Thursday, January 17, 2019

Not New York

My amazing travel planner (you know that is Regis right?) found a great price on return fights from Costa Rica . . . . only catch they involved an 18 hour layover in New York. I've been to New York and enjoyed it, but with me, it's “been there, done it”, and I have never expressed much interest in going back. Lots of other interesting places to see, why go back to the Big Apple? It may have been the good price, but I suspect she thought it might be an excuse to get me back to NY.

So, we booked a hotel at the airport and planned to take the train into New York for dinner. I agreed to the plan, and although I really didn't care about it, I knew Regis wanted to experience New York again. However, when we actually arrived in Newark International Airport, got through immigration and found the shuttle to the hotel, she made the mistake of asking me if I “really” wanted to go into the city or if I'd rather just chill here at the hotel. Silly woman . . . giving me a way out . . . . I said I'd really rather just stay put, but I was game to go in if she wished. I was having a issue with my back so I was not 100% and we both decided that if we visited New York we really wanted to visited the High Line Park, and it wasn't the best in January, so instead of going in this evening she wangled a promise to come back to New York in the future when the political climate improves and during a better season.

That left us in New Jersey and needing some place to have a nice supper. The pleasant check in clerk at the hotel suggested that if we wanted someplace different than the hotel restaurant, there was a great “Steak House” just 10 minutes away by UBER. We looked his suggestion up on Google and it was actually a Portuguese restaurant and was rated #1 on TripAdvisor for the Area. The reviews were completely over the top. This looked like a place worth a visit.

We checked it out on Google Maps and it was a 20 minute walk. Perfect after a day on a plane, but the looks from the hotel staff did not bode well. “Walk . . . what do you mean walk . . . why would you want to walk?”. The first 10 minutes almost convinced us they were right; no sidewalks and traffic flying by at highway speeds, but at the first intersection it turned into a residential area and although we met no one else on the sidewalks, at least it was a little less hazardous.

We arrived at an almost empty restaurant and were shown to a table. The menu was extensive and we were amazed at the menu items we recalled from our month in Portugal, Steak cooked on a stone, Jumbo Shrimp cooked on a stone, Cataplana in a copper pan . . . . al items we had enjoyed in Portugal.

We decided against appetizers, although they sounded delicious. A salad large enough for four was delivered along with a basket of rolls to hold us until our mains arrived. As I saw meals delivered to patrons around us I was glad I had not ordered a starter, the servings were generous.

As the restaurant began to fill we really began to realize we were back in the USA. In fact we were dining in New Jersey not Costa Rica. The two guys at the table next to us spent their time trying to out BS each other, we knew that a table across the room featured a medical visit to New York, and when the fellow in the Jeans, blue check hat, and blue blazer arrived wearing a ball cap, I suggested to Regis he would not take off his hat because it featured a Texas map and Texans liked their hats, I was proved correct. By the time we left with happy full stomaches, the place was full and noisy. 

Our meals arrived and right away we realized that not going into the city for dinner was NOT a mistake. I was enjoying mine so much I decided I wanted to extend the experience with desert. The BS'ers beside us ordered creme brule and I thought that sounded like a good idea . . . he sent it back . . . ok, maybe not. When they left I spoke to the server and told him my dilemma, I loved creme brule but his comments on it were not positive. He gave me an honest answer . . . the creme brule was not made on site and he could not be sure, but suggested I could order it and if it did not meet my standards I was free to send it back. I appreciated his honesty and ordered something else and completely enjoyed it. I thought I was back in Portugal.

So we did not get to New York, but experienced an amazing dining experience. Any of my friends visiting New York, and flying out of Newark . . . ask me about this amazing spot?
Smoked Portuguese pork chops with mushrooms and balsamic

Crab stuffed shrimp (Regis's choice)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


What are those raindrops doing in the pool?

It does rain in Costa Rica! After bragging about the weather here, I thought we would go without the 2.5 days with rain in January as suggested in the guidebooks. We finally got those rain days. For two days we got heavy rain.

