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Changing Gears

Ok, I think I have all my junk packed AGAIN.

Far too many clothes

Far too many clothes

Arriving here in Punta Uva late last month has given me several weeks to realize I still have more stuff than I need, but after some selective elimination I have once again packed a modest sized bag for my trip on wednesday to Nicaragua.

I have taken on a volunteer role at La Esperanza Granada https://www.facebook.com/laesperanzagranada/ a non profit organization that works with the local school system in and around Granada, Nicaragua to help the teachers. I feel a bit intimidated with the prospect of an old guy with studdering spanish being any help to anyone. We shall see.

Taking my last stroll on the beach for a couple of months

Taking my last stroll on the beach for a couple of months

This is Punta Uva beach about 300 meters along the shore from where I stay and is best for snorkling and swimming as the waves are smaller in behind the point.

Lots of Flotsam

Lots of Flotsam

Very quiet as November is the rainy season

Very quiet as November is the rainy season

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The beach becomes increasingly cluttered with branches, trees and garbage during the flat water season of September and October but soon the December winds will come in and in the words of many locals “wash all this shit out sea”. Where it goes and on which beach the stuff finds itself is a mystery.

It takes about 3 weeks to finally acclimate to the night biting bugs and the afternoon heat which will cause my pores to erupt in a sweat and insists you stay quiet with your Kindle for an hour or two. Alcohol seems a likely option for re-hydration but water is in your best interests as the late afternoon temperatures are in the mid to high 30’s and replenishing with a least 2 to 3 liters of water per day is important.

I believe these temperatures are what I recall of April last year. This weather should be much more moderate as I recall actually using a small blanket during the night in 2013.

The irrepressible Selvin and Hemi

The irrepressible Selvin and Hemi

Linda and Skipper

Linda and Skipper

Selvin has closed the restaurant for a few weeks to get some repairs done before the christmas holiday rush and sees them going 7 days a week into January. I am always happy to be somewhere else at this time of the year leaving the festive Ticos to their celebrations. Neighbor Linda with her pal Skipper.

My concerns for my trip to Nicaragua are offset somewhat by the intrigue of new surroundings and teaching challenges ahead although it is well know that Granada is several degrees warmer than here on the caribbean coast and how that will affect this once cold weather warrior has yet to be determined. It is always easier to pile another log on the fire to get warm but your can get only so close to a fan before losing an ear.

After my 6 weeks of Granada, which I know already and have a fondness for, the buses will take me to the Nicaragua highlands for some cooler adventures in the farming and coffee regions near the Honduras border. I will be meeting my friends Tom and Julia, from my days in Wolfville, in Managua next week and hope to get some ideas on travel to Leon, Somoto and Estril in January. It is hoped I will meet up with another caribbean buddy to cover the last few weeks of travel and then to return the Ometepe and San Carlos by bus back to Punta Uva where I will stay till April.

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I really look forward to January, February and March on the beach here in Punta Uva as the both the day and nights come alive with characters from all walks of life, living and loving in their winter skins, shedding a world of worry and obligation for a few weeks or months at a time and sharing their lives in a way that has become foreign to us in our runaway consumer society.

In Costa Rica this year increased costs for food and restaurants have made a huge impression on me and my wallet. Dried goods are at least as expensive as in Canada if not more and only by shopping from the markets can you get your fruit and vegetables for a reasonable sum. The restaurants are all of good quality and accommodation costs, if taken a month at a time, can still represent less than a quarter of your monthly expenses but I have trimmed a lot of extras like beer, chips and sweets and wine with the odd chicken breast or red snapper fish from the local vendors of the sea.

In part my reasoning to go to Nicaragua is to investigate the possibilty of finding an environment that is more temperate as well as a cost of living that best suits my pension. I know from my last visit there in 2013 that it was possible to live on half of what it was costing me in Costa Rica. We shall see.

FBranarioshirt I shall miss the convenience of my wheels while away but may consider hanging up my helmet and selling my bike when I return as my bouncability has lost some of its’ bounce.

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FBlizard

This is, yes, a jesus christ lizard. Aptly named for the cross he bears rather than any miracles he has performed although he does seem to be balancing some rocks on his head. That’s pretty special.

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Friends, neighbours and folks from the beach

Images are the heart of my stories. Thank goodness I have a camera to capture the feeling of the moment. Left to my writing abilities there would be much white space to ponder.
I expect it is more from my age and my inability to get around as much as before that I take pictures of people and spend time with them and find out about their lives and what makes them travel. Escaping cool northern climates are not the only reason people escape to warmer climates, many find change is essential to their personal development while others may need to escape a personal relationship or to search for new one. Here are some of the people I have met in Costa Rica this year.

Mariska, yoga instructor and manager at Selvins Cabinas, Punta Uva.

Mariska, yoga instructor and co-manager at Selvins Cabinas, Punta Uva with her partner Vincent.

Vincent, co-manager Selvins Cabinas, Punta Uva, Costa Rica

Vincent, co-manager Selvins Cabinas, Punta Uva, Costa Rica

Vincent and his partner Mariska co-ordinate the cabina rentals at Selvins and after coming from the Netherlands 3 years ago when they made the all important decision to raise their young boy Kayla in the tropical, mysterious wonderland of Punta Uva. Vincent has a culinary career as a notable chef for the Dutch royalty and Mariska has an enthusiastic following for her numerous yoga classes.
Ex-pats from every walk of life and continent have found this 40km (25 mile) stretch of land below the cultural center of Limon down to the roads end in Manzanillo a respite from the colder climes and lifestyle opportunities that have escaped their potential elsewhere. A common thread in their anticipation of the future is that progress will not ruin the collective calm and disrupt the uncomplicated ambiance that initially attracted us all to live here.
The Black communities that settled this unique part of Costa Rica over the past century from islands in the West Indies may have hoped for the same thing in the mid 1980s.

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Joe and Britanny fro US

Joe and Britanny

Typical of the 3 or 4 month resident are young seasonal workers like Brittany and Joe from the north central US who work their US jobs till they lose feeling in the ends of their fingers and toes and then hop on something that brings them to the sunshine and the beach.
It is not uncommon for one or both of the escapees to find work in construction or food service to make ends meets. Beer is only 2$ a bottle but you have to eat too.
This choice of lifestyle is usually made by those without a major commitment in the north in either the name of a house or condo, new truck or a needy family.

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Women, by a long shot, either alone or in pairs represent the greatest portion (excluding conventional 2 week family travelers) of travellers that I have met.

French Connection in Alajuela

French Connection in Alajuela Francis and Lucie from Quebec city.

These 2 pepper pots from Quebec City, Canada are invenerate travelers who will try anything without reservation or pre-conceptions and were always happy with whatever the results.
We laughed at all and everything during the 3 days we had together.
I eventually ended up giving directions to the attractions in and around Alajuela and then retired to my room to rest from their vigorous pursuit of the unknown.
They had both been to more places in Costa Rica than I but were always peeking around the next corner ready to take home experiences only an open mind would absorb. We all polished our french and english and enjoyed our discussions of meditation, exercise and Lucies’ great exhibition of Tai Chi. I was moved to join a beginner class on my return to Punta Uva ater a week in my favourite town in the central highlands, Alajuela.

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Celebrating a ceviche lunch at the mercado in Alajuela.

Celebrating a ceviche lunch at the mercado in Alajuela.

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Helene from Gothenburg Sweden.

Helene from Gothenburg Sweden.

Helene from Gothenburg Sweden put a career on hold for a month as a child care worker and decided to take some time away from her work to reflect on what she might want to do for the rest of her life. She will take time in Costa Rica to relax and take a yoga retreat to reflect back on her past 12 years. She beamed with the wonderful weather and bright sun and found humour on her first encounter with the exotic birds at Zoo Ave, nearby, and displayed a wide eyed fascination at the bustling mercado near the central park. Always fun to take a traveling newbie to the sites where you know their jaw will drop.
A sweet woman in here quest for love and life. May the wind find your wings.

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Los Volcanes, Alajuela Costa Rica

Los Volcanes, Alajuela Costa Rica

Los Volcanes, until recently, has been my home away from the Caribbean. Sal, Wendy and company always make me welcome and always find room for me. This old restored home has basic and superior accommodation with a great breakfast and inspired evening meals. Rosario, a dedicated housekeeper, missed getting in this shot using my gorilla tripod gripped to the front gate.

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Beachside Amarillo Pipa 20lbs.

Beachside Amarillo Pipa 20lbs.

This beauty had fallen from the palm tree in the morning and probably just before I got there so I took It under my arm and I brought It home. The large yellow coconuts have both plenty of coconut and coconut water in them but require a heavy-duty scissors in order to access the small nut inside.
The smaller green coconuts are preferred for the juice as they are younger and sweeter and much easier to open.

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Pargo Roja, Red Snapper from Punta Uva, Costa Rica.

Pargo Roja, Red Snapper from Punta Uva, Costa Rica.

When the seas are calm, and in the very early morning for 10 months of the year, my neighbour has a boat and with several other fishermen bring in regular catches of lobster, mackeral and red snapper. These little guys I have here go for a buck each. Fried in coconut oil is the most succulent way to do them drenched in lime and hot sauce or an easier and more flavorful way to cook them is just chuck em’ in the pressure cooker, separate the meat from the bones and make a chowder. Deep fried or pan fried is the most common way they are served in the restaraunts.

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Jeannot anad Memo, the Nova Scotia connection.

Jeannot and Memo, the Nova Scotia connection.

Amigo Jeannot, from Dartmouth Nova Scotia, stayed with me for a week often creating some of his Acadian specialties in the kitchen and regaling me with his wit and depth of understanding on so many topics. We tended to raise the roof with our laughing and music which did not go unnoticed by the other tenants at Selvins. Calm has returned and once again the howler monkeys have the stage once again.

Jean has been coming to Selvins for longer than I and his gregarious nature has made him many friends including me. Ironic that we have always lived in close proximity to one another in Nova Scotia but met entirely by coincidence in Costa Rica.

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Nancy, the girl from New York City.

Nancy, the girl from New York City.

An absolute joy to be with, Nancy is an intriguing, successful artist from New York city who has made many friends on the beach and in the small art community of the southern coast, engaging us with her enthusiasm and spirit of encouragement. She became captivated with beauty and calming lifestyle to the point of securing a property to guarantee her return to Punta Uva. We all look forward to spending more time with her in future.
We met at the bus depot in Puerto Viejo while together we laughed and fumbled for paper ticket proof that we would not be tossed into the sea for failure to ante up the $1.25 fare.
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Buying weed by the meter.

Buying weed by the meter.

It seems up until the time that several U.S. states had approved sales of marijuana we were getting an adequate supply of good weed here on the coast. Direct from Jamaica, no less. Now it seems the source has dried up and we are left with harvesting strange leaves from the jungle in order to keep our demons in check. The drug problem in the north will, no doubt abate and I think that is good, but you must share!
A drug lord can be seen here measuring out a yard of hallucanagenic green for some of the other senior citizens in the complex.
Happy hour here really is happy.

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Christian, from south of Berlin, Germany.

Christian, from south of Berlin, Germany.

Christian, from a rural area south of Berlin Germany, is typical of many young europeans that are well traveled and choose to use their resources to experience new cultures and languages. Fluent in several languages, many 20+ adults of average means from Germany, Sweden, Norway, Spain and other colder countries spend from 3 weeks to 3 months moving through central america, volunteering, surfing or just experiencing the unique and welcoming individuals that are so easy to meet.

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Fruit and vegetable truck making delivery to Selvins' restaurant Punta Uva

Fruit and vegetable truck making delivery to Selvins’ restaurant Punta Uva

Daily, there are competitive fruit trucks, egg and fish vendors that announce their arrival by loudspeaker to fill your larder with most everything that is in the sea or grown in the central valley at higher elevations. I stood, mouth agape one day, when a fisherman arrived at the side of the road hoping to find a buyer for a red snapper that was too large to fit in his bike basket and hung droopy over his handlebars. It was a product of his spear gun accuracy and weighed easily 40lbs of more. Mackeral and shad are most commonly available.

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Laurel, long time strong woman from the jungle in Punta Uva

Laurel, long time strong woman from the jungle in Punta Uva

For more than 30 years, this wonderful woman with the most cheeriest nature, has been making friends and adding glorious colour and energy to the communities of Manzanillo and Punta Uva. She and several other women, in different caribbean style homes, live in various places up the mountain from the beach, many with limited services and resources. They all meet weekly on the beach at Punta Uva and have been doing this with other community members for more than 25 years. There is no shortage of enthusiasm and optimism in this community and although in time the characters will change they will leave behind them a lifestyle no doubt filled by new adventurers, some of whom may be just passing through for now.

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Sun Bather on slimy log Punta Uva, Costa Rica

Sun Bather on slimy log Punta Uva, Costa Rica

The sun of the equator is higher in the sky than I am used to in Canada where I burn to a crisp in July and August. Here, while the temperature is still very, very hot it seems the rays will not burn you as quickly and a tan stays for only a few days. This log has changed many places on the beach since November, as has the reclining human, and when I left in mid April the log was all but covered with sand. The shore changes from undermining the overhanging palm trees in late december to football field sized beaches in May. A change in the weather makes no change in me.

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Saskia, manager pulparia, Punta Uva, Costa Rica

Saskia, co-manager pulparia, Punta Uva, Costa Rica

Saskia, another independent woman who works with her amiga, Connie, at the Punta Uva Pulperia. Fair and always ready to help, these women work 12 hours a day 7 days a week to serve the public and survive an inconsistent and fickle tourist market. Good thing for the locals who gather at the “Cheers” bar for some cool refreshments.

More pictures from Costa Rica 2015

Restaurant Selvins Punta Uva. Serving Staff

Restaurant Selvins’ Punta Uva. Serving Staff

Pipa motherlode, Punta Uva playa

Pipa motherlode, Punta Uva playa

Rehabed birds at AYA Macaw conservation farm.

Rehabilitated birds at AYA Macaw conservation farm.

Under age, under clothed Quad driver

Under age, under clothed Quad driver

High seas  in January, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

High seas in January, Puerto Veijo, Costa Rica

View of the park in Alajuela from the National Museum

View of the park in Alajuela from the National Museum

Jeremy who lives in Manzanillo

Jeremy who lives in Manzanillo

Angela, Linda and friend in Cabina 5

Angela, Linda and friend in Cabina 5

The Butchers Wife, Puerto Viejo

The Butchers Wife, Puerto Viejo

My favourite Macaw at the Garita Orchid Center

My favourite Macaw at the Garita Orchid Center

Beach Wedding on Playa Chiquita

Beach Wedding on Playa Chiquita

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Blanca the Gardner

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The intersection machete juggler

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Life is Short

For most of my 70+ years I have been surrounded by friends, close and casual, that are just my height or often taller, some of you very much taller, Dick, Roger, Dr. Garvey, Eileen, Amanda, Larry, Louise and so on. The list is quite extensive.

AlajuelaBabyLook I am always checking my immediate surroundings for looming, towering objects choosing to carefully align myself with people and things that will not bring attention to my diminuitive nature. Possibly, as to the inherent height limitations of the colonizing Spanish and Indigenous communities, there exists a general population of very modestly short people, here in Central America, of which I find myself very comfortably a part of.

I am now around five feet four and on the shrink and beginning to see the world from yet another viewpoint from well below the average horizon line.

I am baffled by the inability of those taking the higher road to never understand what it might be like to see the top of your own fridge or peer over the car dashboard without the need for not one but two wedge cushions.

Accepting my vertical limitations, I have gone on, and still do, believing my close proximity to the ground will decrease the potential for future serious fractures, give me quicker access to money dropped in the grass and justify the height rule for not being allowed on scary rides that my grandchildren often expect Grandfathers to be fearless of.

Despite all the positive things to be said about a modest height, many inconveniences must be expected.

Until recently a chest size close to 50 inches forced me to buy shirts in XL size which would bring the tail of the shirt nearer my sock line rather than my waistline and give me the look of a floor weighted punching bag. The removal of a 4 lb goiter from my chest improved my balance and I dropped 2 inches from my chest. Still, with pant crotches hanging at my knees a waist of 44 and inseam of 28, it was a bit hard to find clothes at the worn out before store. With rolled up shirt sleeves, and funny T-Shirts with any printed punch line just below my belt, my frustrations had peaked.

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It was not until I was caught harvesting coconuts from the refuge near Manzanillo beach, Costa Rica, and saw this enormous but very friendly policeman towering over me that the switch clicked. This man was so big he could have worn my T-Shirts on his arms. It registered on me, at that moment, that he too, may have trouble getting stuff to fit. He very graciously split my coconut open to avoid making a report that included the mention of a old gringo swinging his machete aimlessly at nothing in particular.

I did make big changes in diet, activities and exercise in 2014 and now slither into a large size shirt without too much being leftover. Much improved stature and some redistributed fat gets me in the main door of the bank with little notice to what part of my attire is dragging on the tiles.

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I have abandoned the policy choosing to wait in line only with short people, measuring my dance partner, using 4 pairs of insoles and stealing other peoples grandchildren to stretch my stunted ego.

Be the first to laugh at yourself – “Randy Newman singing SHORT PEOPLE”

Life is too short to be obsessed with being too short in life, although sometimes is nice to be the tallest guy in the room.

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The Day Before Next Year

Not on the prowl as much this year so made an effort to cover some familiar territory around Punta Uva before next year arrives.

Egret on his favorite log waiting for some dinner.

Egret on his favorite log waiting for some dinner.

Every year I take a picture of an egret at this spot in front Cabinas Punta Uva and wonder if it may the same bird or a member of his family who has inherited this prime hunting real estate.

Sliver of sun finds this fern hoping to get enough fuel to beat the other plants  to the top

Sliver of sun finds this fern hoping to get enough fuel to beat the other plants to the top

I am always impressed with unusual relationships of leaves and plants and their organisation on a canvas of earth.

Delicate and probably a dangerous edible.

Delicate and probably a dangerous edible.

Gestation Pod

Gestation Pod

From this plain old Pod comes forth a most elegant bloom which is reaching out in subtle glory to all takers. So many varieties of orchid speak to their survival in blazing color and delicate shape.

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An early bloomer in the flora surrounding the restaurant known as Selvins Orchid patch

An early bloomer in the flora surrounding the restaurant known as Selvins Orchid patch

This is Bette Middler of the orchid chorus.

LastDayWireWorm Here is a wireworm sampling this fungus getting all his strength to get under my door and position himself immediately under my slipper so that during one of my evening sojourns to the lieu I will hear the familiar cracking as in popping popcorn. My imagination runs wild before sliding onto the floor in my bare feet and imagining what might surprise me with my next step.

LastDayRoomPaper thin and gone next day.

LastDayMightyTreeTowering beauty on a pricey lot. In the jungle they are often surrounded by complimenting greenery but here, for the sake of the subdivision, we will have grass.

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At last off to the party, rain and all. They start their parties at 11 and they go to 4. Off and into 2015. Happy New Year.

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Sloth on a Stick

A young female sloth wanders the roads and pathways moving very slowly with many falling prey to the rapid movement around them.

A young female sloth wanders the roads and pathways moving very slowly with many falling prey to the rapid movement around them.

Young Sloth Rescue

Carolina and Jennifer had already lifted this young 3 toed sloth from the busy road just minutes before I passed by and had gently placed him in the familiar surroundings of a low tree near Aguas Claris in Playa Chiquita, Costa Rica.

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Thinking he may be better placed back further into the jungle and away from the harassing dogs and reckless drivers, Carolina tempted him to grab onto the stick to make his move back into the jungle.

SlothRescue10 - CopyComfortable in his new tree and lightly hissing at her gentle grip he cautiously sniffed the burley branch and took the move under consideration while Annabelle used her persuasive charm to encourage him down.

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Convinced he was making the right move he lovingly embraced the branch and the rescue trio of Carolina, Jennifer and Ana Belle were only to happy to move their new friend into a new safer home territory.

Although it may take some time she (female sloth) would eventually move away and as slow as they are the constant motion gets them great distances in a day.

Watching for sloths, iguanas and of course dogs, make driving a car or riding a bike a bit of challenge. Shortly after relocating the sloth a very large iguana appeared from out of the jungle and they set to protecting yet another unsuspecting member of the jungle family from a sure fate of either the road or a local dinner table.

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Still Raining

From my porch I get to watch the rain on the jungle  leaves.

From my porch I get to watch the rain on the jungle leaves.

It should not be any surprise to me, just about anywhere in the northern hemisphere you decide to plunk your bottom, December and the winter solstice will exhibit the slow creep of a change in the weather on the march to the shortest day of the year. (longest night of the year if you prefer sleeping)

The further north you are the more dramatic it becomes and to escape this inevitable transition from bright fall colours to a soft grey and then to a biting cold white. I choose to experience the very predictable rains in the southern caribbean and all that it brings with it.

Understanding that our climate is becoming less predictable, here on the southern caribbean coast of Costa Rica, we still get rain in the night from mid November to a constant torrent day and night into early December. There is a gentle tapering to light showers into the new year. This seems to be OK with all here in Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo knowing that January will again bring the sun and the inevitable influx of tourists, the heartbeat of these southern communities. Pitter patter, pitter patter.

We, Julie my neighbour and Jennifer our amiga, drove in Julies old Suburu to the newly renovated Cultural Center in Puerto Viejo last night for a one woman show by Vivian Rodriguez of San Jose. She wrote and performed her short play, Consuella, before a full crowd of locals and tourists and was warmly applauded for her creative efforts. The town was bubbling with activities, Italian, Seafood and Tico restaurants were full and street vendors sold bbq skewers of chicken and pork on a tortilla for 2 dollars, while others displayed Jamaican patties, and banana cake under a 60 watt bulb. The tone is very different at night as all the tourists who have been scouting the rescue centers and national parks during the day come to refresh themselves in a fresh fish dinners and 2for1 mojitos while the daily scramble of fruit vendors and the rasta crowd shrink behind their roadside stalls.

Many of the local folks I have met, pilates instructors, cafe owners, fellow ex patriots, and all those connections I make through sheer imposition, were in their best bib and tucker for the event with long dresses and local fashion. I even found something without flowers to wear.

The performance was followed by a generous display of Bocas and wine at the Pecora Nera where Ilario Gianonni plied us with some incredible platters from his talented kitchen. His restaurant has enjoyed a well deserved reputation as the most respected in quality and service for the past 12 years In Playa Cocles. Several incredibly light pizzas were topped with eggplant, radicchio and some scrumchy lean ham. All this was plied with red wine before an huge plate of deep fried red snapper appeared before us which was so crunchy and fresh, like I never tasted before and before returning home set before us were a deliciously light crème brulee and some incredible custard puffs with biscotti and warm chocolate sauce.

The company of the evening included the owner Ilarios the owner of the restaurant, our feature performer Vivian Rodriguez, the travel writing gal Camille Willemain, friends Julie, Jennifer and lucky me. Thank you all for good food fun and welcoming me into your community.

The rains have abated and I will scurry to the local store on my bike for some…well for some excuse not to to continue to sit here at my computer.

These are my friends in Playa Chiquita Jennifer and Carolina.

These are my friends in Playa Chiquita Carolina and Jennifer.

Ear Up

Ear Up – Speak up I only have one ear. This little mutt is a fixture on the road to Cocles.

Breakfast view - A little melange of rice, pineapple, mushrooms and eggs

Breakfast view – A little melange of rice, pineapple, mushrooms and eggs

Eating Diamond Back Snake -  A 2 meter long Diamond Back snake sunning himself in the woodshed was met with and roasted very quickly by the local work force.

Eating Diamond Back Snake – A 2 meter long Diamond Back snake sunning himself in the woodshed was met with and roasted very quickly by the local work force.

New Ride Optimist - My new ride was purchased sight unseen and did not disappoint.

New Ride Optimist – My new ride was purchased sight unseen and did not disappoint.

Pillow Art - Unabashed honesty in the pillow Art of Costa Rica

Pillow Art – Unabashed honesty in the pillow Art of Costa Rica

Wood Shed - Where the wild things are.

Wood Shed – Where the wild things are.