March 23, 2017  /  Robert & Peggy Townsend

..trout that doesn't think two jumps and several runs ahead of the average fisherman is mighty apt to get fried.  ~Beatrice Cook, Till Fish Do Us Part, 1949p14, CDAS

A fun outing in Costa Rica is fishing and eating at a Trout Farm. I use the term “fishing” loosely. Basically, you dangle a baited hook in a pond swarming with trout. There is no escape for this tasty delight and even the most inexperienced will land their dinner.
During our various stays in Costa Rica, we've enjoyed three Trout Farm experiences. The first was very remote and a challenge to reach.  Once out of the vehicle, the intrepid diners either hike the difficult terrain or horseback to the actual ponds and cabin readied for one's dining pleasure. The surrounding landscape is mountainous and serene with lovely Costa Rican flora. Sadly, this particular farm is no longer operating. Indeed, the last time we partied there, we had a chicken dinner because all the trout had disappeared. A bit of a mystery to be sure, which afforded a great deal of speculation on our part. On the upside, we were not required to catch the chicken and, honestly, it tasted just like trout. Hah!

This year we caught our trout at newly discovered locations. These particular farms are easier to reach and involve minimal walking. Although, once you arrive, both farms have trails throughout to enjoy. And, both are situated close to a lovely river and typical Costa Rica beauty.  Regardless of which location, a delicious and filling meal is a mere 3,000 colones ($6 US).  It is a more than reasonable price for a dining adventure.

The ambiance is rustic and fun. Both locations have seclusion, but are easily found and are obviously popular weekend destinations. One is a smaller venue and fills up fast with hungry, happy local families. After the excellent meal, staying put at table chatting is somewhat discouraged as others are gathering to catch and eat. Don't misunderstand, you have the time to savor a delicious trout dinner; but once finished, it is an expected courtesy to vacate the table.

The other Trout Farm is more sprawling with many nooks and crannies in which to sit and consume a delicious trout dinner. The opportunity to linger and become enchanted is a bonus at this location.  It is very close to the mountain Chirripo and the Talamanca mountain range reserve. The locale is lush and jungle-like with many ponds set along a river bed. It is located just north of San Gerardo de Rivas and the Chirripo National Park Ranger Station. This farm will serve trout either fried or grilled.
One thing for certain, "Good things come to those who bait."



March 17, 2017  /  Robert & Peggy Townsend

Nacional una Fota Vale Más Que Mil Palabras Dia

National a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Day

Do you need a something to celebrate? Internet research on the topic of National Day celebrations lands you in the realm of “YOU'RE JOKING, RIGHT?” as you realize someone has too much time on their hands. Still, if you need incentive to greet a new day, there are loads listed on the National Day Calender website.

In March, there are several National Days - at least three on any given day to rally and celebrate. For example, during the week of March 5 you're prompted to whoop it up nationally for: Absinthe Day; Cheese Doodle Day; Multiple Personality Day; Frozen Food Day; Oreo Cookie Day; White Chocolate Cheesecake Day; Be Heard Day; Crown of Roast Pork Day; Proofreading Day; Peanut Cluster Day; Crabmeat Day; Get Over It Day; Pack a Lunch Day, and Worship of Tools Day, conveniently falling on a Saturday! Actually, the website  www.nationaldaycalendar  lists over 1,200 National Days providing most anyone with a good reason to jump for joy. However, they forgot to include “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Day”! No worries; I officially claim it today.

In recognition, I am posting photos from last month (February) when our younger daughter Annie, her husband Travis, and our granddaughters Kayla and Mia visited us in Costa Rica. It was great fun to share our life in Costa Rica with the kids. You can view some of the trip in the slideshow to follow.  I didn't capture all their adventures, such as, zip lining, thrills they experienced without the grandparents.  Photo descriptions are few and far between, also no wordy prologue loaded with details.

