Monday, August 31, 2009

Los Sueños

Anybody who has been to an all-inclusive resort in a Third World country has travelled from the airport to the luxurious property on an air-conditioned bus passing through local neighborhoods. For some people from North America or Europe, the view outside the window of the bus is a bit of a shock – the houses seem like shacks compared to the multi-storey constructions back home, the roads are in bad shape, garbage is left in piles on the side of the road (and might even be on fire), and livestock are wandering free. In many ways, the area in which we currently live is like that other side of the air-conditioned bus window.

My parents have travelled to parts of Mexico and the Dominican Republic before and just last year, they spent some time in India. So prior to their arrival last week, I was able to prepare them mentally for the area in which we live. However, they had planned a short 5 day visit and we thought that it would be a nice balance for them to experience a bit of our town (real rural Costa Rica) but then wash it down with a nice visit to a beautiful hotel on the Pacific Coast – Los Sueños

Los Sueños is situated on Playa Herradura which isn’t a gorgeous beach but the hotel makes up for it with an extraordinary, gigantic pool which feels a bit like a mini-Venice. The water in the pool was such a perfect temperature that the whole family spent most of the day just soaking and wandering through the canals.

The kids liked this “message in a bottle” boat outside one of the restaurants.

The walk under the aqueduct to eat breakfast and dinner.

The canopy of almond trees provide shade for the lawn chairs on the beach.

Gabriel taking a break from swimming in the pool.

Naimah with an intense look on her face practicing with her boogie board.

It is much hotter on the coast so we had to make sure that the kids stayed hydrated.

The kids were just so happy to spend time with Bubby and Zaidie (Grandma and Grandpa in Yiddish).

Naimah was wiped by the end of the 2 days of heat and sun.

A video of the surfers in training before they hit the beach.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Coq Chantant

I am an early-riser especially since I started working on a different time zone 5 years ago. Since 2004, I have been starting work around 5:30am Pacific Standard Time (PST) due to the time difference of 3 hours between British Columbia and our head office in Quebec; now with a 2 hour time difference in Costa Rica, I am spoiled with an extra hour of sleep.

I was joking recently with someone at the office that considering how early I wake up, I should have been a rooster. Yes, but being a rooster would mean that I would wake the rest of the family up with my crowing in the morning. Little did I know that literally the day after, the entire family started getting woken up by an actual rooster crowing at the absurd hour of 4 am. (Aren’t roosters supposed to crow when the sun is actually up?) Where exactly did this rooster come from? Did one of our neighbors purchase a new rooster or had this rooster moved into a nearby vacation rental? The strange thing is that the crowing seemed to get louder and louder each morning until it sounded like it was right outside our window. Was it our sleep-deprived minds that were causing this illusion? The kids even told us that they had seen the rooster right outside their room. Ya, right. Finally, one morning Mélanie couldn’t take the sound anymore, journeyed outside, and, ‘lo and behold, the mischievous little bugger had indeed walked over to our house! Talk about an annoying house call.

We spent the last 2 mornings chasing him away in our underwear and now we just close the gate to our house at night to prevent him from getting in at all.

Here is a picture of our uninvited guest enjoying our yard at dawn before I chased him away (hopefully) for the final time.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


If we start to feel like the family from “The Mosquito Coast” dealing with the bugs, snakes, and scorpions, a quick jaunt to San José provides the creature comforts of North America. There might not be any Tim Hortons but staples like McDonald’s and Subway can easily be found. It is always interesting to see what kind of twist these international megachains have to cater to the local population. For example…

When we lived in London, England, we got a kick out of the fact that McDonald’s had a McCurry sandwich to cater to the British love for Indian food. In Costa Rica, Gallo pinto is the prototypical traditional dish of pre-cooked rice and beans so add McDonald’s to the mix and you get a “McPinto”.

Even though Canada uses the metric system, one still orders either a 6” or 12” Subway sandwich. In Costa Rica, you order either a 15 cm or 30 cm sandwich. (I won’t tell Léah that her 15 cm sandwich was really only 5.9 inches.)


On the topic of megachains, Wal-Mart cannot be left out. However, Costa Rica doesn’t have Wal-Mart but rather Hipermás. Wal-Mart owns a big chunk of Hipermás and when you enter the store, it is pretty much the same store but swap the happy face logo for a whale.

Spending a few hours in air-conditioned restaurants and shopping malls was a big change for the kids. Best line from our 4-year-old around midday in reaction to her feeling a bit like a fish out of water today, “it feels like we are on an adventure”.

No Artificial Ingredients

The Costa Rica Tourism Board picked a very fitting slogan: "No Artificial Ingredients." For such a small country, there is no shortage of plein air activities to enjoy. Last week, we went to Los Chorros Waterfalls (situated a half hour from us).

It was hot in the sun and Naimah made good use of the umbrella that we had recently purchased for her to create some shade.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Let’s Google That Bug

When a 4-year-old, upon spotting an insect that she can’t identify, says to her brother and sister, “let’s Google that bug”, the usage of a company name as a verb reaches a new level when it is part of the lexicon of such a young child. When I hear those words coming from Naimah, it is my call to action to grab my camera. In less than a half hour this morning, we came across some interesting species just on our back porch.

Léah and Gabriel quickly identified this one sitting on our door screen as a leaf bug.

This one looks like it is a member of some butterfly family.

But what the heck is this? Gabriel called it a “furry tiger bug”. Those glowing yellow antennae? That’s not an effect from the camera.

On the subject of discoveries, Mélanie noticed just this week that we have bananas growing on the trees outside our bathroom (close to where she discovered the infamous snake).

But Gabriel and I couldn’t figure out what this is growing 2 trees over.

