Funniest Things I’ve Heard People Say in Costa Rica #2

As a follow up to last week’s post, here’s a few more things I’ve heard people say or seen on various facebook groups:

  1. I wish there was air conditioning in all of Costa Rica.
  2. At Pavas airport, one girl says: There’s a nice view on the second level.  Her friend responds: Is it air conditioned?
  3. Why are all the restaurants open-air?  Doesn’t anyone offer air conditioning?
  4. The waves are too loud and are keeping us up at night in our beachfront hotel room.
  5. There are Halloween crabs and/or geckos in my hotel room…they must be removed! (Note: these are two of the most harmless and timid animals in all of Costa Rica)
  6. From someone living in Costa Rica: What should I do with my kids during rainy season? (My thought to this one was: Really? What did you do with them when it rained in your hometown?).

And I’ve saved the best for last:

Costa Rica is such a beautiful island.

Sadly, that last one actually happens way more frequently than you’d imagine.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Celebrating the holidays in Costa Rica

holidays in Costa RicaSo here’s kind of a random question but stick with me…

If you owned a restaurant in the US, would you offer a Thanksgiving meal in October for any Canadians living in your area? (my guess is probably not)

Frequently asked question this time of year on Costa Rica Facebook groups:

What local restaurants are offering a Thanksgiving meal? 

This post is for both locals and for tourists visiting from the US.  One, if you’re an expat living here, make the dinner yourself.  Two, if you’re a visitor, don’t plan your Costa Rica vacation around a US holiday that you want to celebrate.

Costa Rica is not a US territory.  It does not celebrate a US Thanksgiving (or a Canadian one).  That also goes for other holidays.  Independence Day is September 15th, not July 4th.  It’s frustrating to me that expats are looking for fireworks on July 4th.

Last year, ICE (the electric company) had planned an outage for November 28, which just happened to be the fourth Thursday.  So many people complained that they wouldn’t be able to cook their Thanksgiving dinner that ICE rescheduled their work for another day.

Here’s the takeaway: if you decide to live in another country, learn what that country’s holidays and traditions are and celebrate THOSE days. Participate in the festivities of the country you are living in. If you want to have your own personal celebration for your country’s holidays, that’s great.  But don’t make local establishments change their schedules or prepare something special for you.  Does Thanksgiving really have to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November?  No…considering you’ve chosen not to even live in the US, you could technically celebrate it any day…or every day.


A Visit to Santa Juana Lodge and Community

Recently when I wrote about visiting the Sábalo community, I posed the question of just how many other communities are there in Costa Rica that are dying out and not being seen or heard.  And as the universe often does, an opportunity to learn more about these small communities presented itself to me.

A few weeks ago I met Jim Damalas, owner of Hotel Si Como No in Manuel Antonio, at his new community project in Santa Juana.  Santa Juana Lodge is opening this month but in the past, the adventure agro-tourism tour in this rural village was already known as one of the top rated tours of the Central Coast.  Located in the Fila Chonta Mountain range of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Region, Santa Juana is a rural community with a population of just under 50 people.  It was only in the last few years that they actually got electricity installed. (take a moment and sit with that last sentence). They now have 5 children in their school and they are reforesting the area, reintroducing the endangered scarlet macaws while also protecting the valuable watershed which supplies Quepos and other nearby coastal cities with the precious resource of water.  Jim and his exceptional team have been working with the local people to teach them how to be guides, tour operators and hospitality staff, bringing more tourism into the area and revitalizing the community.

Costa Rica river

The adventure starts on the road to Santa Juana.  Located about one hour northwest of Manuel Antonio, you’ll drive through African palm plantations, cross over beautiful rivers and enter picturesque valleys, surrounded by lush green hillsides.  You can also travel from San Jose, through San Marcos de Tarrazu (one of Costa Rica’s best regions for coffee!).  Either way, it’s a beautiful drive that eventually lands you 500 meters up in the tropical mountains.  I say tropical as it was still a pleasant 80 degrees.  Knowing we were going to the mountains, I had worn capri pants that day (the extent of my “cold weather” clothes) thinking it would be cooler but was so happy to learn that was not the case.  Not only was it a mild temperature, it was also so fresh.  And even when it was cloudy in the afternoon and a light rain fell, the thermometer still read 80 degrees.

hammock at Santa Juana Lodge

Each of the casitas are large (I think they are larger than my house!) and exquisitely designed.  From the outside, they may appear simple (which is on purpose, in order to blend in with the environment) but once you step inside, you will feel a sense of tranquil comfort.  With gorgeous views of the Manuel Antonio coastline and the Fila Chonta ridgeline, it’s no wonder that Jim just happened to stop here one day on a drive and decide this was a perfect place for a rural tourism project.

