Enough Already! Rain, Rain Go Away!

There’s no doubt, November has been a rainy month.  Over 40 inches fell, making it the wettest month this year (about 200″ total).  There have only been two days this month without any rain!  When Hurricane Otto was heading our way last week, we all were expecting a deluge.  To our surprise, total rainfall in our area was only a few tenths of an inch.  Other parts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua were not so lucky.  However, after Otto passed and headed out into the Pacific, we have had nothing but rain…16 inches in the past four days.  Historically the rains taper off by Thanksgiving and the dry season is in full swing by December.


This morning our rain gauge showed 5.8 inches for the previous 24 hours.


This has been our view for quite some time.  Most days we can’t even see the beach.

So, what have we been doing to occupy our time when the rain has been falling?

We went to our friend’s party with a great mariachi band.


and had lots of fun…img_0368

We celebrated Thanksgiving with our friends on our hill.  Gib, our host, cooked a fabulous turkey on his grill.img_0376img_0377

We had a jam session with bongos and drums.


Ellen worked on macrame jewelry.img_1495e

Here are some of her creations.  Beautiful!

Of course we watched lots of movies and TV shows.


Eddie did some repairs in the master bathroom.img_1478e

And we did some napping, too!img_1491eimg_1486

I imagine that soon we will be complaining about too much hot sun and wishing it would rain a little (we hope)!  Pura vida!

U.S. Passport Renewal in Costa Rica


Our U.S. Passports were due to expire in May 2017, so we needed to get them renewed before our next trip back to North Carolina.  So how does one go about that in Costa Rica?  The U.S. Embassy provides passport renewal services and the following is the process of how we did it.

The first step is to make an appointment at the embassy.  So, we went online to the embassy’s website (www.costarica.usembassy.gov), clicked on the “U.S. Citizens Services” tab and selected “Passport.”  There we found a link to download the Passport Renewal Application (DS-82) and another link to request an appointment.  A screen with available appointment dates and times appeared; we selected one for each of us (separately) which were a couple of weeks out.  An appointment confirmation is emailed to you which needs to be printed and brought to the appointment.  We then printed and filled out the application form to bring with us.  Other items needed for the appointment are your current passport, new passport photograph and payment of $110 (cash or credit card, no checks).

A single passport photo is required which meets the new regulations (such as no eye glasses allowed).  You can get this done inside the embassy for about $2, which is what we decided to do since we wanted to make sure the photos passed muster.  It was quick and easy.


United States Embassy is located on Ruta 104, northeast of La Sabana park in San Jose.

On appointment day, we drove into San Jose early and arrived at the embassy about one hour before our appointed times.  We found a small public parking lot on the side street directly adjacent to the embassy.


U.S. Embassy building

As we approached the building, we saw a very long line of people waiting to get inside.  Everyone in this line appeared to be Costa Rican, so we asked the guard at the entrance where we should go for passports.  He said the line was for visa applicants and that we should go directly to the door at the top of the stairs.


Entrance door to U.S. Embassy on the left

There we were met by another officer who confirmed our appointments.  He asked to see our passports and appointment confirmations.  Inside the door is the security area with x-ray and metal detector like at the airport.  No cell phones, remote keys or other electronic devices are allowed past security, so they put your stuff in a locked pouch, give you the key and keep the pouch until you leave.

Once inside, we saw the photograph station.  The line was short and we were on our way with photos in hand after a few minutes.  In the same area, we noticed an electronic kiosk that appeared to give you a number, but we were told we did not need to do that and to proceed ahead past the long lines of visa people waiting to get into the next area.  We walked through the door and asked the attendant where to go for passports.  She directed us to the passport windows on the left, which were not busy at all.  It was interesting to note that most everyone we saw or spoke to up to this point was Costa Rican.  We approached one of the windows and spoke to the woman (finally an American).  She took our completed forms, passports, new photos and reviewed them.  All was in order, so we were directed to the next window to pay the passport renewal fee and return with the receipts.  When we returned, we received renewal confirmations and were told that our new passports would be ready within 10 business days.  We were on our way in less than 15 minutes.


