Costa Rican Adventure, Day Two–Part One


After a buffet breakfast of traditional foods, e.g. gallo pinto and plantanos fritos–my favorites, we headed to the central part of San Jose which is only foot traffic, no vehicles.

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We strolled to El Mercado where my grandson bought a stuffed sloth–I love bargaining so we got it for a good price.  My only disappointment was the rush so we could see everything–the disadvantage of being on a tour. Eventually, we ended up at the National Theatre.

Located in the central section of San Jose, it is considered the finest historical building in the capital and remains relatively unchanged since it was built in 1897–it opened on Oct. 21 of that year.  Most of its opulent furnishing were imported from Europe.  At the time of its opening fewer than 20,000 people inhabited San Jose.  It was financed via a coffee tax which was then and still is the major export and cash crop.

This theatre remains in use today and houses a small, cosy restaurant next to the main lobby.  We ate our first Tico lunch there.

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This and the following photos were taken in the lobby of this theatre.

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I took this and the following photo while seated in the main seating area looking up to the ornate ceiling.  Originally, the theatre was designed for multipurpose use so the main floor has seating than can be removed and the floor risen to the level of the stage and consequently transformed into a dance floor.  Rarely is this aspect used today.

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We left this area and climbed the stairs to the balcony where the president and cabinet still sit for performances.  Neither the president nor any of the cabinet have body guards.  We were reminded that in 1948, the country disbanded its army and still has no military. The following two photos were taken from the stairwell.

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This area is a large reception room across from the balcony level.  The incredibly intricate parquet floor has been covered by carpet for protection  so you can see only portions of it as you walk around.

We also visited what is know as the Gold Museum, my favorite.  It houses a huge collection of pre-Columbian gold artifacts and other antiquities. No cameras, purses, backpacks, iPads, nothing can be taken in so no photos.  It is literally underground.  Visitors are directed to lockers in which to put all these belongings, lock them, take the key with you as you browse the incredible collection.  There is an excellent gift shop where you can purchase copies of these artifacts, painted wood jaguar heads, and other handcrafts.  This is not our typical, touristy gift job.  As a result I now own four jaguars, three heads (two from Mexico and the one I bought here) and an entire jaguar from Mexico for a total of four.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costa Rican Adventure-Day One


Instead of staying in the US for Christmas, my daughter, grandson, and I went to Costa Rica on a National Geographic Family Adventure for seven days and then rented a car and explored on our own for three additional days.  We arrived in San Jose a little after three in the afternoon, met the other tour members and our two guides, Jose and Josie, and headed for our first hotel, the Intercontinental.

Because the capital, San Jose, is at an altitude between 6 and 7 thousand feet, it is cool.  On the day of our arrival it was also very windy which made the air seem quite chilly.  Altitude and whether you are on the Pacific or Caribbean side are everything in Costa Rica.  High elevations are quite cool, lower elevations tropical and hot.  The Pacific side is drier, especially in the north.  The Caribbean is always wet and rainy especially in the north so the two sides are just the opposite weather wise.  Down the middle runs the cordillera, the mountains, which determine many aspects of the weather.

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On the road to San Jose from the airport.  I know it says San Jose when you make reservations but the airport is not actually in San Jose or even in the same province.

The last time I was in Costa Rica it was summer here and the rainy season there–winter.  In much of the country even though it supposedly was the dry season, it did not seem very dry.  Look at those clouds.

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At the Intercontinental, a large, rather elegant hotel with multiple restaurants and shops, my grandson wanted to buy a plushy sloth in one of the shops.  We convinced him to wait.  The next day we found it nearly 50% less in a shop at El Mercado.

The food we had at the hotel, however, was excellent, the ceviche especially tasty.

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I was quite entranced by this bench, carved out of old wood.  It is illegal in Costa Rica to harvest certain woods considered rare and/or endangered.  This includes rosewood and mahogany.  If you find pieces made from these rarer woods, it is old wood from dead trees or at least that is what it is supposed to be.  You can find beautifully made wood furniture in various parts of the country.

We spent only one night and the next morning through lunch in San Jose.

