Sunday, February 28, 2010


Something in the night went "boom!" in my head and when I woke up I discovered we had no running water. This was not until I had flushed one of the toilets and realized that in order to make the flushing work the next time, I'd have to fill a bucket of water...from the river...and down where the road ends and one drives through the river to get to the other side. It's decidedly better, I'm thinking, to collect the water from the river before it reaches that point - less gas and other pollutants to screw up the septic system. My experiences with lack of water go pretty far back: renting a house without water in Morocco, living as part of the caretaking crew of two at El Rancho Navarro in Mendocino County, where the pump had to be primed sometimes once a week, being without water at parties at my ex-sister-in-law's, with Casey having to fill the container, and living at my niece's house in Tamil Nadu, with no running water.

On this day, or at least I think on this day, we decide to drive up the mountain, past the river at Tom's place, and journey to the top. This means that we'll be going over rocks and holes and pockets of water in a road that Tom's not driven in a couple of years, and "going" means the distance of driving perhaps three miles. It's truly beautiful -- there are more than a few places that are turn-offs in the road to places built, or being built, or in the imagination of being built -- and the views of the vegetation, the valley and the sea are more prodigious the more we ascend... When we reach the top of this "road," there's a waterfall, though of small proportions, but with many rocks which spend through the downfall... The dogs, Muttonhead (or is it Muttinhead?) and Rocky, find an easier way to get down and back, which I follow, because I'm only wearing thongs on my feet... Muttinhead likes to sit half-submerged in the flow... Rocky's right by his Master's side...



Traveling back down the road, I think this is, indeed, lovely country. Toward town, we pass the only vehicle we've seen and they yell out to us, "Is this the way to the waterfall?" I wonder if they'll be brave enough to traverse the road...

Tom makes lunch -- chili and grilled cheese sandwiches with avocados. It's enough for me for the rest of the day, but clutters up the kitchen with dirty dishes. Since he's waiting for whichever of Sadie's daughters will come to wash dishes, and we have no water, I'm wondering when I'll be able step in and do them!

The T.V. is almost always on here, as it is at home, but Tom's got more stations. And, when the screening is in English, the subtitles are prominent, which makes translation instantaneous. However, we did watch Apocalypse Now in an MP4 file which Tom requested from me about 36 hours before I came here. Most stores were closed after I went the first night to Best Buy where they were out of it, so hence the MP4 file from my son, Seamus. Tom asked me if I had ever read "Heart of Darkness," which I hadn't but knew that Apocalypse Now was based on it. So, in a hammock, I re-open my long ago attention to British fiction apres 1850 and re-discover Joseph Conrad and his inimitable writing style. War. "The horror! The horror!"

Monday, February 22, 2010

Small Interruption

Last night, in anticipation of dinner and without receiving a reply from the "Pizza" restaurant, Tom says,"Let's go down on the bike and find out what what's happening. I cant get an answer over the phone." "Ok," I agree. We journey down to the bottom of the small grade and determine that they are not doing pizza... So, we turn a sharp corner and plunk down, overturned until we upright the bike and assess the damages -- they're all to ourselves. Tom's knee's cut open, I can't feel anything damaged, and we both upright the bike. He rides it home. (I'll not ride it again!) My sandal's ripped in another place... I try to limp home, but Tom comes riding down in the Tracker and we go to the SuperMarchado where he buys food that he wants for Spaghetti and I cook it. (You've got to understand that some people who think of Italian food do not have the slightest evidence of what Italian food is; in reality, we ate Costa Rican spaghetti.)

This morning, Monday, we both woke up in pain. I thought it might be my liver but when I touched my ribs, I could feel the tenderness and looked at the baseball-sized black-and-blue mark on my arm... Hurts! I'm hoping Tom is not hurt worse.

We drive down to town and I find a pair of thongs at the SuperMarchado... We also purchase tickets to take a boat down the Sierpe River tomorrow night and view the crocodiles...

Saturday Night, Uvita...

