Hi,

Tomorrow is the birth anniversaries of French acrobat Charles Blondin (1824), comic strip creator Milton Caniff (1907), woman’s higher education advocate Mary Lyon (1797), director Vincente Minnelli (1903), gangster Bugsy Siegel (1906) and illustrator and cartoonist John Tenniel (1820).  It is also the anniversary of the assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme (1986) and the 228 Incident where the Chinese government confiscated tobacco products and fortune of a Chinese vendor for violating their monopoly which resulted in riots in Taiwan and elsewhere with and estimated 10,000 – 20,000 people killed (1947).

OK, for any of you that’s been living under a rock, :) the 724 area code is outgrowing the number of numbers available.  So the new area code is going to be 878.  They expect the new area code to start rolling out next year.

This Sunday in McConomy Auditorium on CMU’s campus will be the fourth annual TEDxCMU from 10 am until 5 pm.  If you have a great internet idea or want to hear great internet ideas this symposium is for you.  You have to preregister to speak, you can attend for free, but also have to preregister for this as well.  This student run program takes the format that TED conferences use that draws some of the world’s leading thinkers and charge $2,500 to $7,500 to attend.  You don’t even have to attend, they will be streaming it live.  For more info, go to their web site.  Past speakers was the lady that started One Laptop Per Child and the one that started the community based playground builders KaBOOM.

I know I’m not the only one fed up with our federal government and the bs over the fiscal cliff, sequestration and other shenanigans our elected leaders are pulling.  Did you know during the last “crisis”, somebody buried in the fiscal cliff deal a sweat heart deal for NASCAR valued at $150M over the next five years in tax write offs that WE are subsidizing.  OMG, are they all out of their minds? Aren’t any of them listening to the general public?  Don’t they see their approval ratings are nearing single digits?

I heard a great one today.  Republican Senator Mitch McConnell suggested that President Obama be given discretion over how to actually do the $85B cuts this sequestration is calling for instead of it being a blanket across the board action.  How stupid to they think Prez Obama is?  You know as soon as he would suggest something, they would jump all over it.

I thought a nice break from the above grim stories I would point out that despite the condition of the economy, American spending on their pets rose 5% 2012 over 2011.  Of the $53B we spent on our furry, feathered and other skinned friends, $12.5B went to alternative care like acupuncture, $4.4B was spent on grooming, boarding and pet sitting.  At least we, the people, have some decent priorities.  :)

Do you have a favorite family doctor?  Anyone can nominate their doctor as the 2013 Family Physician of the Year by going to their web site by March 11.  They are mainly looking for doctors that are accessible to recognize.

For any of you in the food service industry, Allegheny County Health Department will be conducting several food handling courses for food workers.  Next week, March 4 & 11 at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, March 18 & 25 will be held in St Valentine’s Church in Bethel Park, April 8 and 15 will be at the Club at Nevilewood in Collier and May 5 and  10 at UPMC in McKeesport.  The two day classes are $60 for county residents and $75 for non residents.  You must be preregistered to attend, more info and a printable form is at their web site or you can call them at 412-687-2243 for more information.

I’m somewhat OK with this one.  It irks me when I rent a movie and have to wait through the trailers for other movies they are pushing for me to rent.  I already paid for the movie.  I also take offense after paying to go to a movie and having to sit through the trailers there as well.  Granted, this doesn’t have the seriousness of $150M to NASCAR, it’s just annoying.  The point here is the theaters are now charging Hollywood to run these trailers.  I never thought about this before, but good for them.  Hollywood doesn’t have any trouble shoving things down our throats, just ask the poor guys trying to a go of it with the Hollywood Theater in Dormont that needs to raise $75,000 to change their projection system so it meets Hollywood’s requirements (this upgrade is being forced as an anti-piracy solution).  I know this Hollywood and Hollywood Theater may be a bit confusing, sorry.  One’s the good guys and the other is not.

If you’re looking for some arts and crafts, the Pittsburgh Arts and Crafts Spring Fever Festival will be in the Monroeville Convention Center March 22 – 24.  I believe these are the same people that had the Christmas Shop there last December I attended and I need to warn you that it’s not all crafters.  There were window sales persons, a chiropractor and LOTS of salespersons selling Made in China products.  In December I did find some very fine crafters and they were fairly upset with the Made in China products for sale, but they said the promoters do enough advertising that makes it worth it.  More info at their web site or by calling 724-863-4577.

A new restaurant is opening in Lawrenceville called Tender Bar + Kitchen is opening next month in the old Arsenal Bank Building at 4300 Butler Street.  During their renovations, they had a locksmith open the six safes, all were empty.  But up in the attic they found box with 500 handwritten checks dating back to the 1890’s.  The building was built in 1883 and housed a bank up until 1943.  The building is owned by Botero Development, a group trying to more or less single handedly rejuvenate Lawrenceville. :)  I’ve talked about Botero’s projects in the past, it’s great seeing responsible developers, unlike those evil people at Buncher Development.  May they get what they deserve.

