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Indian Paintbrush and Texas Blue Bonnets

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Count Down...

Hola!  Today is our last day here at the Bat House in Cuidad Colon, Costa Rica.  And, yes, it's called the Bat House because at sometime in the past, apparently there were bats staying on the premises.  A follower mentioned something about vacations coming to an end.  I'll have to admit that Bill & I don't think in terms of "vacations" these days...  since we are full-time RVers our life is just one adventure after another.  


Yesterday, Saturday, we headed down to the Farmer's Market.  Since we'll be flying back to the States on Monday morning we didn't buy anything.  We had hoped to say goodbye to Debra, the caterer we'd met and who invited us to her home.  We had forgotten that she wouldn't be there as her daughter is getting married his weekend.  


We bought our baked goods at the local panaderia instead.  Now, there are at least 3 different bakeries as you walk around the block.  We've tried them all..  prefer one for their bread, another for their cinnamon buns, and don't care for the third one at all.  Isn't it funny how you come to have your favorite haunts, even if you live in a place only a month?


I wanted to check out the Cultural Center again...  
 This time I saw this man practicing the cello (is that right?)
 And this young boy at the piano...
 And, my favorite...  the little girls in the dance studio (taken through the glass window)
This boy was having a guitar lesson...  

I peeked in some other rooms...  there was a large group of elementary age kids in a circle...  maybe learning a dance.
And there were a couple of empty rooms...
just waiting for the next student to arrive.

We enjoy the market's array of fruits and vegetables, but we also enjoy just watching the people...
Here's Bill...  in the plaza
Just hanging out....

We're home by noon....    Usually I have laundry hanging on the clothesline and by noon it's dry.  Even the denim jeans!  But I want to get home to take everything in,  since we are into the rainy season, the thunderstorms can come up real quick in the afternoons. 

At the end of yesterday's blog I wrote something about not knowing what new critters might show up in our yard...

This guy (and all his relatives) isn't new.  In fact, I think he was the welcoming committee when we first got here...
These guys are usually in the tree above our house...  pulling off the nuts...  and dropping the shells on our roof.  This activity starts around 5:00 am each morning and continues off and on all day long.  

But yesterday we were treated to TWO new critters...


The Malachite Butterfly
It's hard to show the pale green that this guy actually is.  He looks a lot like a Monarch, except instead of orange, he's green.  I am always thrilled when I spot one.  This one stayed around most of the afternoon, but was too high in the tree for me to get a good shot with his wings open.

AND....  the prize of the day!
Bill looked out the huge picture window in the late afternoon...  saw this guy.  At first we thought it was the clay-colored robin...  but as it emerged from the underbrush we knew it wasn't...  then...  dove?  no...  OH MY GOODNESS!  Look at that blue eye stripe!  Quick!  Get the field guide!  Oh... there's a pair of birds!!!
Found him in the book...  he's a 
Lesser Ground Cuckoo

We watched them until they disappeared in the dense growth that border the yard.  Guess it doesn't take much to get us excited.

Now it's 7am, Sunday morning...  
I'll go to the 10:00 mass in town.... Bill will probably walk in and meet me at 11:30...  we'll walk to the panaderia for a fresh loaf of bread...  then walk home together....
And after lunch I'll drag out the suitcases...
Try my best to keep each one under 40 pounds....
Remember to keep the toiletries separate....
Keep out tomorrow's underwear and travel clothes...
(travel clothes = heaviest clothes we brought)

We'll say goodbye to Barbara & Richard, who were so helpful when my laptop crashed...
Say goodbye to Vanessa, who has helped us make reservations for our outings...
Say goodbye to Jose....  in whatever language he and Bill are using today...
Say Goodbye to the Bat House

We thank all the above for showing us how beautiful Costa Rica is and how friendly and hospitable.

This has been another fantastic adventure!

That's All For Today....


Saturday, April 28, 2012

(R)ambling on....

Hola!  We've only a couple more days here and it will be time to head back to Texas.  As is our usual style, we just sort of pick up and go...  no fanfare...  no last-minute blow-outs or grand finale.  The biggest thing for me has been to buy just the right amount of food...  we like to eat, and groceries are our biggest expense.  But we don't often throw food out either...  Bill isn't at all picky about eating leftovers.


