Beachside Bingo

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Step right up and buy your bingo cards! From the left: Tim, Randall and Ryan

Okay, I would have made a pretty good Catholic if Saturday night Bingo was the major requirement! I’ve always loved bingo but haven’t played it all that much. However, now that I’ve had a taste of the Potrero bingo experience at the Sailing Center, I’d be a regular if I was staying in Potrero.

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I had just a blast – and I won. Actually it was the biggest prize of the night; a $20 certificate to the MerKdo (the little grocery mart I frequent here) AND (this is big “and”) a ½ day adventure from Pura Vida Drive, worth $60. I’m not positive what that is but it’s an adventure and I’m always up for that. So, yay for me!

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Early birds, like me, ready for the games to begin!

But here’s the thing – Potrero has a lot to do, especially for a small town. There is some kind of live music venue in town or nearby nightly – from Jazz to Country to Karaoke. Oh, yes – there are two places I’ve identified that have karaoke. I no longer impose my awful singing on others, but I love to listen. So guess where I’ll be next.

Getting back to the bingo, though. This was a large group of expats (about 50) playing for a couple of hours and really enjoying the caller, the suspense and the prizes. Cards were $5 a piece, raffle tickets for the 50/50 (half to the winner, ½ to the charity of the evening) were $2 piece and Pilsner beer was $2 a bottle at happy hour prices. It would be hard not to have fun. The proceeds from the evening went to the local neighborhood watch.

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Sunset view from the Costa Rica Sailing Center

I also got a good look at the Costa Rica Sailing Center, which I had assumed was strictly a sailing school and boat rental business. I could not have been more wrong. Although reportedly it’s only been in existence for less than 2 years, it has become a mainstay for the expat community with a restaurant, bar, beachfront area and a pool that you are welcome to take a dip in after you drink or dine or both. There are annual memberships available that cover many of their services and amenities. I’m planning on a return for lunch and a swim this week.

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Folks just having fun before bingo begins.

So, I had to come to Costa Rica to actually win at bingo…

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My booty – the old school meaning!

Marking Time (or not)

DSC03646Sitting in my little room in Playa Potrero – Costa Rica – I suddenly realize that for the first time in many years, I’m not ticking off the days to sometime in the future. It is kind of an odd feeling to realize that, although I have plenty of plans, I am truly living in the present; thinking about where I am and what I’m doing right now.

As I’ve planned it, about a year stretches out in front of me in Latin America. I’m constantly adding places and countries to the list for this trip, but I find I have to force myself to look ahead. I just got online to see what kind of accommodations are out there for the cities of Granada and Leon, in Nicaragua. I’m not going there until the end of September, but it’s prudent to see what it’s going to cost me before I go. This was the first time I’ve had to force myself to do the deed.

Each day when I wake up, I lay in bed for a while just enjoying whatever there is to relish. Some days it’s the bird song, always a hoot (pun intended) and on others there is a lovely breeze to feel wafting across me. The old rush to get up and get going is gone! And I love that.

What a luxury this is. The lack of a need to get to the next thing or place. The hole in my life that I used to fill with anxiety and anticipation is slowly being filled in and bulldozed over by actual living.

Why Solo Travel is for Me

Although I’ve had some wonderful travel experiences with others, in particular my daughter, I find solo travel is my chosen lifestyle.

When I began my journeys I thought I’d be constantly taking pictures, exploring ruins and traveling to a new spot. What I realized within months was that, in moving so swiftly, I was wearing myself out and becoming too used to new sights and sensations. If you’re constantly astonished by the wonders around you, soon you’re immune to amazement.

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Awe-inspiring Angkor Wat

I had to slow down and actually live a life in between those exciting periods of exploration. I also found that when I wasn’t touring some fabulous museum or collecting memories along a new beach, I discovered small things that thrilled me.

