Fotografía Profesional en Costa Rica–Professional Photography in Costa Rica

Tourism & Photo Blog

Puerta! The Real Rodeo

This article originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star please stop by. Please feel free to leave any comments at the bottom of the post. If you wish to contact me you can do so here. Thanks, Solson

One of my favorite year end activities is watching the local version of the bulls. Ticos have developed their own version of bull fighting where the bull is the aggressor and the fans or “improvised bullfighters” try to get as close as possible without injury. The best runs feature a few poor souls running for their lives and possibly being tossed or trampled but hopefully with no serious injury (to person or bull). Sprinkled in between the amateurs, there will be a real cowboy who rides, or attempts to ride a bull with a silly name.

The most famous of these events happens in Zapote under bright lights, with TV cameras, half a dozen color commentators, spokes models, controlled access, insurance policies and no drinking. Fun to watch from home, but right now I have none of them and all I want are the lights.

My back is already stiff and the event is an hour late. I’m ten feet off the ground in rickety grand-stands fashioned from roughly milled boards arranged in such a way that leg cramps are guaranteed. And I’m in the expensive seats. The cheap seats aren’t seats at all, but standing room under the stands, on the fence rails or in the bull ring itself, whatever you feel like. The bulls were on time but the if Ticos in the Central Valley tend to be late, then out here in Filadelfia, Guanacaste it’s twice as bad. They don’t start till the stands are full about an hour behind schedule.

The down time lets me find my camera settings. The light is terrible. I suspected I would have this problem and had hoped to got to an afternoon event. It turns out they stopped having afternoon events a while back and now it’s night time or nothing. I finally settle on a compromise that will get me a shutter speed fast enough to freeze action (1/400 second) at the cost of introducing noise and a loss of detail in my pictures. I’m using ISO 12,800 and an fixed length lens at f/2.0. It occurs to me that these pictures would have been virtually impossible a few years ago or even with my other camera, but the technological advances save the day. I opt to shoot in black and white since it hides the noise produced by such a high ISO a little better. The noise tends to look more like old film grain instead of splotches of purple red and green.

By sheer luck tonight is a championship bull-riding event. One of the event organizers boasts a personal money-back guarantee to anyone not satisfied with the show. That’s the kind of statement you can make out here, away from San Jose, away from the lawyers, away from the health ministry and away from the cops. Even the sponsors seem emboldened as the announcer routinely spouts a line touting how you’ll always have a lady by your side if you buy their brand of car (trust me it’s a big one, look at the pictures you’ll figure it out). Throughout the evening the announcer requests that folks keep away from the bull while it’s being ridden, not drink in the ring, and that remind people that minors aren’t allowed inside the rails. He summons the private security to help clear those folks out, but it’s lip service. I was there for 5 hours and never saw a single cop or security staff of any type. By the end of the night there are dozens of empty beer cans and bottles in the ring.

After some pomp, the riders names are drawn against the bulls. Luck would have it that the best rider has drawn the best bull, fans and organizers are pleased. When the riding finally starts it’s a fast moving affair. A new bull is sent out just a soon as they round up the previous one. The action is impressive and I have a blast photographing it, though my camera does have some trouble keeping focus in such low light. I’m not an expert but I can appreciate a strong ride or a fierce bull even while trying to keep things in frame.

Amidst all the action and the dust, there are poignant moments as well. The organizers pass the hat to help a well-known local rider who is permanently injured. The hat goes back around for the house-wife bull rider who makes mean tamales, but needs a hand as well.

The bulls are allowed to run free for a couple of minutes after they are ridden to chase those brave enough to stay in the ring. One of the ranchers even sends out a “gift” bull just for the improvised bullfighters. I’m betting nothing will sober you up faster than 1200lb bull snorting and chasing you down. Most keep their distance and are openly mocked by the announcer. One fellow stands out and make a number close passes but ends up with little more than praise for his efforts, since even he doesn’t get close enough to touch one of the horns and earn himself concert tickets.

