Improving our Lot

This week has been a busy one regarding our undeveloped lot, which is why I’m a bit behind on posting!  After much thought, we decided to do the earth movement that was recommended by one of the contractors we consulted.  It has changed everything!  It was well worth the money as it increased the building area of our lot and made it more stable, too.

This is our lot before any work started.

This is our lot before any work started.

This past Monday morning, we were granted the permit to do the work.  It took the workers all day to get the massive equipment up our hill as they had to protect the concrete sections of the road with rubber tires.  It was very labor intensive and slow going.  Fortunately, they were able to bypass the lower portion of the concrete road by taking a detour which starts at the river bed in Hatillo.  The river has water in it, but they could still cross it, which was good.

The workers made speedy progress the first day despite the slow progress up our hill and continued to do so the rest of this week.  They finished everything today and the lot looks fantastic!  Even if we decide not to build, the earth movement work (as it’s called here) will increase the value of our property, which will make it easier to sell.

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This is the lot after the earthwork has been finished.

This is the lot after the earthwork has been finished.

 

Strange Findings on the Beach

Playa Matapalo

Playa Matapalo

Last week, we discovered another gorgeous beach!  It’s not very far from where we are renting…just two small towns away.  While having a nice long walk on that gorgeous beach, we found some very interesting things – two shells with spines and a tiny blue “jelly fish.”  We’ve never seen either of them before – ever.  We took a photo of the blue “jelly fish” and left it were it was laying in the sand, even though it was very pretty and would have made a nice addition to my sea collection.  It appeared to be dead, but we weren’t sure about it.  I’ve heard that jelly fish can sting even when they are dead.  So, we were very cautious!

The shells, on the other hand, appeared harmless, but we were very careful in handling them.  They were delicate and the spines very sharp.  I carried them back in my hands with care to the truck where I put them on the back seat on a towel to protect them.

Strange spiny sea shells

Strange spiny sea shells

After we returned from the beach, I spent an hour looking at many photos of shells on the computer in the hope of identifying them.  From what I found, I believe I know what they are, but I’m not positive.  I do know that they are bivalve shells and I think they are called pitar lupanaria (with curved spines on the posterior slope of each valve).  The pitar lupanaria was discovered by Lesson in 1830 and they are found in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.  The shells are a species of the Venus clam.

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While I was researching about the shells, Eddie was researching the “jelly fish.”  He discovered that it’s not a a jelly fish at all, but a marine organism consisting of a colony of hydroids called porpita porpita or Blue Button.  It’s in the Chondrophore family and the sting of the Blue Button isn’t powerful, but it may cause irritation to the human skin.  I guess we were wise not to touch it!

You never know what you are going to find in Costa Rica!

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Update on Building our House

In 2007, Eddie and I bought land in the small town of Hatillo, which is between Dominical and Quepos.  Our 2 – 1/2 acre wooded lot is located in a development called Los Altos Miramar in the Hatillo Mountains.   We have always intended to build a house on our lot and our architect designed a fantastic home for us.  We were hoping to start the project this January (2014).  However, after several contractor bids that were almost $100k more than we are wanting to spend, we are re-thinking our plans.  If we decide to build, it will happen in January 2015.  Now, we are exploring our options.  1) Look at existing homes in the area.  2) Continue to rent and not build at all.

Last week, we decided to look at existing homes to see what is available.  We have looked at six homes and we liked a couple of them, but they weren’t exactly what we wanted and they were all very expensive.  So now, we are taking the advice of the last contractor we consulted.  He suggested that we change the shape of the buildable area of the lot.  Here is a photo of how the lot looks now.

Main building area. Driveway is on the left.

Main building area. Driveway is on the left.

Looking down from the upper driveway onto the current building areas of our lot.

Looking down from the upper driveway onto the current building areas of our lot.

We have decided to re-grade the lot with two goals…one is to expand the area of firm soil and the other is to expand the additional areas for the lawn and garden.  The current condition of the lot has some fill soil which would require the use of many pilings, which are very expensive both in materials and labor.  So, doing the earth work will significantly reduce cost related to the building of the house as it is now.

In addition to doing the earth work on the lot, we are also planning to change the design of our house (if we build).  After living here for over two months, we have learned quite a bit about how a house should be designed for living in the tropics.  For instance, we should have the social/living space downstairs at pool level and the bedrooms upstairs.  Our indoor space should be less and the outdoor space (patio/balcony) should be more.  We are thinking of not having a guest house, but another master bedroom suite in the main house and putting a small apartment above the carport.  A lot to think about!

Enjoying a beautiful sunset from our lot.

Enjoying a beautiful sunset from our lot.

Our Resident Toucan

The other day while sitting outside on the terrace doing some work on his laptop, Eddie got a visit from a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan.  He landed in a tree next to the terrace not more than 25 or 30 feet away.  Seeing toucans around the property is a common thing, so we didn’t pay much attention to him at first.  A few minutes later, we glanced his way and noticed that he was still sitting on the branch and posing beautifully.  Eddie mentioned to me that the light was really nice (as it was later afternoon and some heavy rain clouds were starting to fill the sky).   It was an opportunity that Eddie couldn’t resist; he decided that work could wait.  He quickly grabbed his camera and started clicking away.  The toucan was being very cooperative, so Eddie figured he had the time to retrieve his tripod to take even better photos.  The toucan stayed in the tree posing for Eddie for about an hour!  We think he would have stayed much longer, but the storm rolled in and a huge clap of thunder scared him away.  Our resident toucan (who appeared after Erik was here, of course) visits us several times a day…usually early in the morning, mid-afternoon and sometimes in the early evening just before sunset.  We usually hear his call first before we see him, but sometimes, we see him flying onto his regular tree.  You may wonder how we know that this is the same bird.  Eddie noticed while looking at his photos that the toucan had an injury on the left side of his beak.  Since toucans pan their heads back and forth when stationery, it’s easy to see both sides of the beak when watching them for even a minute or two.  Side note:  We really don’t know if our toucan is a male or female since both look the same.

