What I Took for Adventure Travel In Costa Rica

I packed for a 3 week trip using one piece of rolling luggage (LL Bean ballistic!) and a day pack.  We were using Sansa air for a domestic flight while we were there and they have  a luggage weight limit of 35#. I wanted to be able to tote everything on my own if needed.  The interesting challenge was the need to plan for a variety of climates.  We were outside a lot every day.  The central valley in June, is cool at night, warm during the day, and rain can fall any time.  We spent a week there, living with a Tica family in Heredia.  Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are hotter, more humid, and also prone to showers and thunderstorms.  The Arenal area was more like Heredia (perhaps a tad warmer), and Monteverde was damp and chilly at times.  We packed enough clothes for a week and did laundry twice.  It cost $11 to have our clothes washed, dried and folded (for 4 people). So here are some things to consider:

  • Three heavy things that I took:  High end camera with long lenses, MacBook Pro and boots.  Of the three, I could have made do without the boots because my sport sandals were extremely versatile and weighed a lot less.  This would be a personal decision however – if you are going to be doing a lot of hiking, you may want the support and protection that boots offer.  I used the camera and computer every day!  The camera for obvious reasons – the computer to manage photos and to stay in touch (we had Wifi at nearly every location).  Also took chargers for both of these!
  • A rain jacket – this was lightweight and fit easily into my day pack so could be pulled out as needed.  Also doubled as a wind-breaker/extra layer in Monteverde.  If you are going to Costa Rica during the rainy season, pack rain gear!
  • A good hat with a wide brim – great for protecting your head, neck and eyes against the intense sun
  • Sun screen and bug-off.  You can purchase these items in the country, however they are about 50% higher than in the US
  • Two pair of sunglasses with UV protection (good to have an extra pair in case you lose one).  Also, took relatively inexpensive ones for this same reason
  • Quick drying shirts with SPF and zip-off pants (should have taken MORE of these).  I got mine from LLBean and they were really worth the money
  • A flashlight and extra batteries.  Very useful if you are walking anywhere at night and also if you get out of bed in the middle of the night for nature’s call – good to make sure you won’t be stepping on a scorpion or some other interesting creature.
  • Flip-flops – wore these EVERY DAY!
  • A high quality water bottle
  • A first-aid kit (bandages, neosporin, hydrocortisone cream, immodium, motion sickness medication, etc).  Most of these I didn’t need,  but I was glad to have what I DID need and would pack these items again.
  • A lightweight summer hoodie – wore this only 3 times, but was glad I had it.
  • A notebook containing my itinerary and all confirmations, contact information, extra paper, pens, etc
  • A pouch (from Travel Smith) that held passport, money, credit cards, driver’s license etc – could be worn around the neck, inside of your shirt for security
  • An English-Spanish dictionary
  • A beach towel
  • Granola bars and other snack food (note:  2 hungry teenage boys)
  • MOST important: The attitude that we were ambassadors for the U.S. with the behavior to go along with that. ” Con permiso”, “Por Favor” and “Muchas gracias” go a LONG way and we were treated accordingly!
What I TOOK and DIDN’T need.
  • make up (just slides off of your face anyway)
  • jewelry
  • cute sandals
  • a dressier outfit
  • sweat pants (too bulky)
  • too many cotton T-shirts – they never dry!
What I DIDN’T need and DIDN’T take:
  • Jeans – too bulky and take too long to dry
  • Purse – just used the day pack
  • Cell phone ( if you are taking one, make sure it will work in Costa Rica)
  • Hair dryer, curling iron etc.
  • A superior attitude

All the "stuff" for I needed for 3 weeks fit into these!

