Archive for February, 2013


Thursday, February 28th, 2013

As we age and experience more in life it is harder and harder to have new experiences. This trip was full of delightful firsts. Here is a list:

First cup of coffee
First hanging bridges walk
First guided tour
First hummingbird sitting on my finger
First Tucan in the wild
First time seeing monkeys in the wild
First night hike on a beach to see a turtle come oy of the sea to lay her eggs


Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Interbus in Costa Rica is a great way to get around. The drivers are multi-lingual (although all encouraged me to practice my Spanish, as have most Costa Ricans), courteous, and good,safe drivers.

The trip from Tamarindo to downtown San Jose took a little over five hours. Even the paved roads (except the new toll road) are bad and I am glad I didn’t do any driving here.

Dinner at Rip Jack

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

The food at Rip Jack is delicious. I went back in the evening after watching the sunset, for dinner. I had the mahi mahi with some sort of mango and wine sauce that was terrific. I think I need to add “sauces” as my next cooking goal.

I splurged and got a flour less chocolate cake for dessert that was in the running for the best on the planet. It might be a tie between Barbara Wilson’s Mindo chocolate brownie, Zingerman’s brownie and Rip Jack’s chocolate cake. Holy sugar coma, Amiga!

Yoga at Rip Jack

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

I went to yoga at a hotel, Rip Jack, just down the road from Las Tortugas. The class stared at 8 am and because there is a private yoga retreat there at the moment, Annie’s regular class was held by the pool. She did a nice job asking everyone what there issues were and tailored the class to some of those issues. There were five of us, one regular, an American man who has lived here 18 years, and the rest of us were drop-ins. It was nice to be outside and the pace wasn’t fast enough to get over heated, which I can see would be a real problem. It was nice to do some yoga and it was great to see their set up. She offers lodging, the newly built yoga room and food to groups who come. The yoga room has a teak floor and has one wall that is teak and floor to ceiling glass on the other three sides. There are mats and props for 14 people. So, it would be another option as a yoga retreat venue.

Black Turtles

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

There is some sort of turtle study group just a block from Las Tortugas that takes trips to a beach not far from here to see the turtles come out of the sea at night to lay eggs. The black turtles are large, I would guess three to four feet. They make their way out of the water, way up the beach past where high tide is, dig a hole and deposit the eggs.  

The road to the beach was the worst I have been on. There were eleven in the van, a driver, two guides, and eight group participants. We got to the beach after sunset yet before moonrise and needed to keep a good distance from the shore so the turtles wouldn’t get spooked and return to the water (although that is exactly what happened a couple of times).

The non-English speaking guide spoke, through one of the tour group participants who just happened to be along. She was a lovely women from Switzerland who spoke quite fluent Spanish. The turtles come up the beach about eleven times a year, depositing 60-90 eggs each time. It takes about an hour or hour and a half for her to make the trek out of the water and back again. At first, it was so dark I couldn’t really see what the guide was pointing at. We were quite a distance and I couldn’t really see anything except sort of a darker blob on the edge of the water. Then, a guide found one of the turtles under the trees, far from shore, digging a hole for the eggs. She didn’t seem to like the spot, tried another one or two spots and then gave up and returned to the sea. The guide said the sand wasn’t wet enough. It was so dry and light that it wouldn’t provide enough protection for the eggs.

The track the turtle makes in the sand is phenomenal. I hope to get a picture of the tracks tomorrow. We weren’t allowed to take any photos of the turtles tonight as the white light irritates them. The guides use red lights, saying that the turtles aren’t bothered by it. There was a full moon tonight, which made it even better to see the turtles but undesirable for the turtles themselves.

Leatherback Turtles

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I heard from Fen, the woman who lives in Winnipeg, that people go out on the beach early in the morning and help the tutles that hatch to the ocean by smoothing out the footprints they sometimes get hung up on. This beach is a nesting and hatching ground for the leastherback turtles, a huge animal that can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. So since I was up early for the estuary tour, I went out to the beach. There were no hatchlings (not really surprising, as the season for them is over. It usually ends about mid February) but there was evidence of a mature turtle on the beach in the night. The tracks are huge, and look something like ATV tracks. I didn’t have my camera so I will have to go back and try and get a shot of them.

Estuary canoe tour

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

A Canadian couple, Fen and Ray, are also at Las Tortugas. I met Fen the first night at sunset when we chatted about not liking our “Rancho” rooms. The guide, Jonathon, was also there, drumming up business for the estuary tour. This morning I rode to the canoe entrance site with Fen and Ray. Two other couples were also on the tour. I rode in the canoe with Jonathon. We saw blue heron, parrots (they are noisy!), night heron, and a couple more I couldn’t identify. He took us to a place where we got off the canoes, walked a bit in the woods, to where the howler monkey troup hangs out. The guides bark and clap their hands and the howler monies howl back.

I didn’t see any crocodiles this trip, although Jonathon said he saw one below the water, eyes just above the water. I took some video with my camera but I can’t seem to get it to transfer to the iPad so I’ll have to wait to see it when I get home.

Panacea de la Montana

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

The cab driver of the cab I hopped into didn’t know Panacea de la Montana and had to call for directions. This place was recommended to me by two of my yoga students. The place is a good 10 minutes up the hill from Tamarindo, away from the high energy, wind and heat. Mary, the proprietor, was kind enough to show me around even though she was on vacation and I dropped in unannounced. Not like me to not make an appointment. I wasn’t sure I could even get there much less set a day and time.

The place is beautiful, with six cabinas, the uppermost ones with an even more gorgeous view than the lower one. There is place for yoga, an open air dining area and a pool the looks like it spills off the edge of the mountain. Mary teaches yoga so she has enough mats, blocks, straps,a d blankets for a dozen people. The all vegetarian meals are made on site. Mary says the food there is better than any of the restaurants in Tamarindo. They shuttle people to town in the afternoons for those who want to go. It is a nice set-up.

They were going to town and were kind enough to give me a ride. I was grateful for that, since there was really no way I could have walked down and no way I could have called a cab.

A long hot walk

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

I walked the beach of Playa Grande to the water taxi that shuttles people across the estuary to Tamarindo. The guide at Las Tortugas, Jonathon, said the walk would be about 25 minutes. To the estuary it took me 45 minutes and then it is another hot 10 minutes to the town of Tamarindo. By the time I got there is was hot sweaty and discouraged. Being on foot can be a hard way to go. It is a tough choice here in Costa Rica. Driving is no picnic either.

Tamarindo is a hustle and bustle. The main drag is full of foot and vehicle traffic and is lined with surf shop after tourist trap after surf shop. It is the kind of place you would revel in if you are a surfer. Otherwise, it has services like banks and food. And the beach and waves aren’t even half full. Great place to be on the beach if you can stand the heat, or surf, if you can handle the waves.

After a stop at the ATM and lunch, I bought some sunscreen and water. Walking in my sandals, the tops of my feet were feeling burned. After popping into a couple of shops (tourist traps that have no good jewelry at all!) I headed back.

Sunday when the group of Canadians gave me a ride to Playa Grande, we had lunch at a place not far from the beach. We shared a table with a guy named DJ, a surfer from San Fransisco, who had just dropped his wife and kids off at the airport. He was staying a while to surf some more. I was almost back to the hotel when I saw him with his board on the beach. I waved and said hi and he recognized me but couldn’t seem to place me. We chatted for a minute and he asked me, “Is that sunscreen in your bag?” He subsequently asked me to put some on his back, the strip right down the middle where he couldn’t get to himself. Strange small world.

Costa Rica and Ecuador -compare and contrast

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

Some of you have asked me about the way people live here compared to Ecuador, the prices of things, and the amount of English spoken. So, here are some of my thoughts.

Ecuador and Costa Rica have some major similarities. Both countries have a “back in time” feel. There is a disregard for safety, although, there is more safety protocol in Costa Rica. In Ecuador people routinely ride in the bed of a pick up truck. I haven’t seen that in Costa Rica. There are a lot of small engine motorcycles in both countries. In Costa Rica the drivers wear helmets, although not all passengers do. They do, however wear a reflective “X” on their back, some sort of vest to call attention to themselves. On the coast I have seen quite a number of women driving ATVs with kids on the front and back and none of them are wearing helmets. The tourists on ATVs wear helmets, some wear goggles and others wear masks over their noses and mouths.