By the end no one has requested a refund, no one is hurt (somewhat shockingly to me) and the crowd retreats to the fairground for a few more brews, food and dancing. I don’t want a refund either, just a painkiller for my back and a computer to review the pictures.

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Chicharrones, Hands On

This article originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star (with a different title), please drop in and have a look around.

Feel free to leave your comments below, or reach me here.

This day has been in the works for months, the one my brother-in-law has been threatening me with. I’m back on the enormous rice farm in Guanacaste. I’ve had a day to settle in and fired off about 150 pictures wandering around the fields at sunset. I’ve tried previsualizing. It doesn’t help much nor does my 3rd cup of coffee. Even the howler monkeys know something’s up as they’ve been extra noisy this morning.

Alvaro a.k.a.“La Bala” (The Bullet) has probably been out late the night before, and is proving difficult to track down at 7:30 on a Saturday. We finally find him putting his crew to work before taking the day off to be the lead man for today’s “chicharroneada.” He hops in the pickup full of energy and already telling tall tales of the lady he met the night before (I’ve been warned he speaks at 180 lies per minute). We drive 10 minutes to the pig farm.

Walking through the facility makes the uneasiness worse. Baby pigs nursing, toddler pigs just hanging out being cute, and market ready pigs curiously sniffing at my camera don’t really make me hungry. Neither does the stink of pig that manure hangs thick in the air, settles deep in my nostrils, permeates my clothes and eventually spends days under my fingernails.

I’m spared having to choose which one to take. He’s being loaded onto the pick-up when I emerge from my self-guided tour. I try desperately to convince myself that’s he’s just food. I cartoonishly try to imagine him as a rack of ribs or some chops neatly glazed over coals.

The ride back to the house is quieter than the ride out. Just occasional chatter and a quick check to make sure he hasn’t slipped loose.

I’m asked if I’m going to be the one to do it. The look on my face is the only answer they need. A quick couple of smacks to the head with a hammer and they pin him down right there in the back of the pickup while I watch nearby. A large knife to the jugular and a bowl to collect the blood. The sound is terrible. From the first blow, the squealing is ear piercing and terrifying. He squirms, grunts and chokes. La Bala looks up frustrated, and asks “who feels sorry for him?” Local lore says they take longer to die when you pity them, and he’s taking too long. I get singled out as the guilty party, and La Bala orders me to put a hand on him and tell him to go. I do. And he does. La Bala whispers a prayer that God take him to a better place. It’s not a prayer for show done for some rookie’s sake. He means it and I suspect he says it every time.

I’m still somewhat shaken as we start removing the bristles, using hot water to soften them and then scrape them away with knives. I rub salt over the skin to clean it further. Much to my surprise I finally settle down when La Bala makes a first slice and I see meat. I end up helping during the rest of the butchering process. I remove the skin and cut chunks of loin. I help remove the head (it’s heavier than you imagine) and hold the guts. I’m handed assorted organs. I toss the jaw, eyes and snout in the river for the croc, who splashes into the water just before I arrive. It’s all very matter-of-fact until 1:30 when it’s time to start eating.

I nibble at some of the pork rinds, but dig deeper into the rice and the beet salad. My hands still stink and it mixes poorly with the pork. I distract myself by chatting with the neighbors and sipping my beer while I stay close to the pot where my instruction continues. The white bubbles on the skin means they’re just about ready, and then there’s the secret ingredient that sends the boiling pot of lard overflowing causing a terrible flaming mess for a few seconds.

I’m tired, but happy I stuck it out. I earned enough respect from the locals to get teased by the neighbors and defended by La Bala. Both are signs of acceptance in rural Costa Rica. It’s nealy 4:00 when we finally finish cooking and La Bala catches his ride into town, with a large bottle of rum as payment.

I once had dinner at a fancy French restaurant that boasted the largest cognac collection in country, on the sixty-some-odd floor of a hotel in Las Vegas. It was lovely meal with good friends, veal four ways, and 25 year-old-scotch. It was one of my most memorable meals. I think I’ll be adding chicharrón four ways, on a farm, with cheap beer and new friends to the list of most memorable meals.


