Sunday, December 30, 2018


Cutting banana leaves
One of the nice things with the villa here in Costa Rica is that it comes with a housekeeper. She comes every second day to water all the plants and clean the house. She also expressed a willingness to cook for us, but we enjoy cooking, so we did not need her for this most days. We did ask her to cook a typical Costa Rican dish for us when we arrived. Something got lost in translation however and we had a delicious chicken cordon-blue when we got here.

Each day when she comes, she brings something for us. One day it was an odd looking vegetable that she explained was like a potato, then she brought tomales for us to try. Now this was a typical Costa Rican dish. She also showed us how to make traditional rice & beans, which is eaten with every meal as far as we can tell.

Once Alisha arrived we asked Nora to come one day and show us how to make her tomales. We got a shopping list (In Spanish to make it easier to locate stuff), and a trip to the grocery store got
All ready to assemble
everything we needed.

Nora arrived in the morning and the first thing she did was to climb down the hill behind the villa and using the handy Costa Rican machete, cut four huge banana leaves. She then checked the bags of ingredients we bought and was upset there were no potatoes. Alisha cannot eat potatoes because they are part of the nightshade vegetables and cause severe joint pain. We have always been able to substitute sweet potatoes, but this was completely unacceptable to Nora. I suspect it would have worked but she simply had to have potatoes. She put fatty pork chunks in a big pot with onions garlic, celery cilantro and spices and put it on to boil. She then told me to watch it while she made Regis, Derek and Alisha to to a local grocery store for potatoes and Achiote paste (more on this later).

Wrapping the tomalley
Next step was to heat the banana leaves, cut them into smaller pieces and to wash them. We used the barbecue to heat the leaves, and it seems to pull a bit of moisture out of the leaves and make them more pliable. The leaves were then put together with a larger and a smaller piece and arranged in a pile.

Potatoes were peeled and rice was put on to boil Achiote paste was added to the rice, and on the way back from the store Nora stopped on the side of the road and picked four actual achiote pods to show us, This seems to add colour to the rice more than flavour.

We then mixed flour, corn starch, and the stock from the boiled pork and the potato water to make a paste the consistency of wallpaper paste. Added to this is a package of consume, salt, and salsa (Very important!). This was cooked and stirred until it thickened it up so it looked more like instant mashed potatoes.

The Finished Product
We cooked cubed potatoes, sliced carrots and sweet peppers. Then everything was lined up in an assembly line. Alisha put a spoonful of the paste on the banana leaves. I added a spoonful of rice, Nolan added a cube of cooked pork, and strategically placed a carrot, a slice of pepper and a potato cube on each leaf. The leaves were then wrapped tightly around the assembly by Derek and Regis and two tomalley were tied together. With Nora watching closely to make sure we were all doing it correctly.

Finally the finished tomalley were put into a pot of boiling water for an hour to finish the cooking. When they are done the banana leaves are unwrapped and entire assembly is one solid cooked unit. We already knew how good the Tomale were because Nora had brought them for us earlier finished
and ready to eat. I can only hope ours turn out as good as her's.

Friday, December 28, 2018

On-Line in Costa Rica

All "geared" up and ready to go
 It is pleasant quiet and relaxing at the villa here in Costa Rica, and the four “Older” folks were enjoying doing very little except enjoying being here in the tropics, but once the youngsters, Aisha and Derek arrived, they insisted on adding some adventure to the vacation. They suggested ATVs, waterfall climbing, Para-gliding, catamaran snorkelling, or zip-lining. When we discovered a Rainforest Adventure park on the road up the mountain, and when we met the delightful girl at he front gate we were sold and we elected to try the zip-lines. We tried to go on Boxing Day but they were completely booked up, so we reserved a spot for the following day at 7:30.

Our initial positive impression with the front gate girl continued inside where everyone was friendly cheerful and very professional. This place was obviously well managed and very safe. All the equipment was first class, and in perfect condition, so any nagging concerns were quickly gone.
The first time!

Everyone was strapped into a safety harness, adjusted for comfort, and fitted with a helmet and gloves. We were told that they insisted on closed toe shoes and long pants were suggested, although we seemed to be the only ones who followed the long-pants suggestions and there were a lot of shorts worn by other groups. We were given a quick lesson on how everything worked and were told that we actually did not have to do anything – just enjoy the ride.

