~ 2020 ~
Dominican Republic Christmas,
Then Panama and Costa Rica

The Plan
     It appears that I’ve been given yet another opportunity to roam the world this winter. In case you weren’t following along, I had to cut last year’s trip short in mid-February due to a persistent chest bug that laid me low in Rome, Italy.
     This year, I’m planning to head once again to warmer climes where those viruses and bacteria are less likely to follow. Of course, typhoid, malaria, dengue, and yellow fever are endemic in the three countries on this year’s planned adventure, so there is a remote chance that I could face the evil critters that cause those medical issues. I have gotten appropriate meds to prevent malaria and typhoid, but I think a far greater threat is that my arthritic knees won’t hold up in the heat and humidity or the rougher terrain that the emerging countries where I’m headed will present.
     My wife and I leave December 18th to join the rest of our family (three children with their two spouses and five grandchildren) in the Dominican Republic. We will spend the Christmas and New Year’s holidays there in a luxurious home, with pool, leased by son number two, to enjoy our first Christmas celebration away from home.
     After several weeks in the DR my family, including my wife, will head home, while I board a flight to Panama City, Panama. I have rented an AirBnb apartment for 12 days there but, if I’m enjoying the heat and humidity and my knees hold up, I may stay longer. If not, I’ll work my way north to Costa Rica where I have wintered before and where I can select an enjoyable climate from those at the varying elevations of that peaceful country. I’ll be alone in Panama and Costa Rica, but it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if my Floridian buddy, Schim, or David, my friend from home, would show up somewhere along the way.


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Photos - New 03/14/20 and 03/15/20

January 2, 2020 - Punta Cana, DR:
     Though I’ve been gone since December 18, this will be the first official update of my 2020 winter adventure. And quite an adventure it has been so far: A direct flight from Baltimore to Punta Cana, two days adjusting to the delightfully warm temperatures, an extremely-uncomfortable, three-and-a-half-hour bus ride with insufficient knee room on a completely-full, double-decker bus to the capital, Santo Domingo. Then, after a reunion with 10 more family members (children, grandchildren, spouses), and a couple of great meals featuring fresh seafood, a three-hour ride in two, jammed Ford SUVs, to Sosua near Puerto Plata and the adventure really began.
     The house rented by son #2, who hosted this unique Christmas vacation, was a marble mansion currently on the market for a reduced-price bargain of $900,000. Enough bedrooms to bunk the dozen family members with a bathroom for each and two, huge, master baths with bubble tubs that would have required about 500 gallons of water, probably unused since construction due to the length of time it would require to fill them. Of course, we had no servants to draw our baths. We did have two maids who came every other day and prepared typical Dominican meals on two of their visits. There were also two, full kitchens and another in the outdoor pavilion by the pool.
     On almost each day of our week-long stay, an activity was planned by my son and his wife. First day, the entire entourage traveled to Ocean World and swam with, petted, hugged, and fell in love with dolphins. Also involved was hand contact with sea lions, beautiful colored macaws, love birds, and other assorted, brightly-feathered, tropical birds. My wife and I passed up the strenuous activities, but enjoyed watching the youngsters enthusiastically involved. On day two, some participated in a horse-back-riding adventure that included riding the steeds in gentle ocean waves. My spouse and I passed completely on that opportunity. After a day lounging around the huge, gorgeous, fountain-accentuated pool tended by the gardener, the next day’s adventure involved a four-wheel exploration of the mountainous jungle, complete with a dip in a waterfall pool where jumping and diving off the cliff side seemed to excite all participants. My wife and I passed on the entire day’s opportunities, choosing to read, sun, and lounge by the pool. Did I mention it was gorgeous?
     Then came a six-hour fishing adventure for the males of the group that produced long periods of boredom and a few minutes of unrivaled excitement. It also produced four, gorgeous dorado (Mahi-Mahi) caught by the four fishermen in the boat who had among them only previously caught one of the fighting creatures. The youngest, 14 and 20 years old, will never forget the experience with the fish leaping in the boat’s wake while they fought them to the mate’s gaff. Two other dorado were lost in the fighting process, so it was a very successful trip. The mate filleted the catch, put them on ice, and we headed back to the house where the women joined us after a day of shopping. Three of the fishermen prepared the dorado in three different ways: grilling, poaching, and frying and the entire family enjoyed a repast of the freshest Mahi-Mahi ever. Absolutely scrumptious!
     The day before departure, the group, minus yours truly who stayed home to watch the Nittany Lions in the Cotton Bowl, headed to the beach where an unspeakable tragedy occurred. Soon after arrival on the beach, my son-in-law from an hour north of Detroit, entered the very-rough surf to ride a wave to the beach. The wave picked him up, threw him head-first onto the beach, causing a serious head injury and the next wave flattened him fracturing his neck! A strong swimmer, a diver in high school many years ago, a strong, tough character who still earns his living climbing telephone poles with spikes, he was lucky to get out of the water with the help of my 20-year-old grandson who saw the accident. Refusing an ambulance, but aware of the seriousness of his injury and exclaiming, “I think I broke my neck,” he agreed to be taken to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.   
     Fortunately, son #2 is fluent in Spanish and accompanied him and my daughter to the nearby Emergency Room of a surprisingly-clean, modern hospital. X-rays and cat scan indicated a complete fracture, but the doctor and the neurosurgeon called in to confer also insisted on an MRI that was scheduled for 7:00 a.m. the following morning - the morning scheduled for our departure to Santo Domingo. Ed spent the night in a room in the hospital with intravenous pain medication and his wife sleeping in a futon by his side. The open MRI, a new addition to the hospital only three-months previously, verified the neurosurgeon’s diagnosis. Three doctors eventually approved a risky trip home that involved a four-or-five-hour ride along the ocean and the flight home. Most difficult to complete was the permission to fly required by the airline that the doctor finally signed to permit the trip, along with a very-uncomfortable, hard neck brace and a warning that a car accident or extremely-violent air turbulence could cause serious nerve damage.
     We made it after dark to a country club near San Pedro de Macaris, a famous Major League baseball hub on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. Ed spent a restless night on prescribed pain meds and caught their flight to Detroit the next morning with a layover in Newark. Unfortunately, despite a relatively-smooth flight to New Jersey, their connecting flight was delayed three times, then canceled. While waiting at the airport, Ed’s neck was painfully bumped by another passenger’s bag, so things were not going well at all. Finally, United Airlines got them on a direct flight that arrived in Detroit at 5:30 am. An hour later they were home safely, but trying to get an appointment with a recommended neurosurgeon in Detroit. We’re all hoping and praying that no surgery is required, but we’re mostly praying for a full recovery. They were having so much fun on the vacation and it is really disturbing to see both of them have to go through this tragic ordeal.

     Joan and I spent an additional night at the country club near San Pedro, lounging by the gorgeous pool and grounds, before boarding an Uber that brought us back to Punta Cana for another stay in a difficult-to-obtain room in the fully-booked Sheraton Hotel where we stayed on our arrival. Quite a bit of chutzpah and a lot of blarney was expended to finally get the reservation. A much better ride than the large, cramped bus that first took us to Santo Domingo, the Uber driver, Julio, practiced his English and Joan and I our Spanish until we arrived safely in time to celebrate the arrival of the new year. Celebrated with a delicious meal, but sound asleep by 10:00 p.m., the new year came in unnoticed until morning.
     There is little to do but beach in Punta Cana and I would only recommend it to beach goers, which we’re not. It will be a few days of lounging, sunning, reading, and writing until Saturday when Joan boards her Southwest flight to Baltimore. I will tough it out in this mid 80’s heat and await my flight to Panama next Wednesday. Somehow, I’ll survive. I ask you to keep Ed in your thoughts and prayers. Hasta luego!

January 5, 2010 - Punta Cana, DR:
     There are bad news days and there are good news days. This is definitely one of the latter - good news all over the place. First, my wife arrived home safely, right on schedule, met by Ron and his wife who picked her up at the airport in Baltimore, also right on schedule. That means that all 11 family members slept in their own beds last night and, trust me, that is a good thing!
     Then, I was contacted yesterday by the “super host” of the apartment in Panama City, Panama, that I have rented through AirBnb for 12 days, beginning on Wednesday of this week. He is ready for me and will have a taxi waiting at the airport at an additional cost of $30, hopefully waving one of those signs for which I have always seen others looking. That means there will be no struggling with bags and directions to locate the apartment in a city where I have little familiarity. I have struggled like that many times in the past, but there are some good things about traveling while older and wiser.  I have been in Panama City on three different occasions, but the only things with which I am familiar are the colonial part of the city and the long, thin strip of water and locks through which large ships pass. My apartment is in neither of those locations so, despite what Schim may think, the $30 is a sound investment.
     Finally, the best of the good news: my son-in-law, Ed, who fractured his vertebrae on the beach, literally, in Puerto Plata has seen a well-respected neurosurgeon in Detroit and does not need surgery! The surgeon said that with rest these things will heal themselves. Hooray! Ed was fitted with a new, much-more comfortable neck brace that he will have to wear for six weeks while his body works its miracles, but he should recover fully. There have been a lot of thoughts, prayers, and worry expended, hoping for just such an outcome. Heal rapidly, Ed.  Hasta pronto.
     PS. Of lesser import, but still good news: the Patriots are done for the year!

January 7, 2020 - Punta Cana, DR:
     Hola, todos! Up for a trip to the bano at 4:00 a.m., I read my Kindle until 4:30 when my bed started shaking - noticeably shaking! In the darkness I wondered if there was someone else in the room so, using the Kindle’s light, I surveyed the room with my only nearby weapon in my hand - my trusty backscratcher/shoe horn. Must have been a pretty threatening sight, eh? Nobody else around and the door still securely locked; could it have been an earthquake? Nah, did the bed have a vibrator that I accidentally triggered in my sleep? Not that I could find in the Kindle light. I fell back asleep.
     At 7:15 I awoke for my start to the day, but returned to bed to scan the day’s headlines on this iPad. At 7:30, the bed started vibrating again, for a much shorter time and less violently. Come on, another earthquake? I saw on television before falling asleep that there was a serious earthquake in southwestern Puerto Rico last evening, but nothing about effects in the Dominican Republic. Routine morning ablutions complete, I wandered down to the lobby for the fantastic, buffet breakfast offered here each morning. Stopping by the front desk on the way, I inquired about the “terramoto” (a great, easy-to-remember Spanish word for earthquake). The receptionist and two, nearby Dominican hotel guests said, “No, I don’t think so,” looking at me in my flowery, Hawaiian shirt like I was nuts.
     I proceeded to the buffet line and asked the same of Anderson, one of the friendly waiters who serves me cafe con leche each morning and who has taken to calling me by name in greeting each day. “Yes, 7:30,”. exclaimed Anderson, verifying the exact time that my bed started rocking and rolling. Whew, it wasn’t a peculiar stroke and I’m not going crazy just yet.
     Today is my last day in the DR and I am eager to get on with this year’s adventure. There was a direct, Southwestern flight from Baltimore to Punta Cana, but it was a mistake to have taken it. This is almost exclusively a very expensive, all-inclusive resort area and there is little, almost nothing, to do when not on a resort. My wife and I took a 20-minute taxi ride for lunch in a restaurant in one of the resorts and were charged $40 for a round trip - that only after haggling down from $50 with the disappointed cabbie. Everything here was very expensive. We enjoyed Santo Domingo and Sosua far better since there were places to walk and things to do. Stay away from Punta Cana unless you’re into all-inclusive resorts.
     I will spend the day re-packing and preparing for the 3.5 hour flight to Panama City. That won’t take long since I’ve worn the same two shirts and one pair of shorts during my entire stay here. No wonder the waiters know me by name. Hasta luego.

January 10, 2020 - Panama City, Panama:
     Brrr, that’s cold! No, not the weather; it has reached 89 degrees on each of my days in this Central American country and is supposed to reach that today. No, it’s the water that’s cold - my shower water! As in almost all countries who have warm temps all year round, regular folks do not heat their water. More expensive hotels and resorts heat their water, I’m certain, but I rented an Airbnb apartment online and never thought to check on whether the shower water was hot. Yesterday, my first morning in this huge city, I took what my mother used to call a cat’s bath, carefully washing only the important parts. This morning, I took what I would call a “Hokey Pokey” shower. You know, and it’s OK to hum along here, “You put your left leg in, then wash and rinse, pull your left leg out, then you shake it all about. You put your right leg in...”.  You get the picture. Rinsing was the hard part and I never did get brave enough to let the water run down my back. Shampooing was accomplished by leaning my head forward into what felt like glacial melt. The water did not seem to warm up as the day went along yesterday and that ruined my original plan - shower in late afternoon when the air temp warmed the water. I gave up that plan this morning and went back to my regular morning ablutions. As I said, BRRR.
     I check many things before renting an apartment online and I liked it much better when I took a hotel room for a few nights while searching for a long-term abode. Now, it is very difficult to rent an apartment by walking into a real estate office and asking if they have anything to rent long term. Owners are now getting enough business through Airbnb, VRBO, and other online providers, so they don’t list with realtors. One of the first things I check online are the reviews. Pictures are fine, but previous renters seem to tell it like it is. These days with these knees, I also check to see if there is an elevator in the building or if the apartment is accessible without climbing stairs. Then, I check to see if the dates I’m interested in coincide with the unit’s availability. No sense wasting my time if the place is already rented. Very important is to check the location, especially in a city with which I have little familiarity, like here in Panama City. This is my fourth visit to Panama, but during each of my other visits housing was taken care of by my son, who was stationed here for three years during his military service. I did check the location of this beautiful, clean, roomy apartment on the map, but you would think that a former geography teacher would have counted the blocks (in this case miles) to the area where he figured to spend most of his time. I failed to count, though I thought the distance walk-able. NOT!
     Taxis are not too expensive, though I dropped $20 the first night to have one take me from the apartment to the historic section of the city to a justifiably well-recommended restaurant. The driver happens to live in this building and took me from here, came back home while I ate, then picked me up when I’d finished. I could have taken any other taxi to cut the cost in half, except that I had made a rookie’s error. I failed to write down the address of my apartment and had no clue how to describe the address of my new abode to a different cabbie. Hunger does funny things to people. It must affect my memory.
     Uber has been ineffective for me because they keep complaining about my internet connection, but I learned of a new, similar, online service called InDriver which allows you to quote the price you’re willing to pay, then shops your offer to nearby, Uber-like drivers to see if they’ll take you for that amount. I happened upon a 17-year-old, Italian girl at the guarded entrance to my apartment complex last evening who was waiting for an InDriver vehicle. I asked to accompany her to her hotel, then head to my restaurant, Gabriella’s Trattoria, if you must know, and both driver and the young lass agreed. She has been here studying Spanish and was quite fluent. Neither she nor the driver spoke English, but I had skills enough to make my wishes known. It only cost me $2 for a ride as long as the previous night’s taxis. I used that service on the way home and it cost $3. Uber had quoted me $7.50 to make the same trip to the restaurant. Now, if my internet connection holds up enough to communicate with InDriver, I may have found a reasonable transportation alternative.
     I haven’t updated for a few days, so you’ll have to bear with me a bit longer. Gabriella’s and all restaurants in the city joined in yesterday's holiday, “The Day of the Dead.” Seems that to respect those who have passed they do not serve alcohol in restaurants and I ordered a glass of wine with my cacio e pepi. An emissary emerged from the kitchen in the almost-empty restaurant (it was only 7:00 p.m.) to explain the holiday to me and apologize for not being able to serve the wine to me in a wine glass. To skirt the custom/law, they would serve my wine in a water glass, “in case someone comes in.”  I graciously agreed. The wine tasted no different.
     One last mention: my knees were holding up remarkably well in Punta Cana, where little walking was required. I even felt like I walked without a limp and up and down stairs normally during short excursions to nearby restaurants. The short flight here, transporting my carry-on-sized suitcase and heavy backpack and the long walks through airports with the backpack on my back must have been too much for my right knee. It was barking loudly in the taxi that picked me up to drop me at the apartment and I suffered greatly with it through the night and all day yesterday, which is why my update was delayed. I’ll try not to be so wordy in future updates. Luego!

