Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Do You Know ...

When people find out you are building in the tropics they are first excited, then envious and finally curious.  How did you decide on Costa Rica, how did you find land, how do you know they are doing it right???  The list goes on.  I can't begin to answer everything here - and many of you have already heard the story - and anyone who really wants to know can call or email - but I thought I would post some interesting links to places that deal with land and building - get you around the country in a tourist way - and other stuff that is just interesting and helpful.  Maybe you are starting to think about a winter vacation!!

Ventana del Pacifico - we bought the land from them in 2004 and are using them to build

Ojochal - where we live!

Go Visit Costa Rica - great information about visiting the country - go to the destinations tab and click on South Puntarenas to see specific about Ballena and Osa

Pacific Lots Costa Rica - Steve Linder has a home in Ojochal and sells property for Ventana and others

Tico Times - the weekly english language newspaper

Inside Costa Rica - english language news website

We Love Costa Rica - Scott Oliver writes about retirement in Costa Rica with lots of tips and advice

Costa Rica Trails - a very useful company that does tours and will customize anything you want.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Slow and Steady

Things are quietly moving along.

This is the part where progress is measured in millimetres as they build out and finish the walls.  You don't notice much, it is just getting smoother.

The pool is advancing, but it is all below ground.

Thought I would add a photo from when we were there earlier this month

That is me looking out the kitchen window - Lisle said everyone should get to see this as it is likely the only time anyone will every see me in the kitchen!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Take the Plunge

Well, the pool is underway and the house continues to move towards completion!


Ojochal is right on the edge of the area known as the Osa Penninsula.

We are not the only one's who think this area is special - photographer Roy Toft just published a new book

OSA - Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea.

Check out the link

More About the Rain

It is really hard to explain the rain in Costa Rica.

It comes and goes in a flash.  It is like standing in a waterfall.  It fills the rivers and roads.  It is loud.  It is aggravating and creates inconvenience.

And yet it is fascinating, soothing, musical, hypnotizing and so natural.

A couple photos showing the impact.

We were enjoying a beautiful morning - coffee on the patio with a spectacular mountain view - that vanished within 5 minutes as the clouds (and then the rain) arrived.

And then there is the river crossing.  In the dry season it is a trickle of some 8 inches deep and 10 feet across.  While we were there, it was probably 18 inches deep, except when the rains came and it was impassable. (the pictures are from opposite sides of the river - the first take standing just above the water's edge is in the second)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

One Step at a Time

Who knew stairs could be so complicated!

Even moreso when you want them to go in a circle!

Others seem to have accomplished this with great results

Since discovering the trouble with our stair design, we have looked at all sorts of solutions, and Claudio has been a BIG help - countless hours on 3D CAD.  I think we are nearing solutions - keep the spiral but add a straight run to gain the extra steps needed - create a U - a combination of straight runs with sprial sections in the corners.

Will send these off to Robert to discuss.

Vacation Time

At the end of each busy day, there was still some time for relaxation

Tuesday we dined at Citrus, a fine restaurant across from the police station, just off the highway. We planned dinner at 8:00 at the place was full, with two groups who were finishing up – both appeared to be birthday celebrations. We sat, ordered wine and Lisle headed to the bathroom. The woman at the next table came over and asked “Did you buy Nancy’s house?” Well apparently Nancy sold her house to two wonderful men, and the appearance of our strange faces just begged the question. Maryanne and John live in town and having closed a home furnishing store in Uvita are opening an ‘accessories’ store in the plaza in November. We chatted about house building and such – welcomed to the neighbourhood.

Thursday dinner was spent with Sonya and Jan, and Keith and Karen at Madras – a great Indian restaurant in the jungle a few kilometres north on the highway. Karen was kind enough to make reservations for 6 – I assumed she meant people – no she meant 6 o’clock – everyone is home in bed by nine usually, especially on a school night.

Madras is run by a French couple. They serve Indian and Thai food in covered outdoor space. The furniture is ‘eclectic’ – slabs of wood with branches as legs and back (those extending up 6 feet or more), rough wood tables made of tree trunks, metal and rice paper sculptures lit from within – and the food is excellent – curry (chose your heat from 1 – 10), thai noodles, new york steak, shrimp – YUM!

