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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Morning in Atenas

This is Semana Santa (Easter Week) in Costa Rica and stores were closed on Thursday afternoon and Good Friday. Atenas is a "dry" canton on Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Monday so stocking up ahead of time is recommended.

We went into Atenas this morning to have breakfast. The mercados were open, as well as the Central Market, but our usual breakfast spots were closed. However, Las Tres Hermanas (The Three Sisters) was open. This is a small soda in the central market, across from the taxi stands.

Every time we eat there, I think, "This is the real Costa Rica". For a total of 4,000 colones ($8.00 CAD), we had two plates heaped with food plus two fruit drinks. They have an array of choices laid out, and you just ask for what you want. I used to have to point, but now I can almost ask for everything in Spanish. Today I chose a cas drink, black beans, pork with a yummy gravy, corn tortillas, a cauliflower, carrot and green bean salad and a piece of the local white cheese, browned in a pan the way I like it. This food will hold a body together right through until tomorrow.

It was just great sitting there with lovely, warm breezes blowing in through the open doors, watching the activity outside in our little town and really feeling that we are a part of this community.

After breakfast, we did a bit of grocery shopping in El Canario, where I do most of my grocery shopping and then back home via taxi. El Canario (The Canary) is right beside the taxi stands. There's a butcher counter at the back ... this is where I am learning some useful Spanish. They are so cheerful and laugh at my mistakes, then help me with the right words.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Eyes on Costa Rica - Blog on My Blog

It is interesting to track the places where people are who visit my blog. I expect many are planning a vacation or a move to Costa Rica, or are friends and acquaintances curious about how we are doing.

Since last November when I started keeping track, there have been “visits” from 45 different countries. The majority have come from Canada, the United States, and Costa Rica. But, a respectable number have come from Europe and Asia.

The Asian countries include Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Russian Federation (partly Asian), Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates.

The following is tongue-in-cheek:

Now, back to the United States. So far, there have been visits from many different places in 41 states, and one visit from “Washington / District of Columbia”. The visit from Washington was strange. Lance happened to be online at the time. Notations of individual page views were showing up on the computer screen in rapid sequence - almost as if each page was being analyzed electronically - but not read by a real person.

My conspiracy theory: Maybe there are clandestine powers who monitor Internet traffic and get curious when they detect traffic going from a blog like my own, or any other blog, to places around the world which include places like “Phnom Penh / Cambodia”, “Taoyuan / China”, “Moscow City / Russia”, “Dubai / United Arab Emirates”, etc. The powers that be might wonder what common interest all these people have to attract them to my blog. Does their interest pose a threat? Or, is their interest benign? Intelligence Analyst strategy: have a computer do a forensic analysis of the blog’s content. If the computer finds no red flags, then that’s the end of the matter. Otherwise, have a real person look at the blog page by page - spending a lot more time on each page than the time which was spent on the strange visit from Washington, D.C.


Life in Costa Rica can be interesting on many levels.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sunset Tonight

The sun sets fast in the tropics. This picture was taken at about 6:15 pm our time and now it is almost totally dark.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Dumb Day

It all started out rather well - we were going into Atenas to have breakfast, use the ATM, and pick up a few groceries. Also, this weekend a fiesta is going on in Atenas to benefit the Hogar de Ancianos (old folks home). I was planning on participating in the art show in the park but dropped out because the two paintings I was going to display are simply not finished to my satisfaction and I cannot display something for sale that is incomplete and that I am not happy with.

Mario, one of our taxi drivers, picked us up and dropped us off at the Banco de Costa Rica, where I discovered I did not have my bank card. Called Mario and he drove us back home, I picked up my bank card, and we were delivered once again to BCR.

Then we went to El Balcón del Café y Bistro (Balcony Cafe and Bistro) - I couldn't find a web page but you can read terrific reviews on Trip Advisor. I ordered the Americano breakfast (because it comes with a big plate of fresh fruit and other yummies) and Lance ordered the Tico breakfast. We have had lunch here too and I remember the soup was delicious. There didn't seem to be much going on in the park at this time, so we got our groceries and taxied home ....