Since the Tucan Hotel is nearby we go there for dinner and I was introduced to Tom's friend Noah, who later came with us to La Cascada... The music was good but I think a little better at La Cascada than at the Tucan although the piano player was pretty good at the Tucan...

I need to cut back on my drinking...

Friday, leaving Panama

It's a long trek from Davide to the border... The road is straight and two lanes on either side. When we arrive at the Salida side of Panama we enter a long line of shops which are discount shops and prices are pretty cheap, so Tom buys a couple of pairs of shorts and a belt for a cheaper price than we saw in the mall. We stop at the liquor store and stock up on booze for him and for me... The wait at the Entrada side of the border is sticky and very hot, but is over in twenty minutes.

We arrive home and he calls up a dealer friend and we listen to the Talking Heads and Blondie and a couple of his friends come over and we get into a discussion until early morning on preferences and predilections in pornography...

The sun also rises...

Thursday, to Davide...?

We leave early, around 9:30 a.m. or so, and head down the coast toward Panama so that Tom can renew his residency here in Costa Rica. Before we get to the border, I notice many groves of tall palm trees, which he's quick to point out, are planted for palm tree oil. The road is good, although there are some pot holes.

We pull up to the border crossing and park Tom's car in a lot outside, and proceed through the myriad stalls, not stopping until we get to the
Salida from Costa Rica and Entrada to Panama... Tom runs into somebody who recognizes him and informs him that one of the necessary procedures has been eliminated; what this means to me is probably Greek but the two of them say that it's good. Anyway, we take a cab for $25 into the town of Davide and go to a hotel that Tom's stayed at before.

Since we're both fairly starving, we immediately take a cab to a Mexican restaurant (called 'Mrs. Marguerita's,' or something like that) and have a sample plate of taco, burrito and nachos and three Margueritas each... Went back to the hotel where I hooked in to the internet. This is something I can't do at Tom's house; his hook up is incomplete - it has no wi-fi.

Later on, he decides to go to a movie and I stay and update my blog. It's as hard to write on the internet at Tom's house as it was in India. It's just that sometimes people don't realize that the internet is simply not personal...

After my arrival...

It's Tuesday, and I'm watching a Steely Dan video... Not a whole lot of anything else going on... We watch a couple of other flicks, although they're nothing that I can remember... On Wednesday, we just hung around the house doing pretty much the same thing... The only thing that I can remember is that we seemed to drink a lot. But, on Wednesday, we did go out to dinner at a place called "Exotica" and ate a dinner which was 'comparable' to U.S. standards, according to everyone involved... The food was good, and I had a piece of fish in banana curry which was excellent... The people that we ate with were friends of Tom's, Dave and Linda, and are living in his cabin; Dave is a chef, who works at a seaside restaurant near Uvita and along the coast...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Se Vende

Costa Rica is genuinely a tourist country.

On every road, between San Jose and Fortuna and Monteverde and Uvita, you're hit with the fact that there's lots of property for sale, lots of hotels, hostels and apartacados for rent...

Yesterday, I walked all over town looking for a place where I could find a needle and thread because the strap to my sandal ripped off. I looked in three supermarchados and walked into a tourist agency to find out if they know where there might be a shoemaker. The young man said he was not aware of one and looked at my feet and asked me, "Are those Keen shoes?"

Back at the hostel, there is a Chilean girl who says she has been traveling for six (6) years; she claims it's an addiction. She makes jewelry and sells it wherever she goes. I ask her if she has a needle and thread and she gives me a needle and we unravel some cotton thread. I ask her for a scissors. It takes an inordinate amount of time working the needle through the leather and when she notices, she finds her pliers and hands them to me. After I finish, we go out together to an Internet place. They're cheap here at 450 colones per hour. She gets up and goes to the bathroom but doesn't return...

Monday morning, early (6:15 a.m.), I walk to the bus terminal from Gringo Pete's Too to catch the bus to San Jose and I run into Fernando, the same guy who traveled to Fortuna with me from the hotel in San Jose, who's going to return to Nicaragua as his vacation is over. The bus is a local and takes 4 hours to return to San Jose with a changeover at San Carlos. The bus is packed full. I asked what he did in Fortuna and he says that he just stayed in town... When we arrive near San Jose, the bus makes a stop at the airport, so I turn around and tell him maybe he should get off here and excitedly, he says "You are right! Good luck on your trip!"

