Sunday, February 10, 2019

Lego Movie 2 at Lincoln Plaza

On Friday, we went to City Mall, the largest mall in Central America.  It was pretty huge and had great stores and a large food court.  On the drive back, we went past the Lincoln Plaza (can the malls have more overt US names?) and noticed a billboard for the Lego Movie 2.  Idea -- we should go to a movie!

So when we got home, we checked show times and tried to purchase tickets for that night -- opening night.  They had options for 'DOB' and 'SUB', so I correctly guessed that 'SUB' meant that it was in English with Spanish subtitles.  As I went through the checkout, the credit card was rejected -- which nearly always happens when we purchase online from Costa Rica despite having told our credit card companies that we would be in Costa Rica.  But the website allowed us to reserve the tickets and pay at the theater, which we paid for with the same credit card that was rejected online.

We're not really 'mall people', but the Lincoln Plaza is a great, engaging and welcoming mall.  The kids checked out the Lego store, Carson got a shirt at the CAT (tractor brand) store and we got some snacks from Auntie Annes and Cinnabon.

Employees at retail stores in Costa Rica actually seem to care -- the stores are cleaner, better organized, and the employees are more friendly and helpful than our experience at stores in the US.

Movie tickets were only $5 / adult and less for the kids.  Much cheaper than in the US and the theater was quite a bit nicer than most US theaters.

Angela relaxed in this rocking chair outside the Lego store while the kids admired the overpriced toys.  Lego's are expensive in the US, and nearly twice as expensive here.

There are a lot of these stand-alone McDonalds ice-cream stands.  Here, Savannah is ordering and paying for an ice-cream cone on her own:

The busiest stores at the food court were the US stores, especially KFC and McDonalds.

Soccer in San Jose - Saprissa vs Santos

In San Jose, everyone loves the Saprissa professional soccer team.  They haven't lost a home game since 2016 and their games are always packed.  You regularly see people wearing Saprissa shirts around San Jose.  So we decided to go to a Saprissa game.  We purchased tickets online (in a website entirely in Spanish).  When ordering, it says you can pick them up at a financial center in various grocery stores.  So we headed to the grocery store and they refused to give us the tickets that we paid for! 

The credit card that we used to purchase the tickets online didn't have raised numbers and they will not issues tickets unless they can rub an image of your card on carbon paper.  They absolutely refused, so I looked more closely at the website and it did say (in Spanish) that the credit card must have raised numbers.  So I called the ticket company and they said that we could probably pick up the tickets at the stadium.

So we went to the stadium, unsure if we had tickets to the sold-out game.  After the employee checked with his manager, he decided to give us the tickets, even though he couldn't get an imprint of the credit card.

Our seats were some of the cheapest available, so we were really high in the very windy stadium.  It didn't take long for the kids to get really cold.  Fortunately, an employee approached us during the game and told us (in Spanish) about some available box seats that would be much warmer.  He subtlety hinted that all it would take is a little money, given directly to him, and the box seats could be ours.  So we gave him 10,000 Colones ($16) and we were upgraded to some of the nicest box seats in the stadium.  We enjoyed watching Saprissa (our hometown team, at least for now) win the game in our nice, warm, box seats.  In the end, we paid about $8 / per person for amazing seats at a professional sporting event.

In one section that appeared to be full of college students, there was near constant drumming, cheering, and shouting.  When the Saprissa scored the only point of the game, the crowd went wild.

The view from our original seats was pretty good, despite us being pretty high up.

Before the game, the referees ran back and forth and had a really fun choreographed routine.

The view from the box seats:

The half-time show featured the Monster (a dinosaur) mascot of the Saprissa and a clown.

The college student area:

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Poas Volcano National Park

Volcanologists have created a scale of 1-5 for the status of an active volcano.  A 1 means that it isn't currently showing any signs of activity.  A 5 is actively erupting with lava flowing.  Currently, there are two volcanos in Costa Rica that are a 3 and one 4.

A 3 means that there is minor activity or an eruption warning.  Volcán Rincon de la Vieja is a 3; we had visited it a couple of weeks ago and were able to see some of that activity.

The other volcano that is a 3 is Parque Nacional Volcán Poás.  We went there today.  It erupted in 2017 and again in Aug of 2018.  It opened to visitors again recently, but is still fairly volatile.  How can you pass that up?

