We woke up after a good night’s sleep for Steven, finally. I always sleep well, but this is a big deal especially with his muscles aching. Our hotel comes with breakfast, so I ran down to get coffee. The staff is so kind. The waiter/all-around helper, Coca, brought the coffee upstairs for me on a tray.
When we were ready, we went outside and had a delicious, French-inspired breakfast while taking in the view of the Pacific and a big iguana. Ah, this is the life. Oh wait, I meant Pura Vida!
We took a long walk on the beach and ended up at an outdoor market/Chicagoesque summer fair. We don’t really need any souvenirs since we already have Costa Rica fridge magnets from our last trip, but we did get some coffee and chocolate grown and made by an American who is from the original hippy generation. A vegan who, with his wife, grows cacao and spices that the sell in the market. He did tell us how not eating dairy wouldn’t show right away, but it would pay off in the long run. He proudly announced that he was 72. I didn’t want to say anything, but I would have guessed 75. So much for veganism when you have spent 40 years in the sun.
We also bought a couple of water apples, which I had never heard of, but which have the texture of an apple but a more subtle flavor and one big pit in the center.
We were chilling on the deck, when we heard that Guiselle and Karl wanted to come over. Excellent! We hung out by the ocean and then luxuriated by the pool before they got hungry. We ended up at Wine & Soul. a wine and tapas bar that was just opening. It seems like lunch places close by 3, but dinner places don’t really open until 5, and we were in that in-between time. We got their just as it was opening, but we didn’t mind waiting. The owner, from Normandy, was very kind and we had a delicious lunch and bottle of Pinot Grigio. Plus, we saw monkeys! First time this trip. After saying goodbye and thanks again to our fabulous hosts, we lounged so more and got ready for dinner. We went to the tiny restaurant Steven mentioned yesterday, Antichi Sapori, where we had delicious plates of gnocchi and were served by the very enthusiastic and very busy owner, who hails from Sicily. His wife does all the cooking and they work nonstop during high season and then return to Sicily to recharge.
We are sad to be heading back to the snow (Sue is sad, I am on the verge of “accidentally” missing the plane and just staying here until the next one leaves… in May).
As an aside: We are not surprised to learn that Tamarindo’s knickname is Tamagringo. As I said yesterday, this is the English-speaking capital of Costa Rica. Beautiful, but very touristy.
Sue and I made the decision yesterday evening that we would like to spend the weekend on our own. Karl and Guiselle are fabulous hosts, and they cheerfully put up with us for an entire week. But we decided that since we were in Costa Rica, it would be nice to spend a couple of nights not imposing on friends.
After a quick discussion, we decided that we would head to Tamarindo, about 30 minutes from Playa Flamingo. There is a national park just outside of town that is known as a leatherback turtle sanctuary, so it seemed like a reasonable place to head. Sue took up the mantle of travel agent and quickly found the Hotel Casa Blanca which is inside the national park and literally right on the beach.
I worked in the morning and then we packed up our stuff, said our good-byes to Karl and Guiselle and headed off. As I said it was only about 30 minutes, but absolutely a world away. Tamarindo is tourist central. Apparently, there is great surfing and the streets are filled with tourists, ranging from surfer refugees to weathly retirees to 20 somethings on week/weekends away with their buddies. (I decided it is the English speaking capital of Costa Rica.)
We checked into the hotel, dropped our luggage and went for a walk down the main drag
to find something for lunch. Our hotel host recommended a little soda place–soda is the term used for a small lunch stand like resturant–think of a food truck type place, but not mobile. However, all four tables were taken and we were not inclined to wait. We continued down the street and found a local brewery and settled onto a table on the patio that overlooked the beach. About 2 minutes after we arrived two ladies asked if they could share our table. We agreed and after ordering we got to talking. They are from the Netherlands and were spending two weeks touring the country. They are neighbors, both with partners and small kids, but were traveling by themselves. After lunch, we walked back to our hotel via the beach.
The restaurant next door to the hotel was closed for a special event, that we quickly figured out was a wedding as we could watch the entire proceedings from our balcony. The party started at about 5 p.m. and as I am typing this at 10, it is still going strong. At some point, we will write our thoughts on the music that they chose, but that humorous soliloquy is for another time.
We chose an Italian place for dinner called Antichi Sapori Sicilian Cuisine. It is about 0.7 miles away and right in the middle of town. We walked over, but alas, it was totally full–all six tables. The owner looked heartbroken that he could not seat us and apologized profusely. We took it in stride, made a reservation there for tomorrow, and I guess Sue will write about it then. We decided to go to another place called The Dragonfly. We confidently walked about half a mile in the wrong direction, doubled back and found it down a dirt road just past a mini-golf place. Once again, it was full with an hour wait. We had thought through this possibility when were walking up to it as we passed a taco place called the Green Papaya taco bar. We walked back over to it, were seated right away and had great burritos. The staff there were straight out of central casting for surfer refugees, our waiter was British, most of the others seemed American.
We walked back to the hotel and settled in to listen to the end(?) of the wedding.
It’s a tough life when you have to work in the sunshine while looking at palm trees, but that is what we did day. That is until about 5 p.m. when we decided it was time to walk on the beach and have an Imperial while we watched the sunset. I am Steven’s driver and nurse, but it’s really not a bad gig. He is only a semi-whiny patient and I am adding up all he owes me while I am the patient, caring wife.
If you think it’s difficult to work when the tropical beauty is calling, it is. But then you realize you are lucky because you have jobs that allow you to work in the tropical beauty instead of at home where it has just snowed about 6 inches.
Steven is doing much better. He has run out of the good meds (read pain killers) and started taking Advil BUT, he was definitely keen on my running to the farmacia for more muscle relaxants. Did you know you can get muscle relaxants over-the-counter in Costa Rica? Maybe I should have asked for the opiods. Ha. No way. I just read “Dreamland” by Sam Quinones about the opiod and heroin epidemic. You can, however, just ask for the muscle relaxants .(Conrelax anyone? I don’t know what’s in it, but Steven’s aching muscles seem to like it a lot.)
We went back to the beach where we walked yesterday, because why not? It’s convenient, the parking is easy and free, and we can sit at Las Brisas, have a beer in the shade and just chill. I can’t comment on the food, but the chips were crispy and the company was good 🙂
Karl had also warned us about the “watchy” or “watchee” (or “watchie”) who is the guy who tells you where to park and then offers to watch your car so nothing terrible happens like an accidental break-in. The watchee (my preferred spelling) came out after we had parked a few meters away and I waved him off. Oddly, the car was parked just where we left it and was unmolested.
Today was a relatively quiet day as we spent most of the day working. It is pretty amazing to think about the fact that I can do my job from anywhere. All I need is internet and mobile phone connectivity. I was on a call this morning that seamlessly connected Costa Rica, New York and Chicago. I am old enough to remember when the cost of international calls was measured in the tens of dollars per minute. Now, I pay $10 a day to make unlimited calls, send unlimited texts and use virtually unlimited data on my phone. Amazing.
We did take a bit of time out to go for a long walk on another beautiful beach–I have no idea the name of it. But, suffice to say that it is wonderful. The birds on the beach did not seem the least bit bothered that we were walking by. I believe the white ones are cranes, and the others are pelicans.
After our walk, we hopped back in the car, returned to Playa Flamingo and had lunch at Coco Loco. We sat outside literally on the beach and had lunch. (I had a watermelon slushy. I love watermelon slushies! Can it get better than sitting on the beach with a watermelon slushy? Not really.)
After lunch, it was back to “the old salt mine” called work. Although it is really hard to complain when my “office” is the patio and the background to my video conferencing is palm trees. Yes, I must admit, I did take time to gloat about the weather to my–no doubt former–friends in our Chicago office. Sorry, I don’t feel bad for reminding them that is was 90 degrees and sunny here, while it was 32 and snowing in the frigid tundra.
For dinner, we wandered over to a local beach restaurant called The Beach House.
All in all, a nice, quiet, working day.
PS. In case you were wondering a group of pelicans is called a pod. I believe these are the New Orleans basketball team on some sort of hiatus.
Before we arrived, Karl had already warned us that maybe we didn’t want to get out of our car when we got to the apartment. Instead, he suggested, we should honk and he would come out to help us because “there are a couple of dogs that may menace you.” OK. Mandy, the maybe part pit bull, seems fine. She hasn’t bothered us at all, except to sniff my hand and turn up her nose.
Next warning was about shaking out our towels, clothes and shoes to make sure scorpions didn’t attack. Karl was stung by a scorpion that had crawled into the apartment and settled next to his foot. When he moved, bam, scorpion sting! Very painful, but not dangerous. With his quick wits, Karl grabbed the chair he had been sitting on and crushed that scorpion. Don’t mess with Karl! Or at least, don’t sting him in his own home.
Third, after we had walked along the side of the road (no, there aren’t any sidewalks, don’t be silly), Karl said, “You have to watch out for snakes by the sides of the road.” OK, well, at least there was no story about poisonous snake bites and so far, we haven’t seen scorpion nor snake.
Finally, Karl warned us that if we wanted to go into the ocean, we should drag our feet across the ocean floor. Walking in the ocean is dangerous! Muy peligroso! If we picked up our feet, we might step on a sting ray, and uh oh. Another big ouchie.
The one thing Karl neglected to warn us about was body-slamming waves. Karl!
Now on to the fun stuff:
The good news is that Steven is feeling better (with the aid of painkillers). He can move around as well as an aged grandpa (which is almost is) and he smells like menthol, too. It’s probably because his lovely wife has given him several massages. I swear, his back muscles are like fossilized rope. Yucky.
Today, we went on an outing for lunch in Potrero. There is a brewery, Cerveceria Independiente, with a kind of outdoor food court next door. Steven treated himself to two cervezas (don’t tell Dr. Oscar). We both had burritos and we shared yucca fries. Those things are good! Way better than papas fritas. It was a hotbed of English. The couple who own the brewery are a Californian and a Texan, the customers all seemed to be English. Hey, I am trying to learn Spanish! I mean: Estoy entendando aprender español.
We (Karl, Guiselle, Sue, and I) decided to go the beach Sunday morning(ish). We packed all the necessities into a cooler. Beer, ice, beer, water, beer, snacks, towels, sunscreen, etc. and headed off to a beach called Playa Prieta (the dark beach). We all piled into Karl’s car and drove through town and up a road that began to climb up a large hill. It had a steep drop on the beachside of the road. We came to a space in the guardrail and what looked like a very wide gully wash. Guiselle said, “Turn here” and we trundled down a steep rutted dirt path. At the bottom, we found a gorgeous beach.
We hopped out of the car, found a nice shady spot and settled in. After a while, Sue and I decided to go in for a swim. We waded out until the water was about chest high and started body surfing the waves. The waves were in the 1-3 foot swell category and we were having a grand old time. We saw a perfect wave approaching and got ready to body surf it. There is some disagreement between Sue and I over the height of the wave. I think it was approximately 80 feet tall, Sue says 3. (Sue is correct.) I assume you understand that I was correct. Either way, we rode the wave –Sue successfully, me not so much. I mistimed my swim and was ahead of the crashing wave. It landed right on top of me and used my body like a basketball against the bottom. I stood up right away and thought, wow, that one hurt a bit, but no big deal. Until I tried to breathe. Guys: I had the same feeling we get when that girl knees us in the balls after we say that thing to them that they don’t like. Only it wouldn’t stop. I was hunched over in knee-deep water and told Sue that I needed a bit of help. We walked back to the blanket and I lay down wheezing like an even older man than I am.
I figured it would ease up if I just relaxed and allowed my breathing to calm down. After about 10 minutes it was clear to me that wasn’t going to happen. We piled back into the car and went to the local hospital. Which is, of course, closed on Sunday–I guess because no one ever gets hurt in church. Karl and Guiselle quickly figured out where that the nearest 24/7 hospital was (about 3 km away), and we headed there. By now I was really very uncomfortable; I could breathe and didn’t feel dizzy or faint, but I could not seem to get enough breath to catch up.
The hospital staff was great. They got me on a gurney, hooked up the oxygen, gave me an IV and then started to ask about what had happened, my details and my medical history. All in perfect English. They explained everything to me first, then to Sue and then to Karl and Guiselle (in Spanish) so that nothing was lost. Once my oxygen level was stabilized, they took x-rays of my back and neck. (Yes, Phil, they did find a spine despite what you have been saying all these years). They quickly ruled out any broken bones and diagnosed that my muscles were just very inflamed and were locked in spasms. The spasms were causing me to be unable to expand my lungs.
They gave me a muscle relaxant, some Valium and told me to rest. After about 45 minutes, Dr. Oscar came and explained that he spoke to the clinical director and they were a little concerned that there could be bruising on my lungs. While they thought it was unlikely, they recommended that we have a CT scan, however, their hospital did not have one and the nearest one was in Liberia about an hour away. We (Sue and I) discussed the low probability of the bruise and the potential problems that would occur if the bruise started to cause problems when we did not have access to a CT scan locally. (Also, Karl had called 911 when the hospital was closed and was told, “I don’t know that area,” so that did not inspire confidence in case of breathing emergency.) I thought to myself, the reason I have experts in my life is to rely on their opinion, and while it would mean a two–hour roundtrip in an ambulance and missing the Super Bowl, we decided it was the wisest course.
The hospital provided the ambulance and a very kind nurse practitioner (Sofia) for the trip. The clinical director was already at the hospital in Liberia. When we arrived, she met us at the ambulance, dealt directly with the medical staff in the Liberia hospital (who, by the way, all spoke perfect English). Because it was Sunday night, the usual wait time for a CT report is 2-4 hours, but she arranged with the pulmonologist that she would video the CT scan and he would read it immediately so that if there was nothing wrong, we could get back on the road without wasting too much time.