Are you ready to invest in a 3Doodler pen at kickstarterWobbleWorks is creating a 3D pen that uses a special plastic that is heated and instantly cooled to form the solid structures you draw.  Although they aren’t in production yet, you can reserve one of them if you invest $99 or more.

For parents with young children, there’s the Virtual Piggy, an app that’s free and it is used to teach children saving for goals and can be pared with brand partnerships so children can buy products with their savings.  Kind of cool.

I’ve been back for over a week, but haven’t been blogging too much because I’ve been sort of obsessed with finishing the wood trim in Oleander.  The chemical stripping phase is over and I hope to have the sanding finished tomorrow.  It’s going to be a good day to get all of the dust out of there and then two coats of varnish (real varnish :) ) should complete it.  So my goal is to be done by Sunday so we can put the fixtures back next week and poor Dee can detail the bedroom (dust everywhere there as well).

Have a great one and we’ll talk again soon,

ed

Hi,

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Erma Bombeck’s birth anniversary (1916), Malcolm X’s assassination (1965), Richard Nixon’s trip to China (1972), Nicaraguan guerrilla leader Cesar Augusto Sandino’s assassination (1934) and the dedication of the Washington Monument (1885).

Well, the adventure in Paradise finally came to an end.  As the howler monkeys said good bye on Friday, the toucans did the same Saturday morning as we met with Maria to turn the keys over just outside the gate.  We had seen several toucans fly through the yard during our stay, but they never stopped to get their picture taken until our last ten minutes:

Beautiful creatures.  Here’s some observations on my trip, I know many people consider going to Costa Rica for a vacation and since returning, I’ve had many people question traveling there.

#1 I’m in love with the Costa Rican government.   Anyone that reads my blog or knows me, knows the environment is huge to me and they were one of the first governments to embrace a green life style.  Unlike many Caribbean countries, they “spread the wealth” around the country.  Jamaica has invested heavily in tourist spots like Ocho Rios, Mexico has invested heavily in tourist spots like Cancun, etc.  Costa Rica hasn’t focused on one particular location so all their citizens have an opportunity.  They are huge with infrastructure.  Their nationalized electric system, Ice, years ago invested in green hydro-power and more recently in wind generated electricity.  Anywhere we drove, you would see new power lines and even fiber optic lines installed.  I was anticipating dirt roads everywhere.  They are a poorer country (far from a third world nation) and spend money as they can.  Again, instead of spending a lot of money making fancy roads in say their capital San Jose, all the little towns we visited had paved roads and they do have a network of connecting “highways” around the country.  I read somewhere that they have the highest literacy rate in Central America (possibly South America as well).  I don’t know about higher education, but they can all read and write.

#2 Crime, no big deal as far as I could see.  I felt relatively comfortable in San Jose and very comfortable in any of the little towns we visited.   As far as I can tell, there is a fair amount of non-violent crime.  Mainly theft and of stupid people.  :)  It’s a poorer country, don’t leave your iPad on the seat of your car when you leave the car.  Don’t leave cash and valuables in your lodging room (particularly the smaller mom and pop kind of places).  They frequently have a place at the front desk you can secure it, take it with you in a back pack or fanny pack or leave it in the trunk of your car.  There is violent crime there, but not to the extend often seen in other countries (including the United States).

#3 The water was fine.

#4 Costa Rican currency is the colones, it is very easy to convert to US dollars in your mind.  The conversion rate hovers around 500 colones to $1.  Most places take colones or dollars, frequently when you pay in dollars they give change in colones.  Credit cards are accepted in  many, if not most places (Visa seems most popular, I heard AMEX being denied).  Before planning a trip, check with your bank on the terms of use in foreign countries.  Some credit cards charge you conversion fees as well as a cash advance fee.  Some run  it just as a regular credit card charge.   By law, restaurants are required to charge and post both tax and 10% service charge on all checks.  Most restaurants present their checks in both colones and dollars.  One restaurant we went to posted “Service charge not included in the menu price”, which you may conclude that the tip would not be in the check.  It is, it’s not in the line item price of the entree on the menu.

#5  Shame on you for everything you miss.  Always have a camera close by and always watch all around you.  Orchids growing like weeds in roadside gravel, humming birds buzzing all over, bromeliads in the trees, cow shelfs in pastures, :) just about everywhere there is something to appreciate.