Even the gondola ride up to the first platform was enjoyable with excellent commentary from the guide on the vegetation and some history and facts about Costa Rica.

On reaching the first platform, we were given another quick instruction on safety and how to make the ride the most enjoyable. You are then clipped onto two thick cables and told to sit down allowing
The view from the zip line
the harness to take your weight. You then hold onto your straps and jump or push off. You cross you ankles lean back and zip along the line to the next platform. There is someone there to guide you to a stop and they have a braking system that slows you down safely. The higher you raise your feet and lean back the faster you go. You do not have to even hang on, and I quickly got comfortable enough to go with one hand. You work your way down the mountain from platform to another with a total of 10 platforms and lines, some a long as 1000 ft and one was steeper and much faster.

After doing the first line, you feel completely safe and comfortable. It is not at all scary, just a really fun ride. The only thing that can happen is if you do not go fast enough, you stop before reaching the platform and someone haas to pull you in, but none of the six of us had that happen, but we did see one fellow have to be pulled in.

Zip-lining in the mountains of Costa Rica was definitely a great experience.
Nolan coming in for a landing!

Regis "Zipping" along

Christmas in Costa Rica

Costa Rican Christmas decorations

Our family tradition with Christmas is that we spend one year at home and the children come to us, and the next year we go to the children for Christmas. I have found that as Christmas gets more hectic I have enjoyed it less and less and, so I found I was enjoying the stress free Christmases away from home. We normally went to out son's place in Ottawa or Toronto and his Christmases were very low key. We went from giving piles of gifts to just stockings, and finally we skipped the gifts all together. We made Christmas more about doing things together as a family family rather than the traditional “Christmas Stuff”, and I found I enjoyed it more.

This year, our daughter decided she wanted to go to Costa Rica for her “honeymoon” during her Christmas break and suggested we come along for Christmas. She also invited her new husband's mom and her husband. Although she did insist on heading off on her own for her actual “Honeymoon”. Our son decided that “Roughing”it in Costa Rica was not his idea of a vacation so he headed off to France instead. So, this would be a completely different Christmas. New family members, new experiences.

Costa Rica is an amazing country. It has the same temperature all year with an average of 25º C every day, so it's not really the Canadian idea of Christmasy, but I think I can live with it. The sun rises at 6:00 am and sets at 5:00 pm every day, 365 days a year. They have a rainy season and a dry season. Their people are among the happiest in the world, and have one of the best education and health systems. Their life expectancy is as good as most “highly developed” countries at 79 years. What's not to like here?

Our hosts here at the villa tried to make the place a bit Christmasy with a little artificial tree and a twinkling centre-piece, as well as three cute Santa hats and a huge poinsettia, but often we forgot to turn the tree on and the twinkling centre-piece was a nuisance so got moved aside.

The girls did go Christmas dinner shopping and although I suggested that Costa Ricans did not eat turkey, they found a butterball so it was purchased and carted up the mountain. The new son-in-law Derek made his delicious pizza for Christmas eve, and although he complained about having to use a mix for the dough, they turned out as good as usual.

Our daughter Alisha made her usual eggs Benedict for breakfast on Christmas morning. Getting Christmas Dinner going was a problem because it was hard to get everyone out of the pool to get things ready. Everything did however fall into place as it always does, and Christmas dinner was a huge success.

But it was a bit odd eating it out in the gazebo beside the pool. It was however warm, comfortable relaxing, and delicious.

I hope everyone else had a wonderful holiday season as well.
Merry Christmas From Costa Rica (Nolan, Mary, Art, Regis, Derek & Alisha)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Walking In Carara

Walking In Carara

Costa Rica which is only the size of west Virginia, has 27 national parks scattered throughout the country. These parks contain an amazing variety of wildlife and ecosystems. I discovered that there was one park just at the base of the mountain where we are staying, so we decided it deserved a visit and a walk.

