This post is more about food and drink…my favorite topic, obviously.
On Friday evening, we joined the “happy hour group” by the pool, enjoying wine, conversation and friendship. An acquaintance from Alberta, Canada, Ken was leaving on Saturday morning so this was his last hurrah until his return in the Fall. Ken owns a few condos in the community and we exchanged cards for possible future rentals for visiting Americans. Aside from Ken, we had extended conversations with Don, Nancy, Tony and yet another Nancy. Short though the gathering was, it was one more example of community at The Oaks.
Most of our food purchases have been from the supermarkets, so far, but aside from the slightly higher prices than the mercados, the food had been fresh and flavorful. This week, we made a concerted effort to go to the farmers’ market and local supers to get some supplies, and what a difference it makes. We went to the Mercado in Tamarindo on Saturday morning, and the pescador had fresh tuna, mahi-mahi, shrimp and red snapper. I chose a 2 kilo piece of ahi tuna for my purchase to be cut down into dinner portions (5 meals).
Jackie was also able to purchase farm-fresh cheese and goat yogurt (which she said will take some getting used to and I will take her word on it). The prices are about 25% of what we would expect to pay in the U.S and the fresh grade of the product is indescribable. We the went to the village section of Huacas to visit the carniceria to see what meats they offered. After a purchase of extremely meaty pork ribs ( 2 kilos = 5 servings) we went to the panderia for purchases of the local version cheese and fruit Danish.
Our neighbors, Oskar and Berna invited us to a pot-luck evening by the pool for Saturday night, to bid farewell to our lower neighbors, Steve and Cherisse from Canada (by way of Hungary) as they were leaving for home on Sunday. Not sure how many people would be sharing our fare and wanting to make something uniquely American, Jackie suggested a pot of gumbo. Having purchased all of the ingredients (except okra, which is impossible to find here), I crafted an “olla” of gumbo with our fresh shrimp, chicken, chorizzo, and crab and used the local rice we stocked up on. With a loaf of fresh french bread and a bottle of wine, we grouped with our neighbors in the pool pavilion. The food assortments were fantastic: Homemade pizza, local vegetables with a garlic dip, Tocinetta (bacon) wrapped ugli fruit, dried chorrizzo with a jalapeno sauce, fresh guacamole, chips, salsa…and vino…lots of vino.
Oskar set up a sound system, playing dinner music while we sampled the fare, probably eating to excess, if that is possible. While Jackie thought my version of gumbo was a tad spicy, the locals loved it and went for seconds. Berna asked me if I was from New Orleans (through Oskar who was our translator). The wine flowed and the music changed to more of a Latin fare and the dancing commenced (perhaps induced by the vino?).
After a champagne farewell toast to Steve and Cherisse, we all retired to our individual homes, well fed and and our thirst was not wanting.
One thing I should mention is that these gatherings have given me the opportunity to dip into my humidor to sample a cigar, locally rolled from Cuban leaf. For a smoker and cigar aficionado, it does not get better than that.
After having a breakfast of melon, a lunch of leftover gumbo and watching the NASCAR race on Satellite Direct, I marinaded two of our tuna steaks in a mixture of soy sauce, fresh ginger and garlic, and white wine. Three hours later, I start the grill (with Mesquite charcoal we found) and grilled the steaks to a medium rare.
Mixed on the plate with Jackie’s potato salad, it was a feast for kings.
Perhaps tomorrow some ribs. We will see as our freezer is filling with selections galore,
The sights, sounds and smells of our new country are continuing to be a new and different experience every day. One morning recently, we heard a commotion outside of our bedroom balcony, and it appeared that there was a turf war beginning in the trees opposite our parking area. Male monkeys are very protective of their territory and when another male infiltrates the area, there is noise to be heard as captured by Jackie:
Our neighbor is a Tican and she must be a wonderful cook since the smells from her kitchen window are intoxicating. Unfortunately she speaks no English so it is difficult to ask her what she is preparing. The produce in the markets is very fresh, particularly the peppers, melons and bananas…there is no need to market them as “organic” since everything grown down here is just that. Prepared foods are not common here and when you can find them, they are very expensive. Imported cheeses, such as the cheddars, swiss, jack, etc. are likewise expensive, but local goat cheeses are plentiful and inexpensive, so that is what we have been using when a recipe calls for cheese. For example, Jackie prepared a macaroni and chess dish with bacon and apples the other night and she used the local goat cheese, which turned out great and it was a different spin on the taste of the dish.
