art seen in san jose

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In mid-January we had a chance to spend a couple of days in Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. We visited two public art galleries specializing in contemporary art, and later found that not all the art in San Jose is hanging in galleries.

We were staying in the Sabana Norte area, so our first stop was the Muse de Arte Costarricense. We quickly learned the building was once an airport terminal, complete with an ornately decorated room upstairs for visiting diplomats. That explained why the nearby futbol pitches were so flat – that’s where the planes used to land. It also explained the unusual tower emerging from the center of the gallery.

Art exhibitions are housed in what we imagine were originally waiting rooms, refitted of course for displaying Costa Rican paintings and sculptures. When we were there the work of two artists was being featured: large and dramatic wooden figures carved by Manuel Vargas (Estrategias del Recuerdo), and paintings and scaffold-inspired installations produced by Manuel Zumbado (Transversal).

The building itself is a work of art, small panels describe some of the original features of the building, and of course the intricately craved panels in the diplomat’s room are worth a visit themselves. They vividly depict the colonial history of Costa Rica, from “discovery” by Columbus on through to the mid-twentieth century. Behind the building, where airplanes used to pull up to load and unload passengers, is a modest sculpture garden – several large artworks that look rather dated and not nearly as interesting as the artwork on display inside.

After grabbing a coffee downtown, we found the Museo de Arte y Diseno Contemporaneo. It’s located in an historic building that was once part of a massive distillery – other buildings in the compound house cultural offices and various workshop and performing spaces. The featured artist was Salvadorean Simon Vega who offers a fascinating and fantastical exploration of space and tercer mundo — the third world. The exhibition, on three levels, included in intriguing vodka bar, photo-booth beach rover, a submarine-shaped encampment, and an artist’s studio — adorned with hundreds of drawings and artifacts, and loaded with fun and imagination.

From the old distillery we headed for the Mercado Artesenales, a market primarily for tourists. Although most stalls featured the same mass produced goods for tourists as the next, it was still interesting to wander through and pick up a few things for people back home, knowing that the airport souvenir shops have exactly the same items at 10 times the price.

About two blocks up hill heading south, we came across a wall of murals, then another, and around the corner, yet another wall of murals – leading us along old railway tracks and in the direction of the trendy El Escalante neighbourhood. When we were in San Jose two years ago, there was very little street art, just a few tags and stencils, but this was like an explosion of art – some of it possibly commissioned or at least sanctioned, some of it probably produced in the dark. We enjoyed it all!

Oh yes, we also sampled local art in the form of craft beer. Tried a few, our favourite: the Majadera. It is described as a Pale Ale but tasted more like a west coast IPA. Yum!

A sample of the street murals and stencil graffiti art we encountered in San Jose:

sun and sand in puerto viejo

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First off, we wish everyone a very happy, healthy, and an abundant new year!

We have only a few more days to enjoy this lovely, warm and welcoming part of Costa Rica: the Caribbean village of Puerto Viejo. We have really enjoyed the sunshine and the sandy beach, and even though it is technically the rainy season, about 75% of our days have been without rain, or so little rain that we could still spend several hours on the beach each day.

Our vacation rental, Casa Amarilla (Yellow House), is the closet we have stayed to our beloved Cocles Beach. In fact we are an easy 100 metres to the beach.

One of the most disturbing changes we found in Puerto Viejo was that our beach has virtually disappeared. During our past two stays here, October 2012 and late October 2014, we would walk through the jungle, arrive at the entrance to the beach and walk about 50 metres to the right and 100 metres out toward the ocean and put down our blankets. Not this time.

On our first day here, the beach was about 20 metres wide but as high tide approached, the beach did not exist at all.

We talked to a gentleman who has been here every year and he said “have you heard of climate change?”

Of course we have. There was a news report that the area around the North Pole has less ice than previous years, only 80% of the water has frozen as opposed to 90% in past years. The ocean is obviously getting warmer and this is making waves in other parts of the globe, including here. Close to town, some businesses have piled up sandbags to keep the ocean from washing away their beachfront. In other places, we could see that the ground under the trees close to the beach was being washed away by the waves and higher tides and the sand itself was disappearing. We know other beaches around the world are facing similar challenges.

In spite of the high waters, we have enjoyed playing in the water and lying on the beach.

One of our favourite eateries has been the Lazy Mon. It is a hostel with a bar and restaurant in an open area facing the beach. Every night at 5 pm they have musicians entertain their guests. The best performance this visit has been an American musician, Lester Seal from Virginia. He has an incredible voice and a great stage presence.  From lounge lizard music to Jimmy Hendrix, he really holds the crowd!

We walk an average of 6 kms a day and are feeling really good. We expect to walk along the beach and through the jungle to Playa Uva today, about 8 kms south of here. We love to walk along the beach, especially when the water is so warm compared to Vancouver.

Enjoy all the photos Don is posting with this blog… most in the vicinity of Casa Amarilla and Playa Cocles.

So, our dear friends and followers, have a lovely second week of January! Here’s to lots of love, happiness and great health to you!

Deborah

winter escape

img_1065This winter our home town of Vancouver is experiencing more snowfall and more days of below zero weather than it has in many years, perhaps even the worst winter in two decades. So how fortuitous that a pair of lovers of warmth and sunshine should find themselves off to Costa Rica just as winter takes hold at home!

Regular readers will know this is our fourth visit to Costa Rica. The first was in early 2012 when we explored the northern part of the west coast and the highlands around Monteverde on our way south for the year, the second was our introduction to Puerto Viejo as we headed north from South America, and our third was a return to Puerto Viejo with a few days in the mountains around San Isidro del General. So it is clearly a pleasure for us to return!

This time around, we thought we would swing by Arenal volcano, about 4 hours by bus from San Jose. Arenal is no longer active, although it was producing lava as recently as a dozen years ago, so there are plenty of tourist services in the area. Unfortunately, for the three days we were there, the volcano was completely enveloped in thick fog and low cloud, so no point hiking in for a closer look.

Instead, we walked to La Fortuna Falls (Catarata La Fortuna), about 5 km, much of it uphill. When we got to the park entrance, we were surprised that the admission was a rather steep $14 US. But because we had worked hard to get there, we decided to go in.

We were happy to see they are putting the funds to good use. There is extensive work underway to replace the old path and stairs with new metal and concrete steps, more than 400 altogether and probably about 80% done. In fact it was fascinating to watch workers craft handrails out of rebar, mesh, and concrete and achieve the look of log-like rails.

These falls are unique because rather than cascading over a rock face or down the side of a hill, they shoot out and pour into the centre of the pool of water 235 feet below. The pool feeds a small river and just downstream there are a series of wading pools. It is a long way back up those 400+ steps, but there are platforms, some with seating, every 20 or 30 steps. The walk to and from the falls was also rewarding; we spotted numerous toucans, a bright green honey creeper, various tanagers, thrushes and more along the way.

There is not much to do in La Fortuna, mostly hotels, restaurants, and tour operators. Ironically, most of the tours take visitors well out of La Fortuna, reinforcing the impression that La Fortuna has little to offer, especially when the volcano is inactive and frequently hidden from sight.

But we did find a brand new pub with fresh craft beer on tap, a refreshing change from the tasteless national beers which are everywhere and usually all you can order. The selection included an excellent IPA and the individual pizzas were loaded with fresh ingredients. They opened two months ago, and as part of the vibe they are establishing, we were invited to sign the outside wall by the front door. When we returned the next day, another dozen people had signed below our signatures, so hopefully La Fortuna Pub is starting to attract customers.

Stay tuned for our next post, direct from the Caribbean coast!

7 things we love about Puerto Viejo

As 2014 comes to a close we want to share with you what we love about Puerto Viejo. We first enjoyed the charms of this laid-back, off-the-beaten-track Caribbean gem during our travels throughout Central and South America in 2012. At the time we knew we would return, and from the last couple of posts, you know we did — for three glorious weeks. So here they are, the 7 things we love about Puerto Viejo:

1. Wide sandy beaches
There are about 15 kms of beach from the town of Puerto Viejo to the village of Manzanillo to the south. You can walk from one end to the other with your toes in the sand about 80 percent of the way, just a few diversions around uprooted coral reefs and rocky points. Some sections are quite narrow, but there are numerous 2 and 3 km stretches of wide sandy beaches — we were staying just 100m from our favourite, Playa Cocles.
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2. Warm and clean water
Did we mention this is the Caribbean? If you have visited Cancun or Belize, or any of a number of islands located in the Caribbean Sea (like Cuba for example) you know how warm the water is, and in the case of this stretch of beach, clean and almost completely free of the trash that plagues many beaches around the world.
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3. 850 species of birds
Our last two posts probably tell you everything you need a bird watching in PV. So we’ve dropped in a photo of a Resplendent Quetzal about to eat a wild avocado, taken in the cloud forest just a few hours away.
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4. Lazy Mon bar and restaurant
This visit and last, our “home away from home away from home” was the Lazy Mon. At least 3 or 4 times a week we would walk into town from Playa Cocles to get a few groceries and other supplies, and drop by the Lazy Mon. On the beach itself at the edge of town and popular with locals, tourists, families, and Rastafarians, not to mention up to about a dozen laid-back dogs, it also features live music every night, mostly bands of expat musicians keeping themselves and the beat alive.
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5. Expat musicians
Speaking of expat musicians, out favourite group in PV is Tracy and the Two Davids, regulars at La Biela Sabores del Mundo restaurant and bar. Tracy has an incredible vocal range, David One on guitar is extremely accomplished, and David Two knows his way about a bass.
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6. Safe at night
Many tourist areas around the Caribbean are unsafe at night, hence the high barbed wire-tipped fences and armed guards that surround many resorts. Not so in PV. Yes there are a few low-key resorts, but most of the accommodation is in two categories: hostels and vacation house rentals. Almost everyone night we walked either 3 kms north into town, or 2 kms south to La Biela — and no matter how late we returned we did not feel unsafe, other than from cars speeding by too quickly in the dark or swerving to avoid potholes (the only north-south road is paved but not well maintained).
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7. Laid back vibe
Although it’s only a few hours by car or bus from the capital, PV has not experienced the same tourism-fueled development that one finds on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It continues to attract young backpackers and old expats alike from Europe, Australia, Canada and the US anxious to mix with sandy beaches, warm water, and displaced Rastafarians from throughout the Caribbean. There is an abundance of wildlife, a coral reef, and an annual chocolate festival that celebrates the local organic cacao harvest.
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Did we miss something you love about Puerto Viejo? Let us know!

 

 

like living in a bird sanctuary

It’s as if our cabin is located in a bird sanctuary. No sooner did we publish a post describing the fascinating range of birds we’re seeing on the ground or in the trees around our cabin, but some new ones drop by for a visit.

First sight out the window yesterday morning was this female Slaty-tailed Trogan.

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Later we were returning from a day at the beach to be greeted by this Keel-billed Toucan in the cherry tree beside our cabin.

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The Toucan grabbed a cherry and flew to a tree on the other side of the cabin, and what should we see but a group of Montezuma Oropendolas, mostly high in the tree and quite hidden, but this one popped down to a lower branch for just a moment.

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No doubt as soon as we click on “publish” another interesting and colourful bird will land in our yard asking for equal blog time!

costa rica is for the birds

This one is for the bird lovers among our kind readers.

Costa Rica is home to more than 840 species of birds. It is a favourite destination for amateur and dedicated bird watchers alike. In fact, it’s hard to ignore the birds here, whether it’s the ominous circling of black vultures overhead, the screeching of wood rails, the raspy call of toucans, the rapid buzzing past of hummingbirds, or the happy chirpiness of great kiskadees, we are surrounded!

The travel companies here on the Caribbean coast offer bird watching tours, and we may do one yet. In the meantime, the grounds, creek, and trees around the cabin we’re staying at near Playa Cocles, (about three kilometres south of Puerto Viejo), are all we need — most of the photos below were shot from the open main floor of our cabin or within metres of our front steps. Many of the rest were taken at the beach 100m away, or on a nearby trail. And these are just the ones we could see and grab photos of. We could hear many others, but could not see them high in the trees or well-hidden by leaves and branches, or I didn’t have my camera with me or get it out in time.

One tree on the property in particular is a gold-mine for up-close bird watching. In some of the photos you’ll see birds with the red-berry from this tall shrub — I believe they are Surinam Cherries.

We’ve done our best to identify the birds in these photos from a two-page field guide and some good websites — but some remain unknown. Help with additional names, or corrections, is very welcome! You should be able to click on each photo to see a larger version.

Rufus-tailed Hummingbird

Rufus-tailed Hummingbird

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Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

Passerini's Tanager

Passerini’s Tanager

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Olive-backed Euphonia

Olive-backed Euphonia

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Blue-black Grassquit

Blue-black Grassquit

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Squirrel Cuckoo

Squirrel Cuckoo

Long-tailed Hermit

Long-tailed Hermit

Streaked-headed Woodcreeper

Streaked-headed Woodcreeper

Green Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher

Collared Aracari

Collared Aracari

Collared Aracari

Collared Aracari

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Collared Aracari

Collared Aracari

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Squirrel Cuckoo

Squirrel Cuckoo

Ringed Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

Grey-necked Wood Rail

Grey-necked Wood Rail

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

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Groove-billed Ani

Groove-billed Ani

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return to the caribbean coast

Hello from our cozy nest in Costa Rica.

We left our apartment building in Vancouver on the 19th of October and immediately broke into a run to catch an approaching bus. This brought back numerous memories of frantically running to catch buses, trains, and boats over the past five years of travel. We laughed, not quite believing this start to our vacation.

Our departure from the Vancouver airport was uneventful… through check in, through security. We walked around a bit and then settled by our departure gate. Then our names were called to go to the departure counter. They wanted to know where we were going, as we were travelling through the U.S., stopping only to transfer planes. We had already explained this to the USA immigration. All was good.

We then landed in Los Angeles airport. We found our waiting area, but it was over full, so we sat in the next waiting area. Looking around the departure area, it was a total opposite of our Vancouver airport. Not one bit of art, no colour on the walls, floors or anywhere. There was no coffee shop, restaurant or bar. We’ve been to better decorated and equipped airports in even the smallest and poorest of countries.

People were waiting for planes to Guatemala and El Salvador in our sections. Our next connection was to San Salvador, so we patiently sat making observations. We noticed there were a lot of elderly people waiting as well. Not only were they sitting in regular seats, standing or leaning against walls, they were sitting in wheel chairs. We had never seen so many wheelchairs lined up for one flight. There must have been at least 40 people waiting in these very basic wheelchairs. What we then realized was that the people in wheelchairs and their entire families are boarded first – maybe that explains the demand for wheelchair access.

Announcements were made in Spanish first and then English. We were watching, observing and then over the public address system, we heard both our names. We worked our way up to the departure desk… we heard our names one more time as we walked. We looked at each other… what the heck? The attendant was quite brisk with us… she took our passports, quizzed us on where we were going and demanded we produce our itinerary. We told her we had explained where we were going to US immigration. She had a strong Spanish accent, so was hard to understand. Again she demanded a written itinerary, otherwise she wouldn’t let us board. Don fortunately had this in our backpack… again all was good and we had our passports back. Yeah! It was obvious to us at that point, that none of the points of contact along the way were communicating or even had our flight itinerary, even though it was booked all at once through Air Canada. This has been the first time we have been questioned so many times in one trip.

When we arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica we stayed at the Marriot, which is the closest hotel to the airport. It was a great room and we did some food shopping at the cavernous Walmart, which was next door. We finally arrived in Puerto Viejo by bus the next day. It felt like coming home… not much has changed… and that is a good thing. More from this Caribbean outpost in a few days!

On route

On route

View of Puerto Viejo from Playa Negra, just north of town

View of Puerto Viejo from Playa Negra, just north of town

Our open floor cabin, bedroom upstairs and lots of wildlife all around

Our open floor cabin, bedroom upstairs and lots of wildlife all around

Here we are at Playa Cocles, 100 metres from our cabin

Here we are at Playa Cocles, 100 metres from our cabin

Our favourite seaside bar in Puerto Viejo is alive and well, ex-pat bands perform almost every night

Our favourite seaside bar in Puerto Viejo is alive and well, ex-pat bands perform almost every night

Howler monkeys wake up and howl at 5:30 every morning, sounds like a T Rex is approaching!

Howler monkeys wake up and howl at 5:30 every morning, sounds like a T Rex is approaching!

Grey-necked Wood Rail, clucks like a chicken, occasional screech would wake the dead!

Grey-necked Wood Rail, clucks like a chicken, occasional screech would wake the dead!