January 15, 2020 - Panama City, Panama:
     I’m writing with a grieving heart and a heavy hand as I write today’s update. It took a couple of days of grief before I could clear my head enough to put words on paper. On Monday, I received word that one of my golfing buddies, a close friend, passed away suddenly of an apparent heart attack, although I have not learned any more of the details of his passing. He was a “life of the party” kind of guy and always made a golf round interesting. He had a gruff exterior at times, but a heart of gold. Everybody in our group of 18 or 20 players thought it was their lucky day if they drew Larry as a partner. A good time was always had by all. It will be tough for the group to gather in the pre-golf, morning meeting in the parking lot without Larry’s presence. He will be sorely missed. I pray for his family in their time of grief.
     I must advise you of a change in my plans for this winter. When I showed up at the airport in Punta Cana with my one way ticket, the airline would not let me board unless I also possessed a ticket to depart Panama. I guess too many folks show up and want to stay, something like we find in the USA. I tried to show them the email that I received from the bus company in David, a large city close to the Costa Rica border, indicating that I could not buy a ticket online, I had to buy it at the bus terminal. No matter: “no tickee, no boardee!” They were very kind and even tried to purchase a bus ticket online themselves, but to no avail. The seven-hour bus from David to San Jose would have cost me $10. I had no choice but to purchase a one-way, airline ticket from Panama City to San Jose, CR, at a cost of $217; it will only be a 90-minute flight. I knew all of this ahead of time, but thought with the email from the bus company, I had a shot at slipping into the country. NOT.
     I had to select a departure date, so I chose January 20th when my lease runs out on this very nice, hot-water-free apartment. Unsure of the exact location of this Airbnb rental, I left myself an out after 12 days in case I wanted to re-locate. I will now relocate, hopefully, to Escazu, near San Jose, Costa Rica, in five days. Not looking forward to another day of travel, so I hope to spend the remainder of my time in one place, if I can find a good location and a nice apartment at a good price.  I know the area around Escazu much better and would have a better shot at getting a favorable location online, but with the hot water in mind, I will spend a couple days in a cheap hotel while I search for the right place, a difficult task these days.
     He knows I’m here and he’s coming for me, I’m certain. Montezuma, I mean. His advance guard has already made an appearance or two, but Pepto Bismol has thus far offered a semi-solid defense. What did I ever do to that guy?
     Twelve days will be about right in this heat and humidity and in this location. Temperatures have reached 92 on a couple days, but the Weather Channel indicates that with the humidity it feels as hot as 102. Yesterday the heat index only rose to 98, lucky me. My apartment’s location has forced me to use taxis or InDriver on every excursion from my front door. The traffic here is absolutely atrocious and I have been stuck in gridlock on almost every trip. With 1.5 million citizens living in this city, most seem to be on the road every time I head out the door.
     The worry about malaria and yellow fever seems trivial now and I got shots and pills to fight them off; though many, many workers died of yellow fever here during the digging of the canal, the danger seems smaller now. Going out in the evening, a rare occurrence, I do spray my ankles with insect repellent. “No-seeums” seem to feast on my ankles at will and, true to their nickname, I have never observed one of the devils.
     It has been my observation that there are actually more taxis here than mosquitoes. They are everywhere, EVERYWHERE! Seriously, I’ll bet that one in ten cars that pass on the street are yellow cabs, all slowing and hungrily looking at this gringo for a fare. Cabbies are friendly, though, and much of the time in gridlock is spent talking baseball. Mariano Rivera, famous Yankee reliever and Carlos Ruiz (Chooch), the popular ex-Phillies catcher, are national heroes.
     Five more days of cold showers and I’ll head north. Hasta pronto!

January 17, 2020 - Panama City, Panama:
     Found some money a couple days ago as I was having breakfast in downtown Panama City. Found it where I’ve found money before, in the underpants wallet where I carry my passport, back-up credit cards, and most of my cash. I netted $26.00 in the deal, using two money exchanges to convert cash I wasn’t going to use in the foreseeable future - no, I never say never. I got $15 for 15 euros left over from last year’s aborted trip to Europe and $11 from the 1100 Dominican Republic pesos that I couldn’t spend before I left that country a few days ago. That makes for a good day - finding cash! Schim would be so proud; he’d probably even buy a second street hot dog for dinner with that kind of windfall.
     I’m very slowly getting accustomed to the cold water showers. The water isn’t any warmer, but I no longer dread the morning plunge. Well, actually, there’s no plunging, I’m still using the Hokey Pokey shower routine, but now, as each appendage takes it’s turn to be inserted for rinsing and shaking about, their cries of, “turn on the hot,” are less strident. Cold water or no, I’m enjoying having access to a modern, full-sized washer and dryer in the apartment. No worry about what to wear and I’ll depart for Costa Rica with a completely-clean wardrobe.
     Since I have to use taxis or InDriver on every excursion from my apartment, I’ve been trying to limit my ventures forth to once or twice a day. Usually, it’s orange juice, cookies & milk at home for breakfast and a restaurant for lunch, then cookies or delicious, crunchy, corn Cheetos and milk for dinner. Like last night, though, I sometimes eat dinner out, too, but that has been the exception. For four days, my dinners consisted of leftovers from the huge, expensive Argentinian lunch that I enjoyed a few days back, making it a very affordable expenditure.
     Yesterday, I investigated a two-day trip to Alto Boquete, a place I intended to visit based on my son’s recommendation as having cooler temps and beautiful views. The trip there would have been part of the adventure as I made my way by bus to Costa Rica, but that was not to be. I didn’t negotiate the price that the tour agency owned by a friend of a cabbie quoted over the phone, $500, but I wasn’t going to be able to bargain that into a reasonable figure. Later, as I thought about the trip, I realized that I should have planned the trip earlier. Had I done that, I could have taken a bus to Boquete, spent the night, and returned for a tenth of that figure. I’ll do better the next time I spend the winter in Panama. Hasta luego!

January 19, 2020 - Panama City, Panama:
     It’s a darned good thing that I expect the plan for multi-country trips to be flexible. That flexibility was what was needed yesterday as I made a final check of my airline ticket for my early Monday morning flight to San Jose. Hidden in the ticket that I purchased at the airport in Punta Cana while under pressure from the long line of people waiting to check baggage and board the same flight as I tried to to get an exit ticket from Panama, the date of my flight to Costa Rica was different than I have been planning. It was probably my fault in the rush, but my ticket is for next Tuesday, January 28. My apartment rental expires tomorrow, the 20th. What to do?
     A talk to Copa Airlines seemed in order and I researched online to locate the offices in this city. Lo and behold, there was an office in the beautiful mall a short distance up the street and it was open Saturday! Hustled up there first thing yesterday morning to discuss my options and learned that there would be a penalty to change tickets - $132, more than half of what I paid for the original ticket. No, no! But, when I learned that I could exchange my ticket for a voucher to be used later and that Copa also flies to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando from San Jose, my decision was made. I leave tomorrow by bus to David, a large city to the north and seven hours closer to the Costa Rican border. It seems as if I will get to see more of the country, after all, which was my original plan. $19 for the trip to David and probably a similar amount from there to San Jose. Saved a little money and, though I don’t look forward to seven hours in a bus seat, I look forward to the views and the geography. I’ll use the voucher on my flight home from San Jose, whenever that may be.
     Today will be spent doing laundry (I hear the machine agitating now), packing, and preparing for an early morning departure. I’ve done this drill before and, since everything gets packed exactly as it did when I left home, this shouldn’t be too stressful.
     Since our country left the Canal Zone and Panama, there has been a massive influx of Chinese citizens. I know they won a contract to construct/repair the canal, but I had no idea just how influential they had become in Panamanian life. In the strip mall I visited for dinner last evening, fully eight of the ten businesses were Chinese owned. There are Chinese restaurants everywhere and Chinese language billboards prominent along the road. I have yet to figure out why the USA abandoned such an important piece of geography in this hemisphere to China. Maybe, I’ll never figure that out. I had a new cultural experience at dinner last night and, surprise, it was a Chinese experience. I went to a “Hot Pot” restaurant that I had seen full of customers the night before. The waitress took my order of ingredients to bring to my table so that I could place them into the boiling-hot broth that was bubbling in front of me. I chose the broth, too - chicken. Spinach leaves, white radish slices, six, large shrimp, and clear, wet, Japanese rice noodles completed the picture. Each plate was overflowing with an individual ingredient. With instruction from the Chinese waitress, I cooked my own dinner in the hot pot. Drank a tiny bottle of Japanese rice wine from which a surprise Japanese plum popped into the shot-glass-sized glass into which I poured the stuff. Not my cup of tea/wine, but I drank it all along with a bottle of cold water.
     I have booked a hotel in David and plan an overnight stay before catching the bus to Costa Rica. Should the seven-hour journey prove too exhausting, I can always stay another night. That’s the beauty about being flexible and taking looooong vacations; there are no deadlines. I will probably not update until I’m settled in Costa Rica, so Hasta Luego!!

January 21, 2020 - David, Panama:
     HOT WATER!! HOT WATER!! You have no idea about the luxury in which we live. Hot water showers make a life-changing difference. Today, the length of my morning shower should certainly be recorded in the Guinness annals. What a refreshing start to the day!
     This is an unexpected update written in the afternoon when I am not at my best, although there are many who say my best is not all that good anyway. There are those who treasure my scribblings, of course: my wife for whom this is almost required reading, lest there be a quiz, two of my grandchildren, and then there is Schim who is eating his heart out that he can not accompany me this year due to scheduled medical treatments. I’m writing now lest I forget the experiences of the past two days and all (4) of my readers would be so disappointed.
     I checked out of my Panama apartment (Panamanians shorten the City’s name like Mexicans do Mexico City) at 8:30 Monday morning without knowledge of the bus schedule to David, but content with the knowledge that buses leave hourly. A fifteen minute cab ride and payment got me to the huge terminal in a giant mall by 8:50. I scoured the many windows for a place to purchase a one-way ticket to the large city closer to the frontera (border). Unbelievably, with a little help from kind bus employees in the jam-packed station, I boarded the bus after checking my bags in the rear of the bus before the bus began backing out at 9:05. Whew! Who knew they left on the hour? Not I. I never bought a ticket, just boarded and sat three seats from the rear in the seat assigned on the little stub given me by the bus employee as I hustled aboard. Three hours into the ride, the employee who handed me the stub went down the aisle collecting fares. When he got to me, I inquired as to whether I could pay by credit card and he responded, “solamente effectivo,” cash only! Reached in my pocket and got out my penultimate $20 bill to pay the $15 fare. The return trip down the mountain cost $1.75.
     I don’t think that I have discussed the currency in Panama. The Panamanian Balboa is connected to the dollar and is always worth within two or three cents of our currency. Both are used here, but by far most transactions are in dollars. The only Balboas I have received in change are coins, including the bi-metal dollar coin the size of a quarter. I went to a bank ATM, expecting to get Balboas and received five, twenty dollar bills. I’ve had no problem with that until I was down to my last Andrew Jackson. I did have a few coins left as I checked into this great hotel with stupendous showers and HOT WATER.
     Continuing the tale of my ride, the forecasted seven-hour journey, including an interesting, half-hour stop for lunch, stretched to seven hours and forty-five minutes as my patience at the frequent stops to pick up and drop off passengers near David began to wear thin. A two dollar, very short cab ride got me to this old, resort hotel and the cabbie claimed my bags at the bus, loaded them into his yellow vehicle, unloaded them, and carried them to the hotel reception desk. I was famished and exhausted. Checking in, I decided that one night’s rest wasn’t sufficient so I added another night to my stay.
     After a fine breakfast with eggs made to order, scrambled with cheese, if you want details and including freshly-squeezed pineapple juice (very foamy with a big head), I decided to change plans once again. Writing skills are better in the morning and, apparently, so are my nerves. Learning from the concierge that the trip to Boquete only took 20 minutes, I remembered the words of my equally-acrophobic son who said to me the night before his first, military, parachute jump, “Dad, if you’re going to lead men, you need to overcome your fears.” I have also learned that “if there is nobody following you, you’re not leading,” but despite the fact that there was no one behind me, I decided to make the dangerous run up the mountain to Boquete. First, I would go to the bus terminal and purchase my ticket to San Jose for tomorrow morning. Then, if the bravado persisted, I would board the bus to the mountain town where so many American ex-patriots call home.
     I know the update is getting long, but this part of my adventure is what Schim most enjoys, so you need not read on. Schim will, though. When I paid the one dollar cab fee to the terminal this morning, I was down to a few coins and my last twenty. The fare to San Jose was $21 and I thought I might need my coins for the bus to Boquete, so I was in a pinch. I needed to break one of my “secret” hundreds that I got out of my underpants pouch, breaking its zipper. The agent in the tiny, sleazy office, into which I spoke through the semi-circular hole in the plexi-glass, informed me that she couldn’t change the hundred, but she’d sell me the ticket for $20, if I returned to pay her the dollar tomorrow before departure. How great was that? What to do?? I’m telling you, Schim loves this stuff. I went to the seediest, little, nearby cafeteria style restaurant and asked the cashier if she could give me change for the big bill. She said yes, but I had to buy something. I ordered coffee, though I had just finished breakfast, and she said that I had to buy more - five dollars worth. Well, unlike Schim, who would have headed for a bank even if it were a five-mile walk away, I bought breakfast for the young man behind me in line. I have no idea what he had in his to-go bag, but my change was $97.80. I said, “Gracias,” and then, very unlike Schim, I gave the cashier a $2.00 tip. Get a drink of water, Schim!
     Flush with cash, I returned to the sleazy ticket window and paid my debt, then boarded the crowded, high-risk bus to Boquete. There may have been a few turns that were taken a little too rapidly for me, but the trip was a piece of cake. My son was certainly right. The chartered-coach-type bus ride took 45 minutes (these folks have no concept of time) and cost $2.50. I strolled through the square of the town in overcast skies, a chilly wind, much cooler temps, and amazingly low humidity. What a difference a few miles uphill makes! An extended cup of coffee at a typical American-type, coffee shop and a stroll down the Main Street and I was ready for lunch at an American-owned restaurant called Sugar and Spice that guaranteed pure water and ice. What a treat: a pastrami and cheese sandwich and a coke with a water chaser. I walked back four blocks up the hill and boarded a re-upholstered and repainted (still bright yellow) school bus for the ride back to David. I need not have feared the ride down the mountain; this turned out to be a local, local. The driver never got the Diesel engine out of third gear, slowing for every covered bus stop along the way. I could have ridden a bicycle down and beaten the bus by a half-hour. It took 70 minutes to descend, but I enjoyed watching the locals enter and exit the bus. The change in temperature and humidity was more stunning than the views of the surrounding mountains and I was delighted to return to my air-conditioned room - you know, the one with the hot water!
     Tomorrow up early and ready for the eight-hour trip to San Jose, Costa Rica, with one always-interesting border crossing along the way. I’m out of words and out of energy. Thanks for reading, Schim!  Hasta pronto.

