Tuesday, September 28, 2010


On Monday the sun came out and we spent the late afternoon on the beach eating pretzels, drinking beer and dancing.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Que lluvia!

My apologies for the tardy post this week. My excuse is that I came precariously close to a minor nervous breakdown so was unable to blog. I blame it all on Matthew…

Tropical Storm Matthew, that is. Though he landed on the Atlantic side of Nicaragua, he brought with him lots and lots of rain to most of Central America. Including Nosara, Costa Rica. As I believe I have already mentioned, it is the low season here. There are not many restaurants and shops here to begin with and the majority of those that do exist are currently only open sporadically or closed entirely until November. Add nearly constant rain to that equation and you reduce the number of things you can do here significantly. So things have been kind of dismal around here, what with the constant dripping rain in the day, the mighty storms at night, the constant nagging smell of mildew, the worse than usual bad roads, the lack of outdoor activity options.

On Thursday, after a huge storm Wednesday night, the skies cleared in the afternoon and we jumped at the chance to get out of the house. Thinking that it would be an optimal time to try surfing, we went down to the surf shack, rented a long board, and hit the beach. The waves were rough and messy and coming to shore at a rapid pace. Had I checked the surfing Nosara website for the surf update that day I would have read the following helpful description of the surf conditions:

“Our surf is running in the chest high range this morning, and looks like Willy Wonka's chocolate river. I think I saw an Oompa-Loompa in the lineup. Things are choppy and sloppy, and looks like we've got serious rain coming in and out all day. Good day for something indoors.”

However, I did not check the surf report. Instead I went to battle with those waves, trying desperately to get past the break but instead suffering the painful and humiliating experience of being tossed around by wave after wave, unable to control my board, and getting hit on the head by it numerous times. I had a huge headache, a head full of seawater and a mouth full of sand and I hadn’t even been able to turn the damn board around to face the shore. I dragged my sorry self and my enormous board out of the water and plopped on the sand saying, “I think I’m too old for this.” Ian took his turn and with the glorious exception of one ride in on his knees, suffered much the same fate. Then it started to rain again so we went back home to nurse our wounded prides and heads and knees.

While I recuperated on Friday and stared at the rain, I staved off the breakdown by actively looking forward to Coastal Clean Up day on Saturday morning. A local woman was organizing a beach cleanup at our beach and I was excited by the idea of participating in such a community effort. I was sure to meet lots of great people! Saturday morning it was raining of course. But we donned our rain jackets and headed to the beach to clean at 7:30 am as the organizer said to do. At the first beach entrance, there was not a single person, so we backed up and tried the other entrance. There we found two women waiting for the organizer who was to deliver the garbage bags and the tally sheets. We waited and waited but no one else came, so Ian took the garbage bag from a nearby garbage can and we got to cleaning. At one point a woman and her young daughter joined in with a couple of plastic supermarket bags, bringing our grand total at Coastal Clean Up Day to 7. After about 10 minutes the woman and her kid left, followed shortly thereafter by the other two women. And then there were three.

But my almost breakdown didn’t really happen until that afternoon. It was raining (surprise!) and, as usual, the three of us were all reading. All this unstructured time and all the rain has led to a lot of reading. Now, that isn’t a terrible thing at all it’s just that I keep feeling like we should be making baskets out of palm fronds or coloring clothes with dye we make ourselves from local plants we have collected in the jungle. I should be coming up with amazing creative ideas for Sadie to do, with all this time on our hands. But truth be told, motivation is low, creativity is low, and response to any ideas I do manage to generate is less than stellar.

I began longing hard for a crowded cafĂ© or a museum. I began cursing the jungle. I began to exchange “paradise” with “godforsaken place” when referencing where we live. In preparation for our obligatory “visa vacation” in November (we have to leave the country for 3 days every 3 months) to Nicaragua, I read about Granada. Old churches, colonial mansions, horse drawn carriage tours, ancient indigenous statuary, museums, and international cuisine. “Dripping with photogenic elegance” says Lonely Planet. History, architecture, art, a plaza, all kinds of food! Why didn’t we move there?!? Why are we living in a one horse town in the jungle?!? So began my spiral…. As Sadie rebuffed my pleas to draw together, as the rain kept coming down, as I looked around at the dark walls of our house, I could feel my eye beginning to twitch. At some point I went in to the bedroom where Ian was reading, babbled something incoherent and began to cry. “I’m going stir crazy! We have to get out of here!”

And so we did. We threw some clothes in a bag and got in the car and headed south.

