Washing rice with my dad

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Childhood Revisited.”

My mother died when I was 11 or 12 ( I’m not very good with dates, never have been and certainly never will be) but as the oldest daughter I was to help out with some of the dinner preparation to help the family.

One memory I have was when my father came home from work and asked me to help him get the rice ready for dinner. “You need 2 cups of rice, then rinse with cold water a couple of times to get rid of the starch before you can start to cook”. I think I must have washed the rice about 5 times when my father said “that must be the cleanest rice in town”. We both giggled and then he told me to put it in a pot and put water up to the first joint of your thumb, bring it to the boil until little craters appear, then simmer on low for 20 minutes….no peaking…  and that was how I learned to cook rice.

I left home when I was 16 not knowing or really understanding him or our life. He died when I was 35 but I wish I could have washed more rice with him.

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I am a closet Opera Lover …sssh close your ears

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “A Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma.”

When I was young, as with most young children, I hated opera….the music was foreign to my ears,the sounds were over powering, the language incomprehensible  and the story was so bizarre…the fat lady never dies.  It was just not my thing. My father always loved Pavaroti but when I was a child I would run and play the Beatles. Rolling Stones or whatever other music I thought would annoy him. I played violin and cello in school but it was never cool to be in that cliche so when I finished school I continued on with my life enjoying music as a side interest. My adult life was typical: work, John my partner, traveling, a home in the suburbs, a cottage to escape to on the weekends.

Then one night everything changed. I was at our cottage, the wind was calm. the moon was full…shone on the lake as in a dream, AND I was alone. John was away on a business trip and I was spending some ME time when I decided to play one of my Dad’s CDs. Honestly I can’t even remember what I played or what they were singing about but the sound was engulfing. I was captivated and could not get enough. I played almost every CD I had until late into the night and woke up on the couch with the sun peeking into the room.

I have been to be to a number of live operas,  a couple on my own, even a few generic ones with John, the odd simulcast but my favorite experiences are when I am alone. I love turning the lights down, feeling the sounds echo around room, drinking a glass of wine, closing my eyes and singing at the top of my lungs.

But this can only happen when the moon is right, the lights are dark and there is no one in ear shot to hear me. And that is what I love most about opera…but don’t tell anyone.

Sailing on the Pacific Ocean

It has been almost a month since my last post but things have been really busy around here. Vera, Vic, Larry, Linda and a whole host of friends arrived at the beginning of April and they were definitely in party mode. They are a great bunch of folks who love great food,   libations and camaraderie and just generally having a great time. From walking on the beach,  up the killer mountain to hanging out at the pool, there are events happening all the time. Well that’s my excuse …..

Our time is slowly coming to an end here in Costa Rica so we figured it was time to try out one of the sunset cruises that our neighbour Gord has been talking about.  We had a small group of eight  here at the condo which is the perfect number for a 40 foot sailboat.

Around noon we all walk  to the beach down “Pig Alley”  called that because of this enormous pig that lives  a leisurely life eating, drinking and hanging about until that dreadful day when he provides food for a number of his neighbours,  bacon, sausages, pork chops, pork roasts. With the many roosters and hens hanging around Coco a great American breakfast  is a fan favorite.

On the beach we pick up a “taxi”  that takes us out to the sailboat. There are no marinas here and all the large boats anchor in the bay and you need to be ferried out to catch your ride. It’s an interesting experience trying to get into a dinghy during high tide when the waves are rocking and then jumping onto the swim platform of the sailboat. Needless to say many are banged, jostled and all are drenched by the time you are on board. This was not the actual ferry we took as we were hurried aboard to catch the tide and didn’t get a chance to get a photograph.

Ferry out to the boat

The Polar is owned by Gord’s friend Ferit who originally hails from Romania, escaped to Canada where he worked for a number of years before he came to Costa Rica. There are a number of larger boats that will take up to 40 people with all you can eat and drink but they are definitely party boats.  This boat is smaller but it is intimate and perfect for a small group. Denis is the young crew mate who runs around raising the anchor, raising the sail, getting drinks etc, a lot like I did when John and I had our cruiser. Once everyone is aboard and settled we head north towards Monkey Head Island.