Santa Juana, Costa Rica

When you visit, the experience is to understand Costa Rica, the real Costa Rica.  You will enjoy delicious, homestyle Tico food, learn about the traditions and culture of the community and experience a little of what the now developed Costa Rica was like many, many years ago.  It’s the perfect place for a yoga retreat, wedding ceremonies and receptions or just some time away from the daily grind of life.  And it’s all sustainable.  Jim is the founder of Greentique hotels so you can rest assured that staying at Santa Juana Lodge will have little impact on the environment but a huge (and positive) impact on the community.

It’s exciting for me to be able to work with projects like this and see the good that comes from it.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, I didn’t move to Costa Rica to party or lead a mindless life.  I moved to Costa Rica to make a difference, in my life and the lives of others. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to do just that with the Santa Juana Lodge and community.

I’ll leave you with this: One of the things that Jim said that day has stuck with me…“these are cathedrals of nature…and we must protect them”.  I couldn’t agree more.

Enjoy the slideshow…









Venturing to the lesser known areas of Costa Rica

sunset at Rio Magnolia, Costa Rica

One of the things that I did often in college was take off for a few days to really focus on my studies (especially when I was living at the sorority house…god help me, it’s not easy to admit I was part of a sorority!).  I normally didn’t go very far, just to a local Marriott usually for one or two nights.  I’d hole up in the room, have all my books laid out in front of me and order room service.  It was my way of decompressing AND focusing on what I needed to get done.

And recently, I needed that again.  I needed to focus and take some time, just for myself.  Plus, I have wanderlust running through my blood (seriously, I think it’s in my DNA) and I often feel so trapped in Quepos.  Not having a car, I often have an underlying sense of disconnection and feeling stuck. In California, I’d take off on road trips and day trips, all over the place.  That was my outlet.  And while I live in the jungle and have a view of the ocean, it’s just not the same.  As much as I love living in Quepos, I need to experience more than just my little town.

Since I’ve been to almost all the well known places, I decided to venture out to one of the lesser known areas of Costa Rica.  I went to the little tiny town (well, not even really a town – more like a village) of La Alfombra.  I know, you’re asking me: Where?  It’s actually only about 90 minutes from my house, halfway to San Isidro, and is considered one of the lower lying cloud forests at about 800 meters.  Not high enough for the quetzal (that I wrote about here) but far enough up the mountain to have a few different plant and animal species than what I’m used to in the rainforest of Manuel Antonio.

As we entered the property (on a very dirt road), I knew I was in not only a cloud forest but also a primary forest.  Such immense beauty, like the tall redwoods in California.  Rio Magnolia Nature Lodge is a stunning property that was at one time a farm.  The owners, from Canada, purchased the property and have since begun to reforest it as well as planting many types of fruit trees (including cacao!) and coffee.

Rio Magnolia, Costa Rica

It’s a B&B style home that the owners designed themselves, with luxurious accommodations, thoughtful details and views of the cascading green mountains that eventually lead out to the Pacific Ocean.  And the owners, Maureen and John, are just beautiful people (along with their four sweet dogs).  While I was there to work on personal projects, they also always invited me to join them for vegetarian meals and it was so much fun to talk with them and share our experiences of living in Costa Rica.

It’s also a sustainable hotel and for ease (because I can’t explain it better), this next part is from their website: “…electrical power is produced by a renewable energy source, the river Magnolia, which runs through our property. A 12 kW hydro-electric system provides all of the electricity to the Lodge and is distributed to the various buildings by buried cable, thus protecting the wildlife from harm.”

Don’t you just love that?  They also hire from the local community, started a recycling program in the town, compost their food waste, and so much more.  Another thing that I loved (and that I’m again extracting from their website) is how humble they are and open to new ideas and new ways of doing things:

“Most of the Costa Ricans in the area are farmers with modest income. They are extremely good at re-purposing food and beverage packaging and have taught us many things about reducing our garbage.”

