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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Name That Bug!

I was quietly tying up some tomato plants the other day with strips of old blue fabric when I became aware of eyes looking at me.

This insect is about 3 inches long with wings and horn-like antenna and was attached to one of the tomato stems that I was tying up. I'd love to know what it is and why it is smiling, if anybody can tell me.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving, American/Costa Rica Style

Canada's Thanksgiving was celebrated on October 10 this year but we didn't do much (read "nothing") to mark the day. In Canada, we used to go to one of the local hotel's Thanksgiving buffets because we had no family living or visiting us in our area so I could never see the point of cooking all that food for two people. Friends would meet us at the hotel and it worked out great for all concerned.

On Thursday, our American neighbors invited us to their house to take part in their Thanksgiving celebrations. We had a great time - met new people, learned some new Spanish words and phrases (oh, if only I could keep them glued into my brain for future use), and indulged in some really great Thanksgiving dishes.

Turkey, ribs, mashed taters, yams, green beans, cranberries, salad, gravy - I've probably missed naming some dishes - but rest assured I tried every one of them. Desserts - four kinds with real whipped cream to plop on top, wine, espresso.

The company was superb, the food was divine, the view was amazing. Good thing the walk back to our house was downhill because walking uphill would have done my food laden body in.

Can't beat this view.

View from our hosts' house.

Fantastic Thanksgiving food, with a Tico twist - note the bananas. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dinner in La Garita

Last night, we went to La Casa del Vinedo in La Garita. John and Diane picked us up and thank goodness they are used to driving on the Costa Rican roads in the dark of night. When they first moved here, the roads had no center or side markings and no shoulder railings. The roads around here are steep and ess-curved, kilometer after kilometer. And since it gets dark here around 6:00 pm all year, we were driving in the dark this night.

Today the roads have center and side markers, plus shoulder railings, but still no lights. Diane has told me tales of driving through heavy fog at night before the road improvements and looking down into a dark abyss where there were no shoulder railings to keep one from plunging off into the black nothingness.

The area of La Garita is between Atenas and Alajuela. If you take the Atenas bus to San Jose or Alajuela, you pass through La Garita. La Casa del Vinedo also grows grapes and sells wine. I always like the Costa Rican restaurants with their rustic designs and access to the outdoors. Diane and Lance ordered steaks, I had fish (pescada) and John had a pizza. Everything looked and tasted good and the portions were large enough that we all took home leftovers. We shared desserts too, and had wine and beer.

There are two resident kitties at this restaurant and one of them attached itself to my lap for quite a while. And before anyone says animals should not be in restaurants and public areas -  phooey - how many of you have house pets that have full access to your kitchen, kitchen counters, sleep in your bed, etc.

My Feline Pal



Kitty looking out to the dining area.

My Pal

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Now We Have Two Gardeners ....

We didn't mean to end up with two gardeners but it seems that we have. Jose was the original gardener of this property. He did more than just cut the grass. He also pruned, planted bushes, sprayed for bugs and so on. Just after we moved in, he showed up and spent an entire day with a helper cleaning everything up because the house had been vacant for a couple of months so the plant growth had really gone wild.

Then Jose moved too far away to come here every few weeks or at all. Enter Luis, who was walking around the area looking for work and we exchanged phone numbers, which was about all we could exchange at that time given our poor Spanish skills. Some time later, we get a phone call from our Canuck friend John.

Turns out Luis phoned John to tell him he wanted to work for us, John phoned us and it transpired that Luis also does work for John - a truly amazing coincidence.

So all is fine. We have a grass cutter. Then Jose turned up at our gate not long ago to say he would be back in a few weeks to do landscaping, and he was here yesterday as promised.

There is/was a very old lime tree at the front of the property. It was on it's last legs (roots?) partially because of it's age but also because the canopy was covered in a life smothering vine that grew right into the wood of the tree. Luis said, and another gardener had confirmed this earlier, that the tree was dying and did we want it cut down?

We said, or thought we did, we want to check with the owner first. So, as I was frantically emailing the owner, Jose was happily chopping the whole tree down in front of me. But he did leave enough stubs to put flower pots, bird feeders, orchids on what is left of it.

Thank goodness our landlady has a good attitude: "It is what it is"!

Here is a dove, or a pigeon, at the new unexpected bird feeder.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Previous Couple of Weeks

Just thinking back over the last few weeks:

We are now transitioning into the dry season and can expect more winds coming from a different direction - the north or the north northwest - which pushes the humid air coming from the west and southwest offshore. Already, we have experienced far less rain than we did in late October. My tomato plants suffered during those weeks but have bravely ripened a few tomatoes for us. I'll reseed again soon.

Halloween is a non-event in Costa Rica, which suited me fine. I had grown weary of buying overpriced, teeth rotting candy in Cloverdale and watching Genny being scared by the constant ringing of the doorbell. The young tykes are really cute and they finish trick and treating early but when the 16 year olds start showing up, it's time to shut the lights off and lock the door.

Instead, All Souls Day on November 2nd is observed with Catholic masses and Ticos head to cemeteries to pay respects to departed loved ones. Here in Atenas, all the crypts in the graveyard were covered in flowers. One of my taxi drivers drove me by so I could see. By the way, if anyone is interested in what happens to one after death in Costa Rica, go here to The Real Costa Rica and you'll get all the info.

We bought some moisture absorbing bags at WalMart, $22 CAD for a box of three. They are supposed to last 60 days but here is what they look like after two weeks so I guess we had a lot of moisture in our clothes cupboards. The crystals at the top absorb moisture which drips down into the bag at the bottom.

