I had to start my first official Tank Tops and Flip Flops Newsletter with a “Michael” saying right? I mean would you expect anything different? There is so much negativity in the world, but we tend to ignore it here in Costa Rica. I just spent the most amazing couple days in the rain forest surrounding Lake Arenal. I have an adorable little cabin up there that I bought from my friend JP. He is a developer from California I have known for about 8 years and he has a couple amazing projects near the famous lake. I go there to get away and relax every couple months. We were talking about the usual BS that is going on in the world, and we both agreed that we choose to just ignore it. Everyone you talk to is so depressed. The US is in the tanks, and the next 6 months could quite possibly be the most negative election in history. Who needs it? Canada is….well Canada. It’s cold as hell, and they don’t even have the Stanley Cup any more. Mexico is rolling people’s heads into night clubs and hanging bodies from bridges. Europe is rioting, the Middle East is a mess and most of the world is just flat out miserable. But we never seem to be too affected down here in Costa Rica. We are too busy enjoying our life to worry about the rest of the world’s problems.
When I chose to move to Costa Rica, many people thought I was nuts. [more…]But I figured it was a “no lose” situation. The worst case scenario was that it didn’t work out and I had to go back to reality. I mean I could always go home and do what I had always done. That option would always be there. But I didn’t want to be one of those people; you see them all the time, who go through life talking about what they “wish” they would have done. I didn’t want to be on my death bed someday, regretting never having taking the chance.
Stop talking about what you are “going to do” someday and make a plan to DO IT. You have everything to gain and really nothing to lose. Do you wake up everyday disappointed about where your life is at? That ain’t no way to live a lifetime man. When are you going to START LIVING YOUR LIFE? It’s time to shake that monkey off your back, and come down and live with the monkeys.
I took off from Playa Hermosa on Thursday morning and arrived at Lake Arenal at about noon. It’s a two hour drive mas or menos. We dropped Millie Dolores off at the cabin and went in search of some food and a cold beer. (Mille Dolores, for those of you who haven’t met her yet, is a Yorkie and she is the Princess in my life. She is 8lbs of attitude, and she stole my heart 7 years ago. Her name has a story of course but that’s for another blog) Just up the road from my cottage is the coolest little bar, called Volcano Brewery. They make their own local beer, 4 flavors, and man, this is some good stuff. You gotta check it out. The food was killer and the view was amazing. You could see the entire lake!!!!
After lunch we went back to my cabin to relax. Let me tell you about this place. There are about 20 little cabins and they are RIGHT ON THE LAKE. They are all made of teak wood, little Octagon casitas, and it is one of the most tranquil places on this planet to spend 3 or 4 days. Too boring for me to live there, but I love going up for the weekend. There is a little floating dock, called Port San Luis. They call it a marina, but its more like 6 big chunks of Styrofoam floating in the water. The little town is precious. It’s like something out of a magazine, with oxen carts going up and down the road. AWESOME. The landscaping around these cabins makes you feel like you are in a Botanical Garden. It’s funny; there is this one dead tree, right in front of my cabin. And I refuse to remove it because it seems to be the landing spot for every single bird within 100 miles. We must have seen 75 in 3 days, just hanging out, right in front of my deck. Next time I go back I gotta bring one of those bird watching books. Then I can figure out what the heck I am looking at.
I hear this voice calling my name, and it’s JP. Imagine Santa Claus with a cocktail in his hand wearing shorts and sandals. “Wanna go to dinner?” My treat I tell him. So we load up into the truck and take off back around the lake. “I wanna take you to this special little place” he tells me. “It’s nothing fancy but the food is killer” MY KIND OF PLACE. We end up at a little rustic dump that actually said DISCOTEQUE on the outside. I don’t even think it has a name. They have tree stumps for chairs and are literally smoking the food right there in the old stone oven. The woman brings us this plate of chicken, pork and steak, and a huge bowl of the best black beans and rice I have ever had in my life (that says a lot since EVERYWHERE in Costa Rica serves black beans and rice).
Not a couple minutes in to the meal, and the sweetest dog you have ever seen in your life, is sitting next to our table. I don’t know what it is about stray dogs, but they always seem to find me. Her name was Angel and that she was. What a sweetie. A dozen rum and cokes later, and we are back at the cabin. Now it’s nice and cool up there, compared to the beach, so we made the mistake of leaving the windows open that night while we slept, so we could enjoy the evening. When I woke up I looked like I had chicken pox, I had so many bites on me. I won’t make that mistake again LOL.
