Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ach du lieber, or: Here come the Germans

By guest blogger ticajust with photos by Doris Opitz

Last Tuesday, I got an e-mail from my cousin Doris, announcing their imminent visit:

Hi Irina – just want to let you know we booked a flight to see you. We’re arriving Friday morning and leave Monday early evening. Ciao, Doris

Typical Doris. You just never know with her and her been-together-26-yeard-but-never-married-non-husband Bernd. Turned out they had forgotten to pack their expired passports which had their permanent US Visa and they found themselves overstaying their 90 day permit when they arrived in L.A. After 3 months of crossing the US and Canada, they still had plans to drive across the southern US from California to Florida for another month. Since crossing the border into Mexico, Canada or anywhere into the US Territories was not an option for immigration purposes, they thought of Jim and me in Costa Rica.

We were excited. A visit from Doris and Bernd is always an adventure in itself. We wondered how much we could cram into 2 full and 2 half days, to show them Costa Rica’s beauty and why we love it here so much.

We picked them up Friday morning, came home for lunch and dragged them to the feria for our weekly fruit and produce shopping.

Irina at feriaOf course, the afternoon thunderstorm and downpour arrived as scheduled, showing the rainy season at its best. Fortunately, the feria is under roof.

Feria under roofIn the fog and dark, we went to Isabel’s for dinner. Isabel’s is close-by, and always a lovely destination, even if the magnificent view is lost in the fog.

IsabelAnd the food was delicious, as always!

Saturday started out gray already in the morning, so we made no big plans. Machetes in hand . . .

Doris & Berndt. . . we hiked down through our coffee plantation . . .

Red coffee cherry. . . and crawled through the jungle by the river, trying to reach the waterfall whose omnipresent roar we hear even from our veranda. Our neighbors have confirmed that it does indeed exist, and sent us a photo to prove it.

Waterfall #2Thwarted in our attempts to reach it by a fallen tree  . . .

Foiled. . . we returned home for a lazy afternoon and later, dinner at Galeria Restaurant.

GaleriaWe woke up early Sunday morning to sunshine and a brilliantly blue sky. What if we could see the crater of Volcano Poas today? So many of our guests never got to see Poas, even when they were here for one month, as it remained hidden in the clouds. But the Germans lucked out. We arrived at the entrance to Poas Park at 8:45, and were looking down into the crater by 9:15. The weather was picture-perfect and the vista as miraculous as when Jim and I visited Poas last December.

Poas in SeptemberFeeling adventurous and energetic, we decided to continue on the short distance to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge.

La Paz Waterfall GardensJim and I had never been there. This was the perfect opportunity to visit Costa Rica’s #1 tourist destination. And we were not disappointed. La Paz is a wonderful place, worth every admission penny (we showed our application for residency and got in for the “local” price, less than half of what tourists pay). The waterfall trail (0.8 mile = 1.3 km) consists of mostly steps and stairs, leading through lush, tropical vegetation to five different waterfalls, each uniquely beautiful and fascinating

WaterfallFortunately we didn’t have to hike back since at the end of the downhill trail, a shuttle conveniently awaited us to take us back up the hill to the lodge in just 5 minutes. We had enough time to go through the butterfly observatory . . .

Butterfly La Paz . . . hummingbird garden . . .

Hummingbirds. . . and monkey  enclosure . . .

Monkey. . . before four growling stomachs reminded us it was high time for lunch at Colbert, our favorite and very authentic French Restaurant, only 10 minutes away.ColbertTurned out, Colbert was the biggest and only disappointment du jour.  Never known for his social graces, the chef and owner was particularly incommunicado and grouchy, almost like we intruded on his life. And for the first time, we found the food uninspired and a couple of our dinners downright awful. Doris put it like this: “I feel like at a funeral, somber and triste”. We paid and left without a tip, without even having been shown the dessert tray. Colbert has lost its distinction as our favorite restaurant. We’ll need to discover a new one.

The house kitty was the only friendly face.

House kittyNevertheless, it was a perfect day. We were so lucky to have had such fabulous, cooperative weather in the midst of the rainy season.

Monday, their last day, started equally warm and sunny. So we quickly decided to go to Espíritu Santo Coffee Tour in nearby Naranjo. Espíritu Santo, a coop, is only 30 minutes from our house and our favorite plantation to show our guests a bit more about Costa Rica coffee. The tour included hands-on and visual portions, making it very fun and entertaining, as well as educational.

Picking coffeeWe were the only ones on the tour and Karen, our guide, did an amazing, very animated job demonstrating all aspects of the coffee processing.

KarenThe gift shop held all sorts of treasures worth buying, including coffee and coffee liqueurs.  Very pleased with our outing, we returned home for lunch and packing.

