Aug
10
2012

Moving to CR: Dispatch 1

7/8/2012 (new date convention: date/month/year because we’re now in CR)

We spent the months of June and nearly all of July getting ready to head to CR. Even before we were on our road trip, Paul and I came to the conclusion that we were ready to sell the house on Vashon that we’d loved so much, with its large firs, madronas, alders, and even a white-flowering dogwood (enormous tree) surrounding us. It took us a little more than a week to get the house ready for market, and things being what they are these days, the house had to look great: no moss on the roof, pristine siding, spic-and-span gutters, and the inside had to look great, too. We hired an all-around worker, who did a terrific job cleaning the outside of the house, so the roof looked good and the siding new. Paul spackled and painted nail holes, etc, and both of us cleaned the house within an inch of its life. (It’s okay to live in the house, but it has to look as if no one lives there!)

Our excellent real estate agent had told us about staging the house, hiring a stager to do it and then renting furniture at a cost of about $200/mo. Since we’d sold nearly all of our furniture a year earlier, it sounded great to us, but the thing is that stagers don’t want you to actually live there and use their furniture, so that was nixed. (Okay, we have some wonderful friends on Vashon, but “couch-surfing” for two months with two frisky animals? Don’t think that would fly.) So our agent scrounged around and found a dining room table and two chairs, and we borrowed a few items from friends, and bought a loveseat and chair on craigslist. Then as part of the deal, we bought coordinating napkins, placemats, and a tablecloth, as well as very nice towels (all of the sort we’d never buy on our own, but, hey, it’s part of the “look” for a staged house) and we were all set. Elegant? Well, not exactly, but it was fine. We bought hanging plants and some flowers for some planters that had not seen flowers at any time during the previous eight years, but, as Denise said, it looked welcoming. And the vase on the dining room table was never without fresh flowers, either.

The house sold (and may close this week) to great first-time buyers. I started going through our boxes in storage. We did not keep count of the number of boxes, but I made several piles (familiar to anyone who has read earlier posts):  give away, return to the storage unit, or take to CR. The donated items Paul took to Granny’s Attic almost immediately, so in the event that I had second thoughts, so sorry, but the item was gone! Frontier Airlines, which for a little extra money offers fully-refundable tickets, has no limit on baggage. I went through the CR piles several times, each time weeding more stuff out, but in the end we still wound up with 27 checked items, 23 of which we paid $50/box. In those 27 boxes were cast iron pans (which I use a lot, and which are not readily available in CR, about 20 of my favorite cookbooks, ESL materials (resources for volunteer work), books for learning Spanish, a great sewing machine, tools Paul thought would be useful, and household goods, clothing and the like.

Paul and I packed things very carefully, mindful of the fact that all of the boxes would be tossed around and could land in any orientation, including upside down, so the boxes were securely taped. (Anyone reading this who has stock in strapping tape, I think we helped improve your stock’s profitability!) A wonderful friend and neighbor let us borrow his full-size van, which nicely held all luggage (27 checked bags plus the one or two each that we carried on). And other great friends drove las mascotas (pets) and me to the airport, so we were all set. Our flight left at close to 7 pm, and we were there nearly three hours in advance, which turned out to be fortuitous, as we needed much of that time.

Getting everything to Frontier turned out to be a little more challenging than we’d anticipated: no curbside check-in, so we had to drag every single item to the counter. (Our son, who went with us to the airport to drive the van back to the neighbor and the friends who drove me and las mascotas both helped with everything.) The desk clerk was a real trouper, and very nice. Our son had suggested that we call Frontier the previous day to alert them to our 27 pieces of checked baggage, which turned out to be an award-worthy idea. The great customer service staffer I wound up talking to on the phone had a customer from Alaska who’d had a bunch of oversize/overweight luggage, some of which wound up not making it onto his flight due to the excess weight and the fact that the flight was full. She felt badly about what happened to him, so paid extra attention to our situation. She looked at both of our flight segments, said that only the first leg might be problematic, and called over to Seattle to talk to cargo to make sure that all of our luggage could be accommodated. If you ever need to travel with a lot of luggage, I strongly recommend this step. The staffer at the counter in Seattle where we checked in already knew about us, which helped the entire process go much more smoothly. It took less than 45 minutes and we were ready to head through security.

At the CR end, we expected things to be very difficult, as my Spanish is inadequate, and we’d have to go through both immigration and aduana (customs). People at that end were so kind and helpful, it turned out to be very easy. One skycap who spoke a little English (about as much English as I spoke Spanish) took charge of everything after I told him, “Tenemos treinta cajas.” (We have 30 boxes, which I knew was a slight exaggeration, but close enough.) While we were waiting for the boxes, he went to get a large cart, then found a second skycap to grab another large cart. By the time all the boxes had come off, both carts were precariously piled with cardboard boxes, duffel bags, and a suitcase or two. We then went through aduana, where everything was scanned again and then piled back onto the carts (those poor hard-working skycaps!).

We got through it all with only one snafu: SOMEONE who has always been able to wait to go to the bathroom, wound up peeing on the very shiny floor as we headed to immigration. Luckily, Paul had lots of absorbent material for the Emotional Support Animal’s mishap, and the floor again looked immaculate when he was done. Paul had arranged for a one-day rental of a large van, and we were at our new house less than three hours after we landed.

Mike (the former owner) was just removing the last of his belongings, packing up as we rolled in, so we were able to talk to him about the house and utilities. Paul and I were both absolutely exhausted at that point, so didn’t think to write anything down. Pets were glad to be liberated, especially Mischa (now CR cat, or CRC) from his carrier. Oksana (CRD) was much more tentative. Paul started hauling the boxes into the house, and I started opening them. We discovered that TSA had inspected at least six or seven boxes. They did a good job repacking things and re-taping the boxes. Maybe this is how drug runners or terrorists get contraband through, but it seemed odd to us: why not inspect everything? Maybe something in those particular boxes set off alarm bells, though one of the boxes they inspected was a box containing framed pictures. Later we discovered four casualties among all the things that went into the boxes: one vase got chipped; the tamper part of a heavy-duty stainless steel coffee scoop got detached (imagine the force that must have taken, yet everything else in that box was fine); the glass on a picture was broken, but the picture otherwise intact; and, finally of the probably 30+ small tiles I’d shipped, one was broken (clean break, which Paul was able to repair). That seemed quite remarkable, and I was very pleased that so much came through unscathed. 

Paul got all the boxes into the house and I started stowing things. Between us, we had nearly all the boxes emptied and broken down within the next three days. We also had to go on several major shopping trips to stock the house (Mike kindly left us with eggs, garlic, and a few other items, so if we were famished when we arrived, we’d have something to eat), and having a (rental) vehicle made it all possible.

Throughout all of the preparation for this move, Paul and I were both confident that we were taking the next step in our lives and that the move to CR was absolutely the right thing for us to do at this point. On the plane, however, I’d had fleeting doubts about what we were doing, and the enormity of the undertaking suddenly hit me. With all of the work we had to do both in getting our Vashon house ready to go/keep it looking staged even after it sold, and in sorting through all of our belongings, I hadn’t really had a chance to think about what we were doing. It all came to a head as we were driving to our new house: the dirt road seemed rougher and longer than I remembered; the house smaller; furniture much more crowded. And we were going to a country where all advice said (1) we should be able to speak passable Spanish before moving there, and (2) one should never buy a place, but only rent! So what were we doing?

The emotions passed, probably brought on by my exhaustion (Paul never had any doubts), and the road seems fine and not too long (a little more than .5 km in all, and easily walked), nor particularly rough if you just take it easy. We moved one piece of furniture from the living room to the bedroom, and both rooms benefited from the change. And we hung our pictures on the walls, made the beds, and generally made ourselves at home. Our home.

My Spanish continues to be terrible, but I’m sort of at a “to hell with it” point, and am speaking in Spanish when I can, despite the fact that I don’t even have the vocabulary (or linguistic skills) of a 2-year old. The attorney who guided us through the fingerprinting process the second day we were here (as part of the temporary residency process for Pensionados, or retirees) shamed me a little when he pointed out (in fluent English, of course) that the only way I’ll get any better is to use what Spanish I have. So I spoke to him in my very broken Spanish, switching to English only when I couldn’t think of the word. Terrible? Oh, terribly embarrassing, but I learned more that day than I had in a long time. And now I usually try to speak Spanish even when it’s clear that the person I’m talking to can speak English. People are usually very nice about it.

So that’s all for now. It’s the rainy season here (we knew that when we decided to come here now), and I sit here listening to a lot of welcome rain on the roof. CRC is curled up on the chair beside me, and CRD, last I saw, was under the bed in the bedroom, waiting out the thunder and lightning.

May
31
2012

VA-WA Road Trip: Dispatch 3

5/20: Oops! Change in plans: Ely, NV – 431 mi, 1396 miles to go

After we passed the Rockies and headed into eastern Utah, the terrain changed again. Still fairly high, wind and rivers worked on the rock, carving weird shapes and pinnacles. All sorts of different minerals either contained in the rock or dissolved in the water working its way through, we saw strange but gorgeous landscapes in orange, red, tan, brown, and even white rock. I must have taken over a hundred pictures. Just as one sight disappeared from view, there was something equally wonderful on the horizon. But it was stark: terrain much drier than what we’d seen before, I couldn’t imagine how people eked out a living here. The land is too dry for livestock. Mineral extraction, maybe? Few trees, little water, extremes in temperature. Yet every now and then, we saw a tiny hamlet with a handful of houses, and always, always an LDS church the biggest structure around.

Shortly after making our turn onto a more northerly route to head northwesterly toward Seattle, Paul and I were talking about the need to go slowly and stay for longer periods in the towns we passed along our route. He stopped the car as we talked, pointing out that we had enough time to visit friends in Martinez, CA, a town in the Bay Area near the Carquinez Strait, about 35 miles northeast of San Francisco. So instead of heading north through the salt flats of Utah and basalt deserts of eastern Oregon and Washington, we’d be going through the Sierra Nevada, California’s Central Valley, and then the redwoods of Coastal California. The trip will become a sentimental journey rather than one of discovery, though given that we’ll be moving to Costa Rica in August, it seems like a great plan to both of us.