I arrive in San Jose and catch a cab to the MUSOC terminal where I am going to board the bus for San Isidro. I get there at 10:45 a.m. and run in and purchase my ticket. I only have a few moments to try to call my friend Tom in Uvita to let him know that I will be on the 11:00 a.m. bus, but I drop 150 colones in the slot and get no response, so I turn to a girl on the street and she says she doesn't understand English but asks where I want to call. I immediately respond "Uvita" and she pulls out her cell phone and punches in Tom's number and I breathlessly tell him I'm gonna be on the bus to San Isidro if I don't miss it.

After I hang up and thank the girl for her infinite kindness, I run back over to the bus terminal and race to the toilet, handing the lady the coin for the toilet and rush into the banos. I guess I didn't notice until afterward that it was the "caballeros" that I had run into!

The buses on the MUSOC line are all made by Mercedes Benz. This bus was brand new, elevated and very clean and uncrowded. It even made a banos stop! The buses ride up and down the mountain surprisingly slow and supposedly carefully because this is a very dangerous road, with hairpin turns and fog at different sections. These buses have thermometers that record the temperature whenever it changes. On this trip the temperature ranges from 37 degrees C. down to 17 degrees.

I meet Tom in San Isidro. It's been 34 years since we've seen each other. Whoa!


Early on Saturday, the next morning, I meet the other people on the tour to Monteverde, to participate in the eXtreme Canopy Tour of the cloud forest there. They're French, from a University (I think Toulouse University) which has sent them to Costa Rica for a month to study agriculture. There are two guys and three girls, all of them 23 years old. I ask them how they feel about doing this tour and one of them, Virginie, claims to be afraid of heights but wants to do something to combat this fear. I wholeheartedly agree, and tell her that my inkling is completely spontaneous. I mean, would I have planned this a month ago??

The ride to Monteverde from Fortuna takes approximately 3 hours and we're traveling in another one of those "shuttle" buses. On our way around Lak Arenal, we encounter howler monkeys and the guide stops so that we can photograph them. There are wonderful views of this biggest lake in Costa Rica and as we climb northeast, the countryside differs and many of the hills sport coffee plantations. We stop for a break in one of the towns around; it's not Santa Elena, I think. I get a coffee and spill most of it on my t-shirt because the drive is pretty bumpy. Most of us are relaxed. Virginie and Chlorissa seem to be a little disturbed...

We arrive and check in, and they all choose the "Superman" stunt, meaning that when they come down on the last cable run, they'll have their arms spread and their feet behind them, instead of hanging on to the harness and cable with feet crossed in front. Ok. We get a quick run through of how to brake, stop, and travel and we start the climb to the first cable. It's not terribly far away and I learn that I must not brake too soon. The next run is done with two people and is easy. After every run you have to climb more and more steps to get to the ensuing cable. I find myself huffing and puffing yet able to take the next two runs, but on the subsequent run, I realize I have climbed over 300 steps and am, consequently, t-i-r-e-d. So, I said to the guide, "I don't know..." and he said, "If you want to stop, now is the time to do it, because the path to the Lodge is the shortest here..." "Fine. Yeah, I think I've done as much as I can..." So the guide lowers a rope that is hanging over a branch in one of the trees, saying that we can go "this" way. The only problem is that the rope has a noose tied in the end of it!!

After I get out of the gear, I wander over to the Restaurant and look for something to drink and am surprised to see a beer in the fridge, so I, of course, get one. I notice that the driver of our van is asleep in the vehicle. It's only a few minutes more and I hear the first of the rest of the clan starting to come in... I rush over and get a couple of pictures and congratulate them. They are all starry-eyed! I explain that I gave out around the half-way mark, but I can't explain what it felt like soaring over the tops of the trees way below... at least a thousand feet!!

