WRAPPING UP THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

March 18, 2015 - We come now to our wrap-up for Wintering in Costa Rica 2015. I still have plenty to write after this last posting from Costa Rica 2015. I will post an entry or two from Michigan this Spring. I am saving a special edition about our friend and neighbor in Costa Rica, Stan Kauffman. However, today we lock the door on casa modelo, Santiago, Costa Rica, 2015, with a long post, interspersed with photos. 

This year, we enjoyed an amazing beach in Costa Rica named Playa Ventanas. We visited twice and I would have loved a few more visits. The best part of discovering this beach is Bob really likes it. Bob is notorious for not being a beach bum. However, at Playa Ventanas there is plenty of shade, the parking area is well-tended, and it is very clean. Also, there is a lovely prevailing ocean breeze. We'll spend more time at Playa Ventanas next year, God willing. It is a lovely day trip for us. The location offers snorkeling and ocean kayaking along with horseback riding and sport fishing. Ocean kayaking and snorkeling are at the top of my list for next year. I think also another zip line adventure. Nothing like some zip line fun in Costa Rica. All of which can be found in the Playa Ventanas area.
The beach gets its name because of the caves that commence at the beach and run to the ocean. During low tide, you can walk almost completely through each cave before you meet the ocean as it begins to roar through the cave tunnels to the beach in a tumble of cascading waves. The cave acoustics amplify shrieks of delight and laughter throughout the tunnels.


Playa Ventanas is loved by Ticos and foreigners and is often proclaimed as one of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. It is located by the popular tourist town of Ojochal in Osa and is just south of the National Park, Marino Ballena. This area is a gorgeous location in Costa Rica and easy for us to visit from our rental location. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.  http://www.anywherecostarica.com/regions/south-pacific/maps

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How about a visit to Cloudbridge in San Gerardo de Rivas? It is a spectacular site and not that far from our rental casa! Having recently read about the area, we wanted to spend a little bit of time before we depart for USA. We want to know right where to go in 2016 to spend some quality time at Cloudbridge. If you are in college or even high school or just want to travel on a volunteer work vacation, you must check  out Cloudbridge as opportunities abound. I am providing a link to the website. Once again, another treasured discovery.

http://www.cloudbridge.org/
We enjoyed an evening at the home of Romay, Leila, and daughter Amanda. You may recall Romay and Leila visited our casa when we celebrated Bob's 70th birthday. They invited us as well as cousin Barb to spend an evening with them.  Another magical evening in Santiago when we were welcomed into their home.

We arrived to find Amanda and her study partner working on a 6th grade class project. How fun to observe this educational activity occurring in another country. Amanda also found time to draw a special picture for us. Barb, ever the educator, tested Amanda on her English, one of Amanda's favorite subjects. While we all practiced our Spanish, Amanda practiced her English. Meanwhile, in the backyard of the house, Romay and some amigos, who visited on horseback, were pressing sugar cane.  Barb was recruited to help and that served up plenty of belly laughs. Leila busied herself preparing dinner and we were treated to music.  Oh my goodness, Romay and Leila are gifted musically! Romay strummed his acoustic guitar and then moved to his keyboard all while both he and Leila sang. Hard to describe the beauty of such an evening.  

On Saturday, we experienced another grand time with cousin Barb, when we were hosted by Bel and his wife Xinia for an evening meal along with Xinia's married daughter Vanessa, her husband and her in-laws, and Xinia's daughter Monica.  It was a lovely occasion, filled with good conversation and many laughs. Of course, delicious food from the hands of Xinia and her daughters.  We lingered after our meal and said goodnight to the sun and hello to the Costa Rican night. The fellas had fun trying to scare up some creatures of the night, with little success I might add. We especially enjoyed learning about their type of firefly, a.k.a. lightning bug, and in Spanish a luciérnaga. Here is a link that might interest a few of our readers about the lightning bug in Costa Rica:  http://fireflyforest.net/firefly/2008/01/16/firefly/
The following day, after Sunday service, some of the young Mennonite girls asked if they might call upon us that afternoon. To which I replied, “Sure! We'd be delighted.” Shortly after 3 p.m. A car pulled into our drive. You surely remember the fun prank when a tiny car stops, the car door opens, and one passenger after another exits the car. More than could ever reasonably fit into the vehicle. That's about what happened when the young gals visited. One sweet Mennonite girl after another climbed out of the auto. So how many sweet Mennonite gals can fit in one car? Answer: twelve. They brought tea, coffee, and pastries. It was a memorable afternoon to be sure. One of our guests was Wendy, mom to several of the girls. Wendy and Barb, both quilters, had an excellent time visiting about their shared hobby. What a lovely way to spend a late Sunday afternoon in Santiago, Costa Rica!

