Thursday, October 21, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Hmmm, for some reason Picasa is not linking the slide shows into the blog. It shows up on my screen, so I'm sitting here thinking all is OK. But apparently the slide show is not showing up anywhere else.

So, we'll do this the "old school" way (meaning the way of 6 months ago). Click on this link to see any of our public albums, including all the photos from Costa Rica:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ahhhh, La Pura Vida

How to capture what a great time we had our last week in Costa Rica without boring you to tears? That is my afternoon dilemma. I'll do my best! (or you can just check out the slide show, skip the long novel below, and make up your own story)

We left Turrialba after eating lunch with Jose at a soda (essentially a Costa Rican diner/cafe) that used to be the town's old train station. As always the comida tipica (typical local food) was delicious. It was sad to say goodbye to Jose, but we were also impatient to get on our way to rest and relaxation.

Gertrude the GPS was put back to work, as she guided us out of town and up, up, up into the mountains. Along the way, her "partner" Bill would interrupt with little tidbits of information about whatever little town we were passing. Gertrude is spot-on accurate, letting us know about upcoming speed bumps, "dangerous" bridges (which had me nervous at first, but it just means a one-way bridge), and sinking roadways (that one still has me nervous, as I have since seen several sinking roadways, and I don't like them!). She even knew about the obscure little turnoff that took us down, down, down to El Trogon Lodge, which turned out to be our own little piece of paradise.

There wasn't much to do down there in the valley, but it was perfect. Our two nights' stay consisted of eating (a ton of) fantastic food, drinking, sleeping (and more sleeping), reading (and more reading), going on a hike, watching the hummingbirds, enjoying the lush landscape, and playing pool, all while listening to the occasional torrential rainstorms. The weather was cool, the room had a nice warm heater (not to mention an even warmer hot shower ... heaven after a week of cold showers at Jose's!), and the staff were extremely friendly. And after the first night, we had the entire lodge all to ourselves.

Wednesday morning, we reluctantly packed up our stuff and drove up over el Cerro de la Muerte ("Mountain of Death," which "Bill" assured us did not get its name from the crazy drivers) down to the Pacific coast to the surfer's town of Domincal. And it was definitely a surfer's town. If you weren't out on a board, there wasn't much to do but sit in the bar, watch the 24/7 coverage of the Chilean miner's being rescued, sip Pilsens, eat seafood, and chat with the locals. But seeing as we were in complete relaxation mode, it was all good. (Though an air conditioner in the room would have been nice. It was swelteringly hot there!) We didn't have the best nights' sleep, thanks to the heat and humidity (not to mention my fear of geckos pooping on my head) and to the huge thunder and lightning storm that roared off the coast in the middle of the night (which was actually very cool). But the people were nice, the food was good, and the beer was icy cold. What more do you need?

The next day, we stopped in the town of Quepos to meet up with Kika and Natalia, two former Slovakian women's team rafters who helped out a ton with the race. Quepos is a town that leaves much to be desired, and I'm so glad we didn't spend much time there. After breakfast, Kika and Natalia headed south to Domincal, while we programmed Gertrude to lead us north, to Playa Bejuco (after a slight detour to check out Manuel Antonio ... a ridiculously tourist town, with a fantastic beach, that serves as an entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park, which we did not enter).

To get to Bejuco, we drove past miles and miles of palm trees. We weren't sure what they were for, as they didn't look like coconut or banana or pineapple trees. As we kept guessing, "Bill" finally interrupted us to say, "You may be wondering what those acres of palm trees are ..." I swear sometimes he eavesdropped on us. Anyway, according to "Bill," they harvest the fruit of the palm trees to make oils for margarine, cooking oil, cosmetics, even machinery oil. That explains why there was such a vast expanse of trees! The crazy thing was, according to "Bill," it's not even a native plant. This species of tree was brought over from Africa. Hooray for another mystery (to us) solved by "Bill."

The only mystery that "Bill" was not able to solve is why we passed no fewer than three airplane fusilages in the mountains and possibly a jet engine on one particularly hairy mountain pass. Every now and then, out of nowhere, a huge old jet would be sitting on the side of the road, slowly being devoured the landscape, once again reminding me of Romancing the Stone. The only one that made even a remote bit of sense, but not really, was the massive jet inside a bar in Manuel Antonio (I wanted to stop in for a drink, but Mark nixed that idea. Next time!).

Anyway, Gertrude wasn't much help in finding Bejuco, but if it were on her map, that might mean other people would have been able to find it too. As it was, we had the entire beach almost all to ourselves. I "swam" (I was actually too wimpy to swim, what with all the signs warning of rip currents and my own ridiculous fear of sharks, jellyfish, electric eels, etc., but I did float in the shallows.) while Mark rested on the shore (keeping an eye on our car just in case). But it was just too miserably hot to stay on the beach, so we ventured back up the road to the Delfin Hotel, where they were kind enough to let us relax by their pool. We sipped gin and tonics, ate just-made ceviche and homemade tortilla chips, and chatted with a couple ex pats. A wonderful way to spend a lazy afternoon. If we hadn't had to make the drive to San Jose that night, we most likely would have stayed the night.

