Saturday, January 22, 2011

Landscaping the Jungle II

Christian may need to be managed and can be hard to connect with and keep track of, but he really is talented.

This week we got the final concept for the landscaping - I am not sure if Lisle is convinced, but I think it is amazing - it is functional, suits how we want to use the house and the space around it, adds lots of useful space outside, and is toned way down from before.

Just got off the phone with him to say - let's go!

The Last of the Build

We heard today that the construction shack is coming down by February 15, so that site grading and water management can move forward - that really is the end of real construction.

So, one of the last things they need to do is put in the septic system - - I know, hardly romantic, sexy or discussed on polite company, but it does need to be there - and we even have photos!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

April 15 2011

That is the date - we have assurances that we will begin occupancy of our new home, complete, fully furnished on April 15, 2011.

Travel plans are in progress!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Small Town Life

So everyone in the ex-pat community knows about Lisle's lost iPhone, as does everyone connected to Ventana.  There is much concern over the potential that a worker took it - a crime of opportunity - the thought never crossed my mind.

None of them know Lisle well enough to know that is was likely left on the counter at the bank machine, on in the grocery cart, for some lucky person to find in the following few minutes.

So who would have thought that one of the locals - who apparently works at the grocery store would show up with an iPhone and ask one of the Ventana folks for help with it - apparently a gift from a tourist, it had no SIM card and was locked with a passcode.  Of course it is Lisle's, but only after he bought the newest and shiniest model to replace it.

I am going to buy him 'mitten hooks' for his phone!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011


The cost of a speeding ticket on the way back to the airport

750 - the cost to replace Lisle's lost iPhone

2 weeks in Ojochal - Priceless

Oh -  on top of the ticket there is a 30% surcharge for the children's orphanage - $600 total!!

Wrapping It Up

It poured all night, and we woke at 6:00 am to find no power - No Coffee!!

We started packing hoping for it to return - nope.

Pulled all the cold stuff from the fridge and made breakfast - Gallo Pinto, cheese, a chicken breast, tomato

Lisle made sandwiches for the car ride back - chicken, cheese and avocado

Christian was to appear at 8 with the final plans and such - no show - 8:30 nope - 8:45 the power returned - check email - no message - 9:15 the phone rings - apologies and excuses - he will arrive shortly - that is almost 10 - he knows we MUST leave by 11.

He is actually well prepared, has good drawings, has detailed the water management, has fixed the front yard, has samples - I expect he ran ragged trying to pull it all together for us - but I am much more satisfied than I expected.  Promises of pricing and colours for next week - guess we will see!

Kieth and Karen arrive to see us off - it is hugs and handshakes all around - another visit is done.

Happy Birthday

Well Friday was a day of rest - Lisle was readying for Juice in the Jungle (the monthly ex-pat party) - I was reading - the sun came and went, but no rain for a change.

About Noon we found out that there was a gathering at Boca Coronado (the weekly 101 session) with a special twist - it is Sonya's birthday.  Not to be missed.

Arrived at 1:30 - drank and chatted the afternoon away - and needless to say never made it to Juice - the garlic dip and grilled pinapple will need to go to our friends (such hardship!)

Left Boca about 6:30 and ended our stay in Ojochal as we started it - Pizza at Stephan's!  YUM!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pool Time

Robert is ready to pour the pool deck and Christian isn't there yet with the concept - I think we pushed things forward, and sat waiting for Christian to appear at the house - an hour late, he calls to say that he and Robert have been hashing things out and are on the way.

Christian will stake the deck on Monday and have samples of the deck tile by then

We picked the pool tile and finish colours - a deep turquoise
The pool deck will be using a high end Costa Rican product from Barro Barroco - colour yet to be set, but something of the taupe / limestone family.

We will see the final landscape concepts tomorrow - I think we are getting closer to a great, but much simpler design - at the end of it, budget will likely force it to get simpler, or to happen in stages.

The floor tiles fit great and look amazing - the wood stain samples arrived and reviewed on site - very confusing as there are two different stains, both called MIEL - one is almost clear with a bit of yellow, the other has some red, but not orangy - we picked the second as it has some character and in the space is not at all dark.

