August 27 – 29, 2015: Manuel Antonio

We decided on a whim to check out a part of the country we had not explored, yet, the Central Pacific Coast, and what better place to view the diversity of this area than Manuel Antonio. Less than a 3 hour drive from our Central Valley home, Manuel Antonio offers what is billed as the most biodiverse National Park in the country, boasting 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds, with 4 beaches along the Pacific Ocean.

Having dogs sometimes makes it difficult to plan a trip of a couple of days, but fortunately, Costa Rica has many hotels and lodges that are pet-friendly and welcome our furry family members. A quick search of the hotels in the area provided several choices and we chose a small boutique all-suites hotel just 5 km from the entrance to the park. With reservations made, bags quickly packed and loaded, dog beds in the back of the SUV and a full tank of gas, we head off on our journey.

Viewing road maps on a typical guide in Costa Rica is not for the faint of heart since, what might look like a nice highway could be a gravel road with several water crossings. So, having never been to this region before and seeing on the map that 100 km of our trip would be on a coastal “highway”, I was geared up for a somewhat rough drive for a good portion of the trip. To my delight, Highway 34 was a great paved highway, well maintained and not heavily traveled by commercial traffic. So we quickly made it through the towns of Playa Herradura, Jaco, Playa Hermosa and finally Quepos.

Quepos is the town that leads up to Manuel Antonio and it is quite popular with the surfing tourists, yet still maintains a Tico charm without being touristy. From the town we climb up the coastal hills to our hotel, Plaza Yara, and pulling into the small parking lot, we are greeted by a beagle-mix dog who immediately senses the presence of our furry children. Basso, as we eventually learned her name, wanted nothing more than to meet her new guests, and she was pleased to see us, also. Basso escorted me to the reception area, which doubles as an art gallery for local painters and artisans, and I was greeted there by our concierge, Nelson who greeted me warmly and had our booking ready to go. He took me on a quick tour of the property, showing me the breakfast lounge, the observation deck looking into the natural habitat surrounding the hotel, the adjoining restaurant, the pool and spa area, and finally ending up at our suite. It was beautifully appointed with two Queen beds, a small kitchen area, a very modern bathroom, a living room area, and a balcony overlooking the pool. Nelson made sure to let us know that he and the staff would do anything they could to accommodate our needs.

Since we were travelling light, I declined Nelson’s offer to get our bags to the room and unloaded our backpacks and dogs from the car with the hotel’s canine concierge, Basso, escorting her new “sniff buddies” to our suite. She even came into the room with us to check out our doggie beds we brought for our “kids”. It could not have been more charming. Basso immediately bonded with our beagle and I knew that they would enjoy each others’ company during our stay.

We arrived later in the afternoon, and after a quick trip into town for some supplies, we decided to take Nelson’s suggestion of dinner in the adjoining restaurant, Gondola Gourmet, which was a spot on suggestion. Our waiter, Jaime and the owner, Silvana treated us like family and we shared stories of Costa Rica and North America. The food was excellent and Silvana gave us a complimentary shot of homemade Limoncello with our check.

After dinner, we retired to our room and watched some TV (Spanish, English, German,and French channel selections) until it was time for bed. Now, I must say that we have travelled throughout Costa Rica for several years and have become accustomed to “Tico Beds”, which are harder than what one would expect from North American hotels, but with this hotel, they were less hard than most (albeit, not North American standards).

We arose early on Friday so that we could get a nice breakfast before heading up to the park, which was an easy drive up a windy, well paved road. At this point I will tell folks travelling to the park that there are several parking areas about a kilometer from the park where parking attendants will tell you to “Park Here” claiming that the parking areas at the park itself are full. Don’t be fooled and just tell them “otra dia” and drive onward to the park since there is ample parking just before the gates. To gain entry into the park, you must purchase your tickets at he bank, Coopealianza, just 200 meters before the entrance. Cash and Visa credit cards are accepted for payment…American Express and MasterCard did not lobby hard enough, I guess. You will also receive a map of the park with your entry tickets, which is most helpful to guide you through the various trails. There are several guides that you can sign up with for roughly $20.00 U.S., but make sure that if you choose a guide you get one who is wearing a brown National Park shirt since these are the most knowledgeable and reliable. They carry high-powered scopes on tripods and stop along the trails to point out the various wildlife through their scopes.

We opted for a self-guided tour with our camera and telescopic lens for a more personal viewing of what we wanted to see. We did garner some information by eavesdropping on a few guides, but we did not hang along with the groups for very long. The trails are very well maintained and easy to walk, with side trails of boardwalk to take you deeper into the jungle setting . The day was beautifully warm and the morning humidity was drying up, the sun and blue sky peeking through the abundant trees.

bluesky01We could hear howler monkeys in the distance mixing with the sounds of cicadas and frogs closer by. There were vines winding through the trees and we overheard that some of the vines were over 100 years old. Another interesting tidbit of information we heard from a guide was that the howler monkey is the second loudest animal in the world, only surpassed by the blue whale. A howler monkey’s roar can be heard over 10 km away.

