California Dreaming–Part Two


My friends and I spent the last two days of my California sojourn driving to and staying in San Francisco where they have an apartment.  I had not been in this part of San Francisco before and some things there surprised me.  Next to their apartment building resides a grocery where we went shopping for some salad items and cheese.  Much to my astonishment most prices were no greater than in Amarillo Texas, near where I live.  Some items were cheaper.  Who would have thought?  Not me.

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On the road to San Francisco.

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The view from their apartment.

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The purpose of our going to San Francisco rather than staying near Carmel was to see the new opera, “if I were you”, commissioned by Merola Opera.  It is a modern retelling of the Faust story.  The devil is female and much to my astonishment sung/acted by a young woman, Cara Collins, from Amarillo, Texas.  The director, a good friend of my hosts, informed me that Cara’s teacher, Mary Jane Johnson who is famous throughout the opera world, was there also.  That saying about how small the world is seemed all too true.

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After the opera several of us went to a French restaurant where the waiter spoke several languages.  I felt a bit envious.

After breakfast the next morning, we took a walk to Alamo Square and to The Mill, a famous coffee shop.

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A view of City Hall through the trees.

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Above:  the Painted Ladies.

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Latte at The Mill.

Then off to my flight home.

 

 

Adventure in Argentina–Buenos Aires


On March 4, a little before noon, I arrived in Buenos Aires EZE airport.  Customs was relatively organized, straight forward, and simple.  Once I acquired my luggage, I headed out.  There stood Gaston waiting for me, the reverse of when he came to live with me a little more than eight years ago and I waited for him at the Amarillo airport. One thing remained the same–hugs.  We hailed a cab, loaded my luggage, and headed for the hotel which his dad, Hugo, had arranged.  In spite of the fact that neither of us had managed much sleep the night before (mine was sleep on a ten hour red eye flight and his was a night in the bus from Cordoba), we headed out to find some lunch and explore.

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After a long walk (I have a Fitbit and we walked 35 miles in 2 1/2 days before we left Buenos Aires), we arrived here at this very modern business district on the right.  The tall building in the distance is a Chinese bank.

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To the left are many old warehouses which have been converted into apartment buildings, restaurants, and shops.  It has become a fashionable place to live.  Several of these sailing vessels floated in the water.  Some could be boarded for a tour.  We just strolled around and enjoyed the views, the weather.

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We crossed the bridge and explored a rather exclusive area.  Buenos Aries is an old city which combines the old and the new.  Many of the sidewalks and streets have not changed in hundreds of years–the original cut stones remain.

We did have to laugh at our first lunch experience.  Although the restaurant appeared to be quite traditional and Argentinian on the outside, the menu was mostly Tex-Mex food.

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One of the longest streets in the world, this one goes from one end of the city to the other.  Note the trees!  Every city I visited contained an astonishing amount of trees.  Except for the most narrow streets, trees lined them.  Later I learned about an Argentinian saying:  there are three things you must do in life, plant a tree, write a book, have a child.  I feel grateful because I have done all three.

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Parks, parks, and more parks–they are everywhere and people use them–children playing, dog walkers, runners exercising, people relaxing on park benches, chatting.

Hugo had given Gaston a list of some places to visit, one of which is an old area with colorful buildings, traditional dancing, e.g. tango, and lots of tourists.  Many of the restaurants this time year–end of summer there–are open air, filled with people enjoying summer’s end.

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We had a coffee (we drank quite a lot of coffee–for breakfast and after dinner almost every day), watched tango and traditional country dancers.  Tango is a Buenos Aires dance tradition.  People in other parts of the country dance the traditional dances, not tango.  We watched while a woman in her 80s left her table and danced perfectly with a young man dressed in traditional clothes–everyone cheered.  People there eat dinner late, 9-10 at night.  One day in Buenos Aires we somehow sort of forgot lunch and were hungry so we went to this special restaurant (they have a very unique way of making a potato dish which Gaston likes) about eight.  The waiters looked at us as if we were crazy.  No one else arrived at the restaurant before nine and most even later.  This suited me fine.  I much rather eat late than early.