To our surprise, we were notified after just five days (by email) that our passports were ready for pickup.  Passports can only be picked up between 8:00 – 11:00 a.m., no appointment needed.  All new passports have 52 pages and an RFID chip embedded in them.

All About Rusty

We have a lot of fun with our cat Rusty.  We adopted him as a kitten (eight weeks old) about a year ago from a local rescue organization.  He has grown into a very complex cat that has many talents.  As a Costa Rican cat, Rusty has adapted to life in the jungle.

Rusty the Helper

Rusty the Hunter

Rusty the Explorer


Rusty the Cool Cat

Rusty the Covert Cat

Rusty the Napper (This is his best talent.)

Rusty is best friends with our little dog Olivia.  They enjoy playing and grooming each other.  Being that Rusty has spent most of the time around dogs, he thinks he is part dog.

Rusty has become one big boy!  The other day, he weighed in at a whopping 13 pounds.  He outweighs Olivia by three pounds.


Rusty is missing Olivia who sometimes spends the night with her boyfriend Zorro, the miniature poodle that lives next door.


Projects During the Rainy Season

It has been raining quite a bit these past few months.  Since all the landslides in August, we have been staying close to home when it rains a lot.  To keep busy, we have been working on a few projects.  And of course, Rusty the cat is always there to help out!

Eddie worked on and completed the coffee table for the living area.  It’s made from a slab of Guanacaste (Costa Rica’s national tree) with teak stumps for the base.


I have been busy hemming flat sheets to use as curtains.  My niece Megan gave me this idea.  They work great, too!


We have a rain gauge out by our pool to record the daily rainfall.  The amount of rain is always a topic of conversation here (especially with us Gringos) and you might even say some of us are obsessed.  To give you an idea of how much rain we have been getting, Eddie has compiled the rain chart below.  So far this year, we have had 143 inches (12 feet!).  The average for our area is around 160 inches per year.  We should easily surpass that this year.


With all the rain, we are having a problem with mold in the kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities and on some pieces of furniture that we brought with us from North Carolina.  So, I spend a tremendous amount of time cleaning.  Finally, the mold seems to be under control, thank goodness!  Maybe now I will have more time to devote to my hobbies…after all, I’m supposed to be “retired.”



Taking a break from cleaning to catch up on our reading.


Rusty is taking care of some business while Eddie looks on.


Rusty and Olivia enjoy the view as much as we enjoy it.

After the Storm

The clean up after the storm took several weeks.  We thought everyone would enjoy seeing a few photos after the big storm.


One of the landslide areas on the mountain road after repairs are done.


Our driveway after repairs and replanting.


Repairs to this slide in front of the pool area will wait until the dry season.  Rusty is making sure everything is secure!

Cleaning up the dry muddy film from the tile was very time consuming.  It all had to be scrubbed by hand. Eddie worked on the carport and front entrance and I worked on the tile floor inside the house.  Rusty was always close by either trying to help or supervising!



Just when I thought everything was good, we discovered mold in the bathroom and kitchen cabinets.  It took several days to clean the cabinets with a special solution.  All the dishes had to be washed, too.  Who knew that living in “paradise” would be so much work?  Go figure!


Meanwhile in between all the cleaning up, Eddie worked on several projects.  He managed to find time to make the tile framed mirrors in both the guest and master bathrooms.  They turned out beautifully!   Also, he worked on the coffee table.  It will be a while before it’s finished.



A rack of home grown bananas hanging to ripen – probably 40 pounds.


Look closely at the yellow palm fruit and you’ll see a pizote (inset photo) eating them.


Give me a smooch, baby!