  Just a few comments:

During the family visit, Travis and Annie, challenged themselves to accomplish a difficult trek. They chose to hike Costa Rica's highest peak Chirripó and return to their hotel in one day. They began before sunrise and hiked over steep, difficult terrain. They came within approximately 1 km of the summit before deciding they would have to forego the summit. They needed to return to their starting point before dark and dropping temps. It was a smart move, but we wonder if they will try to achieve the summit on another visit. 
BTW, we are working on plans for a Costa Rica visit from our older daughter Carissa and her hubby and the other four grandchildren during a future winter respite in Costa Rica. Climbing Chirripó will not be on their Costa Rica adventure list. We'll stick to the Cloudbridge Nature Reserve which adjoins the Chirripó National Park and offers plenty of hiking trails.

Oh, and one last thought on National Days: it is a sure bet that most of our readers, like us, just thank God for each and every day with no need for any special enticements or labels. However, just for today, humor me and celebrate A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Day!


March 14, 2017  /  Robert & Peggy Townsend

 B&B GARDEN GRECIA

AAA TOURS TROPICAL PARADISE BUNGALOWS

We will return to the Central Valley to explore the area. When we do, we know two lodgings we will not hesitate to book. We did plenty of research before deciding on these two accommodations.  We enjoyed both during our recent Central Valley travels with Jack and Sue. Like many of our readers, we do lodging research before traveling, but in the end it entails a leap of faith and trust in reviews. And, despite promising positive reviews, we've stayed at some places that we will not re-book. That is not the case as it concerns B&B Garden Grecia and AAA Tours Tropical Paradise Bungalows.

B&B Garden Grecia is a charming bit of lodging in Santa Gertrudis just 6 minutes from the center of Grecia. The host Ronaldo (speaks excellent English) is gifted in providing superior hospitality.  Ronaldo is generous, helpful, and concerned. His kindness and attention to detail make his guests feel special and welcomed. This B&B has well-maintained grounds with very comfortable rooms in which to recuperate from a day of exploring. The breakfast provided is quite filling. The common area, Rancho Bambu, is nicely equipped.   It affords guests the opportunity to prepare their own meals or simply sit to read, play cards, or engage in a bit of socializing. Tours can easily be arranged through Ronaldo to a variety of great attractions. B&B Garden Grecia is an absolute terrific value as a home-base for the Central Valley explorer. It is located just 30 minutes from the international airport. Check out the website for all the details and definitely consider this lodging.  http://www.bandbgardengrecia.com

A drive of approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes north of Grecia/Sarchi brings one to the town of Pital.  Pital is the location of AAA Tours and their Tropical Paradise Bungalows. If you want to be off the beaten path, this is the place for you. The bungalows are a short drive to the central area of Pital; however, tucked far enough away to seem secluded. The operators Henry and Michelle are very personable. Michelle is from the United States and Henry is a Costa Rican and, of course, they speak English and Spanish.  The accommodations are excellent. The rooms are large and well-appointed. The common rancho area is modern and beautifully maintained with a gorgeous swimming pool as a focal point. The entire complex offers great ambiance and beautiful landscaping. Henry and Michelle know how to make the guests feel right at home. The best part is AAA Tours offer wonderful travel packages to help you experience the best of Costa Rica. This is personalized service and very affordable. We highly recommend.  I know we plan to return.



March 13, 2017  /  Robert & Peggy Townsend

A PROVINCIAL POINT OF VIEW

There is a province in Costa Rica we want to explore further in 2018. It is Alajuela in the Central Valley. This year we spent a few days in a portion of this province.

Alajuela (ala 'xwela) Province is in the north-central part of Costa Rica. To the north, it is bordered by Nicaragua. The adjacent Costa Rican provinces are Guanacaste to the west, Heredia to the east, San Jose to the south, and Puntarenas to the southwest.
The Central Valley is a highly populated urban area in Costa Rica. Many ex-pats, primarily from the U.S.A. and Canada with some Europeans, reside in this region. If you are city people and love proximity to city life, then the urban areas of the Central Valley are an obvious choice. Also, the climate is mild and perfectly pleasant year-round.