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Sunday Poem–Choose


“Most people are about as happy as they

make up their minds to be.”  Abraham Lincoln

 

When I was twenty something, I chose happiness, not the sappy, syrupy, cheery, but a deeper joy of cherishing the small, the unique, the everyday, smiling with sunsets, the song of the mockingbird in spring, horses running free, the nearly invisible bobcat climbing the canyon wall, the taste of fine coffee at the first wakeful moments in the morning, cooking for friends, taking a “property walk” with my grandson, laughing with the teenagers I teach.  I am driven to do little–obsessions, compulsions do not run me.  I choose.  Choose life, choose joy, or choose whining, choose lamenting.  Choose!!  Be who you want to be; do what you want to do.

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Note:  this is a poem from my book, “On the Rim of Wonder”.

Driving on Your Own in Costa Rica–Hotel Playa Negra


On March 17, I related the story of having to leave the first hotel in this area after dark with nowhere to go–see first post on driving on your own.  It was not until I awakened the next morning, dressed, and went in search of coffee, that I realized just how lucky we were.  I left my daughter and grandson asleep and ventured toward the restaurant indicated by a small sign.  I had not walked far when this scene greeted my eyes.

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Horses right by the beach.  Perhaps these were the horses one could ride–I had just seen a sign indicating horse back riding was available.  Then I walked a bit further and these scenes welcomed me.

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Except for the two dogs you can see here, no one was at the beach.  The tranquility amazed me.

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I walked back inside the restaurant–here I am standing at its edging looking toward the beach–ordered cafe con leche and luxuriated in our incredibly good karma.  This place exceeded all expectations considering our experience the previous night.

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This photo was taken from the beach looking back at the restaurant.  Except in colder areas like San Jose and Monteverde, I never saw or ate in any enclosed restaurants.  Even the fanciest are open air like this one.  Hotel Playa Negra is the only hotel near Playa Negra next to the beach.  It is a quiet, peaceful place with yoga, horse back riding, surf boarding lessons–the surf here is for beginners.  The restaurant serves a wide variety of food, but since I especially like the typical cuisine, it seemed perfect–more gallo pinto, platanos fritos, cafe con leche.

 

 

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Five–Part Two: Santa Anita Rainforest Ranch


After visiting the Tony’s gallery, we headed north on mostly non-paved, narrow roads.  The clouds increased; the landscape became greener if that is possible.  We crossed to the Caribbean side near the Nicaraguan border.

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The previous photos were taken from the bus window on the way to La Anita which is located more or less just above where the a is located in the word Cordillera at the top of the map.  It lies near Rincon de la Vieja National Park (Volcano Vieja) past Volcano Miravalles–the volcano covered in clouds in the previous Costa Rica post.

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As soon as we arrived, we came to the veranda of the building where they process cacao.  This view overlooks the road in and a small pond.

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Ginger plants in front of the pond, bouquets of ginger flowers, and rain clouds greeted us.

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I had no idea that the ginger roots we eat come from plants that look like this.  We later ate lunch in the building in the distance.  First, seated on picnic tables on the veranda, we drank pure chocolate grown on the ranch and coffee grown on another property at higher altitudes.  Cacao requires lots of rain and tropical heat.  This coffee is shade grown at much higher altitudes, e.g. 1500-2000 meters, by 700 families who belong to the cooperative which produces the coffee.  The coffee from here (Finca la Anita, Costa Rican Dota Mountain Coffee) requires much less sugar even for those who love lots of sugar in their coffee.