Last night I fixed that yuca that's been sitting in the cupboard for a couple of weeks...  I don't know why I've been putting that off...  probably because I thought it would take forever to boil to a soft texture.  Anyway, last night was the night...  I fixed chicken breasts with onion, garlics and jalepenos ....  with chopped cilantro on top for good measure.  (Sure cleaned out the veggie drawer with this dish!)...  and then fried the boiled yuca.  


It wasn't bad...  tasted to me mostly like a potato, but with a more mealy texture and maybe a hint of sweetness.  I didn't take any pictures...  but you've all seen a yuca in the groceries...  they're that long, brown tubular shaped root vegetable that is coated in wax.  When it's peeled it looks pretty much just like a potato.  There is enough for dinner tonight....  which leaves only 1 more dinner to think about.  


We bought some pollo empanadas at the bakery (chicken pies) for tomorrow.


Breakfast will be cereal and milk.....  lunch will be sliced avocados with a couple of variety breads I bought at the panaderia this morning.  I think we have enough juice for 2 more breakfasts...  also enough coffee for one more pot.  


If I thought the person who will clean this house before the next renters would use stuff...  or the next renters would use it...  I'd be happy to leave things that aren't perishable...  like rice, beans etc.  But I have a feeling that anything I leave will get tossed....  so...  that's why my kitchen looks like Mother Hubbard's Cupboard.


Here's a picture I took recently...
Bill and Jose
Jose is the gardener/lawn person here.  The person who owns the house we're renting also has 3 other houses located on the lane going down the hill from us.  Two of those houses are rented all the time, as is the one we live in.  The 4th house is the house the owners live in..... when they're here.  They also use it as a house exchange...  right now they are in someone's house in Switzerland, and that family was here.
But...  back to Jose......  he keeps the jungle from creeping over the driveway and the paths.  The bamboo in our side yard grew at the rate of about 6" a day...  when it got to over 5' high, Bill asked Jose to cut it down.  Jose also does some maintenence work.
Now... here's what's funny...
Jose doesn't speak English
Bill's Spanish is limited
Everyday they have an animated conversation....  this goes on for as long as a half hour.
Everyday I ask Bill what they talked about....
Bill's answer is...
"I don't know...  a little about the birds...  some about the town...  oh yes, Jose hurt his shoulder and will need physical therapy..."
I just shake my head...
I guess 2 guys can have a complete conversation and know what's going on without either really understanding the language.

What more can I say?

Well, I will have to add some photos...
There was a huge flock of Montezuma Oropendolas that visited us yesterday....
 Big guy...  the males are about 20" in length
 He has something stuck on his bill...  although the beak is black and orange, it isn't striped, like this looks...
Butt shot....  but a pretty good look at his beautiful yellow tail feathers.

There were close to 2 dozen of these birds in the trees just off our patio. They are quite noisy when talking to each other...  
While we certainly enjoyed their visit, this wasn't our first sighting of this species.  We'd seen them when we wintered in Mexico, and they have been at this place a few times since we've been here. 
But these are the best photos I've been able to get.

Who know...  something really grand might fly in before today is over.....

That's All For Today.....



Friday, April 27, 2012

Our Daily Walk....

Hola!  After our wonderful Quetzal outing anything I write will probably seem rather dull.  But to Bill and me, every day is a new adventure and never fails to add another page to our memories.


It's about a 15-20 minute walk from our house to the town plaza.  We both enjoy walking and by going into town everyday we can pick up what we need at the panaderia or mercado and can easily carry home what groceries or supplies we need.


During our stay here we've had things break.  I lost the pin holding my watch band on to the watch...  we found a joyeria and got that replaced.  Our backpack split open along side the zipper.  There's a shoe repair shop that fixed that for around $3.00.  And of course, my laptop problems...  kind of costly fix, but really important to me.  We had all these things fixed on our walks to town.  


It's great living in this house.  Having a home base (and I do mean quite literally... home) has given us the opportunity to get to know an area fairly well.  


Some of the little things we see going to town...
A nest of Clay-colored Robins...
We had seen the mama bringing these little guys their lunch...  looks like they aren't too far away from fledging...

We walked into town twice yesterday..  our usual early morning walk to the bakery. 
And then we went back into town in the afternoon..
We'd been told that the Organic Farmer's Market is on Thursday afternoons.
The sign reads:
"Fall In Love With Your Health"
At least that's the literal translation...  you get the meaning...