Standing in the reception area, the person at the desk who could not speak English, passed by me and muttered, "Chicken!"

Vulcan Arenal

When I return to Gringo Pete's Too, I meet the owner whose name is Carlos. He offers me another room, if I'd like, because my room is on the street. I accept! Then he tells me that there is a tour leaving at 3:00 for a hike in the Arenal forest and then, when dark, a chance to view the lava coming out of the volcano... and, after that, we would go to Baldi hot springs for luxurious hot pool soakings and dinner. Since I've saved so much on the price of the room, I agree to pay the sum for the tour and, indeed, pay the price of a tour for the next day to Monteverde...

We leave in an hour. The Eagle tour bus picks me up at the hostel and I join a French couple from Paris who are young, of course, and we travel up the road to the Arenal forest and hike a good distance up into the cloud forest. Our guide, who is probably in his thirties, and quite convivial, points out cutter ants, monkeys and different species of plants and talks a good deal about the cloud forest. As the altitude rises, we see a thicker, and more plush growth of vegetation until we are rather high up before beginning the descent back to the entrance of the park, where we wait for four others to join us in watching the volcano down in a place by the river...

The place to watch the volcano is covered with people and I find a rock on which to wait while the dusk turns to night. We must be there for a half-hour when a gray-haired lady comes over to me and says, "Are those Keen shoes? I sell those shoes at LL Bean's..." "Yes," I reply, "they are!" In the ensuing conversation, I discover that she's staying with a friend outside of San Jose and needed to to get out to see a little bit of Costa Rica. I explain to her that I'm up in the north to see the volcano and Monteverde, where I'm going tomorrow. When it is totally dark, we are only rewarded with a streak of lava on the outside of the volcano for a moment and then the fog encompasses the entire top...I don't think my picture-taking was very fruitful and I go to look for the rest of my group.

Since Vulcan Arenal is the only real attraction in this town, there is a large traffic jam trying to get back to the main road. However, our trusty drivers sneak their way in and out of the traffic and drop us off at "Baldi" hot springs. Now, I don't know if these are "true" hot springs, but the place looks expensive and touristy. So I change into my bathing suit and tried the 104 degree jacuzzi with waterfall and it feels marvelous! I think they may have two more pools with water up to 117 degrees, and a number of others but this one feels the best.

After an hour, I meet up with the Chilean-German couple to whom I have offered the use of the locker I rented to stow their valuables (and mine) and we go off to have dinner. Carlos, a recording engineer, aged 28 and his girlfriend, Katrina (whose occupation I can't recollect) are great company and our talk revolves around the globalization of the universe -- people of different nationalities combining and the conglomoration of ideas. I have to express my zeal for Obama's State of the Union Address, with his emphasis on education, energy, the environment and health care.

I get back to the hostel and it's pouring buckets of water!!!

Continued from last week...

  Thursday, a little later…

The last leg of this air trip finds me starting to feel slightly cranky because I’ve been up longer than 24 hours. Once again, the plane is crowded with only a handful of seats empty and fortunately, one of these is the middle seat between myself, at the window, and the woman sitting in the aisle seat. I notice that she is transferring information from a calendar to a journal and ask if this involves her work. She informs me that this is the record of raising her kids year-to-year and she processes the memories into a hard-cover journal so that she can recollect, relate and reconstitute them whenever. Her kids are now 20, 21, and 22. I can’t imagine having that much information and that many books (one for each year?) to record all the negatives and positives in my life and in the life of my kids; there’s a lot of water that’s gone under that bridge that I’d like not to replace with any deficient memories.

I lose my glasses on the plane! I honestly cannot locate them and am glad I brought two pairs.

We land in San Jose, go through customs (middle of the afternoon rush) and I go to the tourism desk for a map and to the taxi window to get a cab. The driver is very charming and he keeps calling on his cell phone to “Sandra” and asking her if she’ll be ready at siepte, hocho, nueve? I ask him if it’s his girlfriend. He says yes. He also calls a hotel where he thinks I’ll be better situated than at the Casino Morazon. Heck, I say, I’m so tired, OK. It’s nice and its quiet and I fall asleep but not until I notice a slight smell of cheese? Or is it old socks?? (Isn’t this what my son said about the first hostel he stayed in? “It smelled like old feet!”)