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Costa Rica Adventure Vacation Shakedown: Part 1

Let me say first – this type of vacation is not for everyone!  If you like a variety of adventurous outdoor experiences and can live without your usual creature comforts for the duration, then keep reading.  I planned the trip myself – primarily using a great guidebook:  Pauline Frommer’s Costa Rica -” Spend Less, See More. “.  This was an invaluable tool and led me to many helpful internet sites.  It’s a bit outdated now – so some of the quoted prices are wrong, and some of the restaurants have closed, etc.  but still a great read!  I hope there will be an updated version soon.  Here are some particular notations about the trip:

Transportation:  We used a variety within Costa Rica without difficulty!  The Ticos are very nice and depend on tourism for a significant part of their economy – they WANT to be helpful

  • Cheapest transportation (and very reliable) is the public bus.  A ride around town is less than $.50.  The four hour drive from San Jose to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast was only $9.00.  There was no AC, but with the windows open the temperatures were comfortable.   And it was nice to be able to enjoy the scenery without having to worry about the other crazy drivers.
  • Taxi’s – plentiful and reliable – a bit more expensive, but not outrageously so.  The 40 minute ride from our Tico residence in Heredia to the bus terminal was $14.00 total (for 4 people).  Either negotiate the price up front or make sure the driver turns on “La Maria”, the meter (so named, I understand as an indication of their  honesty, LOL).  There are also  many “pirate” taxis’ – we found several of these in Puerto Viejo de Limon.  I had some of my most interesting Spanish conversations with these characters.  And I do mean characters!
  • Tour companies:    these folks had mastered the art of moving tourists from point A to point B – in comfort, style and included in the price of your tour.  For example:  We were picked up by Exploradores Outdoors at 6:30 am in Puerto Viejo.  They loaded all of our luggage and we drove 2 hours to Squierres for our 4 hour raft ride on the Rio Pacuare (this was a highlight for me!).  They fed us breakfast before the trip, lunch after the trip, then dropped us off in Arenal (4 hour ride in a private bus with AC) at our hotel.  Total cost per person for ALL of this was $90!  And again, they were kind, helpful and acted like they enjoyed what there were doing.
  • Rental Car:  We did rent a 4WD vehicle in Dominical for 2 days because our lodging at Pacific Edge was up a very steep gravel road.  We also had the freedom associated with having our own car and were able to drive to our horseback riding tour to Nauyaca Falls the next morning and out to dinner that night.  Cars are expensive to rent however – With gas and insurance $200 for the two days.  Better weekly rates are available.  If you are going to rent a car, I advise you so spend the extra money for 4WD – it comes in VERY handy!  Understand that gas here is $1.50/liter, 50% higher than we are currently spending at our location in the states.  A benefit was that this company allowed us to drop the car off in Sierpe (about  1 1 /2 hours drive south) where we were picking up our boat shuttle to Drake Bay.  Another benefit, the owners of Pacific Edge made the arrangements for us and vouched for this companies honesty and reliability (Solid Rent a Car). My understanding is that it doesn’t always go so well with some companies.  The road from Dominical to Sierpe was good and we made the drive without difficulty.  Would I drive myself to Monteverde?  Now that’s a horse of a different color.  Steep, winding gravel roads with lots of potholes and people driving on the wrong side of the road made me glad for private transportation on this segment.
  • Boat:  We had a couple of good experiences here.  Another great adventure tour company – Desafio, who we went with for our canyoneering/waterfall repelling experience, also arranged our transportation from Arenal to Monteverde.  It started with a short bus ride to the lake (again, they picked us up at our hotel and handled all of our luggage), transfer to boat shuttle and 40 minute ride on a beautiful lake with outstanding views of Arenal volcano and then another transfer  to a private shuttle for the “Costa Rican Massage”  – i.e. VERY bumpy trip to Monteverde.  We also came by boat taxi from Sierpe to Drake bay – an adventure in itself as it included the Sierpe River, an astounding “short-cut” through a Mangrove estuary, then another hour on the sea to our lodge “Las Caletas”.  We booked two tours at Las Caletas (they have a resident guide)  – to Corcovado National Park, and Cano Island snorkeling both of which included boat trips that were well managed with good captains.
  • Our own feet!  We used these A LOT.  So take note:  Invest in top quality  footwear!  My favorite and most used were my LL Bean Sport Sandles – great traction, adequate protection and good for water or land sports.  They went through the mud, down the side of a waterfall, jungle walks, beaches, handled wet boat landings with ease, rain – no problema!  If I had taken only one pair of shoes it would have been these.  I also used flip-flops a lot around our various lodgings, out to dinner, etc.  I did bring a pair of boots – not sure I’d bring them again because I only used them once, and my sport sandles would have done just as well I think.  The boots took up a lot of space and were heavy.  I think it would be a personal preference regarding the boots – I did like them for the night jungle tour where it was more difficult to see where I was putting my feet.
  • LL Bean Sport Sandle - best shoes for this type of trip!

