Saturday, August 13, 2011

We're home

Happy to be in our own bed, happy to be with our kitty.

Nothing eventful on the trip home - I just had to add that at the airport in Miami, there was a little boy, maybe age 10 or so, walking around with a black robe (lined in red) over his clothes.  Honestly, he looked like he was heading to Hogwarts!  I just laughed, it was so funny!  I'd love a class of students with that kind of individuality!

Okay, I'll let everyone know when we head out on the retirement trip and start a new blog!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Our last full day in Costa Rica - so far

We explored our neighborhood today, and found a great little urban park.  There's a war memorial there, commemorating the battle at Santa Ana, where in 1856 the Costa Rican's defeated the Spanish who were marching northward.  And, today was Ecuador Day, and since the Spanish had been in Ecuador at that time, there was a small celebration right by the war memorial.  (Or at least that's what we gathered from what was explained to us.)  There was a police band, this wreath, a group of students, all kinds of photographs, and possibly some politicians (although we have no idea who anyone was).  It was interesting to watch.

There were a number of sculptures and mobiles made from recycled materials - my favorite was this little archway or tunnel made from computer towers - I like the way it looks like a mini cathedral or something - not sure if the message is that we need to recycle, that art can be made from "upcycled" materials, or maybe that we have made technology and computers a religion, that we worship at the altar of technology.  That's the nice thing about art, it's open to interpretation and personalized synthesis.
 There were also various flower beds, a pool with fountains and a small bridge, the usual picnic tables and park benches, and a whole crowd of people just hanging out in the park.  In addition to all of the people involved in the Ecuador Day festivities.

Then we wandered up the road to a community center where the international exhibit "The Genius of Leonardo da Vinci" was housed.  This is a pretty cool exhibit - the focus is actual models made from sketched ideas and descriptions of Leonardo.  The explanations were all in Spanish, so we only have an idea what was going on - but Leonardo designed things like a flying machine, a bicycle, ball bearing joints, automatic hammering machine, etc. - and these were all made using materials that would have been available during the Renaissance, like canvas, wood, metal.  Some of the items were very cool, like an early lifesaving ring for rescues at sea.  Others are strange, like a wooden submarine.  (How would it NOT float???)  Or a canvas scuba suit and breathing apparatus.   There were a lot of military implements, but also a lot of household implements.  In general, very interesting.  And it's amazing how many things he designed are similar to items we use today, like the bicycle.

And, of course, all kinds of info about Mona Lisa, as well as the very silly opportunity to pose as Mona.  Phebe Lisa?  Mona Phebe?  We cracked up, and of course had to do the photo opp.

We left and wandered some more - and found this great mosaic on a retaining wall, right outside something labelled "Ecole Travel" - travel school?  I really liked this turtle!  Plus the lovely plant mosaics around the garage!

Maybe a little more shopping, then a nice dinner, re-pack and plan for tomorrow, and enjoy our last 24 hours in Costa Rica.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Museo de Arte Costaricense (or something like that)

It was a beautiful sunny day in San Jose, so we walked to the National Art Museum of Costa Rican Art - about a 3 mile walk, but just down one street (which goes from a driving street to a pedestrian only street then back to a driving street).  Anyway, the Museum is in this lovely old building, and was featuring the work of an artist from Guanacaste, the northwestern province.  Turned out he's actually from Las Cañas, where we stayed - and he designed part of the church we loved that was all mosaic.  How do we know?  We actually met him at the museum, he came over and chatted with us for a while!!!!  Very interesting man, who spent time as a journalist, then decided to study art - so he went to Barcelona for 11 years!  Which, of course, made sense, since Richard and I both thought the mosaic church in Las Cañas showed influences of Antoino Gaudi, and we had talked about that at the time.

Anyway - the artist is named Otto Apuy, and he's of both Chinese and Costa Rican descent - so he's been exploring his heritage in his art, as well as exploring both political and environmental themes.  It was very interesting, and we both enjoyed talking to him.  I have to add, he said he had noticed us in the museum, because the two of us were looking and talking about each painting, and he just noticed that we both seemed intent on each piece.  Which was kind of gratifying.

We found this church along the way back to town, to the Central Mercado (central market) - we browsed around for a while.  Nothing too exciting.  I did, however, end up trying to walk around a woman just as her husband took her photo, so that I ended up in the photo too - I didn't notice the whole camera and posing thing until I was right there in the photo - so of course I apologized, but the man said I would now be famous, he's going to post it on Facebook - so we laughed about that.