#6  Driving, they drive on the same side of the road as us, generally there are no sidewalks except in the cities.  There are very little usable sides to the road, in fact, due to the quantities of rain they receive in their rainy season, there are some pretty big culverts that could total your car.  Four wheel drive is a good thing, many times you will travel through some maintained, but rough terrain.  Also, if I understand it correctly, although it is illegal to drive drunk, it is not illegal to drink and drive.  Someone said a good rule of thumb is to assume the on-coming car is controlled by someone inebriated.  Lots of tight turns and bends in most roads and traffic seems to keep at around 30-40 kph.

#7  They have “Sodas” all over the place.  Sodas do not necessarily refer to the drink, it is a term like we use convenience store making a blanket generalization.  Sodas are generally open air with a counter and tables with chairs and provide refreshments and substances.  They may or may not have actual sodas, coffee and other beverages.  They generally have food of some kind that they make there.  And Sodas are everywhere in the countryside.

The rude United stewardess that replied with a sharp “No” when I asked to borrow a pen on the trip down was redeemed but the ticket agent at the check-in gate on our return home.  I told the ticket agent that United had changed the first leg of our return trip and we only had a 1/2 hour to get through customs and to get to an entirely different terminal between flights.  She looked at her screen and said she could get us in a flight in a half hour giving us an hour and a half to accomplish this.  She then went down to Tony and Sue’s agent and arranged the same flight.  And we definitely needed the extra time.  We had to go through customs, naturally and then pick up our baggage and have it re-checked for the next leg of the journey and then we had to go through screening AGAIN, even though we never left the secure part of either airport.  Either TSA doesn’t trust the Costa Ricans, or they like wasting manpower.  We needed every bit of the hour and a half to get through the process.

Sunday morning, we all went down to Kelly O’s for breakfast in the Strip (she took over the building that housed Jo-Jo’s that caught fire last year).  I love the new place.  All of the staff worked as a team, they all had their own stations which was their main focus but I constantly kept seeing them helping each other.  The place was busy and all the staff was up beat and johnny on the spot.  Our waitress knew the menu inside and out.  We met Kelly O at the door, imagine the owner of a restaurant actually taking part in the operation of her restaurant, what a novel concept.  (Obviously I’m being factious here, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a restaurant where not only wasn’t the owner present, frequently a manger wasn’t present as well.  AND if one of these persons have been present in the restaurant, they did nothing.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched poor service [intentional or otherwise] and an owner/manager in the room and should have seen it, not do anything.  This is my background, it absolutely drives me crazy to watch.  It really is so easy to run a restaurant, a lot of work, but the concepts are easy to follow)   Kelly O’s is  a seat yourself place, but there was five of us, after several of the staff asked if they could help Kelly came up, introduced herself, and when she heard we were five, she said she had a table in the back and they were finished and should be leaving soon.  In fact, she said, it’s time I hustle them out.  Which she did quite successfully and tastefully (they left laughing and happy).  I had her asparagus and crab omelet special, what a work of art.  I highly recommend Kelly O’s.

Have a great one,

ed

Hi,

Yesterday (Thursday) we stayed pretty close to home and went to the Oasis of the Toucans about halfway between here and Tilaran (Tilaran kind of like the county seat here) on route 142.  Doug and Irene took an old cattle farm and turned it into a tropical garden.  They offer guided tours of their personal gardens they created over the past five or seven years (the length of time seemed to vary depending on the conversation).  :)  They just have a sign over the highway with the name, phone number and that it costs $7 per person.  It is a very relaxed kind of arrangement.  If you plan on doing it, I suggest that you call in advance and have someone with you that’s fairly fluent in Spanish.  The gardener that’s planted the gardens and tends them gives the tour and he knows very little English (but if you have some inkling of Spanish, he has a lot of patience trying to work out what he’s trying to say).

Jill, the resident mascot, is a rescue toucan that seems to have been raised in a chicken coup with chickens.  Since she never learned how to survive in the wild, Doug and Irene keep her:

A lot of the plants on the property have medicinal purposes, like the Aloe:

And this thorny tree:

Which secretes a resin, but I failed to grasp what the purpose was.  Something about a salve:

Two ferns that caught my attention were the button fern:

And a very feathery fern, but didn’t get the name of this one:

Earlier, I showed you the native red hibiscus with the extra long stamen, here’s it in white:

A little bluebird was just sitting on a branch as we walked past:

One of my guest rooms is named Bougainvillea; it is a tropical viney kind of plant that can actually be trained into most any shape.  It grows like there’s no tomorrow and comes in every color under the rainbow.  Here’s an orange one:

Here’s a series of flowers growing on the property:

A lot of what’s growing on the property are common house plants here, here’s two that I have, Alphinia in bloom:

And a rubber plant in bloom:

 

And we had an iguana keeping us company for awhile:

Finally, while having dinner, there was an African Tulip tree blooming on the property and several young ones across the street not in bloom yet.  African Tulip, the name sake of one of my guest rooms flowers from December until June with these terracotta red tulip shaped flowers:

We felt so special this morning.  The Howling Monkeys live down in the hollow below Leigh’s place.  Some mornings they travel up towards us and some mornings they venture farther down the hollow.  I think they knew we are leaving and they came up to say good bye.  Seriously, there was more of them than had ever been up, they were up longer than normal and one of the males actually seemed to pose for this shot:

Isn’t he the cutest?

