Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Beautiful Place: Lugar Bonita

Lugar Bonita

“Where are you from?”  “How did you end up here?”   While we’ve been traveling those are among the first questions we ask and answer as we meet people and exchange our back stories.   One of the reasons we hear most often is that it’s cheaper to live here in a Latin American country or that one can have a much higher standard of living (think maid, cook, fancy digs) for the same amount of money.  Others move to another country because the people are friendly, the culture and history are intriguing, the weather is more agreeable or they’re hankering for adventure.  As for Wanda and Jerry…

Lugar Bonita

Wanda and Jerry had successful careers and upon their retirement sold their home in Arizona and took off for Costa Rica in 2000 with a dream of finding paradise.  They arrived in San Jose and began traveling around the little country looking for the place that titillated their fancy. They were among an earlier wave of expats who were relocating to a Costa Rica which was welcoming retirees with open arms and enticing incentives to move to their country.  In Costa Rica they could find a new home where the life style they wanted could be afforded after years of slogging it out as entrepreneurs on the American economic treadmill. They found a property east of Tamarindo beach in Barrio Josefina which measured one hectare or 2.5 acres and the deal was struck.Tne main house

The property had an existing house where they lived while they closely supervised remodeling and enlarging that structure and incorporating it into the future paradise they envisioned. The construction began in earnest in 2001 and was, by and large, completed in ten months.  When all was done there stood a main house with a large pool and the sizeable rancho, a covered open-air living area with a high peaked ceiling and huge outdoor kitchen. Lugar Bonita Rancho

Lugar BonitaScattered around the property as well, because Wanda loved to entertain guests were smaller casitas, free-standing abodes with en suite bathrooms.Lugar Bonita

And then the work began – turning the buildings into a home.  Wanda and Jerry imported the comforts of a North American lifestyle in two cargo containers including a riding mower and household goods; two sub-zero refrigerators, furniture and all the other paraphernalia and brick-a-brac that constitute a fully stocked home.  They hired a maid cum cook, who lived nearby, for six days a week to maintain the habitation and prepare the evening meals. Then they settled into the life they had dreamed of and Jerry, a passionate gardener with an engineering background, worked almost daily, ultimately removing thirty-five trees from the property and landscaping the grounds, bringing beauty forth.  And … life was good.Lugar Bonita

Another ten years went by and life moved on bringing health problems that forced a relocation to the States.  The property was put on the market and sold, after a couple of years, to two American investors.  They hired Wanda’s son, Sky, and his Colombian-born wife, Sandra, as their property managers.  The estate’s new iteration is as an end destination for weddings, fiestas, birthdays, reunions and all manner of happy events that can be rented by the night and accommodates up to eighteen people in comfort.Lugar Bonita

Our travels bring us into contact with many people and, in a fortunate happening, the Lugar Bonita was next door to the home we were housesitting. Sky and Sandra welcomed us to the neighborhood and invited us over to the property several times.  They shared the evolution of the Lugar Bonita as well as stories about Wanda and Jerry who followed their dream and created a paradise…Lugar Bonita

By Anita and Richard

The Panacea: Do Nothing, Just B-e-e-e-e-e….

Panacea de la MontañaJust down the road from where we’re housesitting is a nondescript sign on the side of the highway announcing “Panacea de la Montaña” which leads onto a rutted dirt road of dubious worth.  After the initial slog you arrive at a junction on a level flat. A quick glance at the road ahead informs you that this is the time for four-wheel drive for the final push up the steep grade.  Panacea de la Montaña

The discreet sign alongside the highway and the pitch of the daunting road may be inadvertent but no one arrives at Panacea de la Montaña unintentionally. It is, in fact, an end destination of repute; a boutique yoga retreat and spa visited by individuals, groups and aficionados intent on participating in a sublime physical and spiritual experience set inside the forested canopy of the coastal mountains of Costa Rica.Panacea de la Montaña

And when you reach the crest near the top of the mountain there is a vista of a lush and fertile valley below and mountains in the distance all swathed in variegated hues of green.  Panacea de la MontañaAn infinity pool seems to drop into the valley so that the vast expanse spread out before you can be admired and contemplated, a hypnotic and mesmerizing view. Panacea de la Montaña

Once you leave the common area of the pool, patio and cocina (kitchen) and pass by the yoga pavilion you enter the more private space of the cacitas, the individual residences for the guests.  The little dwellings, seemingly set down on the mountainside randomly, offer private views of spectacular scenery from the covered porches.Panacea de la Montaña

Trails meander around the mountaintop and slopes, spread with white rock for easy visibility and edged with larger river stones.  There’s a feeling of discovery as one wanders about this little bit of paradise; every turn reveals something new such as a totally unexpected labyrinth amid the trees or benches here and there for contemplation. Panacea de la Montaña