10.5 Inches of Rain = Landslides!

During the rainy season in Costa Rica, you expect to get rain (duh!).  But when good ol’ Mother Nature dumps 10.5 inches in just four or five hours, well that’s a lot of rain and so stuff happens.  It started mid-afternoon on Thursday, August 25.  We were coming back home from our friend Helen’s birthday party in Tinamastes. Heavy rain fell hard and steady, but it had let up some by the time we reached home.  Out of curiosity, I checked our rain gauge. It read 5.7 inches, and since it only holds six inches, I emptied it.  The lull didn’t last long and the rain picked up again.  It couldn’t have been much more than an hour later when I noticed that the rain gauge had another three inches recorded.  Wow!

About then it was beer o’clock, and as I headed to the beer fridge to grab a cold one, I heard Ellen scream, “Eddie, come here!  There’s water coming in!”  I ran inside to see muddy water coming in underneath the front and side doors.  OMG, in just seconds, the kitchen floor was flooded and water was heading into the living room.  WTF!  This can’t be happening!, I thought.  As I ran outside to investigate, Ellen grabbed every towel she could find to try and stop the mucky water from advancing further.  The carport and front entrance were a flooded, muddy mess.  Water, mud and gravel were streaming down the driveway towards the house.  Then I saw what had caused this disaster…a portion of the hillside above the driveway had slide down covering most of the driveway and the drainage canal that runs alongside it.  With the drainage ditch blocked, the water was diverted across the driveway and into the carport and entryway of the house.  I grabbed a shovel and began making a dike to direct the water away from the house towards another drain at the back of the parking area.  Soon, I managed to get the water flow under control and ran back inside to help Ellen.

At this point, it was about 5:30 and starting to get dark.  Then, as luck would have it, the power went out.  So, with flashlights and candles to light our way, we spent the next several hours mopping up as best we could, still in shock as to what had happened.  The next morning, we went out to survey the damage.  On our property, we found a second landslide had occurred on the slope below the pool.


Landslide on the driveway



Landslide below the pool deck


Clean up crew…they’re awesome!


We have a neighborhood WhatsApp group and were alerted to the fact that there were several landslides on our mountain road, one of which took out an electricity pole.  ICE, the power company, was called and we also made arrangements for a backhoe to come in the morning to start digging us out.  Thankfully, the rain soon tapered off and finally stopped falling around 8 pm.


The situation on our mountain road was very bad.  There were major landslides in four different sections that completely covered the road.  The backhoe worked all day on Friday to get through the first landslide.  Amazingly, ICE workmen were able get up to the problem area, bypass the downed pole and re-string the lines to restore power by Friday afternoon.  Hats off to them!  By mid-morning on Saturday, the backhoe was able to clear through the next two smaller slides.  Then the last slide, a big one, was cleared on Sunday afternoon.  I realized that in order to repair the slopes the right way, we were going to need to call in some heavier machines.  So, on Monday, August 29 an excavator and dump truck arrived to start the process of sculpting the slopes where the slides occurred in order to stabilize them and greatly reduce the chance of another slide.



Late Monday afternoon, the backhoe was finally able to make it to our property to clear our driveway and start the clean up.  It was a good thing, too, as Ellen and I had a meeting to go to the next morning.


We also were scheduled to head back to North Carolina on September 1st for a visit.  As much as I would have loved to take off and see our kids, I made the decision that I must stay behind to look after our property here.  This year’s rainy season has been predicted to be a fairly wet one and September and October are the months of the heaviest rainfall.  Ellen did make the trip and arrived safely in Chapel Hill for a 3 week stay.  It wasn’t until yesterday, Friday, September 9 that the excavator finished working.  People who have been here for many years say that this was one of the worst rains that Hatillo has seen.  A Tico friend of mine said it is a normal part of living on the mountain.  I guess he’s right, but hopefully we won’t have another one like it anytime soon!  The best thing of all is that no one was hurt during this crazy time.  Pura vida!


Hoel Happenings in Hatillo

It has been a busy time for us!  Amazingly there is still a lot to do around the house and yard.  We have been looking around for furniture – in particular chairs for the outdoor dining table.  Our friends George and Susie gave us a slab of Guanacaste wood that was cut 20 years ago. Our furniture maker finished it for us and made it into a table (Eddie’s design).  The slab was originally 4 meters long and we had it cut down to 3.5 meters (11.5 feet). The table is absolutely beautiful!  Thank you George and Susie!!!