The couple who own and run La Anita primarily grow organic cacao.  Originally, they sold what they grew and did not process it there.  They decided to accomplish what they wanted, to grow and sell the most sustainable quality chocolate in the world, they would have to control the entire process themselves.  One of their specialties is a healthy replacement for Nutella, La Anita Chocolate Spread.  We bought four little containers and carried them around the rest of the trip.  Rather than spreading it on something, I keep it in the refrigerator and spoon out a tiny sco0p when I want a super treat.

 

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Nearly constant rain and heat produce a botanical heaven.

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A tractor pulled wagon took us through the lushness to the area with the cacao trees grow.

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We finally arrived where the cacao grows.

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In addition to cacao, they grow other crops because cacao takes a long time to grow and the chocolate market worldwide is very unstable.

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Open up cacao and you find all this fuzzy stuff inside.  Yes, it is actually tasty.  Like with coffee, you eat–actually mostly just suck on it–the outside.  The bean is the seed inside.

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If you want to walk around here, sandals are not a good idea–too many snakes, many of which are poisonous like the fer-de-lance.  Yes, they live here.  Like where I live, this requires looking at the ground and paying attention where you are walking. This is the owner.  The name La Anita comes from his wife.IMG_2023

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The view of the lake from the building where we ate lunch.

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This is the hearts of palm plant which shortly after this photo was taken became the main ingredient of ceviche of hearts of palm which we ate for lunch.

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Making ceviche of hearts of palm in the white square bowl.

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After lunch I walked down the road to the pasture with the horses.  In the background are cabins they rent.  From here the traveler can tour several national parks including Rincon de la Vieja National Park which is quite close.

This is one of the rainiest parts of Costa Rica, located on the northern Caribbean side.  It rained several times while we were here.  The rain stops for a while, a downpours arrives, it stops.  This process continually repeats.

 

 

 

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Three–Part Two


After the six mile hike through the Cloud Forest and visiting the hummingbirds, we arrived a bit messy and muddy at a local Italian restaurant which surprisingly served some of the best Italian food I have eaten anywhere.  After this leisurely lunch we headed back to hotel to ready ourselves for the afternoon activities.  Some chose zip lining while the rest of us headed to a local organic coffee farm or remained at the hotel.  For me it was no choice really; I love coffee.

Our guide at the farm had to be one of the most entertaining guides I have experienced anywhere in the world.  He was not only informative but also extremely witty; we chuckled all the way.  After a brief introduction we headed to the coffee plants, tasted raw coffee fruit, and picked coffee.

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Here I am picking coffee as instructed–only the ripe, red berries.

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He also instructed us to taste them.  They were surprisingly sweet.

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Here is the basket where we all put the berries we picked.  Then we headed to the processing area.

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First he showed us the old way, how they used to get the fruit on the outside off with only the seeds, the beans left to dry.

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For good coffee, they spread the beans out and sun dry them.  The roof here shelters them but allows natural drying. These beans have just begun the drying process.  When they are ready, they are a darker, more golden color.

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The next part of the tour involved chocolate.  Here he is hand grinding chocolate into relatively fine pieces.  Yes, in a mortar.  He added a little hot water and raw cane sugar, whisked it around, and gave us all a little cup.  Luckily, it was not a big crowd so most of us received seconds.  When I run out of the chocolate I have here at home, I will consider doing it this way myself.  The difference in taste from this and that which we get ready mixed here in the US is remarkable.

They had sugar cane growing here but only ornamentally.  Sugar cane requires heat.  We were too high in the mountains; it was too cold to produce cane for sugar.  Later, near the coast in Guanacaste, we saw mile after mile of commercially grown sugar cane.  He had some and gave us all a taste.  Yes, we sucked on pieces of sugar cane.  I expected to dislike it, to find it excessively sweet.  Actually, it seemed only mildly sweet and quite tasty.

It was a full day.  We returned to the hotel rather late and experienced an even later dinner at the Tree House, a restaurant in Monteverde built around a large tree.  The live band played a lot of reggae music.  Many of the residents of the east coast of Costa Rica are the descendants of Jamaicans who came many, many years ago to help build the railroad.