5/21: Reno, NV Auburn, CA – 418 mi, 978 miles to go

As we headed west on old US 50 (“the loneliest road in America”), there was little traffic in this sparsely-populated area. We were enjoying the starkness of the passing scenery, but looking forward to getting to Reno and spending a night or two at the hopping Sands Regency Casino and Hotel. We crossed vast expanses of arid country, including several salt flats and the sort of “bad water” watering holes and streams that so daunted prospectors and others crossing this part of the country.

In Reno, we got to the Sands, which I’d earlier phoned and snagged a reservation for $33 per night. The Sands was all the way on the western edge of town. After a bewildering trek through all the flashing lights and activity of the casino (Paul had dropped me off at the wrong entrance), I finally found the hotel lobby. Upon check in, the rather surly desk clerk first told me that there was a per pet fee of $15 per night, nearly doubling the cost of the room, and that it would cost one night’s fee to cancel. When she found out that one of our pets is a cat, she informed me that the Sands does not accept cats and reluctantly refunded all our money.

She warmed up a little when I asked for other possibilities, and said that other casino-hotels would not allow pets, either, but suggested trying some nearby motels. We went to a couple, which were rather seedy looking, and decided to continue west. The Sierras were beautiful: not as dramatic as the Rockies (or with as much snow), but with switchback after switchback, and when the curve was signed 10 or 15 mph, they meant it! At one point we could see two separate hairpin curves below us. It was quite a feat of roadbuilding and engineering.

We eventually got to Auburn (about a hundred miles beyond Reno) and decided to stop. Staff at the motel were very helpful, and after getting settled, (at the suggestion of the wife of the motel manager) we discovered old town (historic) Auburn, including the old fire house and engine, which dated from the 1920s. It was really fun to poke around and peer into shop windows. The staffer had suggested two places to have dinner. We were disappointed that the first place was closed (it was a Monday night), so we rather reluctantly went to the other recommended place, the Auburn Ale House. I was not looking forward to having a greasy burger, and it turned out that greasy burgers were nowhere in evidence. It was hard to make a decision because there were so many good choices, but I finally chose a fish dish, and Paul selected another fish dish. Both were excellent. They offered a wine flight (a selection of several wines), which Paul ordered. (In a brewpub! Imagine that.)

Later, a couple of 20-something guys sat down at a nearby booth and each ordered a beer tasting. The server first set down a placemat, then carefully placed each of the 6 or 7 selections in the place marked on the placemat. Even though it was Paul who faced in their direction, I couldn’t help but watch them some of the time as they worked their way through. (They didn’t order any food to go along with the beers, either.) When the server got to our table, I asked her about the beers, and she explained that if they leave the beers in place, she can answer questions, but if they move the glasses, she has to smell each beer to know which one they’re asking about. It was such an entertaining evening!

 

5/23: Martinez – 95 mi, 883 miles to go

Down, down, down into the Central Valley and the Sacramento River valley, we skirted Suisun (suh-SOON) Bay and crossed spectacular Carquinez (car-KEE-nez) Straits into the oil-refinery town of Martinez, where we spent a few days visiting friends and going wine-tasting. How can you not take advantage of being near the Sonoma and Napa Valleys and all those wonderful wineries? We had a fine time visiting them and enjoying Ira’s great cooking. If he gives me permission, I’ll send a separate email with his amazing Thai pumpkin soup.

 

5/25: Willits – 146 mi, 737 miles to go

The Sands was our first encounter with the so called “pet friendly,” but no cats allowed lodging, but, alas, it wasn’t to be our last. We had similar problems in Willits. Some clerks explained that cat dander (the hair and skin they shed) is more of an allergen than dog dander, which I can certainly understand, as our older daughter has much worse allergies to cats than she does to dogs, though if a hotel or motel is going to the effort of making a room “pet friendly,” why allow people allergic to pets to stay in those rooms? I have no degree in hotel management, so really have no right to weigh in here, but it is frustrating: they should simply say they’re “dog friendly,” and let it go at that.

5/26: Klamath – 198 mi, 539 miles to go

Taking US 101, we’re a long way from the interstate. We travel in short stretches on divided four-lane highways (can’t call them freeways because there’s usually not controlled access), deep in the redwood forests. It’s so beautiful and has gotten much cooler than the Central Valley: highs in the upper 60s rather than the upper 70s and low 80s. I actually needed to wear my fleece at times today. And after commenting to Paul about the redwoods, we encountered mist, one of the hallmarks of the great coastal redwood forests. Again, we’d both forgotten, but it didn’t take much to bring it all back.

Klamath is a small town not too far from the Oregon border. Not a lot in town, we stopped at a couple of motels in the area and either they didn’t accept pets (or, as with the Sands, dogs were okay, but not cats) or were much more expensive than seemed reasonable, so we wound up staying in one of several vacation cottages. Tiny and rustic, we were glad it was equipped with a space heater, which cycled through and heated the room nicely during the rather cold night. Despite its isolation in this far corner of northern California, the cabins were nearly all occupied. Given all our travelling, we’d forgotten it’s the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and were lucky to find such a cozy place, and both OCC and OCD seemed quite content.

5/27: Gold Beach, OR – 75 mi, 464 miles to go

A short, misty drive along the Oregon coast, glimpses of the ocean below and the sea stacks, those large rocks, most entirely barren except for occasional sea birds, and not really big enough to deserve the term “islets, it was a lovely ride. We drove through most of the very small town before stopping. At a local tourist information center (not staffed, but with lots of helpful brochures), I picked up a 2011-12 Guide to Oregon, which had a lot of useful info, but, like many of their kind, didn’t list all accommodations, though it did have a column for “pet-friendly,” which, as we’ve seen before, sometimes only means DOG-friendly.

We’ve finally learned that many of the chains are more expensive than we’d like – how many people can routinely afford motel rooms that are priced at more than $80 before tax? – so we’ve learned to seek out motels that are not associated with either a chain or AAA-approved (another sure sign that the place will be too expensive). We’ve gotten pretty good at finding those reasonably priced places that aren’t seedy or (as our kids would say) sketchy.

After last night’s cabin, when we’d just about given up finding anything in Gold River and were ready to try the next town on US Highway 101, we saw a sign for more cabins. It turned out that they were not only PET-friendly, but affordable, and larger and better-appointed than the previous night’s cabin. Since we’ve also learned not to book more than one night to start with (the environment can sometimes be surprisingly noisy at night), it was another place that we liked and stayed a second night. Although Gold Beach is very small, it had two groceries in town, the closer McKay’s, which was fine, and Ray’s, a small chain store which turned out to be a real find. Because we had a stove in the cabin, we were able to buy groceries and do some cooking. Ah, organic food, and not too expensive, either. It was a pleasure not to have to find a spot for dinner.

 

5/29: Newport – 177 mi, 287 miles to go

After all of the small towns/hamlets along the coast, there was suddenly a lot more traffic, and the road flattened out just enough to give us a good view of a large expanse of beach: Newport, OR. We drove past strip malls, motels (they looked expensive!), and all variety of day spas, hair salons, and other signs that we’d gotten to the glitz of Newport. We drove slowly through town while I looked through the accommodations section, and each time we slowed down, it was either “No Pets,” or “AAA-Approved,” or both. Paul was ready to continue further north, when I suggested that we go back through town and stop at one place we’d noticed but not checked out.

It was called something like “City Center Motel,” one of those older places that, from past experience, could be acceptable or rather shady, but until one of us (usually me) met the front desk person and checked out the lobby and then the room, there was no way of telling. The woman at the front desk was from Korea (later we talked about family), the lobby was clean and nice, cats were allowed, and when I was taken to see the room, all I could do was motion enthusiastically to Paul. Like the Cavalier Lodge so many months ago, this was a motel room disguised as a one-bedroom apartment. I wish we’d found it sooner! It was a great find, and Paul suggested staying two nights, which was all we could afford, as we wanted to be within striking distance (Tacoma) on the 31st so we could get back to Vashon on an early ferry.

The aforementioned cat and OCD both immediately made themselves at home, and we went to do the usual chores on a road trip: laundry, in particular, since we wouldn’t have a washer or dryer available (except commercial ones at the local laundromat), having sold the ones we had because the tenants had their own.

5/31: Tacoma – 277 mi, 10 miles to go

We found a former Days’ Inn, having changed hands so recently that the toiletries still had “Days Inn” on them and the motel was still listed in the Days’ Inn guide we had as being one of their properties.

Paul has been doing economic reports on projects for immigrant investors, and many of those projects have hotels or motels as part of the plan, so he has learned quite a bit about the “lifecycle” of motels. I’ve talked before about some motels having seen better times, etc, and the way it seems to work is that a motel property is built for a particular tenant: architectural style, room layout, amenities, etc. The property is maintained and maybe renovated several times, but eventually it must either be demolished or otherwise disposed of. What usually happens is that the property is then sold to a “down-scale” chain, then the cycle repeats itself. Eventually, it may be sold by itself, and Paul said that the last thing that happens before the property is abandoned or redeveloped is that rooms begin to be rented by the week or month to people (especially seniors) who cannot afford other housing. We saw this happening at one of the places where we stayed while we were in Oregon. The property had been for sale for over a year and the owner told me that he’d rarely been even close to full earlier, but since he decided to rent some of the rooms weekly, he was able to make ends meet and even had full occupancy on occasion. The motel was still for sale, however.

So the former Days’ Inn, now called “Nite’s Inn,” if I recall (note: I am not responsible for their spelling!), seems fine, but clearly has some deferred maintenance issues, and appears to be on the slow path to oblivion. It is sad, but we have stayed in many of these places on one or another of our road trips. Often family-run (and often run by immigrants), if properly managed, they become a way for some to work their way into a better situation, moving on to a more upscale chain. For others, it may be too late to turn things around, and they become one in a string of owners who pin their own hopes on this investment, as the motel sells for less each time it changes hands.