But, alas, San Jose was next on our agenda, so off we went again, with Gertie by our side (actually, in my lap) to guide us through all the various detours and mountain passes. There is a brand new highway that leads from the beach to the capital city, allegedly cutting travel time nearly in half. We had heard that it may or may not be open, but since the toll booth operators took our money, we assumed it was open. Silly us. Thank God it wasn't foggy or dark, as we very easily could have plowed right into the two concrete barriers blocking the road. No flashing lights, no warning signs (well, none that we could interpret anyway), no reflectors on the barriers. Yikes! The unmarked detour was one of the windier, steeper roads that we had experienced, but it offered stunning views from the top, and it was a beautiful way to drop down into the sparkling lights of the city of San Jose.

On Friday, after Mark's meeting with Rafa, the three of us went out for a massive lunch at a Brazilian steakhouse. So good, but so filling! Later in the afternoon, Mark and I wandered around the city in search of gifts for the folks who watched Kai for us. The rain was pouring down, and it was Friday evening, which is payday. The streets were packed with people, all carrying umbrellas that hit us right at eye level. I was glad I had my glasses on, otherwise I might have lost an eyeball or two. But the entire adventure ended up well, as we stumbled upon a market where we found probably the most delicious coffee I have ever tasted. No sugar or milk required. Just straight up goodness. I'm still raving about how wonderful it was a week later.

And that, my friends, is the end of our two weeks in Costa Rica.

Next up? Halloween!

Monday, October 11, 2010


For those who get these blog posts sent directly to your email: Mark informs me that the little slide shows don't come through to email. So, if you want to see the photos from the past couple posts, be sure to go directly to (Nana, you'll have to go next door to Gary and Jane's) to see some photos.


As always, the IRF team pulled off a great race. And as always, it wasn't without it's many difficulties and face-offs. But, in the end, it was all worth it. There were a few flips and boat wraps (which is when a boat winds up on a rock and the force of the river essentially wraps the boat to the rock), but no one was seriously injured, and all the teams seemed to have a great time.

The final ceremony was yesterday afternoon, with a delicious barbecue and lots of beer. The party then continued here at Jose's, with many of the safety crew and judges, as well as the US men's and women's team and one guy (Andrej) from one of the many Czech Republic teams. Amazingly enough, we are all feeling pretty good this morning, considering the great time we all had last night.

Now we are starting our vacation. After we finish up posting the results, etc., we will load up the car and head off for Trogon Lodge. After two days there, we will head to the Pacific coast for seafood and surf. And then it's back to San Jose for dinner with Rafa and his wife, Alejandra, before heading out early Saturday morning. Yay! A vacation for just the two of us!!

In the meantime, here are some more photos, including a shot of our second flat tire!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rockin' and Rollin'

I don't have a ton of time to write. It's 6:!5 and we are leaving in 15 minutes for the second day of the races. Mark is still updating the site every night, so hop over there if you are interested. I think he is posting pictures and videos as well.

Just in case any of you heard about our little quake down here, I wanted you to know we are fine, and everything is still standing (even us ... barely). We were sitting at dinner, eating amazing food!!, when the chairs and tables started shaking. It was just a little shaker, and definitely not the worst I've felt. In fact, at first I thought it was just a really huge truck going by. My only concern was that it wasn't a precursor to one of the many volcanoes down here about to erupt.

I was assured that it wasn't.

Well, time to brush my hair, chow down a burrito (made to order by Eric Boudreau ... an ex-Canadian men's team and now the chief judge of the race ... and also one of the 14 Canadians who stayed in our home in Denver a few short months after we moved in), and head on down to the river.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pictures Are Worth Thousands of Words

Which is good, because I'm ready for bed. Everything is going well. You can read Mark's take on everything over here:

For your viewing pleasure, here is a quickie slideshow of our first few days. No captions, just pictures. Sweet dreams!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Living La Pura Vida

Well, I should actually have some fodder for the blog for the next two weeks.

On the Road Again
Saturday, Mark and I flew down to Costa Rica, where Mark will be the race director for the Pre-World Rafting Championships. Long-time readers of our various adventures may recall that we went to Ecuador for a similar race ages ago. The deal is this: Every two years, the IRF puts on a 6-person world rafting championships. In the year before the actual event, they require that a "pre"-race be put on to ensure that all logistics, etc., are in place and problems are smoothed out before the big event. It's kind of a pain in the butt for the organizers, but until they get big sponsors, it's a necessary evil (big sponsors would provide big money, and with big money, most of the little problems that come up during a pre-worlds would never be a problem). This year there will be 21 teams from about 7 countries.

