San Jose, Costa Rica


Two friends are headed to Costa Rica this summer.  While they will join a tour, they have a couple of days in San Jose before the tour begins.  I promised them I would suggest a few places they might enjoy, El Mercado, the downtown market,  the National Theatre, and the precolonial museum which is full of pre-Columbian gold and other ancient artifacts.  It remains my favorite but security there is tight.  To get in, you must surrender just about everything but your clothes.  You get a locker in which to place your valuables; the key to the locker is about all you can take with you.  As a consequence, no photos.  They do have a gift shop with quality items of all sorts including copies of many of the artifacts and jewelry.

Much of the downtown area is foot traffic only.  Vendors sell various goods on the street, you can wander El Mercado, in which various stalls for goods and food are located, and tour the National Theatre.  Inside the National Theatre next to the main lobby area is a lovely little restaurant, the perfect place for lunch.  The following are photos I took  in the National Theatre about one and one-half years ago.

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The first photo below is the highway from the airport into San Jose and the second shows a typical downtown pedestrian only area.

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I have been to Costa Rica in what in the US is summer and also at Christmastime.  Summer here is their rainy season so if you go then, be prepared for rain, sometimes a lot of it.  It is sort of a joke that on the east side of the main mountain chain, it is always the rainy season.  However, I have been there when it did not rain.  Take a sturdy, easy to lug around slicker with a hood because sooner or later it will rain.

The huge advantages of going this time of year are a lot fewer tourists and it is considerably cheaper.

 

 

Celebrating Earth Day–Photos


I decided the best way I should share my reverence and love for nature and this precious planet on which we live is to share photos from various countries, states, and my own little piece of wonder.

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The three photos above were taken at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas about ten minutes from where I live.

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Above and below the Rio Grande looking into Mexico.

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Four photos above — Big Bend National Park.

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Between Marfa and Alpine, Texas.

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The Rio Grande north of Albuquerque on the Santa Ana Pueblo Nation.

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The above four photos taken in Simien Mountain National Park, Ethiopia.  The animals are gelada–the only surviving grass eating primates found solely in Ethiopia.  They actually “talk” to each other.

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Menelik’s Window, Ethiopia

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Awash Falls, Ethiopia

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Where the Blue Nile begins draining from Lake Tana, Ethiopia

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The photos above were taken at various places in Costa Rica.

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Northern New Mexico

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Grand Canyon North Rim

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The Missouri River running full.

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California dropping down from Sequoia National Monument

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Near Lake Marvin, Texas

Sunday Sunrise ©Dawn Wink

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The above photos were all taken within the last year on my little rim of wonder.

And finally below, my favorite animal.

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Driving on Your Own in Costa Rica


We left Rio Perdido with several of our fellow tour travelers, were dropped off at the Liberia airport, went down the road, and picked up our rental vehicle, a brand new roomy SUV. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant–in most of Costa Rica the restaurants are outdoors with only a roof. Much to my delight they had my favorite Costa Rican beverage, cas, which seems to be served randomly here and there. I love the stuff–pale green, neither sweet nor sour, a type of guava.

We headed down Highway 21 toward Santa Cruz. This is cattle and sugar cane country with miles of lush green pastures along the way.

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Throughout the countryside living fences delineate one pasture or field from another.  Initially, when first built, they look like any other fence posts.  The difference is this:  they grow into trees.

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Looking at these photos, it seems hard to believe that we were there in the dry season.  Costa Rica is easy driving with good highways, speed limits, and very little of the mad, crazy driving one experiences in many countries.

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Even this far from the mountains, look to the east, and there they are under a canopy of clouds.  After arriving in Santa Cruz, we turned off onto a smaller highway (160) headed toward the tiny town of Paraiso where we had a near hotel disaster.  In September, I booked a hotel farther south on the Pacific Coast only to be notified one month before leaving that a mistake had been made and they had no room available.  Desperately I searched and searched and found one near Playa Negra.  Online it looked ok, not luxurious but ok.

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It even looked nice from the outside as you can see above.  Since there was no restaurant onsite, we headed out for dinner.  We had already passed through the little town and had seen several places.

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Here we ate some of the best pizza I have ever eaten.  When the waiter asked where we were staying, we told him.  At the time we never thought too much about his rather gloomy, “Oh!”

We went to the tiny local grocery down the road and bought food, shampoo, coffee, enough to tide us over for three days, and returned to our room.  The owners, a French couple, initially seemed ok.  Certainly, the woman did.  She had successfully started the air conditioner, welcomed us, was friendly.  His English was questionable, we do not speak French, and he refused to speak Spanish.  Unfortunately upon our return, the air conditioner no longer worked, there were no windows on one side for a breeze, and little ants were biting quite actively.  I went to talk to the couple.  He was not only uncooperative but eventually started screaming at my daughter, “Get out, just leave!” over and over and over.  He refunded my money; we left.