 

6/1: home to Vashon Island!

We paid for multi-use passes for a car and passenger and got into the ferry line. Oksana was already getting excited, having gone on the ferry a number of times. Mischa had only been on a ferry once, a year earlier, when he rode in our friend Rick’s car when Rick took me to the airport when OSD, OSC, and I flew to Halifax from Seattle nearly a year before.

We rode on the Washington State Ferry System’s (WSF) newest ferry, the “Chetzemoka,”and Paul and I had to immediately go upstairs and check it out. Absolutely without charm, entirely utilitarian and made of concrete and steel, Paul pointed out that WSF has always viewed passengers as a necessary evil because cars are the real money-maker, or at least, help the most in terms of trying to balance WSF’s very inadequate budget. Intellectually, I can certainly understand, but the vessel that had previously served the route (and now sold for scrap, I fear) was the gorgeous “Rhododendron,” which dated from the 1950s and sported brass railings WSF crewmembers lovingly polished, comfortable padded seats (leather, yet) in the passenger cabin, and wonderful side decks to stroll as one looked out on sunny days at snowy Mt Rainier. The view is the same, but the rest is not, and neither of us will go up to the passenger cabin for the sheer pleasure of holding the cold, smooth, gleaming brass railings or sitting in those great seats.

As we drove down the main highway and then onto Wax Orchard Road, it was clear that OSD knew exactly where we were. When we went down the driveway and stopped the car and let both pets out, OSC suddenly realized where he was. OSD raced around the yard, and OSC sniffed around, seeing what was new.

It’s been an amazing year, but it’s good to be home.

May
12
2012

VA-WA Road Trip: Dispatch 2

5/9: Tucumcari, NM, 204 mi, 1759 miles to go

The Texas panhandle continued to be mostly flat and dry, going by almost in a blur at 75 mph. We stopped somewhere for lunch: the sign on I-40 showed that a Mexican restaurant was near the exit, along with several of the usual fast food outlets. We drove well past the main interstate exchange and didn’t see that restaurant, but did happen on another Mexican place, Mimi’s Cafe, which turned out to have great, authentic food. It was run by a Latino couple, the woman in back turning out that great food and her husband greeting customers, and their young son close at hand watching Sesame Street and coloring. Paul had an enchilada (he almost always has enchiladas) and I had the best chile relleno I’ve probably ever had anywhere. The chile was huge, spicier than they are in the Seattle area, filled with cheese, and covered with a wonderful spicy red sauce, obviously house-made. Even the rice and beans were very good. I may have eaten more than I should have, because all that was left was the stem from the chile and the ice from the homemade horchata (a sweet spiced rice or corn drink of which I’m particularly fond). Just one of those pleasures to be had on a road trip:  We’d never find it again, but we’ll have the memory of the food, people, and dusty setting.

Almost as soon as we crossed into New Mexico, the terrain began to change, with the land beginning to rise and occasional canyons/badlands appearing. Tucumcari is another somewhat depressed place, with some motels boarded up, and others recalled only by their fading signs, as nothing else was left to otherwise mark their location, not even a foundation. There were several old-style motels making the most of their Route 66 connection, and we would up staying in the very space-agey Historical Route 66 Motel. Those of you who have seen the Space Needle can imagine what I mean: absolutely trend-setting in its day, but now charmingly “retro.” The Historical Route 66 motel has floor-to-ceiling windows that were probably quite a big deal in the late 50s (OCC thought he was in cat heaven with those large windows to look out from). It was a very funky place, and it was great. There was a motel-run espresso shop next door (not exactly in keeping with that retro feel), which Paul was very happy to find.

And tomorrow we get to drive to Santa Fe.

 

5/10: Santa Fe, 168 mi, 1591 miles to go

Driving across New Mexico has been wonderful: as we head west, we continue to gain in elevation, and are seeing more and more mesas (flat-topped hills), and badlands. After our trips in Baja California Sur and to Durango, Mexico, we’re both used to much starker, drier desert country, so all the vegetation seemed very surprising. It certainly wasn’t lush by any means, but all of the sagebrush and chamisa (similar to sage) were unexpected. The vegetation was more like eastern Washington than out in the Mojave Desert in California.

Santa Fe is charming: most of the architecture is of tan or slightly reddish adobe, often with distinctive rounded corners; a small city (around 80,000 people) makes it easy to navigate. Our friends Ira and Sherry have been to Santa Fe several times, so I talked to Sherry about things to do there, as we’d found a place to stay for an entire week. So we’ll have a chance to really explore the area.

We spent one afternoon walking around the arts community, galleries and shops on Canyon Road. Some very appealing art, though not affordable for us. Still, it cost nothing to browse. There were kinetic sculptures at a couple of galleries. Scores of different designs, all moving with the wind and making hypnotic patterns as the wind blew their blades: it was really fun to watch! Another gallery had bells made of re-purposed fire extinguishers and other metal cylinders. The gallery owner told us it would be fine to strike the bells, and it was hard to stop once I started (Paul wasn’t quite as enamored as I). Gorgeous, rich, deep tones, and all of them different. But things “walk away” in Costa Rica, so buying one wouldn’t have made sense. But it was still hard for me to leave. They were so beautiful!

One thing Sherry suggested turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit o Santa Fe. Around the small central park are Native American artisans. Each person spreads out a blanket on which to display his/her wares – maybe bracelets, pendants or other jewelry, or paintings, or pottery, or things like belt buckles, all of which are made by the people themselves. There were lots of tourists stooping over the blankets and talking to each other, but I never actually saw any interaction with the artisans themselves. I saw many things that were beautiful (and said as much to the artisans), but at one blanket I paused, looked at the earrings, which were pieced slabs of stone, and told him how much I liked them. His name is Joseph Chama, and he showed me the rocks he buys and uses in his jewelry making. He cuts tiny slivers from the rocks, puts them together – with glue? I forgot to ask – and with gold foil between the pieces, then cuts a tiny backing stone and glues (?) them all together, carving a stylized C (for Chama) on the back of the backing stone. I fell in love with one pair of earrings, which were comprised of turquoise, serpentine (green), a reddish stone he called pipestone, and a purple stone he called spirit stone. We left, then I was talking to Paul about them, and his comment was, “why don’t you just buy them?” So I went back and got them. Joseph Chama shook my hand and gave me his card. Every time I wear those earrings, I’ll think of him and Santa Fe.

 

5/17: Pagosa Springs, CO – 153 mi, 1438 miles to go

As we drove north toward the Continental Divide, the landscape changed again: more trees, conifers, which we hadn’t seen in many days, more rolling hills covered with scrubby vegetation and occasionally lush grass, herds of cattle, and at one point Paul and I looked at each other and said, we’re back in the West. We were within a few miles of the Colorado border at that point, and it really felt different from where we’d previously been in New Mexico.

Pagosa Springs is named for some very sulfurous hot springs in the area. There are several mineral water seeps, white deposits built up over centuries marking the location of some of the hot springs tricklng down to the San Juan River. There are three or four hotels and resorts built around some of the larger hot springs, and the wonderful old lodge where we stayed had discount tickets to several of them. We opted for the moderate Outlook Spa. The bored young woman at the front desk didn’t even look at our tickets and vaguely waved us toward the changing rooms. We both eventually emerged and found our way upstairs to the rooftop pool. On a clear, cool night it would be lovely, but this was in the middle of the afternoon and the sun had come out. That water was HOT, and the sun strong! After a few minutes of sweating, I’d had enough, and Paul shortly followed. The sulfur smell was very strong, and the water had a rather soapy, slick or greasy feel, but I have to admit that later in the day I my skin really felt great! There really is something therapeutic about those hot springs.

We liked the lodge so much that we wound up staying a second night, though didn’t make it back to the hot springs. Pagosa Springs is a very nice, old western town, with a beautiful river walk and some good (and not too expensive) places to eat. Everything was just a short walk from the lodge, so we rarely used the car. (Funny: All those things that we looked for in a marina are the same things that make some towns special for us. Walkability, convenient access to services, a unique (non-cookie cutter) feel, all of these seem to make a difference.

 

5/19: Grand Junction – 228 mi, 1210 miles to go

After leaving Pagosa Springs, we really started to climb. We’d earlier seen some mountains with a litle snow, and Paul made a comment about the Rockies, but we hadn’t seen anything yet! It’s been many, many years since we’ve travelled from east to west, and although I’m sure we’d gone through the same area years ago, neither of us remembered this. We climbed steadily for probably 20 miles, went over a pass, then dipped down a bit and climbed again, going higher and higher, snow no longer off in the distance, but on the slopes all around us. We went over Coal Bank Pass at 10,640′, then Molas Pass at 10,910′, then other lower passes in quick succession. And the thing was, there were racers on bicycles, maybe over a hundred of them, pushing themselves ever higher as they travelled the same route we did. No one stopped to push his/her bike up the mountains, though there were small groups of twos and threes stopped occasionally, seemingly waiting for a friend to catch up rather than stopping to catch their breath. It was quite a test of endurance.

Next, we’ll be going through Utah and points northwest. More soon!

May
6
2012

VA-WA Road Trip: Dispatch 1

 5/1: Deltaville, VA – Sandston, VA, 62 mi travelled, 3438 miles to go

Our planned trip takes us from Deltaville, VA, where our car is, along I-40, which is south of where we’d go if we were heading directly to Vashon Island. I’ve never been to New Mexico, though Paul has, and I’ve wanted to go for years, so here’s my chance! From NM, our plan is to head northwest through Colorado, Utah, barely hitting the southeast corner of Oregon, and into the wine country of Walla Walla before heading home, covering a distance of about 3500 miles. We can’t get into our house until June 1 or 2 (the tenants’ lease is up on 5/31), so we’ll have a very leisurely trip.

 We’d originally planned for a grander expedition, stopping to visit friends in Florida, then visiting some of Paul’s family members in Mississippi and Texas. In thinking about pets, though, we’d be travelling a route that could be much hotter, so decided on this one instead. Paul’s in charge of the route planning – using the chart plotter, of course – on DW, but on land, I’m often the one programming the GPS and doing whatever navigation is needed.