We also found out that there is a fish vendor that comes into the condo community twice a week from Portrero with the days catch. We were lucky enough to get a kilogram of fresh shrimp, large enough to gag a horse. We will easily be able to get 5 meals out of that purchase, but the difficulty will be finding horseradish to make a cocktail sauce for a shrimp cocktail…it is not a staple down here. It might be time to get inventive. The pescador told us that when he gets some mahi-mahi or tuna, he will save us some steaks to grill. There is nothing like fresh seafood.
Last weekend, we traveled to Playa Coco for a benefit dinner held by an animal rescue group in the area. I would estimate that there were about 200 people at the affair, and we were fortunate enough to sit at a small table with a couple from Toronto, Mark and Jennifer. It was an evening filled with cocktails, pleasant conversation, awesome food, and the occasional rescue pet that was brought to the table…including a couple of 3-week-old kittens that Jackie fell in love with.
Speaking of cats, there is a calico cat that roams our community, and while she looks well fed and healthy, we are fairly confident that she does not belong to one particular family here. She just roams from building to building, and in between she lays under the palm trees resting comfortably. Jackie has now joined the group of feeding humans and will put a plate of cat food outside of our door for the cat to eat. While Ms. Calico will not be in our condo, I think it might become part of Jackie’s extended family.
There are some challenges we are encountering with our move, though. The simple act of hanging a picture has proven to be a difficult task. You don’t just get some picture hangers, nail them in the wall, and level your artwork. The walls here are solid concrete on top of rebar enforced cinder block. Since I had none in my arsenal of tools, I had to buy a masonry bit for my drill and bore into the walls to insert a sleeve and then a screw into the sleeve. Fortunately, we do not have many pictures to hang.
As I mentioned in a previous post, our vehicle was inspected by the Nissan dealer and some minor servicing was necessary. I had an appointment for last Thursday to have the service done, which was to take 2 days. But I guess that was 2 days in Tica time. I am now told that the vehicle will be ready for pickup by mid-day today. Pura Vida.
While we have befriended many expats from Canada and the U.S., the language barrier once we hot the streets presents a real challenge. I am able to pick up a word here and there, but the local conversation here is spoken at a break neck speed. So Jackie found a school in Coco that teaches a Spanish course twice a week for 6 weeks and we started in the Beginners course last evening. There is only one other person in our group so it is like having a private tutoring from our teacher, Rosa. On Mondays after class, there is a group that gets together at a local grille for what they call Spanglish hour. There is a group of about 20 people, expats and Ticas that assemble during Happy Hour ($1.30 beer and wine) and the first half-hour is strictly Spanish conversation, and the second half-hour is in English for the Ticans’ benefit to learn the language. The director of the bi-lingual school, Bethany organizes this get-together and was gracious enough to assist us with our Spanish conversations last night. This should be an interesting journey of learning.
So as we continue to settle into our new life here in Costa Rica, there have been few roadblocks we did not anticipate. The weather is marvelous, and it is difficult to look at the weather forecasts from Indiana without gloating over our good fortune to be here. Hopefully I will arrange some photographs for a pictorial post soon.
Today is the day I officially start to get back. After 45 years of government blood-letting, I can now start to get a slow transfusion of the money that was extracted.
Jackie and I have been here for 2 weeks, and with the time spent setting up our home, buying a vehicle and getting our own infrastructure in order, we have yet to hit a beach…but we have a lifetime to do that. Jackie is the organizer in this couple and she has turned a condo full of bins and boxes into what would appear to be a living space with new and colorful furniture, well placed plants, and proper places for our pets to lounge throughout the day. I, on the other hand, have taken care of the electronic matters: Setting up our computers, networks, scanner, printer, speakers and phone system. There are just a few more odds and ends to declutter, pictures to be hung, bins to be stored and shelves to be built, but all-in-all, it has been a very productive couple of weeks.
The weather here has been ideal, not only from an aesthetic nature, but from a therapeutic aspect, also. The arthritic pain I was experiencing for the past couple of months has all but disappeared, and my Advil intake is minimal. In the States, I would wake up groggy, clogged throat, and nasally congested. Most of our nights here have been spent with the balcony doors open allowing the trade winds to sweep through the house and lull us off to a sound sleep every night. The mornings come with the sun over the mountains at precisely 6:15, and I awake well-rested, no sinus activity, and ready for a walk with the dogs while the coffee is brewing.
Speaking of coffee…I had forgotten how much I love the Costa Rican coffee. There is nothing to describe how different it is compared to the Maxwell House or Folgers of the U.S., but suffice it to say that the morning brew is a rich eye-opener every morning. We have also acquired a taste (albeit from a mistake at the supermarket reading Spanish labels) for a morning drink of orange and carrot juices. A great mixture of flavors.
