To Santa Rosa and its very, very dry forest

After an early breakfast we head north to the Área de Conservación Guanacaste. Just about an hour away from our El Sol Verde.
At the reception is in the “Casona”, this Black Ctenosauro welcomes us (Garobo Negro).

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In the “Casona”, we buy the entrance ticket for 8000 Colones and a map. The options are a short walk around the “Casona” and 12km walk to the Pacific Coast and Playa Naranjo.

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Driving on the bumpy “streambed” road to the Pacifc Viewpoint

It is very, very hot at the end of this year’s dry season – something like 36 degrees – and we decide to drive our car to the Pacific viewpoint or mirador. We cannot imagine to walk in the hot sun under trees that have no leaves.

Our car bumps up and down through what Ursula calls “streambeds”. We pick up a German student that has tackled the 12km to Playa Naranjo. He feels hot and is happy about the lift. After six endlessly bumpy kilometers we park our car and follow the sign that points 600m to the viewpoint. The beautiful view of the bay made it worth to walk.
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As we come back, the German boy is also back – he has given up walking in the torrid sun.
On the way back we capture memories of the leaveless trees.

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and of a brave bromelia.

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The forest teaching path explaining typical dry forest trees

Around the Casona, there is a short path of 600m that explains the trees. This is an Indian nude tree.

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And this is the Pochote tree… it has grim thorns.

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This is a Madero Negro. It is also called Madre de Cacao, because it is often planted with cacao plants to provide them with shade.

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I am impressed. The leaveless trees would be rated as being dead in our country. But here, the first rains (soon  expected) will turn them green again. What a miracle.

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The brave battle of the Costarricenses against the filibuster William Walker

It was here at this dry and hot place, where the battle of Santa Rosa took place in March 1856. A company of Americans, French and Germans of the filibuster William Walker arrived exhausted in the Casona coming from Nicaragua on the evening of March 20th.  I can understand that they were exhausted – it IS hot here at this time of the year. An army of Josefinos and Costarricenses led by their president surprised them in the early next morning and won the battle within a quarter of an hour, as explained in the Casona.

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The Costarricenses won the decisive battle against Walker later on April 11th 1856 in Rivas. This is the beginning of the nationalism of Costa Rica, celebrated on 11th of April each year.

I like this small balcony with all these warnings. Actually the aggressive bees have been imported from Africa, because they produce more honey, and now they are out of control. Hence the warning.

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The afternoon in Liberia – some nice restored colonial houses

We spent the late afternoon in the small town Liberia. We parked our car near the concrete church, had a pipa in the central park and a fruit juice in the courtyard of the restored hotel Liberia

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We find more beautifully restored colonial houses…

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… which made us feel like living back in 1900, when the brother and sister of my grand-father had emigrated to Costa Rica.

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Our last night in the small paradise called El Sol Verde

We spend our last night in the paradise called El Sol Verde, run by Ingrid from the Netherlands. One guest-artist has painted this terrace where we have breakfast and find Internet in the evening.

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A small ten minutes walk to the river nearby in the early morning…

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and the we say good-bye Ingrid and Gecki, the dog who always accompanies the guests for their walks.

Rincón de la Vieja – hello monkeys and fumaroles

The Rincón de la Vieja offers several hiking paths. We drive to the Pailas Area and spend some three hours on the round walk with steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pots and joyful monkeys swinging in the branches. There are also more walks to waterfalls, but around noon it is simply too hot to do any more walking.

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The sulfur scenting fumaroles
As we start our walk, we wonder, whether the forest is burning. Well, yes, could well be, all is very dry. But what we see in the trees is steam emitted by the fumaroles.

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We smell sulfur in the air – like rotten eggs… this is how our first fumarole announces itself.

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We smell sulfur again – this time it is a yellow steaming lake.

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More fumaroles and a bubbling mud pot – blubblubbbluuubb.