I haven’t even gotten around to putting drapes on the windows yet so we were up at the crack of dawn. The sun rises early in Costa Rica and it’s strong. There is nothing better than a cup of “1820” coffee at 5:30 in the morning, as you smell the lake, feel the breeze and hear the sounds. Gotta love the mornings in paradise. Of course my first instinct is to check my emails. NOT. There is no wifi and no internet. What a relief to know I will be totally disconnected for the next few days. Now I can truly relax.
Hmmm – what to do today. La Fortuna waterfall? Canopy tours? Wind surfing lessons? Tilapia fishing? Coffee plantations? A tram to the top of the volcano? Butterfly farms? A hike through the rain forest? White water rafting? A snake farm or a crocodile river? How about a rodeo or a day with the bulls? Massage at the spa? Mud baths? How about a drive around the lake and a trip to the hot springs? Yes that’s it.
They say it is an hour drive, but that is impossible. You stop every 5 minutes to take photos or check out a view or buy some souvenirs at one of the dozens of street vendors along the way. There are literally hundreds of little shops, chalets and B&Bs all with some unique flare to it and the lake is always in your sites. We chose Café Macadamia, which sits on a bluff looking at the volcano. There is no menu, just whatever the chef decides to make, and when you see the size of this woman, you KNOW the food is gonna be good. WOW.
On a wood platter comes the largest meal on the face of the planet. Eggs, fruit, bread, Gallo Pinto (beans and rice again, just different recipe) cinnamon roll, cake, cheese, ham, turkey and salami with a huge glass of Pineapple juice. FOR BREAKFAST!!!! Sure enough, we are not there 5 minutes and I feel this warm hairy creature rubbing against my leg and purring. I guess cats like me too. His name was Tommy and he sure loves salami so we had a guest at the table to help us share these monster platters. There was a horse and her baby too, just a couple feet away on the other side of the fence, checking us out as we ate.
As we continue our journey, I feel like I am in Juraisic Park. The jungle starts to completely take over the road and there are portions of it that don’t even exist. We spot this bamboo that has to be 100 feet tall. NO kidding. Around the next corner is a place called the CEIBA TREE LODGE. Ceiba trees grow to be over 175 feet tall and live to be 500 YEARS OLD!!! I hurt my neck straining to see the top of them. Looks like I gotta call Dr Nick the Chiropractor when I get back to Coco. Over the dam, through the town of La Fortuna and we arrive at one of the nicest resorts in Costa Rica, THE SPRINGS.
This place is serene. It’s almost not real. When you walk through this place you feel like Steven Spielberg made this for a movie. Tabacon was the original hot springs resort and this has out done it. There are rivers of flowing water that come out from the bottom of the volcano. Magical pathways meander through the jungle, over little bridges, through little caves as you try every pool and spring. Some are Hot and some are OH MY GOD HOT, but the ice cold ones really get your blood pumping. And the pathway, of course, leads you right back to the huge pool with the swim up bar. Roast turkey sandwiches and chicken taquitos sound good but what do we have to drink?
Hmmm – Might as well try one of each: Bloody Mary, Rum Runners, Lava Flows, Pina Coladas. But the best one is called Passion del Guapo (sexy man). The entire time you are soaking in the pool, you can see the massive volcano right in front of you. It’s almost as if you can touch it with your hands. But be careful, it’s hot!!! It’s the only active volcano in Costa Rica and even though you can’t see the top as it is hidden in the clouds, you know the lava is bubbling over and tumbling down the side. All the bartenders and waiters were talking, as it happens Will Smith was just there a couple days earlier and obviously he was a big attraction to the locals.
As we are heading back to the casita, the sun is setting over the lake. I know Millie is gonnna be pissed I have been gone so long so we hurry to get back. I don’t think she missed me truthfully. JP tells me she was having a blast barking at everything that flew by. “This is MY cabin!!!!! I am the princess” One of the realities of being in my business is that the majority of the people I run into around town are my clients. So it is very hard to go anywhere without someone wanting to sit and talk about real estate. I was excited to be able to go out to a nice quiet meal and not be recognized and finally just enjoy a peaceful evening.