    Next post:  Clothing!

Cano Island Snorkel Trip – Costa Rica

Yesterday we had breakfast and were on the boat by 8 am bound for Cano Island, about 40 kilometers offshore.  An unusual wind out of the north resulted in us heading straight on into large swells.  A trip that usually takes 40 minutes took over an hour because we had to go so slowly.  Even so, we were soaked with ocean spray and by the time we arrived I was seasick (no big surprise!).  Our excellent guide, Jose, suggested that for the first snorkeling session that I stay on the beach to which I readily agreed!  Turns out to be an excellent choice.  I had a beautiful island beach totally to myself for 1 1/2 hours so I walked, took photos and just enjoyed the awesome beauty and solitude.  The rest of the crew returned at lunch time and per usual, Las Caletas Lodge had provided a hearty repast which included fresh fruits, homemade bread, tuna salad, avocado, hearts of palm, AND WOW for ME – peanut butter and jelly.  Jose said – this is for the Gringos!  LOL – I LOVE PB&J and chowed down, thank you very much!!  We then had siesta – naps on the beach and relaxation for another hour.  Then again, we returned to the boat for an afternoon snorkel on the reef.  I was feeling much better by then and was able to enjoy this segment very much.  Lots of fish and we saw an octopus too.  The boys saw an eel in the morning.  The trip back to the lodge was much better, as the wind was behind us and had decreased a bit too.

Isla de Cano - Playa Muy Bonita!

We did have some interesting visitors looking for a lunch hand-out – the Jesus Christ Lizards – so named because they are able to run across water – according to Jose, they are related to the basilisk.

Jesus Christ Lizard - taken on Cano Island, Costa Rica

When we returned the cold shower felt GREAT!  AND because I was insistent, we all applied high SPF sunscreen several times – so NO SUNBURN!!   Can’t say the same for the formerly very white Europeans.  Live and Learn.  I’ve been there!

Today is a day of relaxation, enjoying the beautiful vistas and pacific breezes.  Manana is a big travel day back to the states.  It’s been an incredibly awesome three weeks!!!

New Adventures in Drake Bay and Corcovado Costa Rica

It’s been a VERY interesting 24 hours!!!  We went to bed early because we needed to be up and eating breakfast at 5 am, to get ready for our trip to Corcovado National Park.  About 8 am it started raining along with thunder and lightning.  The intensity of the storm kept increasing until our cabin shuddered with some of the thunder.  Understand that our cabin has all open windows with no screens, although there is a substantial overhang.  The storm didn’t have much wind so although there were torrents of rain (falling on a metal roof!), we did stay dry.  But it was hard to sleep with all that noise and activity.  This storm continued all night!  At 4 am I was convinced that we would not be able to go on our trip today as the lightning was still lighting up the sky.  I figured this was a typical event for this area, which gets over 300 inches of rain per year.  We showed up for breakfast at 5 and our guide said he would talk to the captain of our boat about the conditions (it’s a 1 hour boat ride to our entry point at the park).  The consensus was to wait for 30 minutes and then decide.  It was then that I found out that the storm the night before was highly unusual  and that they hadn’t had one that bad in over a year!  Over 5 inches of  rain were measured.  Well, at 6 am, the sun broke through and it was a go!  And off we went!  Our reward was a beautiful rainbow.

6 am rainbow over Drake Bay

We did manage to find the rain again and had to pull out the rain gear, dodge some significant swells but by the time we disembarked the sky was clear.  The captain backed the boat up to the beach and we jumped out to wade shore.  A cooler of food also came along and was left at a picnic table near the beach.  Our guide, Jose, was wonderful and took us on several remote trails looking for various wild life.  We saw many birds, monkeys, butterflies, a tapir, along with stunning jungle scenery.  He had a spotting scope so we were really able to see the minute details of even very small butterflies, etc.  WE also saw three different kinds of monkeys, including babies.

We spotted this Mommy and baby monkey today.

There were also lots of incredible birds and I managed to get a great photo of this hawk.

Hawk on the beach

We had lunch on the beach and were greatly entertained by the hermit crabs which came in all sizes and had all kinds of shells for their homes.  Would have loved to have had a video of their antics.  We returned to our lodge, Las Caletas, at about 3 pm.  A nap and shower were quite refreshing.  At dinner tonight, we talked about tomorrow’s adventure – snorkeling off of Cano Island – departure not until 8 pm – will seem like the middle of the day!

Dominical – Southern Pacific Coast, Costa Rica

If you love the “get away from it all” feeling, beautiful beaches, great surfing, no high rises, drop dead gorgeous views PLUS adventure – this may be your cup of tea.  We arrived at our hotel – Pacific Edge – which I highly recommend, on Sunday afternoon.  The owners Susie (from California) and George (from England) are wonderful hosts and great story tellers.  They constructed this lodge themselves 20 years ago WITHOUT the benefit of power tools because they had no electricity for 8 years.  Pretty amazing, when you consider the gravel road to their place is straight up a steep mountain- they had to haul a lot of stuff in by mule, hand, etc.  Anyway, this place is very special!!   NOTE:  Rent a 4wd vehicle to get here!  We had a Rav 4 from Solid Rental Car which was great.  Susie can help arrange your rental if you are picking up in Domincal.

On Monday, we had an early start for our next adventure – we left Pacific Edge at 7:30 am for a horseback riding tour to Naucaya (not sure of this spelling) waterfall.  This land is all private property and has been in the same family for 6 generations.  They have about 40 horses (actually crossed with burros).  We got our mounts and road about 30 minutes to the ranchero (the family homestead) where we were served breakfast amidst a beautiful jungle setting – toucans, white-faced monkey, peacocks, scarlet mccaws all available for viewing.  After breakfast we mounted up again and road about another hour following the river upstream.  Glad we weren’t walking – very steep numero uno, and VERY muddy, numero dos and LOTS of horse poop numero tres.  Even these appropriately bred horses had to choose their steps carefully.  When we got to the waterfall, we were treated to a great swimming hole.  The younger crowd scaled part of the waterfall and jumped off – big adventure there.  I took photos, LOL.  After about  1 1/2 hours there, we rode back to the rachero where we were served a delicious lunch of chicken, rice, black beans, salad, fresh pinapple juice and coffee, then we finished our ride back. Totally amazing experience and a great price:  $50/pp.

Last night we hung out at our lodge with Susie and George and had dinner with them in a open-air bamboo hut overlooking the ocean – she made Thai Coconut Curry Chicken with a fresh Mango salsa – topped off with a bottle of white wine – they ate with us and we chatted after dinner and heard some of their great stories of building the place.  They met in Singapore 30 years ago when she was the captain of a 3-masted schooner – she hired him on as the mechanic – the rest is history!

Today we (reluctantly) left Pacific Edge in our rental car for the 1 hour drive to Sierpe where we are sitting in an open-air diner looking over the Sierpe River.  We will transfer via boat down the Sierpe to Bahia de Drake in about 30 minutes for our next lodging – Las Caletas – This is the Osa Penninsula which has an Amazon feel to it – lots of jugla (jungle), water, reptiles, etc.  Plans for this segment:  Walking tour of Corcovado National Forest and Snorkeling trip to Cano Island.  Hope to be able to post from there too – but you never know around here!

The sunset view from Pacific Edge - a wonderful place to stay!

White-Water Rafting, Canyoneering, Waterfall Repelling, Night Jungle Tour and Canopy Zip Line in Costa Rica

Wow!  It’s been an actioned-packed couple of days!  On Wednesday we experienced great white water rafting on the Rio Pacuare – our guide Fernando was muy simpantico and we had a great day! The outfitter we went with – Exploradores Outdoors is top notch in every way and I highly recommend them.  There were lots of exciting moments on the river – and one VERY exciting moment when a baby Fer de Lance was crawling over my foot.  This excited Fernando considerably (and not in a sexual way, LOL – he nearly freaked out getting that snake out of our raft)!!  The tour company provided breakfast and lunch AND transportation between Puerto Viejo and Arenal.  It was a great day and a long day that  started at 6:30am when we left Puerto Viejo and ended at 6:30 p.m. when we arrived in Santa Elena which is the Arenal Volcano area.  Arenal is not spewing lava at the moment, just steam, but it’s impressive none-the -less and our hotel (Arenal Paraiso) provided an up close and dramatic view.  We fell into bed at 8 pm we were so pooped.  On Thursday morning we had a 9:30 am departure for Canyoneering and Waterfall repelling with the company Desafio – also top notch folks very tuned into safety as well as a great time.  We walked, crawled, waded, and repelled our way down through this beautiful canyon.  The last repel was the most dramatic at 220 feet – quite a rush!  They also served a great lunch afterwards along with showers and towels and a great sense of humor.  This adventure was definitely a highlight of the trip thus far.  On Friday, we had an 8:30 am departure to transfer to Monteverde.  This was also interesting and was also with Desafio  via Taxi-Boat-Taxi.  First they drove us to the lake where we transferred to a boat.  The boat ride was about 40 minutes.  We then transferred again to another taxi for the ride up the mountain to Monteverde – all winding, dirt road and VERY bumpy with lots of pot holes.  The driver laughed and said there was no extra charge for the “Costa Rican Massage”.  LOL.  Thankfully, I was riding shot gun for most of the trip, otherwise, I would have been barfing in the back.  We arrive in Santa Elena about lunch time and transferred to our hotel:  Cabinas Don Taco – a small spot (about 12 rooms) with very helpful and friendly staff who directed us to good eats in town as well as hooking us up with a couple of more tours – the night jungle walk .  We had a guide who was an amazing biologist and knew so much about the area’s wildlife. The jungle at night is both VERY dark and surprisingly LOUD! – Lots of night time activity!  That tour ended at 7:30 p.m. so we were hungry then and ate at Morphos – a great local restaurant recommended by our hotel.  Then – time for sleep because we had to get up, eat breakfast, and be ready to depart for the Zip Line at 7:30 am.  It’s light here at 4:45 am, so it’s really not a problem getting up so early.  We had breakfast at our hotel, which was included in the rate – a very tolerable $45/night!  OK – off we go again for “Extreme Canopy”.  Now, if you’ve every done a zip line, you know that by definition they are extreme.  So when one is actually CALLED extreme – take notice!  This one had really long lines – the longest almost a mile of flying like super-man over a 500 foot canyon – felt like soaring with the Eagles.  We also had a Tarzan experience which was one mighty rope swing – I got the accolades for the best and longest scream, LOL.  Back to town for lunch, pharmacy stop and an hour in an internet cafe.  Tomorrow we transfer to Domincal on the South Pacific Coast for more adventures!  Think I’ll take a nap this afternoon!

On Rio Pacuare near Siquerres in Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo de Limon – Costa Rica – Bob Marley Lives!

On Sunday we left our familia Tica in Heredia to head for the Caribbean coast.  We decided on public bus for transportation because it’s a lot cheaper and we thought it might be a bit more of an adventure.  We were correct on both accounts.  First, we had a cab ride planned from our house to the bus terminal in San Jose which is about a 40 minute ride.  We asked for the cab to pick us up at 9 am for a 10 am bus departure.  The cab showed up at 9:30.  We made it to the bus which left exactly at 10 am – do the math and then envision the drive and our speed.  I didn’t know if I was going to have a heart attack or just puke.  The bus ride itself (4 hours) was actually mostly pleasant, though there was no AC – but with the windows open and going up over the mountains it was nearly chilly.  We had one stop for the bathroom and food.  However, the line for the bathroom took nearly 15 minutes and the bus leaves promptly after 15 minutes – so, no food for me.  Once we got to the coast and started heading south, both the temperature and humidity rose significantly.  We arrived in Puerto Viejo at 2 p.m., a stifling time of day.  We then had to get a cab to take us to our residence there – Finca Loco Natural.  Evidently the car we got into wasn’t exactly a legitimate cab – it barely passed as a legitimate car.  First a sub compact with 4 people plus luggage made it interesting – the three guys were in the back seat with luggage piled on top of them because it wouldn’t fit in the trunk.  The driver had to enter the car from the front passenger side because his door didn’t work.  The car had no suspension.  We were on gravel roads.  No AC.  When we arrived, the gate was locked so the driver called the owners and we told them that we were at the gate.  They said they’d be right there to open it.  We paid the cab driver and he said we needed to get out there so we did.  He left.  No one came to open the gate.  It was VERY hot and buggy.  Finally after about 15 minutes the owner showed up and seemed very surprised to see us standing there. She said this was the back entrance to the property and she didn’t have a key with her.  So we had to wait another 15 minutes for her to get a key and unlock the gate, then we had to tote our luggage over gravel for another 10 minute walk to our house. By this time were were drenched in sweat.  The owner said that the cab driver had dropped us off at the wrong spot.  Yeah!  The house is totally open air – like stylish camping.  Read:  no AC.  Fortunately the fans keep the air moving and the surrounding tropical paradise is quite breathtaking .  We immediately changed into our bathing suits and walked to the beach – Playa Negra about 5 minutes away.  A refrshing swim and great waves, on a nearly deserted beautiful tropical beach restored our energy and sense of humor.  After a quick shower , we walked into town which is about 1 mile and found a great spot on the beach for a lovely dinner al fresco.  The Puerto Viejo vibe is Rastafarian Hippie Surfer – totally laid back scene  – not a high rise in site.  lots of surfer shacks, hostels for $5/night, reggae music, cheap tequila ($1/shot Mon), bicycles, minimal clothing, tents, dogs and wild horses on the beach, warm water, good waves, beautiful tropical flowers, interesting wild life, coconut palms, the wafting scent of wacky weed, dread locks, etc.  This area is known as the counter-culture capital of Costa Rica and with good reason – it’s TOTALLY different from Heredia and the central valley.  The food has a more Caribbean flavor  –  rondon stew (whatever the cook can “run down”) flavored with coconut milk, frozen fruit drinks of any kind (I had guava and mango for lunch), aqua de sapo (“toad water”)- a drink of lemon juice, ginger, molasses and a “secret ingredient” – a great tongue cool-down after spicy jerk chicken, Pati – a flaky pastry stuffed with spicy meat and peppers, pan bon, glazed bread with chucks of local fruits or chesse baked into it, ginger biscuits, plantain tarts – all interesting and yummy.  Most meals are served with black beans and rice – breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Punta Uva Beach near Puerto Viejo

My typical day in Heredia Costa Rica

It always starts around 4 am with the roosters crowing and street traffic picking up. By 5 it is light and I can’t sleep anyway, so I get up and get ready for the day, check email, etc.If I’m feeling brave I go ahead and take my nice cold shower.   Breakfast is at 7 – we have different things for breakfast, but always filling and good. Today it was fresh cut-up pineapple with bananas, yogurt, cereal, toast, fresh juice and coffee. We leave the house at 7:45 for the drive to CPI (our Spanish school) where class begins promptly at 8. There are 4 students in my class and our teacher Marcella is excellent. We spend the first few minutes discussing what we have been doing (in Spanish of course). Between the “interesting” events and our limited Spanish, this is always a hilarious exchange. Here is a story worth telling. On Wednesday night a large group of students went out to dinner together which was very fun, but took a long time. By the time we returned to our “Tico” houses, it was nearly midnight. One of the students, “Tony” had 3 keys to get into his house.  For some reason though, he needed 5 keys to get in and everyone in the house was asleep.  He knocked and called out several times, but no one opened the door.  Finally, he decided just to sleep on the chair in the courtyard.  Actually he didn’t get much sleep because it was chilly and he had no jacket and there were a lot of mosquitos. All he had was his umbrella that he used to cover as much of his body as possible.  After several restless, uncomfortable hours, at 5 am the door opened and his “Tica Mama” came out to get the newspaper.  She saw a body under and umbrella and screamed.  This woke Tony up and he screamed.  He then explained to her what had happened and she was quite apologetic.  He finally got to come inside for two hours of sleep in his bed.  When he got to class he was very tired and covered with mosquito welts.  When he told this story, it was much more hilarious because of his broken Spanish and our teacher and all of us were trying to comprehend what happened – the teacher made him explain over and over because she didn’t believe what she was hearing.  Finally she said, “Que incredible”.

We spend 4 hours in Spanish class, with a 20 minute break at 10 am  where we are served fresh fruit and some sort of bread which is usually very tasty.  At 12 morning classes are complete and we walk to a nearby “soda” (fast-food Costa Rican style).  I always get the “casado”  (plate of the day) which cost $4.60 and includes your choice of chicken, pork or meat, rice, black beans, platanos and avocado salad.  It’s always more than I can eat.  The meat is stewed with a lot of spices and is very tender and picante.  Then we walk back to our casa – about 2 miles, uphill – great way to work off that lunch!  Usually in the afternoons it rains, so we are inside doing our homework, or relaxing.  It’s dark by 5:00 p.m  Dinner is served at 6.  Last night our “Mama Tica” made sauteed fish with lots of garlic and sour orange, platanos maduros (fried ripe plantains – wonderful!), and a large salad.  Dessert is not typically served except for special occasions.  We enjoy sitting around the table talking about our day (again, in Spanish, which has its comical moments!), relaxing or watching TV (also in Spanish of course) – I especially like trying to figure out the news programs.  Then off to bed!  For me, a great day!!

Costa Rica Observations

What’s Different?   The most significant differences for me thus far have been:

  • Plumbing:  It doesn’t matter what you do to try to adjust in the shower – it’s going to be COLD!
  • Plumbing 2:  Because of issues with the sewage system, one does not place dirty toilet paper in the toilet – it goes into the waste bin next to the toilet.  And don’t expect ANY toilet paper in public restrooms – BYO!
  • People live with the “open air” concept at least here in Heredia where the climate is temperate.  The windows are open all the time and there are no screens.  The occasional bug that comes by is not an issue – especially in my house where there is a very vigilant kitty!
  • Public transportation is plentiful and very inexpensive.
  • Beans are eaten frequently and are the main source of protein for many families
  • Driving:  Narrow bumpy streets with lead foot drivers passing on curves in residential areas in the midst of foot and bicycle traffic.  Stop/yield signs routinely ignored.  However, I’ve seen no mishaps thus far (maybe because I try not to look)
  • All of the houses have bars on the windows and across the front of the courtyard.
  • It seems to be common for households within the city to have chickens, roosters, parrots, and there is an even a peacock across the street.
  • When one dines out, the gratuity is already included in the bill (10%).  If service is exceptional, an additional amount may be added.
What is similar:
  • At least in the house where I am staying, all of the modern conveniences (except for plumbing – see above) are in abundance.  Telephone, internet with WIFI, security system, automobiles, household appliances, etc.  I’m thinking though, that I may be in a more exceptional situation that is the “norm”.
  • The CPI school is also very modern and well-constructed.  The employees there are educated  professionals.
  • ATM’s are plentiful (at least in Heredia) and easy to use AND they give the correct exchange rate.
  • Many places accept American dollars – the exchange rate is not quite so exact though.
What is sad:  In the United States there is an obesity epidemic with many co-mobidities, Type 2 diabetes being a major player.  In Costa Rica, as the work force transitions from manual labor to more sedentary positions, these issues are also becoming prevalent here.  All of the American Fast Food restaurants are here!  (And Wal-Mart!). Fast-Food, + Sweetened beverages (of which there are MANY) +  less exercise is a perfect recipe for diabetes.  And Hispanic populations have a higher risk of diabetes to begin with.  I see this as a major issue for the government to tackle.

El Mercado en Heredia Costa Rica

Lychee Fruit - Delicioso

Yesterday, after four hours of intense Spanish instruction, we had a muddle of verb tenses running through our heads. The director of activities at CPI, Adrian, had just the ticket to clear the cobwebs: A walking tour of downtown Heredia. About 10 of us signed up for this excursion, which commenced on a public bus ride from our location in San Joaquin de Flores. The bus cost about $.40 and was an express – it took about 15 minutes to get “up the hill” where, incidentally, it was a few degrees cooler because of the elevation change. We saw several sights in this area, but for me the most memorable by far, was our visit to El Mercado.  Encompassing  an entire city block, this is a covered area with many many stalls and vendor selling fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, fish, portk, tortillas and mucho mas!  We got to sample lychee and freshly prepared cheese tortillas.  Other interesting sites included a whole pig carcass on display, ditto for the whole stomach of a cow, MANY bins of all kinds of beans, corn, rice, dog food (!), fish heads, strings of sausage hanging from the rafters.  There were also many Ticos out shopping which created a confusing and interesting din of activity.

Fresh cheese tortillas from El Mercado de Heredia - Delicioso!!

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