A Sojourn in Turrialba

Last weekend, we arrived at an ecocabin outside of Turrialba. Where they make the sportsballs.

We booked this stay a few months ago when we were still in Austin, because the area sounded lovely, and because we didn’t want to worry about housing so soon after arriving. I had narrowed our digs for this month down to a couple options, and gave the final vote to my coworkers and friends Ann and Kristin — they’re our first visitors (!) arriving tomorrow (!) so I wanted to make sure we’d be staying somewhere they’d enjoy.

View from the front porch

View from the front porch

“This is just like House Hunters International!” Ann said.

They picked the ecocabin, so here we are! And ’twas a solid pick. The solar-powered house sits on a hill amid coffee and sugarcane fields with holy-shit-that’s-incredible views of the valley below.

I am not making this up.

I am not making this up.

Porch pickin'

Porch pickin’

Entrance to La Postita

Entrance to La Postita

It’s a bit remote, and the internet hearkens to the days of dial-up, so that means commuting 20 or so minutes into town for work. The best connection in the nicest setting I’ve found is, unsurprisingly, at the Universidad de Costa Rica campus. Today I overheard a couple students in the library discussing their coursework about the Puritans and my witch-burning ancestor, Cotton Mather! It was so jarring to hear that name of all names in Costa Rica that I had to interrupt them and apologize for eavesdropping. They were characteristically sweet about it, and expressed their condolences for my shameful heritage.


Post-romp panting on the porch. Theda has since lost the cone, thank goodness.

The doggies have seven acres of trails and fields to romp around in, so they’re in heaven. We have to be mindful of snakes and poisonous toads and whatnot, and Penny usually has to be leashed, because (shocker) she charged the caretaker. He walked up unannounced, which spooked her, and she ran and barked so loud it scared the poor guy half to death. He broke his umbrella over her back (we don’t blame him — we bought him a replacement the next day), and warned us that the next guy might be carrying a machete rather than an umbrella.

So, leashed walkies it is. Penny is such a jerk.

Falling for Atenas

The original plan was to bounce around Costa Rica from month to month — see the country, get a feel for different places, roam around and be flexible. But after a month in Atenas, we’re looking at renting a house there.

Part of that, I suppose, is that we’re already a bit weary of nomadism — packing and unpacking our belongings, figuring out new places to stay, learning where to shop and work and eat. It’s fatiguing, and if I did that every month for a year, I fear I wouldn’t be a very pleasant person to live with. After two or three weeks of being in one place, we started to settle in. And the more we looked around, the more we found to like.

View of the (somewhat under-construction) parque central, from Gelly's Cafe

View of the (somewhat under-construction) parque central, from Gelly’s Cafe

Atenas has a lot going for it. National Geographic once designated it the world’s best climate, and with days in the 70s-80s and nights in the 60s, we’re not arguing. It’s a smaller town (like many others, built around the hub of a central park and the church) in a mountainous agricultural area — no hopping nightlife to speak of, but we’re old people who go to bed at 9:30 anyway. Although it’s small, it has its share of decent cafes and restaurants, a couple of which host community lending libraries.


Andy at Kay’s, one of the places in town where you can order a fresh juice AND borrow a large-print copy of “The Pelican Brief.”

Penny and Theda in their preferred spot under the mango tree.

Penny and Theda in their preferred spot under the mango tree.

Happy hour.

Happy hour.

Our AirBnB hosts, Pat and John, were super knowledgable and keyed us into where to shop (the co-op), which vet to take the dogs to (Dr. Solano), and where the extranjeros get rowdy on Friday afternoons (German’s Bar). They introduced us to the farmer’s market, shared their smoked brisket with us, answered our incessant questions and made us feel truly welcome. We loved staying at “Casita Limón” and we’re happy to call these lovely folks our friends now.

At Casita Limón with our lovely hosts Pat & John

At Casita Limón with our lovely hosts Pat & John

The farmers market in Atenas is off the chain. Every Friday morning vendors gather under a massive shelter and sell (out of) everything from pineapples to eggs to baked goods to homemade sausages and cheese. It’s all fresh and all amazing.

La feria

La feria

Yet such bounty can make a body start to feel doughy, and jogging around the soccer field in the morning wasn’t cutting it. Fortunately, the instructors at Atenas Yoga are non-annoying — lovely, even — and the setting sure beats the group class room at 24 Hour Fitness. Andy even joined me once — his first experience doing yoga! — and I suspect he enjoyed it, despite his predilection for calling yoga “hippie stretching.” After one session in English I put on my big-girl yoga pants and attended a couple in Spanish. I still don’t understand everything and peek at my neighbors a lot, but I’m enjoying this more than any yoga I’ve done before. It no longer feels like something I ought to do; I look forward to it.