January 24, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Nine hours on the road in a bus with only a stop for lunch sounds like it could be the trip from hell. It was tiring, but wasn’t that bad. It took an hour on the modern bus to reach the Panamanian border with Costa Rica, all on a divided, four-lane highway, though certainly not one with limited access. After a military stop for a passport check, we stopped at the border, took our bags out of the storage compartment on the bus and put them through a scanning machine. Next was a stop at the aduana (customs) window for the check on goods taken out of the country. I wasn’t asked a single question. Put the bags back on the bus and walked to the nearby immigration window for photo and fingerprinting, then questions from the official that merely addressed his curiosity about the many stamps in my passport. I needed a bathroom stop from the early morning coffee, so I headed up a long flight of stairs to the bano, after checking the location of the bus. Since there were still passengers who had not finished the border process, I never thought about having to rush back to the bus. BUT, as I descended the stairs I noticed, in a state of utter panic, that the bus was gone! GONE! Not worried about transportation to San Jose, I knew that I could get there, even if I had to taxi all the way. I worried that all my worldly goods were on that bus in my suitcase and backpack! This is the part of the adventure that will have Schim salivating.
     I hailed a nearby taxi and told him to, “follow the bright green bus, muy rapido!”  I jumped in the cab thinking we might face a five-mile chase but, when we went over the first slight rise, there was the bus perhaps a quarter mile up the road. The other passengers had walked that distance to the Costa Rican immigration office. I gave the happy cabbie an American dollar and jumped out! Whew! That was a scare!! Standing in line in humid air that must have been close to 100 degrees with sweat pouring off my brow, I finally reached the window where I was asked where and how long I would be staying in Costa Rica. No need for a ticket to exit the country, my passport got the Costa Rica stamp and I moved to the next line where women were queued up on one side and men on the other holding their baggage and facing six concrete tables. This was the customs check. I took my turn placing my bags on the table where an officer in civilian clothes unzipped them and peered inside. He, literally, lifted only two bags containing bug spray and the Montezuma-fighting bottle of Pepto Bismol and without opening them asked how long I was going to be in Costa Rica and were these all personal items. I told him yes as he zipped the bags closed and wished me, “Buen Viaje (have a nice trip)!”
     I was in Costa Rica and it was like a heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders. Don’t know why. As we drove down the now two-lane highway, I felt, well, I felt like I was home! I recognized the vegetation, the types of housing, some business names, the people’s faces, and the names of the villages through which we passed. I think my entire body relaxed and I thoroughly enjoyed the nine-hour, air-conditioned (22 degrees C) ride through familiar country. The external thermometer of the bus reached 33 degrees (91.4 F) along the road which in spots almost touched the breaking Pacific waves. Now, where was I going to sleep tonight?
     Arriving in extremely heavy, rush-hour traffic in San Jose, the temperature had dropped to 20 degrees on the bus’ thermometer during the climb to the Central Valley and I knew from past experience that the humidity was gone. That alone brought a smile to my face. I grabbed a cab at the bus station and headed for Escazu where I hoped to spend the rest of the winter; but, where to stay the night as I looked for an apartment? After several false moves, including learning that my former hotel of several winter residences had been converted into a business center and one stop in a new hostal that wanted me to share a bath, I became just a little frustrated. Andres, the cabbie, told me that his friend told him that there was a hotel behind the Chinese restaurant on the Main Street up the hill to the center of Escazu. I told him to give it a shot and was I ever surprised! When you get to see the photos in a couple days, you will be, too. A gorgeous, little BnB owned by a delightful American couple, the place is an oasis in the frenetic energy of the street only a short walk through the alley-way. They had a lovely room and bath available for only two nights, so I would have to find another location pretty rapidly. But, I had a bed with bath! HOT WATER, too.
     At the delicious breakfast the next morning, I got to talking with Javier, one of the owners who, hearing of my plight, mentioned that he had a friend that might have an apartment to rent. I told him that I would be delighted to look at it later in the day. Calling Andres to come to help convey me in my search, we first stopped at the home of Javier and Pilar’s (the wife) friend. Lovely place, but I looked at other places and had lunch with Andres before calling it a day. My other option was a very-modern, perfectly-located apartment hotel in an area with many restaurants and malls, but also many tourists. After discussing the matter with my wife on the phone and explaining that the apartment-hotel would cost $75/night at a bargain rate for an extended stay and that the friend’s lovely apartment further up the hill with few tourists would only cost $30/night, I made my decision. I move up the hill into my new apartment with Javier and Pilar’s friends as landlords in exactly 30 minutes. Gotta run! I love it when a plan comes together! Hasta pronto!

Photos - New 01/24/20 and 01/25/20
Click on the photo to view the captions, and use the arrows to scroll through the photos.

January 27, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Perpetual springtime, just as I remembered it. The perfect weather: mid-70’s to low-80’s daytime highs, low to upper 60’s nighttime lows, and negligible humidity. Think improved San Diego weather with impressive views of the gorgeous Central Valley ringed by three or four, hopefully, dormant volcanoes and you have the ideal place to spend the winter. Andres, my initial cab driver, informed me that the weather is so good that more than 500,000 American ex-pats now call Costa Rica home. I don’t know where he got the figures, but I’m a believer.
     Eating dinner in a long-sleeved shirt while sitting outside gazing at a view of the wide, Central Valley lights twinkling below on Friday evening, made the Spanish (Spain) meal taste even better. Three great tapas and a glass of sangria later, I made my way home with a $1.59 Uber ride and was in bed by 9:00. Exciting times! It makes one feel the tiniest bit of guilt that there are folks back home suffering through rain, abysmally-cold temps, snow, and howling winds without a concept of what life is like here in Paradise, but only the tiniest bit of guilt.
     Sunday, it was time to get ready to pay the rent, so I bussed into the center of Escazu, a $1.00 fare about a mile down the steep mountainside to use the ATM. Sure, I could walk it, but downhill walks are more painful on the barking knees and I’m trying to reduce the wear on them. Actually, the knees have endured pretty well with occasional stiffness, but not too much pain. Here’s hoping that continues for the duration of the winter.
     Turns out that many of the small restaurants in central Escazu are closed on Sunday, so I headed down to the highly-commercialized area called San Rafael de Escazu, where I spent my first couple of nights in Costa Rica in the charming BnB. Plenty of American fast foods places there, KFC, Applebees, McDonalds, places I would rather starve than frequent, so I went a few doors up the street to a Costa Rican competitor, Rosti Pollo, and had a delicious Sunday dinner: roast chicken, rice and beans, cole slaw, a corn and tomato mix, and sweet plantains. With a cold, house-made, iced tea, the cost was under $10.
     Getting cash from the banks was a different problem, however. The first bank to which I walked, crossing a very dangerous, busy, four-laned thoroughfare, would spit no cash from its ATM. I either asked for too much cash or the bank didn’t recognize my card. Not wanting to take my life in my hands by crossing that street again, I hailed a cab and headed for a bank where I had previous success. I quickly pulled 100,000 colones ($176.81) from the machine, jumped back in the cab, and stopped at the Mas Por Menos (More for Less) supermarket to pick up a few bottles of Cafe Ole, a Starbucks knock-off, I assume, to drink for breakfast in the apartment. The taxi back up the mountain, with two waiting times, was a little more than $5.00. I had a full belly and sufficient cash to pay the rent through the end of January. I’ll begin working on cash accumulation for February’s rent today. So far, the 100,000 colones seems to be the limit for ATM withdrawal here, but I will continue to try to push that envelope, so that I don’t have to make so many trips to the bank to pay the landlady.
     The family that owns this beautiful property includes Maribel and Roddy, the parents, Laura, the daughter who lives in the house above me, and her two sons, Julian (7) and Antonio (4). Laura is a third grade teacher who is married to a man I know only by his voice when he talks to the boys who kick soccer balls outside my windows. I am sure I will meet him one of these days. Maribel and Roddy, who is fighting cancer with frequent radiation and chemotherapy treatments, live somewhere in a nearby property. Maribel and Roddy’s son lived in my apartment until recently when he married and moved elsewhere. Hopefully, I’ll get to meet him, too. All seem to be wonderful people.
     In my next update, I will report my reunion with Pablo, at the time the manager of the small hotel where I spent two or three winters. That hotel, though structurally unchanged, is now a business center containing the offices of several small businesses. Until then, Ciao.

January 29, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Wash your car and it will rain the next day, a common belief at home. Brag about the perfect, Spring weather in Escazu while writing your travel blog and you will produce the same results, I’ve found. Yesterday, there was an all-day, off-and-on, light drizzle, almost a mist; the first rain I’ve run into this winter. People worked right through the overcast and dripping skies, some carrying umbrellas. I carry an umbrella and there was also one near the coat rack in this exquisitely-furnished apartment. Did I take either when I left for dinner and the bank last evening? Of course not! I had to stand under bus-stop shelters, bank roof overhangs, and walk quickly from the Uber to the restaurant and I still got a damp head. It wasn’t a big deal, but a little bit more planning is required for my trips around town.
     I stayed in the apartment yesterday until the evening meal, eating cookies and milk for breakfast and cheese twists, a Snickers bar, and an iced tea for lunch. Why go out in the drizzle when there was such a balanced meal available right in the apartment? For dinner, I went back to the Madfish Restaurant to try the Cocoviche (ceviche served in a hairy, coconut shell, coconut meat, and all). On death row, when asked my desires for my final meal, I always thought (you have to plan these things) that I would choose a rare, prime rib, a baked potato smothered in butter, and baby lima beans. No more! “Warden, I’ll have a cocoviche and two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and skip willingly to the chair.” That’s how good it was!
     This morning, after finding the cafe recommended by Trip Advisor no longer in existence, I walked a block to the open-air restaurant on the corner where I enjoyed lunch the day before and which myriads of blue collar workers frequent. It was spot on again with typical Costa Rican breakfast fare. Yelp, the online restaurant reviewer, has no recommendations in Costa Rica. Trip Advisor, on the other hand, has been excellent, recommending my three, newly-favorite restaurants: Madfish, La Plaza Espana, and Sala e Pepe. The first a Peruvian ceviche restaurant, the second has Spanish cuisine, and the third, Salt and Pepper in Italian, I imagine, a dependable Italian restaurant. All within a two-dollar Uber ride. There are many other restaurants recommended with four or five solid bubbles (they don’t have stars) in the area, so I have just begun to fight. This could take the rest of the winter.
     After breakfast this morning I walked past the local bus stop by the Central Park and jumped aboard a bus to San Jose, asking the driver if I could ride all the way around. He seemed confused and upon arriving at the terminal in the capital, he questioned my sanity for a few minutes, but when I explained that I just wanted to go back where he picked me up, he shook his head and took me on the entire route around the huge city. With the overcast skies, the air seemed thick with engine exhausts and very unhealthy. I don’t know if that is the case every day, but I wouldn’t want to live and breathe those fumes very often. At first glance, the city hasn’t changed much - a few new buildings none taller than six or eight stories, unlike the skyscrapers of Panama City, and even more buildings in disrepair. I paid a dollar in fare, the same amount as for a short ride up the mountain to my casa. Back to the apartment in a cab with a stop for some Kellogg’s Muesli for a healthier breakfast and time to update. There you go, done for the day and it’s barely past noon. This afternoon, it will be reading my Kindle and drifting off for a short nap. A guy could get used to this. Luego!

Photos - New 01/29/20
Click on the photo to view the captions, and use the arrows to scroll through the photos.

January 31, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     There is a section on my journal page for questions from readers. I just reviewed that portion and noticed that the number of questions asked of me has diminished significantly through the years. This year to date, I have gotten none. I know that some of my most curious readers have passed away, one of the curses of growing old, but it could also mean that fewer are reading or that, through the years and many trips, I have answered most of the questions anyone could have about my experiences. One question I get in person while I’m traveling and at home before and after my trips lingers on. Either, why does your wife permit you to take these trips or how can you keep a relationship going when you are separated for such long periods?
     Our marriage is not the type of relationship where we ask permission to do things. We discuss things thoroughly, especially for expenditures of expensive items, but we don’t control each other’s behavior in such a way as to ask permission for our activities. Card clubs, Woman’s Club, Rotary Club, group lunches, golf trips, and three-month travel adventures are just scheduled, and we support one another’s decisions. My wife actually encourages my travels; it seems she considers it a vacation for herself as well as an adventure for me. We also take vacations of shorter duration together each year. As a matter of fact, when I recently suggested, tongue in cheek, that I was homesick and may be home in a few days, she very quickly encouraged me to hang in there and that my homesickness always passes. She apparently values her freedom, too.
     Then, we talk on the telephone almost nightly, gathering information about each day’s happenings and family matters, grandchildren, etc. We communicate even more often by email and text, so we miss few things about each other’s lives. I have noticed that there are many more appliance breakdowns and repairs required at home while I’m away, though. The last three or four times I called home, a man answered. There was the appliance repairman, the plumber, the electrician, a cabinet installer, a furniture repairman, and a male neighbor who seemed to be closer to the phone at the time than my wife. They quickly put her on the line for me and were able to get back to work. That’s good; they were probably hourly employees. Hasta pronto.