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What about a fango in here? “Well, you might need a cream to cure your burned skin after that”, Ursula jokes drily.

Our last fumarole is the Volcancito also announcing itself with that penetrating sulfur odor.

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All this shows that this area is active. The Rincón de la Vieja (old lady’s corner) has last erupted in 2012. The ascent has been closed since then for being too unsafe.

The dry shrubs and the dry forest
There is more than fumaroles to see in the Rincón. During the first part we walk in the torrid sun and the plants are very dry.

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Though it is very dry, we come across some bromelia.
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We come across this brave flower that we have never seen  before, perhaps also a kind of Bromelia.
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Then we are happy to reach the shady forest. This is a “Naked Indian” tree. This tree is very typical of Nicoya.

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There are romantic creeks in the shade.
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and fig trees that have robbed its host tree from light, until it died.

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Hello monkeys and more
The park also provided us with animals. We found some birds, some monkeys and we could catch a. glance of an anteater rushing by.
Right at the entrance we saw a small group of spider monkeys jumping from one branch to the next. And later it was a herd of about forty white face monkeys that crossed our path high above us. They jumped,and run across the branches, incredibly fast. Sometimes they would swing using a liane, until the force of the swing allowed them to reach the next branch… and off they jumped. Once two monkeys sat on the same liane, swung back and forth, as if they really enjoyed it and then finally jumped off. We watched the herd – high up in the trees -, until our neck ached. In addition we could hear howler monkeys. They must have been close, but we could not see them.

We also came across some birds, among them a tucan, a gray hawk, a white throated mag-pie and the motmot with the tuft on its long tail. You have to enlarge this foto to see the motmot, it sits on the lowest branch.

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So, sorry, there are no more fotos of the monkeys and the birds. They are too fast and too far away. We miss the Swarowsky telescope of Mauritius that we could use in Monteverde.

From Sarchí to Arenal and – la conección floja de la caja fuerte

Driving from Sarchí to El Castillo near the Volcano Arenal

After a cosy breakfast in the garden of the Cabinas Los Ranchos,

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we visit Sarchí and its colorful church…

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take some photos in the coffee plantation that might have belonged to the “los Peters”,…
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buy some beautiful souvenirs in the Sarchí gift shop (tastefully carpented puzzles),…
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and I forget mine all (will have to pick them up on our way back to San José).

From Quesada we continue to the touristy La Fortuna and head to the more quiet Village of El Castillo located behind the Volcano Arenal and by the Arenal Lake. Our target is the Hotel Linda Vista that I know from seven years ago. I was here with Ernst.

With memories of the small infinity pool and the great view I drive our Daihatsu up the steep-steep road to the cluster of bungalows. We take a suite and enjoy its view of the lake…
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and of the Volcano Arenal.

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I have a swim in the pool and warm up in the Jacuzzi while Ursula fights with a bad connection…

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The badly connected safe (la caja fuerte con conección floja)
While I am swimming, Ursula keeps on walking up to the reception and down to our suite and back up again. What is going on? She stops my swimming and tells me that in our suite the safe (caja fuerte) does not work. She has found rusty batteries under a cover that had been fixed with black adhesive tape (cienta). She has taken the batteries and the cover to the reception. With a new set of batteries and some more tape she now is on her way back to our room. She inserts the new batteries, fixes the cover with the tape… with no success; there are no lights at the safe that would show it is working. She goes back to the reception and says that the new batteries do not work. The partner of the receptionist now walks down with her. He inserts the batteries again, fixes the cover with a lot of tape (as if he had to fix a broken leg – they both laugh). Then the battery works twice… and after that says “low battery”. There must be a bad connection or a conección floja. The guy mumbles about having to use a key… but Ursula makes it all clear to him that the key would not solve the low battery problem. She adds that she has dealt with such equipment when working as a medical doctor. She asks for the safe to be replaced.

From my pool I observe Ursula coming up again with the guy from the hotel carrying a safe on his right hand shoulder. Soon thereafter they return. The guy carries a new safe.  He has taken it from another room and installs it in our room. Now our safe works. “Do I need the key now?” Ursula asks with a smile. “No, no, no key needed.”, is the answer.

With all that we have learnt some new words in Spanish such as “caja fuerte” means “safe” and “conección floja” is “bad connection”…

We end the day in the restaurant that serves excellent food and also wines.

Completing our mission in Monteverde: Saw the Quetzal

Heading to Santa Elena and Monteverde

We say good-bye to the Linda Vista Hotel… and I also say good-bye to my wonderful memories with Ernst that had revived here. With Ursula I drive along the Arenal Lake, come across the flag of Nidwalden or Obwalden decorating a farm and hotel built in the Swiss Chalet style, enjoy a Zimtschnecke and an Apfeltasche at Tom’s German Bakery, fill gasoline “regular” into our car and then tackle the notoriously bad roads to Monteverde. This Quaker settling founded in the fifties tried to stem the tourist flow invading the rain and cloud forests since the early eighties by resisting to having the acccess roads paved, but the tourists come nevertheless. I assume that they stay longer though before tackling the bumpy roads again.

On the way we stop at the restaurant Viento Fresco to eat lunch. Yes, I remember, we have stopped here as well seven years ago. This small restaurant is at a convenient distance from the Arenal.

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The Viento Fresco offers excursions to their waterfalls. But we continue our rough forty kilometers to Santa Elena across pastures dotted with cows. We have reserved a room in Cabinas Eddy that now is managed by the son, Freddy, and his mum.

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We have chosen this place for its friendliness and good value for money. Immediately we reserve the guide Mauritius for an early morning walk in the cloud forest reserve.

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Yes, this time we saw the Quetzal in the cloud forest reserve

We take the early public bus at 6:15, arrive at the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso around 6:45 and  start our tour with Mauritius shortly after seven.

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The cloud forest has grown on the slopes and ridges of the Monteverde mountains, fed by the clouds that rise from the Pacific Ocean and bring rain, even in the dry season. The forest is dense and characterized by the abundance of epiphytes such as bromelia and orchids.

Slowly we follow Mauritius. He fixes his Swarowsky firmly on the ground, directs it to some branches, and we see a green Tucancillo peeping out of a hole in the stem of a tree. This is the smallest Tucan of Costa Rica.

Mauritius shows us more birds hidden in the dense forest: The Tangara Vienticastaña, Saltón Cabecicastaño, Solitario Carinegro and Trogon Ventrinaranjado – like its cousin, the Quetzal, belonging to the order of the Trogoniformes, as Wikipedia explains to me.

The birds are small and far away in the leaves. With my i-phone, Mauritius takes fotos using his Swarowsky, like of this Chispita Volcanera.

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Here is a caterpillar that will become a butterfly,…

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and here is a venenous snake (called Palm Pitviper). What eyes does Mauritius have to spot the green snake rolled up here? It looks a bit like a sandwich.

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A Coati walks on the path and disappears quickly in the bushes. An ardilla or squirrel runs up and down a tree.

But what we look for now, is a Quetzal. We can hear them, but where are they? A colleague guide gives us a hint and, yes, we find the Quetzal. Here it is, also taken through the lens of the Swarowsky using my i-phone.

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It is blue with a red-brown breast. It has this long long tail and a crown on the head. Mauritius sings with the bird that replies believing he might be a female Quetzal. We stay here for a long time watching how the bird cleans his wings. Mission completed, was this not what we came to Costa Rica for? Ursula asks jokingly.

To end the walk we visit the Colibri place at the entrance of the park. We spot a Brillante Frentiverde and a Colibri Montañés… “If you are lucky you can see nine species here…”, I hear someone say.

After the walk with Mauritius, we slender through the park on our own. Our target is the “the Ventana”, where we can almost see the Pacific Ocean and the Carribean at the same time… almost, if it were less hazy. This is the view towards the Carribean Sea.

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We cross the hanging bridge, see another Tucancillo and soak in more impressions from the dense and multilevel vegetation of the cloud forest.  Good for us that it is not raining, but nature would need more rain here.

We take the bus back to Eddy’s to have a siesta and book the night walk with Mauritius.

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The night walk – full of surprises in the dark

Around six it gets pitch dark in Costa Rica. We are close to the equator. We are a group of six that sets off with Mauritus. He explains that we will walk in a forest that has no bromelias and no orchids. It is a much drier forest than the cloud forest. There are various micro climates around Monteverde/Santa Elena.

Mauritius warns us not to touch the leaves. Because there might be snakes or insects… And to underline, what he means, he shows us some leaves full of wasps. They are sleeping here. They currently have no nest. as they look for a new place. If we touched the leaves, the wasps would wake up and become very angry. On the stem of a tree we find a scorpion. Under UV light it is very bright, under normal light it is just grey, difficult to distinguish from the wood. It is also not recommended to touch the scorpion!

We look at the trees. There are strangular figs that grow from the top of a tree to the bottom, settling their roots and strangling the original tree. Just the fig tree remains. Mauritius lifts up avocados. Well, sort of. They are tiny, just big enough to fit into the beak of the green Tucancillo – its favorite food.

Mauritius finds some sleeping birds. They stand with one foot on a branch hiding under leaves and placing their heads under their wings. We see a thrush (Drossel) sleeping and two whitish birds. The light does not wake them up. “How did you find them?” we ask. Mauritius smiles… these birds always come back here to sleep.

We observe leafcutter ants. The smaller workers carry leaves. The larger soldats protect them. The leaves are fed to a fungus in the anthill. And this fungus then provides the food to the ant brood.

And we also see some mammals. An armadillo with nine belts – Mauritius has heard it run on the ground – well I could not hear its steps. Then an alarm – a colleague guide has spotted a sloth. All night walkers congregate around it. It hangs high up in the trees and moves a bit, as if it had bad dreams. No wonder with all the lights pointing at the poor animal. While walking back, Mauritius points to an Olinga and explains that this animal is similar to a Kinkajou… okay? And both are similar to a Coati. Okay, we know Coatis and that they are related to Rancoons. We watch the Olinga that elegantly runs along branches, also high up in the trees.

While we drive back to our hotels, Mauritius mumbles: ” A sloth on an electrical cable!” He stops the car and lets us out. Right. There is a sloth hanging on a bunch of electric cables and rushing along it – I have never seen a sloth move so fast. Well, the village has cut off the migration path of the sloths, but has created a new “road” for them to “walk” along. It is just a dangerous walk and I do hope that this sloth will not be hurt. I took a foto using my i-phone in the dark, here it is.

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As we leave the car and say good-bye to the group and Mauritius, Ursula summarizes: “Das isch witzig gsy” or “this was cute”. Thank you, Mauritius, for this night wildlife experience.

On the shoulder of the Volcano Arenal and to Cerro Chato

The Arenal… dormant for centuries, then waking up forcefully, now calmer

The cone of the Volcano Arenal overlooks the Northern Lowlands  of Costa Rica.

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The volcano is more than 1600m high and still growing. It had been dormant for centuries – just a mountain covered with dense forests and with villages at its feet benefiting from the fertile soil. In 1968 the volcano woke up forcefully. Craters appeared. One of them, named “crater C”, sent pyroglastic clouds down to the west destroying the villages in the Taracon valley. From now on the volcano kept on being active throwing out ashes, blocks of lava and more pyroglastic clouds. The latest activity ocurred in May 2010: The National Park and Observatory Center had to be evacuated. Eight lava streams run down the slopes to the foot of the volcano. Since then, though, the volcano has remained  calm.

With Ernst, I had been here in November 2009. Up to then,  there was a regular flow of lava that all  guidebooks praised as a spectacular sight at night. But, when we arrived, this flow of  lava had stopped. With Ernst I visited the garden of the Observatory Center and I was afraid that the Arenal would just hold its breath to erupt soon again. Well it held its breath until May 2010 to calm down after that. But it is one of the most dangerous volcanoes and can revive any time.

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The gardens of the Observatory Lodge and Center – carefully attended

Around nine we arrive at the gate of the Arenal Gardens belonging to the Observatory Lodge.  A few meters below the gate is a small hut offering walks. It is the small company called Tucan Trails. With Saul we arrange to walk to Cerro Chato tomorrow.

We enter the Observatory Gardens. The lodge must have been renovated since 2009. It looks inviting with its cabañas spread out in a beautiful tropical garden.

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We walk for about two hours. The paths are well marked in colors. We come across a water fall and a hanging bridge.image

In the middle of the rain forest we find a garden worker with an engine that blows leaves away from the path. He does so to avoid that visitors step on snakes hidden under the leaves, he says. Strange, the roaring sound of the engine in the middle of a nature reserve.

In the lodge we take a small dessert and then return to our beautiful hotel Linda Vista in El Castillo where we recover by swimming in the infinity pool with the view of the Volcano Arenal and the Lake Arenal.

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The strenuous walk to the Cerro Chato with the green laguna

The next morning at eight I meet Saul at the gate of the Toucan trails just below the entrance to the Observatory Lodge. Ahead of me are seven strenuous hours walking up to the Cerro Chato and back down… it was a unique experience with the young and enthusiastic guide Saul that loves his mountains and the path they are looking after.

While walking along the shoulder of the Arenal to the foot of Cerro Chato, we listened to birds… Saul knew them all, found these tracks of an old puma or a young leopard (one leaf in one of the tracks was still green, hence the tracks were fresh),…

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knocked on the roots of this canela tree… the aboriginals used this natural drum to communicate across distances,…

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climbed up and up for about 500m to reach the green laguna at around 11:30.

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A family from Brasil took a bath. Across the lake we could see the place where the path of the Observatory Lodge ends… we could hear  the noise of a sawing  machine, here in the middle of the rain forest… this seems odd to me. By the way, Cerro Chato means “flat mountain”. The Chato has no conical shape, but is flat. Its crater has been filled with water since long… the Chato is  no longer active.

Coming back down requires a lot of gymnastics. The slopes along the Cerro Chato are steep, uneven and slippery. Once down, it seems endless to me to get back to the Arenal, crossing one creek after the next… down and up, down and up… and again down and up. We see spider monkeys, high up in the crown of trees, hear some ground animal run away (boars?), admire the wandering tree…

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and its leaves that the sloths love to eat.

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From one of the lookouts there is another great view to the volcano.

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To end the tour we visit the old lava streams from 1992 – 25 years ago – and they are already called “old”. I look up to the Volcano Arenal – cloudless today – and ask it to keep quiet for now.

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Thank you, Saul, for this wonderful experience. Yes, it was strenuous, but it was worth it. Close to the artificial (though beautiful) gardens of the Observatory Lodge there are real rain and mountain forests that wait to be detected. I hope that many more visitors of the Arenal area will benefit from that.

Now I am looking forward to the pool and the jacuzzi of our Linda Vista hotel.

 

More Tico specialties such as tight garages or dish washing

In Costa Rica I observed a few more specialties such as washing the dishes, cars fitting precisely into garages, some interesting compay names and many, many small shops selling practically everthing needed in daily life.

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 Washing the dishes with firm soap

This is the place where dishes are being washed in the Don Qujote school: A sink, running cold water, a box with firm soap and an abrasive sponge. The Ticos rub the cups and plates carefully using the sponge and some of the soap. Our homestay family foamed the dishes in using the same soap.

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Many Ticos have earned enough to own a car, but space is scarce

There are a lot of cars in Costa Rica. San José suffers from traffic jams during rush hours. On one Friday evening it took us two hours to return to Santo Domingo, and this is usually just a journey of ten to fifteen minutes. But then the Ticos have to park their cars and space may be scarce, when they live in small houses. Here are two solutions we found.

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German immigrants leave their traces

When arriving at the airport, I immediatley notice the company sign “Kölbi” with the frog. It is one of the major communication companies and these frogs are omnipresent here. To me this name sounds even Swiss. image

Other names that remind me of Germany are Lehmann (a bookshop), Fischel (a pharmacy chain) and Münkel (an chain of opticians).

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Super Cho and Panadería Tuti

In Santo Domingo we found small grocery shops at every corner. This is one of them, Super Cho (probably a Tico version of “Joe”).

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These small shops have everything needed for daily life, even dental tape. Around the corner was the panaderia Tuti, where I discovered the “sweet bread” called “pan dulce” or “budín” (can you recognise the word? It is “pudding”).  Delicious. This was my snack (Z’nüni) every morning at school.

Costa Rica is a very catholic country. Their Radio Reloj plays “Ave Maria” in Latin at midday and at six o’clock in the evening – this can be found in youtube. Good bye for now.

Escaping the afternoon heat in the lush Bougainvillea garden

On one of our first days in Santo Domingo we discovered the Hotel Bougainvillea. It is a quarter of an hour’s walk away from our home and from the Don Quijote school. We buy cards to access the gym and swim area – this costs us 65 Dollars for four weeks. From now on we escape the blazing summer (verano) heat that weighs on Santo Domingo in the afternoon. Instead we enjoy the breeze at the pool, and we cool down by swimming. Often we are alone in the pool.

 

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After the swim, we join this man on his bench…

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and stroll around in the beautiful garden with shady trees, flowers, small and huge bromelias,…

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an abundance of orchids,…

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a Japanese garden representing the pacific ocean and…

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with the many birds… no fotos of them, because they sit in the crowns of the trees. These men on the high stand are better equiped with huge telescopes and teleobjectives; they can shoot fotos of birds.

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To wrap up the afternoon, we take a four fruit jugo (juice) in the friendly hotel bar.

We have booked the last two nights of our Costa Rica vacation in the hotel Bougainvillea to recover from our tour around the country and to get ready for the long flight home. Now we look forward to picking up our car. It will wait for us in the hotel Bougainvillea. Hasta luego.

 

Learning Spanish in Santo Domingo – a good choice

Two students – not sooo young any more

We are two students of Spanish, but we are no longer very young. We have both retired recently. We feel like improving the command of Spanish. Just for our pleasure and to communicate better, when traveling in Costa Rica or later in other Spanish speaking countries.

We have quite a bit of collareral knowledge, because Spanish is not the first language we have learnt. We would like to study Spanish by talking, reading, learning more words and repeating specific topics based on OUR books. We look for one teacher for the two of us.  We would also like to live with a family.

What we absolutely do not look for are tests, exams and graduations. We learn Spanish for our pleasure and therefore we are intrinsically motivated. We will feel when our command of the language improves.

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We selected the Don Quijote school in Santo Domingo

We contacted four schools and then selected Don Quijote, an affiliate of a much larger organization. The school is located in the suburb of Santo Domingo above busy San José. We selected Don Quijote, because they listened to our requests and replied to them in detail.

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We arrived in Santo Domingo in Semana Santa and felt at home

When we arrrived in Semana Santa,  our homestay family gave us a hearty welcome. For four weeks, we have now lived in two small and cosy rooms with separate bathrooms and enjoyed the hospitality and the well balanced cooking of Charo. We felt at home. The location was ideal – in a small and quiet street, just five minutes from school and two minutes from the bus station to San José or Heredia. Whenever we returned from a visit from San José, we breathed deeply… much fresher air and much more tranquility in Santo Domingo. This was an excellent choice.

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Working in a family atmosphere in the Don Quijote school

The Don Quijote school is in a spacious villa.

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Carlos greeted us with a friendly “adelante”, when we entered. Gabi, the manager, welcomed us. Her friendly smile fills the spacious common rooms with the kitchen.

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Michel shows us round… we love the beautiful garden surrounding the villa.

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We work following our agenda

With Eli we work for three weeks following our agenda: A lot of conversation (exchanging about Costa Rica and Switzerland, always being corrected), reading, repeating grammar (such as prepositions, reflexive verbs, pronomina… and of course the subjuntivo) and enhancing our vocabulary (such as cooking, cars, animals and plants etc). Thank you, Eli, for answering all our questions patiently – we only stopped asking, when we understood the topic “our way”. And thank you, Gabi, to have kept all tests away from us.

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Other activities

The school offered other activities beyond “dry” learning. Every Tuesday the students and teachers cook and eat together. Once it was empanadas, once stuffed paprika and once we prepared Älplermagrone – this was the idea of Ursula and the Costa Ricans and the students loved it – muy rico. This is how I explained the recipe to all of them, before we started to cook it.

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The recipe is based on Betty Bossi. She has an equivalent in Costa Rica: Tía Florita.

The students regularly meet in a bar to have a chat and once we shared breakfast at school. The students mostly speak Spanish with one another though “short cuts” using English or French might be tempting.

Once a week, Michel takes new students to San José to introduce them to the city. And Jorge, the school driver that fetches students at the airport, offers great tours for up to four persons… we have participated in quite a few of these tours.

I can recommend this small Don Quijote affiliate of Santo Domingo

This is a small school. It provides a good environment for one to one lessons. I observed one student that came as an absolute beginner and after a week he was able to have a conversation in Spanish. I can recommend this small school. If only more students would come here to benefit from it.

What I can also recommend is this little restaurant called the “Gentle Cat”. It is just across the street of Don Quijote and offers good Costa Rican food at reasonable prices. We sometimes recovered forces here after an intensive morning.

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Our three weeks have passed quickly. Now we will soon start to travel and look forward to applying what we have learnt – communicating in Spanish.

Excursion to Cartago and the Orosi valley

On Monday, April 11th 2016, we have booked Jorge again. With Roland from the Netherlands, Jorge takes us to Cartago and to the Osori valley. We are leaving early at 7:30. It is the Battle of Santa Rosa (1856) that the Ticos celebrate today as a major event forming their nation.

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Cartago, the old colonial city that has suffered from volcano eruptions and earth quakes

Cartago was founded in 1563 on 1400m above sea level. It has been destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Irazú in 1723, then shaken twice by severe earthquakes in 1841 and 1910. After 1910, the people from Cartago gave up to rebuild their Santiago Apóstol Parish Church. It is a ruin now, an impressive ruin.

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Instead they built the Basilica de la Nuestra Señora de los Angeles.

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They constructed it on the site where a lady collecting wood found the Negrita, the black and tiny Maria. Whenever she took the  Negrita home, the Negrita went back to the place, where she had been found. Now there is a pilgrimage place here with holy wells that are visited by sick people asking for help. The miraculous healings are documented in vitrines… here is one for the eyes.

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Above the well is this quote from the bible: “Como busca la cierva corrientes de agua, mi alma te busca a tí, Díos mío” (Salomo, 42 – As the deer looks for streams of water, I look for you, my God). On August 2nd, this Negrita and the well are visited by many pilgrims.

In the Basilica the mass is terminating. The interior has a beautiful ambiance with its blue columns, wooden ceilings and stained windows. The Negrita resides above the altar.

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The Jardín Bótanico Lankester – loved by tourists and Ticos

Founded in 1973 in Paraíso, not far from Cartago, is a center of exhibition and conservation of the University of Costa Rica. The main focus is on orchids.

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There are also a lush Japanese garden, a cacti corner, ferns, ginger plants and palm trees.

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And, on the meadows, in corners of the Japanese garden, under fern trees, all over we meet Tico families that have come together to share a picnic on this sunny free Monday.

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Orosi and the beautiful valley of the Reventazôn river

Our car climbs up to a small pass, and from here we can see the Orosi valley with the coffee plantations.

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In rural Orosi, we visit the San José de Orosi church and the Convento Franciscano, unfortunately closed on Mondays.

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We drive around the lake to Ujararas and eat lunch in a beautiful garden restaurant with an adjacent swimming pool and fish pond for Tilapias. The voices of happy chlidren enjoying the pool are in the background. The restaurant is surrounded by Cas trees, and we take fruit juices made from Cas.

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200m farther there is the old church of Ujarras. The first church here was erected in 1561. But in 1832 it was decided that this place is too dangerous due to flooding and frequent earthquakes and the people had to relocate. The church then  decayed. Now there is a park here… on this sunny free Monday it is full of families that merrily enjoy their picnics. Jorge says that he has never seen so may people here before.

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On the way back to Santo Domingo, we are caught by some traffic jams – the Ticos seem to return from their picnics to tackle the rest of the week working again. But then, Jorge knows the best secret streets home, and we arrive in time to fulfill our promise and prepare Älplermagrone (pasta as prepared in the Swiss Alps) for our Tico family.

The Museo del Oro y de Numismática – a gem in San José

Sunday is another day that is free from studying Spanish. Today we visit the Museo del Oro Precomolombino y de Numismática in San José. The afternoon is reserved for family visits.

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A very, very beautiful museum shop

When we arrive around nine, the gates to the underground museum at Plaza de la Cultura are just being opened. The museum shop looks very inviting. It sells handcrafted work produced by the remaining 2100 Indígenas or natives from Costa Rica. High quality artwork! Masks, objects made out of woven textile, calabaza, gold and terra cotta. I would love to buy it all, but my suitcase is to small. Here are some samples.

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Museo de Oro: An great overview of pre-columbian life and artifacts

The precolombian inhabitants of Costa Rica were at the intersection of the high cultures of Mexico and of the Andes, and produced wonderful small artifacts made out of gold, both by negative form wax casting anf by positive form hammering. The motives are taken from nature which is illustrated by an interactive rain forest mockup. The artifacts date from 500 to 1500 AD. It is sad for me to read the edict of the gobernator that had the natives expelled from their homelands in 1665.

Here are two examples, a bat…

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… and a frog.

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Also beautful pottery was manufactured by the pre-columbian natives.

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… and music instruments.

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At an interactive desks visitors can compose their own precolumbian music, a great idea that we have not tried out though.

You can also learn, how the precolumbian natives lived, how they organized their spiritual lifes (women played an important role) and how they buried their dead.

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The numismatic department – entertaining and informative

The numismatic museums I have seen so far, are nothing but a boring display of coins and more coins under glass. But this numismatic museum is different. It makes the link between money and history in Costa Rica. Precolumbian lived in a barter economy. In 1821 Costa Rica became part of the centralamerican confederation which was reflected in the coins. From 1838 onwards, the now independent nation of Costa Rica had heir own coins. The coins were called Escudos and Reales. This is an Escudo of 1850.

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From 1896 onwards the money was called Colones. In 1950, the Central Bank of Costa Rica bought this printing machine from Heidelberg that was in use until 1994.

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Heidelberg, this is the town where I was born, and from here the brother and sister of my grandfather emigrated to Costa Rica. The cousin of my father built up the “Los Peters” coffee business in Sarchi in the 50-ies. I loop back to my roots. And in the afternoon, we visit two of my cousins descending from the “los Peters family”. We received a great welcome… wonderful and thank you.