Friday, December 30, 2005

Manuel Antonio for my Birthday

Yeah buddy it was my birthday, just turned 31 on Dec. 27. I can't think of a better way to spend my birthday, besides the usual snowboarding in the cold countries. Kearstin, a friend from grad. school came down and we headed out to Manuel Antonio. I gave her a good lesson on beach bum etiquette. Drink lots of water and use a sarong to lounge on not a regular towel, which becomes a sand sponge.

The beaches in Manuel Antonio are extremely beautiful. Nice big spaces with trees for shades. The waves were small enough for kids, but occasionally big enough to twirl you around for a spin while body surfing.

But mostly we just sat under a beach umbrella napping and reading. I'm getting over a sinus infection so I had to forgo the alcohol and smoke for my birthday. Oh well, kind of getting over all of that as I get older.

One piece of advice: The week after Christmas is the busiest time for beaches in Costa Rica. There were huge lines to get into the national park. Some people didn't get in. We got in, but we promptly left because it was totally crowded. This may have jaded my opinion of the area, but I still prefer Puerto Viejo over Manuel Antonio.

It was a lot harder getting around Manuel Antonio. All of the cab drivers refused to use the meter, so you were getting jacked if you needed to take a cab. Riding the bus was difficult because the bus only stops at designated stops. I'm not sure who designates the spots because half of them weren't marked. You had to be a local to know where to get on. We were literally 20 meters away from the stop and the bus driver just kept driving. This hardly ever happens in CR, if you are close and flag the bus they usually stop. This was a little irksome when coupled with non-metered taxis and curvy, dangerous for pedestrian roads.

But we still had a blast. Who doesn't on the beach?? Also big thanks to Jacqueline for referring us to Cabinas Piscis. This place was super cheap, $20 dollars a night for a room, the hostess was nice and spoke easy to understand spanish, great breakfasts, and they were a short trail walk to the beach.

On the way home we were at the bus stop in Quepos. There was a very small earthquake. I felt it, but dammit, I wasn't going to lose my place in line at the ticket booth, but I was going to dart out if the roof was collapsing. There were no walls. Kearstin was wandering around, she didn't feel the quake. But, that didn't stop some random guy trying to drag her out to the rode. She thought he was crazy and no she isn't going out to the rode with him, she's not a stupid gringa. He's thinking she's crazy for staying under the bus shelter! The earthquake's epicenter was in Escazu and Adam, in the central valley, said it felt like somebody punched him. No damage to our building or the nearby roads.

Tomorrow we are heading to Zancudo with the possy from Portland. Kurt & Rachel, Kirsten & Darren, Dan & Julene, Kearstin, and Monty. We've been planning this trip for a long time and are really excited. It's nice having your old friends around.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Panama City, Chitre, David, Gorgona Beach, Casco Viejo

Well it was time to renew my visa. One can only be in Costa Rica for up to 90 days and then you have to leave for three days. I went by myself and enjoyed travelling alone, but I missed Adam!!

Day 1: Board bus in San Jose to David. This was not air conditioned first class bus. Luckily I got to sit next to Brice from Orphan Art. He travels around with art supplies to developing countries, gets the kids to draw stuff, he then sells the art and donates the money back to the original village. The day ended in David Panama, with little fanfare, not much happening in David.

Day 2 Hop on luxury bus with AC to Chitre to visit my friend Don who is opening a restaurant. There isn' really much happening there, but apparently there are a lot of nationwide fesitvals that occur in this town. Don's new restaurant is across the street from a bar that shows porno TV. Kind of funny.

Day 3 I hopped the short bus for Panama City. Made it to my hotel and took a short walk.

Day 4 Walked around Casco Viejo and then headed over to the Panama Canal. Check out our photo site were there are a lot of photos of old Panama city and good descriptions of the Panama Canal.

Day 5 I hired a driver to take me around the city. First we went out to Gorgona Beach. By this time I was really questioning my driver. I think there was an exhaust leak in that car. Everytime I got in I fell fast asleep to smells of exhaust. So much for a scenic trip. Next we went back into town, stopped at an artisan market where I bought a bunch of Christmas presents. Next we went to a hill top park and took a bunch of pictures.

Next we went to a large urban nature park, took a 45 minute hike and then went out to some islands on the bay one of which had an aquarium park and a good view of the passing boats.

Don't forget to check out the rest of the photos, cause they took me forever to load.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Newcomer's Club of Costa Rica

Monday I went to the Newcomer's Club Christmas party where we donated a bunch of gifts to a local orphanage and watched the Country Day School's children's choir. Sounds nice and tame, but it was hilarious. The Newcomer's club is not necessarily for newcomers, there are women that have been apart of the club for 15+ years. It is basically a social club for english speaking women. These women are quite hilarious. The women were so loud talking up a storm, it took about 10 minutes to get people quite and attentive. You could have sworn they were drinking something else besides coffee.

I hooked up with a bunch of ladies the next day to go poinsetta shopping, yes I am turning into a lady of leisure...

Before heading out for poinsettas we had lunch somewhere. Quote of the day "All a girl needs is a shotgun, you don't have to aim". These are women who have been living in Latin America for decades, before tourists, before fast food places showed up.

Funniest story:

My husband had to leave for the evening so I slept with my machete. In those days having a machete was a part of your outfit, everybody had one and we kept them sharp. Well that night I heard something so I snuck down beneath the window with my machete. Well this was the days of bell bottoms, and I saw a leg coming through the window and I wacked it with my machete. I missed the leg but I got the bell bottom. I couldn't get the machete out and so the man was stuck there for a while. Needless to say nobody every broke in again, "the crazy gringa woman lives there."

I have a lot to learn from these ladies. This lady was from Eugene Oregon and wants to go rafting soon. Although she says nothing in Costa Rica compares with the McKenzie River.

After lunch we headed out to vivero row. This road was lined with viveros and all of them went back from the road with acreas of plants. I just got done reading Botany of Desire so I was pretty interested in the plants. This is unusual because the only thing I look for in a houseplant is that it is green and bushy. The garden is usually Adam's domain. So if you come to Costa Rica and want to go plant shopping I know where to go.

We also found the bird zoon Ave Zoo, but didn't go in. Looks pretty nice. We also drove by the Ojo de Agua, a swimming area for locals.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Puerto Viejo Weekend

I just can't say enough about Puerto Viejo. I LOVE PUERTO VIEJO!

Heidi, Shar and I met at the Caribe Terminal and headed to Puerto Viejo for two days. The 6 am bus dropped us off in PV around 10am. Casa Verde let us into the room early and we packed our beach bags and headed out. Casa Verde is now my favorite hotel in Puerto Viejo

Stopped across the street from Casa Verde for breakfast. Yummy breakfast, especially thank you Roger for the kind treats. But, don't rent bicycles from him. My chain fell off.

Luckily Bobby, the local builder, and rastafarian peace man picked me and my bike up. Bobby showed me all of the buildings he built with love on the way back from town. He also knew everybody and his proud little red truck beeped a tune to everybody on the way. Now, one shouldn't get in a truck with two guys (one in the back with the bike), but these things are OK in Puerto Viejo. Did I mention I LOVE PUERTO VIEJO? Tranquilo!

The rest of our time was spent eating yummy Thai food and caribean style bean and rice with coconut milk, pina coladas, and floating in the lovely Caribean sea. Roger That!

A few more weekend pictures

Friday, November 25, 2005

Arenal Volcano & Tabacon Hotsprings

Last weekend we took advantage of the half price airfare and the end of the green season (re:cheap) in Costa Rica. We flew into La Fortuna and stayed at Tabacon, which was expensive but we wanted to go to their hotsprings.

The hotsprings were really cool. There were about twenty or so springs with varying degrees of temperature. Most of them were really hot. This picture I've just about lost my bikini bottoms, and I'm holding on to them to make sure I don't lose them. The force of the water fall was pretty intense.

It also didn't help that Tabacon has a two for one happy hour until 4 and there are not rules. This combined with the hot water leads to some pretty interesting results.

Arenal volcano was incredible. We got to see lava flowing down the mountain from our hotel room. I guess we were lucky because most of the time it's clouded over. You could hear in the background big loud thunderous booms and hissing sounds. For a while we couldn't figure out what that was, but it was the volcano exploding and blowing steam out the top. Tabacon hotsprings has an OK view of the volcano from the hotsprings. Arenal and the Tabacon hot springs are definate must sees if you are coming to Costa Rica.