During cousin Barb's short March visit, we also had the pleasure of another elegant dining experience on Nat and Carmen's verandah much like we enjoyed in January with the Russell's. Nat is becoming so masterful with his smoker grill. The ribs he smoked were outstanding as were all the sides prepared by Carmen and the children and expertly served by the young Yoders. We departed, again, after lots of happiness with the usual, wonderful, warm, fuzzy feeling our dear friends evoke. Time with the Yoder family is priceless and intended to be savored.

This past Monday, after we sent Barb off on the first leg of her journey back to USA, we hosted a Pizza Party at our casa for our landlord and his Family. Joining us were Nat's sister Gloria and her hubby Issac and their toddler Cesia as well as a young man from the USA participating in some Mennonite mission work. We also included our casa caretaker Bel, his wife Xinia, and her girls Monica, Vanessa and Vanessa's husband Christian. There were 17 of us enjoying Chef Roberto's super pizza. I neglected to take photos, as I was too busy communing with the guests. A lot of Spanish was spoken and I do believe it counts as a Spanish immersion program for us.

Tuesday night the local Mennonite bishop and his family broke bread with us. Bishop Richard and his family are excellent farmers. Bob wanted to share with them a method of farming called aquaponics which he felt might be a great interest to them. Bob believes aquaponics would be an excellent method for farming in Costa Rica where there are a lot of Talapia farms. In case you are curious, here is a link​  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC17cRT7p8Eh_ytdGd_wG37A














As I write this it is the evening of March 18. It happens to be my 68th birthday. This morning Bob and I visited the Mennonite school and played some fùtbol (soccer) with the students at recess. It is a special day because our landlord's youngest Lydia is also celebrating her birthday. So, during recess the two of us were treated to birthday cupcakes, ice cream, fruit, and soda. I've included some photos from today for your enjoyment.  We are the players in the shorts!

​As I write this it is the evening of March 18. It happens to be my 68th birthday. This morning Bob and I visited the Mennonite school and played some fùtbol (soccer) with the students at recess. It is a special day because our landlord's youngest Lydia is also celebrating her birthday. So, during recess the two of us were treated to birthday cupcakes, ice cream, fruit, and soda. I've included some photos from today for your enjoyment.  We are the players in the shorts!



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We love Costa Rica. The real affection, though, and attraction for us, are our friends in Costa Rica, including several expats from USA, Canada, and England. We certainly miss our girls, their husbands, and our grandchildren, other family and friends in Michigan, as well as our Church family at St. Paul's ACC. We miss them immensely and it is always a joy for us to return to the familiarity of Michigan.

We are ready for that trip back to the USA; however, the truth is in a few short months we will notice a faint tug on our hearts. It will build over the beautiful Michigan summer and into the beginning of the colorful fall, and finally we will say to one another while enjoying our morning cup of Church Grounds Coffee, “We are homesick!” Homesick for Pura Vida en Costa Rica! Right about then, God willing, we'll book our air tickets and start the countdown for our 2016 Wintering in Costa Rica! We'll keep you posted.


Museo Nacional De Costa Rica – The National Museum of Costa Rica

March 12, 2015 -  As we know, the purpose of a country's national museum is to care and preserve a country's heritage. Each country accomplishes this important task through archaeological collections, designation of historic locations and/or buildings, monuments, and prominent displays of artifacts. Surely we can all agree, it is crucial to be familiar with one's national heritage by endeavoring to obtain knowledge about where our society has been and where we are going, both the positive as well as the negative.
In San Jose, Costa Rica, Bob's cousin Barb and I spent time immersed in a historic building which serves as the National Museum of Costa Rica. The building is a former army headquarters of days long ago in Costa Rica. There is a classic turret that clearly displays bullet pockmarks from intense fighting during a 1931 army mutiny and the 1948 revolution. It is also the site where President José “Don Pepe” Figueres dismantled Costa Rica's military which became official in 1949.

Given the structure's history, it struck me ironic that the entry to the building and its displays commences with a stroll through a gorgeous enclosed butterfly garden. A peaceful display of tropical flora and fluttery beauty. The building is well-restored and presents not only its own history, but a good amount of Costa Rica's in general. Though not as extensive as other National Museums in different countries, it is nonetheless, quite educational.

In particular, Barb and I became immensely fascinated with the display and history of Costa Rica's famous Spheres. The stone spheres are carved from a rock of molten magma called gabbro. The orbs can be found throughout Costa Rica along with artifacts from 200 BC – 600 AD in addition to items dated around 1000-1500 AD. The Diquís culture disappeared following the Spanish conquest of 1502. The spheres were not discovered until some 400 years later. We were so fascinated that this past Tuesday, Barb, Bob, and I visited a recently inaugurated in situ sphere archaeological location called Finca 6 located in the Diquís Delta in Costa Rica's Osa Province.

If you are interested, the links below will provide you with further information. As always, we have plenty of photos to share as you will discover below this blog entry.



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Museo Del Jade - “…wise men have seen in jade all the different virtues.” 

