Galería Namu

San José, the capital of Costa Rica, is not one of my favorite cities. We tend to avoid it, other than for transit purposes. But on our trip in January, we really wanted to see some Costa Rican art, and research led us to Galería Namu on avenida 7 between calles 5 and 7. It’s a gallery of indigenous art and folk art, and it was wonderful. We bought 5 pieces: a whimsical hand-painted mug, a woven plate, a tiny basket, a decorated mirror, and a cutting board made of colorful strips of wood, for a total of about $125. We could have easily bought another dozen items – paintings, masks, drawings, jewelry… it was a beautiful and varied collection. If you’re in San José, definitely check out this wonderful gallery – or at least look at the website: Galería Namu.

Panama City, Panama

For our third and final Costa Rica visa renewal,* my husband and I went to Panama City for 4 days. Our immediate impression was that it was a lot like Costa Rica, except much, much cheaper. The weather is similar, beaches are similar – although of course Panama has much higher ratio of coastline to inland. Costa Rica is so touristed that prices keep going up, but I guess Panama doesn’t get as many visitors, other than to the canal.

Panama CanalSpeaking of which, we did the partial canal cruise – I would have liked to do the full, but it’s only offered twice a month by every single company I checked with, and all pretty much the same days. It’s just as well, as the half day was more than enough. To be honest, I wasn’t all that impressed by the canal. Yes, it’s huge and an amazing feat of engineering and the locks are tremendous, but, well, it’s just not that exciting, you know?

*Upon entering Costa Rica, Americans (I don’t know what it’s like for citizens of other countries) get a stamp in your passport that allows you to stay for three months. You have to leave the country for at least 72 hours to get it renewed, and apparently there are people that have been doing this over and over for years. The government is cracking down a bit though – they say that they start looking at you a little suspiciously the third time you leave and return, but we didn’t have any trouble.

Costa Rican Weather

We’ve been living on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica for 7 months now – enough to experience both the rainy (or green) season and the dry season. We arrived in mid-May, and from then until mid-August the weather was perfect: 75-80 degrees, with a few hours of rain at least 3 or 4 times a week (including a number of truly spectacular thunderstorms). In August, it started raining a lot more – in fact, a friend from New York was visiting and unfortunately it rained nearly every day. The moment she left, the skies cleared and the weather was again gorgeous until late September, when it started raining more and more. For about 3 weeks in October, it rained almost non-stop, then it gradually died down. Now, in early December, it’s been dry for a couple of weeks. However, it’s also really hot – 85-90 degrees, and will just keep getting hotter and drier until April.

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Plastic is taking over

I guess this is old news, but somehow it completely passed me by. 40% of the world’s oceans is covered in garbage – primarily plastic – concentrated in 5 enormous gyres, or vortexes. I can’t even wrap my head around the staggering amount of garbage this represents. There’s a stretch of land between Casablanca and Rabat, Morocco, that is just covered in plastic bags as far as the eye can see. It’s the place where Plastic Bags Go To Die, or so I thought. Apparently, it’s just a stopover on their way to join their brethren in the oceans.

Plastic bags are absolutely everywhere. In both Morocco and Costa Rica, they’re stacked high in shops, and it’s not uncommon to walk out of a store with $10 worth of groceries in 3 or 4 bags. Even though we bring bags with us, the baggers always seem to be trying to give us more bags, as if to make us feel we got our money’s worth. In the US, the “paper or plastic?” debate was never really resolved. Even our local natural foods store offerred both – though at least they were usually reused.

I don’t know. It’s not as if I have some amazing insights to share on this subject, but I just couldn’t bear to ignore it. Here’s more info, if you’re interested.

The Plastic Sea
Our Oceans Are Turning Into Plastic… Are We?
North Pacific Subtropical Gyre Garbage Map

Howler Monkeys

Howler MonkeysSome of the most visible – and audible – wildlife here in Costa Rica are the howler monkeys. They travel through the trees, and their “howl” is far deeper and louder than their appearance suggests – sort of a cross between a growl and a moan. They tend to howl when they feel threatened or are unhappy, and one of the things that seems to make them unhappy is rain, which means they howl a lot. When several howl in unison, the sound can be pretty creepy – like something out of a horror movie. Continue reading

…Being Here

Costa RicaAfter a week and a half, things are settling into a routine. The dial up is painfully slow, but I’m learning to do all of my writing offline and just connect to copy/paste and send. It’s great to work for a couple of hours, go for a swim, work some more, walk on the beach, work a bit, etc.

Our neighbor is a lodge with a great restaurant and one of the best views in the area – 180 degrees of surf, sand, river, and forest reserve. The beaches are gorgeous and the water is almost warm. Continue reading

…Arriving…

…and were happily surprised at the size. It’s a studio with a full kitchen and bath, and the half-covered terrace is just gorgeous. With the French doors open, it’s a big indoor/outdoor apartment. There’s a lovely pool that we didn’t expect to use, but have been going in on average twice a day, next to a barbecue area. The grounds are extremely lush, with different kinds of flowers as well as plantain, banana, papaya, mango, and avocado trees, and there’s a spot where we’ll be able to plant some tomatoes and lettuce.

Costa RicaIt’s hot (80ish), breezy, and very humid, and it rains off and on throughout the day, sometimes quite unexpectedly. The beaches are gorgeous and pretty much deserted at the moment. The ocean water is fairly cool at the beach closest to us and warmer at the better surfing beach to the south, which is the one we can see from our terrace.

Getting there…

Wednesday was a very long day. I woke up at 5:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. I spent most of the day making sure both laptops were up to date and packing up my desk while my husband did the geometry required to stuff nearly everything we own into the slightly too small 10×10 foot storage space. We also had to deal with transferring the car title, make two post office runs, visit the accountant, go to one bank to withdraw money and another to fill up our safe deposit box (we didn’t get there until after it closed, so then had to ask a friend to do it for us the next day – let’s hope he’s honest! ;-)) All in all, we didn’t finish packing until 10pm and didn’t get dropped off at our hotel by the airport until 11. By the time we checked in and ate it was after midnight, and our wake-up call was for 3:45. Ugh. Continue reading

What’s so great about Costa Rica?

I became fascinated by Costa Rica many years ago – I don’t know exactly when, but long before my first visit. There were essentially two things that made me want to see it for myself. The first is that Costa Rica has no army, and the second is that it has a lot of rainforests. I don’t know which I learned first, but the two together equalled a strong desire to see it for myself.

Then when I finally did go, for two weeks at the end of December 1998/beginning of January 1999, I fell in love. We visited both coasts, went white water rafting through the rainforest (one of most amazing things I’ve ever done), hiked in the cloud forest, took an aerial tram over the rainforest, and just generally had a blast. The people we met were nice and the beaches are gorgeous.

There were a few hiccups. The Spanish is different than anything I’d ever heard before – a lot of the vowels get swallowed, making it harder to understand (though I’m sure I’ll get used to it before long). The capital, San José, isn’t really anything to write home about. And we learned that the best way to travel in the country is with the domestic airlines, rather than the buses, at least in the western half of the country. We once got on a bus that for some reason we thought would take a couple of hours, but turned out to take nearly 12, due to horribly potholed roads and numerous stops.

When we went again in 2005, we concentrated on what we’d liked the most: rafting and the beach. It was, again, phenomenal.

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