Friday morning, we had some business at the Ventana office. Sonya said “will we see you at 101?” Where is that? Not where – When – they finish work at 1:00 and at 1:01 they arrive for drinks at Bocas del Coronado (a local bar a kilometre south on the highway). We arrived at 1:30, just as they did, followed by a large contingent – Brad, Keith and Karen, Heather, Ken and Sharon, Eva, Leo and his wife (sorry!) – I know I don’t remember everyone – but it was 7:30 when we left, and they were still going strong. A spectacular end to vacation sitting drinking with friends looking out to the ocean with Macaws flying by.

The saddest thing – apart from having to leave at all – was missing Karen’s Thanksgiving Dinner. As I write this (on the plane home 5:30 pm Sunday October 10), 20 Canadians living in Ojochal are on Karen’s terrace enjoying turkey and all the trimmings. A real community – lots of people who are good friends enjoying the good things in life.

What Separates Us From The Animals

Our Ability To Accessorize!

While the house may get built, it will be very difficult to live in without all the accessories – furniture, appliances, beds, towels, a corkscrew!

I mentioned before that we found Sheila to help with all that and on Tuesday we sat through a rainy afternoon sipping juice at a local restaurant plotting the course.

Lisle met Sheila in May, so this was my first time. Within minutes I was comfortable and amazed. She knew what we were looking for and had thought about this project. In addition to her talent and personality, everything about her reminded me of a very good friend of ours – Sydney – look, speech, mannerisms – the whole package – a good sign!

We dove into the pictures of furniture we had selected for each of the rooms – internet window shopping is so much fun. We talked about each one and why we liked it. She let us know if it would be easy to get or make in Costa Rica and we discussed alternatives. Each step it was clearer that she was understanding more and more about our style, likes and dislikes.

Then it was on to fabrics and colour – a great tangerine, green and cream floral print, a print with parrots in similar colours with the addition of reds and blue. Why not that one? What about a bold solid accent? Is dark rattan too heavy? We came away with a pallet of Tropical Brights with darker wood or rattan to offset the relatively neutral house and still allow for great art to steal the show.

Robert, Sheila and Christian are going to make an excellent team!

Landscaping en la Jungla

We have spent an enormous amount of time in the function and look of the house. Now the question is what do you want to do with the outside? You drive by homes and see where they just have planted things, or have actually created outdoor spaces. Robert has provided names of two companies that landscape and we have meetings with each.

Christian takes us to a house near ours that he is working on. He walks us through the plan, what the client wanted and how he is creating that, how he is managing the water (Water management is a constant topic of conversation – in construction, over drinks with friends, at the supermarket), how it fits with the house, the land and nature. Back at our lot, we walk him through the house and site, and talk about how we see using the space. He asks us what we like and don’t like, what we want from the space, and offers big ideas for consideration. Flowers, fruit trees, herbs, low maintenance, separate spaces, access to the forest in the back, nothing too formal, it shouldn’t look suburban or residential, natural, comfortable to walk on in bare feet – the demands are not too daunting I hope.

Two hours gone with lots of creativity and excitement – we leave agreeing to advise of our decision before we leave.

Johel is a plant guy. He sees where to put the plants and how they will suit the space. Within minutes of arriving at the site he is talking about this type here and that type there. Yes we can build a walkway to the jungle, I think we should plant along the walkway. We go to the nursery to see plants and examples of his work. Stunning plantings, all in the context of a really clear plan of how the space works. Again we will get back to him before we leave.

The decision is not very difficult – Christian is needed to help us set out the concept – absent knowing how we want to use the space and where we want to put the plants, it will be difficult for Johel to do his best work . We call and arrange to meet Christian to sign contracts. What was all of 5 minutes to sign off turned into an hour of drawing – a better design for the outdoor shower – to make it look more organic and interesting. Clearly we made the right decision.

Details! Details!

Wednesday at noon we meet Robert at the house with the electrician to go over all the electrical and plumbing in the place. Switch by switch, outlet by outlet, light by light – 3 hours.