Here we were in the dark with nowhere to go.  I had visions of spending the night in the SUV, thinking at least we have a really nice vehicle to sleep in if we have to.  My daughter kept saying we would find something.  She had noticed a place down the road.  I kept thinking there would be no place because this is top tourist season.  We headed down the unpaved road, drove down a drive that indicated a hotel, and stopped by the reception area.  I went in but no one was there.  When I walked back out, my daughter noticed a young man walking up the drive.  Thankfully, I know enough Spanish to explain to him what we needed–he did not speak English.  I could not believe the good news:  they had a room for two nights (we needed three, but at that point who cared).  His key to the room did not work, he called the manager who appeared, let us in the room, and actually told me not to worry, I could pay the next morning.  It was the largest, nicest room of the entire trip.  Just wait for the next post to see how incredibly beautiful this place truly is–talk about luck, good karma…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Four-Part Three


Yes, Part Two of Day Four is missing–it will show up later.  After floating down Rio Tenorio (the missing photos) and eating lunch by another river just off the Pan American Highway, we went a short distance off the Pan American highway to Las Pumas, a wildlife rescue center.  This photo was taken on the way–a very common sight in this area, grazing cattle.

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The center rescues various animals but mostly wild cats, including puma, jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi–a long bodied, grey cat with short legs and a tiny head, margay, and tigrillo which is the size of a house cat.  Their goal is to eventually release the animals back into the wild.  However, the only place open to visitors is an area where none of the animals can be released back into the wild.

I mostly photographed the pumas–one of my obsessions.

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See if you can find the puma.

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Now you can.  He kept moving.

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Most of their stories went like this:  mom was killed or caught by a rancher for stealing livestock; baby was found and rescued and had become too familiar with people to release.  Another common story dealt with injuries where the animal had been caught in a trap and suffered too much of an injury to ever be self sufficient in the wild.  The smaller cats knew how to either hide themselves or hunker down where it was too dark for a good photo.  In the largest enclosure a jaguar lay right next to the fence.  Once he had been returned to the wild without success.  He did not seem particularly pleased with all us humans so close.  He arose, suddenly turned his butt toward the fence, and sprayed.  One unfortunate (or fortunate if she wanted a good story) girl was the recipient.  She took it well.  How often does one get sprayed by a jaguar!

Eventually, after twisting and turning on various unpaved roads through the dry tropical forest (a totally different type of forest than one usually thinks of when hearing the word tropical), we arrived at Rio Perdido early enough for some relaxation, a bit of exploring, and swimming.

 

 

 

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Four–Part One


 

People love food.  One of the fun things about travel is exploring the food.  My two favorite, traditional Costa Rican foods are gallo pinto and platanos fritos.  Fruit shows up everywhere too.

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Breakfast at El Establo just before heading down the mountain to the Pan American Highway on the way to Rio Tenorio.  The plate in the background contains gallo pinto and platanos fritos.  I have made gallo pinto three times since I returned.  See recipe at end of post.

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The final view of El Establo as we drove away.

The following photos were all taken riding along the highway, dropping altitude dramatically all the way from Monteverde to the Pan American Highway.  The beauty one passes going to and from Monteverde remains unrivaled anywhere–miles of green vistas, colorful mountain homes, cattle grazing.

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Typical country houses along the side of the road painted colorful hues.  Even here the houses have electricity and running water. Most of the way the road was gravel.  In spite of all the green in these photos, this is the dry side of the mountains, the Pacific side.

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A lot of Costa Rica is cattle country.  In the lowlands all the cattle have Brahma blood in evidence.  In the high country it varies.  Frequently, they look exactly like the common dairy cattle in the United States.

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The farther we drove down the mountain, the drier the foliage and grasses became. Finally, we arrived at a paved road and a town.

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Most places, even small towns, in Costa Rica are clean.  People take pride in the appearance of their houses no matter how small. Flowers bloom brilliantly throughout the country.

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Streams run everywhere even through towns.

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Finally, we headed north on the Pan American Highway.  In all of Costa Rica living fences surround fields.  In this area it appeared the major commercial endeavor is cattle, all distinctively Brahma or at least part Brahma.

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Looking at these photos it seems hard to believe this is the dry season.  We saw large irrigation ditches bringing water all the way from Arenal, a huge lake on the other side of the mountains, a place I visited on my previous trip.