 

 

 

 

Random Thoughts at the End of a Rather Long Day


When I realized the time and know 5:30 tomorrow morning will come sooner than I may prefer, I decided I had to write something here to fulfill my commitment to write daily for at least one month–three weeks down and one to go.  Will I continue?  Don’t know yet.  Pluses:  I have gained quite a few new followers, at least ten, maybe more–have not taken an exact count; it proves that if you stick to something, there are pay offs; and it forces me to think about some things I’ve read or experienced in a way that I might not if I were not going to blog about it.

What are some of those things I am thinking about?  First, the weather.  We desperately need rain and this statement comes from someone not all that fond of rain.  I like the green results but do not like to be out in the rain normally.  It is a wonder I love Costa Rica because it rains almost daily at least it did when I was there two summers ago.  Fire warnings are even currently posted on overhead flashing signs on the interstates–not daily, but every time the wind rises which here is almost daily.  Second, when I think about the destruction of volcanoes–from reading another chapter in Apocalyptic Planet last night, I keep wondering what would happen today if another explosion like Krakatoa in the 1800s occurred.  Mass famine I imagine and a bunch of certain types of religious people claiming the end of the world.  Third, after spending two boring mornings giving STAAR tests–the state standardized tests in Texas, and another morning left to go, wondering exactly why I still think standardized tests are good.  Fourth, wondering how to turn this blog into a sort of website where people who want a signed copy of my new book, On the Rim of Wonder, can order it directly from me on this blog/website (I have had requests already which is, of course, a wonderful thing since book marketing is not all that easy).  Fifth, well this will have to wait until another day when my mind is really sharp and we can have a discussion about the effects of poverty and why it is so difficult to escape.

In the meantime, while I was out watering around my house–to keep my xeroscape garden alive (even drought resistant flowers need some) and to, I hope, make my house safer in case of a wildfire, I thought about all the lovely flowers blooming in spite of the dry weather.  Here they are in all their enduring beauty.

 

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2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

I started this blog 11 months ago.  I want to thank all my followers, commenters, and friends who follow me via WordPress, Facebook, etc.  for making this a success.  Thank you and Happy New Year.  May this new year bring joy and prosperity to all of you.

I Have Lived


Depression, sad days, melancholy.

Gone!!

At 26, I said, “To hell with this!

You control your life; live it!!

 

I tried forbidden liaisons, trained horses,

Went around the world, a cobra wrapped around my neck,

Walked the Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir,

Watched the Taj Mahal reflected in still waters,

Stood before the Jama Masjid in Old Delhi,

Strolled the streets of Katmandu,

Talked with monks at the Shwedagon Pagoda,

Bargained with sticks in dirt, math our only common language,

Downed raw turtle eggs in Costa Rica,

Danced on table tops, sang “Adonai”,

Roamed empty roads across the Navaho Nation,

Raised two charming children,

Married, divorced four times.

 

I have lived, running on the rim of wonder.

 

 

This poem is a response to another Mary Oliver assignment for the SCN poetry class.  The prompt was to write about how we might have lived differently or made different choices.  On the whole I possess few to no regrets, have been to places never dreamed of, met astonishing people all over the world, and live exactly as I want to live.  I feel blessed.

 

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

Costa Rica 5, Fauna


Costa Rica continued to surprise me.  I did expect some of the animals, photos of which are posted below,  but did not expect so many cattle, especially the dairy cattle, including Jerseys, Guernseys, and Holsteins,  that populated the steep mountain slopes.  They grazed everywhere up to their tummies in grass on even the steepest mountainsides.  I kept wondering how they learned to balance themselves and why they did not fall over, catapulting down the mountain.  Everyone in the group commented on the fat, happy cows.  Such abundance resulted in fabulous steaming milk for morning coffee, rich cheeses, and the creamiest ice cream imaginable.

A cow pen near the top of a mountain on the Caribbean side next to the restaurant that sold cheese and where I ate the raw turtle egg.  Most of the cows roamed free up and down the mountainsides.

In the lowlands on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country, Brahma cattle relaxed or grazed in the lush grass.  It reminded me of the landscape near Veracruz, Mexico, where I lived many years ago.

The most common meat besides fish, most of which is talapia, is chicken.  Near the mountain top where the Jersey cow above was photographed, I saw a huge shed and when I asked about it, was told it was a chicken farm. However, pork is frequently served as well and occasionally beef.  I took the following photograph at a small place on a dirt road.  We stopped there to drink coconut water.  The spotted, pregnant pig was due soon.  However, the fate of the black pig remained less lovely–food.  Their girth resulted from eating coconuts; they constantly gorged themselves.