Carara National Park, is known for it's large population of birds, especially scarlet macaws which we have observed around the villa in the morning and evenings. The park charged $10 USD to get in and there are aways guides willing to show you around for a fee. Our goal was just for a good walk, since the villa is so relaxing we were really neglecting our walking (You already know how hard it is walking on the road), so we elected to go on our own. The park is located just down the road from the popular bridge over the Rio Tárcoles which is usually crowded with tourists peering down at the crocodiles sunning themselves in the river.
The Trees

We were surprised to find that the park has a nice loop trail that is completely wheelchair accessible. This loop is paved with concrete and has nice interpretive signs along the way in English and Spanish. We did this loop, and then ventured off on the rougher trails through the jungle. All the trails are easy to follow and well marked, although you have to watch where you are walking because of the roots, vines and rocks waiting to trip the unobservant.

The best time to visit the park is either at dawn or dusk when the birds are coming or going, but we were going at around noon, so we did not expect to see so many of the birds. A short way into the first loop however we heard the raucous call of the scarlet macaw, and searching the treetops we we able to see three sitting in the top of one tree. Their brilliant blue and red colouring make them easy to find among the trees. We also saw one little rodent in the underbrush a small round flightless bird, and a good sized gecko. The leaf-cutter ant were a surprise. Walking along the trail we came upon a green stripe crossing the trail. A closer look revealed hundreds of ants each carrying a little piece of a leaf. We stopped twice to observe these industrious little creatures.

Although we did not see many animals, the trees were especially interesting. It is fascinating to see so many different trees. Many were so tall you could not see the tops, and the large buttress root systems can provide hiding spaces for the largest person.

Another pleasant surprise was the heat. Although it was 29º out, the trails through the park were sheltered and not that hot. It made for an altogether pleasant walk.

Leaf Cutter Ants

Friday, December 21, 2018

Not always worth the walk

How'd he get here?

Many times I have hiked up a difficult trail to find a spectacular view at the top, and you usually say “That was worth the walk!”. Today I discovered that it is not always true.

The Villa here in Costa Rica is almost at the top of a mountain, and the trail you have to navigate to get here continues down the mountain. Every day we hear ATVs going down and they continue for a while beyond the Villa and always return back up. So we knew the road was not a loop, and there must have been something down there worth the trip. We could hear what seemed to be a waterfall and knew that this area had some beautiful waterfalls, so I suspected that must be what was down there. Our 4 X 4 was a rather civilized “SUV” and the rental agent said it was not a “Jeep” and they pulled a number of them out of rivers every year, so I really did not feel comfortable taking it down an ATV trail. The option was to walk . . . .

Friends from Ontario joined us yesterday and Nolan said he was game to walk down the trail with
Jaco Falls
me. We discovered one house below us, and then the road/trail became even worse. You had to be careful walking down because at times you were sliding down rather than walking, so it was safer to walk sideways down the slopes to retain your footing. Four or five switchbacks and we found a carved stone pig? Evidence of ancient indigenous people . . . . ? A bit further, and we came around a sharp turn and found a metal roof which on closer examination was once a bar but now stood with holes rotted in the floor and black with jungle moss. A painted sign said “Jaco Falls”. Once upon a time this must have been a thriving tourist attraction, although I cannot imagine how people would get here?

From the derelict bar a trail led off into the jungle. We had come this far, and we could hear the waterfall, so we continued on. The trail led to a spectacular series of waterfalls accessed by side trails and ropes. Of course we said “Wow, this was worth the walk!”.

However, after exploring the various waterfalls and trails, we had to walk back up the mountain to the villa. After only a few minutes we both declared that it was definitely NOT worth the walk. Now we know why the ATVs were so popular. That was the best way to visit Jaco Falls. Climbing the trail back up, you had to stop and catch your breath at every corner and we arrived back at the villa exhausted and soaked in sweat ready for another dip in the pool and a cold beer!

The waterfalls were nice, but really, some things are not worth the walk!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Day In Costa Rica

Our view from the terrace

It is actually pretty boring here in Costa Rica. The Villa is at the top of a mountain, and the nearest town in 10 km down a dirt track that winds down the mountain. As a result there is not a lot to do up here.