We have also gotten into new eating habits, hopefully which will contribute to a more healthy lifestyle and slimmer waistline. The fruit here is amazing and we enjoy bowls of watermelon, cantaloupe, honey dew, papaya, pineapple and mango as a morning meal or an afternoon snack. For supper we have been eating at home, going out only once to a restaurant, and the meats and vegetables taste more natural and less processed. I hope to venture to Portraro this week to get some Red Snapper, Tuna, or Mahi Mahi off the fishing boats as the come in. I miss my fish!
It appears I have acquired employment in my short time here. Jackie saw a post on Facebook from a video production company looking for an English-speaking male to do voice-overs for their projects. I had responded to the person and after a few pieces of background information shared, he asked me to record myself reading a real estate listing from the web. Apparently it was good enough and I will be receiving my first script copy tomorrow. At $50 per page narrated, I say bring on War and Peace.
So today is my day to ruminate, watch Nascar, have a nice dinner with my wife, and reflect on how lucky life has been to me and thankful for my peaceful life.
Since my last blog, it has been a blur of activity. The living room furniture that came with our condo was not to our liking and not the most comfortable to sit on (albeit, the dogs did not have any problems). Jackie saw a local ad from someone in Playa Coco who was selling a set of sofa and two easy chairs, refurbished with a tropical print fabric, which she loved. We had other business in Coco, about an hour away, on Monday so we met Carlos, the seller to inspect the furniture. Carlos is one of those pleasant people you get to know and you know there is a connection from the first meeting. He lives in a family compound with his father, brother, sister, cousin, and nieces and nephews, all in separate abodes within a fenced area. The furniture turned out to be everything Jackie wanted and, sitting in it, I found it comfortable and well-built. So we made the deal and put a deposit on it to be delivered later in the week.
While having lunch in Coco, we got word that our household goods from the U.S. were going to be delivered on Tuesday afternoon. Shipping from Indiana, to Florida, on a ship to the Caribbean seaports to our North Pacific hideaway took less than 3 weeks, but it would be a welcome delivery to make our condo truly feel like home.
Tuesday started with the beautiful sunrise over the mountains at 6:15, and, coffee started, dogs for their morning walk, the day begins beautifully. Jackie and I prepared for the arrival of our cargo by taking the futons to our landing for the complex personnel to take to storage. With the living room cleared, we had an open space for stacking our goods. When our driver arrived with his hired lumper, a gardener from the complex, the process started, bringing up 32 bins, 2,000 lbs. ofur home. Water and cervesa for the boys was supplied and 1 1/2 hours later, our living room was full of plastic containers…our life. Breaking them down and finding a home for the goods was a slow and difficult process. 10 bins down by the end of the afternoon left us hungry with a yen for Pizza, so it was off to La Baula’s in Tamarindo for a wonderful dinner with leftovers for lunch the next day.
Wednesday…the living room in disarray, and new furniture set to arrive at 9:00 AM. Jackie and I tackle things bin by bin, when the furniture arrives, only to be delivered to the landing for future placement in the living room. Now, it must be said here that 4 of the bins were my tools, each of which weighed almost 75 lbs., with no plan to get them to a permanent home, yet. Jackie came up with the plan to put the bins in the spare shower temporarily until they can be sorted and moved to their home. It was like Christmas opening each bin and discovering a new items that will be well-used in our new home, but the question still remained: where do we put all this stuff in our 2 bedroom condo? (For the record, I think we can become distributors for Glad Storage Bags in Costa Rica.) But we trudge on, rearranging closets and drawers to the point that we can walk around our living room and finally bring the new furniture in.
One of the bins held our computer supplies, including our Vonage phone hook-up. I hooked the wires up to our router and phone console, contacted Vonage to reactivate our service, and viola! We now have an Internet based home phone in Costa Rica with our Indiana phone number. After a couple of phone calls in and out, with virtually no interference on the calls, we realize that technology is really bringing the world closer for everyone.
I had an appointment on Thursday to take our SUV to the Nissan dealership in Liberia for a total inspection and estimate for repairs to bring it up to new condition. The early morning drive across was pleasant with the sun low and the temps moderate. One thing that needed to be repaired was the sunroof, which would not open, and that would have made the drive a dream had it been working. I arrived at the dealership ahead of schedule and the service writer, Rebecca greeted me warmly like I was a long lost friend. She assured me that her mechanic would go through everything to make sure we had a safe and well-running vehicle. The entire dealership, showroom, parts store, garage, are all open air, and they have one employee whose only job is to continually sweep and mop the tiled floors…you could eat off of those floors. I occasionally walked around to the garage area and saw the mechanic have our engine hooked to the computer, checking our brakes, suspension, electronics…everything.