Eddie continues to work on welding metal cabinets for his tools in the carport.  He has finished the first set and it turned out great.  I am very impressed with his welding abilities!

Finally, the hood vent for the stove/range that we ordered online in April arrived…mid-July. There were a lot of problems with customs now as they are enforcing new rules. It has been a huge hassle for everyone, but this is Costa Rica after all.  Patience is a virtue, that is for sure!  It took Eddie several days to dig through the cement block. Our builder came by to help him finish chopping through the block, but was not able to help with installing the hood, which was fine…our builder is not a big guy. We did not want him to get hurt as the range hood is very heavy. So, Eddie was able to install it, thanks to our friends Toni and Gib’s young and strong great-nephew. It was quite a chore to install…and I had to help too…holding the flashlight!


Our builder, Marvin, is cutting re-bar from the hole through the wall

The yard is coming along, as well. The plantings from two months ago are flourishing. It is incredible at how fast everything grows during the rainy season. Eddie decided that he wanted a winding path down the bank in front of the pool in order to get to the banana trees a bit easier. So, our yard guys dug out some dirt steps and a path. Last week, they added treated pine to define the steps and eventually gravel will be put on the steps and path so it will not get too muddy. We plan to have them plant more fruit trees in that part of the yard.


Looking up at the house from the hillside below


Steps cut into the hillside


Ellen with ant bait – looking for leaf-cutter ants which can strip a tree overnight!


Rusty helps too, of course!

At the end of July, we had our first overnight guests – our friends Tia and Mary Carmen.  They were vacationing in Costa Rica and spent their last two nights with us.  As always, we had a great time with them.  They are a hoot!


Sorting through sea beans found on Pavones beach


Rusty and Olivia are doing well, though we have had an interesting development.  In early July, our neighbors Liz and Ray moved here permanently with their eight year old miniature poodle, Zorro.  They live right above us…you can see their gazebo as you drive down our driveway. Olivia has fallen in love with Zorro! She wants to spent most of her time with him at Liz and Ray’s place.  She is so much in love with him that she is willing to miss her meals, which is a bit worrisome. However, Olivia is helping Zorro to adjust to living in the jungle.  She is teaching him how to be a Tico dog. They wander all over and we suspect that they are sneaking into Toni and Gib’s house and eating all of their cats’ food. So, I guess we really do not need to worry that she does not want to eat when she is home. Rusty is absolutely devastated that his BFF has left him. He misses Olivia so much. After several weeks of Olivia spending most days and nights with Zorro, we started tying up Olivia at night so that she would have some meals and spend time with us and Rusty.  We miss her, too!  In the mornings not long after we would untie her, she would manage to sneak away to visit her boyfriend. And, Rusty would be so sad.


Occasionally, Zorro wants to stay with Olivia at our place. He is a cute doggie and easy to have around. It is nice that all three pets get along so well!


The routine started to change a little bit when we brought our new dog named Wylder home to visit for a couple of weeks. We bought her from Latigo K9 in Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula in January.  Wylder is 11 months old and still in training, but we wanted her to get to know us, Olivia and Rusty, so she is visiting for a few weeks.  We will have her full time at the end of November.


Wylder is a mix of Dutch Shepard and Belgian Malinois


All the animals welcoming Wylder to our place


Making everyone feel at ease together

Olivia took to Wylder right away…wanting to play with her despite their size difference. Rusty was more cautious and rightfully so as it turns out Wylder needs a bit more training around cats. Wylder is not interested in Olivia at all, but focuses all her attention on Rusty.


Rusty, being a typical cat, teases Wylder a bit and gets Wylder in trouble. So we are having to be very diligent so there are no casualties!  Never a dull moment in the Hoel household.




