Beach Life

Moonlit beach walk. But we're not on vacation.

Moonlit beach walk. But we’re not on vacation.

Eleven days ago, we moved down from the eco-cabin in the cool hills near Turrialba to a studio apartment in Sámara on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya peninsula. It’s an awesome place to be for many reasons — we’re a short walk from the beach, there are great spots to chill and have beers while watching the ocean, and it’s really mellow here. Costa Rica is the land of pura vida and that spirit feels magnified on the beach.

We embraced that spirit when we arrived and found ourselves behaving as if we were on vacation, which manifested as going out to eat a lot, meaning we blew the amount of money eating out we’d typically spend in a month in Austin in the first four days of being here. Whoops! That inspired some conversations about how to avoid “vacation mode” while living in such an idyllic setting. To start, we moved the stove outside and purchased some utensils that made cooking, which we enjoy, more fun and comfortable in our previously sparsely equipped, indoor kitchen. Next, we made a list of meals so we didn’t need to think too hard what to make for lunch or dinner. Before, those conversations would lead to our throwing up our hands and walking to a nearby restaurant. Those two things have helped us rein in our spending a bit.

That’s a good thing, because the next part of our adventure is a little expensive — we get to navigate the process of importing our car to Costa Rica. This is a required step if you’re keeping your car in the country for more than 90 days. Luckily, we’ve had help with the process, so we know who we need to talk to to get this done. I won’t go into detail here, but it’s enough to say that it’s gonna take a few weeks, during which we won’t have the car, and it’ll be fairly costly. I’ll write a separate post for those who are interested as we navigate the process.

Penny takes advantage of nature's bidet while Theda supervises.

Penny takes advantage of nature’s bidet.

Back to the beach, specifically the ocean, which the dogs LOVE pooping in! They save it up, then when we go to the beach every morning and evening to let them run around, they wander out into the waves and feed the fish. All of that beach walking is great for the dogs, since they are then pretty wiped out for most of the day while Emily is at work and I focus on practicing, booking, teaching lessons online, and other tasks.

I want to give a big shout-out to the Samara Info Center located right by Lo Que Hay, a super-chill bar and restaurant. They offer all the information one could possibly want about the area and will book tours and Ticabus tickets for free. This is a fantastic service that I really appreciate, especially since my visa expires soon and I need take a trip to renew it. The folks at the info center helped me book a trip to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua where I’m going to take a week-long intensive Spanish class (4 hours per day) and stay with a Nica family. I’m excited to report back about that trip and I’m glad it was so easy to book!

Our next move is to Atenas tomorrow, where we’ll sign a lease and move into our home for the next year. We were planning to stay in Sámara longer, but we need to be closer to where we’ll be taking our car to be imported. We’ll miss the beach, but we’ll get back out here soon!

This cute little guy was wandering from table to table at Lo Que Hay looking for love (and maybe scraps)

This cute little guy was wandering from table to table at Lo Que Hay looking for love (and maybe scraps)

Lizards get big here.

Lizards get big here.

Laundry in the sink

We did laundry in the sink after an expensive experience at the only laundry service in Sámara, which happens to be in the same building as our apartment. Monopoly pricing!

The moon rests overhead while a local guy harvests coconuts using a long bamboo pole with a hook at the end.

Pura vida!

Pura vida! Also, time for a haircut!

Visitors! Or: I Don’t Want to Wait (For Our Lives to be Over)

Our first visitors to join us in Costa Rica were my coworkers and dear friends, Ann and Kristin.


Kristin and Ann on the deck of the eco-cabin outside Turrialba. To set the record straight: purchasing Oreos was *not* the first thing Ann did upon her arrival in the country; it was only *among* her initial activities.

A respectable dent was made. (Passive voice intentional.)

A respectable dent was made. Passive voice intentional. (A. Goliak photo)

These women are excellent guests: Not only do they make good choices in their duty-free booze shopping, Ann hauled a five-pound bag of gummy bears all the way from Chicago. (“You said you couldn’t get them here!”) They’re agreeable travelers, and funny as all get out. Ann’s signature comment of the trip was, “I’m helping by staying out of the way.” We spent considerable time annoying one another with song, principally by yell-singing Paula Cole’s 1996 hit “I Don’t Want to Wait.”

“If I never hear that song again,” Andy said (a day or two after our guests left but the song was still very much stuck in my head), “it will be too soon.”

Buttercup, queen sloth.

Buttercup, queen sloth. (A. Goliak photo)

The gals’ only original request was that we see sloths, so over the weekend we road-tripped from Turrialba to a jungle house on the Caribbean coast, not far from Puerto Viejo and the sloth sanctuary. When Kristin learned that howler monkeys will sometimes (and with startling accuracy) urinate on humans when agitated by their presence, she added “getting peed on by a howler monkey” to her short list of goals.