February 2, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Happy Groundhog’s Day to all. I doubt if there are groundhogs here in Costa Rica, but there are tropical birds, monkeys, snakes, jaguars, insects, and even robins. Yes, robins. I looked out my dining room window the other morning and saw a robin making its usual pecks in the ground for insects, worms, who knows what. I have seen a couple more since then. So, this is where robins go in the winter? Well, the smart ones, anyway. I wonder if that first robin was Stoltzfus, the robin some friends and I rescued on the ground in Delaware one spring? The frightened, very young bird was chirping loudly for its mother in the front yard as nightfall approached and we feared that cats or foxes or other night creatures might make a meal of the youngster. We gently placed the bird in an open, large box, finally feeding it tiny pieces of Lebanon Bologna (a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch smoked lunch meat) as it opened its mouth widely looking for food. In the morning we gently placed Stoltzfus back in the yard and his mother quickly rescued him. I’ll bet that WAS the adult Stoltzfus who followed me here to Central America, perhaps looking for some more bologna. The weather has returned to the normally-perfect conditions that one expects halfway up the mountain surrounding the Central Valley and Stoltzfus and I are loving it.
     I spent Friday night most of the way up the mountain at a Mirador (scenic overlook) restaurant that was something of a tourist trap, but the view was world class. The meal, not so much, but the folk dancing and the music that was included in the price was worth every cent of the $40 meal package I opted for upon entry. The climb in the Uber was one of nosebleed dimensions; the steep, narrow, poorly-paved street was an adventure in itself with occasional glimpses of the brilliantly-lit Central Valley out my side window and down the precipitous slope. It was, literally, a breathtaking experience, but worth the risk (no guardrails) to get the view. Truly awesome! I shared some photos (Album 04) of the view in my photo section and even a short video of both the panoramic view and the Costa Rican folk dancing that followed the buffet meal. Check that video for free; no $40 charge, but, if you’re feeling guilty, you could make a donation to the charity of your choice for enjoying the view.
     In the first day or two of my visit, to say hello and to put a feeler out for an apartment, I stopped at the large, hardware store owned by the Camacho family who also owned the hotel in which I stayed several other years for long durations. In my first visit to Costa Rica when I couldn’t sell the van that my good friend and I had driven through Central America, I asked Pablo if he could sell the van and send me the money, since I was returning home. He said he would and, a few weeks later, a check arrived with the base amount I was asking for the van. Pablo remembered that occasion well, though he didn’t recognize me at first without glasses (cataract surgery) and we enjoyed a good visit. Pablo now owns the hardware store, his father retired six or eight years earlier and the store seems to be thriving. I’m certain Pablo is putting his MBA to work. He has converted the small hotel down the street into a commercial office center and there are several small businesses who have an office there. Pablo was so glad to see me that he called his tall (6’2”) son from deep in the warehouse to meet me. He explained to his son how impressed he was that a man who didn’t know him that well had trusted him to sell his vehicle. I had certainly judged his character correctly. I had a great visit, but Pablo told me the only apartment that he knew about would require a car for transportation. It was that same evening that I stumbled across the great apartment I now call home.
     I have only turned the TV on once since arriving, so I know I have cable TV. Although, not much of a pro-football fan, I plan to watch the Super Bowl at home this evening. I have three slices of great pizza in the fridge from last night to enjoy with the game. Hasta pronto!

February 5, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Let’s do this update chronologically: Saturday evening, while eating dinner, I got the sad news of our next-door neighbor’s imminent passing after valiantly battling MS for many years. Mary was a wonderful human being: an intelligent, caring, passionate, politically-active woman and a brilliant conversationalist who was a successful psychologist and therapist with a wonderful sense of humor. My meal was eaten with tears running down my cheeks over the world’s loss and with sympathy for her husband, my close friend.
     Super Bowl Sunday found me in front of the TV watching the game in which I had little interest, sitting on the comfortable futon in the living room with pillows propping me up in a lounge chair impersonation. I finally got into the game, although I watched with the TV muted because the Spanish announcers got me too distracted trying to translate their verbosity. I silently cheered the Chiefs on to victory, finally warming after many years of disdain for Andy Reid, the former Eagles head coach, now the coach of the champion, Kansas City (Missouri) Chiefs. I missed most of the controversial halftime show as I heated and ate the three, remaining slices of the previous night’s spectacular, pepperoni pizza. It was delicious again even though warmed in the microwave, the easiest heating option available to me. The few glances I got of the scantily-clad stars of the halftime show and their pelvic-thrusting dancing routine had me agreeing with the critics of the following day who felt the show was too sexually explicit for an audience containing so many pairs of young eyes. There were many years in the past where consideration was given to the maturation level of audiences, but apparently that is no longer true.
     Monday morning is the time when the maid comes for her weekly cleaning of my apartment which, I learned, is included in my rental. I also pay her $8.83 to do my laundry each week. She hung the clean shirts and pantalones in my closet, neatly folded and placed the unmentionables in a drawer, washed the accumulated dishes, washed the sheets and remade my bed, cleaned the bathroom, and generally tidied up every untidied object in the place. A guy could get used to this kind of service. What a deal!
     Despite the meager limits imposed by local banks, I finally accumulated enough cash to pay February’s rent. While collecting the rent, the landlady expressed concern over my solitary lifestyle and I tried to explain what I had done and where I have been during my stay so far. When I mentioned my visit to a somewhat distant public golf course, she said that she and her husband belonged to the Costa Rica Country Club a short distance down the mountain. When I explained that I had played there one time many years ago, that the club was private, and it was just through the kind generosity of a member in the pro shop who overheard my rejection by the pro and who said that I could play as her guest, that I got to play there. I paid the greens and cart fees that time and don’t remember with whom I played, but the landlady exclaimed, “I’m a tennis player, but we have close friends who play golf and I will see if I can arrange a round of golf at the club for you.”  I was thrilled, of course. That evening, she texted me, telling me that her friend would be delighted to have me join them if I was willing to play early in the morning. If so, she would pick me up at 6:50 and drive me to the club to insure that I was granted entry at the gated entrance and that I could meet Ricardo, her friend there.
     Tuesday morning, right on schedule, Anabel, picked me up, took me to the course and dropped me next to the clubhouse. What hospitality! I paid the greens and cart fees, rented a set of clubs, bought a golf hat, balls, and glove and, many dollars later, met the two gentlemen with whom I would play, both longtime members of the club and both two years older than I. The course is a hilly, nine-hole course with many elevated greens. Using different tees and one additional green on the second nine, the course has a slope (difficulty rating) of 142, according to one of my partners. Hayo (pronounced like the last two syllables of the state to our immediate west in PA), one of my partners, said it is the most difficult course in the country. I hadn’t touched a club in four months, was unfamiliar with the course, playing with strange clubs, mostly unfamiliar Calloway’s, a short putter, with fear and trepidation that I would embarrass my self, my country, and slow the play of my partners with my ineptitude.
     Though I shot 52-48-100, I finished second in our threesome behind Hayo’s 95 with an exhausted Ricardo trailing after firing a 112. I surprised myself, shooting much better than the score indicates, never missing a drive (Titleist 8.5 loft), and even parring the final, par-four hole over an artificial pond that protects the green, triumphantly sinking a downhill, breaking, six-foot, second putt. The country can rest easily; I didn’t embarrass us, but I was almost as exhausted as Ricardo. The hills, the severely elevated greens, and the restricted walking schedule I have been following took its toll. After lunch and a drink at the club’s gorgeous bar, I took an Uber home, took off my shoes, and crashed on the bed, feeling spent, but vindicated. I slept through until morning, only arising to inform you of the labors of my weekend. Luego!

February 7, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Daily challenges that have to be addressed while traveling? I’ve experienced a few over the past couple of days. While watching the Super Bowl, I stirred in my makeshift lounge chair on the futon and suddenly my watch loosened and fell off. Since I retired, I have never worn a watch at home, because there is always a clock nearby when it becomes important: in the car, beside my favorite chair, in the bedroom, In the kitchen, on my phone, wherever. On the road, however, in some of the small (think cheap) motels and apartments that I temporarily call home, there is often no timepiece. So, I wear an inexpensive Timex with a dial that lights up when the fob (?) is pushed. In the middle of the night if I awake, I need only push the fob and know whether to begin my morning ablutions or to roll over and catch a few more winks. I need that watch! The spring-loaded pin that holds the band on the watch had inexplicably given way. Luckily, I was able to find the pin which had sprung under one of the pillows supporting my back. Try as I might, I was unable to get the pin back in the proper holes. Twenty minutes later and halftime over, I gave up and set the watch aside with a plan to try to repair it in the morning when fresh. NOT!
     How to solve this dilemma? In the old days when I first traveled, I would have spent a day searching far and wide to find a jewelry store to make the repair. These days, I used “Safari” and searched the web for a jewelry store (here called a Joyeria). It only took seconds to find one that might be able to do the job. From the address, I thought it would be a $3.00 Uber ride to the shop, but was surprised to learn that the store was located on the busiest street in central Escazu and the Uber cost only half that. I walked into the shop and explained the problem using my Charades technique and the woman said what sounded like, “it might need a new pin.” To which I responded in fluent Spanglish, “if it needs a new one, it’s OK.” She returned in five minutes with the repair completed and when I inquired as to the cost, she said it didn’t need a new pin and there was no charge. Major problem solved in five minutes. Thank God for the internet.
     I developed another problem with the credit card that I have been using and from which my wife can tally my expenditures. For some dumb reason, I answered a question on an email sent by Uber asking if I wanted to place a reserve in my Uber account. Sounded logical, so I clicked yes on the bubble that indicated $20 would be withdrawn. Later, my accountant/wife questioned why $32.50 had been charged on my card by Uber. She thought I had taken a VERY long ride. Something seemed wrong, so I tried canceling the transaction to no avail. Next, I questioned the charge on my bank card and they simply FROZE the account. Fortunately, I carry several credit cards in my sub-pantalones wallet and I was able to pay for my dinner that night. Since then, though, after my wife called to approve the reserve expenditure on my card, use of the card has been hit or miss. Sometimes, it is accepted and sometimes rejected, meaning my wife must check two places to calculate my excesses and to verify the charges. Always carry a backup!
     I boarded a different local bus the other day for another complete round-trip, which takes some explaining to confused drivers who can’t imagine why anyone would do so. This bus also took me into San Jose, but on a slightly different route, then returned past my stop to within a thousand feet or so of the top of the mountain. A thrilling ride at times, but beautiful, with great, daylight views of the Central Valley, I was surprised when the driver stopped at Bebedero, a tiny hamlet, and announced that he would be taking a lunch break for an hour and twenty minutes. What? There was no restaurant there, actually only a few small houses, and one, tiny, corner store. I never saw the driver eat lunch and the only other passenger, a 23-year-old, tattooed and pierced, university engineering student and I stood smiling at one another, both surprised by the delay. I bought a popsicle for myself and one for Andres, the student, as well as some penny candy for a 10-year-old neighbor who wandered in to make a purchase, a few little coins in her hand. I took some photos of the store, the mountain top, the student, and the driver that I will share with you, it’s the next thing on my to-do list.
     Finally, I should share this: I have been surprised by the lack of bothersome insects in this cooler climate, halfway up the mountain. At night, there are no swarms of moths, mosquitoes or other insects attracted by the lights. I have only been bitten a few times on my ankles since my arrival. I awoke the other morning, however, and noticed a black object on the floor next to my refrigerator which I pass by when entering the apartment. I figured that I had dragged in a dead leaf when I returned from dinner the previous evening. NOT! It was a dried, dead arachnid that looked large enough to have carried me off had it still been alive. I’ll share a photo of the varmint, too. The next morning, after my spectacular, hot-water shower under the rain shower head, I reached for and opened my towel to find a very small daddy long-legs smiling up at me. They’re big on nature here and I considered returning the creature to the wild, but being wet and naked, I opted to crush the poor arachnid in a piece of papel de toilette. I see occasional ants, large and small, as I climb or descend the outside steps at night along the wall next to the 10 stairs, but those are the only pests that I have observed. It has been a relatively, pest free winter thus far. Glad I didn’t share my bed with that huge spider, though. Buen fin de semana (have a good weekend)!

Photos - New 02/07/20 and 02/08/20
Click on the photo to view the captions, and use the arrows to scroll through the photos.

February 10, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Saturday, I made an early morning visit to the outside market on a street in Escazu, right below the balcony of the former hotel that I called home for several years. I included photos of my visit in the photo section of this page, but the produce, meats, poultry, and juices looked very fresh. I sampled a milk-based drink called Horchata that I have enjoyed in the past and a pork pincho (skewer) as I strolled through the market, heading for a typical breakfast at the open-air, corner restaurant at the strip mall I have frequented a few times this year. On the way back up the mountain, I stopped at the bank and withdrew the maximum amount as I prepared to accumulate sufficient cash to pay next month’s rent. Oh, if I don’t make it through the winter and my family comes to claim the body, they’ll find the stash in a book on the lowest shelf of the bookcase above my desk. One never knows.
     This weekend found me widening my circle of familiarity with a blind trip to a giant shopping mall, here called a multi-plaza. I’m assuming multi because several malls morphed together in a loosely formed super mall that seemed as large as that in King of Prussia near Philadelphia. It was a blind trip because I selected a restaurant from Trip Advisor that was a little more distant than my regular mealtime haunts, then called Uber, but was surprised when the restaurant was located in the multi-plaza. I felt like seafood on Saturday evening, Porto 8 had good reviews and was less expensive than some in the listing, so away I went. I could see a new, large Holiday Inn across the driveway and the restaurant was part of a modern, open-air, office and food complex that had clothing stores and other restaurants 100 yards distant from the outside table that I selected near the flaming heaters that added color to the white, rattan furniture. I was in a short-sleeved shirt and felt no chill at all, but I imagine the locals get cold when the temps dip below 70 in the evening.
     I had a small caprese salad and the best salmon I have ever eaten and, yes, I’ve had several salmon meals in Seattle and Vancouver. Perhaps, it was because I ordered it grilled with Teriyaki sauce, some of which accompanied the presentation in a small, white pitcher. I used the sauce to moisten the jasmine rice and sweeten the salmon and was impressed. I realize that I have one reader who communicated a week ago that, “I couldn’t care less what you eat,” but there is little else to discuss here unless I wax fictional about the nightlife and my accompanying love life. I know that would increase readership, but I’m just not into “Fake News.”  And, I couldn’t care less that he couldn’t care less about what I eat!
     I strolled down the mall after dinner, locating a Sicilian restaurant with a Korean noodle shop right next door. I enjoyed the Sicilian’s pasta with Osso Bucco sauce the following day, Sunday, and made mental plans to tap the noodle shop, called Kololo Ramen in the near future. There were also interesting restaurants with outside dining tables within the office complex. I hesitate to call it a food court due to its size and the sprawling outside tables, but a dessert shop, a Hay Pizza (hay means “there is” in Spanish) restaurant, and several other colorful, crowded, very active bars intermingled with tables and a bubbling, horizon fountain in the ultra-modern mixed use facility. Wow!
     On the way out of the complex, I stopped at a National Car Rental Office to inquire about renting a vehicle for the trip I’m planning in a few weeks. The young clerk, named Heyleen and pronounced the same as my daughter-in law’s, was very fluent in English, having attended an English secondary school here in San Jose. She gave me a price, I negotiated it down considerably, but did not make a reservation; there are other rental agencies to check and with whom to negotiate.
     Outside the rental office, I sat in a chair and checked Uber for a price to carry me home and found that the price had doubled since my arrival. They contend that the price fluctuates depending on demand, but I have a feeling that it’s from a “get all you can” corporate philosophy. Hmmm. Just out of curiosity, I decided to check on InDriver, the online service I found more affordable in Panama City to see if they operated in Costa Rica. I only got one response to the price I wanted to pay and it was 300 colones more than I had suggested. It was, however, half as much, $2.00 cheaper, than the rate quoted by Uber. Not only that, InDriver could be there in five minutes. I contracted with the service, got the cheaper ride and felt good about how pleased Schim and my accountant would be. It was a fine weekend!
     Today, the maid comes and my apartment, clothing, sheets, and towels will be fresh again. Sometimes, it is great to get up in the morning!  Luego.