The Time to Plant

As we are now into the rainy season, it is the time to plant.  It is the time when frequent rains and more subdued sunshine nurture plants so they have a chance to become established  before the next dry season which starts in December.


We decided that it was too much work for us to do alone, so we hired a landscaper to help. He came over and assessed our landscaping needs.  Then, he met Eddie at the nursery in Quapil, which is next door to our little town Hatillo, and helped Eddie chose the plants and trees.  It took his crew several days to do all the planting and they still have a little bit more to do.  We are very pleased with the results!


Meanwhile, Eddie worked on making my clothesline. His next big project is to make metal storage cabinets for the carport to store all of his tools and stuff.



We celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary at La Parcela in Dominicalito.  Adrian, the fantastic chef, cooked an awesome meal for us.


Ellen had grilled Red Snapper


Another spectacular sunset!


Making Outside Improvements – Part 2

Yesterday the final touches to the driveway were completed. It ended up being a bigger project and took more time than we anticipated…and more $$$ as well. We are very pleased with the end result! We have plenty of room to park and turn around. In addition, we are well prepared for the heavy rains.



Front entrance walkway


This gutter empties into a large tube that carries the water down the hill.



Another drain that goes down the hill


Newly planted landscaping on the terrace


Pathway around the rear of the house


A nice collection of plants and cuttings ready to be planted.  These were given to us by our good friends Chris and Rich from their gardens.

Last week we took Olivia and Rusty to the veterinarian in Quepos to be spayed and neutered. In Spanish there is no distinction…it is just called castration. So poor Olivia and Rusty were castrated. Olivia was very traumatized mostly because of the cone. She came home with all sorts of medications.  Rusty, on the other hand, took it all in stride. He was not bothered with it at all and the only evidence of his surgery was silver-like “paint” on his much smaller scrotum. We know that Olivia is looking forward to having the cone removed in a few days.


Olivia and Rusty on the drive home from the vet office.


Olivia and Rusty enjoying the sunset that evening.


At the peak of the sunset. If you look very closely at the far right of the coastline, the little peninsula is Manuel Antonio National Park.

Making Outside Improvements

Now that we have the inside of the house under control, it is time to work on the outside. Installing drainage and improving the driveway are first on the list. The rain can cause major erosion if it is not properly controlled especially since our property is so steeply sloped. Since the rains have started, we have experienced flooding in the carport and a mud pit in the driveway. Talk about a mess!

The two photos below were taken just after the driveway was graded and our move into the house.  It looks good there, but the rains quickly changed the conditions for the worse.

On May 25, the crew arrived to begin the work.  We wanted to concrete the lower part of our driveway and make it larger for more parking and ease of turning around. The backhoe dug into the hillside to create the additional space.


The backhoe operator was impressive and fun to watch!.  It was amazing how he managed get the backhoe to climb up the embankment.  At one point, I thought he was going to tip over. That guy was fearless!

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After the backhoe had finished with the hillside

While the backhoe guy was digging into the hillside, other workers were moving a good amount of the dirt to the side of the house to build up the grade and create a proper slope away from the foundation.  It took several days for them to do this.  Then, they started making the concrete  gutters to help with the drainage.


The guys are installing the main gutter along the driveway


The completed gutter along the back of the house


Stone being delivered for making concrete on site (Concrete mixer trucks can’t make it up our mountain road).

Once they finished with the gutters, some of the guys started concreting the lower part of the driveway and some other guys started working on the pathway that will go around the sides of the house.



Working on the front entrance and pathway

The rest of the driveway will be lastre (a mixture of gravel, sand and dirt). For the pathway, we will spread small river rocks around concrete stepping stones. It should all be finished sometime this week weather permitting.  Lately, the skies have opened up and we have had some heavy rains. The May rain total at our house was 28 inches!


Eddie is planting Vetiver grass on the terrace of the hillside to stabilize the soil


Eddie is installing gutter guards to keep the leaves from clogging the gutters


Of course Rusty needs to be recognized for his many talents.  He is always there to help out!