We have had a problem adapting to Central time. Unlike traveling to Europe or Asia where the time is so different you need to force yourself onto the local time by fighting sleep for a day or two and adjust to local time, here it is only two hours different, so we have found that we are tired at 9:00 pm, and Regis falls asleep early. As a result, we get up early, usually at about 6:30. Normally I climb out of bed and immediately go out to my job as pool boy, and skim the pool, so her ladyship can have her first swim of the day without any dead insects or leaves in the pool. Often I do not even bother getting dressed since there is not another house in sight anywhere, and she insists on going swimming as soon as she gets up. Me, being a non-swimmer do not need to jump in the pool first thing in the morning.
Her Ladyship 

While Regis is swimming, I go in and make coffee and tea. Costa Rica has what is reputed to be one of the best coffees in the world, and from my experience so far I cannot disagree. When the early morning swim is finished, coffee and tea are served on the front terrace and we watch the sun slowly dissolve the shadows on the mountain across the valley from us, and as the mist clears, we check what is happening out in the Bahia Herradura, the bay leading out to the Pacific. It is about 20 km away, but on a clear day our binoculars let us see what is going on.

Once our coffee cups are emptied, it takes a while since hot drinks do not cool quickly in 24° C, so we get to relax for an hour or so, one of us goes in and makes breakfast, usually featuring some of the delicious fresh fruit available here. It is amazing how much better a simple banana tastes when it is allowed to ripen naturally instead of being picked early and shipped to the cold north.

Once breakfast dishes are cleaned up, I try to find a spot where I can sit in the sun and Regis has shade. If it gets too hot, the pool is right there to cool off before getting back to relaxing. Lots of time to read and get caught up on the books I brought, both old fashioned paper ones and copies downloaded on my phone.

The peace and quiet is occasionally disturbed by ATV's using the excuse for a road that winds down the mountain, but normally the only sounds are the birds and the waterfall somewhere below us.

Late in the morning one of us will try to decide what to throw on the barbecue out on the outdoor kitchen for lunch and then it is back into the pool to relax after the work preparing the meal. You could go down the mountain to the beaches and tourist attractions or Playa Herradura, but it is so
Costa Rican Sunset
pleasant here it is hard to pull yourself away. And so the day goes.

As the sun sets, it is nice to sit in the whirlpool and watch the sun sink below the mountain, turning the skies a brilliant red. Then after supper it is still warm enough to turn the lights on the pool and soak for another session perhaps with a glass of wine. Now the later evenings are a problem . . . . only Spanish TV, no internet. And we start getting tired with the stress of the day.

And that is our day here in Costa Rica.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

At The Villa

To the villa
Ok, I did complain about trying to find our house where we would be staying for a month here in Costa Rica. However, once we actually found it and had a look around, it is going to be pretty pleasant.

The place is huge, and there are three bedrooms each with an on-suite. The kitchen is large with a nice island and then there is a large living room. Strangely, there is no dining room and the island has no overhang so the chairs around the island are not comfortable. Oh well I guess we will have eat outside.

The outside is however the real plus of this villa. Out front, overlooking the valley and the mountains, is a large wrap around terrace with lots of chairs to sit and enjoy the view. As you sit there, you can hear a waterfall somewhere below us and and the birds provide a constant tropical symphony. At the end of the terrace is the pool and whirlpool ideally situated so that it gets sunshine almost all day. Beyond the pool is a large covered concrete Gazebo containing a kitchen with a barbecue , sink and even a dishwasher. A building at the end of the kitchen area contains a storage
room, a bathroom and utility room for the pool.

I have taken some pictures of the house, and it would have been nice to have a general shot of the front, but literally that is impossible because it is sitting on such a steep incline that you cannot actually see the house from the road that runs below us.

The view from the terrace is spectacular, with rainforest covered mountains all around and the Pacific Ocean viable through the gap in the mountains. In the morning the ocean is a mist shrouded mystery, but as the day heats up distant mountains, vessels and shorelines appear.

There is not another house or building visible anywhere around us. Although there are other villas on the dirt donkey track they call the road, nothing can be seen from the house until you go out to the road or the edge of the hillside. At night, there are lights from a village way down the valley, but nothing around the villa. We have no internet and my cell phone reports “No Service”, so we are pretty isolated. Since we have been here there has not been another car go by on the road, although ATVs, which seem to be the best means of transportation do go by occasionally.
The Pool

I think I might be able to relax here for a while.


Are you sure this is the way?