Releasing Sea Turtles, 1 in a Million

The article originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and have a look. If you would like to reach me for photography or other services you can do so here.

Update OCT 24 2012. I’ve added the video referenced in the article!

Undisclosed Pacific Coast Location

6:22am

It’s early enough that even the guard isn’t at his post yet. After about 10 minutes of driving through a series of shallow ponds wrongly called a road, we’re at the access gate. We’ve already ignored one “No public access” sign, what’s a unmanned guard shack? It’s not as bad as I think, the driver has already called ahead. We pull up to a government run ranger station and I unload my gear quickly while the others check in with the park rangers.

“He’s writing an article.” Fingers point at me. I am?

“I am.”

Clearly my status as a reporter has been slightly (or grossly) overstated but I’m carrying a bunch of gear which always lends credibility. I’m really here to get video of baby turtles for my client, who will use the footage to support conservation efforts. I’m not about to blow it on account of a lack of clarification.

I keep my head down and look busy unpacking before anyone asks any questions about my credentials.

6:26am

A gentlemen appears carrying a 5 gallon bucket and dryly states:

“…But there’s a problem.”

Uh-oh.

“The tide is up and you will get your shoes and pants wet.”

Before he’s done speaking my shoes are off and am unzipping my pants into shorts (I suspected this might happen so I wore convertible pants). I prefer the beach barefoot rather than have shoes full of sand anyway. The same gentlemen who shows such concern for our shoes points to his bucket: “Here are the turtles.”

I take a quick peek and am shocked to find 100 wriggling newborn Olive Ridley sea turtles. It seems rather unceremonious, but I trust no harm is being done.

6:32 am

The sun has been up for a while but the light is still a little flat (not much contrast), our portly guide charges ahead of us with his 5 gallon bucket. I hang back a bit trying to get some “dramatic” scenes of him leaving a trail of footprints in the sand. In retrospect though, there is nothing graceful or dramatic about a middle-aged man wearing rubber boots trudging through wet sand carrying a bucket. Try it you’ll see what I mean. Plus the footage ends up all foggy anyway since my gear spent the night in air-conditioning and the sea breeze instantly condenses on the lens.

6:35am

Our guide draws a line in the sand about 20 meters from the water line. The turtles need a bit of space to get their bearings so they can make their way back later in life. They are removed one by one from the bucket (wearing latex gloves so as not to contaminate them). They come out flapping oversized flippers with amazing ferocity, desperation even. They are painfully cute. Once on the sand they don’t head straight for the water but sort of wander around in fitful burst before finally heading towards the surf.

It’s quite difficult to keep the camera steady and the two inch turtles in manual focus while not interfering with any of them. I manage to get some nice footage while narrowly avoiding a wave or two splashing onto the camera.

As amazing an experience as it is, my version is a bit anesthetized since I live it through the view screen on my camera with a head full of settings and trying to keep things in focus. It’s something I’m glad I got to see since most folks aren’t allowed.

6:51am

The babies are on their way to a sadly low survival rate in the water and our guide turns his attention to a nest he’s spotted. He expertly digs up the rubbery eggs and puts them in a plastic grocery bag (again it seems somewhat unceremonious). He carries the bag gently—no swaying allowed—to the nursery.

7:06am

Fenced off and laid out in a grid, dozens of transplanted nests await their moment protected from any number of predators. After drawing a diagram for our edification he recreates a nest with the requisite shape and reburies the eggs.

7:22am

The term translates to exhumation. I’m instantly not a fan of the word. Too many negative implications in English. It means digging up a nest that has recently hatched to find any stragglers. We find a few survivors while as tallying up the ones that didn’t make it and the eggs that stopped forming in different stages of development. It feels like the icky part of biology class or Discovery channel. I get footage that probably won’t be used.

7:40

Back out on the beach we find a disturbed nest. It might have been an animal, but after closer inspection: “People…people stole the eggs.”

Fortunately there are people who save them as well. People who work crazy hours without enough pay or the equipment they need. Volunteers too. What I saw isn’t really allowed in order to protect the turtles, but I just can’t help but think that if it were allowed it might be helpful to the cause. What might someone pay to have a one in a million experience?