 We are just barely getting into unfamiliar territory today. I deliberately chose an early stopping point since we got such a late start and so we could all get accustomed to travelling by car again, and figured that OCC (now Official Car Cat) and OCD (Official Car Dog – forget about the other meaning (for anyone who may not know, that would be Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Those of you who may remember the great tv show, “Monk,” might recall that he suffered from OCD.)) would have an easier time adjusting if we started slowly.

 The motel where we wound up had the virtue of being cheap, but a little too basic for our tastes, and had some interesting deferred maintenance issues:   rusting metal supports for the stairs to the upstairs rooms and the laundry area; missing layers of concrete overhead, as well as other more minor problems. It’s one of those motels that when new was part of a nice national chain, then became part of a lesser chain, and is now part of a chain of motels that we will remember, if only to avoid. The next step is likely closure if repairs aren’t begun soon. On the plus side, the lobby was very nice: the lobby is often all that is shown on some hotel websites. Recall this and don’t be surprised by the picture of a nice lobby when the rest of the lodging leaves much to be desired – kind of like home listings when a house is for sale, and the only pictures are of the exterior and landscaping. Warning bells!

 

5/2: Troutville, VA, 181 mi, 3257 miles to go

Paul wanted to stop for about a week fairly early on so he could have some much-needed time to work on several projects. The Roanoke, Virginia, area seemed to be in a region that could keep both of us entertained for a few days. I booked a motel through hotels.com that sounded fine, making sure before doing so that if we wanted to leave early, there would be no penalty for doing so. And reviews on Kayak and on hotels.com were generally positive. All of my bases were covered, right?

 It turned out not to be quite so simple. Paul had anticipated that he would need the time, but it turned out that clients hadn’t responded, so he had little work to do. When we got to the motel, we discovered that it was quite a distance away from everything; in fact, everything was quite some distance away from everything else (grocery 5 miles in one direction; restaurants 5 miles in another direction; thrift stores another 6 or so miles beyond that, and Roanoke maybe 25 mi away, not exactly a casual trip). And, finally, because it was so hot and muggy – record high temperatures in the region – we needed to run the air conditioner, which smelled strongly of mold as soon as we turned it on.

 I told the clerk that we’d be checking out after one night. He pointed out that we’d have to pay the higher daily rate, which seemed fair to me. Then he said that we’d have to pay the commission that he’d pay to hotels.com for one night. I wasn’t thrilled with that, but also agreed to it. (That portion of the bill was being double-charged to us: hotels.com charged us, and then the manager charged us, but, okay, that wasn’t too unreasonable given that we were cancelling six nights.)

 But then it got interesting. When I asked for a refund for the unused nights, he told me that I had to go through hotels.com, as I’d originally booked through them. When we got to our next stop, I immediately called hotels.com, and after about 20 minutes, the staffer told me that she’d have to get the manager on the line and talk to him. At that point, I started to wonder, as he’d clearly told me something completely different when I talked to him at 9 that morning. Sure enough, she came back on the line a few minutes later and said that she’d talked to the manager and that he refused to agree to the refund – and this was after he’d charged my credit card for the additional fees for only staying one night.

 At that point, I got on the phone with my wonderful credit card company (Capital One, and no sarcasm here, they really have been very helpful), and the woman I talked to got on the phone to talk to the manager, who was conveniently out for the rest of the day – this about 15 minutes after hotels.com had talked to him – and wouldn’t be returning until the following afternoon. She opened a dispute and issued a temporary credit for the difference, so other than the double-charged hotels.com commission, we shouldn’t be out anything. But this episode provided a very valuable lesson: I’ve been reserving rooms, always sight-unseen, and from this point on until we pull up and check the room out for ourselves, I will make no more reservations. Reservations made to snag a discount are just not worth it.

5/3: Farragut, TN, 279 mi, 2978 miles to go

The trip across western Virginia was gorgeous! We left our motel around 0730, and made a detour along Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We’d been on the northern part, the Blue Ridge Parkway, when Paul was in graduate school, and although we travelled at a much slower pace, the mountains and glimpses of the valleys and ranges beyond were beautiful. Paul pointed out that aside from vegetation, the view was very similar to some of what we’d seen in Costa Rica, range upon range of mountains (though the mountains in Costa Rica are higher). We stopped at the national recreation area visitors’ center, but it didn’t open until 10 and we didn’t want to wait an hour. OCD had a frisky walk, and even OCC got out of the car to sniff around and scratch a nearby tree, but was snatched when he headed downslope. For an almost 17 year-old cat, he can be surprisingly fast!

 Then it was back in the car, and as we continued west, the vistas changed: lush valleys and farms, copses of trees, beautiful horses in the distance. Not Kentucky, but is this the land of fabled quarter horses? It all seemed so idyllic, perhaps it could be.

 As we’d headed into Tennessee, the landscape began changing again, more rolling country and more deciduous forests, which at this time of year are all a tender green. I noticed more wildflowers, although they’d also been present in Virginia. Not knowing anything about them, all I can tell you is that they were mostly yellow, with some white and purple ones.

 I was wary about booking the motel we found for more than one night, but the proprietor agreed that if we stayed for another night or two, there would be a small discount. The motel turned out to be just fine, so we stayed for three nights. A good motel manager and staff can make a big difference. He and staff all had some good suggestions and provided directions to shopping and restaurants. There was a fridge and microwave, surprisingly useful for long road trippers like us, so we were able to have several good lunches in the room. Before we’d left Deltaville, we’d stopped at that great seafood store and consumed the last of the coleslaw and seafood salads we’d purchased. Much better than road food!

 Knoxville was only a few miles away, so we went in to town one day and spent some time wandering around downtown and going to the farmers’ market. I had a great time, though Paul tagged along only reluctantly. We did have a good lunch nearby, so it wasn’t a total loss for him. Knoxville is another of those places that is very visitor-friendly and of “human scale.” It was a pleasure to be there, and I’m sorry that we didn’t venture out during the evening to take in some good music.

5/6: Forrest City, AR, 423 mi, 2555 miles to go

We’d originally planned to stop in Memphis, but we’d made good time and it was hot outside, so we just kept driving. The speed limit for most of the distance other than near Nashville and Memphis is 70, so distances get covered in fairly short order.

After the rolling, forested hills of eastern Tennessee, things got serious: the terrain steepened and grew more rugged before we passed the turnoff to Cumberland Gap National Park. Paul had been through much of the area as a teenager on one trip many years ago, but it was all a revelation to me!

5/7: Roland, OK, 250 mi, 2305 miles to go

 We’d planned to stop for the day in Little Rock, but after visiting the Clinton Presidential Center, we were ready to continue on. The Clinton Presidential Center was very well done and really showed visitors a number of facets of Presidential life. There were binders you could through, each of which held one month’s daily schedule for the President. Paul and I both pulled one out to look, and it is astonishing to realize that President Clinton was really “on” for 14 to 16 hours per day most days of the year other than when there was a family vacation. (And no doubt the same is the case for earlier and more recent Presidents; it’s just difficult for someone like me to imagine the relentless pressure.)

There was a display of Presidential gifts, given by foreign dignitaries during state visits, along with an explanation about the evolution of thinking about such gits. Another area showed the planning that went into a state dinner – months and months of planning! And there were audio-visual displays about each of President Clinton’s years in office, including clips of speeches and memorabilia. It was sobering for both Paul and me to recall, as the Center’s exhibits helped us to do, that the political polarization in this country is something that began during President Clinton’s first term. Both of us had forgotten that. There were re-creations of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room (where the Cabinet met) in the White House, but we really were unable to see much of either. The place is massive, but there were at least four school groups, and one of the favorite stopping places is the Oval Office. Ah, well: it was nice to get to peek inside, anyway.

Tomorrow, we go through an area Paul had tried to dissuade me from routing us through: Oklahoma. He recalled it as being dusty and uninteresting, but I wanted to see it.

5/8: Shamrock, TX, 342 mi, 1963 miles to go

 I am so glad we got to go through Oklahoma! Not dusty at all, everything was green and beautiful, low hills giving way to the plains: lush grasslands, lots of low trees (bigger than bushes), and wildflowers: orange ones (not California poppies, as they’re one of the few wildflowers I recognize and their yellow-orange color is unique), lots of purple, white, some yellow, and even a few low blue ones. And the air smelled great. Some of the songs from the musical “Oklahoma!” kept running through my mind, and I almost expected to see a surrey with fringe on the top (no such luck, though maybe 100 or so years ago …).

 

 

Passing into Texas, the speed limit increased to 75, and the terrain flattened out. Shamrock is just 20 miles into the Texas panhandle, but it seems much drier than Oklahoma and the terrain much less interesting. And that really extends to the town where we stopped: a little under 2,000 people, it seems to fit Paul’s comment about Oklahoma: dusty! The town is really suffering, with lots of abandoned buildings and scattered, empty lots. I cannot imagine what sustains people in this part of the country, as there appears to be little industry or other ways to earn a living.

 

 

 

Apr
18
2012

East Coast Sailing: Dispatch 18

4/8/12

Wrightsville Beach, NC

Continuing to wend our way down the ICW, we have thus far avoided going aground, though we’ve been close a couple of times.

Wrightsville Beach, unlike so many of the places we’ve been on the ICW, is a small city in its own right, and ideally situated: the ICW cuts it in two, (with a bridge we had to have opened connecting both parts), with the resort part of the town fronting the Atlantic a mile or so away. At times as we got close to Wrightsville, we could see the breakers of the Atlantic a short distance away, looking very intimidating.

