A Typical Thursday

For the past couple of months, we have fallen into a routine on Thursdays.  We start the day off by leaving the casita around 9 a.m. to drive to San Isidro de General, which is northeast up the mountain route.  It usually takes us about 45 minutes as Eddie tends to drive fast.

San Isidro is about a 45 minute drive northeast from Dominical.

San Isidro is about a 45 minute drive northeast from Dominical.

Most of the time, our first stop is the feria (farmer’s market).  This is the place where we buy most of our fresh fruits and vegetables.  In an earlier post, there is a photo of me standing in front it.  It’s by far the largest farmer’s market close to us.  So far, we haven’t been disappointed with our purchases.  Well, we did get a bad batch of potatoes last week, but I suppose that can happen anywhere.  We bring a big cooler to store everything that should stay cold since we don’t return to our casita right away.  Occasionally, we might run an errand or two before the farmer’s market like we did this Thursday.  It really depends on where the store is located if we stop there before the farmer’s market or afterwards.  This week, we wanted to stop at the hardware store to buy a new shower head.  Eddie decided to clean out the old shower head and when he was putting it back on it fell apart, so we needed to replace it.  As we were leaving town, we stopped at a smaller grocery store that tends to cater to gringos and the prices are reasonable.  We bought some pretzels and Fritos there.

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On our way back to Hatillo, we meet up with a group of friends and acquaintances at a restaurant called Los Chorros (about 15 minutes from San Isidro).  It’s up the mountain and this time of year the temperature can be cool, which is nice for a change.  The gathering begins at 12 Noon and can last for several hours.  The group varies from week to week.  Some live here full-time having lived here for over 20 years, others are part-timers and there are even a few who are on vacation for a week or two.  It’s always interesting and fun!  We have met some wonderful people there.

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An Unexpected Hazard of Gardening

The last month or so, we have been working on erosion control for our lot.  We bought plants that have deep roots (once they are grown) to keep the soil in place.  We bought 2,400 vetiver starts and 150 ornamental bamboo plants, which were strategically placed alongside the concrete gutters, near the edges of the borders and steep slope of our lot.  Our yard guy and his workers planted them for us; it took them a couple of days.  The lot was looking pretty nice when they finished the work, so we decided it would be a good idea to add some more decorative plants on the steep slope in the very front of the lot and on the sides.  When mentioned this to Lopez, our caretaker, he got all excited about it and told us that he would help.  Turns out, Lopez is quite the gardener.  Over the past eight years, he has planted most of the bushes and trees on our rental property and they are beautiful!

Early last week, Lopez told us the best time to plant would be early Sunday morning (May 18)…something to do with the moon cycle.  Sometimes Lopez speaks so fast, we don’t understand exactly what he’s saying.  We only get the gist of it.  (He doesn’t speak English.)  Anyway, he wanted to be at the lot before 7 a.m.  We got up about 5:30, but Lopez was up even earlier collecting cuttings and samplings from various plants from his lovely garden.  He collected around 45!  He came to the door and told us we needed to get going, the sooner the better, so we did.  We were at the lot by 6:30 a.m.

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Eddie and Lopez did all of the planting and I just watched and supervised.  I did find a few vetiver starts that hadn’t been planted and I took care of them.  It took about an hour for the guys to do the planting.  We wanted to take Lopez out for breakfast, but he had plans, so we drove back to the house. We ate breakfast in and afterwards drove back to the lot so that Eddie could take some measurements of its size.  When we did the re-grading, the entire plantel changed.  While Eddie measured, I had fun clearing debris from the big rocks.

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The following day in the early afternoon, Eddie met our yard guy up at the lot to pay him for his work.  The guy asked Eddie who planted the new things and Eddie explained what we had done the day before.  Our yard guy told Eddie that he had better go look because the ants were attacking the plants.  In just over 24 hours, the Leaf-cutter ants had stripped off all the leaves from almost every sampling and tree cutting except for the palms!  What to do???  Both Lopez and our yard guy told us we have to kill them with poison.  That’s the only way to get rid of them.

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We knew about the Leaf-cutter ants and we have seen them all over Costa Rica and on our property, but we just didn’t think about the danger of having them around.  Now we know!   Eddie did some quick research about these ants and they are pretty amazing.  These ants don’t eat the leaves, but cut off pieces with their pinchers and take the pieces back to their underground nest where they use the leaves to grow a fungus.  It’s the fungus that they eat.  These small ants consume about 20% of the vegetation in the rain forest!  According Wikipedia, in a few years, a nest can grow to more than 98 feet across and can contain eight million individuals. Wow!