We had seen pictures of the Villa we were renting in Costa Rica, and we knew it was way up a mountain and remote enough that a 4 X 4 was strongly recommended to get here. I decided to download a Costa Rica Map for my old GPS, and bring that with me, but when asked the Villa owner did not have GPS coordinates to give me. Instead she sent me a Google Map and instructions that her son had created. It looked pretty straight forward for the first part of the trip. We had to get out of San Jose and pick up highway 27 which we followed for about 50 km until we came to highway 34 which took us towards a town on the west coast called Jaco. Here it got a bit sketchy. We had to turn right after a river and climb up the mountain. There were about three turns along the way but the roads were all called “Unnamed road”. I pulled up Google Maps and located this route, but was not actually able to see the house itself on the satellite imagery. I decided I'd be able to find it when we got closer.

It did not work out so well. Google Maps told us to turn and the directions seemed to make sense
Waterfall Washout
until we ended up in someone's driveway, no way on a mountain. We backtracked, looking at the owner's quite detailed instructions, but could not find any of the landmarks she gave us. We did however have the housekeeper's phone number and called her, but she did not answer. Finally we stopped at a restaurant on the highway and asked for directions to the tiny town we were supposed to look for at the top of the mountain. The owner of the villa said it was 3 km up the mountain, but the friendly servers at the restaurant said it was 5 km back and at least 10 km up. At least the server's directions got us to the turn, but it was at least 10 km climbing a rough mountain road. We reached a town, but there was no name, and the “Park” where we were supposed to turn was simply the school yard. We were told to look out for a restaurant called “Rancho Shady “ . . . . . . Really? Who names your establishment “Shady”; oh wait we're in Costa Rica, they are literally bragging that they have shade from the sun. However when we did find a place called “Rancho Shady”, we finally realized we might be on the right track.

Next step was to find an entrance to the actual “community”, two large stone walls and a gate. Through the gate, and old man and his wife sat on lawn chairs guarding the entrance. We mentioned the owner's name and we were waved through and down a washed out narrow road where only a 4 X 4 could go. Here we were driving down the mountain and realized that we had no idea where the villa was. We had pictures but realized there were not pictures of the front of the house. We had to drive up two driveways where it was almost impossible to turn around without falling over a steep precipice. Finally we came to driveway with an open gate and our friendly housekeeper, Nora, was waving to us.

Up, Up and more UP!
It was really a trial finding this place, and I cannot imagine how she gets rentals with the sketchy directions. We had to work to find it.

However, once we pulled into the garage and walked out onto the terrace we realized that it might just be worth the trials.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Lost Luggage

We have done a lot of travelling since we retired, China, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, Florida, Hungary, Mexico, and we have never had any problem with luggage. In fact, we actually wore out one set of luggage and had to replace it. We upgraded to VERY distinctive teal coloured hard sided bags to make them easier to pick out on the many baggage carousels they ended up on. We used to be very careful about what we put into checked baggage and always split our clothes between bags, especially on long trips so if anything did happen, one of us would not be without clean clothes. Our daughter had luggage lost as did our son, but we had been lucky, so we got a bit careless. I packed my suitcase differently, so we got out of the habit of splitting clothes.

This trip I had everything except the clothes I was wearing in one suitcase, and the clothes I was wearing were based on the -12C temperature we were leaving behind in wintery Nova Scotia. As well, on our return trip we were spending one night in New York, so the clothes I was wearing were going to deal with the cold temperatures there. My shorts, sandals, resort weight pants and short sleeved shirts were all in my suitcase. So . . . . . of course this time the carousel in the San Jose airport only produced one nice bright teal suitcase. You worry, but keep waiting, assuming it will come out in the next batch. But, when the workers started removing all remaining suitcases from the carousel and neatly lining them up by a pillar, I knew I was in trouble . . . . my suitcase was lost!
only guy warmer than me.

You fill out paperwork, you describe the case and try to recall what all was in there. Fortunately our itinerary included four days in San Jose, so the airline had four days to locate my luggage and get it to me, because we had no address of the Villa on the west coast we were renting. It was on the top of a mountain on an “Unnamed Road”, and I could not positively locate it on Google Maps. I had instructions, but they were a bit sketchy and we were prepared to call the phone number provided to actually find the house. I had my doubts if the airline would be able to get my suitcase to me after four days.

