Archive for April, 2010

My New Neighbor

Friday, April 30th, 2010

We will be pulling up stakes shortly and moving to a new neighborhood.  I thought perhaps some of you might be interested in one of our new neighbors.

Female Iguana in a Papaya Bush

~ Blonde Gator

Light ‘Em Up!

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Rainy season has arrived here with a vengeance.  It has rained every evening for the last three days…everything is greening up by the moment, the transformation from dry season to wet is amazing and beautiful.

The other night I was sitting on the balcony enjoying the quiet rain when I was scared to death by a  stealth shadow….the pool dog from the Iguana (Biscuit….I’m going to have to do at least a whole blog on the ginger Cocker Spaniel Bisquito and his myriad fans, but that’s a story for another day) was lonely and had trotted a half mile down the road to find some company…me! 

But I digress.  The summer (or winter, depending on your viewpoint) storms here are gentle and fierce at the same time.  Not much wind, but huge bolts of lightning and thundering thunder.  It makes me feel so at home, the summer rain soothes my Floridan’s soul. 

Last night, we had a spectacular thunder and lightning storm, during the middle of which I looked out on the “bird watching” yard beyond the balcony….and it was teeming with its own brand of lightning….hundreds and hundreds of lightning bugs.  To a Floridian, a lightning bug is as rare as a snowflake, i.e. we don’t have them.  So, looking up and out to the south were fabulous sideways strikes of electricity, while looking down and over the balcony were multiple mini lightning flashes…a twinkling field full of white Christmas lights….fast and furious, in an odd syncopation with the electrical storm above.

Yet another rare and wonderful moment…for which I shall be eternally thankful. 

~ Blonde Gator

Florida to Costa Rica is for Beginners!

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Last night I met a lovely couple, Jeanne and Paul, who did the entire PanAmerican Highway trip several years ago…..from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia!!  Here is an account of their trip….as well as their website.  This area of Costa Rica captured their attention as it did ours, as they now own a beautiful treehouse home here.

As I said earlier, if you’ve ever thought of doing the “big” road trip, no matter how big or small… it!  It’s an experience you’ll never forget.  Time to get off the couch.

~ Blonde Gator

An Update

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Well…finally we’ve locked in our lodgings…until July 4th (good day, eh?….sorry, evil Canuck influence).

What I mean to convey is that we now have our housing arrangements, thankfully, arranged to my satisfaction (basically this means BIG bed, A/C, internet….as well as conveniences like access to a washing machine).   In the short term…a rather nice 2/1 apartment up the pike close to the beach, and for the longer term, a great 3/3 house (with its own pool) until July 4th.

And therein is the fly in the ointment.  It used to be that an extension for a vehicle (an extra 90 days) was automatic.  However, for some odd reason, the government of Costa Rica, which is “trying” to make tourism easy….has up’d their “rules” for cars.  We’re hearing bad things….like if you go over your 90 days they’ll “nationalize” your vehicle (i.e. charge you ten grand to get it back). 

NOT SO FAST, says I.  So before any further commitment to stay here, we must check this out thoroughly.  Which will entail a lot of hassle, so I’m told.

No matter, if it is impossible to stay in Costa Rica beyond the 4th of July, we’ll pack up the XT, and head north, to spend a leisurely return home….a week at the lake in Honduras, some time at the ruins in Copans, maybe another four-five days in Antigua de Guatemala….and then perhaps six-eight weeks in Puerto Escondido.

In the interim, I’m waiting for my good friend Paul to make his plans to come visit…and for those of you, my friends, who have been following this trip, we got the BIG HOUSE for a reason, ahem!   No reservations necessary…first come first serve!

Time will tell.   But we are here for now, enjoying the Pura Vida.  Join us if your schedule permits….I’m dying to cook for a crowd!

~ Blonde Gator

P.S.  XTerra has a slow leak in the left rear tire….we were feeling all superior about buying new tires…but I guess nails are everywhere (for you WM people, you know that to be a fact, LOL).

Lazy Sunday

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

We are sitting at the bar, waiting for the sunset (about ten minutes, from my reckoning).

I have uploaded some of our Antigua de Guatemala photos on their own page…until my computer got horsey and wouldn’t let me configure any more pictures to “large”.  As Blonde Mom says….”tomorrow’s another day, Scarlette”.