February 12, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Good news from Michigan this morning: my son-in-law, Ed, got a super report from the neurosurgeon after an X-ray showed that sufficient healing had taken place on his fractured vertebrae so that he can begin mobility therapy. He can also take the immobilizing, neck brace off unless he needs it periodically to deal with pain from the atrophy of his neck muscles during his long period of non-use. He has always been a physically-active guy and this inactivity had to have driven him crazy. He can even plan on going back to work once the thrice-weekly therapy gives him enough strength. Great news from Michigan and many thanks to all who inquired and the many who prayed for his recovery.
     One of the more interesting windows into local culture that I get to experience is the periodic haircut. I have had a few good haircuts and I have had quite a few God-awful trimmings. Always, though, the barbering experience in foreign lands is interesting. Yesterday, I headed to a garishly-lighted, barbering establishment on the major street from Escazu to San Jose. A bright orange facade rimmed by bright lights beckoned me to give that shop a shot. Three, very young barbers, all dressed in black pants, orange shirts, black suspenders, and black bow ties manned the three chairs in the modern shop. One guy on the chair next to mine was having his beard trimmed after a portable steam machine softened his black bristles. Each chair had the steam machine, something that I have never seen before; of course, I don’t wear a beard. Looking up at the ceiling, I noticed a very large mustache smiling down at clients, if indeed, a mustache can smile. The haircut, mostly done with clippers, except for the top, was pretty short, but certainly not the worst I have experienced. The one in Dubrovnik, Croatia, won that honor, I recall. Did I want my hair shampooed? Why yes; why not? I have the time. Post shampoo, I never felt one itch from the shorn hair on my back for the rest of the day, a common barber-shop-visit side effect. Good decision and good investment - the shampoo: the haircut cost $12.00, the same price they quoted me when I entered. Apparently, the shampoo was included. Schim would think of the shower shampoo that I saved at home. I have a couple photos of a barber and the ceiling mustache that I will share in a day or two, so you can get a feel for the experience.
     I can’t help but mention the great little Argentinian restaurant, La Querencia, to which I walked more than 6,000 steps after the haircut for lunch yesterday. Thanks to Schim for downloading that counting nuisance on my phone. I had a great morcilla (blood sausage) appetizer, and mixed ravioli, accompanied by a couple Sangrias (it was a long, mid-day walk). That meal was my only meal out yesterday. I ate cereal for breakfast at home and a generous portion of white cheddar popcorn for dinner while reading my latest detective novel. I am getting a lot of reading done, after overcoming the guilt that I feel about sitting around reading.
     Not much more to report this Wednesday morning, unless the continued stockpiling of cash from the bank and a couple more wonderful restaurants are newsworthy. I know that they are not, so this will be a brief update. No, this is the end of today’s update. Ciao!

February 14, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     One of the delights of traveling is in the wonderful people you meet along the way. So far this year, there was Illuminata, the Haitian maid, in the Punta Cana hotel who continues to write me on WhatsApp. Very mundane topics, like “how’s your wife, and your family. Are you OK,” etc. I respond with equally inane questions and comments and have no idea why she continues to communicate with me, although maybe, it was the tips.
     I sometimes travel, though not much this year, where there are many tourists and I meet people from other countries. Not so much this year and I much prefer becoming a local and meeting the people from the country in which I am living/traveling. In Panama, in a tourist area, I met a tall, lovely cashier and restaurateur, formerly from South Africa and now living and working in their restaurant with her husband in the old town in Panama City. It was a brief conversation while I sat at the bar eating dinner and while I paid my check, but her background interested me and she shared it with me. I got close to no other people in Panama, mostly because I lived in a huge condominium complex far away from the tourist area and just about everything else.
     Here in Costa Rica, I met Javier and Pilar, the lovely American couple who owned the BnB where I stayed my first two nights in the country. While there, I met two Haitian-born women, childhood friends, one living in Montreal and the other in Florida. We had a great conversation over breakfast, although the lady from Montreal spoke mostly French and was not confident with her English. They left the following morning on a driving adventure, heading toward the beach at Manuel Antonio. Also at breakfast the second morning, I met a young American couple and their American neighbor who now live near Jaco, a beach town along the Pacific coast. Their houses are in the mountains, however, and the young couple is in the process of establishing a “Dark Camp.” “What,” I asked like a wise guy, “no electricity?” That turned out to be exactly the case - a camp where one’s circadian rhythm is realigned to its natural state, supposedly putting you in some kind of trance. Wow! The neighbor, formerly a psychologist in Washington, DC, is now an ex-pat, living in the hot, humid coastal mountains of Costa Rica. Met them only in passing, but it was an interesting experience.
     Then, there are my landlords, the wonderful Fernandez family, Anabel, Roddy, daughter, Laura and her sons, Justin and Antonio. Through Anabel, I got to meet a German transplant, Hayo, and his golfing buddy, Ricardo. Hayo’s German chemical company transferred him here many years ago and when he retired, he moved here, lock, stock, and barrel. It seems to be a great place to live. Anabel was born in Costa Rica, but raised in Wisconsin where her parents still reside. Her family’s support has been wonderful as this old timer struggles to survive in a foreign land. Indeed, Anabel worries about my cloistered life style and has promised to entertain me with drinks, now that Roddy’s cancer treatments have ended.
     Also, there are the waiters, waitresses, and Uber and InDriver employees. Every last one of these folks have been friendly and understanding of my language deficiencies, though I’m improving rapidly. The drivers, many of them from Venezuela, in both the cities where I have used them, have been especially cordial. I have never felt threatened or unwelcome in the many, many rides I have taken; I am without other transportation and I’ve learned that my patience has been tested as I wait for buses or Ubers. That is a good thing, but patience is something that we Americans lack. Waiting for food to be cooked from scratch or standing on the corner awaiting buses is not something most Americans tolerate very well. I have noticed a little coolness from a few of the bus drivers who sometimes don’t want to be troubled explaining routes to this gringo while they drive, make change, and navigate the busy, twisting streets. Nothing serious, I would probably be a little short, too, if I had all of their responsibilities.
     Yesterday, for the second time, I had Josef as my InDriver chauffeur. Josef is a very interesting case. He is 42 years-old, married with two children, an avid kayak fisherman, and a licensed architect, though he doesn’t architect any more. As we drove down the mountain last evening and passed through Central Escazu, he inquired whether I needed any dental work? What? I know that many Americans come here for dental work and plastic surgery, but my teeth are fine, thank you. I was sure he got a commission from patients referred to his friendly dentist friend. NO! He was also a practicing dentist! He graduated from the university here at age 23, a licensed architect. He then moved to New Orleans for three years, where his wages (I know not what he did there) went to pay off his college loans in Costa Rica. He then moved back home and went to dental school and opened his own office. Seems that after Christmas, business gets slow because people have spent their money for the holidays and have none for their dental care. He turns to driving for InDriver to supplement his income. Go figure!! What an interesting story. He also spoke fluent English, so I’m positive about the story that he shared. Had our conversation been in Spanish, there is a chance I could have been a little confused, but this was the straight scoop - no fake news!  Have a great fin de semana! Ciao!

February 17, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     There are days in a winter spent alone where the kindness of others and their willingness to share their lives with you make the day one to celebrate and remember for a lifetime. Such a day was yesterday. On Friday, I received a text from my landlady, Anabel, asking if I would like to join her and her husband, Roddy, on a trip to their farm, located in Heredia province, on the other side of the Central Valley. Would I? Most certainly. We traveled a circuitous route after exiting the expressway, detours required by roadwork on the very narrow roads leading up the mountain. I learned that this farm has been in Anabel’s family for many years, starting when her grandfather bought it, made a dairy farm out of it, and raised 11 children there, six by his first wife and five by his second. Initially, it took him hours to reach the farm with his oxcart climbing the narrow roads. The original house still stands though the dairy barn has been converted into a greenhouse where Anabel raises orchids that she sells to flower shops in the San Jose area. The place should be in some kind of historic register; it was perfectly maintained as it stood originally. I was given a tour of the old house and the garden that Anabel’s grandmother so lovingly created. The garden was breathtakingly beautiful and not all of the plants were even in bloom. Very old bushes and flower beds were everywhere along carefully laid stone paths with trees flanking the property, trees where Roddy has seen toucans, sloths, and even the colorful, rare quetzal of which birdwatchers world wide come to Costa Rica to catch a glimpse. Roddy and I meandered around the lush garden in a slight mist while Anabel harvested a few orchids and sliced some cheese we had purchased at an artisanal cheese shop on the way to accompany the crackers she placed on the table on the front porch. I think we all enjoyed the conversation that ensued.
     We enjoyed it until we observed a blue, red-breasted hummingbird hurriedly leave an evergreen tree near the porch when I inadvertently got too close. Turned out, she had a nest in the tree that had two, tiny eggs inside. As soon as I returned to my seat on the porch, the mother bird returned to the nest to warm the eggs. Try as I might, I couldn’t catch the bird on her nest with my phone camera, oh, for a telephoto lens. I did get several photos of the nest and eggs that I will share with you, but the photo makes the eggs appear much larger than they are. These were small, hummingbird eggs and it would take more than a dozen to make a decent omelet. It was a thrill to see nature at work, something held in the highest regard in Costa Rica where a full 25% of the country’s land is saved in national parks. Nothing could top that visit to the old farm that is managed by Anabel, the only one of her three siblings still residing in Costa Rica. Her father also now lives in Wisconsin, where Anabel was raised.
     Roddy almost topped that visit when he recommended we eat at one of his favorite restaurants, “La Lluna de Valencia,” an authentic Spanish restaurant started 24 years ago by Vicente Aguilar when he emigrated to Costa Rica. He was a real showman, greeting guests, supervising the cooking over an outside, wood fire of a gigantic paella, and generally starring in the day’s meal and flamenco show. He sang, he joked, he led the celebratory singing of Feliz Cumpleanos and Happy Anniversary to the many folks celebrating the event with a visit to this great restaurant. I videoed some of the show, some of Vicente’s singing and comments, and a little of the flamenco dance. Watch what you like. I appeared to be the only gringo in the place and this gringo had the time of his life. I even understood most of the comments Vicente made, bragging about his paella that won the “golden spoon” in Valencia for the best paella in the world. He displayed the trophy and mentioned that chefs from many countries competed in the contest and he came out champion. He entertained everyone. As we rose to leave, he stopped us, beret and all, with a wine skin and demonstrated how to drink wine from the skin. He even intentionally squirted the wine on his nose and allowed it to run into his mouth. He insisted that this gringo try drinking from the skin and I did, but not attempting the nose trick. I would have worn it all over my shirt. What a showman and what a day. A day to remember forever.
     The cleaning lady comes today, so tomorrow I’ll have clean clothes and a clean bed tonight. Life is good; no, life is great! Luego!

Photos - New 02/17/20
Click on the photo to view the captions, and use the arrows to scroll through the photos.

February 20, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     What to do? What to write about? It can’t be another day of going to the bank or another great restaurant. What to do? Go on a mini-adventure; that’ll work! So, yesterday, that is exactly what I did. Enough of protecting the knees and reducing the number of steps, it was time to expand my horizons and what better vehicle to help me expand than the bus that stops right outside my door.
     I was at the bus stop by 7:50 a.m., it’s much easier to be an early riser when, like other old men, I am in bed as early as 8:00 some nights, and rarely after 9:00. This despite the local dinner hour that really begins around 7:00, but gets most hectic beginning at 7:30. Yep, I’m often the first dinner customer of the evening in restaurants. I’m beginning to understand the Florida tradition of 5:00 or 6:00 dinner specials for senior citizens. Get us out of the way early, so we can get to bed.
     I caught a bus with a different route number than I have taken before and had to ask if the bus takes old people on adventures. Actually, I asked if the bus went to Centro San Jose. The driver of the first bus that stopped said no, so I waited for the second. Thirteen minutes after beginning my wait, the only person at the stop, the driver said, “Why, yes, I go to downtown San Jose,” or something very similar to that. So, I boarded, paid my $1.02 fare, and settled in for a bumpy, 30-minute ride into the heart of downtown San Jose. The air was much clearer than during my last bus ride into town probably because a brisk breeze was blowing through the city. Dropped right by a major hospital, I was familiar with the area from previous visits and certain that I could find my way back for a return trip. The big question was would the knees hold up for an exploration of the city, then be able to return me to the same bus stop. Well, there are taxis everywhere; if the knees wear out, I can always taxi back to the parada (bus stop). A taxi back to my apartment would probably cost $15 or $20, so I wanted to catch a return bus when the time came.
     Off I went, up a slight incline toward the cathedral and its neighboring park. I didn’t remember that San Jose had so many hills. Amazing what young legs and bodies miss about a place. I labored along the main street of town, heading for a hotel near the National Theatre where I had stayed on my first trip to this country, but looking for a place to catch a quick breakfast. There were a number of pastry shops along the way, but I wanted a place to sit and rest the knees while I dined. Aha, I could eat in the hotel’s restaurant where I had stayed and eaten once before. NOT! The Gran Hotel Costa Rica has been extensively renovated, even adding a glassed-in elevator, and the prices have risen accordingly. I gave it a shot, though, riding the elevator to the fifth floor where a beautiful, buffet breakfast was being served. However, when I inquired of the waiter what the breakfast cost and answered his query as to whether I was a guest of the hotel, he responded with large colones number, then said, “Around $30!” Not that hungry, I thanked him and rode the clear tube back down to the street.
     I found the large, pedestrian-only street behind the hotel and slowly strolled, continuing my search for breakfast. I had only walked a block when a young man approached me carrying a large sign that said, “Desayuno (breakfast) 1,000 colones ($1.76). Aha, Schim’s kind of place. “Show me where,” I said, since the lad was in front of a dingy, old building that looked like it had been converted into some kind of urban mall, but dark it was. I followed through a labyrinth of halls, shops, ramps, and there, down at the bottom of a set of stairs, sat an equally dingy restaurant, but one inhabited by a few locals, sitting on patio tables with umbrellas. What the heck, 1,000 colones. I gave it a shot. Breakfast included the ever-present gallo pinto (mixed black beans & rice), eggs scrambled with cheese and toast. Pretty good! Not wanting to consume caffeine and no decaf in the house, I ordered a small glass of orange juice. It came from a bottle and after the small taste the waitress offered, I opted for a different - any different - juice. She said she had carambola juice and, since I never heard of it before nor knew what it was, I said, “I’ll take that.” Rather bland and not very sweet, I almost finished my breakfast before I ran out of the carambola. So, I asked what other juices she had and one was melon. I know melon, both water, and cantaloupe. I opted for that, but it was neither. It was sweeter than the carambola and better to wash down the rest of my breakfast. Later, while walking past produce stands I noticed several other kinds of melon and wondered if I had consumed the juice of one of those. I photographed the street side melons; maybe you know which one I consumed, because I have no idea. I will add photos tomorrow.
     The stroll continued after breakfast, headed for a beautiful boutique hotel where I have stayed several times with several different women. Fake news sells better! I wasn’t sure I could find the place, but at least I had a destination. I physically ran out of gas, however, and did what old men do: I stopped in a small, beautiful park, sat on a bench, and watched the world go by. Many people walked by as I sat on the shaded, concrete bench, with a comforting backrest, and about 50% of the passers by wished me, “Buenos Dias!” I sat for half-an-hour until the energy started to return, even watching the first two squirrels I have seen in Costa Rica as they chased one another around a giant tree. I think it was a mating ritual of some kind, but they disappeared suddenly and I could never discern whether they went to his house or her's.
     When the energy returned, though the legs still felt a little weak, I had figured out where I thought the Hotel Don Carlos was located. Sure enough, further exploration proved me right. I decided another sit down was required, so I made my way into the hotel coffee shop and enjoyed a decaf coffee and a flirtation with the waitress staff. I needed to head home, however, before my tank was completely empty, so I headed back for the bus stop in what I figured was the quickest route. It took a laborious effort and through the big, central market to finally reach the bench for old folks who were waiting for the bus. I asked two old women and a pregnant youngster to get up so I could sit and I flopped onto the bench. Actually, there was one available spot on the bench and I did flop. The bus brought me home for another $1.02 and my mini-adventure was complete!  After flopping again, this time on my bed, and before drifting off into my well-deserved nap, I checked my watch and phone. It was 12:45 and I had walked almost 10,000 steps, about 5 miles - an almost five-hour mini adventure. I think I’ll cut back today, however. Hasta pronto!

