Tuesday, March 29, 2011

If I Had a Nickle...

If I had a nickle for every time I planned to do something in Costa Rica, and didn't, I could retire to a tropical paradise.  Hey...  Wait a minute!

Friday, March 25, 2011

University of Costa Rica - Getting Plugged In

This weekend is the UCR Expo, three days of "getting to know your local University!"  It's something like a combination of a fiesta, feria, and open house - there are dozens of food and craft booths, sellers of all things Costa Rican, many workshops and information centers, and half a dozen stages presenting music, dancing, martial arts demonstrations, and work-out regimes.

This morning, we strolled the few blocks from our house and wandered around.  We had a few things in mind that we wanted to see, but pretty quickly found much more to do.  We had walked through the campus many times (it makes a nice short-cut to many places we go), but hadn't really stopped to find out more than a smattering of what was there.  This time, the only real purpose was to do just that - discover what the campus had to offer.

Some snapshots:
  • posters touting studying science abroad (a lot of opportunities in Italy!)
  • a new-to-us cafeteria (near the music building, and so we saw some musicians hanging out, playing)
  • an even better short-cut :-)
  • a lively soccer game
  • even more sculptures
We also stopped at a few information stations.  One of these was about the Costa Rican folkloric music, and what they are doing to archive it.  While the music is not (yet?) available online, you can request digitized copies by email. (www.artesmusicales.ucr.ac.cr)

UCR is using and promoting a lot of free software, including using it as part of the coursework.  There was a room full of demonstrations, and the first one we encountered was a CD burner for Ubuntu!  Rick quickly got passed to the experts in video and audio editing, and got a nice demonstration of the free-ware available. He came away with a *lot* of information, and was *very* encouraged! (csl-tec.softwarelibrecr.org)

Well.... Since Rick had such luck, I finally screwed up my courage and approached an expositionista in the pottery/ceramics tent.  She was *lovely!*  We talked about the School of Art - what types of art are taught (painting, ceramics, wood sculpture, etc!), and - most importantly, how I could join a class here and there without being a full-time student on a career path!  I had heard that people 56 years and older could audit classes (no placement exams, could be part-time), and I knew several full-time "regular" students, but I had never heard how someone in the middle (like me) could attend a class or two.  Opportunities for getting involved at UCR is one of the main attractions for living where we do!  So, now I'm a step closer :-)

Of course, no open-house is complete without *food!*  We got  a nice big chunk of 100% pure cocoa from a woman who made it herself, on her Finca Loroco in Talamanca.  Then we got a jar of cas pulp from the executive chef of Ay, Que Rico! from Heredia.  He had several other pulps and sauces, and we had a nice foodie moment talking about how to use them :-).  Earlier, I had seen interesting items like pejibaye flour - I'll probably go back for that...

------- contact info --------
Free software sites:

Escuela Artes Plásticas
Lilliana (for info on matriculation, session dates, what to do, etc)

Finca Loroco:  fincaloroco@gmail.com
Dirección 300 m hacia Carretera a las Cataratas, Volio, Talamanca.  Familia Moreno Vargas
fax:  506.2751.0283

Ay, Que Rico!
Luis Mathieu M.
Chef Ejecutivo
8829.3464, 2262.2744
Urb. Boruca 1, Mercedes Norte, Heredia

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

National Theatre 2011 Season

The National Theatre MedioDía has gotten off to a great start!  A few things have changed since last year - entrance is now c1000 ($2) instead of c500, and there are many Tuesdays of dance and theatre as well as music. 

Today was the first musical performance, and for me it's all about the music!  We hosted the Juilliard Jazz Artist Diploma Ensemble, with 3 members from the USA, one from Australia, and the charming Spanish-speaking Italian.  They are on a tour of Costa Rica, and definitely worth going to see!

