Sunday, February 17, 2013


We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
--Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Costa Rica Day 5

Up at 6:15am -- which sounds rough, but it's Central time and also we've been going to sleep early, since the  nightlife is pretty quiet. Breakfast at 7am, the driver picks us up at 7:30 and we head off to our excursion, with a long detour to pick up people from the Marriott, which is part of a huge gated private property. The driver shows us one house and tells us that it's Michael Jordan's, "although he's rarely here". We pick up Richard and Cathy (from Atlanta) and Rick and Loreen (from Boston)--I think Rick is Richard's son although I don't think anyone quite said that--and head for the zipline.  One the way, we see a funeral, with about 40 people walking down the road, carrying a coffin; it's not a formal slow march, and the men carrying it trade out with others from the crowd. The coffin has a peach colored cover; as best I can see as we drive by, it looks like faux fur.
We arrive at Pura Aventura. Our guides are Orlando--who's rather short but otherwise looks like any surfer back home--plus several who are more Mayan looking, including "Carlos Santana", "Perrito", and a couple of others. The ranch here is 1400 acres, and looks a lot like Appalachian farmland except a bit more flat land, not as hilly; we take a truck across the ranch and up the hill. Orlando gives us a demo of how the zipline works. There are two cables, one above the other; the pulleys lock between them. Your harness goes around your thighs to make a seat. You get a glove with a heavy leather pad; you keep your trailing hand in a ring around the cable, and pull down on the cable to brake. Other than that, it's just lean back, pick up your feet and away you go! Loreen is pretty scared at first but Orlando rides in tandem with her for a couple of lines until she can cope with going solo. They have "eleven zip lines plus a surprise." The longest line is 600 meters, and several of them are quite high up. The view, at least for a first timer, is not spectacular: you're above the trees and can see through the hills to the ocean, at the right moment; but you're also going pretty fast, and there's no way to stop and stare. And you're preoccupied trying to keep your harness from twisting, and braking, and not losing your glasses to the wind. The real attraction is just to be able to say "I rode the zipline!" Some of the lines are long, some  pretty short, sometimes we get down from a platform and walk around the hilltop to the next station. The "surprise" at the end is that your last line brings you to a platform about 30ft off the ground, and you have to rappel down. Off you go, and there's enough freefall for your stomach to say, "Wait, what?" before the belay brakes you.
On the drive back from the hill to the tour HQ / snack bar, we see a troop of howler monkeys in the trees, and an iguana sunning on a tree trunk. At the snack bar, we meet the Oregonian couple who run the place for the owner, and have mora (blackberry) and piƱa (pineapple) smoothies. Heading back to the hotel, we pass some bulls; our driver tells us a little about the Costa Rican version of bullfighting, which sounds more like playing tag with the bull. Our driver has a scar on his cheek, which he says is from a bull's horn.
Lunch is tilapia and fruit salad, plus fries. Diana tells Mac, the older waiter, than we're leaving tomorrow; he's very sympathetic with our reluctance to leave. After that, some time in the pool, a couple's massage, and then back to the bungalow to pack and write out the diary. Our writing is interrupted by crashing in the trees out back, as howler monkeys move through the trees. "Did you see the baby monkey?" "No, the banana tree is in the way"--not the sort of conversation I'd ever expected to have.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Costa Rica Day 4

The beach right in front of the hotel is mostly sand, but a little west there are rocky spots; we go there in the morning and snorkel around the rocks, looking for fish. One small electric blue one, several that were yellow and black striped, one pink fish about 18" long, and a couple of little speckled brown and sand ones that see me coming closer but stay put, trusting in their camouflage. As we get out and head back to the hotel, we go past a guy on the beach with a fishing pole. It occurs to me "I could tell him where some fish are, behind those rocks; but I went in the water and found those fish and saw them up close. I'm not telling him that those fish are there."
Back at the hotel we have a dip in the pool; there are little pink flowers on the water, blown down from one of the trees by last night's winds.
We talk with Jorge, who handles reservations and answered a lot of questions for us before we came. He is pleasant and genuine, all smiles.  In the gift shop we get a brown tee shirt for Josh, plus some jams: dragonfruit, lemon jelly, passionfruit, and pica pica salsa. We arrange a zip line tour for Sunday, then pick up some jewelry from a beach vendor, a puka necklace for me and an orange-red for for Diana.
We walk into town, about a kilometer. No sidewalks most of the way, we're just going along the edge of the road until except for a few blocks of central Tamarindo. As we're coming into town, there's a girl walking along on the other side of the road, wearing shorts and a bikini top; a local guy on a scooter calls out "Aye oo!" as he drives by her, and she gives a little wave to acknowledgement the compliment. There are a few girls walking around with just bikinis, no coverups--and a couple of them have a palpable attitude of "Look At Me, I Am Being Sexy"--but most girls have something over their bikinis, and the guys are in board shorts rather than speedos. In the grocery we buy amaretto cake, banana cake, a couple of bottles of juice, snack cakes called Tuaregs. We stroll through town, visiting a couple of shops where Diana can buy clothes. The clerks here are mostly local girls, and they're notably short--some of them not up to shoulder height on me.  Dinner at Copacabana; Diana has Thai, I have "trio typico", which is nacho chips, black beans and corn in the center, and around the outside are pico de gallo, "cream cheese" which is thinner than our cream cheese but thicker than sour cream, and guacamole. Pretty good, and about the only thing on the menu that's "Costa Rican", although they have spaghetti and hamburgers and Thai and Hawaiian mahi mahi and such.
We walk back to the hotel by way of the beach, looking at the sunset, fiery in front of us, fading to violet over the hills to our right, and then the stars come out.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Costa Rica Day 3