Sailing out of Coco

The wind in Coco varies daily , one day it howls, changes direction constantly,  provides relief from the heat but tosses things around and a few days later there is nothing…..not even a gasp. Today we are lucky and the winds are just right to raise the main sail.

Sails up

Sailing on the open ocean is a great adventure and the fact that we can raise the sails is a bonus. Sailing toward Heuvos Beach we pass a number of tortugas , manta ray, dolphins….just like in the brochures. A couple of beers along the way make the trip even faster.

Beer and wind

Huevos Beach is a lovely little beach where we drop anchor and some of us go for a swim or a snorkel or just have another drink. John jumped into his new fins and took off to look at the rocks while I jumped into the ocean to cool off and swim to the beach so neither of us had a camera. So picture in your mind the island from the original movie Swept Away, directed by Lina Wertmuller with Giancarlo Giannini where they are marooned on a remote island, fall in love and……well go out and rent the movie, the original not the Madonna,  Guy Ritchie version. This island is so beautiful, peaceful and remote.

snorkeling

Denis comes to pick us up in the dinghy and it’s time for lunch. Ferit  and Denis put on a great spread of smoked tuna with chips, Waldorf pasta with nuts and apples (do you remember the Faulty Towers comedy show about Waldorf Salad) and sandwiches. And for desert wonderful fruit kebabs (Watermelon, cantelope, mango, pineapple chunks) and the house specialty green mango slices with Linzano sauce.

Sailing food

After lunch it’s time to sail back and after raising the anchor Denis climbs up the mast to get to the jib. We are going to have a unique sailing adventure as not many of the boats put up the jib, too much work and rarely the perfect wind.

Denis on the mast

Ferit and Denis have the ideal job doing what they love sailing the Pacific Ocean and they have become good friends. We head back to Coco under full sail and high speed to watch the sunset

Captain and crew

The sail back is delightful, the winds are perfect, Wayne gets to steer while the rest of us enjoy. I think Paul (aka Leonardo di Caprio) has only sailed twice in his life but I think he will be back.

Paul and the jib

Even Captain John gets into the spirit.

Having fun

The sunset is one of the best treats here in Coco and while we have seen it from the beach and the condo this is the first time we have seen it from the ocean.  It has been a great day and we are tired from the heat of the sun, swimming and carrying on but the cruise home is so tranquil.

wonderful sunset

But the sun vanishes so quickly that if you blink you might miss it so don’t blink and you will see something amazing.

setting sun

Nicaragua – The Last Day

On our last night in Granada, Chico mentioned that if we wanted to see a Nicaraguan market we should get up at 6 am the next morning and he would show us  where they sell everything from artisan crafts, food, clothing and everything else. It was a tempting offer but we had just spent 2 long days touring around the country and in some ways we were looking forward to going home to Costa Rica so we decided to pass. Guess we will just have to go back again to see the many sights that we couldn’t fit in this time.

The Hotel Granada is located right across from the oldest church in town and at 6 am we were woken to the ringing of bells. At first we thought this was nice and they were waking everyone to go to morning mass…..but the bells rang about 2o times before they stopped. Ten minutes later it started again and still they rang more than the actual time and gee it was early. Then another ten minutes of silence and  another round of bells at which time we both wondered whether the pirates from England were invading Nicaragua again. Thankfully the bells finally stopped and we both fell back to sleep. After sleeping in just a bit we met Chico in the restaurant for breakfast, I think he was glad to have slept in as well. The following is a picture of the church that we borrowed from vianica.com (this is a great site to check out all the places to see in Nicaragua) as we forgot to get our own picture.

Guadaloupe church

After breakfast we headed out to the Apoyo Lagoon which was created when a volcano erupted hundreds of thousands of years ago. It is very large, very deep and very blue. There are couple of stalls where you can buy souveniers. Masaya Lagoon

A trip to Masaya would not be complete without visiting the artisan market where there are a number of stands where you can buy items such as pottery, hammocks, art work, leatherwork etc.  As soon as we got to the market Chico suggested that we could take as long as we wanted to do some shopping but since neither of us are that crazy about shopping we figured an hour would be more enough time. Boy were we wrong…..we could have shopped all day.  As soon as we got out of the car a guy attached himself to us and chatted about where we were from,  how we were enjoying Nicaragua, what kind of things we were looking for and showed us around the market. He told us that he worked for the Nicaragua government to help tourists have a good time and steered us to specific shops and appeared to barter on our behalf. Apparently he asked John for a small tip as we were leaving but John didn’t understand what he was saying so he lost out. I am a little skeptical about the whole scenario but we did get some nice things.

