IT’S MARTINI TIME – The Story of Ginger Restaurant and Sailing around the World (almost)

Written by Michael Simons on . Posted in Costa Rica Food, Costa Rica Living, Newsletters

Tank Tops Flip Flops edition no. 32

We are pleased to have as our guest blogger Anne Hegney from Ginger Restaurant.  Anne and her husband Bengt are long time Playa Hermosa Residents, highly involved members of the community and as you will learn – Very Successful at “Retiring” into their dream professions in Costa Rica.  Here is their story – ENJOY

Ginger Restaurant

Both Bengt and I are both sailors. I grew up sailing and racing Lasers and Hobie Cats, and Bengt took up sailing as an adult. Bengt had always had the dream of buying a nice 40′ sailboat to live on, and sail around the world, but I said “No way”. So the comprise was to move to Costa Rica, and buy a smaller sailboat that we could sail up and down the coast.

We moved to Playa Hermosa from Montreal in 2000, when Bengt sold his clothing manufacturing business and retired. I was a high school math teacher, which I loved, but I told him that if he was retiring, I was retiring, too, and I did. For two years. By then I was so bored, I decided I needed to get back to work. I had been a chef in Montreal when we first met, but had never had the opportunity to open my own restaurant, so my dream was to open a little restaurant and bar, where I could serve a few tapas. We wanted something small, about 5-6 tables, and preferably on the beach, but there was nothing available to rent at the time, so we bought the property and hired Costa Rican architect Victor Canas to design it, and it was beyond our wildest expectations. I still love the design.

The restaurant opened December 20, 2003 (our ten year anniversary is coming up!!) and was a hit from day one. In the beginning, I was in the kitchen and Bengt was ‘mein host’, and general fix-it man. After about 4 months, the bartender quit unexpectedly, and I became the bartender. Bengt went on strike with the fix-it jobs, and decided that his skills were put to better use holding up the bar. I hired a handy man, and fired Bengt. After a while I hired a bartender, and promoted myself to ‘Executive Chef’. So I still design the menu and the recipes, and train the cooks, but I’m no longer sweating on the line every night.

After 5 years, we expanded, building a second, open-air terrace, which doubled our capacity to 100 (so much for the little bar idea!) It opened in February, 2008, just as Bengt left for Sydney, to sail across the Pacific from Australia to Costa Rica on a 55′ catamaran.

So he (almost) got his dream, and I got mine.

We started doing ‘Martini Night’ with half-price martinis every Friday night, two years ago, to get the locals out. It’s turned into something that’s a lot of fun, mostly Hermosa and Panama people getting together and catching up with the neighbors.



Costa Rica Thanksgiving

Written by Michael Simons on . Posted in Costa Rica Food, EX PATS in Costa Rica, Newsletters

Costa Rica Thanksgiving

I have never been a big fan of Holidays, as they seem to interfere with life. Everything closes, nobody is working and Murphy’s Law says that if something is going to break, it will happen when there is no one around to fix it.  But Thanksgiving is my one exception to the rule.  I LOVE IT.  There is absolutely nothing better in the world, than a big turkey dinner with all the extras and the calorie loaded desserts that follow, while spending a lazy day shooting the breeze with friends or family, overdosing on NFL football.

Turkey and Football

So you can imagine how excited I was this week of Costa Rica Thanksgiving, knowing that I would be hanging out at Tom and Lin’s hilltop house, our newest residents of Playa Panama via Texas.  Now technically, Costa Rica Costa Rica FAQdoesn’t celebrate Turkey Day, but you wouldn’t know it if you were visiting.  Every single restaurant in town has the feast laid out, and you better make reservations early because all the seats are full. The grocery stores stock all the necessities from Big Ass Butterball Turkeys to canned yams and cranberries. And it’s not just gringos that show up either; the Ticos have figured it out too.  I mean who doesn’t like a massive helping of mash potatoes and gravy and a slice of homemade apple pie?  Besides, if you have been paying attention to my Newsletters over the last couple years you will remember that Costa Ricans will use ANY excuse to take a day off and party: they celebrate EVERY holiday, not just their own.


I love this country. But you have to realize too that this laid back attitude can also be very frustrating; reliability and dependability are not synonymous with Pura Vida and the word “tardiness” originated with the Spanish language.  These are the things I was Thankful for today:

I should have known when I woke up that it justBeach Bloody Mary on the Beach wasn’t going to work out the way I planned. I decided to take the entire day off, with no intention of going to the office, and set out for a relaxing breakfast on the beach.  One of the things you learn almost immediately after you get here is that the average Costa Rican only knows two speeds for driving, and no matter which one they pick, they are not very good at it.  They are either moving at the speed of a snail, like the blue hairs in Florida, while texting on their phone, or racing like a bat out of hell with no regard for anyone’s safety.  As I went around a corner, there was flash of black as this comet of a bucket of bolts, held together with duct tape and bumper stickers; the massive tachometer easily spotted on the top of the dash; hub caps missing, tail lights broken; flew passed me on the double yellow line, the bald tires screeching as he finished the turn.  There must have been a marijuana smoking contest for Rastafarians in Tamarindo and he wanted to be the first one in line.  SLOW DOWN man, slow down!  Where’s the Pura Vida now?  This is the kind of stuff that drives you to drinking, so I figured I’d just have a Bloody Mary with my eggs, just to get it all going for the day.  I am thankful that I survived my drive to the beach so that I could enjoy a nice and peaceful breakfast with nothing to disturb me.