The Leaf-cutter ant can carry up to 20 times its own weight!

The Leaf-cutter ant can carry up to 20 times its own weight!

The ants make a roadway across the jungle floor to their nest.

The ants make a roadway across the jungle floor to their nest.

Well, at least we didn’t buy all those plants the ants destroyed.  We expect that in a couple of weeks the ants will be eradicated and then we plan to re-plant.

Enjoying an evening out at Ballena Beach Club with our friends George and Susie.

Enjoying an evening out at Ballena Beach Club with our friends George and Susie.

The Rainy Season Brings More Poison-Dart Frogs

The rainy season has arrived!  It seems that May has had more rains than usual.  So far this month, we have received about 10 inches of rain.  The pool has been over flowing!   Most of the time, it starts to rain mid-afternoon and into the early evening, but other times it starts to rain later in the evening and well into the night.  The past couple of days we have had clear skies and sun in the morning and then the clouds move in later in the day.  The rains will accumulate slowly throughout the next few months. The heaviest of the rainy season in the Pacific Zone begins mid-September through October.  It starts to clear in November.  Mid-December is the start of the dry season/summer (high season).  The dry season usually last through mid-April.

Anyway, the rainy season has some good points.  The first, it cools things off!  It’s not nearly so hot here now.  It’s a bit more humid, but at least it’s not HOT!  Along with the better temperatures, the rainy season is great for the trees, plants and flowers.  Everything is much greener and it will all grow much faster, too.  The rains also bring out the little, tiny poison-dart frogs.  In a past post, I mentioned the Green and Black Poison-Dart Frog.  There is another poison-dart frog that is prevalent here and they are more visible during the rainy season.  We have seen quite a few of them lately and they are soooo tiny and cute!!!

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These very tiny frogs are called granular poison-dart frogs (Dendrobates granuliferus).  They reside on the Pacific side of Costa Rica and are not very common, but they are just as beautiful as the most famous frog of Cost Rica known as the Blue Jeans or Strawberry Poison-dart Frog (Dendrobates pumilio) of the Caribbean side of the country. This Pacific poison-dart frog lives in small creeks in the mountains and it’s especially visible and audible in the rainy season.  The colors vary from emerald green to an orange or reddish on the body and bluish on the legs.  The main difference between the Blue Jeans frog and the Pacific one is the granular skin.  Both frogs are toxic, so it’s advisable not to touch them!  Their skin has a substance that could be harmful if it’s accidentally licked or swallowed.

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These cute little frogs are so small…not even a 3/4 of an inch.  They could easily fit on top of a quarter coin.  It was difficult to capture them on the camera, but we gave it a try.  Here’s a photo with our house keys to give you an idea of their size.

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On another note, we are having some major Internet troubles.  It’s a long story, which I will try to keep short.  Our landlord has Internet over the 3G cellular network.  When we arrived in January, it was unlimited high speed Internet.  However, in April the company decided to change the program (without notifying customers), which is very common in Costa Rica.  We found out when we were bumped down to a very slow speed much like the old dial up.  It took a visit to the company to figure out what was happening.  The “new” program is like this…at the first of the month, you receive high-speed Internet, but once you exceed 6 Gb of data download, you are downgraded to slow speed until the next first of the month.  It doesn’t take much to get to 6 Gb’s!  We have given up NetFlix and looking at our favorite T.V. shows via the Internet of which we only have two a week.  Turns out that Face Time takes up quite a bit of data along with Skype. So we are doomed!  So far this month we have already used up on 6 Gb’s and we still have two weeks until June 1.  We are trying to find an alternative.  Until then, Face Time and our Magic Jack phone may not work all that well.  In addition, we will have to post lower grade photos that won’t take as long to upload.  So sorry…but, what can I say…it’s not easy living here!!!

Day Trip to Panama

On Friday, May 9, we decided to drive to Paso Canoas, Panama, the nearest border crossing from where we live in Costa Rica.  It’s about a 2 hour and 15 minute drive southeast, which is manageable in one day.  We wanted to go there to check out the shopping.  We have heard that the cost of imported goods are much less expensive in Panama than in Costa Rica and we decided to find out if this was true or not.

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Paso Canoas border is interesting…literally one side of the street is in Costa Rica and the other side is in Panama.  So, we found a parking lot (with an attendant) on the Costa Rican side and walked across the street to Panama to shop without going through immigration and customs.  At times, we weren’t sure in which country we were walking!  In the stores, it was easier; on the Panama side everything was priced in U.S. dollars and on the Costa Rican side everything was priced in Colones, CR’s currency.   It was fun looking around in the shops to see what was available, but we were mostly interested in the grocery and liquor stores.