We went house hunting yesterday, I think we found our (more or less) permanent digs here….we hope to nail down the details tomorrow or Tuesday.  More on that once it’s confirmed.  Suffice it to say…we should have sufficient guest room(s).  Tomorrow we are taking our neighbor to the Liberia airport, and making a stop at the equivalent of Home Depot to pick up a few things.  Including gloves, I burned my fingers badly (like they stung for two days) dicing some frisky jalepenos.  I’ve come up with the Blonde Gator version of beans and rice (a staple everywhere we’ve been)….but mine rock.  I’ll get busy one of these days and post the recipe.  I’ve had beans and rice everywhere, Bahamas, Cuban Style, PR style, Mexican, Guatemalan, Honduran, Costa Rican, etc., but I like mine best  (Hint:  Bacon). 

Okies, the sun is about to sink, I think Iguana Man is down on the beach w/the camera.  Absolutely no clouds today (it rained all day yesterday…that is the nature of the place)….so it’s just a big red orb that drops faster than the Waterford Crystal ball on New Years. 

Hoping to finally see the “Green Flash”.

~ Blonde Gator

The Bird Rules

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

As you can see from the photo, the Bird Rules have not yet been posted….and the birds are wildy out of control!!!

Birdwatching Venue ~ Bird Rules Not Yet Posted

Every afternoon about 4:30 we sit on the balcony (note nifty double Oaxacan hammock!) and try to convince the birds to abide by the rules…to no avail.  They have their own rules!   There are a couple of species of parakeets, and a Red-Fronted Parrotlet (they never get close enough to get a good picture of, and unfortunately there aren’t any good pics on the net I could find)….they fly around, forage on the trees, and generally make lots and lots of noise.  They refuse to turn down the volume during the siesta hour!

Just before dark, they gather at a big tree over yonder, chatter at each other, then get kind of quiet….and all of a sudden they take to flight….fly overhead, and land in another big tree, at which point the sun goes down, the light switch, AND the noise switch has been turned OFF.

It’s really kind of amazing, noisy as all get out one minute, and the next there is silence….and I mean silence.   The large (huge) grackles hang out a bit longer….but then they too fly off before it’s totally dark.  The grackles sometimes sit on the balcony rail, then fly off, usually scaring a fat iguana into leaping away from his nap, too.  The grackles are big enough to scare even a full grown iguana (bird food when younger).  Iguana Man has tried to explain to the grackles that this isn’t very neighborly, to no avail.

There are also several species of orioles building nests behind our balcony…and hummingbirds.  Everywhere.  There are 29 pages of hummingbirds in our CR Bird Book…so I’m not sure which ones we’re seeing.  Like hummingbirds everywhere, they refuse to stay in one place for more than a second or two, alas.  We’ve also seen a Costa Rican variety of Blue Jay, even bigger than the North American kind, if you can imagine…with a funny little topnot feather.   We’ve also identified a big fly catcher that looks kind of like a meadowlark…but big!  Lots of warblers around to sing all day long (they ignore the bird rules too).

Finally, we need a rule about bird baths….there were a couple of confused brownish looking birds (I haven’t located them yet in the bird book) who last night took a dirt bath instead of a water bath, silly birds!  Actually, they looked like they were having a blast.

I may have to give up on the bird rules, and concentrate on animal rules….I think I’ve decided the Birds Rule.

I saw a big fat cottontail at dusk the other night.  He was well mannered, and enjoyed his weed salad for about ten minutes before returning to his hidey hole.   Iguanas are everywhere (happily for the Iguana Man).  Oh, and at dawn, we hear (but haven’t yet seen) the troop of howler monkeys….they sound something like a pack of mechanical hounds baying, combined with an engine seizing up.  Wierd.  Our neighbor has seen an anteater, so we’re always on the lookout for the flora and fauna. 

Time for a swim, I’ve filed my extension (!) and it’s a beautiful, cloudless day.  Pura Vida!

~ Blonde Gator

Things We Did Well, Not So Well

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Looking back on our trip, there are some things we did well, and others we didn’t quite get right…in no particular order, I’ll try to sum them up.

GPS.  Don’t leave home w/o it!!!  Ours is a Garmin, handheld, and worth its weight in gold.

New Tires (when old tires were quite okay).  +5,000

Not Overplanning, and Building in Extra Days to Explore/Goof Off ~ +5,000

Packing.  -500.  We packed as we would for an airplane trip….Clothes in our big bags, toiletries, bathing suits, etc. in smaller bags.  Big error.  We should have packed all LONG TERM stuff (clothes & toiletries) in the big bags, so we could have left them in the truck….and one small bag each, w/ a week’s worth of clothes, bathing suits, and immediately necessary toiletries.  Less hauling, packing and unpacking.