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Note the injury to his beak which he probably got in a fight with another bird

Note the injury to his beak which he probably got in a fight with another bird

A Chestnut-mandibled Toucan’s call is very loud and distinctive. Yesterday, Eddie managed to catch our toucan calling on video.  Here is the clip.

 

Looking for Treasure!

When we were in the process of selling our house in Chapel Hill, I mentioned to Eddie that I might need a new hobby to occupy my time when we move to Costa Rica.  Our son Erik was there with us and he suggested a metal detector as he knows I like to scavenge around for treasures…in thrift shops and on the beach.  I’m diverse.  So, for Christmas, I asked for a metal detector and I was thrilled when I received it!   We tried testing it out at Jane and Mark’s place, but there were too many false hits due to all the iron in the rocks.  It wasn’t easy digging holes in the ground during the winter, either.  We placed the metal detector in one of the dish pack boxes to be shipped to CR.  We waited about a month for the boxes to arrive.

Last week, Eddie and I decided to do a test run with the metal detector on our favorite beach here in CR.  Of course, we had visions of finding some awesome things.  The metal detector worked great and we did find a few things, but it wasn’t Spanish gold.  At least we found some interesting stuff.

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Our first big haul...

Our first big haul…

On our next venture, we went to a more popular beach.  There is always a crowd there, so we were hopeful that we would find something valuable.  All we found were rusty nails and small rusted tuna cans, which weren’t buried all that deep in the sand.  We’re glad that our tetanus shots are up-to-date!  Even though we didn’t find any treasure, we decided it was worthwhile to clean up the sand from dangerous objects to prevent injuries.

Eddie equated metal detector hunting to fishing…you need a lot of patience because it could be a very long time to get a hit on the line.  Not one to have a lot of patience, this might not be the hobby for me, but I’m not ready to give up just yet.  We decided that it might be a good idea to go hunting for treasure on a more touristy beach near Jaco.  There is an art festival taking place in Jaco this week and we are thinking of attending and then taking a little detour to the beach to look for treasure.  Stay tuned!

Green and Black Dart Frog

The other day, Eddie saw a green and black poison dart frog not far from our house when he was taking out our compost.  He told me about it when he came back for my camera to take a photo of it.  We saw our little green and black friend again very early the following morning.  Eddie opened our front door and he was sitting right there.  As we were admiring him, I turned to Eddie and said, “I hope he doesn’t hop into the house.”  The words were barely out of my mouth when the dart frog hopped into the house!  At first Eddie tried directing him toward the door with a pair of flip-flops, but the little dart frog was too fast.  Remembering that this cute little frog that looks like a child’s toy was poisonous, I put on my heavy duty rubber gloves to protect my hands.  We had a time trying to catch this little guy; he was a quick hopper!  Eddie lifted the sofa and big chairs so that I could look under them.  Finally, Eddie managed to chase our pretty dart frog out from behind the desk and I caught him between my hands mid-hop!  I ran outside quickly and put him on top of the grass next to our house.  (He was so light and my rubber gloves are thick, so I wasn’t positive that I had really captured him until I released him.)  Since I had just gotten out of bed and still in my nightgown, I wouldn’t let Eddie take a picture of me, but he took several photos of our tiny friend.

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The following is some basic information about the green and black dart frog that you might find interesting:  Dendrobates auratus, also known as the green and black poison dart frog or green and black poison arrow frog, and sometimes mint poison frog is brightly colored and has many variants.  Most of them are black and either green or light blue with the black in bands or spots.  The green and black dart frog is the largest poison dart frog in Costa Rica.  The average adult is about an inch and a half long.  According to National Geographic, the green and black poison frog, while not the most toxic poison dart frog, is still a highly toxic animal.  The very small amount of poison the frog possesses throughout the surface of its body is still enough to make a human ill.  Like most poison dart frogs, the green and black poison dart frog will only release its poison if it feels threatened.  As with all poison dart frogs, the green and black frog is not poisonous in captivity.  Scientists suspect this is due to a change in diet.  A fun fact:  Poison dart frogs are so named because some Amerindian tribes used the secretions from the frogs to poison the tips of their darts.

Map of Costa Rica…Where are we?

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To give you a better idea of where we are located in Costa Rica, here is a map to illustrate the geography.  We are staying in a very small town called Hatillo on the Pacific side (Southern Zone of Costa Rica).  It’s marked with the arrow on the map above.  The Town of Quepos is about a 30 minute drive from Hatillo and Dominical is about 10 minutes away.  Uvita is a 15 minute drive further south from Dominical, which is a 25 minute drive for us – more or less.  The international airport we use is actually located in Alajeula, not San Jose.  As mentioned in earlier posts, it’s about a 3 hour drive from the Santamaria International Airport to Hatillo.  Usually, we stay in a small B & B in La Garita of Alajeula called Villa de Margarita when we are arriving or leaving CR. However, occasionally we drive straight to Hatillo after arriving into the country.  It’s really not a bad drive now that the roads are all paved on the southern route!   There are many fun and interesting places to stop along the way, such as, the Tarcoles River bridge where you can see huge crocodiles below.