October 7, 2014

No sleep tonight.  Went to get a drink of water and saw a dark mark on the wall on the wall of the kitchen that I hadn’t noticed before.  Made the huge mistake of turning on a light to see what it was.  Yeah, it’s a 6 inch long millipede/centipede/possiblesmallscorpion/I’m-not-getting-close-enough-to-look.  Turned out the light and once again am locked in my bedroom with a towel shoved under the door. Also dragged bed away from the wall and made sure no covers were touching the floor-who knows what else is out there? And now I’m lying here unable to sleep because I just know it’s out there creepy crawling around.

October 4, 2014

I really can’t believe it’s already October.  My first 2 classes are over with as of yesterday (straight A’s, thank you) and the other 2 start tomorrow.  Then I’m off to Belize!

This has been a slow week and I got some sort of bug and did not feel well at all so I haven’t been posting anything.  But the last few days have been better.  Mostly have been running errands. And the weather here has been strange.  Mary and I walked to Guadelupe Thursday so she could pay taxes and it was just gloomy with little rain showers, which is odd in the morning.  In Costa Rica, taxes are due the end of September instead of April.  It’s also the end of the fiscal year for most businesses so the stores have all kinds of sales, which is awesome.  And I took the bus into San Jose on Friday to walk around downtown and got absolutely soaked.  The 9am bus never came so there was a huge group standing around by the time the 9:30 bus came and it was packed.  It rained all morning again and of course I had no umbrella.  I did get some pictures of the street art wall in front of one of the elementary schools though:




Let’s see…I have to say the high point of the week was when I managed to set up  a proxy IP address and hoodwink Google Chrome into thinking that I am currently located in London, so that I can watch the current season of Downton Abbey online and not have to wait for the US premiere in Jan 2015.  I was pretty proud of that, I must say.  It’s the little things.  And if you’re laughing at me, well, you’ve clearly never watched the show, because it is awesome.

Yesterday morning was beautiful and I went to the ferria, farmer’s market, with Thais and Carlitos. They have absolutely everything imaginable, and it’s crazy cheap: 4 mangos, a pineapple and half a dozen oranges for about $4.  The “orange guy” loves Thais and just beamed when he saw her and enthusiastically greeted us all.   I also tried some new dishes.  Mary made carne mechada yesterday, which translates as shredded beef.  It’s also called ropa viejo, (or old clothes) which I find hilarious, although it does kind of resemble a pot full of dirty laundry.  But it tastes delicious.  After the beef was simmered in the crockpot overnight and shredded, Mary added a hot (and I mean hot) pepper, onion, carrots, and tomatoes and it made this sort of stew/chili that she served over rice, with chayote. Chayote is a strange green vegetable/fruit that when boiled has the texture of a cooked pear and not much flavor but it tasted good with the stew.  Then I tried a recipe for patacones from my new Costa Rican cookbook.  Patacones are popular here: basically you take really green, unripe plantains, slice them, boil until they’re soft enough to smash with a glass, then fry them with salt and pepper.  I added some queso too and they were pretty good:


September 25, 2014

Not much to report, it’s been a pretty slow week.  I spent 2 hours this morning just wandering around the neighborhood, down to the bank for some cash, past the Catholic high school and the convent next door.  The nuns here dress all in white and don’t seem nearly as intimidating.  I meandered through the Moravian cemetery, also all white.  The graves are all above ground and covered in white tile and brightly colored flowers, not at all gloomy.

There is the sweetest little dog there, tied outside the office.  All the dogs here are kept tied, you see them outside all sorts of businesses, and kept more as guard dogs than pets.  They aren’t abused, they all look healthy enough, and get food and water, but they don’t get much attention that I can see.  Most of them go crazy when someone walks by, jumping and barking, but this one just looked at me and wagged his tail.  I had to go over and pet him and when I did, he wiggled so hard he fell over, just so excited.  I wonder if he just stays there tied by the graves all day, every day, while his owner is inside working, and if anyone every talks to him or pets him.  The thought depressed me more than the graveyard itself.

Mary has been scrubbing the house and the apartment for two days and doing load after load of laundry to get ready for the other guests arriving tomorrow.  I’ve offered to help but she won’t let me; the most I can do is wash some dishes when she’s not looking.  And she wanted my opinion on some new furnishings for the apartments.  I’m going downtown with her tomorrow to meet the new norteamericanos, as we are called here. They’ll be staying for a month and Mary thought she might need me to help her with English.