While I was there, I sat outside on my terrace, listening to the birds sing in the nearby trees.  I watched the sunrise and the sunset.  I walked around the property, going down to the little river that runs alongside it and just meditated there as the sunshine filtered through the towering trees.  I saw so many birds, caterpillars and butterflies and took moments of time to just simply watch the fog roll in and out, over the dense green forest surrounding me.

cloud forest

The only downside (for me) is that it was cold.  And if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile now, you know that I’m seriously allergic to the cold.  So my eyes were watering and my nose was running most of the weekend.  But I made the best of it and enjoyed the brief moments when the sun did shine and warmed up the earth (and my body).  Knowing that I would be back in the warmth of Manuel Antonio in just a few short days makes the cold (and the ensuing illness) much more tolerable  for me. **I should note here that it was really only 70 degrees at its coolest during the day which yes, I know, is not technically cold…but it is for me!**

Chrissy Gruninger

It was exactly the break that I needed.  I got much deserved rest and was able to not only work on my projects but meet new friends as well.  I so hope that if you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, you will visit Rio Magnolia and feel the warmth and love that is found there, from the owners, staff, delicious food and tranquil surroundings.

Enjoy the slideshow…


Pura vida…Chrissy

Semana Santa in Costa Rica

Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio

There are three times of year when I’ve been told to stock up on food and stay in my house.  First and still unproven are the months of September and October, our supposed rainy season.  Second is the two weeks around Christmas – New Year’s and third is the week of Semana Santa (Easter week).

Several people have told me about the holiday season here and I’ve always listened.  So really, I can’t report on all that goes on.  But I can write that at one point I walked into town and saw traffic on my little narrow roads…so many white SUV’s (AKA rental cars), driving on roads that are really more like one lane but we somehow manage to get two lanes plus an area to walk.  And so many people.  Actually, I was a little confused on dates and I walked down to the Malecon to watch the sunset with my neighbors (a lovely couple from Texas who I hope will return soon!) and was so surprised to see so many people there.  Only realizing later that it was indeed Semana Santa.

Never have I ventured to the beach during these weeks. I’ve seen pictures and I honestly don’t want to see firsthand the mass crowds that accumulate there, both from the tourists as well as all the locals who come from the interior of the country to enjoy the holiday at the beach.  I’m also told to not bother going to any restaurants as there will be long waits (lol, like the service isn’t already slow in almost every Costa Rica restaurant!). And then there are the dry laws from Wednesday – midnight after Good Friday…still in effect in many parts of the country (but not here in Quepos!)

I like my little piece of paradise without all the crowds of people.

Playa Espadilla, Manuel Antonio

So during these holiday weeks, I just stay put and enjoy the ocean view from my terrace.

I know the local hotels and vacation rental companies are happy that Semana Santa is late this year.  For some reason, they all tell me that when Semana Santa is early (like last year’s in March), the high season dies down much quicker.  I don’t really get it.  It’s still hot and sunny in April but that is their experience and I’m sure they are all relieved…both because it was a good high season here in Costa Rica but also because they can now take a breath.

My neighbors did venture out to the beach during the week and shared with me these two photos…TOO many people!

Manuel Antonio beach, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Pura vida…Chrissy

Never Never NEVER Feed Wild Animals

White faced monkey in Manuel Antonio, Costa RicaAn article came out this week in a Costa Rica online English newspaper that talked about searching for monkeys.  It was written by a non-Tico “freelance photographer” who is living in Costa Rica and I was just so horrified that I had to write this blog in order to counterbalance what he wrote.  I’m not going to give a link to the article because I don’t want to give any publicity to such a tale of wrong-doing.

In the article, the author was explaining how to find monkeys in Costa Rica.  He suggested the basics such as…looking for eaten pods on the ground and listening for breaking branches.  But what came next is just so shocking to me.  First that he wrote it as a photographer who should have some ethics when it comes to photographing in the wild but also just as an adult who should know better.

He said he brought a banana in order to entice the wild monkeys to him.  There are so many reasons that is so wrong.  Never, never, NEVER feed wild animals.  NEVER.  I don’t know how many more times I can say that.  One should not even suggest tempting them with food, even if you’re not going to give it to them to eat.