So we chose this little BBQ place on the lake called MAVERICKS. It’s owned by a gringo named Tom from Texas who came here about the same time I did, 9 years ago. His sign says he has the best Ribs and Chili in Costa Rica, so we had to give it a shot. Had I known that his chili fries could feed a small army; I wouldn’t have ordered it for an appetizer. Man, they were good. So much for the quiet evening, though. I wasn’t there 30 seconds and I hear “Mike, good to see you. Come sit with us. How ya been? Never expected to see you up here in the jungle” Sure enough, clients. Its tough being famous sometimes – LOL. We closed that joint down, hanging with our friends and headed back to the cabin, but this time we slept with the windows closed!
We spent Saturday cruising around, checking out the coffee plantations and the rolling hills of Tronodora. A friend of mine had to leave Costa Rica a couple years ago and he asked that I take his dog Dude. But Dude, is a hippie, hence the name Dude. And hanging out by my pool, just wasn’t in his cards. He had to roam. So I asked JP if he would keep Dude on one of his many ranches. We set out to find Dude – I felt like I was in the Sound of Music as we drove over these rolling hills and this place is just 2 hours from where I live. Through old wooden bridges, over water falls and streams, across the tops of mountains, we drank beer and yelled out the window DUDE!!! DUDE!!! DUDE!!! Sure enough, he finally showed up. Reunions are a beautiful thing. I miss that old hippie and he missed me too, but he is in a much better place, living with 10 other roamers who can’t follow the rules. The entire time I am thinking how amazing this country is. Places like this are just a couple hours from where I live.
People always ask me if I have any plans to travel the world. Maybe someday, but for now I still have so much of this paradise to visit. I have been here 9 years and I have barely even scratched the surface. You could visit a different place every weekend in Costa Rica, and it would take decades to see them all. I am looking forward to the challenge.
Well, anyone that knows me knows that I don’t miss too many big sporting events. And game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs between the NY Rangers and the Washington Capitals is about as big as it gets. So we headed back to the beach, because when it comes to sports its hard to beat my 13 big screen TVs. A HUGE win by the Rangers made for a perfect ending to a Saturday night.
Sleeping in on Sunday is not an option at Casa Pila (that is the name of my house at the Papagayo Golf Course where I live. It means House of the Trough but this too is for another blog) as my other 4 dogs have a different plan. Meeka, Milagro, Monita and Malina know that Sunday mornings are THEIR mornings. (All our dog’s names start with M – Also another blog someday) Millie might be the princess and she gets special attention, but it is mandatory that we go to Matapalo beach so they can terrorize the birds that flock their early in the morning.
The sun has barely cracked the top of the mountain range, and you can already hear them rustling around in the yard. I come out with my spiked coffee (you gotta try Café Rica in your next cup) and they are already in the back of the pick up ready to go. Pablo, my caretaker, is also standing there waiting. Heh, walks on the beach are not just for canines, us old dogs like it too. It’s a total free for all, as they race up and down the sand, chasing everything that moves. I love the look on people’s faces that are out for a morning stroll, staying at the RIU hotel nearby. They see this pack of dogs coming and they get all wide eyed. Most are animal lovers and want to know the story of how I got so many dogs, especially since a couple of them have permanent limps from being hit by cars. But that’s also for another blog.
I see this one couple walking my way. They look like they have never seen the sun. Vampires are not this white. They must be from Edmonton or something. As they get closer I realize that they aren’t even smiling. They are walking in complete misery. How can you be on one of the most pristine beaches in one of the most beautiful countries in the world and not be smiling? What a terrible way to go through life. Unfortunately some people live their entire lives that way. I have met a few and I feel sorry for them, but I am not going to let it ruin my Sunday.
Back at home, floating in the pool, drinking Vodka Cranberries, working on my skin cancer and my liver poisoning, I have the tunes cranked and a ball game on the TV. What an excellent way to spend the day. Grilled pork chops, my famous rice, and a couple good bottles of Chilean wine with my next door neighbor Jerry is the perfect ending to a wonderful week. I realized that my average weekend is better than most people’s yearly vacation. What is wrong with you? Why are you up there and not down here? Start living man. Come to Costa Rica.
Here it is Monday morning and I am back at work sitting at the El Velero hotel on Playa Hermosa beach. The waves are crashing as I eat my fruit plate and drink my Costa Rican coffee. This is where it all began, 12 years ago, but of course, that is for another Newsletter…
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