... where I found out I was missing my cell phone. Lance called my cell number and Mario answered! I had left my cell in his taxi. Not too long later, he drove up to our house with my cell and he did not want to accept any colones but I finally managed to pay him. After all, he was burning up gas coming to our house.

I once left my camera in his taxi, and he returned it the next day. He must think I am kind of ditzy. I was certainly ditzy today. On the taxi ride home, I saw an animal transport truck with two oxen in it and a carreta (ox cart), so I think we probably missed out on the festivities. But by the time we got home, I didn't want to go back into town and do anything else.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Old Cats, Old Dogs, Old Shoes

Well, we really don't know how old Scruffy is but he behaves like a mature dog. Genny is definitely old and I think those shoes are also.

Scruffy spreads his time between all the neighbors. Genny was having her afternoon nap.



Friday, March 15, 2013

The Sounds of Costa Rica

We have been experiencing very strong trade winds lately. It is quite dry, with no rain since October. This is normal .. we are in the dry season (also the tourist season). The bougainvillea never stops blooming, no matter what time of year. Some trees have dropped all their leaves with the drought, not unlike trees dropping their leaves in the fall in northern climes.

Our mango tree is flowering and has some small fruit on it. Our neighbour's mango tree, on the other hand, is loaded with ready to pick fruit. Our mango tree is about a month behind.

With the strong winds come all sorts of sounds. The winds blowing through the palm trees, which bend easily. The sound of dead palm leaves falling to the ground ... and you don't want to be underneath one when it falls - the part that was attached to the tree is really heavy.

I can hear our neighbour's wind chimes sending notes down the hill to us. There is a constant rustling from flowers, trees, hedges, tropical plants.

This is a good time of year for hanging laundry out on the line ... it dries in no time and I can hear the sound of clothes flapping in the wind.

Quite frequently, a very strong wind pushes through and our wooden wind chime really sings a song. I have my hanging orchids secured with locking clips so they can't blow away. All the orchids need to be checked daily to make sure they haven't dried out from the strong winds. Here is one of my phals still in bloom and swinging happily in the tropical breezes (winds!).



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Must Haves in Your Tropical Pantry

One thing that I really always want to have on hand are spring roll wrappers, also known as rice paper wrappers. Believe it or not, they are readily available in the Atenas mercados, along with nori for making Japanese style rolls.

The rice paper is perfect for making salad rolls ... you can find recipes for these on line.

Right now, we have an over abundance of ripe bananas from one of our banana trees. It seems like they all ripen at the same time, after hanging from our outdoor rafters for weeks and looking very green.

I spread the bounty between two of our neighbours and am trying to use up the rest. I froze about 10 of them for future use as smoothies, and tonight two of them are safely wrapped in rice paper wrappers, sprinkled with cinnamon and will be fried in some oil later as part of our dessert, along with vanilla ice cream, salted peanuts, and crushed fresh pineapple.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My Pineapple - Week 8

I missed posting Week 7 when I found out it can take up to six months for a pineapple to mature. So I've decided to post photos just once a month from now on.

Very good information can be found on growing your own pineapples on the Dole web page.

Here is Ani at Week 8:



Monday, March 4, 2013

On the Buses in Costa Rica

The other day, we had occasion to take a trip from Atenas to San Ramon, and then back to Atenas. By car, we have traveled the distance a number of times using route 135 between Atenas and Palmares, then onto San Ramón. But, this time we became adventurous. We decided to try the buses.

The bus system in Costa Rica is very good. The challenge is to determine where routes begin and end, which buses take which routes, and on what schedules. There are a myriad of independent bus companies in operation, each with their own authorized routes. Some publish their schedules. Others seemingly do not - or at least we cannot find them and have to rely on word of mouth to find out where to go and when.