The volcano is staffed with Red Cross personnel and many Red Cross vehicles to help in case of emergency.  You are required to back into parking spots in case of a quick emergency evacuation.  Hard hats must be worn near the volcano.  There are reinforced concrete bunkers to take shelter in when escape is not possible.  You are also limited to < 20 minutes near the volcano to reduce exposure to the toxic fumes it emits.

Doesn't that sound like a family friendly experience?  I guess not, but it did sound exciting and educational to us.

We were able to go to the summit and look down into the fuming crater.  That was pretty amazing.  Clouds of fumes were continuously emanating from various fumaroles in the crater.  We saw pictures of the crater before and after each of the eruptions over the last couple of years.  Tons of rock and debris have been thrown from it, increasing its size dramatically.  It is now the deepest active volcano crater in the world, about 900 feet deep, and it is about 1 mile wide.

They have highlighted damage caused by the recent eruptions.  Chunks of the concrete were crushed or missing and even thick steel railings were significantly dented.

The volcano is very high, about 8900' elevation, giving you incredible views of San Jose on the drive and allowing you to look down on the clouds from the summit.

Several notes for those that plan on going:

Reservations are required -- no exceptions, but you can make reservations from some hotels or restaurants down the mountain from the volcano.

In addition to your entry tickets, you must pay for parking (2000 Colones).

The information about visiting the volcano online is strict and uninviting.  You are required to create an account on a website to reserve a time to view the volcano.  The website is flakey and randomly will give you incomprehensible errors.  If you are fortunate enough to get to the checkout screen, it shows an 8 minute timer and presents you with a large page that you have to complete before the time runs out.  It requires each visitors name and passport number, credit card information and billing info.  Going as quickly as I could, I finished it with 50 seconds to spare.

Myth: you must arrive 10 minutes before your reservation and if you are more than 5 minutes late, you will forfeit your tickets (which are not cheap -- it was $55 USD for our family).

Actual: they were pretty flexible with timing.  we arrived about 30 minutes early and we allowed to join the earlier tour.  Some other people had arrived about 40 minutes late and it wasn't an issue.

Myth: it will be very cold since you are at such high elevation (approx 8900').

Actual: it was slightly chilly, but we took off our jackets and many people were comfortable in shorts.

Carson was looking at this stair that had been damaged in the last eruption:

This railing was also damaged by rock shooting out of the crater:

On the drive up, we saw this really ornate, traditional Costa Rican cart:

Our Spanish Tutor

The children have been studying Spanish using Rosetta Stone online lessons, but we decided a couple of weeks ago to find a tutor to help each of us progress more quickly.

We hired a college student in Colombia that teaches us via Skype on the internet.  We have been meeting with her twice per week.  First, she teaches the kids a class.  Then she has a class for Angela and me.  It has been so helpful.  Angela and I come with a list of questions and areas that we need help with and she coaches us through them.

Gated In

As we pulled up to church on Sunday, there was a narrow, steep, gated driveway with tall walls on both sides.  The gate was open as we entered and we found only four parking spots to accommodate the entire congregation.  Surprisingly, one of them was available for us.  Apparently, very few people drive to church.  

As we were leaving, we noticed that the gate was closed.  We hoped and assumed that it would automatically open as we approached it, but no.  So we got closer, then even closer, until we were just about hitting the gate.  That's when the realization hit -- we would have to back up the very steep, narrow, walled driveway, and not let the car roll forward as we began to backup the steep hill.

With cautious use of the emergency brake and the family watching both sides to ensure we didn't hit the walls surrounding the driveway, we backed up.  Then checked the perimeter of the property for another way out -- nothing.  So I went into the church and using the best Spanish I could manage, started asking people how to get out.  I found someone that could help -- he actually had a remote.  Apparently, only certain individuals have remotes to open and close the gate of the church.

Something as trivial as leaving a parking lot can sure be challenging!

The Ultimate Dog Showdown

As we enter and leave our neighborhood, there are always 4-5 dogs sitting in the road.  One of them is bold enough that if it sees your car coming, it will walk to the middle of the lane and sit down -- a showdown.  Who will flinch?  We just drive forward slowly, giving it plenty of time to move and it does.  

We've enjoyed walking to them and giving them the attention they're craving.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Family Soccer League

Our house has a large, grassy, flat area -- perfect for soccer.  So we bought a soccer ball today and Savannah and I challenged Tucker and Carson to a game of soccer.  Savannah and I won 2 to 0, but the boys have requested a rematch.  (We actually played width-wise in the field since I wasn't sure I could handle running back-and-forth the full length of the yard).  Maybe after a few more games, I'll be able to handle it.