After I sleep for a couple of hours, I’m hungry and I leave the hotel to look for something to eat along the Public Mercado. Believe it or not, every fast food chain from Burger King to Wendy’s is available here and there are even Costa Rican knock-offs that sell fried foods on numbered menus. And the pizza and Italian food doesn’t seem to be an option because of its appearance. So, I settle for a few cold things from a Supermarcado. On this short excursion into the main section of San Jose, I count five beggars and see a blonde prostitute in a short, blue-sequined dress, followed by her black pimp.

In the morning, I’ll be catching the bus to Fortuna.  

Buses are inexpensive in Costa Rica. The bus to Fortuna is supposed to leave at 6:15 a.m. but doesn’t actually arrive at the station until 6:45. It heads for the outskirts of town over and around winding blocks of metal-roofed shanty-type shacks cornered by cement casas with iron-gated driveways until we reach the freeway bound for the north. The driver of the autobus races down the triple-lane freeway and we’re fortunate not to be coming in the other direction because it is rush hour and backed-up because of a two-car accident. Several moments later we’re taking a four-lane highway, which becomes a divided two-lane road.    

As the bus climbs up the grades, I notice that there are banana trees, fields of sugar cane, coconut palms, agaves and avocado trees growing on this narrow plateau lined with verdant, lush vegetation and the valleys reach deeply on either side. While the altitude is increasing, we ride through bits of rain and drizzle and can see the Vulcan Arenal in the distance.

Fernando is a Mexican pilot who I met downstairs in the Hotel Inca Real this morning at 5:30. When I ask him where he’s going, he mentions Arenal. Because I am going there, too, I asked if he’d like to share a taxi and he agreed. The bus to Fortuna will take 3 1/2 hours and appears to be a local because it stops and picks people up along the road almost every five minutes, it seems. By the time we reach San Carlos, everyone disembarks, and those headed for Fortuna board another bus.

When we arrive, there are, perhaps, 12 to 15 people trying to hawk places to stay, mainly lower-costing hotels. I walk to Gringo Pete’s, a hostel just around the corner and pay the money for two nights at the ridiculous price of $12 per night and it’s a double room with a bathroom and it’s super clean. Since I had hardly eaten for twenty-four hours, I went out and found a soda where I had Arroz con pollo and then I looked for a towel, having forgotten to bring one…  

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hello from Houston

It's now 6:33 Houston time and I've been off the plane from San Francisco for about a half-hour. We boarded the plane at 11:20 p.m., left at 11:59 p.m. and arrived here and advanced the clocks because of the time difference. The plane was absolutely full and two ladies sat in my row, I on the aisle. One of them was maybe my age, from Redding and going to Honduras alone. The other was from San Francisco traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. As soon as the plane took off, both of them fell asleep and their heads bobbed up and down in unison. Neither of them snored, thank god. Why can't I fall asleep in a moving vehicle? I remember once when my ex was driving and he almost went off the road into a ditch in Sebastopol... And, last night when Seamus was driving me to the airport, he missed the exit from 101 to the airport. "I swear to god, Mom. I've driven this road hundreds of times!"

I need to go get a cup of coffee and something to eat... Maybe I'll catch a catnap during the 2 1/2 hour trip to San Jose...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tico Tico

You may well be aware that Costa Ricans, who are male, are called "Ticos." However, being from a rather musical family whose tastes ranged from classical to flamenco, I didn't know that fact until my son traveled to Costa Rica three years ago, and mentioned in one of his blogs that he was talking to a "Tico" outside one of the mercados. The song "Tico Tico" immediately popped into my head, and, thus, has become the title of this blog which will recount my travels in the country of Costa Rica... If you look on YouTube, you'll see several Tico Tico's - from Carmen Miranda to Paco de Lucia - to a Brazilian Group's version all playing the same song. So, entrada!