And for a half day we went down the rio Pina Blanca in a canoe looking at wildlife. The highlight were the monkeys. We passed a large family of monkeys and then later on we saw a mama monkey waiting on one side of the river for a baby monkey on the other side who was afraid of leaping to the next branch. Incredibly cute. And we saw a number of huge iguanas the size of medium dogs.

Here's a cute little sloth we saw on the side of the road.

This is Adam now:

I need to interject some funny stories about our trip.

I got up at about 5:00 in the morning like I always do and went out to watch the volcano from next to the pool at the Tabacon resort. It was perfectly clear out and the volcano was amazing. There was lava rolling down the north face and huge puffs of steam shooting out the top. The was an amzing view as the sun was rising. I was the only person out there aside from the people in the restaurant getting ready for breakfast. Then this guy walks up and has a bathrobe on and a drink in one hand. I instantly get creeped out by this guy. He kinda walks aimlessly around for a while and then takes the bathrobe off and hops in the pool. He had american flag shorts on that almost looked like boxers.

All the while he was kind of eyeing me for some reason. He kept nervously getting in and out of the pool. Then I was watching the volcano and forgot about the guy. Then I looked over and he was in the bushes hiding behind a concrete divider staring at me. Creepy. I don't want to know what he was doing over there. I went back to the room and got Roberta and came back for breakfast and the guy was still in the pool. We sat there and waited for the restaurant to open for breakfast. The creepy guy got out of the pool and went to the exposed shower faucet that is supposed to be used to wash off after being in the pool. He proceded to pull down his red, white, and blue shorts and take a shower. Luckily Roberta was the one to look over and see this. I wouldn't look. People were starting to show up for breakfast and this guy was just hanging out naked.

Then we kept seeing this guy all over the place during our trip. There are blurry pictures of him in the link at the bottom. That boy ain't right.

On a less creepy and more funny note, the flight from San Jose to La Fortuna was fun. On the ground in the plane in San Jose the pilot gave us the pre-flight instructions. He said that if anything bad happens just first scream, then pull on the red handles to open the door, and run because that is what he will be doing. There are certain things that I love about Costa Rica and that is one of them, the ability to laugh at life or death circumstances.

Also, I wouldn't recommend staying at the Tabacon Resort unless you have children. It was unreasonably expensive and I fealt like it took a lot of the soul and culture out of the experience. The staff at the hotel seemed to be scared of the guests. We are going to stay at a hostel on our next trip to balance out our Chi.

Here is a link to the pictures:

Link to Pictures

Friday, November 18, 2005

Mesoamerica: Central America News and Analysis

I found this great monthly magazine call Mesoamerica. It's about ten solid, packed black and white pages, with no advertising. Their website really doesn't do their printed magazine justice. So I will just go ahead and give a quick synopsis of their news:

  1. Tropical storms devastated Central America. 2,500 people have died. Mexico has hundreds and thousands of people displaced. 130,000 Guatemalans have lost their homes, and tragically the town of Panabaj was completely buried and declared a mass cemetery. They are tired and don't know where to dig anymore. 53,000 El Salvadorians have lost their homes and the Santa Ana volcano erupted poisoning water supplies and damaging public infrastructures. Honduras has 2,800 evacuees. Nicaragua has 3,000 evacuees. Costa Rica has 283 communities, 70 bridges, and 219 roads affected.
  2. Guatemala has some serious prison gang issues. The nation's prisons are bloated by a slow system where only 60% of the inmates have been sentenced for a crime. El Salvador prisoners have started a hunger strike to protest overcrowding, lack of medical and HIV assistance, and visitation rights among other things.
  3. The Kaibiles where captured in Mexico with Guatemalan military arms. They were traveling north to help out the Zetas, a group of Mexican Army deserters turned mercenaries for the Gulf Drug cartel. If you do coke or heroin, these are your delivery men. The Zetas have been accused of murdering rival drug traffickers, prosecutors, policemen, and journalists.
  4. A new Mayan city has been discovered in the northern zone of Guatemala. Amazing that they are still finding cities!
  5. 105 Chilean mercenaries joined 129 Honduran counterparts in Honduras for military training for Iraq duties. Turns out Honduras doesn't allow nonnationals to train in their country for duty in another country. Some of these mercenaries have rap sheets in their home country, but they can get between $900-$1500/month for work in Iraq. The soldiers were eventually shipped to Iraq early since Chile wouldn't take their countrymen back. The pictures in a different paper where men aiming broom sticks, because they didn't have enough guns. Why are we teaching these people to use guns, weapons of mass destruction? Right...
  6. In Nicaragua the judiciary branch and the legislators joined forces to oust the president, threatening to place Nica under a two-headed dictatorship of un-elected party bosses. The Nica ambassador to the US: "the threat to democracy is coming from an unholy alliance of legislature and a judiciary trying to overthrow a freely and democratically elected president." The U.S Sec. of State, at the request of Nica government ministers, has threatened to deny $4billion in debt relief and the exclusion of Nica from CAFTA (link scroll down). The 'unholy alliance' took an about face, deterred decision until Jan. and a new legislature is voted in, and stated that the "Yankee government" does not frighten anyone in the world much less Nicaragua. Yeah right...unfortunately.

The next magazine review will cover "The US Government and the Tactics of Deception and Disinformation in Latin America."

All of this is from the Mesoamerica news magazine, October 2005, which is unavailable on the web.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ordered Chaos

Occassionally Adam and I have a bitch-fest about Costa Rica. We are not pleased to admit it but there are small things that annoy the living hell out of us. We could create a list right, but they would appear small and not worth the worrying. Which is true, but that doesn't stop us from saying 'well I hope in our next country we live they have covers on the storm drains so that when you step off a curb or out of a car you don't fall into a six foot dark pit of garbage and storm drain water runoff.'

That is the chaos part. You have to watch every step or you fall into chaos.

But, sometimes there is Ordered Chaos.

We have five, 5-gallon water bottles and the water delivery guy is supposed to come every Monday. We've calculated a 25% chance that he will come, maybe on Wednesday, but usually never unless we call. The last week he told us he isn't delivering water anymore. After calling ten times, and not being able to leave a message because his voice-mail box is full, I come to understand his non-employment status. By this time I was too distracted to catch the number he gave me in spanish. Speaking in spanish over the phone is still hit or miss based on the level of patience and accent the spanish speaker has.

Well, we had to take things into our own hands, literally. We were going to walk up to the store to buy some water and than catch a taxi back home. On the way up we passed a water delivery truck. They offered us some water; hell yeah we don't want to carry big water bottles home. So they followed us home (us walking them driving behind us) and we get five full bottles of water instead of the two we were going to walk/taxi home.

They said they'll be back next week. We give them a 50% chance that they will be back next Monday. We'll give them some benefit of the doubt.

Here's a story about ground water in Costa Rica and it is a good example of ordered chaos. It took 14 months for officials to declare a state of emergency after a diesel spill near the water source of some 320,000 residents. Costa Rica only has about 4 million people.

On a lighter note, here's a picture of a five gallon water bottle frog tank. Nifty!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Volcano Turrialba

Sorry we haven't posted in a while. Adam has been busy with work and I've had the Gripe. Gripe means a cold. But, I think it sounds like I should have something worse, where I would lose a lung or something. It felt like I should have.

Well, Shar's school organized another trip whereby we had the privilidge of having one student come with us. She was really smart and cool. Our goal was Volcan Turrialba, which isn't as well known because it's hard to get to and there isn't any lava flowing. But, I thought it was more interesting than the Poas and Irazu volcanoes because there weren't any tourists and you could get really close to the steamy craters.

We did see some tourists come up on horse back. They looked like serious city dwellers, with a European hint. They were having their Costa Rican adventure. Shar said they looked like they were watching a reality T.V. show. There's been two reality shows on recently plus and infamous Wild E-on! with a focus on Costa Rica. I swear though, the Costa Rica I know is way different then what I saw on tv. For one, they don't show any potholes or traffic.

Anyway back to the volcano. The bus dropped us off about an hour power hike up to the crater. We stopped for a snack and than went down to the Crater, hiked around the perimeter, and than a few adventorous souls climbed up to the ridge of the most active crater. I was having gallons of snot pour out of my nose from Gripe so I decided not to tempt my fate with sulphurous gases. There were three craters but I didn't take a picture of the oldest. It was a big hole with a marsh in it.

Oh yeah, the neighbor cat sprayed on my hiking shoes so I was in Chaco sandals. I think Chacos are only good for a couple of miles. Here are the rest of the photos...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

English Style Riding

I've been taking horseback riding lessons in Tres Rios for the last month, once per week. When I was a kid we had one horse and occasionally took care of neighbor horses. We only rode western style and our only goal was to stay on, explore the old stage coach road between Florence and Eugene OR and imagine we saw sasquatch foot prints. For the shetland pony we took care of, that was an elusive concept for me.

So now I'm learning the 'right' way to ride a horse. The only 'right' way is to develop thighs of steal. Just kidding, but it helps. They've been keeping me on a short lease, literally and getting my methods down. Next week I will have lessons two times a week and graduate into a class of other riders.

I hope to get better and join some endurance runs in Costa Rica. Endurance runs are quite popular here. I've been told that they've circumvented Arenal Volcano and have other interesting rides. Should be fun. Thanks Marla for introducing me to your instructors. They are really nice and I'm learning more spanish. For instance there are spanish color words for horses that don't apply to anything else.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Nothing worse than a Costa Rican Dentist

I thought I was being a totally well informed dental client. I went to four, different, highly recommended US educated dentists for a problem I have stemming from an accident as a clumsy teenager.

Each dentist had their own very different idea for a solution. I went with the dentist who suggested the least amount of drilling (Adam's criteria), was the oldest, certified by an American Association and incidentally recommended by the three other dentists I went to.

This is how Adam puts it, "There's nothing worse than a Costa Rican dentists, wait the worst is getting ripped off by a Costa Rican dentist.." Plus the mother-f$*@#r wasn't even gentle. Yanked open your mouth and his dental assistant consistently jammed the sucker thingy in the exact same spot which wasn't even the lowest point in my mouth. GAG-GAG-ouch I should also mention that I tried to pay every time I left the building but they just said, Next time, Next time...

We get the bill for $200 for each teeth cleaning, plus some extra for the miniscule work done on my previous issue. $600 total. I was originally told the cleaning would cost $40/person and any additional work should be no more than $60.

Nothing worst than going to a Costa Rican dentist, besides getting the bill. Our friend who has been here forever said he's had that happen a few times and he just doesn't pay it. I guess it happens a lot. Milk the gringos for everything. I want to pay him something but, JMFC, it doesn't even cost that much in the states.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Vida has found a temporary home!

I just want to thank everybody for offering to take in Vida. A few people offered their homes even though it wasn't the best conditions ie; allergies, other pets, even a room in a hotel was offered! She is quite a special kitty and it means a lot to Adam and I that so many people offered a place. We found a special cat lover who doesn't currently have a kitty. So thanks goes out to Michelle and Allen. Adam and I are a little concerned that Michelle and Allen will like Vida too much and not give her back.

Right now Adam and I are going through a little bit of Vida withdrawal. Vida is spending the night at the vet because we had a small lump removed from her ear area. They are sending the lump to a lab so we will find out what it is. All of this cost $50 dollars.

Everything here is so cheap. It only cost $20 to get our teeth cleaned including a full set of x-rays. Adam has a cavity that he's avoiding. I'm trying to get him to take care of it here because it will be cheaper here than the deductible in the states. And our dentist studied in the states and speaks english. Unbeknownst to us he's an old friend of the Castro family, our friends we always hang out with. He's also a fourth generation Costa Rican dentist. His secretary calls me mi amor.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Tico Nick Names

I think I'm starting to understand Tico culture. Ticos have a habit of calling people by names. For instance the parking guard on our street always greets me with 'buenes linda' (linda = pretty). At first I was a little put off. What does he mean hey pretty? Should I be nervous should I walk on the other side of the street? The next guard up the streets always calls me guapa (beautiful). And the orange juice grocery cart vender calls me reina (queen).

Now, I was trying to make friends with the guards because you never know when you might need them. A sheepish smile and a nod, nothing big you know. This is a third world country and there is a reason why every three cars needs a guard. If you didn't know this about Costa Rica there are parking guards for every block. You pay them around a dollar for parking in their area under the theory that they are guarding your car. They carry a stick that was probably an old broom stick and they wear an orange safety vest usually crusted with dirt. If anything happens to your car you don't have to pay them because they probably won't be around. Sorry got off topic.

So I think all of these terms are just friendly banter. Ticos are flirts that's just what it comes down to. They are so nice it becomes flirtatious with the opposite sex. Nobody actually thinks they are seriously trying to get with you that's just what they do. When I go to the gas station I will be called a cute name, but only if Adam's not in the car. But these names don't really mean anything.

I realized this when the old lady selling cheese in the market called me mi amor, meaning my love. You would never hear that from a clerk in the states but here it comes naturally, and I'm loving it more and more. What I don't like though, is being called dona. Our apartment guard calls me dona, which I think translates into ma'm of the house. I'm not old enough to be called ma'am, how do you spell that anyways?

Also the nick names can be quite funny. On Wednesday's I take horseback riding lessons (super cheap). Last Wednesday I rode a horse named Mr. Clinton. And seriously they named him Mr.Clinton because he's a studly stallion, you know like Lewinsky?!? My instructor had a good chuckly explaining that. Yes I understood your spanish...

So whatever the Ticos say, there still is a small miniscule element of truth in the nick names. It's just a cute thing they do, which is becoming more endearing not threatening.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Should I tickle her feet?

A week ago I was on a flight back from Houston and had a wonderful experience. I had an window seat and there was a guy in the aisle seat but no one in the middle. He didn't seem too twitchy so I started up a conversation with him. Turns out he lives in Nicaragua and runs a tour guide service and seemed like a nice guy. His name was Lawrence. You know the conversation is good when you are trying to talk over a takeoff.

When the plane was boarding I noticed a surly guy get on and sit in the aisle seat opposite of Lawrence. Something told me that he was going to be trouble. As we continued our conversation the web site of the CIA World Fact Book came up(Link to factbook). I have found that it was a great source of information. The surly guy, on the other hand, thought that it was a load of crap and wanted to heat up the discussion over it. He started yelling profanities about how it was worthless and you got better data from encyclopedias from the 50s. Lawrence was able to talk him down and then we continued our conversation.

We had sort of a gentleman's bet on whether he was crazy or just drunk. I took crazy, luckily we didn't bet colones on it. There was a girl ahead of the guy who had all three seats to herself and was laying down sleeping. He was leaning around the seats asking us if he should tickle her feet. All that he could talk about was tickling her feet. He asked Lawrence if he should do it. Lawrence calmly told him that it would be a bad idea.

Then he proceeds to down a pint of Southern Comfort. That is the point where I lost the bet. That is also the point where the guy started to get really rowdy. He started leaning over the seats and talking to the girl who was obviously scared to death. He started cussing a bunch and interrupting our conversation which after two and a half hours was still going well. Then he started talking about chopping the windows out of the plane with an axe.

Luckily we landed so he didn't have time to find that axe. Then he tried to change seats and sit next to girl while we were still on the tarmac. I would say this is the point where the major breakdown happened. She told him to get lost and he started calling her the B word and the F word and some other words with first letters that I can't repeat here. I leaned over to tell the guy to shut the hell up and Lawrence put himself in front of me and convinced me that it wasn't the proper course of action. Sadly I agreed and instead we hit the Call button. The stewards came and he started yelling at them. The stewards called the pilot and he yelled at the pilot.

As soon as the fasten seat belt light got turned off Lawrence hopped up and put his bag in front of the drunk man's seat so that he couldn't get up. That worked amazingly well actually. He couldn't physically harass the girl any more.

On the way to customs we apologized to the girl. It was her first trip to CR and she was traveling alone. Then we were waiting in line at customs and saw the drunk man being wheeled away in a wheel chair by airport security. Hopefully they do a cavity search on him and then permanently ban him from the country.

Roberta and I gave Lawrence a ride to his hotel and found out that he was giving a talk to the Costa Rica Residence Association the following day on the benefits of tourism in Nicaragua. Did anyone see it?

Costa Rica and Corruption

The Transparency International Corruptions Perceptions Index uses up to 16 surveys to determine the overall corruption index. All sources measure the extent of corruption including; frequency and or size of bribes in the public and political sectors. Evaluation is performed by country experts, non resident and residents, non-residents business leaders from developing countries, and resident business leaders evaluating their own country. This study was performed by the Passau University in Germany.

Year / Ranking / Score (0-10, where 10 is high)
2005 ; 51 ; 4.2
2004 ; 41 ; 4.9
2003 ; 50 ; 4.3
2002 ; 40 ; 4.5

The only Latin American Country to do better consistently than Costa Rica is Chile, which consistently ranked one below the United States. Uruguay also appeared at times higher than Costa Rica, and El Salvador shows some improvements as well.