And interspersed throughout the walk are signs painted by guests with meaningful bits of wisdom or river rocks decorated with pithy expressions of inspiration and insight.Panacea de la Montaña

Upon our arrival in Tamarindo we were introduced to the three owners of the yoga retreat by Tineke, for whom we were housesitting.  Mary leads the yoga classes and Debbie, who is also a yoga instructor, acts as gourmet chef extraordinaire while Peter deals with the business side of living in nirvana as well as teaching aqua fitness classes and providing reflexology treatments.  We signed up for four weeks of classes and, from our novice perspectives, were  bent sideways, forwards and backwards, stretched out and relaxed within an inch of our lives. Here, amid the greenery of the coastal forest and accompanied by the twittering of birds, the flitting of multi-hued butterflies and the baleful calling of the howler monkeys, we slowly stretched and breathed to the measured and calming cadence of Mary’s expert instruction.   Each class was unique and had the successful goal of making us feel refreshed both mentally and physically. One of our favorite sessions (no effort involved!) was a restorative yoga class that focused on us moving our bodies into a variety of comfortable positions fully supported by various pillows and cushions and concentrating completely on doing nothing, breathing deeply in and out and just b-e-i-n-g.  And, at the end of every class, when the cymbal would chime softly, the realization would slowly creep into our minds, “But, surely that wasn’t ninety minutes already?”Panacea de la Montaña

And all too soon our time, not just for the day, but for Panacea de la Montaña had come to an end.   But we gained, with the aid of Mary’s classes and instructional materials, the ability to continue with our practices as we decamp again for parts further south.Panacea de la Montaña

By Anita and Richard

Nesting Sea Turtles at La Playa Piratas

Daniel, our guide for the evening, picked us up shortly before dark. The group was small, just the two of us and two young women from Argentina. The night would be dark as it was broken cloud cover and the crescent moon would not rise until much later in the evening. We were off to search for the nesting Pacific Black Sea Turtles on the beaches north of Tamarindo.

Pacific Black Sea Turtle - photo credit Rosa Sandoval photoa available at http://seaturtlesofindia.org/?page_id=358

Pacific Black Sea Turtle – photo credit Rosa Sandoval – photo available at http://seaturtlesofindia.org/?page_id=358

We turned off the highway onto a dirt road rutted with washboards and after considerable bouncing and rattling about arrived at La Playa Piraticas. Daniel went ahead to scout for turtles coming ashore and our small group waited on the beach listening to the sound of the surf and watching the stars beginning to populate the heavens.  The white foam of the waves was interspersed with several massive rock outcroppings silhouetted against the night sky under the faint glow of the stars. A few fireflies flickered here and there, pinpoints of light in the night.

Daniel emerged from the blackness and quickly led us in a single-file walk south along the beach for a few minutes to where we quietly approached and spied upon a female turtle who had already dug a shallow, circular depression about six feet in circumference. She had selected a spot high up on the beach, near the encroaching trees, and could dig no further down for rocks and roots impeded her progress.  She continued to labor at the task for some time while we watched and then, exhausted, relinquished the chore and made her way awkwardly back towards the sea. We saw her enter the surf and a wave finally lifted her and restored her graceful movement.

Returning to the sea

Returning to the sea

Sea turtles leave distinctive tracks along the beach which alerts guides that they've come ashore

Sea turtles leave distinctive tracks along the beach which alerts guides that they’ve come ashore

We immediately regrouped and Daniel led us back north along the beach to find a second sea turtle whose black bulky form we had sensed, more than seen, arising from the waves when we had passed the spot previously.  We remained on the beach until Daniel, using his red light, scouted around quietly to find where she had decided to nest.  Stealthily we approached her, and remaining soundless and kneeling about two feet away to her rear watched as she created the circular depression for her nest alternating between her front and back flippers and pivoting  from side to side about the depression to make sure that the depth remained consistent.  It was fascinating to watch the intensity of her digging, flinging the sand out of the depression.  Although we were crouched a couple of feet behind her as she dug, we were splattered by several flippersful of sand on the face and body from her powerful efforts.

Once she had completed her digging of the circular depression, it was roughly 18 inches deep and uniformly level and compacted. Work then began on digging a trench which would be at mid-line of the rear of her shell and would serve as the repository of the eggs. Using her rear flippers she bore into the soft sand to remove and spread the material. With the trench roughly 15 inches deep, and with no further fanfare, she began laying her eggs.

laying the eggs

At this climax of the evening we found it necessary to relinquish our place at the nest after we hurriedly snapped a couple of pictures aided only by the guide’s red light. A government biologist, alerted by Daniel, came to take possession of eggs as they were deposited in the nest and transfer them to a beach where the danger of high tides exposing the nest to predators would be lessened.

It probably makes no difference that there is a taxonomic disagreement as to whether the Pacific Black Sea Turtle is a unique species, as some contend, or a subspecies of the more predominant Green Sea Turtle. The sad and sorry truth is that all sea turtles are endangered by extinction. Their dwindling numbers remain subject to depredation by natural foes such as land crabs, raccoons, gulls and other shore birds but thus it has always been. Man’s voracious appetite, along with habitat depletion, threatens the turtle’s existence. It was with this sobering reality that we savored the night as we watched the eggs, loosed from the mother’s body, fall into the sandy cavity of the nest designed through the millennia as the hatchery of the turtles.

 

 

 

 

 

By Richard and Anita, June, 2014

 

Tamarindo or TamaGRINGO: Tourist Mecca On The Costa Rican Riviera

southside beachIn mid-May we crossed the width of Costa Rica from the Caribbean shore to the Pacific coast heading for the small town of Tamarindo where our next housesitting assignment would be.  By one estimate, 25% of the people who deplane in Costa Rica will end up hanging out in Tamarindo for some part of their vacation. When you consider that in 2012 over 2,000,000 visitors came to this small Central American country that’s a passel of folks to pack into a small sea-side town.access to swimming beach

In 1995, when the regional airport facility was upgraded to the Daniel Oduber Ouiros International Airport in nearby Liberia the response from the commercial carriers was a stifled yawn; one charter flight per week was the total through-put for the tourist invasion in that year.  Fast forward to the turn of the twenty-first century and the main highway into Tamarindo was still not entirely paved.  So what happened to turn this sleepy, insignificant fishing village on the northwestern Pacific coast with the Costa Rican Riviera as its new moniker into a mecca for hard-body surfers and eco-tourists? Surfboards and surf schools

The genesis of Tamarindo is probably known to some of the life-long residents who remain in the area and perhaps those who wish to sift through the property records. Quite possibly it was a keen-eyed surf fanatic, with some connections, who noticed that Tamarindo Beach had two main breaks for the ride seeking surfer; Pico Pequeño, a rocky point in the cove, and El Estero, the excellent river mouth break. On these two breaks, the biggest waves can get up to twelve feet during November and December and the rest of the beach breaks are perfect for learning.

south end

As word spread, or was promoted, money arrived to support the gringo dollars just beginning to flow into the economy. The pump had been primed and the spigot was about to open.

Banks, ATMs, Realtors & Shops

Banks, ATMs, Realtors & Shops

One ex-pat, who was present at the creation, recounts that the boom began around the turn of the century. The city had been growing slowly but steadily with new businesses like hotels, restaurants, and surf shops opening but, seemingly in a blink of the eye, growth accelerated and continued at a frenetic pace until the economic bust of 2008. The sunny shores of the Golden Coast of Guanacaste, Costa Rica were not immune to the plight of the “too big to fail” crowd and the boom cycle stalled.multiple signs

Now, that economic reality does not diminish the fact that this little burg is a hopping place – especially during high season.   The small town of approximately 3,000 residents in the low season can swell to 10,000 and more when the tourists arrive in force in November through April.tourist businesses

And it’s not just the surfers anymore. Eco-tourism is a substantial portion of the economic vitality, which is no accident as Costa Rica is perhaps the most protective of their natural resources of any nation in Central America.  Playa Grande, north of Tamarindo, is where the Leatherback Turtles come to lay their eggs. The Leatherbacks take over the beach from November to April, digging their nests on the beach, covering them with sand and returning once again to the sea.  With Las Baulas National Marine Park and other bio-preserves readily available there are numerous eco-friendly activities, including night turtle watching, diving, snorkeling, body surfing, zip-lining, estuary trips, bird watching, horseback riding and surf fishing.

playing in the water

Tamarindo and the surrounding areas fit many sizes and shapes: surfers, nature enthusiasts, honeymooners, families, backpackers and all-inclusive mavens delight in Tamarindo’s multi-cultural community and tropical paradise activities. And the development has left niches for almost every class and every budget. The town’s combination of affluent foreign culture, chic cafés and restaurants, all in the flavor of authentic Tico culture, has a strong appeal for locals, expats and foreign visitors. So in a short time the original drowsy beach village of Tamarindo has evolved into the most bustling tourist destination on the Costa Rican Riviera. Not too shabby.

Doctors and Pharmacies

Doctors and Pharmacies

By Richard and Anita, June, 2014