The last time I visited Monteverde we had time to wander around the town, shop, and eat ice cream.  I sorely missed not having the time to hang out there a bit and especially eat the ice cream.  Both the cheese and ice cream in Monteverde are, well, yummy and different.  I also missed going to the club next to the Tree House where you find people of all ages hanging out and dancing.  Maybe next time.

My Ethiopian Adventure: the Monasteries of Lake Tana


Of the 37 islands on Lake Tana, 20 shelter churches and monasteries, very old monasteries, many of which remain in use today.  While some are closed totally to women, we visited Ura Kidane Mihret with no problem.  It is part of a larger complex, the Convent of Mercy founded in the 14th century.  Various buildings date from that era to more recent times.  To reach the monastery you have to climb in a boat and ride across Lake Tana to the Zege Penisula.  We boarded our small boat at the far end of this garden at the hotel–there were four of us and the helmsman–and headed across the lake. IMG_0809 On the way we passed a number of fishermen paddling their papyrus boats. IMG_0817 We also sailed past a couple of islands like this one where one monk lives alone.  On another island lives a priest.  Women are not allowed except on one, just at the edge near the dock.  We did not go there. IMG_0818 Once you arrive at the dock you hike up a hill past various vendors selling everything from religious paintings to hand woven scarves. IMG_0820 This young man used all natural materials to paint small replicas of the paintings found in the monastery itself.  In retrospect I wish I had purchased at least one; I never saw anything quite like them again. Like most religious buildings in Ethiopia, all the buildings in this complex are round.  The only place in Ethiopia where I saw rectangular churches was in Lalibela. IMG_0821 Every piece of space on the interior walls is painted with religious scenes from the Bible and Ethiopian religious history.  The current paintings date from 100-250 years ago when, as the paint began to deteriorate, they used a special process to repaint them.   This particular monastery is noted for these incredible paintings. IMG_0822 IMG_0824 IMG_0826 IMG_0827 The tops of all the buildings are adorned with different symbols for peace.  Sometimes they also represent the disciples of Jesus as well or other religious symbolism. IMG_0829   IMG_0830 A new visitor center remains under construction; it seemed nearly complete. IMG_0831 The visitor center is the rock building on the left, the monastery the building in the rear. IMG_0832 On the path back to the boat dock vendors sell scarves and jewelry.  I bought several scarves, one of which was totally different from any I saw anywhere else.  If I had only known just how unique it would be, I would have bought the other one–she had only two.  These scarves are hand loomed and in some cases the yarn is also hand spun. IMG_0833 Finally, back near the dock we stopped for coffee, indulging ourselves in the totally Ethiopian experience of their coffee ceremony.  You have not truly sipped coffee until you participate in one of these.  There is nothing anywhere quite like it. IMG_0836

Rescue Horses and Book Signing–the Real Deal


Started the day with coffee, make-up, inside plant watering and then off to see the rescue horses at Dove Creek Ranch near Canyon, Texas.  I spent about two hours there talking to the owner, the ranch manager, and others.  The following horse is Jazzy.  They gave a demonstration in the round pen and this was her fourth ride ever.  For a young horse she was really, really calm.

 

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Their technique includes a lot of ground work and desensitization to motions and sounds.

 

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He put the saddle on and off repeatedly before riding her.  Then I went outside to a large corral to look at this flashy paint.  She is so beautiful but might not be adoptable.

 

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Although they once had her mother and siblings who have already been adopted, her behavior is very inconsistent.  They told me that one day she does fine, but the next day she may not remember anything from the day before, or act a bit crazy like running into things.  The more we discussed this behavior and possible causes, the more it made me think of a horse I once knew who had eaten loco weed.  Loco weed is toxic and affects a horse so that it suddenly behaves basically crazy and unpredictable.  Made me sad; she is so beautiful.  I saw another paint filly, but she belongs to the ranch manager.  Yes, she is nice, but not the looker the above one is.

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Then I ran home for a couple of hours, checked to see where Rosie had disappeared–she was off grazing, and headed to my book signing.  It went well.  I was especially thrilled to see a few people I had not seen in a long time.  One, Kira Satterfield, used to teach with me years ago.  She said it had been seven.  My grandson passed out fliers, Hastings made coffee for the guests, and my daughter helped.

 

 

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Costa Rica 6: Adventures and Views


Without a doubt Costa Rica holds my vote for most photogenic and greenest country.  From the Caribbean and Pacific rain forests to the high mountain town of Monteverde, the words lush, exotic, verdant do not even begin to describe how incredibly rich the landscape is.  One of the first spectacular views lay before me across the parking lot from a combination restaurant and souvenir shop where we stopped for snacks.

I did not expect to see multiple mountain streams like in the Rockies, but it seemed we were crossing one nearly constantly.  This abundance of water explains their nearly total dependence on hydroelectric power with a little help from wind and thermal energy.

Several of my traveling companions decided to raft this river with class 4 rapids. Something told me I should not do this.  After flipping over several times, banged up and bruised, they decided to hike out.  In  the meantime, I experienced my own adventure, eating a raw turtle egg in salsa at a family restaurant on the top of a nearby mountain.

Beautiful mountain scenery seems endless.  I kept 00hing and awing.

This view shows the Bay of Nicoya in the distance from my hotel room in Monteverde.  The following photos all show views in the mountains near this little remote town.  There is only one road in and out and it is not paved and it is narrow.  The town was originally settled by Quakers from Canada who still believe a paved road will ruin the peaceful lifestyle.  Both the Quakers and the town are famous for their cheese which was served both plain and fried for breakfast.

This area provides both zip lining and horseback riding for tourists.  I elected to ride.  However, these horses did not seem well fed and certainly did not want to go very fast.  Although I saw a lot of horses in Costa Rica, these were by far the thinest.

The guy who lead us did not ride one of these.  He was riding a fancy, prancing, grey Paso Fino.

Look closely and you can see someone zip lining across the forested canyon hundreds of feet below.

When I asked about this tree, I was told it is related to cacao, but not eaten, not by humans anyway.

We traveled down the mountain on another dirt road to visit this elementary school.  It housed grades 1-6 with one teacher who is also the principal.  The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 98.5.

Playing soccer with the students.

A port on the Pacific on the way to the surfing town of Jaco.  Costa Rica exports many agricultural products from both its Pacific and Caribbean ports.  This includes bananas, pineapples, hearts of palms, and many tropical flowers.

While many beaches remain unsafe for swimming due to a strong undertow, the beaches at Manuel Antonio National Park are perfect.

To get into Manuel Antonio you have to walk and no parking exists really close.  Hiking out we crossed an area where the water rushed around our knees and the sign said, “No Swimming, Crocodiles”.

As a farmer, I like to look at and photograph crops.  With all the rain and heat, Costa Rica is the perfect climate for many tropical fruits and rice.  On the way back from Manuel Antonio we passed miles of rice fields and Aftican palms which produce palm oil.

Rice.

Coffee, the main export of Costa Rica.  In the highlands, coffee grows everywhere even along the berms in places so steep I wondered how the person picking the beans did not fall over.  Of course, I wondered the same thing about the dairy cattle grazing on the mountain slopes.

We did stop in Sarchi, the town famous for its furniture and oxcart industry.  Oxcarts remain the national symbol of Costa Rica.  Because of the mountainous terrain, when Costa Rican coffee initially became famous and its most successful crop, the only way to get the coffee to the coasts for export was to use oxcarts.

We spent very little time in cities.  However, as we left San Jose near the end of the trip and headed for the Caribbean side, I took some hurried photographs out the window.

My first and last hotel window view in San Jose included these stately coconut palms.

PURA VIDA