March 11, 2015:  The first week of March, the three amigos (Barb, Stan, and Peg) visited the new Museo Del Jade (Jade Museum) in San Jose. This newly constructed contemporary architectural building houses and protects one of the most important Pre-Columbian jade collections in the Western Hemisphere. There are over 5000 plus pieces in the collection. Jade was considered more valuable as a commodity than gold.

In addition to the vast displays of Jade in the museum, there are also many other Pre-Columbian artifacts to view. Five floors of the museum present the Pre-Columbian collection and each floor has a different theme.

The first is the “Threshold.” This particular area provides an enormous number of intricate jade pieces with varying degrees of symbolism and social use, figurines to jewelry, all presented in an elegant, very large, serpentine showcase. It is spectacular.
The next floor is “Hall 2” and is called simply “The Jade.” This area is concerned with acquainting one with the origin of jade and its processing. You learn about the commercial route of the mineral as well as its many uses from social to shamanic ceremonies.
The next level is “Hall 3” and is called “The Day.” Here we learned about the daily life of the people. In this area are many artifacts ranging from amazing pottery with various purposes to stone crafted tables and other implements of the Pre-Columbian life.
We continued our education of the era in “Hall 4,”  designated as “The Night.” In this room we are introduced to the nocturnal flying mammal the bat and its place in the Pre-Columbian mythology. We also learned about Pre-Columbian war games, different types of rituals and funerary offerings.

“Hall 5” presents “The Ancestral Memory” by showing the traditional manners from the Pre-Columbian period in Costa Rica.  The hall includes displays of body ornaments, musical instruments, Pre-Columbian “manufacturing,” and sexuality roles. 
There is also a hall housing “The Visitable Collection.” This hall does have showcases, but also many cabinets each with several drawers. These cabinets contain and protect various objects of jade, ceramic, stone, bones, shell all from the various archaeological regions of Costa Rica. We opened a few drawers to exam and quickly realized one could spend hours in that hall alone. It was fascinating.

The final floor we visited appears to be designed for the display of various art and we think it changes periodically.  The day we visited we were treated to an art display entitled “La Figura Humana.” It is a study of the human figure sleeping, resting, working, and at play.  The exhibit provides information about each artist and their intent behind their displayed paintings or sculpture.

The Museo del Jade artfully portrays the great importance of jade in the everyday life of the Pre-Columbian people. After viewing the enormous quantity of archaeological artifacts, various large-scale dioramas, several clever introductory animations in each hall, and the general ambience within the entire museum extremely well-thought out for each “hall,” we were extremely impressed. Indeed, it was time well-spent in San Jose, Costa Rica, and I, for one, would enjoy revisiting. I'll leave you to ponder the words of the well-known Chinese Philosopher Confucius:

“…wise men have seen in jade all the different virtues. It is soft, smooth, and shining, like kindness; it is hard, fine and strong, like intelligence; its edges seem sharp, but do not cut like justice; it hangs down to the ground, like humility; when struck, it gives a clear, ringing sound, like music; the stains in it, which are not hidden and which add to its beauty are like truthfulness; its brightness is like Heaven, while its firm substance, born of the mountains and waters, is like the Earth.”
 

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DO YOU KNOW THE WAY TO SAN JOSE....

March 9, 2015

Okay, so Burt Bacharach and Dionne Warwick weren't rhapsodizing about San Jose, Costa Rica, but I'm going to in this blog! San Jose, Costa Rica, proved to be a fascinating city with very attractive cultural museums and numerous well-groomed parks with monuments and plenty of flora.

Stan Kauffman, our neighbor in the same Costa Rican development in which we reside, accompanied me on the bus from San Isidro to San Jose. Fortunately, we are experienced bus passengers over the Mountain of Death. We knew to ask for seats at the very front of the bus. Anyone who is afflicted with motion sickness would want to be medicated on this particular bus route. However, sitting at the front of the bus for us seems to ward off motion sickness. However, we know for a fact that doesn't work for everyone.
Once in San Jose, Stan and I decided to walk to our lodging Casa 69, a quaint boutique hotel within safe walking distances to major attractions. This was the selected lodging based on Stan's recommendation, a frequent visitor to Casa 69.

At Casa 69 we met up with Bob's cousin Barb who arrived from the USA the previous evening. Barb and her husband Tony visited us in Costa Rica for a few weeks last year and the previous year Barb joined us sans Tony. This year hubby Tony elected to stay in Michigan to keep the home fires burning and the driveway plowed. Tony had a great time last year in Costa Rica, but we guess this year his hankering for sub-zero temps and snowplowing was overpowering. What!!!  We hope next year Tony will seek the pleasure of a hammock in Costa Rica and let the snow pile up in Michigan.

Meanwhile, back in San Jose, Costa Rica, we three amigos spent the remainder of our afternoon sauntering about the general area getting our bearings, visiting the arts and crafts market, and enjoying an excellent late afternoon meal at a nearby restaurant. We elected to stop into a local shop to pick up some goodies for an evening repast at the hotel.

