Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Stray Dogs of Costa Rica

There are a great number of stray dogs all over the streets of Costa Rica.  You will come across these animals from the countryside, all the way into the more "modern" capital city of San Jose.  While some of the stray dogs of Costa Rica do get fed by well-meaning people, many of them find their food by eating out of garbage piles or begging.  Most of them look quite malnourished, fatigued, and are absolutely filthy. 

There were two stray dogs I have come across in Costa Rica that really left an imprint on my mind. One was a little black runt that appeared to have mange and seemed to be in great distress as he limped down a long busy road. The other I saw just today, closer to my house.  It was a larger sized white and tan dog, who was wet and dirty, and just sitting pitifully in the middle of the road. He was disease-ridden too, and was missing one eye.  I couldn't help but think that he was hoping for a car to hit him already and put him out of his misery.

Thankfully, most of the stray dogs of Costa Rica are not in as pitiful of a condition as the two that I've mentioned above.  But it is still a sad site to see all of them wandering around, and wondering where they can hope to get their next meal or find shelter.

Two Stray Dogs of Costa Rica right off of a busy highway
Stray Dog wandering Around a Restaurant Parking Lot

I really don't understand why a so-called 2nd world country would allow its streets to be filled with stray dogs like this.  I personally am a cat person, but it really bothers me to see this kind of treatment towards canines. 

Although there are free spay and neutering services offered by the Costa Rican Department of Agriculture, the problem is that no one is picking these dogs off of the streets to take them to these clinics and there's no one to call to ask for help in picking these dogs up off the streets either.  So as far as I can tell, the stray dogs of Costa Rica will continue to proliferate as they always have, living miserable lives until they end up dying prematurely from disease or getting hit by a car.

Fortunately, a few foreigners that live in the country have felt enough distress about seeing these homeless dogs of Costa Rica and have started shelters (usually with their own money).  But, as you can imagine, the problem is way bigger than their combined efforts. If you feel compelled like I did to volunteer your time or money to help these shelters, here are a few of their websites: : A dog city with over 150 residents in the mountains of San Ramón. Come and learn how you can help keep this unique & magical shelter open. You can help by adopting one of our angels, and if you can't adopt, you can sponsor a dog. Sponsoring a dog is easy, and you can always stop by for a visit. :  Atenas Foundation for Helping Abandoned Animals.  Our main goal is to stop the suffering of the many many street dogs and cats in our area.  For those looking for new furry friends, please check our adoption section:  The group always needs volunteers. If you see any possibility for support and assistance - don't hesitate and contact us: e-ail : Asociación Pro Bienestar Animal (McKee Jaco) invites you to be a part of one of our projects.  Spay/neuter – education – adoption – all those projects need volunteers and sponsors.  For more information go to our website at  or send us an email at  Don't discriminate - adopt a mutt! Lots of abandoned dogs and cats looking for loving homes. Refugio de Animales - San Rafael de Heredia. 2267-7158/6374 e-mail:  . AHPPA is affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States and the RSPCA of Great Britain.  Help rescue, care & place homeless dogs from Costa Rica into loving homes. This FB page is our first step toward the creation of a non-profit & shelter for puppies & dogs in our area. Please contact us if you would like to make donation or adopt.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Update on Our Costa Rica Cabin Building Project