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Macaw conservation needs your help–Ayuden a salvar las lapas

This article originally appeared (in English) in the Costa Rica Star, so stop by  and have a look. Versión en español disponible después de las fotos.

Tucked away somewhere in Río Segundo in Alajuela, behind veiled chain link fencing and sporting nearly no signs is The Ara Project. Between my unfamiliarity with the area and Tico-style directions it might have been easier just to roll down the window and listen. 200 macaws squawking carries a pretty long way…

Chris Castle opens the gate and I finally meet what was had been just a voice on the phone with a funny island accent (I couldn’t determine if Aussie or Kiwi). He’s upbeat, happy and thankful that someone (the gentlemen who hired me to take video) has taken and interest in the project. If you didn’t know better you might mistake Chris for a surfer. He’s tall, with piercing blue eyes, 3 days of stubble, an old t-shirt and blond dreadlocks. It takes less than five minutes of conversation to know that he’s no smoked out bum seduced by lazy afternoons in the sun and too much ‘pura vida.’ In fact he’s the accidental heir to the project after original founders passed away.

His co-conspirator in conservation, Jenny Pettigrew, pops up a couple of minutes later, just as cheerful, though slightly less unkempt, and sporting the same accent: New Zealand we are informed. Both have degrees in biology from Kiwi universities, and since there are no programs to study macaw husbandry anywhere I’m guessing that makes them some of the world experts on the subject.

They show us around the property and let us in the cages while explaining how they take care of the birds during during the nearly year-long pre-release process, what they eat and where they finally release them. At one point as I’m filming, two young macaws begin playing with Chris’ hair (I nearly drop the camera when one decides to do the same to me) while he just keeps talking. He’s in his element, passionately so. He’s so passionate that he only takes 3 days off every 3 months in order to renew his tourist visa. Jenny does the same. They don’t make enough to apply for permanent residency despite doing this for years.

Over coffee and home-made chocolate muffins, Chris and Jenny explain how their social life revolves around the volunteers that come through (there’s never enough), that the money they make from tours to foreigners doesn’t even cover the costs of feeding the birds, never mind paying themselves properly (very supportive parents they explain). They do have local support though. A prominent local family helps with funding while a Canadian woman helps find them furniture, second hand fridges and microwaves. Tico volunteers help regularly as well, one woman even cooks certain food for the birds over a fireplace on the farm.

So much self-sacrifice and dedication aren’t enough to overcome some of the problems they are facing. Their regular monthly funding will stop in March 2013 and the property that has been home to macaws for some 30 years is for sale (fortunately it’s overpriced). A hotel in Punta Islita, where they release birds, has donated land, but they need quite a bit of money to build the infrastructure for birds and humans. I guess the macaws have plenty of reason to squawk.

Maybe they just need someone to squawk and make some noise for them. If the foreign soccer players can get high-level meetings with immigration officials, surely these two should get their papers. I don’t know if the president has the power to grant citizenship for meritorious activity but at minimum I’m betting she can speed things along for residency. A little Internet shame goes a long way in a small country.

So here’s the deal, if you’re friends with an ambassador (or better yet you ARE an ambassador), have a sister-in-law in immigration, make their case known. Plus this presidency could use a win, this could be one.

We need to get more folks on board in general to help the macaw cause. As I mentioned there will be a fund-raising campaign featuring the video I took as well as an art contest called the Amistad Prize which is looking for sponsors (local artists depicting the effects of deforestation). I don’t have a ton of details on either but I will try to keep you all posted or you contact me here or my Facebook and I will put you in touch. Thanks for helping if only by sharing this article.

