May 27, 2014: Thoughts on Retirement

While this may not be all-inclusive, nor may it apply to everyone who is retired, here are my observations of the first five months of retirement:

  • No alarm clocks: Not only are there no alarms going off at an ungodly hour, but there is no clock whatsoever in the bedroom. What difference does the time make when you wake in the middle of the night? There is no computing how many more hours until I have to get up.
  • No timetables: How wonderful to sit over a cup of coffee in the morning and realize there is nothing that needs to be done today.
  • Reading: Knowing the value of waiting to get to the end of this book, so I can move onto the next.
  • Coffee: God bless the person who invented the thermal carafe, since having coffee on a timer and brewed into the thermal carafe makes the waking process so much better, regardless of the time of touchdown. (Side Note: Having the luxury of fresh Costa Rican coffee bean at our disposal makes this bullet point even more wonderful.)
  • The wonder of pets: Having the opportunity to see the pets during the day and knowing what they did while we were at work all those years. Who knew animals slept that much?
  • Robotic maid: Watching the Roomba skitter through the condo sweeping and sucking the pet hair and sand from the floors effortlessly. Now if only we could teach it to do the dishes.
  • Martini at Five: Just having cocktails without having to blame a bad day at work.
  • Pool or Beach?: Decisions, decisions…
  • Bedtime: Who looks at the clock? Just go to bed when we are tired. (Remember, though, that the dogs get up for their walk when they want.)
  • Culinary delights: Trying different recipes simply because we have the time to prep and cook. (So far all winners at this table.)
  • Naps: Not enough can be said about the value of napping at will, whether it be at 11:00 AM or 4:00 PM.
  • Friends: Last, but not least, is the chance to get to know new people without the interruptions of or within the context of business demands. Sharing life experiences, gaining new interests, learning new languages, and just sharing the company of good people is the fiber of life. Having the opportunity to experience it at its fullest in an unencumbered environment is the essence of retirement.

Pura Vida

May 25, 2014: Race Day

Thank goodness for Satellite TV and computers since, without them we would be missing the Indy 500 and the Charlotte 600 (and possibly the Monte Carlo Grand Prix) today. While it is not a holiday weekend in Costa Rica, we along with our neighbors are enjoying it like it is…but I am getting ahead of myself.

The rains have not been so plentiful since my last post, with only a few drizzles here and there, but there have been some threatening clouds with thunder heads cropping up to the east, and eventually drifting to the south of us. I find it interesting that when I was in the U.S. we always looked to the west and south for weather formations in the Spring and Summer, but here the patterns bring the weather from the mountains to the east and north. The foliage is still absorbing the rains we received earlier in the month and the hills are blooming in green with the flowers popping up everywhere. Of course, the incessant frog songs at night remain our music to sleep by.

We have new neighbors below us, Russel and Stephanie, who will be here long-term. Originally from Hawaii, they moved to Costa Rica 6 years ago and settled in Nosara which is in the Southern Region of Guanacaste. Running a tourism business there, they decided to expand to the Tamarindo and Flamingo area to increase their business. After some conversations with Russel, he could be a good resource to discover new adventures for us and our visitors when they come down, and I having made contacts with several people down here in the tourism trade, I can help Russel by introducing him to these folks. Costa Rica networking…it is a great thing.

Jill and Barry, our friends and neighbors from the U.S. have returned after their trip to diagnose Barry’s malady. Without going into detail, the diagnosis was a rare illness that is treatable and Barry is now on medication which helps him control the illness. I had picked them up at the airport last Saturday (along with their faithful companion dog, Riley) and the one hour drive from Liberia just flew by while we enjoyed catching up on family and friends. They were kind enough to take Jackie and I to a lovely dinner for Barry’s birthday on Tuesday at the Langosta Beach club, a new dining experience for Jackie and I. We were not disappointed as the meals of tuna, chicken, and sole were perfectly prepared and the sauces were outstanding. The service was 5 star also with the waiters being very attentive without being doting, which is the way I like it. We ended the evening with birthday cake and wine down by the pool where Berna and Oskar joined us. I was not aware that Berna and Oskar had not met Jill and Barry before so it was a wonderful night for an introduction and conversations that went well into the night. Plans were made to have a barbecue fiesta on Saturday night with a combination of American and Tica food to pass around, so we got the word out to our neighbors and friends to join in.

