Monday, August 10, 2009

Tanagers & Bananas

We bought a bunch of 16 lady finger bananas for 400 colones (69 cents) at the local farmer's market last Saturday. They're quite tasty. This pair of palm tanagers obviously agrees. When we got up this morning, they were sharing a banana on the balcony railing. I appreciate that they just concentrated on one banana rather than trying a little bit of each of the remaining bunch like critters usually do.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Heading Back Home

We're winding down our stay here in Puerto Viejo. Yesterday was one of the few sunny days we've had. Today it is raining once again. Last night we went for another melt-your-mouth lomito barbecue at Rolf's place. We were joined by Juana's daughter, Caterin with her baby Angelina, & boyfriend David. They were talking of our return trip. I don't know when we'll be back. I doubt we will come for this long again.

Tomorrow we will sell the bicycles for 30,000 colones each. We paid 65,000 each for them a month ago. Caterin is buying Shar's, & Marie, the hotel maid, is buying the other.

The northern European (German, French etc.) have been replaced by southern European (Spanish, Italian) tourists. Locals tell us the Americans are missing this year. Actually yesterday two twenty-something American women booked the room next to us (it shares our balcony). They're the first Americans we've seen here at the hotel.

We spent a nice time visiting with Ingrid, the Austrian woman we met with her husband bicycling at Punta Uva, over the past week. Her husband is a physician & needed to go back to work, but she stayed on here another week. She left the other morning for Tortuguero before flying home. I hope she had a good trip.

I hope the folks here survive whatever the economy (and perhaps the climate) does.

I've been communicating with Paul & Scott of Supertrees via email over the past week or so. Paul has cooked up a date for us at Wine on the Waterfront on the pier in P.A. They are doing a 40th Anniversary commemoration of Woodstock on Sat. Aug. 15. I was at that event 40 years ago, so I decided not to pass this up. We have not rehearsed any of the hour's worth of songs were gonna' play together starting at about 9:30 p.m. (an entire set of songs performed at the original Woodstock festival), but I feel ready. The event is called WoWstock. It's also a benefit for the Food Bank. Bring a can of food. I was wondering if they were gonna' be pairing brown acid with the Chardonnay. Paul was quite taken aback about my gauche ignorance: "Everyone knows that brown acid goes with zinfandel!"

Our flight is not until 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, but Rolf advised us to take the 7:30 a.m. bus to San Jose. The bus is generally about a 4 hour or so trip, but with the way the weather is now, there may be landslides in the mountains, which could cause some big delays.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Oral Surgery

I just had my first experience as an oral surgeon. Hopefully it will be my last. I stopped by Lenny's this morning. He said, "Can you do someting' for me? I 'ave tooth, it need come out. I get string, you pull it out for me?" I quite didn't know what to say but managed to answer, "I could try…"
"No–you don'
try–you pull it out! You strong. You don' wan' do it?"
"Well I've never done it before, but if you really need me to, I could try to pull it out?"
"No mahn you don'
try–you pull it OUT!
"Okay–I pull it out, it's just…I've never done this before, but I'll try…I mean–yeah, I'll pull it

I was silently thinking to myself, what in
hell are you doing? When I tell this to Shar she's gonna' say, "You did what!?" Lenny went inside his house and got a spool of black string. I said, "Can't you go to Home Creek (where the clinic is) to get the tooth fixed?"
" 'Dem charge. Me 'ave no money."
"What if the string breaks?"
"It strong. It nylon."

Lenny sat before me on his porch making a series of knots & loops in the string saying, "I do this with tooth six times 'fore now." I found a scrap of wood on the ground to tie the string around so it wouldn't slice into my hand. He placed a loop of string around a tooth. I held the other end around the stick. He said "I gwan' to make noise. When I make noise, 'den you pull. You pull very hard! You pull it out! You ready?" I didn't think I'd ever be ready, but nodded yes. He started to make a low growling noise. I lunged with my entire body away from him. The growl increased to a roar. I looked at the end of the string and saw a tooth–roots & all. Lenny was clenching his mouth moaning. He looked up at me and said, "Tank' you mahn, I been in so much pain many months now! Tank' you! That time number seven now." What could I say.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Chino (The Chinaman)