I had sneakers, jeans, a t-shirt, a long sleeved shirt, a hoodie, and a raincoat. One pair of socks and one pair of underwear. The first day you're hopeful and simply deal. Jeans and a t-shirt were not so bad, and the sneakers were my most comfortable pair. Regis was very helpful, calling the airline and VISA to arrange to replace things, but she also managed to rub the fact my suitcase was missing in on many occasions . . . “Art, can I borrow your knife to open this?” . . . “Art, did you bring a flashlight?” . . . . “Can I use some of your shampoo?” . . . . Always followed of course with “OOPS, sorry, that's in your suitcase isn't it.”

Me in my new clothes
When no suitcase showed up after one day, I decided I had to go get some replacement clothes, especially underwear, but you still hope it will show up. By the end of the second day I thought I might be in trouble, so we decided to go get things I might need. I had to buy shirts, pants, shorts and shoes as well as little things like a cork-screw. We used up one whole day just shopping. I actually enjoy shopping, but Regis does not, and by the end of the day I was not having fun trying to get everything I needed. It was nice however to get back to the hotel loaded with shopping bags and be able to grab a quick shower and change into light tropical clothes at last.

By the end of the third day I had decided that the suitcase was GONE, and I kept recalling things that were in there. Two beautiful tropical shirts passed down to me by the wife of a good friend who had
The lost is found!
since died, my “Pick-pocket-proof” pants, the folding knife Ryan had given me, a pair of Tilly pants not made any more, or a pair of crazy swim fins lent to me by a friend who is determined to get me swimming.

On the fourth day, I got up in the morning feeling the case was history, but went online to check anyway. Things had changed – it was being delivered! I went down to the front desk to inform them to be on the lookout for my luggage and the clerk behind the desk smiled and moved to one side, pointing behind him to my suitcase sitting against the back counter. All is good!

Friday, December 14, 2018

San Jose Street Art

On one of my trips to Toronto I picked up a book that contained a series of walks around the city based on street art. I did a couple while in Toronto and really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the street art in Portugal during our visit there. I find I look for street art whenever I travel. 

My walks around San Jose has shown me that Costa Rican street artists are easily as talented as the ones in Toronto. Some of the buildings I saw today decorated with street art were amazingly beautiful. These artistic installations are certainly not graffiti, they are beautiful art decorating the building and the streets. In most cases, entire houses were painted and it was nice to see that most of the art was clear and bright without being defaced by graffiti. Below are a few of the best examples I found on today's walk.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sitting in the Shade

Some of the hotel guests

Most of you back home probably do not want to hear this, but it is hot here in Costa Rica. Today, our first day in the country, we walked from our Hotel down to San Jose's “downtown”, about a 10 block walk.

So far, my impressions of Costa Rica is that it is a poor third world country, so things are not that fancy. Sidewalks are a constant challenge with uneven surfaces, loose paving stones and even large holes. Often when you have to step off the sidewalks to cross roads, you have to be cautious of drainage holes that could swallow small children. As well, there is no walk signals on most streets and the stop lights are difficult to see, so you have to be careful. On the way in, we passed through some very depressing neighbourhoods, one with ladies of the evening decorating each corner, but once we arrived at our hotel it was actually very good.

The Airline had lost my luggage so I was searching some of the essentials sitting who knows where in my nice teal luggage, toothbrush, underwear, socks . . . . So we spent the morning looking through the shops downtown. There were lots of choices but it made
Another door for my collection
for a tiring morning. After wandering through many shops looking for things, we decided to take a break and sit down for a rest. There was a lovely park and at first glance there were lots of places to sit on benches and cement walls. However when we went into the park, we discovered that all the empty spots were in the HOT sunshine. There were lots of trees and they provided lots of shade, but every spot with any shade was occupied. As we wandered around the city we found lots of parks and in every one it was the same. Local people had every shady spot taken. I started noticing that this was happening everywhere we looked. In one park, there was a nice circular fountain with lots of spots to sit, so long as you did not require shade. Every single spot that had any shade was full. We never did find a spot to sit.
Even the police horses look for shade

Sitting in the shade

No shade left.