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En un rinconcito de Río Segundo de Alajuela, tras malla verde y con escasa rotulación encuentro por fin el Proyecto Ara. Entre el desconocimiento de la zona y direcciones a la tica sería mas fácil encontrarlo bajando la ventana y escuchando. Los gritos de 200 lapas se oyen a buena distancia…

Me abre el portón Chris Castle, el dueño de lo hasta ahora fue solo una voz con acento de islas lejanas (no supe distinguir si Australia o Nueva Zelanda). Nos recibe alegre, efusivo y agradecido de que alguien (el señor que me contrató para el video) ha tomado interés en el proyecto. Chris tiene toda la pinta de surfo: alto, ojos celestes, falta de afeitar, camiseta destartalada y una melena de dreadlocks rubios. Pero bastan cinco minutos de conversación para entender que este no es ningún vago seducido por las olas y la mota y el ‘pura vida’. Ha dedicado ocho años de su vida a cuidar, criar e introducir lapas a la naturaleza. Es el heredero accidental de la pareja de extranjeros que comenzaron el proyecto unos 30 años atrás.

Su compinche en conservación, Jenny Pettigrew, aparece dos minutos mas tarde igual de alegre, un tanto mas limpia y peinada, con el mismo acento y nos confirma que son de Nueva Zelanda. Ambos son biólogos graduados de universidades de ese país. No hay programas de estudio en el mundo que enseñan como reproducir lapas, por lo que presumo que estoy en la presencia de algunos de los expertos mundiales en el tema.

Nos dan una vuelta por la finca mientras explican como cuidan a las aves durante el largo proceso de crianza, qué comen y donde las sueltan. En algún momento dos lapas jóvenes juegan con el cabello de Chris sin que él deje de hablar (yo brinco medio metro cuando otra me hace los mismo). Está en su ambiente, haciendo lo que le apasiona. Esa pasión significa que se toma solo 3 días libres cada 3 meses. Los usa para salir del país y renovar su visa. Jenny hace lo mismo.

Tras ofrecernos un cafecito y pastelillos caseros Chris y Jenny cuentan como su vida social pasa por los voluntarios que les ayudan (nunca son suficientes), que los fondos que reciben de los tours de extranjeros no alcanzan para darles de comer a las aves y menos para pagarse lo suficiente. Hay quienes los apoyan, como una reconocida familia nacional que les suple la diferencia entre las entradas y sus costos, la señora canadiense que poco a poco los ha dotado de algunos muebles, refris de segunda y microondas. Voluntarios ticos ayudan con varios aspectos, incluso una señora les cocina verduras a las lapas en un fogón del patio.

El sacrificio de tantos no alcanza ante los problemas que se les asoman. Los fondos se acabarán en marzo del 2013 y se suma el hecho que la finca está en venta (por suerte piden un monto descabellado). En Punta Islita ya tienen un terreno donado por un hotel de la zona, pero necesitan dinero para construir la infraestructura. Tienen buena razón de hacer tanto escándalo las lapas.

Y llegó el momento de que nosotros hagamos un poco de escándalo también. Si los futbolistas extranjeros pueden tener acceso a altos funcionarios de migración y volver a la canchas en una semana, me parece que estas dos personas deberían tener ciudadanía por mérito, por servicio a la patria. Mínimo la residencia (no ganan lo suficiente como para pedirla…). Este es un país pequeño y un poco de vergüenza pública resuelve situaciones. Si la presidenta ofrece cada año indultos carcelarios con bombos y platillos, imagínese lo que podría ganarse con el público resolviendo este tema.

Esto lo vamos a tener que solucionar entre todos, nacionales, residentes y extranjeros. Ya hay gente importante moviendo hilos, pero más publicidad y clamor es lo que se ocupa. Si su tío es diputado, o su hermana trabaja en migración, háganles llegar esta información. Veamos que patas tenemos entre todos para ayudar.

Ya hay gente tratando de ayudar, como la campaña que utilizará mi video o una iniciativa nueva que acaba de conocer que será una competencia de arte llamado el Premio Amistad que busca patrocinadores. No tengo muchos detalles aún pero me pueden contactar aquí o por me página de Facebook y los pongo en contacto. Gracias por ayudar aunque solo sea compartiendo este artículo.


Tool tips for Tico Handymen

This article originally appeared in the Costa Rica Star so please stop by and take a look.