The marina where we stayed was a little pricey, but in a great location: just across the bridge and a bit more than half a mile (okay, a half mile beyond half a mile = a mile, but it was a very pleasant walk) to the shopping center where West Marine and the local grocery chain, Harris Teeter, are. We walked there every single day we were in Wrightsville Beach, needing something at one place or other that one of us had forgotten

 A marina staffer also told us about a great local breakfast and lunch place just across the parking lot from the marina, the Causeway Cafe. We had an excellent breakfast there, a seafood omelet for Paul and unbreakfast-like chicken & dumplings for me, and it was clear that the cafe was hardly a local secret. On a Thursday at 10:30 in the morning, the place was packed and we wound up sitting at the counter when a couple of seats were available (yes, even a wait to sit at the counter). Sitting at the counter, we had a bird’s eye view of everything, and staff worked quickly to get people taken care of. The owner roamed around, greeting customers, making sure that everything was okay, joking with staff and regulars. Busy, but it seemed like a good place to work, just one of those great local “finds.”.

 The Harris Teeter was a perfectly fine grocery store, somewhat upscale, but it got me to thinking about some things. Wherever we go, I always apply for one of those store discount or rewards cards, and I did the same at Harris Teeter. This time, though, there was a wrinkle: unlike many places we’ve been where staff give you the card and the paperwork, but usually don’t care if you ever complete it, at Harris Teeter, staff insisted that I complete the paperwork before I got the discount and that I provide my driver’s license #, which was listed on the form (and I was asked to get it out so she could check it). At that point, I stopped and asked that my paperwork be destroyed, which was done. Paul pointed out that I could have used my Costa Rica driver’s license. Ah,well.

4/9/12:

Murrells Inlet, SC

We are finally in SC! The current was with us, so we made great time and bypassed several anchorages because it was too early to stop. Paul found an anchorage off in the marsh, which according to one of the books we have, should have had good depths in the middle of the channel. He headed into the side channel, leaving plenty of room on either side, and the alarm on the depth sounder went off: 2.8′ below the transponder, maybe a foot below the keel. Paul tried again, but the same thing happened, so we continued on. Lots of anchorages listed, but all of them carried warnings about shoaling or submerged stumps, which meant problems with getting an anchor to set (dig in so the boat doesn’t drift).

We finally wound up at a marina. We’d initially rejected it as being too expensive, but there was no choice, as the next possibility was about 20 miles further, and we’d have gotten there well after dark. The ICW is mostly well-marked, but very few of the navigational aids are lighted, and the channel may be straight for a time, then the aids suddenly veer off due to a shoal. And the chart plotter is reasonably up-to-date, but a shifting (or just new) shoal will usually be marked by placement of the aids.

The ICW continues to change: narrow tree-lined banks here, marsh and wider banks — but don’t get too close to the side! — there; modest houses in one place, nicer homes in another, and absolutely nothing but low trees, brush, and sky in other places; people fishing off their own dock or at a public pier. So far, it has all been interesting.

4/10/12:

Dewees Creek, SC

We passed a number of grand and grander homes today (and you’ll have to look on our website tomorrow to see the one surprising picture), parks, and more modest homes. Why grand homes in one place and a modest home in another? Soil? Views? Access to services? Distance from the flood plain? (Most of the time, they all seemed close enough to the ICW to be at risk!) Neither of us could figure it out. But there they were, and it was fun to be able to see the mansions and other homes as we went by in our very modest boat. As the banks of the ICW became more populated, we also began to see things that distinguished several neighboring homes. After we saw the giraffe (which turned out to be a clever marketing device), several other homes had large sculptures facing the water; in another small community, there was competing (or so it seemed) landscaping; several other houses further on all had flags of various sorts. All of this last group of homes had US and SC flags, but one had a flag for The Citadel (which is in SC), another had a Greek flag and another had another country’s flag on display. Only in that one set of homes did we see that. And all of these facing the Waterway, not the street, so one could say that the ICW is the road going past their front yards!

Tonight we are in a magical place, but that’s after our first experience with anchoring in a cypress grove. One anchorage in our ICW anchorage book looked good and it was about time to stop for the day, so Paul went in to the little side channel. Depths were fine, but when he set the anchor, it was another matter. We were drifting a little too close to the trees and when Paul tried to get the anchor up, it wouldn’t budge. So he had me at the engine controls while he disassembled the anchor, first pulling up the chain and undoing the shackle connecting it to the anchor, then managing to tip the anchor (the water was warm and it wasn’t too deep) so that it came free, after which DW was adrift. I slowly ran the engine, then faster, and we were out of there! Cypress are magnificent, but viewing them from a distance is the only way for us from now on.

We went a few more miles down the ICW, and the book showed us a beauty: marshland as far as the eye can see, birds calling, seemingly miles from anywhere. And we were graced with a lovely sunset and clear skies, so the Milky Way was in view.

4/11/12:

Charleston, SC

Before we got here, I called around and found rates to be about $2/’, which Paul was a little unhappy about paying, so I called one more place, the Charleston Maritime Center, which I’d deliberately avoided calling because I just knew it would be the most expensive marina. It turned out to be $1.50/’, offered free use of their washer and dryer, and was located about two blocks from downtown Charleston, just far enough away that it was quiet at night. Staff were great, giving us advice about everything from local restaurants to conditions and weather patterns on the ICW and Atlantic farther south, and it turned out to be a fantastic location.

We spent three days in Charleston, which wasn’t nearly enough. One day while Paul was doing some work, I walked around the Old Market, renovated in 2010. Very different from Pike Place in Seattle, at the entrances to each building that ran the length of the block were women weaving traditional and very expensive Gullah baskets. They all had different intricate patterns and were beautifully made from prepared marsh grasses. I wish I’d had my camera with me and gotten permission to take a picture. Inside, there were small retail businesses, like the farmers’ stalls at Pike Place, mostly on temporary card tables or larger wooden tables. There were some food items (stone-ground cornmeal and grits, traditional benne – black sesame seed ­– wafers, seasoning mixes for a low-country boil and other dishes), but mostly the sort of items that tourists might buy. The market ran for four or five blocks, and when I emerged onto the main street running close to the marina, East Bay Street, I was suddenly in the historic district. It was a great morning!

We took the bus to West Marine one day and got to talking to another woman waiting for the bus. She and her husband are also sailors, having gone to a number of places Paul had mentioned when we had our Colvin Gazelle “Indigo” in Seattle. They’ve been to the Philippines, Indonesia, New Zealand, and spent a year in the Marshall Islands. While in Malaysia, they sold the 32′ sailboat they’d lived on for a number of years, which she told me is a good place to sell a boat. They’re planning to live aboard for many more years and wanted a larger, more comfortable boat, which they found here in Charleston. 39′ long, and of course it needs work! Her husband has been doing most of the retrofitting/repair himself, and with two months of work behind them, she thinks they’ll be done in another month or so, then it’s off to Florida.

More soon.

 May you all have fair winds!

 

Apr
17
2012

East Coast Sailing: Dispatch 17

3/23/12:

North Carolina Welcome Center

Mile 28,, Great Dismal Swamp Canal

We finally got underway on the 21st, with a long day motoring from Deltaville to Norfolk. Paul left under overcast skies, which quickly turned to fog. It was only then that he realized that the radar wasn’t working. Lots of Navy ships and some commercial traffic, though the shipping lanes seemed less crowded than Boston or Vancouver, despite the cruising guide’s cautions about the heavy traffic at Hampton Roads. We stayed at a marina whose location could not have been better: downtown Norfolk just a couple of blocks away (and a great breakfast place practically across the street from the marina). I chose it because it was very convenient to the waterway heading to the Great Dismal Swamp, though Paul had to make a U-turn after passing under a 50′ bridge (proving that the top of our mast is less than 50′ from the water) because the GPS indicated going one way, and the cruising guide showed a different direction. After Paul had committed to going the way the GPS indicated, he discovered that it suddenly agreed with the guidebook. I told him there shouldn’t be any bridges yet!

I was afraid that Great Dismal Swamp was “over-hyped” and that we’d be disappointed, but it is beautiful: narrow, very peaceful aside from the occasional traffic noise from US Highway 17 which runs alongside the canal for much of the distance, tree-lined and gorgeous. The water is as brown as root beer from the tannins. After talking to the friendly lock- and bridge-worker (like the lock operators at the Hiram Chittenden Locks in Seattlle, Army Corps of Engineers) while the lock was filling at Deep Creek, the canal got noticeably narrower, and birds started calling alarm at our passage. At one point, we chased a pair of great blue herons from one side of the canal to the other for several miles until they figured out that if they just flew behind us, we would stop disturbing them. I’d forgotten how large they are, especially in flight! Despite the busy highway nearby, it felt very wild and primitive. It was truly a delight to be able to go through it.

The lock tender gave us a brochure about the canal, which had been first surveyed by a young George Washington. After several false starts, it was finally begun (hand dug: no heavy machinery in those days) and completed in 1805. A rival waterway, the Virginia Cut, was completed later and throughout their histories, there was fierce competition, with one being more popular, then the other. The Great Dismal, being so much narrower and shallower finally lost out, but both are historic waterways maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

OSD made herself right at home at the lock at Deep Creek. We started out about 6 or 7′ below ground level, then the worker raised the level of the water until we were level with the surrounding (flat) terrain, at which point OSD looked around and promptly got off, evidently deciding this was as good a place as any for a walk. We were very lucky that the staffer is a dog person and that there was no one else around. OSD ran around a bit, then Paul convinced her to return to DW.

In addition to the herons, we saw an egret (seemingly smarter than the herons, as it only took a couple of times being disturbed before it decided to head in the direction from which we’d come to settle down again), turtles sunning themselves on a log, big and small dragonflies, and interesting large flying insects someone told us were wasps, but which didn’t bother us at all. Mosquitos will be an increasing problem, as both of us already have several bites. Time to break out the Deet.

So far, we’ve only met two boats in the canal. “Sunday’s Child” we saw only in passing, though it would have been fun to talk to them: as we passed by, I asked them where they’d come from, and the captain told me the Bahamas! Tonight, we’re tied up near a 29′ boat being single-handed by Jonathan. He travels back and forth between the Isle of Shoals on the ME-NH border and central FL. In the “small world” category, it turns out that he works seasonally at the hotel I’d commented about in an early dispatch (how odd that there was some sort of hotel or group camp out in the middle of nowhere). He talked to Paul at length about the ICW and a few spots to beware of due to shoaling. For cruisers/sailors on this list, this is normal, though in the Pacific NW, it’s more like, “watch out for rocks here and strong current there.” Here local knowledge is all about shoals, and his info was much appreciated.