I believe what this shows is that while Costa Rica has a lot of room for improvements, it's higher ranking as a developing country indicates that CR is one of the better managed Latin American countries.

For more information Transparency International
Corruption Perceptions Index 2005

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Another weekend at Puerto Viejo

Well Adam and I are nursing sun burns. My back is aching with bug bites and sun burns. Adam and I really like Puerto Viejo. We don't usually go out drinking, but Puerto Viejo is different. It seems as if your body can handle a lot more sun, food and drink than in the Central Valley. It is something about the easy Caribbean sea, blaring reggae and the sun. Also just a quick drive or bike ride out of town and you are on an isolated beach snorkeling and watching fishes swim by. Its like your own personal aquarium. We stayed at the Coco Loco Lodge and would recommend them. The owner is german and not very friendly but the cabinas are clean, neat, and far enough away from the town for a noise free evening. We've also stayed at MiraFlores Lodge and had a good time. Pamela the owner is really sweet and helpful when planning your daily outings.

We travelled down with Shar, Ryan and Lydia and had a good time. Next weekend outing we are going to have to go somewhere different, Shar will definately boycott another Puerto Viejo weekend. I think our next weekend is going to be at Arenal.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

U.S. vs Costa Rica Soccer

Well last Saturday was the infamous soccer game. If you are not a soccer fan (neither was I till I moved here) you may not have been aware that there was some sort of playoff game between these two teams. US already was in, but Costa Rica needed to win to get into the World Cup finals. Well US sent their B team and they played like crap. I don't even know much about soccer but I could tell that the Costa Rican team looked way better.

But what is more interesting to me than the game was the after game mayhem. I'm talking serious chaos. Ok here is the run down. In San Pedro there is this major round about (big highway intersection without lights). In the middle of this round about is a fountain. A friend who has lived for a while here thinks what's weird about Costa Ricans are that they are proud of this fountain, which is just an extension of a public works water infrastructure. Costa Ricans are proud of their infrastructure. And right in front is Mall San Pedro which has a view of the round about.

Well, whenever there is a major Costa Rican win everybody storms the fountain and the round aboutwaving flags, screaming, singing and just having a good time in a sort of anarchic and chaotic fashion. One picture turned out! Notice the police men guarding the fountain on the left, no way in hell they were going to let the people into the fountain, but they couldn't keep them out of the round about nor did they care when they started shaking and rocking a car. I thought the revelers were going to flip it, until they remembered they were nice Ticos, backed away from the car very friendly like singing and clapping and let the car go through. The other funny part was that a big group of kids would just start running around the round about with flags and drums and than turn around and run back the other way. Nothing better than beating the gringos! Nobody seemed to remember that it was the B-team and Wednesday night Costa Rica just got slammed cause they were playing their B-team against Guatamela.

I really should not have walked up to this area especially at night. My neighbor tells me he's been held up by gun point six times in the last six years. But, I wanted to experience a Costa Rican phenomenon. Unfortunately though I will avoid walking alone at night in the future, but this was worth it.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Costa Rican Timing

Costa Rican timing is hard to describe. People are late here or they just don't show up.

In los Estado Unidos it's OK, you just call up and cancel or you apologize or make up some kind of white lie. All of which are quasi-acceptable. but if you do this often people will think of you as a flake or they'll just stop returning your calls and you get one less christmas card in the mail.

But no... In Costa Rica no apologies or excuses are given. To some expats this sort of cultural phenomonon is 'liberating'. If something comes up it's OK, you don't have to twist your leg to make it. You don't have to get dressed and go just because you promised. If you are too tired, it's OK. Whoever you flake on will not take it too seriously. They won't get mad, in fact they weren't actually expecting you to show up anyway. People often make plans but than nobody shows up.

This seems like a cultural phenomenom that we just have to get use to. But, this trait makes it's way into business. We can't seem to get the water delivery guy to show up on one particular day, he just shows up when he feels like it. Working is like a side hobby to drinking coffee with your friends who happen to drop by. But remember, these cafecitos aren't planned.

Adam made a great connection. This mentality of not being on time, if at all makes its way into government and than not a lot gets done. I guess this is just one thing that we have to get use to. Still beats rainy cold weather.

Here's a new saying I just learned: when you cheer with your wine or beer glass you must look your fellow cheerers in the eye or you jinx yourself for seven years of bad sex.

YIKES don't want to chance that one!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Life Lesson Learned

I have been making Ginger Ale recently by mixing fresh ginger, sugar, and yeast in a 2 liter pop bottle. You let it ferment for about a day and then throw it in the fridge so that it doesn’t blow up. It actually turns out pretty good and has a very low alcohol content.

I got the bright idea to replace the sugar with a whole blended pineapple to see how that would be. I blended the pineapple, grated the ginger, added it all to a bottle with some yeast and let it sit. Typically it is supposed to take 24-48 hours before it is ready to go into the fridge. After about 8 hours in the bottle it was rock hard. I threw it in the fridge last night and pulled it out this morning to try some.

Since it was rock hard I knew that there was a chance that it would explode so I put some paper towels over the cap and got near the sink as I started to unscrew it. In hind sight I should have put a real towel because as soon as the cap saw its opportunity it shot off and bounced around the room. At this point I was basically holding a pineapple and ginger fire hose. It was spraying all over the kitchen. Luckily I was right next to the sink and dumped it in there. After I cleaned up and everything settled I tried some and it tasted like crap.

Life lessons are fun to learn when you don’t lose an eye.

Here is a link to the Ginger Ale recipe:

Ginger Ale Recipe

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Zoom zoom

There is a funny story from today that I have to share.

We have a new favorite sushi restaurant called Moby Dick's in San Pedro that we have been going to. We went to it for dinner and on the drive back we had an amazing driving experience. Down here the drivers are absolutely insane. We were driving back our normal route when we came upon this traffic jam. We are at a stop sign at a T in the road and we want to turn left. Well we can’t because there are two lanes of cars going in the opposite direction. This is a two way road mind you. So I am sitting at the stop sign for a while with my turn signal on and noone is getting the point that they are in the wrong lane. Well I see my chance and I gas it and turn into oncoming traffic. I am literally splitting down the center of two lanes of cars coming at me, laughing the whole time. Then the cars started to part and they let me through like nothing was wrong. An extreme example of Costa Rican driving but very typical. Ha. We got a good laugh out of that one.

Also, Shar made it back safe and sound. They ended up going to Tamarindo instead of Nosara since the plane couldn't land there. It sounds like they had a wonderful time. Shar is burnt crisp like a lobster and Chris has a bad rash from surfing but aside from that they are safe and sound. It sounds like they really enjoyed Tamarindo and thought that the guide book was way off base about how overdeveloped it is.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Central American Music

Just wanted to remind you that Adam has posted some of his music that he has been recording online. The stuff he's recording is pretty good. He's also letting me do back up vocals. Maybe I'll be famous one day like Tori Amos who sang back up for NIN. Except I have a bad voice that, thankfully, is easily covered by effects. I'm learning that effects = magic for recording music. With certain software anything can sound good.

Here's his music link.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Flooding on the Pacific Coast: Nosara to Quepos

Pobrecita Shar! Shar has one week off from school(not sure why something like a spring break). Shar's boyfriend Chris came down for a visit and they flew to Nosara for the week for some sol y mar. They were hoping to do a little surfing and relaxing.

Well I'm sure that they are having none of that. There has been major flooding on the pacific coastal towns of Costa Rica. Lots of people have died, lots of homes destroyed, bridges are down and roads are out. Costa Rica isn't a big country so this is devastating to the people effected and the surrounding communities. I hope they are all right, as can be...

Friday, September 23, 2005

Costa Rican Independence Day Sept. 15

September 15th was Costa Rica's Independence day, celebrating 184 years of indepence. The day of freedom is celebrated by having school children march in rigid formations, or at least make the attempt. Each class, or school sends the children off to march, or dance. Each class has their own drummers, all of which compete at a different pace.

Costa Rica doesn't have a military but all of the school children know how to march. They do this march every year. I wonder if this is a subconcious cultural act. There were a number of different marches but there was one popular march that was illustrated by stepping with your right foot and dragging your left foot forward until it reach the right foot. Nope, it didn't go past the right foot, but sort of made a half step. The kids liked to drag it forward with painful sarcasm. None of them seemed to happy to be there, with mother's tagging along the parade bribing them with sugary drinks. Currently the debate is about how long the girls skirts should be. The president has signed a new decree that all school skirts should be past the knee in length. So far nobody has heeded the creed. This is the typical Tico way, ignore the law if you want. Nobody is going to do anything to punish you.