This may be my last post from here.  Tomorrow morning, we pack up and fly back home to the cold and da boiz.  Maggie says da boiz are doing well and with as much as I love it down here, am excited about seeing them tomorrow night (our flight isn’t scheduled to arrive in PGH until 11:15 pm).

Be well and enjoy,

ed

Good Morning,

Two things I missed yesterday.  The main reason I posted that picture of the swan in my cappuccino was that coffee shop was on the second floor (actually  because the street was so steep, part of the coffee shop was street level and part was second floor) and while in there this VERY large white faced monkey came literally right up to the windows and was chased by a dog.  The other thing I forgot to mention is I had the best rice and beans for breakfast at El Sueno for breakfast.  They used pinto instead of the traditional black beans and their beans were mixed in with the rice (most places serve the rice and beans separate).  But that wasn’t what gave it the kick.  One of the  options on the menu was for Gallo Pinto.  I believe you saute onions, red peppers and cilantro and then cook the rice and beans together and then add the main flavoring ingredient Lizano Sauce.  Lizano is only made in Costa Rica in Limon, Costa Rica and it is a secret recipe.  I hope I can buy it and bring it back with me.  If not, I understand that you can buy it on the Internet and it is legal for them to send it to you.

Day 10.  Yesterday we went up to the Costa Rican National Monteverde Cloud Forest.  There is a difference between a cloud forest and a rain forest.  Most people (myself included) don’t think there’s a difference.  I never took the minute to think it through, but the names of the two different types makes it pretty obvious.  True to form, the entire time we were up IN the forest, it was shrouded in clouds:

Walk down a hundred meters and you’ll find sun.  This cloud forest straddles the continental divide and when you go up to the top, there is a mirador (view point) that on the rare clear day, you can see both the Caribbean and the Pacific (the zip line the day before was actually lower and we had views of the Pacific, it’s slightly west of the divide).

You get the straight dope from me, contrary to all the tour books we had, they open the park at 7 am, not 10 am as stated by most tour books, so you early risers can come in and get started early.  It’s always better to come in any of the forests early, not only is it cooler for walking the trails, the fauna are much more active in the morning and evening.  I guess they do siestas in the hot afternoons. :)  We arrived at nine and even then the animals were pretty quiet. There were a lot of small birds flitting around, but none of the large dramatic and famous ones.  Actually, I was a little disappointed in the lack of animals we got to see (not saying you should by pass this at all, I’m just warning you not to have too high of expectations).  The canopy is pretty high because they have these huge “tree of life” type trees throughout:

At one point, as we were walking along a trail there was this loud din above us with all these branches rustling, branches, twig and leaves falling to the ground and here comes this troupe of about 8 monkeys making one hell of a rack as they were racing across the top of the forest.  They were too high, too fast and there was too much vegetation between us to get a picture, but I believe a couple of them dropped out of the chase and entered what looked like their nest above us.  But again, the picture I took didn’t discern the nest, so I just deleted it.

We took a trail to a waterfall in the park:

While hanging out on the observation platform, this lizard seemed to want to hitchhike a ride:

He’s on the strap :) .

Walking through the trails we came across a smiley face:

There wasn’t a lot of blooming orchids or bromeliads or even bird of paradise kind of flowers.  There were a couple of new ones like:

The reserve also has a number of hummingbird feeders at the entrance to the trails (when you buy your admission tickets, they ask how long you want to walk.  It can be as short as one hour up to I believe six hour paths).  Then the agent highlights the best trail for you.  There’s the normal little hummingbirds I’m used to and some hummingbirds that are as big as small birds:

Throughout this steep country, the Tico’s (what Costa Ricans call themselves) raise cattle (and horses).  Now when I say steep, I’m not kidding.  And you never see a cow with it’s hind legs down the slope and front legs above.  They don’t seem to be able to stand at angles.  You see these formations that run perpendicular to the slopes:

Cow steps.  :)  This isn’t a great picture of them, if you squint at that wide gully kind of thing just to your left of the two trees you can see them.  Again, I hope to get a better picture for you and will post that in a future blog.  (Unfortunately I am running out of time.  Only one more full day, tomorrow and then we leave Saturday).  ):

And for cows not on the steps, sometimes they seem to just be walking around:

Speaking of rogue cows, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of laws about dogs and other pets.  You see dogs roaming all over the place (even in restaurants).  On occasion, the dogs seem to get a bit territorial, but generally seem to pretty much mind their own business (unless they are begging for food).