Then it was time for some people watching from upstairs in our favorite little cafe - the streets look so different on a nice sunny day, without all the wet pavement and umbrellas.  People were actually sitting around and enjoying the sun!

One of the very strange things that is one of those cultural things - when sitting in a restaurant or cafe or a store, there often is someone who is sweeping the floor.  Even mopping the floor.  Not at the end of the day, or the end of their shift - it just seems as if there are constantly people cleaning the floor.  Now, I can certainly understand wanting to keep the place neat and clean, and that with foot traffic in and out the floor gets dirty.  Okay, fine.  But then the very North American part of me keeps thinking, hey, I'm eating, I really don't need you sweeping and getting dust in the air and then it will settle on my food or in my drink or whatever.  As I said, one of those strange little cultural differences I've noticed.

Even the pigeons and parrots were enjoying the nice weather!

I noticed this man walking around - no idea who he is, or who he thinks he is.  He definitely seems to think of himself as a prophet, though, someone Biblical I'm guessing.  So I took a few photos, and this one just seems to sum up his persona, or at least what we thought of his dress and actions.

We also went to the little artisans market and looked at crafty things - as we entered the area, a young man was printing business cards, and a few papers blew in the breeze.  He tried holding onto what he had, so I walked forward a few steps and picked up what had blown away.  He came over and said, "Oh, you are so kind, I should give you a big kiss!"  I laughed and told him I didn't think my husband would be too happy with that, LOL!  It was just a funny day of people.

As we walked back to our B&B, we noticed this urban art on an electric relay station (or something) - not sure what the cat painting means, but it was kind of cool.

This is for my dad, who likes meal reports - we went to a nice Italian place for dinner (L'Ancora, The Anchor) - I had a wonderful salad of fresh tuna and cannellini beans over green salad and tomatoes, with panna cotta for dessert; Richard had risotto with wild mushrooms, and chocolate gelato.  Plus lovely Italian bread with chive butter.  A wonderful meal! 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cat mural in San Jose

Richard and I wanted to go to a specific store today, AutoMercado, because they carry a brand of coffee that we liked in Quepos - the Cafe Milagro brand.  It took a while to find the store, but we went through a tunnel that had this crazy mural on both sides.  I think they're cats - one cat chasing a bird or something?  Then on the other side, three cats.  Anyway, I liked the mosaic, so I stopped in the middle of the tunnel to take photos.  Which is why I like walking, not driving.

Anyway, we found the coffee, although the Cafe Milagro coffee was all ground, not whole bean.   So we bought another brand.

Then I went through probably the craziest route to get to the bathroom in the store - I asked where it was, the man behind the counter said go out here, up two floors, there.  (In Spanish, of course.)  I went up two floors, which got me to the parking garage.  So I got in the elevator, which then took me up to the 6th floor.  I went back down.  Turned out I was supposed to go to floor #2, then ask the parking attendant for the key to the restroom.  Quite a trip for a quick bathroom visit!!!

We wandered around San Jose, in and out of shops, looking at things, looking at people.  Didn't buy much, although I took another quick walk through the artisans market.

We chatted with the owner of our B&B, Antonella, and her husband Vincenzo - they're Italian, she's from Bologna, he's from Rome.  They have this lovely B&B with Italian touches - like our tube shower.  This is the coolest shower - it shoots water out from the sides, from the bottom of the shower, from overhead, or from the hand-held showerhead - four options!  I think I'd like it best if it could do all four things at once, instead of one at a time, but it really is pretty amazing to get all of the options!  (Although I really can't figure out why you need to fill the bottom of a showerstall, from the bottom.  To wash shoes?  Soak your feet?  I don't know - all I can envision is filling the phone-booth shower full of water!

 That's about it - nothing exciting, just a day of walking around the city, enjoying the urban feel, and the urban art.

And hanging out with the cat, Berta, at the B&B, as well as the dog, Shila.

So - what's your opinion - are these cats shocked by the cat across the tunnel?  Or freaking out by the cars whizzing by them all day long?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

At La Giaconda, in the Cielo Azul room!

Saturday we finally left Puerto Viejo, and headed north to Puerto Limón - also just called Limón, except that there may be another town called Limon, which of course confuses the tourists driving around (like us).  We arrived in Limón in good time, and found the Park Hotel, where we've stayed previously.

Now, towns and cities in Costa Rica have a lot of one way streets - and they don't always alternate, sometimes there are two or three same-ways in a row.  So once we found the hotel, we didn't want to go all around the block again - so we just backed up around the corner.  Except the curb at the corner also had a storm drain that was kind of hidden by long grass in the gutter.  Which of course we hit.  Which did something to the tire, and we backed up with major hissing going on.  And the tire quickly going flat. 

I went inside and got a room.  Some nice man had just arrived at the gym across the street and saw what happened, and he came over and helped Richard take off the flat and put on the spare.  Then Richard came in and joined me in our nice ocean-view room.

Puerto Limón is NOT a touristy town - it's a major port, where a lot of the bananas are shipped out - and probably pineapple and other produce.  The town is kind of old and dingy and run-down - but also interesting, because the population is more diverse than many towns in CR.  Plus there isn't a beach, just a rocky coastline.  The usual central market, which has tons of stands that sell the same things over and over.  There's a park that supposedly has sloths in the trees, but I've never seen them.  The trees are full of parrots, which fly all over squawking, and don't stay still long enough to have their photos taken.  I guess you could call it a tough and gritty town, for lack of a more colorful description.  But interesting for a day or two, although there isn't much to do other than walk around and watch people.

We drove back toward San Jose via Siquerres and Turrialba and Cartago, the way we had headed to the Caribbean.  Past the banana plantations, along lovely green fields and rows of trees and then the central hills.

We kept hearing a clunking sound - we thought maybe it was the rear door, which seems to get a bit loose with driving.  We checked the doors, which were all closed.  We checked the back seats, which were down for our luggage, but no, that wasn't the sound.  Richard said he couldn't find the lug wrench from when he changed the tire, and we thought maybe that was somewhere clanking around.

We stopped for coffee in the middle of nowhere again - and it was one of those lovely places we find in Costa Rica - a small restaurant and bar, looks like nothing special from the outside - and then you walk in and look around and stick your head out the back door, and find a beautiful garden full of flowers and trees and butterflies and hummingbirds, with a view of the river - just a little bit of paradise in the back yard of this restaurant with wonderful coffee.  I always marvel at these lovely places.  This one was for sale, and I don't really want to run a restaurant - but it was the most beautiful location, and I would seriously consider it if I wanted to live in Costa Rica!

We kept driving, heading west, and hit wonderful views of Volcan Turrialba, which was out today (as in not hidden behind clouds) merrily puffing and steaming away.  I took a bunch of photos as we drove through.

 We also drove through various coffee farms in the middle of the valley - the central highlands are a great coffee growing area.

We stopped at a coffee shop in the area between Paraiso and Cartago, where we had stopped before - and our friendly proprietor recognized us from a few weeks ago, shook our hands, asked how our travels east were, were we coming from Limón, etc - we had our little conversation in Spanglish, and then had our afternoon snack.  But most exciting - when we got out of the car, I noticed that the lug wrench was on top of our car, on the luggage rack.  Yup, we had driven about 100 km with this big metal thing rattling around on top of the car - making noise, but not falling off, despite our going from sea level at the coast to, oh, about 2000 km up in altitude!!!  Wow, how crazy is that?

We took a new way into San Jose, got lost, figured it out, and arrived at Casa 69, the B&B we've stayed at previously.  But the kind of room we had booked wasn't available, the new owner wasn't very friendly, and we decided to go elsewhere.  So we're now at La Giaconda (the name for the Mona Lisa painting), and we're staying in the blue room, named Cielo Azul (Blue Sky).  Lovely room with a huge king-size bed, old furniture, a separate little sitting room (between the front entrance and the bedroom), and a shower that looks like a huge plastic tube with more nozzles and faucets than I can figure out.  Same neighborhood as Casa 69, but much friendlier.  And with a very friendly guard dog named Shila, and a very sweet guard cat Berta.

So we're settled in, having had bagels for dinner at Bagelman's (this is what Jewish people eat when on vacation, LOL).  We'll explore new places in San Jose for the next several days, plus shop a bit, and then head home.

Puerto Limón

We're in Puerto Limón, we're packing, I'll get caught up this evening when we're back in San Jose.  So not to worry, things are fine, the car is working, all is okay.

Friday, August 5, 2011

It's the starter

It took about an hour and a half for the mechanic to show up - he said it was the starter, and that he'd get a new one.  (Or maybe rebuild the old one - sometimes our Spanglish doesn't get the entire story.)  He said he'd be back about 3 PM.