Of course there were issues.

The light switch is supposed to be next to the door, not in the middle of the wall

There is no 220 outlet for the dryer

The shower is supposed to be on the opposite wall

The wall needs to be wider and the windows narrower and the switch moved over to allow for a king sized bed

This list is very long – no real show stoppers – many things for them to change and some things for us to live with.

Thursday is a morning filled with decisions. Sonya is responsible for documenting paint colour, tile, light fixtures, faucets, sinks, wood finish. Robert, Lisle, Sonya and I in a room, tile, wood and paint samples on the floor. 3 conversations going at once. Tile we had picked in San Jose was good, but this one they had was better, brighter. The trim works really well, but the wall tile is muddy – too grey. Paint is yellow, not that one – too green, but the other works. The columns need to be white – do you have a standard white – no – ok, there are only 30 or so in the paint sample block – and inside needs to be neutral not too grey – another 30 or so to choose from. Poor Sonya kept asking – did we decide on that? Usually the answer was – not yet! We actually ended with choices we will confirm shortly.

Upstairs lead to discussion of ceiling fans, light fixtures, granite, sinks, faucets. All of which are selected. I really wish Claudio was here! We will confirm all the decisions in a week – once we get to review this with him!

Another beer is needed!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Just Another Brick In The Wall

Monday morning was a meeting with Robert to go over progress. While we were meeting at the Ventana office, Lisle needed his rubber boots that were stored at Keith and Karen’s. The river was much lower and calmer than the night before, and Lisle paused to look at it and then headed through. Water came up over the front of the SUV, up over the windshield and in the side windows – but we kept moving! On the other side, I said –we weren’t supposed to go through unless there was 6” below the log – it was about a foot higher than that!

We paused to catch our breath and clear the windshield of water and saw the quad approaching – we recognized Coffee sitting in the basket before we realized it was Keith. They were supposed to have left early to connect with visiting friends in Puntarenas, but there was a log blocking the river – clearly it had been moved!

Boots retrieved and another charge through the water and down to the office. We discussed the plan for the week – many, many meetings – so much for any thought of vacation! OK, let’s go see the house.

Back to the river. One of the construction guys in sitting in his pickup, clearly not going through. Robert’s driver – Gordo - only hesitated slightly but headed through with a great splash – Lisle paused, it didn’t look different than before, but if it scared the locals perhaps we should think about this, but through he went. For me – at any height, this is the worst part of the whole process.

Arrival is a big deal. Introductions and handshakes with all the workers. We bring gifts – Coca Cola and Oreos. The Boss – el Jefe – is a shirtless guy probably in his late 40’s – it is clear he pushes them hard, but clearly works harder than any of them.

WOW! The house continues to progress. A quick tour – it really looks like we planned, but somehow the spaces all seem so much smaller than in my mind. The space around the house is wonderful and the access to the jungle is better now that the land had been graded for the house. I don’t remember hearing the river before – probably because it is but a trickle in the dry season – the sound of water is wonderful.

A trip up the ladder to the second floor and OMG what a view – better than I had expected – while you can clearly see the ocean, it is the mountains that are breathtaking. That sight was worth embarrassing myself trying to get back on the ladder to get down!

For all the excitement, Robert had issues he needed our input on. The first two quickly dealt with, he told us the real issue – the spiral stair in the tower doesn’t work – too little space, too much height, too little headroom, too many steps. We talked and scribbled on the cement floor – no obvious solution – we need to sleep on this, and we need Claudio’s help!

Four hours gone in a flash – I’m exhausted, exhilarated and in need of a beer.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Travel Tales

I'll get this out of the way and then I can talk about the house!

Travelling is full of adventures and the unexpected, and this trip especially so.

New accommodations, new rental car agency, new time of year.

The flight was fine - on time and no turbulence - through customs in a flash and without any question of the set of pots and pans and knives in the luggage - the Vamos rental guy was out front with our name on a sign and 5 minutes later we were in the car going to the rental site.  All as per plan.