Online Gambling?

It was funny today. Somebody on the Yahoo Costa Rica Living List accidentally inferred that we make our money by working for the online gambling community. If you didn't know this already Costa Rica has a large number of gambling companies that do the majority of their work online. These people make a lot of money and are probably associated with the underground current here in Central America. We are most definately not associated with these people.

You can usually tell who these people are. If you ask what they do they come up with some vague internet job, but if you ask them details like "Oh, what industry?" or "What company?". They will give you some vague answers or change the subject completely. They usually drive really fancy cars and have a lot of expensive stuff. It's illegal for any American to engage in this sort of work, no matter what country they currently reside in.

On a different, yet similiar subject...I was talking to this one American guy who has been in Costa Rica for five years, whose starting up his own language academy. We were talking about all of the large malls in the San Jose area, how empty they are (except on the weekends), and the fact that everything in them is really expense. We are not sure how Ticos can afford the goods for sale in the stores. He was told that the large malls are just a money laundering endeavor for drug money. I don't know if this is true, but just telling you what I heard. Interesting yes, true? Maybe...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Poas Volcano and a Big Waterfall Close by

So a few weekends ago we took a day trip to the Poas Volcano. Luckily we got there two minutes before it clouded over. It stunk really bad and looked like the moon, or what I think the moon looks like

Well not much else to say, it was a volcano, steaming, but no lava.

Here's a few more pictures

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Grahm-Crackers

So I just went to visit my grandma in Aztec New Mexico. She's getting pretty old so I volunteered to help her move in with my Uncle Andy and Aunt Dina. They live in Chama which is about three hours from Aztec. All of this is about 14 miles south of the Colorado border, literally in the middle of Indian reservations and National Forests. Beautiful area but very isolated.

Day 1
After carpooling with my cousin Jessica from Albaquerque we arrive at the High Country Tavern where my aunt and uncle are playing old-timey country with another really good guitarist. It was quite a little happening place. Full of honky-tonks and hunters. It was nice walking into some crazy cowboy bar in the middle of nowhere and having my mom, stepdad, grandma, aunt, uncle, the band, and cousins to greet you. It was fun, there was a guy there who dances with my grandma when she comes to the show, later danced with my mom, and than danced with me. It was a bunch of twirls to almost no rythm. Very similar to meregue or salsa but without a rythm. Later, I was hit on by this guy in full hunting gear. I was sitting right next to my grandma, holding her hand actually. He told me I looked like the executive producer for some good morning program that did a show on them, guys who do elk hunting with bows. I guess that's better than looking like his second cousin he had a crush on once. Very manly men who kept requesting Patsy Cline tunes. There are some good pictures.

Day 2
We go out to my aunt and uncle's new modular home. It was huge. Luckily it was in the middle of nowhere, but next to a national park so I got to go on a morning trail run and listen to the coyotes howl, we could see them with the binoculars. It was beautiful. That afternoon my great uncle Tuffy and great aunt Jenny came over with a medium size cooler full of vodka and seagrams 7/7 and proceeded to kick off the bbq with a vodka and coke bang! Now I know where I get it. We had a bbq with enough steak and chicken potato salad and coleslaw "to feed an army". We also had a jam session. My great aunt jenny was singing back-up. She was so terribly drunk and out of tune uncle Tuffy would periodically stop playing in the middle of the song and proceed to tell aunt Jenny he doesn't need any help singing. That was a nice way of saying don't sing, you sound horrible. I recorded this jam session and as soon as I get it edited we'll post it.

Day 3
We travel to Aztec New Mexico where my grandma's house is. Not much to it. It's the same house that my mom grew up in so it's kind of fun to go there and check it out. My uncle Andy who is a welder has his junk out everywhere. He recently accidentally started a brief brush fire so everything looks burnt, rusty and terrible.

The next couple of days was spent sorting through very old stuff. My grandmother gave me two of my great grandmother's purses and aprons. They're not anything fancy, but it's nice having something old from your relatives.

My drive back to Albequerque was beautiful. More pictures of visit.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Rio Celeste, Costa Rica

The Rio Celeste trip was organized by the teachers at the Blue Valley Private School. Shar is a teacher there and since no kids signed up the trip was taken over by adventurous school teachers. I was invited by Shar to come. So for 15,000 colones (aprox. $32) I got to go on a local adventure.

It didn't turn out to be local at all. It was a five hour bus trip to the lodge where we were staying, half of it over very bumpy dirt roads. For some strange reason, luckily, I can now withstand long bus trips over bumpy roads and can sleep through them. Even when Adam was driving the 4x4 through hellishly bumpy roads I just tipped back and fell asleep.

At the lodge there were four people to a room and the rooms contained bunk beds and lots of spiders. We were getting settled in and the next door neighbor ladies started having a screaming contest in spanglish: Muerte! Kill it! Cockroaches and spiders that were huge and fuzzy. I have two spider bites on my inner thigh. Not itchy, just kind of painful, with the knowledge that a spider was there. How did it get there? I slept with sweat pants on??

The next morning we get up and head to the national park. Since we were in a group of mostly ticos and school teachers with visas, we got in for the Tico price 500 colones ($1) instead of the gringo price $7.

I was told that it would be a three hour hike in and a three hour hike out. On the bus ride to the lodge I was looking around and there didn't seem to be that many 'in shape' people. Shar and I concurred; it wasn't going to be as rigorous as we thought. We looked like gear heads with our camelbacks on, but they are so handy.

Andele Arriba!

We thought that there were going to be hot springs but when we got there it was stinking so bad of sulphur, the water was this weird murky bluish grey color, and there were signs everywhere saying that they weren't sure how safe it was to swim. So the group decided not to go in. I kind of agreed. Recently I've been trying to improve on my inclination for being accident prone. You couldn't see very far into the water, and remember we are five hours from anywhere in the jungle. No need to push it. It was hot and humid enough, no need to step into mysteriously bubbling pool of water.

So we kept going until it was time to loop around. The loop around is crossing the stream. Not a big deal but the pictures are fun. Make sure you zoom in on the Abby crossing. Abby is Shar's roommate who doesn't particularly like the outdoors, was complaining incessantly about the gross factor, and requested that somebody sleep with her to protect her from spiders. Huh? And “Hell no” from Shar, Ryan and I. We could not figure out why she came on the trip. She's from the New York City area and cried when she saw cockroaches in their new apartment in Escazu. Come on now, NYC has cockroaches too.

Anyhoo, everybody made the crossings. I was so happy to be hanging out with Ticos. They were so happy. There was one family that came and the dad brought his two daughters and his mother. They were all just having a grand time. When we stopped for lunch he made them refried beans and tuna fish sandwiches, uummm yummm! I stuck with my trail mix though.

We stopped for lunch at the waterfall. The waterfall was amazing, especially the pool. It was this amazing blue color. It made for a very photogenic waterfall.

We made it back to the lodge. Everybody was wet, tired, and happy (except Abby of course). We had dinner than took the bus down into the pueblo and watched a futball game. It was Costa Rica vs. Panama. Panama looked really tight, but only managed to sink one goal. The Costa Ricans looked like the sloppy players but managed to sink three goals. I'm starting to like futball (soccer). It's really only a two hour commitment. They don't turn off the clock for anything unlike American football or basketball where the games can last longer than a four hour hangover in a crappy airport.

The next day Shar, Ryan and I took off for a power hike up to an old volcano that has turned into a swampy crater lake. The hike was like climbing a latter of roots and rooks. I was sweating gallons and I was happy to have a camelback it was quite a hike. We came back down and than powered through the hanging bridges hike that was more even and well maintained trail. We stopped long enough to howl at the howler monkeys and duck the flying shit. The trailheads for the two trails started at the lodge. Ironically enough this easy trail was where I took a major spill, but I protected Adam's camera that happened to be in my hands like a newborn baby. Hope you like the pictures.

Rio Celest Pictures

Monday, September 05, 2005

Magical Mystery Fruit Tour of Costa Rica

I had a request a while back to document the different fruits that are available here that we don’t have in the states. That includes a majority of what is available in the markets here. There are spiky red things and small green things. There are bunches of fruit that look like huge clumps of grapes. There are papayas that range is size from about the size of an eggplant up to something that requires two hands to carry. The list goes on.