You may remember my post 3 months ago about building a cabin in the hills of Esparza Costa Rica with my boyfriend.  Well, the cabin has been completed (at least on the inside) and we actually moved into it this past weekend.  This is a small studio cabin, and we plan to build 5 more on the land, and eventually rent them out to people (mostly those from the capital city of San Jose) who are visiting the beaches in Puntarenas Costa Rica.  In the meantime, we are living in the first cabin until we have more money to continue our project.  We've only been there one week, but it has been an interesting experience for me so far. Here are some of the "highlights":
  • Costa Rican building prices have gotten quite expensive.  We had wanted to build the cabin for about $16,000 USD total, but are already up to about $24,000.  This doesn't include the cost of any landscaping or of pouring a cement driveway.
  • Due to costs being so much higher than expected, we decided to go without a few amenities for a while, including: air conditioning, a stove, and a washer / dryer.   These things are a luxury in these parts of Costa Rica.
  • Bugs are a fact of life here.  We have our windows open during the day and no one out here believes in using window screens.
  • I am really enjoying being surrounded by so much nature out here. Our backyard leads to a tree-filled area that drops off a cliff down to a small stream. My boyfriend's mother bought the lot of land next to ours and built a small picnic shelter down by the stream.  She hung a hammock there, so it has become one of my favorite places to hang out and read a book, or just take in the sights and sounds of nature.
  • We are about 20 minutes from the closest city of Esparza (where we can do our food shopping, banking, etc.).  Buses rarely pass by the cabin road, and cabs are about $5 each way (a bit pricey in my opinion).  So getting around without a car is almost impossible.
  • We also found out, to my dismay, that there is no internet service out here yet.  I guess I didn't realize how out in the boonies I really am!  We are trying to see if a data card will work out in this area.  Still haven't had success with it, but our fingers are crossed:)
  • My boyfriend and I figured it would be safe not to put up any bars on our windows for a while (since it will probably cost another $2000 USD or so).  Bars on windows are a way of life throughout most of Costa Rica. Unfortunately, we were just informed that a couple of our neighbor's homes were broken into recently and everything was stolen from them.  So much for thinking you can really be safe anywhere anymore :(
  • My cats have adjusted well to life in the cabin and are loving the views out our windows (see them lounging on our bed below).
As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to living out in the quiet hills surrounding the town of Esparza.  For now, I'm patiently adjusting to my new life and learning to enjoy "roughing it" in paradise. 

The Outside of our Cabin

Kitchen Area

My Two Cats Blackie & Sierra Chilling on our Bed

Closet and stairs to a small study area

The Cabin Bathroom

View towards trees in the back and the picnic shelter down by the stream

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Interview at the Intercontinental Hotel Costa Rica

Last Friday I saw a telecommuting position on Craigslist Costa Rica that involved part-time accounting work from home.  I replied to the job offer via email and two days later (on a Sunday), I was interviewing with one of the company's owners inside the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel Costa Rica (pics below).  I'm still waiting to see if I got the job, but in the meantime, I thought I'd post about this gorgeous hotel.

The Intercontinental Costa Rica is located in Escazu, a very lovely and modern suburb of San Jose.  Some people call this area "gringoville."  The Intercontinental Costa Rica (full name "Intercontinental Real Hotel and Club Tower), can be seen right off the main highway running through Escazu (Prospero Fernandez Hwy), and is right across the street from the American-style mall known as Multiplaza Escazu.  From the minute I walked into the lobby, I felt an ambience of modern luxury.  The Intercontinental Costa Rica offers 261 room and is centered on a five-story atrium lobby.  There is also a clover-shaped pool with swim up bar just outside the lobby, business and conference centers, two restaurants (Asian and Italian), a fitness center and spa, and a shuttle that runs to and from the airport and city as well.

My interview started in the lobby at 11:45am, and moved into the Asian restaurant at noon.  The sushi at this restaurant was the best I have tasted in Costa Rica to date (I am so happy to have found good sushi here - finally!).  After the regular interview questions, my interviewer (the co-owner of an internet marketing firm), explained why he was looking for someone based out of Costa Rica to fill the job, instead of someone back home in Colorado where the company is based.  Simply put - he can pay so much less this way!

Well, despite the fact that I may make about half what someone in the States would make in this same position, I hope I get called for the position.  Nothing beats being able to work from home, and more importantly, being able to work in Costa Rica without the hassle of a work permit.  This personal information aside, I really enjoyed my visit to the magnificent Intercontinental Costa Rica.  It is definitely top-of-the line for Costa Rica.  But if you want to stay here, be prepared.  In the words of my interviewer, "The rooms here are expensive!"  Ranging from $150 on up to a whopping $1,100 per night, I'd have to agree with him.  Still, if you are seeking luxury accommodations in Costa Rica, the Intercontinental Costa Rica fits the bill nicely.  You can click HERE to visit the hotel's official website.

Intercontinenal Hotel Lobby - Looking Towards Reception Desk

One of the Conference Rooms inside the Intercontinental

Sitting area inside the Intercontinental Costa Rica lobby (where I met my interviewer)

Looking out from the Lobby towards the Intercontinental Pool Area

Intercontinental Costa Rica Pool Courtyard Area

Hydroponics in Costa Rica

My future mother-in-law had the idea of cultivating a hydroponics farm on my boyfriend's lot in Costa Rica.  Since I am currently without a job, I was nominated by her and my boyfriend to learn as much as possible about hydroponics and report back to them.  After reading some introductory material online, I began investigating the extent of hydroponics in Costa Rica.  What I found is that is just beginning to take hold here, and that although the government and private organizations are trying to encourage farmers to switch over to this earth-friendly way of growing crops, that hydroponics in Costa Rica still has a long way to go towards gaining acceptance.

