One more thing from Monday’s excursions was we were traveling up a mountain coming out of the Orosi Valley we saw a sign on the side of mountain in very large white letters Mirador de Orosi.  The miradors are a series of locations with views that the Costa Rican Tourism Office operates and many date back fifty years or so.  They are pretty much like our public works projects that were completed by President Roosevelt in the 1930’s.  Here’s a view:

We left San Jose on Tuesday and traveled northwest through the mountains up the American Highway (this road runs through all of Central America and South America).  After cutting through some mountains on our way down to Lake Arenal, we were arriving too early to meet our greeter, so we stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at the Mystica Resort, phone +506-2692-1001  It’s a very colorful yoga resort with a very nice restaurant run by some great people.  The food was great and once again our lunch filled in for lunch and dinner.

So we arrived at Leigh’s wonderful house.  You saw the pictures before I left of the front gate and the large building (which actually is the guest house, the lower, one story house is the actual main house where we stayed.  Here’s a picture of the house from down the yard before the yard falls off towards Lake Arenal:


Here’s a picture from the front porch towards Lake Arenal:

Here’s a picture from the front porch towards Leigh’s pool:

And a picture of the pool:

The driveway that you saw with the gate seems to have been an access road for something down at the lake, because there’s a cut pathway that bends down from Leigh’s yard and meanders down the mountain.  Lining Leigh’s driveway and down the pathway are these majestic camouflage trees:

Here’s a close up of their interesting bark:

Not knowing where we were going for sure, we started descending down this trail and after about ten minutes we came across these beautiful orchids growing in front of this palm:

Yeps, that’s them on top of those four foot stalks, they are terrestrial orchids (ground based instead of air based in a tree).

The trail bends around another bend the trail when through someone’s yard.  Hesitant to enter someone’s yard, we stood there for a moment while the dog barked at us.  The owner, Mike an American Ex-Pat came out and we introduced ourselves as friends of Leigh.  He was very nice and did all the right things, but when he offered to take a group picture of us and “send it to Leigh”, I got a little suspicious that he was suspicious of us.  J  Don’t blame him, he had never met us and we had set the burglar alarm off earlier.  He gave us directions down to the lake and we then pass this gorgeous Traveler Palm:

Further along the trail we came across this clearing:

There are two volcanoes in the general area (one active since 1968 and the other in-active).  When they actually explode, they shoot rocks for miles and I believe that is what this depression is from.  You see volcanic rocks and depressions like this all over the place.  I don’t know if the active volcano has actually exploded since becoming active or not.

Leigh has a lot of interesting plants growing around here property.  As you start down her driveway, you pass this plant that I believe is a Prodteus.  Here’s a picture of the flower opening:

Here’s a picture of it fully open:

And here’s a picture of it having gone to seed:

Dave & Claire say a variety of it is the national flower of South Africa (they lived in Angola for a number of years and traveled to South Africa a good bit) and they have seen these flowers as big as a trash can lid.

Eventually, we left the compound for a friend of Leigh’s restaurant/gift shop, but unfortunately Monica had to leave and wasn’t around.  So we went to the little town of Nuevo Arenal.  It is actually a cute little town with a nice variety of shops.  Several decent restaurants, two grocery stores, two hardware stores, a pet store and vet are all located here.  There’s also the “famous” German Bakery, a bakery, restaurant and gift shop that was closing when we arrive.  But speaking of the hardware stores, after eating dinner at Moya’s (nice waiter, good food) we stopped at the first one to get some light bulbs to replace ones burnt out at Leigh’s.  The first one didn’t have anything that would match, so we stopped at the second one.  They didn’t have either bulbs, but the guy we were talking to took pictures of what we wanted and sent the pictures to another of their stores who had one of the bulbs and our Arenal store would have it by noon the next day!  Third world country and the hardware clerk takes pictures of electronics and has it delivered the next day?  Here’s a picture of downtown Arenal:

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



Day 2 Orosi Valley

Correction from yesterday.  It wasn’t the Honduran embassy across from the Inn we stayed at, it was the  Nicaraguan, sorry for confusing the flag.

