Adventures of the Heart
Mary Zalmanek
Costa Rica - We made it!

Tuesday, September 25, 2001


It was a long and thankfully uneventful trip.  Jim and I heeded the warnings to arrive at the Colorado Springs airport several hours early.  Bruce dropped us off two and a half hours before our departure time.  The terminal was nearly empty.  Jim and I were the only ones in line at the ticket counter, and we breezed right through the security checkpoint.  The low level of activity in the airport and empty seats on the flights to Houston and San Jose concerned me just as much as watching the Dow's plunge on the airport TV monitors. 

We arrived in Costa Rica just after 8:00 PM.  After 15 minutes of searching for our name on the signs drivers from local hotels were holding, we decided to take a cab for the 20-minute drive to the Hotel Buena Vista.  A Tico (Costa Rican) man jumped out of the vehicle that pulled up to the hotel just after we did carrying a sign that said "Zalmanek."  Lesson number one: people in Costa Rica may not have the same definition of being punctual as we Americans do.

Hotel Buena Vista is a lovely, moderately priced hotel.  I went to sleep Hotel Buena Vistawondering what view would replace the inky darkness right outside our window and how rainy the wet season really is in a tropical rainforest.  Morning brought a sunny blue sky above the even rows of bushes on the coffee plantation on the mountains just outside our window.

Since we will be using Villa Decary's truck while we are here, we planned to take a bus from San Jose to Tilaran rather than rent a car.  This sounded like a very economical solution, since the 4-hour bus ride cost $7 for both of us.  The taxi rides on both ends of the bus trip, however, were nearly $80.

We finally arrived at Villa Decary, our new home for the next two months, around 5:30 on Friday afternoon.  This place is every bit as beautiful and lush as I remembered.  Tropical plants and palm trees are abundant on the hillside.  As I write this I hear howler monkeys in the trees.

Jim and I chose one of the three casitas 57 steps above the main building.  Some previous guests tried to convince us we would get tired of the climb, but we chose privacy and exercise over convenience.  I'll let you know if we get tired of those 57 steps.

We arrived just in time for one of Arenal's big events -- the annual two-day Horse Race around Lake Arenalhorse race around the lake.  The road around the lake, which is sometimes paved, sometimes dirt and sometimes just a footpath, is about 50 miles.  Around 60 horses and riders participated, each with their own support team and cheering section.  After hearing the car horns announcing the first of the support vehicles drive by, Jim and I and another guest, Scott, walked down to the bottom of the driveway with our cameras.  Even though I was anticipating less excitement than a photo finish at Churchill Downs, I was hoping for more excitement than we got.  After a good twenty-minute wait, a lone horse trotted by, breaking into a brief gallop, perhaps for our benefit.  Five minutes later a second horse came, followed ten minutes later by a pack of two. The most excitement came from waving to the trucks filled with three or four Ticos in the cab and another five or six folks in the back as they drove by.  After seeing ten or twelve horses go by, I decided to watch the remainder of the race from the comfort of the Villa Decary's front deck, even though the dense vegetation prevented much of a view of the road.  The entourage camped overnight in the nearby town of Arenal, just three kilometers down the road from Villa Decary.  The way the locals anticipated the event and talked about it afterward reminded me of the towns in Iowa that host the 10,000 bike riders for RAGBRAI each July.

Rather than go to Southeast Asia as originally planned, Jeff and Bill decided to go to South America instead.  This change in travel plans also gave us a few extra days for training before they leave.  Yesterday I learned how to make their fabulous egg loaf for breakfast and got to serve it to seven people (including ourselves).  Today brought a change of pace since we have no other guests now. 

Jeff took us to town on Saturday to introduce us around.  We met Texas Bill who rents mountain bikes and kayaks and another American, Scott, who guides fishing trips.  We know where the grocery store, butcher, bank and post office are.  I wonder how far our meager Spanish will get us in this town, but the Ticos seem very helpful with our use and tolerant of our misuse of the Spanish language.

The economic impact of the attack in the US is very strong in Costa Rica.  Monica, the German-born, US-raised owner of a nearby restaurant, said her business has all but stopped.  Even the truck traffic on roads near San Jose was significantly down within days of the attack.  Both Americans and Ticos talk about the events in the US with compassion for the victims and concern for the economic situation. 

I really wondered just how much rain we would get, and I'm happy to say it's not as much as I feared.  Bill and Jeff keep a rain log, and even though we've had over 27 inches so far in September, there are still lots of dry spells.  On an average day, it will rain for anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, then stop.  There have even been a few days in September with no rain or just a trace.  Then there are the big rain days -- four days with over 3 inches.  The day before we arrived there was 4.1 inches of rain, and 3 of that fell in about an hour.  While the rain does cool things off a bit, shorts are still fine during the day.  In the evening I've worn long pants and long sleeve just once or twice.

I'll admit I had certain expectations about running a B&B in Costa Rica.  So far most things have been right on.  So far the weather is has been better than I expected.  The birds are incredible.  We've seen several toucans and lots of other colorful birds.  The people are friendly, but due to recent events, there aren't as many tourists as I had hoped.  The landscape is green, lush and abundant.  A few mosquitoes come out at night, but it's easy to shut the door and keep them out.

There is just one story I've heard so far that made me a bit squeamish.  I knew there were snakes here, but they really generally avoid people as much as people avoid them.  Bill said he sees less than one snake a year, and usually at a distance.  Ronnie, a Tico who manages a local pizzeria, told us this story about snakes.  His mother was at home and heard an odd knocking on the door.  She opened the door to find a ball of snakes thrashing around.  Fortunately, she was able to slam the door on the intruders. As part of a mating ritual, these snakes work themselves into a sexual frenzy, so they weren't really all that interested in humans.  Nevertheless, I'll be cautious when opening any door!

But please don't let that snake story keep you away.  I asked Monica's 13-year-old daughter what she liked most about living in Costa Rica.  She said she is safe here.  Monica said she had four Americans stop by a few days ago that said they just needed to get away from the crisis in the US.  This is a place you can get away and feel safe.

Please send us updates from the US.  We don't get much news down here.  Villa Decary doesn't have a TV.  I look at the headlines on once a day, but since they get charged for access time, I don't read the full articles.  On Fridays they get a newspaper in English.  Of course, we also want to know what's going on in your lives.

With love,
Mary and Jim

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