Adios 2020, Bienvenida 2021!

-Linda

Apparently I’m the only one in the family who knew that the pineapple is a symbol of welcome – in addition to being the national fruit of Costa Rica (well, maybe not really). Anyway, we can all agree that it is pretty exciting to be finally welcoming 2021 after the longest year ever!

Sand sculpture designed by Sierra, Cassidy & Linda

For the last two days we’ve had quite a bit of rain, which they say is unusual in the dry season. Maybe it’s a sign of cleansing — washing away 2020 in a tropical rainstorm seems entirely appropriate. As a result, we’ve had some nice lazy mornings, and the girls started a project of watercolor painting the animals they have seen (or hope to see?) in Costa Rica. Yesterday we also screened a Netflix matinee of Back to the Future, which was such a fun blast from the past.

Both yesterday and today the weather cleared by about 10am, in time for a good beach outing this morning back at Playa Santa Teresa (our ‘home’ beach). Both girls practiced their surfing, and it’s so exciting to see them catching waves!

The last two nights have been too cloudy to have great sunsets, but we had two amazing ones on Sunday and Monday nights. The girls did their surf lessons at Playa Hermosa, which is about a 15 minute drive north of here. As the name would suggest, it is an absolutely gorgeous beach, with nice gentle waves perfect for beginner surfers. The low tide sunset there on Sunday night may have been the best we have seen to date.

Sunset at Playa Hermosa
Just before sunset at Playa Hermosa

On Monday night we also had a glorious sunset when we went to Habanero for dinner. Sadly, the restaurant itself was quite disappointing: overpriced, mediocre food, terrible service, and ear-splitting music. Alas, the location almost made up for it!

Sierra and Noah at Habanero Grill – Playa Santa Teresa

Tonight we are headed to Vista las Olas for a New Years Eve swim and outdoor dinner. Thinking of all our friends and family tonight, and looking forward to a BIG NYE party one year from now!!

Montezuma Waterfall

-Linda

This past week we had a rental car, since the girls were off school, and Noah took vacation days from work. On Tuesday we drove the mostly dirt road to the little town of Montezuma (about 45 min) and hiked to three different waterfalls in the jungle.

The first part of the hike we were actually hiking through the river (possibly took the wrong fork?!), trying to balance on slippery rocks. Both Noah and Cassidy ended up with wet feet, but Cassidy loved it. This is probably the only kind of hike that she will tolerate now that I think about it!

The first (lower) waterfall was the biggest of the three, and we were able to swim underneath it in a perfect, deep swimming hole. It was actually hard to get close to the waterfall once we were in the water, as the current would push you back toward shore.

Swimming under Montezuma Waterfall

By the time we left there were quite a lot of people arriving, so I’m glad we got there early. From there we had to cross the river and then hike up a TON of stairs to get to the two upper waterfalls. The top one was so pretty, and you could get right under it to take a waterfall shower.

After the waterfall hike we went in search of the “Butterflies and Beer” establishment that I had read about in Lonely Planet. Sadly, both the restaurant and butterfly garden have closed, primarily due to lack of business since COVID. But the owner (an American) is still brewing beer and passion fruit soda. We sampled both (yum!) and also got some to bring home with us.

We grabbed lunch at The Bakery in Montezuma; we decided to try the “Casados” — which are the local dish of rice and beans + meat or fish. We got to see lots of white-faced capuchin monkeys; it’s interesting how we have howler monkeys in Santa Teresa, but just a little ways down the road you only seem to see the white-faced monkeys.

Surf’s Up!

-Sierra

On Sunday, Cassidy and I had our first surf lesson! The lesson was at Playa Hermosa, which is a short drive from Santa Teresa. Our instructor’s name was Lorenzo. 

The first thing he had us do was figure out whether we were ‘regular’ or ‘goofy.’ If we were regular, we stood up on our boards with our right foot in back. If we were goofy we stood up with our left foot in back. Cassidy and I were both regular. He had us both practice going from our stomachs to our feet on land.

Then we went out in the water. We took turns riding waves. One of us would get on our board and he would push us into a wave and tell us, “Up!” and we would try to stand up. Cassidy got the hang of it first, but I caught up quickly.

Cassidy catching a wave
Me catching a wave

I feel like I progressed a lot during the lesson. We even started learning how to turn! It’s pretty simple. The hardest part is figuring out which way to turn. If you choose the wrong direction, you are probably going to end up in the water. You have to feel which way the wave is pushing you and then twist your body in that direction.