I recently had friends visit and after 4 days of not seeing any monkeys, they joked that they just don’t exist here in Costa Rica.  On the 5th day though, we did get to see them and enjoy, from a distance, their playful sweetness.

My ethics and philosophy are this: it’s such an incredible wonder if you get to see animals in the wild, in their natural habitat.  It’s special and unique.  But if you don’t get to see them, then that is just life.  The natural world is called “the wild” for a reason.  When we begin to interact with other species (by talking to them, trying to get their attention, feeding them, etc), problems ensue.

There are many public places and parks in Costa Rica where there are signs that say “Do not feed the animals” in both English and Spanish.  I always thought that was pretty much common sense but now I realize there’s a need for those signs.

What I will give credit to is an article that explains why one should never feed animals.  That is something that deserves to be read and shared:

Besides writing this blog post, other actions I took were posting a comment with the link above in the article as well as sending an email to the editors of the online news source, expressing my discontent with the article written and asking for it to be removed.  The editor-in-chief responded with the following:

“We allow freedom of speech and freedom to publish about anything to do with Costa Rica, given that it does not break the law, etc.”

I did a quick google search and couldn’t find any laws on feeding wildlife here in Costa Rica so I responded: Feeding wild animals then contributes to wild animals getting used to humans and being captured for the pet trade…which is illegal. 

The editor did respond again…with an offer to allow me to write for his online newspaper, share my viewpoints and have my business be seen by many, which I then responded that I only work with organizations who either already equal my values or are willing to learn and work towards a more sustainable and ethical system of values for all who live on our planet.

I was still unhappy though with the fact that this article would remain published for all those with internet to see.  And then this morning, I read an article about Jairo Mora, a young Costa Rican conversationist who was killed a few months ago because he was protecting turtles on the Caribbean coast.  In the article, it mentioned Wildlife Conservation Law 7317.  And by googling that phrase, I then came up with several articles that described the law which included this from the Costa Rican Times: “Wildlife Conservation Law 7317 mandates that you do not remove any plant life nor engage with any wild animal by feeding them or removing them from their habitat. Feeding animals leads to an unhealthy dependence on humans and hurts the animals.” (Click here for source and entire article).

I promptly emailed the law and the article to the editor who then replied that what he meant was – it’s not illegal for him to publish an article that talks about an illegal act being committed (by the author of the article).  He also said: There are laws for everything in Costa Rica, hardly any of them are enforced.

So what?  That makes it okay?  If the author had written about robbing a house, an obvious illegal act that also has very little enforcement in Costa Rica, would he have chosen to still publish the article?  Or it’s just that this particular article is about wildlife so who cares if it’s illegal and wrong to do even though it contributes to the destruction of our planet.

That old idiom plays in my head when presented with offers to work with companies that don’t share similar ethics: If you lie down with dogs, you’ll end up with fleas. Getting more business and being seen by more people is not worth it to me if it goes against my morals and values.  I’d rather live my values and stay true to what I believe in and hopefully, eventually, it will pay off.  : )

The author of the article has yet to respond to the comment I left on his post.

Sept 6, 2013 Update: The author has responded and informed me that the piece was done as a fluff piece and a disclaimer would be added to the top of the article. While I know he was trying to be pleasant, his email only infuriated me more since I abhor using animals for entertainment purposes. Additionally, it is still illegal to feed wild animals so the article still needs to be removed.

Pura vida…Chrissy

Do you like Gallo Pinto?

Guanacaste soda When I moved a few weeks ago, we had an early 6 a.m. start so there was no time for breakfast.  I had 2 slices of leftover pizza from the night before in my backpack so about an hour into the drive, I asked my driver, Tino, (who only speaks Spanish) if he was hungry and wanted a slice.  He laughed a little and told me, No, I only eat gallo pinto and casados.  So I put away the pizza temporarily.

Costa Rica SodaAbout an hour later, I took the pizza out and ate a slice.  While I was eating, Tino asked me: You don’t like gallo pinto? I responded with, Yes, of course, I love gallo pinto but I don’t have any!

So about 5 minutes later, we approached a small soda and he pulled in and said, We’re having breakfast, I want to treat you to gallo pinto.

Costa Rica Gallo PintoWhen you vacation in Costa Rica, you absolutely must do like the locals and eat gallo pinto for breakfast.  And be sure to try it with their famous Lizano salsa…makes it even more delicious!

Pura vida…Chrissy