Sunday, October 30, 2016

My TSA Massage

We have traveled a lot; several international flights after 9/11 and dozens of Central American and Caribbean countries in the last two years; but when it comes to the TSA's new millimeter wave technology, you get no credit for being a "well behaved" traveler.

On our flight from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando yesterday, AFTER ALREADY FLYING FROM COSTA RICA TO FT. LAUDERDALE, I was pulled over with two yellow squares on my scan.

I must say I was surprised, but as I waited there for the next level of pat down, I noticed the next five people behind me also got yellow boxes, which indicate non-standard substances on their bodies. I'm thinking those machines aren't that accurate and the TSA needs to evaluate their system better.

The agent then patted me down there in the screening area, swabbed her gloves, got another positive reading for "chemical residue", and sent me to the private pat down area.

By now I was starting to worry about making my connecting flight which would be leaving in 20 minutes. Nevertheless, I had no choice but to wait while they patted down the flight attendant in front of me!

Finally it was my turn, they took me into a private room with two female agents, and they delicately asked me if there was anything I'd like to discuss before they proceeded. I'm thinking they were offering me an "out" just in case I really did have six bombs taped around my middle.

It was rather ridiculous, but I kept my calm and said, "No, let's just get this over with so I can make my connecting flight." What I really wanted to say was, "This is crazy! I'm like the most honest person in the world."

So while one agent observed, the other agent gave me a thorough pat down including the bottoms of my feet! After being awake for 24 hours and doing a red-eye on a minimalist plane, I was actually kind of enjoying the free massage, but it ended too soon, and after swabbing her gloves again, she declared me clean.

As I ran to my gate I couldn't help but wonder how many people are subjected to this treatment while the pros, who really study the technology and know how to get around it, are plotting the next tragedy. I also wondered why the procedure varies so much from one airport to the next. Even within the US, our experience with the TSA has varied wildly. Shouldn't it be the same at every airport on American soil?

I think I'll stick with sailing into countries from now on.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Volcan Poás

We wanted to see Volcan Poás, but we'd heard that clouds obscure it by noon each day so the best viewing is very early in the morning. We left our lodge at 8:15 and started the 20 minute drive with clouds already creeping over the hills so I was a little worried that we'd already missed it.

A little about parking in Costa Rica:
There seems to be some sort of rule in Costa Rica about backing into parking spaces. And it seems parking attendants have a really strong union, because they are always there gesturing with hand signals how to turn your wheels to get you exactly aligned. Like we don't have mirrors? And don't know how to back in? It's just weird.


When we got to the gate the ranger said the volcano was still visible, so we hurried up the path to the overlook. Even though the elevation is over 8000 feet, we made good time and arrived about 9:00am.

And this is what we saw.
The crater is almost a mile wide and a thousand feet deep and contains a boiling sulphuric lake that frequently shoots up geysers of hot water (phreatic eruptions). This volcano is still active and has had more than a dozen phreatic eruptions since 2014. The lake is the second most acidic lake in the world with a Ph of near zero. It continually emits sulphuric fumes which kill all vegetation directly downwind from the crater.
We had barely been there long enough to take a few photos when the clouds rolled in at 9:12. And just like that, the show was over for the day.

We hung around a while hoping the clouds would part again, but they never did. We talked to one person who had been there three times and never seen the crater, so we felt really lucky to see it for those twelve short minutes.

On the walk back to the Visitor Center we took pictures of flowers...
and goofed around with the Poor Man's Umbrella plant, Gunnera insignis. Their huge leaves were indeed used as umbrellas by the ancient people. We have seen these in Golden Gate Park, but they don't allow you to crawl under them there. Too bad, because it was fun.

Villa Calas

Do you ever travel with no plans? Like you have no idea where you'll end up and no idea where you will sleep?

We do, and it has often led us to delightful places.

When we left San Jose Thursday the idea was to see Volcan Poás, so we drove up a road that resembled the roads in the hills above our hometown in California. The road curved through green hills dotted with cows and farms. The tree ferns and bromiliads reminded me that I was no where near California, though.

When we got close to the volcano we started looking for a place to stay. We saw a sign for Villa Calas, pulled in, and asked to see a room.

Their cute little cabins have fireplaces, excellent views, free breakfast, and (in my mind the best part) hummingbirds galore.

Every cabin has a feeder right outside the window and we spent several hours every day watching the hummingbird's antics.

There are lots of different hummingbirds here, and even after all this time we could only identify one: the Violet Sabrewing.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

If I had to recommend just one place to visit in Costa Rica it would be La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Set high in the rain forest near Poás Volcano, it's a wonderland of typical Costa Rican birds and animals.

The grounds look like Jurassic Park only with more flowers. The wide paved paths made it easy for the Captain to walk the whole park in his still-recuperating condition. Plenty of signs in both Spanish and English made it simple to find our way around.

Our first stop was the aviary. Inside were several species of birds and a few cages with special birds like raptors, macaws, and toucans.

When we were in Golfito a year and a half ago, I got all excited when I glimpsed a fiery-billed aracari in the wild, but I was ecstatic here because you get to hold the toucans!