35 minutes later, we are still completing the rental forms - my she is chatty!  Check out the car - scratch here, bump there nothing extraordinary.  Check the mileage - 180,000 km!  This poor car must be ready to die!  Show us how the GPS works - oh, it doesn't! After checking and calling the mechanic, turns out the lighter is broken - she is closing the office (it is now after 6 and dark) and the mechanic needs light to fix it so he will take us around back to the shop and then we can head out from there  - sure - how bad can it be.

Well, think chain link, barbed wire compound - a wrecking yard from any horror film you might have seen - groups of men huddled being rowdy in the corners where there was some light - cars parked everywhere - stray dogs roaming about - and it is raining.  He drives to the end, we get out and move under a corrugated metal shelter - he is under the dash - cars come and go from the compound, headlights blinding - not sure if we should laugh, cry or pray!

All fixed and on our way - 2 km down the road - a really dark stretch of road, particularly so as the headlights don't seem to be working - just keep driving to the hotel, we can deal with this later.

Hotel is fine, dinner and drinks help.  Next day, finish the errands, call the car rental return the car, another 40 minutes - finally all done with that issue.  Oh, by the way, you said you were heading to the Pacific Coast - check before you leave because all the roads are closed.

That was true for sure - the new Caldera highway collapsed - the old highway was blocked by mudslides - the only road open, because they were actively clearing the slides as they happened, was the old mountain road to the south - referred to in the paper as "treacherous" and referred to by the locals as "la ruta de muerte" - - the road of death - isn't that comforting.  While we had driven that way before, it is long and mountainous and winding - a difficult 5 hour drive.

We were making good time, lots of traffic but not slow.  Then we were well into the mountains - right in the clouds - little visibility and suddenly stopped.  The police said a mudslide and it would be cleared - - stuck for an hour but on our way.  3 more slides as we made our way - minor in comparison.

So rain and mud and flooded rivers have been the theme of our travel.


Being connected is a relative term here in Costa Rica.  There is cell phone service and satellite dishes, internet in many places.  The house we are renting has satellite internet and phone.

However, both are dreadfully slow, and the torrential rains kill any hope at a signal - cell or satellite - at least the electricity has been reliable - touch wood!

This post has taken 20 minutes to load, type and post.  So photos etc are out of the question.  Blogging is offline and will catch up - likely once we are in San Jose.

Meanwhile - the house is great but not without issue - Lisle has his requisite bug bites - it is great to see our friends and connect with new people in the community.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Where is NOAH when you need him!

Well, we are in Ojochal, sort of.

We are sitting at a Chinese Restaurant on the highway. We ventured here in hopes of finding an internet connection – but no luck, as satellite, cell and all other communications seem down. It has been raining for the past 4 hours – constantly and heavily. The main highway and the old highway are both closed due to washouts, so we ventured on the south route – la ruta de muerte – the road of death as the locals call it. Sat for an hour while they cleared a mudslide, and then encountered 2 more washouts – lesser delays each time.

So why are we sitting at a Chinese Restaurant? Because we need to get the keys to the house we are renting from Keith and Karen. But the river is impassable – we watched a 12’ long 2’ diameter log float by over the tree that is usually 4’ out of the water. And then the lack of communication noted above means we have no way to contact Keith and Karen. So beer sounded like a good idea.

We will find a place for the night and then figure out how to move forward. Just in case, we will swing by Casa Jensen to see if by chance they were able to arrange something – you know, if we can’t get in, they can’t get out.

The roads are like rivers – some of them you can’t see anything but water. The actual river is raging and looks like liquid mud. Good thing they build a bridge to Phase 5 since that branch of the river is equally impassable – don’t know how folks lived here since the bridge just opened in June.

Phase 6 is a gated community, and the guard actually recognized Lisle from his stay in May and let us go up to the house to see if anything was obvious. Lisle went up to the house, and I sat in the car as it continued to pour rain. I looked at my blackberry and Eureka! I had cell service, and 2 messages from Karen. I responded that we were at the house, and 3 minutes later a very kind man (Brad) arrived in a Jeep with keys – I walked around the back of the house where Lisle was still trying to get an internet connection and jingled them for him - - “Where did they come from!?”

Crisis averted – unpacked – another beer – off to Stephan’s for pizza - - hope he is open!