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The lovely “Miss” Quan and her husband

I especially remember the conversation I had with Miss Quan in her little garage-type shop about the Taoist Chinese who visited her for items to burn on their funeral pyres. I had tried, on my own, to figure out the significance of the paper Gucci purses and empty cardboard cans of Guinness. She saw that I was confused and explained that these things were for the departed to take with them into the afterlife. Family members would purchase what they thought their loved one would need on the other side and toss them onto the funeral fires with reverence. I learned something.

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Here, in Costa Rica, a walk always nets a new experience, whether it’s a black iguana with an evil grin or a trestled gate and garden right out of an English novel. You truly never know what you’ll find anywhere in the world if you keep your eyes open.

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I also need to write to help pay my bills (so I can upgrade my lifestyle a bit), either through freelancing jobs or now selling travel articles. I did that while my daughter was traveling with me, but it was difficult finding the discipline to do it with her along – because I really wanted to be with her in every moment. However, I scheduled my work time when she was still asleep and wrote in the cafes attached to our hotels in the early morning cool.

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Quiet spot for writing in Brasilito

Additionally, I like to have a couple of days a week – once every three or four days – to just read and relax. If you’re traveling with someone on a limited time budget, that’s just not possible. You need to see or experience as much as possible while they’re there with you because they don’t have the luxury of time like I do.

I recently discovered I’m an extroverted introvert – which explained a lot about this persona I carry around to me. I love, truly love, my brief interactions with people. I find the lives of others fascinating, which is why, as a reporter, I enjoyed interviewing people for the paper. Here’s the hitch though – an EI isn’t comfortable with extended interactions (me) and can happily spend lots of time alone (me, again). So basically, we’re people persons…but we’re not.

So, being alone never bothers me. If I have a need to interact, I just trot myself out to the nearest café, where I’ve probably established a rapport with staffers and chat for a while. I’m happiest if I somehow drift into a conversation with someone new.

I’ve been approached by a few people who would like to travel with me. It’s uncomfortable for me to try and explain that this won’t work for me because I like my alone time too much.  While, I could do a couple of days with someone else, solo travel is for me – except, of course, for my annual trips with my very understanding and lovable daughter.

It dawned on me near the end of my last trip through SE Asia, that I should have been a National Geographic reporter and photographer. Maybe it’s not too late? Of course, I’ll need a better camera and a course on photography. Hmmm?

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Margaret Bourke-White – famous world photographer

Welcome to The Shack

One of the first things I did when I got to Playa Potrero, even before hitting the beach, was to visit The Shack – an open air restaurant on the main drag through town. It had great reviews online and just looked like a cool place. Guess what? It is.

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Long-time bartender (and much more) Dani, from Montana, ready to pour a brew.

Owner Jay Macy-Moore has been operating it for just a year and a half but it’s been around for more than a decade. He and his wife, Becca, found it on a scouting trip and snapped it up. It’s been his pet project and you can tell. There’s a lot of love in the little hangout.

The food’s good, the prices reasonable and the service with a smile is wonderful. There are activities to enjoy every week like the Sunday morning jazz or the monthly trivia contest, but honestly, it’s just a great place to hang out.

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Great people! From the left – Dad Chris, james, Mom Justine and Sophia!

On my third visit, I met this great family on vacation from Britain. Lovely people and they were enjoying The Shack as much as I was. You’ll see business men conducting meetings, families, singles, and couples there … oh, and the occasional cow trotting by.

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Walking home from The Shack I met this family, too!

I’m giving you another “must visit” if you get to this part of the world. I guarantee they’ll smile and make you feel welcome!

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Jay – a Vermont transplant – ready to greet you.

The Beach Stay from Tico Heaven

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Britta from Berlin – still a dedicated surfer

You don’t have to talk long to convince me to go to the beach. I’m a California girl, born and bred, and grew up with Santa Cruz as the destination of choice if you were cutting school. Hard to believe, but I was such a rule follower back then that I never did that myself but it always lingered in my imagination as I stared at chalkboards and tuned out teachers.

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Vanessa walking the beach

Now, I believe I’ve had the perfect beach vacation here in Costa Rica (where the way of life is called Tico) at a quiet surfer’s beach – Playa Grande. For me, a beach has to be uncrowded to really enjoy it, and this one is just that. There are a few families, some singles, a dedicated group of local surfers and those that have come from far and wide to try the waves, and that’s about it. It stretches a long way, I’m guessing about 2 kilometers and the white sand is littered with shells.

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The entry to our room at Sugar’s Monkey

We lucked out in our choice of hotels with Sugar’s Monkey, a cool little hotel decorated with panache and carrying the coolest vibe I’ve seen in a long time. Our room was cute and comfortable, but it was the outside area that I felt so happy to be around. There were little touches everywhere that felt unique, including the ball they tossed in the pool each night that was actually a pool light and changed colors every couple of minutes.

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Our boat taxi driver – Ruben – who took us to Tamarindo

Besides just enjoying our beach, we took two day trips – one by taxi boat to Tamarindo Beach, and another a sunset catamaran cruise with snorkeling – both of them terrific.

In Tamarindo, we found the typical glitzy tourist beach with vendors and souvenir shops, but also with a lot to look at. We enjoyed searching for a backpack for me (so I could discard my second and broken rolling suitcase) and had a wonderful meal at Gallo Fino, where roasted chicken is their specialty. It was reasonably priced, too.

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Satisfied after a great grilled chicken lunch!

But it was our day on the ocean that topped off our vacation and Vanessa’s stay with me before she had to head home. We were ferried aboard a big catamaran, smiling and happy as we headed out towards the Catalina Islands where all the snorkeling crews go. It was relaxing just to ride along, feeling the water, chair dancing to the music, and if you were so inclined, drinking to excess. I had a rum punch and a gin and tonic, but felt no effects, happily.

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The girls!

For Vanessa, snorkeling was a blast and she filmed underwater at least an hour’s worth of fish and rocks and so forth. Unfortunately, I got a broken snorkel but didn’t figure it out until I was quite a way from the boat. My face mask didn’t fit either and when I finally got back to boat to exchange them, the snorkel was fine but the face mask still leaked – so no real snorkeling for me. I returned to the boat and had great conversations with those still on board who hadn’t chosen to snorkel in the first place. A great time was had by all.

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Time to head back to land

As I always do when I have to leave a place I find enchanting, I felt a little sad to leave Sugar’s Monkey and Playa Grande. But, hey, I’m just down the coast a bit…in Playa Potrero for a month – maybe I’ll return for a visit.

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Enrico, the Italian-born owner of Sugar’s Monkey and Itor, tending bar.
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Manuel’s famous mint lemonades!

Exploring the Green Mountain

IMG_0967The secluded little tourist town of Monteverde lies in a dip of the “Green Mountain,” with battered dirt roads leading to and away from its busy center in all directions. Getting there was an experience in itself.

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My daughter, Vanessa, and I took a shuttle bus from Brasilito – stopping along the way at a beautiful bus stop, where we saw brilliantly colored parrots – eventually transferring to another shuttle bus – and finally being dropped at Nina’s Place – our home away from home while in Monteverde.

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We were fortunate to meet Leeane (an Australian transplant to the US for many years) and her daughter, Olivia – who had just completed two weeks at a sloth preserve in Costa Rica. Mother and daughter were very sweet and interesting, and a taste of home.

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The first word that came into my mind when I saw the surroundings that Monteverde was nestled in between was “primal.” Of course, man has intruded into this wonderland of nature, but far less than in other spots around the world known for their fabulous flora and fauna. Monkeys, sloths, lizards, frogs and all kinds of creatures are literally just a step away as you wander down any of the paths, or even roads, while exploring. Sloths are in high in the trees and only descend about once a week to eliminate waste, so they are a little more difficult to spot but they are there.

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Terrible picture of our coati’s retreat

However, you can be surprised – as we were – by other animals and insects at any moment. We hiked through one of the canopy parks with swinging bridges – not to be missed – when a coati (an animal resembling a large raccoon with a long snout) started down the bridge towards us. We must have been standing still for a few moments because as soon as we excitedly noticed him we started moving slowly towards him and he hastened a retreat.

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Coffee and sugar cane plantation tour

 

There is so much to do here, you could easily spend a week trying out different things – zip-lining, canopy tours, night tours, coffee plantation tours, hiking to local sites like a hollow fichus tree, eating at some of the interesting little coffee shops and restaurants around town or just traipsing from shop to shop in search of the perfect souvenir.

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The hollow fichus tree

They have definitely created a cute little town to house the thousands of tourists that descend on it in every season. It is literally packed with hostels and the occasional hotel, which scale the hills surrounding it. It’s a wonderful place for the young and healthy, but I honestly had a bit of trouble with all the hills and heavy exercise. It’s not a town for a wimp or the physically challenged and a word of warning to all tourists, make sure your accommodations are close to the city center.  We saw some that were way off the beaten track, so that hiking into town wasn’t practical no matter how much in shape you are.

Finding a good restaurant in Costa Rica is often challenging, so here are two recommendations: Sabor Tico in their little mall was excellent, reasonably priced and the portions of arroz con pollo were so large that we ate a full second meal on the leftovers; and we highly recommend stopping by The Treehouse for decent food but great atmosphere as it is literally built around a huge tree.

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The Treehouse Restaurant

If you’re coming to Costa Rica, make a trip to the wilds of Monteverde. You won’t regret it!

 

 

Life on the Lower Bunk

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The door to our closet…oops, room.

I had my first hostel experience! I was waiting to travel again with Vanessa, my daughter, since she did hostels in Europe. I felt like this was something foreign to me and I was a little bit right and a whole lot wrong.

In reality, growing up in a large family, not poor just not well-off, gave me the skills to handle sharing space, putting up with noise at all hours and dealing with a minimalist approach to life. You have what you need, but little else.

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Here’s Morgan from Merced on the right. I didn’t manage to get the ladies’ names!

That’s pretty much what life was in Nina’s Place, a very cute but bare essentials hostel in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I talked Vanessa into bunk beds, not remembering what that was like. She took the top bunk, because there was no way I’d be climbing up and down all night. I took the lower.

 

There wasn’t even a chair in our walk-in-closet-turned-hostel-room, so things like tying my shoes had to be done on the bench outside, or I’d be a hunchback by now. We laughed every time Van had to climb up because there wasn’t a ladder and the bed was already a rickety mess. I told her I was fully expecting to die in the middle of the night from a bed collapse. I did hit my head frequently.

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Hammock chairs on the back porch

On the plus side, we got to meet several really nice people! Met Morgan – a firefighter from Merced – and Jalen, a burgeoning writer and artist (you go boy!) Then there were the three lovely girls from England – I loved listening to them talk! I’m an admitted anglophile. Basically, it was young people from everywhere bonding around the tiny kitchen table, listening to music (much of it from the 70s!) You truly have a sense of community and I was amazed at how willing the younger crowd was to spend time talking to an old broad like me.

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Also we were grateful for our own bathroom and after seeing how many of the hostels in Monteverde were way off the beaten path, glad that our hike into town was a short one. AND the view from the back porch was amazing; looking out over the treetops and plush green everywhere.

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Jalen enjoying the view!
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Greg – who was always ready to help!

The staff was very friendly as well and helped us out when I got really sick the day we were supposed to go zip-lining and arranged to cancel our reservations. Actually, I was sick basically the entire time – actually tossing my cookies at the beginning of the coffee plantation tour and struggling to stay in the game on the other three days. Never did figure out what was wrong.

Anyway, this was an experience I’ll never forget and now I feel comfortable doing a hostel on my own, but I’ll be very careful to check it out a little better before committing to a bunkbed again! I chalk this one up on the plus side overall!