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Dress update

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I ended up buying a heather grey little dress (by BCBG) that I can wear with a sweater for Yom Kippur, could dress up or down for my life in St. Thomas, and that I really liked and it looked good on me.

And the best part about this dress?

IT WAS A SIZE MEDIUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

PHEBESS 10/2/2008 11:41AM

    Okay, I should add that it's a knit fabric, with a stretchy empire waist - but still, I haven't worn a medium in this century!!!!!!!

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OAKDALE3 10/2/2008 9:02AM

    I love BCBG!! One day I too shall be able to fit into their great clothes!! Congratulations Phebe!!. Post a picture so we can see it.

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MAUISHOPGIRL 10/2/2008 4:04AM

    & BCBG runs small too!!

I am sure you look fantastic in it :)

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PHEBESS 10/1/2008 9:16PM

    I know!!!!!!

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SECRETFUN 10/1/2008 8:43PM

  BCBG medium! wow!

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The dress dilemma

Monday, September 29, 2008

I found a dress. It's a black party dress. It looks great on me. It flatters my shape. It's a smaller size than the last dress I bought. Which I still haven't worn.

Which brings me to the dilemma. Do I buy a dress because I love it and it looks good, or do I buy a dress because I need one for an occasion?

Because by the time the occasion comes, the dress doesn't always fit right.

I'm a firm believer in looking my best NOW, whatever size NOW is.

But I bought a gorgeous silk chiffon dress at size 22W, for a banquet, and wore it once. And a gorgeous linen dress for a wedding, and wore it once.

And now that I'm a 14/16, do I really need one more perfect black dress that may be too big for the next banquet or wedding or event? Couldn't I wear the silvery blue dress? Or the slightly more casual black dress? Or something else?

Except that new dress that I saw, but didn't buy, keeps haunting my thoughts.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

DANDELIONESS 9/30/2008 11:39PM

    Finding the perfect LBD IS a special occasion in and of itself. Buy it. Don't think twice.

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SECRETFUN 9/29/2008 8:37PM

  If you have the money, buy it. And wear it wherever. I wish I had worn some of my clothes, messed up by back pack be damned.

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SMURFETTE0725 9/29/2008 5:39PM

    An anniversary is sooooooooooooooooooo typical, LOL!
Plan a RANDOMN romantic evening ..... and SHOCK him with your HOTTNESS!!!!
And then tell us aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall about it!! (Well, some details you can keep to yourself, LOL!)


Comment edited on: 9/29/2008 5:37:10 PM

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PHEBESS 9/29/2008 1:12PM

    LOL Magda - I thought about wearing it for our 5th anniversary, we're getting tickets for a Branford Marsalis concert - but it's an outdoor ampitheatre, and it often rains!

But it's SO pretty!!!!!!

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SMURFETTE0725 9/29/2008 1:00PM

    I say ... buy that sexy black dress that looks FABULOUS on you and where it on that ridiculously romantic date you're about to plan for you and your DH!
At least that's what I would do!

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People confuse me

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I was approached by another teacher - the conversation went something like this:

Teacher 1: "You've lost so much weight, I was shocked when I saw you! What are you doing? I want to do it too!"

Me: "Eating less and exercising more. And I track everything online."

Teacher 2: "She's doing it the sensible way."

Teacher 1: "oh."

And then she changed the subject. Not - "Where online?" Not - "How many calories?" or "How much do you exercise?" or "Have you drastically changed your lifestyle?" All reasonable questions, all easily answered, all explaining that I made small changes at a time and now it's second nature and not a big deal and no, I didn't drastically change my lifestyle.

But "oh" - it sounded too reasonable and sensible and not a quick magic cure.

I'm shaking my head just thinking about it.

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

TRECECOOKS 9/28/2008 12:42PM

    Your blog is so true - people don't want to hear it. You are a wonder example of what to do; too bad folks don't want to believe.

Thanks for commenting on my blog. I'm going thru a rough patch, but I'm not quitting. In answer to your question, I workout at the Y (lifting weights) 3 days a week, for more than an hour each time. I guess I'm making an excuse for not doing anything on the other days. Once my bandages are off, I'll go back to doing Walk Away the Pounds on my non-Y days.

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MALEFICENT1964 9/10/2008 12:23PM

    magic shoes are magic shoes -i'm convinced it's all about the red though.. :D

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PHEBESS 9/10/2008 11:25AM

    LOL Mal!!!!! Think I could fake it with red Birks??????

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MALEFICENT1964 9/10/2008 8:29AM

    I've gotten similar responses from people -

people don't want to hear lifestyle change, eat less, move more...-

they want a trick or something unique...

so I've taken to adding in - once a week I put on my red patent leather heels -click my heels together three times, and say I want to be thin, I want to be thin, I want to be thin... those red heels have magical powers :)

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OAKDALE3 9/10/2008 8:23AM

    Perhaps Teacher 1 doesn't really want a "lifestyle change" but is looking only for a quick fix. I find that most people don't like to work hard and will take the easy route if there is one available to them.

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LINTAM 9/9/2008 6:43PM

    LOL Pretty funny. Sounds like Teacher 1 wasn't so excited to do the same thing you do after all. People are funny aren't they? At least she was nice enough to pay you a compliment. ;)

What grade do you teach? My dd is an elem. school teacher here in Texas.
I looked at all your pictures. With your beautiful eyes I think you should wear your hair short! Better to see those eyes.

Lin from Texas

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Phebe & Richard’s Adventures in Costa Rica Part 2

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

8/9 – We head south to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, the old port in the region of Talamanca, on a paved and then dirt road that goes through Chiquita banana fields (ripening banana bunches all in blue plastic bags, I guess to keep birds and insects out). A pretty drive, mostly along the coast. We arrive at our guest house, Banana Azul, and check in to the Iguana Room – each room has an animal name, rather than a number. We have an ocean view, a huge porch, a nice room, and a big bathroom with interesting mosaic tile work in the shower.

We walked on the beach, which is part of Playa Negro, the black sand beach. We also relaxed in the blue hammocks tied to the palm trees – looking like giant blue bananas, I’m guessing how they got the name. We also tried to arrange a boat trip for the next day, to see manatees – but the best chance was going in to Panama, and without a passport yet Richard couldn’t go. So we left the day open for adventure.

Dinner was at Café Viejo in town, a fabulous Italian place – we had bucatini with sausage, and I had panna cotta (cooked cream) for dessert – a new fave dessert that I “discovered” in Italy last summer. Puerto Viejo is one of those “see and be seen” towns, with throngs of hippies and travelers and Ticans and tourists wandering up and down the busy streets, great for people watching.

8/10 – Breakfast began with a bowl of fruit cut up just for me to ensure there was no mango – terrific fruit, and very nice of the staff to do that. Then I had a bowl of granola and yogurt, and started to have my mango reaction – uh oh, turns out the granola has dried mango. The hotel manager told us how to find the emergency clinic, we rushed out and drove like maniacs down the dirt road, found the doc and woke him up, and I was given shots of epinephrine, benadryl, epinephrine in the nebulizer (breathing thingmo), and then the dr took my vitals and information – which was a pleasant change from American drs who want the info and money or insurance before treating someone, even with a severe allergic reaction.

After all that excitement, we relaxed in our room for a while (the meds make me wired but sleepy). Then we took the scenic drive south, past Manzanilla, almost to where the road ends, but not all the way to Panama. Richard was wearing his “Oficial” hat (a black Fidel Castro type hat, with “Oficial” printed in yellow across the front – various para-police and security guards wear them) and a truckload of police drove past – when they saw him, they all saluted!!!!!

As we drove back, we stopped to watch the beautiful sunset (or reflected sunset) on the beach; had a little hotel time, another walk through Puerto Viejo, then bedtime.

8/11 – We had a quick morning trip to Puerto Viejo to fill our prescriptions (for my allergic reaction, and Richard had an infection needing antibiotics), have breakfast at a little French bakery, take a few photos, and go to the bankomat for more colones. Then we drove back to Puerto Limon, where we talked with our friend Marilyn who made arrangements for our trip north to Parismina the following day. Marilyn also arranged for our car to remain in the guarded lot, and for our luggage to be stored in the hotel’s laundry room. We slipped her some money, and everyone was happy.

8/12 – Another African Queen trip in a rusty and rickety little boat, piled with luggage and passengers. Our boat has a canvas top, poles holding it up that don’t quite stay in place where they attach to the boat, an engine that quits every time our captain puts it in reverse. We travel along, puttering through brown canals connecting lagoons and rivers to create the inner waterway on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Winding intertwining rivers canals lagoons, occasional waves of ocean rushing in between islands. Chocolate water, lush jungle, amazing birds – roseate spoonbills, flamingos, great blue and great white herons, anhingas, small green and blue and white herons. A few small crocodiles. And then a giant croc, maybe 12 feet long?, dozing in the sun, mud up to his elbows, huge and prehistoric, right out of Jurassic Park.

After nearly 3 hours, we pull up to a concrete dock, half of it broken and sunken in the center and underwater – we climb out in the middle of nowhere, and our captain tells us to be here by 11 AM on Thursday for the return trip. This apparently is Parismina. We head down a trail, away from the river, toward the sea.

We wander around and find a few buildings, eventually make our way to the Iguana Verde motel, where we check in. It’s a tiny room, but cheap and adequate and has AC. We explain that we’re here to volunteer with the turtle program – turns out the motel was built by the brother of the woman who runs the turtle program, the woman who checked us in is his wife! She tells us that last year they had 12,000 baby turtles! And she sends us to her sister-in-law Vicky.

Vicky is an ex-Peace Corps Volunteer, served in Parismina years ago, married a man from here, had a number of children with him, is still a nurse but also used her community development skills to start the turtle protection program. She asks us to meet her at 2 PM. So we go off to lunch by the sea – we order the typical plate of grilled meat/chicken with beans and rice, and salad – and my plate arrives with a lovely salad garnished with slices of mango. I hated to disappoint the chef, he was so proud of his attractive work – but I explained that mango would kill me, and he whisked the plate away and returned with a new plate, the same chicken in sauce with beans and rice, and zero salad.

We signed up for the 8 PM to midnight turtle patrol – then went to the motel to nap, explore, have dinner, and meet at the turtle house, ready to patrol. We’re assignend to Carlos, who comes up to my chin. He gives me a long lecture in Spanish – I understand that we patrol from point to point, two kilometers each way (or something), four hours, can’t go back. I make muscles and assure him I can do this. Off we go into an overcast but moonlit night, walking in semi-soft sand, no flashlights to confuse the turtles. We walk with Carlos out to the far end of his sector, and are passed by the second patrol. We pause for ten minutes, sitting on driftwood – then we begin our patrol back to the other end. We get nearly halfway back to the turtle house, when Carlos gets a call on the radio – tortuga!!! A turtle is found, laying eggs! Carlos excitedly tells us, “Tortuga! Tortuga!”

Carlos hustles us back and we meet up with Joshua, one of Vicky’s sons – he sends us off with Yonathan, and after maybe 20 minutes we see the second patrol who are gathered around a massive turtle as she lays her eggs in the hole she’s dug. This is a huge green turtle, 1.25 meters long (almost 4 feet!) and she lays 128 eggs, which are lifted out of the nest to be re-buried elsewhere, where hopefully poachers won’t find them. When the turtle finishes laying the eggs, she is measured and tagged as she uses first her hind fins and then her front fins to flip sand around and cover the (now empty) nest. Sand was flying all over, we had to keep moving out of the way as she’d turn and fling sand in another direction. Finally finished, and tired, the turtle turned and headed toward the sea – we slowly walked along at her sides to ensure that poachers didn’t kill or capture her, and walked her all the way to the water – two or three waves and she was gone. Amazing!!! What an experience!!!!

We carry the eggs and the equipment back toward the turtle house, to a certain point where the expert patrollers ask us to wait as they go off and bury the eggs – again, this is to protect the nest and not attract the attention of poachers. The location of the nest is recorded on the same page as the turtle’s stats,. We meet up with Carlos, and resume our patrol.

Another call comes in, another turtle is found!!! Carlos rushes us back – but this turtle has turned and is heading back to sea, without making a nest – she isn’t ready, or the place isn’t right, or something. The patrollers try to hold her in place while reading her tags, not an easy task to stop a determined four foot long turtle! We don’t know what to do, just watch as they measure her, read and record the numbers, then walk her back to the sea and watch her disappear into the waves.

It’s 11 PM. Carlos decides we’ve had enough for tonight, and he walks us back to the turtle house. We say goodnight, head back to our room, shower all the turtle sand off, and fall into bed, exhausted but so happy!!!

8/13 – We started the day helping exhume three nests that didn’t hatch and are well overdue – this isn’t my strong point, so I record the data as Joshua pulls out eggs, opens them, and checks for a variety of reasons the turtles didn’t develop and hatch. Very sad. Apparently the summer storms cause the waves to cover the hatchery, and the water drowned the babies. So so sad.

We had a lazy day of wandering around town, napping, reading, chatting with people from Parismina as well as a few tourists. The town reminded me of where I lived in Liberia, except Parismina has electricity and Fissebu didn’t. But that same very small town atmosphere, very poor people but not much to buy in town anyway, everyone knowing everyone else – right down to the group of young children who came up to stare at Richard, as the youngest asked “Tu es Oficial?” (you are the official?) because everyone recognized the hat.

We donated items to the turtle project volunteers: our flashlights, insect spray, rain ponchos, and batteries. Joshua told us that if a turtle was found laying eggs before midnight, he’d come get us. It was a clear night with a nearly full moon, bright moonlit night, and while two turtles were spotted, neither lay eggs – this is fairly usual for full moon nights, apparently, the turtles don’t like all the light.

8/14 – I found a male Hercules beetle in the tree for our motel owner, he collects these things. Very bizarre beetle, huge with an even bigger pincher thing on the front. Ugly!

We had a leisurely morning packing, had breakfast and bought snacks for the 3 hour trip back, and made our way back to the collapsing concrete dock. We waited, and eventually a boat pulled up, laden with tourists and luggage, but with two empty seats for us. (This was not the same boat or captain as our trip up, but apparently he was sent to pick us up.) I had the front seat where the co-captain would sit, which turned out to be a prime seat! We saw birds, howler monkeys in the trees, several medium sized crocodiles on beaches and in the water. (We stopped at a food place in the middle of nowhere, and ended up chatting with people on our boat who were young Israelis traveling through Central America after they got out of the military.)

We returned to Puerto Limon and our hotel, told our buddy Marilyn all about our adventures, picked up our stuff, had a nice dinner with a little local music, and early to bed.

8/15 – We drove back to San Jose on back roads, to avoid traffic since today was Mother’s Day and the roads were busy. We saw two more blue morphos, and I saw a howler monkey climbing a tree in the middle of nowhere.

This was our last lap – we got off the main road in Turrialba and took the scenic route around the base of Volcan Turrialba, which was covered in clouds. The road would across mountains and hills, sheer drop offs and no rails, a few narrow paved bridges, a few OMG ancient trestle and board bridges. We managed to find our way back to Casa 69, where Richard spent the afternoon internetting and I got a pedicure (the insect repellant I used in Parismina melted my nail polish and the sand adhered to it, so I had toenails like sandpaper). We had a Mother’s Day dinner at another Italian restaurant – it was busy, but they found a table in a private room upstairs and that’s where we sat and had dinner. It was very romantic! Brusquetta; pollo con salsa cacciatore; patatas; mousse de chocolate; cappucchino. Lovely dinner! (Even if the Spanish names of Italian foods seem odd.)

8/16 – We finally found an optica who’d make glasses for Richard in one day, so we ordered them. Spent the morning at the Mercado Central – picturesque, bustling, a Latin souk. Bright colors, rich smells both good and tantalizing and disgusting. Handicrafts, junk, flowers, leather items, carved wood, fish, meat, cheese, fruits, vegs, fabrics, coffee, chocolate.

We wandered around the city a bit, had lunch, spent the rainy part of the afternoon in an internet café. Picked up the glasses, caught a cab back to Casa 69.

Went to dinner at a nearby restaurant, kind of Continental. Went to another casino to lose another $20 (which takes longer when playing 100 colones at a time, and there are 550 colones to the dollar). Taxi back to the B&B, where we found that the radio had been stolen out of the rental car. Sigh. Another call to the cops, another trip to make a police report (which was very quick here – but one of the co-owners of Banana Azul was also at the B&B, and he offered to go with Richard and translate, so that helped), and then bed.

8/17 – Lankester Gardens, outside Cartago and Paraiso – it tooks us several hours to get there since we didn’t find all of the road signs (or they were nonexistent) and we ended up on the wrong side of San Jose. But a gorgeous botanical garden, with an orchid house and tons of orchids in bloom (only a fraction of their collection), bromilead and heliconia gardens, tropical forest, on and on. Fabulous orchids in all sorts of colors, shapes, sizes, scents, indoors and outside. Seemed that every way I turned there was something new to see – absolutely gorgeous!!!!

The rain held off until I finished the gardens and Richard came back from a lunch run – so we sat in the car and had our snacks, then drove back in a dark and almost impossible to see rain. We warmed up in our room, had a nice dinner at a bagel restaurant (really good bagels!), and bed.

8/18 – We went to the US Embassy and picked up Richard’s passport. Then turned in the rental car (we were SO glad to get rid of it!), followed by a little shopping in town, and a few checks on the internet to see what Tropical Storm Fay was doing. Rain, rain, more rain.

Our B&B host called the airline, which assured him that our flight was leaving on time. We had a long cold wet rainy taxi ride to the airport, paid the tax, stood on line to check in and get our tickets. Just as we walked up to the ticket agent, a man came up and spoke with her in Spanish – but I caught something about tornadoes in Miami, and that we weren’t flying.

So TACA (The Airline of Central America) put us up at the Holiday Inn in San Jose, right downtown – so another long wet rainy van ride back to the hotel, which was a fairly posh hotel and quite comfy for a rainy night. The free buffet dinner, and the 3 AM breakfast, left a lot to be desired.

8/19 – 2:50 AM – Wake up call.
3:15 AM – Breakfast
3:30 AM – Bus ride to the airport.
4:15 AM – Arrive at the airport, everything is closed.
5:00 AM – Announcements that our flight is postponed the Miami airport is
still closed.
5:30 AM – The Britt coffee shop opens, we turn in our Britt wrappers from
the flight down and redeem a little bag of dark chocolate
covered espresso beans. Who needs morning coffee????
6:00 AM – We board the plane.
6:30 AM – Bumpy flight out of San Jose.

The pilot took us over Volcan Poas, which has a crater lake and a funnel of smoke and steam coming out of one corner – way cool!!!

VERY bumpy entrance and landing in Miami, with Fay still swirling around. Rush to pick up luggage, get through Immigration and Customs, walk from concourse H to concourse C, check in our luggage and the lovely Haitian ticket agent, who is speaking to me in French, changes our seats to a roomy exit row. Then a rush to Starbucks for me and Burger King for Richard, and we’re on the plane with lunch but sans liquids – all in an hour and 15 minutes.

VERY bumpy ride back out of Miami. Then St. Thomas! Home!!! But the adventure never ends – Richard’s luggage didn’t show up, so we had to report that. Our taxi driver lost his parking card (very valuable) so as he drove he frantically looked for it, then called everyone he knew looking for it. (Someone found he’d put it in the trash, so it was salvaged.) We got home just as Katina, our plant watering friend, showed up with our house keys. And I rushed out to the vet’s to pick up Cleo, who complained about how badly she was treated, all the way home. She eventually forgave us (around dinner time) and snuggled with us the rest of the night.

So – who’s up for travel next summer? Maybe South America? More adventures?


Phebe & Richard’s Adventures in Costa Rica

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Richard thinks my travel summaries are silly (well, the word used was twerpy) but I know some people enjoy it. Read it, don’t read it, whatever. Enjoy! (Photos to be posted shortly)

7/21/08 – Flew from Miami to San Salvador (where there were four dogs sniffing every piece of luggage!) to San Jose. We arrived at night, made it through Customs, found the people from the car rental agency, got our car, found our hotel.

7/22 – Long drive from San Jose to Volcano Arenal (kind of NW from San Jose). We were booked at the Lake Coter Eco Lodge, which meant driving around the volcano (VERY cool!) and Lake Arenal. The volcano looked basically like a mountain, but all grey and barren since it’s an active volcano and we were driving around the solidified lava flow. No red or orange, just grey igneous rock.

We arrived at the Eco Lodge, and settled into our room – the upper level of a little cabin, with a picture window facing the lake and volcano. But clouds blew in, covering everything by sunset – we were truly in the cloud forest!

7/23 – Our hotel includes breakfast – tropical fruit, eggs, beans and rice, toast. Coffee. The dining room had a bird viewing platform right outside the picture windows, with bananas to attract the birds – we saw blue grey tanagers, red rumped tanagers (really their name!), flycatchers (yellow bellies, black/white striped heads), hummingbirds, bananaquits, red-legged honeycreepers (bright blue), golden hooded tanagers, some bright green birds, maybe emerald tanagers? And a small black bird with a bright yellow chest and a yellow halo on the front of his head.

Richard and I hiked around the property – saw black hawks, turkey vultures, swallow-tailed kits, maybe a harpy eagle (very creepy). And a chameleon!!! Also lots of orchids.

We later went to the town of Arenal (where we found an Israeli who owns a restaurant where we had coffee and dessert, a fabulous chocolate thing), and tried to stay warm and dry during a very cold and rainy afternoon.

By the time we returned to the Eco Lodge, the clouds had lifted and we had a perfect view of Volcano Arenal huffing and puffing and shooting out puffs of steam and ash!!!!! How exciting! We sat on our balcony and watched until it was too dark to see the mountain anymore. We tried and tried to see the lava flow, but I think we were just in the wrong direction.

7/24 – We bounced our way on dirt and gravel roads to Monteverde, which is in the middle of the cloud forest. Settled into the Montaña Monteverde Hotel (very nice!) and then hiked in the forest preserve next door – saw an agouti, which looks like a big rabbit with round ears – kind of like a giant guinea pig. Cute and funny at the same time. We kept looking for ocelots or monkeys, didn’t see any. I saw a flash of blue which was probably a blue morpho butterfly, but it was quickly gone. It was a wild and windy night, cold and rainy, and we made arrangements for tomorrow.

7/25 – Today was the celebration for the annexation of the region of Guanecaste (it used to be part of Nicaragua) – the school children were in tradition clothes and dancing in the school yard, with little boys sporting fake moustaches – I shot several very colorful and very cute photos as we walked around town in early morning.

I spent 3 hours on the suspension bridges in the cloud forest – Richard didn’t want to do the canopy tour. There were nine bridges of steel cable and heavy mesh, wide enough for two people to squeak by each other; the longest/highest was 500 feet long and 300 feet above ground in the center – and yes, I froze in the middle and nearly turned around except turning around was worse than continuing on. Scary and challenging and totally worth it! Half the time was hiking, the other half on the bridges up in the tree canopy. It poured rain the entire time, so I never saw any animals, but I’m sure there were plenty of monkeys and sloths watching me and wondering why I was out in that weather. The cloud forest was green and grey and dripping, with trees and vines and moss, dense and spooky and still. Very cool!

After lunch with Richard, I went to a butterfly farm where I got to release a newly hatched butterfly – my butterfly was a blue morpho, I reached my hand into the container and my butterfly climbed onto my pinkie and clung as our group walked through the garden. People took photos of the morpho on my finger, I talked to it, showed it around the garden – it would turn around and look at me, just holding onto my finger, as we walked around. This beautiful and amazing butterfly stayed with me for 10 or 15 mintues!!!! We totally bonded! Finally, at the end of the garden, I tried to place the butterfly on a branch, but at that point it was ready to fly away.

I walked back to our hotel, got there in time for our “appointment” at the private hot tub and sauna. We had a lovely and lazy time watching the sunset as we soaked in the hot water and steamed in the sauna. And a fabulous Italian dinner at a nearby restaurant (run by Italians, so the food was authentic, not American Italian).

7/26 – Drove from Monteverde to San Jose, again on rutted dirt/gravel roads that don’t have signs, don’t show up on maps, and are the only way in and out of the area. The one highlight was seeing monkeys in a tree along the road. Beautiful scenery of green green hills and mountains. I swear, Costa Rica looks like North and South America are moving together and squishing the land up into ridges and ripples. You can SEE where the surface of the earth has bunched up between two moving plates. Or at least it seems as if I could see it.

Along the Pan American Highway, we stopped in the town of San Ramon for lunch – there was a mall, there were guards in the parking lot, there was a Burger King. And, apparently, there were thieves. We got back to the car to find our backpacks missing! A report to the guards, a report to the police, a report to the car agency since the lock was broken – and basically, while there were a few missing things we could live without such as my iPod shuffle and some costume jewelry, the important things were my asthma meds, Richard’s passport, his rain jacket, glasses, and our house keys. So we spent part of the afternoon trying to replace meds, some of which are available in CR, some not. We finally made it back to San Jose, dinner, bed.

7/27 – This is a holiday weekend, with Monday being a government holiday – so, since we couldn’t do anything about the passport until Tuesday, we continued with our planned route. We drove to the Pacific coast, to the town of Puntarenas – a sad beach town that has seen better days, at the end of a long (miles long) sand bar, sticking out into Nicoya Bay. There were lots and lots of Costa Rican tourists from inland, so everywhere was packed. We were the last to check in at our hotel, so our room was mediocre. We spent the evening walking up and down the Paseo de los Turistos, along with everyone else – the road running along the beach, filled with restaurants and bars, benches for family picnics or young couples flirting, groups of young men trying desperately to look cool or macho, young women flirting, the occasional soccer game, cookout, tons of bicycles, ice cream carts – an endless parade of tourists.

7/28 – A slow lazy day in Puntarenas, exploring and people watching. Gorgeous sunsets.

7/29 – We caught the morning ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula – a very old and rusty ferry that looks as if it won’t make it across the bay. We see a lot of white ibis over the water, jaibiru storks, and my faves, the flamingos and roseate spoonbills! Pink birds! HOW COOL!!!!!

We drove on roads that vacillated between paving and dirt, roads that wound between the mountains so that we stay on fairly level land. We arrived at our hotel, La Laguna del Cocodrilo, at Playa Tamarindo on the Pacific coast – and there were no crocodiles to see in the lagoon, though there is a warning sign. A sudden thunderstorm directly overhead drove us indoors and to the French bakery for coffee and a chocolate croissant. Eventually the storm passed so we could walk on the beach for a spectacular sunset.

7/30 – Richard brought me café au lait and a chocolate croissant to enjoy a breakfast in bed. I could get used to this.

We called around for a tour, but were too late. So we drove up the coast to Playa Grande, the huge beach where the leatherback turtles nest in the late winter and early spring. The beach is a national park, but there are a few hotels. The very nice concierge at one hotel called around and made arrangements for us – we were to meet Ruben in an hour at the Bula Bula Hotel, and he’d take us on a boat tour of the estuary and into the lagoon. We got somewhat lost, and drove on roads that were more puddle than dirt – but eventually got going in the right direction and found the Bula Bula and Ruben. The boat looked like a tiny version of the African Queen, rusty and barely seaworthy. And the estuary looked like the Amazon, dark murky brown and green water with green mangrove trees half in the water’s edge, no shore to speak of. It was high tide when we set of, the only passengers in this rickety little boat.

Big huge yellow green crocodile basking in the sun – Ruben slows the boat and whispers “Cocodrilo” as PLOP the croc slips into the water. Soon we see a small crocodile carrying the rotting and bloated carcass of something – so bloated that the croc can’t dive, his prey keeps floating him back up to the surface. Gross and stinky and the croc won’t let go.

Ruben “docks” the boat by tossing the anchor onto a dry bank, and we climb out. We have a short walk through the forest (bush?) and find a family of mantled howler monkeys in the trees – parent monkeys watch as the babies jump and play, a few hanging upside down to watch us watching them! Ruben makes noises that start the males making their barking howls, and soon we hear neighboring families howling back. The adults go back to lazing on the branches, the babies continue to stare down trying to understand who/what we are. After a while, we return to the boat, where Ruben cuts up a pineapple with a machete, and we eat this as we meander back down the estuary. He takes us back to the dock, and we thank him for an extraordinary day.

Back at our hotel, the resident crocodile has shown up in the lagoon, a triangle of eyes nose snout peering up out of the brown water. One waiter comes out with a bowl of raw chicken parts, and the croc lunges up onto the bank and snaps up the chicken, piece by piece, as hotel guests watch and take photos. Our crocodile is one of 25 babies of the original crocodile, I’m told by our hotel owner – this one is maybe 5 ft long, olive green grey yellow, striped tail, massive jaws – and I’m standing maybe 6 to 8 feet away! I go down to the beach for a few sunset photos, come back, and the croc is back for more tourist photos and more chicken parts. All evening, that little triangular face stayed there, coming whenever the hotel or restaurant staff called, hoping for more and more chicken.

7/31 – It is so nice to take a break from breakfasts of beans and rice, eggs on the side – I have a croque monsieur, which is basically a French grilled cheese and ham sandwich, but oh so much nicer than it sounds. And of course café au lait et un croissant de chocolat.

We skipped the ferry and took the bridge across the skinny part of Nicoya Bay, then made our way to the Pan American and back to San Jose. At various rest stops along the way, we saw gorgeous butterflies; macaws in the mango trees being chased away by howler monkeys!; baby monkeys climbing over their moms, who were trying to nap in the heat of the day; and macaws flying around squawking and showing off their gorgeous colors.

Halfway through the trip back to San Jose it began to rain, a driving drenching flooding raid, complete with dark grey skies and obscuring fog and thunder and lightening. And no matter how we followed the directions to our B&B in San Jose, we couldn’t find it. The owner tried talking us along the route, we were in the neighborhood, but there was one turn we just couldn’t seem to find. He finally walked the half block to where we were, climbed into the car, and escorted us to his residence. Casa 69 (#69 25th Street) turned out to be a find, with lovely antiques and huge rooms in two old Costa Rican houses. This was just what we needed after a long day of driving.

8/1 – After a continental breakfast at the B&B, our morning was spent at the US Embassy in San Jose – Kurt, owner of the B&B, was going shopping in that direction so we followed him in our rented car. Kurt is German and navigates the San Jose streets, a winding tangle of one ways and parked cars, at autobahn speed. At any rate, we shared stories with the unbelievable number of other Americans who were at the embassy getting new passports – seems to be big business in CR!

We spent the afternoon trying to find a place to make glasses for Richard in 24 hours – he only had one pair, plus prescription scuba mask, which doesn’t work well for driving if the one pair of glasses is lost or broken. We never did find an optica to do the glasses. We did, however, find a lovely local crafts market full of interesting things made in Costa Rica and neighboring countries – fabrics, clothes, leather work, wood items, ceramics, on and on. My kind of shopping!

Apparently the weekend was a local holiday – the annual pilgrimage to Cartago, a town maybe 50 kilometres from San Jose. The story is that this is the date of Mary’s ascension to Heaven, and there’s a Black Madonna statue (La Negrita) at the cathedral of Cartago – and she answers prayers on this day, or if she has answered a prayer then people make a promise to make this pilgrimage, or some combination of both. And, the pilgrimage must be made on foot or horseback, no cars; once the people enter the cathedral, they have to walk on their knees to the statue (great if you’re praying to be cured of arthritis, right?); and there’s a mass that everyone tries to attend. I actually vaguely remember reading about this in National Geographic, years ago.

So there’s a constant stream of people on the two main roads going past our B&B, which is on a cross street. Last year, over half of all Costa Ricans made the pilgrimage, some 2 million people! Some take several weeks to walk there (and get time off from work). By evening, there are police at the corners, stopping traffic to allow the pedestrians to walk. Except there isn’t a stop to the flow of people – the street, a link between the Pan American Highway and the highway to Cartago, is one steady parade of people. Richard and I go for dinner, and walk home in the crowd – who are singing and talking and eating, groups of young people, parents with families, babies in strollers, people walking with small dogs peering out of backpacks. Just an everyday annual event to them, but a strange and unique occurrence for us.

8/2 – We spent part of the morning in San Jose, then headed west to the central Pacific region. We couldn’t find Highway 3, which was clearly on maps; we went back to the airport, to a gas station, and asked directions; they said wait, there’s someone here who speaks English; turned out to be the very funny man who rented us a cell phone! He led us part of the way, waved us on, we followed his directions, and the signs he said to follow weren’t there. We tried, but gave up and headed back to Puntarenas, then headed south to Jaco. (This was all in the middle of a major thunderstorm, with huge drops of driving rain and giant bursts of thunder directly overhead.)

The rain stopped by the time we hit the coast, where the land is flat and the roads are straight. And I saw a toucan in a tree!!!!! Then we hit the town of Jaco - a surfer town that is all built up touristy neon lights commercial, kind of like one big strip mall. We didn’t have a reservation anywhere, but we followed our guide books and called around and found a lovely little hotel painted in bright contrasting yellow/pink/aqua/orchid, with a pool and clean rooms and a sweet French guy who checked us in. We drove back into town and had a fabulous dinner at “Lemon Zest,” a new restaurant (mmmm duck in raspberry sauce, and a chocolate lava cake called the Mt Arenal cake!). A little gambling (Richard won a fair amount, I lost $20), and home to the hotel.

8/3 – my birthday – we took a quick trip to the beach at Jaco – dark grey sand and murky water, so unlike our St. Thomas beaches – so we dipped our feet in the water and watched some amateurs try to surf. Back to our hotel for breakfast (most CR hotels include breakfast), a dip in the pool, then drove south toward Quepos.

We stopped at an overlook above Playa Hermosa – which means Beautiful Beach – and it truly was. Playa Hermosa is one long smooth sandy stretch with layers of waves rolling in and breaking into lacy patters heading to shore. Gorgeous! This beach will be the site of the 2009 surfing championship competition, for all you surfers out there.

We reached our hotel in Quepos at about noon and checked in – Mono Azul (Blue Monkey), where the rooms seem to all be in shades of blue, little buildings nestled on the hillside with towering trees and tangled vines and monkeys and sloths – and ropes across the roads to allow monkeys to safely pass from forest to forest – and caution signs saying “Slow” with pictures of children, dogs, and monkeys. Very funny place owned by friends of our friend Mary here on St. Thomas.

We drove south to Manuel Antonio National Park – as my birthday event, we hired a guide, Ricardo, to take me through the park. Richard opted to hang out at the beach and people watch, so Ricardo and I hiked into the park. WOW! We saw 5 sloths – 4 in trees, one at the base of a tree which is where they, well, go to the bathroom (3 or 4 times per month, no wonder they move in slow motion!). We saw howler monkeys playing in the trees and howling for us. We saw capuchin monkeys, the little white-faced monkeys, who seemed to enjoy showing off for the crowds of people, in and out of the trees, almost walking with us, and a few young capuchins trying to catch an iguana who turned and chased them! We saw several raccoons (smaller than their North American cousins); a porcupine curled into a ball and trying to look like a coconut in the top of a small palm tree; a basilisk lizard (like a modern mini dinosaur) and a Jesus Christ lizard, so named because they really can run on water; another blue morpho who flew up and circled me a few times before flying on; hummingbirds; orchids high up on trees; on and on. Totally exciting and exhilarating and FUN!!!! We walked across part of a tombolo at one point (a sand bar that links an island to the mainland) but as the tide came in, it was covered up so we took a little boat to the mainland. We met up with Richard and Ricardo headed off to round up more tourists before the park closed.

My birthday dinner was at the Mono Azul’s restaurant – shrimp in garlic sauce over rice, salad, and a brownie sundae with a candle and the waiters all singing Happy Birthday in Spanish – a wonderful way to turn 54!

8/4 – Mono Azul doesn’t include breakfast, so we drove to Quepos and found Café Milagro, where they roast their own coffee and have fabulous bakery items and terrific breakfasts, both Tican (Costa Rican) and American. We eat, call around, and sign up for an afternoon of river rafting – wooohooooooo!!!!!!!!

I don’t know how to even explain the fun and excitement of whitewater rafting – or more like beige water rafting, since this was rainy season and the rivers are raging with water like café au lait or chocolate milk with foam. We’re packed into a van with two inflated rafts and a kayak on top, and our driver, Chuppo, takes us to the Naranjo River. We piled out received our life vests and helmets and oars, and had a 10 minute course on rafting – forward, backward, stop, where to sit, what to do if you fall in, what to do to pull someone back into the raft.

We climbed into rafts – Richard and I in the second row, sitting on the sides of the raft, one foot in a vinyl holder the other wedged under the inflated cross piece. In front were two rafting guides in training; in back were two tourists from Argentina; and in the very back, Rambo, our Tican guide, who is a college student majoring in ecotourism, whose enthusiasm bubbles over as he has us practice paddling forward, backward, stopping (paddles across our laps), and assuming the omigod position where we dive in and sit on the bottom of fhe raft. Rambo explains that rivers range from 0 (calm) to 6 (Niagara Falls) and that today’s river is at 2-3 level, with areas bordering on a 4. This is my first time!

And we’re off! The group of two rafts is led by one man in a kayak, who plots our course (and later collects two paddles from the other group) and is there for general safety. It’s a wild and crazy ride as we paddle, glide, drop into the raft for OMG as a big wave hits us in the face and the raft rears up, we plop back down and bounce of rocks and climb back up to sit again on the side, feet wedged in, paddles ready, waiting for our next command.

I was laughing so hard after the first OMG, I couldn’t get back up (well, and between my knee surgeries and my general klutziness, it wasn’t easy to climb out of a wedged position in a bouncing raft while still holding the paddle) so at times I’d just paddle from the bottom of the raft, which Richard found quite funny.

Up and down, roller coaster ride on water, over boulders and down rapids and through waves and whirlpools and eddies – a water seesaw merry-go-round Carnival ride that doesn’t stop!!! The other raft had a man overboard, but they quickly pulled him in, though the paddle went downstream to be rescued by our kayaker. At one point, as we entered more rapids, I saw that the other group was in OMG position, and I started to say something when we hit a big bounce and I yelled OMG and dove for the bottom – Richard said something about me calling my own OMG and everyone nearly fell out of the raft laughing (myself included)!!!

We stopped at a cobblestone area for water, fruit, and cookies, and the river rose visibly while we ate – probably only a few inches, but enough so that during the time Richard put his life jacket on, my feet went from out of the water to covered in water. And rain clouds loomed in the distance.

We finished the rafting trip as the river flattened out and calmed down, but before entering crocodile zone. We were picked up by Chumpo, and we assisted in packing the equipment and loading the rafts back onto the van. I had bruises where Richard and I collided, or where my paddle hit me on the arms – but it was SO MUCH FUN!!!! I’d do this again in an instant!!!!! (And the muddy water has turned all our clothes gritty beige, including underwear!)

8/5 – Breakfast at Café Milagro again, yum! We go back to Manuel Antonio, where I play guide for Richard – we saw a sloth descending from a tree; a brown rat snake; a coati mundi (so cute, a little cousin to the raccoon with different markings); small howler monkeys playing in the trees behind the sloth; numerous agoutis (the giant guinea pig) hopping around; two families of capuchin monkeys, the first along the main beach trail full of people – the alpha male hopped on a covered garbage can and started screaming and hopping up and down, partly to open the garbage can but also to divert attention from the females and babies scampering by pretty much unnoticed.

The second family of capuchins was out on the island reached via the tombolo – we hiked up and down and circled the island, and came into the midst of a large capuchin family. The male stopped 3 or so feet away from me, sat on a tree branch, and chirped at me – I chirped back – we seemed to have an entire conversation of chirps back and forth. A female came up and began grooming him, and he lay down on the branch and just watched me for a while, as I watched him. There was a tiny baby monkey who would ride on his mom’s back, then climb off and play in the trees, tasting everything, putting anything in it’s mouth. More moms, babies, juveniles played, ate, wandered by or swung from branches – and suddenly all the humans and monkeys jumped in unison as an agouti abruptly ran through. Eventually the male chirped, the female moved on, and the male brought up the rear to ensure that the family was safe.

We saw several raccoons, and amazingly, three or four toucans in a tree directly over our heads!

After about 4 hours of hiking, we drove back to Mono Azul, hung out, and eventually had dinner at La Hacienda, which Fodor and Frommer called CR’s #1 restaurant – I had pasta with shrimp (con camarones) – not as good as Il Tramonte in Monteverde. But good.

8/6 – We headed south on a fairly decent dirt road to Domenical, where we turned east (only a paved road) and headed to San Isidro el General, where we could get on the Pan American Highway again to head north. This route took us into the major central mountain range (El Cordillero) and across the Continental Divide of Costa Rica, which was very cool! Mountains of 10,000 to 11,000 feet high, just about an hour’s drive from the Pacific Ocean – a very steep climb! More cloud forest, and we were in the area known as the Paseo de Pantera, the path of the panthers – but no big cats anywhere in sight. Lots of rain and wind and fog and cloud, cold cold wet windy day. Big crazy mountains and valleys full of clouds, narrow roads, signs saying “Derrumbes en la via” all over the place – we guessed that this meant landslides or mudslides, this was later verified by a Tican. One amazing spot, in the middle of nowhere, was a huge rock promontory, just bursting out of the green mountain and shooting up toward the sky.

We got a little lost in the town of Tejar, asked a motorbike cop for directions which he gave in Spanish (we can follow left, right, directo, and turn at the Cathedral) – we followed the directions but made a huge circle and ended up back next to the cop – so he hopped on his bike and he and his partner were our motorcycle escorts through Tejar and Cartago to the road to Paraiso (Spanish for Heaven, I think) and on to Orosi, our next stop.

We found the Orosi Lodge, the valley was cold and wet and dark, and we settled in with coffee and cookies before heading out for dinner (grilled chicken or beef, rice and beans, plantains, salad) and then home to the hotel.

8/7 – Breakfast at the café at Orosi Lodge, where they serve coffee grown in the Orosi Valley – then we wandered around town in the mist and rain, looking at mosaics, murals, and the Iglesia de San Jose de Orosi, the oldest church still standing in all of CR. There was a Franciscan “convent” attached to the church, which was funny because there were green parrots roosting in the campenile and young dogs running in and out of the church – I guess they took the message of St. Francis very seriously!

We drove around Lago de Cachi, or at least part of it – stopping to look at a suspension bridge crossing the raging Orosi River, watching people blithely crossing the bridge as it swayed and bounced over the rushing water. We had lunch at Casona del Cafetal, a beautiful restaurant in a lovely garden overlooking the lake. Terrific lunch (chicken in a lemon butter sauce to die for, in the lightest fried taco shell I’ve ever seen, with vegetables that were fabulous in the sauce; and fruit crepes placed on the plate to look like a butterfly!); amazing bathrooms covered in murals reminiscent of Rousseau’s paintings, all green leaves and trees and bright tropical birds and animals peering out at you. I actually took photos of the bathrooms. We drove back through coffee farms, over several OMG bridges (built 105 years ago and looking ready to collapse, rusted steel trestles covered in planks that the car occasionally slid on, most with side rails but a few without), through hills and small mountains and fog and rain.

We decided to try for Tapanti National Park, since the rain had calmed down – drove on rutted puddle dirt mud gravel roads with the granddaddy of OMG bridges, into old growth forest and arrived at 4:25, after the park had closed. Tapanti is the only park with all six of the big cats in CR – jaguars, pumas, ocelots, oncillas, lynx, and jagarundis. We saw nothing. Nothing to do but turn around and retrace our steps, through more coffee farms, puddle-covered bridges, raging swollen white or brown rivers.

Back at Orosi Lodge, the clouds had lifted so we could see Volcan Irazu (extinct, with a lake in the caldera, and the tallest mountain/volcano in CR at some 14,000 feet), and Volcan Turrialba, recently active and huffing and puffing steam clouds. No lava yet. But apparently the Orosi Valley has daily tremors that can be measured or felt.

8/8 – We ate breakfast at the Orosi Lodge Café, sitting on the balcony in sweaters and jackets, watching Turrialba steam and smoke in the distance.

We drove to Puerto Limon on the central Caribbean coast. Along the way, we saw two more blue morpho butterflies – they’re following me!

Puerto Limon is a busy port town, where Dole and Chiquita and Del Monte ship bananas and pineapples to the rest of the world. The town is bustling and totally UNtouristy! We both enjoyed the humidity and the warmth after the really cold Orosi Valley. And the cultural mix of faces – many more people of African descent on the Caribbean side of the country.

The central park in Limon has sloths, vultures, and parrots. And it seems that there’s a music or drumming competition, because a drum and dance and xylophone troupe was practicing outside our hotel – we could sit on the balcony outside our room and look at the group practicing by the sea wall, waves crashing on the rocks just on the other side.

We get lucky – Marilyn, our wonderfully warm and friendly lady at the desk, knows someone who can arrange our boat trip to Parismina, where we plan to help with the turtle protection project. We can keep our luggage and the car at the hotel. Sometimes thingns just work out!

8/9 – We head south to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, the old port in the region of Talamanca, on a paved and then dirt road that goes through Chiquita banana fields (ripening banana bunches all in blue plastic bags, I guess to keep birds and insects out). A pretty drive, mostly along the coast. We arrive at our guest house, Banana Azul, and check in to the Iguana Room – each room has an animal name, rather than a number. We have an ocean view, a huge porch, a nice room, and a big bathroom with interesting mosaic tile work in the shower.

We walked on the beach, which is part of Playa Negro, the black sand beach. We also relaxed in the blue hammocks tied to the palm trees – looking like giant blue bananas, I’m guessing how they got the name. We also tried to arrange a boat trip for the next day, to see manatees – but the best chance was going in to Panama, and without a passport yet Richard couldn’t go. So we left the day open for adventure.

Dinner was at Café Viejo in town, a fabulous Italian place – we had bucatini with sausage, and I had panna cotta (cooked cream) f


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