So, I’ve been trying to learn about video using my digital camera. Fun. Interesting. Challenging. My gear wish list just tripled. Turns out my existing tools will do the job, but it would be a lot better if I had the right tools. I’ve been through this before, not with photography, but when I moved to Costa Rica several years ago.

I had family here and I had been visiting over the years and I thought I was prepared (as prepared as anyone can be for that sort of thing). I packed up my house, car and dog and moved down. Several months later I was in a house and falling back into the rhythm of home ownership and maintenance.

Thanks to my father and grandfather’s influence and help I have a pretty decent collection of basic tools (and a few rarities), virtually none of which are terribly useful in Costa Rica. Houses in the States are made of nice soft easy to deal with wood, carpet and drywall. Get them wet and and you’ve got trouble though. Here it’s backwards. Concrete walls, tile and tin roofs which scoff at being soaked. I hadn’t planned for that or I would have gone tool shopping before I left.

I’ve had to add to my tools over time and I’m hoping to pass along a few of the critical ones you will want if you make the decision to move here (or keep a home here). These tools apply to typical cement homes as there are very few wood homes.

1-Drills, bits and anchors. I have two drills. Neither has a hammer function. That means I spend a lot more time and effort leaning into the wall. If you don’t have a drill with a hammer function get one before you come down (tools are very expensive here). Load up on high quality masonry bits, because those walls will just giggle the first time you try to drill into them with regular wood/metal bits. Keep an assortment of screws and wall anchors handy because you will need them for just about any mounting project. Also maybe it’s just my lack of skill but I have a really hard time getting anything perfectly level or plumb when I have to drill into the concrete walls. The first couple of seconds of drilling always sees my bit drift a couple of millimeters and ruin my careful measuring.

2- Saws. If you have hand saws they probably aren’t going to see much action, nor are your circular saws unless you get into furniture making. Keep them, but also keep them covered in WD-40 so they don’t rust in storage. (Oil them well if you are shipping items by sea). These will come in handy if you have to repair ceiling damage or more often for making cement forms. If you have a chop saw or reciprocating saw hang on to it may be invaluable for metal work projects like gates and grates, but don´t run out to buy one if you don´t have one. Lots of locals use grinders as make-shift saws for tile and metal work. They are a pretty efficient alternative to bulkier saws so having one around is pretty nice. I’ve got one on my wish-list.

3-Cement & tile tools. You can get these here easily and most aren’t terribly expensive but are worth having. A masonry trowel, grout float, an inexpensive tile cutter are great to have even if you aren’t going to do the tile work yourself. Since tools are so expensive lots of guys have tools that are on their last legs so if you give them a better tool to work with you may get better results. A masonry chisel and hammer will help you at some point either in prep or demolition projects.

Don’t forget to have eye-protection on hand. I keep clear and tinted (sunglass type) safety goggles for these projects. Ticos almost never have them but may appreciate them if you offer (or insist).

4-Metal tools. Any you have may be useful. Tin snips can be life savers for roof repairs. If you own a welder hold on to it, but it´s usually easier to hire someone with a welder than it is to give up the space in your house. I don´t have much in the way of metal specific tools as it´s a world I will usually hire out.

5—Plumbing. Learn to deal with plumbing yourself, as it’s pretty simple, plus a little leak usually doesn’t do much damage on that tile floor if you didn’t get it quite right the first time. There are a number of items you can keep on hand to help save you from yet another trip to the ferreteria or on you on a holiday when everything is closed. Having a length of pvc piping for hot water another for cold, along with cement and a few different fittings can save you a bigger headache if something breaks. Don’t forget the Teflon tape and the hacksaw blade. A crescent wrench and perhaps pliers is generally all you will need. One handy tool is what locals call a llave cangrejo which is a spring loaded articulated wrench that is especially useful for faucets or other tights space. They’re not expensive so definitely have one.