And while I am at it listing some of these head scratchers, what exactly is this in front of our neighbor’s house? Is it a bat net or something?

Can I Google “weird web net thingy” and get an explanation?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours

In Costa Rica, the rainy season (or "green season") is from May to mid-November. Costa Ricans call this wet time of year their winter. I don’t want to jinx it (even though I am probably jinxing it by writing this blog post), but so far, the rainy season has consisted of beautiful days up until early afternoon. By the time you are completely exhausted and burnt out (literally) from the sun and heat, the clouds come in and often the rains are fairly light. In general, we haven’t minded it that much.

However, when nature decides to really flex its muscles… wow, there is nothing like it. The thunder and lightning storms are amazingly powerful. The second night that we were living in Costa Rica, we experienced a huge storm and it felt like our house would be swept away by the rains (it probably didn’t help that I recently saw The Wizard of Oz with Léah). The kids were terrified and we couldn’t blame them (especially when the roof started leaking which added an extra dimension to the fear). It is hard to comfort one’s children when you are shaking yourself.

Now that we are into week 5 of our journey, the kids have gotten more used to the storms and it doesn’t bother them as much when the skies open up with their full fury.

For those of you reading from the “Wet Coast” of Canada, you think British Columbia has rain? How about this?

Mountain View

When Mélanie and I committed to Costa Rica, we knew that we didn’t want to live in San José since it is a big city. In our minds, the Costa Rican experience was all about nature and our preference was to live in the mountains in a small town. At first, we doubted that it would be possible to be in a rural area because I need high-speed Internet to be able to work. After doing a considerable amount of researching and networking, we were so excited to find out that our goal could be achieved by making contact with Ray at CRWiFi. In a nutshell, Ray beams high-speed Internet from antennas situated in the mountains. When we were ready to book a beautiful house in the hills, we coordinated the installation of a receiver with Ray in order to have high-speed Internet available as soon as we arrived.

I am very, very fortunate to be able to develop software while being surrounded by coffee plantations, fruit trees, toucans, iguanas etc.

Sadly, we have to leave this house in around 3 weeks and we will definitely miss it. We have such a spectacular view being perched up high.

(If you listen closely while watching the video, you can hear Léah ask Mélanie to smell her armpit. Don’t think she is strange, she was trying her first deodorant stick. ^_^) 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fun with Friends on Mother’s Day

We celebrated Mother’s Day at John and Patsy’s house. They were such amazing hosts and everybody had a great time.

John is the “Grill King”… the way he worked the chicken on the BBQ was a sight to behold.

We haven’t taken many family pictures because I am normally the one behind the camera. I love how Naimah is kicking up her heal in the picture.

Mélanie and Patsy (I can understand quite a bit when Patsy speaks her “Mexican Spanish”).

Water limbo

Of course, Mélanie needed some quality “Latin baby” time.

Patsy has details on her blog as well.

Monday, August 17, 2009


The rest of the family was in the kitchen when Mélanie called out to us to come see something. She had been in the middle of hanging up some of the swimsuits to dry when she discovered a stowaway.

The scorpion was very much alive and had decided to camp out in my swimsuit. I transferred him to a Ziploc bag and we set it free in a field the following morning.


As mentioned before, creepy crawlies such as scorpions, spiders, and snakes are fairly common here. Nervous for our children’s well-being, we researched a bit on the Internet and read that Costa Rica has 12 types of scorpions, but none are dangerous; their sting is similar to a wasp. Scorpions in the United States are much more deadly and dozens of people die in Arizona from them every year.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Mother’s Day: The Sequel

Mother’s Day in Costa Rica, which happens to be today, is a very big deal here. The kids have spent the last 2 weeks preparing Mother’s Day cards and presents.

Léah’s card for Mélanie:

Gabriel’s card for Mélanie:

How many Jewish Bubbies do you think had cards made for them in Costa Rica?


Gabriel made a card for Mamie in Gaspé:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Return to Sender

Costa Rica boasts the highest standard of living in Central America and has a vibrant technology sector, but “postal authorities say that 1 in 5 pieces of mail is undeliverable because they can't figure out where the addressee lives” (LA Times, 2007). This is due to the fact that Costa Rica doesn't have a standardized system of addresses; instead, “official” addresses in this country read like treasure-hunt clues. Take a look at the address for this restaurant in our town:

“50 meters west of the ‘Nacional al Boyero’ monument”.

Most Costa Rican addresses are expressed in relation to the closest community landmark; in the case pictured above, a monument. But to make it even more challenging, sometimes that landmark no longer even exists. Plus, when Costa Ricans give directions, a city block is considered to be 100 meters long regardless of its length. So for the address of the restaurant, it isn’t an exact 50 meters from the monument but rather a half a block.

In Atenas (where we live), the streets aren't named, and virtually none have signs. I haven’t even seen a house with a number. We called for roadside assistance this week to boost the dead battery on our car and it took them 3 hours to find us… and we were at our house!

For those of us that have become reliant on Google Maps, this is a big adjustment when you can’t use it to help you find “125 meters west of the old Coca-Cola plant”.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Birthday Masks and Spanish Barbies

We celebrated Naimah’s birthday with a cake last night and wanted to buy party hats for the kids like we do in Canada. However, in Costa Rica, it seems that it is the tradition to wear masks at birthday parties instead and therefore, that is all that we could find in stores. The kids were more than pleased to have a little masquerade.

Naimah loves Barbie and wanted a doll from the movie “The Diamond Castle”. We were lucky to find a doll in one of the stores in a nearby town but of course, the doll doesn’t sing in English, it sings in Spanish. Naimah officially now has Barbies that speak English, French, and Spanish… I hope Ken can understand them all.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy 4th Birthday, Naimah!

It doesn’t feel like long ago that she was still a baby.