Our evening was a lively one. Casa 69 has a lovely enclosed courtyard area where they serve breakfast and where lodgers can also gather throughout the day and into the evening. We decided to linger, visit, and snack as we listened to some lovely background music playing softly throughout the common areas. We also made the acquaintance of a charming gal from Charlotte, North Carolina, staying at Casa 69. Kim joined us for lots of laughs and stories. Kim departed for USA the next day and we hope she will stay in communication with us. It was a happy connection!

Being in the hub of a happening area, there were noises to contend with at night including a commuter train. (Costa Rica has a very limited rail system, but we are now familiar with it!) The hotel provides noise-canceling devices which supposedly comfort folks who may otherwise have difficulty sleeping with the street noises. However, the next morning we each reported enjoying a good night's sleep without any mechanical assistance.

My next blog will treat you to some great photos and describe our excellent tour of the San Jose Jade Museum. This museum recently relocated to a stunning new building. It exhibits, protects, and preserves one of the most important Pre-Columbian jade collection in America.

Meanwhile, here is a link to Casa 69  http://www.casa69.com/  and some photos from our first day touring San Jose. Do you have a souvenir coffee mug? Freshly brewed Church Grounds Coffee in that mug is a great idea while you reminisce about some of your favorite places you've visited.

Pizza Party

February 27, 2015

The evening of February 26, we had a pizza party for a few friends in Costa Rica. Primarily, we wanted to treat our UK friend Malcolm to a farewell pizza. Next week, Malcolm is leaving his Costa Rican finca (farm/plantation) and returning to his homeland of England for several months. Of course, his treasured finca will be maintained and cared for in his absence, but we know he will miss it a lot.  Over the years, Malcolm has poured a great deal of hard work into his patch of Costa Rica. So, last evening Malcolm and some of our mutual friends joined us for pizza and some rounds of dominoes.

Bob enjoys making pizza from scratch and there are numerous family and friends who enjoy consuming his efforts. When it is a designated Pizza Party day, whether in USA or Costa Rica, our prep routine is consistent. My role is sous chef and KP chief, but Bob does the bulk of the culinary wizardry. We busy ourselves chopping, slicing, and grating various toppings: cheese, tomatoes, green and black olives, peppers, meats, oysters, onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, pineapple, etc. (From our perspective, pizza toppings encompass a wide assortment of edibles.) All the while, the aroma of the special sauce loaded with garlic and other seasonings fills the casa. After the pie dough is mixed and rolled out, Bob semi-cooks the dough pies on the grill. Once the guests arrive, the sauce is spread on the pie, their choice of toppings loaded and the pizza is placed in the oven for the final cook. Yes, we make a mess, but who cares!

Among our guests last evening were Julian, a charming Costa Rican man with very good English, and his very sweet girlfriend Racquel, who does not speak English.  Regardless of the language barrier, she always appears to be enjoying herself.   We pull out the stops to make her feel welcomed and we practice our Spanish with her.   We knew they would enjoy the pizza, but Julian was also looking forward to introducing Racquel to Dominoes.

Once we were well-fueled on pizza, we engaged in some friendly dominoes.  There were seven of us at the domino table.  We old-timers allowed that Racquel and Julian could partner so she could learn the game. The rest of us had to fend for ourselves. Julian knew what he was doing in the company of Racquel, as Team Julian and Racquel won. We had fun and all laughed whilst Malcolm claimed it was not so much a game of strategy, but rather luck. When I am the dominoes' victor, I am certain to proclaim it is a game requiring great skill and strategy to win!

The pizza was delicious and plentiful, everyone left with a doggie bag. As always, the dominoes were great fun. We said farewell to our friend Malcolm and wished him traveling mercies. We should see Malcolm next January when he will return to Costa Rica for a month stay before heading back to England once again.   We see another pizza party on the horizon.

Oh, yes, besides other beverages to go with our pizza, we also served coffee. We set aside our Church Grounds Coffee and decided to serve the coffee grown on the property of expat friends Don and Nancy.  In fact, Don joined us for pizza and dominoes, while Nancy is state-side for a short time.  As it happens, it is through Don and Nancy that we made the acquaintance of Julian and Racquel.
 Don and Nancy  built a home on a gorgeous Costa Rican mountainside not far from us. They call their spread and habitat Nirvana. The name is perfect as it is heavenly, peaceful, and beautiful.  Their property is home to fruit trees, vanilla bean trees, and coffee plants.   Their coffee is harvested  for their private enjoyment, prepared and processed in a rather rudimentary fashion near Nirvana.  When we are in Costa Rica, we always enjoy some Nirvana Coffee with its subtle vanilla taste.
Speaking of coffee, how about some Church Grounds Coffee in your cup.  You may already know, research scientists believe coffee is good for us.  And, it isn't all that bad along with a few slices of pizza!  To prove my point, check out these links:  


Stay tuned for more blog entries. Next week I'll be spending some time in San Jose seeing some of the sights.  You can be sure I'll be taking plenty of photos and conjuring up a story or two.
FAIRGROUNDS = HAPPY DAYS

February 23, 2015

County Fairs are fun and lively events in the USA. Our grandchildren are involved in 4H and the 4H Fair in Lowell, Michigan, is enjoyed yearly. As it happens, every year when we are in Costa Rica, the Perez Zeledon Expo occurs. We find this event quite comparable to the USA county fair.

