Writing about: Family Travel, kids, places, food…

Month: May 2008 (Page 1 of 2)

Coffee and Walmart!

Yesterday we went to Café Britt which is one of the largest coffee farms here in Costa Rica. It’s actually close to us (5 km but about 20 minutes) and we enjoyed the feeling of knowing where we were going.

We were lead through the coffee growing process and a history of coffee growing by three incredibly talented tour guides/actors. They kept up this cheesy but funny banter switching from Spanish to English so easily you barely knew they were doing it. We ended up in the theater where they showed an interactive video during which they dressed up in costumes and again had everyone laughing (and learning). It really was funny and they had Max (2) and Jacob (18) both cracking up – hitting such wide age groups takes talent.

After the tour we were given a buffet lunch in a lovely open-plan restaurant. The kids (and parents) all tucked into pumpkin-ginger soup, hearts of palm and beetroot salad, and salmon with mango chutney. Had I given them similar fare at home I don’t think they would have been as excited. We finished it up with tropical fruits and of course wonderful cappuccinos and iced coffees (for the younger ones). I have to say we did eat one tropical fruit that made all of us, except Mark, gag. A tiny, apple shaped fruit called a nance that was slightly mushy with a big seed inside and tasted exactly like moldy cheese. Mark actually ate about 5 saying they grew on you and he quite liked them but then he also was the only one who liked durian while we were in Malaysia. Given that smells so bad it is illegal to take into public areas or airports you get the idea of his taste buds.

The little ones discovered two goats in a pen and Charlotte howled in distress at having to leave her new “fwends.” But we had to beat a hasty retreat as the skies were opening. We found out why the ditches are so deep and wide here – the crazy amount of water that can come down in such a rapid time makes the ditches look like white water surf spots. Waterfalls pour out of walls and careen down roads. It’s very impressive but I am glad we made it home before the bulk of it started.

Today we went out on a quest to find a phone card since the skype phone I bought in the US worked just fine for two days and now cannot connect for some reason. It’s very annoying and an expensive test phone! Skype is working OK on the computer and it is fun to chat with my mom and oldest son who is home dog sitting. In fact we managed to completely confuse the poor dogs with my calling their names and telling them to “sit” while connected to my home computer and video cam. I’m also keeping an eye on how much house work oldest son keeps up with!

Anyway we did track down a phone card at the Hyper Mass in Heredia. Boy was that exciting — we were in Walmart! Yep they have made it here too. I will say not all the products were marked Equate and (shhh) it was quite nice to find some toiletries that are familiar. The store actually reminded me of Carrefour stores in the Middle East and Asia more than a US Walmart but I still had to try and ignore the idea of traveling so far to be in such a familiar place.

We are planning a few days away so hopefully will have more exciting travel news than the shopping of today.


Yesterday we headed out to go to Barva (founded in 1613) which is about 5km away. There is a lovely old church there built in 1867 and we wandered around the park and inside the church. Very pretty.
But our best find was the Museo de Cultura Popular just on the outside of town. This is run by the university and has educational programs about traditional house manufacturing, cooking, mask making, and life in the 1800s and early 1900s. We were invited to join a group of adults who were having a tour but then one of the people working there realized we weren’t understanding much as it was all in rapid Spanish and we had a private tour (in English).

The people in the big group started introducing themselves and it turns out they were teachers/directors from one school. I said I was also a teacher and suddenly we were all great friends.

As we were finishing the tour and getting ready to leave, one of the teachers ran over and asked if we could stay a little while as they were putting on a surprise party for the director of the school and would be using puppets. Until it started they brought out traditional games for us to try including stilts and hoops to roll. Then the music started and a group of people dressed up in big masks and huge puppet-types of things that they wore but were about 10 feet tall came out. Everyone was dancing and clapping and the puppets bobbed and swayed and did silly things to make viewers laugh. They even got Mark to dance with them and he did a nice job!

The little ones were a bit nervous as the puppets have rather dramatic faces (one of them was of a past president we were told but it was unclear if this was because he was revered or disliked!).
I chatted with one of the teachers and it turns out she is the director of a special education school here and so I shared that my mother is a special education director as well and would be visiting next month. Soon numbers and names were being exchanged and we have plans to visit with each other. It will be great to perhaps see and talk to teachers here and find out more about the educational system from an inside perspective.

We have seen many schools both state-run and private. They are very visible and active and seem to be a much more central and vibrant part of the towns with parents and children coming and going constantly. Certainly a huge part of the community from what we can tell so far.

Mark is cooking up a pasta dish of fresh squid and mushrooms and we have a delicious loaf of French bread. There are lots of small bakeries here and baguettes are very popular. The amazing aroma drew us in and we have not been disappointed. Just as good as a French boulangerie and heck the coffee is grown right around us so certainly fresh!

Traditional Foods

traditional food

We sampled some of the traditional foods while at the cultural museum. The ound patties were pork, rice, vegies, and egg. We were told the drink was papaya but were a bit stumped at it being white! Didn’t matter as everyone liked it.

Arriving and settling in

I had big intentions of updating this quickly but we have been staying busy! We had a great trip over to Costa Rica. Easy flight despite the 10 checked bags, 8 carry-on pieces, and the shoes-off, stroller folded, two laptops and various cameras unpacked, and various other clothing removals at the airport! We had to laugh at the airport in San Jose because it was filled with every familiar restaurant from the US. On the drive to Atlanta we had looked for one of our favorite fast food places – Schlotsky’s but couldn’t remember the exit. But low and behold there in San Jose airport was a Schlotsky’s along with Papa John’s and the other familiar places. But we staggered out of there with two hugely piled carts and found a van-taxi that took us into the city to pick up our rental car.

We had just signed one of the forms to say we understood there is a rise in crime in San Jose and that if we get a flat tire we should drive slowly to a gas station and NOT change it on the road because there have been robberies by people offering assistance when in came two big American guys looking a little stunned. They had just picked up their car at the airport and sure enough a few minutes later had a flat, got out to change it and were robbed (they lost two laptops). I asked if they had been given the information sheet and they said yes they’d signed it. I did have to wonder why they had stopped given the warning!

Our rental car guy was very comforting and assured us that once we left San Jose the area was very safe. He gave us an escorted trip out of the city where we met our the owner of the house we are renting. We met him in the parking lot of a Denny’s! From there it was a hair-raising trip winding up the mountain to Santa Barbara and our home for the next three months.

I always find it a little nerve wracking to rent a house from an individual in another country where I am taking my children. There is that fear that the house may not pan out or may not be what was promised. But so far I have never been unhappy (fingers crossed) and this place is no exception. In fact the pictures and description did not do it justice. We are in a new place, 3 bed, 3 bath in a small gated area with about 10 other homes. The balcony is great and overlooks the valley below. Charlotte (2) has her toys out there and hates to come in.
The first night we heard loud booms and when we looked out there was a big fireworks show with our balcony perfectly situated to see it. Max (5) thought it was really nice of the Costa Ricans to shoot off fireworks for our arrival!

Driving is a little rough here. The roads are very precarious with really big ditches to the sides and in many places only wide enough for one vehicle. I do lots of shrieks and “look out for the dog/old lady/motorbike/bus” kind of thing so Mark has started calling me Hyacinth (from Keeping up Appearances). But hey these roads demand about 4 sets of eyes.

Given that there are no road signs here we were a bit worried about finding our way around. We were told to rent a GPS and cell phone and so yesterday took off to the other Dollar Rental car office to pick these up. It was actually kind of funny how lost we got (it took three different stops to ask for directions) trying to find the place to get our GPS. But we have it now and love it. Jacob programmed in “home” and it’s very comforting hitting that button and hearing clear directions as to how to find our way back. We named it ET as in ET find home!

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