We will see what tomorrow brings with Christian - and then the drive back to San Jose - our time here is pretty much done.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Landscaping the Jungle

We finally met with Christian!

He is only about 6 weeks behind, and has cancelled 2 appointments and didn't show up for the 3rd.  We were supposed to meet at noon on Tuesday in his office - no show, didn't answer his cell - at 5:30 he arrives at the house with plans and we discuss for 2 hours.

He is extremely creative, and his concept plans reflect that - they are actually too much for what we really want - like the 20' x 4' 'water feature' across the front of the house that cascades under the driveway and has stepping stones across it to the front door.  PRETENTIOUS were the first words out of my mouth.

Then there are the 'walls' at the back of the pool terrace.  They are there to balance the shower structure and create interest - yes, and block the view of the spectacular jungle behind the house - no - next!

Past the pool, the land narrows and slopes steeply away - the concept is a terraced fruit orchard - clear away all the natural vegetation, recontour the land and plant fruit trees (which Lisle really wants).  My comment - we want whatever we do in landscaping to enhance what is already there, not replace it, allow the beauty of what is there to come through, not create something artificial.

I think he left with the clear understanding the something simpler that didn't make the house look like a boutique hotel was more in line with our style.

That said, he had many many great ideas that we supported and that he said he would come back with a revised design Thursday - let's hope it comes together!

Site Inspection

Met at the house yesterday to go over details and ensure all was right - our point out the issues.

Kitchen - plug for the wine fridge missing and all the above counter electrical outlets are too low - need to move up by 3" - stove outlet is in the wrong place by about 24"

Laundry room is good, but no dryer vent

Guest bedroom - the air conditioning outlet is too low by about 12"

Master bedroom - the air condition outlet is too low by about 12" and the windows beside the bed are too wide (cant fit a king bed between them)

The stove, laundry and bedroom issues we identified in October - sloppy! - all the changes are marked on the walls - hopefully we will see them underway before we leave.

The major amount of time was spent discussing the bathrooms and the floors.

Guest bath was to have a tub, which we quickly reconsidered and changed to a shower - as for the enclosure, when we started all this the only options were very traditional North American aluminum and glass or glass block - now, they have done some stunning plate glass enclosures - YAY! - works perfectly - discussed placement of the wall tile and listello (wall with the vanity/shower and shower/toilet - with listello placement at the height of the top of the window) - shower floor - same as floor tile but cut in quarter and placed on the diagonal - DONE

Master bath was to have glass block, which was quickly changed to the plate glass - same general configuration for wall tile, listello and shower floor - DONE

The floor tile patterns on the Terraces were easily organized starting from the doorways, but the main floor is more complicated as it extends out to the front, and starts in the foyer with a medalion - after much discussion it was decided to have them lay tiles out and discuss the matter on site Thursday afternoon.

They were all taking notes, I hope they were getting all the details!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Salutations and Confirmations

Seeing Robert again is always a good feeling.  He is friendly, no nonsense, wise beyond his years, helpful, clear, accommodating.  We are never in doubt and he delivers on what he says.  Can't ask for more from anyone and great in someone who is building your house.

Hugs, handshakes and catching up done, it is down to business.

We confirm the U-shaped floating stair - it will fit and the number size and height of the treads and risers work - that's a relief!  I thought we were going to spend hours on that.

He has a new ceiling fan for us to look at - better quality for sure!  Check!

The laundry sink - looks like Little Tykes made it, but is exactly what Lisle wants - Check!

Bathrooms are more of a discussion - the glass block wall in the master bath turns into plate glass, as does the enclosure in the guest bath - mirrors on the walls over the sinks, single large wood frame - granite counter, undermount sink - lights above, very yukky in the catalogue, something like 9-95 is good, oh yes we can do those - thing that is done - Check!

Floor tile patterns are great - accent tiles for the front hall were required - so off we went to the big bodega to look at the tile graveyard - it is where the window, woodworking and metal shop are located, near Cortes - all the leftovers are in neat piles - we pick through, find one tile (sort of grey with some red and yellow) and set 12 of them aside with the lot for our floors - but not the dark tile needed - back to Robert with our find - there are more in here - let's take a look - et voila, a dark grey, the perfect accent!