Perez Zeledon is a canton in Costa Rica and the capital city of the canton is San Isidro de General.  San Isidro is the largest city near our location in Santiago.  There are 81 cantons in Costa Rica and Perez Zeledon covers approximately 735 sq. miles.
To quote a description of the Perez Zeledon location: “The canton's boundaries are established by the Río Savegre on the northwest, the Río Guabo and a series of coastal mountain ranges on the southwest and south, and the peaks of the highest mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca (Talamanca Mountain Range) on the east. In the middle of the canton, the Río General, from which the canton's capital city takes its name, runs north to south through a beautiful valley.”

This canton is where we spend much of our time. The link below gives an excellent accounting of the Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves in the vicinity of our residence.

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/205

We visited the PZ Expo fairgrounds on February 21 en route to meet up with friends at a favorite restaurant. It was noonish and the fair was just starting to gear up for the day. The real action tends to kick in mid to late afternoon and into the evening. Nevertheless, it was a good opportunity to take some photos and check out the general scheme of things. In past years, we've visited at peak times and it is a party for sure. The PZ Expo is festive, offering plenty of musical entertainment, tons of good eats, carnival rides, games, vendors of clothing, furniture, art, jewelry, artisans of great variety, bullfights, livestock displays, and my personal favorite – dancing horses.

I love watching the dancing horses. A wooden platform is positioned in the center of the stadium (bullring) and a rider and dancing horse perform on the small platform. It is an entertaining venue and the horses are quite beautiful.
To get a better idea, here are a couple of YouTube links showing dancing horses in Costa Rica. The first one is actually from the Perez
Zeledon area during one of their horse parades. It occurs rather close to the PZ fairgrounds.

















We took some photos of PZ Expo for you. No doubt the children will enjoy the fairground sites.
Speaking of children, how about a cupcake recipe for the kids and grandkids!   Here is a great recipe for dark chocolate bacon cupcakes. To enhance the chocolate, one of the ingredients is 1 cup of cold strong, brewed coffee for  a batch of 2 dozen. Of course, you will want to use Church Grounds Coffee. Bacon, chocolate, and coffee, what's not to love?

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/dark-chocolate-bacon-cupcakes/

SANTIAGO, COSTA RICA -- A TREASURE TROVE OF BLESSINGS

February 22, 2015

ON FEBRUARY 19 Bob celebrated his 70th birthday. Ideally, we would want our girls, their husbands and our grandchildren with us to celebrate, but that was not possible. There will be a belated celebration when we return to Michigan. In fact, we will have to have one big party to celebrate several family birthdays we are missing while in Costa Rica for the winter.

To commemorate Bob's special day in Costa Rica, we prepared a spaghetti dinner and invited Costa Rican friends in Santiago who are very dear to us. These gentle, wonderful people were our initial contacts when we arrived for our first stay at the rental casa in Santiago Springs 4 years ago.

On the 19th, Bob had the pleasure of entering age 70 in the company of Nat Yoder and his family and Bel and his family, our treasured friends. (Frequent visitors to this blog, are familiar with those names.) As an extra special and truly unexpected treat, Bel's brother Romay Arias and his spouse Leila Chavez came to serenade us at our gathering. Romay is a most talented guitarist and Leila's singing is very beautiful to hear. These lovely folks are simply amazing and so gracious and we were honored by their musical gift. Talk about a birthday celebration Bob will never forget nor could have ever expected, this one was it. Bob and I were overwhelmed and truly at a loss for words.

In Santiago (the rental casa is in a development named Santiago Springs), we are not in the hubbub of a sprawling Costa Rican city with big city trappings or in the thick of oceanside playgrounds. However, given the size of Costa Rica, all of that excitement is reasonably accessible from our locale. And, as a bonus, getting from one location to another encompasses some spectacular scenery.

We are residing in a more remote, rural and rugged setting, offering cool mountain breezes and lots of local flavor.  There is an active community around us filled with friendly folks. We are fortunate to know a few nearby who speak English.   We struggle with our Spanish.  However, we are hopeful we will eventually start making some sense when speaking the local language.  Meanwhile, there's no doubt we provide plenty of giggles attempting conversation in Spanish.
There are also English-speaking expats or winter  birds like us in our general region and some we visit frequently.  In terms of miles, we are close to many of these folks. However, given the road conditions and routes, you don't just “pop in” for a short chit-chat; unless they happen to be on the way to your ultimate destination.  We have learned a lot about living in Costa Rica from all these contacts.