In Alajuela, you will find excellent affordable medical/dental private services, cultural centers offering a wide variety of interests, diverse shopping and marketing; basically, all the trappings of urban living. With the continued influx of ex-pats, establishing camaraderie with like-minded is achievable with the added option of expanding one's social horizons.
Also, given the relative small size of Costa Rica, in a Central Valley location one is not far from tourist attractions, ie, gorgeous beaches, waterfalls, national volcano parks, and typical Costa Rica agricultural landscapes and experiences. The location is an excellent choice for many. Of course, similar to urban settings in the USA, it also comes with increased incidences of crime and other undesirable scenarios.

From our point of view and preferences, the urban areas of the Central Valley are too congested and developed for our home-base. We've opted for the remoteness and life in a typical Costa Rican village in the foothills of the mountains.  We live in the province of San Jose which is bordered to the west by the province of Puntarenas which covers the Pacific Coast.  Our location provides a greater opportunity for immersion in the tico life. And, despite choosing a rural setting, we've connected with other ex-pats in the area.
However, we don't mind the traveling to reach primary tourist attractions in the Central Valley or, for that matter, most anywhere in Costa Rica. Those added miles are all part of the adventure and discovery. Our recent travels to the Central Valley introduced us to Atenas, San Ramon, Sarchi, Naranjo, Grecia and Pital environs. Despite the shortness of these trips, the enticements for return visits were plentiful.

Atenas is very close to a major Costa Rican highway. It is convenient to the Pacific Coast as well as mountainous areas. Atenas offers a fabulous climate and attractive housing options. North from Atenas are San Ramon, Naranjo, and Grecia, and each of those locations are on the ex-pats radar.  A short distance from Grecia is Sarchi, an artisan center.  Sarchi displays and promotes the amazing craftsmanship of Costa Rica.  A colorful and intriguing stop. On our next visit to this area, we will spend quality time in Sarchi.  North of those cities, we visited Pital and became familiar with AAA Tours Tropical Paradise Bungalows. And, all of these locations are not far from the International Airport Juan Santamaria.

A commonality in these cities is a lovely central park situated often very close to a beautiful church, usually Catholic. Several attractions promoted from these cities are: museums; zoos, including the World of Snakes known for exhibition, breeding, and research; architecturally stunning churches; lovely cafes and restaurants; hiking trails; bungee jumping; waterfall excursions; zip lining; hanging bridges rainforest tours; botanical gardens; coffee plantation tours; spas and yoga retreats; volcanos, and exquisite Costa Rican handicrafts in the artisan town of Sarchi. Not to mention, surrounding landscapes providing great photographic opportunities.

Each region of Costa Rica is unique and picturesque. In 7 years, we've merely skimmed the surface of Costa Rica's regions: Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limon, North Puntarenas, South Puntarenas, and San Jose. We are told, and have no reason to doubt, adventure and cultural experiences reside in every nook and cranny of this gem of a Central America country.

Readers, it occurs to me that we are fast approaching the end of our Costa Rican respite. Looks like I'll have time for only a few more postings. So much to share and so little time all due to my loitering in procrastination. A nation I will try to avoid in the future.  Next posting I'll share a few photos about B&B Grecia and AAA Tours Tropical Bungalow Paradise, two lodgings that we recommend.



March 09, 2017  /  Robert & Peggy Townsend

WHERE WE ARE, WHERE WE HAVE BEEN, AND WHERE WE WERE HOPING TO GO

THE CENTRAL VALLEY OF COSTA RICA

Did you know Michigan is almost 5 times the size of Costa Rica? Or, that Lake Michigan is almost 1.20 times the size of this Central America country? Likely it never entered your minds to compare Michigan to Costa Rica, but it has ours. Costa Rica consists of 19,700 square miles compared to Michigan's Upper Peninsula which is recorded at 16,452 square miles. Costa Rica is a relatively small land mass loaded with extremes: plains, mountains, valleys, hills, wetlands, forests, volcanoes (several active), with temperatures ranging from humid tropical to chilly mountain air, and two seasons, dry and wet. Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua and Panama, north and south respectively. The western and other southern parts of Costa Rica are bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Costa Rica's eastern border is 132 miles of Caribbean Sea coast. Costa Rica is a small gem with many facets.

Our main base in Costa Rica is located in the South Pacific Region, specifically we reside in Santiago in the Perez Zeledon Canton, Province of San Jose. Santiago is a lovely typical Costa Rican mountain community, approximately a 90 minute drive from the Pacific Ocean and its beautiful beaches. Our surroundings include proximity to the Talamanca Reserve, Chirripo National Park and the La Amistad International Park. Much of our time and exploration has centered in this locale. The largest town is north of us called San Isidro de El General, a bustling agricultural center-market city. We drive north on the Pan American Highway 2 for forty minutes before arriving in San Isidro. We shop primarily in a “town” south of San Isidro (think suburb) called Palmares. As there are other towns in Costa Rica with the same names, one differentiates by describing locations referring to the specific canton and province, IE, Palmares, Canton Perez Zeledon, Province San Jose.

During our first two years of wintering in Costa Rica (2017 is year 7), we visited southern Costa Rica driving to Puerto Jimenez on the Gulf Dulce Osa Peninsula and also to Arenal in the Northern Plains area. Those journeys were BB4CGC (before blogging for Church Grounds Coffee). One day I'll reminisce for the blog about those adventures. For now, I'll stay more present.
Last year, we were introduced to the Central Valley town of Atenas. Mid-April we were making our way to San Jose for our return flight to the States, transported by Don (friend from Nirvana) and a special young man employed at Nirvana, Yulian. Don wanted us to view the property in Atenas that he and his wife Nancy are selling. That visit eventually resulted in a YouTube presentation of the Atenas property compiled by two talented audio visual experts in Michigan. One, of whom, is our friend Glenn Russell.
















This year our trip to the Central Valley included traveling with Jack and Sue, our friends from Missouri, to Grecia (near Atenas) and Pital areas. This post along with others will highlight a bit of the Central Valley region of Costa Rica.
The Central Valley boasts the San Jose International Airport and the heavily populated cities of San Jose, Cartago, Heredia, and Alajuela. San Jose, as noted in previous blogs, is loaded with wonderful attractions. The museums are fabulous and educational. The graffiti art throughout the city is amazing and colorful, and the parks and monuments add to the ambiance of this bustling capital city. However, the central valley has much more to offer beyond San Jose.

The Central Valley tourist will discover a variety of waterfalls throughout this area. Some are hidden jewels and, if you know the right people, accessible. Others are major attractions hosting multitudes of tourists such as the La Paz Waterfalls Gardens and Peace Lodge. In the Central Valley there are many volcanos and most are National Parks. The Turrialba Volcano is near Cartago. It frequently spews ash and occasionally impacts air travel. There are many tours which visit Volcano Parks in Costa Rica, most notable are Arenal, Poas, and Irazu Volcanos. Several years ago, we toured the Arenal area, and I think on some future return to Costa Rica, we will visit Poas.

However, this most recent trip did have a goal, which, sad to say, we didn't achieve. We intended to visit a church youth retreat camp in the area of our travels where several of our young Santiago friends were in residence. In addition, there were many others from all around Central America in attendance. We had been informed that their musical evening presentation the day before camp concluded would be, as in previous years, excellent. The timing was perfect to visit a portion of the Central Valley and place us close to the camp so we could attend the performance.

It's a long story, but we four travelers could not manage to locate the camp. Despite a series of phone calls and text messages striving to get us to the camp, we were doomed. Darkness was descending and traveling Costa Rica during daylight hours is enough of a challenge.  After a long day, driving crazy Costa Rican roads at night takes more stamina than we 70 somethings could muster.  That day, we had already driven a road we later learned many natives will not travel because it is dangerous and tricky to navigate. Even as expert as Bob has become driving throughout Costa Rica, tackling this road was quite a feat.  We traveled north from Sarchi, Costa Rica, on route #708  to our lodging destination in Pital. We enjoyed spectacular scenery, but an easy drive it was not!  

Once we arrived in Pital, we wanted to find a grocery store for after-dinner treats.  We drove the streets of Pital in our search. Ticos up and down the main street waved excitedly to us and called out as we passed.  Of course, we interpreted the scene as exuberant locals welcoming the grey-headed gringos. We smiled and waved back lightheartedly until we met a truck head on and realized our error. The citizens of Pital were indeed animated toward us but it had everything to do with our car heading the wrong way on a one-way main street. Whew! Talk about an abrupt end to a joyous welcoming feeling.  Disaster was averted as we suddenly realized the difference between friendly waving and frantic waving accompanied with hollering and sign language of sorts.  After such a harrowing experience, trying to find the church camp was not the best option, but we promise next year will be a different story.
After overnighting in Pital at the Tropical Paradise Bungalows (a great discovery), we returned to Grecia via San Miguel and onto Route 126.  That drive provided gorgeous scenery as we also enjoyed the day before, but proved to be a much easier drive than route #708.

In my next post I will write about Atenas and Grecia.  By the way, in Grecia we scored lodging at a B&B we will certainly visit again. Meanwhile, here are a few photos and some map info so you can better visualize our locations.


March 02, 2017  /  Robert & Peggy Townsend

THE TEN PENNY TOURNAMENT IN COSTA RICA

HOW THE GIRLS RULE & THE BOYS ACT THE FOOL

Long time friends Jack and Sue from Missouri joined us in Costa Rica on January 20.  We met them in San Jose, partied that night at our favorite hotel, and departed the next day for the residence in Santiago Springs.  

Sue and Jack would be hanging with us until mid-February.  We scheduled some traveling around Costa Rica with our guests, but we also had another activity that was paramount in all our minds. During our drive along the Pacific Coast, we all secretly wondered:  Who were the cards stacked against?  One of us was obviously not playing with a full deck.  There was definitely a joker in the pack and as cocky as the King of Spades.  Had to be Bob and Jack, as Sue and Peggy were completely above board and acting according to Hoyle.  We all were eager to cut the deck and lay our cards on the table.  But, we wondered, who had the winning card up their sleeve?

With all those thoughts rattling around our heads, you can understand why the ride was electric with anticipation.  The reason for the charged atmosphere was that we four play a rummy-style card game called Ten Penny.  And, once at our destination, we would begin a tournament of said game.  During the coastal drive, there was plenty of Ten Penny trash talk converging on our secret thoughts.  Idle threats and challenges thrown out by the men as we gals feigned indignation.

We always play girls against the boys and with good reason.  The girls enjoy winning and the boys are the perfect foil.  The boys' mission would be to attempt to unseat the Missouri/Michigan champs Sue and Peggy.  That, of course, would take a miracle.  Sue and I are very skilled and excellent partners.  To put it politely, Bob and Jack are overly confident without justification.  This is how I recall the events and since I'm the one writing the blog, I control the message.

Do you know who David Parlett is?  He is a Brit, a game scholar and historian.  He is also the inventor of several card and board games.  To quote Mr. Parlett:

    "The vast majority of card games are folk games:  they do not have official rules of universal applicability, but are played in slightly different ways from town to town, from club to club, from home to home, sometimes even from day to day by the same group of players."

So true, as we have other ten penny card partners in Michigan who play the game a bit differently.  Regardless, it still doesn't help the boys no matter how the game is played.  At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Suffice to say, while Jack and Sue visited us in Costa Rica, we did enjoy some adventures, unrelated to the tournament.  However, no matter the roads travelled, a deck of cards was always along for the ride.  It was, after all, a tournament and not to be taken lightly.  I'll detail the highlights of Jack and Sue's recent visit with us in upcoming posts.  I'll leave it for you to figure out the tournament winners.  Below:  MY ODE TO TEN PENNY and some photos.

MY ODE TO TEN PENNY

Cards are dealt and it's two sets of three
Deuces are wild, the boys are up a tree!
Round 2 Deuces still wild for one set of four,
The girls are laughing as they check the score!
Two sets of four and the boys really start to frown,
Pennies spent for cards, it's a major throw down!
One set of five should be easy for the lucky ladies,
What's that?  Did I hear a faint reference to hades?
Pennies are dwindling as we play for two sets of five,
Deuces, Aces, Jokers are wild, one team takes a dive!
Barely any pennies left and hardly any wild cards to claim
One set of six finds one team saying they hate the game!
The last round begins and each team wants the big win,
It's one set of seven and someone is wearing a stupid grin!
It's in the bag and as one team prepares their victory dance,
You may think you know who, but I say to you, “fat chance!”