That’s it for today, have a great one and keep warm if you are up North,

ed

 

Hi,

 

We left Arenal Nuevo Tuesday morning it only took a little over two hours to reach Monteverde.  There are paved roads all the way up to several miles from Monteverde.  It seems all roads just outside Monteverde are unpaved encouraging tourists to spend the night in one of their lodging establishments.  :)  We were sort of planning on that anyway and parked across from Hotel El Sueno  (translated to the dream or the sleep).  While the rest of the group was seeking information, I was standing guard on the SUV and noticed Sueno has six of the same rocking chairs Leigh has at her house.  We were standing there talking and the owner came out and invited us in.  For $20 per person (cash) we could have three rooms, breakfast and off street parking.  (Don’t get any ideas about me changing my rates).  :)  Kind of cute place made of all wood, the floors, walls, ceilings, everything was some sort of paneling/flooring and the doors were actually pretty impressive.  But, the floors swayed somewhat when you walked on them; there were gaps between the floor boards over the parking on the first floor, the emergency lighting system was plugged into an outlet instead of hardwired and all kinds of non-code compliance (I’m not complaining).  They even turned the upstairs lights out at nine pm.

So we parked the car and walked over to the Orchid Garden .  I don’t know what I was more impressed with, the orchids or Katelyn (sp?) our tour guide.  I don’t know for sure, but I swear she was under 17.  What a font of information she was and such a pleasant attitude.  Tony, the horticulturalist, was carrying on regular conversations with her about species, genius, etc.  When we arrived, I had low expectations based on the size of the place.  I can’t emphasize enough, if you ever visit Monteverde this is a must see.  Most of the following pictures I’m not adding descriptions, the orchids speak for themselves:

The above tiny guy grows underneath it’s leaf for protection.

The above is the national orchid of Costa Rica.

Next, we walked over to the frog theme park in  which was cute, not worth a trip to Monteverde like the orchid garden, but if you’re in the area, not a bad choice.

I was later in the afternoon when we took a drive up to the sky tram at Sky Adventures  to ride the tram.  While we were checking in, I asked the clerk about zip lining thinking of maybe doing it the next day.  It turns out that if we returned the next day, we would have to pay for the tram ride again because the top of the tram ride is where the zip line takes off from.  So Dave, Claire and myself decided to do the zip line then.  I was a bit uncomfortable with this because I only had a short leaved shirt and we were up in the mountains and it seemed chilly to me, it was fairly breezy and of course dangling from a wire over 100 meters (over 300 feet) was somewhat unnerving.  Talking to the lead tour guide, he said we had the best day ever.  Normally it’s colder, if not rainy at least damp and much windier. (Monteverde is on the continental divide.  It is the wildlife refuge that put Costa Rica on the conservation map)   http://www.monteverdewildliferefuge.com/  Elvis was the lead tour guide and the other guide (I can’t recall his name) was this young hot dog.  He would do things like travel the length of the zip line upside down with his head pointed to the ground and his legs spread eagle with the wire between them waving to us.  The two of them thoroughly enjoyed themselves (and we did them). The fastest zip line course (there was a total of nine) took us 75 miles an hour!  Holy Zip, Batman.  J  They explained how to slow down and for the life of me couldn’t seem to get that down.  I kept crashing into the safety stop at each platform.  They did take a picture of me careening down the last course that’s pretty funny (and this was after eight others, so I should have been comfortable by then).  I need to get it digitized and will post it after getting back.  Here’s a picture of the Arenal volcano from up top before we zip lined down:

Lastly, here’s a picture of a cappuccino I had  with a swan drawn in the Leche (I’ve seen this before, it’s pretty cool):

Of course I’m having trouble getting my picture program to work right, I’m doing these posts in the back of a restaurant without power (which REALLY slows down the picture loading process) and it’s driving me nuts.  I’m going down to a coffee house down the street from Leigh’s tomorrow to do that post.

Have a great one and keep warm,

ed

Hi,

We were driving again to the Arenal Volcano to actually get as close to the actual volcano as we could in the national park when we came across a pack of coati:

As you enter Arenal National Park, there are a number of signs warning you that you enter at your own risk:

A number of the signs give official evacuation routes, warnings to follow the instructions of the rangers and even if caught in an eruption, to wet an article of clothing and breath through it to keep the dust out of your lungs.  Arenal erupted something like three hundred years ago and then went dormant.  Then in 1968, it erupted spewing rock and lava all over.  It was again quiet until 1992 when it again erupted and this time just spewed rock (no lava).  Here are a couple of pictures of lava rock spewn around the highest elevation you are permitted:

Tucked away among all this lava rock are some pretty hardy plants like these orchids:

Here’s a picture of Arenal from in the park.  You can actually see steam escaping from inside the volcano along the slopes going up to its peak.  And as you are standing there, one vent stops spewing and another starts.  Some vents are kind of wispy, some are more intense.

