Sun, Sitting, and Laundry

No rain last night. Thunderstorms predicted for this morning and afternoon, but those umbrellas I carted around all day were only for shielding Melanie from the sun. We woke to sunshine. Breakfast was a repeat of yesterday. A walk along the beach, now in a different direction and lunch…the same place as a couple days ago.

I understand the different weather will draw retirees down this way. The shops are not that exciting though and the restaurants all seem to be the same. If repetition, and not adventure, is your game then Coco is the place to be. 5 days is definitely a healthy dose of sitting back and watching the world go by, but I really dont think I could just run out my days here. Some repetition is fine, but we now have another day here where we will have to seek out some kind of adventure…something different anyways. Spotting a lonely gringo on the far end of the beach, that definitely did not need further work on his tan, might have been the highlight of our day.

We did have a loose plan with Tim to have him tour us around for a bit today. He offered an hour long run about this morning, but would have to cut it short due to a trip he now had to make to Liberia at 11. We opted to meet up with him in the afternoon when he got back so we were not as time sensitive. He wasn’t back until 4…so that killed any plans of having a personal guide show us about. Maybe tomorrow, since almost everything in this part of the world can always be done manana.

A swim in the pool. A pudding cake and popsicle from the mini mart on the corner. Some catching up on emails and suddenly we were approaching the sunset hour. Down to the beach to try a time lapse movie, then dinner at a place we have already been to only because we knew what we wanted there.

A day of almost nothing to report. Tomorrow is Halloween. We have no costumes. Our bedsheets are paisley, so we could create some fashionable ghost costumes…however the landlord probably wouldn’t be fond of the eye hole cut outs in the center of the sheet. We aren’t that big into costuming anyways, which might make us stick out a little amongst those more permanent residents down here that live for the something different in the same place.

With all this idle time, we should have some clean laundry though. Everyone likes clean shorts.

A Quiet Day in Playa Del Coco

Rain for most of the night. Heavy rain for the morning and by 11 the sky had broke to let some sun shine through. Gutters alongside the sides of the streets were flooded and the rental cars almost squeaky clean. We had a simple breakfast in, with our non-coagulated milk, and waited out the downpour. Once it was done though, we were out for a walk into town.

Playa del Coco is not all that exciting. A one strip town with a few seafood restaurants, a couple of sports bars, a few more beach restaurants also with TVs showing NFL and MLB playoffs. This is our third night here and we are starting to see patterns emerge. Retirees from parts much further north of here all seem to flock here for the winter. That flood of gringos is starting now and will get really rocking in a few more weeks. Canasta, softball, and bingo are just a sampling of the activities these like minded travelling retirees set up and attend many times a week. Some of those gringos will support those restauranteurs, some will get their tall boy beers from the grocery store and just hang out along the waterfront instead of paying the marginal price increase for sitting at a table.

The vendors here dont seem to be pushy. After a day or two, they start recognizing you as the No Gracias guy and they shy away. A nod and a smile. We spent a little time wandering through a couple shops today. Huge spaces with piles and piles of inventory. That inventory though was a lot of what we have seen everywhere though, only now with Costa Rica engraved or stitched in instead of Nicaragua or Guatemala. Pottery, beautiful hand carved wooden bowls, beaded bags, wire sculpture, leather goods. Lots of variety, but also a lot of the same. It is amazing to think how many dollars would have been spent to fill these stores with this stuff, and not see the product move out the door.

After browsing, we found a little cafe tucked out of the way for lunch. Melanie has found her ideal Costa Rican dish called a Casado. A little grilled chicken along with a dish of rice, beans, pico de gallo, and grilled plantains. This is something she could live off of. I countered her meal with a breakfast wrap (just in case hers was not good enough) and we added a couple smoothies. The price of each smoothie though is more than the all day happy hour pina colada just a few doors down, and that drink has a shot or two of rum in it. We might need to rethink our lunch choices.

Bellies full, we wandered back for a dip in the pool. On our way back we encountered a couple iguanas soaking up some sun. The larger bright green one scampered through the brush quickly and moved his 4 foot long body up a tree for fear we might pose a threat. His grey and black striped buddy on the ground didnt seem to be too scared of us. He was probably only about 3 feet long, but also pretty certain we weren’t interested in putting him in an aquarium to show off to friends under a fluorescent light. He hung out for a moment for pictures before moving into the shade. Maybe a little camera shy.