Anyway, after a long day of travel from Boise to San Jose, Costa Rica, with no delays, no luggage problems, and no problems (albeit also with no legroom and no amenities whatsover), we got in, made it through immigration and customs without a hitch, and headed over to Budget Rental Car. Even with a hand-drawn map and a GPS system in the car, we had a heck of a time finding our hotel in the rain at 10 p.m. at night. But, at last, we turned off Miss Gertrude the GPS and trusted the hand-drawn map. After a few more wrong turns and missed exits, we finally made it to the Country Suites and Inn by Carlson (if we had known that full name, Miss Gertrude would have had no trouble whatsoever ... as always, technology issues come down to user knowledge and user error). The hotel was lovely, and our room had a massive, comfy bed. Our first dinner in Costa Rica was rice and beans and fruit from the local grocery store enjoyed while flipping through the TV channels. Not exactly what I imagined, but still just perfect for the state we were in.

The next morning, the hotel provided a delicious breakfast buffet, including Costa Rican coffee, fresh fruit juices of just about any flavor you would like, and eggs made to order (not to mention a plethora of pastries and breads).

Driving Miss Gertrude
After filling our bellies, we loaded up the car, programmed in our route to Turrialba into the GPS (which was much easier to work when I could actually see what I was doing in the light of day), and headed east. We soon learned that Gertrude is worth her weight in rice and beans. Not only did she take us around the city instead of through it, but she also has a partner, Bill, who speaks up every now and then with tidbits of history and sight-seeing info. What a fantastic invention!!

We drove right past the largest volcano in Costa Rica, which last exploded in 1963, the same year JFK made a state visit to the country, and which flattened the since-rebuilt town at its base. Of course, the clouds were all pretty low, so we didn't actually see it, but it sounded impressive. Apparently, on a rare, clear day, you would be able to see both the Atlantic and the Pacific from its peak.

Then we passed through Cartago, the ancient capital of Costa Rica, in which there is an old church to which pilgrims from miles away come once a year, many of them making the entire trek on their knees. We didn't stop to see it, but apparently it has beautifully painted wooden pillars and lots of stained glass. As we approached another turn in the road, Gertrude beeped and displayed a little message letting us know that we were passing the ruins of an even-more ancient church. I love that little GPS!

Romancing el Rio
After fixing a flat, we arrived at Jose's place in Turrialba. Jose is a friend of Mark's and an employee of Rafa's (Rafael Gallo is our host, the organizer of the race, another old friend of Mark's, and the owner of Rios Tropicales). We had just enough time to say hi and switch out of our travel shoes before heading off to the river. As always, the drive to the river was an adventure in itself, but Rafa is a fantastic driver, and his truck is apparently pretty indestructible.

The race will take place along a stretch of river that is bordered by two little farms with lots of land for people to camp and park and enjoy the race. There is so much to be done before the race starts on Friday, but they have a great crew of workers. One of the big jobs is to create trails down through the jungle for spectators to follow. Since said trails were not yet created, we made our way through the jungle just like Joan Wilder and Jack T. Colton in Romancing the Stone, though without the high heels or heavy luggage (or the police shooting as us). Rafa and Walter hacked away with their machetes, while the rest of us tried to keep from sinking to our knees in the mud. I know my family will find this hard to believe, but it was a blast. And I certainly don't need to worry about anything I ate for the rest of the day. I think I sweat out about half my body weight thanks to the humidity and the strenuous activity. I even walked across the creepy, creaky, swaying bridges without flinching ... too much (I really do hate those things).

Of course, Mark has the camera with him today, so photos will (once again) have to wait until another day.

I just love watching the entire race coming together. Impromptu meetings occur in the strangest places ... atop a mossy, riverside rock; on a creaky, metal bridge over a rushing rapid; beneath the farmer's carport, while sipping his much-appreciated Imperial beer; in a delightful soda (cafe/restaurant), while eating yummmmy casados (meat, rice, beans, eggs, salad, and fried plantains). Mark is back in his element and thriving on pulling it all together. Unlike some other past race locales (ahem ... South Korea!), he has a terrific crew of guys to help out, so I know it will all come together pretty smoothly.

That's It, for Now!
Today (Monday), I'm sitting here in Jose's lovely home, with a view out his iron-adorned French doors into the valley and the distant mountains, catching up on work and getting started on re-creating the timing sheets for the race. Mark is off checking out the downriver course (by boat) and then starting the arduous task of setting up the sprint and slalom (always the hardest part of the entire race). Teams start arriving today and will be on the river starting tomorrow. The race itself starts on Friday. And now my story is all told ... for now.