Also, down at the lower elevations where there’s some halfway decent flora there’s this HUGE tree, the only one of its size we saw:

For scale, look at the guy in the blue in the picture above and Dave in the picture below:

There’s also one of the many trees with their roots above ground that pretty much looks like a giraffe:

And then at the parking lot, there was this flock of blue birds flying around:

Today, we went up to Monteverde, it may be the highlight of our trip.  The orchid garden was AMAZING (as was the tour guide), we went to a frog park and zip lined!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  :)  Tomorrow’s post may be entirely pictures of the amazing orchids.

One of my blog followers (and past guest) told me New Jersey got eight inches of snow Sunday.  I’m really lovin this down here.  J

ed

Hi,

Sunday was our host’s last day, so we hung out a bit to enjoy their company and meet some resident friends of Leigh’s as well.  I can’t think of anytime anyone has made me feel as welcome as Leigh has.  I think she’s in the wrong profession, she should be an Innkeeper.  :)

Speaking of hospitality, I saw the other side the night before last at a locally famous restaurant, the Gingerbread House.  The chef/owner/proprietor is known for being colorful and quite skilled with food.  We made a reservation and arrived, they don’t have a “menu” per say.  The daily offering is listed on a chalk board as you enter.  $13 for salads & appetizers and $27 for entrees are pretty pricey by Costa Rican standards.  On the other side, the hostess/waitress suggested we only order two each and share.  And that turned out fine.  Since arriving in Costa Rica, I have had very little Internet access, so generally I get my pictures organized in the morning and draft my blog post in Word then as well.  When we stop for dinner, I copy and paste the Word document into my blog, post the pictures, edit the wording and post it.  I had my computer out on the end of the table attempting to do this when the chef/owner/proprietor came to our table and greeted us.  He looked at me and said that he doesn’t approve of computer use in his restaurant.  I explained my dilemma and he left.  I don’t want to be on the computer when I’m trying to eat dinner anyway and I always try and get my post done before the food arrives.  The chef/owner/proprietor comes back out on the patio and announces “I guess he doesn’t believe me that I will not serve food while a computer is on.   In this restaurant, food is #1”.  Feeling singled out, I turned my computer off, waited for dinner to be served and then finished my post.  We were given smaller plates to be used as we shared our appetizers and salads and they were replaced with dinner sized plates for sharing the entrees.  The two desserts we were served came with only extra spoons, no sharing plates.  I love my traveling companions and can attest to their general health.  But they are friends, not family.  When we requested plates, the hostess/waitress looked at us incredulously and said “But its dessert”.  We said “Yes, and we prefer side plates”.  She was obviously, not overly comfortable with our request.   As we were leaving, the hostess/waitress asked how everything was and I told her that other than feeling unwelcome and singled out, the experience was OK.  She asked how the food was and I said fine and she responded “I’m glad you enjoyed the food”.  You know, before you even have a mouthful of your meal, your dining experience has been evolving.  Was the restaurant doors clean when you entered?  Was the staff appropriately clothed and friendly?  Were the tables and appointments appropriate?  Was the aroma coming from the kitchen enticing?  Are the bathrooms clean?  I have seen perfectly prepared food served in an establishment that was lacking in some of my above questions and the food experience was compromised.  I don’t blame the chef/owner/proprietor for setting standards, as I do at my Inn, but when dealing with the public (particularly international travelers), you need to know when to bend. I wasn’t on Facebook.

I had spoken earlier about the Costa Rican use of live plants as fence posts.  They plant anything in a row, from reedy arealias to regular trees and any combination thereof.  Here’s one example of a live fence:

Yesterday, we went to the little town Fortuna right below the active Arenal Volcano.  The main purpose of going there was to see the Fortuna Rio Catarata (which is around 220 feet-about a twenty story building):

Here’s a picture of the waterfall that is carved out of andesitic rock.  (Andesitic is volcano created rock as opposed to rock formed in the earth.  Volcanic rock is extruded and doesn’t have the time to form crystals and although they look like their cousins (in this case granite), their structure is different (I’m traveling with a geologist as well as a horticulturalist).  Here’s a picture of exposed andesitic rock next to the waterfall:

And here’s a picture of vines, etc that are thriving in the mist and humidity under the waterfall:

After leaving the waterfall, we went to the small town of Fortuna to see “the most photographed church in Costa Rica”.  San Juan Bosco is named after the first person from the Americas canonized (I believe he was the first).  The description in the tour book was of a squat masonry church in the town square.  We drove around the square twice looking for some ancient structure and all that was there was:

A cute church, but why would this structure be “the most photographed church”?  Look at this:

Having the volcano in the back ground does set it apart.

Here’s a cool picture of a city street with the volcano in the background:

And the town square is way cool.  Although the following picture doesn’t show how much the square is used, there were tons of locals and tourists enjoying it.  I do have a couple of pictures showing its use, but this one has the nicest view of the square.  There were kids playing, kites flying, dogs sun bathing, neighbors talking and tourists snapping pictures.  Driving up to the waterfall I noticed a lot of people walking along the road and when we left there were a lot of people walking on the road.  I guess the town is about 4km from the little town and there’s a bunch of small hotels, hostels, and other lodging options.  And I saw people in the town that I had seen at the waterfall, so all those folks walking were staying in the town.  Here’s the town square:

Well, that’s about it for today, have a great one,

ed

Hi,

Saturday we drove out to the active Arenal Volcano.  There’s a private attraction in the tropical rain forest out there with a hanging bridges through the forest.  Very cool. Lake Arenal is actually a hydroelectric project and at the end of the lake by near the volcano, there’s a dam just to keep the lake full (one of the valleys needs to keep the dam full, not the hydro part) and you go down under that and then up into the mountain (not the mountain with the volcano, for obvious reasons it’s off limits) up this very well maintained road of brick stamped concrete.  It’s probably about 2km long and there are several attractions along it and a resort hotel.

Admission was $24 per person and the walk also about 2km and takes two to four hours, depending on how many pictures you take and the pace of your walk.  There are also a couple of side paths that make a short cut if you aren’t that adventurous.  They provide you with a map of the path, bridges and noteworthy sites so you can keep track of your progress and what you have to look forward to.  There are six suspension bridges and nine regular bridges along the route.  As we crossed the first suspension bridge, right next to us was the seed pod for either a king or queen palm:

And then we came upon this flower:

And here’s our second suspension (some of these suspension bridge tours are totally canopy-this tour is both airborne and terrestrial):

There’s a ton of these trees that have a  buttress like base, some are VERY dramatic:

We saw many of these brown lizards along the way:

This catarata (waterfall) is a side trip off the main trail and can also be seen from a suspension bridge down the hill from it or from a suspension bridge above it:

Here’s another flower we found that even had Tony stumped:

They dug the hillsides out to create the paths making up the trail and frequently there was just a dirt bank on the upper side.  Here, as is most places in Costa Rica, flora has taken over:

Though they never came down close enough for us to get any good pictures, here’s one of a family of spider monkeys that was playing in the tree tops:

This is a view of Arenal Volcan from one of the suspension bridges:

This first picture is of leaf eaters coming down from WAY up ina tree, there are two lines.  One line (empty handed) goes up the tree and the other line (full handed) comes down:

Their nest is not close to the tree and you can see in this picture how they have actually worn down a path (the dirt is actually compacted from the amount of times the ants have crossed it):

At the end/beginning of the walk, there’s restrooms, a cafeteria, gift shop and tons of little and large birds hanging out for your enjoyment.  There is a tree that had several vultures in and and would fly in and out the back of the tree and never showed themselves.  In front of that tree is a papaya tree shown here with a ton of colorful little birds like this redish bird and these really cute yellow birds with the black burglar’s mask: :)

On the way back to Leigh’s house, we passed this white-nosed coati (kind of related to raccoons).  He let us get pretty close before some idiot saw us and swerved into to grass next to him and chased the coati away.  Leigh says the ones that live along the roads are so used to tourists that you can come right up and feed them (as long as they aren’t afraid they are going to be run over):  :)

This next plant I had taken a picture from our trek down to Lake Arenal the other day, but the picture didn’t turn out.  These sensitivity plants are all over.  When you touch them, the fern like leaves fold in together along the vein as a defense mechanism against insects, heavy rain, etc.  They accomplish this by shift water:

Finally, these are our companions at Leigh’s house.  There’s somewhere around 30 howler monkeys in the full troupe, but they break out into smaller packs during the day.  They get up each morning around 5:30 am and the males start this low pitched, extended growling and do this for several hours.  They also do this later in the afternoon.  This morning when they were frisking about, we went down to see them and they actually moved over towards us and occupied the line of trees right along the farm path we were standing on.  They didn’t seem threatened by us.  You do need to be careful, because they are known to urinate on you if you scare them or make them angry:  :)

One week to go, keep warm and I’ll be joining you before I want to,  :)

ed

Hi,

Several corrections and enhancements.  What I referred to yesterday as a Prodteus, Number 1, the plant is called Protea.  Number 2, the plant I posted pictures of is actually a ginger.  Those trees lining the driveway with the camouflage peeling bark in Leigh’s driveway are a Eucalyptus.