We took Doris and Bernd to the airport at 3 PM Monday afternoon. Everyone agreed, this was a fun, perfect and lovely 72-hour excursion to Costa Rica. Plus, mission accomplished. They re-entered the US in L.A. and got their 90-day stamp in their passports.

Auf Wiedersehen, Doris und Bernd!

Daily life in Costa Rica

The last time I wrote I remarked that we had settled into life in Costa Rica; that it had apparently become perfectly ordinary. Our daily life has assumed a regular rhythm.

We’re up early in the morning, almost always before 6:00. I fix a latte for Irina and a cappuccino for myself, and sit at the desk in front of the computer for an hour or so while Irina goes about her morning cleaning and bread baking. Then it’s down to the casita where I go through my morning exercise routine.

Morning exercisesSince taking up a regular regime, the chronic back and neck pain that dogged my for years has vanished. I no longer hobble about like a cripple.

Irina works out, too. Being a more social animal, she walks up the hill to Justa’s (her yoga instructor) house a couple mornings a week.

JustaEven Priscilla the dog gets in the act.

Dog yogaMust be a pretty exhausting workout!

ExhaustedAfter our exercises, we have a bowl of fresh fruit and maybe a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice from our own trees. Then we’re off to the day’s activities. We try to do work outside in the mornings. You never know, the skies could let loose in the afternoons.

I spend quite a bit of time gardening.

Working in greenhousePeople share plants freely here. If you see something you like at a friend’s house, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a cutting or to dig up a piece of root (depending on the plant). Almost everything starts readily. Some of the plants in the greenhouse I’m growing on behalf of friends, others will be planted out in our garden or shared/traded with others.

Occasionally, Irina has errands to run in town. This last week it was oral surgery. The dental care here is first-rate, and a bargain.

Irina dentist's officeMany of the dentists, including Irina’s Doctor Gonzalez, were trained in the U.S. and speak English . . .

Dr. Gonzalez. . . and the staff are friendly.

Dental staffSometimes we go out for lunch, less often for dinner (as 8:00 is bedtime). Costa Rica has a reputation for mediocre cuisine, but we’ve found that reputation to be undeserved. And Americans should talk: in the U.S., mediocre and unhealthy food is ubiquitous, in restaurants and stores alike. We’ve discovered extraordinary restaurants – in San José, in Escazú, in Alajuela,  and closer to home in the Grecia area – that serve beautiful, imaginative, and really delicious food.

QuesadillaWithin a few minutes driving range of our home, there are a dozen or more restaurants that we visit somewhat regularly in the course of our normal rounds, many more than we ever frequented where we lived in Oregon. And we’re discovering new places all the time. Unexpectedly, we find ourselves in a culinary Mecca.

Isabel’s Mexican Casa has become one of our favorite restaurants for Sunday breakfast or an early dinner. It sits on top of the ridge just across from us in San Luis, with a great view looking down from the slopes of Poas.

Isabel's restaurantWith Dave and Marsha at Isabel’s for an early dinner

Isabel works her culinary magic in a tiny kitchen with nothing more than a wood-fired stove to cook on.

IsabelIsabel serves great coffee drinks, too.

Coffee drink

When we take the car down to Grecia, the Super Rosevil Grocery store is one of our regular stops.

RosvilThe bag boys (on the left in the photo above) are under 18 – too young to work officially. They don’t get paid by the store but bag and carry for tips only. So we’re always sure to have a few hundred colones on hand.

Each morning we awaken to the beauty of the countryside. It’s lush and green, particularly now in the rainy season.

Rain in El CajonAfternoon downpour in El Cajón

This time of the year, afternoons can produce dramatic skies.

Fog moving inTemperatures are mild and consistent, year round. I’ve been keeping records since we first moved here in mid-January.

Month Av. High Av. Low
February

26.2

18.5

March

26.9

19.4

April

27.2

19.9

May

27

19.6

June

26.3

19.5

July

26

19.5

August

25.9

19.3

Almost always the temperature gets up to around 26°C or 27°C, usually before noon; and then drops to around 19°C at night. That’s 79°-80° F during the day, 66°-68° F at night. Pretty darn comfortable. There has not been much deviation from the averages. The highest temperature we’ve recorded is 31°C (~88° F), once; and the lowest, 15° C (~59° F), again once.

No wonder Ticos and Ticas are always smiling and Costa Rica is consistently perched at the top of global happiness indices, The country is beautiful, the climate amenable. There’s no huge disparity in wealth, people share the same kind of lives. People know their neighbors; families are close and supportive. And unlike Americans, Costa Ricans aren’t obsessed by bombing, invading, or otherwise dominating other countries.It’s not even an option: Costa Rica dissolved its military in 1948 in response to the armed forces intervening in a presidential election.

Costa Rican militaryCosta Rica’s Military

Life in Costa Rica: nothing special, simply a gift to be enjoyed by all. ¡Pura vida!