Enjoying the sunset right after our lesson

Our next lesson was on Tuesday, same place, same time, except it was so much colder. By the end of the lesson I was freezing! This lesson I don’t think I progressed quite as much, but I did figure out how to stand up with a jump instead of gradually going from stomach to knees to feet. The sunset wasn’t as pretty as it was on Sunday, but it was still cool.

Surfing Playa Hermosa

When the lesson ended I ran straight for my towel. Note to self: NEVER go from 80 degree water to freezing wind! I’m looking forward to practicing surfing on Dad’s board tomorrow!

Wildlife

-Sierra

Around 2:00 every day, the howler monkeys cross through the trees above our pool. They’re super cute, but VERY loud. They sound kind of like a dying hippopotamus. They’re small- about the size of a cat- and are black.

Howler monkey in the tree right by our pool

We’ve seen other kinds of monkeys too. When we went to Montezuma we saw a white-faced monkey, which looked pretty much exactly like a howler monkey except with a white face.

White-faced capuchin monkey near Playa Cuevas

We went to Playa Cuevas yesterday now that we have a rental car and stayed there for most of the afternoon. We explored rocky tide pools and found some cool shells, and went exploring for a bat cave that mom read about. (We never actually found it.) 

On our way into the beach, we saw more white faced monkeys and on the beach there were a ton of hermit crabs. They were scuttling around everywhere! Dad said if you lay down and you’re really quiet you can hear their sharp little claws on the sand. I tried, but I couldn’t hear it. There was a really cool bird perched in a tree for a while too.

We also met several normal crabs, one of which was blue. And while we were exploring the tide pools we found a couple small fish (though they weren’t very exciting, they were just minnows).

As one more surprise, as we were leaving, we saw a coati! A coati basically has the head of an opossum, the body of a chunky cat, and the tail of a monkey. And the personality of a raccoon. So in all a delightful combination.

One more animal we’ve met in Costa Rica is the iguana. We see them all around our condo. They love to sit on trees where the sun warms them and bob their heads up and down.

Two gray iguanas right by our condo – one chased the other down the tree!

The Dog Next Door

By: Cassidy

Since we’re staying in a condo complex we have neighbors right next door. (Although we are at the end of a little fork that goes up the mountain where the condos are, so we only have neighbors on one side.) Anyways, next door our neighbor, who’s name is Sammy, has a dog (just like everyone else in this town.) named Koa. Koa is one of the fluffier dogs in town. She’s a Border collie so she has a lot of energy. Every time we walk out of our condo, we see Koa playing fetch with Sammy. Sammy has to keep his door open all day so that Koa can easily run outside to play fetch with me and Sierra. In many ways Koa is also like a cat. Whenever she is about to go after the ball, she hides under one of the cars parked outside someones condo. Koa is also a little bit shy sometimes. Even though she knows us, she doesn’t come right up to us and ask for pets, she kinda stays back a bit and puts her ears back and slowly warms up to us.

Me playing fetch with Koa

To thank Sammy for letting us play with Koa, we gave him four of our thirty soft ginger cookies. (Even though he was glad we were playing with Koa to get her energy out.)

Our fresh-baked ginger cookies

Feliz Navidad!

-Linda

This is the first year in a very long time that I am still in the mood for Christmas music the day after Christmas. In fact, I might be ready to celebrate the full 12 days of Christmas, since our holiday festivities only began on December 23rd this year…and even then were pretty light! I did very little shopping, baked just two batches of cookies, and wrapped about a quarter of the gifts I usually wrap.

Hand mixing up ginger cookies in our under-stocked condo

Oh – and none of the restaurants or stores here play Christmas music, we were hard pressed to find any Christmas decorations, and I never did locate a single candy cane!

On December 23rd we went to check out Banana Beach (a hotel/restaurant/bar right on the beach), as I had read they were having a Christmas market and a photo shoot with Santa. The poor Santa looked so hot and miserable in his candy striped pajama bottoms, fake beard, and hipster glasses (yes, really). He was actively looking down at his phone in that way people do when they are really hoping no one will come strike up a conversation. I couldn’t decide if it was comedy or tragedy — as can often be the case in life…

Cassidy and the overheated Santa

The Christmas ‘market’ at Banana Beach also did not amount to much — just some hippie dippy artists with lots of tattoos selling their homemade jewelry and palm tree paintings. The food was actually pretty good though, and I loved the setting, esp the woven parasols hanging from the palm trees.