Stephanie had mentioned to us about her trip to Playa Conchal, which is a beach just beyond Brasalita that Jackie and I have been meaning to visit. We decided to take a drive in “Tank” (which is our new name for the Patrol) to Conchal and we were not disappointed. The drive to the beach actually takes you on the beach for about a kilometer where there is a parking lot for the bathers. The beach is unlike the others in the area since it is made up of pulverized seashells which makes it white and shiny. The contrast between the beach and the gray and black lava rock formations on either end of the area along with the bright blue of the ocean shallows, paints a beautiful picture that is pure Costa Rica. The island cropping farther in sea, a combination of lava islands and jungle islands were very visible from out perch, and the vendors selling food, trinkets and massages were behind us, ever-present but not obtrusive. The water was refreshing, but a weather front out in the deep seas made the waves and the rip tides very strong with both Jackie and I getting rocked on our butts several times. After some sunbathing and shell collecting, we decided it was time to head home to take care of the dogs. When we arrived home and took our showers, the floor of the shower was completely filled with crushed shells that collected in every nook and cranny of our bodies, the obvious result of getting knocked down by the waves.

Our friend, Harold invited me to a poker night at one of the Tamarindo sports bars and it sounded like a fun night so we agreed to meet on Thursday night and a place called The Higher Ground. The name of the bar was appropriate since it is on the fourth floor of a commercial building, and after walking up the flights of stairs, I was in need of a cool beverage. Great marketing strategy! I had a cold Imperial while waiting for Harold to arrive and got to meet the owner/bartender, Shelly, a woman from London who shed her life as a commodities trader and traded it in for the lifestyle of Costa Rica. She said she never looked back and is loving every minute of her life here. The players at the poker table were a fun mix of all ages and nationalities with the game never lacking for a laugh. When it came time to break up the game and head out, it was then I was shown the elevator for the ride down…I wish I had known of it earlier.

As I said, plans were made for a fiesta on Saturday, and I decided to prepare some good old American Ribs for our contribution. I was able to get a little more than two kilos of boneless pork ribs at the butcher with just the right amount of lean and fat for a juicy and tender feast. The meat was dry rubbed and put in the refrigerator overnight, and not having access to a smoker, I slow cooked the ribs in the oven for close to 5 hours. The smells after hour 2 were already making me hungry and we were not going to be eating for over 4 hours. Talk about torture! Jackie had also made a tomato salad with feta cheese and cucumber to pass around, and, of course, there was beer and wine chilled to quench our thirst. When the time came, I fired up the grill by the pool and the folks started coming, eleven all together, with their entries into the gastronomic fest. Chicken, steak, more chicken, carrots, potatoes, salads, hot dogs…I was looking for the army we were feeding. With the ribs properly slathered with honey barbecue sauce, the marinaded chicken grilled, the seasoned steak grilled medium rare, it was time to let the eating begin. Plates were passed back and forth over and over until the appetites were sated. Since this was the first meeting of some of the people, the pre- and post-meal conversations were an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other. Over wine, beer and cool drinks and great music provided by Stephanie, the conversations flowed like everyone had been doing this for years. A group of younger people arrived and asked if they could grill their food since we were done, which was fine. It turned out that the one woman, Christina, is the daughter of Nancy and Don, who are part of our “5:00 Chamber of Commerce” during the high season. Christina told us her parents were doing well back in Arizona and will be returning in November. The night ended with a dip in the pool, beverages being drained, and clean up of the pavilion, promises made to do this again soon.

So today, with leftovers from the barbecue in the refrigerator, beer and pop cooling, it is time to settle down for a day of watching racing while not having to worry about any cooking. Hopefully there will be an intermission between the races long enough for a dip in the pool.

Pura Vida!

May 10, 2014: The Green Season

After our first three months of perpetual sunshine, dried fields, hill fires, and wildlife breaking out of the fences to seek out something green to eat, the seasonal shift of weather has finally arrived. It starts with a whimper with the occasional white puffy clouds interrupting the sunshine in the afternoons, growing after a few days to dark clouds from the eastern mountains crawling their way towards the north coast increasing the humidity in the area. A few sprinkles in the afternoon start to come down in the early evening and then, in another couple of days, you can bank on a good dowsing from a thunderstorm that comes from the north and east. While the humidity level grows to the 80% level, making it very muggy, the results of the rain are almost immediate in the foothills beyond our complex and the trees lining the roads in Guanacaste.