The Valley of Orosi surrounds a lake that is a hydro-electric project that is quite scenic.  When arriving from San Jose, the first large city you pass is Cartago, the home of the ruins of one of the oldest cathedras in Costa Rica, Las Ruinas de la Parroquia.  Also in this city is Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles, which is the most significant site in the city which is an amazing Byzantine style open air church that just exudes style.  Stained glass windows, wood carved altars, hand painted murals, jewel encrusted statues are just a few of the high lights.  Built in 1635, it has been renovated many times, but remains true to its original design.  One tradition that shows the religious fervor of some is approaching the basilica on your knees, even from as far away as from San Jose (about 15 miles) for the Feast of the Assumption in August.

Here’s a picture of Los Angeles from the outside:

Here’s a picture of the inside:

The highway encircling the lake is pretty well paved, as has been most roads we’ve encountered so far.  Driving around is at a fairly leisurely pace.  Partially because traffic is so dense and the roads are not equipped with turn lanes, shoulders, etc.  Having a relatively smooth paved road is a lot nicer than was anticipated in the outer areas.  But be careful of the scooters, they are everywhere and don’t seem to have any rules.

The hillsides are full of farms growing mainly coffee, but a lot of other agriculture as well.  And this is grown on these unbelievably steep slopes.  I can’t imagine working those slopes all day.

Here’s some slopes:

At the far east of this lake is a VERY narrow one lane bridge that when we crossed it, we had to share the traveling lanes with school kids walking in front of us (there was no sidewalk area).  J  But shortly before that, there was a heavily used suspension bridge over the river that filled the lake.  Permanent, very narrow entrances keep cars and scooters off the bridge.  See the bridge below:

Next is a picture of a previous bridge that seems to have been non-suspension and had been washed away:

We were traveling along the south of the lake and it was later afternoon by the time we decided to stop for lunch.  There’s a ton of little cantina kind of restaurants along any road you travel in Costa Rica.  Most cantinas seem, at best, to be boring opportunities to put something in your stomach.  One of the things I like about traveling is “local color”, so I seldom eat at any kind of chain while on the road.  So we found this open air cantina with the proprietor sitting alone in the restaurant.  It looked pretty clean and wholesome, so we pulled in.  #1 he had the tables covered in white table cloths with a red napkin angled decoratively angled in the center.  #2, as we entered and the five of us were squeezing into a four top table and he came over, greeted us and immediately pulled another table so we had plenty of room.  He then went back to the counter and started turning the TV he was watching down.  I told me not to be concerned, it didn’t bother us.  He said OK and still turned it down.  He gave us the menus & asked what we would want to drink (in Spanish, he spoke no English).  We ordered and he made his recommendations on what menu items he recommended to order and left us.  He came back shortly afterwards to take our order and three of us had ordered beer and two had soft drinks.  I told him I didn’t want a glass, so when he brought a second beer, he had a napkin decoratively wrapped around the neck of the bottle and one folded as a holder across the center of the bottle.  I love little touches.  He served the ladies first and really paid attention to us (granted, we were the only guests, but I’ve been in places with the same scenario and been ignored).  And then came out the entrees!  OMG, for such a little place the quantity of the food, the presentation was amazing and the food quality and flavoring was right on base.  I had ordered chicken and rice, pretty standard Spanish faire.  The pulled chicken and rice had a very healthy portion that was decorated with several tortilla chips on top.  There was a small side salad of fresh tomatoes & lettuce with a light vinaigrette.  The side of refried beans had a unique flavor; I think it may have had a dash of mole.  I had asked the proprietor for a business card and he did give me one because I wanted to give his business a push.  Unfortunately I seem to have lost it.  If I come across it again, I will post it.  He doesn’t have a web site, but if I give his address, etc some other traveler may have the opportunity to enjoy this fine establishment.  We were so full that we never had dinner that evening.