Up at 6am, breakfast at 7am, into the tour van at 7:30. There’s another couple there, Michael and Barbara ; they’re 62, Audobon members from Baltimore. Our driver is Heiner (“call me Goose”), tall and very personable.  Heiner is quite proud of his country, and talked about their medical system, the education available, new investments in call centers and computer manufacturing. It seems he works a lot of hours, at least during tourist season, but he has a great sense of humor and he really seems to enjoy his work. He told us: “No worries, no rush, no rules”--if we want to stop along the way, for coffee or shopping or to look at something that catches our attention, we can, no problem.
We drive past Liberia and see a volcano—the clouds at the top may have been just regular clouds caught on the mountaintops,but there were half a dozen steam plumes around the base.  Then we go to a roadside restaurant where we put in our lunch order, then along a back road to a bridge, down the bank to the water. The boat is a rubber raft with a pair of outriggers at the stern for oars. We travel down the river for two hours, mostly smooth water although there are a few rapids—tame ones, though, nothing where you have to worry about flipping the boat. Lots of birds: kingbird , tiger heron, cattle egret, osprey, sand piper, parrot, small blue heron, and anhinga. We see  termite nests in trees, howler monkeys,  iguanas, crocodiles, and little basilisk lizards, which are also called Jesus Christ lizards because they run across the top of the water. One of the crocs looks like a mere log downstream from us, but moving across the river; he’s to the bank and  hidden by the time we reach him. The other is sunning on a log, and for all I could tell, might be a concrete croc put there to be sure the tourists saw something. I don’t think it actually was concrete, though—if I understood Melvin correctly, the river rises 4 meters in rainy season, and I imagine the log would be washed away. 

Halfway through the tour Melvin grounds us on a bank and cut up a pineapple for us, fresh, sweet, delicate flavor; canned pineapple is only a very poor and distant relation. That pineapple really deserves its own post. It is fantastic.

We come to the landing point--having only seen a couple of fishermen along the whole stretch of the river--and depart for the restaurant. Lunch is casados, and grilled chicken which is much improved by the salsa Heiner recommends, which gives it something of a curry taste. We pause for a bit at a gift shop to get tee shirts and souvenirs and coffee. On the way back to the hotel, Heiner gets word from his boss that there had been a serious accident which blocked the main road, so we'd have to get back to Tamarindo by the old road. Which is the former main road, but it's unpaved, not graded nearly often enough, with clouds of dust, very bumpy, and the line of tourist vans are snaking back and forth to avoid huge potholes. Heiner says "Now you know why Costa Ricans are so happy--any time we drive somewhere, we get a massage!" But he is also mindful that some of the other vans had newly arrived tourists, and it bothers him that their first ride through the countryside isn't making a good impression. He's a great guide.

Back at the hotel, we have an early dinner, an outdoor shower, and a nap. In the evening, there is "folkloric dancing" on the beach, with the men dressed in white with pink or orange sashes, and cowboy hats; the girls have their hair up and wear long yellow dresses. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Costa Rica Day 2

Breakfast buffet includes:

  • cereals
  • local fruits, including mango, pineapple, watermelon, papaya
  • juices, including "banana milkshake" which is what we'd call a smoothie
  • oatmeal--not sure why you'd want oatmeal in a place where it's 90°, but they had it
  • several varieties of breads, croissants, etc
  • eggs
  • casado, which is black beans and rice
  • queso fritos, three inch discs of fried cheese
  • tortillas
  • "sausages" which were actually hot dogs
  • pancakes
The dining area is all open air. A magpie jay flies from perch to perch, looking for an unguarded table; I'm pretty sure he filches one of my "sausages" while my back is turned. 
Back to the room, where we happen to run into our housekeeper. As might be expected, she is a Christian, and she and Diana have a prayerfest. After that, it's a busy schedule: walk on the beach, swim in the ocean, come back and take a nap. On the way to the gift shop we meet Jorge, who took care of all our reservation questions, and we give him the Virginia Beach shirt we brought for him. Jorge is one of those people who smiles all the time.
Lunch for me is cucumber gazpacho with yogurt and shrimp.
We take a kayak out to El Capitan, the islet at the mouth of the bay. Much of the landward side is covered with white shells; the seaward side is all rough volcanic rock. There are hundreds of hermit crabs; we see clumps of a dozen or more, mobbing one mango. We also see a pelagic sea snake, washed up onto the rocks. It's probably dead, but we don't poke it, just in case. After that we go snorkeling. There aren't a lot of fish, and those we see are mostly of the "large minnow" type, brown and red; however, we do see one with yellow and black stripes, possibly a damselfish. 
We paddle the kayak back before 6pm, as that's about the time it gets dark. At the front of the hotel, we see the monkey bridge across the road; we see a troop of about a dozen, including adults carrying babies, come across, jump from one tree to the next, then onto the hotel's tiled roof and out of sight. Walking to dinner, we spot an iguana in one of the trees next to the pool, and a woodpecker, and there are geckos on the pillars of the dining area.
Dinner is ostensibly spaghetti bolognese although it doesn't have any detectable tomato sauce; I suspect they put beef stroganoff over spaghetti noodles.  Dessert is copa Danemark, which is ice cream and brown sugar, topped by whipped cream.
After dinner, Diana goes to sleep; I go to the front desk and see four raccoons in the lobby. They have a couple of dog dishes set aside from them.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Costa Rica Day 1