Kitchen Gear.  +1,000.  For the most part, a great choice.  We’re very well appointed in our current lodging, but I still appreciate my GOOD knife, kitchen shears, good omelet pan, and food processor.  My gigantic roaster won’t even fit in the oven (LOL….come to find out PORK is the most expensive meat here…no pork enchiladas for a while, alas).  Having the French Press, Electric Kettle, Thermos, and Cooler available on a daily basis was brilliant….water and ice are available everywhere to supplement this gear  (Go-Rations).  Keep in an easily accesible place.  Plastic ziplocs were good, keep some handy, and a good stash in the long term storage…a boxful of plastic storage containers, not so great (available here).

Iguana Man packed a “car box”….w/oil filters, window cleaner, tools, shop rags, etc.  Very useful.  Numerous times.  Also, we brought the little hand held vac, w/ charger.  A Godsend.  Don’t forget it.

Things to do better:  Pack unnecessary stuff (like video camera), books, etc….in the “big boxes”…not required until we stop.  Pack “stuff” like beach chairs, dive fins, & umbrellas on TOP of the car.  Remember about secure parking, etc….but they are a nuisance inside the car, not too expensive if they get lifted.

Go Bag:  This was a last minute addition….basically my old standby “beach bag”….which contained a bunch of sunscreen, coozie cups, and a corkscrew/bottle opener.  GREAT MOVE (lose the sunscreen).  The bottle opener was invaluable for many things, and once we lost the sunscreen, we repacked it with extra cigs, candy bars, and TOILET PAPER.  That is an imperative on a trip like this…and it must be accesible.  Don’t leave it packed in your big bag (like I did at first).  Coozie Cups rock! 

MOST IMPORTANT THING I FORGOT TO PACK:  A rubber tub mat.  Everyone south of the border apparently thinks beautiful glossy tile is just the ticket for the shower and bathroom floor….and it looks to me like a great way to break your ass!  I’d give anyone $200 right now to FedEx me one or five.  Pack in your travel bag, and have a spare or two!!!!

Other than that, the only thing I forgot to pack was Blonde Mom & the Empress….although I spoke to them earlier, and life in Florida is apparently still fine.  Cheers!

~ Blonde Gator

Our Trip through Nicaragua

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Well, since I haven’t kept up the travelogue as well as I ought to have, I shall work backwards from our final destination.  We stayed at the end of the line in a small little town in Honduras, close to the border, last Friday night.  There was a surprisingly large and well maintained hotel there, I suspect it is cow country and they have meetings of ranchers, etc.  Our intention was to get up early, get through the border, and get as close to Costa Rica as we could.  Which we did.

We arrived at the border of Honduras/Nicaragua at about 7:00 a.m.  All of these borders have formalities both leaving and entering.  So, we went through the Honduran side, which took a couple of minutes….with the requisite beggars and “border guides” pestering us, per usual.

We got to the Nicaraguan side, and the Nicaraguan officiales were most upset at some poor little Honduran farmer, they had his pick up truck in parts on the side of the road.  We never did find out what the problem was.  The officiale who spoke to us got a little horsey, Iguana Man asked him something in Spanish, to which he got the snotty equivalent of “I’m Nicaraguan, not American!!!”….which had nothing at all to do with anything.  Iguana Man rolled his eyes at me and pretended not to understand, so as not to ruffle his macho feathers any further. 

We proceeded to the next building (everything is in a separate little building, unmarked, of course…as you drive from one to the next all of the little border guides try to “guide” you…hoping for a little propina..tip), and paid our two dollars or whatnot, and got two little cardboard disks….on to the next building, turned in the disks, and we were in Nicaragua.

I now know the meaning of dirt poor.  I didn’t really take many pictures as the poverty was very distressing.  The only thing in abundance (and in good repair) was rock walls.  The roads were not bad, inasmuch as there is barely any traffic in the country (nor in Managua for that matter, but more later).   Two lane macadam, with a small but adequate shoulder, not many potholes, and thankfully no topes/tumulos (speed bumps)….the bane of Mexico & Guatemala.

We decided that Saturday must be cow-moving day.  We saw a variation of this theme numerous times.  Note the bus in the front, we think it was a German Tourist bus, as it appeared to have European tags on the front!  Hard to say from the photo, though.  There are two buses waiting for the vaceros to get their cows across….the lead cow was recalcitrant so it was a little touch and go for a while.  You just have to wait and be patient, and once they get where they’re supposed to be, move along!  Iguana Man says they’re very dangerous, even though they look docile, if scared they’ll jump forward (unlike a horse) and likely land on your hood (not to mention the hassle w/ the locals if “you” damage their livestock)… proceed with caution.