Only a couple of days after the first rains arrived, the empty trees in the hills started budding, the floral bushes throughout the area started blooming with tropical blues, yellows, oranges and whites. The grazing fields have turned from tan to a pale green and eventually to a bright green, giving the cattle, horses, goats and sheep a much anticipated meal.

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With this new moisture, however, comes the resulting wildlife that seems to have hatched overnight. Of particular note are the bullfrogs and cane toads. Calm during the daylight hours, these creatures come to life after the sun goes down with their croaking and chirping. It seems like just as we are going to bed, the mating ritual gets more frenetic, as captured by Jackie a couple of nights ago:

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Click to hear the sounds of this guy and his friends.

As I understand it, this mix of daylight sunshine, afternoon clouds, evening rains will be the pattern for the next 4 months, but the color display is worth it.

On another note, Jackie and I have decided to try our hand at “primal cooking” With the kitchen implements and machines we brought down from the U.S., along with the natural ingredients down here (and some internet recipes), we decided to create some of our own food. It started with a project with which we had some previous knowledge and that was making our own sausage. We had dome Polish sausage in the past and this time we decided to try our hand at sweet Italian sausage (Dulce chorrizo Italiano). I got the pleasure of grinding the 4 pounds of pork butt through the mixer attachment while Jackie blended the spices. A few crumbles cooked on the stove let us know we had another winner sausage on our hands. We shared a package with our neighbors, Berna and Oskar and are waiting on their review as Ticas.

Next on the creative list was cheese making, a new venture for us. As I had mentioned in earlier blogs, cheeses (other than local goat cheese) are very expensive here, a small package of shredded Mozzarella can run as much as $8.00. After some suggestions from local ex-pats and searching the Internet, Jackie came up with a recipe for making her own Mozzarella: No problem, milk, rennet, citric acid, and temperature control, right? Visits to at least a half dozen stores and armed with a Spanish translation, we are shown creme, milk of magnesia, baby formula until we finally find rennet (cuajo de leche) at a local pharmacy in Huacas. I have no idea what this is used for, but the pharmacist found some in the back with the vitamins and gave the package of tablets to us without charge since they were beyond the expiration date.

With one ingredient down, our search for citric acid begins. Not much of a language barrier here since it translates to Acido Citrico…simple, right? The clerks at the stores we visited all had the same deer in the headlights look when we asked where to find it (the common answer was Auto Mercado, but that was a false lead). Jackie and I found a restaurant supply company in Liberia online and they said they carried citric acid, so off we went to Liberia with the address loaded in the GPS. The fine young lady in the computer directed us to a business park and told us we had arrived at our destination, but there was no supply store to be found. We drove around this business park a couple of times, and, as luck would have it, we see our neighbor, Oskar outside of an office, and he was as surprised to see us as we were of him. He was most helpful in directing us to a series of warehouses on the back side of the complex and, voila, there is the store. We walk around the row upon row of wonderful cookware and utensils but do not see any citric acid. I asked a clerk for the acido citrico…deer in the headlights with the eventual “No Vende”. We were prepared to pay for our meager purchases and leave without our ingredient when Oskar comes in to make sure we found the store. When we told him what we had come to the store for, he spoke his fluent Spanish to another clerk and, what should come out but a bottle of citric acid. We need to take Oskar on our future shopping adventures.

Two of the the three ingredients in hand, we head to the market for milk, a staple in our refrigerator. The recipe called for whole milk, but every product in the refrigerator was 2% or skim milk. We did see the shelf milk in vacuum boxes and there was whole milk there, but it was ultra pasteurized which is not to be used for making cheese. At this point we got the 2% and would just have to see the results.