After all our hiking around Thursday, we sort of hung around Leigh’s house Friday.  We went out for a late breakfast/early lunch at Leigh’s friend Monika’s Restaurant Caballo Negro and Lucky Bug Gallery and Bed & Breakfast right down the street.  Monika and Willy are German nationals that lived in the US before settling in Costa Rica in 2006.  Having a background in culinary, they initially opened the restaurant and then added the gift shop next to sell their three daughters’ artwork.  Later came the bed and breakfast.  The girls have gone on their way, but Monika still supplies the gift shop with items like these lamps, she makes the shades from fiberglass (I apologize, several of the pictures I couldn’t rotate them):

 

And they make these kind of mobile things from metal they cut into the shape of leaves and then cut the slits in them to capture the wind:

We had breakfast/lunch on the porch overlooking the bed and breakfast compound and a lake that divides the property:

And as so many people in Costa Rica, Monika puts fresh fruit scraps out to feed the local fauna:

I didn’t like the earlier angle I posted of the crater created from a volcanic rock yesterday, here’s a better angle:

We walked down to Lake Arenal and saw these club moss (looks like a fern, more of a moss) all over the place:

There was this tree with these white cords hanging down from the branches (which are actually flowers), much like you expect to see from James Cameroon in Avatar:

Here’s a wild orchid we found down by the lake:

And a passion flower growing in the forest:

Not sure what this thing is, I wasn’t willing to get too close to it in case it was a wasp next, it would hold a LOT of wasps (it quite possibly is a bird’s nest, possibly termites):

Here’s a local hibiscus with one hell of a stamen:  :)

Have a great day and keep warm,

ed

Day Four

On Thursday, we decided to head up to Volcano Tenorio and Catarata de Rio Celeste.  It should have been maybe a two hour journey from where we have been staying, but because of a few bad calls, was over three.  And we finally saw the unpaved roads I had expected to see much more in Costa Rica.  Because of Dave’s superior driving skills, we survived unscathed and saw some really amazing country side, unfortunately the only picture I was able to capture was this one of a cemetery above ground:

The first above ground cemetery we saw was on our way to the Osori Valley at Trio Rios.  That little town was around three rivers and so I assumed the above ground cemetery was to keep everything dry, like in New Orleans.  But this little cemetery is up in the mountains.  Anyway, traditions are traditions.

Our travels took us past all kinds of fauna that was fenced (cattle, etc) and extremely interesting flora I was unable to get photo’s of.   Of the three plants I want to highlight is the way Costa Ricans use live trees/shrubs as fencing.  They plant trees/shrubs along a line they want fenced and then attach barbed wire to it.  Something that’s cool about this, besides being renewable, is you can “add posts” anytime and let them grow in.  And you don’t need to buy fence posts and a post hole digger, just plant a new plant on occasion.  (Picture to come).

The other flora I really want a picture of is this round tree that seems to grow in three distinct tiers.  These trees have these over-sized leaves arranged in the three tiers that are maybe two feet tall, about fifteen feet across and about three feet between tier.  (Picture to come).

One of the floras you see a lot here are tree ferns (not the ferns growing in trees), but ferns that actually have a trunk and grow as a tree.  This is one of the floras I actually got a picture of:

So we made it to Volcan Tenorio and it is one of the least used national parks and I guess one of the reasons is the difficulty in climbing up the steep boulder strewn dirt road.  On the way up, we came across a flock of Montezuma birds.  You see these birds all over and besides their colorful feathers, they have this very melodic chirping and then encore when they’re chatting:

The flocks build a whole series of hanging baskets as a colony:

So we arrived at Volcano Tenorio National Park, registered with the rangers and took off up the trail towards Catarata de Rio Celeste.  The Rio Celeste is famous for its azul colored waters, 30 meter waterfall and colorful pools.  To get to the catarata (waterfalls), it’s about a kilometer up the trail through a rain forest.  It’s not one of those rainforests with wild macaws, etc flitting all over the place, but definitely worth the adventure.  Besides all the lush flora not found north of Florida, there’s also all kinds of striking growth like these roots that are very common throughout the trek:

Once you travel the kilometer up the trail, you need to decent six zillion steps to see the waterfall.  Here’s a picture of the waterfall:

It’s actually six zillion steps; I counted them on my way back up:  :)

The reason the water is so blue is from the volcanic activity below.  This first picture is where some water is literally bubbling up from the volcano below (with a very strong sulfur smell):

This picture you can see the actual fissure where the blue water is coming out with the clear water above in the stream:

Here’s a picture of a heliconia (commonly called lobster claws for obvious reasons) we passed in the forest.  I love these flowers; I tried several times to grow them when living in South Florida without success.  I know they are native to Hawaii, but don’t know if they are indigenous elsewhere (like Costa Rica):

Finally, this picture shows cloud shrouded Volcano Tenorio on our way home:

I think that’s about it for today, have a great one, I am,

ed

 

 

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