Yoga at the Colinas del Sol hotel in Atenas

Speaking of Spanish, another huge draw to Atenas is our Spanish teacher, David. He runs the community-center-of-sorts Su Espacio, which offers dance, karate, fitness and other classes in addition to language learning. David has us focus on conversational Spanish: we just talk, and he pauses when we get stuck on something to explain a word or concept. In just a few weeks he’s helped us both level up in a big way. We want to keep working with him, so we can talk to our Tico neighbors, learn from them, and perhaps start to feel like part of a community.

We’ll see what happens — we make a lot of new decisions every day, and often we go back and forth, and then in a different direction entirely. We didn’t intend to fall for the first place we saw; and we don’t want to be hasty because we’re tired of bopping around. But we could see ourselves in this place, and that’s saying something.

Theda goes to the vet (Penny too)

Going into this trip, we knew we’d be visiting the vet in Costa Rica. These lovable dummies generally require a trip to the vet every six to eight weeks. Between Penny and Theda, Theda is the more accident-prone and tends to risk death once every six months or so.

Before we left Austin, we’d noticed that Theda had some worrisome growths on her ear and leg. She has cancer — thankfully, it seems to be slow-moving — and has had a few surgeries to remove mast (mastocytoma) cell tumors over the past few years. If you’ve met her, this is why she’s missing a chunk of her left ear. Our month-long stay in Atenas seemed like a good time to take her in to a vet. Our hosts suggested that we go to Dr. Solano in Atenas, an English-speaking vet right in town. We’re working on our Spanish by taking classes in town at Su Espacio (more on that later), but we’re not anywhere near being able to discuss Theda’s ailments. Heck, I can barely do it in English :-).

I took Theda to the vet, who is really nice did a great job on the surgery. All the techs there are also awesome. They took four samples to get tested by a lab in San Jose, and we should have some results back in a couple weeks. We’re not really worried, since the likely result is more of what we know. Theda is doing great and received care that, in my view, is on the level of what she gets in the U.S.

Total surgery bill, with lab work: $285. For those of you who have pets, you know how cheap that is. This surgery would have been in the $1000-1500 range at our usual vet (who we love and we’re not knocking at all). Since we make a lot of vet visits, we’re glad they’ll be affordable.

The "disembodied conehead" look

The “disembodied conehead” look

This post was supposed to end here.

We weren’t supposed to be going to the vet again for a couple weeks.

But we did.

We’re spending the weekend at Green Sanctuary Hotel in Guiones. It’s a great spot, and the beach is a short walk away. Yesterday, we all strolled down to the beach after breakfast. We had the dogs off leash for a bit, since they like tromping around and checking things out. Because Theda had just had surgery, we’re keeping her out of the water and she needs to wear a cone or her Kong donut collar to keep her from scratching her ear and licking at her stitches. On this day, she wore the donut. There weren’t many people on the beach, so they weren’t likely to get into trouble, we thought. We were wrong.

At about 10 a.m., a group of surfing instructors and students came out to the beach. A black and white dog, possibly theirs, followed them out. Our dogs trotted over to say hello and at first everything was going great. A few minutes later, the B&W dog flipped out and attacked Theda, maybe because she was wearing a weird collar and looked strange. The dog pinned Theda on her back and bit at the Kong collar, puncturing it and causing it to deflate. Penny rushed to Theda’s defense, and they started fighting. Soon it was a tangle of humans and dogs trying to stop the dog fight. Eventually we got them away and at first our dogs seemed ok, just a little fired up from the altercation. Our mistake here was not doing a more thorough examination of the dogs.

Later that afternoon, we discovered that Penny had sustained some injuries — a gash on her chin and a couple wounds above her eye and on her leg — that would need stitches. We tried going to the closest vet, but they were closed for the day. So was the next-closest vet in Sámara, so we ended up driving an hour out to Nicoya after calling ahead to to Dr. Delgado who kindly kept his clinic open and waited for us to get there.

Dr. Delgado anesthetized Penny, which we’d never actually seen before. It’s a little freaky when your dog gets a shot then instantly drops down onto the operating table. He sewed up her wounds and prescribed an antibiotic and sent us on our way about 20 minutes and $110 later (again, cheap!). We drove home with a pretty spaced-out Penny.

This is right before Penny got the shot and went down on the table.

Right before Penny got the shot and went down on the table.

Penny, down on the table. Yep, that's a reflection of me in the waiting room.

Penny, down on the table. Yeah, we can see her from the waiting room.

Now we have two dogs in cones, which is pretty ridiculous.

Conehead on the beach in Playa Guiones

Conehead on the beach, Playa Guiones