Border street in Paso Canoas.  Ellen is standing on the Costa Rica side.

Border street in Paso Canoas. Ellen is standing on the Costa Rica side.

We stopped in two grocery stores and at the first one we found Provolone and Swiss cheese.  We have found Swiss cheese in Costa Rica, but not only is it expensive, it’s not very good.  So far, we haven’t found Provolone in CR.  We also bought an umbrella, which came in handy a little later in the day.  The second grocery store, we found more items that we haven’t found in CR.  A few things that we bought are:  Domino light brown sugar, white quinoa, hummus, hamburger pickles, light Miracle Whip, pickled jalapenos, sour cream, and Philadelphia cream cheese.  The prices were a little higher than those in the U.S., but we were glad to find some things we had been looking for. When we left the second grocery, it was pouring down rain and we had to walk quite a distance to the truck.  Fortunately, I had the umbrella and it helped a little bit as it was a little breezy.  We were both quite wet when we got to the parking lot.

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Where we really saved some money was at the liquor store.  Beer, wine and booze in general are all very expensive in Costa Rica.  The liquor prices in Panama are much less than in the U.S. or at the Duty Free stores in Costa Rica.   We only stopped in one store because of the rain.  There we bought some wine, rum, cognac and a very nice French champagne (for our 34th wedding anniversary next month).  The more we bought, the better the prices.  Next time, we will bring a shopping list so we can negotiate up front.

Just in case we were stopped at one of the two Costa Rican checkpoints, I put the cognac and champagne on the floor of the front seat behind my legs and covered them with my skirt.  (Recently, we met a couple who had all of their liquor confiscated.)  We were stopped at the second checkpoint, but the policeman only peeked into the truck through the windows.  Our big white cooler was in the back seat area.  He didn’t even ask for our passports.  But, he did ask us where we were going.  When we told him, he let us pass.

When we arrived back to the house, I opened the truck door to hop out to open the gate and out dropped the champagne onto the concrete!  It started rolling down the steep hill, but I managed to catch it before it rolled too far.  Amazingly, the bottle didn’t break…not even a crack…thank goodness!

While I was away in the U.S.A…

While I stayed behind in the States, Eddie returned to Costa Rica as originally planned.  Believe it or not, he managed to have some fun without me!  Not long after the Gran Tope (the horse parade in Uvita), Eddie visited Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, a well-known eco-tourism destination about a 10 minute drive from our rental house. He and our friend from Canada, who was on her vacation in Dominical, went on the five hour bird watching tour. About half way through the tour, they stopped for a fabulous Tico breakfast at refuge’s little outpost.  Their guide Pedro has worked for Hacienda Barú for over 25 years and he was extremely knowledgeable. Pedro could identify all of the bird calls and imitate them, too!  They saw many different species of birds, four or five sloths and many white-faced monkeys.

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In between work, sight-seeing and shopping at the farmer’s market, Eddie has been doing a little bit of gardening.  He brought back a variety of seeds of herbs, vegetables and spices and is in the process of planting them in containers.  He has also taken clippings from trees and plants from the surrounding area that look interesting.  We are hoping that they will take root so that we can plant them on our lot.

I had a fun time visiting with friends and family during my extra two weeks in the U.S.  I spent five days in Grand Ledge, Michigan with my aunt, uncle and Cousin Catherine, which was one of the highlights of my trip.  They live in a Victorian house built in the late 1800’s right in the center of town.  Uncle Kal is Mayor of Grand Ledge and he gave me a fabulous walking tour of the town, the new city Hall and police station.  Aunt Marsha and I enjoyed catching up on things and shopping at several of the stores downtown and one where she volunteers.  We also walked Molly, their dog, in the park along the Grand River.  Catherine and I had fun playing our word games, talking and watching T.V.  She got me all caught up on my favorite shows!  Thank you Catherine 🙂

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Now I’m back in Costa Rica, which almost didn’t happen!  It was amazing that I managed to catch my very early flight.  Either I didn’t hear the alarm, didn’t set it properly or the battery died; in any event, I overslept.  Fortunately, Jane gets up early, Erik slept over and all my bags were ready to go.  Erik and I were out of the house in 10 minutes flat and he got me to the airport in record time.  Having TSA Pre-Check helped me out, too!  Even though I wanted to stay in Chapel Hill longer, I didn’t want it to happen by missing my flight.  It would have been a costly mistake and we wouldn’t have been happy about that!