Realizing that now might be a good time to get a jump start in this field here in Costa Rica, I signed me and my boyfriend up for an one day "introduction to hydroponics" course.  I only found two individuals offering the course, and after looking at price and content of the courses, I decided to go with Hidroponia Costa Rica (website:  The 8 hour course was $65 per person and is only offered in Spanish.  (The other course was with a company called Corazon Verde.  Their website is

Our course, which we completed about 2 weeks ago, included lunch and a certificate of completion at the end.  I thought it was well worth the money - although the instructor was extremely monotone and flat in his delivery.  We learned the basics of hydroponics theory in the morning.  And then in the afternoon, we learned about the various substrates, germination, feeding, different hydroponic systems, transplantation, and much more. Although, the pictures below may show what looks like dirt, the brown substrate matter is actually coconut husk fiber.  We also learned about growing in a straight water solution without any physical substrate matter.

Towards the end of the class, we were each given a starter kit to plant our first seedlings in.  My lettuce seedlings have just germinated at home, and I will be able to transplant them to a hydroponics system of my choice within about 20-25 days - if they survive my cat's appetite, that is!

If you are looking for hydroponic supplies in Costa Rica, you can find these at at least these two locations close to the capital city of San Jose:  Pachamama and Ever Green.

It appears, from an initial google keyword search, that hydroponics Costa Rica is a popular search term.  I'll venture to say that there is a lot of interest in growing, let us say, "non-legal" mind-altering substances rather than actual food crops.  My boyfriend and my interest in hydroponics is, and will remain, completely legit, however:)

Our Hydroponics Class Instructor

My Boyfriend With His Hydroponics Kit

Me, Planting My Lettuce Seedlings in my Kit

Basil growing in Coconut Fiber

Celery growing in a hanging hydroponics system

Tomato and other vine plants growing in hydroponic substrates

Kits to Start Your Own Hydroponics Garden at Home:
Hydrofarm EMSYST Emily's Garden SystemHyperGrow 93000 Hydroponic Garden Kit - Complete with Two Tier Planters, Water Pumping System, Growth Medium and Food Safe NutrientsHydrofarm MGSYS Hydroponic Megagarden System

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cartago Costa Rica and the Terramall

Still in search of a "real" pet store in Costa Rica, my boyfriend suggested that we make the 1.5 hour drive from Miramar where we live, to the town of Cartago Costa Rica.  Our destination was Ruff's pet shop inside of the Terramall.  Terramall is, as the name implies, a mall which was built two years ago with the aim of mixing shopping with entertainment. While our destination this day was the pet shop, we decided to take a short drive around the town of Cartago Costa Rica first, in order to visit its top two tourist attractions:  1)The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and 2) the ruins of Iglesia de la Parroquia (called "Las Ruinas" for short).

The town of Cartago Costa Rica lies 21 km southeast of San Jose (Costa Rica's capital city).  It was founded in 1563 by Juan Vasquez de Coronado as Costa Rica's first city, and it served as the capital of Costa Rica for almost 300 years before losing its place in violent squabbles to neighboring San Jose.

My boyfriend says the Cartago area is the land of rich and established coffee and potato farmers.  The town itself seemed pretty unassuming to me, but I did enjoy visiting the beautiful Cathedral, which is about 10 blocks away from the town's main plaza (pic below).  This Cathedral is home to Costa Rica's patron saint known as "La Negrita" (the famous black Madonna).  There is a crypt below the church that is worth a stop if you enjoy that kind of thing.

The other main tourist site in Cartago Costa Rica is "Las Ruinas" (pic below), in the town's central square (a.k.a. Plaza Mayor).  It is the ruins of the Iglesia de la Parroquia.  The seemingly cursed church was destroyed some five times by earthquakes.  Today, only its outer walls remain. If the gates are open, be sure to take a stroll inside of the ruins.  There is a nicely kept garden which makes for a lovely place of contemplation.