The process was fairly simple and after some separation of the curds a whey, Jackie ended up with about a 1 pound ball of Mozzarella which needed to be refrigerated. Sample tastes proved she had a winner. To complete a meal with the sausage and cheese, we decided to try making our own pizza from scratch. I looked up a recipe for pizza dough, which was a snap with our stand mixer, and made the pizza sauce from scratch making it to our tastes which borders more on the sweet than tart. The end result was a 16″ pizza that was loaded with our own cheese and sausage:

 

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It is just a good thing we did not have the guarantee of pizza in 30 minutes or less.

 

Pura Vida!

May 1, 2014: Sights of Costa Rica

While on a walk with Dip and Gadget, we came upon a family of monkeys feasting on the leaves which are now greening up. With the Nikon D-90 and a 300 MM zoom, I was able to capture some of the family in action, along with a couple of the flowering plants.

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April 21, 2014: Legal Again – The Trip Home

As much as I would miss the hospitality at Charly’s, I was anxious to get back to the friendly confines of Costa Rica. After cheerful goodbyes to Charly and a promise to return, I head off to walk to the bus terminal with time to get there by the allotted 45 minutes prior to the scheduled departure. Since my ticket stated the departure time was 9:30, I decided to arrive by 8:30 since I knew the bus was full and did not want to have the seat lost due to a bribe for the clerk (which I am told happens often here). However, the departure time on my ticket stated the time the bus left Managua, not Granada, so I had at least two hours to wait in the terminal (but at least my seat was confirmed). Street vendors roamed in and out selling their wares: necklaces, braided wrist bands, hand made dolls, and best of all, breakfast empanadas, which I purchased and were delicious.

Travelers started to arrive and mill about, a combination of locals, Ticas and Americans. I struck up a conversation with two young Canadian men, Dan and Nick who have been touring Central America for a month and it was now their time to go home to earn more money for next year. They bused their way from Costa Rica to Panama to Nicaragua and now back to Costa Rica, camping and staying in hostels their entire trip. They looked road weary but listening to them talk about their travels, I knew that their experiences outweighed their weariness. 

Next came two women who we discovered were also from Canada. They introduced themselves as Wendy and Monica, and the had no clue of the process of checking in and completing the Customs documents necessary. Dan, Nick and I helped them through the process as we all sat together on the stone ledge surrounding the terminal. The overhead fan provided little air movement inside the quickly warming area, and a step outside only made it worse since the sun was beating down and there was no shade. So the five of us sweated it out on our perch sharing stories. It turned out that Wendy and Monica were only going as far as Liberia as was I with their final destination being Tamarindo. After hearing that I was from that area, they asked me about buses from Liberia to Tamarindo. Knowing the infrequency of that bus route and since Jackie was meeting me in Liberia, I offered them a ride into Tamarindo (with a short sidestep to Hermosa). They gladly accepted and even offered to share gas, which was unnecessary.

At 10:55, the bus finally arrived, and after passport checks and luggage stowing, we all got onto the bus together. As luck would have it, there were 5 seats together which we took to continue our conversations. That was quickly interrupted by the conductor who was enforcing the seat assignment rule, so the five of us were scattered throughout the bus. The air conditioning was a welcome relief from the steamy terminal, and the cabin seats much more comfortable than the stone ledge. The hour and a half ride to the border was uneventful and the multitude of children on the bus were well entertained by the Lion King movie being played throughout the bus.

Then comes the Nicaraguan border. We pass through lines of semi trucks backed up and head towards the Customs office. With our passports and declarations in hand, our conductor goes into a building and we wait outside in the sun, not knowing how long this process will take. Surprisingly, the conductor and Customs agent come out in 45 minutes and we start loading onto the bus one by one after our name is called out by the Customs officer. A great time improvement from the entry on Thursday. We make the short 1 km drive to the Costa Rican border and disembark once more to a long line at the entry office. This time we have no assistance from the conductor and have to walk along the serpentine course towards the Immigration window for our entry stamp. Unfortunately this takes over 2 1/2 hours to reach a window for the ten second inquiry about the purpose of our entry and the obligatory visa stamp.

After a quick smoke and a purchase of bottled water, I get back into the coolness of the bus for the final hour drive to Liberia. I call Jackie to let her know our progress (and about the additional passengers to Tamarindo) only to hear that she is already in Liberia waiting for us to arrive at the given time…what a silly lady since she should know that nothing is on time in Costa Rica. The lazy drive on the Intercontinental Highway goes by quickly and we arrive in Liberia with the conductor trying to get the disembarking passengers off and on their way quickly in an attempt to get back on schedule. (Good luck with that since it is already 2 hours behind.)

