I, and Pokey and Gumby, of course, are heading for our favorite vacation destination (or as Jeff calls it, “home.”) Yes, we are going back to Costa Rica.

Our day started bright and early with Tom, our personal chauffeur, arriving at 7:30 a.m. We load bags into the car and since we are flying Southwest Airlines and don’t have to pay for checked luggage we each have a suitcase. We could have packed, and I mean packed, everything into one carry-on sized bag, but we’ve packed like normal people; which means we’ve probably over packed. For example, we’re only going to be away for 10 days and I packed 2 pair of shorts.

As Tom zooms along down I-25, the three of us chat until I say, “Wasn’t that the exit to the airport??”  Tom says, “Yes” and then “OH!”  We take the next exit and zoom back the way we came. We’re off to a good start.

Tom drops us off and heads home while we go inside to get our boarding passes. Normally we would  do this online ahead of time, but since this is an international flight we have to do it at the airport. Unfortunately the little self service kiosk hates Jeff’s passport. It’s a brand new passport so maybe that’s the issue? I try mine and, nope, it hates my passport, too. The airport is super busy with people everywhere. We make our way past about 100 or so people lined up to drop off their bags at the SW counter and go to the Help Desk. Unbelievably there are only 2 people in line here and wow! we get checked in right away, we’re TSA pre-approved, leave our bags with the counter person and walk toward security. Holy mackerel – the security lines are inundated so we walk to the A concourse security area. When we get there, they have only one line open, instead of three and tell us all to walk in single file. How strange.  A TSA sniffer dog walks by. We get up to the security officer very quickly and learn that the dog is specially trained and everyone in line is automatically pre-approved. No one has to take off their shoes, remove their laptops from their bags or anything. I told Jeff, “Welcome back to the 1990’s!”

We aren’t quite sure how or why we booked this trip this way, but our first flight is from Denver to Oklahoma City. It is an hour and 30 minutes long. When we land in Oklahoma City, we don’t get off the plane. We and 40 other passengers are taking this same plane on to Houston. Once everyone else deplanes we move around the cabin and we all switch seats. Some people head immediately for the exit rows; Jeff and I just move up two rows. (I’ve read somewhere that you should always try to sit within 5 rows of an exit to give yourself a fighting chance of getting off safely if there is an emergency.)

We are so lucky. The flight from OK to Houston is not full and though it is just over an hour long (even shorter than our first flight) we are happy to have our own row. We have some of our healthy snacks – carrots, celery and apples. We land in Houston and walk to catch our third, and final, flight. This one, to San Jose, Costa Rica is about 3 and a half hours long. I’m happy that our last flight is the longest.

Again I’m doing my happy dance! The plane isn’t full and we have our own row. Yippee! I think everyone passed by our empty middle seat because Marco, the one-year old behind us, was pitching a hissy fit as people were boarding. I  make a note to myself to borrow a screaming fussy child to sit in our row until the cabin doors are closed.

On all of our flights we give the flight crew a thank you note and a bag of fancy chocolates. These treats are “no strings attached” – just a simple thanks to people who work very hard in a flying tube. On the first flight they were very excited and one flight attendant came to tell us “No one ever gives us cards!”  On the second flight, before everyone got off, they made a loudspeaker announcement that there were “two very special people on this flight who gave us candy and a nice card. Thank you so much, Marjorie and Jeff!!” And on this flight (Houston to Costa Rica) I order a beer for Jeff and a gin and tonic for myself and the steward won’t take my credit card. Very nice. I went up to the galley a few minutes ago to tell him the chocolates were no strings attached and thanked him again for the free drinks. He whispered to me that if I hadn’t tried to give him my credit card he would have charged me! Another note to self. LOL

We are getting our immigration paperwork filled out… Here we are. Getting through customs was a breeze. Because we had sat in the 5th row from the front of the plane we were among the first off and among the first in the customs line. Another plane landed when we did and there are 3-400 people in line behind us.

While I waited for our luggage, Jeff went to the liquor store. Costa Rica is the only country we know where you can buy duty free liquor and take it into the country from the airport. And the airport has the very best liquor prices! He came back to wait for our second bag and I went to the ATM. Success! I was super happy to get my 100,000 colones (about $200  USD) because the last time we were here my card kept getting rejected and it was days before I had any cash.

Suitcases, backpacks, 3 bottles of wine, a pocket full of colones (pronounced:ka-low-nays) and we head out. To exit the airport you have to load all of your luggage, except the wine, into an x-ray machine. All done.  We cross the street across from all the taxi drivers offering us rides and see the Holiday Inn shuttle pull up. What great timing! In no time at all we are checked in – I had forgotten that our room is free because I used points to book it. Yeah!

Before we left Colorado I had arranged our packing so everything we need for tonight and tomorrow morning is in the top of one suitcase, no need to get into the big compartment or the other suitcase at all.

Time for bed…hope to see you tomorrow.


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