Costa Rica Magpie JayOr so I thought.  I went to my usual spot, the El Velero Hotel, where I spend the majority of my mornings watching the wave’s crash, while enjoying my typical breakfast.  I love this little hotel for many reasons; one of the most important is that they actually have very good service, something you can’t always count on in Latin America.  Within seconds of arriving, my coffee was delivered steaming hot and my order was taken shortly there after.  It is not that way everywhere you go, I can assure you.

Just the other day I was near Liberia for a meeting and decided to stop into one of the local restaurants for a quick snack before my appointment.  There were two very nice young ladies working and about 7 or 8 customers sitting at the tables, not exactly a “rush” having worked in restaurants for many years when I was younger.  Yet the girls were totally frazzled, in way over their heads, and they didn’t even say hello, let alone drop off a menu, as I waited for the better part of 5 or 6 minutes.  Now I have learned in 11 years to be VERY patient, something I am thankful for in itself, but give me a break man.  How hard is it to toss me a plastic sheet of paper and bring me a cup of Java?  Pura Vida my ass, I just want a cinnamon roll for God’s sake, GIVE IT TO ME, but I got tired of waiting and walked out the door, and went to McDonalds for an Egg McMuffin.

I chuckled because I found myself wishing I was at a Waffle House back home.  Those cooks can make 25 breakfasts at one time, not missing a beat, walk across the street to Denny’s and cook their meals too, and be back to finish your plates and you wouldn’t even know they left.  Not here, they make ONE meal at a time.  Torture.  I am very thankful that I live at the beach, not just for the beauty, but also for the service.  It goes down hill substantially the further you get away from gringo land.

The waiter brought me my eggs and refilledmagpie jay my coffee, and I sat up ready to enjoy the meal. The sound of the waves always makes breakfast better, thank you, and dozens of my friends and clients are walking their dogs or jogging down the sand.  I am thankful for all these wonderful people in my life; I wave at each and every one of them as they go by.

And then he hit!  Out of no where it came, dropping from the sky and down from the tree, the most evil bird on the planet.  The Costa Rican Magpie Jay.  They fear nothing and no one, and are determined to get a hash brown or French fry off of some unsuspecting tourist’s plate.  I love to watch entire families panic as the birds refuse to leave, perched on the back of an empty chair.  I have seen husbands literally smack the SOB in the head, and he doesn’t even flinch.  His eyes turn red like Al Pacino playing the devil, and it raises its wings and screeches. It looks like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock horror movie.  


jay stealing sugarThis must be the their universal call for back up, as 4 or 5 more appear out of no where, consuming the restaurant, stealing anything they can.  The waiter was running around with a broom, smacking at em, shooing at em, the family screaming in terror, the wife hiding under the table protecting her child,  before it finally took to the skies, but not before they each grabbed a sugar packet in their mouth. They obviously knew exactly what they are coming for because I saw one actually pick through the container, leaving the Splenda packets behind, until he found one containing the “real” stuff.  A true addict. I guess they know that fake sweetener causes cancer too. I just said they were evil, not stupid. Now, if you thought they were fired up the first round, wait till the sugar buzz kicks in and they return with a vengeance. This was my cue to leave, and I am thankful I survived the Kamikaze attack.

I got back in my truck, counting the hours toCasa Tropical 1 dinner, and I could already taste the stuffing in my mouth.  I was so excited.  When I first moved here, Costa Rica Thanksgiving was different.  There weren’t any Thanksgiving dinners, as there just weren’t many gringos yet.  I wasn’t exactly Virginia Dare, but I felt a little like her in the beginning.  I will save you all from going to your Google app and give you a little history lesson.

She was the first child born of English parents on American soil, on Roanoke Island, N.C. on August 18, 1587.  Needless to say, there aren’t any statues of her erected outside any Indian Casinos across the USA.  One of the best things about this time of year, is it is the start of the dry season, and all the flowers start to bloom.  There are not words to describe how beautiful it is.  I am thankful that I live in such a gorgeous place, and doubly thankful the rain has stopped.  

Cherry PieI couldn’t imagine living anywhere but Guanacaste.  I remember once, I was showing a house to some clients.  There were these incredible purple flowers, blooming all over the yard, and the wife wanted to know what they were.  I always find it hilarious that people just assume I know every tree, animal, bird and flower, like I am some kind of Nature Freak just because I live in Costa Rica.  I ditched that day in high school, went and saw Pink Floyd the Wall Movie, and got an F in arborist class.  It was never my thing.  “What kind of flower is that Michael” she asked.  “Purple” I replied and proceeded to the showing, “I am sure the owner knows.” As we were leaving I asked James “What’s the name of that flower?”  Purple he replied too; men, we are simple, stupid creatures.  I am thankful for that as well.