Get up at 4:15am, head for the airport at 5:40, flight leaves for Atlanta at 7am. All fine thus far. But our flight lands at Atlanta at 9:10 and our connecting flight is already boarding, five terminals away. Fortunately the airport had trams running every couple of minutes; we hustle and--while hearing "Passenger DeBoe, party of two, please report to the gate immediately"--we make it in time.
We take off and sail south at 35,000 feet, skimming down the west coast of Florida, crossing--is that Cuba?--and some small cays. We can see white wakes trailing behind invisible ships. The cumulus clouds are like tufts of meringue.
Cross the coast of...Honduras? There were isolated conical mountains, presumably volcanoes, near the shore. We pass over Lake Nicaragua and land at Liberia. It's a new airport, only two years old, and small, only six gates.
The drive to Tamarindo reminds me of driving in Appalachia, years ago. The road--the main highway for this region--is two lanes, no shoulders, and desperately needs to be repaved. If a vehicle breaks down, they just stop right there in their lane and put out warning triangles ahead and behind, because there's no place on the side of the road to pull off. Lots of barb wire fences, and some trash along the road. Poor quality houses, not set back far enough from the road, but they're gaily painted aqua or burnt orange or sand color. Better houses, or businesses, tend to have high fences or walls around them. No mown lawns, but lots of flowers and trees around the houses, including hyacinths and palms and mangoes. It's about an hour's drive from Liberia to Tamarindo. We're the only passengers in the van; the driver doesn't speak much English but he and Diana chat in Spanish and I can usually follow the conversation.
We arrive at Hotel Capitan Suizo around 4pm, and on opening the door of the van, I promptly drop my camera onto the driveway, after which it refuses to power up. Fortunately I only had about twenty pictures; if I had 500 pics from the whole vacation, I'd be ill, wondering if they could be recovered (on getting home, we find the pics are all on the SD card so even though the camera is dead, we didn't lose anything). We sit on the beach chairs to enjoy our "welcome to the hotel" rum punch, and then head to the bungalow for a nap--needed both from bouncing along the road, and getting up while it was still "last night".  Our bungalow main room is a square 20ft on a side, with 12ft walls and a central peak that was at least 20ft high. The room is divided diagonally into two levels, the sitting area being at ground level, and the sleeping area raised by three steps . To the right of the bed is the door to the bathroom, with a big jacuzzi, and an outdoor shower. The floors are concrete, but dappled green and warm enough to be comfortable. The bungalow is surrounded by trees--palm trees, three banana trees, and others. There is occasional noise from trucks passing on the road in front of the hotel, but not much and it's intermittent during the day, almost none after dark.
Dinner is at one of the tables under the trees between beach and pool. It's chicken cordon bleu and teriyaki tuna--there's almost no Costa Rican food on the menu, although they do have filets and quesoburgers and spaghetti Bolognese. While we're waiting for dessert, BAM!--something lands on the table. It's a mango seed, with teeth marks. Max the waiter explains that there are monkeys in the trees, one of them must have dropped it. A little later, as we're having cheesecake, two velvety raccoons come padding along; one of them climbs up the arm of Diana's chair (while she's sitting there, mind) and is starting to get up on the table. until I whack it on the nose with a cloth napkin. Cheeky blighter.
The beach is dark, but we take a short walk anyway. Bright stars, Orion overhead, Cassiopeia on the horizon, a planet in the middle of Taurus, the Milky Way making a river of stars. The beach is wide and flat;  breakers 75 yards out are down to little ripples when they reach us, smooth and flat enough that I can look down and see the stars reflected around my feet.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Costa Rica

Getting ready to go to Costa Rica for our 25th anniversary, which isn't until Feb 20th, so I'm not sure why we're going Feb 6-11, but we are.

Things involved in this trip thus far:

  • download 778 photos then delete them from the camera
  • get a scuba mask
  • polish the inside glass of the scuba mask with toothpaste
  • trim my stache sufficiently for the mask to seal properly
  • order a book for the trip (The Mongoliad)
  • mosquito spray
  • suntan lotion
  • batteries for camera
  • better order a second book (Heirs to the Lost World)
  • photocopy passports
  • English/Spanish app for my phone
  • pack liquids in 3oz bottles
  • pick out tropical shirts
  • better get a third book (Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy)