COSTA RICA - Tronadora - 2012 - House Sitting

Well here I go again doing one of the many things I enjoy, off on another house sitting assignment.  For the next few months I'll be house sitting, posting blogs, and writing about my travels while living the life of Pura Vida (the pure life) in Costa Rica.  I'll be staying by Lake Arenal so some day trips will be taken.  As with all my house sitting assignments, I'll be on the property every night.

My journey will start tomorrow morning (10 Aug 2012) at about 3:45AM to catch a flight leaving Tampa Florida, through Atlanta Georgia, to San Jose Costa Rica.  From San Jose, I'll take a bus to Tilaran where the home owner will pick me up and off to the house we'll go.  The home owner leaves for their vacation a few days later.  We'll get to finally talk to each other face to face, go over the final details, I'll get familiar with the area, and all will be good.

So, get ready to read the blogs, enjoy the pictures, and make comments as you see fit.

10 August 2012

I have arrived.  It was a long day of traveling but when all was said and done, it was worth it.

11 August 2012

I awoke to birds tapping on my window and singing those sweet melodies only birds can sing.  Since it was late when I arrived last night, I didn't have a chance to take a look around where it is I'd be spending the next 2 or 3 months.  So after making some coffee from, of course, Costa Rican coffee, I filled my cup and went outside to look around.  I'd seen pictures of the house and property, but the actual views are fabulous.  From the highest point on the property you can see a large part of Lake Arenal, the Arenal volcano, and a vast mountain range.  It's the kind of place a person can just drag out a chair and watch the clouds and wildlife pass by.

I'd been on the hill for about an hour when Barbara, the home owner came up.  She showed me how the land could be sub-divided into 2 or 3 lots (in addition to her lot), told me the property was a horse riding school and why the hills were terraced to form seating for a riding arena.  We spent about 30 minutes chatting and decided to take a walk around the area so I could get a feel for it.  While we walked I was introduced to several expatriates from around the world as well as local Ticos.  The area is rural and comprised of many family owned and operated farms complete with crops and livestock.  These folks are living "Pura Vida".

After we returned to the house, we drove to the town of Tilaran where Barbara showed me around.  While Tilaran is much smaller than I had expected it seems to have most everything a person could need.  No, there is no Wal-Mart or malls, but there are plenty of smaller stores, restaurants, and bars.  The streets were crowed more so with people than with cars, which is typical for smaller Latin American towns.  When we had finished in Tilaran, we drove to the other side of Lake Arenal to the new town of Nuevo Arenal (New Arenal).  The Lake Arenal area has a large and growing expatriate community and as such, you can find foods from around the world.

Upon completing our driving tour, we again returned to the house and called it a day.

12 August 2012

Today started out with rain, but it wasn’t the drenching rain you’d expect in the rainy season.  With this being the beginning of the season I expect it to get worse.

After the rain stopped, I took my coffee to the top of the property to look at the lake and watch the birds. The cloud cover was too thick and low to see the Arenal volcano, but since it hasn’t blown its top in a while, all you can really see is a flat topped mountain.

With the weather not wanting to cooperate with a morning walk, Barbara wanted to go over some final details on the house sitting assignment and drive into town a little later.  The assignment isn’t any different than others I’d had and we had only a few questions that were not addressed during our previous talks. The easy morning, combined with the fact that Barbara would be leaving early tomorrow (Monday), it was a relaxing Sunday.

13 August 2012

The morning started with taking Barbara to the Liberia airport so she could catch her flight to the US.  The drive there was about 1 ½ hours and the roads were good.  While the roads here are generally pretty good, I was impressed by the condition of the main road between Canas and Liberia.  On the way we made a stop to get a couple of lawn chairs for the house so I’ve got something to sit on outside.  I’ve already put one on the top of the property and sit up there both morning and evening watching the birds, clouds, and life go by.  The views from the top are amazingly relaxing.

After dropping Barbara off at the airport, I started making my way back.  Since I don’t have the Costa Rican maps for my GPS I had to pay attention and make note of landmarks on the way.  You see, it’s pretty common the roads are only marked at major intersections and then that’s not always the case.  But I made without any problems and even stopped off at the bank and grocery store before returning to the house.
That pretty much took care of Monday.

14 August 2012

The day again started with light rain in the morning, but was done about 7AM; done that is until around mid-afternoon.  So I took a walk to Tronadora which is only a little over a mile away.  I wanted to see what types of stores were in town in case I needed something and didn’t want to drive to Tilaran.  As it turned out, there isn’t much.  They have a small grocery store, a variety store, a couple of bars (which didn’t look like they were in business), and a couple of restaurants.

After returning I resumed a travel writing course I’d started a few days ago to take up some time and better prepare me to tell my stories. 

Then the rains started again and it was pretty much the end of the day.

15 August 2012

Welcome to the rainy season.  It rained most of the night and continued all day.  Most of the time it was a light rain, but a few times it was coming down by the buckets.  No birds, no dogs, and hell no nothing was moving.  Good thing I have food, juice, and a pirates beverage.

Since Wednesday is the night the expats in the area meet at a local bar, I decided to head over there, have dinner, and meet some of the English speaking population.  There were about 10 people there from all around the globe all living pretty much within walking distance of each other.  Earlier in the week Barbara had introduced me to some people as we walked, but none of those folks were there.

As is normal for me, the first person I met and talked to was the bartender.  I’ve come to realize that a bartender is your best friend in a place where you don’t know anybody.  They can make easy conversation, let you know of impending problems, and can introduce you to the regular crowd; all positive things.

After dinner and a few beers I made my way back to the house and called it a night.  And yes, it was still raining and the wind was blowing when I went to bed.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The rain finally stopped last night and with the nice breeze that blew everything was fairly dry this morning.  Other than picking up and dropping off the house keeper I hung around the house. 

Because of the rain and wind from yesterday the yard had some palm fronds and stuff lying around so before it rained again, I took cleaning the yard as my chore for the day.  It was good to be out in the sun for a while and with the constant gentle breeze here it didn’t feel hot, even though it was in the upper 80’s.

Friday, 17 August 2012

After my morning coffee, checking of email, and walking the property I took a walk around the “circuit” as it’s called by the expats in the area.  It’s a winding road through the country that is about 2 miles in length and passes many of the expats homes (as well as locals).  This being the hill country makes what would normally be an easy stroll into a hike, so even early in the day; the shade is a welcome relief.  While walking there are very few cars to contend with, but there are dogs outside nearly every house.  They’re not aggressive but as with any animal, they are territorial and let you know you’re in their territory.  They will run out to the road barking and trying to act vicious but usually only come within about 10 feet. 

When I got back from walking I cleaned my apartment, made a shopping list, and of course took a short nap.  The house keeper that came yesterday is not responsible for cleaning the apartment every time she comes, but she does do a thorough cleaning at least once a month.  This is fine with me because, I’m not a pig and I’m a believer that if I make a mess, it’s my job to clean it up; albeit I don’t like to apply that rule to cooking and doing dishes.

So another day of living the Pura Vida comes to a close.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Off to the market.  Since I had my list from yesterday, it was a beautiful day, and I needed stuff I decided to go to the store.  I originally got in the car to go to Tilaran, but even before I stuck the key in the ignition I got out and walked.  I grabbed my backpack, put on my walking shoes and went to Tronadora instead.  My list didn’t include anything special and I knew I could get it in the smaller store that was within walking distance.  
The walk to Tronadora wasn’t bad, it was the return trip with about 20 pounds strapped on my back and a 5 pound watermelon in my hand that made me appreciate the breeze even more.  After putting my supplies away it was definitely time for a nap.
The rain started early today, about mid-afternoon.  It rained pretty steady with a few big showers and some lightning until about 7PM.  And since Costa Rica doesn’t mess with the clock that Mother Nature sets, it normally gets dark here about 6PM so I was in for the night. 

 19-23 August 2012

I'm going to start doing something a little different (thanks to reader input) and include more photos in the actual blog posting.  It's simple ideas like this, that as a blogger we don't really think about, so our reader comments are looked at and applied.  Thanks Jimmy G.

Nothing much has been happening here in Costa Rica.  As you’ve already read, it’s the wet season and it rains daily.  The rains usually end by mid morning then start again around mid to late afternoon.  With the time between the rains it’s hot and humid, and that’s about the only time I get to walk or work in the yard.
With all the rain we’ve been having it sure is green and the flowers are in full bloom.  I’m from Florida and the weather is very similar to here, with the exception of the wet season.  During the FL wet season we could almost set our clocks with the afternoon rains.  But that was all we got, afternoon rains.  Here we get the morning and afternoon and the greenery shows it.

Sunrise over the Arenal volcano
Two toucans - taken from my patio

August 23-25 2012

Nothing much happened here the last couple of days. The gardener worked yesterday cleaning up edges around the flower beds and the driveway.  I had him move some spare rocks from the backyard to form an edging around the small grassy hill which is one of the highest spots on the property.  If someone walked up there and wasn't paying attention, for instance looking at Lake Arenal or the Arenal volcano, they would walk off a cliff of about 20 feet.  So now, at least they'll kick the rocks before they reach the edge.

The other evening I was on the back hill just relaxing, drinking a glass of rum and watching the sunset.  I heard a the growl/roar of a monkey that sounded real close but knowing there were no trees in the yard big enough I looked across the street.  While I was looking I was getting my camera ready just in case.  After seeing the tree tops shaking I saw a large black monkey jump from one tree to another, but wouldn't you know it, not fast enough to get a picture.  One day, I'll catch the primate in my lens.

It's been cloudy the last few days and equally as well today.  The breeze has died down and the humidity is still high which makes for a hot day.  It should start raining in a couple of hours to cool things off, but until then, I'll lounge around in the shade.

 6 September 2012

Ok, I know it’s been a while since I wrote in the blog, and for that, I apologize.

Anyway, not a lot has been happening, with the only real constant thing is the daily rains.  I still take my walks through the jungle and on the “circuit”, still working on my Travel Writer course, still taking pix, and still drinking rum.

Now yesterday, 5 September, let me tell you…..

I had just returned from my jungle walk and was drinking some water to replenish what I had lost due to sweat.  These walks always bring me new sights, like a bird I hadn’t seen before, a view of Lake Arenal, eight monkeys in one tree, and a new colt laying beside the mom in a field.

But after my walk today, I was motivated by more than new sights.  It all started with a slow shaking under my feet rapidly growing to rolling of the ground that swayed the plants and trees back and forth.  As I looked at the ground actually heaving, and the plants moving without any wind, I suddenly realized we were in the middle of a large earthquake.  The neighbors had all run outside, mothers were yelling into mobile phones, and small children were crying.  This was a first for me. 

I’d been in smaller quakes in Ecuador and Antigua, but nothing like this.  After everything settled down I found that it was about 60 miles away and measured 7.6 magnitudes.  There was no damage here, but in the epicenter I’d heard reports of two deaths and some damage.  The quake was felt in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica which is over 100 miles from the epicenter.

So that was my excitement for the week.

Earlier I mentioned that I’d seen eight monkeys in one tree.  True story but I didn’t have my camera and don’t have the pictures to prove it.  But I will.  I’ve been back to the tree twice now and not one monkey was there.

Well, that will bring this post to a close.  It’s starting to thunder and lightning around here and I don’t want to miss a good light show.

Until next time, have fun, travel safe.

 9-15 September 2012

Once again, I’ve been neglect about keeping up my blog.  But this time I have an excuse.  I know it’s only an “excuse” but it’s better than nothing.  Basically, I was working on another course, taking pictures of stuff around the house, and well, just living the Pura Vida.

Nothing else to report about the earthquake, still no aftershocks felt here and all is pretty much back to normal.

So, here is what has happened, well everything of any significance since I last wrote.

9 September 2012

Last time I told you about seeing some monkeys in a tree and I hadn’t been able to find them again.  Well today I finally caught up to the monkey family of 8.  As I was walking to where I’d seen them previously I just happened to glance off to my left and low and behold, there they were.  They didn’t make a sound and were hardly moving but I noticed a couple moving high in the trees.  The monkeys had changed locations which put them about 100 yards before I’d first seen them.  And my finding them was just by chance.

I stopped, made myself comfortable on the jungle floor and started taking pictures.  I’ve posted a couple pix here but there are more in my photo gallery, so follow the link to see more (Photo Gallery).  There were a total of 8 and I sat and enjoyed watching them for about 45 minutes.  What an awesome experience.  Keep in mind, these are not zoo monkeys, note I stated above I made myself comfortable on the JUNGLE floor.  These primates are in their natural habitat and not only am I in a foreign country, I’m in their neighborhood. 

I spent the better part of the afternoon going through my monkey pictures picking out the god ones.  I had taken a lot of pix and thank goodness for digital cameras because I could trash the one that were bad, without having to pay for development.  As you’ll see, I kept the ones that you could see the monkeys and were in focus.  I also included a couple of short videos. 

11 September 2012

Barbara had made arrangements to rent the main house and today, four house guests arrived.  They arrived a bit later than expected.  Actually it was about 3 hours later than expected thanks to a delayed aircraft.  But they finally got here and all went well.  They had a friend pick them up in San Jose and after they four hour ride, they were tired and ready to call it a night.

12 -14 September 2012

I got up and for the first time since Barbara had left for her vacation I had company on my walk.  The house guests include a lady with her son who joined me.  We walked to the town of Tronodora and I showed them some of the sights along the way. 

Either the 13th or 14th we walked to Lake Arenal so they can see where to go swimming or just someplace to sit and look at the water.  As we left the lake, the mother told me she was renting a house in the area and we walked into a couple of small developments and found the house she would be staying in.  The outside of the house looked just like it was described and the picture they posted was recent which was really helpful.  Before she actually moves in a few weeks, she’ll probably go back to talk to the owner and see the inside of the house.

15 September 2012

The rain held off for most of the day today, but it did rain in the evening.
Earlier in the week, another house sitter I’d met in Tilaran invited me to a party.  Some of you following my blog know me personally and know rarely do I turn down a party, and this was no exception, I went.   

The party, in typical Latino style involved large quantities of food, drink and conversation. It was held at a home that was being looked after by a house sitting couple and is located off the main road between Tilaran and Tronadora.  The house itself is an average sized house on a large lot that is beautifully landscaped with blooming flowers, low ground covering plants, and plenty of fruit trees ready to be picked. 

The party was basically to bid farewell to a couple of house sitters (hosts included) that are moving on to other gigs, celebrate the one year anniversary of living in Costa Rica for a family, and just get together to make new friends and enjoy the company of others.  It wasn’t only gringos, as there were a few locals also which is always good.

A good time was had by all.

Well, we’re now up to date on what’s been happening in my life so until next time, have fun, travel safe.

16 - 22 September 2012

It’s been another quiet week here in Costa Rica.  We did have a few sunny hot days with some widely scattered showers in the afternoon.  But overall, even with the rain, the weather has been good.  During the wet season, you just plan your outdoor activities around the early morning and late afternoon showers.  

Another sunset from the back of the property

The expat community sponsored a farmers and artists market last Sunday and it turned out pretty good.  All the products were grown, prepared, and made by local area Costa Ricans and expats.  The artists were selling everything from wind chimes to paintings, and a lot of stuff in between.  You could stock your pantry with things like goat cheese, macadamia nuts, coffee, fresh fruits and vegetables and several other local delicacies grown and prepared locally.  And fresh baked goods, well they were there to be sampled and purchased as well.  This was the first time they had this market and with it being the success it was, I’m sure they’ll be having more. 

Since the property I’m sitting is for sale, I showed it a couple of times this week and with any luck, Barbara can accomplish her desire to downsize. 

Normally when we think of downsizing a home, it involves buying another place in a “retirement community” for residents over the age of 55, or buying a condo someplace.  Well, not necessarily when you’re buying outside the US.  Compared to US prices, property in the Central and South American markets are lower, and a lot of times expats buy a smaller house, but with a lot bigger than their original home; thus having to spend more time maintaining the property and less time to simply enjoy retirement. 

This is where a reliable house sitter comes in.  If the home owner wants to take a month, or longer to take a trip someplace, a house sitter will take care of things.  The sitter can make sure the property, no matter the size is taken care of, as well as taking care of the house.  If the owner has pets, most sitters have no problem taking care of them also; in my case, I welcome pets and enjoy their furry company.  It just depends on the arrangement made between the owner and sitter.  

Just a butterfly

So, other than me little editorial comment about downsizing, everything was great here and I’m enjoying living the Pura Vida.

Until next time, have fun, travel safe.

Oh, by the way, check out my website as I’ve done some upgrades that I think you’ll enjoy.

Lake Arenal from a kayak

 23 September – 13 October 2012

You can tell by the dates that nothing much has been happening around here.  But I do have a few highlights to share…

I met a few more people in the past week or so.  One lady, Jessica is a house sitter who is here on a one year sit.  She mentioned initially she was concerned about the rural setting, being from a big city in the US.  And even though the house she is watching is actually in our small village of Tronadora, it is rural.  The village consists of one grocery store, bakery, and bar with the normal two or three churches, schools for all ages, and local hangouts.  The primary means of transport around here is walking, with motorcycles, then vehicles, and of course horses.  You want milk, well get to know your neighbor and it’s damn fresh.  In fact, it’ll probably still be warm when he delivers it.  Welcome to PURA VIDA… (good life)

Johanna is another lady I met.  The truth be known, I met Jessica, Johanna, Barbara, and her husband Rand all within a couple of days.  They are all friends and it was Johanna’s birthday the other day and we went out to dinner.  It was a good time for all.

Anyway, Johanna is having a retreat built in the area which is in a great location.  I’ll be keeping in touch with her and when she opens, I’ll post it; so follow my blog (right column, “Follow by Email”) and you’ll be one of the first to know.  She is from Finland and a very ambitious and patient young lady.  I say this because if you haven’t ever built a home or business in a country that is not your homeland, it can, and probably will come with challenges that you have never thought of.  Yes, you have an attorney, accountant, and an agent everything.  But for some reason, nobody knows the entire process and when a snag comes up, they have to consult with another consultant.  To put it bluntly, the shit is just time consuming and involves every nerve, physical and emotional fiber of your being.  So if you’re gonna build something, bring your ambition and patience; you’ll need it.  Johanna, bear with it, I know your retreat will be well worth it…

Barbara, the home owner of this property has sold it so I’ll be returning to my house in a few weeks.  But before I leave Central America, I’ll be stopping off in Nicaragua for a little vacation.  I know you’re thinking, Mike you’ve been in Costa Rica for almost three months taking care of a house, not having to get up and go to work; just make sure everything is going smoothly and keeping the owner informed, so what’s up with a vacation.  All I can think of to say is outdated and a strange fit in the conversation, but it’s appropriate; don’t hate the player, hate the game.

While in Nicaragua I’ll be doing some travel writing so you’ll have to follow my travel blog too (right column, “Follow by Email”).  Isn’t it cool the way I try and tie my two blogs and website together?  The idea is to drive more traffic to the website and have the blogs feed off that which in turn will generate more travel writing and house sitting gigs.  Thus, giving you, my loyal readers, and more reason to read and share my site and blogs with your friends so they can join us as we “Travel Thru My Eyes”.  To you, I say heartfelt THANKS.  Please continue spread the word and check out my Face Book page.

Until next time, have fun, travel safe.

14-20 October 2012

Well, I now have new neighbors.  Actually, the previous renters have moved on and Barbara has new renters in and they’ll be here after I leave.  They’re going to be here long-term and will be staying until Barbara returns from the US.

The rainy weather has picked back up, but it mainly rains at night with some remaining clouds in the early morning.  By around 10am, the clouds have pretty much thinned out, the sun is up, and we have a fairly decent breeze.

I’m about finished making arrangements for my upcoming trip to Nicaragua so remember to follow my travel blog by going to the blog and in the right column hit the “Follow by Email” gadget.  Just fill in your email and whenever I update the blog, you’ll be notified so you won’t miss a thing.

Right now my plans are to go to Nicaragua from November 1st through the 6th, returning to San Jose Costa Rica to catch my flight home.  Some hotels, restaurants, and attractions offer discounted rates for travel writers and I’ve prearranged for 5 days of discounted lodging.  Journalist credentials are great...

I’ve contacted the tourism board in Nicaragua looking for information on festivals, activities, and attractions; still waiting on a reply.  Oh that’s right, manana (tomorrow in Spanish).  I really don’t expect to hear from them but I wanted to touch base anyway.

Ok, that’s all I’m going to say on my upcoming travel trip.  But remember, while in Nicaragua I’ll be blogging in preparation some travel writing articles, so follow my travel blog (right column, “Follow by Email”).

Back to the house sitting gig, nothing has really changed.  With my responsibilities being very minimal here, keeping the property clean and in good repair, letting the gardener and maid in every couple of weeks, and no animals to care for, this is pretty much like staying at home.  Well, with a few exceptions, the weather is nicer, the language is different, the cost is cheaper, and at my house, I’ve got animals.

I told you last week a little about Jessica, here’s an update.  That girl is good with a bow and arrow; she could have been in the movie “The Hunger Games”.  I went to take her to town the other day and she was practicing, I was impressed.

Ok, that should do it for this week.  I’ll be going to a small party tonight and let you know about it in my next posting.

21 – 28 October 2012

Another week has gone by.  The winds are increasing, the temps are dropping, and the rains are returning.  Even though winter is coming, the weather is still very comfortable.

We had another earthquake on the 23rd, this one registering a magnitude of 6.5, versus the 7.8 we had on September 5th.  The epicenter was near the coastal town of Nicoya, in the province of Guanacaste.  Our town of Tronadora which is about 42 miles away and we didn’t receive any damage.

Johanna, Jessica and I were invited to a garden concert at the home on the other side of Lake Arenal on the 24th.  The Arenal Ramblers which is a group of three expats played mostly folk and ballad music.

Arenal Ramblers

The band and the hosts, also expats, provide a great music ad atmosphere for the crowd of about 25 to enjoy the afternoon.  Food and drink were available along with plenty of conversation.  While most of the attendees were expats, a few local Costa Ricans also enjoyed the event.

In preparation for my trip to Nicaragua on the 1st of November, I finally got my bus tickets.  After talking to the bus representative I found out I had to go to Liberia to get a ticket.  This was about an hour and a half drive, because they do not have a way to purchase tickets on line.  I found out that a guy was going to the airport and the people that were taking him offered me a ride.

When we got to Liberia, they dropped me in town where I would purchase my ticket while they went to the airport and did some shopping.  After all their shopping was completed they picked me up near my drop off location.  Then we had the ride back home; it was a long day, but I did get my tickets.

I hadn’t mentioned before, but Jessica has a publishing company (JM Publishing) and she took some time to review a few chapters of my novel.  She made a few changes, but nothing major so I’ll continue writing and will let everybody know when it gets published.  I think I’ll go the e-book route at first but we’ll see what happens.

Other than living the pura vida lifestyle all is the same.

So, until next time, have fun, travel safe.

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