Wendy and Monica meet Jackie and we head off to a small restaurant for a quick bite to eat before heading north to the coast. Jackie and the ladies hit it of famously and the conversation continued from Liberia to Hermosa and eventually to Tamarindo where we left the ladies off at their hotel. Exchanging email addresses, we promise to get together during their stay and Jackie and I head to our condo.

I will close by saying that the hot shower in my own bathroom was probably the most satisfying shower I have had in quite some time.

Pura Vida.

April 20, 2014: Granada: A Study in Contrasts

I have been uncertain what I should expect in Nicaragua as I have heard wonderful things about the town of Granada, but I also knew there was some political turmoil surrounding the country. While in the Customs area at entry, I saw banners and posters with Daniel Ortega’s picture all over and during the drive to Granada, I saw the same billboards, but also graffiti on walls claiming that the last elections was a fraud. What little I know about Ortega, I am aware of his alliance with Venezuela and Hugo Chavez, along with his somewhat jaded past as a Sandanista and Marxist, so I am entering uncharted territory here.

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Prior to my trip, people have told me to take this tour or to make sure to get a horse and carriage ride to see the sights, but I chose to make my trip an unguided walking tour to perhaps see what the tourism board does not want you to see. Of course I will take in the popular places, but I also want to get off the beaten track.

After breakfast on Friday with map in pocket, I head out for the day at 8:30, intending on roaming the local neighborhood before heading downtown. Heading down the street to the main road, I see the remnants of a building that appears to be from the late 1800’s.

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I find out later that this was the Granada hospital that was abandoned 30 years ago when the more modern hospital was built downtown. It seems that when they moved the hospital, the ownership of the building was in question, as the Church, the Government, and private individuals laid claim to the building. While they battled over the building, it was ransacked, deteriorated and was damaged by tremors over the years. It is a shame since from what remains, it looks like a classic structure.

Since it was Good Friday, all of the local stores were closed, but many appeared to be similar to the little boutiquerias in Costa Rica. I looked down one street and saw a gathering which I chose to explore. This was a church group starting a procession through the streets with a platform holding a statue of Christ and a young boy dressed as a Centurion. The procession stopped at selected houses in a Stations of the Cross format.

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I joined the profession for a few stops, but decided to break away to explore some more. The problem being that while following the procession, I lost track of where I was and what direction I was heading. I followed my nose and went away from the volcano in the distance which I knew was heading north. Now there were no paved roads and the poverty deepened the more I headed in this direction. The first thing I noticed was the increasing odor of garbage and sewerage. The housing consisted of unstructured cinder block and a combination of corrugated metal and planks of wood. Small streams of gray water rolled down what was supposed to be a street. Little children in underwear ran among the dogs who were only flesh on bones, rummaging through what scraps they could find in the underbrush. Chickens and roosters were all over the place and women were washing out their dishes and clothes in tubs in the front yard. (I will add at this point, out of respect for the people, I chose not to take pictures of them in such a condition.)

At some point, I crossed a bridge over a small stream and took out my map for a reference point. I saw where I was and headed east towards the center of town. Amazingly, within two blocks, I was walking through brick paved streets with nice housing where I noticed another procession ahead, this one larger than the first. I followed it for a bit when I noticed the spires of the churches and buildings downtown. I broke away from this group and the roads became circular at this point, rotating around the Central Park. The houses and shops in this area are very Colonial, some well-kept, some in disrepair. Walking further around this area, I encountered yet another procession, this one even larger and more ornate. Since I noticed a church ahead, I figured that this procession was about to end.

I followed them to a church, bare of any paint, but obviously an historic structure. This was Iglesia La Merced, built in 1905, and it has the highest bell tower in Granada. The procession ended at the doors of the church where the platform carriers posed for a photograph.

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As the photographs were taken, I went into the church which was very ornate. There was a catafalque in one apse of the church, which is something that Jackie and I had noticed in the past while visiting churches in Central America.

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As the church started to fill, I made my way out a side door and headed toward Parque Central. Even though the streets and buildings got nicer as I approached the square, there were the homeless sleeping on the sidewalks and doorways, evidence of the squalor that is present outside of the tourist area.