3/26/12:

an anchorage at SM (statute mile – as opposed to NM, nautical mile) 103.2

It is no secret to say that Paul and I don’t always agree about things, and this has been one instance. Early on the morning of the 25th, I called the Alligator River Marina to find out about space and discovered that they weren’t accepting any boats drawing more than 4’6”. We draw about 4’8”, and I wanted to chance it (two lousy inches: I mean, c’mon…), but Paul, being the captain, didn’t want to risk it. So we passed the entrance to the marina and had the Alligator River Bridge open, stopping about 20 SM later (all inland waters are measured in SM; NM are only used in coastal waters and bays) when we found a safe anchorage at SM 103.2. Scattered rain showers and thunderstorms were predicted, and, using Paul’s words, “It was chaos:” rain so heavy that when Paul set the anchor, despite his “rain resistant” clothing, he got soaked. Inches of rain fell, as one squall followed another. I pointed out to Paul, now in dry clothes, that we were warm and dry, and with the propane stove, had a hot dinner, so we were fine. For once, even OSD wasn’t scared, despite the rain pounding on the cabin roof or the occasional flashes of lightning and thunderclaps. The next morning, as we were leaving the anchorage under broken clouds and no wind, Paul heard that the bridge across the Alligator River was closed until further notice. Okay, so I admit that on this occasion Paul was right and I was w—-.

3/27/12:

Upper Dowry Creek & Belhaven, NC:

We stopped at the very friendly Dowry Creek Marina last night. Hurricane Irene is a distant memory for most of us (a passing news item for those in the West), but it spawned tornadoes and heavy rains down here, the damage from which people are still recovering from. No one at Dowry Creek Marina is originally from the local area, though all have been there for a number of years. The woman who runs it is from MI (living her late husband’s dream of running a marina); one couple helping her is from Canada, while the other couple is from Winchester Bay, OR. Joyce and Brad, the couple from OR, talked about Hurricane Irene. They were here, had a trailer and car they thought they’d parked in a great location to ride out the storm, and when they returned, discovered that both had been destroyed by a passing tornado. The trailer was on its side, and they were able to salvage some of the contents, but the trailer and vehicle were both a total loss They are living on their boat, and have rented a storage unit here for what had been in the trailer.

I’d left several messages for a local marina here in Belhaven, where we’d hoped to get fuel. Another casualty of Hurricane Irene, they fell victim to the surge and were flooded out, and haven’t yet reopened.

3/31/12:

Beaufort, NC

Another stunning canal along the ICW, the Adams Creek Canal is very different from Great Dismal Swamp in that the latter is a State and national preserve, whereas the former is not. Lots of homes, most elevated (floods? air circulation in the summer heat?), many, if not grand, at least very nice, lining the north bank from Oriental to Beaufort.

It is great to be in a real town again, where groceries and other supplies can be purchased. Going from the info in the cruising guide, we had assumed that both Belhaven and Oriental would be large enough to have services, but that really wasn’t the case. Ice, yes, but groceries? No. At the marina in Belhaven, the “ship’s store,” as these shops connected to marinas are called, had the smallest containers I’d ever seen of items that cruisers might need: a bottle of olive oil, for example, that couldn’t have contained more than ¼ cup of oil (for $2.25); a single serving container of heat-and-serve ravioli, small cans of soup, etc. I was impressed with what they had (and the rather high prices), but we needed regular groceries: eggs, milk, bread, vegetables, that sort of thing. This is something that we really hadn’t expected. In Nova Scotia, most towns had grocery stores either nearby or people willing to give us a ride to one. (and Halifax, which doesn’t count, has great public transportation.) That is definitely not the case here! I am, however, grateful for the taxi service here, which picks us up at one of the local grocery stores, a mile or two away, and deposits us at the marina.

Aside from crossing some large shallow sounds (Albemarle and Pamlico) and a couple of wide river mouths (the Alligator and Neuse), we’ve been in sheltered territory, and other than one day crossing the Neuse River, it’s been very easy, motoring all the way. The few occasions when we didn’t have to follow channel markers, there was no wind. Ah, well, another time.

 On to one of the areas Jonathan warned Paul about (Bogue Sound), where we hope we’ll be able to avoid going aground, and then continuing to Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington, where we’ll have more water. More soon.

 May you all have fair winds!

 

Apr
13
2012

East Coast Sailing: Dispatch 16

3/11/12: aboard DW in Deltaville, VA   Here we sit, awaiting the last of the remaining work to be done so we can be on our way and head south. Getting to know the Deltavville area has been interesting, but it hasn’t exactly been what we’d expected. We returned to Deltaville knowing that a few things still needed to be completed, but, as it turned out, nearly everything still needed work. The boatyard had more than three months to complete the work, but if you’re not there to gently remind the powers that be that your job needs to be taken care of, they’ll work on someone else’s job that’s just as important if that person is there to actually check in on the progress of his/her job. Some of the work couldn’t be completed sooner due to weather/climate, but it’s certainly been frustrating.

We rented the lower floor of a house for the first two weeks we were here. Paul had placed an ad in the local paper when my listing on craigslist garnered no responses, and he received two messages, the first for a vacation home where it was clear that pets would only be welcome if they neither shed nor got on the furniture (right…).

The second was from a woman who sounded warm and very “pet friendly,” and Paul told her we’d talk to her soon. She turned out to be every bit as nice as she’d seemed over the phone. A retired biology teacher from Richmond, VA, she had been an avid sailor, but as a single-hander, she’d had to give up her sailboat as she got a bit older. Although just a few minutes from the boatyard, it’s a good thing that she gave us good directions. It was down a road which turned to gravel, then dirt, and the house turned out to be right on the inlet, where she’d watched us and a lot of other boats go aground.

During the summer, the setting is spectacular with the beach on one side and a pond on the other, complete with two kinds of turtles (snapping and box) and all sorts of waterfowl. But it is a summer cabin, and even with space heaters (provided by our landlady, who lives upstairs), it was cold and damp.

We did get to see wild turkeys, which are beautiful but shy birds, and cardinals. We also had some good meals out, thanks to our landlady’s suggestions, as well as going to the excellent maritime museum here. Deltaville is a small community, but the museum, about the history of boat building here, is well worth visiting, even if your interest in boats isn’t high.

We bid our landlady adieu today and moved onto DW. OSD was very happy to move. Unlike CR and all of the various motel rooms we were in on our road trip last November, she was anxious the entire time. Our landlady does have two rather yappy small dogs upstairs, but even when they were all gone on a trip one weekend, OSD still seemed on edge. As soon as it became clear we were moving, she couldn’t wait to jump in the car and ride the 5 minutes to the marina so she could get on the boat.

OSC, in contrast, settled in just fine at the rental house. When we went aboard DW, he was encouraged to remain on board, then took a couple of short walks down the dock. Later, I took the trash out to the dumpster, OSD followed me, and when I returned, no OSC. I called him, but got no response, no yowling, nothing. We needed to make a trip to the store, so put OSD below. When we returned about 30 minutes later, as we got close to the dock, OSC was right there curled up on the dock next to DW. Smart cat!

 

3/20/12: Deltaville, VA (still …) Tomorrow there is some prospect that if the weather cooperates, we may get out of here. People in the boatyard and at the marina have been very nice, but we have been anxious to be on our way. The work on DW was finally completed today. Paul still has one (we hope) minor wiring problem to be sorted out with the new autopilot, but the engine has been tested and sounds great, the new sail is rigged, and the ice box (alas, still the same 30 year old ice box) has a brand new block of ice, so we hope to be on our way as soon as the fog/murk lifts tomorrow.

Although we didn’t plan to spend a month here, being here has had its pleasures. Today we discovered the seafood store, which we’ve driven by probably fifty times. Oh, if only we had stopped sooner to find out how good it is! Not only do they have fresh seafood (fresh fish, clams, two kinds of scallops and shrimp from smallish to large), but they also have items prepared in-house:  wonderful shrimp salad, with cajun spicing, peppery tuna salad made  from fresh tuna, crab cakes, coleslaw, and another half dozen salads we didn’t buy. Fresh seafood and ice only last so long.

We got to know the local area fairly well, as well as communities like Gloucester and Gloucester Court House, the evocatively-named Kilmarnock (don’t you feel like you’re in Scotland when you say it?), as well as the small towns of Ordinary, Ware and Mathews. We spent a morning exploring historic Jamestowne and the glassworks there, which was a lot of fun, and went to Williamsburg, not for their historic sites, but for their Trader Joe’s. Yes, it would have been great to have gotten an earlier start, but it was fun to get to spend a bit of time here

Boatyard and marina staff have told us that this should be a good time to head down the ICW, as it shouldn’t be too busy. Before we leave tomorrow, I’ll call to find out about depths (In some places it may be iffy with our 5′ draft, though the Dismal Swamp channel is supposed to be dredged to at least a 6′ depth, and the ICW even deeper.

May you all have fair winds! More soon.

Feb
19
2012

CR: Exploratory Trip Dispatch 4

Wed, 2/8/12, Calle Magallanes (San Ramon):

Today we moved from the cabinas to our rental house about two km away. The taxi driver needed to make two trips to get everything, and 45 minutes later, everything was at the new rental. He helped us to load and unload everything: total cost 12.000 colones, or about $24 for everything. We had four pieces of nice wooden furniture we’d bought from an expat couple moving back to the southern US at the end of March. We were surprised by the sheer volume of stuff we’ve accumulated in two months, though it does include all of the food and storage containers we’ll need for our last two weeks here. Storage containers and furniture, along with whatever else we can avoid taking with us, will go to the new house before we leave CR. The sellers have been a joy to work with. Living in the same community, they have become friends of ours and have been very accommodating, even allowing us to store the furniture we bought and a couple of boxes at their house until we return.