To make our wintering in this tropical wonderland a bit more practical, we purchased a 4-wheel drive auto in Costa Rica.  When we are not in Costa Rica, our gracious landlord looks after the car.  Another plus is that we are healthy, reasonably fit, and adventuresome, making it easier to manage the remoteness and ruggedness of Santiago rather than a metropolis.  In our Costa Rican region, the big city is San Isidro de General which is about 45 minutes. If we were to build a permanent residence in Costa Rica, without a doubt, we would select the Santiago Springs development. 

When not sightseeing or enjoying the company of friends in Costa Rica, we have plenty enough interests to occupy our days at the casa. Not a day goes by that we are not content and fulfilled. I admit we get homesick for the family back in Michigan and for our church St. Paul's ACC, but that is expected.

Speaking of St. Paul's, we miss our church family and the celebration of Mass and other worship services. Of course, there are worship houses in our Costa Rica location and those we've experienced are very welcoming. However, we are hard pressed to find services in English. We primarily frequent the Mennonite's Sunday Service and they go out of their way to inject plenty of English. We consider that a generous gesture and are so appreciative. We've also visited the local Assembly of God in our neighborhood, joining Bel and his family at services. In fact, on some evenings, we can sit on our casa's tiled patio and hear beautiful singing flowing up from the Assembly of God building.

We anticipate that Santiago will continue to gain more development and benefit of progress as it concerns roads, access, homes, and the like. Just this year a new high school campus (in Costa Rica high school is called college) was finished and is in full operation as of this month. In fact, Bel's wife Xinia is the chief “lunch lady” at the college. We have enjoyed meals prepared by Xinia, and all we can say is, those students hit the lunch jackpot!

As Bob and I talk about his recent birthday, we are struck by what a blessing God has given us by leading us to Santiago and Santiago Springs. We are so comfortable and comforted here. It is like a warm hug. When we are in the United States, we find ourselves missing Santiago's trove of treasures.

By way of further explanation, Bel partners with Nat in caretaking the casa we rent as well as the Santiago Springs/Monte Verde land development. Additionally, Nat and his state-side partners are responsible for the Santiago Springs and Monte Verde Land Development in Southern Costa Rica. If you care to learn more, access these links:


As you check out the websites, brew some Church Grounds Coffee to complete the experience. You might also enjoy some of the photos we've included with this entry.


Think Spring

February 19, 2015:  THINK SPRING - This year our Easter is April 5. As I write today, it is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and the beginning of our approach to Easter. The Lenten period is a time of reflection, penance, and fasting; culminating in the celebration of new life on Easter.  At our church St. Paul's ACC on Lake Michigan DR in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Lenten Friday Fish Fries will be up and running beginning February 20.   We don't return from Costa Rica until March 22, so we will miss out on most of those Fries, but if you are in the area, check it out.  We can assure you, St. Paul's members know how to put on an excellent Fish Fry and make everyone feel right at home!

Lent commences, Easter approaches, and I know Spring cannot be far behind.  Now, I know that is a stretch for those sitting with snow up to their eyeballs and fears of frostbite on their digits. However, just as a Michigan winter comes in its fury, a Michigan Spring will come in all its glory.  It might not be until early May, but it will come!

You might well guess, while in Costa Rica we keep current on weather conditions back home.  If we were actually in Michigan today, Bob would be pacing and complaining about the snow, the cold, and the Michigan grey days.  He would announce that winter may never end. In turn, I would remind Bob that we are one day closer to Spring! It says so on the calendar!

Were we in Michigan during February and March, frequent visits to the beautiful Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan (20 minutes from our home), would certainly brighten a Michigan winter day.  A walk-about in the various enclosed areas at Meijer Gardens offers just the ticket to escape ice, snow, and frigid temperatures.  It is warm and tropical among the Cacao Trees, Orchids, and the many other tropical plants within Meijer Gardens' Greenhouses.  Beginning in March, young and old alike come especially to watch the “Butterflies in Bloom.” This event is fun for everyone and certainly is a preamble to Spring.  http://www.meijergardens.org/
I thought about Meijer Gardens yesterday as Bob and I visited Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary not far from our location in Costa Rica.  We had a long jungle environment hike looking for birds among the tropical flora.  http://costarica.com/attractions/los-cusingos-bird-sanctuary

As for the birds, well we saw a feather on the ground, heard a few bird sounds, and maybe saw a bird zip past us.  I suspect it was a mirage.  Apparently, we don't know much about the art of birdwatching, as it was a major bust for us.  We paid $26 to enjoy the sanctuary, and, probably would not recommend this particular location for such an adventure.  Instead, based on past experiences, we recommend Wilson Botanicals near San Vito, Costa Rica,  http://www.bgci.org/garden.php?id=342  and/or The Trogan Lodge in San Gerardo de Dota, Valley of Quetzals  http://www.trogonlodge.com  .