Next - Wednesday on-site inspection!

Well, Almost!

I finished posting yesterday, and we left to see Robert about the house.  As we were driving down, I said - Did you sign anything yesterday for the phone?  Lisle replied - no, but there is no contract so I guess it doesn't matter.

Well, apparently it does!

As we arrived at Robert's office, the phone rings, Lisle answers - puzzled look - spanish / english acknowledgements - Lisle pauses, says it is ICE and could Robert speak to them so we are clear - more pleasantries - Robert explains he is translating - the call is disconnected.

10 minutes later - ring - this time it is the english speaking guy from the ICE office - his partner failed to get us to sign anything - when can we return - - manana!

Actually we finished with Robert early and headed to Cortes, entered the trailer, the spanish speaking guy motioned us over, pointed to 3 places for Lisle's signature - all done!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Call Me!

Now you can give me a call on our new Costa Rican cell phone.  It was easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 .....

Cell phones, rocket sticks, land lines (if you can get them) as well as all things electrical are handled by ICE - the government run utility and telecommunication agency.

The nearest ICE agency is in Cortes, about 15km south.  We set out at 10:30 am - arriving at the ICE office at 11.  Cortes is pretty much at sea level, and during the November rains experienced significant flooding.  The ICE office was damaged, and the building in not usable, so work continues in a tractor trailer parked in front.

We join the queue - mostly Ticos coming to get their ICE bill, go to the bank and pay it and bring back the receipt as proof of payment - yes, that's the process if you don't have an internet connection.  30 minutes later we are in front a very nice man who with limited english asks where the phone is.  Huh?  We want to get one from you!  No no, you need to go to Palmar Norte and buy the phone and then come back (we understood ICE offices had phones, so presumably this is due to the temporary location).

Palmar Norte is only about 15 minutes away, and the cell phone purchase was straightforward.  Back to ICE.  Another 30 minute wait.  Back to the same guy (his partners speaks no english).  Now for the real process.

This actually started back in November.  You see, you need to be a resident, or a corporation to get a cell phone.  So, we needed to provide ICE with notarized papers confirming our corporation.  We requested these from our legal service, and they were issued on December 6 - they are only valid for one month, so we needed to wrap this all up by January 6 - or start again - January 3 is cutting it close.

So, the ICE guy wants the corporate document, Lisle's Passport - copies are taken.  Next, an interesting question - what is your address?  We explain that there aren't street names or numbers and he nods knowingly, but still needs something - we settle on Ojochal, Fase 9, Lote 19, Casa Amarilla.

Next - a reference - someone with an ICE account, we offer the names of our neighbours, but don't have phone numbers on hand, and he is unimpressed. Do you know anyone in Ojochal? he asks.  Lisle says, How about Kumari - she runs Mystic Dive?  Oh yes, I know Kumari, that is fine.   Another hurdle cleared.

He continued to type away on his computer, problem solve for his co-worker and served two other customers who wanted direction before waiting in the line.

Chip in the phone, a few buttons pushed, another printout, and we are done - well not quite.

The printout, among other things was a bill for the security deposit on the account.  We had to go to the bank (BNCR is 3 blocks down the road) and pay it and return.  It was almost 1:00 - we asked if he was going to lunch - and he replied that all the difficult stuff was done and that his partner could complete this without problem (in other words we wouldn't need to speak to him).

The bank is always interesting - the security door that lets one person in or out at a time, the armed guard inside and the long line for the single teller seated in suit at the counter.  Bill paid with ease and we are on our way back to ICE.

Join the line, wait, next ... we hand over the receipt and the printout, he types, he types, he looks, he clears the screen, he types - he picks up his cell phone and dials - the phone rings - - success!!  And it is just 2:30

Time for a beer!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Farewell to James

So after the excitement of the monkeys and a great dinner, it was time for James to head back to reality.