Some other activities and events:
  • Master class and concert at Universidad Nacional - Heredia
  • Master class at UCR
  • Transcultural session at the San Pedro Centro Cultural Costarricense Norteamericano
  • Master class at Teatro Eugene O'Neill
  • Concert at Palmares - Colegio San Agustín
  • Concert for students of MEP - Teatro Eugene O'Neill
  • Concert at Hotel Club de Mar - Jacó
  • Concert at Teatro Copaza - Quepos

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pesky Ants

Costa Rica has an amazing diversity of plants and animals, including ANTS!  Outside, they are fairly easy to avoid, and I have gotten used to watching out for the trails - no fun getting swarmed, or even bitten just once.  But once they are inside the house, they are fair game for full-on extermination.

Of course, the first thing to do is try to keep the ants from coming in force.  I can live with a few here and there, so I don't worry too much about a one-day trail in the bathroom.  However, there are some species that send in "scouts," and if they are able to report back that there are ant-yummies available, then you will have waaay too many visitors!  The scouts I notice are the large (almost 1/2 inch long) red or black ants that meander around the floors, usually at night.  When I see them, they're squished and flushed.  Usually I see one per night for perhaps 2 or 3 nights, then they give up. 

There is no sense in tempting fate!  Keep sweets sealed, put away food in a timely manner, and keep your counters and stove clean.  You don't have to go crazy, but a quick swipe with the cleaning rag after dinner is a great way to cut down on ants (not to mention other nasties).  If you use sugary sodas or coffee creamers, then it's also important to wipe the counters after using these - minute amounts go flying, and the ants will find them!

If a trail of ants becomes too much, I make a solution of half water and half vinegar (any kind will do), and wipe the trail with it.  At the same time, I'll use the solution to wipe down the counters, bathroom edges, and other likely places.  Usually, the ants are gone right away.  But sometimes they are driven in by weather, and so it can take a few days of vinegar-wipes to completely discourage them.

About a year ago, the ants seemed to completely take over my kitchen.  I couldn't even leave out a batch of cookies long enough to cool, and they swarmed over a carrot cake that was on top of the refrigerator in less than half an hour!  That was the last straw!  I mixed up some ant poison, and set some out.  I have since had an entire year (plus!) free from ants :-)  The recipe - in a small 1/4 cup jar, combine a tablespoon each of honey, water, and boric acid.  Shake well.  Dribble a little in the lid and leave it behind the microwave.  Leave the open jar on top of the refrigerator.  Check it every 6 months - it should still be a thin syrup.

PS - you can get boric acid at most pharmacies; I haven't been able to find it in grocery stores.

PPS - if you have pets, a good way to protect their food from ant invasions is to place the food bowl in the middle of a larger bowl of water, creating a moat that the ants won't (usually) cross.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Green Bean Home Fries

Green Bean Home Fries

In a large skillet (12"), heat oil. 
- 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 potato, sliced

Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, cover, and let cook for about 5 minutes, stirring once.

- 1/2 pound green beans, cut into pieces about 1/2 inch long
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Cover and cook till done (~7 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Serve as a side dish, or add bacon and cheese for a main dish.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Puerto Viejo Again :-)

Puerto Viejo is becoming an annual trip for me, coinciding with my brother's visits :-)

I decided I had enough photos of the area for a while, so I left my camera behind - now that's travelling light!  Unfortunately, I also left behind part of my CPAP machine, so my sleep was not optimal - but still not all bad (very nice to know this for the future).  I did bring my very own snorkel gear - my only rental this trip was the bike!

We splurged on a dinner at La Costa de Papito but most of our dinners were from street vendors - the chicken on a stick with hot sauce is to die for!  And the big plus is that is leaves plenty of room for ice cream :-).  "Deelight" ice-cream parlor serves gelato that has the most *intense* flavor I have ever had in Costa Rica.  Choko orange - OMG!  It is right across from the bus stop, and is on my must-must-must do list.  Coming from a die-hard ice-cream lover, that is really saying something...  Oh yes, the Italian owners/chefs are simply lovely to talk to as well!

We continued the eat-on-the-street theme for lunch - bought french bread at a bakery on the South side of Puerto Viejo, got water, sodas, beer, wine, cheese and yogurt drinks at a grocery store, and ate at the beach whenever we got hungry :-).  I discovered (a little late, but not entirely *too* late) that I like to carry a little something to drink with me - so, I poured some wine into an old soda bottle and sipped it to cool off that hot street chicken. 

Most restaurants in Puerto Viejo now serve filtered water when you ask for a "vaso de agua" - there is a very minimal charge, if any, and it does cut down on the "water issues."  There are also places that advertise water-bottle refills all along the main drag.

We rented bikes one day, and rode down the coast along the mostly-newly-paved road.  This was a *considerable* improvement over last year's body-bruising cruise.  Tides were high, and a storm was coming in, so the waves were pretty rough, but the water was still lovely.  And the rain held off until we were all tucked up for the night :-).

The weather was generally very nice!  Temperatures were in the low 80's, and there was a nice breeze.  Humidity was often in the 50's, and never oppressive.  We had rain two nights, and a couple of hours of mist-and-drizzle one day - no umbrella needed, although we did see a couple of people riding bikes with an umbrella held just so :-).

I finally have to admit that the Cactus Juice I have simply does not work against the biting bugs in Puerto Viejo - I now have more than 40 bites as my unwanted proof.  After a couple of evenings of providing ice-cream enriched blood to the wretches, Big Bro saved us all by buying a bottle of DEET...

Coming back, I got a small surprise.  Usually, the bus stops at an immigration check-point just past Limón - an immigration officer checks everyone's passport or cédula to make sure everyone is legally in the country. (So if you're a tourist, it's important to carry your actual passport.  Or perhaps at minimum, a copy including entry stamp.)  But this time, we didn't stop!  Good news for my travel companion, since she only had a copy of her passport info page (not the entry stamp).  Bad news, only because now I don't know what would happen in this circumstance.  Of course, that good news far outweighs the bad...

--- trip details ---
  • This time, we hopped the 10:00 bus from San José on Monday morning (crowded), and I returned on the 9:00 Friday morning bus (half empty) - each was c4545 (~$9). The trip is about 4 hours, including a 10 minute stop in Limón (run for the bathroom, since there is only one, and please wash your hands in the sink outside, not inside the women's room).
  • You can buy your ticket from San José at least 2 days in advance, and all seats are assigned.  
  • You can buy your return ticket only one day in advance, and seating is open.  The bus starts in Sixaola, about 1 hour away, so boarding time in Puerto Viejo is *very* approximate - bring your patience.
  • We stayed at the Cabinas Casa Verde, still my favorite place to stay there (it's for sale!).  Even though there are ceiling fans, we find that it is more comfortable to bring a small personal fan as well.
  • Cruiser Bikes rent everywhere for c3000/day (return by 6 pm).
  • There are several farmacias in town, and at least one had Breathe-Right strips (3 for c850).
  • Taxis between Playa Cocles and Puerto Viejo run c2000.
  • Electric Golf carts rent for $70 for 24 hours, and have headlights and enough juice for 6 hours of solid running.
  • Pareos sencillos sell for c5000 (I got a nice yellow one this time).
  • Casados run about c2700; a little more on the main drag, a little less a couple of blocks inland.
  • "Chocolate y Pan" turned into a regular breakfast place for us.
  • Almost everywhere had 2x1 drinks for happy hour, usually 4:30-7, often c2000 for *large* tumblers of daiquiris or piña coladas.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Manuel Antonio!

Unbelievably, in the FIVE years we've been in Costa Rica, we had never visited Manuel Antonio.  Thankfully, Visiting Brother was up for the trip :-).

Our first glimpse of the beach...
Beautiful beach for sitting, listening to crashing waves, watching birds dive, and just being...
A little watcher (who was really watching whom?)

--- trip details ---
We decided to rent a car and *drive* instead of taking the bus.  We got a "full-size" car from Dollar for about $30/day, including the mandatory insurance.  We had confirmed earlier with our credit card company that they would cover additional insurance, so we waived that.  Renting from Dollar was pretty painless!  Every car rental place here requires you to sign a "blank" credit card slip to cover damages, etc.  We certainly didn't like doing that, but at least Dollar puts their name on the slip, reducing the risk somewhat.  We had also double-checked with our credit card company on this situation, and they said they would treat it like any other fraudulent charge if something was inappropriately charged using this slip. 

I took the bus to pick up the car in the morning, and drove it back to the house to pack up (bus, rent car, get directions, drive home, took about an hour and a half).  The day after we got back, I returned it early in the morning, and caught the 7:45 bus to class.  The entire experience was a far cry from the first time we tried to rent a car here!

We left San Pedro, on the East side of San José, at 12:15.  After several ahem, "sightseeing" detours, and one official detour, we arrived in Manuel Antonio at about 4:00.  All told, the detours probably only added a bit more than a half hour to the trip.

We decided to see a little more of the country on our return, so we went back via San Isidro de El General.  We left Manuel Antonio at 9:15, driving South along the coast, were in Dominical 2 hours later, and stopped to stretch our legs in the park at San Isidro at 12:30.  We drove through the 11,000 foot pass of Cerros de los Muertos, and stopped for lunch while we were still pretty high up (and while it was still pretty cold!).  We got to San Pedro about 4:00, got gas (The entire trip took less than 1/2 a tank! It took about $24 to fill up.), and got a load of groceries ('cause we had a *car* to haul it all home!).

Manuel Antonio park entrance fees are c1600 for residents and $10 for tourists.  Our hotel was between the two entrances/exits (very convenient!).  We ate a *lot* of our meals at Costa Linda, an almost-hostel backpacker surfer place.  This would be a great place to stay if you don't need air conditioning or private bathrooms, and if you can ignore the very prevalent smokers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13 - National Oxcart Driver Day

aka Día Nacional del Boyero, is a day to celebrate the oxcart drivers of Costa Rica.  The weekend celebration started Saturday, but having just returned from a week at the beach, we decided to just go for the parade on Sunday (with a little hope for some pre-parade music).

Plan A:
- leave at 7:30-ish, catch the San Pedro bus into San José
- catch the Sabana Cementerio bus to the Coca-Cola terminal
- catch the 8-something bus to San Antonio de Escazú
- get there in time to see the folk music at 9

Plan B:
- ask people at Coca-Cola about the best bus and stop for the fiesta; change if it make sense
- if we can't find the music, find a café and wait for the parade to find us

What Really Happened:
- left about 7:50, caught the San Pedro bus, then the Sabana Cementerio bus to Coca-Cola
- walked around a bit looking for the right Escazú bus; caught the 8:30 bus.  "looking for the right bus" included asking people in line about the fiesta (one blank look, immediately followed by a "you bet, San Antonio" from her neighbor).  Confirmed with the driver, who was a bit caught off-guard by the question.  Listened as another passenger asked the driver more specific questions about the fiesta.  Managed to mention this fact to the French couple behind us, who were also going (done in French, thank you very much!).  Watched said person like a hawk, and followed him all the way to the festivities :-).
- left the bus at 9:00, walked the 6 blocks in a few minutes to the San Antonio church area.  No folk music.  Food stalls were getting set up, but definitely not ready for us.  Had coffee and pastry at Musmanni's - now why is it that I can never tell if I'm spelling that right?  It's a bakery chain all *over* Costa Rica, and I stop in regularly!
- found a seat in the shade; waited, listened, watched
- 10:30 - heard that the parade had started (we were at the finish line).  More people start to show up.
- 12:30 - no oxen. Getting hungry.  Getting a sore behind.  Sunburnt.  Still enjoying watching the action and talking to our neighbors. 
- We wait a bit longer, then decide to eat.  Meander down to the food booths - I got a chorreada (YUM!), and some real food.  I soooo love fiesta food!
- 1:00 - finished lunch, walked around a few minutes, and lo and behold, there's the first part of the parade!
- cameras are out!
- 1:30 - look for our bus back to San José and home!

Next time:
- leave home about 10:00, wearing sunscreen
- take the San Antonio de Escazú bus to the terminus, walk 3 blocks to the church
- eat fiesta food lunch
- watch oxcarts come in, get blessed, and judged
- eat more fiesta food :-)
- bus home about 3:00

Front of the parade - brass band and giant heads, followed by.... OXEN!
At the very end of the parade, the oxen - and passengers :-) are blessed by the priest - cool water at the end of a long hot ride.
Somewhat smaller participants:
Even smaller fiesta-goer!
The After-Party Crowd

Monday, March 7, 2011

No Gas!!!

Argh!  I ran out of gas! 

I use propane gas from a small tank for cooking, and *love* it!  But I was always paranoid about running out of gas in the middle of cooking - after all, when else would you run out of gas?  So, about a year ago (or was it two?), I got a second tank.  The *idea* was to always have a full back-up tank.  When the one in use became empty, I would switch tanks, and *immediately* call the gas guy to give me a refill.  One tank usually lasts 3 months.  Well, I kept my empty around just a little too long this time, and last night (Sunday, the one day the gas guy does not deliver), my dinner was nearly done, and ... phft!  No gas. Luckily, I have a microwave, and the dinner was nearly cooked, so we got to eat...

I let Pura Vida get the better of me - but then Pura Vida took care of me too :-)

---- if you need cooking gas ----
Tropigas delivers (to many places, but not all) Monday - Saturday, 7am - 7pm.  Their free servicio express center is 800-876-7442.  They exchange your empty tank for a full one, and charge the going rate for the gas (currently just under c9000 for a 25# tank).  The first time you call, they get all your pertinent information (phone number, address, needs, etc).  The next time:
- you say you want servicio express
- they confirm your address (based on the number you call from, which they can see)
- they tell you the price, based on your last order
- you tell them what bills you will pay with (so they will have the correct change)
- they will give you a time estimate; mine has been delivered anywhere between 15 minutes and and hour and a half
- I always ask if the guy can test the tank(s).  The last time, he tightened my regulator valve for me :-)
- *Immediately* bake some cookies to make sure everything is working right...


Monteverde is one of the must-see spots in Costa Rica - what did we do?  Went hiking in the Cloud Forest, took nature photos, saw frogs and butterflies, had cheese fondue for dinner, "enjoyed" two long dusty bus rides...
Thankfully, they included amazing sunsets!
 We saw some familiar butterflies, and a whole lotta new ones!

 Our tour of the frog ponds started with one of the largest specimens I have ever seen :-)
We took the route suggested by the park ranger, hiking to the continental divide at 4700 feet - on one side, we saw the Nicoya peninsula and gulf:
On the other side of the path, we looked East to the Atlantic:
Decided it was good luck (when isn't it?) to stop for a snog :-)
Came back from the divide via the hanging bridge (yes, I walked across it too, but *very* carefully)!

Our Trip details:
  • Our bus left from San Jose at 2:30.  The normally 5 hour ride became 6 1/2 due to traffic and bridge repairs.  Note that the published bus information is not up to date - currently, buses leave SJ (and Santa Elena) at 6:30 am and 2:30 pm.  Buy your return tickets (assigned seats) from the boleteria half a block from the bus terminus.  Cost = c2350 each
  • All buses (including shuttles) stop/start from the North corner of Santa Elena town (it is a triangle).
  • We stayed at the Swiss Hotel Miramontes, owned and run by Walter and Kathi Faisthuber (2645-5152 www.swisshotelmiramontes.com)
  • The Santa Elena preserve is less crowded, but we braved the Monteverde preserve and didn't run into too many people :-).  Entry cost = $5 for nationals (citizens and residents), $17 for tourists.
  • Shuttle buses from Santa Elena town to both preserves run throughout the day.  To Monteverde (old yellow schoolbus) is c600.  To Santa Elena preserve is $2.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Something New...

I'm taking a hiatus from painting while visitors are here - we're roaming the countryside :-).  My last complete painting was something very new for me (at the urging of Rick, the sky-guy).