Our dip in the pool was busy. Sunday is a popular pool day. Maybe just a day to hang out and enjoy the amenities. A Polish-Canadian lady was cooling off in the pool and we got talking with her. She has a unit in the complex, but apparently we are staying in it. She was planning on being away until January, but came down for some last minute dental work. A direct flight from Toronto puts her in Liberia in just over 5 hours travel time, and with a good bus connection…6 hours to her door. With us being in her unit though, she got stuck with the unit we booked through Airbnb. She is paying a property manager to deal with the place while she is away, so thems the breaks if you are a last minute traveler.

The sky was clear enough for a sunset tonight, and considering we haven’t seen one here yet, we had to make our way down to the beach to see what we might have been missing. Well, the sun sets behind a hill instead of over the water…A minor surprise, but the colours of the sky look great and the beach is still full of people promenading their way back and forth in the fading daylight. We joined in and went in search of that happy hour pina colada, with maybe some food this time.

We found the lady from Port Hardy at the bar. 20 years down here and she has seen a lot of change to the town. She enjoys it here. She still doesn’t speak spanish and she gave up her truck for a golf cart a few years ago. Simple and easy to maintain. She continues to get by, and makes the occasional trip back up to Port Hardy to visit her dad, 89 and still living alone in the big 4 bedroom house she grew up in. She paid up her bill and we said our goodbyes. We will see her again on Tuesday for some Karaoke.

We finished up as well and headed down the street in search of chicken on a stick plus a cab. The lady we passed a couple times today we now stopped at. A single skewer, lovingly charred over a simple bed of charcoal, basted with a secret blend of olive oil infused with many different goodies all for 1000 colones (about 2.25). Meat on a stick should be cheaper than that, but this is now Costa Rica and convenience comes at a price. The stick was tasty, especially in the dark lonely street. Her raspy voice sharing details on how she was out until 4:30AM this morning selling to the drunk kids partying late last night. Then up again at 7AM to prepare more meat for the day. She does a nice job of her skewers.

So now we are in for the night. Not a whole lot to report today. Rain expected again tomorrow, so we will just have to see when and how much before determining what to do.

Day One in Coco

Cereal for breakfast. Sure it doesn’t sound like much in the way of excitement, but considering our morning diet for the last few years has consisted of either bran flakes or oatmeal for breakfast…we really were looking forward to something simple. A month now of dining out for breakfast has now been put on pause with some instant coffee and medley of cornflakes, puffed rice, and other unrecognizable starchy elements all enriched with sugar. As for milk, I am still not sure if I purchased milk or something else.

I swear i bought something similar in Europe last year. We thought we were buying a litre of milk, but it turned out to be some liquidy yogurt-like substance in the fridge right next to the milk. I see the container today and it does say leche, but with a bunch of other words I cant get a translation for. It doesn’t smell off, but Melanie was not impressed with the milky white chunks that filled her bowl. It wasn’t pretty in the coffee either. Task #1 today, get some good milk.

We finished up and wandered around the immediate area. We found a mini grocery store a 3 minute walk away, that had everything we had bought the day before a 30 minute walk away. We also found a few better priced coffee shops and restaurants, but with signs in the windows suggesting they were either on vacation or not back until December 1st. This really is off season. I wouldn’t want to be here in September!

With a bit of blue sky, we wandered down to the beach. Yesterday was a bit grey and dark, so with a full day to explore we strolled the dark sand to get a good feel for this place too. Playa del Coco has some nice wide expanses of beach. We are almost in November now, and being a Saturday there were only a few dozen bodies on the entire stretch. That included the boogie boarders and surfers in the nearby waves. I wonder what kind of craziness ensues come high season and the holidays.

We stopped for a beverage and shared the tiniest plate of fancy nachos we have seen. Sorry no pictures, we ate this tiny plate with forks before we realized we should have documented the meal. This was a partial lunch stop, also a break from the sun. We were not in an kind of rush today, so why not stop and enjoy watching the waves and surfers. We wrapped up and headed back for new supplies of uncurdled milk and a dip in the pool afterwards. We have 4 more days of this. We will need to find something more exciting than strolling the beach each day.

We did see karaoke was happening tonight, and we were told at 8PM. One of us really likes to sing, and the menu didnt look too bad, so that was our plan for the evening. A sunset stroll would start the night, but no sunset tonight due to thick clouds rolling in. A brief happy hour drink at Coconutz Sports Bar, because their kitchen was closed…and the menu was a bit thin. Finally a meal at Latin Beach, with one more beverage to nurse while waiting for 8PM to roll around. The food not bad. Communication must have been a little poor, because when we heard 8PM last night…tonight it was a 9PM start for karaoke. Melanie’s heart sunk. We have not been good at squeezing in those mid day siestas, and today probably would have been good for that. It was 7:30, and it felt like we were done for the night.

I coaxed Melanie through to 8:05, with the hope the DJ might start the show a little sooner. We had seen people come in, sit down, eat, drink and leave. We were hoping the place might fill up with costumed individuals, but the girls dress in 80s era neon skin tight dresses with their parts all hanging out were not sticking around. Just as we were ready to pack it in and pay the bill, an old family friend of Melanie’s parents pops in to say hi.

Tim. He sat down, chatted for a moment an then invited us across the street to where he was hanging out with a few friends watching a band. Apparently a place he goes almost every weekend, with the same group of folks. We cleared up the bill and joined him across the street. This place was much more lively and being as Tim knew the band leader…if Melanie wanted to get up and sing, she could.

3 songs later, she was up. Bad Moon Rising. The band finished up their night at 9PM so the DJs could roll in their equipment and get the Halloween party going until the wee hours of the morning. With the band done, we could actually talk with the others at the table. One lady originally from Queens, splitting time between here and Connecticut. Another from Port Hardy that moved down here just over 20 years ago. A bit more banter and the bouncers were moving in to clear empty tables to make way for a bigger dance floor. Kids these days want to party.

Tim was kind enough to offer us a ride back. He chased the prostitutes off the back his golf cart and we piled on. He threw the cart into reverse and it slowly backed into traffic, which thankfully stopped for us, and whipped around onto the dark road we were down. It turns out his place is literally within a stones throw of our front door. A 5 minute wild golf cart ride and we were home.

A somewhat random connection that ended up being so close. We need more of those.

San Juan del Sur to Playa del Coco

The sun came streaming in through the window at 5:30. We managed another 90 minutes of tossing and turning before the alarm went off. This was the first day since we left where an alarm clock was needed. Despite my stuffiness from the night before, I slept well. Waking…well i hoped i might be magically cured by the mysterious sweaty salt lamp in our room, but no…still really plugged up.

We got ready. Tidied up our carry on size bags and made our way to breakfast. Our usual housekeeper and cook was off today, which was disappointing because we were ready to give her big thank your and at least a goodbye. No matter, we sat down for breakfast and had the simple meal of fresh fruit, yogurt and granola. Probably a perfect travel meal…but not one to keep that belly satisfied for long. We finished up and I got to chatting with a Swiss couple that arrived last night. Young, but with their priorities straight. Head home to work, then travel for extended periods. They are now 5 months into an 8 month stint. They were also looking for tips on how to cross the border the same way we were planning on today. I had nothing more to tell them, only because we didnt know what we might be in for. Then the cabbie pulled up. 20 minutes early, which is really early for Nica time…perfect for us.

We grabbed our bags, said a few goodbyes. Clementine hangs out at the place during the day, and her chihuahua greyhound face always makes her look a little sad to see anyone go. Our driver Miguel was happy to see us. We were going to be his first fare of the day and he likes making those dollar bills. Bags in the trunk and the doors were held open for us. A perfect gentlemen. When those doors closed though, the door handles on the inside were missing. I think i remember hearing stories of people being kidnapped this way. On closer inspection, it appears one of the door handles might be functional by tugging on a red shoelace that snaked inside the door. Really, this guy seemed like he was just interested in driving. We didnt have to test the red shoelace escape plan.

Miguel speedily moved us out of town, through La Virgen, and towards the border. His english was very limited and my Spanish is marginally better…but enough to fill most of the drive with a few questions and answers. He pulled over to the side of the road for us to snap a quick picture of Ometepe, which had been shrouded in clouds for the last few days. He then made his way down through the queue of trucks to put us right next to the entrance gate to customs. The guy also made it clear that we should not take any forms from people selling customs forms.

The car was swarmed with people. A moment of uncomfortableness as I pulled out a 20USD bill with bodies around. We agreed on $18 for a fare, but being as it was his first fare of the day, and I had read cabbies are known for not having change, we parted ways with the 20. I wasn’t looking for the 2 bucks back, if anything i was going to offer it as a tip since he was already ground down from the usual price of $25. We grabbed our bags and headed to the blue gate, fending off form sellers and bus ticket agents. To the gate, passports out for a quick show, and we were in to the customs area.

Two fees to pay here. A single dollar per person as a zone fee. Another 2USD per person after getting the stamp. Exact change in the morning is recommended as these guys did not seem to want to part with any singles. They also were not too interested in the US dollar coins we still had from El Salvador, but took them anyways.

Out of the customs building and Melanie had a pee break. Melanie reports the pay to pee situation was a very clean and freshly mopped floor. Good to know. Change was given in Costa Rican Colones though, which was interesting. While waiting, I chatted briefly with a gal waiting for the Tica Bus. Apparently she bought a ticket from the vendors on the Nica side of that blue gate. Now she had to wait for a bus to take her to the Costa Rican side, then on to San Jose. Good to know there is a bus coming, and something for us to get in front of if we want to beat the line. Melanie arrived and we set off.

There is only one way to go. Me with both suitcases in tow, i lead the charge down the roadway. Melanie had the passports to break out for any inspections. We had 2 passport checks, one from a fully uniformed immigration official and another from the Policia. Easy. We walked another 5 minutes, found the Costa Rican Immigration office and lined up. Only 4 people in front of us…which meant we were through in about 5 minutes. Awesome.

On exit, there are bus ticket sales right there. A cab driver, who apparently spent time in Abbotsford and Whistler was trying to sell us on a $90USD fare directly to Coco, but that seemed a bit steep for us. Tickets to Liberia were 1635 colones each, less than 4 Canadian dollars and departed in 10 minutes. Bus arrived, we got on, and at 10:30 the bus departed. No messing around. Yes we did a bit of a milk run through La Cruz, but we got too see a little some of the smaller places an express bus would have just blown by. We arrived in Liberia just after 12 and dragged the bags a couple blocks to the second terminal.

That second bus we had to catch departed at 1PM, so our timing was pretty good. Melanie stood in line while I tracked out the bus and bought tickets. This stretch was 1300 colones for the two of us. We piled on and this old city bus departed from Liberia on time to make several roadside stops over the course of 70 minutes. We made it to Coco without an expensive shuttle, or even pricier taxi! It is the little wins that add up. When checked in, I counted under 5.5 hours and compared to Google maps estimates of 2.5 hours…we did damn good.

In need of a drink of water, and some food, we found a little coffee shop around the corner. The lady behind the counter made us up a sandwich and handed over a bottle of water along with a small pastry for us. With our reserves low, we savoured that sandwich for all of 30 seconds. Pastry…gone. Water…we will need to find more soon. We did ask though…is the water from the tap safe to drink. Her answer was that she drinks the water in her place, and that is just a block away, but she was not sure how safe it might be in the building she worked in. At the equivalent of $2 for that bottle of water, I now understand here answer. The water in Costa Rica is safe to drink, but uninformed gringos coming in are ripe for taking advantage of. I don’t want to go into details on how we had to pay for the bread separately from the sandwich. Let’s just say we might not be going back there tomorrow.

We walked the rainy beach. Found a spot offering happy hour drinks. Fed Melanie a very large Pina Colada, garnished with a side of chips, guacamole and salsa, then found some groceries for breakfast. Tomorrow we will dine on cereal and oatmeal with our morning coffee.

We are now in for the night, and fading quick. A busy day is now in the books, and I still have this cold to contend with. Let’s see if a strong cup of coffee in the morning can scare the remaining phlegm from my lungs.