Photos - New 02/21/20
Click on the photo to view the captions, and use the arrows to scroll through the photos.

February 22, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Wow, a whole bunch of 2’s and 0’s in today’s date! Almost makes one regret that March is just around the corner. I’m a little amazed at how pleased with myself I am about my trip into San Jose last week. Times have certainly changed. In years past, my travel was certainly more adventurous than a bus ride and walk through a city. Throwing my suitcase, before I split the weight and carried a backpack, on a train or inter-country bus and heading into the sunset, unaware where I would rest my head that night and not speaking the local language very well, if at all. Now, that was an adventure! I think of the cross-Patagonia train to Bariloche in Argentina, surviving a middle-of-the-night earthquake - now, that was a hair-raising adventure. Giving a local bus driver my dollar fare and walking around a city with which I have some familiarity and speaking the local language pretty darn well by now, with a lovely apartment to which to return hardly qualifies as much of an adventure. But, dad gum it, as Gabby Hayes used to say, I felt really good about myself. Times have certainly changed.
     I still plan a larger adventure this year, but I’m waiting to see if Schim or David can join me before I hit the road to and around the Arenal Volcano, through the Nicoyan Peninsula, and on to Manuel Antonio. That will give me something to write about, I’m sure.
     Not that I don’t get excited about small triumphs, like finally finding the Pollos Male Restaurant with the best wood-fired rotisserie chicken in the world! I was thrilled! I still rate certain roadside, rotisserie chicken in Puerto Rico the best chicken that I have ever tasted, but Pollos Male comes in a close second. Better still, the rest of yesterday turned even more fortuitous after the chicken was consumed. As I ambled down the main street in Escazu, I glanced in a window advertising Macrobiotica. “Hey,” I said to my self, full of the two, wood-seasoned legs and thighs, “you’re almost out of fish oil pills.” I take one every night - something that might have kept me alive this long. I entered the store, asked in Spanish for the pills, and he not only had them, he had salmon oil pills, something I have never seen, but, of course, my spouse does the pill shopping in our household. I bought the salmon oil, strolled further down the street, and remembered that I had used the last milk in the fridge in the morning on my cereal. I walked into the miniature, Whole Foods-look-a-like grocery at the foot of my street, purchased a gallon of two-percent milk and a bag of Cheetos with a hint of butter (that’s what the bag says) and strolled out the door.
     Oh, no! There was my bus at the bus stop diagonally across the street and I rushed across to catch it, wildly waving my arms as I had seen other bus riders do on occasion. No way was I going to catch that bus and, probably, a twenty minute wait until the next bus in the boiling, 81 degree air with low humidity and a delightful breeze faced me. I hustled and got to the back door of the bus, still open, and jumped aboard as the bus began moving. No way!! I caught the bus, grabbed a seat, paid my fare at the next bus stop, and rode up the mountain with a gigantic smile on my face. A small victory after two other small victories (chicken and salmon) made it a fortuitous day indeed!
     Earlier that day, my landlady, Anabel, had called, first to see if I was OK, because they hadn’t seen me around, and secondly to invite me to a restaurant dinner on Sunday to celebrate my birthday that falls on Monday, a day many restaurants are closed. Talk about great landlords! Checking on the old-timer and wanting to help him celebrate another birthday, a day most often celebrated alone in some far away place should have them receiving the Oscar for the best landlords in the world. They would certainly get my vote. A great day with minor accomplishments and fortuitous triumphs. You might say that I’m having a good winter. Buen fin de la semana!

February 26, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     When you’ve enjoyed as many birthdays as I have, you can only recall a few of those celebrations. Certainly, a party that I threw for myself in Cascais, Portugal, stands out, as does one shared with my grandson, whose birthday in March was close enough to mine to celebrate together in Capetown, South Africa. Then, there was one in Puerto Rico when my wife flew my grown children to San Juan to surprise me. They were all memorable and Monday’s celebration can also be added to the list of birthdays to remember.
     Invited by my Costa Rican landlords, Anabel and Roddy, to join them and Javier and Pilar, the couple in whose BnB I stayed my first two nights in Escazu this winter, for a lunch to celebrate the inclusion of another large number in my vita, I accepted heartily and was picked up at my door by Anabel and Roddy. We picked up Javier and Pilar on the way and after a discussion about whether to dine at the country club or at a nearby restaurant selected by Javier, we opted for the delightful, Italian restaurant, Bodega Privee, where we enjoyed a delicious repast. From champagne toasts, to a shared, octopus carpaccio to a fresh salad, and wonderful Italian entrees, mine a penne puttanesca, we all enjoyed the meal. I even survived the “Feliz Cumpleanos,” sung by the group, joined by the waiter. After the dessert of a tiny, flan look-a-like, we parted ways and I retired to my apartment to peruse the two delightful gifts given to me by the couples, one, a small, Costa Rican, handmade, porcelain turtle given by Javier and Pilar and a wonderful book titled “The Painted Oxcart,” about the history of the famous, beautiful, oxen-drawn oxcarts of this country given to me by my landlords. I told you that my Costa Rican landlords would win the landlord Oscar of the year, if such an award existed.
     Interestingly, all four of these friendly people have ties to the USA. Anabel was born in Costa Rica, but educated in Madison, Wisconsin, where her father still lives. Born in Costa Rica, too, Roddy followed the family tradition by attending a military secondary school (I think in Indiana) from whence their son also graduated. He followed that with a mechanical engineering degree from Tulane University in New Orleans and had a minor in Philosophy. Javier, a native of New Mexico, was a philosophy major in college, and met Pilar in Washington, D.C. where they were both government employees, Javier with the AID (International Development) program here in Costa Rica. I am less familiar with Pilar’s educational and employment background, but have faith that one of the four will enlighten me if they read today’s update. Suffice it to say, it was an inspirational conversation that ensued during our meal and I tried to keep up; I really tried! Two philosophers, two beautiful, educated and successful women, I was in over my head, but I gave it everything I had. I don’t think that I embarrassed myself or my country but, after two glasses of Pinot Grigio and two champagne toasts, I can’t be certain. It was a great celebration and one that I will certainly remember when I am rocking on the porch of the nursing home. Luego!

March 1, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     March has arrived already, but with the same perfect weather I’ve experienced since arriving in Escazu. Sunny, warm days, cool nights (60’s), and always a refreshing, warm breeze. Climate-wise, a great place to winter! I basked in the great climate on Thursday in a return engagement with the Costa Rican Country Club golf course. The course won again, as I shot 98, but I was pleased with my game. Two strokes better than the last round, which the course also won, and using a different set of rental clubs, I was short two wedges that I normally carry and putted with a short-shafted putter. The sand wedge in the bag was one of those freebies that is given out at tournaments or over the net for trying clubs and it was useless in my hands in the many traps that I encountered along the way. The good news is that my muscles recovered more quickly this time, my route around the course was a little less tiring, and, very importantly, I ended up with the same six, ProV1’s that I purchased before the first round, only one of which has been struck. This on a course with several ditches and streams, out-of-bounds on neighboring properties, and a difficult, man-made, concrete pond with fountain on the 9th and 18th holes. I even parred the 18th for the second, consecutive time and bogeyed the 9th - the same hole and pond on the difficult, 10-hole course. But, enough golf!
     Yesterday, I decided to breakfast early in central Escazu and stroll through the Saturday, outdoor market that stretches for two blocks right outside the door of the hotel in which I stayed on two or three previous winters in Costa Rica. Friendly vendors offered samples (Schim would love these) of strange, to me, fruits and vegetables, including pejibaye and mangoito. One taste of the delicious pejibaye (a species of palm tree fruit) activated the taste buds and my memory from past years - this stuff is great! Slightly sweet, drier than apples, peaches, or pears, the dry meat is also squeezed into a juice, but they must add water because it is too dry to get much juice directly from the fruit.
     Another young vendor game me a mangoito, apparently a young, much-smaller, mango as a gift, he said, when I tried to buy just one to sample. He said the young ones are much sweeter and when I got it back to my apartment, skinned and consumed it, I learned that he was right. I may buy a few of those next Saturday, although there is not much meat in the fruit because of the large pit.
     After the trip back through the market, I bought a glass of horchata, a delicious, milky drink full of cinnamon, and retired to the neighboring, much-used park to watch the world go by. I needed a bench with a back and there was a concrete one with a woman sitting on one end, but the other two, indented places in the bench were empty. I sat, at the far end of the bench, finally able to rest my back which had gotten stiff during my stroll through market. Two men were talking across the sidewalk from our bench and I inquired if one were her husband. I quickly learned that this lovely lady spoke nary a word of English, but was very friendly. No, her significant other was working at the market and she was, like I, just relaxing in the park. Our conversation lasted at least an hour as I taught her English, using my world-famous “Kiss me, I love you” technique and she helped me practice my Spanish. I mean, she spoke NO English; I even had to translate the “Kiss me” technique which caused her to laugh heartily. She then understood it and I inserted it in whenever our conversation hit a lull and she cracked up every time. Her live-in boyfriend, they have four children in their blended family, joined us for a few minutes on a break from his market chores and, in departing, asked if I wanted to take her along as a gift from him. It’s tough getting so old that husbands and boyfriends no longer consider you a threat. I’m a threat!! I’m still a threat! As I waited for my Uber to take me home, I felt a tug on my elbow and Janette, that was her name, asked me if I wanted her phone number. What can you say? I put her # in my phone and she asked me to call her while we stood there, so that she had my number, too. No, she wasn’t making arrangements to move in with me, as per the gift; she said we could call each other next Saturday and share some more conversation in the park. I’m a threat! I’m still a threat! Conversation in the park, my eye!! I’ll share a few photos later today, including a couple of my new amiga, Janette. Ciao!

Photos - New 03/01/20
Click on the photo to view the captions, and use the arrows to scroll through the photos.

March 3, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     An Uber driver told me yesterday that there are 20,000 Uber drivers in Costa Rica, a huge number. I haven’t been transported by all of them, but I’m getting close, since every time I head out the door I’m looking for an Uber that I’ve ordered on my phone. The difference between bus fare and Uber to the center of Escazu is usually in the neighborhood of 50 cents, so I rarely take the bus, unless I’m on a mini-adventure into San Jose or to the top of the mountain. I’m always surprised when I see an Uber driver that I’ve seen before, like yesterday when Fabian picked me up and called me Harry Potter. I’ve used Potter as my surname for several years in several countries, mostly because the drivers or waitresses remember me that way. In years past, here and in La Paz, Mexico, taxi drivers have regularly yelled, “Harry Potter” at me from their open windows as they drive by. I explain when I get the chance, all in Spanish, that when I was young, I was in the movies, but now there are no more movies, I’m an adult. I then correct the adult part to old man and we have a good laugh. But, they remember me.
     I have had excellent service from Uber drivers when they can find me. I have occasional problems when drivers, who may live on the other side of the Central Valley or behind the next mountain, do not know the area, can’t locate me, and cancel. There is then a small cancellation fee, last night I was charged two of them for 70 and 81 cents, ostensibly to compensate the driver for time lost. I appeal some of those charges when I get really frustrated from standing in the dark outside a restaurant or on my driveway while cars are whizzing by. The charge is inconsequential; it’s the principal of the thing. In my appeals, I usually say that I should get the cancellation fee for waiting outside for so long. Uber usually refunds the charge, but it’s not worth my time appealing very often.
     I have not felt insecure or uncomfortable with Uber drivers, although a few of them should upgrade their appearance. At first glance some appear like you wouldn’t want to meet them in a dark alley, needing shaves, wearing tattered clothing, or just having a dark, malevolent look about them. Once the car gets rolling, however, and a conversation ensues, almost always in Spanish, I share a wonderful camaraderie with them and get to practice my Spanish or they, their English. I mentioned previously that I had two rides with a dentist supplementing his income and the other evening, after dinner, a real estate broker in a long-sleeved, starched white shirt and tie was my chauffeur. I’ve had students, the last in his final year of accounting at the university and valiantly trying his Duolingo English on me. I also use the Duolingo program to rehearse before making my trips to Spanish-speaking countries. This young fellow, 31 with wife and one young son, did pretty well in English; most beginners just need to practice to improve, so I give them the opportunity. I’ve also had rental property owners, construction workers, office employees, women and men, and pretty much a cross section of the population of this wonderful country do the driving for me. The cost of living here has skyrocketed since my last visit and I understand why ordinary citizens need to supplement their income. The price of groceries I find exceptionally high, though I do little grocery shopping at home and am a little out of touch with our prices. Drivers have complained about grocery prices to me, so I imagine they are struggling.
     I have been shopping rental car prices over the last few days. I am now planning to rent a car beginning next Tuesday for a mini-adventure over roads traveled in years past, to Sarcero in the mountains to view the park with gorgeous topiary, then the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal, and on to Tilaran, a very windy place with many wind turbines dependably spinning. Perhaps, even on to Tamarindo, the first town I visited when finally reaching Costa Rica for the first time after a long drive through Central America. Then, who knows, perhaps down the Nicoyan Peninsula, if the spirit moves me and there is time. I have invited my landlord, Roddy, to accompany me, but I’m not sure he is strong enough, yet, after cancer treatments to make the long drive. I will make no reservations, of course, and keep the route flexible in case there is an interesting road that causes a detour in the planned route. Luego!