We swam in in the ocean, wore out the dogs, made dinner, drank margaritas, window-shopped, read in hammocks. Ann knitted a baby sweater while Kristin and I played canasta. It was proving a relaxing beach vacation until some small vampire, an ant or a spider, bit Andy on the toe. He gets bitten all the time — 9 out of 10 bloodsucking insects agree; Andy tastes grrrrrreat! — so I didn’t think much of it at first. Then he pushed his plate of tacos away and announced he didn’t feel like eating; he was going to go shower. That’s when I knew something was wrong.

Andy has never rejected a taco.

He peeled off his shirt to reveal that he was covered in hives. His ears felt funny, he said. His eyes were watering. I grabbed the car keys and white-knuckled it to the nearest open Farmacia, where the pharmacist tried to sell me Allegra because Benadryl would make him drowsy. “Benadryl,” I insisted. She rolled her eyes.

The pink pills worked their magical magic almost immediately. Andy passed out. I told Ann and Kristin that was the worst drive ever — I’d had difficulty finding the Farmacia, and was pushing away thoughts of Andy’s throat closing up when he was miles from a doctor and I’d taken the car, too frantic to consider that I should have told him to get out of the shower and taken him with me.

“We were prepared to do a tracheotomy,” Ann reassured me.

The next morning, we awoke before sunrise to the other-worldly racket of howler monkeys nearby. Andy was much better but still drowsy, but Ann and Kristin hopped out of bed and we sped out in pursuit, three braless women in search of monkeys. (This has to be someone’s fetish, we concluded.)

We found the monos high in a tree behind a neighboring hotel — too far to photograph but plenty close to marvel at their spooky, smoke-monster-from-Lost vocalizations. Howlers are fairly small, harmless vegetarians, but as Ann noted, if you didn’t know that and heard one for the first time, you’d think you were about to die. They’re the loudest land animals on our planet — a hollow acoustic chamber in the back of their throat serves as a sort of bullhorn that makes their roar louder than a lion’s. They are incredible.


Toyota the sloth, so named for his durability: He was electrocuted and fell to the ground; his electrocuted arm turned gangrenous; vultures (fortunately for him, actually) ate off a good portion of his gangrene; a worker found and rescued him; and what was left of his arm was amputated. He’s all good now. (A. Goliak photo)

We did not get peed on. 

The sloth sanctuary was a mixed bag. There were sloths, of course, so it had that going for it.

But we were irritated by the tour guide, who was overly fond of figurative language despite a marvelous inability to construct a tenable metaphor. (“Imagine you are a lady sloth, and you are trying to find a date, but the harpy eagle keeps eating all the eligible bachelors by imitating your mating call. So you tell the male: our date is for tonight … but come tomorrow. She arranges the date for tonight, but tells him to come the next day, you understand? Then, when that stops working, she tells him the date is for tonight, but to come next week.”) He loved both the sound of his own voice and knowing more about sloths than you. We did not learn much about sloths.

How Kristin felt about the guide at the sloth sanctuary

How Kristin felt about the guide at the sloth sanctuary. (A. Goliak photo)

But we enjoyed the boat-ride segment afterwards, where our Tico guide pointed out another monkey, a couple more sloths in the wild, and a small alligator camouflaged in the mud.


We’re on a boat. (K. Aardsma photo)

Poor Ann was sick with a cold the next morning, so she skipped the surf lesson. Andy, Kristin and I met up with Jermaine, a local surf instructor who taught us the “chicken wing” technique for popping up on the board. Andy had surfed once before; it was my and Kristin’s first time. They were both measurably better than me, although I finally stood up once for a few seconds — long enough to realize how fun it could be once you get a feel for it. Our muscles were sore for a couple days.

Back in Turrialba, Kristin and I worked in the UCR biblioteca, and Andy and Ann took a coffee tour, which they loved. Ann claims to now know much more about coffee than she does about sloths. On the gals’ last night, we drove them to Hotel Aeropuerto and enjoyed a far better steak dinner than one might expect from a restaurant at a place named “Hotel Aeropuerto.” We couldn’t finish the huge portions, but Penny and Theda helped, by busting down the dog grate in the back of the Subaru and dispatching the contents of the to-go box with admirable stealth.

It was only a little sad to say goodbye, since I was about to see them again for a work trip to San Francisco. I’ll also get in some drinks with friends, a dental cleaning, and some direly needed baby niece time (yeah yeah, and see the rest of the family). Andy and the puppies are on their own in the hills for eight days. Will they be able to avoid a trip to the vet? Stay tuned!