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The streets were alive with noise. A combination of car and motorcycle horns competed with the police whistles trying to control the traffic. Busses with tourists would stop in the middle of the street to let the passengers off, adding to the congestion and noise. Stores that were open in this area blared boom boxes and amplifiers to attract business. Walking street vendors yelled out peddling their wares: breads, fruit, juices, shaved ice, sunglasses, watches, and of course, currency exchanges.

I arrived at the Central Park, seeing the cathedral standing in front of me.

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This was in stark contrast to the unprinted La Merced. I was to learn that the bishop of Granada is from Germany, and insisted that the church stand out as the cathedral. He was able to get funds from Granada’s sister city of Frankfurt, Germany, and special paint for the sandstone structure was shipped over and the church painted brightly.

The church was not the only attraction of the square. There were upscale hotels and cafés and street vendors were well established.

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I entered the cathedral just as another procession was filing in and solemnly went up the center aisle. There was a separation of the platforms where the platform of Jesus went into a gated area of the church, and the platform of Mary was taken to the vestibule. It was very solemn, intensified by the musical durge being drummed out by the local street band.

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By now it was after 1:00 and I needed more sustenance than the four bottles of water I consumed during my walk. I went into a sports bar just off the square called Margerita’s. They advertised a free beer with the purchase of a hamburger. Needless to say that I was all over that deal. The hamburger must have been a half pound of beef, and grilled perfectly. The Tonia was cold and refreshing and the soccer game on TV was a blow out, but the locals and tourists were all having a great time, including the four guys in the back playing Wii golf.

Another bottle of water in hand, I head out from Margaritas to see another part of town. The map I got from the bus station was not the greatest, but it gave me some idea of reference points. As long as I had a view of the volcano to the south, I thought I would be able to maneuver around the town. I intended to head towards what appeared to be woodlands and waterways. The farther I got from Central Park, the more depressing the conditions got. Kids were cooling themselves in mud puddles, mothers were going with plastic buckets to a local cocina for some soup to feed the kids. Young men were starting to build fires to cook on, and the housing was the same as before, merely shelter from the weather, with little indication that there was electricity. And the smells are the thing I think I will always remember…I now know the smell of true poverty. Street after street were the same.

At about 3:30, my legs were telling me it was time to go home. Looking at the map, I could see that I was on the opposite side of the city from my lodging. I made my way to a paved street and after a short walk saw a vacant cab who to me back to Charly’s. My post-walk shower never felt so good, but I was still having a tough time wrapping my arms around the contrasts of Granada.

April 17, 2014: The Road to Granada

It was getting close to my time to make a visa run, and in January I had arranged for a bus ticket to Granada for April 17. Not consulting a calendar when is reserved the ticket, it became abundantly clear at the bus stop that I was traveling on a holiday, Samana Santa, or Holy Week, a high holiday in Central America. Jackie drove me to Liberia where I was to connect with my bus at a local hotel. We had the good fortune to find the restaurant at the hotel for a pleasant breakfast while waiting for the bus (which was characteristically late.). The bus was full and the hour trip to the border was uneventful with smooth travel on the Intercontinental Highway.

Then came the border, Penas Blancas. With it being the beginning of the holiday weekend, many trucks were backed up, wanting to get their freight to the destinations, and busses and cars filled with holiday travelers were redirected to other lanes. We disembarked and were led to a temporary office trailer about 1/4 mile away, where we got into line with all the other travelers to pay our exit tax. We were then escorted back to where we left the bus to get into line to get our exit stamp on our passports. This was about a 1 hour process and we then got back onto the bus.

The walk to pay exit taxes

The walk to pay exit taxes

The walk back to get our exit stamp.

The walk back to get our exit stamp.

We then drove about 5 minutes to the Nicaraguan border where we parked with 6 other busses. The bus driver went down the aisle and collected our passports plus an entry fee of $15.00 per person. We were then told to collect our bags and move to a dock area where there were over 100 people already milling about with their luggage and packages. Fortunately, I only had a small bag so I was able to maneuver myself around those with large suitcases and duffle bags to a shaded area at the end of this area. Finally two soldiers came out of an office and collected our declaration forms while opening every bag for inspection, and bluntly told to move on.