Twighlight was approaching as we were driving around the town, so we decided to head towards our final stop in Cartago Costa Rica - the Terramall.  Unfortunately, our earlier explorations caused us to arrive a little too late to the mall, and the pet store had already closed.  We did, however, have dinner in Terramall's large food court, and then we proceeded to take in a movie  at the mall's Cinepolis (to see Kung Fu Panda II).  The lines at the theatre were LONG, and there were too many teenagers there for my tastes.  I much prefer the movie theatre at the Multiplaza in Escazu.

Terramall itself offered many familiar stores names including Payless Shoes, Hallmark, and Tommy Hilfiger.  The one store that seemed inappropriately named to me was Rape, featuring women's clothing - of course, it doesn't mean the same thing in Spanish, but it still didn't seem fitting.  I absolutely enjoyed the outdoor dining section of Terramall known as "the Vereda".  It was an upscale outdoor courtyard area with bars and restaurants.  Had I known about it before eating at the indoor food court, I would have much rather have eaten there.

All in all, I enjoyed our visit to the town of Cartago and the Terramall.  But I would only recommend a brief stop in the area if your travels in Costa Rica already take you in that direction (for instance,  if you are visiting Volcan Irazu).

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago Costa Rica

Plaza Mayor (Cartago's main plaza) with "Las Ruinas" in the background

A closer look at "Las Ruinas" in Cartago Costa Rica

Cartago Costa Rica at twilight

Outside the front entrance of Cartago Costa Rica's Terramall

Inside Cartago's Terramall

To Learn More About This and Other Costa Rica Tourist Sites:

Frommer's Costa Rica 2011 (Frommer's Color Complete)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Karaoke in Miramar Puntarenas

Last Friday night I had my first taste of a Spanish country music bar here in Miramar, Puntarenas where I live.  Miramar is a small town, that in itself has little of interest for most tourists.  However, it is an o.k. home-base if you are visiting nearby places like Adventure Park Costa Rica, the port city of Puntarenas, or just want to get a real taste of day-to-day life for most Costa Ricans.

The bar we went to, at our friend's suggestion, was called Happy Land (see pics below).  My first impression on walking into the bar, however, was not exactly happiness.  There were a few locals at the bar area and a couple white plastic tables with matching chairs to the right. We put two of the tables together for our group of eight.  The bars in this area of Costa Rica are all open-air (which can make them quite hot on humid nights).  The doors at Happy Land remain open, which allowed for the stray street dog or two to wander in and out at leisure (see one of these canine visitors in the pic below).

Happy Land bar in Miramar is considered a "country" bar, in the sense that it's the simple country and agricultural folk that you will most likely see frequenting it. The music is all in Spanish, and the karaoke choices were all Mexican type ballads.  As you can imagine, there was no way I was going to attempt to sing one of those ballads, although my boyfriend and his friends did take a stab at it.  Costa Ricans are fanatics of Mexican music which I find quite interesting since in my native country of Panama (right next door), I have not found this to be the case.

At the end of the night, Happy Land Bar picked up a bit.  In between karaoke sets, the DJ played some Spanish dance music.  The karaoke experts in our group seemed to really like the ambience and offerings at Happy Land, so if you are into slow Mexican love songs and ballads it might make for an interesting night for you too.

Entrance to Happy Land Bar in Miramar, Puntarenas

Me and Cris inside the Happy Land Karaoke Bar

Our Friends Cristopher and Melissa singing Karaoke in Happy Land

My Boyfriend Cris belting out a Mexican love song for me

Our friend's parents dancing cumbia inside the Happy Land Bar

One of the dogs that wandered into the bar while we were there

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Volcan Poas Costa Rica on a Cloudy Day

I wasn't going to talk about my visit to Volcan Poas, because on the day that my sister and I visited, it was so cloudy that we were unable to see the volcano's crater.  However, since this is probably the experience many visitors to Volcan Poas will have, I decided to add a post about it to explain how the day was still quite an enjoyable experience for us.

At the entrance to the Volcan Poas park, the attendant will let you know if the volcano is visible or not. Then you have a hard decision to make, go in anyhow (since you've probably driven 2 or 3 hours to get there), or just turn around and come back another day when the crater is more likely to be visible.  My sister and I decided to enter the park, even though we were told there was no visibility, since she was only here for a week and we had so many other places we wanted to see.  We were not disappointed by our decision.  After passing the attendant booth, we drove a little further to the parking lot and then walked the remaining distance to the edge of the Volcan Poas crater, one of the largest active craters in the world (at about 1.5 km wide).