The only flight we could get for him was out of San Jose at 6:15 am on Sunday, so to maximize his time with us, a taxi is picking him up at 11:30 pm and taking him straight to the airport.

When arranging the taxi, they asked for directions to the house – we said “best we meet you in the parking lot across from the Police Station (yes Ojochal has a police station – a 20’ x 20’ cinderblock building painted blue and white).

I know James was a little uncertain about this whole thing, but in typical Costa Rican style, when we arrived at the parking lot at 11:20, the taxi was already there and waiting, the driver came and got his bag, and the prepaid voucher. Hugs and farewells, and they drove off into the night.

Post script – just heard from James – he is in San Salvador waiting for the flight home – drive from Ojochal took less than 3 hours, arrived just after 2 am - he said the guy wasn't a taxi driver - he was a race car driver! - and he had to wait outside for the airport to open!

M O N K E Y S ! ! ! !

January 1, 2011 – Sunset – standing on the Terrace of our house – a crash in the trees behind our lot- what was that?!

OH MY GOD – we have MONKEYS!

Ok so you can only see his butt, but there were 3 of them running up and down the tree and vines and crashing about.

Our first sunset at our soon to be new home, and the monkeys came to wish us well – really neat!!

Another Year begins

1/1/11 – a milestone date to start what we hope will be for us will be a milestone year.

A beautiful sunny day – you can feel the heat building – a scorcher with humidity – we are meeting the neighbours at the beach for fun in the sun!

Pinuellas beach is spectacular and crowded – the Ticos head to the beach to celebrate holidays as well – fish on the bbq, cold beer, sun, surf, a long stretch of sandy beach and water warm as a bathtub – James will return to the north with some colour!

Right – this is his last day here – we will top off the day with sunset from the terrace at our house (I know it isn’t finished yet, but a great way to start the year) and curry at Madras

New Year’s Eve

Wow, the end of another year and a decade (depending on how you are counting). It is shocking how fast a year goes by.

We are off to Dean and Michelle’s to celebrate – pot luck with the neighbours. Arrive at 5:00 pm so you can see where you are parking and you can watch the sunset! Party til 1:00 am! Lisle has been cooking and shopping like crazy – his typical self – garlic dip, guacamole, roasted peppers and onions, bread, champagne, fireworks – his contribution to the celebration – me, I stay out of the way and try not to shake my head.

As the party is ‘just around the corner’ and we suspect no one will be in any shape to drive back (especially with a manual transmission on these hills) we decide to walk over – just ove 10 minutes, but the last 2/3 is uphill – steeply uphill. We arrive to hugs and kisses, handshakes and beer.

By 5:15 pm everyone has arrived, and the sun is nearing the horizon. Beautiful, powerful, colourful – 15 adults stand mesmerized by this daily marvel – 4, 3, 2, 1 – another day, another year, is done – the sunsets on 2010 – the real marking of New Years – the night settles in quickly – as does the party!!

Food, drink, more food, more drink, the cigars appear – oh no we are in serious party mode now – more food, more drink – lots of conversation and laughter – and then ROY ORBISON – dancing and singing ensue.

Suddenly it is almost midnight – Lisle and Jan dash to the driveway to light the fireworks – a very scary proposition, as they are the most lubricated – a dazzling display results (in more ways than one) followed by noise makers, kisses and champagne – another year done.

The walk home in the dark with flashlights proves more challenging than did our arrival – downhill on loose rocky roads + alcohol – but we made it home safely.

Dec 30

Up even earlier (5:00) and to the dive shop – 11 of us are headed to Cano Island – Lisle, Keith and I are diving and the rest are snorkelling. A beautiful day as we leave the beach at 7:00 for the 90 minutes to the island.

Not 10 minutes out, the boat stops as a Humpback whale and her calf move past – what a sight!

We continue on, and about 2/3 the way, we spot a pod of dolphins – probably the most playful creatures on the planet – just seeing them seems to make you joyful. We stopped for photos, and then watched as the played in the boat’s wake as we left.