Recipe for gallo pinto:

Enough vegetable oil to lightly cover bottom of a skillet

1 1/2 cups day old, cooked  rice

1 cup day old, cooked, black beans

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 small, sweet red pepper, finely diced

2 Tbls. chopped cilantro (optional)

2 Tbls. salsa (optional)

Add chopped vegetables to the skillet.  Saute until onions are clear.  Then add the beans and salsa.  Finally, add the rice and heat through while stirring constantly.  The mixture should be moist but not wet.  There should be enough juice from the beans to color the rice.  Experiment to see what you prefer.  I use garlic instead of onion and poblano peppers instead of the red.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Three–Part One


After lunch at the National Theatre we headed to Monteverde, a small town with only one unpaved road in and out.  One big change since I was there three years ago is the road.  It has been widened considerably and apparently plans to pave it are in the works.  The original reason for not paving was to prevent hoards of tourists from invading.  Apparently, that failed; tourists came anyway.

This town’s origination grew out of Costa Rica’s decision to disband its military in 1948, a practice which continues today.  Quakers from Canada moved here for that reason and created Monteverde, now famous for its cheese and, of course, the nearby Cloud Forest.  The hotel, where I have now stayed twice, El Establo, is owned in part by Quakers and serves a favorite of mine, fried cheese.

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Nine buildings up and down the mountain house rooms.  Previously, I stayed in one of the lower buildings; this time we were near the top way above this lake.

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The views from all the rooms provide a vista all the way to Nocoya Bay.  After we put luggage in our rooms, we headed out for a night walk in the forest, the reason we had been instructed to bring flashlights on the tour.  We saw spiders, birds sleeping, a mouse, all sorts of insects, but nothing too exciting.  Probably some of the group members were too scared and too noisy.

The next day breakfast occurred at 7 just before we took off for the Cloud Forest and a hike to the Continental Divide–all six miles or so.  I had hiked here before but on a different trail and in a huge downpour.  Luckily, it rained only a little.  However, if you are in the clouds, you get wet.

Lush does not even begin to describe the Cloud Forest, a huge reserve with numerous indigenous species of everything from hummingbirds to insects to all sort of plants that exist nowhere else on earth.

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Every tree, branch, every living things is covered with other living things.  This must be botanist heaven.

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Looking up into the branches of a tree fern.  Yes, that is a fern. So much to see, it is hard to keep up with the guide, a native Quaker whose father was one of the founders of Monteverde.

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It is difficult to know what photos to take; everything holds some kind of fascination and lots of beauty.

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Another tree fern right by the trail.

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In the clouds at the Continental Divide it’s incredibly windy yet the clouds stay and you get wetter and wetter even though it is not raining.  Water dripped off my slicker, the trail oozed mud and water, it was hard to keep my footing on slopes.

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On the way back we crossed several streams.  Everywhere in Costa Rica signs in both Spanish and English instruct people to save water.  They made me chuckle.  Streams run everywhere in much of the country, especially on the Caribbean side.  Here I live in a semi-arid environment where I see wasted water running down streets in town and in Costa Rica they conserve water and recycle things I did not even know were recyclable.  Hotels provide recycling bins and some even turn off lights automatically when you are not in the room.

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The name for this flower translates from Spanish as hot lips.

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This looks like a tree but it is not.  A giant, parasitic fig plant surrounded the tree, eventually killed it, and this is the result.

After we finished the hike, we walked over to a shop that feeds hummingbirds, hundreds of species of which live in Costa Rica, many only in the Cloud Forest. Took a video of them, but it refuses to upload here.  Some were incredibly iridescent and much larger than any I had ever previously seen.

 

 

Costa Rica Adventure, Day Two–Part Two


The problem with tours is that they think you need to get your money’s worth and the best way to do that is to pack as much as possible into the shortest about of time possible.  When some of us complained a bit after a couple of days, we were informed that we should not confuse vacations and tours.  They are not the same thing.  We were on a tour, not a vacation.  Nevertheless, the tour did have some advantages like getting us into places we might have missed or never found on our own.  However, that was not really the case for Day Two.  That whirlwind morning in San Jose not only included the National Theatre and the Gold Museum, but also the Metropolitan Cathedral.  It does not have lighting conducive to photography with a “normal” camera, cell phone, etc.  Therefore, my attempts to photograph the endless and lovely stained glass windows proved futile.  Here is what I was able to photograph.

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This is a large church.  Yes, we were there as tourists, but many others were there praying, sitting silently, worshipping.

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I could not find a place where the chandelier did not interfere with the view where I could take a really good photograph.  Nevertheless, hopefully those of you who read this can get the feeling for this really wonderful place.

On a totally separate but perhaps related note, I watched Public Television for a while tonight about finding ones roots.  I keep thinking somehow my DNA results must be a bit screwy because the places where I feel most at home, the cultures in which I have an interest, the literature I love to read, and the music to which I usually listen have no relationship whatsoever with the places from which the majority of ancestors came.  I have been to Costa Rica twice now and to one particular town (besides San Jose)  twice–others were new this trip.  What concerns me is that all the tourists and people buying up property there who are from Europe, the US, and Canada will totally ruin its values and beauty.