Noah and Sierra at Banana Beach Restaurant

On December 24th after wrapping my very small pile of gifts in the red tissue paper that I thankfully brought from home, we went down to the playa for a swim. From there we walked along the beach to an upscale boutique hotel called Florblanca, which has a restaurant called Nectar.

Sierra and Cassidy at Nectar – so exciting they had a Christmas tree!! (no evergreens here…)

We started with some sushi rolls as an appetizer, and the girls loved it so much that they decided to order more sushi for dinner. Noah and I had seafood entrees that were both excellent. The desserts were also heavenly – chocolate lava cake and a passionfruit cheesecake. Who needs candy canes really??!!

On Christmas Day, we made quick work of the gift exchange, but the girls seemed pleased nonetheless.

Sierra and Cassidy in our condo waiting to open gifts

Noah and I got the most amazing gift from Sierra — a song that she composed herself and sang for us. I was blown away. After a breakfast of steamboat omelette (Frey tradition), we had some time at the pool and then a heartwarming Zoom call with my whole family, including all the cousins. It was so fun to see everyone, and oddly at this point a Zoom Christmas celebration doesn’t even seem that strange, does it??

That afternoon I cooked up salmon, roasted potatoes, and green beans, which we packed for a picnic dinner on the beach at sunset. To sum up Christmas dinner: the scenery was lovely (as always), the food was decent (I never like my own cooking), but the extra company made it less than relaxing. We had a couple of local dogs circling our towels and barking with excitement at our Christmas dinner. In retrospect, I guess it’s not surprising that I’ve never seen anyone else here bring a picnic to the beach…only cocktails!!

Cassidy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

-Cassidy

  1. First, on Tuesday morning the cleaners didn’t come, so we spent all day at the pool. (What a crisis)
  2. Then, when we came back (at 4pm!) the cleaners had come, but the laundry we put out wasn’t washed.
  3. After that the cleaners accidentally locked the door to Mom and Dads bedroom and we couldn’t get in, and there is no existing key.
  4. Finally, when Mom was cooking dinner, she decided that the zucchini, corn fritters were taking way to long to cook – and just wouldn’t cook at all! So Dad made some scrambled egg to go with them, and Sierra made a salad.
  5. Then when we tried to turn on the T.V to finish the rest of the movie we were watching, it decided we were mean people and didn’t turn on. And, to top that off, the channel that was on when we were trying to turn on the T.V was Smackdown (terrible Costa Rican TV show with people punching each other)!
  6. Then Sierra accidentally elbowed me in the eye while doing the chicken dance to convince our parents to give us cookies (see photo below).
  7. Finally around 9pm, we had to get a door guy to come, and thankfully the window to Mom and Dads room was not locked, so the guy could go through the window and open the door. (Also the guy was really loud, so it took a while for me and Sierra to fall asleep.)
Spending the day at the pool
My elbowed eye

The Gringo Invasion

-Linda

Just two weeks ago I wrote a post about how this town was comprised entirely of surfers –mostly between the ages of 20 and 30 — from all over the world. I reported that there were no kids and very few Americans.

Wow, has that all changed in the span of a week! Gringos are swarming the cafes and the beach, there are kids everywhere, and I’ve seen loads of pasty white dudes lugging around long boards (vs. the short boards that all the locals ride). The beach is still not super crowded during the day, but there are definitely more people in the water, and it’s getting much more full at sunset.

I’ve been bemoaning the gringo invasion, and the girls keep telling me I can’t complain about Americans coming, since I am one. Hmmm…perhaps a fair point, but that never stopped me before!

In any case, we also got to experience an entirely different tourist scene this weekend when we took a boat trip to Isla Tortuga. Little did I know that we would encounter the Tico (Costa Rican) party boat crowd in full swing. On what I had pictured as a deserted tropical island, we found pumping Latin techno, free-flowing Coco Loco cocktails (rum + coconut water), and – as Cassidy later put it: “a LOT of skin.” It seems most of these Costa Rican tourists were coming over on big boats from Puntarenas, which is on the ‘mainland,’ across the bay from the Nicoya Peninsula. The only analogy I can think of is something like spring break in Daytona Beach…but with mixed ages.

I had selected this particular outing as I really wanted the girls to be able to do some cool snorkeling, and I had read that Isla Tortuga was one of the best snorkeling spots in the area. I was proud of them for jumping right in (off the boat), using the snorkel gear (which isn’t always easy), and getting super excited about the colorful fish. This was Cassidy’s first time snorkeling and Sierra’s second, but they took to it like pros…though to be fair we were probably only snorkeling for about 25 minutes!

We unfortunately did not have an underwater camera, so I don’t have any pictures of the fish. But here are a few pictures from the boat ride.

We had quite a bit of time to kill on the island after snorkeling – fortunately I recently taught Sierra how to play Speed (my favorite card game as a kid), so she and Noah did some of that.

And the girls were excited to have a refreshing drink straight from a coconut!

Our boat left from the tiny town of Montezuma (about 40 minutes from here), which was touristy but actually rather charming. We’ll definitely be headed back there at some point, as there is a waterfall hike there that I want to do.

As always, closing with a sunset photo – from last night!

Cassidy playing in the waves at sunset

Christmastime is Here

-Sierra

Our Christmas is a little different than usual. We do have a Christmas tree, but it’s not exactly a pine tree:

…and we only brought a few lights, but that’s a few more than the other condos on our little road! Plus, the lights look pretty strung out on our lower deck. 

The other day when we were driving to Montezuma, we saw a few heavily decorated Costa Rican houses with Christmas trees out front. So we aren’t the only festive ones here. A little ways down our hill there is a condo with lights out front (a lot more than we have, but they probably didn’t fly from California!)

Today we baked Christmas cookies!! They are supposed to be peanut blossoms, but we couldn’t find Hershey’s kisses, so they will have M&Ms in them instead. Red and green M&Ms. 

We also watched the Christmas Chronicles the other night. I liked it, even though it was a little more for younger kids. I am not a scary movie person. We might watch Christmas Chronicles 2 soon.

We are also planning to do a bit of last-minute Christmas shopping, which won’t be the greatest experience. To get to any shops we have to walk down the one road Santa Teresa has, which is a dirt road with lots of trucks and ATVs, in the blazing sun. 

But it will be nice because half the things we ordered from Amazon right before we left didn’t arrive until we were gone. Amazon’s two-day shipping is not reliable. Leave lots of extra time when ordering from them. We even paid extra for my kindle case to come early and it still didn’t come. Oh well, I’ll have it when I get back. And we can SUE Amazon.

After the peanut blossoms, I really want to make molasses ginger cookies. Our neighbor Charlie is a really good cook and he makes those sometimes and they are SO GOOD. They’re soft and chewy and they taste like Christmas. I think they are my favorite kind of cookie!

I’m listening to Christmas music right now. That’s another amazing thing about Christmas- it has designated music! It’s special because you only hear it at a certain time of year. Granted, it’s probably played for two or three months, but that’s still ten months not listening to it! My favorite Christmas carol is Carol of the Bells, but I also really like Away in a Manger and O Holy Night.

Taste of the Tropics

-Linda

It’s funny that even my closest friends and family may not know this, but I think my favorite fruit in the world is maracuya — otherwise known as passion fruit. I had marcuya for the first time in my life when I lived in Ecuador back in 1998. I guess now you can probably buy it at some specialty stores in the U.S., but back then I had never encountered it, so it seemed extremely exotic. To be honest, the first time I was offered it I had to force myself to try it, because it looks a bit like puke…or pumpkin guts, you get the picture. The pulp of the fruit is orange liquid with large black seeds that you swallow whole. It can be very tart, but it is SO good in juices — feels like drinking sunshine!

So I was pleased that both girls immediately tried and liked the maracuyas I bought. Yesterday morning I made the best batido (smoothie) EVER by mixing maracuya, pina, and an orange — along with some ice. Heaven. I could subsist on that stuff for a very long time.

Study in Maracuya

I also decided yesterday to try making the local staple dish, which is called gallo pinto — essentially the Costa Rican version of rice and beans. I added shrimp on top, and it really was quite tasty. Apparently the secret ingredient is Salsa Lizano, which is well-stocked at the local super (grocery store).

Gallo Pinto before adding the rice

That said, I bet the ‘soda’ (cafe serving local food) next door makes it even better, and boy would that be easier. Cooking in our tiny kitchen is a bit challenging, and I am definitely missing the dishwasher. Alas.

We have not been eating out much, but my favorite morning stop is El Patio for my latte and a smoothie.

They also have yummy breakfast food, though we generally make breakfast at home. The most popular brunch item here locally (probably more Santa Teresa-specific vs. Costa Rican) is the ‘smoothie bowl’, which has really intrigued Cassidy. Maybe that will be our Christmas breakfast treat, we’ll see 🙂

As with all blogs so far, I will close with some sunset photos. There are so many good ones that I’ll try another collage! None of these photos show us playing in the water, but we do a lot of that right at sunset, when the water is almost exactly the same temperature as the air. Now THAT is pura vida.