We discovered a new mall in Heredia - Paseo de las Flores - and our friends John and Diane picked me up one day and we went shopping. I bought Lance some badly needed clothes and I found some stuff for me also. The food court was enormous. I have to go back again soon so I can see all of the shops. It really is a big, big mall. Heredia is the capital city of the province of Heredia, and it is home to one of the largest colleges in Costa Rica, the National University of Costa Rica.

I also recently went shopping at one of Atena's Ropa Americana shops and found three cotton shirts for me. I should have listened to the shop keeper who suggested I try them on first. One is way too small (the tag says "petite", didn't notice it), one is too large but I like it because of the color and the larger fit lets the breezes in, and the third one fits more closely. So two out of three ain't bad. Final cost: $20 CAD.

Had another fabulous Beach Day this past Monday at Playa Dona Ana. About 25 like-minded souls showed up. We bobbed in the ocean, yakked, ate our lunches, fed the monkeys. If anyone reading this wants to join us, let me know.

That is Lance on the left.

I cut down a really big bunch of bananas from one of our trees. It must have weighed 50 lbs. at least or so it felt. Dragged it down the hill to our house and we hung it from one of the roof rafters outside. All the bananas are ripening amazingly fast, we can't eat enough of them to keep up. Our gardener Luis took some home with him today and I've set up two bird feeding stations in our lime tree where the over-ripe bananas are going. We are attracting birds we've never seen before.

So, as the sun sets gently tonight in Costa Rica and the air is filled with tropical scents, I wish everyone a peaceful night.

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Amazing Sunday

Our gardener, Luis, invited us to his house for lunch on Sunday. Luis also does work for our Canadian friends, Diane and John, so that is our connection. Our Spanish is so bad right now that Luis phones John who phones us with messages from Luis. John's Spanish is very good.

We felt very privileged to be invited.

Diane and John picked us up and off we went in the direction of Palmares - after that, I was totally lost. We climbed up, up and up through the most amazing scenery. The day was perfect so we could see for miles.

Ticos' houses are quite often modest compared to North American standards. Small, but perfectly able to house a family. I think we North Americans are too spoiled and greedy and want this, that and the other thing, the bigger the better .... and then we get deep into debt trying to pay for all that stuff, a lot of which never gets used. For instance, Luis is making a covered patio outside the front of the house but the work gets done when they have a bit of money, not before. So it takes much longer to get what they want but no money is owed at the end.

We were fortunate to be served a typical Tico meal: olla de carne and it was so good! Beef, cilantro, onions, celery, red bell peppers, carrots, corn, chayote, yuca, ayote, sweet potatoes, plantains, and potatoes.  The bowl of broth with beef is put in front of you, a big plate of rice is on the side, along with a big plate of the cooked vegetables. You put whatever you want into the bowl of broth and enjoy, enjoy! Costa Rica coffee served alongside. This is a very hearty meal.

I'd like to try making olla de carne - Diane did and she said it came out more like a stew so there are obviously some tricks to getting it right.

Diana, Lance, John, Diane enjoying olla de carne
Our host, Luis, and Lance

Luis prepared the meal for us as his wife was at church, so we met her a bit later. Here are his wife and children:

The young lady on the left along with the little boy are neighborhood friends. We met their son but he was not around to be in this photo. So, second from the left is their youngest daughter, then Mrs. Luis, and then their oldest daughter.

After lunch, we took a walk to Eco Torunes Lodge, which is a resort with two swimming pools, cabinas, restaurant, and mirador (lookout).  It is located atop a coffee finca. This is a coffee cooperative of 11 farm families and they sell export quality coffee, either whole bean or ground. You can go for a tour of the shade-grown coffee and see how coffee is grown. We didn't have time for the tour but we were shown one of the cabinas that are available for rent and it was really nice - bedroom (king bed), bath, living room area, kitchen and a view that was hard to beat.

The two pools are down the side of the mountain and you can walk down to the pools or just jump into the (very long) slides. The views all around were amazing - we could see Atenas. This resort is where mostly Ticos stay but, because we know Luis, we could stay there at Tico rates.

Back to Luis' house - and it was all uphill but not so bad and myself and Lance led the pack. Ticos are very affectionate people - here are two photos to prove that:


The first one is of Luis and his youngest daughter, and the second one shows John on the left, Lance and Luis with his arm on Lance's shoulder, and the youngest daughter again. It is quite common to see teenagers holding their parents' hands as they walk around town, mothers and daughters arm in arm. Men greet men with hugs and handshakes.

When we met Luis' youngest daughter (I am sorry but I did not catch all of the their names this time) she went to each one of us in turn and gave us a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

John and Diane brought several cans of wall paint for their casa and also the meat for our olla. They have visited Luis a lot in the past and always bring something useful, such as tile for their bathroom, etc. We came bearing two bouquets of flowers for Luis' wife and dessert, not knowing what else to bring - being newbies.

I think Mrs. Luis liked the flowers because she gave me this when we left:

Mrs. Luis likes to paint! like me! This is a glass bottle that she painted the design on.
 This is my new treasure. I might bring her some acrylic paints next visit. Not only that, we left with this:

Half of a big squash, the other half was given to Diane and John. And we were also given instructions on how to cook it. Plus, the seeds are to be planted into the ground to give us more squash.

This blog entry was a bit hard for me to write, because at one point Luis' wife said, in Spanish, to Diane and John, "You are our friends and family, and now Lance and Diana are our friends and family", and she held her hand over her heart  - I am parphrasing here but I think that is what Diane's translation was. It was obvious I was moved by this declaration, because Mrs. Luis came over to me and gave me a big hug.