WELCOME BACK TO COSTA RICA

When one arrives in Costa Rica, inevitably the phrase “pura vida” will be spoken and repeated frequently by locals and eventually visitors. “Pura Vida” means 'simple life' or 'pure life'. Costa Ricans lay claim to this description as a dedicated way of life and state of mind. One of the best explanations of this saying comes from the website www.vacationscostarica.com:

Pura Vida is the way Ticos live. Not surprisingly, Costa Rica has been named one of the happiest countries in the world, mostly because its inhabitants don’t stress about things the way most foreigners do. Ticos have a very relaxed, simple way of looking at life. No worries, no fuss, no stress—pura vida to them means being thankful for what they have and not dwelling on the negative.
Although many people love to use the phrase, not many know where the term actually originated. The most common explanation comes from a Mexican movie called  ¡Pura vida! that came to Costa Rica 1956 (directed by Gilberto Martínez Solares).  In the movie, ‘pura vida’ is the saying used by the main character who remains optimistic, despite unfortunate circumstances that continue to surround him.  Although it took a little while to catch on, the phrase pura vida was being used nationwide by 1970. Today, it is an inherent part of the culture.

Although many people use the saying ‘pura vida’, until you’ve been to Costa Rica, you will not truly know what pura vida feels like. It’s an emotion, it’s an attitude, it’s happiness, and it’s a way of life.  Once you’ve visited, you will understand the true meaning of pura vida.

So it was that January 2017 started off simply for us in Costa Rica. We lived at a fairly quiet pace the first week. I was still nursing an injured ankle sustained in early December and Bob was determined to keep our first week of 2017 in Costa Rica restful. We settled in the casa modelo in Santiago Springs and Bob proceeded to wait on me for the better part of a week. That man is a good cook and housekeeper and I took full advantage - “Pura Vida.” Week one ended with the ankle almost as good as new, but not quite ready for major hikes or soccer. However, visiting friends in Costa Rica was certainly doable so we made the rounds beginning week two via our vehicle.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Socrates. 
Changes from the previous year were abundant. Last year toward the end of our stay, the local community road was undergoing a major revamp.  This year, we can report it fared rather well through the tremendous wet season that followed. There is continued talk that it just might become a paved road which would be splendid for the neighborhood. Thanks to infra-structure improvement, several new homes are being constructed up and down the road. The larger local grocery store continues to renovate and improve. Our landlord Nat and family as well as good friends Bel and Xinia, Xinia's daughter and son-in-law are immersed in new business ventures. Everywhere we turned we observed folks fully engaged with actions that are turning into terrific success stories.
Speaking of change, one wonders:  can you improve on NIRVANA? You may recall we wrote last year about our dear friends living in their gorgeous Costa Rica home aptly named NIRVANA. Our BFF's Don and Nancy at Nirvana are overseeing the construction of a guest house. This guest house is sure to please anyone lucky enough to secure this mountain retreat for lodging while visiting Costa Rica. Don and Nancy have superb taste and this will be a beautiful secluded mountain rental.  If you are interested, we know who to contact!

Change and more change everywhere we looked. The community is smiling and loving life! Even our neighbor in Santiago Springs retired Art professor and tropical plant expert Stan from Ohio, who lives 5 months in Costa Rica, has finally secured a reliable set of wheels. That's good change for sure.  Stan clearly enjoys hot-roding around the local area as he spies any number of tropical flora. Stan and his car problems in Costa Rica would make for a great country song. At some point Stan will read this post so here is a little something for him and for you to draw your own conclusions. Stan, some suggested titles for your Costa Rican Country Song: “Achy, Breaky Tropical CARtastrophes” or “My Wheels on the Ground don't always go Round and Round in Costa Rica” or “My Car's Aflame, I'm Saving the Plants!” Pura Vida, Stan!

Now that we've caught up with our friends in Costa Rica, we are ready for more adventures. Next on our agenda would be welcoming close and long-time friends Jack and Sue Hubbs who would join us January 20. More about that in another posting; meantime, enjoy some photos from our first three weeks in Costa Rica 2017.