Otherwise I’ve been working on homework and my resume.  I sent in two applications today for TEFL teaching jobs in China, where I’m hoping to find a place sometime early next year.  One was with a recruitment company actually, and one with America Town Education, which I really like the sound of.  They have some good benefits, like you get 12 hours of free Chinese lessons every week.  I’d like to learn some of the language while I’m there.  Keeping my fingers crossed!


Not much to report but I just thought I’d post some pictures from Monday.  The parade was, so many kids in all kinds of traditional costumes.  Only watched for an hour or so, then did some shopping downtown, but it was still going on an hour after that.  Beautiful day for it too.


Street art is very big here, and there are parks everywhere:


Then today we went to buy bus tickets for Golfito on Friday.  Golfito sounds like a strange place.  It’s this little town that’s pretty much all duty free shopping, but there’s all kinds of rules and regulations, like you can’t buy anything the day you arrive.  Mary is going to buy some stuff for the house in Puntarenas and wanted me to go.  So we leave here early Friday, and she has to apply for a card to buy stuff there, and apparently you can negotiate for whatever you want to buy, but then we have to spend the night and come back to the shop to actually buy stuff the next day.  Yes, bizarre.  So I’m going along to check it out because everyone told me “it’s an experience”.  Doesn’t sound precisely fun, but I’m curious, plus it’s right on the ocean, so it can’t be that bad.

Mary’s friend Cecilia, who lives next door, went with us to buy tickets and we walked all over San Jose.  When we got back she made us some steaks and baked potatoes for lunch and we watched a La Gata, a novella, or soap opera.  I followed along enough to know somebody got left at the alter and nobody was happy.  But then the fact that it’s a soap opera would tell you that.  And I got to spend time with Pupi, Cecelia’s little toy poodle.  He’s so cute, he just hopped up in my lap.  He reminds me of my Grandma’s dog Kenya, she always had toy poodles.  I miss my dogs, but it was nice to visit.

See?  Adorable:


September 11, 2014

The days are flying by here; I can’t believe I’ve already been in Costa Rica for two weeks.  But I’ve already seen a lot of San Jose and the country.  On Sunday, I went with Carlos and Mary to drop off their friends Roger and Susie at the airport and we took a different way back so I saw some more of the city; we drove by La Sabana, the huge central park, and the National Stadium (which is huge), where there was a rodeo going on, with people in cowboy hats lined up around the block to get in.  It’s a really big deal here apparently, with competitors coming from all over Central America, Venezuela, Argentina, even the US.



And we drove by this little settlement:


There are more structures behind these, an enormous hillside covered with little patched together ramshackle homes.  Carlos says this section of town is inhabited entirely by Nicaraguans, or “Nicas”.  They immigrate to Costa Rica for jobs, for the free public education, and medical care.  The structures are made from all sorts of leftover construction scraps:  I saw walls made from plastic, cardboard, sheet metal, boards and plywood, and roofing tiles, all covered over with rusted tin roofs.  The immigrants build them on government land and so far the government just lets them.  Most of the Tico people seem to look at these immigrants disparagingly.

On Tuesday, I got to see a little of Puntarenas.  Carlos and Mary just bought a house there for their son Carlito, who goes to the University of Costa Rica in Puntarenas.  So I drove there with them and we moved all of his stuff from his apartment to the new house, which was less than two blocks from the beach.  I didn’t have any time to really sightsee, but I did get to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time:


I love the ocean, any ocean, but I don’t think I’ve been near one in almost ten years. Puntarenas is a small city but busy, with the university and the port, with cargo ships and cruise ships coming in.  After moving everything, we got lunch at one of the many sodas along the main street.  Lunch is usually a casado around here: a plate with green salad, rice, black beans, fried plantains, and some type of meat, chicken in this case.  And everywhere they serve fresh fruit juice, which is delicious.  Carlos is staying there to help get everything settled with the new house, so Mary and I took the bus back the same afternoon.  Fare here is really cheap, less than $5 to travel between towns, or about $.65 within San Jose.  The bus dropped us off in front of the Multiplex, the biggest mall in the city, and we shopped for a while.  They have a lot of the stores we have in the States, but the prices are almost double at some stores.

Yesterday morning was nice, I got up early to take a short walk around the neighborhood. Which turned into a long walk when I tried to retrace my steps and missed a crossroad somewhere.  I ended up walking in circles trying to find a landmark I knew.  Finally I just started walking uphill since I had gone downhill on my way out, and stumbled into El Colegio de Scion, the big school a couple of blocks from the house.  Then I went to run errands with Mary, to EPA, which is like a Lowe’s or Home Depot, the bank, and to lunch at a little Mexican restaurant, with really authentic food. I had some chorizo tacos: corn tortillas with crispy sausage, tomato, avocado, and lime, which was really good, and the house drink which, as far as I could figure out, is milk with cinnamon and sugar.