One boardwalk path took ufungi01s through a marshy area with small rivulets and deadwood on either side. This was home to some very colorful fungi growing off the deadwood and even more colorful crabs burrowing into the mud.




Arriving at the beach, we were greeted with a view of clear blue water along a horseshoe beach with rocky outcroppings throughout. the beaches were not crowded and the water on the north beach was very calm with
small waves.



Among the trees that were on the perimeter of the beach were Capuchin monkeys, waiting for the unsuspecting beach goer to leave his or her belongings unattended so he could swoop down and get a snack.  They appear to be friendly little guys, but so was the Artful Dodger.


cap03We watched with amazement as these monkeys worked their way through the tourists seeking out a trash bin or a stray nut or fruit on the ground. The younger ones would chase each other up and down trees while the more savvy elders had their eyes on bigger prizes. It was truly a jungle show and we saw a couple of times where their persistence was rewarded with a mad dash towards a vacant cooler, only to be shooed away by a park guard. I was rooting for the monkey, though.

While Jackie was off on the beach walking along the surf, I met my newest jungle buddy, Don Mapache (better known in North America as a raccoon). Unfettered by my presence, he came right up to me and started to sniff my sneakers (which is as unpleasant an experience as any human could sustain). Not finding anything of interest in my footwear, he reached up an pawed my leg to see if I had anything else to offer (vis-a-vis, food for the taking).
He racc01had such longing eyes, had I been holding any snack I would have been tempted to offer it to him, which is strictly forbidden in the park guidelines. He sadly went off into the brush in search of another sucker. As an aside, Jackie and I sat on a bench later to have some cheese we had brought for a snack and a little raccoon (perhaps Don Mapache?) snuck up, unbeknownst to us) and stole our last 2 pieces of cheese. Chomping in the morsels, he looked very proud of himself.

Having had a full day of the jungle and wildlife, we headed back to the car and towards the hotel with a stop for a small lunch (since Don Mapache made off with the remainder of our sustenance). Some time by the pool and lounging in the hotel spa was a relaxing way to spend the late afternoon hours before a small pizza dinner and a restful night’s sleep.

In the morning we toured the gallery in the lobby area and decided on a purchase of a decorative porcelain gecko wall hanging for the house.  We had a very nice conversation with the concierge on duty, Javier. He told us about his family in Puntarenas and that his son was celebrating his 13th birthday that day, so he was anxious to get off duty and head home. He wanted to know about our family and how we came to relocate to Costa Rica.

This sense of family is something that is first and foremost in the Tico culture, it is the most important facet of their lives. I see it at the local sodas where entire families share a meal, babies through grandparents. Fathers, carrying their babies proudly along with mother and other kids to the park for an afternoon. People live simply here, but they know what is important to them and whenever I talk to someone, the conversation usually involves their family.

The drive home with a couple of stops for vista views, dog walks, and a meal at a soda was pleasant. It is always great to be back home.

Pura Vida.


August 22, 2015: Shameless Self Promotion

Since relocating to Costa Rica, Jackie and I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively throughout the country, meeting and interacting with so many people from diverse backgrounds and with varying interests. I believe it is obvious to anyone following this blog that we are totally in love with Costa Rica, its ever-changing eco-terrain, and the amazing citizens of this country.

We want to share our experiences with people first hand by offering hand-crafted tours and retreats through our new business, Costa Rica Travel and Retreats. Whether your plans might include a yoga retreat, jungle adventures, surfing lessons and experiences, or just plain relaxation and tourism, we can customize a trip to fill any need.

I invite you to visit us and if you or anyone you know might want to experience Pura Vida, please contact us through

Thank you and now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

August 21, 2015: Over a Year Later

It is hard to believe that it has been over a year since my last post…but not surprising given all that has been experienced and changed since our move to Costa Rica in February, 2014. Our migration following my retirement was to a place with which we were familiar and had many friends and acquaintances. Guanacaste, and the Tamarindo area specifically had so much to offer us given the popularity of the location to North Americans and Europeans. The abundance and diversity of restaurants throughout the area never left one unfulfilled, and, of course, we had our favorites that were the go-to places to fill our gastronomic needs. Supermarkets, also, offered both local and “Gringo” fare so that we never felt far from our roots. The flora and fauna as displayed in previous postings were exotic, plentiful and wonderous.

