Goodbye, Costa Rica

I’m writing this post from our room at the Hotel Casa San Francisco in Granada, Nicaragua. We arrived here on Sunday and are about to depart for León. Before I update y’all on the trip here, I wanted to write a bit about what the heck it was we were doing in Atenas, especially over the last month or so.

From previous posts, you know about our various adventures traveling around Costa Rica and the surrounding area. When not traveling, we still kept ourselves pretty busy. Emily was mostly working, which was made somewhat challenging by the preschool next door to us. Their play area was right across our driveway, and it sounded like this pretty much every day of the week:

I spent a lot of time at Su Espacio, which is a language school and cultural center run by a Tico-Italian couple, David and Corinna. I took two Spanish classes a week almost every week from David, who is a fantastic instructor. I highly recommend taking classes from him in-person or via Skype. 

For a few months, I taught an after-school English class to a group of kids ages 7-10 and some one-on-one English classes, and Emily tutored a nine-year-old named Natasha in various subjects for a while. We were both relieved from our teaching/tutoring duties by full-time volunteers for our last two months in Atenas.

I also got the chance to teach some music, which is a bit more in my wheelhouse. David and Corinna’s son, Nicola (Nico), who is well on his way to being fluently trilingual in Spanish, Italian, and English, really wanted to take violin lessons. We tried finding a quarter-size violin in Costa Rica, but it turns out that they’re tough to get. Undeterred, we ended up ordering a violin online and I brought it back from the U.S. after my tour with Silas Lowe in March. After a few months of lessons, Nico is doing great at playing such hits as, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Old Macdonald Had a Farm,” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” He also loves playing scales, which is fairly incredible.


Nico loves the violin!

Last month, I taught a music appreciation workshop with David to a group of about eight kids (attendance varied from week to week). We introduced various instruments to the kids, talked about types of music, and did some art projects related to music over the course of four classes. It was a super fun experience that culminated in creating found-object percussion instruments and singing “Yellow Submarine.”



A couple weeks before we left, I participated in a beer brewing workshop at Su Espacio taught by a fellow gringo, Doug, which was super cool. It was fun learning the whole process and picking up some of the brewing vocabulary in Spanish as well as English. The group was mostly Americans and Canadians who live in the area and we had a great time brewing and tasting some of the local craft brews.


Brewing beer!


Emily’s coworker Leah has the honor of being our last visitor in Atenas. Penny did her best to make Leah feel welcome.


Penny insists on snuggling all of our guests.

I also played my first and last show in Atenas at Etnia, a cool restaurant with the nicest owner ever, Camilo. My friend Norman, a Tico Celtic guitarist, and I worked up a couple sets worth of Celtic tunes and pulled it together in time for the gig. We had a great turnout and it was a fun way to begin our last week in Atenas.

We had an awesome time living in and exploring Costa Rica. It will be good to get back home to the U.S., but we’ll miss the mellow pace of life that we enjoyed for the past year. Of course, more than anything, we’ll miss the friends we made while living there. Here are many of them!


Us, David & Corinna


Us with Jonathan, his son Matias, and Cana. Cana is from New York and is a teacher in Atenas. Jonathan, her Tico boyfriend, is a crafting wizard who has a shop at Catuca in town.


Jorge and his cousin Cecilia, my Spanish/English exchange buddies.


Xiomara, who cleaned our house for the year. She loves our dogs and they love her!

Goodbye, Costa Rica! We love you forever.

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

We live here now!

After a great week living in Escazú, we’ve relocated to a cute casita in Atenas. The weather and scenery are gorgeous around here which explains, at least partially, why it’s a popular place for folks from North America to spend their retirement years. Of course, we’re not retiring, but we’re definitely enjoying ourselves.

Our home for the next few weeks

Our home for the next few weeks

We’re lucky to be surrounded by fruit trees — mango, lemon, and lime — and have access to the rancho. It’s a large, covered outdoor area where Emily works and we grill dinner, and it’s a great space for enjoying a beer at the end of the day.

Fruit trees out our front door! Lemon on the left, mango on the right.

Fruit trees out our front door! Lemon on the left, mango on the right.

I’ve been spending a lot of the days while Emily is at work practicing (mostly guitar, this week), recording, taking care of cleaning/laundry, and cooking. We’ve also started a routine of running around the soccer field across the street with the dogs early in the morning before Emily starts work.

The view from our hosts' mirador.

The view from our hosts’ mirador.

Our hosts, Pat and John Wegner, are really gracious and knowledgeable. Both of them have navigated the residency process and have loads of information about that and the Atenas area. I went with them to German’s Bar to a regular gathering of folks from the U.S. last week (some visitors, some residents) and had a great time. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a dance floor filled with sexagenarians shaking it to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Or perhaps been one of them.

While I have lots more of Atenas and the area to explore so far, here’s what I do know. The town is home to a great farmer’s co-op-owned supermarket, Supermercado Coopeatenas. There’s a killer farmer’s market every Friday, where I learned that you want to buy pineapples from the guy at the back of the market rather than the vendor at the front, since the guy in the back is always cheaper. The sports bar has free wifi, so you can post to your blog while sipping on a margarita. Pura vida.

I would say our main challenge is that basic interactions are still stressful due to the language barrier. I’m pretty drained after going to the farmer’s market, and both Emily and I have to get psyched up to approach the folks behind the meat counter so we can have a successful transaction. This has led to our feeling helpless and frustrated far too often, so we’ve resolved to (re)prioritize learning Spanish. Our studying had fallen by the wayside after arriving in Costa Rica since we no longer had built-in time during long drives to keep learning with Michel Thomas. Emily asked around and found a community space, Su Espacio, that does language lessons and set up classes for us starting next week! We’ll be taking classes for the next few weeks we’re in Atenas. Hopefully that will boost our confidence and lead to more positive social interactions.

Last weekend, we sort of buckled on sightseeing — it turns out that going to towns on a Sunday when everyone is at church is not the best way to get a feel for a place. We walked around Grecia and Sarchí, which have large numbers of car dealerships and furniture stores, respectively. They’re also great little towns and we may go back on a better day of the week sometime.

Emily, her parasol, and

Emily, her parasol, and “The World’s Largest Ox Cart” in Sarchí

The church in Sarchí, opposite the mega ox cart.

The church in Sarchí, opposite the mega ox cart.

Today, we pulled it together and got ourselves up to Poás Volcano National Park in the nick of time to see the active main crater. The park ranger at the gate said we’d have a 50/50 chance since we arrived after 10 a.m., so we consider ourselves lucky. One nice feature about this park is that you drive basically up to the top of the volcano and it’s a relatively short walk up a nice paved path to the main crater — “great for active seniors,” says Lonely Planet. Also great for us.

Emily and the Crater.

Emily and the Crater.

Andy and Emily at Poás Volcano Crater

We made it before it got too cloudy to see!

After viewing the main crater, we took the trail up to check out the lake in the long-inactive crater, Botos. Unfortunately, the clouds had blown in by then and we could only see the edge. We continued along the trail through the cloud forest microclimate for a couple more kilometers. Upon reaching the main crater trail, we decided to go back up just to see if the view was still any good. Here is what we saw:

There's a crater down there somewhere.

There’s a crater down there somewhere.

The early bird definitely gets the worm at this national park. After hiking back down, we drove out to Restaurante Colbert, an amazing French restaurant tucked into the hills in Vara Blanca. It was a bit of a detour from our route home, but it was well worth it. It’s very close to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, but we didn’t make it there on this visit since we were a little tired and the weather wasn’t great. We’ll just have to go back!