Bill & I had a small organic farm and sold at our local Farmer's Market for 18 years.  At that time farming organically was just coming into its own.  We left the farm 12 years ago, and when we go back to the market now, there are probably as many organic growers as those that use chemicals...
Here's what we found at this market...
Not Much!
This is the same building that houses the Saturday market.  If you read my market blog, you can see that the Sat. market is totally filled with vendors.  

Well, we didn't stay long at the market.  
I have been meaning to stop at the cemetery, which is on our way home..
 The Entry...  


 Costa Rica is predominately Catholic...  the altar in the cemetery is quite a normal thing.

 A few of the graves are in the ground....

 But the majority of them are above ground...  in crypt-like vaults.
Of course, with my wild imagination, I have possible conversations running through my head...
"Hey down there... I always told you I could top you at anything"
or
"Okay, Now who has the upper hand?"

and a few others too tacky to write down..

I bet you have a few thoughts, too...

I do kind of wonder who chooses the "pecking order", so to speak....

There were some crypts that were 3 spaces high and 4 or 5 across.  I guess that other than cremation, it's a good way to conserve space.  

Bill, being an avid genealogist spends a lot of time in cemeteries...  I tag along and read headstones (and often go birding)...
Cemeteries are great places to get a feel for history and the local culture.  I love them!

Often there will be lovely trees and flowers...

These two shrubs were both in bloom here.  I particularly like the red one...
The cemetery caretaker told me it's name...
As nearly as I could translate, I believe it's
Passion of Christ

Doesn't matter what...  it's beautiful!

The thunderclouds were gathering over the mountain and we could hear the rumbling get closer and closer, so we hurried on home.

The rains never did come yesterday... just threatened all afternoon.

Guess I can't write a blog without a bird picture...
This rare bird was in our yard this morning...
Truth is, I don't know what breed this chicken is...  
Maybe I need a whole different set of field guides!

That's All For Today....

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Going To The Birds - Part II

Hola!  This is Day 2 of our latest adventure.  We had traveled by bus to the Quetzal Paradise ...  the Hotel de Montana...  about 50 miles south of San Jose, Costa Rica.  At 8,862' it's WAY up in the mountains...  in the "Cloud Forest".  This is one place where the Resplendent Quetzal lives.  The quetzal is in the trogon family and before and during the breeding season, the male quetzal sports long tail-coverts.  During that time, the male, which is normally 14" in length, adds an almost a foot in length when you include his tail feathers.


The Hotel de Montana is owned and operated by Jorge Serrano.  His father moved here in 1957, raising his eight children.  He farmed, raised cattle and made charcoal.  In 1990, Jorge, the youngest son bought a part of the land and built the lodge and cabins as a tourist project, with the main attraction being the Resplendent Quetzal.


Our reservations included dinner on the day of our arrival, breakfast the following morning, a guided bird tour to see quetzals, unlimited use of trails, all the birding a person could possibly work in, and of course, the cabin with the fantastic view.  The cost of this was around $120 (American).


I've already covered Day 1...  let's move on to Day 2...

Breakfast! 
This is a typical Costa Rican breakfast
Rice and Black Beans, Eggs, Toast
Mango and Pineapple
Juice and Coffee

Actually, this breakfast was after the nearly 2 hour birding trek through the forest.  

A couple from Switzerland were also staying at the hotel, and that couple and Bill & I were the only folks in that morning's outing.  Jorge, the owner, leads the tour, although his son, who is in his early 20's is also an able guide.

Jorge has lived on this mountain all his life.  He KNOWS where the birds are.  I asked him if there are any times his tours don't catch sight of a quetzal.  He smiled and answered that around 99% of the tours are successful.

It was quite a hike through the woods, but there are well-trod paths.  
Howard and his wife, from Switzerland and Jorge.  We're all armed with binoculars, spotting scopes, cameras... and think Howard's wife has a video camera.

Jorge led us to this tree...
Kind of grainy picture, but... here's my first sighting of a quetzal.  This male is guarding the nest while the female is out having her breakfast.  There are probably 2 eggs in the nest.

We waited a while to see if the female would return, but Jorge said that she might be a couple of hours, so we moved on.

More walking through the wilderness.  Jorge is calling some kind of whistle as we walk.  

Success!  We hear calling overhead!  And...  a male is perched on a branch high above us...
Taken through the spotting scope, this is my first time seeing the entire bird.  This is a male, but since this isn't the breeding season, he has dropped his long tail feathers.

Taken with my Canon...  using the 300x lens.
You can see helmet-like crest; the glittering green feathers, the crimson-red breast, and some white in the tail feathers.

r
Resplendent Quetzal
Also using my Canon with the 300x lens...
Here you can see a bit of the maroon upper breast as well as the other gorgeous colors.

We were all just awe-struck by our good fortune!  While Jorge may have a great track record, there's still the weather (it rained really hard earlier and the fog kept coming in) and so many other possibilities to factor in.

We continued our birding tour...  saw several species that were new to me and Bill.  Then continued back down the mountain to the lodge.

There, Jorge showed us the newest member to his family...
A baby quetzal
Jorge was walking the trails a few weeks ago and saw that a storm had destroyed a nest.  One baby bird had already died, and this one was barely hanging on.  The parents had already abandoned the nest and had moved on.  Jorge brought the baby home and has been caring for it ever since.  On our walk through the forest, he picked up nuts and berries...  things that the baby could eat.
He has named her Esmeralda, but has a back-up name in case "she" turns out to be a "he".
Jorge puts Esmeralda outside on a tree limb at times during the day.  He expects her to get used to being out and one day she'll fly off and be on her own.
I expect that will be a bittersweet day for Jorge as he is very attached to her.

During our 2 days here, we got so we could recognize over a dozen new species of birds.  We saw others and were told what they were,  but I can't remember them all.

One very common bird was...
The Sooty Robin

Here's a Black-billed Nightengale Thrush feeding it's baby.  
Baby looks bigger than mom!

We keep a "loose" list of what all we've seen.  Since arriving in Costa Rica we've recorded over 60 new species.  This may not seem like a lot, but since we've done a fair amount of birding in Mexico, we've been fortunate to have seen many birds there that we don't see in the USA.

While we were in the forest, we carry a field guide..
The Birds of Costa Rica
by Richard Garrigues and Robert Dean

Jorges saw that we had it, and motioned to Bill to hand it to him.  I thought he was checking out a bird...  but, no...  he showed us his own name in the list of credits...  acknowledging him as a contributor for information in the book.
We asked Jorge to sign our book...  on the page with the quetzal.. Of Course!

Too soon it was time to head back.
An article that was in the Tico Times in 2008.  Tells about the lodge and Jorge's family.

We said our goodbyes...
This is a lovely place...  I hope to return!

Jorge and his wife had to go to one of the nearby towns, so they took us to the bus station about 5 miles or so towards town..
We waited for the San Jose bus...  it arrived...  Nobody got off and the bus was full.  We could ride - but it was standing room only.

We didn't know when the next bus would arrive...  nor did we know if it, too would be full...  so....
 I'm not sure if Bill was feeling woozy...  or it was me....  
I stood until I thought my arms were going to be stretched so much that my knuckles would drag...  finally sat down on the handicap space (floor)...  
 My view coming down the mountain...
I tend towards motion sickness...  but because we were constantly getting behind logging trucks and semi trucks, and...  passing them...   I think my attention was sufficiently distracted.
We only had to stand for about 40 minutes before a few people got off the bus and so we had seats for the next 40 minutes.
We got back into the traffic in San Jose...  headed back to the bus station.  This juggler was providing some entertainment at intersections with traffic lights.  He deserved some colones just for risking his life in that traffic!!!

We had planned to take a taxi from the Musoc bus station to the Coca Cola bus station, where we'd catch a bus back to Cuidad Colon.  BUT...  once we got off that bus, we took one look at each other...  and I think Bill knew how nauseated I was (I probably was as green as that quetzal)...  and suggested we just take a taxi all the way home.

There are lots of taxis waiting outside the bus station... we got lucky and were approached by Gilbert... who spoke English.  So, for $25 we took a taxi all the way home.

Gilbert entertained us ...  both with his stories and his driving...  Sure took my mind off being sick.

We got home to warmer weather, lower elevation, and a LOT of wind!

Our total cost for this adventure was around $200...
but, believe me...the experience was 
Priceless!!!

That's All For Today...


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Going to the Birds.... Part 1

Hola!  We've probably all heard that phrase "A Trip of a Lifetime"...  well, I must have the 9 lives of a cat, because Bill & I just took another trip that I'll never forget.  


We hired Alex to take us from our house in Cuidad Colon to the Musoc Bus Station in San Jose
Alex's service isn't really a "real" taxi, but he's a friend of Vanessa, the girl who lives in the house just down from us.  It was about a 45 minute drive to the bus station...  traffic was very heavy.  San Jose is the capitol of Costa Rica and has a population of around a half million people.