But the area also had its challenges. First and foremost was the climate. It is nice to vacation for a couple of weeks away from the bitter winters of the North to the brilliant sunshine and heat of the beaches in Guanacaste, but when you live in 90 degree temperatures day in and day out, it does tend to get to you. The availability of a pool and the air conditioning in the condo provided relief, but with electric rates being very high in Costa Rica, we had to ration the usage of the air conditioning to the warmest parts of the day.Slowly, our friends and neighbors at the condominium complex started moving out for a variety of reasons: health problems, business relocation, larger accommodations and seasonal moves back to North America. We decided that we were ready for a change.

We had travelled to the Central Valley to visit friends there and found that the temperatures, because of the altitude were much more pleasant. The views of the volcanos above and the cities below, along with the different varieties of plant life gave us an indication of what we could expect by moving to this area of the country. While this area is not directly on the beaches, a short 1/2 hour drive would take us to the beaches of Puntarenas, Jaco and Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific coast. However, the timing of a potential move proved to be a problem since February is in the height of the high season and the availability of housing is slim, at best.

The areas we were looking to relocate were in the province of Alajuela with ridges that rise up to elevations of 2,000 meters. Towns of Atenas, San Ramon, La Garita, Sarchi and Grecia were on our list of favorable move sites, but, as I said, the selection was not that great. Our requirements were not that demanding: a minimum of 2 bedrooms, an updated kitchen with a stove (since Ticos usually only cook with a range top and rarely use an oven, a Tico kitchen would not work for us), and, most of all, pet friendly. We visited several properties over a 6 week period that would be available for the timing of our move, but none were what we would call ideal. We then thought that perhaps by extending our lease at the condominium for 3 months would give us time to view properties that would be available after the high season ended. These plans were dashed when the management of the condominium complex wanted our condo for weekly rental during the high season and would not extend our lease. Our hands were now held over a fire and we decided to perhaps settle for the best of the properties we had viewed.

We made one last trip to the Central Valley in January to view a couple more properties before we decided and a friend from the area knew of a couple who wanted to move back the Florida and had their house for sale, but might be open to the possibility of a rental arrangement since the house had not sold in over a year on the market. Via emails and phone conversations, we made arrangements to view this property which was just on the outskirts of a town called Naranjo (translated as Orange Tree). We met the owner in a downtown location so that he could guide us up to the property which was an uphill climb the entire 5 kilometers. The last 500 meters was on a gravel road winding through coffee fields and I thought to myself that we would never be able to find this house again on our own. The owner, Al, opened the electronic gates and we climbed a steep driveway to the house and it took our breath away. It was a sprawling ranch house with a wrap around veranda, looking down to a lower level with a pool, and off to the east, clear views of four volcanoes. Al’s wife Zaira showed Jackie through the house and all I heard from Jackie was, “Oh my God” which was her reaction to the large professional kitchen. Three large bedrooms each with a private bathroom, a family room, a parlor and a formal dining room completed the interior of the house, which included a complete security and camera system throughout, but comparing this house to the others we had viewed gave us a sinking feeling that this would be out of our price range. I was in charge of the negotiations and when Al told me what he was asking for rent, I had to struggle to keep a poker face since it was much lower than anything we looked at that we would have to “settle” for. I should say, at this point that Al and Zaira had two large dogs, Digger and Luca who were very friendly and took to us immediately, but could be very intimidating should someone come around that is not inviting. Al told us that a neighbor wanted Digger, the Rottweiler, but that he would be taking Luca back to the shelter for adoption. Since the dogs were so friendly and good for guard dogs, we offered to “adopt” them so that they did not have to get used to a new environment. Al and Zaira loved us for the offer and discounted the rent to accommodate the expenses for the dogs, which we did not expect. We shook hands on the spot and sealed the deal over beers and lemonade. As we left the house, our heads were spinning from our good fortune, and we discussed all we needed to do over the next month to make the move.

Anyone who has moved residences knows about the sorting, packing organizing, etc. that goes along with the process, but knowing where we were moving to made the chores less painful. Our logistics friend, Mike Rappaport, who arranged our move from the States handled the move from Guanacaste to San Antonio de Naranjo. Moving day arrived and two young Ticos arrive in a small stake body truck with a tarp over top and, looking at it I said to Jackie that there was no way that they could get our furniture, plants and 32 bins of household goods and tools onto this little truck. I left the men to their own devices and, sure enough, they fit everything onto the truck tightly with no room to spare. Aside from an almost 2 hour delay due to a road blockage by the residents of a small village protesting a delay in water delivery, we made it to the house and the men had everything unloaded in under an hour. We could finally settle into our new home. Nighttime came and we were treated to a view below of the cities of the Central Valley, Alajuela and San Jose, with their city lights twinkling in the distance. We were also greeted with evening temperatures and breezes that allowed us to sit on the veranda to enjoy the views without sweating, and Jackie actually donned a light sweater later on. No need to sleep with air conditioning anymore, which would not be an option since the house does not have nor needs central air conditioning.