One of the regular parts of my week is going to Thursday morning coffee at a local coffee shop. Anywhere from about a dozen to close to 30 women show up. Although there’s no real agenda, it’s a good way to learn about events and get information. I often bring my questions to the group, and someone nearly always has an answer. It’s an interesting mix: some are there every time, while others show up occasionally, and a few women are there rarely. New women hear about the group or are brought by friends, and occasionally long-time residents are there for their last time because they’re leaving CR. Several couples who have been important “movers” in the local expat community have either recently left or have their homes for sale and are planning to move back to the US. Men, by the way, are welcome to attend, though few do, and those only rarely: with everyone talking at once, it can be very noisy. Several men have nicknamed the group, “the chachalacas,” for a very noisy bird here in CR. I offer this without comment.

Among those people we have gotten to know a bit are two expat couples, whose stories show some of the reasons people have for leaving the US and moving to a place like CR. The first couple has been here for a little more than a year. They lived a very good life in the US, with both of them having high-powered positions. Then a few years ago the Great Recession hit them a bit earlier than those of us on the West Coast. They fully expected to find new jobs, but as time went on their unemployment ran out and they weren’t able to find much work. They went through most of their savings and realized that something had to change. So they retired and stopped looking for work, came to CR on a “due diligence” trip and liked what they saw enough that they sold their very nice home and moved here. Their lifestyle here couldn’t be more different from when they were in the US, but they are quite happy here and have no regrets.

In the case of the other couple, the wife had always wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking country. She had done some travelling, though her husband had not. They were initially unsure whether they’d remain in CR, move on to another Spanish-speaking country, or return to the US. With both of them taking Spanish lessons, they have gotten into the rhythm of life here and are very comfortable. They recently started the process of obtaining residency.

Just as people have a number of reasons why they choose to make their homes in CR, some of these same reasons come to the fore when people decide to return to the US, especially after spending a number of years here. Although CR is less expensive than the US, especially if you are willing to forego most US imports or items specifically for US and Canadian consumers , the cost of living here is somewhat higher than it was a few years back. This change has caused many to rethink their plans. Some are returning to the US because it now seems more affordable. Sometimes family being so far away becomes an issue.

Health care may be problematic for some: CR is not ADA-approved, and there are few regulation wheelchair ramps or doorways, and uneven sidewalks are the norm here, even in the capitol city of San Jose. Some of those things that seemed so charming about CR in the beginning may lose their luster. One woman on a forum I follow talked about this very issue: going to the grocery store and the feria may be interesting and challenging for the first several years, but she and her husband have been living in CR for three years, and it’s become just another chore on their list. She has taken painting classes and done other things to fill the time, but the way she copes with it is to take occasional contracts in the US for work, thereby taking “work breaks” from her retirement.

In the meantime we are gradually shifting gears, preparing to head back to DW. We brought four duffel bags with us when we arrived (one of which was filled with pet supplies), and we’re hoping to return with just three, but we’ll see. It will be an adjustment to be back aboard DW and its small spaces, but wonderful to get to see the Great Dismal Swamp and dink around the Bahamas. I have been looking forward to the Great Dismal Swamp for months and have no doubt that all of that insect repellent bought for use here in CR will be very useful as we continue to head south along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). We have heard that, like Alaska, large biting flies and mosquitos vie for biting rights; and the noseeums just slip in there. Hello, Deet!

 

Thurs, 2/16/12, Calle Magallanes (San Ramon):

We’ve generally been quite lucky with tropical insects and spiders. At the cabinas, Tali the gardener uses a non-toxic spray around the cabinas once a week. Mike and Earl (our landlords and now our friends) sprayed here once shortly before we arrived. Doors here are a little different from in the US: there are rarely thresholds below the door, so the floor tiles cross below the door with no barrier, and there’s usually a gap at the bottom of the door. When sweeping their tile floors, as most people here do daily, the lack of a threshold makes it very easy to simply sweep the dust and grit out of the house – no need for a dustpan. But that same gap does make it easier for insects and spiders to come inside at night.

[WARNING: If you have phobias about insects or spiders, do not read this paragraph!] Paul tends to go to bed not much after 8 pm, so I’m usually up for at least a couple of hours after he is. I am usually the one who takes care of spiders in any case, as he would rather kill them than take them outside. A few nights ago, there was a small spider and a cockroach that had made their way in during the evening. I was sitting in the living room reading, and wasn’t fast enough to take them outside, as both scooted quickly under the furniture. Then the following night, there were a couple of larger spiders, a little bigger than the garden-variety (benign) brown house spider we used to have in Seattle. I took both outside after coaxing them (separately) into a glass. There was also a good size cockroach, probably around 1-1/2” long that Mischa started batting around. The next morning when I was sweeping, I found it upside down waving its legs, so I got a kleenex and it clambered up and I took it outside. Then last night, I was on the computer in the dining room and heard something drop. (There are two stairs – tiled like the rest of the house – going up from the dining room to the living room.) The sound was made by a large spider dropping from the lower step to the dining room floor. I looked at it for a few moments and thought, okay, maybe I can leave it alone. But then Mischa went over there and started investigating and looked like he was about to bat at it. I told him quite emphatically, no! (and he actually listened for once and left it alone). I went into the kitchen for another glass, and then got a piece of paper out just in case I needed to cover the glass. The diameter of the bottom of the glass was about 2-1/4”, and its leg span was clearly larger than that. Still, I put the glass down on its side and urged the spider into the glass, and it went in slowly. I was afraid that it would jump out or climb out (the glass was one of those short highball-type glasses). It did start to climb out, but I shook the glass a little and it stayed put. When I got the door open, I tossed it outside, and, again, heard it hit the grass. Like the others, it looked like a much larger version of a brown house spider; in this case, just small-tarantula size. I am sure it’s only beneficial and not poisonous. Daughter Jeri at least, will read this paragraph and say, “Oh, cool.” I hope there will be no further encounters with insects or arachnids of the larger kind!

Fri, 2/17/12:

Yesterday we started the exit process and planning our return. We visited a local veterinarian, who not only spoke good English, but put up with my bad Spanish and had a great sense of humor. After stopping by this morning and talking to him in my halting and painful Spanish, he let me finish, then said very gently, “I speak English. Would it be easier for you to speak English?” Las mascotas were duly examined and found to be fine for travel, and we’ll pick up the certificates from agricultura (it’s the dept of agriculture everywhere regarding pet travel certificates) on Tuesday, as the Dept of Agriculture vet also has to sign off. So the pets should be ready to go, with current rabies vaccinations less than a year old and health certificates completed within ten days of travel. It also feels good to know we’ll have a vet who knows OSC and OSD when we return.

 

Mon, 2/20/12:

COSEVI, La Uruca, near San Jose.

We now have CR driver’s licenses! It took three hours, between doctors’ visits, trips to COSEVI/MOPT (where you get your license), and the bank, where you pay for your license. No monkeying around with government employees handling cash here! (Washington State Ferries, take note.)

We got to the ARCR (Association of Residents of Costa Rica) at the appointed time of 0730 this morning. The staffer who was going to help us through it actually showed up close to 0800. We knew not to leave because this is CR and she’d show up eventually. She took us across the street to have Paul’s blood typed (O+, same as mine, which I had done a few weeks back), then down the block to have another doctor give each of us a brief physical exam, including eye exam, checking for color blindness, blood pressure, checks on our reflexes using the edge of her stethoscope rather than the usual physician’s hammer. She also asked about high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and epilepsy, as well as medications we’re taking.

Then the real test began: we got in a taxi that Ivy, the ARCR staffer, had arranged. The driver drove the three of us to COSEVI, which we would never have found on our own, there were so many turns. Ivy said very briskly, “Have your passports and driver’s licenses (from WA) out because you’ll need to show them as you walk in the door.” Absolutely correct, and she marched us to one window in front of a bunch of people who were already waiting (for something else, it turned out), then ushered us to the next line, explaining what would happen and where we’d go next in the building.

We went to a total of five or six different places, waiting in six or seven different lines. There is no way we could have possibly done this on our own, and it was well worth the $40/each that we paid her. The total cost was $88 for Paul and $78 for me because I didn’t need to have my blood typed. The license is good for three years, and you can see from my picture – you’ll have to imagine it because I’m not sharing – that I take no prisoners! (Paul’s was much better, but he’s much more photogenic than I am.)

Next dispatch will be back aboard DW in a few weeks as we head down the canal through the Great Dismal Swamp and beyond!

Feb
1
2012

CR: Exploratory Trip Dispatch 3

2/5/12

A continuation of the last dispatch:  we were here this time to “try out” living in CR, to see what day-to-day life is like and how we feel about living in a very different culture and trying to speak a foreign language.

There are certainly things that we have found to be very frustrating here, foremost among them being the glacial rate at which both of us are learning to speak Spanish. One also has to have an unending well of patience. If you cannot let go of “this isn’t the way we do things where we come from,” then you’re doomed to failure.

We take the bus into San Ramon nearly every trip (on a few occasions, someone with a car from one of the cabinas has given us a ride into town, but of the probably 30 or 35 trips we’ve made into San Ramon, three or four were by car). The bus is always painted the same way, white with red and blue (the Rio Jesus – San Ramon run), and costs 170 colones (34 cents) to ride one way. But the 9:00 bus, which arrives at our bus stop between 9:15 and 9:35, sometimes has the first stair close to the ground, and other times far from the ground. It may have more seats, accommodating more people, and other times fewer seats. Sometimes the seats are very comfortable. It depends on which bus happens to be on that run. And the driver may be different. For several weeks, it was usually the same driver, but now two or three different drivers share the route each week (and who drives has nothing to do with which bus it is). I always say, “Buenos Dias,” to the driver when I get on and thank him when I get off, and depending on who the driver is, sometimes he responds and other times, he just nods.