We talked it over - figuring things wuld run late, and who knows how long the work might take - we decided we should just spend one more night here in Puerto Viejo.

So we walked around town, had a nice lunch, came back to read and wait.  Of course, the mechanic showed at about 3, and the car was ready by 4 PM.  We could head out.  But we've already paid, so we'll stay, and get an early start tomorrow.

More car trouble

Richard went out this morning to a new bakery we heard about (from yesterday's tour guide) - he brought back croissants for an early breakfast.  We later went to head out for bkfst, thinking we'd take the car and go somewhere further away.  No go.  Car won't start.  Battery seems okay, lights go on.  Starter turns, makes a hum.  No vrrr vrrrr catching sound.  Car won't start. 

So we called our man Hugo, who called a local mechanico.  And we're waiting.  And we're waiting.

We'll see if we get the car fixed today so we can head to Puerto Limón as planned, or if we have another night in Puerto Viejo.  We don't have any plans, although we were hoping to stop by the National Museum of Chocolate, which is north of here, as we head out.  If not, well, there's tomorrow.  A day or two in Limón, then back to San Jose.

Such is life on the road.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A manatee!!!!

Richard has always wanted to see manatees, and we had talked to a travel agent last trip about arranging something - but the manatees are easier to find in Panama, and we were missing a passport last trip - so we were committed to seeing manatees this time, even if it was a bit pricey.

So - the tour operator, Karina, met us at our cabina this morning.  She was very nice, and chatted with us as she drove us down to Sixaola, the border town between Costa Rica and Panama.

We had to show our passports and get an exit stamp from Costa Rica.  We had to walk across this HORRIBLE ancient rickety bridge, with boards that moved around, gaps between the cross pieces, some broken and rotted boards, spikes that stuck up somewhat - and worst, NOTHING to hold onto!  Oh, did I mention the occasional semi that came lumbering across, as we had to move to the rusted metal platform on the side????  THIS was the bridge from Hell, and it was a miracle that Richard and I managed to walk across it in both directions.

Of course, at the other end we had to go through Customs to enter Panama.  So another line, another wait - then a taxi ride to the boat at the wetlands park (because to take a car from country to country entails way too much time and effort - plus Panama is one time zone ahead of Costa Rica, so timing is of the essence when going from one country to another and coming back in the same day).

Yes, this is a bus on pontoons.  No, this is not the boat we went out in.  We were in a little outboard motorboat, with the wood planks for seats.  Maybe a fiberglass boat.  Definitely no frills.

So we went out into the wetland area, which is kind of an estuary or channel that winds between the mainland (rather swampy) and the barrier islands (mangrove swamps).  We came to the platform, sort of an elevated shelter, which is basically a wildlife blind.  There's a man who has taken on the project of putting out food for the manatees, and he hangs up fresh banana leaves and green bananas every day - he grows these organically, so they are better for the manatees.  He showed us around, and had us sit quietly for a while - manatees are very shy, and when a motorboat comes through they go off and hide for a while.  So we had to wait for the manatees to come back.

It was kind of like fishing - when you get a nibble on the hook, the float and/or the fishing rod bobs up and down.  With the bananas and leaves hanging from the low branches, the manatees would sneak up and begin eating from underneath, pulling the branches down.  So when we saw the branches bobbing, we knew there was a manatee around.

Then there was the crunching noise, and some grunting - and eventually a manatee face!  I don't even know how to describe a manatee face - grey and rumpled up and furry, somewhat like a wet Sharpei dog - it was just a big grey furry face, but without any real definition - when it was eating the leaves and bananas, I couldn't really tell what was what - where were the eyes?  Nose?  Mouth?  Ears?  Forehead?  It was just a very weird grey amorphous blob, chomping and grunting!  There were a few moments of snout sticking up, breathing - a few moments of back as the manatee lay flat on the water to better grab a few bananas.  Then a moment and he/she was gone, grabbing from underwater again.


I kept trying to get a photo, but the manatee (only one showed up) was VERY elusive - just bobbing that blob-shaped head up, nuzzling the bananas and leaves, chomping and taking things underwater to eat.  I may have a bit of manatee showing in the photo, just to the right of the bananas.  Then again, it may just be a ripple in the water.  The manatee almost looked like a big rock coming to life and eating on the surface - that's how amorphous it was!