3 1/2 hours later, Rebecca says she has some news for me, and takes me around to “talk” with the mechanic (albeit she was interpreting). He took his time and showed me all of the good and bad things: Engine was like new, transmission in excellent shape, but it needed some suspension bushings, a caliper pin, a muffler hanger, and some electronic modules and a motor for the sunroof and cool box in the console. He also showed me the construction of the underbody of the Patrol, where everything is made solidly with steel supports for rugged driving conditions. I was impressed, to say the least. So Rebecca puts together the estimate, which, for all that needed done, was much less than I would have thought from a dealership, and everything would be warrantied. She told me it would take about a week to get the parts in, so I ask her for the bill for the inspection. She looked at me puzzled, saying that it was no charge. I am floored. 3 1/2 hours of a mechanic’s time at a dealership at no charge? She tells me that this is customary for Nissan owners and that she wants to make sure I come back to get the repairs done.
So back at the condo, Jackie has been spending her day organizing the place, and it is now starting to look like home with all of our familiar appliances, decor, and essentials. Truly a busy week, but one which cements our life in Paradise.
Our travels this time are much different than our previous trips, as this will be our permanent move to Paradise rather than a brief respite from the northern climates…This will be our home.
To begin, I have taken it for granted that the readers have knowledge of our new country and where we are located. Costa Rica is located in Central America, nestled between Nicaragua to the North, Panama to the South, with the Caribbean Sea East, and Pacific Ocean West. We are living in the Province of Guanacaste which lies on the North Pacific coast of the country:
Our condominium is in a small village called La Josefina, which is between Playa Tamarindo (a popular tourist resort) and Huacas (a Tican town with your basic stores and services).
Now you have an idea of the geography surrounding our move.
Our first day consisted of unpacking our luggage and getting familiar with our new home and surroundings. There were quite a few things we needed to get, most of all food for the refrigerator and pantry. After consulting with friends here, we were told the best place to shop (where the locals shop) is the Maxi Pali in Santa Cruz, so off we trek to the market. On our trip we noticed big improvements on the gravel road through Villa Real and Cana Fistula, where they are in the process of paving the road. Quite a difference in the ride and it will be wonderful when it is completed (in Tica time, though, which means indefinitely). When we arrive at the Maxi Pali, we had to get oriented to the layout of the products, and the first thing we realize is that our understanding of Spanish is horrible. The next thing we had to get comfortable with was the packaging of the products – items are not in cans or boxes as we are accustomed to in the States, but in bags and squeeze tubes. After selecting the fresh local produce which was plentiful and inexpensive, we went to the Carne section for our meats. Jackie noticed that the ground beef looked very fresh and that there was a lot we could cook with it so she asked the clerk for 3 Kilograms (which got her an astonished look from the clerk). Apparently the locals do not get 6 lbs. of meet in one visit, but our freezer was bare. Pork and chicken in smaller quantities completed our meat purchases. We struggled our way down the aisles attempting to interpret the Spanish, ad we did well, with one exception. We wanted to get salt (which is also bagged) and Jackie saw a product with Sal something on it and figured this was our salt, only to find out later that the “Sal” was part of the company name and we now have a bag of corn meal…homemade taco shells, anyone?
We found out that on Sunday, other than supermarkets and local tourist stores, everything is shut down in Costa Rica, which is not an altogether bad thing. The Ticans mill about in the squares, kids play football, and it is a very peaceful time for everyone on Sunday…including our time in the pool at the condo. Arrangements were made to look at a vehicle this week that we wanted to purchase from a party in Playa Flamingo, so on Monday we headed to Liberia to a Do-It Center, which is like a Costa Rican Home Depot. After purchasing patio furniture, gardening supplies for our herb garden, and a barbecue grill, we head to Playa Flamingo. However, the sellers of the vehicle were unavailable, we we put off the inspection until Tuesday. We did make a trip to El Sabanero lodge to visit our close friends Harold and Kurt, which was a joyous reunion over wine and vodka, with a wonderful dinner prepared by Willy.
Tuesday took me to Flamingo again to meet Jack and Donna Osborne, real estate developers who have been living here for 27 years. They were selling a vehicle for a colleague who had moved back to the States. The Nissan Patrol was a large SUV made for the rough terrain of New Zealand and Africa, and adapted quite nicely for Costa Rica. The test drive proved the vehicle was solid and the records showed it was a well maintained truck so Jack and I negotiated a price and shook hands on the deal. He would make arrangements with his attorney for the transfer later in the week.
So far, our telecommunications were on Skype phone via our condo’s wi-fi, but we needed local cellular service so we went to the Kolbi/ICE office in Huacas. They sold SIM cards for our phones, but since the rep did not know any English, the transaction was done with hand signals and scribbling on paper, somewhat of a cross between charades and pictionary. We were put on a pre-pay plan until I can produce the current status of our corporation here, but we finally have a number for people to reach us.