Masaya Pottery

Chico mentioned that he had bought a ceramic statue the last time he was here and John wanted to go and see them. John and Chico both called them virgins but I have my suspicions. We picked up this one but unfortunately it broke on the way back so John bought some glue and will see if we can’t put it back together. It is now part of our new decor at the condo. The beads are from Mardi Gras in Louisiana that Danny brought back from his last trip.

Masaya Virgin

Another item that we bought was a painting of houses from Granada which we thought was nice and colourful and would brighten up our place. When we got back to Coco we took it into a gallery to have it framed where we met Marco and Alessandra from Italy….more in another post.

Granada houses

We must have shopped for about 2 hours when Chico came to find us and then it was back to Coco. We had an absolutely amazing time and were pleasantly surprised with our first trip to Nicaragua, the scenery was gorgeous, the people fabulous but I am sure we wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much without our new friend Chico. Chico is one of the best guides we have ever had and we hope that we will get to see him and meet his family during our time in Costa Rica.

Home from Nicaragua

Nicaragua – Day 2

Day two of our Central American adventure found us having breakfast with our tour guide before packing our travel bag and registering at another hotel  for the next night. Nicos and Ticos  fight over who invented the traditional breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans mixture) with either scrambled or fried eggs, fruit and tortillas. Unfortunately the hotel we were in had mixed up our reservation and was booked for the night. The Hotel Granada is across the square from the old Granada Cathedral and has all the charm of  Spanish colonial architecture. The good thing about moving hotels gave us the opportunity to see one of the oldest hotels in the city.Hotel Granada

http://hotelgranadanicaragua.com/

Once checked in, we headed straight towards the waterfront for a boat ride through Islets of Granada or the islands of Lake Nicaragua. Thousands of years ago the Mombacho volcano erupted and created over 300 small islands in the Lake.

Ferry Boat in Granada

Being the only passengers on a eight person boat allowed us to converse directly with the boat captain as we cruised between islands with their towering mansions. This one belongs to the owner of a rum company, that one belongs to rich Americans who visit once a year etc.

Mansion island

After a while we came to a small island inhabited only by monkeys. Some research venture where the animals were saved and then released on the island, we were told. Chico had brought some cheetos and we handed them out to the little guys who were quite happy as well as the fish that swarmed around when we dropped them in the water. But be careful, we were told, this is the only freshwater lake with sharks – we were careful and kept our hands in the boat from then on.

Monkey Island

Fish Feeding

Magical things can happen in Central America and this was confirmed on the way back to the marina. The captain backed the boat up under a tree overhanging the lake and snapped off a large bean type object and told Rosie to hold the bottom part. He then pulled on the top and presto,  a beautiful flower appeared in her hand – unbelievable.

Flowers in ferry

Then, flower still in hand it was back to the car and off on the newly paved two lane highway to Managua on lake Managua, capital of Nicaragua and home to President  Daniel Ortega  of the socialist Sandinista National Liberation Front  or (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional,  –  FSLN).

This is like many larger cities with their Hilton hotel, McDonalds’s and Burger King restaurants. The city still has some of the Spanish culture we loved in Granada but is transitioning to a more North American type city. We visited the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was completed in 1993 to replace the old cathedral that was destroyed during an earthquake in 1972. The new cathedral has created much controversy, particularly about its architectural style and finance. Locals refer to it as La Chichona on account of the plethora of cupolas adorning it like so many “chiches” (Spanishslang for breasts).