Nevertheless, we did see lots of plants, trees, plenty of butterflies, and a petroglifo.  We hiked for quite a long time, longer than we anticipated, and when we exited we were tremendously warm and thirsty.  Note to self: Take LOTS of agua potable when hiking in the tropics.

For our Michigan family and friends, and anyone else craving the tropics, get ye to a botanical garden. In the meantime, warm yourself with a cup of Church Grounds Coffee and start thinking about your gardens for 2015! Spring is just around the corner!
We posted some photos from Los Cusingos and from other locations throughout Costa Rica where we've enjoyed the Costa Rican flora diversity. We should identify the plants for our readers, but that will have to wait for another entry. We are still educating ourselves in that regard. http://www.vivacostarica.com/costa-rica-information/costa-rica-flora.html


TOPOLANDIA – A SUBTERRANEAN HABITAT

A favorite stop for us in Costa Rica is Topolandia, translated as Mole Land. If you were to ask Bob, he would say we have Topolandia right in our yard back home in Michigan. In fact, we often speculate our property may be a training ground for all West Michigan moles. However, the Topolandia I write about is something far different and is found very near our residence in Costa Rica.
Topolandia is the dream and creation of a 63 year old gentleman Manuel Barrantes known as El hombre Topo, The Mole Man. Manuel Barrantes spent much of his life backpacking and working in various countries in Europe and South America as a miner. He perfected the trade of excavating mines. Further, he also took note of many people actually living in caves. He developed an intense interest in cave dwellings and concluded that such living quarters were ideal protection against mother nature's unpredictable temperament.

Returning to Costa Rica, Señor Barrantes located a spot of land situated on a hillside. On top of the rocky hill, sits his home which he shares with his wife and daughters. However, what is under that house, within the confines of the rocky hill, is Manuel Barrantes dwelling of his dreams, Topolandia.

Señor Barrantes, using hoes, picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows, over approximately 10 years thus far, has carved out a cave dwelling under his topside home. The cave consists of slightly over 4300 square feet of tunnels with one dropping to 52 feet. The dwelling has 9 windows and 11 entrances, with a small museum of antiques and artifacts, reflecting Manuel Barrantes interest in archaeology and geography. There are tunnels with sleeping accommodations, a room for meditation and lectures, functioning bath facilities, and crystal clear drinking water. There is electricity and the cave is naturally insulated with a temp of approximately 72 degrees year round.
Throughout the cave there are glow in the dark stencils and shapes affixed to the walls and ceilings; but those cannot hold a candle to what the owner and his wife have done to the place with their artistic carvings and drawings.

Not all the tunnel walls are flat and smooth. When particular shapes and formations are encountered, a decision is made about its possible usefulness. Once determined, a great deal of hand carving commences to create the serviceable and/or decorative attraction, according to the natural formations on the tunnel walls. It could be anything from an oversized cornucopia, a flower, the sun, a globe, an Egyptian, well-known cartoon characters, furniture, and creatures of the wild. And, everything is extremely colorful.
Topolandia is like nothing we have ever seen. Manuel Barrantes has admitted he is not finished and knowing that means we will keep returning to enjoy his masterpiece.

We've compiled some pictures of Topolandia for you. While enjoying, pour yourself a cup of Church Grounds Coffee and consider the excitement that comes with realizing a dream.


January 2015

Bob and I are in Costa Rica for our 2015 winter experience.  We've been busy and, therefore, remiss in documenting for the blog.  We will start this 2015 Blog with a review of January and will follow soon with more entries to bring us up-to-date.
Good friends Glenn and Betty Russell enjoyed the better part of January with us in Costa Rica.  We are all retirees from Amway World Headquarters in Ada, MI and share employment history and Amway experiences.  Now, as retirees, we continue to enjoy times together.  Indeed, Glenn aided Church Grounds Coffee LLC by assisting in the production of a video focusing on the fundraising opportunities available through Church Grounds Coffee LLC.   Therefore, we were excited for Glenn and Betty to see firsthand where it all began in Costa Rica.

Lucky for us, Glenn and Betty are a very congenial couple and loads of fun.  Betty is energetic, an excellent cook, and exceedingly pleasant with an immense kind heart.  She possesses a sense of humor with a twist which comes in handy given her mate's particular attributes.  Glenn is a comedian who never fails to bring hilarity with him.  He is also an AudioVisual expert with superior skills and a voice  meant for the airwaves, deep and rich. The Russells are a lovely Christian couple.  We believe they enjoyed their time with us as they are talking about joining us in Costa Rica next year, God willing.

