Newsletter edition no. 10
It was the most amazing sunrise you have ever seen. I slowly rocked back and forth in my rocking chair, as it came over the volcano and cascaded across the lake, sipping on my spiked 1820 coffee. There had to be a dozen parrots in my tree and the Howler Monkeys were already getting after it at 5 am. I got a text from a friend in the USA; she had sent me a photo to my phone. I texted back, I know you will make fun of me, but I don’t have a smart phone. Can you email me the photo? How does anyone survive without a smart phone, she replied? I chuckled, as I admired the view, and the first thought I had was: MY LIFE KICKS ASS!!!! “How can anyone live without a lake house?” I texted back.
I mean you have to put things into perspective hahahaha. Why do I need a smart phone? I know at some point I will have to give in and get one of them, but I am fighting it all the way. I see people with the iphone and, truly, they have no life. They spend their entire time on the device, doing God knows what. They will be at dinner with friends and instead of TALKING to the people at the table they are playing with their phone. Personally, I have a wonderful balance in my life, and I am in no hurry to change it.
I see the sunrise every morning and always have time to walk my dogs. I eat breakfast on the beach and watch the wave’s crash before my eyes. I get to the office before any of my agents and some how manage to bang out 100 emails. I then meet whichever clients I have for the day and start our tour. I make sure to stop for lunch and cocktails at another romantic destination and actually pay attention to what my clients are telling me, because I am not distracted by emails, texts, phone calls or photos. To top it all off, I always seem to end in time to catch the sunset with some friends. I still get home and make myself dinner and never miss the ballgame or snuggle time with Millie Dolores.
I should probably exercise a little more and drink a little less, but you have to leave a little room for improvement, right? If I was perfect it would be totally boring. I sell more real estate than anyone, so obviously I don’t need it for business. So I ask you again: Why do I need a smart phone?
I was still completely relaxed from the day before, as I had visited some hot springs. It is amazing how popular I became with all my old friends, the day I moved to Costa Rica. Just the week before an old buddy I have known since Junior High School had come to visit, and this week it was my sister. Next week, another friend from Arizona is coming, and my schedule is pretty full the rest of the year too. Hotel Mike. My sister actually wanted to visit in November, but I convinced her October was better.
You see we sit on different sides of the fence politically, and I figured having her here the week of the Election might not be a very good idea. Four years ago, a girlfriend of mine visited the week of the last Presidential Election. We were definitely NOT on the same page and by the end of the week, she went home, and we have never spoken since. I mean, you can easily replace a girlfriend, but sisters are different, so I figured it wasn’t worth the risk.
I love having people visit, for a multitude of reasons. The obvious is that I get to see people special to me. But also I love it because I get to do things I normally wouldn’t take the time to do by myself. And I always try to knock off one of the items on my bucket list of Costa Rica.
Last week, I basically spent the majority of the week, hanging on the beach with my buddy, drinking beers and checking out bikinis. I also went to my all-time favorite ice cream store in Coco, the Heladeria Italiana, and indulged myself like I was on death row. There are no words to describe this Gelato, it is truly Amazing!!!! You can not just have one scoop. The owner makes this ice cream fresh every couple days, and she always has different and unique flavors so you never get the same thing twice. Snickers, Baileys and Chocolate Chip are my favorites. Flan, Butterscotch and Coconut also tops my list. And if you have any room left in your belly, go for the Sorbets. WOW!!! I usually save my calories for alcohol but last week, all bets were off.
So when my sister came in, I decided to take her to the world famous Tabacon Hot Springs. When I first arrived in Costa Rica, everyone was talking about this place, but I just couldn’t figure why they were so excited. I thought I knew hot springs. You see when I was 10 years old I committed a serious crime, or at least I think I did. I am still not sure what I did wrong, but I was given an 8 year jail sentence. I was born in New York, the greatest city in the world. My parent’s punishment to me for this unknown crime was to drag me kicking and screaming to Denver Colorado, where I was forced to live until I was an adult and could fend for myself. Truthfully, it felt like Papillion, and there are still the notches in my old bedroom wall, where I carved a divot for every day I had to spend there. Literally the moment I was old enough to vote, I was off to California and I remember telling myself, I will never live where it is cold again. I knew then I was going to be Gilligan or Jimmy Buffett I just had to find my island. I got it, by the way, in case you haven’t been paying attention.
