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Penny's Peace of Paradise

A gringa and her family's adventures living in Costa Rica.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"You're gonna make it after all..."

A close friend of our older son needed some help the other day. Her flight to San Jose was delayed, which made catching a bus to La Fortuna impossible. My husband picked "Rochelle" up at the airport and brought her home with him. The kids and I were thrilled to see her in the morning, and she and I visited after they left for school.

Rochelle is very bright, and is graduating early from UC Davis this December. She spent a semester here in CR last year, and has now returned for the summer to teach, in Spanish, to middle school students in Puntarenas. She came down early to visit with her former host family and tune up her Spanish skills. It was so refreshing to see a young woman with such an enlightened perspective, and who is optimistic with clarity. She loves the town of Davis, and sees it as a place she could settle down and raise a family, but she wants to travel and experience life fully before returning to Davis. Rochelle plans to get graduate credit next year working with schools on a US military base, somewhere overseas, then travel to India with her BFF's next summer, where one of her friends is from. She knows how to earn money to support her dreams, and wants to graduate early to save money. Rochelle told me of her younger brother, who loves extreme sports, and was lucky to only break his leg, base jumping near a ski area on father's day, her sister, who has begun practicing midwifery back east, and changes her family is experiencing, now that her 91 year old grandfather is living with their family. Her parents decided it is better for him to be with family than in a "home" in another state.

I am heartened to know women like Rochelle are out there, thriving and ultimately representing all of us in the future. I'm grateful my young daughter has so many positive role models, proving women and men alike can be contributing, multi-faceted, and happy members of the world community.
OK, stepping off the soap box...

My car is on an extended "spa" visit, so I had a taxi come to take her to the bus station in Grecia to catch a bus to La Fortuna. We look forward to getting together again with Rochelle when our son comes for a visit this summer.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Carnival In Costa Rica!

Carnival in Costa Rica clip de la pelicula Carnival in Costa Rica filmada en costa rica entre 1945 y 1946.

and this...

A Costa Rican girl dreams of her "typical" Costa Rican wedding to the American fellow she has fallen for. While watching her crazed performance, her groom is torn between checking her into the nearest hospital and hightailing it to the airport!

Just another day in paradise...


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Nice to Meat You!

Produce at a market
I try to keep the whining at bay, but the cost of a car less than twenty years old here is PROHIBITIVE, so most folk drive vehicles that were state of the art when The Cosby Show was #1. You'd think, by replacing every single part, wire, and bolt, the now-broke car owner should have earned a fresh start with their "new" car, or at least, a fulfilling second marriage. This is never the case though! The guy who owned the car before us boasted how he had replaced EVERYTHING on this car, so it should be "smooth sailing" for us...not!

While sitting in my non-starting "sailboat," outside our little market the other morning, I witnessed an unusual site. A delivery truck pulled up and the driver came around, opened the back, and hopped in. He disappeared in the dark of the back of the truck, then appeared again donning a hooded sweatshirt, zipped up to his chin, holding an entire half of a cow on his back, by it's foot above his head. He jumped down and marched the carcass into the store, which is also a carniceria. He came back out and grabbed another, then returned and removed his sweatshirt, hung it in the back, swept out the, meat bits(?) and gave a perfunctory wipe of his hands on his pants and drove away. We have bought our meat here often and the quality has been very good, so... I guess what you don't know won't hurt you!

Last night, I joined my friends at a restaurant/bar in Sarchi to hear some friends play some rock and roll. More gringos showed up, than I had ever seen in one place since I have moved here. Everyone was in great spirits and, along with a number of ticos, we enjoyed a montage of Eagles, Dead, Beatles and Lynard Skynard tunes. A long time Grecia local was their with the most recent issue of the Mountain Howler. It's a great local magazine in English to inform and advise gringos in the area about their "home."


The owners of the restaurant are an American woman and her tico husband. What was so refreshing to see, was the owner moving around efficiently waiting on numerous tables, that would generally require at least 3-4 locals to do the same job, and possibly, not as well. For some reason, many of the waiters/waitresses here have a hard time seeing the big picture and working efficiently. Taking the initiative to streamline and save time and steps, just doesn't come naturally to many Costa Ricans. So ultimately, the lower wage is balanced by the fact that you have to pay three, or more, to do the work of one competent wait person. Now I am a restaurant alumni, and wouldn't work in a restaurant again, EVER, but the fact that I was enthralled watching a great wait person work, just shows how long it has been since I have seen it.
Waitress Delivering Meals

The great weekly local feria(farmer's market) is this morning, so the kids and I will set off soon in a taxi, to get our produce. Pictures of this fabulous bounty, coming soon! Feliz fin de semana!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Idiot's Guide to a CR-Nicaragua Journey

I've been MIA from this blog for a few weeks, as my mom came for a visit. Her first weekend here coincided with our tri-monthly vacation to Nicagragua. I've described our first trip up to San Carlos, Nicaragua in a prior post, but I have had lots of folks asking for details, because they want to experience this fun adventure for themselves.