6-Odds & Ends. These bits are good every day and uh-oh-it’s-broken items. Poxilina: Two-part fast drying epoxy putty that you can mix with your hands, plus you can sand it, drill it and paint it. Works for all kinds of stuff. Cinta tapagoteras: Aluminum backed tar (?) tape, it stops leaks fast and can even be used from inside the roof in a pinch; you can usually buy it by the meter. Machete: The yard taming wonder tool for when your weed-eater won’t start, the plants have taken over, or you just need to feel like you’re carrying a sword without getting arrested. Rubber boots. High fashion, hardly. Hugely practical and cheap, yes. Just don’t forget to check for critters in the toes before pulling them on (I use mine while making beer). 5 Gallon Bucket: Like in the States there are few things more versatile, but I’ve found they are harder to find than you think. No place I’ve found so far sells new ones so your best bet is to wash and keep any from your paint projects or ask a painter if he will sell you one.

7-Patience. This is one that you will value greatly in Costa Rica. It may be easier to find for some than others but it’s invaluable because no matter how much you will it, wish it or yell at it, nothing will make a bureaucrat or a line of traffic move any faster.

Happy homemaking!


Wearing flip-flop sandals and traveling to Costa Rica

This article originally appeared in The Costa Rica Star, please stop by and check it out.  If you would like to contact me please do so through my contact page. Thanks, Solson

Footprint in sand at sunset

A footprint in the sand I recently captured on film.

 

Ladies, let’s talk about shoes. Fellas don’t leave me just yet this concerns you as well, plus I promise no Blahnik or Louboutin talk (ladies are you impressed I know them?).

Mostly I’m concerned about you. You flew many miles and spent tons of money to come visit us in Costa Rica. You’re probably packing cameras, iPhones or iPads worth hundreds or thousands of dollars so you can capture great memories of all those places you spent hours meticulously researching, and yet despite all this research your main shoe choices seem to be flip-flops.

I’m going to go ahead and assume this is some sort of information black hole that even Google can’t penetrate because I can’t conceive that if you’d done your research you would do this consciously. So I’m here to help you out. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have anything against flip-flops, in fact I’m wearing some as I write, they just make terrible travel footwear, especially in Costa Rica.

Since you’ve done your research you know we have some infrastructure issues, mostly regarding terrible roads. A logical extension would be that if the roads are bad than the sidewalks are as well. Yep. Awful. Missing manhole covers, missing paving stones, sudden level changes or just the absence of sidewalks all together are routine sites in any town in Costa Rica. All these things could potentially lead to bodily harm or at the very least toe-ily harm, especially when you’re busy looking up at every corner for a street sign that isn’t there to guide you to your hotel.

Then there’s the rain. Ewe. There’s nothing quite as foul as getting caught in the rain in the city in open toed shoes. Remember those infrastructure problems—not just sidewalks and roads, but often waste-water and rain water issues too. Eeeewe! Since most of the worst flip-flop offenders seem to come during North-American summer please take into account that it’s rainy season for us ’round here. You’re much better using those waterproof shoes you wear in winter or hiking or when it rains there.

Also Jimmy Buffet warned us against flip-flop-failure related injuries while drinking in paradise back in the late ’70′s (kids Google Margaritaville Lyrics) so we really should heed a wise man’s advice and wear shoes that are less prone to sudden failure. College kids I’m talking to you. Parents, I’ll take the time your kids are using to Google Jimmy Buffet to remind you our legal drinking age is 18, sorry.

Ok the ranting is over. You may pack your flip-flops, just don’t use them as you walk-around shoes. You can use them on or around most of our beaches, as was intended by the flip-flop deity. Of course you may want to just go barefoot, as I prefer, in the sand. If you are on a plane, a bus, sidewalk, zip-line or volcano you really should have something more substantial. You can compromise with a set of all-terrain sandals, but I still recommend something with a toe guard (Keen & Teva make some really nice ones) for hiking and urban environments.

Woman with flip-flop on beach in b&w

Flip-flops as they should be used, near the beach.