Birds abound, from the protected scarlet macaws on the Pacific Coast to tiny hummingbirds.  Hundreds of species I had never seen before and many I had seen rather often like various egrets and herons. And then there were the monkeys which I did expect to see but found difficult to photograph with my ordinary camera.

These white faced monkeys roamed everywhere near the beaches at Manual Antonio National Park, begging for food and if that did not work, actually stealing it.

While the white face monkeys remained highly visible, the howler monkeys could be heard easily but were much harder to locate because they tend to stay high in the tallest trees.  Without a good telescoping lens, this was the best I could do.

Look for the dark blob in the middle of the photo.  They also move fast so hard to locate and follow and even harder to photograph under those conditions.

Just as we arrived, walking, at the entrance to Manuel Antonio, a downpour began.  Not fond of drenchings, I stayed back, hoping it would stop, and suddenly saw a small sloth, the grey spot in the nearly leafless tree in the middle of this photo.

Lizards of many varieties abound.  The tree near my hotel room in Jaco contained four iguanas that appeared nearly lifeless since they never seemed to move.  Again, without a better lens I could not really photograph them.  However, at Manuel Antonio many other kinds of lizards ran here and there only slightly afraid and relatively easy to photograph.

When I think back as to what I expected, it never occurred to me that huge, brackish (salt) water crocodiles existed in such abundance or even existed there at all.  Near Jaco, on the Rio Grande Tarcoles the Costa Ricans created a preserve to protect the endangered scarlet macaws and crocodiles.  We arrived early in the morning and floated around the river, into a mangrove swamp, watching birds and crocodiles.  The list of common birds included 58 species and we saw others that the guide referred to as “bonus birds”.  The following photos come from this lovely, relaxing river ride.  Truly, I loved this part of the trip.

Entering the mangrove swamp.

Two months old.

Where the Rio Grande Tarcoles enters the Pacific Ocean.

The boat captain feeding the crocodile in the mud barefoot.  I thought about touching this one he was so close until I was told they could swim as fast as 55 miles per hour.  It occurred to me that he could turn around really quickly and snap off my hand so…

Costa Rica: 4, Flora


For a person who loves flowers (and I do), Costa Rica exemplifies a lush, green heaven.  This intense green makes the flowers show up more than they would in a duller landscape.  Whether in the high mountains near Monteverde or down in the coastal lowland jungles, flowers abound.  So many flowers everywhere made me want to photograph them all, but there are too many; I photographed a few.

My friend, Anabel McMillen, the professional photographer, just about went nuts there were so many spectacular things to photograph.  Last count I think she hit over 1000 photographs.

While wild flowers grow everywhere, the people also take great pride in both their personal and public gardens.  Even at the simplest country house, flowers and other plants could be found growing in profusion.  Almost all towns, like La Fortuna in the photo above and the one below near Arenal Volcano, create a public square with a church and gardens.

Hydrangeas like this one above grow along the roads everywhere near Monteverde.

Not only are the flowers frequently much larger than the same flowers grown here, but in the lowlands, in particular, many of the trees seem huge.  Costa Rica also cultivates flowers for export.  Net covered fields of ferns grow all over the steep mountain slopes.

In the highlands near Monteverde more than one hundred species of plants can be found growing on the surface of one tree as shown in the photos below.

Twice we stopped at a place called El Jardin, once on the way to Monteverde and another on the way back to San Jose from the Pacific Coast town of Jaco.  In addition to their beautifully landscaped outdoor gardens, they possessed a small greenhouse filled with butterflies and a sculpture water fountain in an indigenous style seen throughout the country.

As I looked at the following bouquet where we ate lunch near the Sarapiqui River on the Caribbean side, I touched it because I remained unsure as to whether it could be real.  It was.

PURA VIDA!!

Pura Vida: 3, The Volcanos of Costa Rica


Of the six active volcanos in Costa Rica (61 are dormant), this month I visited two.  Poas, a caldera volcano about 1 1/2 hours from San Jose in the Central Highlands, rises  8, 885 feet and is one of the largest and most active.  Its crater contains water and rising steam. Lush rain forests surround the volcano.  It rained the entire time I was there.