Casa los Cielos, San Jose, Costa Rica

As January came to a close, we reluctantly had to say farewell to our home in La Fortuna.  We had enjoyed the house, the birds and animals, the amazing volcanos, national parks, and the beaches we visited.  We wished our wild pets (Duermito the sloth, Dueño the cat, and Diego the gecko) adieu and drove away.

On the drive to San Jose, we saw two Montezuma birds and two blue Morpho butterflies.

Our new house in San Jose, known as Casa los Cielos, was beautiful as we pulled up.  We were stunned by the forested yard and the view of the city.

This dining table is one solid piece of wood about 12 feet x 4 feet.  It is huge.

The master bedroom:

Several horses welcomed us to our new home.  They were very friendly.

It actually gets pretty cold here at night, so the fireplace was warm and cozy.

There is a spectacular view of San Jose in the distance.

A large beetle (maybe 1.5") that was crossing the road to our house.

This moth was alive, but it let Savannah pick it up and hold it for a while.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Carson at the Restaurant Alone

Carson walked alone to a nearby restaurant, ordered, and bought some fried chicken that he brought home.  The kids Spanish skills aren't great, but they are learning enough to navigate on their own.


Ice Cream at Fortuna Park

At the center of La Fortuna is the Catholic church -- Parroquia San Juan Bosco -- and Fortuna Park.  Fortuna Park is a beautiful area where people tend to relax and talk.  We were hopeful to find good ice cream at the nearby gelato shop, but the results were mixed.  Some flavors were good and some not.  To make it worse, they don't give samples.  As Tucker was taught in school in Atlanta: "you git what you git and you don't throw a fit".

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Things that are different here II

  • eggs are not refrigerated in stores, they are stacked in cardboard crates wrapped in saran wrap. 
  • salt is granulated, (with fluoride and iodine) but the texture is different than in the US. 
  • jam and mayonnaise are in bags with a tube at the top to squeeze it out of. 
  • Peanut butter is in jars, some high-end (imported) jams are in jars.
  • no one seems to bake in their homes. We have an oven at this house, but it isn't plugged in. The common thing to do is go to the local bakery and pick up french loaves or other pastries.
  • McDonald's has a "McPinto Deluxe" meal, a plate with rice, beans, scrambled eggs, fried sweet plantains, and a couple of corn tortillas.
  • Christmas decor was seen all over when we first got here after New Year's, and now at the end of January, there are still some Christmas lights and other decor up here and there. Nativities in churches and city squares.
  • the only liquid milk available in stores is 2%; there is a lot of powdered milk on the shelf
  • can't find heavy cream
  • no half and half
  • no butter without yellow food coloring added
  • no cottage cheese
  • the only good chocolate is imported Cadbury, Nestle or Hershey's
  • there are armed guards that patrol the parking lots at Walmart and other bigger grocery stores, usually there is razorwire around the property.
  • also, there are armed guards walking around inside the grocery stores as you shop. 
  • dishwashers are a luxury here, they barely exist.
  • the clothes washing machine is mostly manual - there's another post about that in "New House in La Fortuna, Costa Rica". 

Hiking Volcano Rincón de la Vieja, Costa Rica

It's just fun to say that you are on your way to hike a volcano for the day.  Volcán Rincón de la Vieja was our primary reason for going to Guanacaste -- Tamarindo Beach was a nice bonus.  We wanted the family to learn more about Volcanos and to get some exercise.  Volcano Rincón de la Vieja is one of the most active volcanic areas in Costa Rica and it straddles the Continental Divide.  Just like Volcán Arenal, the clouds all tend to form and hover over it.  It is about a 40 minute drive from Liberia and about a 4 hour drive from La Fortuna.

As we were reviewing the trail maps, we overheard one of the National Park employees tell another person that there had been explosions at the volcano just the week before and that they had shut down the trails to the summit.  I don't know if it is fortunate or unfortunate, but we didn't have anything quite that exciting while we were there.  

The volcano had great fumaroles, water pots, and mud pots surrounded by the characteristically smelly sulfuric fumes of an active volcano.  

While there, we also saw two beautiful Blue Morpho butterflies, who were too quick for us to get pictures of.

The small visitors center had a table with some specimens of animals and bugs: