Cocina Niervana

We made it to Costa Rica yesterday without mishap and have been placed with our host family. It has been a very pleasant surprise. Not only is everyone very nice (Mama and two daughters, both adults, 3 dogs, 1 cat and 3 parrots), but they have a much higher standard of living than I expected. First, the house. All of the houses that I have seen thus far come with iron bars on the windows and an iron gate across the front of the courtyard.  This house is quite large and encompasses the entire lot.  When one drives up to the house, a remote control open the iron gate and the car drives into a covered parking area to the left of the entrance.  There is sufficient space here to park 3 large cars.  Within the courtyard there is a large avocado tree – avocado bombs periodically drop which is convenient if you like guacamole AND you don’t happen to be standing in their path.  The house itself is built on the open-air principal – that is al fresco  The windows (no screens) are all open.  There are 4 bedrooms and two baths upstairs, 2 bedrooms and two more baths downstairs.  All of the floors are either wood or tile.  There are several seating areas, some inside and some outside.  There is another large open courtyard in the center of the house – the kitchen and living areas look out over this area which is both lovely and functional.  It is here that the parrots are housed.  There are also fruit trees – lime, orange, papaya, many many beautiful ferns and flowers and a herb garden with basil, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme.

The kitchen however, is my favorite room both a wonder and work of art.  I love to cook and have a very nice kitchen myself, but it doesn’t come close to this one.  First the size:  at least 30 X 15 feet with a round table in the center for casual dining.  It also has a tile bar on one end that overlooks the work/dining area.  The counter tops are all ceremic tile and there is an abundance of beautifully constructed wooden cabinets – I stopped counting at 40.  There are three (!) ovens – one electric, one gas, and one wood, two large microwaves, two coffee pots, a baking center with 2 large kitchen-aid mixers and every other modern appliance that one could imagine.  Interestingly, the dishwasher is off in a corner away from the main work center and doesn’t appear to be used on a daily basis.  Initially I am surprised that there is only one medium-sized refrigerator, until I realize that there is another rooms behind the kitchen that contains another refrigerator, a large chest freezer, two washers and two dryers.

Today, Sunday afternoon, there is a lot of extended family here – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc.  There are two TV’s going – one in the kitchen, one in a den area.  Both are tuned into a big soccer game between Mexico and Costa Rica.  Between the noise of the TV’s, everyone talking at once and the men arguing about the game, the din is substantial (but not unpleasant).  Mama has her wood oven fired up and she is making homemade pizza and focaccia. She has made her dough from scratch and turns out a new pizza every 20-30 minutes – cheese,, tomato, meat, all with fresh herbs from the garden.  Everyone eats, drinks lemonade or coffee and talks talks talks, all in Spanish of course.  I sit at the bar at the end of the kitchen simply enjoy family and food.  It is obvious that they all have a lot of affections for each other.  Someone is always standing at the sink washing up – this task is shared among the women (hmmm, where are the men – oh yeah, engrossed in the soccer game.

The pizza is yummy and I feel blessed to have a window into this family’s lifestyle for the week that we will be here.  Tomorrow morning, we will be up early (which won’t be a problem since the roosters crow on the hour starting at 2 am and the sun rises at 5 am).  We leave for Spanish school at 7:15 am for our first day there.  Should have more to tell manana!

 

 

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What the Rappel?

In preparation for the upcoming adventure in Costa Rica (soon!), I decided that I needed rappelling lessons .  This reason is:  I’ve booked a tour near the Arenal Volcano area for a day of “cayoneering and water fall rappelling.”  No, I have never been rappelling.  Fortunately I have a friend named Clif (I know coincidence) who is proficient rock-climber, so he was my go-to person.  It didn’t take a lot of arm-twisting.  He said, how about tomorrow.  Up to the mountains we went, looking for a place he had been to over 20 years ago.  Lots has changed since then, and took a while to locate it, but he did, although it took 4WD to get to it.  Then a 20 minute hike straight uphill.  Thought a pleasant wood – with Mountain Laurel and Flame Azaleas in bloom.  And a beautiful day to boot – cooler and clear, very light breeze.   All of that was good.  Then we got to the top and I realized that it was a long way down.  And we were going down the rock face side.  Deep breaths – he got it set up, we put on our gear, I got a 10 minute orientation lecture and then he said,  just lean back and start walking backwards.  OK, I heard that.  And I followed through and I did the descent, but it was a heart-pumping experience!  Clif said it was an easy rappel – 100 ft only and the face was far from vertical.  Thanks, I said.  Then we had to of course climb back up the trail – when we got back we rested a bit and admired the view.  Glad I did it.  Costa Rica, here I come!!  For visuals check out Desafio Adventures website!

What’s Eating You?

If you are in Costa Rica, perhaps you ponder the possibility  that it might be a member of the crocodilus family.  These include  alligators, crocodiles and caimans.    Does the  thought of a crocodile dragging you underwater for a nice lunch intrigue you?  How about knowing that you’re the lunch? Definitely creates undesired visions in my head!  So I decided to explore the actual  possibilities of this happening during my planned adventure there in June .   The crocodile and the caimen are indigenous to the country.    Unsure of the differences, I did some exploratory research to learn about these creatures.  Reading “Costa Rica Traveler’s Wildlife Guide” produced the following:  First the Caiman – relatively small in this group, it rarely grows longer than 8 feet.  Touted as “usually unoffensive” and “local people may swim unconcernedly near them”.  While this may be intended to offer some solace, let me say that swimming with a “tiny” 8 foot Caiman does not produce warm and fuzzy thoughts.

" What has it gots in its mouth precious"?

I won't be swimming with you!

Now on to the “larger” cousin, the American Crocodile.  This baby can grow to 20 feet – more than 3 times as long as I am.  While the Caiman prefers fresh water or brackish streams, the crocodile can be found lurking around mangrove swamps and such.  It can resemble a log floating on the water until “zap” some unsuspecting creature tarries nearby and becomes his next meal.  We all have to make a living, I suppose.  Both the Caiman and Crocodile prefer fish and small mammals for lunch, not human flesh. However, at this writing, I am not planning on testing that theory.

"You can keep your distance too buddy"

Amazingly both the Caiman and American Crocodile are considered to be “relatively unaggressive” and there are few injuries or deaths from untoward encounters in Costa Rica.  That’s a huge relief!  But wait!  There’s more!  You still have GRAND potential to become lunch – the ubiquitous and blood-thirsty mosquito will most certainly enjoy a meal or two at your expense!  Pack the Bug-Off!

BUG OFF!!!!

I find it noteworthy that ALL of the guidebooks and resources on Costa Rica agree that visitors should bring copious quantities of bug spray with DEET.   The mosquitos and no-seeums are apparently abundant and bloodthirsty, especially in the rainforest jungles.  Really not too big of a surprise, given the tropical climate, and I do plan to take the advice seriously.

More interesting to me is the great variety of insects and their unusual size.  All of the explosive growth of trees and plants produce a lot of oxygen. The bugs really dig this and respond by getting VERY  big.  Another travel guide edict:  “If you get out of bed at night for any reason, turn on your flashlight before you walk – no telling what might be in your path”.

One example of what might be in your path is the ” perfectly harmless” Rhinoceros Beetle.  Just the name conjours up something uh, larger than normal!  But take a look!  How’d you like to feel this guy between your toes during your foggy-brained stumble to the 3 am toilet call!  Or better yet, wake up with him at eye level on your pillow!  Ha!  Will let you know if I find out!

Rhinoceros Beetle - Not the most pleasant wake-me-up!

Snake eyes!

 

This snake's "lashes" are thought to aid in it's camouflage. Tricksy!

The Eyelash Viper – No Mascara Needed! Looks pretty but doesn’t play well with others

So, part of traveling to Costa Rica and its amazing biodiversity, is the extensive snake population.  Most, of course are not venomous, however, since I am deficient in this subject, my strategy will be avoidance if  at all possible.

The few snakes that are venomous include the eyelash viper, above.  In fact, it’s one of the MOST venomous on the planet.  Rarely growing over 2 1/2 feet, Miss Beauty loves to lie languidly amongst the flora, well disguised, waiting for dinner to come her way.  A quick bite and her venom acts quickly on the central nervous system and the cardiac system.  She enjoys birds, small mammals and lizards.  She snubs humans as a rule, but won’t hesitate to attack if harassed. Hope to see this one in captivity ONLY!

You’ll get the bird in Costa Rica!

THE RESPLENDENT QUETZEL

The Mother Load of all Costa Rican Birds

So, reading my guide books and doing a little research reveals that Costa Rica is indeed big time bird country.  I’m talking BIRDS baby – People travel to CR with the explicit goal of viewing the seemingly endless variety.  For my part:  Observation #1: There will be birds and lots of them, and probably some amazingly beautiful and rare.  Observation #2:  I will probably see some of them and be impressed.  Observation  #3:  I can’t imagine careening my neck and camera around all day hoping for that elusive siting and incredible photo.  Observation #4:   It’s hard to really study birds when you are an adventure junky who plans to be whitewater rafting, rappelling from waterfalls,  and zipping through the canopy of the cloud forest.  hehe – not that I don’t like birds!! And if I have to eat my words on this one later, well, I will!!   BTW, I actually DID purchase a key book of Central American birds – Pauline recommended it and said I wouldn’t regret it.  I’ll get back to you Pauline.

Moving Ass From point A to point B

hmmmmmmmmm

In considering whether or not to rent a vehicle and drive  while visiting Costa Rica, I consulted my travel guide resources. Here’s what they had to say (in part):

  • National Geographic:  “Many Tico drivers are inconsiderate and reckless – there is a high auto fatality rate  “
  • Fodor’s:  “…indeed, this is not the ideal place to drive; in San Jose traffic is bad and car theft is rampant, in rural areas roads are often unpaved or potholed – and tires aren’t usually covered by the basic insurance.”
  • Pauline Frommer: “Signs and road names would be nice, but that’s not the Costa Rican way”  and “Costa Rica has one of the worst automobile fatality rates in the world.  Before you panic too much know that its stats are about on par with those of the United States.”

OK, all interesting information.  Having been a driver in the US all of my adult life, and having survived thus far, I feel fairly confident about my abilities to traverse the automotive system in my country.  That being said, I mostly drive where the area and roads are familiar and I am accustomed to the basic formalities of street signage, paved roads and addresses.  Moving into a different system, where I am unfamiliar AND don’t speak the language or know the customs does give me pause for thought.  Fortunately, there are several other options for domestic transportation.

  • The public bus system – reportedly reliable, extensive and inexpensive.  From one end of the country to the other for less than $10.
  • Taxi – Reasonably priced and readily available in most tourist areas
  • Domestic airlines – a bit more pricy, but maybe worth it when time is short and the road is long (and potentially unreliable)
  • Private shuttle: about 4 times the cost of public buses, but a bit more comfortable (read cushioned seats and AC)
  • Private Van:  For a larger group (4 or more), possibly less than the shuttle and your group is the only one on board, so it’s possible t0 make stops for photos, lunch, bathroom breaks, etc. Plus pick up time is at your discretion.

Bottom line:  Will likely try all of these and may rent a car too!  We plan to visit a variety of urban and rural locations and I think that one size will not fit all.  However we move from point A to point B (and C, D, E etc), I’m guessing it will be an experience which may warrant further discussion when the time comes.

Dear Pauline Frommer,

This week’s task, in planning the Costa Rican adventure, has been to decide on travel insurance.  Do we purchase?  Yes or No.

Per your recommendations, the answer is “yes”.  And for several reasons:

  • When traveling outside of the US, our medical insurance will not be valid.  Since we are planning on a variety of adventures that could be considered a big risky (white-water rafting, zip-line, waterfall rappelling) I want to be covered for potential injuries.  It will also pay for emergency evacuation should that become necessary.
  • Airline tickets and some of the pre-paid tours are not refundable.  If the trip has to be cancelled for medical/work reasons, we will also be covered.
  • Should we be feeling feisty enough to drive a rental car in Costa Rica (LOTS of reasons to think about this thoroughly), we will have a collision rider
  • If luggage is lost or items are stolen, coverage is also applicable.

So!  We are paid up!  Bring it on!!

BTW, I found the cost of the travel insurance to be very reasonable (<$300 for all of us).

Habla Espanol in Tico Land?

Passport applications:  CHECK

Airline ticket reservations: CHECK

Language school:  CHECK

We plan to study Spanish  during our first week in Costa Rica this summer in the city of Heredia, not too far from San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica).  Heredia  is  in the central valley.  Climate here: “spring like” year round, per travel guides.  Heredia is an older city with lots of schools.  Our language school (CPI) encourages students to live with a typical “Tico” family.  (Costa Ricans refer to themselves as “Ticos”).  The plan is to go to school for 4 hours per day, then have the afternoons for site-seeing and (gasp) homework.  I think we are expected to converse in Spanish while we are with our hosts – makes sense – best way to learn a new language.  Should be a real experience for the boys, as this will be a very different cultural experience for them.  Nothing like just jumping into the immersion!

A little information on the city of Heredia – population 20,000.  Student population 12,000!  This is a city of schools – both universities and language schools.  It is also know as the “City of Flowers”.   A colonial city, unfortunately, most of the old adobe structures have been destroyed by earthquakes.  Adobe, by the way, is on the big time “no-no” list in Costa Rica for that very reason!   It comes down easily and  it comes down hard!  Ouch!

The province of Heredia is known for it’s coffee plantations – “Grano de oro” (grain of gold), grows beautifully in the surrounding volcanic mountain countryside.  In fact Costa Rica B. C. (before coffee),  was a poor, forgotten tiny colony.  Coffee changed all that , transforming the country to one of the areas more stable  and wealthy.  One of the local roasters “Cafe Britt”, supposedly has a great tour, so I hope to learn more about the C.R. coffee culture as well.

Another “biggie” for me will be the Heredia Saturday Market – described as a feast of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese, flowers, etc. all from the locals.   I’m wondering how it will compare to our Greenville, SC Saturday market – stayed tuned!  Pics in June!

111 days to 6/11/11!

That is the intended day of departure for the Costa Rican adventure.  We accomplished a significant step last week – we applied for passports  – myself, husband and our 15 year old son.  This was not a difficult process but it did have lots of steps.  I spent a lot of time gathering the required information, photos etc.  Both my husband and I had expired passports, so this made our applications easier.  I completed the applications on line and then printed them.  Got the photos taken.  Located the birth certificate.  Determined the location and hours of the post office that accepts passport applications.  Made the decision to get there when they opened – 8:30 in the morning.  There were two glitches – thankfully both minor.  1)  the post office had moved – luckily not too far away and we found the right place 2)  Brad’s (the son) photo (taken at Walgreens specifically for a passport application!) was the wrong size.  Yes, they are going to hear about that from me!  Again, luckily, this facility took photos on-site and we were able to take care of the problem.  All in all, it took about 20 minutes – start to finish.  When we left together, I felt a sense of accomplishment at having completed this task AND all of a sudden the trip felt REAL!

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