Arenal rises 5, 437 feet above the surrounding forests and verdant hills.  It has been the country’s most active volcano for more than 40 years.  In 1968, a large explosion buried three villages and killed 87 people.  More recent eruptions have been much less severe.  Smoke drifts skyward daily.  Arenal is a strat0 volcano, tall and symmetrical.  The lake near Arenal is manmade and an excellent place for kayaking in relatively serene waters.  The lake provides 12 per cent of Costa Rica’s electric energy.

Due to Arenal’s geothermal activity, the surrounding area contains a number of hot spring resorts, one of which is El Tocano, where we stayed two nights.

This place is delightful and relaxing.  The bar tender made yummy margaritas.  If you want to drink wine, Costa Rica is not the place.  However, the national beer, Imperial, tastes quite good and I do not usually like beer.

Pura Vida: 2, Comida (Costa Rican food)


Costa Ricans appear to be very, very healthy.  Their food mainly consists of rice, black beans, salad, cooked vegetables, chicken or fish, fruit (usually pineapple, papaya, mangoes) and sometimes fried plantain.  In fact fried plantain was the only fried food, except occasionally cheese.  The food is plain with few spices, even though hot sauce, especially their version of tobasco,  is often available if you want it.  The national dish is gallo pinto:  left over white rice mixed nearly equally with black beans and sometimes a little chopped onion and bell peppers sautéed in oil.  This is a breakfast staple, but frequently served three times a day.  Sometimes, although black beans and rice are usually served at lunch and dinner, they are not mixed together then.  Often salad is their version of cole slaw, but tastes nothing like cole slaw here.  Usually both cabbage and carrots are very finely shredded and mixed together.  I never did quite figure out the dressing, in part because it varied greatly.  When the salad was with lettuce, it was also more finely chopped than we usually do here in the US and served with various dressings including olive oil.  The freshness of the salads stood out–no little bits of brown edges in Costa Rica.

The coffee, well, just lets say, I miss it.  Pitchers of steaming, strong, mountain grown coffee served with pitchers of steaming, rich milk.  In the mountains everywhere Jersey, Guernsey, and Holstein cows roamed up to their tummies in grass.  Happy cows for sure, producing rich milk for coffee and rich white cheese, which is served for breakfast.  Yes, breakfast, sometimes plain and sometimes fried.  Oh, and I cannot forget the ice cream.  Beyond creamy and smooth and rich.

There are sweets, usually made as snacks with coconut especially.  This was my favorite.

Obesity appeared to be non-existent.  I did see a few chubby people but no one really excessively over weight.  Perhaps diet is one reason, but they walk a lot even though most have cars.  They appear to drive them only if going some distance.  In the mountains I saw a lot of people riding horses.

The biggest food adventure for me occurred while waiting around near a little family owned restaurant at the top of a mountain.  All but four of us and the bus driver had gone river rafting.  We disembarked from the bus and walked around to kill time, chit chatting about this and that in Spanish.  Suddenly the restaurant owner came out with his grandson, unlocked the fence gate, and invited us in.  While sitting at the bar conversing with him and Hector, the bus driver, I noticed the menu posted on the wall.  It included huevo de tortuga.  Previous information given to us indicated that Costa Rican law protected turtles (tortugas).  I asked how he could serve this.  He told me it depended on the species of turtle and that he could acquire only a limited amount of them.  Suddenly, in front of me, Lisa, the other woman who did not go rafting and is pregnant, and Hector appeared three glasses that looked like giant, triple sized, shot glasses.  Each one contained a raw turtle egg immersed in red hot sauce the consistency of tobasco sauce.  Instructions and gestures indicated this was to be downed like a shot of tequila.  Lisa stuck her tongue in the sauce and said it was ok.  She downed hers first and said, “This is not all that bad.”  The restaurant owner told her it held great nutrition for her unborn baby.  I translated.  It became very clear to me that I had no choice but to down mine as well.  Hector downed his; then I mine.  Lisa’s assessment was correct; it was ok inspite of the turtle egg feeling like a rather solid but squishy mass as it slid down my throat.  The hot sauce made it possible.  Lisa downed a second one; Hector and I declined.  This experience remains one of the highlights of my trip:  relaxing in the middle of nowhere with a local family in their little restaurant.  Pura vida!!!!