We went to the large ferria(market) south of downtown San Jose with the sole intent of buying fruit that we had no idea what it was. I think that cruising around and buying the fruit was as much fun as sampling it all. In the picture there are obviously some pinapples, bananas, and a papaya. Those are our main meals down here a majority of the time.

Click on the link to check out the pictures and the write-up of our mystery fruit sampling:

Fruity Link

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mal Pais: Beach, Surfing, and Dirt Biking - Oh Yeah!

We took a four day trip to Mal Pais and it was sooo much fun. The trip to the area was precarious. We rented a four wheel drive, and needed it. We drove two hours to Puntarenas the port town and caught a ferry across the bay. Drove a hour and a half on bumpy paved road and than hit serious dirt roads. It just rained (it always just rained during the rainy season) so the mud holes where the size of houses. I felt like I was a rally car racer taking the four wheeler through the mud and sliding it around the corner. Adam's mom Charlotte was in the back and seriously scared. You're not having fun unless your a little bit scared! I'm not sure why Adam kept telling me the bumps were easier to take if you go faster, he knows I WILL go faster!

So we make it to Mal Pais and after looking at a a few hotels we settle on Hotel Casa Azul. Casa Azul was right on the beach, most hotels weren't. The caretaker was really friendly and relaxed and we would recommend this hotel. It's close to a few restaurants and shops. Most of Mal Pais or Santa Theresa is just strung along a road that parallels the beach, with most hotels on the non-beach side of the road.

The first full day we played in the water and went beach combing. The second day I rented a surf board for about $8 dollars and Adam and Charlotte went and found some tide pools. Luckily there are no pictures of me surfing, that would have amounted to a lot of crash pictures, but I did manage to stand up a couple of times. Overall though, the ocean just worked me like a wet cat in a washing machine. I was exhausted and grateful to go have dinner at Mary's for some fresh seafood.

The second day we went to Montezuma. Out past Montezuma is an island that is only accessible at low tides and this is where a cemetery is located. Kind of eerie in a Tim Burton kind of way, very isolated. We walked out to it, paid our respect, and collected huge shells on the way back. I would recommend that little trip if you are in the area, it's pretty interesting.

Later we went and had lunch in Montezuma. Montezuma is a beach town with a lot of hippies, drugs, and mom and pop tourists. Luckily we had found some home made ice cream that was delicious. I'm not sure if I would recommend Montezuma. It's OK for some people, but not Adam and I. Adam got offered coke and weed on his way to the bathroom.

That evening we returned to Mal Pais were we found that the next door neighbors were the host of the evening party. It was a dj party were you could hear the base a few hundred meters away. I'm told that Mal Pais has a party every night, except at a different bar. Our friends who were staying at the Mal Pais surf camp where the party was the night before clued us in on these party tidbits. Apparently two hundred tourists/surfers show up with a few local dealers and likely a few other scammers. Definitely not our scene but this is what we heard, thought you'd like to know.

The next day we were scheduled to return home to get Charlotte on her flight back to PDX. But before that we rented some dirt bikes and went on a two hour ride up the coast and than up into the mountains. It was some pretty intense riding for me because I have never been on a dirt bike, only street bikes. Adam told me the terrain was a challenge for him and he knows dirt biking. The hills were insanely steep with a lot of different sized gravel. The holes in the road were huge, muddy, and you couldn't see the bottom. But, we got to some isolated beaches that you just can't get to without a dirt bike, it was amazing. I can't wait to rent a dirt bike again.

Here's a link to the rest of the trips pictures.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Nicaragua Trip: Bull Fight, Historic Granada, and Ometepe

Day 1 started the evening before when we had a dinner party. We invited a few friends over where Charlotte shared the home made goat cheese she brought. It was so yummy! It's hard to find good cheese in Costa Rica. Unfortunately I've been cutting out dairy products and alcohol so my stomach was not prepared for the wine and cheese. Needless to say I required a barf bag on the bus trip to Nicaraqua, luckily didn't have to use it, but scared the hippy kids in front of me.

We crossed the border with no problems. The bus service is responsible for doing a lot of the paper work, so that made it easy.

We take a cab to downtown Granada and have lunch before obtaining a room. We must of walked across the central downtown three times comparing prices before settling on the Hotel Alfambra.

Walked around the spanish colonial downtown before heading to the lakefront. We just missed the large horse parade, but we didn't miss the bull fight. This was not a traditional bull fight, no bulls died. But they did harasas the bulls enough to make them very angry. Than they set some teenager boy on the bull and let them loose in a pin just larger than a basketball court. Than inside the pin boys and men of all ages would taunt the bull trying to get it to chase them. Some would have a red blanket. If the bull charged them they would dive under the fence or climb over it. We only saw one guy get seriously gored. We only lasted for two bulls, I think somebody said they were going to go through 14 bulls.

It was really sad seeing the bulls being taunted, the horn section was blazing in the back of our heads, the crowd began to surge forward into personal space because we had front row seats, the ancient wooden stadium was swaying precariously under the load of the anxious crowd, mothers could be seen down near the pin preventing their boys from entering the pin, and with my barf bag still in my pocket unused it was time to find our bed for the night.

Some 50
+ Pictures of Trip

Day two was spent walking historic and colonial Granada. I was happy to learn at the local museum that Granada is beautiful because of a plan implemented during the 80's and 90's to protect the historical charm of city. Successful plans are cool to see after the fact. Beautiful cities don't just happen, they are grown with plans. I went to planning school.

Day 3 was spent on Ometepe. Ometepe is the largest island in a fresh water lake. It is two volcanoes connected by an isthmus.

Friday, August 19, 2005

And I thought that I didn't like snakes.

We have a house cleaner come once per week because we are lazy bastards and its fairly cheap down here. Well she came over today and was doing her thing for a couple hours when she came running down from upstairs hysterical. She was sobbing and shaking. She was mumbling something about a serpent upstairs. I actually started to get scared too at the thought of a snake in the upstairs of our house. Then it hit me. While at the Bioparque the other day Luis had bought us a wooden snake at the gift shop. It is one of those green ones with all the segments so it kind of moves like a real snake when you play with it. She was scared to death of it. I went upstairs and just the head was poking out from under a bag. She told me that she has a phobia of snakes. The rest of the time that she was here cleaning she was sobbing.

Mental note: hide the pet snakes before she comes over next time.

My cat is not stupid.

My mom offended me the other day while she was here.  We were upstairs on the roof-deck hanging out in the sun and my cat Vida poked her head out the door.  She is not supposed to get on the roof because she will hop onto the roof which connects our apartments to our neighbors’.  If their upstairs doors are open then she will wander into their apartments.  She has been banned from the roof for a while now.

So she poked her head out the door and was just kind of staring into space like cats who are about to do something bad do.  My mom said “Your cat isn’t too smart is she?  She is just staring into space.”  I puffed up and defended my cat.  I just told her to watch and learn.   After a bit Vida slinked back into the upstairs door out of site.  Then about 30 seconds later she comes running out the door.  She runs full speed at the spot where she jumps onto to get on the roof.  I run after her and right before she makes a clean getaway onto the roof I grab her by the fur on her back and carry her like a suitcase back into the house.  The funny part was that once I grabbed her she didn’t fight it.  Busted.

That proved to my mom that my cat is a diabolical little bastard.  I also think that Vida only does stuff like that because she knows that I don’t want her to.

On a side note, Roberta and my mom will be getting back from Nicaragua either today or tomorrow.  Sounds like they have had a wonderful time.  They saw a real bull fight and went to Omatepe.  Also Roberta said that she got me a present that money couldn’t buy.  Hopefully that present is them getting back without being abducted.  I can’t wait.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Vamanos Pal Monte

Roberta and my mom left to Nicaragua for a few days so I am home all alone. Not bored by any means. Although I do eat crappier and watch more TV. For dinner I polished off a half bag of chips and a chunk of cheese. Mmmm..

Anyhow, before they left for Nicaragua we went up to the White House above Escazu for a "fancy" lunch. I quoted the fancy because it was really poor quality food at high dollar prices. My mom put it best in that the food could be served at Denny's. $4 for an Imperial and $3 for glass of Coke for example. Don't waste your time on eating up there although they went to the Spa after lunch and absolutely loved it.

Here are some pictures of the trip to the White House and the following day at the IN Bioparque in Heredia.

Click for pictures

Sculpture at the Bioparque

I have also been working on my recording projects so here is the first pass. Click on the Oral History or Music links to find them.