If you are lucky enough to come to the park on a day where there is visibility, you will be able to stare straight down into the bowels of the volcano.  As we had been warned, we were only able to see white cloud cover where Volcan Poas' crater would have otherwise been visible (see pics below).  Although this was the case for us, we still enjoyed hiking the park's forested trails, including the Botos trail which led to an extinct crater filled with lake water. 

I recommend combining an early morning visit to Volcan Poas National Park (visibility is always best in the early morning), with a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens (since the two attractions are in close vicinity).

Walking Path to Volcan Poas Crater Area

Sign at Volcan Poas Crater

Me at Volcan Poas Crater viewing area. Unfortunately the crater was covered by thick white cloud cover.
Me starting on the walking path to the Botos Lagoon.

My sister on the trail to the Laguna Botos.

Beautiful Botos Lagoon (Laguna Botos) inside Volcan Poas National Park.

Playa Conchal and the Town of Brasilito

My sister and I were sitting on the gray sand beach of Playa Caldera, when a young Costa Rican guy (attempting to flirt with us, I think), first suggested that we visit Playa Conchal Costa Rica - his pick for the best beach in the entire country.  He explained to us that Playa Conchal was in the Guanacaste Province along the Nicoya Peninsula.  After reading a few more online reviews, my sister and I decided to include Playa Conchal, and the surrounding town of Brasilito, in our itinerary during our visit to the province of Guanacaste.

Our first stop in Brasilito was for lunch.  Brasilito is the town from which you can most easily access Playa Conchal Costa Rica.  We dined at an open air restaurant called Camaron Dorado (pics below), and splurged a little by ordering broiled lobster and a few fruity drinks.  While the food was somewhat bland for the price, we found the service there to be most gracious.  Our male waiter even escorted us by arm to the ladies' restroom when we asked him where it was located.  We must have had like 3 or 4 waiters in total, who were constantly trying to make sure we had everything we wanted.  The Camaron Dorado restaurant is right on Brasilito beach, so the view while we ate and drank was absolutely amazing!  We did not see anyone actually swimming in Brasilito Beach, however, perhaps due to the strong currents there on this particular day.

The light gray sands of Brasilito Beach meld westward into the whiter sands of Playa Conchal Costa Rica.  Not only had our flirty Costa Rica friend recommended this beach, but my Moon Costa Rica Guidebook refers to it as "one of Costa Rica's finest beaches".  We were told we could drive on the sand from Brasilito Beach onto Playa Conchal, but when my tires started spinning a bit, I chickened out and we just parked in Brasilito (by the town's central park) and walked the short distance leading to the inlet cove area of Playa Conchal.

Conchal means "shell" in Spanish, and Playa Conchal is appropriately named because the sand is really nothing more than billions of broken up shells (pic below).  Talk about getting some good exfoliation on your feet!  (Note that it is illegal to remove any of the shells from the beach).

Playa Conchal Costa Rica lies in the cusp of a scalloped bay and the waters  there appear almost turquoise at times.  As you look out towards the ocean you will see pelicans resting on the few little fishing boats encircling the bay.  Directly behind the beach lies the Paradisus Playa Conchal Beach and Golf Resort and a residential community which surrounds this resort.  However, trees keep this community and hotel satisfactorily out of view so that you can still feel perfect solitude and peace while lying on the beach.

While my sister and I did think Playa Conchal was a stunning little beach, our favorite Costa Rica beach for now remains Playa Flamingo.  Still, we were glad we were able to discover Playa Conchal and the hamlet of Brasilito since they offered us another unique taste of what Costa Rica has to offer.

Camaron Dorado Restaurant in Brasilito Costa Rica

My sister inside the restaurant with the spectacular view of Brasilito Beach in the background

Tourist shops in Brasilito Costa Rica's main strip

Walking towards Playa Conchal from Playa Brasilito.  My sister is making friends with a local street dog.

Me standing on the little hill that is the last barrier separating Playa Brasilito from Playa Conchal

Beautiful Playa Conchal Costa Rica.

The "sand" at Playa Conchal which is really billions of tiny broken up shell pieces