I am going to go into detail with directions, names and landmarks, which is necessary here in the "Land of No Addresses or Known Highway Numbers." Contact Phillippe Tisseaux, the owner of La Esquina Del Lago, to arrange for your visit at: riosanjuan@racsa.co.cr. This is a comfortable and unique lodge built over the water overlooking Lake Nicaragua, its' nearby islands and the town of San Carlos. Each room has a double and twin bed, and private bath with shower(cool.) Phillipe or his staff will set you up to fish on the property, allow you to take out one of their many kayaks, or take you on guided tours and fishing trips. This is a very affordable full service hotel-jungle/lake lodge. Listen to howler monkeys, the burping sounds of the cormorans, and numerous species of bird that call this magical place their home! For breakfast, you can eat your fill of eggs, gallo pinto, fresh fruit and bread, and coffee. They can make lunches for you also, and let them know what you are in the mood for for dinner, we have had some amazing meals with fresh fish and unique river shrimp, similar to langostinos. Phillipe is a world famous fisherman, so try to go out fishing with this master, for the time of your life! *Website link below.

We try to leave Grecia around 8am and head north through Sarchi, home of the largest oxcart in the world. Look for it in in the park in front of the church:


Stop in Zarcero, where a spectacular garden full of topiaries can be found in front of the town church:

Ciudad Quesada(otherwise known as San Carlos.)

Near the Muelle area look for a small resturant on a tiny river with the name of "____?____ Iguana." The road bends here and you cross a small bridge. Just before the bridge, across from the restaurant, you will see SEVERAL iguanas of varying sizes sunning themselves.

The road, Highway 35, up to Los Chiles is probably the best road in the country! You become very appreciative of a good stretch of road here. This beauty is straight and smooth with broad shoulders. I'm guessing the agricultural interests in the area, pineapples, sugarcane, and oranges, have influenced the construction and maintenance of Highway 35. You will pass the road leading to Laguna Cano Negro and then once you see the Los Chiles sign go up to a non-descript corner with a ferreteria:

Then head down that road past the park until you the road turns to the right. On your left is the Immigration office:

You need to fill out a departure form and have your passport stamped in this office, but we recommend getting your car parked securely first. Across from the Immigration office, is a small store that is run by a woman named Domingo Placio:

She will direct you to the fenced-in property, kitty corner to the store, where you can park your car. You pay when you return. The ferry is scheduled to leave at 12:30pm, give or take an hour, and there will be a man or woman with a clipboard near the Immigration office, who you will sign you up for the water taxi/boat up the Rio Frio. You will pay the fare of 5,000 colones ($10.00)once the taxi takes off. You will now have time to kill, and we hang out at the Heliconia Restaurant down the block:

The food is fair, the drinks are cold, and if the taxi is ready to leave and you are not on the boat, they will come look for you here. Before you walk to the dock, you need to stop at the police office along the way and pay 500 colones ($1.00) per person to get on the boat. You will need to pay this fee again when you return.
The water taxi usually looks like this:

...but you may get one like this:

The passengers tend to take a ton of cargo with them heading to San Carlos, as it is an isolated location with very limited availability of goods. One of the many times we took this trip, our tiny boat was so loaded, everyone had to have their feet up on the huge pile of cargo lining the center isle, although this is not typical:

Now, sit back and enjoy the hour, or so journey up the river! Look for howler monkeys in the tree tops, turtles sunning themselves on logs, statuesque white egrets, and maybe a small crocodile along the shore. You will stop at the Nicaraguan army checkpoint, where they will present the passenger list to one of the soldiers. This is no big deal, but it is not a time to snap photos. You will be on your way momentarily. A stop like this is typical for a Central American border crossing, and is more ceremonial than serious. The boat will take you to the sleepy town of San Carlos, Nicaragua, and let you off right on the dock of the Immigration office. Hint, if you set toward the front of the boat this process will go much faster. As soon as you disembark, go line up at the windows to the left. This is where you will present your passport, pay 4,000 colones($8.00,)and get your entry stamp. You will have passed the La Esquina Del Lago lodge, on your left just before you entered the confluence of Lake Nicaragua/Rio Frio/San Juan rivers. Someone from the hotel will meet you at the Immigration office, and will take you by boat over to the hotel:


Phillipe, or his staff will greet you with cold fresh squeezed juice and welcoming smiles. We have only experienced a few tiny mosquitoes at dusk, but otherwise they are happily absent. There are hammocks, hammock chairs, and large rattan chairs where you can while away the time.

Our kids and their friends from San Carlos spend alot of time in the water. The staff is also happy to take you back and forth into San Carlos, where Phillipe and his partner, Petrona have a little restaurant and art gallery, El Gueguense, in the center of town.
There is not much else in San Carlos yet, but there are hopes that more tourists will be arriving once the new marina opens. It turns out that Mark Twain visited and wrote about this area. Find out more on the lodge's website.

Phillippe with his guitar

Sunset over Lake Nicaragua

The water taxi back to Los Chiles leaves at 10:30am daily, except for Sundays when it leaves about noon. The return fare is 4,000($8.00)and if you can sit near the front, or at least the left side, you can hope off the boat in Los Chiles first. You then will be asked to go stand in line in a small fenced in area where they may, or may not check your bags before they let you head off to the police office to pay the 500 colones, then hustle back up to the immigration office to wrap that up quickly. It's warm in these parts, so bring a fan to make standing in any line more bearable.

The bottom line is that this is an easy border crossing, that is also inexpensive and relaxing. it is about three hours, with stops, from Grecia to Los Chiles. We like to stop at a restaurant called La Hacienda, just as you begin to drive up out of the valley. Great food, great views, and service.