These are Chestnut-Mandibled toucans, one of the two large toucans in Costa Rica. They seemed quite tame and readily came to the handlers for a treat. It could be because all the birds in this park were either pets or injured at one time, so they are used to humans.

Such charming birds with their fancy plumage and friendly ways. It was the highlight of the park for me.

There were also lots of these Black Bellied Whistling Ducks wandering around. They too seemed very nonchalant towards humans.

The frogs of Costa Rica were well represented too with four different tree frogs and three poison dart frogs. Did you know that tree frogs are nocturnal? We didn't but felt lucky that this little guy woke up and said hello for a few minutes.

The most un-nerving exhibit was the cats and especially this jaguar. When we walked by he slowly opened his eyes, stretched and yawned, then settled down again; the whole time keeping his eyes on us. I was thankful that I could have outrun Malcolm if I'd had to.

They also had a little farm exhibit with these oxen hitched to a colorful traditional cart and a milking and cheese making demonstration.

There was also a butterfly garden, a hummingbird area, a snake exhibit, a trout fishing area, a restaurant, and a gift shop. So, as I said, if there's only one place you can visit in Costa Rica, I would recommend La Paz Waterfall Gardens because they have everything a tourist wants to see all in a beautiful setting.

Butterflies Everywhere

If there is one thing that Costa Rica is famous for, it's butterflies. They are depicted everwhere: on t-shirts, purses, and all kinds of souvenirs. But the best way to enjoy them is in a special butterfly garden. We have toured three butterfly gardens in as many days and it is absolutely delightful to walk amongst these beautiful creatures. Some are so laid-back they will actually walk onto your finger for a selfie.

One of the interesting things about these gardens is the racks full of crysalises. We've seen many newborn butterflies here.

We hope you enjoy them as much as we have.
Blue-banded Purplewing, Myscelia cyaniris

Malachite, Siproeta stelenes

The Owl, Caligo eurilochus

Blue Morpho, Morpho peleides
Emerging from the chrysalis

The bottom side of the Owl shows how it got its name.

Orange barred Sulpher, Phoebis philea

Malachite, Siproeta stelenes feasting on fermenting fruit.

For more information, click this site:

Thursday, October 27, 2016

San Jose, Costa Rica

"Do you know the way to San Jose?"

We didn't, but our phone did, so we easily found the capital and largest city in Costa Rica. The traffic is crazy with lots of horn honking as buses, cars, trucks, motorcycles, and pedestrians fight for their share of the street. We quickly realized that stop signs are only a suggestion and drove accordingly after that.
Our first stop was the National Museum which is housed in an interesting old army barracks building. At the entrance is this modern glass and steel structure that protects one of the famous Stone Spheres. You might wonder what they are. So does everyone else here.
They were first found in 1940 in an area near Golfito on the southwest coast. Banana plantations were being developed, and the tractors kept unearthing these big stone balls. Several were pushed aside, broken up, sold as garden ornaments, and generally vandalized before someone (Doris Stone) said, "Wait, these have archeological significance. We should study them".

They range in size from 12" to over 6' in diameter and are still scattered all over the country. These were inside the museum...
and there were more outside and also some in the butterfly garden.

Unfortunately, no one really knows who made them, how they were made, or what they were used for. The secrets of the culture that created them has been lost with the passage of time.

We also visited the National Theatre. This gorgeous building is almost 120 years old and still used regularly for performances. The inside is gorgeous too, with marble sculptures, gold leaf mouldings, and etched glass.

We really enjoyed visiting San Jose, but two days of the noisy, hustle bustle of the city was all we could take so we're off to the mountains next.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Doka Estate Coffee Tour

The Captain was released by his surgeon on Monday, so Tuesday morning we checked out of the hotel near the hospital, rented a car, and drive up to Doka Estate for a coffee tour.
We were greeted with a tiny iced coffee and promptly joined a tour group. Harvest starts in October so our timing was perfect for seeing the ripe cherries and witnessing the drying process.
First our guide showed us the baby Arabica plants. Only Arabica plants are allowed in Costa Rica because they are the best and Costa Rica wants to produce only the finest coffee.

The trees start producing at about three years of age and are replaced at twenty-five years as their production starts decreasing. This tree was loaded with beautiful red cherries.
The cherries are harvested several times during the harvest season; the first few times just the red ones, but eventually all of the cherries are stripped off. The red ones produce the best coffee.

Most of the coffee pickers come from nearby Nicaragua and are paid only $2.00 per cajuela (basket). The baskets look to hold about a bushel and weigh 28 pounds when full. Good pickers can fill a basket in 45 minutes , but that isn't much money for an eleven hour day in those muddy, sloping fields.

The cherries are brought to this processing plant where they cull out the bad ones, peel off the various coverings, sort them by size, and dry them in the sun. Winter is the dryer season here, but they still must pile up the beans quickly and cover them with plastic when it rains.
Doka Estates ships the dry beans out unroasted, but roasts some to sell in their gift shop. Below you see their products: breakfast blend, peaberry, French roast, expresso.
We also enjoyed lunch at Doka Estates and wandered their beautifully landscaped property. I was surprised to see so many hydrangeas; all blue. Boy, could I have a lovely garden here.