The next day I went to the local supermarket in Naranjo and was greeted by total culture shock….we were not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Naranjo and the surrounding area is almost entirely Tico with virtually no English spoken. The supermarket carried products used by the local population (an entire aisle dedicated to nothing but rice and beans) with absolutely no American fare at all. However, since the store is frequented by the local people whose budget is limited, the prices were at least 30% lower than what we were accustomed to pay in Guanacaste, a tourist area. I am now acutely aware that assimilation and a grasp of the Spanish language would be essential for us to survive here.

Our neighbor and family friend of Al and Zaira visited us on the first day. Nestor and his family live on the next ridge east of us and own property and farms throughout the area and fortunately he has a decent grasp of the English language. He brought us bananas from his farm…not a small bunch of bananas, but an entire branch off of a banana tree, along with fresh limes, mango and avocados picked that day. We sat and chatted with Nestor over coffee and he said that he maintains the property and gardens for Al and Zaira, so we made arrangements for him to continue to do this for us. The property is 1 1/4 acres over four levels elevating 200 meters from bottom to top. It is populated with local palms, fruit trees, flowering vines and bushes, and bordered on each side by coffee fields. It is entirely fenced so the dogs have free roam of the property which they immediately took advantage of, sniffing every blade of grass.

We have traded in the tall palms and guanacaste trees of the coast for coffee bushes and fruit trees. Howler monkeys and iguanas do not thrive in this area, but capuchin monkeys and three toed sloths are common. Kiskadees, oropendolas, parrots, paraguys, and the occasional toucan are our neighbors in the trees throughout the property. There are, however, snakes, cane toads, and a wide assortment of beetles and spiders that occupy the area, so some caution is necessary.

We have been here for 6 months now and have fallen in love with everything about this region. We have North American friends that live in Grecia, a town 12 kilometers southeast of us, with whom we get together regularly for parties or just a snack at a local soda. They introduced us to the Friday feria in Grecia which is a farmers market that sprawls over an area that would cover three football fields, the vendors offering fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood, and prepared food, all grown and made locally. The prices for the goods are roughly half of what you would pay at the supermarkets, and since it is all local, it is extremely fresh. My favorite vendor is a local artisanal coffee grower who sells his dark roasted beans and ground coffee at prices so low it makes me wonder how he makes a profit. You can smell his coffee throughout the feria as he continually grinds more beans for sale. We have little need for most fruits since Nestor keeps us well supplied with most fruits, but there are strawberry growers at the feria who come down from the mountains above Grecia which is known for their abundant strawberry fields. We have found one farmer who has strawberries that are almost as sweet as sugar. Another farmer sells fresh onions and he is always one of the most cheerful people at the feria. His smile brings us to him to buy a vine of onions and he always makes sure to put a couple of peppers or garlic in the bag as a show of thanks. I take out a 10,000 colone bill (about $19.00 U.S.) at our first point of purchase, fill two large market bags of our purchases, and end up with change in my pocket. The average feria costs us about $15 U.S. and we have fruits, vegetables and supplies for 2 weeks.

Our experience with the friendliness of people in the area is not limited to the feria, however. Throughout our days travelling to the towns of Sarchi, known for its furniture makers and artisans, San Ramon, La Garita, Alajuela, and right here in Naranjo, we are met with smiles from the people. Men will walk up to me and just shake my hand with a friendly “Buenos”, store owners and workers who go out of their way to help me knowing my fledgling Spanish is lacking,  gas station attendants who not only pump your gas but check your tires’ air pressure and wash your windows, and mostly just people walking up and down the local roads who always give you a cheerful wave as you drive by. I feel no qualms stopping and offering a ride to someone walking to town or waiting for a bus, and it is so appreciated by the people it is heartwarming. Necessity is the mother of invention and because of this, my Spanish is improving but far from fluent, but with the help of our new neighbors and friends, I am sure I can be conversant in a short time.

Pura Vida.

villa carmelina
New House on Moving Day
Our Daytime View of the Central Valley
Our Daytime View of the Central Valley
Our Nighttime View of the Central Valley
Nighttime View of the Central Valley
iglesia naranjo
Naranjo Basilica
Downtown Naranjo
Downtown Naranjo
Sunrise Over the Volcanoes
Sunrise Over the Volcanoes
Sunset Clouds
Sunset Clouds
Full Moon Over the Volcanoes
Full Moon Over the Volcanoes

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.


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:

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:




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


Pura Vida!