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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Beach Day

Our friends, Gloria and Paul Yeatman, (Retire for Less in Costa Rica), organized a different kind of Beach Day on Saturday, February 22, 2015. They arranged with the Pelicano Hotel, Beach Bar and Restaurant to host a group of over 30 expats for a relaxing day at a different beach.

In the past, we have gone to Playa Doña Ana, in Puntarenas. The Pelicano is in Esterillos Este, between Jaco and Manuel Antonio/Quepos on the Pacific Ocean. There is 11 miles of secluded beach front. Beautiful white sand and strong breakers. We had a room to change in, use of the pool, hammocks, chairs and BBQ lunch. I had the pulled pork sandwich with sides of beans and potato salad, plus a fruit drink.

There was a man in the bar watching an Olympics hockey game. It was surreal to be in a tropical setting and see the frozen rink so far away. Everyone had a great time and it was fun to try out a different beach. More pictures of our day can be seen here, on the Pelicano Facebook page.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Costa Rican Coffee

I wish you could smell what I just smelled from a newly opened bag of local coffee ... it's this rich, earthy scent of coffee that has just been brewed and poured into a cup for you to enjoy even before the sun has risen here in Costa Rica.

There is a coffee plantation up in the hills of Vista Atenas, where we live. The coffee workers travel up there in the back of a truck early in the morning and we have been waving to each other for quite a while now. Some day, I will be out there on the road with a hot cup of coffee to salute them for all the work they do so I can enjoy the fruits of their labor.

We can buy all manner of excellent coffee at our local grocery stores. I am trying a new one: Coffee Atenas, the labeling and design on the package of coffee is beautiful. It tells me that 5 generations have been growing and preparing coffee, Atenas has the best climate in the world (I can't argue with that), the coffee was grown by the family of Vargas Rodriguez (I hope I got that right), it is certified to be good inside and believe me, it is.




Sunday, February 16, 2014

Volcán Irazú/Turrialba Area

On Sunday, January 26, 2014, we visited Volcán Irazú, in the Province of Cartago, and the area (Orosi Valley) around the town of Turrialba.

The Irazú Volcano National Park was created in 1955. From 1963 to 1965, this volcano was extremely active and destroyed the surroundings around the peak and seriously affected the cities of Cartago and San José. In 1994, there was a huge explosion on the north wall of the main crater.

The national park is about 5,000 acres and is at an elevation of just over 11,000 feet above sea level, making this the highest active volcano in Costa Rica. Believe me, it is cold up there ... wear long pants, a warm sweater, hat and gloves (ha ha, if you can find those here in Costa Rica).

We drove the paved road to the visitor center and then walked the short trail to the rim of the volcano's two craters. A wood fence makes sure one cannot walk right to the rims so you cannot see down to the bottom which is far, far below. The visitor center sells hot coffee (from a machine) and a few snacks and has information on the volcanos. Get there early - we did and the vehicle lineup to get in was very short. When we were leaving, the lineup to get in was very long. Also, clouds can settle in later in the day and obstruct any views.

Irazú is definitely worth a visit. Don't forget to buy strawberries and the local cheese from the venders by the sides of the roads. Bring a cooler in your vehicle.

Afterwards, we drove to Turrialba, a small town (but larger than Atenas), 53km east of San José. Turrialba is known for popular white-water rafting trips, pre-Columbian history and tropical botany. We have to go back here because I want to see the Guayabo National Monument, a pre-Columbian site that has been excavated and is open to the public.

We drove past the Center for Agronomy Research and Development (CATIE), 5km southeast of Turrialba on the road to Siquirres. It is one of the world's top facilities for research into tropical agriculture. They offer guided tours.

For lunch, we stopped in at Turrialtico, an open air restaurant and hotel overlooking the Turrialba Valley. Stunning views, excellent food and service - we want to go back. It is a popular place to stay for the white-water rafting folk.

We were so impressed with the entire area that we both said we could easily live there. Unfortunately, it is not central enough for our needs at this time but we look forward to going there again.

We decided at the last moment to take the GPS option on our rental car and are very glad we did. We would still be driving around, lost forever. So take our advice - always use a GPS. The roundabout in Cartago is something else. At one point, the GPS suggested a shortcut which we took. The unpaved road was not the best but it took us through Tico areas that we never would have seen otherwise and it did save us time. The best times often occur on a road we do not know about.



Saturday, February 8, 2014

La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Alajuela

On Friday, January 24, 2014, we took a day trip to La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

Entrance fees: Foreigners - adults $38/children $22. Locals and residents (us) - adults $22/children $13. We also opted for the buffet lunch in Colibries Restaurant, which for us was $13 each. It was good, featuring Costa Rican fare. The garlic rolls are delicious. There is also a hotel (the Peace Lodge), the Vista Poás Restaurant and the Las Tucas Lounge.

There are 3.5 miles of paved trails through both cloud and rainforest and these trails will take you very close to five different waterfalls. There are lots of lookouts over the falls, including the main one, La Paz. Beware, I got vertigo going down a series of stairs attached to the side of the mountain. In the attached video, I have included a picture of the stairs. But don't let that stop you ...

There is an orchid garden and a frog and lizard terrarium (we somehow missed both of these). We did go into the aviary, the huge butterfly garden, the serpentarium (where we learned all about our venomous and non-venomous snake neighbors), the monkey area and the big cat area. The aviary was a big hit with me because I finally got to see toucans up close and had one sit on my arm. We hear toucans all around our house but we don't see them that often. The colors on these birds is amazing. The aviary is a refuge for wild birds either donated by their owners or captured illegally by hunters and confiscated by the government. Most are unable to survive on their own in the wild.

On our visit, there were guides available in many areas to answer questions. I was able to touch a snake but declined to hold it. We saw a bushmaster, terciopelo (our dreaded fer de lance), vipers, etc. There are 26 species of hummingbirds in the hummingbird garden and it was like standing still while jewels flew around us.

The butterfly observatory has an on-site laboratory so we were able to see the process from egg to caterpillar to butterfly. One exhibit I liked a lot is the Casita de la Paz - a house built using only the tools that were available to the average farmer one hundred years ago. There are two cows for milk, a pair of oxen, samples of freshly made tortillas .... we could see how Ticos lived and worked on farms a century ago.

Since we missed a few of the exhibits, we will have to return. I would like to experience the natural hot springs. We can recommend La Paz Waterfall Gardens to residents and visitors alike.