Tropical rain is not the same as our rain back home, which is cold and miserable and sometimes falls horizontal, or the famous Scottish rain which happens almost every day and seems to be the “normal” weather. Here the rain comes almost without warning. You get dark clouds passing over every day for short periods, but rarely does anything come from them. Yesterday a large dark cloud came over and opened up with a downpour. Heavy rain coming straight down for an hour while all around on the horizon in every direction was blue sky. Today we could see the rain moving in from the South; the mountains and the bay which is our normal view disappeared in the downpour and slowly moved over us. Although it rained harder today, again it only lasted about an hour when blue skies started reappearing over the mountains.
Makes the view completely different

In front of the Villa is that road I told you about leading down to the waterfall. As you walk down there you can feel the temperatures raise as you get into a real tropical jungle. As the cooler rain hits the warm air, plants, and water down there a mist slowly raises out of the valley.

The rain here is not cold at all. It is actually warm. Of course it feels cool to walk out into it, but I was surprised when I tested the water in the pool. After an hour of heavy rain, the pool actually felt warmer than before the rain.

So, I guess that 2.5 days of rain for January was accurate, and I can't really say I minded it – a bit of a break form the boring sunshine . . . .
Watering the plants

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Bugs

one of the villa visitors

When we knew we were going to Costa Rica for Christmas, we made sure our malaria and other tropical disease inoculations were up-to-date and we bought the most powerful DEET insect repellent on the market. We expected serious insect activity, and wanted to be prepared.

We were completely wrong . . . . the bugs were not a problem at all. We have been here almost 30 days now and we have not been bitten once. Not even Regis, who is usually the target of any biting insect.

The variety of insects is amazing, there is always some fascinating new bug showing up every day, and there are as many insect varieties as there are birds, and it is perhaps this combination that keeps them under control. I suspect the many varieties of small birds feed on the insects, and are aided by the many geckos we see around the villa.

They do utilize many types of insect control as well as the natural ones. We have often seen men walking in fields or along roads with cans of insecticide on their backs spraying. And there are some sort of electronic insect repellent plugged into receptacles around the house.
a surprise at the door

Now there are lots of insects, they just have not been any sort of problem. Every morning I have to go out and clear the pool of dead insects (death by drowning) before her ladyship can go in for her early morning swim. There are a dazzling array of beautiful butterflies including huge iridescent blue ones. As well, there are LARGE insects here, giant moths come by at night, and we have seen huge beetles and cricket like insects. One morning I found a large furry spider drowned in the pool. This looked like a small Tarantula. There are large bumble bees buzzing around the many flowers on the property and the regular flies come in the jumbo size here, but their numbers are small. There are lots of what I have come to refer to as “Stupid Flies”. It is these insects I find myself clearing out of the pool every morning. They seem to fly around, bumping into walls and if they land they often fall over and cannot always get airborne again, so they are easy to swat. There are also tiny little insects like black flies, that buzz around, and annoy, but they do not seem to bite. The dragonflies are all around the pool and as you swim they fly overhead. Then there are the strange bugs. One morning I opened up the front door to find a large cream coloured insect clinging to the door by the handle. It remained there most of the day and was gone by the following morning. A strange looking black & white wasp like thing sat on the veranda for most of one morning, and one day when I went get a key from the burlap bag hanging on the veranda door I found another large strange bug. I find it best not to tell Regis about my many interesting bug finds.

We were worried about the bugs in Costa Rica, but actually they never bugged us at all.

Monday, January 7, 2019

The Weather

Regis enjoying the sunshine

Regis and I are generally pretty positive travellers, and people ofter ask me which was a favourite place we visited. Generally we can find good things about most countries we have visited. Every country has aspects we really enjoyed. We loved the beaches in Australia, the narrowboat adventures in the UK, the scenery in Scotland, the food in Spain, the pubs in Chester, the architecture of Budapest, the vegetation in New Zealand, the history in Egypt, the culture differences in Japan and China, etc, etc.