Unloading the baggage.

Unloading the baggage.

Baggage inspection.

Baggage inspection.

Move on we all did to an open parking lot with vendors of every ilk moving about the passengers. Cellular cards, currency exchange, watches, sunglasses, food, beverage, and the random peddler just asking for money. It was a free for all and all I was looking for was a bottle of water and shade since I had no idea how long the rest of the process was going to take. I was able to find a vendor who had cold water and made my way to the corner of a building to sit down in partial shade, which was a relief since the thermometer on my phone said it was 97 degrees.

It was fascinating watching the comings and goings of the area from my shaded perch. There were Border Patrols and soldiers roaming the grounds, some with weapons strapped on and some with sniffing dogs. The vendors would occasionally consult with each other pointing in the direction of the groups who were in a buying mood, and the action would shift in that direction. One thing of note was that there was a border agent in a respirator mask entering every bus with a fumigator, clouding them for insects. Seeing this process, I knew it was going to be a while longer until we would be able to board again.

Waiting area.

Waiting area.

Fumigation.

Fumigation.

Two hours later, a Border Guard arrived at our bus and the passengers collected by the door. The agent held our passports and called out the passengers one by one, returned the passports and allowed the passengers to restow the luggage. Finally, with all on board, we slowly exit the Customs area and head north toward Managua.

The highway was much different than the highway in Costa Rica, with bumps, sways, trees brushing the side of the bus, and constant potholes. The view to the east, however, was fantastic. There were volcanos in the distance across Lake Nicaragua, large windmill farms wound for miles, and farms with cows and horses to the west. We stopped at a small village about 1/2 hour into our ride, and a teenager boarded the bus selling homemade empanadas, leaving the bus as we got to the end of the village.

There were 2 other short stops until we arrived in Granada. Several passengers exited with me at the station which is on the southwest part of town. I went to the ticket counter to purchase my return ticket for Saturday and was grateful to find that the agent spoke some English. When I requested the ticket, he just shook his head…not a good sign in any language. It would appear the the Tica Bus route was not going to run on Friday and Saturday due to the holiday, and the three busses out on Sunday were all booked. Monday would be my first chance to return. So it is with life in Central America: you have to be flexible as plans can change in a heartbeat.

Ticket purchased, I took a map from the kiosk to direct myself to Charly’s Inn and Restaurant, my final destination, which was advertised as short walk from the bus station. I knew the address was on Calle Kustendingen, but there was no such street on the map. I waited for the line at the ticket counter to die down and asked the agent for directions to Charly’s. He thought about it and told me to walk west on the street we were on for 2 blokes and then head towards the volcano for 5 blocks. West? Volcano? I need right or left directions and the agent finally gave me those.

Ten minutes later I am standing in front of my destination…with doors locked and a sign saying that they open at 6:00 PM. I am hot, sweaty, and in need of liquid refreshment. I see another door that looks like a garage door with a doorbell on it, which I hope will reach the innkeeper. An Hispanic woman finally comes and I try to tell her in it rudimentary Spanish that I have a reservation…and she actually understood me. She wound me through a garden to a bar/desk where I sign into a guest register. Charly arrives after a few minutes and introduces himself and his wife, Maria to me and guides me to my room.

The place is a combination of a small tropical inn and a German hostel (Charly is originally from Frankfurt, Germany). Charly is the Innkeeper and Chef, and he explains the culinary options available for dinner (which will be fodder for another blog). I unpack what little I brought with me and relaxed on the cool patio with a bottle of water, glad that the trip is finally over.

Charly's at last!

Charly’s at last!

April 12, 2014: Shake, Rattle and Roll

It has been a couple of weeks since my last blog, but it has not been an uneventful time. For the past week and a half, I have been living the bachelor life while Jackie is back in the States for her visa run, family visit, and shopping for boutique stock. I guess that our friends, Bob and Sheila thought I would not eat well as a bachelor and invited me for a wonderful dinner on their patio, and a pleasant evening of conversation. Our 6:00 Board of Directors (AKA the Motley Crew) is dwindling as more of our group are heading back north for the spring and summer. Don and Diana left this past week, and Bob and Sheila are leaving next Tuesday. Barry and Jill are still in California trying to find a diagnosis and treatment for Barry’s illness, so that leaves our crew down to 6.

