Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Iguanas and Monkeys, Oh My!

We spent a few days near Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach to be exact, at the most lovely and delightful hotel right on the beach. M. Dolon Hickmon, his wife and precious daughter arrived that first afternoon and we all sat out on the lanai just out of the rain, drank some excellent wine and enjoyed a few hours of good conversation.

I have to give the owner/manager of this hotel their due because I admit when we pulled in and I read the clearly Indian name of the manager I started to cop an attitude inside. I've not had good experiences with hotels managed by Indians or Arabic people. Many times it seems like they cut corners or don't exactly pay attention to details. Not this place or the workers. It was outstanding! My new favorite place to stay in Florida!

Monday we relaxed on the beach in the morning and in the afternoon Jim went to the local furniture stores in the Daytona area to try and sell some of them on the idea of buying Malaysian imported furniture in his new business venture with the scammer friend of his now in Malaysia. He got one store to commit to a full container of furniture. I was impressed because I figured he'd strike out. Seriously, if you were owning a store and some guy came in off the streets to try and sell you something of an unknown quality would you buy?  I wouldn't be inclined.

Tuesday morning we had to leave the hotel very early to get to Fort Lauderdale and our flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. Again, Jim amazed me with his ability to make friends with anyone by befriending and spending the entire flight talking to an old native Costa Rican lady. I read my magazine and slept during most of the uneventful flight. This was the first time we've flown Spirit Airlines and I was amused by the fact that they freaking shake you down for every tiny thing. This is the first time I paid to have a packet of nuts and a soft drink on a flight. Plus all the prepaying to get bulkhead seats, pay for bags in advance to get cheapest rates, to board first, you name it.

The the nickeling and diming Spirit did represented the entire trip so far in Costa Rica. We arrived at the airport and stood in this line and that line for customs and immigration. By the time we got our bags and got out to the sidewalk we were surrounded by taxi drivers shouting that they wanted to take us to wherever we were going. Finally I spotted the sign held by the rental car agency rep with our name on it and it was off to pick up our rental car. We were talking to various other Americans on the flight, in customs and in the car rental place.

The short ride from the airport to the rental car place was fraught with me almost freaking out over the way the native Costa Ricans were driving. At one intersection a motorcyclist, a bike rider and a huge bus nearly collided and the cyclists were weaving in and out of traffic. I've driven in Rome, I've driven in Mexico City and I used to regularly drive on the Autobahn in Germany and this topped any crazy driving I've experienced.

The guys at the car rental agency were pretty awesome, even if the other Americans warned us to get the maximum insurance package to keep them from claiming we did something to the car and charging our credit card a thousand dollars after we left. I realized pretty quickly that we needed to have GPS in the car as well, another deposit, another set of expenses we hadn't discussed. But the nice man waiting on us, Raphael, programmed all our hotel locations and airport locations into the GPS and we left for the nearest bank to exchange money for the local currency, Colones. The money exchange at the airport wanted to give me 460 colones for 1 dollar but I was able to use a local atm and get the regular exchange rate of 530 colones for a dollar.

We passed a huge Wal Mart just across the road from the airport along with a long list of other American things like Popeyes, McDonalds, Burger King and a million ads for Pennsoil. It was an almost three hour drive to our hotel near Manuel Antonio along windy narrow roads around and between mountains. Beautiful country but no one seems to obey stop signs, traffic signals, yellow lines or speed limits. A few near misses on hairpin curves.

Jim drove about half way and we switched drivers, stopping at this roadside fruit stand. We ate there and it was delicious. Had a burger with some odd cheese on it with lettuce, tomato and cucumber along with coconut biscuits and (of course) Champagne Americana - Coke Light. We bought fruit and ice cream for the road. The men running the place were so nice and the price so damn cheap I could not believe it.

We drove through landscapes of incredible beauty and also great poverty, tin roofed shanties with chickens, donkeys and some unusual looking boney cattle. There were men riding bicycles carrying huge sacks of bananas and every area you went through had roadside produce stands. People were out in their yards harvesting papayas, guava, coconuts and bananas with old fashioned apple picker poles and baskets. My personal favorite part of the road trip was when we were driving through vast fields of low palm trees with the towering mountains just ahead.

And then we got to the hotel......

....and I discovered our travel agent booked us in a villa at the only hotel in town with direct beach access. We were promised a beachside room but the hotel insisted we were booked into a villa at the top of the property, a good 88, yes 88 steps up the mountain, instead of the beach front building. I just about fell out and had a fit. Between my asthma and my thin disks in my back there was no freaking way I was going to be able to climb up 88 steps multiple times a day. We ended up upgrading our room to one in the same building as the reception office. We paid extra to have air conditioning (which the original room did not) but decided the additional 80 bucks a day to have beachfront room with television was too much. No tv.

This place isn't very nice, the furniture is old and worn, the building needs a lot of upgrades, but again, it's got beach access. The first room they put us in had mold. I had an asthma attack, pretty severely, I blacked out and fell down on the pavement for a few moments. Drugs, air conditioning, lots of water and it passed. I was ready to leave Costa Rica that first night and never look back.

We thought someone kept knocking softly on our door several times in the night but it turned out to just be the noise of a local lizard! We kept opening the door to a lizard. Ha.

I am so happy I did not leave and not come back. I got up this morning after a ten hour sleep and felt well again. We went out to the breakfast buffet in the hotel restaurant and it was pretty good, black beans and rice (never had that for breakfast before), fresh eggs, every kind of tropical fruit you could imagine, good local breads and a variety of jams I'd not had before like guava.

We spent the morning on the beach, right on our little cove of the Pacific ocean, before going swimming in the hotel pool. While we were showering off the beach sand to get into the pool an iguana came up, stopping about a yard away, watching as we showered.

During the afternoon we drove around to a couple of the local schools that teach English to Costa Ricans and it looks likely that Jim might be able to line up a teaching gig if we were to retire down here. He has his years of teaching English at the community ESL classes in our town. All he needs is a certification that he can get in four weeks for around two thousand dollars.

We talked to local real estate agents and visited a huge local market in the middle of town, buying fruit and other local foods to eat in the hotel room for dinner. When we travel we usually eat a good breakfast, a decent sized lunch around 2 pm and something light for dinner. I cannot get over how cheap, plentiful and fresh the produce is.

Our day here is almost over and despite the high temps and humidity making breathing a bit more difficult I am ready to move here, move here for good! The slow pace of life, the wonderful people and the beautiful flowers, plants and animals are just what I need after twenty plus years of living in the go-go world of Northern Virginia.

A little while ago I happened to glance outside of the hotel window and see a monkey on the power lines across the street, running across them to jump on the roof of the other hotel building to joint his friends. Jim and I were treated to the sight of a pile of small monkeys playing like little children on the rooftops.

The parrots and the frogs are singing in the twilight so I'm about to go take another dip in the pool and hit the sack.

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