We headed off Tuesday for Leigh’s home on Lake Arenal.  After a number of minor wrong turns, one of which was through the famous wind farm (well over 100) serviced by the constant winds off Lake Arenal and then down a very steep decline to the lake.  While descending, we passed a troupe of White-Faced Monkeys:

Have a great one,




Day one in country.  To continue last night’s blog with pictures of Miguel’s artwork, I got the photos downloaded.

This first picture is of his art studio, all made from coffee plant parts:


Here is Miguel’s workshop:

This next picture is of Miguel in front of his house with Tony and Dave to the side:

This is the stream that runs right below Miguel’s studio, just very common scenery of the lush vegetation you see everywhere:

These are statues Miguel and his brother Hermes have carved and are for sale in their shop:

And these are several of the statues I selected.  The two end ones are of coffee picker’s, the middle one on the left is an ape (it was the only ape he had, there’s no apes native to Costa Rica, don’t fret 🙂 ), and the weeping lady at the middle right is a pretty famous legend.  She was taking her kids across a raging river and lost them and has weeped and haunted ever since.  I don’t know if this legend is exclusive to Costa Rica because I have seen it referred to a number of times elsewhere.  The TV show Grimm even did a story based on it:

Here’s pictures of Dave with Claire on the second floor porch of Miguel’s studio:

Here’s a tree that has been carved into someone with raised hands in a parking lot of a closed restaurant/bar down the street  from Miguel’s studio:

Here’s a picture of the Inn we stayed at while in San Jose, La Gioconda House Hotel:

And finally, here’s a picture of the Honduras embassy which is right across the street from our Inn.  Every day lines form in three directions (both ways on the front street and up the side street) of Hondurans looking to extend their work Visas.

Well, that’s it for now.  I REALLY need to figure out how to delete the old pictures from my camera because every time I download, it downloads ALL the pictures, which is becoming awkward.  It will soon be a nightmare.  There’s lots more from yesterday that I hope to talk and show tonight.

Have a great one,



Yesterday we arrived in San Jose Costa Rica.

Our United Airlines flight was scheduled to depart at 7 am and our good friend Sue wanted to get up at 3 am to ensure everything went smooth, which it did.  We were sitting at the gate over an hour before they started boarding, but that was OK.  So many time’s my MO has been arriving at the airport and stressing over parking, screening, etc that this leisurely arrival was nice.  I haven’t flown in a few years and I must say the TSA were the most polite and professional I have ever seen them.

We had a layover in Houston, where our friends Dave and Claire had one as well (they live in Austin) and they had a flight that was to bring them into Costa Rica three hours before us.  So they were assigned getting the rental car.  Their connecting flight from Austin to Houston was delayed, so guess who we bumped into at the Houston airport?  Yeps, Dave and Claire.  Their connecting flight was earlier than ours, so they still got into Costa Rica almost two hours before us.

On our connecting flight from Houston to San Jose (United flight number UA 1055Y- the reason I am including a link to United so if United uses Google Alerts, they may be interested in locating who the following stewardess assigned first class that gave me such poor service so they may contact me, if they care), the steward/stewardess’ passed out the Customs and Emigration forms for us to fill out.  I didn’t have a pen and the passengers next to me had a pen that broke as they were filling out their form.  So as a United stewardess was passing, I politely requested to borrow a pen.  She stopped, turned to me and tersely said “No.”  She told a step and turned and said “Ask your neighbors”, turned her back on me a second time and then continued up the aisle.  Now up until now, overall I had been again pleasantly surprised with the service I had received from United (I came with low expectations).  They even surprised us was with a warm lunch of salad, carrots, chicken or roast beef sandwiches and brownie.  What a rude thing for her to say and what a terrible attitued.  I could understand “I’m sorry I don’t have one”, “I’m sorry it’s illegal to give passengers a pen” or any other excuse, but a terse “No” is just unacceptable from anyone that works the hospitality field.

The decent into San Jose was quite stunning.  As you get lower and can see land, the landscape is quite exciting.  There’s the ocean on one side and a wide plain with rolling hills in the background.  And the rolling hills turn into gradually climbing mountains that level out into the central plain that hosts the city of San Jose.  We arrived in San Jose and the airports fairly modern and staffed with gracious and fairly bi-lingual staff.  One thing I found really amusing was their emergency exit signs.  It shows a stick figure “running” for a door.  You immediately understand its meaning; we should adopt that up north.

The mountains as seen from San Jose airport:

The city of San Jose is pretty dense and the roads are better than anticipated.  Not well marked, but if you pay attention, the signs are there and not too hard to navigate.  Lots of police all round, but they seem to just observe and the locals seem aware of the police presence.  I felt very comfortable.  Absolutely everyone so far that we have dealt with has been very nice and eager to assist.  Their English may not be good, but my Spanish is worse and for this I am thankful.

I called Verizon about using my iPhone or cell in Costa Rica.  The iPhone was not manufactured to work here and I would need to rent a phone that they would assign my phone number to.  So I checked about my cell phone and they said that would work fine, they just needed to adjust some settings that they did remotely.  I was told to do *228 for the phone to pick up the latest cell towers before leaving the country, which I did in Houston.  I immediately lost service and haven’t been able to get it back.  It keep “Searching”.

We stayed last night and this evening at the La Gioconda House Hotel, a center city bed and breakfast run by these very nice people.

We had a great day today in the Orosi Valley.  One thing I definitely will talk about more is Miguel, of the Casa Del Sonador, house of the dreamer.  Miguel and Hermes are sons of Macedonio Quesada, one of Costa Rica’s most famous Tico carvers.  A friend of Tony, one us, had stayed with Miguel’s parents as a translator in the 1970’s and Miguel clearly remembers Leon.  What an amazing man, amazing place and amazing artist.

It’s late and I have another big day tomorrow.  I hope to have time to fill in some more of today and post as many pictures as I can of today before retiring tomorrow.

Have a great day,



Tomorrow is ground hog day, good luck Punxsutawney Phil.  Birth anniversaries celebrated tomorrow include the first woman elected senator Hattie Wyatt Caraway (1878), film star Clark Gable (1901) and Soviet leader Boris Yeltsin (1931).  It is the anniversary of the rescue of Alexander Selkirk whom Robinson Crusoe was based (1709), action figure GI Joe was introduced (1964), the first session of the Supreme Court (1790) and the first moving picture studio Black Maria at Thomas Edison’s laboratory at West Orange, NJ (1893).  (The term Black Maria comes from the studio resembling black police wagons of the time and they were referred to as Black Marias.)

Just to make you jealous, here’s where we will be “camping” while in Costa Rica:

One more picture:

Does anyone want to buy The Parador of Pittsburgh, Leigh may have a permanent resident.  🙂

Founded in 1952, non profit Auberle, assisted 2,374 Western Pennsylvania children and families last year.  Some children were referred through the state’s juvenile justice  or child welfare systems.  Also, school districts and relatives refer youth to the programs.  It operates six sites in the Mon Valley offering assistance for housing, substance abuse, mental and behavioral health counseling, foster care and employment training.  They’ve created an Employment Institute with programs in landscaping, construction, food handling, computer graphics, design and commercial driving.  They partnered with Massaro Properties in O’Hara for the landscape training.  Dave Massaro hopes to expand the program this year because of the excellent results he’s seen with his trainees.  In fact, Dave commented that some of the students actually improved upon the work done by some contractors.  They recently the added hazardous waste operations in conjunction with Carnegie-based Weaverton Environmental Group.  Dawn Fuchs, who was on Auberle’s board of directors readily agreed to spearhead this initiative.  Because of state regulations in handling hazardous wastes, Dawn is not able to provide the same “on the job” experience as some of the other trades, but with all the expanding oil and gas industries and environmental concerns, this could be a bright future.  If you are looking to fill entry level positions (or offer your expertise and assistance), you may want to contact them.

Mt Lebanon is doing trial runs on valet parking on the weekends on Washington Road.  I’m not going to touch that one.  🙂

Sewickley United Methodist Church, at 337 Broad Street is having their 65th annual turkey dinner February 7 from 5 until 7.  The cost for this fund raiser is $15 for adults and $6 for children 6 to 10.  You can even get take out for $15.  The turkey and all the trimmings are prepared by a team of around 100 volunteers.  They shoot for a traditional turkey dinner, not a gourmet faire.   They  will be roasting 34 turkeys, 300 pounds of potatoes, 156 pounds of green beans, 125 pounds of cole slaw, 600 dinner rolls and 42 batches of stuffing.  I don’t know about dessert, you may have to bring your own.  🙂  They anticipate serving 600 dinners this year.  So it is strongly suggested to make reservations by calling Dottie Price at 412-741-4460 or the church office at 412-741-9430.

Back to back blogs about Sewickley, the Sweetwater Center for the Arts is hosting an exhibit featuring some pretty striking prints through February 23.  The exhibit showcases 18 pieces of art by 13 artists from across the country and none of them are digital (I’m not saying digital is bad, there’s a lot of incredible work done in digital.  It’s just nice to see more traditional art forms together sometimes).  Denise Presnell-Weidner of Wisconsin used the sun to etch her plates to create Translucent Liz, Indrani Nayar-Gall of North Carolina used intaglio, transfer printing, tracing and drawing to create her Travel Log-Mighty M and Barbara Westman used monoprints created from materials  she collect that give her different textural qualities when inked and printed.  An interesting exhibit.

This Sunday at The Warhol, Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artist, Fifty Years will span four floors of 45 Warhol works displayed alongside 100 works by 60 other artists.  This exhibit is to show how Warhol’s interest in consumer goods, pop culture, film making, magazine publishing and design affect world cultures.  It should be interesting to see how the staff at The Warhol pair his work with more contemporary art.  The show is included in your regular admission and regular hours.  That info is at their web site.

Speaking of Warhol, the Warhol Foundation is putting 125 paintings, drawings, photographs and prints up for auction at Christie’s International from February 26 through March 5.  Pre-sale estimates range from $600 to $70,000.  You can bid on line or by phone and receive instant updates in case someone over bids you.  Just thought you’d like to know.  🙂  The proceeds will be used in the Warhol Foundation’s endowment.

I’m all in favor of turning public control over to private interests.  I would really like to see the state liquor control board abolished and that function turned over to private enterprise for all the obvious reasons, high paying political patronage jobs, rude service, inconvenient hours and products, etc.  I also am in favor of turning the lottery over for many of the same reasons.  But I get nervous when the governor rams the lottery take over by a British company down everyone’s throats.    Not saying anything is under the table, it just lacks transparency.

ALCOSAN this week requested an extension on the controversial (and outrageously expensive) solution they came up with to meet DEP new standards so they can explore greener and less expensive options.  FINALLY.  Heinz Endowments has kicked in $31,000 to help the 83 municipalities served by ALCOSAN come up with local green initiatives to help relieve the strain on the sewer systems.  Looks like we may be on the right path, finally.

The owner of Delaney’s Pub in Youngwood reported income of just over $10,000 a year for the last few years.  When State Police and the Feds raided them, they found $586,310 in a safe in the bar’s basement, $117,000 in one safe deposit account and $781,630 in their residence.  OMG are they in trouble.  A roommate of mine in college lived out there and we’d stop by for a beer on occasion.  🙂

Some disturbing statistics.  Nearly 44% of Americans are one emergency away from financial ruin.  Many of these work full time (75%), and 15% earn more than $55,000 a year.  Almost a third of Americans don’t have a  savings account.  We seem to be taking a good first step because credit card debt is down, but we need to start saving.  The report didn’t breakout people that had investments in lieu of a savings account, but we all should have a bit of one, even if the interest stinks.

Well, this may be my last post in awhile.  I leave for Costa Rica this weekend.  I’ll try and do some blogs with pictures, but I’m not guaranteeing. 🙂  Keep warm and happy,