Glenn and Betty taught us to play the card game Euchre. (Yes, we were among the few who have not played the game.)  Sadly, Glenn and Bob trounced the gals at every flip of the card. The gals tried, but seemingly failed, to redeem themselves by playing a card game called Ten Pennies, a game in the Rummy family of cards.  We gals think Glenn and Bob are card-carrying members of the “Obnoxious Card Game Winners' Society.”  Luckily, the Russells also taught us a Dominoes game that was great fun.  I can happily report: “GIRLS' RULE AT DOMINOES!” (Bob just announced he may need to rebut that statement.)

As we traveled with the Russells around Costa Rica, they developed a greater appreciation for the United States road system, even Michigan roads after the worst of winters.  Many of the roads in Costa Rica are unpaved.  Those we seem to use regularly are incredibly rocky and jagged, somewhat treacherous, and generally tough on old bones, never mind what it does to a vehicle.  In reality, these Costa Rican backroads provide adventures that are all part of the Costa Rican experience and charm.

We made enjoyable memories with Glenn and Betty as we shared with them the people and places of Costa Rica we love.  A few of the highlights were:

We dined on an evening meal at our landlord's wonderful home. Nat and Carmen Yoder and children Paula, Loli, Josh, and Lydia treated us to a memorable evening.  We ate at beautifully laid tables on their gorgeous, large verandah sipping a fine wine and enjoying a scrumptious evening meal of smoked brisket (prepared to perfection by grillmaster Nat), potato salad, and beans, topped off with dessert and coffee.  We were joined later by Nat's sister Gloria, her husband Issac, and their darling 9 month old baby girl, Cesia.  The evening was magical.

We had another very pleasant time with the Yoder family and their good friends and ours Bel and Xenia when we all traveled to Frailes, Costa Rica, for the annual coffee fair.  The day was loaded with local color and a vibrant festival atmosphere.  Although, it did become rather chilly and wet.  I think that took Glenn and Betty by surprise.  Really, the weather was Michigan spring-like.  Nonetheless, a good time was had by all.  http://www.feriadelcafe.co.cr/

We also took Glenn and Betty to the San Isidro Feria to soak up the invigorating sights and sounds of a market day in Costa Rica.  We ventured to the Pacific Coast and enjoyed the warm breezes, pristine water, and beach walking at Playa Ventanas (Windows Beach).  We topped that day off with smoothies at our favorite Spa Resort overlooking the Pacific, The Cristal Ballena (Glass or Crystal Whale)  http://www.cristal-ballena.com  and a late afternoon meal at Restaurante Valle Encantado (Enchanted Valley Restaurant).  http://www.gruposiba.com/Clientes/restaurantevalleencantado/top.html

We are sure Glenn and Betty will enjoy telling family and friends about their visit to Cavernas Topolandia.  In another entry, we will share in detail about this dramatic subterranean habitat dubbed “the work of a Mole.”  It provides a fascinating experience.  Another unusual experience was viewing an incredible freestanding dry stack rock wall of amazing length and constructed single-handedly by a petite Welsh gal, who now calls Costa Rica home.  The rock wall spans the length of her Costa Rican property and we are thunderstruck by her undertaking and achievement.  We'll share more about that in another entry.

We made sure we hiked regularly in and around our general neighborhood in Santiago, Costa Rica.  This included regular checks on a new house construction for neighbor Stan Kauffman.  Stan is an artist, tropical plant expert, and cat-fancier from Berlin, Ohio, and his Costa Rica house is a testament to his artistic eye and love of tropical plants.  No cats, though, as they stayed state-side to frolic in the Ohio winter wonderland.  Stan's Costa Rican pets seem to be tadpoles and talapia fish that have taken up residence in his reflecting pool.

Our good friend Bel and his wife Xenia, who look out for us at the rental home, took us hiking to a few of the local waterfalls.  They also hosted us for a feast at their get-away cabana in Monte Verde north of our development and their home in Santiago.  It was a farewell evening for Glenn and Betty, who would be departing the next day.

We capped the visit with Glenn and Betty by driving them back to San Jose on January 24 so they could catch their flight to the states the next day.  En route we stopped at Quepos, Costa Rica,  http://www.anywherecostarica.com/destinations/quepos  and made sure to visit our favorite restaurant located in the Costa Verde properties in Manual Antonio. 

https://www.costaverde.com/facilities.htm .  We love eating at the Anaconda while savoring some spectacular views.   And, no tourist travel along the coastal road is complete without stopping at the bridge over Rio Tarcoles. This particular stop is where enormous American crocodiles can be seen sunning in the mudflats at the bridge's base.  To be sure, many tourists make this stop and can feel safe on the bridge snapping photos.   Beware, though, as those crocodiles are vicious with a nasty reputation and have made a few headlines in the Tico Times.   http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/04/29/breaking-unidentified-man-devoured-by-crocodiles-after-falling-off-tarcoles-bridge-in-costa-rica

January 2015 provided another excellent Costa Rican adventure for us and even more so because we were able to share it with good friends.  We've included some photos to provide visuals to go with this narrative.  We suggest pouring yourself a cup of Church Grounds Coffee and munching a cookie or two while reading our blog.