March 6, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     These folks have it all over us in a number of ways. They provide free healthcare for all of their citizens though, fortunately, I have not needed their services so far this year, they have excellent, inexpensive, bus services of which I have taken great advantage, and most impressively, hold your hats, they produce something called Rompope. Sold in the dairy case at the supermercado, this delicious beverage is rum-infused milk. It tastes a little like eggnog, but I’m not sure; I keep returning to my fridge for additional taste testing.
     Nothing much exciting to report:  I have become one of the community, greeted in stores, restaurants, Ubers, and on the street like a local resident. These are very friendly folks. Waiters and waitresses have gotten familiar with my schtick: Harry Potter, the foul face when tasting wine and beverages, the list of discounts that I request when paying any bill, even the discount for old or ugly gringos, but they never grant the discount requests. I’ve even taken to saying to the owners or cashiers within earshot of the servers that the food was great but the service was “muy malo,” then hiding unexpected, and slightly-excessive tips under cups, plates, and glasses. I got smiles aplenty from the service staff when I made a fake phone call to a neighboring establishment to order a glass of wine delivered when my glass sat empty too long on the bar. They loved seeing the female bartender’s reaction to my loud conversation on the phone. I see few people tipping here, a 10% service charge is added to most checks, but I almost always add a small “propina,” unless under the influence of a second glass of vino tinto.
     I’m still waiting for a quote for a car rental for next Tuesday. I plan a three-day, mini-adventure through the mountains, then along the coast of the Nicoyan Peninsula. I have no phone chip for Costa Rica; I use WhatsApp to call home free of charge, but that doesn’t help in making local calls, like to car rental agencies. I have communicated by email that they must not read too often. I’m still awaiting a couple responses. I may have to take an Uber to an agency or two today to get a few quotes. That is, if my schedule doesn’t fill up too quickly. I’m about ready to head to downtown Escazu for breakfast at my little, outside restaurant where, incidentally, they give back all the insults and jabs I share with them. Then, if the nearby barber shop is open and not too busy, I will give a new barber a shot at shaping the cowlick on the back of my head that previous foreign barbers have butchered. Buen fin de Semana!

March 9, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Friday, I addressed a couple of immediate challenges. First, I had breakfast at my favorite, corner, outside restaurant (diner-like), sitting on a bar stool with a perfect view of the kitchen where I could supervise the preparation of my food: Eggs scrambled with ham and cheese, gallo pinto, three slices of baguette, mango juice, and cafe con leche. Hiding the generous tip (coins) under the coffee cup, saucer, and place mat while complaining about the service, gave me the reaction I expect from the three ladies who work there. The cashier, an Argentinian who is probably older than I, called me a “bandito,” despite the fact that it was she who stuck her finger in my back when she got to work and told me to raise my hands. Lucy, the head cook, always dishes it back to me, and the waitress just shakes her head, slaps my back when passing, and smiles constantly. From them, however, I learned that the barber shop next door doesn’t open until 10:30. Hmm, what to do?
     With more than an hour to waste, I called Uber and headed for a National car rental office. The Uber driver, in a 2018 Citroen, and I got along famously, though he spoke not a word of English. The price for the three-day rental that I planned was $176, including basic insurance. When I told Alan, the Uber driver who waited for me, what the price was, we started dickering about the cost of having him drive me on the trip, part of which passes through his old stomping grounds. When he mentioned that gas on such a trip would probably cost $90, I started having second thoughts about driving myself. When I negotiated him down to $350, including gas and his meals, I took the plunge and entered into a verbal agreement with him to accompany me. More on Alan a little later.
     I returned to the little, corner, strip mall that houses my breakfast restaurant and the barber shop to find the shop open. This shop had no barbers in bow ties with matching orange shirts like my last barber shop and no mustache on the ceiling. There were three barbers, all in very casual clothes, and all very young. My barber, it was his turn, had tattoo sleeves on both arms, a haircut that was high and tight on the sides, but with a sizable man bun on the top of his head. This should be interesting. He cut, mostly with an electric razor, but using the scissors, that was shared by all three barbers, on the top. I can live with the result, this stuff grows back, but he had no idea how to handle the awful cowlick on the back of my head. He tried, using a hairspray that must be manufactured by Elmer’s. I was afraid my hair would crack as I walked through town in the stiff, warm breeze to catch the bus home. A half hour shampoo in my shower eventually loosened Elmer’s Hair Spray and I was ready for my nap.
     I went further up the mountain for dinner Friday night; to the first restaurant in which I dined in Costa Rica this year. My first taxi driver, Andres, recommended the place and I have returned several times. It is only a short Uber ride from my apartment and the menu contains delicious, local cuisine. The ceviche is excellent as is the stuffed, with shrimp, avocado. Friday night, I had a bowl of Azteca soup, a Mexican dish similar to tortilla soup, that I grew to like in La Paz a couple years back. The soup was excellent but, as the waitress served it, I inquired as to what was happening on the large field across the street where many bright lights were shining. She told me that it was a horse show and that on Sunday there would be a parade of oxcarts on the street right outside the restaurant. I have seen painted-oxcart parades several times in Escazu in past winters and they are colorful events; that information changed my plans for the weekend, not that I really had anything planned.
     I finished the soup, passed on the stuffed avocado that I was going to order next and wandered across the street to the horse show. About a thousand people surrounded the dirt field waiting for the show to begin; I joined the throngs. It was the coldest evening I have experienced this winter with temps predicted to dip down as low as 64 degrees, but with a strong breeze. I had prepared for the weather by wearing my only long-sleeved shirt, thinking that should be plenty warm. Wrong again! Most people were dressed in heavier coats or hoodies with the top up, many in jeans and cowboy hats, and I stood shivering in my thin, long-sleeved shirt. I didn’t stand long, however; I walked the perimeter of the “arena”, through the fair-like food stands, took a few photos and videos of the horses for my horse-addicted granddaughter, called Uber, and retired to my apartment. The concrete, daylight-basement apartment stays cooler on hot days and this night felt nice and warm.
     Saturday, I stayed in all day, watching the Phillies win another meaningless Spring game on my iPad. In the evening, I Ubered (now a verb) to dinner at “La Posada de las Brujas,” the “Inn of the Witches.” Escazu has been known for some reason through the years as the town of witches. Like the restaurant in the town on top of the mountain in San Antonio, “La Posada” serves inexpensive, delicious, local food in large portions and was very crowded. I found a great table where I could see all the passing waitresses and had delicious, grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and creatively presented vegetables for a moderate price. Oh, I also had a piece of tres leches cake and a non-alcoholic pina colada. I had worn my light windbreaker over a golf shirt and was barely warm enough as a stiff breeze had many locals changing tables and moving inside, but I endured; what, I should move when so many lovely waitresses were passing by?
     Sunday, I headed up the mountain again for a large lunch at the restaurant where I had soup on Friday night, prepared to fight the crowds gathering for the oxcart parade. I had a great filet mignon, a large glass of green lemonade (with spearmint) and headed for the corner to watch the approaching parade. These parades, featuring colorful, oxcarts used by farmers throughout the country to transport coffee beans, firewood, fruit, and generally everything farmers need hauled, are pulled by magnificent oxen, Costa Rica’s beast of burden. It may have been the third such parade I have witnessed and the color and the thrill quickly got old. I decided to hurry the parade along by walking toward the end of the parade that wound around the corner of the small hill just ahead. Wrong again! The parade not only wound around that hill and down, but around a couple more hills with, I’m sure, more than a hundred oxcarts and teams. Suffice it to say that the paved street was well fertilized during its entire length. I took photos and videos along the way and will share them later today. After what seemed like an hour, and with my knees starting to bark and stiffen, I finally reached the end of the parade just when my resolve to walk to the end was dying. I quickly called an Uber, skeptical that a driver could find me in all the parade traffic and throngs of people, but within minutes, the driver pulled up beside me. What a relief!
     More on Alan Roberto, my chauffeur for tomorrow’s trip around the country: Alan is a divorced, 33-year-old, father of two, still studying accounting through a program on the internet sponsored by the University of Costa Rica. He wears thick glasses, so I’m confident he can see the highway lines and signs, and visits his two sons, 11 and 9, every day. He also pays $350 monthly in child support and alimony and works long hours with Uber to accumulate enough to make ends meet. I judge him to be a person of good character with high moral values. I’m entrusting him and his nice, pretty, new Citroen to return me back home on Friday. I hope to make short updates along the way, time permitting. Hasta pronto!

Photos - New 03/09/20
Click on the photo to view the captions, and use the arrows to scroll through the photos.

March 10, 2020 - Tilaran, Costa Rica:
     Arrived safely in Tilaran after a drive of seven hours with a stop for lunch and stops for an unbelievable number of photos. First stop, though, was in the town of Naranja (Orange) where we shopped in one supermercado and three Farmacias before finding a bottle of hand-washing gel. It was the last bottle in that drug store, too, and we were lucky to find it. I didn’t realize how much Costa Rica has done to warn citizens about Corona Virus-19, but I found out when we stopped in the boonies for lunch and the local news was on the TV, warning everybody about hand washing, safe ways to greet people without shaking hands, etc. Alan quickly ran into the last Farmacia on the way out of Naranja and also found two bottles of 80% alcohol, so we should be covered. Not sure we could have found a single bottle in San Jose or Escazu.
     We passed through gorgeous mountains to Sarcero where a quick stop got us photos of the beautiful church and the gorgeous, surrounding garden full of large topiaries that were due for a trim. Then through San Carlos and Fortuna as the Arenal Volcano loomed larger and larger in the windshield. The day was perfect, warm, but we were in the diesel, French, 2018 Citroen with the air conditioner working hard. Outside temps got as high as 32 degrees Celsius (87 degrees Fahrenheit) on the car’s thermometer, but we were comfortable.
     In previous years, it took me four trips past the classic volcano before I got a view of the top, but today we had a gorgeous view and there was no cloud cover. Together, Alan, who hasn’t been here for six years, and I, must have taken 25 photos of Arenal because as we drove, the lighting changed making better photographic material of other parts of the partially-active volcano. Past the volcano we drove around Lake Arenal, the gigantic, man-made lake that provides water and recreation for a large area. The road around the lake, the roughest, unpaved road I had ever been on in my eight or ten other trips around the gorgeous body of water, was now perfectly paved with all washouts and landslides repaired with well-finished concrete. The views were gorgeous, of course, but the adventurous part of trekking the road was gone. The ride got a little boring after a while, well, not really with those views.
     Alan worked in Tilaran for 11 years, so he knew a cheap hotel we could try. We booked two cabins, $25/night, with electricity, an overhead fan, WiFi, and hot water in the shower, produced by the same kind of electric shower head that electrocuted some of our troops in Iraq. Wish me good luck with my morning shower. I have safely used this type of shower in other Central American countries, so I’m hoping for the best.
     There are birds squawking and singing loudly in the woods surrounding my cabin and Alan has warned me that howler monkeys will make their presence known after dark. I can hardly wait! Very rustic here; now with a good dinner, Alan knows a place, but so do I, and a good night’s sleep, we will have enjoyed a great first day! Hasta Mañana!

Addendum from Canas, Costa Rica:
     It was true when I wrote it - the previous update, but it didn’t stay true for long. As I finished writing the update in my rustic cabin, darkness fell and I finished mailing the brief update in the dark while lying on a pretty nice bed. It was time to go to dinner, though, so I arose In the dark, turned on my phone’s flashlight to find the one light switch, and moved to the bathroom to freshen up. When I hit the light in the bathroom, at least 100 insects scattered across the floor, around and in the toilet and on the seat, and I was bummed. Couldn’t get them all, but I’ll bet the mortality rate was 50% as I stomped them. They weren’t roaches or bedbugs, but I didn’t have time to check IDs. Many were tiny spiders, some were tinier ants, and, maybe, some were small roaches of some kind. After the massacre, I quickly pulled on my jeans, didn’t want bugs running up my legs, and sprayed some of my golfing insect spray around the place.
     I went to the next cabin and reported the problem to Alan and, to his credit, he immediately said, “Let’s go!”  We quickly packed; I almost forgot my toiletry kit in the rush, but Alan spotted it. Fortunately, we hadn’t paid in advance, so we returned the keys to the porch, nobody was home, and headed for Tilaran to find a hotel. About 20 laps around the town didn’t yield a single hotel worth even checking a room. The old hotel where I stayed before is now a pizzeria, so we had a decision to make.
     Alan suggested making a run to the next town, Canas, 30 minutes away. “The town is bigger,” he said, “and has nicer hotels.” On the way, with Alan driving very carefully on the dark and winding road, we passed through a large, roaring forest fire on one side of the road. Flames were shooting 25 feet in the air, two fire trucks were parked along the road, but it looked like they didn’t have enough equipment to fight a blaze that size and the firemen were standing near the trucks, trying to figure out what to do. This was turning into some night and for a few minutes we didn’t know if we could get through.
     Fortunately, we got by and headed for the hotel Alan remembered, only to find it closed and out of business. NO! Even Alan was a little shaken, but within a block we found a nice, modern hotel with all the amenities and no insects! A little more expensive, but worth every penny of the $16 additional/per room and including breakfast. We ate in the hotel restaurant, food was great, and I am finally safely in bed. Whew! What a day! Luego and Buenas Noches!

March 12, 2020 - Tamarindo, Costa Rica:
     After a great night’s sleep, a typical Costa Rican breakfast (with Gallo Pinto) and, perhaps, a fateful swig of post-coffee, local water, Alan and I headed for a very famous part of Costa Rica, Monteverde, a place I have never visited. An hour and a half drive, 18 miles of which were on a dusty, dirt road with many rocks, led us to a newly-paved road that switchbacked up the mountains yielding spectacular views all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The views, that I know my cell phone’s camera cannot adequately capture, reminded me of the initial awe I felt when I first saw our Grand Canyon. The climb was a little hairy, hairpin turns, no guard rails, precipitous drops, tires sliding on the dirt part of the climb, but I was mostly anxiety free with Alan’s very safe handling of the Citroen. He has been a very cautious driver during the entire trip, passing only when safe conditions permit, and rarely speeding.
     We finally reached the small, rustic, mountain town of Monteverde, spotted a supermercado, and decided to look for hand sanitizer while using the bathroom. While relieving myself of the coffee at the urinal, a completely-unexpected, unannounced, uncalled-for, all-out attack by Montezuma and his forces dealt me a shocking and embarrassing blow, requiring extensive clean-up. I survived, Alan headed back into the depths of the grocery store when I finally emerged, and purchased an expensive bottle of Pepto Bismol. I noticed on the trip up the mountain that I was feeling queasy, but thinking I was experiencing my first-ever bout of car sickness with all the twists and turns, I had ignored the warning signs. This account should make those readers happy who wait for my annual medical challenge. I ate nothing after breakfast yesterday, drank only water and Coca Cola, but needed to make a couple additional emergency pit stops in gas stations on the drive to this beach resort.
     Tamarindo has changed considerably since my first visit 20 years ago. Many condominiums have been built, new restaurants and resort hotels now decorate the place, the main street is now roughly paved, but the sandy, dusty, typical beach town remains, now apparently on steroids. Many beach shops, surf shops, tee-shirt emporiums, seedy bars and long-haired, and scantily-attired characters remain. We had a devil of a time obtaining a couple of reasonably-priced rooms, several attempts by phone yielded prices as high as $215/person/night. Not happening!! Alan is almost as frugal as my friend, Schim! Starting to feel a little weak from the lack of food, I didn’t pay too much attention when Alan located this place on the phone at a price I think was $29/night/person. I’ll know better at breakfast which might be included. We are in adjoining, air-conditioned (just barely) cabanas, much more modern than the horrible place in Tilaran, but still classily rustic. What seemed like a solitary howler monkey kept calling my attention to him/her through the night and brought a sleepy smile to my face each time I heard it. The air conditioner finally caught up to the hot, humid air, it reached 100 degrees F yesterday, around midnight when I had to get up and put a shirt on, since there was only a sheet on the bed and no blankets in sight. I put no lights on after dark, fearing insects would gravitate to the light emanating from the several cracks in the wooden walls that I noticed earlier while the daylight poured in. I haven’t seen an insect and I’m headed to my electrically-heated, hot water shower. If I survive, I’ll try to update Mañana. Adios!

March 12, 2020 - Quepos, Costa Rica:
     Another fantastic day was had in Costa Rica! No wonder the country’s motto, that locals often repeat, is “Pura Vida,” the good life. We spent a long time on the road, got up close and personal with another volcano, saw three volcanos at one time - got all three in one photo - and saw some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. You could safely call that an experience of a lifetime.
     Alan is almost the perfect guide; he’d be perfect if he spoke more English, but he understands a lot. Like most beginners in a foreign language, he is timid about using his new skills, mostly because he knows that he’s not perfect. I’ve learned that being perfect in the language is not necessary and I don’t allow the imperfection of my Spanish to stand in the way of communicating! He improved as he got more comfortable with me, but it is tiring to concentrate for long durations and he sometimes got frustrated when I encouraged him. He also drove for close to nine hours today, stopping often so that I could take photos, and backing up great distances so I could get a good shot. He took me to places few tourists ever see. Alan worked in most of this area as a wholesale, traveling salesman hawking souvenirs. He knew many shortcuts and back roads. My photos will knock your socks off.
     Montezuma had his way with me last night, but I rallied today and he is in a rapid retreat (I hope and it seems). We made it to Manuel Antonio in time to see the sunset over the gorgeous beach, but the National Park was closed. Alan wants to return in the morning when the park opens to be certain that I get photos of the wild monkeys that my daughter was so thrilled to hand feed a few years back. He drove many miles out of the way to show me particularly beautiful scenery. Remember: fully 25% of this country is preserved in National Parks; the citizens are very proud of that fact and that they value their wildlife so much. Yesterday, we saw four iguanas cross the road, one much more than three feet long, and Alan came to a screeching halt to be sure the animal could cross safely. I got a photo of only one of the iguanas. We saw another one cross in front of us today, but I have seen only one flat iguana (crushed by a car) in more than 600 miles of driving; Alan verbally mourned that one! We saw pictorial, animal-crossing signs for iguanas, sloths, monkeys, and even one, believe it or not, for a giant anteater, those with the long snout and tongue and the enormous bushy tail.
     Many of these beach resorts attract tourists from around the world and Alan insists that brings higher hotel prices and many prostitutes. Higher prices are a fact of life when the demand is high and we’ve experienced that, but Alan pointed out a woman tonight as a prostitute, but I had my doubts. He’s probably right that an increase in tourism also brings a higher demand for prostitution, but I’ll never know for sure. I don’t believe prostitution is illegal in this country, but I think gun ownership is. There are very few deaths from gunfire in Costa Rica.
     We got two, reasonably-inexpensive rooms in Quepos after searching far and wide until after 7:00 p.m. - clean, but pretty basic and with another death-trap, heating shower head. I was delighted to find a decent place where I could lay my head. The WiFi apparently doesn’t work in the rooms, so this email probably won’t be sent until tomorrow, but for $55/night/person, including breakfast, at the beach, I think it’s a bargain. Alan finds it awfully expensive. After a three-hour drive tomorrow morning, I’ll return to my apartment in Escazu, a little poorer cash-wise, but much, much richer. Never hesitate to hire a local, private guide!!  Hasta pronto!

March 14, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     Great overnight stay in Quepos where Alan negotiated a $55/night/person stay in what turned out to be a friendly, nice, small hotel where the rates are usually $100/night. Turns out, the government requires that all hotels have a working man’s rate for working stiffs. After a day on the road and more comfortable with his passenger, Alan asked if I had ever had a prostate exam. I said, “yes, of course.” He is facing his first one and is nervous. I informed him that the first one was uncomfortable, but I now looked forward to them, even asking if I could come in for more. When I told him that my next door neighbor was a highly-regarded Urologist who had taught me all he knows, and that I could give him a free exam that night, if he liked, he laughed and said, “No, thanks,” while wincing. I told him that my neighbor also taught me how to give vasectomies and I could do that for him, too. He cringed, laughed, but yelled, “Oh, no!!” We had a lot of laughs along the way. Yes, we always stayed in two rooms! In hotels, he introduced me as a doctor who he was escorting to medical clinics - anything to get the working man’s discount. He’s more like Schim than I thought. I tried to act like my neighbor at check-in.
     Breakfast was included at the little hotel that had a small pool and hot tub (?), a view of breaking waves, and the nearby marina. The hotel didn’t look like much at night when we checked in, but it turned out to be great. While Alan talked to his sons in the room, I ate breakfast with a 70-year-old, young fella from Montana who was interested in my travels. He was in Quepos for the first time and loving it, despite the heat and humidity. He had been to Bocas del Toro, Panama, and was very unimpressed with the tourist crowd and the lack of friendliness of the people. He loved his reception in Quepos and even discussed living there. I told him about Escazu and gave him my Travel Blog address, because of his interest. He recommended a book to me, “On The Plain of Snakes,” by Paul Theroux that I downloaded to my Kindle last night. He claims that my travels sound like the author’s travels through Mexico. I invited him to read my blog to learn more about any similarity.
     Alan insisted that, despite the searing heat and choking humidity, we drive to the nearby Manuel Antonio National Park to get the pictures of monkeys that my daughter was so anxious to see. We did that, paid the fee to enter the park, and within five minutes came across two monkeys in the trees close to the beautiful boardwalk constructed to tour the park. As Alan and I took photos of the large, male biting bark off a branch in search of insects, a crowd started to gather because we were so close to the entrance and the monkeys were only a couple of feet away. The crowd annoyed the male, he jumped onto the railing, scowled and growled at the crowd, and finally leapt at them amidst screams and shouts of the group. He landed on the railing on the other side of the boardwalk while tourists scattered like crazy. I had enough monkey photos and we had just started to proceed along the boardwalk. These monkeys had the most human-like faces I have ever seen in an animal. I’ll include photos of them in my next batch of pictures and you can do the research as to just what kind of monkeys they were. I don’t have that much of an interest in monkeys and I will be shortly needing a nap.
     We also saw a three-toed, tree sloth and a white-tailed deer on our way out of the park. No, I didn’t count the toes; I really couldn’t see it that well, but I heard a park ranger describing the animal to the tour group he was leading. Perspiring mightily, we got to the car, turned the air conditioner wide open and headed home. We didn’t stop for lunch, but did have a cup of green mango ceviche (with onion and chili) as a snack along the way. We did stop another time or two and Alan ran into a couple farmacias and supermercados to unsuccessfully try to find more hand sanitizer. On one stop he brought me a gift of hair gel, after hearing me complain about needing some on a previous day. This is a quart of hair gel, for me a lifetime supply, and was cheaper than in San Jose, so Alan also bought a bottle for his sons. Alan is a shopper! In another stop, he came out without sanitizer, but with another gift for me, a rustic, wooden press, used to make tortillas and patacones, a flattened, fried plantain. I had also told him after he described how to make them one day that we didn’t have a press at home and few Americans did. What a guy! I’ll be a pataconist and a urologist now. Buen Fin de Semana!!

Photos - New 03/14/20 and 03/15/20
Click on the photo to view the captions, and use the arrows to scroll through the photos.

March 17, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     How is the corona virus-19 situation in Costa Rica, you ask? Well, maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m going to answer anyway. There are currently, as of last night’s local news, 41 cases of the virus in Costa Rica but, so far, no deaths. It hit close to home on the news when they pinpointed from whence the patients emanated. There were five (5), FIVE cases from Escazu, the center of which is three-quarters of a mile down the mountain from me. I was shocked. I really thought that I was pretty isolated and in something of a self-quarantine, except for my trips to restaurants or the grocery store. I have started eating in more expensive restaurants, because the crowds are pretty sparse. Yesterday, at lunch, I was the only diner for the first hour I was there, then two singles came in and sat 50 feet from me inside the restaurant; I was seated outside under an overhead fan. The waiter used a sanitizer table side before waiting on me and then offered me a squirt. Restaurants that specialize in local cuisine are cheaper and much more crowded.
     The government has closed all schools, museums, nightclubs, bars, and casinos with police enforcement starting yesterday. I don’t go to any of those places, so that action won’t affect my life here at all. I think that my greatest exposure comes with my transportation to the restaurants and stores. Of course, I could get unlucky and get infected from chefs or wait staff, but it’s on the buses, the Uber’s, and the infrequent taxis that I feel most exposed. The poles, bars, and handles on the buses could have been touched by the patients from Escazu; the door handles on Uber or taxis could be infected the same way and I have little to combat that. Sanitary wipes and hand sanitizers are unavailable everywhere I have checked, although that waiter got some somewhere. I do have one large bottle of sanitizer that Alan got for me on my overnight trip, but that bottle would barely fit in my pocket and with what would I wipe the handles? I have one partial package of sanitary wipes, left for me when my wife departed the Dominican Republic, but I’ve really been rationing that. Also, thanks to Alan, I have two bottles of 80% alcohol at the ready.
     I am becoming more concerned that the situation at home or here could worsen rapidly and my flight home on April 8 be canceled. I have started putting out feelers as to people who might know people who own boats large enough to come and get me. Schim has already semi-volunteered to serve as a crew on the large, captained vessel owned by the brother of his significant other. I crossed the Pacific twice via Uncle Sam and I’m confident I could make it across the Caribbean in the right vessel. Make that boat ocean ready, Schim! Hasta Pronto!

March 19, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica:
     A can of sardines, some Cheetos Cheese Puffs, and a half-bottle of Canada Dry ginger ale, that was dinner last night. Breakfast was a bowl of Kellogg’s Mueslix with a pair of Oreo Vanilla Cookies thrown in the bowl for sweetener. Lunch, a leftover rotisserie chicken thigh and a very-small side of pasty frijoles along with half-a-coke. Supermarkets are open, but I have to take an Uber or taxi to get there and I saw bad things about the viral contamination of those drivers on the telly last night. I’m definitely trying to reduce trips outside the apartment, but it’s tough.
     Tough? Try getting an email from Jet Blue last evening, thanking me for my understanding, then canceling my return flight home. Oh, they’ll give me a travel voucher, but at my age and with this hassle, I may never fly again. Ever an optimist, I booked a flight on American Airlines this morning, business class, through Miami to Baltimore for next Wednesday. Business class, only $450 one way, but I thought that I might get preferential boarding and consideration if re-scheduling happens again. I moved my date of return up in the hopes that some flights will still get out after bringing Ticos (their nickname) home. One can only hope. By April 8th, there may only be birds in the air.
     My last decent meal, the sardines in oil weren’t bad, was in an Argentinian restaurant where a bathroom-type, soap dispenser sprayed pure alcohol on demand to diners and staff. The staff used the spray almost every time they passed the machine, so I felt a little more comfortable, sitting 25 feet from one of only two, other occupied tables in the very popular restaurant. They had a total of six customers in my time there, shortly after the regular lunch hour; the place must seat at least 100 people. Oh, I had a small, thin filet (rare, thank you), frijoles, and a surprising delicious slaw-like shredded cabbage salad.
     I went next door to the supermercado (Savetto), referred to the list on my phone, and got almost everything I wanted. Seems I didn’t check the list frequently enough, missed the orange juice and cereal listed there, then bought hair conditioner, instead of shampoo, but in the same color bottle as the shampoo my landlords have provided all winter. I’m afraid another trip to the supermarket is necessary, but I’ll take my lone bottle of sanitizer along in the cloth grocery bag I purchased here in January. I’m definitely not a shopper. I caught the cleanest taxi I have ever seen on the way home. The driver even gave me a squirt of hand sanitizer and proudly pointed out that he has sanitized both the interior and the exterior of his cab, well, at least all the handles on the exterior. Seats, too, he insisted. Now, I wish I had gotten his phone number. The other cabs don’t look anything like his.  Hasta pronto!

March 21, 2020 - Escazu, Costa Rica - FINAL UPDATE
     Scheduled to catch an American flight out on Wednesday, my wife and eldest son thought that too late for potential flight cancellations due to the Coronavirus so, thanks to son’s connections with American Airlines, he was able to get through the telephone logjam and have my flight switched to tomorrow, Sunday. The flights are the same times and I’m scheduled to land a little after midnight, very early Monday morning after a short layover in Miami. Though we planned to spend the night near BWI airport, the concern about contaminated surfaces in hotels forced a decision to drive home directly from there. We should arrive home around 2:30 a.m. and, since I’ll undergo a self-imposed, two-week quarantine, we should be able to sleep in the next morning. The only people aware that I’m home are you folks and I know that you can keep a secret, so there should be little demand on my time; I should become bored to death in a hurry, but I’ll tough it out with an occasional ride in my van. Hmmm, I wonder if I’ll remember how to drive?
     I hate packing and the actual day of travel, but it’s something I’ll have to endure. I’m planning to wear a mask, wipe down all surfaces before sitting or touching, talking to nobody and, for all intents and purposes, not breathing. That should get me home safely.
     I had UberEats deliver a pasta and some salad on Thursday night and the serving was large enough for two meals. Yesterday, I began eating things on hand: corn curls, mozzarella cheese, cookies, cereal, and whatever liquids are left in the fridge. Not planning to order in again, I was surprised to hear a knock on my door last evening and find my lovely, upstairs neighbor, Laura, daughter of my landlords, standing there with a plate holding a delicious, huge hamburger with lettuce and tomato, and with catsup and mayonnaise packets. Have I told you that Ticos and Ticas are some of the finest people in the world? They most certainly are!!
     I’m hoping to finish packing by this afternoon and secure transportation for tomorrow’s trip to the airport. Alan, guide for my three-day adventure, wanted to take me, but was planning on Wednesday and has a Sunday conflict that he is trying to re-schedule. It probably involves time with his sons, so I’ll have to come up with another plan. I think I’m up to the challenge. I want to get home!
     I hope that my journals have provided a diversion for you as you have hunkered down for virus protection and that you were entertained by some of my mini-adventures. Here’s hoping I get another chance at travel next year, but I really doubt that I will head off in the wild, blue yonder again. Thanks for reading. Ciao!

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