The main company in Atenas is Coopetransatenas, and it does publish its schedules: see (the graphics on this website show a couple of their typical buses - modern and comfortable). But alas, as its route information shows, Coopetransatenas travels north only as far as Palmeres.

How to bus it from Palmeres to San Ramón? A search on the Internet was uncooperative. The most amusing feedback we got was from In Spanish, the message was:

“Horarios de Buses de San Ramón a Palmares
Lo sentimos, es posible que aún no dispongamos de los horarios o las rutas de buses de San Ramón a Palmares. En este caso, le recomendamos que utilice cualquier buscador en línea para encontrar pasajes baratos de avión de San Ramón a Palmares o alguna otra Provincia y Ciudad de Costa Rica. Podrá encontrar vuelos económicos y pasajes que se ajusten a sus necesidades.
Gracias por visitarnos, que tengas un buen viaje en bus de San Ramón a Palmares.
Un abrazo de tu equipo

Translated by computer from Spanish to English, this became:

“Timetables of Buses of San Ramón to Palmares
Sorry, it is possible that even we do not have the schedules or routes of buses from San Ramón to Palmares. In this case, we recommend that you use any search engine online to find cheap airfare from San Ramón to Palmares, or any other province and city of Costa Rica. You can find cheap flights and tickets that meet your needs.
Thanks for visiting, have a good trip by bus from San Ramón to Palmares.
A hug from your team”.

Cheap airfare! As the crow flies, San Ramón centro is about 3 miles from Palmeres centro. By road, it´s about 5 miles. The best aircraft would be a helicopter, but we ultimately rejected the idea, because it obviously would not be cheap. We concluded that the cheapest aircraft might be a hot air balloon, but we ended up rejecting that idea as well. With the current trade winds in Costa Rica, chances are that we would land somewhere in the Atlantic or Pacific rather than San Ramón in the Central Valley.

A taxi from Palmeres to San Ramón was the obvious answer. But, we were determined to complete the challenge and handle the trip from Atenas to San Ramón entirely by bus (at least one way). Despite the absence of published routes or schedules, we had it by reliable word of mouth that there was regular and frequent bus service between Palmares and San Ramón. What we did not know until later was that the Coopetransatenas bus from Atenas to Palmares stops and starts in Palmares at an unmarked location on the street about a block away from the municipal bus station. The bus from Palmares to San Ramón starts and stops at the municipal station. When we got off the Coopetransatenas bus in Palmeres, the immediate question was - now what? Where do we get the bus to San Ramón? Word of mouth again came to the rescue. Just off the bus, we asked a Tico (native Costa Rican) in a questioning manner “San Ramón?” He understood and pointed down the block to the municipal station.

The trip itself:

It was a 50 minute ride with Coopetransatenas from Atenas to Palmeres (a few stops along the way) - fare: 640 colones (about USD $1.28!) each. This was followed by a 15 minute wait at the municipal station in Palmeres for the bus to San Ramón and another 15 minutes for the ride from Palmeres to the outskirts of San Ramón, where we wanted to be - fare: 330 colones (about USD $0.66).

The fun part (depending on your point of view):

For foreigners, the ride from Atenas to Palmares is a Magic Mountain experience characterized by scary switchbacks, S-curves and steep cliffs. For Ticos it is undoubtedly routine. The road distance is about 8.5 miles. The "as the crow flies" distance is about 2 miles less. This tells a lot about the topography of this portion of the Central Valley in Costa Rica (two miles of road articulation within a distance of 8.5 miles is remarkable). If Coopetransatenas was selling amusement rides, it could probably do a lot better than USD $1.28 per ride.

The Admission:

When we finished our trip to San Ramón and got back to Palmeres, we learned that the next bus to Atenas would be about 1 ½ hours later. Since our experiment with the buses was mainly done, we had no inclination to linger around in Palmares for 1 ½ hours. We decided to take a taxi. Fare: from Palmares to Atenas about 8000 colones (USD $16.00 - time about 30 minutes).