Here in Costa Rica it is without a doubt the weather. It is downright boring! The country is close enough to the equator that the sun comes up at 6:00 am every day and sets at 5:30 every day; never varies . . . . boring. Before we go on a trip we search the internet for information on the ยบ C every month on average; no change throughout the year. As well they only have two seasons, a rainy one and a dry one. You might think it wise to avoid the rainy season, but apparently it only rains a couple hours every evening, and the moisture brings out the best in the plants and animals, so many people come because of the rainy season. Having seen the ruts and washouts on the road up the mountain, I do not think I'd want to be up here in the rainy season however – the road is treacherous as it is, I can imagine how much worse it must be when the dirt and dust we deal with turns to slippery slimy mud.
Another hot sunny day
weather and if you do this for Costa Rica it is boring, around 25

That has pretty much been our experience here. The day starts at 6:00 am with blue skies and sunshine. Often in the afternoon we get some scattered cloud, but it is convenient for Regis because it allows her to go in the pool without a thick layer of sunscreen. Sometimes the clouds seem to threaten rain, but other than a few sprinkles one day while we were driving it is mostly idle threats. The evenings are generally clear and sitting in the pool after dark, the stars are always amazingly clear.

I love Costa Rica's boring weather.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Birds

The Turkey Vultures
Costa Rica is known for its amazing diversity of wildlife, and the birds here are especially interesting. I am not a serious “Birder”, but the birds around the villa have made me take notice of them.

We first noticed the turkey vultures, large black birds with a red head who were constantly gliding on the updrafts with an elegance and grace so unlike their unsavoury scavenger feeding habits. One day there were 12 of them gliding thorough the air between the mountains. Often one would sweep low over the house roof, making a couple of passes before climbing back up. I figured this was our fault since we were so relaxed down here they were constantly checking to see if we were still alive. One day three of them sat in the tree behind the house. These birds do not seem to make any noise. As I write this one swept silently straight towards me before gliding not more than 5 feet above the pool.

Another bird we see a lot are some kind of swallows. I recall the swallows in Leche, Italy, and enjoyed their aerial antics there. We have some here as well, and they perform much the same, performing high speed aerobatics eating hundreds of insects. We brought powerful bug repellent but have not needed it due to the hungry birds and bats. The swallows are not here all the time like the vultures, but provide an interesting show when they arrive. One day thirty or forty of them spent hours feasting on the bugs around the villa, and entertaining me as well. It is interesting to watch them drink from the swimming pool. They dive down and sweep over the water hitting the surface
Gliding on the mountain updrafts
for an instant to pick up a drink or perhaps they are helping me with my “pool boy” duties and scooping up the insects. I am constantly cleaning out of the pool for her ladyship. Unlike the vultures which seem to glide with little effort through the air, the swallows seem to have to work constantly to maintain their speed and power their sweeps and power turns.

As we became more aware of the birds we were sharing this section of paradise we started noticing the hundreds of calls of the many birds. It seems you are always hearing another different call. A few we have managed to identify. A loud squawking early one morning alerted us to a frequent visiter to the villa; the beautiful Scarlet Macaw. This large brilliant red and blue bird daily flies in and sits in a tree in front of the villa. Once we matched the squawking to the macaw, we listen for them and see them most days.

The other bird we see on a daily basis is the yellow and black toucan. Again, we started hearing a unique bird call each day, and after searching the surrounding trees we discovered two of them sitting in a tree in the back of the villa. They are beautiful birds with the distinctive large yellow and black beak. You can usually locate them by their movement. As they call to each other they flip their head up and open their beaks. Once we identified them and know where they like to roost, they are easy to find. One day the toucans arrived with some friends, bringing a couple of fiery-billed aracari with them to their favourite tree. They have large bills similar to the toucan but are a bit smaller and are black red and yellow. Their bill is distinctively bright red and black.
Two Toucans

We have seen green birds about the size of a large crow, but have never been able to see them close up, and every few days we see a hawk like bird glide across in front of the villa, and one evening I saw a smaller black bird with a red crest in a tree out back. And there are still an amazing variety of bird calls which we have not been able to match to a particular bird. Then there are the many hummingbirds that show up all day every day.

So, you can see that even though I am not a “birder”, the variety of distinct spectacular birds here in Costa Rica has made me notice them.