Doing time in Denver, I had been to hot springs before, and they didn’t excite me much. I have still have nightmares from the visions. Grey haired, tattooed, hippies, pasty white and overweight, running around NAKED, camping in their VW buses with Jimmy Carter bumper stickers and Grateful Dead music. No Thanks. But Tabacon is not your aunt’s hot springs, let me tell you. This is where the money goes. It is FIRST CLASS all the way. Yet as you pay to get in, you immediately notice how incredibly reasonably priced it is, at $60 per person. Considering lift tickets are $150 a day at most ski resorts, this is a serious bargain. I have gone here at least a dozen times and I never get tired of it.
As you enter the resort, you can barely see there is so much steam. It is like an Avatar movie, Romantic, and you think, there is no way this is real, but it IS. Roaring waterfalls of 100 degree water are everywhere, as you work your way through the jungle, to various locations. There is even an adult only area, so those little pesky bastards don’t interrupt your meditation.
But my favorite part of the entire experience is the day spa and the men’s pedicure. Are you kidding me? There is absolutely nothing better in the world, than having a gorgeous Latina woman, rub your feet for an hour, while you sip on a cocktail and listen to Mother Nature. Who doesn’t want this? If you can think of something better, let me know, sign me up, but this is about as good as it gets in life.
It is a fact that I have been to almost every single city in the United States of America, so it is obvious that I have tried every single hamburger in the United States of America. Why did I travel to every city in the USA you ask? That’s right, stay tuned for another Newsletter. The BEST burger in the world, hands down, is IN N OUT Burger on the West Coast. When I go to Las Vegas, the first thing I do before I even check in, is have the taxi driver take me through the drive through for a Double Double with grilled onions (Monster style). Well, let me tell you, the burger I had sitting at the swim up bar of Tabacon is without a doubt NUMBER TWO. This burger Rocks! Over a pound of meat, grilled onions, avocado, crispy bacon, Jack cheese, lettuce, pickle and tomato and the best Costa Rican special sauce I have ever tried, on some kind of psycho home made bun – Mind Boggling. It is worth the price of admission just for the burger. Trust me.
Of course I made the mistake of telling a group of couples what I did for a living, and there went the next 30 minutes of my time. It is impossible for me to go anywhere without someone asking me about real estate. I usually lie about my career, or I won’t get any time to myself. This is definitely another Newsletter so check back in later.
My sister had chosen to fly into San Jose, and this turned out to be a real blessing. I love driving across this gorgeous countryside, and being in the Central Valley would allow me to visit a site, I haven’t been to yet. There is a little local restaurant I know of, on the road to the city. I have eaten there many times and my sister was excited to try it with me. We pulled up, parked the car, and left Millie on the front seat. Guard and Kill Millie. Guard and Kill.
It is a buffet style restaurant, with some of the most amazing local flavors I have ever had. I love eating there. But when we went up to the counter to order, the woman told us they were all out of eggs and they had sent someone to get more. I chuckled. Only in Costa Rica, would a restaurant run out of eggs at 7 am in the morning. My sister thought we should wait, but I know better. First off, a couple minutes can be half an hour in Pura Vida land and besides I was absolutely starving and there are plenty of other little Sodas down the road.
So we jumped back in the car and continued our journey. About 5 miles later, there was another adorable little road side café, and we chose it for our spot. We of course were the only people there, and sat down to order. A couple minutes later the son comes back to tell us, they only have THREE eggs left TOTAL, and wanted to know which one of us wanted just one. That is funny stuff. I didn’t realize there was a world shortage of eggs this week, but I shut my mouth and gave the extra egg to my sister like a good brother. As we got in our car to leave, the young boy was off on his bicycle, peddling down the road, obviously to buy more eggs, or pluck them from some chicken’s butt.
The terrain of Costa Rica changes almost before your eyes. As you leave San Jose to head to Guanacaste, you travel over the new road PISTA. The road is literally carved out of the mountain and you cross these long suspension bridges, hundreds of feet in the air. You could easily be in Lake Tahoe as the views are endless in every direction. The road seems to just drop down out of nowhere and plop you at the ocean, in a matter of minutes. As you drive along the beaches, an hour after you left the city, you start to think you might be on Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura California. But as quick as you can say it, you are back into the middle of a forest. It is almost dark as the road is covered by huge trees that create a Bat Cave like atmosphere. Rivers and streams are everywhere. The forest ends almost as quickly as it started and the next thing you know you are entering Guanacaste, the farming capital of the country. Miles and miles of cattle farms and dairy farms, roll by, with a pristine back ground of mountains, hills and volcanoes, as large as the Rocky Mountains.