Ah, the open road! Ooh, something to do! Yay, a different town! We decided to not go too far (given the state of the roads) and chose Samara, a beach town about an hour from Nosara. Not a one horse town like Nosara, but a three or four horse town! Samara actually has a couple of paved roads! We spent three days there when we were in Costa Rica four years ago and we mostly enjoyed ourselves. We had stayed in a cheap little shack on the beach which was fun though by the third day the plethora of dirt and sand combined with the less than optimal plumbing made for a very smelly shack. We still joke about how nauseated we felt by the smell and how happy we were to leave that shack by the third day.

This time, though, I was armed with the latest edition of Lonely Planet and was fixated on any lodging that mentioned “colonial charm.” Yes, we would stay in an airy restored mansion, with tiled floors, whitewashed walls and high ceilings. I would drink some sort of civilized cocktail not made of rum nor containing pineapple juice. I would sit on a veranda in a rocking chair. We would choose a delicious meal of international cuisine from a plethora of fine establishments and perhaps I would purchase a lovely blouse or skirt from one of the boutiques lining the main street. It wouldn’t be Granada, exactly, but maybe I could get close…

An hour and a half later we drive into Samara. The roads had been very bumpy and I am feeling a little carsick. But still, we are here and excited. Funny though, the town doesn’t really seem to be hopping. Well of course, it is the low season, and that would apply to all of Costa Rica, not just Nosara, plus with darn Matthew and all, but it must be more lively than Nosara. We began looking for places to stay. We follow signs to the "colonial-style hotel returned to it's previous glory" and find ourselves on a terrible potholed road getting farther and farther from town and further and further into the jungle. No, no, we just came from the jungle, we want to stay in town! Okay, let’s check out that other adorable-sounding place. Oh, closed until November 1st. And that other one? Oh, also closed. How about the "tree houses" on the beach? $120 dollars for one night for a studio on stilts? Really?? We eventually pass by the place we stayed years ago and Ian slows down. No, I say, no. Let me just look, he says. No, I say. But I’m feeling pretty ill by this time and really don’t want to drive anymore. I let him get out and look. He comes back with a sheepish smile – they look pretty decent, he says, remember how fun it was for Sadie to be right on the beach? And it’s only $40 for the night he says. No, I say, no, no. Sigh. You better take me out to a nice dinner I say. Good ole shack #8, our home away from home. It hasn’t changed a bit.

#8 in 2006

#8 in 2010

Sadie loves it, of course, rain or no rain. She and Ian play on the beach while I try to recover from the chill that Matthew has brought. I’m actually cold. In Costa Rica! What an affront! I try to take a shower, but of course the shower is only lukewarm. By the time we head out for dinner, the rain is coming down harder. We walk up the main drag, looking for a restaurant. I made the mistake of washing my hair earlier and now, hours later, it still is wet. I am cold and soggy and my toes feel like they are rotting in my waterlogged flip flops. I'm convinced I am actually starting to mold. We find the “upscale” Spanish restaurant and it’s open but as it is only 5:00 we decide to just get french fries and sit for a bit. Spanish language covers of bad American 80s songs blare through the speakers, and Matthew continues to assault us under the overhang of the open air restaurant. We decide to try an Italian place for dinner. Good god what is that smell? It is so overpowering that the three of us immediately turn right around and walk back out. How about that other Italian place around the corner? Oh, it’s closed. Um, I guess maybe that one place on the beach next to our shack that's open? We make our mushy way to an open air restaurant on the beach, but it is lit well and doesn’t smell and the small wooden tables are flanked by large rocking chairs. The reggae music is booming and we holler for our drinks (yo quiero tequila!) and order some nachos. We kick off our shoes and settle into the rocking chairs and listen to the sounds of the pounding surf beyond the reggae and smile at our folly. Okay, okay, this will do. We eat and drink and Sadie crawls into my lap and falls asleep. We carry her along the beach back to #8 and try to settle in for the night.

The storm becomes more and more intense that night and when the power goes off we question the wisdom of leaving our sturdy house on the hill for a shack on the beach, held together with two nails and some sand, during a storm. By the light of my illuminated watch I take Sadie out from her single bed under the window and bring her to our double bed situated 5 feet further inland from the crashing waves. Cramped and soggy I listen to the storm, sleeping in fits and starts throughout the night. I dream that I am sorting an entire car full of vintage jewelry and this dream brings me pleasure.

Sadie awakes before dawn and tells us she has been dreaming of owning a magic wand that makes things appear. I ask her what she would wish for and she says pinto beans. After pinto beans, she would make her friend Lila appear, and her grandmothers, and everyone who is coming to visit us. Silently I vow to be a better example, to follow Sadie’s lead of being such a trooper and enjoying herself wherever she is, whatever she is doing. I vow to try to be more creative in finding things to do in Nosara, but also to try to be more accepting of the business of doing nothing. Though Sadie desperately wants friends to play with, she is quite content to sit on the couch and read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, she is quite content to feed her captured caterpillar, watch an episode of Airbender, make toast, play cards, and listen to us read the Hobbit or Harry Potter to her. While I pine for art galleries, crowded cafes, jazz trios, movie theaters, shoe stores, sushi, colonial mansions and martinis, she wishes only for pinto beans, good friends and family.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Una Semana Mas

It's funny. When I think about the past week here, I feel like we did next to nothing. The beach, the pool, the hammock, eating and eating again. But when I look at the pictures for the week I realize that we actually did quite a bit. Sort of.

For starters we found the library. Apparently, Costa Rica is not big on public libraries, particularly in small towns. Libraries in Costa Rica are where students do research, not where community members check out books (though the literacy rate in Costa Rica is quite high). However, several years ago in the pueblo of Nosara, some Americans put up the money to build a small library and it has been a huge success. Locals come to check out books, high schoolers do homework and research and use the computers, local public and private school kids make weekly or monthly field trips to the library, and, of course, the expats come for books to read when they have exhausted the supply they managed to haul with them in their suitcases.

The library itself is a lovely small building, full of light and very clean. It is certainly the only library I've ever been to where you are required to leave your shoes outside! It has about 6,000 books, including a goodly number of books in english for adults and children. Now some of you may know that I happen to have a lovely largish collection of old hard cover Nancy Drew books that I have tried without success to interest Sadie in. What she does love, however, is the Judy Moody series and, wouldn't you know it, young Judy Moody is a Nancy Drew fan. No more prodding needed. Sadie was thrilled beyond measure to find a collection of Nancy Drew books in the library and checked out two of them. Nancy now accompanies her everywhere. Even stunningly gorgeous hotels/restaurants beautifully situated on a hill overlooking where the Rio Nosara empties into the ocean. While Ian and I "oohed" and "aahed," Sadie tried to figure out why "Cloudy" (Claude) was trying to hurt Nancy and Bess and George.

One afternoon we managed to persuade Sadie to leave "The Secret of the 99 Steps" in the car while we explored a new beach. The beach was glorious in the way that beaches here can be. Green lush jungle making way to areas of smooth sand adjacent to expanses of rocky shoreline harboring critters of all sorts in tidepools of all shapes and sizes. And not a person in sight. This particular beach had a large rocky outcrop at one end which, upon further exploration, was home to thousands upon thousands of crabs. Everywhere we looked, crabs were scurrying across the rock, making the entire rock appear to be a living, moving organism. And Sadie didn't get bit or pinched or stung by anything!

In addition to books and crabs, this past week I went to school. I enrolled in Spanish class through the Nosara Spanish Institute (aka, The Only Place to Take Spanish Class). Class started at 8 am every day and was a short drive down the main road. My first day was a bit rocky. I climbed in our jalopy and bumped down the road towards the institute. Along the way a woman with several bags of stuff and a baby and a young kid flagged me down. I stopped, they all got in, and the woman said she was going to Garza. Well, I knew Garza was probably farther than the institute but I had some time and she was already in the car and she had a baby and a young kid and several bags and I didn't know enough Spanish to ask her how far or to tell her where I was going. So to Garza we went. Probably five miles as the crow flies, but the crow doesn't have to drive on these roads. At 15 miles per hour, well.... Anyway I took her all the way there and then "sped" back towards the Institute. I found the complex it was supposed to be in (only a bit late) and frittered away another few minutes asking the guard where to go. I ask him where the spanish institute is, he says he doesn't speak english, I say I don't speak spanish which is why I need to find the spanish institute, and so on. Finally someone finds me in the parking lot and takes me to class.

For two hours a day, every day for five days, I sat in a classroom and stared at the board, trying my hardest to ignore the voice in my head shouting "you'll never learn Spanish!" I was the only student and my teacher was fantastic. She spoke in Spanish the entire time. Luckily the "no, that's incorrect" face is the same in English and Spanish so I understood her perfectly. Now when the howlers wake me up at 4:30 am, I try to conjugate verbs in my head until I can fall back to sleep. Now I can easily tell women with children and packages that I cannot possibly take them to Garza. I plan to take another class the week after next and Ian will take an intermediate version (where the "no, that's incorrect" face is still the same).

We still don't really have any friends. I thought about asking my Spanish teacher for a playdate, but wasn't sure that was kosher (como se dice "kosher" en espanol?), even though she was reading a Haruki Murakami novel when I met her so I just know we could be good friends. We "dropped by" (stalked?) the house of a couple with two kids that we met on the beach, but haven't seen them since. I called another family whose number I got through the school, but that hasn't panned out yet either. Our gardener talks to us sometimes, but apparently he tends to make things up and doesn't make much sense in English or in Spanish. Ian's yoga teacher now hugs him hello and goodbye, but he pays her. And there's only so much you can engage the owner of the local pizzaria before he has to attend to other business. Starting fresh like this requires a lot of the kind of bravery that I happen to personally be in short supply of. Spiders and beetles and crabs, no problem. People, well, that's more difficult. We all eagerly await the start of school. An automatic international community of parents and kids. A place to go every day. Some structure. Field trips!

Until then, the three of us will continue to make the best of it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I'm supposed to get up early in the morning and go running on the beach before it gets too hot. Ian is supposed to get up early in the morning and meet the fishermen coming in to shore and buy some fresh fish for us. The problem is that there really isn't time for that. We are far too busy with our chores. It is a regular Little House on the Prairie situation here, minus having to darn our socks because no one wears socks in this heat.

The first chore of the morning is to stay in bed and stare at the ocean for a while - just to make sure everything is okay out there. Check on the weather, the surfers, see if any fishing boats or whales dot the horizon (a chore made more challenging due to the fact that in the rush of planning and packing we neglected to bring binoculars).

Eventually we get up and someone gets the coffee started (not having an automatic programmed coffee maker is such a burden).

While coffee is brewing, my chore is to rid the floors of the various things that have died overnight. I usually start at what I affectionately call "Dead Beetle Corner." I have learned over time, however, that the large colorful beetles on their backs in Dead Beetle Corner are not necessarily dead, but may simply be a victim of poor design. Upon being scooped right side up and headed towards the door, they often give a shake and fly angrily out of the cup or my hand. Because, of course, all the gigantic scary insects here can also fly. After Dead Beetle Corner, I get the broom and do my best to sweep up all the moths, grasshoppers, ants, and other unidentifiable insects out the door with the gecko poop.

By that time, coffee is ready and our wildlife watching duties begin. We bring our coffee and juice and breakfast outside and set up our viewing stations. We check on the iguana that lives in the tree, watch the howler monkeys travel their howler highway, keep an eye on the pack of coaties that roam the grounds, and identify any new birds ("it's definitely a chachalaka!").

Sadie has her specific wildlife responsibilities involving checking on the chrysalis that hangs from the banister out the front door, and the care and feeding of the caterpillar she has captured. In the name of scientific inquiry (or payback for the several bites?), Sadie keeps a fuzzy green caterpillar in her bug catcher and rigorously records her daily observations in her pink Hello Kitty locking diary.

Ian's daily chores include feeding us all, usually three meals a day. Due to the fact that we no longer have an income, and going out to eat here is quite expensive, we eat mostly at home. We've been out to dinner exactly once in 10 days, which I think is a record for us. Plus we have no friends so no one ever invites us over to dinner at their house. Figuring out yet another meal from the limited supply of groceries is a chore, and is testing the limits of Ian's creativity but he is doing a stupendous job. (Some fresh fish would really spice things up).

My chore, then, is to clean up after the meals. Wash the same three plates, three bowls, three mugs and three cups, three times a day. Living in the jungle requires one to be a diligent housekeeper. Any dirty dish, any open container, any crumb left on the counter, will quickly attract a swarm of tiny ants faster than you can say "don't forget to put the Honey Nut Cheerios back in the fridge." Sadie made the mistake of taking home a large dead butterfly and within five minutes of it being on her bed, the entire sheet was covered with ants intent on carrying off the entire butterfly in however many separate parts it may take. What is left of the butterfly is now in the freezer in one of our precious coveted tupperware containers.

Cleaning up after a meal also requires composting our organic waste. Which is otherwise known as the chore of walking down the road and throwing stuff into the jungle. Ian and I share that chore. It's only fair since it is often pitch dark and raining when this chore is required and after all it is The Jungle out there.

We recently bought a car. A rattletrap, gas guzzling, stinky, gigantic pathfinder (more on that in a future post), which has added to our long list of chores. After the results of several rounds of "eenie, meenie, minie, mo" were questioned, we resorted to a coin toss. Despite the fact that colones have no "heads" or "tails," I called it in the air and won. In addition to his chore of skimming the pool once a day, Ian now has the chore of periodically vacuuming the sand from the pathfinder. Phew!

Once our household chores are complete, we have our town chores to do. Leaving and returning to the house is a chore in of itself. Security is an issue here - there is a lot of theft - so leaving the house involves the elaborate process of closing all the windows, shutting all the shutters, closing and locking all the doors, putting the computer away in the safe, and setting the alarm. The downside of paradise.

Errands in town consist of several options, depending on the day. I might trudge down the shortcut through the jungle to the Yoga House and take pilates (Okay, I did that once. It was hard). Ian might trudge down to the Yoga House and take yoga (he's been twice). Perhaps we'll all trudge to the beach and go body surfing or collect shells or look for families to accost to try to make friends with. A visit to the lawyer is sometimes on the agenda (again, more later on how this chore relates to the gigantic pathfinder), or a ride into the pueblo of Nosara (the real "town") for groceries. Every other Saturday is the farmer's market where we've found homemade goat cheese, greens, papaya, passionfruit pulp, and organic chicken. Maybe a trip to the library in the pueblo is in order or to the video store/internet cafe/used book store down the road.

In the evenings we cook, eat, clean, read, watch episodes of "Airbender: the last avatar," read some more, and often watch lightning storms far out in the Pacific. We crawl into bed early and fall asleep to the sounds of the jungle.

Maybe tomorrow I'll go running. Maybe tomorrow Ian will get fish.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 329

Day 3

A new life. A new countup/countdown.

We took off from San Francisco at the decent hour of 10 am on Wednesday, September 1st. We flew to Houston then to San Jose, Costa Rica, where we (and our 5 checked bags, our 3 back packs, our one purse, our one additional carry on tote and our one paper bag filled with Trader Joe's snacks) were picked up by the Best Western van and taken to the downtown Best Western Hotel, Casino and Denny's. After a restless night's sleep, another van picked us up in the morning and took us to the lovely little domestic airport, where we somehow boarded a six seater puddle jumper with all of said baggage (minus the Trader Joe's apple they took at agricultural customs).

After a rocky rainy 35 minute flight (with one stop), we landed on the small airstrip of Nosara. After many "losiento"s about the weight and number of our bags, we waved to the only person waiting outside the fence and made our way to the waiting car of Monica, the property manager. Pathfinder full of baggage and us we set off through the village of Nosara, stopping quickly at the supermercado to power shop for enough food to last us through the night at the house.

Ah, the house. The house is spectacular. Ocean view from every room. Huge deck with table, rocking chairs, hammocks, and stools.

Eye level with the jungle canopy layer, where howler monkeys make their daily rounds, babies on their backs, roaring at one another at the top of their lungs (or, rather, the hollow enlarged hyoid bone next to their vocal chords that serves as an amplifying chamber for the male vocalizers). Hummingbirds, magpie-jays, swifts, and other, as yet unidentified, birds flit from tree to tree, while coatimundis saunter on the ground and insects of every variety appear in every nook and cranny.

Sadie is our resident bug expert and official test case. She has been bitten by leaf cutter ants when she obliviously put a hand in the congo line of nest building, and had the unusual honor of being the first person I've heard of who has been bitten by a cute fuzzy green caterpiller she rescued from the road. She shakes her clothes out for possible scorpions like a pro (okay, not yet - that one still freaks her out), and feeds leaves to captured walking stick bugs. I'm working on establishing her daily bug and critter chores, such as wiping down the counters and tables in the morning of poop from the geckos that live in the ceiling.

But where was I? Oh yes, the view, the view. Stunning. At night the sound of the ocean receeds as the sounds of the jungle take over, but in the morning (after the howlers wake me up at dawn) I listen to the crash of the surf admist the call of the birds.

The town itself is quiet. It is the "low season", the rainy season, the time when the residents take their holidays in drier, more lively locations. Half the stores are closed, the roads are muddy potholed adventures, the children are all somewhere else. Sadie's school doesn't start until October 1st, though a quick visit to it today assured us the wait will be worth it (at least based on the grounds, who knows about the quality of the education).

My favorite part was the parking lot where you drop your kid off...

Did I mention the view from the house? It's not the Bay, but it is ocean to the horizon. It is jungle and flowers and rain and waves and a few roofs here and there and a couple of surfers in the distance. I'll post a picture when I can get a good one during a break in the rain.

We are settling in, but not settled. Doing nothing is not easy and we are eager (perhaps too eager) for school to start to get integrated into the community and establish a daily rhythm to our lives. Pura vida does not come easy.