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As I was heading back home, I swung by my friend Mary’s hotel, the Pato Loco, as they were having a bake sale to raise money for one of the local charities.  We should all be so thankful of the generosity that everyone shows, and all that they give back to this amazing little community.  I bought a Pumpkin and an Apple pie, my small token of appreciation to my friends for their invitation.  I have to admit though, I miss my Mom’s Cherry pie, I have never tasted anything better, and part of me wished I could be back home on this day.  But then I thought of my buddy Ed.  He is the most successful real estate agent in Winnipeg, and I spoke with him the day before. He had sent me a photo of himself putting a FOR SALE sign in the yard, standing in 3 feet of snow, having to ride a snowmobile to get to his listing. I am so thankful I reside where it’s warm, only a sick puppy would live in the cold, and I reminded myself why I don’t go back for the holidays. But weather is only a small part of it; it’s the whole package that makes you thankful. The people, the lifestyle, and the nature, all combine for a stress free environment, and most important, no traffic. When I was 27 years old, I left Southern California and I remember saying to my girlfriend at the time, “a man shouldn’t be this stressed out at such a young age.” I feel and look healthier now, twenty years later, and I still have all my hair.  I am DEFINITELY thankful for that.

I arrived back at the house, bombarded by my fur children.  You already know how thankful I am for their love, nothing better in the world.  But I had this funny feeling that everything was going a little too smooth, there are always small obstacles in the land of Pura Vida.

cd photo

Now if you go back a few Newsletters, you should remember my story of the lightning strike, and the loss of all my electronics. I immediately ordered the replacements and had them shipped to Costa Rica. The freight company I used GUARANTEED me that they would be here two weeks ago, so my friend Mike flew in from Arizona, as I was having him do all the installation. I am pretty sure you know where I am headed with this.  One of the facts of life in this crazy little place is that they always over promise and under deliver.  “Oh yeah, we can do that.  No problem.  Count on it” but it’s never a piece of cake.  The shipment got held up in customs.  When they saw the manifesto a flag went up, and the “we need a bribe” light went on.  Rich Gringo: Home Theatre; and there it stayed. Mike went home, and I continued to wait.

Every day the customs guy would tell mePura Vida Truck Guy the same thing: Manana, but that does not necessarily mean tomorrow, it just means NOT TODAY.  You know the FedX saying? “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight?”  Yeah, well…Don’t call a Tico.  The problem is I did it by the books.  I claimed the actual value, declared what was in the container and was prepared to pay the duty.  I should have just cheated and lied like everyone else does; it would have gotten here quicker, but that is just not how I am wired.  I am very thankful for that.  I told the gentleman though, whatever you do, DON’T bring it on Thanksgiving.  Costa Rica Thanksgiving is the ONLY day of the year that I don’t work.  Sure enough, as I was loading the pies and wine into the truck, the phone rang. Hola Senor, good news.  The shipment is on its way to Guanacaste.  It should be there about 1:30.  LOL.  Well, I have lived here long enough to know that whatever time they tell you, add a few hours; sometimes a few days, so I called my White Mothsfriend Tom, and told him to start without me, as there was no telling when it would arrive.  But I was still very fired up, as my TVs were coming.  A man needs a lot to live, I am living proof, and I am thankful for that too.

Needless to say, a small rain storm here, an accident there, and a closed bridge along the way, and my guy arrived at dark. He was the sweetest man, apologizing for not being on time, but wanted me to know that he took care of the load. “I never went over 60 kph Senor as I didn’t want anything to tip over.” I am VERY THANKFUL for that. We talked for about half an hour, after unloading the goods, and he told me how he lived in the USA for a few months, a couple years ago. Your country is very big, he said, and has everything you can imagine, but nobody is happy. That is why I came home. Our people are the best in the world, he said, and I could see how thankful he was about that. I couldn’t agreeIMG_2469 with him more. I gave him the biggest tip he ever had, and jumped in my truck, hoping there was still a little plate of love, left over at the Grant’s.

This time of year, at the start of the dry season, there is one full week, where thousands of these little white moths come to life, and they are literally everywhere you look. As I drove out to Playa Panama, my windshield was bombarded with these little dudes, and I remember thinking “where the hell are those Blue Birds when ya need em?” I thought of how lucky I am to live such an amazing life, in such an incredible place, and my list of Thanks continued. I have two great parents, who are both still alive and married today; two amazing sisters and the best Nephew and Niece an Uncle could ask for. I have a great business, with the best team in the industry and a bundle of friends, and I get to live in paradise. I have my health and my happiness and little Millie Dolores. But most important; I have my TVs!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And Mike is coming back tomorrow.

MikeNow THAT is something to be Thankful for!!!

Happy Costa Rica Thanksgiving.

Pura Vida.

Hurry Down.

Michael Simons

July 2024
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