The landscape changes again as soon as you hit Liberia and turn west towards the beaches. Endless fields of melons, rice and sugar cane grab your attention, with thousands of flowering trees and you notice that it has warmed up quite nicely from when you left the city. And of course, arriving at the beaches of Playa Hermosa, Playa Panama, Playas del Coco and Ocotal, you might as well be in Hawaii, as these huge volcanic peninsulas jet out into the deep blue Pacifico Ocean and Papagayo Bay. Heading back to San Jose, we went a different route, traveling around Lake Arenal and up the West side of San Jose. This area is truly a rain forest, as the over growth practically swallows up your car as you meander around the lake. The volcano overwhelms you if you are lucky enough to see it pop out of the clouds. Once you pass La Fortuna, the scenery again changes, and you feel like you are in Switzerland, Sweden Austria or Holland. Adorable little farm houses, very similar to our European ancestor’s dot the green lush countryside. You literally expect to see Julia Andrews singing “The Hills are alive, with the Sound of Music” as windmills and farm houses pass you by. You go over rickety old bridges and cobblestone roads, past creeks and streams and fences made of trees. Absolute breathtaking.
Spending a day in San Jose allowed me to go to my three favorite restaurants. For breakfast, I took my sister to the Grand Tara Hotel (formerly called the White House) at the top of Escazu. It is one of the highest points of the city and a perfect place to start the day. The hotel is an old white house, like something out of a Southern Plantation, with views of the entire Central Valley. Early in the morning, you are actually higher than the clouds, and you watch them melt away as you eat your breakfast and the city comes into view. There is always a perfect breeze and you can see everything from the sky line of San Jose to the new stadium, and two or three volcanoes.
I love it because it is one of the only places in Costa Rica where you can get Eggs Benedict with REAL Hollandaise sauce. Yummy. This is a great place to stay if you have to travel to the city for business or shopping. For lunch I took her to Casa Conde Hotel, just outside of San Pedro. This is a true Costa Rican classic. The hotel is owned by an old CR family, and you feel like you stepped back in time. The Mediterranean design is just adorable, and there are oxen carts and horse statues mixed in amongst the landscape. You sit around a courtyard with a beautiful pool lined with orchids and they have some of the most amazing food anywhere in the country.
It is a very popular place for weddings and parties and there was a big one going on while we were there. We were taking bets on whether it was a bridal shower or a baby shower, when a woman left holding a big balloon. It said “who’s your baby?” in big letters on the outside, and that pretty much solved the mystery. I joked to my sister; it should say Who’s your Daddy? because you never know in this country LOL. My sister just about slapped me upside the head. This is another adorable hotel to spend a few days if you have to be in the city.
For dinner we went to Plaza Itzkatzu just outside the Multi Plaza Mall. It is a unique place to go to dinner as they have about a dozen restaurants to choose from. You can walk around the complex and check out each menu, as they are on a stand outside of the front of each restaurant. Just tell the taxi driver to take you to Hooter’s. Everybody knows where that is, as it is across the parking lot. There is everything in this complex from a Mexican restaurant, to Italian, Peruvian to Argentinean, Seafood to Typical.
But my favorite is the Japanese restaurant Samurai. It is very similar to Benihana, where they cook the food right in front of you. The usual display of knife flipping and fire balls are part of the show, but the absolute best part of the meal is the dessert. Again, I love when people come to visit, because I get to eat things I would normally pass on. This dessert could win an award, I am not kidding you. They take a piece of pound cake and bananas, and grill them in hot honey right before your eyes. They then put a ball of vanilla ice cream on the flat top and let half of it melt. As the ice cream turns to melted cream, they spread it out like a pancake, covering it again in honey and let it fry to a crispy crust, like a cookie. They then put all of it together on a plate with chocolate and strawberry sauce. TAA DAH. Heaven.
Glad I am exercising tomorrow as this could do so some serious damage to my waistline.
We got up at the crack of dawn on Sunday, so we could be one of the first ones to the top. I have read about POAS volcano for years, but never made the time to hike the summit. They say it is one of the most breathtaking views in Costa Rica, so my sister and I set out to see for ourselves, but you have to get there early, as it can easily be socked in with clouds by 10am.
