In the last post I told you a pair of barn swallows (golodrinas in Spanish) had built a nest on the wall of our house, just outside the sliding glass door from the master bedroom to the patio. Well, the four hatchlings have learned to fly and are spending their days checking out the neighborhood. They still come back to the nest at night, though.
I shot a brief video that shows the kids chilling on the backs of our patio chairs, and suddenly one of the adults swoops in. We have lots of swallows in this area, and it’s fun to watch them — usually during breakfast — dart and dive through the air. Here’s the video:
BREAKING NEWS: Sort of. If you’re Facebook friends with Leslie you already know she took third place in judging at this month’s meeting of the Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic — better known as CASA. The theme was Southern or Louisiana dishes, and Leslie made New Orleans red beans and rice using a favorite recipe from her long-time friend Deanne Faucheux, who lives in New Orleans now. We were happy that our good friend Carol — a Kentucky native — won first place in the dessert category for her Derby Pie. I had some — yeah, it was a winner!
CASA members are required to present a dish at a monthly meeting at least four times a year. This was Leslie’s fourth entry and her fourth award. Three of those were from the judges — most of whom are local chefs or restaurant owners — and a fourth was a People’s Choice Award. Not a bad record so far!
Next month’s theme is Méxicano food, and Leslie is already researching recipes for pre-Colombian dishes, which should be an interesting twist. The idea comes from a special meal we enjoyed several years ago at Topolobampo, a Rick Bayless restaurant in Chicago. I’ll let you know how that turns out.
That’s all the excitement for now. August can be a boring month in this part of México because there are no fiestas en Agosto. That changes in September with Diez y Seis de Septiembre and other festivals. More on that next time.
The last major eruption was in 1968, when 87 people were killed. It was active up until 2010. Now it’s a major tourist attraction, as are Costa Rica’s other volcanoes. At least five are still active.
This side trip was another effort to see more of this country, since our time here is limited. We stayed two nights at the Lucky Bug Bed & Breakfast, which is right at the edge of a rain forest. Upon arrival, we heard howler monkeys in the jungle. Rob, one of our hosts, told us the howler is the loudest animal on earth. Louder than people?
We heard a lot of strange bird calls that were also pretty loud, and frog noises at night. Never caught a glimpse of a monkey or any of the strange-sounding birds. But we did see hummingbirds at Rob and Monika’s feeders, and a white ibis on their small pond.
The Lucky Bug is just outside the town of Nuevo Arenal. The “Nuevo” part is because the original town of Arenal was flooded in 1973 when a dam was built and a very small lake became a huge lake. That dam now provides 12 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity and the lake is beautiful, with lush, green hills all around it. We saw some people kayaking, but the tourist boat that will take you out for a ride (like we did on Scotland’s Loch Ness back in 2016) was only available in the town of La Fortuna. We didn’t get that far. If you lived here you would definitely want a view of the lake. And there are a number of properties for sale, as well as long- and short-term rentals.
Nuevo Arenal is quite small. There are other villages in the area, as well as the larger town of La Fortuna at the other end of the lake. La Fortuna got its name after the 1968 eruption, which spewed volcanic material up to five kilometers away and destroyed the small town of Tabacón. But La Fortuna was spared, so the name was changed to reflect its good fortune. One website I checked says that’s a myth. Maybe.
Lots of gringos live in this area, including our B&B hosts (he’s from the U.S., she’s from Germany). Some of the other local B&Bs appear to be gringo-owned and catering to North American tourists. I got directions at one point from a small group of North Americans at a bar called Karacters. Seemed like a fun crowd.
The climate is nice: mid-80s F. in the daytime and mid- to low-60s F. at night. We actually had to close the windows our first night there. Driving is a challenge because of the hills — lots of turns and twists on narrow roads.
Leslie and I thought the region was just a bit too rural. A dearth of health care would probably keep us from relocating there. Our host Monika complained about having to see what she called “cow doctors” unless you went to San Jose, which is almost a four-hour drive. So if we choose Costa Rica as our new home, the Lake Arenal area would probably not be our first choice. Great place to visit, though.
Next post will be a review of what it costs to live in Costa Rica. Spoiler alert: It ain’t cheap. I’ll leave you with some photos.
We have arrived in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and the difference between this city and San Miguel de Allende – where we lived for the past six weeks – is amazing. It’s bigger. More than 300,000 in the metropolitan area, with lots more traffic. It’s a beach town at sea level, with high temps and moderate-to-high humidities. Even more Americans and Canadians.
Leslie and I were able to rent a modern three-bedroom condo in Marina Vallarta that backs up to a golf course. We have a small pool in a huge outdoor space with lots of tables and chairs. We’ve already had one visitor (see photo below)! And we’re seeing (and hearing) a number of birds I can’t easily identify. A sparrow-sized cutie with a reddish-pink head and chest, a larger bird with yellow on its chest and a streak from its eye backward along its head, and a woodpecker. And what I think may have been a goldfinch – not sure.
Hal, our Canadian landlord for the next two months, has a local administrator for his property. Rosanna picked us up at the airport on Wednesday and gave us some pointers on the marina area.
“It’s very safe here,” she said. “You can walk all around the area any time of day or night and you’ll be safe. Just one thing that you must never do: Never, ever, walk across the golf course at night.”
I was having a difficult time figuring out why. Would we be attacked by banditos lurking the links after hours? Bopped on the head by golf balls from blind golfers playing in the dark to avoid crowds? No and no.
“Crocodiles,” she said. “In the dark, you might step on one, and they don’t like it when you step on them.”
Right. What’s now a huge marina with lots of boats and tons of shops and restaurants, not to mention a plethora of condos, was once a swamp. There are still crocs here. It’s their habitat. So the danger is from wildlife, not from a wild life.
Rosanna has been very helpful. On Friday, she took us on a tour of Vallarta, showing us a bit of the old city and pointing out areas we will need to explore in depth over the next two months. She also took us to a local mercado for fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as seafood and meat.
There’s also a Wal-Mart and a Costco, in addition to Mexican grocery stores very much like the one we patronized in San Miguel. More on cost of living next time, but at first glance it appears prices are slightly higher here than in San Miguel.
We attended our first Vallarta ex-pats dinner on our second day in town. A number of them live here in the marina area, including Mike and Sara, the group leaders. There’s a social event almost every week.
We also attended Sunday morning services at Iglesia Cristo del Mar, or Christ Church by the Sea. But…it’s not really by the sea, more like on a really busy street close to the airport! I dressed as I would for any summer Sunday at Grace United Methodist Church in Naperville. Boy, was I overdressed! Shorts and t-shirts are not out of place here. It’s another outpost of the Anglican Church in Mexico, like the one we attended in SMA, and we enjoyed the service in what is essentially a big open-air palapa. Nice people. We will be back.
We’re really excited that John and Anne Mixen, friends from Grace UMC, are right here in Vallarta this week for a well-deserved vacation. We’re meeting them this evening to watch the sunset and enjoy dinner and conversation.
I’ll leave you with the view from our patio toward the golf course. We planned to do things today but we’re still on the patio because of a comment I made during lunch, “This is just about perfect, and you don’t often get perfect.” Maybe more often here in Vallarta. We’ll let you know.