This is a shot of Chino's, one of my favorite establishments here in Puerto Viejo. Everyone refers to the owner as "Chino"--a real character. He's in his seventies, but remarkably active. He runs the store (and in fact owns the entire block, in addition huge tracts of land surrounding Puerto Viejo) pictured in the photo. The store (the green-painted central portion of the edifice, a currently closed disco is on the left, and a dive shop on the right) sits out at the end of the Point in Puerto Viejo. He sells just about everything, and makes change by peeling from the huge wad of bills he pulls out of his back pocket and the pile of coins on the counter. His prices are very competitive. He has no overhead--he lives upstairs, employs hardly anyone and obviously does no maintenance on the building. He opens (or doesn't) & closes the store when he feels like it. He speaks fluent English and supposedly Cantonese. (The story goes that his father, who presumably arrived with the original railroad-building Chinese immigrants, sent him to China to learn the language as a teenager. He spent a few years there before he could get out during Maoist times.) I've been going into the store for about seven years now on a seasonal basis. The other day he asked me, "What's your name?" I told him. He put out his hand to me, "I'm Manuel--the Chinaman! Are you American?" As we shook hands I said, "Yes . . . the United States." He said, "Oh, I thought you were Swiss."

There's a roughly 200' x 200' area of water, defined by the beach on one side and the reef on the others, in front of the place (from where I shot the picture), which is one of our two favorite swimming spots in P.V. It's also popular with Tico families because the reef keeps it pretty calm. We swim there when it's too rough at Playa Negra, or if we just want a quick cool down without the extra 3 minutes bike ride to & from Playa Negra.

Punta Uva (Grape Point)

Yesterday afforded another break in the heavy rains we've been experiencing, so we rode our bikes down to Punta Uva--about an 8 km trip. The sea was rough, so we didn't swim much but we drank a couple cans of Pilsen on this idyllically beautiful beach. I gotta' say this spot beats the White House lawn for a beer hands down any day! While there a couple came along on bicycles asking if they could continue on the little dirt track there on their bikes to Manzanillo. I told them no, it ends in about 100 meters and they'd have to go back out to the road to get to Manzanillo. The woman asked, "Are you American?"
I said, "Yes. Are you German?"
"No! Why does everyone think we are German? What is it about our accents?"
"You're Dutch?"
"No--we are from Austria!"
I didn't say to her, well Austrians speak German. When you speak English with a German accent, folks might guess you're German. We told them about where we are staying, & they showed up this morning to book a few days at Cabinas Tropical.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Today we rented a motor scooter to travel up into the Talamanca Indigenous Reserve. We were unsure about the condition of the loop road we were going to take because of the recent rains, but figured we could always turn back if it got impassable. We went through the town of Bribri and looped through Bratsi, Suretka, and Uatsi, but one really could not call those places towns—though they are actually marked on the map. After passing through Bribri, the road follows the Rio Yorkin valley. In the accompanying photo you can see the river in the distance. Bananas are among the trees in the foreground. These plantings on the reserve are not as dense and managed as those on industrial plantations.

At Suretka we took the right fork in the road away from the river, and climbed out of the valley. Rolf does this route on his mountain bike—that would kill me! We saw no wildlife. This may in part be because indigenous folks are allowed to hunt. Shar shot a lot of video with our little camera. I am linking the three clips in this entry to YouTube, because they will look better there than if I embed them here on this blog site. (John Gussman will tell me there are better sites for posting video, but these are definitely not high-def anyway.) There were a number of places where creeks were running across the road, & I was jokingly referring to them as "river crossings." It got to where Shar was wanting to get out before I attempted to slog through the gravel. As it turned out, I did not wreck the rental motorbike. Here's a clip of us approaching Uatsi. When we hit Uatsi we stopped at a little hut where a family sells indigenous crafts: jewelry, baskets, carved gourds. We'd been there in previous years--but never via that loop route--we'd always gone directly from Bribri before & turned around, a much shorter trip. The father made an effort to rig up a light bulb for us. I told him it was not necessary. They all spoke Bribri amongst themselves, but we did the buying in Spanish. After asking them if I was permitted to take photographs (very important), I shot a clip there.

Monday, July 20, 2009


This female white-lined tanager was enjoying a moth in the coconut palm 10 ft. from our balcony when I shot this with our $100 Kodak this morning.


I've entered into negotiations with an elderly gentleman we have seen here around town. Last spring he was constructing a hexagonal weave fence from cane using a machete. He agreed then to make me a basket, but I think my timing was off. He had just finished the fence job and was probably in no need of money. This morning he told me he has gathered the cane and will begin fixing it. Im sleep on de porch at de soda roun' de corner fron de chinee. We'll see if our stay here is long enough for me to purchase a basket from a basketmaker. This old man is the only person I've seen in the area here making this type of cane weaving. Like so many things, the traditional crafts have been replaced by plastic substitutes. When they start charging for each plastic bag in the market, there may not be any basketmakers left to step up to the plate.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hace Lluvia

I am acquiring a very deep appreciation of the hydrologic cycle. For the past few days it has been raining a bit on & off. Around midday yesterday it started to rain pretty hard. It stopped long enough for us to go out to Amimodo (run by Italians) for pizza in the evening, without having to use our umbrella. It started to rain again when we returned to our room and has not stopped. The volume alternates from drizzle to all-out deluge and everything in between, with occasional flashes of thunder & lightning. It amazes me to think where all this water comes from. I looked at the the satellite photo yesterday & it appears to be raining over the entire country. Of course said country is sitting astride two oceans which I now understand supply quite a bit of warm water to evaporate into the air.

We donned our ponchos this morning to ride to the Saturday market for local fruits, veggies and smoked cheese. We also stopped by Pan Pay for our daily crossaints to have with morning coffee back on our balcony, which we're enjoying as I type this. Shar suggested I shoot and post a video of the rain, so here it is!

Friday, July 17, 2009


Since we'd gone a week without a plane, bus or taxi ride, we thought we could handle the half-hour bus trip to Cahuita. We went into the national park and walked the forest trail paralleling the beach for about 45 minutes before stopping for a swim and snack. We were surprised to not see wildlife, though we probably walked past one or more sloths, which can be very difficult to spot due to their remarkable camouflage. Even though it was late morning–not the best time for viewing wildlife–one can expect to see a few interesting birds, monkeys etc. along the trail through this park. We walked back and sat on the beach near the park entrance watching the surf to kill time before walking to the bus station to catch our return bus. I happened to look above into the beach almond trees shading us, and noticed two howler monkeys taking their midday nap. One of them is shown here. You can see his prehensile tail gripping the bed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Puerto Viejo

Last Saturday we went to Rolf & Juana's home for a visit & barbecued lomita. Before sunset I took a photo of the chestnut-headed oropendula nests in a laurel tree in their back yard. The larger Montezuma oropendula lives here as well. You can see bananas & other fruit trees growing on the hillside. We had great food and great a time.

We've been chilling here in P.V. Eventually we'll catch a bus up to Cahuita or down to Manzanillo for the day. A new feature for us here is accessing the web & Skype from our room & balcony. No more sitting at ATEC sweating in front of a beat up keyboard and barely functioning monitor. I still visit ATEC to fill our water bottle (17 cents a liter), or for other incidentals. I sat in with ex-pat keyboardist Jim MacDougall and his band Monday night with my formica Martin. Junior has also asked me to play with him at Parquecito. He has plans to perform at an upcoming festival in New Orleans.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dos Bicycletas

Yesterday morning we bought bicycles. We figured it would cost just as much as renting beat up cheap bikes for a month. The hardware store selling them was about a mile out of town. Rolf drove us there. We paid 130,000 colones (about $225) for the two bikes, including baskets and rear racks. It was raining buckets while we were at the store, so Rolf even drove us back to the hotel with the bikes in the back of his Toyota pickup. We didn’t test drive the bikes due to the downpour. When we took the bikes out for our first ride when the rain stopped after getting back to the hotel, we discovered Shar’s bike was missing a nut on one of the bolts holding the front fender. My basket was missing a nut/bolt fastener. Rather than ride out to the store where we’d bought the bikes we went to the smaller hardware store in town. I won’t relate the story of our 30 colones (about 5 cents) purchase, which took quite a lot of time involving six store employees as well as a return trip.

Yesterday afternoon Rolf told us that Tio (a guy who works for him) & Caterin (his stepdaughter) put the word out, and people are in line arguing over who’s going to buy the bikes from us when we leave.

Rolf has been bringing us fruits from his place daily–mangoes, limes, bananas. He said Tio likes bananas & plantains so he keeps planting them. Now he is loaded with bananas. "I need to get him to stop planting more bananas." Caterin just brought us up a couple of guanabana refrescos–muy delicioso!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Osa Peninsula

We arrived at Rolf & Juana's yesterday after 6 pm. They have wireless! I'm posting some pix from the Osa Peninsula area. The first is of me next to one of the stone spheres in the area. Check out this link for info on these mysterious pre-Columbian objects. I had thought I had taken a shot of the 2 meter ones we saw, but must not have. (Two meters is about a half foot taller than me.) The shot was done in the park in Sierpe while waiting for our boat to take us downriver to Punta Marenco south of Drake Bay.

The next shot is our approach to the landing area
for Punta Marenco Lodge. Boats pull into the opening to the beach between the rocks. Returning from our trip to Corcovado Nat'l Park the next day, we had an interesting landing there--we almost capsized when a huge wave nearly caught us broadside. Fortunately el capitan brought the bow and gunned the throttle into the wave at the last split second so it didn't get us totally broadside. It is a very tricky place to land. Actually every place we landed on those Pacific beaches afforded an adrenaline rush. I'm not going into to details re the time over there. I'm sure Shar will say more.

We hiked down along the beach to Rio Claro on the first afternoon. The right (south) side of the river in the photo is all primary forest, which BTW is owned by Mel Gibson. Oscar, our guide whom had met us at the airport upon arriving in San Jose (and did not speak English), told us it was safe to swim in the river. I asked if him if there were crocodiles there (Hay cocodrillos aqui?). He answered that there were only caimans. We swam a little. Shar swam farther up the river than I did. When we got back to the lodge that evening the hostess told us about the 4 meter (about 13 ft.) crocodile there in the river.

We went to Corcovado the next day with a
different guide, Everesto (born and raised in Drake Bay), and a delightful young Dutch couple who were staying at the lodge with us. The new (for us) species we saw were: a species of rocket frog, 3 great curassows, an anteater, a scarlet macaw, two king vultures, and two (very dangerous!) fer de lance snakes. One is shown here.

The next day we went to Cano Island which was about a one hour, 13 mile (rough) ride in a 22 ft. fiber glass boat with a 175 horse four stroke Suzuki. We were accompanied by Everesto, the Dutch couple, a young Swedish couple who arrived the day before, el capitan (who looked all of 16 years old) el capitan's girlfriend (15?), a woman (girlfriend's mom?) and a crew person. We snorkeled off the island--a lot of wonderful fish but not good conditions. After a picnic lunch on the beach, Shar & I chose to hike up into the interior of the island to view archaeological artifacts, while the rest of our party went back out for snorkeling.
We saw more snakes, iguanas etc. but there are no mammals on the island. The forest was much quieter than on the mainland. After 45 minutes of walking alone on a trail through the forest we came upon two piles of artifacts about 10 meters apart. Each had a stone sphere about 18 inches in diameter, along with various metates (grinding stones), stone tools, pottery shards and other broken objects. Everesto had told us that he used to see a lot more artifacts there, but people walk off with them. The island is believed to have been a ceremonial site, and a trading center for the Diquis indigenous people. Everesto said people from as far as the Inca empire and from Mexico used to come there to trade. Tombs have been found on the island, but they have been plundered by folks looking for gold.

We left the following morning in a sluicing downpour. The trip across the bar at the mouth of the Rio Sierpe was exciting. We had the same young capitan as the day before. Shar was not impressed. ("Teen-aged boys don't think their gonna' die!") After we got through the breakers and into the calmer waters of the river he called out, "No problem, everything good!" I said to the Dutch couple who were positioned on either side of me (they always made me sit forward to weigh down the bow, and made Shar sit aft), "Yeah he's sayin' that now because a minute ago he wasn't so sure!"

We caught a single-engined Cessna in Palmer Sur to San Jose, and a bus to Puerto Viejo. There've been some changes here at Cabinas Tropical. Last night we heard my friends Junior, Rani, & Lenny play. It was great! Junior was playing the banjo I left him 2 years ago. He's strung & tuned it differently. They were totally acoustic--sounded fine!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Palmar Norte

We left home at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday–thanks for the ride to the Kitsap Airporter Linda! Got into San Jose at about 9:40 Thursday morning. We caught a 1 p.m. bus out of San Jose & arrived here at 7 p.m. We drove drove down hill through the fog on a very windy road for 6 hours. We have not seen any other foreigners yet. I'm getting by with my Spanish. We had a good breakfast of Gallo Pinto con huevos y natilla, & walked over to the high school to look at a couple of two meter pre-Columbian stone spheres. How (why) did they do it!?

We will catch a taxi to Sierpe in an hour. Then we will take an hour boat trip down the Rio Sierpe to Drake Bay. (Named for Sir Francis who stopped by.) Then it's another 20 minutes (whatever) to beach the boat where we are stayin at Punta Marenco. No pictures yet. I had no idea this place would have wireless!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We're heading down south again. This time we will start our trip by going over to the southern Pacific coast to Peninsula de Osa. We'll be off the grid for about a week, then hope to have some interesting photos to post at that time, when we will be back once again on the Caribbean in Puerto Viejo.