Monday, August 15, 2005

More on TetraPak

First off I want to thank Jim and Joan for their kind offer of help. Unfortunately the current recycling problem is with Dos Pinos. TetraPak, I'm told, has a strong commitment to environmental stewardism. The environmental committee I've been working with has had a trouble getting an initial meeting with Dos Pinos to get this ball rolling.

A student from Earth University here in Costa Rica did a major research project on TetraPak and the recycling possibility and has given me permission to post here, but blogger does not seem to support posting powerpoint. If you are interested in reading this powerpoint (in english) please e-mail me and I will forward it. Or if somebody has an FTP site that I could host it too, please let me know.

I will be in Nicaragua for the next couple days, but will respond after that.

Also one big EEEWWWW, a very large cockroach just ran across my keyboard....adventure blogging!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Recent Happenings

I haven't posted in a while so here's what's been happening lately.

-We found the organic farmers market. It took a bit of a fortitude to find this place. We picked up our friend Clair and we go to the round about where she thinks it is, but we can't find it. She calls her friend and they speak in French and so we figure we are at the wrong round about. So we finally find it. This market was a bit smaller than the big market we are used to. There is much nicer produce though. The white pineapples are about half the size as the non-organic. There are more prepared food at the organic market such as cheese, breads, jams, and yogurt. We'll have to go back and test these things later. Seems like there is a community of people that go there every weekend. Maybe they will let us join their club.

-We went to see Madame Butterfly. Adam didn't want to go so we met up with some other friends and Charlotte and I went. Adam's mom, Charlotte is in town for the next 'not three weeks'. It's 'not three weeks' because Adam's dad Gene bought a ticket for 20 days instead of a week or two so that he could save $40 dollars. Get it, "Not three weeks" aka twenty days? Anyhoo Madame butterfly was in Italian with Spanish subtitles. I could mostly follow what was happening, but it was kind of hard to appreciate the art of opera when you are reading the subtitles in a foreign language. Shar reassured us what was happening with the plot line. At least somebody in our group new what this play was about. Costa Rica brought in some professional opera singers and orchestra director. It was mostly a very professional production. Remember, you are in a Central American country. But, you could tell the level of professionalism between the Japanese and Costa Rican artists, just the mannerism and stage presence.

-Charlotte and I are heading to Nicaragua for three day. I have to leave the country for 72 hours to renew my passport. Since I am on a tourist visa you have to leave the country every 90 days for 72 hours.

I received a bunch of e-mails with pictures of my family back in the states so I will post those since I don't have any other good pictures. We'll have some when we get back from Nicarauga.

Oregon Family Pictures

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Patron Saint of Costa: La Negrita

Roberta and I were driving back from seeing a movie last night and came across a huge traffic jam heading towards the San Pedro mall. We took some side streets and were confronted with huge masses of people walking down the road that goes from San Joes to Tres Rios. Thousands of people happily strolling east. Then we remembered that there was a large religious procession heading to Cartago. This was a constant stream of people about five wide for as far as we could see. Like salmon up a stream.

According to legend, on the morning of August 2, 1635, a young girl named Juana Pereira was out collecting wood to cook when she found the figure of the La Negrita on a rock that was the source of a water spring. Pereira took the figure home, but the next day the figure had disappeared and was again found on the rock.

Photo from

Therefore, now over one million people walk from wherever they are in CR to the big church in Cartago and get there on the morning of August 2nd. Seeing as how there are only about 4 million people in Costa Rica that is a good chunk.

More info on La Negrita

Sunday, July 31, 2005

CR: Paradise or Environmental Disaster?

So I went to the Costa Rican Democrats Abroad monthly speaker meeting. The speaker was introduced as the number one Costa Rican activists. But first they had a debate and openings and blah blah a lot of talking. Basically a bunch of retired people debating CAFTA, oil, war, upcoming elections. They track each state to make sure they are involved. They also do a lot of letter writing. Pretty active group, surprisingly.

Basically there are a number of environmental disasters going on down here:
1. Garbage! Lots of garbage. The city of San Jose's landfill is full and they still haven't finalized a contract for a new spot. Seems like there are some allegations of corruption.

2. Recycling! There are recycling facilities here, but there are not any pick up systems for it. So recycling is dependent on very poor people mining the trash for goods. I've volunteered on the environmental committee and we are going to be working on tetrapak. Tetrapak is from some European country that is encouraging recycling of their products by providing technical expertise, etc. Tetrapak is the packaging for soy milk, regular milk, wine, etc.... Wine from a box is popular down here because of the moist hot weather. You can get some good wine from a box! Milk in a box is also very popular down here. Unfortunately the queen activist mentioned earlier says that Dos Pinos (the big milk manufacurer and user of tetrapak) has been promising to establish a recycling program for years but hasn't.

3. Transportation! Ask anybody who lives here and they will tell you that the roads are hell. That's bad because it increases the maintanence on cars. But that's not the point. Taxes on cars are extremely high, therefore people hold onto older gas guzzling polluters for longer than they should (although getting new cars is a form of consumption), when higher efficiency vehicles could be used. Additionally the only people who use the busses are people who can't afford a car. The bus system down here is privately operated because their are market forces that insure that they will make money. Unfortunately these busses are also big polluters. I can't find the source, but I read an article that if the governemnt reduced the tax on cars pollution would go down because people would buy more fuel efficient cars. I'm not sure, that just might encourage people to buy more cars. Needless to say in San Jose pollution is a pretty big deal. The government has an incentive to reduce it, nationalized health care has to pay for all of the ailments attributed to pollution.

4. Chemicals! There are chemicals here for everything. Every public bathroom you go into is laced with these smelly pucks. They make my nose burn worse than any thing else you would smell in a bathroom down here. In San Jose the bathrooms seem generally cleaner, I don't think they need all those smelly crap pucks. They should just put flowers in the bathrooms. We have a bouquet of flowers in our house and you can smell it outside before you even walk in the house, mmmmm beautiful flowers for super cheap. No seriously though Costa Rica has the worst record for banning dangerous chemicals. This activist passed around a list of Central American countries and the chemicals they've banned. Costa Rica had the lowest number of banned chemicals, something like 23; whereas Nica, Guat, Hond, Pan and other countries had higher numbers of banned chemicals. Assuming banning more chemicals is better. According to the speaker the government officials say yes they are working on it, but they never are and have no intention of working on it. Remember this is costa rican culture. It's better to tell somebody a lie than to tell them the truth if you think it will cause ill feeling. Kind of like the ill feeling I have in my nose from chemical pucks.

5. Endangered Species: Everybody knows that Costa Rica has some of the highest concentrations of wildlife diversity than anywhere on the planet. The Costa Rican government has placed protections on certain species. Take for instance certain species of trees. There are a numbered of endangered trees that have been listed. The problem is that the guards who are suppose to be on the look out for these special trees do not know how to identify them. So there is very little enforcement of these laws. There are a lot more species in danger that she elaborated on but I can't remember enough of the details.

6. Shark finning: Shark finning is when they capture a bunch of sharks hack off the fins and sell them to the Taiwanese who use it for an aphrodesiac. Can't they just use ginger or X, com on! Completely illegal but it happens anyways. Shark numbers have been going down drastically in the last few years. The costa rican government is suppose to send an official on every boat to watch out for this but they never do. They don't have enough resources.

Funny joke, my friend Abby who works at the Tico Times has been doing a great job of following the shark finning problem and writing about it. When they heard that Shar Cayman was coming to town they gave her a nickname: Shark Coming. They have a cute little dance that goes with it. Shar was a good sport and laughs, but won't answer to the nickname.

Read more about it here

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Rio Picaure

So Shar and I just got back from a two day rafting trip on the River Picaure. It was so much fun.

First we get picked up in downtown San Jose at the Gran Hotel Costa Rica. Than we drive about an hour and a half to the rafting company headquarters and have breakfast. Than drive a few more minutes to the river. We let the other one day groups go than we pack up the rafts and head down. This was a pretty active river, with a lot of section 3's and 4's with very few flat spots. I would say that it was more intense than the Rogue River and the Deschutes, but not the Klamath River. The river was the best part about the tour. The scenery, the smells and the rapids were amazing. Unfortunately we didn't get any pictures on the river because the river was so active there were very few spots to get the camera out and take pictures.

The guides were very nice and the company was very organized. You never know with Costa Rica what you are going to get but this company had their shit together, so to speak. The lodge was rustic, but very nice. It had hot water, which is more than you can say for some hotels. They cooked all the meals. They were not gourment, but very nice. The best part was the view from the dining hall.