As I've mentioned before, my Spanish is nil...  Bill can usually speak enough to get by.  This time that didn't work.  The ticket clerks didn't speak any English and from what we could read above the ticket counters, it didn't look like any buses would take us to our destination (half way between San Jose and San Ysidro...  about 50 miles).  I did what I usually do in times like this...  started looking closely at all the people waiting for their bus to see if I could pick out someone who spoke English.  I hit the jackpot!  Vivian and her daughter were sitting in an area across from us.  Turns out Vivian is Swiss...  speaks German, Spanish...  and...  English!  She has lived a good part of life in Argentina, met a guy who's from San Ysidro...  they've used the internet and Skype for over 2 years as their means of correspondence...  and finally, she's moving to Costa Rica so they can be together.  Vivian took Bill under her wing...  went with him to the ticket counter and between them, he got our tickets to ride.  We were on the same bus as Vivian and her daughter, which was also a stroke of luck, because Bill & I were to get off the bus at KM 70...  pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  Vivian made sure the bus driver knew where we wanted off.  Turned out that the bus driver knew the owner of the hotel and knew exactly what to do.

We were going to the Hotel de Montana...  the Paraiso Quetzal
This sign greeted us as we got off the bus.

We walked about a quarter of a mile down a dirt road to the hotel.  What's at the end of the road?
The most magnificent bird in Costa Rica...  
the Quetzal.

We got checked in, and were given the key to our cabin...
You can barely see our cabin... it's way in the back in the middle of this picture.  There are 9 cabins in all at this time, situated in strategic spots on the side of the mountain...
Doesn't look very big...  but had everything we needed...
Here's the view from inside.  There was a small deck with stools if we wanted to sit outside.

I'll mention here that the elevation here is 8,862'
This place is in the "Cloud Forest"
The cabin was anything but airtight..  no insulation, but it did have a small space heater, and...
FIVE blankets on the bed!  I kind of arranged them here so that you can see how soft, fluffy and... warm! they are.  It can get into the low 40's (F)...  It didn't get that cold during our stay, but we'd been living in shorts and tees...  windows open all night...  that sort of climate for a month.  So we needed all the warm we could get.

We got to the hotel before check-in time and our cabin wasn't quite ready.  That suited us fine...  we headed right out to the back deck.
Here I am...  surrounded by hummingbirds.
There are 4 species of hummers here at this time...  the Magnificent, the Fiery throated, the Volcano, and the Green Violet-ear.  (there are 8 species during "prime" time)
I took over close to 300 pictures...  I never did get a really good shot of all the hummers here.  Try as we might, neither Bill nor I could get an accurate count of how many birds were flitting in and around the feeders at a time....  but I'm guessing it would be close to fifty.

My favorite ...
The Fiery throated Hummingbird

The Magnificent Hummingbird

Look at the detail of the feathers on this guy!

We could have spent hours just watching the hummers...
But the afternoon rains were coming, so we decided to take a walk on one of the trails as soon as we got checked in.

There are thousand-year old cypress trees here, as well as huge oaks and various other trees.  Although the only thing in common was the size, we kept thinking of the Redwoods in California.  Here's Bill...  looking WAY up into the top of this tree.

And we came across several waterfalls....
This one dropped probably 75'.  

We didn't see many birds during this walk...  the rains were starting to come, and the tree canopy was actually fairly dense.  Since Costa Rica is already a bit into the rainy season the paths were kind of muddy and I had to really watch my footing.


While waiting for dinner, we sat around the fireplace..
Just relaxing...  sipping a glass of wine...  looking a pictures of all the birds we hoped to see in the morning.

Evening came fast...  we had a lovely dinner of trout, with the traditional Costa Rican sides...  rice and a cabbage salad (slaw?).  Also strawberries for desert.

We went back to our cabin...
The rains had slacked off...  the fog kept rolling in.... and the sun would occasionally peek through the clouds as it was setting.  I took this shot from inside our cabin...  looking out over the valley.

During the night I woke up and looked out the huge picture window...  I could see the lights of houses in the valley.  It was just beautiful!


It was early to bed, though...  we were to start our birding walk at 6:30 in the morning. I'll continue with this adventure tomorrow...  The BIG DAY!

The day of the Quetzals!

That's All for Today...