Cow Moving Day

We made pretty good time once we got into the valleys where the roads became straight and narrow…and then we saw the lake and on to Managua.  Which for a capital city, of 1.8 million people, had less traffic than I’d ever imagined….although there were no lack of horse drawn carts on the main drag (4 lane road)….again, the street signs are non-existant (or conveniently behind a tree)….at a big intersection, we saw this:

Revolutionary Square ~ Managua

Take a good look at that.  Freaky, huh?  Well….check out the truck…it was full of Policia Nationales…a couple jumped out and headed on down the road.  They turned left, and we kept on going….soon realizing that we should have turned where they did to stay on CA1 (Pan Am Highway)….our GPS was not happy, and we just kept hooking to the left and right until the Garmin had us back on track.  At which point we happily saw this:

American Embassy ~ the old Red White & Blue ~ Joy!!!

We made it to a great little town down south, called Rivas….alas as it was Easter Eve, there were no rooms at the nice inn (Nicaro Hotel)….but we did have a great steak dinner there.  We found a fellow who’d just opened his hotel, Marcel, he was super friendly, but the accomodations were not quite complete, i.e. no shower head and agua caliente (hot water) not yet hooked up….so we boogied early the next morning (Easter Day)….the Costa Rica border was just down the road.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear?  Yet another windfarm!  This one only cost $95M.

Amayo Windfarm, South of Rivas, Nicaragua

This windfarm had all turbofans functional, it was quite a sight.  They ends of the blades must be moving at least 70 mph….the wind was coming perpendicularly from our left, and the shadows of the moving blades were rapidly leaving our car in the dust, at which point we were doing maybe 60 mph.   

There is a big island just east of Rivas, that has twin (active apparently) volcanic peaks, one of which reaches almost 7,000 feet.  The tourism industy in this area is on the move, and there it’s a place I wouldn’t mind exploring further….lakes and islands are my thing.  Except for crossing the border….

We reached the Nicaragua/Costa Rican border by 7:15, and after a couple of minutes, things didn’t look too bad as there were only about 3 cars in front of us.  We had to go to the requisite two unmarked buildings, then we went through the “decontamination” device (which dripped 3 drops of something on us)….and made a left to the passport exit stamping station.  PANDEMONIUM!  There must have been forty buses, and every bus passenger in a line that had no end, five or six deep, with all of their luggage, standing in line.

At which point, we gave it up and decided to use one of the “border guides”….the one we found spoke good English (had lived in Atlanta, go figure)….and off he & Iguana Man went to pay a little “propina” to get our passports stamped.  It was kind of funny, “no Mr. Iguana Man, take that bill and fold it in the passport like this”.  All the while, I stayed in the car “guarding” our stuff.  A big American got out of line and yelled at the kids leaning on his truck next to our XT….he said he had a couple of businesses in both Panama & Nicaragua, and made the crossing at least 5x a month…and estimated it would be at least 5 hours on the Nicaraguan side of the border and 3-4 on the CR side. 

There was a bit of a problem with the Florida Disabled Veteran tag for some odd reason, but once it was explained, that seemed to be okay.  There was also a slight delay as the first place of “accellerated stamping” wasn’t available.  More delay.

Then another trot to who knows where, and Iguana Man came back with the head of the operation, who looked at my picture and looked at me, turned on his heel w/o saying a word, and left.  Our border guide then introduced us to his CR counterpart, and after another hour or so….we were through.  Cost about $60, and saved about 7 hours.  It would have taken even less time had the officiale filling out the paperwork put the correct date in, also she mistook a “5” for an “S” on our VIN number.  NOTE TO EVERYONE….double and triple check the dates and VIN numbers, always.  This was just a slight delay, and the border guide handled it.

I was always kind of worried about going through Nicaragua…but it wasn’t bad at all.  We got stopped several times by the road stop cops, but they just checked the papers (one guy wanted water…note…carry extra bottles).  The people we met, hotel workers, waiters, farmacia clerks, etc. were all very nice and happy to see Americans, it was just some of the officiales who had a bit of a ‘tude.  I’d imagine that will change as tourism increases.  I’d love to explore the Lake Nicaragua region, I read somewhere years ago that they have fresh water sharks.  So, we shall have to see…that border crossing was insanity.  We’re kind of thinking of booking a tour to Boca del Toros in Panama for our 90 day Costa Rican “time out”…we shall see.