Jackie was in touch with the broker who arranged the transportation of our household goods here and they have cleared Customs so they will be delivered the beginning part of next week. We have made a few more trips around the area to check prices on potential needs, return one rental vehicle, pick up another smaller car for a day, and actually found some great food deals in a Liberia supermarket, Jumbo. They had filet mignon and N.Y. strips at a very low price, so now I have something to put on the new barbecue.
Friday was our day to meet at the attorney’s office to finalize the purchase of the Nissan, which initially went very smoothly with a few initials and signatures, checks passed over in exchange for the keys…done deal (or so we thought). That evening, I got an email from the attorney saying that my signature on the check did not “exactly match” the signature on file with the bank, so they would not deposit it. Now, in fairness, my signature is basically scribble, so I will have to be more careful with my chicken scratch moving forward. Anyway, Ivan, the attorney told me just to transfer the funds into the account on Monday and all is good.
So now that the basics are completed in the first week, Jackie and I can get into somewhat of a life routine in our new home. The pets have had no difficulty adapting to their new environment, although they still have not gotten used to the monkey howls and iguanas, but that will come in time. So with our “family” enjoying a Saturday morning with ocean breezes coming through the windows, I will close.
The condo is just as we expected (albeit, some of the furniture will be replaced), but we finally made it to Huacas, all pets and luggage intact, but not without some bumps in the road.
Initially we were to leave for Atlanta on Monday, January 27 for a flight on January 28. However, Mother Nature and her polar vortex had other plans and stranded us in Indiana with drifting snow, sub zero temperatures and travel advisories keeping us from leaving. Many thanks to Delta Airlines, Hertz, Hotel Indigo and Vamos Rental Car for accommodating the changes. New date for travel was set for Wednesday, February 5, but to hedge our bets against the future weather forecasts, we were making the trip to Atlanta in 2 days, escaping a storm by making a stop in Nashville.
Monday, February 3 comes and we pick up our full-sized SUV at Hertz, and luggage, Dog Carriers, pets, laptops, cameras, etc. are loaded floor to ceiling…off to Nashville! It was very cold, but clear and the roadways were snow-free on the first leg of the trip. The pets have never been on a car trip this long, and Dip had to watch everything from the rear window and Spike wailed his displeasure for a few hours before settling into a slumber. It is difficult to find hotels that are pet-friendly, but fortunately my friends at Holiday Inn Group have Inns, Hotels and Suites that could offer us accommodations, and at Nashville we stayed at the Candlewood Suites. It was a nice enough place, needing some TLC, but the touring group needed a good night’s sleep and this was a good place for it.
Onward to Atlanta on Tuesday, but it was a dreary, rainy drive through the mountains until we arrive at the Hotel Indigo at the Atlanta Airport. This is a very upscale hotel, pet-friendly, and thanks to my travel points, was complimentary. Jackie and I went to the lounge for our last cocktails in the U.S. and our bartender, Pam was a real pro and very entertaining. But since we had a 9:30 AM flight on Wednesday, we retired early enough to get the entourage to the airport in the 2 hour expectation of Delta.
Now it gets hairy. It appears that we are flying out of the International Terminal of the airport, which is 20 minutes from the Domestics with which I am familiar. Jackie and I unload animals, luggage, carry-ons, at the terminal and I proceed to return the rental to Hertz…20 minutes away. Scan the bar code on the Nissan, get my receipt, and off the shuttle to the terminal…another 20 minutes. When I enter the terminal, Jackie is there frantically waving me to the check in desk. Heck, we have 45 minutes before boarding. Jackie had already checked in the pets and her luggage and all I needed to do was check in my bags and get my boarding pass. But Delta requires a minimum of 1 hour prior to boarding to check in and the desk attendant was sticking by the rules. Bottom line: we are now rebooked on a new flight for Thursday at 5:45 PM.
So we had to recollect the pets with no vehicle, no hotel, so the cell phone went blazing. Budget Rental was able to give us an SUV (spell that expensive), Drury Inn by the International Airport had a room for us and our pets, so it is one more night in Atlanta. If you are not familiar with Drury, they have a complimentary cocktail reception in their lobby. Suffice it to say that Jackie and I took advantage of it.