Really? A Cold?

It rained all night. Nice and cool, but the humidity must be at 120%. Our towels havent dried in two days. Any quick dry gear we have is still damp. In each of these rooms there is a salt lamp sitting on a desk. These lamps are kind of like the rough look lamps sold in wellness stores back home, but they have a bit of a melted and glistening look to them. In these super humid conditions, the salty lamp sweats something on the order of profuse. The big guy in a polo shirt and jeans down on the corner asking if we want a cab every time we walk by probably sweats less then this lamp. We even put a bath mat on the floor to catch the drips, and that too is soaked. I still havent looked into the science behind it… so in absence of facts, we will call it a miracle lamp.

That miracle lamp was off while we were sleeping, and in the morning it continued to drip. Breakfast was an omelette with fruit and some really doughy white bread toast. The salt grinder on the table was really just there for show as two minutes of grinding produced only a mushy paste that landed squarely on the plate with a fwap. The peppercorns ground up nicely though and that got me thinking that salt infused peppercorns would really cut a persons work in half while seasoning. Humidity proof, and super tasty.

We wrapped up breakfast and shared stories of the interesting people we have met. The rain let up a little and we braved the outdoors, armed with umbrellas and no sunscreen. Living dangerously! A stroll on the beach was in order since it really was our last day here. We also needed to get out as the sitting, writing and researching was creating a little cabin fever.

We wandered from one end to the other. Checking out the rebuilding efforts on each storm damaged deck. The place we ate at a couple nights ago had this strange lean to the upper deck, and after standing out in front of the place, you could see that workers have gone and put in 18-20inch adapters to raise the main deck to the flatness we dined on. The upper deck will need some serious reinforcing before they jack that cantilevered structure back to its proper level. Amazing that the damage in some parts was more due to sinking than smashing from loose boats.

Still not rained on, we continued down the beach to inspect the work of more waterfront businesses. Different strategies were all being employed to either resurrect their patio dining, or build new. Square steel tube on one deck. Cheap concrete blocks stacked up for an other. Cinder block walls creating a perimeter and an army of guys with wheelbarrows loading up the hole with rocky fill. All different. All interesting. Lots of labor and labor is cheap. The materials are close to North American prices though, other than wood and dirt.

We were still full from breakfast, but being as it was noonish we started our search for food. Slowly, but we started. We went back to Simon Says. This was a small shop with an eclectic back yard full of random garden seating. Melanie was interested in dining al fresco, however the still and very humid air warranted parking ourselves in front of a fan or two. One more hibiscus iced tea, and this time a dragonfruit smoothie. A big tall glass of purple, and very tasty. We used that violet drink to wash down a chicken panini. Fresh, but dry bun. Definitely needed a purple chaser.

The rain came. Those cute garden dining spots were soaked through in seconds. Gutters were overwhelmed, but we still stayed relatively dry. It seems these days dryness is really just not dripping…like the salt lamp. We waited for the rain to pass and made our way back for a nap. A hard life.

Now what I haven’t touched on is our health. With all the crazy weather, altitude changes, random foods and waterborne bugs our bodies are still adapting too. Sometimes it is hard to diagnose what we might have. Today, I swear I have a cold. How, I don’t know. When it started…hard to say. Melanie had some sniffles for two or three days a week ago…so maybe that was it. We brought lots of pills to deal with stomach issues…but no cold meds. Pharmacies are limited in what they offer, so it looks like I will just have to tough this one out.

I sniffled my way through dinner, again at the Barrio Cafe. No random guests striking up conversations tonight. San Juan del Sur actually looked a bit empty tonight. Maybe the rain keeps everyone in. Maybe they are all just waiting for ladies night at the Iguana from 10-12, where ladies drink free. 7pm hit and we were done for the night. One watermelon lemonade, with rum, and we strolled back in the dark drizzle for the night.

Big travel day tomorrow. Sleep is necessary. We have a cab taking us to the border where we will have to navigate multiple checkpoints, pay some minor fees, and walk our way across to Costa Rica. After that a couple bus rides should put us in Playa del Coco before dark. That is our hope anyways.

So an early night. I just need a way to clear this headache and sinuses