As we left the city, we drove through the old town of Alajuela, a gorgeous middle class neighborhood just past the airport. Thousands of beautiful homes make this a true Costa Rican community. But as expected, pay attention when driving. There are very few signs, and the ones that do exist are almost impossible to read. It must be some kind of genetic flaw, because Ticos can’t make signs, bless their little hearts. After a few wrong turns, we found ourselves heading up and I mean STRAIGHT UP. We went past schools and soccer fields, towns and churches. Up, up, up. There were little villages everywhere, and the most amazing green lush scenery. Up, up, up. If altitude sickness is a problem for you, maybe you should consider another day trip. Up, up, up. As we passed the coffee plantations, we came upon the strawberry fields, and stopped at a little roadside stand.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you, these puppies were bigger than golf balls and so juicy, and they exploded in your mouth. Up, up, up. My sister made a comment about how she loved doing stuff like this, taking in the culture. Personally, my definition of culture is going to a sports bar to watch NFL football, and trying every beer from around the globe. That’s culture. But I have to admit, it was amazing to see this. As we continued up, up and up, the volcano appeared before our eyes and it was monstrous. We paid to enter the National park, which by the way was very reasonable. Ten dollars for my sister, a tourist, and two dollars for myself, a resident of CR. One of dozens of reasons to become a permanent resident here, but I will save that too for another Newsletter.
We went into the souvenir store, as my sister loves to shop. There was this huge electronic map of the world, showing all the active volcanoes with blinking red lights. The ring of fire, from Alaska to Chile, Australia to Russia, was flashing like a Xmas tree. They had this awesome photo running the length of the room, showing the skyline of all the Costa Rican volcanoes. There was a book store there that had every imaginable book about Costa Rica stuff. Reptiles. Insects. Mammals. Fish, Snakes. Birds. Trees. Flowers. Farm animals. Fruits. Vegetables. Even Medicinal Plants. I asked the woman if she had a book on all the various volcanoes in Costa Rica, since I am AT A VOLCANO and there is a HUGE PHOTO OF EVERY VOLCANO IN COSTA RICA, on the wall. She didn’t have one. Of course not. That would actually make sense and we know nothing here makes sense. Pura Vida.
So we set out to hike the trail. It took about 15 minutes to get to the first platform where you could see the Poas Crater. Supposedly it is one of the world’s most acidic lakes, but I wasn’t there to go for a swim. The temperature that day was about 55 degrees and I just about froze to death. BONE CHILLING COLD. How anyone can live where it gets below 70 degrees I have no idea. The volcano hasn’t erupted in almost 100 years but then again we hadn’t had an earthquake in 50 either, but that changed quickly a few weeks ago. So I figured what the heck, live on the edge, and we hiked even further up the hill. The second lake is called Lake Botos and it is a 30 minute hike. It is not for the weak, so be aware. The pathway meandered through the densest forest, and thank goodness someone had cut a path. I really appreciated what Teddy Roosevelt must have felt like cutting his way through the jungles of Brazil because I would not have wanted to be the first guy to climb this thing. Most of the way, I was just wishing I had my golf cart and a cooler of beer, as this exercise crap is way overrated.
The top of the mountain is 8900 feet above sea level, but when you get there, it was worth whatever pain you went through. As I stood on the peak, you could see a hundred miles in both directions, all the way to the Caribbean coast one way, and the Pacific Ocean the other way. Top of the world mom, I made it! Sir Edmund Hillary would have been proud.
I am back at the condo now, waiting for my friend from Arizona to get in. I have my cup of Costa Rican coffee, spiked with Café Rica liqueur. My sister left early this morning, back to California, to save the planet. You see my sister does fund raisers for Alzheimer’s and has the biggest heart in the world. I love you Lisa, and miss you already. You look great. Hurry back.
I found myself singing the Eagles song Hotel California “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” When I was a kid I never really understood what that line meant, but I do now. I know my sister won’t be able to stop thinking about this amazing little country, it happened to all of us. You can get on a plane out of CR and go back, but you can never leave. Costa Rica grabs you and won’t let you forget her and you will find yourself spending more and more of your spare time dreaming of this paradise. You can’t get her out of your mind.
Excuse me. My phone is ringing, and I recognize the number, so I have to go now. It is an old friend from New York City calling and I have a pretty good idea what he wants. Take care; hope to see you here soon.
“Hola, Hotel Costa Rica, can I help you make a reservation today?”
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