Thursday arrives and we arrive at the terminal with almost 4 hours to spare. Entourage unloaded again, rental returned, shuttle completed, and everyone is checked in. Pets are sleeping on the floor of the terminal not knowing what the next step is, but the boarding kennels are looming by us, so they know something is up. Aside from one hard-ass bike cop confronting me about walking the dogs outside of their carriers “or else I will cite you” the wait was pleasant and peaceful. Then, with a bit more than an hour to board, we load up the pets in their carriers and head to their loading area. After the TSA check of the dogs and kennels for explosives, they get taken away for loading, barking and whining…it is a short flight in a temperature controlled environment, so they will be safe. The feline pets had to be carried through the security check and they were none to happy about going into the carriers again.
There is something to be said about being a Medallion traveler with Delta as we were expedited at the check-in and got to our seats early, only to fond out the third person in out aisle is allergic to cats. Now we do the seat shuffle with a young guy from Minnesota taking the seat for free cocktails (my kind of guy…great negotiator). After the dust settles with overbooking and everyone in their appointed places, we take off for San Jose. I had booked a suite at a pet-friendly resort on the north side of San Jose for the night, but we had not ventured through San Jose in the past so this would be a new adventure. When we cleared Customs (surprisingly quickly with the pets) we met Max with Vamos to get us through the car rental process. What an awesome guy, staying a couple of hours after closing to meet us and complete the rental contracts. He even went so far as to lead us to the resort since there was construction on the main roads and he escorted us through the back roads which we would have never found.
Casa Conde is a colonial condo complex with 2 bedroom units that are very nicely appointed, and, above all, comfortable beds, and slumber was easily attained. We left the complex on Friday morning with “easy” directions to the main highway. One wrong turn and 3 hours later we are finally on the Pan American Highway to Guanacaste. Road construction is a way of life in Costa Rica, and we found it on the way to Liberia. But when it is all said and done, we make it to our condo at 4:30 in the afternoon. Sunshine, brisk trade winds, and third floor moves of our pets, overstuffed luggage and supplies greet us in Huacas. But it is Pura Vida…our family is home. None of the roadblocks have dampened our desire to live our retirement in a place we love. So our pets sleep at their new home, Jackie and I share a salad and a cocktail, and go to our bed with the winds of change blowing over us for the first night in paradise.
This is always the hardest post of my blogs…leaving Paradise. We awoke to a brilliant sunrise in Flamingo and ate our fresh fruit and sipped cups of smooth coffee on the patio of the resort. We were soaking in the nature, the views, the aroma like it was water to a parched throat.
We moved to the lobby to discuss our plans to travel to San Jose where we met up with a couple who had been staying at the resort, Carmen and Peggy. They were from Massachusetts (Carmen by way of Italy) and, as we found out, enjoyed travelling to the exotic and adventurous lands. Carmen told me of his hobbies of creating harpoons and stained glass works, while Peggy and Jackie discussed our plans for the hotel boutique. Before we knew it, 2 hours had passed and Jackie and I had still not closed our suitcase.
Gathering our belongings and sealing up the room, I move the bags to the Hyundai and said our goodbyes to Joseph, Willy and Raquel, thanking them for their hospitality and gracious manners to us and the other residents. Knowing that our investment in the resort was in good hands, we head out for the Central Valley. There was a 4 hour drive ahead of us to San Jose, and a short stay at the airport hotel before boarding the 1:00 AM flight home.
The drive was indicative of the natural diversity of Costa Rica. Driving from Flamingo to Nicoya, the dry heat made its mark on the landscape, scorching the low grasses and allowing the succulents to remain green despite the dry season. Our arrival at Puntarenas begins our ascension into the Central Range, switchbacks through the jungles mixed with clouds, mist, rain and filtered sun. At the crest, we see the valley of San Jose, Escazu, Alajuela, Heredia, and the entire of the Central Valley. The slow decline down ends at our hotel across from the Juan Santamaria airport in San Jose.
The font desk agent, Fabian greeted us warmly at the front desk and checked us into our suite. It will be a short stay of only 8 hours before we have to catch the shuttle to the airport. I return the rental vehicle to the agency across the street and head back to the hotel for an attempt at a nap, which is not coming easily.
At 6:00, Jackie and I decided to walk over to a Denny’s (the All-American Restaurant) for a bite to eat, breakfast fare for me, dinner fare for Jackie. After our meal, we head back to the hotel in an attempt to get some rest before our departure. A couple of hours is the best we can capture, so we shower, assemble our luggage and head to the lobby for the shuttle. The lobby holds a luggage scale which we use to weigh our one check-in…it is now 50 lbs., although we have added nothing to the 40 lb. bag from our departure other than a stick of deodorant. Obviously, the scale is miscalculated.
