Scorpions and June Bugs and Downpours, Oh my!!! Its the Rainy Season Again – 2016!

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I thought I would write a follow up to my rainy season report for last year!

It is amazing what a year, or 3 can do! I now venture out without shakey hands to the rains that are coming with full force. I realize that it sounds A LOT worse inside my house than it actually is outside, thanks to the metal roofs. Sure, the torrential downpours are not my friends. I sit and hide on the side of the road until they leave so I can see enough to drive home. But really, its a few minutes, and I just don’t plan on doing big trips in the early morning or late afternoon. I can get just about anywhere in Costa Rica if I leave at 9am- there by 3. N, S, W, E, Pacific, Atlantic, Panama border, Nicaragua border. And with the kids in school, really the worst thing is having to drive home at 3:30. NOT that big of a deal…

Right now my stint is the scorpions. Big and small, apparently its their time of year and I have found 4 in the house curled up inside dirty laundry on the floor, the dog’s blanket, under the door mat and one just cruising through the kitchen. They stop and play dead, and then I make them dead. My daughter says the bug spray does not kill them, so I explained that is what the can is for. Just spray ‘em to stun them and hit ‘em! I’m not so against killing/mutilating things in my home like scorpions. Sorry. That zen side of me goes right out the window.

It is also the time of year for June bugs. They are insatiable. I realize its may, but they are what we call June bugs up north. They love the light and come in full force every night. But its funny – we call them the dumb bugs too. They literally fly into you like a ball and fall to the ground. Sure, they freak you out, bit they are harmless as far as I can tell, and we just sweep them up in the morning and throw them down the hill.

What else for the time of year? Fire flies. DO NOT leave a light on outside at night or they will be ALL over your outside ceiling and wall. And these are not cute little fireflies like we have at home. I always wondered why we had fireflies and lightning bugs. Let me tell you – if there is a difference- these are the lightning bugs – they are about 3/4 inch long, thick and dumb too. In the morning, you can sweep them off the wall and they actually fall onto the floor! I am sure someone may give me some scientific insight into this, I am just happy they fall and I can sweep them because being swarmed by 1000 of them from my roof (I did NOT heed my own advice about the light one night) is not my idea of a good time! Or my guests’. “Welcome to Costa Rica!” I sarcastically say as they ventured onto the front porch that ‘whoops’ of a morning. Nothing like a delicious breakfast of Costa Rica and American fair, complete with a wall of creepy crawlies! Haha yes, the bug free world so many of you are used to is NOT the world of the mountains in Costa Rica.

But why do we have so many? And really, for the most part, it’s just this first month of the rainy season. The rest of the eyar has its own big seasons, but they are not as abundant as right now. Perhaps it’s because of the 170 different bird species that have reportedly been seen in San Ramon alone, the 27 difference varieties of orchids and little finca we have here at Vista Valverde, or the beautiful mix of sun, rain, clouds and fresh mountain air that everyone enjoys, even all those creepy crawlies. The circle of life is big my fiends, and when you get this high up, you cannot take all the good without the insects. This is their home as well. And we need them for the cycle. So freak out a little, sure, but then realize that most of them are big and dumb – admire their beauty, from the hammer head ants, to the jaguar beetles – (these are the officially named bugs of VV compliments our 4 and 6 year old). Come see what beautiful bugs we have in store for you – and if you have a name that fits, perhaps you too can have an official bug here at VV! 4000 feet above sea level can be a pretty awesome place – and its different every day. Don’t take your eyes off the view, they can change in a minute – Rains, sun, land, sea, clouds, bugs, birds, flowers, palm trees, ferns, butterflies, sloths…. Just be careful coming up the drive – it can be a little foggy this time of year too 😉

Pura vida,
Kim

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This is Just now

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Over and over I get asked the same question. … Will you ever go back?  Granted, we are in the business of moving here – and at a B&B where many folks stay while deciding whether Costa Rica is right for them, its no wonder we get asked so often.  It seems that many are surprised when I give a simple answer  – “This is just NOW. Nothing has to be permanent.”

With 3 kids, 2 businesses and 4 dogs, are they looking for something more definite from me? People are searching for a finite and definite reason for possibly making a change in their own lives. Is what we do, do-able? Is it attractive enough for them? Or maybe they just are looking for me to say- we were crazy, hell no! and give them some affirmation for their own day to day experience of life wherever they come from.  Truth be told, I would have said the same thing at any point in my life, about anywhere I lived, and anything I was doing at the moment. This is just now.  My email address for years was a mis-spelled version of Gypsymama, and a degree in archaeology allowed me the luxury of being able to do just about anything, anywhere. That included bartending, which led to opening my own bar; paralegal, then legal assistant in real estate sales which led me to accept the offer to take over Paradise Management Realty with my husband here in Costa Rica.  Prior to that was the initial dream of living in David’s native Costa Rica, which led us to buy Vista Valverde B&B here in the beautiful town of San Ramon.  Every choice and “heads up” in life leads you to the next, and I guess I just don’t try and hold on too hard.  This is just now, before was then, and next is… well, up for grabs.

We are all set in this permanent mindset – what are we going to be when we grow up? We are asked over and over again as children – a form of almost the same question I am being asked now.  Its as if they are trying to figure out if I changed my mind mid-life, came to Costa Rica, and they want to know if I would go back to being what I was before.  Is this it? Is this what I want to be when I grow up?  Well, I don’t know.  And since you are asking, and you are here,  or you are thinking about moving here, chances are you don’t either.  And I am going to be no help with that except to say –  It’s OK to not know.

Let’s look at it this way.  People are looking for you to give one answer to the grow up question. Right?  When I was a kid, I’d say – pilot, mechanic, physicist, pianist and archaeologist.  “Oh, so you don’t know,” is what the “grownup” would respond.  Really, is that what you heard?  Because what I said was, I wanted to be many things.  Not that I did not know. But the questioner wants one answer, because its all they have been taught.  Your answer is meant to dictate the rest of your life, and tell them all about you, from where you are going to live to how many children you have. When you answer pilot, mechanic, physicist, pianist and archaeologist, they just can’t wrap their head around it.  It’s like moving to Costa Rica! But that does not mean it is not possible, and it certainly does not mean the child does not know what they want to be.

This brings me to the purple elephant in the room – that part of the question “when you grow up”.  Perhaps its this very part of the question that makes it impossible for so many of us who move to Costa Rica to answer these kinds of questions in the first place.  Will we ever go back?  Not if that means we have to grow up in some way!  If growing up means one choice, one destination, then maybe that is why we are here now.  And maybe that is why the generated question – will you ever go back, will I ever choose what I want to be when I grow up, live it, do it and that’s that, or return to some former choice, is not one I can even answer. We like it here.  You don’t have to grow up here, in a way.  You just have to grow old-  that’s nature’s choice, and I’m fine with that. I will keep jumping in waterfalls as long as I can.

Even if we return to NY, or the States in general, it would never be for that 9-5, materialistic, drinks at happy hour and deals on the golf course action.  So what do we do now that we are here?  Why would someone want to move here?  Can you support yourself? Will you be happy here like us?  I think that will require another post entirely, but lets touch on it for a second.

In order to understand why someone moves here, or anywhere that does not fit the generic mold of growing up in one of the first world countries like the US,  you need to get your mind off a linear existence model.  First of all, even I won’t work for $3/hour.  I just don’t know how to live off that.  So getting a regular job and living life like the scheduled 9-5er, or here in CR 7-6er, is not the life I want.  But many expat families have!  Some get transferred from their own country to areas in San Jose and Heredia, mostly, and some find work here. I chose Costa Rica because I see options to other things like having my own business, and being able to do so without all of the extra weight that a small business owner carries in the states.  Having a successful business here still has its risks, but the risk is not your house and your life.  You spend time with your children, enjoy life, even while having your own business, or even having a 9-5 job! We all know the shit that small businesses go through in the states no matter what the government says about Main Street.  And while I’m at it, what about all the businesses off main street?  It’s just too hard in the states- and I have done it, successfully.  I don’t want to anymore.  I am not willing to give up my personal life for my business life. Raising my kids requires my money and my time.  I understand that now, and I can get that here.

One of my clients wants to move down “Because its like the States was 100 years ago.   You have the freedom to do what you want.”  And that is part of the basic mindset a lot of folks have down here.  Costa Rica has a lot more freedom, and the ability to succeed if you think outside of the box.  If you have savings, you can think inside the box and live pretty cheaply for what you get in return.  Not that Costa Rica is the cheapest country for expats to choose from, but once you look at the healthcare and the peaceful stabilty, it is well worth the slightly higher pricetag.  Some people come for the climate, some come to stretch their retirement dollar, some come to raise their families, like us, in a slightly less competitive, more down to earth, environment.  And some just come to surf!  But if you think you are going to come here and get one or more of those things with all the rest being like life back home – no matter where you go in Costa Rica, from Escazu to the Panamanian border, you will be sadly disappointed. This is different, in every shape and form.  And no matter how ready you are, you won’t be ready – and that’s ok too.  Its part of the adventure, enjoy it!  If you don’t, you can always do something else.  This is just Now, nothing has to be permanent.

So to answer the question as I hear it, yes, I would go back to something completely new. I would possibly resettle in California, which we love, or maybe the Florida keys… probably not upstate NY, but definitely the NYC, where I grew up and still absolutely love.  The lakehouse upstate would go back to being a summer home, maybe even a new little B&B.

My husband and I work, we work hard, we work hard for ourselves and our family, our life and our freedom here.  What we have found is our work goes further than the tax man and the mortgage broker. What many retirees have found is their hard earned money goes further than their medical bills and their heating bills, and they can take mini vacations all year long to the places in Central and South America they always dreamed of. What many families have found is that their children can be home-schooled or put in private school with small classes for less than their school taxes back home, learn other languages, and have more freedoms and adventures of their own as well.  We are here to live, not to die – we are here for personal adventure as well as some thrill seeking – we all know what Costa Rica has to offer when it comes to volcanos, waterfall jumping, white water rafting, surfing, you name it. But its the adventurous spirit that sees those things as a lifestyle, not just as a vacation. And that is why we are here, and why going back to us, is not the right question really.  More of  “Is this your last stop?”  and to that question, I will answer: I doubt it….

Pura vida.

Things to do in San Ramon Costa Rica with Kids (of all ages)

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San Ramon and its surrounding areas is chock full of things to do for families.  Even if you are older, you will probably want to do a few of these things too.  She here goes my list of Things to do in San Ramon Costa Rica with Kids (of all ages).  I know some things cost money – if you go, please let me know what they are!  Rates are usually different for residents and tourists, so my husband is the one who always goes up to pay or they try to charge me tourist prices!  I never really pay attention.  Tell me! lol, gracias.

 

PLAYGROUNDS

2 I know of that are public and open –

(1) Big Gym – if standing in front of the Church in town, take the street on the left heading towards the blue church.  The gym will be on your left with free exercise equipment outside.  (Just on a side note- all this equipment is new, recently covered, though outside in the cool San Ramon air, and anyone can use it!  Same with the tennis court, and the Olympic sized pool) Keep walking towards the church, and lake a left after the tennis court. The playground just around the corner!  Bring sands toys, the whole thing is a giant sandbox!  Small, fenced in, and great for all ages.  There should be a bathroom inside the gym, but I could never find it and it’s just as fun to walk around the block to the pizza place, grab a slice and use theirs.  Also great for playdates because not too many people use the playground – and bring water!  Can get hot!

(2) The 2nd playground is behind the public library.  From Pops, it is 1 block west, make a left, and go about 275 meters south.  All wooden, ropes, the works.  Lots of kids play here, surrounded by nice family neighborhood.

LA PAZ

Bajo de la Paz – not to be confused with a Paz waterfall gardens in Poas.  La Paz, San Ramon is a gorgeous lush area of horseback riding to waterfalls, and fish for your own trout or Tilapia fish restaurants.  Our favorite is Rancho Carrucha – they even have tiny cabinas is you want to spend the night.  Horseback riding here too, and playground for kids to play while you eat.  Even a soccer field! 2445-1940  Call ahead of time for horseback riding and speak Spanish!   At least how many, what day, and how long…. they are very nice.  About 25 minutes towards Piedades norte – stay left at deco church, stay elft at fork with no sign, stay left at fork with sign to La Carrucha, or there’s another great one if you stay to the right at this sign and just after the yellow bridge on your right.  Big soccer field at this one, and really cute restaurant, though no playground.

 

La Fortuna HOT SPRINGS

$5 bus ride from station in town to La Fortuna!  Take a taxi for a few bucks once you are there to the $8 hot springs complete with water slides!  On your right just before you get to Baldi.  Photos with the Baldi’s Hot Mama are free – it is outside the main entrance 🙂  2 hours weekday, 3 hours local weekends.  Or drive just under 2 hours.

SAN RAMON MUSEUM

Though small, this is a great 1 hour excursion with the kids.  Exhibits change.  Just off the park, can’t miss it.

SAN RAMON CENTRAL PARK

For 500 colones for an IceCream from McDonalds postre stand on the corner, go to the park and just let the kids run around.  Playing hide and go seek, tag, climbing on the war canon (a monument to old times!) – there are always kids there just running around, and parents who let them!  Don’t freak if they disappear for a minute behind a tree.  You will feel how safe it is after a little while!

SAN RAMON SWIMMING POOLs

There are 2 here in San Ramon.  Ask about lessons or free time at the Olympic sized pool by the gym.  I have posted the “signs” here!

My kids took lessons with school at the other one and once I figure out where it is I will post an update.

 

Eco Musas or LAS MUSAS

Our tico style swimming pools just 10 minutes from the town – follow the road past UCR and make a right into San Pedro.  When the road splits before Colegio Bilingue, you will see the big sign for Las Musas, take a left.  Follow the road to the entrance.  Park!  There is a fee, I will need to check what it is.  Also a nice restaurant overlooking the falls.

Amazing waterfall!!!!  A sheer cliffside with water cascading down!  Feeds pools that they made for swimming and one giant waterslide!  Plus a kiddie pool.  Picnic tables, BBQs (rustic, bring wood or coals, maybe even the grill top…) swingsets and little play area, family friendly hiking trails, even covered ranchos if you get there early enough.  If not, plenty of benches to choose from and other sitting areas.  Showers, changing areas and bathrooms make this a complete day!  Eat in the restaurant and let the kids fall asleep on the way home.  Sounds like a good day to me 🙂

LOS ANGELES CLOUD FOREST

Villa Blanca?  Los Angeles Cloud Forest?  which one is it?  One and the same… Villa Blanca is the hotel and Los Angeles is the cloud forest it rests in.  A gorgeous boutique hotel made up of traditional styled tico casitas, each with a fireplace for those cold, Cloud Forest Nights.  It is owned by the environmentally conscious and tico friendly owner of Si Como No in Manuel Antonio (he is know to take excellent care of his employees, something I love to hear, being married to a tico myself!).  There is no cost to go and walk the trails, though there may be a small entrance fee to their observatory or for a guided tour.  You can call ahead to ask, everyone speaks English that we could tell!  And the hotel entrance is really cool – after your hike, tour, what have you, treat yourself to a really excellent meal.  (prices are high for San Ramon, but worth it if you miss some expensive tasting cooking….)  Again, a full day and kids asleep in the car on the way home.  🙂  Oh!  And you can see the cows being milked at 2pm at the entrance!  the Front desk will give you a map and all the details for all there is to do.

NECTANDRA CLOUD FOREST – secret!  shhh….

Check them out on Trip Advisor –  a more intense experience than Villa Blanca, and half the distance of Monteverde, you can meet with a private guide who knows everything about rain shed and hikes you through almost the whole forest – really find out about how the rainforest works, and how the world will stop working as we know it if we don’t take care of the rain and cloud forests.  Though Monteverde is a cute town, there really is no reason to drive all the way there just to go to the cloud forest.  This place is even better and just 45 minutes outside of San Ramon on the way to La Fortuna.  Its a great way to split the trip to La Fortuna, spend the day at the forest, then drive another 45 minutes to the hot springs, the volcano, then on to the lake. Another great day!

TREEHOUSEs HOTEL and the Lake Arenal Area

Though the Treehouses Hotel is not necessarily in the Arenal Lake Area, it makes for a great trip from San Ramon!  Have a fun night with the kids in these upscale homes in the trees, then go to the lake!  Windsurf, boat,  hike the trails.  For more on the area check the Lake Arenal websites.  There’s quite a few to choose from!  But try and stay at the treehouse hotels!

PLAYA DONA ANA

45 minutes towards the beach, but turn towards Quepos and then it is on the right a few houses down from The Double Tree Puntarenas.  Again there, is a small parking and entrance fee (11o0c?), but the beach is completely clean, in a small little alcove where everyone is swimming.  There are signs for RIP currents which scared me, but there weren’t any – I think they are there for security, and I am sure there are some from time to time, but everyone was in the water.  There was even a banana boat!  Nice restaurant right on the beach, little beach kiosks, bathrooms and showers.  Black beach so be prepared to wash up before you get back in your car!

SAN RAMON “Y”

back to the big gym in town – there are several difference classes that can be found for your children here, from rythmic gymnastics to Volleyball.  Its not overly organized, that I can tell, but there is an office inside that may be able to help a little!  There was no schedule when we went, basically separate people/groups can rent out the different rooms and make their own schedules, so the gym itself has no interest in making a master list of what is available and when.  But if there is something your kids are interested in , you can go ask for the info on the teacher, then contact the teacher for the details on their classes.

CHEER ARMY

I fought tooth and nail to keep my daughter from becoming a cheerleader in the states.  I don’t really care what other people think about it, I can’t stand the concept of a bunch of girls jumping around and showing their underwear to cheer on a bunch of guys that are raised above all else because they can do something with a ball. She’s my daughter and I want her to be cheered on!  That being said, she is also a gymnast and there are no gymnastics here in San Ramon that we have found.  Cheer Army here is just a troup that practices cheerleading as a Sport, they do not go flipping over scores, the flip for themselves!  SO …. I agreed to let Jesse join.  Its about $20/month, and not only does she love flying through the air, but she also has made many friends and her Spanish has improved immensely!  They used to practice at the gym, but they rented a whole building in Palmares, 20 minutes from San Ramon.  Please contact me directly for the details on that.

SINEM,  something something National Education de Musica

From trumpet to piano, if your child (or inner child) wants to take on an instrument, this is the place to do it!  Intense as it is fun, the kids study at least 2 days a week, and put on concerts.  And my friend John donated his mini grand piano so it is one of the few places that does not rely on an electric keyboard.

There are several other things for children here in San Ramon, and as we find out about them, I will make posts and update this one.  Dance lessons, karate (next on my list for my oldest son), art classes – and don’t forget the University of Costa Rica for adult classes.

I also have a basic list of 100 things to do near here and low long they take to get there by car on our B&B website – you can check that here at www.vistavalverde.com

Enjoy!

 

Best Places to Stay with Kids in Costa Rica

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Welcome to Costa Rica!  This may be one of the best places to travel with children, but it still helps to know where to stay, what to do, or simply whats around where for your kids, especially when driving long distances.  You deserve a vacation as well as a trip – 2 very different things.

This will be an on-going list as we stay at more places and visit more great parts of Costa Rica while we live here.  I am also part of several groups here on families in Costa Rica so if you don’t see what you are looking for in a particular area, I can ask everyone and see if they have suggestions,  These are closed groups that the general public does not normally have access to.  Our children are 4, 6 and 12 – but we moved here over a year ago and have been adventuring through Costa Rica with out first  since she was 11 months old.  Enjoy!

San Jose – The Capital City

Holiday Inn Aurola – by far the best place we have stayed so far in San Jose- you can walk anywhere in the capital, all the museums, some playgrounds (which I may be able to map out for you later), restaurants, you name it.  AND IT HAS AN INDOOR POOL!!!!!! Awesome gym with all new equipment for parents who are interested, gorgeous views from the upper floors, VERY comfortable beds and pillows.  Bathtubs!  Most places in Costa Rica do not have bathtubs.

Wifi (soso)
Free Breakfast (great)
Indoor Pool (great)Gym (Great)
2 restaurants and a casino – (soso)

Closer to SJO – Doubletree Cariari

Bathtubs in rooms, nice big pool, homemade hot chocolate chip cookies when you arrive – really the best things is the pool – but not during the rainy season because its not heated.

wifi (great)
Pool (Great, when hot outside)
Restaurants (great, good service)
Pool Table (really nice but Bring chalk!)
Casino (nice)

Near Sabana Park

Apartotel La Sabanna

Great folks run this place, and though its not a brand new 5 star hotel –  they are little apartments, kind of of like a beach bungalow, and a pool in the center with the hotel around it so you feel VERY safe with the kids.  And you ahve a living and full kitchen and right across the street from the famous Central park of the city – La Sabana.  I honestly don’t remember if there was a bathtub or not – its been a while since we stayed here but we keep referring people and they keep giving it rave reviews.  Even a coin-up washer and dryer!

La Fortuna (Arenal Volcano)

If you don’t visit the Tree Houses Hotel with your kids, why bother being a parent?!?!?!?  http://www.treehouseshotelcostarica.com  Its on a road loop that starts before La Fortuna, and gives you a bit of a drive (maybe 25 minutes) to the main attractions like the the park and the different hotsprings, but its a great experience.  San Carlos, Costa Rica

Los Lagos – really our favorite with kids because of all the different temperature pools, great water slide, swim up bars and restaurants, massage chairs in the water!  Plus horseback riding at the hotel, really nice folks who work here, a gift shop that is NOT overpriced, and just a great one-stop shop all around.  Plus great views since it is almost at the base of the volcano.  Stay at the hotel and the pools are free.

Baldi Hot Springs

With a children’s play area and many water slides, this is our other favorite.  More jungle atmosphere with lots of rain cover and tons of pools.  Everything is great for rain or shine.  Nice Spa and plenty for everyone to do.

 

Manuel Antonio

Costa Verde, stay in the houses with the family and feel like you have your own private pool.  Monkeys all over, gorgeous views, shuttle at night to their airplane restaurant up the road! Showers, no bathtubs.

Hotel Verde Mar,

Great little apartments right on the beach and an old school tico concrete pool right next to the beach.  Can drive up to the hotel, and walk through the gate to the beach.  But locked from the beachside coming in so it is safe. Great budget friendly option – don’t need a car since the local bus from Quepos stops along the road.  Little book store for used books and bottled drinks at front desk.  Ask for a room on the bottom floor so kids can play outside the door in the gardens if you need some time to get ready and they are on top of you inside.  Showers, no bathtubs that we know of.

Monteverde

Hotel Fonda Vela – really nice, stay in one of the older rooms that open onto to grounds so kids can run around outside. Fountain to play around, seating table and chairs.

Bathtub

Wifi at front desk, not so great at room
Pool with roof, though not indoors2 big hottubs
pool table
nice restaurant on site
RIGHT at entrance (2 kms?) to Monteverde Cloud Forest, and about a 3 minutes drive to Children’s Eternal Rainforest and then to Santa Elena and town with the other Cloud Forest.

Jaco

TANGERI

Not a 5 start hotel and casino, but a fantastic beach hotel – clean, tvs, showers, close to everything, free parking and right on the beach! cabinas for rent or just take the rooms.  we like the rooms all the way up front to the right (111-113?  i think..) they have sliding doors that open right onto the sandy area, then a white fence, then the beach, so kids can play in sand right outside the room, but with the fence separating them from the beach.  A/C and lock box too.  At night, if you are lucky, you can see the lightning storms over the pacific way out by just sitting in your chairs outside.

3 pools, 1 children’s (1-2 feet deep)
playsets and playhouseshammocks
game room with pool table, pingpong and smoothie bar
massages
great tiki bar with food for snacks or lunch on beach

 

San Ramon, Alajuela

Just 45 minutes from the airport, no reason to spend your first few or last few nights anywhere else.  A great tico town that will really give you the flavor of Costa Rica – something not to be missed with your children,and close to may of our smaller cultural attractions, normally outstages by the beaches and larger attractions.

Our B&B, Vista Valverde, or course is the best place to stay with your kids!  But not just for the views, trampoline, swingset, farms and pinas (and babysitting!)… but for what is near us as well.  Day trip to Sarchi, where our famous oxcart factories will show you how the antinal symbols are made and painted, right before your very eyes.  Visit the Botanical Gardens in Sarchi and enjoy strolling through acres of gorgeous gardens and play areas, and take snacks!  Thinking of taking home one of those great wood and leather rocking chairs?  This is the place to do it – and they send it right to your home if you choose!

Visit Zarcero and the amazing topiary gardens and gorgeous church, enjoy watching the kids as they run around and play hide and seek!  Eat at a local soda and have a Casado for about $5.

Head to La Paz, our local San Ramon La Paz, and go horseback riding to our waterfall, or for the younger ones, just a half hour guided pace..then fish for your own lunch in the trout pools!  They cook it for you an everything!  Have a few beers and enjoy a tico style afternoon as the kdis paly on the swingsets outside the open air rancho restaurant.

The is a great place to start or end your vacation.  There is so much more to Costa Rica than beaches and yoga, or the big tourist areas – treat your family to our culture and a little of our lifestyle.

Praying on the Bus

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Praying on the Bus

So… I was told by my 11 year old daughter that she got me a coveted spot as a chaperone on her next school trip – of course, the night before the trip.  Part of me was very excited.  When we lived in Brooklyn, NY,  she had several class trips and I went on every one. A move to upstate NY surprised me with none – the school district had chosen to take them out of the budget (one of the many things that drove me nuts about the Monroe Woodbury school system –  50 minutes from NYC and no field trips?!?!?!?! no Bronx Zoo, botanical gardens, bear mountain even????)  So our move to San Ramon Costa Rica renewed my field trip spirits!

I go to school with my girl at 7am.  I smile, nod at the few folks I have haphazardly met through school pickups and drop-offs in rain monsoons and sun burning heats (no bus pickup to where we live) …… but for the most part, I am on my own.

My daughter is so sweet – she knows my Spanish is still horrible, that I know no one, and keeps coming to my side with her girlfriend, to watch over me.  I felt completely out of place, sticking out like a sore thumb due to a wardrobe/health choice that does not involve skintight jeans and/or 5 inch heels.  I am alone.  Every other mom has another mom.  No dads, save one, who is also readily accepted by all the other moms.  They’ve all been at the school together for years.  I am new.  Only one other mom says hi – she has been to my house with her other daughter who is my son’s age.  Her English is OK, but she has her other moms and they are 4th grade, not 6th like my daughter – different part of the bus, different part of the sidewalk, different.

But my girl is sooo excited that I am there, I sort of hide by a column, feeling very hi-school “which group do I belong to” all over again.  But J chooses for me – I am to sit with her other friend’s mom on the bus.  The woman is very sweet as she sits next to me, but I know her sister is at the front of the bus and she wants to talk and not sit next to the mom who speaks horrible Spanish and knows no one.  Thankfully, the other lady moves to the seat behind us and the pressure is off me to be social.  It would be nice to make a friend, but awkward is just, well awkward.  With no coffee, and feeling less than confident, I was not ready to take on the challenge.

As I sit there my mind wanders.  I start to question and remember all at once.  Why did we move here?  My daughter is sooo good at fitting into all the new situations we throw at her and she is a adjusting so well.  She is a bright light that the others flock to. We moved for the kids – didn’t we?  We did it for the kids and the experiences they would have, the life we were hoping to offer them, with them – not just on the weekends.  We would have our business, see them all the time, go places, take adventures.  And here I was, doing just that, and completely miserable.  Almost in tears, and the whole bus around me was chatting and laughing and sharing snacks and I sat by the window, holding my breath.  Feeling a little outcast, though I could not really figure out why.  I love new adventures, new places, new faces… don’t I? Sometimes I feel this way here – and I get very mad at myself for not learning more Spanish in the time we have been here.  I make a mental to note to work on that – go to Green Mountain school and sign up for classes.  The rest I just chalk up to a bad week.

Then the most unexpected thing happened.  J somehow motioned to me from across the bus aisle and I looked up.  A lady at the front was talking and everyone was quiet, then she bowed her head, and everyone else did to.  Wait a second, are we praying? Praying on the bus?  Before a field trip?  They were Praying, praying on the bus, before a field trip.

I was raised in a half Jewish, half Christian home.  I went to church before taking a plane anywhere because my mother made us, and we prayed at Thanksgiving.  My best friend’s mom shocked me in high school when we sat at the dinner table and she said we needed to say Grace.  My Jewish friend put her head down, so did her Jewish mom, and before I could follow, they both said “Grace!” and they laughed at me and we ate.  Though my mother would hate to admit it, and despite several 2 week stints at summer bible camp, that was the extent of my organized religious experiences in life.  My father denounced the Synagogue directly after WWII, and therefor his religion slipped away as a result.  Though I was taught some basics, I was told to choose what I felt.  I felt nothing.

And now everyone around me is praying on a bus, before a field trip, outside my daughter’s school.  As if I couldn’t feel further apart from the whole experience.  I felt like I was in small town America in 1960.  And for whatever reason I started to giggle.  This was insane!  I thought to myself.  Praying before a trip?  My mood instantly started to change.  I thought about how we are so hard pressed in the USA to to include god in our schools, or not – depending on your stance, and here he/she/it is on the bus.  Or to be fair, he, its a catholic country after all.  Jesse said they pray a lot but I could hardly imagine until now!

Part of me thought it must be nice to be around all these folks that all think the same thing – but then I thought nice is not always imaginative, creative, intellectual, thought provoking, or even right.  Its a private school so even in the states they could do what they want – a Christian School could pray all the time, even in Brooklyn.  But it caught me so off guard, I just laughed!  I suddenly felt so happy to have been brought up the way I was, to have experienced so many different things and have so many free thoughts to explore everything around me, not just in body but in mind. I was happy with my college attraction to and understanding of American Indian beliefs in spirits and a connection to the earth.  A single belief in a god to me has always been something I could not grasp, especially when I see all the evil that comes from it, and the hatred.  I wondered what religion would do to all these children, if they would grow up to love, or to hate, or both, depending on what the other person was or believed.

And suddenly I realized why I was so different. Even if I spoke Spanish, I would be thinking the same thing. Its not just the heels, the jeans, the language.  It is everything.  As much as I love Costa Rica, I will never be a tica.  My husband spent 20 years in NY and says hes a gringo.  I could spend 50 years here and never make it to tica.  And I think I laughed all at once, because its OK.  Its OK to be different, I could still share myself with everyone.  I would just have to get used to being the crazy gringa a little more often, and put myself out there more.

So when we were on the field trip, to the museum of Natural History with its dinosaurs and extinct fossils, to the National Theatre where the kids did not even know who Beethoven was (I of course pulled out my iPhone and played the girls the 9th Symphony and told them his story), to the mall, where I made Jesse finish her HW, and for supper at Taco Bell and a bouncy house, I just relaxed.  I am who I am, and every one here must be a little different, and as I learn the language, I will encourage my new friends to explore their differences and their uniqueness, even if its not the norm.  I like our life here, and I like the unexpected bus praying, even though its not for me.  It wakes me up and makes me think.  And I can’t wait for the next field trip this Friday – Poas Volcano and the Waterfall Gardens!   I will find a little Sioux Prayer and share it with my girl on the bus. Hmm, maybe I could try and translate it into Spanish….

Rainy Season… Let me try and spell it out for you. R-A-I-N-Y Season.

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The rains are unforgiving this time of year. I don’t know where you are from, but in my hometown of NY, this would be considered a monsoon. Every day. And if the rain skips a day, watch out. The rain gods don’t forget, they get even. The storms come through as a wall of water, soaking you to the bone just stepping out of the car at school pickup. I don’t even know if my umbrella could hold up that much rain, it would probably just buckle under the pressure. That much rain.

Driving can be fierce – still have not used the 4 wheel drive and David says thats “good” because I don’t want 4 wheels spinning -?!@#$ really? Was that supposed to make me feel Better?! He says 4 wheel drive is for the mud – well honey, take a look at our mud slide, I mean road. I may end up at the mall one day, either waiting for the storm to pass or just riding the wave that took me there! I could spend hours finding things to do just to avoid driving up our dirt roads in it. Though folks do it all the time, in regular cars even! Kids get picked up from school, people go to work, grocery shop – I am still skittish.

Half the drivers here don’t even turn their lights on. THAT drives me nuts. Its like the people who walk right in the street and expect you not to hit them. Hello-o! DO you think I can see anything?  It looks like I am driving along at the bottom of the Ocean!  One guy was driving past me before I even knew he was there. If this was NYC there would be bodies flyin’ and cars crashin’ all over the roads. It would be like something out of one of those end of the world movies. But not here, NO no no, not here in San Ramon (I have heard they use the sidewalks in San Jose). Here we just drive very slow because Carlos does not use his lights in the rain, and neither does his bother, and we know that.  We swerve around Maria who is walking down the middle of the road going to her sisters house, or we wait behind her as a truck is coming the other way because we can’t expect Maria to move to the side of the road for oncoming traffic.  But let me tell you, as much as it drives me nuts on a regular day – not in the rain.  In the rain, I say Maria can walk wherever she wants, and I will drive 2 miles an hour to make sure I don’t hit her.

Streets become rivers, drains become swirling vortex’s of mud and god knows what else, the windows shake from rolls of thunder that pass through the skies looking for an exit, but there is none. It keeps rolling, getting angrier until it throws down its lightning in a fit of frustration. Over and over and over.  Bets go down about the electricity staying on or going off.  Just the other day I stood outside my own home, watching the lightning over someone else’s town. How beautiful. The thought of fireworks drew me outside to this amazing sight going off somewhere far west, so far west that we did not even hear the thunder, just saw the lightning crackle across the sky between two storms. Back and forth, back and forth, yet above me, clear skies and stars with a few thin clouds that flew by from the pressures so far away. Gorgeous.

I welcome the rainy season – its a time I am used to – when you are inside, snuggling under a blanket, watching movies and doing puzzles because it is too cold to go outside. Its our winter. Its our downtime, even light a fire, read a book time. Its the reason some houses in San Ramon have a fireplace. And it is also the MOST Beautiful time of year in Costa Rica. Because after the storm… the sun comes out. Everything is clean, fresh. The flowers are in bloom, every one of them – the greenest green is even more so against the whitest white, the reddist red even more crimson against the bluest sky. I love this time of year – i can’t believe how many birds I hear when I close my eyes – it reminds me of a silly nature CD I used to have in college – meant to take you away to the forest or the jungle – well, its my home here now. And the rains bring the flowers and the fruits, and the birds.  Sure it brings the challenges as well, but mixed with so much of the rest of this amazing stuff – well, lets just say I am off to brave my new road.  See you soon 😉

Renting a car In Costa Rica (buying a car is different… will post on that later)

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Renting a car In Costa Rica (buying a car is different… will post on that later)
Breakfast at VVB&B

Breakfast at VVB&B

Road to nowhere at VVB&B

Road to nowhere at VVB&B

VVB&B The calm before the storm...

VVB&B The calm before the storm…

VVB&B Sunsets... daily

VVB&B Sunsets… daily

There are as many car rental agencies in Costa Rica as Disney World, if not more.  Who to use?  Do I rent at all?  SUV vs. Car? Insurance?  Of course my opinions on each of these is my own, anything can happen… but let’s try and break it down in real people’s language.

You need all the insurance

Your credit card won’t cover the insurance

YOU need and SUV

But I paid for it all back home!

WRONG! If you have heard these things or searched on the internet for the best deal and gotten a “final” price at checkout  – its just not so.  I think someone here is trying to make changes to fix the problem, but just like the paving of the roads, that could take years…  Insurance is NOT included in the final rental price, whether you pay now or reserve the car for later.

TRUTH ABOUT RENTALS HERE:

SUV vs. CAR

First, renting an SUV is a good idea.  But if you can’t afford it, don’t worry – a car will get you just about anywhere touristy, but slower, sometimes MUCH slower.  Now I said touristy…UNLESS – you are mountain climbing in the rainy season, then cars are not advisable.  ASK your hotel, and tell them where you are coming from, if you need an SUV.  Even at our little B&B, we tell people this  – cars get up here all the time, most Costa Ricans DO NOT own an SUV.  But for those of us who are used to one, it is advisable.  Remember, a main road does not mean a paved one.  We do airport shuttling and taxis cost $6 to town.  Lots of places are about the same – Do the math and maybe you only want to rent a car for part of your trip, or a car for a week and an SUV for the rest – work with your rental car agency.

PAY NOW AND SAVE

I do not like the option they now have at some agencies that says if you pay for the entire rental now you could save in the long run.   Why offer this if they aren’t the ones coming out on top?  Unless you speak unbelieveably good Spanish, and can negotiate terms upon arrival – and I refer to the insurance policies I will explain below, its not worth the little extra you THInk you could save by paying up front.

WAIVERS

DO NOT sign a waiver for the underside of your vehicle.  There is a new IDEA as I like to call it, among some agencies, that offers a “Highways Only” option.  Just like it sounds – if you are ONLY going to drive your car on the highway, you can opt for a lower rental price, as long as you Sign A Waiver that states you will be PERSONALLY LIABLE for any underside damage to the car.  SO I guess ALL the highways in Costa Rica have NO potholes, cracks, or other damage – are completely free of any debris, and if there is an accident, nothing will EVER happen to the underside of the vehicle?  Hmmm.  a little risky don’t you think?  I mean, unless you are planning on going from SJO to Rosti Pollo, the casino, and back to SJO, I think this is a HUGE rental NO-NO.  And considering there are no actual rental agencies at the airport, they all shuttle you to back areas behind the airport and around, this is a double whammy no-no.  Remember that show? Whammy?  Where you wacked the thing on the head? I digress, or do I?… Now, its completely up to you, but if you want to get whacked on the head, go for it.  We had one guest at our B&B who took this option.  They asked us if an SUV was needed, and again, I said no, but recommended – I HAD NO IDEA THIS HIGHWAY ONLY OPTION EVEN EXISTED!!!.  I guess it is under the assumption that car rental rates are high because of the road problems?  And perhaps, I am not a researcher on that.  BUT, whoever thought to make it an option was a little insane since there really is NO such thing here in Costa Rica.  Or maybe they were smart – this sounds like pure profit to me.  So…. these guests come up our road, a gravel road, and a rock hits the underside of their car.  instead of enjoying their stay, they are worried about it the whole 24 hours, barely got through breakfast and left sleep deprived for the airport, to end their trip.  Worth it?  I don’t think so…  and its completely OPPOSITE of every other experience people have had here at our B&B… the experience we want everyone to have who visits Costa Rica… wellness, relaxation and adventure.

What is correct:

INSURANCE – 3 kinds

1 – Liability by the INS… NOT optional 

Mandatory SLI, TPL, SLC or API

NOT covered by your titanium platinum, amex costco you name it credit card.  Mandated by the government, it will range between $10-$20USD/DAY DEPENDING ON THE TYPE OF CAR.  And I promise you it is NOT listed in your Alamo, Hertz, you name it, “FINAL PRICE” at the end of check-out on the internet.  You will need to pay it when you get your car here in CR.

Its a liability insurance but DOES NOT cover your rental car. Just damages to other cars, other people, other property.  Honestly, I don’t even know if it covers you or passengers in your rental car.  I will need to check on that and will update, IF i can find out.

2-Optional CDW or LDW… optional

In case of an accident AND ONLY an accident (vandalism, theft, negligence, road damage is NOT covered), you can take out this insurance for a cost/day up to a certain deductible amount.  Your cc or regular car insurance from home may cover some of this, but again, check with them first FOR Costa Rica specifically.  Get it in writing to show the Car rental agency what your cc/car insurance covers.

You asked about scams?  Notice I said OPTIONAL… twice?! Here it is: many companies won’t rent to you if you don’t purchase CDW.  Its not a law, and somehow they get away with it because people just don’t know.  Sometimes they link #1 and #2 insurance together, like a package.  I think this started out as a way to help, to show how much it cost together if you opt for it, but ended up being just sold that way.  IF you end up with a company like this, chances are 4 other rental agencies are in the same mini-mall.  Go to one of them to see if you can get a better deal, and the right insurance.  Again, remember that PAY FOR It all now option? For the little you THINK you are saving by paying before you arrive, this is a way they can get it all back once you are actually here.

3-Optional -ZERO liability.

Now, in my book… is there really such a thing? Not unless you pay for every insurance under the sun, get a print out from every credit card car rental insurance policy, home insurance, car insurance, you name it, and still then – I doubt a rental agency could not find SOME way to get you to pay for something.  And riddle me this, do you NEED all that insurance?  If you know you are a shit driver, or are planning on drinking your way through Costa Rica from beach to beach, do yourself and all of us a favor and don’t rent a freaking car.  Some a-hole took out a family’s father and main source of income last year when he drunkenly plowed into the highway worker doing a night shift right by SJO – and then just drove off.  The tourist returned the rental car the next day and got arrested.  Be responsible when you are here.

Car Rental companies make lots of money off insurance.  They are high geared in Sales mode to get you to pay for the extras.  Because it costs them near nothing since, as I said, people are SO confused, they usually get stuck paying for everything anyway IF something happens, which it hardly ever does.

Now listen, thats not to say car insurance is not worth it.  If you don’t have car insurance back home, don’t have a cc to cover any damages, and/or you just want the extra insurance, get it!  That part is not a scam – its insurance, that’s why it exists – it is there to cover you if anything happens.  But if you can get it, without paying for it, or if you just don’t want it, you should’t have to pay for it.  That’s my take, anyway.

The way this tico/gringa couple does it!  (that’s us, by the way)

Get the INS mandatory
Get one credit car to cover some of the #2
#3 is more a pipe dream anyway so we skip it, then have a good time.

or… we DONT RENT A CAR!

Don’t want one?  You don’t need one! find hotels that have shuttles to/from the airport, take the bus – your hotels are a great resource – USE THEM!  Find out how to get to them without a car – and take the busses! they are gorgeous busses for the most part, even local ones, by private companies but with all the same rate – $10 RT got me and my girlfriends from San Ramon to La Fortuna for a much needed overnight from the kids at Eco Termales ($30pp hot springs with NO KIDS!!!!) Even Quepos to Manuel Antonio is just 50 cents! Just to give an idea of prices and towns you may be looking at to stay.

Interbus is also a great option, though only for touristy places.  Our B&B in San Ramon requires our own shuttle service, taxis and local busses.  If you stay in off the grid places, where you stay will probably have the same thing.

Taxis are usually about $5-$10 from hotels to town.., since most hotels are NEAR a town.  Again, ask your hotel!

You can also hire an actual driver- at one point I priced it at $110/day for a nice driver/taxi with his own SUV.  But that was for a 9 day trip down to Corcovado and back, so for less time, it may be more. Granted thats more than most daily Car rentals, but without all the insurance hassles, gas included, and no driving for ANYone! Well, except the driver of course.  But its a budget call – and an option for some who really want to get to out of the way places without getting lost or taking the bus for hours on a tight schedule.

I hope some of this has helped!  If you have any q’s or responses…. let us know!  And since you read this all the way to the end, a little tip: we like Rodrigo at Poas rent a car.  One way rentals allowed….

How to Get a Large Breed Dog to Costa Rica

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Just thought since I referenced this on my main page, I would quickly tell how we did it… IN MAY 2014 SO PELASE 2X CHECK with the airline on your own, at least 3 times on different days and times, so get the answers from 3 different people to make sure you are getting the right info.  We flew our dog united, but now they re linked with continental I believe.

American is supposed to be more lax- the head cannot touch the ceiling of the crate and they have to have enough room to turn around and lay comfortably.

United more strict, but has an actual pet policy that most people prefer and has highest rate of NON incidence.

A dog that is over 20 lbs with its carrying case flies cargo in a hard crate.  A dog in its carrying case that weighs 20 lbs or under can fly in passenger area on many airlines for a fee and does NOT need to go through customs in Costa Rica.

COST OF TICKET 20 lbs + – The weight of the dog WITH the crate determines that cost of the ticket.  It also means that you need to get the dog through customs in Costa Rica and will need a customs agent, unless you know someone here who can go get to San Jose and get the forms, fill out the right forms, and bring them to the airport when you arrive to process the dog through customs.

CUSTOMS Airport cargo area in SJO is NOT air-conditioned so dogs are not allowed to fly in if it is going to be over 85 degrees upon arrival.  That being said, when we got to the airport in newark NJ, they checked the temp for SJO on their iPhone at 4am, for the PRESENT temp, and let him go.

CRATE SIZE Most airplanes flying into Costa Rica internationally are a Boeing blah blah blah.  It is NOT the big Boeing and the reason you want to know this is that they have a cargo door that is only 34 inches tall.  SO if you have a 30 inch dog, that needs 3 inches head room, and the crates only come in size 30 and 35, you have the same problem we did.

crate too small for dog

crate too big for plane

Take the 30 inch crate.  Go to home depot.  But a 3×3 piece of wood, and build it between the top and bottom of your crate.

All the screws must be metal.

The dogs tail and head cannot come out any space (well lets be real, the metal frame door across the front can certainly allow a tail to escape, but this is the way they say it on the airline’s webpage so I am saying the same thing).

Best of luck!!!!!

Monteverde – where we stayed and why you should go!

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Hello world – our latest adventure (just yesterday) was a blast – we went up to Monteverde (via CR1 towards Guanacaste from San Ramon) and were there in about 2 hours from Vista Valverde.  The last bit was unpaved, and our car almost did not make it (another story?!) but 3 kids, 2 parents and 2 grandparents later we were hooked!  Views out to the Nicoya Gulf, the day was gorgeous.  NOT exactly what you want from a visit to the Cloud Forest, but it is the dry season, and we live in the clouds anyway!  We stayed at Hotel Fonda Vela – I HIGHLY recommend this place.  And call them directly to get the best rates.  The rooms are huge, the place is bigger than you realize.  Seriously, I thought there were only 10 rooms, until we started walking around and it is so well developed, you don’t know all these other hotel buildings with up to 10 rooms/each are there!  A big pool, 2 hot tubs, a pool table and pingpong, plus lots of ground for the kids to run around.  Try and get room 8 – it has 2 queen sized beds, and the door opens to the grounds where the kids can just go out and run around, play at the fountain, while you chill inside or sit at the tables on the lawn.   Other parts of the hotel are newer, but do not have this nice feel with the entrance onto the lawn.  Views straight to the Nicoya and Guanacaste.   What was great about this hotel is it is just a few minutes from the parking area for Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Monteverde Cloud Forest – Lets talk about the park – lots of different trails to take and you DO NOT need a guide if you are budget conscious, but if you really want to see all the wildlife, I recommend it.  And if you are residents of Costa Rica, you pay a highly discounted rate to get into the forest (another great reason to live here!). That being said, the hike to the waterfall is perfect for smaller kids, and take a left on your way back from the falls to take the loop back along the next path over.  Stop at the giant tree and try to climb it!  I will post pictures from hubby’s phone when I find him 🙂  There is a little cafeteria there if you want to take a hike, grab a bite, then take another hike – but its pretty light on what they offer though prices are not like US parks – folks can actually afford the grub.  And be careful if you sit down for your own lunch (which we recommend taking if you want to do all day there and tis NOT raining) – there is an animal that shall remain unnamed (no one agreed) that tried to steal some guys coat when he would not let it take his food!!!!! And I would imagine it gets pretty cold during the rainy season so take advantage of the coffee shop.  We just sat in the benches of the ‘reception’ area for the upstairs lodge (which i admittedly know nothing about)

Butterfly Garden – we took the road to the older one, 1.7 kms out of Santa Elena, or if coming from Monteverde – it is the first left after El Establo and Heliconia hotels.  Just follow the signs.  AWESOME!!! They are on trip advisor for more info.  Our guide was so funny, and nice, and knowledgeable – don’t remember his hame, but he has dreads and a seashell though his ear post hole.  Don’t judge!  This is the guide you want!!!   I am sure the others are great too but we are biased and we liked ours.  Oh, did I mention there is a resident discount?  ya, more perks for folks who take the plunge 🙂

What we found out what to do next time – stay IN the Children;s Eternal Forest and stay AT the lodge with a guide for a few days.  There are 2 lodges that you can use with prior arrangements – one bare bones, no wifi no hot water -the other has both these things (I admittedly require hot water and much to my dismay, wi-fi).  I would recommend this for when the kids are older or young enough to put in a backpack (and YOU are fit enough to carry them and you!) – I am going to look more into it, but if you really want a unique experience and have a few days, this looks like its the way to go.  If anyone knows more, let me know!

Santa Elena Reserve – on the other side of Santa Elena, has most of the touristy things like zip lines, tram tours, etc.  It ALSO is the one with the view to La Fortuna on a clear day.  We found this out AFTER we went to Monteverde!  We still had fun 🙂

TRAIN IS CLOSED!  YES, THE MONTEVERDE TRAIN, WHICH WAS THE WHOLE RESON FOR CHOOSING MONTEVERDE WITH 2 SMALL KDIS AND 2 GRANDPaRENTS – IS CLOSED!  Don’t know why.  Hotel told me.  If you look it up there is no indication it is closed but believe you me, its CLOSED.  Argh.

Lastly, where to eat?  Tico Rico in Santa Elena of course!  And you can order a pizza from the place on the corner and they bring it to the table and put it on your bill!  You can park anywhere, its pretty small, and walk around until you find the places.  Check out the cool tree restaurant too, but not worth the price tag AT ALL. And because you ordered pizza, you can play at their playground while you wait for your food at either place!

Be back with more ideas later!  Pura vida!