The snorkelers get dropped in the ocean and we head to the dive spot, suit up and drop in! This is our first dive since we were certified last January, and Keith’s first dive since he finished his certification earlier this week – novices all around – and with a dive master Alex (diving for 42 years) who looks like a pirate (gold earrings, tattoos, beard). While I was nervous, it all came back in a matter of minutes and we were ‘swimming with the fishes’. White tipped reef sharks, jacks, parrot fish, eel (tiny with these really big teeth – looked kind of like Alien).

The second dive was at the dreaded El Diablo – I say that as this was to be our final dive site in certification, but after being in the water for less the 3 minutes we were carried by the current close to 100 yards and called it off for a safer site. 2 km offshore, you feel like you are in the middle of the ocean and below is an underwater mountain and canyon that goes down over 300 ft. It was amazing the quantity and diversity of fish – and the size – way bigger than in close to shore – and schools of fish – hundreds of them all around you. Well worth the second attempt and not as scary as I expected.

Lunch on the beach – Kumari’s husband Manny really can cook! – another great boat ride back with a side trip into the coves of the local beaches with the great caverns and arches carved in the rocks – beer at the dive shop – more beer at Bocas Coronado – another full day.

Dec 29

Up early (5:30) and on the road to Sierppe – the jumping off point for water access to the OSA, and the starting place for tours of the mangroves. A three hour tour along the winding river and tributaries – full of birds, reptiles and wildlife. Check it out!

Then drive to the other end of the southern zone – lunch at Tortilla Flats in Dominical – such a surfer, trekker, hostelling vibe – young and old – very hippy, end of the earth, Jimmy Buffet.

The drive back south to Ojochal is one of the most beautiful costal roads – rolling over the mountains that drop to the ocean – glimpses of the rugged coastline – a beautiful beach – the lush vegetation - - mmmmmmmmmmm!

Dec 28 – The House

Before chores and socializing, we needed to see the house.

It really is amazing to have it all coming together as we expected. A quick tour for James – front entrance, his room (the guest room), where the ‘spiral’ stair will go (currently occupied by a ladder), the living area, the outdoor patio.

The pool is cinder block, and half full of water – yukky

OMG – stairs! The back stairs to the upper terrace are done – and wonderful.

A quick trip up and there is the master suite and terrace – and the view – I love it, I love it, I love it!

Think we noted some issues – oh the details – but that is for later discussion with Robert.

Dec 28

Well, December 27 was a long travel day. Out of bed at 5:30am - - flight Toronto – San Salvador – San Jose - - car rental - - 4 hour drive south.

We reached Ojochal at 9:15 pm - - Pizza and beer was a very good thing – Stephan’s restaurant (El Jardin Tortuga) feels like a treehouse and is the perfect place to start the vacation and feel like you are back in the jungle.

I could tell James was a little unnerved. It was already getting dark when we left San Jose, so sort of felt like he had been kidnapped and driven to some foreign place and plunked down. I think beer and pizza helped.

Headed to the house and found it without incident and crashed into bed – it was just after 10.

This morning was beautiful – sunny and mostly clear. Coffee, unpacking.

James got his first sight of the jungle, the mountains and the ocean – he actually said “wow”.

So now for the realities – no cell service at the house (or at least I cant get any on my BB), internet access is tenuous (satellite, hardwired and flaky cable), and there is no hot water.

Jan and Sonya arrived and solved the hot water issue, and we gave them Christmas goodies – something very odd about Christmas Stockings and red woollen mittens in the tropics.

The rest of the morning was taken with chores – grocery shopping, banking, socializing (everyone you pass on the road that you know, requires a quick chat) - - lunch at the Restaurante Pinuellas (fried fish platter and great roadside Ceviche) – and then CERVEZAS!

Bocas Coronado is a local watering hole right at the ocean – great view of the river, island and ocean beyond – it is a gathering spot. I have never quite experience the social atmosphere that exists in Ojochal – all are welcome, all are friends, or soon will be. Talk is of parties and Christmas, home building and local politics.

So after beer, home for a quick swim, siesta and then dinner at Exotica (our fav!). Lucy is always so welcoming. Home and bed – all by 9:00 pm. Another full day!

I didn’t even mention our trip to the house! Next post!