Other things that give that back in time feel are the architecture and fixtures. The buildings in the city have that old fashioned look with big display windows. Buildings (sometimes you might use the word shack) in the smaller towns are tiny places with old counter tops and not very modern appliances. The sinks and toilets decades old.

Neither country has a great infrastructure of roads. I think the roads are worse here in Costa Rica. There are a great number of dirt roads and it is slow going, many seem unpassable without a four wheel drive vehicle. Almost all the bridges are a single car width. Drivers just work it out.

There are no addresses in Costa Rica. If I remember correctly, there was an effort in Ecuador to establish a numbering system, at least in Quito. Although I have seen a few small mailboxes to to drop outgoing mail, I haven’t seen mail delivery in Costa Rica and saw neither in Ecuador.

Costa Rica has a fabulous system of tours guides, tour companies, activities, and fleets of vans in various sizes to accommodate the tourism industry. They really have the “movement of people to and fro” down pat. There are taxis, too, although fewer in smaller towns and about a bazillion of them in San Jose. Note of interest, the taxis in San Jose are fire engine red. The taxis I have seen in the small town of Brasilito are orange and green. I haven’t seen a yellow taxi yet. Ecuador hasn’t seemed to grasp the true nature of customer service and tourism, yet. Last year when I was there didn’t feel like a valued customer, just a single opportunity to sell something to. They told me what I wanted to hear, regardless of what there was to offer. And I don’t recall any guided tours, other than the boat trip I took (and that was 100% in Spanish). The Costa Ricans have a different culture. Proud of their country, they try hard to please. Their standard phrase when someone says “gracias” is not the standard “da nada”. It is “con mucho gusto” which translates to “with much pleasure”. It’s the difference between a server saying “no problem” (which personally irritates me) and “It’s my pleasure” or even “you’re welcome”. All of the tours I have been on in Costa Rica have been with bilingual guides. The drivers don’t always speak English, but the guides have a large vocabulary.

Beyond the guides and the front desk staff at the hotels, most people know a little bit of English, usually phrases they use in their jobs. There are more English speakers who speak Spanish in Costa Rica. More often I have overheard two people speaking English to each other and then switching to Spanish when the wait staff comes to the table. And, there are still people who don’t even try to use even the simple Spanish phrases.

The Gate 1 tour accommodations were quite nice. Along the way we passed home after home about 500 square feet in size, made out of cement or some sort of adobe material. I would call the walls plaster. Almost all have a tin roof, some with those clay tiles. It is obvious that most people just eek out a living judging from their homes. A good number of the yards are tidy, although the roads are dirt so it mush be a constant struggle to keep things clean. My iPad screen is constantly getting covered in a layer of dust. It must be even worse in the wet season. All this dirt must just be one big mud puddle.

Water in Costa Rica is safe to drink. Ricardo, our Gate 1 tour guide, told us that CostanRica has worked on things like education, tourism, and health care. Part of health care is having clean water so infant mortality declines (they have the lowest infant mortality rate in Central America) and part is to be able to support the business of tourism. It is unadvisable to drink the water in Ecuador. I drank only bottled water last year when I was there and still picked up a parasite. In addition, many places in Ecuador lack hot water and decent water pressure (and a few struggle with shower drains). In Costa Rica, the showers have been hot and the water pressure good.

Both countries let there dogs run wild. Some sit in the middle if the road, oblivious to motor vehicles. I have not seen one dog on a lease and only one dog here in Brasilito (named Maxi) seems to have an owner. 

Remember the ads in the 70’s in the US about keeping America clean? Put litter in its place was a country wide campaign. Now American volunteer groups adopt stretches of hiway and pick up trash, Not the case in Costa Rica or Ecuador. 

Baby strollers aren’t popular in Costa Rica. I don’t remember seeing them in Ecuador either (but I may not have noticed). Maybe because there are virtually no sidewalks in small towns and in the city, they are extremely narrow. The going is rough, with large curbs and gutters in the city and rough rocky terrain on the dirt roads in the rural areas. I can see how it would be difficult to push a stroller. So, babies are carried on mother’s hips. No backpack, no front carrier, not even a cloth pappose sort of thing like the indiginous people of Ecuador.