There was much good news. First, the CT scan was fine, second, and just as importantly, I was able to stream the Super Bowl on my phone during the return trip ;-).
All in, a busy first day of the trip.
A few very well deserved Thank yous.
First, of course, to my wonderful, brilliant, calm under pressure and clearheaded wife. (You’re welcome, husband.) She took control, knew when to ask me if I needed anything, dealt with all the paperwork–apparently my birthday is May 30, 2020, (OK, so I was a little worried) just so you know 😉
Second to our fabulous hosts Karl and Guiselle, who got us to the hospital, made sure all the translations came through and even made us dinner when we got home at 9 p.m.
Third, Dr. Oscar and all the medical staff at the BeachSide Clinic. They were just fabulous. They patiently explained everything at least 3 times (to me and Sue in English and to Karl and Guiselle in Spanish). They were attentive and kind. When I was uncomfortable, they had three guys come and move me about 3 inches, but only after explaining exactly who was doing what and with Dr. Oscar watching just in case. They were so kind in fact, that when we were leaving the Liberia hospital, the clinical director asked Sue if we wanted to stop for dinner as we had not eaten that day.
Fourth, the hospital staff in Liberia, all of whom were patient and explained everything to me in English and made sure I knew what was happening and when it was going to happen.
Getting hurt in a foreign country is scary –especially one where you do not speak the language, but the care I received was just amazing, both medically and personally.
Uncle David–Sorry if I got any of the medical stuff wrong.
After taking a 6:30 a.m. flight, we arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica, at 11:30 a.m. You gotta love a country where the immigration people ask you for the address of where you are staying and you say, “No sé, In Playa Flamingo next to the Super Massai,” and he says, “Good enough. That’s an address here.”
The first thing we did after getting through that grueling interrogation was hit the bathroom to change into shorts. Bye bye jeans for nine days! Customs was just as tough. The luggage went through the x-ray machine in 10 seconds and next thing we knew we were at the Budget rental car.
By 1:30 p.m., we were with Karl and Guiselle in Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste, and then we were walking on Playa Potrero. We had a delicious dinner at home, talked until we couldn’t stay awake and ended the day happy and exhausted.
We are a day behind. Stay tuned for Sunday’s adventure …
I don’t know why I get this way, but now that I know we are going to Italy, I am obsessed with finding just the right places to stay at just the right prices. I know. We have five months! Maybe I am a little crazy when it comes to travel, especially with my niece or nephew, but I want to make sure everything is perfect, I don’t break the bank, and we don’t miss out on a great place to stay because I was disorganized.
As I have mentioned, I prefer Airbnb because we can get two bedrooms (teens need their privacy and alone time), a lounging space, and a kitchen for about the same price I would pay for a single hotel room.
Here’s how I search:
Just as in buying real estate, I go for location, location, location. The first thing I do is research neighborhoods. I am not that picky since every area as something to offer and it will all be exciting and new to me. I prefer to be a bit off the beaten track in a neighborhood where real people live. That’s another benefit of Airbnb. It does mean that it takes a little longer to get to the top tourist sites, but that is a trade I gladly make.
Price. To trick myself into not getting big eyes, I put this filter on immediately. I don’t want to know what I can have for $300 a night, because I am not going to be able to have it. Make sure you look at the total and not the per night price. People set all kinds of cleaning and service fees that can make one place look cheaper up front, but really be more expensive.
Amenities. We need WiFi. Sorry, but this is the modern world, we don’t speak the language, and we are leaving loved ones home. Plus, how would I post the blog? We also want a well-equipped kitchen. I don’t need to eat three meals a day in restaurants. Sometimes you just want to bring a sandwich with you. Then, I think about specifics. I want air conditioning in case of an Italian heat wave. Convenience of public transport is also key since I am almost certain I will not rent a car no matter how enticing driving the narrow, winding roads of Italy seems. Check the list of amenities! I saw one where a visitor said the oven wasn’t working. The owner replied that he should have checked the listing more carefully because the oven was not included in the price although it was pictured. What? Also, make sure the price includes linens and towels, unless you are bringing your own.
Reviews. Yes I read them, using Steven’s rules. Throw out the gushiest and the worst and see what’s left. There’s always one complainer, but if many people mention that the bed was lumpy, it probably is.
Check the specifics. What are the check-in and check-out times? Are they flexible if you have flights that don’t coincide? What is the
Agonize, search a dozen times, make a decision and forget about all the other places you looked at. Let’s face it: We’re going to have a great time whether we stay a few blocks to the east or west, or even 20 minutes by bus. Everything is an adventure when I travel.
We continue to plan and book our Alaska travel. A quick recap for those of you who have forgotten.
My mother, brother, sister and myself, along with our respective wives/husband, are going to Alaska this summer. We are cruising from Vancouver to Whittier and then heading to Denali National Park. My sister, her husband and my mother are taking the cruise line’s three-day Denali tour.
My brother, sister-in-law, Sue and I were talking about doing a three-day remote camping trip, but we were dissuaded from that by my cousin who has been to Alaska many times. She advised that we might have three days of bad weather so flying in and out may not be available and, even if it is, we might be spend three days soaking wet and cold. I tapped out and we looked for alternatives. She let us know that there were a couple of lodges about 100 miles into the actual park that might be good places to stay.
We opted for the Kantishna Roadhouse for three nights. It looks amazing and we are very exciting. Once we had our Denali destination, we began to look at the logistics. We have two options to get to Kantishna. We could fly or take the train. Flying has the benefit of being much faster, but often the weather grounds the plane. Even the charter company said it is risky to assume that they will get out on any given day. Not a big deal if you are camping, but given that we have a three-night reservation, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to risk it.
Getting to the Roadhouse via train is more complicated, but more reliable. The Roadhouse runs a bus from the Denali train station to the Roadhouse that takes six hours. It leaves from the Denali train station at 1:30 p.m.; however, the train from Anchorage arrives in Denali 3:40 p.m. so in order to get the bus, we need to stay one night in the town of Denali. Making it even more complicated, the train leaves from Anchorage at about 8:20 a.m., but we disembark the cruise ship in Whittier at 8 a.m. This leaves us figuring out how to get from Whittier to Anchorage (estimated travel time 90 minutes) in under 20 minutes. I guess that won’t work. We checked on a couple of other options (get off earlier and taking the cruise line’s chartered train), neither of which are going to work. That means we are also spending a night in Anchorage. (Any suggestions on things to do/see would be much appreciated).
After our three day jaunt in the park, we are going to Fairbanks. The Roadhouse bus takes us back to Denali, where we can grab the Alaska Railway’s train (which leaves late enough that we do not have stay overnight in Denali again). Sue and I are planning to take a trip from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle. It is a 15-17 hour bus trip that appears to make a few stops along the way, then reaches the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Arctic Circle sign. We will get off the bus, take a photo and then turn back. I am not sure there is even a gift shop! I know 15 hours on a bus in order to take photo and get a certificate that we have walked north of the Arctic Circle, on the edge of foolishness. Sue and I are absolutely in; my brother and his wife may apply reason and logic and drop out.
A few years ago, for her bat mitzvah, I took my niece to Paris. She picked the spot and I am lucky enough to have friends who live there, so we had a homey Parisian extravaganza. Now, with high school graduation just around the corner (wow, that was fast!) we are planning our next trip. Once she got into the college of her choice (!), she was able to pin down a spot: Italy. So right after graduation in May, off we go.
I have only been to northern Italy and that was in a different life, so I am figuring it is a hit-the-hot-spots tour. We already have plane tickets to Rome and back. I have learned from Steven, so I have a spreadsheet with three different itineraries to show my niece. They are basically Rome, Florence, Venice, and sometimes Sorrento/Capri. I am leaning toward a long day trip to Venice from a base in Florence, but Aunt Susie will do whatever her niece prefers.
When I travel with my niece or nephew (and mostly with Steven, too), I prefer an AirBnB because we can each have our own space and stock up on snacks or breakfast. I get that Americans are spoiled, but I am trying to avoid the places that have a sofa bed as a second bed. I don’t want to sleep on that, and I’m not going to ask anyone else to either. I will write another post on how I go about choosing AirBnBs, but for now: no sofa beds!
Maybe I am weird, but Rome has never been at the top of my list. Now that I know I am going, I am excited. Plus, I grew up in New York, so crowded, loud, frenetic, a little grimy (this was New York before it was invaded by Disney) mixed into my culture don’t bother me. In fact, I like it that way. It’s homey. All suggestions on what we can’t miss are welcome.
Florence is one of Steven’s favorite cities, so seeing it without him is a little sad, but I am sure that if we went back, there’d be plenty more to see and do. My niece has her heart set on Venice, a place I would skip, but once again, Aunt Susie will do whatever her niece desires. I think we will both enjoy Sorrento and a ferry ride to Capri. I would like to go to Pompei, and while it’s not the top of my niece’s list, I’m sure she will endure.
Oh yes, we might do a little shopping and partaking of the local cuisine.