One could get frustrated: the bus doesn’t come at the same time each day, the bus is different each day, maybe it takes too long. I’ve always enjoyed taking public transportation, but in the past Paul has sometimes been impatient. But here in CR, Paul has learned to relax and usually doesn’t mind the bus at all. The trip takes about 20 minutes to get into San Ramon, depending on how many people are waiting at the several bus stops along the way: sometimes it’s SRO and there have been a few times when I’ve wondered how anyone else could get on, but the people already on the bus always manage to give the new passengers enough space.

And roads here are amazing: paved highways are two or even three lanes each way, then suddenly the passing lanes disappear with a sign (sometimes only painted on the road), “ceda,” or yield, and, boom, in 50′ or 100′ , you’ve lost a lane or two, and you may have a couple of huge trucks with trailers right next to you. Other roads may be roughly-graded dirt: we visited a couple (the husband was nice enough to pick us up) who lived on a dirt road that snaked around, branching off and going up and down hills among the coffee fincas (farms). The house was very nice and the view absolutely spectacular (the Gulf of Nicoya and some of its islands during the day and the lights of Puntarenas at night), but I could never live there because it was probably at least a couple of kilometers of rough dirt road. Even the view wasn’t worth it to me. (Paul, though, had to pause for a while to think about it before he agreed ) Clearly for the couple we visited, though, it was truly worth it.

So San Ramon isn’t paradise by any means. That being said, despite all of the advice we’ve been given and have seen about renting, not buying, in part because the rental market here is so limited and we were able to get no assurance from anyone that a rental would be available when we return in August, we decided to look at houses, just for the heck of it. (You know where this is going …)

We looked at a few houses and didn’t see anything we liked. We decided to look at lots and saw a gorgeous lot with a less expansive view of the Guf of Nicoya, and toyed with actually building a house. We would have had to have been there full-time, and even then there may have been issues. Someone I know whose house we looked at told us that when she and her husband were having their house built, she told the workers in Spanish that one particular tree was not to be cut. They agreed that the tree was not to be cut. Everything seemed clear. Then a little while later, she went outside and discovered they had cut the tree down. So even being there full time and being fluent in Spanish, things can go wrong when you build a house. (Of course this never happens in the US…..)

The real estate agent who showed us the lot told us that the best thing we could do would be to find an existing house we liked. We looked on the internet – never look on the internet! – and found one house that looked great, which we knew would be a disappointment when we actually saw it. It turned out to be no disappointment whatsoever, and we are in the process of buying it. We hired a home inspector (recently moved from the US), who found only minor issues with the house and pronounced it well built and solid. The current owners – it turns out that I know the wife Lisa – have bought a lot with that view of the Gulf of Nicoya and the lights of Puntarenas, and we’ve all agreed that they will stay in the house until about August 1, which gives them enough time to build a guest house (casita) that they can stay in while they’re building their dream home. The house we’re buying is in Los Angeles Sur, San Ramon, Alajuela (district, city, province). A bit of irony Paul pointed out: you turn off the main paved road onto a dirt road, but it’s not too long and is temporary, though it does go up and down a couple of small hills. The “main” dirt road is under repair and is much shorter and fairly level, and an easy walk to the local bus stop. Cars can’t drive on it until it gets fixed, but it’s walkable now.

Paul is as pleased as I am with our decision. The house doesn’t have the spectacular view of the Gulf of Nicoya and the lights of Puntarenas, but it does have a beautiful view of rolling hills and farmland. The home is part of a community: seven or eight homes owned by gringos there and about 20 homes owned by Ticos scattered nearby. We have heard that everyone is very nice. In the “small world” category, it turns out that the couple who own the B & B we stayed in back in Alajuela and who told us about the cabina in San Ramon that might be vacant (where we’re living now) will be among our neighbors.

With COBRA running out in a few months and unaffordable health insurance looming, not to mention the cold, wet, interminable Vashon winters and springs of the past few years, we needed to do something to address these issues. At this point, we are hoping to begin the residency process here in CR (which allows us to begin paying for and having access to CAJA, CR’s public health system) in March, after we get back to the US. We have an excellent CR attorney, who assured us that, while the process may not be fast, as long as we get our folio #, which is proof that we’ve submitted all required documents, we can apply for CAJA in San Ramon.

Jan
19
2012

CR: Exploratory Trip Dispatch 2

1/31/12

We are starting to get into the rhythm of things in San Ramon. After our introduction to the feria, it has become a regular event, and the high point of the week. Our Spanish is still muy malo (very bad), but we’re both able to at least converse a little with Spanish-speakers and can mostly get what we need at most of the local mercados (markets) and elsewhere. You walk into the market, and if you’re buying produce, take it to the produce caja, or cashier, where it gets weighed, bagged, and a price put on it. Some places have you pay for produce there, though at most places, you can continue shopping for other items and pay for everything at the same time.

Other than the feria, my favorite place is probably La Molina, which I only learned recently is actually called SuperMolina. You walk in a small door, walk to the left to check your backpack, get a chit for the backpack, then get a shopping cart. You look around to get your bearings: the flour, grain, leavening, and similar products are on the prominent but narrow aisle (actually, they’re all narrow aisles) just to your right, but sugar is in a different aisle, as are rolled oats and wheat bran – and of course, I didn’t take my dictionary and had forgotten that oats are called avena!

From the outside, SuperMolina looks small, but inside, although it’s no Safeway with 100,000 sq ‘ of gleaming floor space, it’s large enough. By San Ramon standards, it’s huge, and that’s how we experience it. Way in the back is their produce section, where they have good produce, and you select what you want and have things weighed and bagged. Then there are aisles in front of the produce section which are perpendicular to the other aisles, where rice, juice and other beverages, and spices (a whole aisle of spices!) can be found. In the middle of that rear section, refrigerated cases of meat, poultry, and cheese are available. One friend refuses to shop there because it’s so chaotic, but I love it. Somewhere, if you can just find it, it seems as if they have everything. Paul prefers the much smaller Peri Mercado, which usually has terrible produce (though I got very nice onions there today) and where everything is a bit more expensive than at SuperMolina., but it’s more convenient for getting to if you’re on the bus.

In December and January, we got to experience several cultural events in San Ramon. The first was the first -ever Tuba Christmas performance anywhere in Latin America. We went to be supportive, expecting the usual assortment of Christmas songs, but what they played was quite interesting. Quite a surprise: everything sounded lovely on a combination of tubas, a few euphoniums and one bassoon. The conductor had conducted and taught music in the Midwest and it was all very well-executed. The orchestra was comprised of both Ticos and gringos and everyone, audience and band members both, had a great time!

There was a German tune from the 1700s, a French one from the 1500s, a song with Arabic influences that was nearly a thousand years old, and a few much more recent songs most of us recognized. The concert, evidently typical for San Ramon, ran just under an hour. Those who were responsible for “Tuba Christmas” promised that this was the first annual San Ramon Tuba Christmas. I look forward to the next one!

Unlike cities in the US, San Ramon takes every anniversary seriously, and a few days ago there was a four-day festival celebrating the 168th anniversary of San Ramon’s founding. There were concerts in the newly-renovated park, food booths, and a lot of stuff for kids (face painting, kite making, some very elaborate origami, and one booth for kids to make gifts for their parents). It was interesting to walk around and watch everyone. We went to a guitar concert we’d read about and that Paul was very excited about attending. Not quite what we expected, the conductor was making a valiant effort in guiding some young musicians through what was clearly their first public performance. I think the audience mostly consisted of parents and siblings, but it was all taken very seriously, with the musicians (and conductor) working hard and wearing their Sunday best.

OSC and OSD, meanwhile, are having a great time here. Both enjoy being outside (under supervision), though both also occasionally wander off. The first tine OSC did, he made his usual unearthly and very loud yowls. I kept calling to him until he was able to follow my voice and find his way back to our cabina. (After all, I’m pretty loud, too.) Sometimes he’ll yowl when he’s just around the corner, and it seems as if it’s more of a “pay attention to me” yowl, but it’s just as loud, and he, after all, is the one who wandered off, not Paul or me!

A couple have a cabina about 600′ by dirt road up the hill from us or less than a third that if you (okay, “you” don’t but OSC and OSD do) go straight up the hill. Both wander up there to get petted and become temporary pets of that cabina. The couple tells OSD to go home, which she does, but, OSC, well, that’s another matter: he starts yowling because he can’t figure out how to get home, so Paul or I have to walk up there to retrieve him! There are also other dogs and cats in this compound: a small very old dog that Oksana has only recently started getting along with; a large standard poodle who wants to make friends with Mischa, but Mischa wants nothing to do with him; and, finally, two cats in one of the farthest cabinas. The woman who lives there said that Mischa has been there, standing outside and baiting her cats. Uh, oh.

Being in the cabinas has been a wonderful introduction to living here, though our time here is soon to come to an end. We need to vacate on 2/8 to make room for a couple who had reserved the cabina some time ago and will be renting the cabina we’re in for at least six months.

After talking to a lot of people, and looking on the internet, we found a place for the last two weeks we’ll be in CR. It’s a slightly larger space and is quite a bit lower down on a paved and then dirt road. I was quite taken with it because I saw a toucan, looking just like a toucan in pictures, in one of the trees while we were there! The owner talked about all the wildlife he’d seen passing through the property. Weeks after we thought this was settled, we took a rental car down the road and realized that it was even farther than we’d thought (and the dirt road was much rougher than we’d remembered). We’d have to rent a car for the two weeks we’d be there, which would have been extremely expensive.

So we went back to the drawing board. I found another place on a paved road, and which is walking distance to a bus stop (same bus that stops at the cabinas’ stop). The owner said pets would be fine so long as OSD isn’t a puppy, which I assured him she is not, so we were able to find another rental for the last two weeks of our stay here.

We are planning to return during the rainy season, which is called the “green season.” A number of people who live here have told me that it’s their favorite time because after the two or three months with little or no rain, most trees have lost their leaves and most vegetation has turned brown, the rain is welcome because vegetation gets incredibly green very quickly. We hope to be here from August through November or December, which should allow us to ease into the green season and to then be here for the rainiest months (September and October).