We got home just in time.  I have noticed that on the rare days when it doesn’t rain at all it will rain twice as hard the next day, often with thunder and lightening thrown in, as if the sky is trying to make up the difference.  And since it didn’t rain Tuesday, yesterday afternoon was an absolute downpour, well into the night even.  But I like the rain here, the sound of it on the tile roofs, how cozy and predictable it is, and how fast it makes everything grow.


September 6, 2014

What a day!  Got up at four to get ready and headed out of San Jose.  The sun rises really early here so it felt later.  Beautiful morning though.  Mary actually got up and made Carlos and I some oatmeal before we left.  I got some pictures when we stopped for gas just north of the city; the sun was just hitting the mountain range.


The black spot on the right side of the picture is the top of Turrialba, one of the eight active volcanoes in Costa Rica.  The rest is hidden behind clouds.  It’s about three hours from here to Arenal and a lot of the time is crossing over the mountains on narrow rocky rainy roads and the valleys were filled with fog coming off the river. There’s considerably less traffic outside the city but the driving is no better.  As Carlos said, “Costa Rican people, you meet them on the sidewalk and they’re so friendly, but you put them behind the wheel of a car and it’s…they’re scum.  They’re different people.”

It’s an interesting drive; all the scenery is so different than anything I’ve seen; we passed a rum distillery, tomato, coffee, and sugarcane fields spread out over vast hills.  It felt much shorter than three hours.  When we got to La Fortuna, the town at the base of Arenal, Carlos wanted to stop at the house of friends he used to work with.  They have a little farm where they raise gineaus and have banana trees and mamons, which is the craziest looking fruit I’ve ever seen.  They look like one of those spiky rubber balls I had as a kid:



A green mammon (the red ones are sweeter)

We had several hours before we had to pick up Carlos’ friends and drive them back to San Jose so Carlos stopped at Catarata Rio Fortuna, an ecologic reserve with a huge waterfall.  I hiked down to the bottom, rickety bridges and 480 rocky stone steps carved into the side of the valley (which felt like 4,800 on the way back up-I’m going to be in so much pain tomorrow).




The view of the rainforest was gorgeous and there’s a swimming area at the bottom.  There’s a little beach on one side, if you go down another set of steps, or you can climb over a bunch of rocks to get right up close to the waterfall.  The water was crystal clear and so cool:



We drove over the dam of Lake Arenal and stopped at one of the many hot springs-nice and warm, with little waterfalls flowing down the mountain.



The flowers are gorgeous too-this red one was about the size of a pineapple!



Some movie trivia: La Fortuna/Arenal is one of the filming locations for Will Smith’s After Earth.  We saw some of the leftover props and the resort they rented out for the cast and crew.  It was too cloudy to get a good look of Arenal itself but the area was just stunning.

We picked up Carlos’ friends around one at The Spring, a really upscale resort, very secluded, about a mile down a gravel road.  There’s about 27 springs at the resort alone.  And Roger and Susie are a lot of fun.  They’ve been coming to Costa Rica at least twice a year, since the eighties or so, and had all kinds of stories.  They bring tour groups for adventure travel and yoga retreats and were scouting new locations to bring guests.  It rained all the way back to San Jose but we took a different route than on the way in so the scenery was different.  We stopped at this really cute little store and I picked up some souvenirs, then we had lunch about 4pm just outside San Ramon at La Cima, one of the many sodas (little open air restaraunts/bars with typical tico food) alongside the road.  They have really good seafood; I had garlic shrimp and it was delicious.  Sodas are where the locals eat and prices are really pretty low.



September 5, 2014

Had a rather domestic day.  I was going to go to Arenal with Carlos but Thais’s car broke so he stayed home to take care of it.  We’re going to get up really early tomorrow instead and go.  So this morning I walked to the Plaza Lincoln mall and looked around.  It’s a lot like our malls; in fact the food court is entirely Americanized.  Recognize this?

The mall was about a ten minute walk from here and there’s a grocery store inside so I picked up a few things and came home and cleaned my apartment and did some laundry in the crazy washing machine. All the labels were in Spanish so I just sort of winged it. Everything seems to have come out clean but the washer did walk halfway across the kitchen when I put everything in the spinner. Oh well.
This afternoon was an absolute downpour, even more than usual. There was flash flooding in San Jose, thunder and lightening everywhere. I just stayed in and watched TV. Mary and I watched her soap opera, or novella, La Gata while she made some squash soup. Crema de Apatito: cooked and blended up green squash, butter, onions, peppers, cilantro, and cream.