 

Now that you are properly prepped in the way of footwear I’ll leave you with some other travel tidbits. You will pleasantly surprised to find out that unlike some other Latin-American destinations our water is very drinkable so there’s no need to worry about that. Bring your own sunblock because it’s crazy expensive here. Bring a good hat and sunglasses. Someone please tell what else you guys are carrying in those backpacks? If you are planning on spending time in the central valley or the mountains you will be plenty comfortable in jeans year round, they are also much more socially acceptable than shorts, particularly for men.

Finally, you can get flip-flops just about anywhere, including most grocery stores, just in case you should find yourself making an impromptu Margaritaville fan video for Youtube.

 


Tourism: La Garita

For those of you that don’t know I write a semi-regular blog for The Costa Rica Star online newspaper. I’m going to start posting them for my English speaking followers. Enjoy and thanks for taking the time to read. Cheers

I’ve run into a few people who claim to have gone to Manuel Antonio National Park and didn’t see monkeys. I don’t know how that happens, in fact it’s so unlikely it makes me think that perhaps they screwed up the name or didn’t make into the park itself. I’ve heard stories of exchange students that ate little more than cereal while here—I thought you were legally obligated to eat gallo pinto before exiting the country. Lots of folks wonder what that pretty flower-tree-fern-bush is called. If for some reason your trip to Costa Rica is missing flora, fauna or food I have a quickie family friendly solution: La Garita.

Just about 15 min from the Juan Santamaria Airport you and your family (text-addicted-iPod-encrusted teens included) have a chance to squeeze in a great afternoon while filling in the gaps in your vacation photos. If you live here in Costa Rica it makes a great afternoon getaway or a great place to take out of town guests. La Garita area of Alajuela is easy to get to (follow the highway from the airport towards San Ramon, exit at Recope, turn right, enjoy), lined with lovely estate/vacation homes, nurseries, restaurants and a very interesting animal rescue center.

For the hungry bunch in your group (even the teens may just unplug for a moment) there are a number or typical restaurants but my personal favourite is Las Delicias del Maíz. The food here is well executed classic local cuisine and I’ve noticed that the portion sizes have increased recently. This is a big restaurant that can get quite busy on weekends—often with locals. If this is where we go for our typical lunch it’s definitely the place you need to be, plus they have the stones to put their kitchen on full display right as you walk in. If you have a sizable group try some of the sampler platters (arracache picadillo—score!) and share. No alcohol is served so things stay family friendly, but they have plenty of natural fruit juices to cool you off–try the cas it’s always a hit.

Whether you need to work up an appetite or work off that lunch the countless nurseries in the area offer a great option to stroll, browse and get info. In my case I rarely make it home without some new greenery for the house since prices are very reasonable and the variety is excellent. The big momma nursery here is Vivero Central featuring a giant fountain visible from the highway, beautiful grounds and the main “showroom” in the shade of a massive tree. If you are local be sure what you buy fits in the car before you get carried away.

If you have some of those aforementioned teens in tow the nursery portion of your trip may be the part where you get the most eye rolling, but fear not you have an ace up your sleeve: Zoo Ave. While not a cheap attraction ($20 for foreigners, $10 locals), your admission fee helps fund a number of animal conservation, rescue and breeding programs so don’t complain too much. The zoo houses many more types of animals than the bird-themed name would imply. On site you can find reptiles, birds, big cats, and of course monkeys—who doesn’t love monkeys? Those pesky chain-link fences are the only give away your photos will have that you didn’t actually venture deep into the rain forest to capture rare animals.

As far as those photos go, it’s a tricky place to get good shots. The thick foliage means there isn’t much light and you will have to have your flash off–O-F-F. If you don’t know how to do this consult your teen (if you don’t have a teen, it’s the little button that looks like a lighting bolt). Besides the lighting issues the chain-link fencing will often confuse your auto-focus system meaning that that fence will be lovely focus but the really cool crimson-crested-whatever will be blurry. Bummer. Keep it in mind and review your photos carefully before moving on or use manual focus if you have that option.

With a full belly and a full memory card you’re ready to head home. La Garita is a great place for a relaxed family afternoon and really shouldn’t be skipped if you aren’t booked full, and if you’re local it’s a reminder of just how cool it is to live in Costa Rica. Stop by, you won’t regret it.