Anyway, we got into CR by about 10:00 a.m….and since I had been “guarding” the car and was in the driver’s seat, I drove.  It was great.  At our first “road stop” (up by the Nicaraguan border, we’d driven up that way on our first trip so we knew it was there)….the only thing we were asked was “you really drove from FLORIDA?”….and a big friendly smile, and Pura Vida!  (national saying here…look it up).

Once we hit the “big town” of Liberia I knew exactly where we were….stopped at the ATM to replenish funds (more about that later, I’m chewing on the Iguana Man to contribute more here, and that’s on his list of topics)….and we headed on down the road.  And here we are.

Okay…off to check out a long term rental this afternoon, and then perhaps a jaunt to the beach…we need to stop at the ferreteria (hardware store) and get some rope for the hammoca we bought in Puerto Escondido.  I have my GATOR beach chair….and an umbrella, and a cooler, and big beach towels….I’m ready.

Later, Gator fans.

~ Blonde Gator

Spinning Down….slowly

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Well, we’ve settled into our (temporary for a month) home….it’s been a bit of a trial as I pulled my back and have had a hard time doing very much at all….I have great hopes to finally(!) unpack my suitcases.

We have a very nice efficiency apartment for this month….on the second floor, with a wide veranda all the way around.  We can hear the crash of the surf and see the sunset from the veranda.  All accoutrements, except internet, unfortunately, so we pack the computers and head to the Iguana Azul to get online. 

Usually at this time of day, we sit on the veranda with the binoculars and the bird book.  It’s now the change between summer (dry season) and winter (rainy season)….although the birds are all paired up.  We watch them daily.  Parakeets, parrots, orioles, a huge species of jay with an odd little topnot.  Iguana Man has been remiss in posting the “bird rules”….so they make all sorts of noise.  Until the sun goes down.  Not only does the light switch go off at sundown, so does the noise.  No bird calls at all after sunset.

Today we went to Tamarindo and did some grocery shopping at the “AutoMercado”.  A lovely store, but priced for the touristas.  I am attempting to get away from my usual fare and do more of the “local” stuff….beans and rice, local veggies, and lots of chicken.   It’s a bit odd shopping, not only do we have to convert Colones to Dollars (about 520 to $1USD….which has taken a big turn for the worse since last time we were here)….but things are priced in Kilos/Pound….so there’s more math to be done….alas.  Probably good for my old addled brain.

Blonde Mom is doing great….as is The Empress.   She says the third crop of tomatos is big and fat…I could use some of those about now. I miss being home, but not nearly enough to go back….yet.  Perhaps in May or thereabouts.  We are having too much fun.

Oh….the XTerra is a huge hit here, we’ve already had a couple of clandestine “offers” (to import a vehicle into CR permanently requires a tax of about 50%).  Apparently there are Nissan XTerras available in-country, but not like ours (which is a standard model in the US).  The XT has been fabulous, it was made for a trip like this….we are happy to have it with us.  I’m thinking of contacting Nissan….to clue them in to my blog…and perhaps suggest it would be a good ad campaign for them….hmmm.  Why not? 

The next few weeks we’ll be engaged in finding a (sort of) long-term rental.  The biggest sticking point so far seems to be internet!  From what we’ve heard from our friends, internet capability has deteriorated somewhat since we’ve been here last.  Odd, in a tourist oriented stretch of coast.  Go figure.

Okay, signing off now….but now that I’m somewhat rested up and can actually sit in a chair for ten minutes at a time, know that I have lots and lots of adventures to share….the last time I really “updated” our trip was in Guatemala….so I have Honduras, and Nicaragua to share yet….as well as adding new photo pages for each country.

As always, the daily sunset here is an event…so I shall have to update my “sunset” page as well…it’s all good.

I miss you all, my friends, and am so happy to have you share in our journey.

~ Blonde Gator

We’re Baaack!

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Back at our second home, the Iguana Azul in Junquillal. 

I have lots to catch you up on.  But for now, I’m pleased to be at the end of the trail.  Nicaragua was…Nicaragua, and thankfully behind us.  More later.  The Easter Holiday may have been a blessing or a curse, I’ve not yet decided.

Suffice it to say, (go to the Sunset Pictures)….we are looking at the nicest stretch of scenery on the planet, and it’s been a great journey.  Too soon to start planning for our retorno, but we saw so many places in need of further investigation.  Iguana Man wants me to write a book. 

Proof ~ Sunset at the Iguana Azul

Pura Vida!

~ Blonde Gator