We also had a chance to do some canopy touring, which is just a bunch of cables strung across trees and you just zip down the line. I guess it's just scary because you are so high up. You just step off this platform into nothing, you are just hooked to this cable. I guess if you are a climber you might be used to this. This canopy tour was included in the package so I did it, but I don't think I would pay to do a canopy tour. I kind of saw it as a way to entertain tourists in the jungles. If the terrain, new smells, sights, animals, plants, bugs weren't enough to keep you entertained, which they are for me, they will take you up into this canopy tour and scare the crap out of you if you are afraid of heights, which I'm not. Though, the bugs and the snakes on the ground really scare me.

You can see the rest of the Rio Pacaures pictures.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I am not a Tica whore

There are pros and cons to looking like a Tica (Costa Rican woman). Brown hair, brown eyes and olive skin go a long way in avoiding taxi drivers ripping you off, random cat calls and stupid stuff Latin guys say to gringas. I know this because I was walking around town with my friend Shar who is really tall and a real redhead. We got soooo many rude cat calls and the taxi drivers trying to jack the prices up.

It's not that bad when I am walking around with Adam. The taxi drivers sometimes try to jack us but luckily there are no cat calls. The flip side to that is people think I'm a Tica who has just found herself an American sugar daddy. You can see the looks and you know what they are thinking. It's not unusual to see some young Tica girl with an older man walking out of the Del Rey hotel, a notorious prostitution house. Prostitution is legal here and 'sex vacations' are pretty big here.

Sex vacations are guys coming down here for a 'fishing trip', where they catch more than fish on the boats. If their wives want to come they just leave their wives at a spa or medical facility where she can get a quick nip and tuck. Adam and I found this out by sitting next to a guy on the plane that was a pimp. Yes, a pimp! He had a charter fishing boat.

But no, I am not a Tica whore, I do have a real job.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Ok ok breathe....

I have been holding back the criticism of Houston Texas just because "If you don't have anything nice to say". That was until I went to the mall to go to the book store to get a few English books before heading back to CR. I went to the Galleria mall which is huge. It had all the money stores in it. My urge to run away was strong while in this mall. I was able to find my way to the book store and it was tiny. Probably slightly larger than one of the three Starbucks that I passed on the way there. I actually laughed out loud when I saw it. Coming from Portland where book stores can take up whole city blocks and be four stories tall.

Needless to say they didn't have any of the books that I was looking for so I got Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. I really enjoyed The Davinci Code and have heard that A&Ds was good too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Job Duties

Yesterday I flew from Costa Rica to Houston for work. When I got to Houston I realized that I didn't have my driver's license, it was waiting for me in my PO box in town. That meant that I couldn't get the rental car that I had reserved. I hopped into a cab at the airport and started heading towards town. The guy driving was of latino descent so I started talking to him in Spanish. He could speak English but he was excited that a gringo could actually understand and (sort of) speak Spanish. He was from Guatamala and had been in Texas for 15 years. Originally in Guatamala he was a teacher and had some good advice on learning Spanish.

1) Buy a dictionary
2) Live where you are required to speak/listen to Spanish daily.
3) Watch telenovelas (Soaps) on TV.

Roberta has always said that she is watching the telenovelas to learn Spanish. I always made fun of her in the past. Sorry.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Tico Time's Girls

If you get the Tico Times you will know that this week there was an 'entertainment' section where the Tico Times describes Karaoke in Costa Rica. There were some great photos of people singing their hearts out.

Backup a little bit...

So a friend from the United States introduced me to her friend Shar via e-mail. Shar just moved to Costa Rica and will be teaching at a private school Escazu, she's been staying with us for the last week. Shar was introduced to another teacher who knows some reporters at the Tico Times, who used to work at the same private school (it's a very small world in the english speaking circles of Costa Rica).

Well we meet the girls at a popular taxi pick up place, and low and behold the pictures in the newspaper matches who we are having dinner with. Needless to say there was a lot of teasing going on. But, I guess Karaoke is very popular with the Tico Times crew.

We end up at Machu Pichu (after getting ripped off my the cab driver, grrr). Machu Pichu is a very famous Peruvian restaurant that sells pisco sours. Pisco sours are now my new favorite drink, not that I drink that much. They are made out of some sort of brandy, lemon juice, and sugar. The brandy has a higher alchohol content than vodka so the first drink is all you need, but that is different than how much you want! By the second pisco sour we were ready to head to the karaoke bar. Luckily it was so crowded that only one person from our crowd made it up to sing. After that we went home because I just can't do that all night thing anymore, especially with karaoke involved.

Here is a picture of Shar,Roberta, and Adam.

Click for pic

Friday, July 08, 2005

Straight razors in the mechanic district.

That sounds like a good band name even though that is what I did today.

Two days ago our wonderful truck that we got a deal on overheated. Luckily we caught it before all the water drained out of the motor. We were heading over to try the restaurant Matsuri Sushi in Plaza Cristal in San Pedro. Right when we pull in the parking lot I smelled motor water in aerosol form. I look over at the temperature gauge and it is pegged. We pull over quickly and watch all the water drain out of the motor.

That set a nice mood for eating dinner. The sushi was ok but so damn expensive. The Spider Roll was very fishy and oddly crunchy. I don't think that we will eat sushi in Costa Rica again.

Anyhow, back to the story, we had to leave the truck in the parking lot at plaza Cristal for the evening and our mechanic came the next day and towed it to his shop. Turned out a water hose had cracked. He replaced the hose and that fixed it.

Our mechanic is over by Plaza Vicquez which is where we swim for lunch. After swimming today I walked over to the mechanic's and noticed a barber on the corner. After paying for the truck I went back and got my hair cut. I got my point across that I wanted to get it all shaved off. After shaving my head with an electric razor he busted out the straight razor and started to even everything up. All that I could think was "What is the Spanish word for ouch?", especially when he started shaving my neck. No blood, the guy was good. Good job for about $3.

Now I need to find some people who want to start and band and call it "Straight Razors in the Mechanic District".

You won't like me when I'm angry.

We went and saw Batman last night again for the second time, great movie by the way. We got back home at around midnight and I tried to check email and such and noticed that the internet was down. I decided that it could wait until morning.

It was still broken this morning so I called up tech support and the guy on the phone said that it was a problem with my computer. I hate having to pull the "I do computer networking for a living." bit but after about 30 minutes of him telling me that I needed to take my computer to a technician I did. It didn't help. Lo and behold, it made it to the front page of the paper this morning that ICE screwed up a router and knocked out internet service. But the funny part was that they broke the router last night and when I called this morning they didn't inform me that there was a current known problem.

It takes a lot to make me rant. Breaking my internet and then telling me that I need to take my computer to a professional is probably the easiest way. I am gonna head to a dark room and do some breathing exercise.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Sunny day trip to the park

Roberta and I had been meaning to go to this park where they fly kites and check it out. It was a sunny Sunday so we decided to go. It was packed with people and there was the usual kid chaos and there were ponies and a ton of people flying kites. The pictures will speak for themselves.

Pictures of the park

Monday, July 04, 2005

4th of July Picnic

We went to the 4th of July picnic and had a great time. There were probably a few thousand people there. It was very similar to going to a county fair except without the animals. A petting zoo here would be kinda sad since the animals are so skinny because it is so hot(except my kitty). I really think that the pictures and captions will speak for themselves.

Pictures here

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Bzzzt zap crzzzzt!!!

For a lunch break today I decided to drive over to my favorite Cuban cigar store to pick up a couple for the party tomorrow(I will get back to the party). I was driving my normal route and typically where I take this one left right after a bank there were a bunch of cars stopped. I had my window rolled down and I heard what sounded like a crew of workers demolishing something. Almost like a jackhammer crossed with an arc welder. A guy came running to the end of the street and waved us on past that street. At that point I heard a Firetruck coming. The traffic started to move and as I drove by the road I saw that there was a powerline down in the middle of the road arcing. Huge showers of sparks and really loud poppings. The cable was literally jumping around the street like a firehose. Exciting.

Ok, now back to the party.

There is a huge party tomorrow to celebrate the 4th of July. It is put on by the US Embassy and has an expected turnout of around 5000 Americans. You have to show a valid passport to get in and there is all the free beer, cotton candy, icecream, bagels, etc that you can handle. There are games and two stages with music and performers and a water balloon toss and much more. Sounds like a crazy messed up zoo. Should be fun. Oh yeah, the best part is that it is from 8:00AM until noon. You have to have it that early because it starts raining at around 1:00 every day.