After 2 hours, the motorboat returned and we were taken to the end of the barrier island, where there is a turtle project.  The volunteers had just left the previous day, but Manatee Man had a big lunch ready for us - fried fish, rice and beans, salad, and watermelon.  He showed us around, and we chatted in our minimal Spanish. 

One moment of excitement - I went out to look at the water, thinking I had seen a crocodile face (which turned out to be a log) - but then I noticed that the motorboat was drifting away from shore and starting to turn with the tide and drift seaward - Motorboat Man had Manatee Man take him out in his canoe and they brought the motorboat back to shore.  I can only imagine how long it would have taken to paddle back!

These white things are screen covers for the various turtle nests - the eggs are gathered from the nests and re-buried, and these screens protect the baby turtles when they hatch, before they are helped out to sea (as in protected from birds, crabs, dogs, etc).  The project released over 1000 baby turtles in July, so this was pretty exciting.  These nests are about ready to hatch - but we didn't have time to stay until evening and see the hatching.

Most of the groups have murals in the cookhouse, and each person signs the painting.  They were pretty cool.

Then boat ride back to the landing - taxi back to the border - passport control - cross the horrible bridge - passport in Costa Rica - and Karina took us back to Puerto Viejo.  We also saw a lot of birds on the way, and a bunch of river turtles - not sea turtles, just little grey river turtles.  Sitting on piles of stuff floating in the river, and looking around.

A long and eventful day!!!!!

Morphos and Manatees

We went out for an early breakfast, since we're meeting our tour guide and boat captain at 8:30 AM, promptly (we were told).  Ate at Bread and Chocolate - doesn't that sound like a rallying cry for a protest march?  "Give us bread!  Give us chocolate!"  Anyway, they have fabulous whole wheat waffles, and French press cafe, so I enjoyed it.  (They also make their own bagels, which Richard enjoyed with scrambled eggs.)

On my way back to the cabina, I saw a HUGE blue morpho butterfly - bird sized, maybe the wingspan of a robin!  Bright shiny irridescent blue flitting through the dark green early morning neighborhood!  I tried following it, but soon it was just a shadow high in the trees.  They usually aren't so close to the coast, but I guess this is an indication of how close the jungle is to the actual town of Puerto Viejo.

Anyway, so we're ready for a boat trip to Panama, armed with passports, printout of our return tickets, sunscreen, camera.  We are on the manatee quest!  I will report back this evening, hopefully with photos.  (I'm not planning on swimming with the manatees, although that's what Richard is hoping to do.  I'm hoping we also turtles and dolphins!  But no sharks.  No, I don't want to see a shark.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It's my birthday

 We're scheduled for an 8 hour boat trip tomorrow to Panama, looking for manatees in the mangroves and swamps and inland waterways. 

So we opted to make today a slow and lazy day.  Also, it rained much of the morning, and even though it stopped by noon, the sky remained grey and the day just got hotter and muggier.

I bought myself a little birthday present (a cute top), and the lady at the store wrapped it up in birthday wrapping - I thought it was pretty!

We are in Cabinas Tropical - sort of a motel, but we have room #2, the Macaw room.  As I said earlier, this is a two storey room, with upstairs double and single beds, and a little balcony off the upstairs room.  Plus mosquito nets, but I always get tangled in them so we just use the fans.

We have another double bed downstairs, and the TV.  And another fan.  
 Plus the stairs, which make great shelves for storing stuff - since we don't have a closet, shelves, dresser, or table.

 We have another private terrace downstairs, complete with mural showing a sloth, various birds and butterflies (including my blue morpho), flowers, an ocelot, macaw and toucans - and very comfy hammocks for lazing away the day.  And of course a waterfall and plenty of greenery.

 We've had a relaxing day full of chocolate - and several walks around town.  It's a quiet little town, not much happening.  The kids all seem to either bicycle around or play at the soccer field, which is about two blocks away from our cabina.

 One of the funny things is that we see people around town that we recognize, just from being here a few days.  We smile, they smile, there's the little head nod, and that's about it. 

Not much else to report.  Tomorrow should be very exciting, and we're getting all set for that.  Then on Friday morning we'll head to Puerto Limón, the "big" town on the coast - definitely more urban, although the city park has parrots and sloths.  We hope to get a room at the Park Hotel, where we stayed three years ago - then Sunday or Monday we'll head back to San Jose for a few days before flying out on Aug. 11.

Until then, the adventures continue, and I will keep blogging!

And thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes!