Saturday, August 29, 2015

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

Apparently we didn't know the way to San Jose, Costa Rica a few days ago but now we do. It all began last month while house sitting in Mexico when an expat couple contacted us about another house sit. They asked if we'd like to come to Parrita, Puntarenas, Costa Rica to watch their dogs and house? Since I'd been hounding Clyde ever since we moved to Panama for a trip across the border, this offer seemed too good to pass up.  So after several Skype interviews we accepted the position and found our way to San Jose.


Bolle Chasing A Stick



Our flight landed early on Monday morning where our hosts picked us up from the airport. After some shopping in the big city we made the 90-minute trek to their house in Parrita.  The tiny village of Parrita sits just a mile or so off the Pacific Coast, far from the hustle and bustle of city life. Once inside we were greeted by our new furry friends Bolle and Luna.  While Luna is a Tika dog that was left behind by someone who didn't want her she's a mix of bull dog who knows what.  Bolle on the other hand is their beloved pure bred very expensive German Shepard of fine lineage that was imported from Switzerland. Although he's only a year old he's been trained well as a guard dog and shows no signs of puppy like behavior. Our hosts are a Swiss couple who retired early to Costa Rica for a better, easier way of life that includes opening a future hotel.  Their lovely little house sits on two acres of lush land full of gardens, fruit trees and a large swimming pool.

Bolle

Luna And Bolle

A River Off Of Playa Bandera 

They Found A Crab

Our Wheels....She's Not Too Pretty But We're Happy To Have It

Up Into The Truck




They requested that we arrive a few days early so that they and the dogs could get to know us before they left for their trip. They showed us around and introduced us to many of their expat and Tika friends. (Tika is the term used for native Costa Ricans). Yesterday we drove them into San Jose for a flight out to the states and had planned to do some grocery shopping at Walmart before heading back to the house. Since we have use of their pick up truck I suggested a side trip to the city of Alajuela that sits nearby San Jose. From there our wanderlust set in and we headed into the mountains to find Parque National Volcan Poas (or the Poas Volcano). 

Alajuala, Costa Rica Town Center 



Inside A Church
 
 


The scenic drive took us past lush coffee plantations and strawberry farms before we made our way into the national park that sat high in the frigid mountains.  Since this is a hot, tropical climate I was wearing a sun dress and flip flops while Clyde had on jeans an a short sleeves fishing shirt. The temperature outside felt like 20 degrees to us since we're so used to living in the heat.  I really had no idea HOW I would survive hiking up into the hills with such cool temps.  But like all good tourist traps the national park had a tourist shop that sold overpriced shirts, ponchos, umbrellas and much more. Clyde opted for a $6 plastic poncho since it was starting to sprinkle but I insisted on a sweat shirt. I settled on a hooded sweat shirt with "Costa Rica.....Pura Vida" printed on it for the horrible price of $45. Yes it was a rip off but it meant the difference between being warm and continuing our trek to see the volcano or going home.

Coffee Farms

Giant Leaves Of The Umbrella Tree

Paths Through National Park



We followed the nicely maintained path up to the rim of the volcano and were totally wowed by the spectacle before our eyes.  Wow.....was all we could say! From there we continued on to a one hour hike through the rain forest.  While the scenery was gorgeous the signs along the way were a bit unnerving.  Signs that said, "In Case Of Eruption.....Don't Panic, Just Head Down The Mountain Quickly." Quickly?....ah yeah right.  The lush green jungle turned to shades of black as we passed by plenty of burned trees as the warning signs faded out of sight.

Poas Volcano 



A Chilly Photo At The Top 


One Of The Many Warning Signs

 
A Lake Near The Volcano
Very Well Maintained Paths Through The Jungle 

Tree Stump That Looked Like A Giant Animal Track

Found This Little Guy Near The Visitor Center



After leaving the national park we headed back down the mountain and stopped for a late lunch.  We choose a typical Costa Rican meal of "casados" which literally translates to "married men." Here this is the cheapest meal offered in restaurants and consists of rice, beans, salad, and some type of meat.  This one was done exceptionally well and pretty at a price of maybe $6.  The business next to the restaurant was selling strawberries with a choice of toppings: chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, or caramel.  We choose one cup to share and had them topped with a thin chocolate syrup. I wanted some strawberries to take back to the house and we picked up some cheap at another roadside stand.

Our Lunch......Rice, Potatoes, Salad, Beans, Chicken and Plantain 

 Strawberries And Chocolate
 
Scenery On Our Way Down The Mountain



Clyde Loved These Flowers
 


We made our way back to Alajuala to stop at Walmart before heading back to the house. Since it's typical when visiting someplace new we got a bit lost finding our way back to San Jose.  Eventually we had to stop and ask someone the corny but necessary question, "do you know the way to San Jose?"

Back at the house we knew the dogs would NOT be happy to see us arrive without their beloved owners.  Bolle jumped inside the truck to search it for a few seconds before running inside the house looking pissed. Luna was about as unhappy to see us and the two laid around the rest of the night like they had lost their best friends. But bright and early the next morning when I woke up Bolle came over to me for some lovin', rubbing up against me for a doggy style hug.  Luna sleeps outside but when she came inside she too was looking for some hugs and now we're all good friends.

Each morning and afternoon the dogs hop into the pickup for a short ride to the beach.  Both are allowed to walk unrestrained to enjoy all that the beach has to offer.  Bolle loves to chase sticks or anything else we find to throw.  He absolutely loves running into the surf cooling off in the warm tropical waves.  Luna on the other hand is content to walk slowly and seems to disappear into the brush but always seems to reappear along the way. Yesterday on our second walk of the day Clyde opened up the truck door and Bolle jumped into inside of the truck.  The owners want the dogs in the back of the truck and only allow them inside if they're sitting on a blanket. We managed to get Bolle out as I got inside and closed the doors.  Clyde went looking for Luna who we thought had taken off into the jungle.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something in the back seat only to find Luna lying on the seat all wet and covered in sand.  Still today we really don't know how she managed to get inside so easily without us noticing.  Perhaps she's a ghost dog who appears out of no where?  Or perhaps we've been talking to dogs too long in the hot Costa Rican sun?

Rice Fields Near Our House Sit

Rice fields in front of Palm Nut Trees
 

Palm Trees Planted For Palm Oil 




Costa Rica is a beautiful country with fields of palm trees everywhere. Here they are planted and harvested for the palm oils with production companies in every small town. While the main roads are in perfect condition the side roads all seem to be dirt or rock making for an interesting ride. Prices here are higher than those in Panama although we're still getting used to converting from dollars to colones, the money used here. 

 
one dollar equals 527 Colonias
nothing to converting it!
 


We've met many US expats here and one family is even from Corpus Christi, Texas where we used to live. Tonight we've been invited to a little dinner party at a house that was formerly a brothel.  It's owned by US expats who have a professional kitchen since the woman of the house loves to cook.

So for the next few weeks we'll be exploring more of this beautiful, tiny country and living "pura vida" a saying that Tika's live by. Translated it literally means "pure life" and is used as a way of saying.....life is good.....as it is for us house sitting here in Costa Rica.......along the gringo trail.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Roadblock And Other Stuff From Panama......

The Pan American Highway is the ONE and only main road that runs through Panama.  When anyone has a gripe with the local government, the easiest way to get their attention is to create a roadblock.  Today while Clyde was working in the yard I decided to head over to the gym.  It was around 10:45 that I passed by the local high school in the town of Chame where we live. I noticed students in uniforms lined up in front of the school, many were sitting on the curb along the edge of the highway.  Nearby were several police cars along with some officers standing in front of the school. On any given day it's not uncommon to see hoards of school kids lined up along the road.  Usually they're waiting for public transport for a ride home, or cooling off eating a snow cone since there's always a vendor nearby selling them. Although I thought things seemed a bit odd today with the police presence, things are very often odd to us foreigners living here.

As I made my way home from the gym some two hours later, tired and hungry I noticed that traffic had come to a dead stop.  I was excited at first thinking I'd be going through my very first police checkpoint alone.  After stopping the car I quickly rummaged through my purse to find my license and cedula (local identification card).  But soon I realized that this was no ordinary police checkpoint and something strange was going on.  Some cars, trucks and even buses managed to drive over the curb onto the grass along the road and turn around. But my car was pretty snugly fitted in between the other vehicles so I knew I wasn't going anywhere.

I thought I'd call Clyde to let him know where I was and that I might not be home for a while. As soon as I explained my situation he said, "there was a post on the internet that there was going to be a roadblock in front of the high school today."  "Uh oh, " I thought, "so apparently that's what this is all about?"  I was just approaching the area of the high school, which coincidentally was just around the corner from our house.  How long might this last?  Minutes, hours or days I wondered?  In the four years we've lived here we'd heard about the indigenous people here creating road blocks but school kids?  This was something new to us and WHY was this allowed?


Roadblock At Chame High School
Apparently The Kids Were Protesting Electrical Problems At The School
(Photo Borrowed From Playacommunity.com)
 


 As I sat I noticed people from other cars getting out and walking ahead to see what was going on.  I could see some taking photos before getting back into their cars and turning off the motors, apparently realizing that this was going to take a while. There was a tanker truck in front of me blocking my view so I couldn't see anything.

After sitting there about 30-minutes I noticed a police car with lights flashing head toward the school on the other side of the highway. But as soon as it approached the scene it drove in reverse, turned in a nearby bank parking lot and took off in the opposite direction.  Could it be that they're NOT even letting the police onto the scene?  A few minutes later not one but two police cars approached the scene again on the other side of the road.  Other people began to start their engines so apparently they knew something that I didn't, that the roadblock was stopped by the police and we'd be allowed through. I pulled into my driveway a few minutes later so thankful that it was only 40-minutes that I was held up on the road.

A few days ago Clyde noticed something different about our neighbors house across the road.  There was a small addition on the front of the tiny house, perhaps an extra bedroom?  After all there are four, five or more kids living there and Mama is always screaming at them.  So an extra room would be appropriate.  But the family doesn't own the house they're just renting.  We know this because a man shows up in a blue Toyota Rav4 every two weeks to collect the rent.  We've heard them arguing about money once as we walked by with the dogs. And the addition went up rather quickly and was done with drywall instead of the typical cement block construction that the rest of the house has. The room was done nicely yet wouldn't be waterproof in the rain we thought.  But again this is Panama and things are done differently here, so who are we to say.

Well today I noticed a large sign on the front of the little room that says, "La Tienda de Shantal" or "Shantal's Store."  Panamanians are inventive people that will sell just about anything to make a buck so perhaps that's what this will be? After all this family has chickens so they might have fresh eggs to sell.  And they also have fruit trees so they'll surely be selling mangoes, coconuts, bananas, papaya, homemade ice pops and whatever else they might have.



 


 At first I wasn't thrilled about the tiny tienda in our neighborhood but then we realized this. Perhaps next time we need eggs or a pineapple we'll merely have to step out of our yard to get one.  And at the same time we'll be helping out our neighbors, giving them a bit of money to feed their many kids which may in turn make Mama yell less? We've nicknamed her "Mama Grita" which means to yell in Spanish.  While we may not be fluent in Spanish we DO know the names of most of her children. There's Jose, Juan, Miguel and Shantal to name a few.  And what's even worse is that they have parrots that mimic the sounds of her yelling at times keeping the neighborhood lively..... as the sound of Mama resonates through the neighborhood here in Chame.....along the gringo trail.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Guachimontones Circular Pyramids.....In Jalisco, Mexico....

The Guachimontones pyramids are an unusual conglomeration of round pyramds located in the town of Teuchitlan.  Once again our day began with a taxi ride to the bus station where we'd pick up another bus line that would take us to the tiny town. It was another two hour bus ride before we reached the tiny little bus station.  Clyde asked the clerk sitting in the station where the pyramids were and she looked at us like we were nutty.  Then she went onto explain that they were far away, at least four kilometers or more as if discouraging us to even want to go see them.  We approached a nearby taxi driver and when we mentioned the pyramids he also made them sound too far away.  He said he would have to charge us 100 pesos  or $6 to get us there and we quickly agreed.  He drove through the dusty, cobblestoned roads of the tiny town that had nothing more than a few stores, restaurants and houses along the way. The road became narrow and steep as we climbed up an incline on the long trek to the site.  But within minutes we had arrived at the parking lot where many tourists had parked their cars. The drive was not long at all and probably was only four kilometers.

Village Of Teuchitlan

Busy Streets



Ride In The Taxi To Pyramids

After exiting the taxi we made our way to the entrance where we were asked for a $2 entrance fee, although Clyde was old enough to get in for free. We began the walk up the steep path not expecting much other than some old ruins and a round pyramid.  But what unfolded before our eyes was as astonishing array of platforms, pyramids, ball fields and more.  The well preserved ruins proved the existence of a civilization that lived here some 2000 years ago.

Visitor Center And Museum

Displays Inside


View From The Top




Discovered in 1970 by US archaeologist Phil Weigand.  the pyramids are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  At first there was little known information about the ruins but further investigation proved the existence of an ancient civilization.  Dating back to 300 B.C. to 900 A.D. the civilization was called Tradicion Teuchitlan. During its peak times there were thought to be around 40,000 people living there between 200 and 400 A.D.

Hot, Sweaty Couple

Pyramid From Afar

Impressive Sights

Striped Neon Lizard



According to Weigand the unique round design of the pyramids are a type of Mesoamerican architecture not found anywhere else in the world.  The massive pyramids have 52 steps leading up which represents the number of weeks in the year on the Mayan calendar. The main pyramid was built on a hilltop and used as a platform for worship. The site also features several other platforms used for homes and other buildings. Also there are several ball courts with a unique "I" shape design.  The game was played by moving the ball around using only their hips to move the ball from one end of the court to the other and sometimes through a hoop too.

"I" Shaped Ball Field

Benches On The Side Of Ball Court For Spectators



We expected to see maybe one pyramids amid some rubble of ruins but were surprised at how lovely the whole area was.  There was many pyramids, platforms and two ball courts that were well marked out and manicured. We explored the area from bottom to top in the hot, arid sun before we'd seen enough.  I suggested that we walk back into town since the taxi ride seemed so short that it wasn't worth the money.  We stopped to check out a church along the way that had beautifully landscaped grounds around it complete with decorative topiary bushes.

On Our Walk Down The Hill We Spotted These


Topiaries On Church Grounds







Arriving back at the bus station just in time to catch the bus as it was pulling out.  We settled in to our seats for a long, two hour ride back to Guadalajara tired but content with our adventures of the day.  We thoroughly enjoyed our day spent exploring the ancient ruins and pyramids of Guachimontones in the tiny town of Teuchitlan.......along the gringo trail.