We have been experiencing some extreme temperatures lately, with the afternoon temps hitting 102 with only slight breezes. The pool has  proven to be some relief, but the intense sun leave the water feeling much like a warm bath. We had one day where the electricity was out for over 3 hours, so there was no A/C or even fans in the condo and I ended up spending the time on the balcony with the dogs capturing what breezes there were. Such is life in Costa Rica…you just get used to it.

Yesterday proved to be an eventful day. To begin, it was a national holiday called Juan Santamaria Day, celebrating the national hero from the 1800’s who was instrumental in defeating northern forces trying to take over Costa Rica as a slave nation. Virtually everything was closed for the day except markets and tourist attractions. Bob and I had made arrangements for a round of golf at Hacienda Panilla early in the morning, so we took off at 7:00 for the course. Despite to low winds of the past week, Mother Nature decided to make our round of golf an adventure by whipping up some strong ocean winds. Since it was my first round of golf in almost a year, my goal was simply to not embarrass myself, which I accomplished, hitting some good shots and bad. But as they say, my worst day on the golf course is better than my best day at work. After a post-round beer, we headed back to the condo with plans to have a “Board Meeting” at 6:00.

In addition to yesterday being Juan Santamaria Day, tomorrow begins Samana Santa (Holy Week) which is a major holiday time here. So the rental people started arriving at about noon filling up the parking lot and the lobbies with their bikes and kids’ toys. It was a flurry of activity, and then at 2:30, the real fun began. Sitting on the couch watching the Masters Tournament on TV, I felt the earth moving under my feet, accompanied by some booming sounds. The glasses and plates in the cabinet started shaking, and something fell on the kitchen counter knocking a bowl and tumbler onto the floor. Yes, folks, we were having an earthquake. I see everyone in our building rushing down the stairs to the pool area, which seemed like a sane thing to do. It seems that there was a 6.6 magnitude earthquake centered in Granada, Nicaragua, which is about 75 miles north of us and that is what rattled us.

The interesting observation about this earthquake was that I always thought that animals were hypersensitive to oncoming tremors. Obviously our dogs lack this trait as they slept through the entire thing:

sleepy dogs

Reenactment of the dogs’ reaction to the earthquake.

 

The cats, on the other hand, scattered in every direction to find shelter under the beds. So much for our guard dogs.

I have a visa run planned for next Thursday – Saturday to Granada, but I will have to wait and see what damage was done by the earthquake to possibly make a detour. I also have a golfing rematch with Bob tomorrow morning before he leaves for Canada.  Jackie returns on Tuesday, so things will probably get back to normal after next week.

Pura Vida.

March 31, 2014: Lunch Truck

Most unique lunch ever today. There is a little place on the road to Tamarindo that is a converted lunch truck, and we were told there are great burgers there. When we arrived, a guy came from behind the truck and said he was taking a nap…this is the owner, Paul. We ordered our burgers and the entire time we were there, Paul was just chatting on and on and he was a really entertaining guy. A group of 8 arrived while we were eating and ordered a bunch of tacos. Paul asked them who drove, and when the driver came forward, Paul gave him some money and asked him to go to the supermarket to get some lettuce for the tacos, which he did. After we finished eating his awesome burgers, I went up to the window to pay, and he handed Jackie a wet rag and asked her to do a quick wipe of our table for him. How can anyone refuse Paul? Oh, and he told us that he needed a wake-up so he poured himself a healthy glass of rum and drank it down before starting the tacos. We heard him say as we were leaving, “I hope I have enough gas to finish these tacos.”

We will be back to see Paul again, and wake him up if necessary.

papajoes1 papajoes2

March 31, 2014: The Faces of Costa Rica

I have spoken in my last post about the people of Costa Rica and decided to post some pictures of the people here, enjoying the simple fiesta in Villareal:

boy1 boy2 boy3 boy4 boy5 couple1 couple2 couple3 dad1 dad2 dad3 dad4 dad5 girl1 girl2 horse1 kids1 kids2 kids3 kids4 kids5 man1 mom1 mom2 old1 old2 old3 old-young

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