The shuttle took us too quickly to the airport where we purchased our exit visas and headed to the Spirit counter to check in. Our bag still weighed above the 40 lb. limit and we had to pay the $25 surcharge, but if the extra cargo was warmth and memories, it was money well spent. The 1:00 AM flight was on time and not filled, so we found empty rows to try to get some room to sleep, but unfortunately, Jackie’s empty row was quickly filled with a young student travelling to Boston who had a fear of flying. Jackie comforted her to sleep, but lost her free row to lay down to sleep. She tried to join my row, but the sleep did not come easily.
A couple of hours later, we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale to clear Customs, which went without a hitch. But we had to re-enter TSA and the line at that time of the morning spanned twice the length of the terminal. Since we had time before our connector, we had the luxury of patience, albeit weary patience. I wish I could say the same of the others in line. It was a sad reminder that we were, in fact, back in the U.S.
Clearing TSA, and boarding our flight to O’Hare, it is now obvious that reality is happening. My legs are covered with trousers, and my feet are covered with socks and loafers…something foreign for 13 days…Jackie is carrying a sweater. So sad.
My local Chicago supervisor, Bethany, meets us at the airport for the drive to the office in Elmhurst where I got a few hours of work completed before heading back to Indiana. Jackie and I rescued our dogs from the kennel with the howls from Dip and the constant licks from Gadget, ecstatic to see their Mommy and Daddy. The remainder of the drive home was filled with wagging tails and grateful puppies, but knowing we are going to get the cold shoulders from our cats, who were cared for by Courtney and George, but abandoned by us…they will come around at feeding time.
4/17/13: While waiting to proofread and publish this blog, the reality of life in the U.S has hit with full force. Work is work, and I arrive to a full mailbox, voicemails ad nauseum, and hope that a week will be enough to get through it. But more sadly than that, an American tradition, the Boston Marathon was crippled by a bomber, our local schools are being terrorized by threats of violence to match Sandy Hook, and mail is being intercepted to a Senator and the President laced with Ricin. And the Congress fails to pass an ordinance to require background checks on the purchase of firearms.
For 13 days I was able to escape the violence, the threats, the fear, the political division and enjoy the peace and beauty God has designed for us. Soon enough, it will not be for a couple of weeks, but for my lifetime. I pray I will survive the short time until it is reality.
The day at our new digs started off brilliantly. The sun made its presence known at promptly 6:04, and by 6:15, I was in the lobby sipping on fresh coffee and letting the views and breezes carry me away. I must admit, the beds and air conditioning at the El Sabanero Resort are more to a gringo’s liking, but it is, after all, a resort. The spread in the lobby is a typical Costa Rican fare with the breads and jams, fresh fruit juice, fresh fruit cocktails, cereal and, of course, a bottomless pot of coffee. the hotel chef also cooks up the eggs and meats for those who so choose.
By 7:30, the families with kids we frolicking in the pool, splashing and jumping as kids everywhere do. From our vantage point on the patio, we are able to watch the activities without getting in the way of the ruckus. There were, again, no definite plans on the books. After a few dips into the pool, we decided to get changed and go to the gas station in Huacas and get our flat tire repaired. Fortunately, I had learned the phrase llantas reparation (tire repair), for my non-English speaking friends down here. The mechanic at the gas station understood my rudimentary Spanish and took the tire from the hold in the trunk and went to work on it. Ten minutes later, he replaced the tire on the SUV and put the sparse back in the trunk. When I went to settle up with him, he waved his hand, no charge. Are you kidding me? A foreigner needing a mechanic’s assistance in a strange place? That is like fair game for robbery in the U.S. I gave him 3,000 colones ($6.00) as a tip and he thanked me profusely. What people they are down here.
We took a leisurely trip back to Flamingo, stopping in the center of Huacas to get a couple of items and then, we decided to drive further up the hill past the resort to see what or who was up there. The road only extends about 500 meters past the resort, but there are several estate houses that sit off the road which beautiful, and you can only imagine the views from their vantage point.
Back at the resort, Raquel was happy to heat up our leftover dinners which we had for lunch. We watched a little bit of the Masters on TV (in English) and went into the pool for a few more cooling dips. The sunsets in Flamingo are the most beautiful I have ever seen and we did not want to miss the opportunity to view one more before we left. On the northern part of the beach, there was a gathering just wrapping up a wedding ceremony, but other than that, the beach was just dotted with random people, virtually deserted. We parked at a wonderful point to get the full effect of the sunset and let the views take us away. A little Daschound puppy was with a couple and just running all over the place, another mother and her two children were there, also, to enjoy the high tide. And then the show began with the sun dropping amid the low clouds on the horizon, creating a palette of colors over the ocean, until it was just a faint orange ball bidding farewell.
We drove back to the resort where Willy and Joseph were getting ready for their first of weekly barbecue buffets they will be holding on the deck and lobby. The smells of the wood burning ad the meats grilling obviously made us aware that the appetites were back. Raquel made her first Long Island Iced Tea for Jackie (strong but tasty for her first stab at it), and for me a vodka tonic. The NASCAR race was on the bar TV so we were able to catch some of it while we waited for the food to be cooked. Them menu consisted of steaks, pork chops, sausage (sweet), chicken skewers, and fish with a choice of barbecue or jalapeño sauces. They also served green salad, nachos and fresh salsa, homemade potato salad, and rice. Our plates were full of the sampling and it would take a while to finish this. But finish we did and met Joseph at the bar for an after dinner cocktail and great conversation about music.
Jackie reminded me that the race was still on and we went to the air conditioning of the room to watch the end of it. Hopefully, Jackie can upload the video she took of the Spanish speaking announcers calling the race. Tony Stewart was referred to as “Señor Smoke”, and Kyle Busch, who won the race was called “Rowdy”. We could hear the regular announcers in the background calling the race in English, but the over exuberant local announcers drowned them out.
The race over, and our food settled, it is time once again for sleep, and again it came easily.
Today we will be leaving El Sabanero Lodge to stay for a couple of nights at the El Sabanero Beach Resort to experience their amenities. However, Wilbur came into the lodge to tell me I had a problem…flat tire on the SUV. Somewhere last night I picked up a screw in my tire and now it was flat, so it was time to be my own pit crew. Fifteen minutes and 2 quarts of sweat later, the spare was on. Finishing up the last of the coffee, we head up the road for the short trip to Flamingo and the resort. Willy, Joseph and Raquel were on duty as usual, and since it was lunch time, we opted for lunch in the lobby. The hamburgers were huge and most tasty, served with a salad and fried potatoes…and friendly conversations with Raquel and Joseph.
I went onto the upper deck to just look at the view. There is a panoramic view from this vantage point on the bluff. To the west is the Pacific ocean, dotted with islands of volcanic rock and tropical plants. Directly north is the opposing bluff creating the Flamingo cove. The hills of that bluff has residences climbing up the hills through the jungle. And then to the east is Flamingo cove with its boats moored offshore and ending at the beaches around the cove. It is an idyllic view and pure Costa Rica.
While standing on the deck, I notice a condor floating in the air with the air current randomly taking him to nowhere in particular. As the winds shift, the condor comes closer to my vantage point and soars just above my head where I notice his wingspan of about 5 feet. It is a grand bird. Flying along with him are ospreys, terns, tanagers, pelicans, and colorful birds the species of which I di not know. Across the hilled property of the resort are the iguanas either lying on rocks in the sun, or scurrying along to ground to a new resting spot. The trees are a combination of leafless, dormant trees during this dry season, along with fruit trees bearing and orange-like fruit, coconut palms, azaleas and many succulents. And not to forget the aromas coming from the area, there is a combination of the smell of the red tide with is salty sea fragrance along with the sweetness of the flowers. The overall picture could not be captured with one picture.
Our room at the resort is a lower floor poolside one where we can walk out of our patio door onto a small patio with steps going right into the pool. However, the first thing we notice about our room is the full air conditioning which is welcome in the 101 degree heat. We opted for a quick dip in the pool before heading out to explore some more of the area. We went into Huacas for some souvenirs, coffee (of course), jams and jellies for the grandkids, and more medicine for me from the Farmacia (I am determined to kick this cold!). We had planned on viewing the sunset from the deck of the resort, but on our way back, we decided to stop at a restaurant, Carlos y Carlos, on the road between Conchal and Flamingo. We had passed it several times, but never stopped, so this was our opportunity.
The building is a small brick café with a driveway that takes you to the front door. This inside is a combination of brick and stone archways, and cedar ceilings. The menu is Italian and the service is very attentive without being overbearing. It is such a shame that we are the only two patrons of the restaurant at the time. After ordering our wine, we choose a chicken and fettuccini with a white wine sauce and a veal and herb ravioli in a tomato and herb sauce. Both meals arrived and we realize this is not the Olive Garden. The entrees were freshly prepared and the presentation was gourmet. I chose the ravioli first, and the flavors of the tomatoes and herbs just popped in my mouth and I could see from Jackie’s first taste of the chicken, she had the same experience. We swapped dishes after a bit eating to our fill and having enough left over to bring back to the resort for our lunch tomorrow. After an espresso and Sambuca, we drove back to Flamingo, missing the sunset, but glad we did not miss the opportunity for Carlos y Carlos.
Back in our air conditioned room, we scanned the channels on the TV only to find a Nascar Nationwide race. what a surprise, so we enjoyed the coolness of the room, the sports on TV and eventually drifted off to sleep putting to bed another marvelous day in Costa Rica.