Church in Managua

And then we headed down to the waterfront of Lake Managua (also known as Lake Xolotlán)  for lunch. The lake which was badly polluted by raw sewage  being dumped there and created horrible smells  has recently been cleaned up by the current government to attract tourists. A stone rip-rap and concrete wharf was constructed and a sight seeing boat called “La Novia de Xolotlán” makes hour-long lake tours when there are sufficient tourists.

Lake side Lake Managua

Another great lunch, washed down with a Toña, a local beer, ended with Chico requesting a Spanish guitar player serenading us as we rested.

Serenade in Managua

Before heading off to the volcano we went to the top of Managua to see the Managua lagoon which was created many years ago and today offers zip lining which criss crosses the lagoon. John and Chico said I should go and they would meet me at the bottom but I passed.

Managua lagoon

After, we visited a few more sites and found the residents very friendly.

Friendly Natives

Then made our way up the rugged terrain to Masaya, a local active volcano. After a very interesting visit to the volcano exhibit, we headed straight up to the top to look into the mouth of hell.

Masaya Volcano exhibit

The volcano is still active and emits sulphuric gases which are highly toxic and tourists may be prevented from going to the top if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction.

Masaya Volcano

A cross was erected on the top of the mountain in the early 1500’s to exorcise the devil and protect the villagers below. There were a couple of local guys who would take us to the top of the mountain on horseback for only $5 US each.

Top of Masaya Volcano

By this time the day was dwindling and it was time to head back to Grenada and freshen up at the hotel before heading out to dinner – more food! We didn’t have far to walk as the hotel is situated very close to some of the best street restaurants in town. The restaurants are housed in the buildings but everyone spills out into street to eat under the stars.  The streets are closed to traffic and the party begins.

We selected a mixed grill of beef, pork and grilled chicken which we shared and ordered a bottle of wine – to help with digestion of course. Sipping wine, we hired another guitar player to entertain us as we looked back on our day and considered just how lucky we really are.

Just then, the crowd parted, the music started and five young men began to break dance in the street beside us; it was unbelievable. Soon after, Michael Jackson’s Thriller began to blast the street and they danced in unison. It was so entertaining, Rosie chased them down the street to get their facebook info.  Again, it was quite the night under the stars in old Granada. Check out his video on Youtube. http://youtu.be/TUMefgMEdug

Nicaragua – Day 1

As visitors to Costa Rica we are required to exit the country every three months for 72 hours before we can return. Liberia is only one hour away from the Nicaragua border and there are a number of ways one can cross the border and come back in one day with the required passport stamp. It’s not exactly legal but it is doable, however John and I wanted to see a bit of the country. We heard that the country side is beautiful and there are a number of wonderful sights to be seen so we checked around with a couple of the tour operators in town. Most of the tours offered were only 1 day trips  which we thought would be too hectic and sounded too much like work.  We were hoping to do 3 days to for a more relaxed trip and have more time to see places other than the regular tourist traps.  Some operators suggested they could take us across the border and then pick us up a couple of days later but we wanted someone who spoke the language and knew the lay of the land. We checked out the Blue Marlin which offers mostly fishing charter but Juan Carlos recommended  someone who could do custom tours and that was how we met Chico. Francisco, known as Chico to his friends, came and picked us up  at the condo at 6 AM. This would give us plenty of time to pass through customs at the border which can be difficult unless you know the ropes. The trip to the border was a pleasant surprise. There were a number of large farms with Brama bulls, sabaneros (cowboys) and beautiful scenery. There is a ridge of volcanos that run down the middle of Costa Rica and people say that when they blow the country will be split in two and one side will be called Costa and the other, you guessed it, Rica. We had breakfast at the border buffet restaurant which offered gallo pinto, eggs, fruit, fried chicken etc and does a booming business with the traffic that crosses all day long. Nicaragua map Chico leaves his car at the customs lot in Costa Rica and rents one in Nicaragua as they would charge him a tax of more than $50 US a day if he took his own across. To get into Nicaragua one needs to exit the CR customs and then enter on the other side paying fees on both sides of course…..seems like governments across the world love to collect money. Then it’s a quick walk across the border to pick up the car and Rudolpho. Rudolpho is a Nico associate of Chicos who speaks excellent english and is extremely knowledgeable about all things Nicaraguan. He is going to spend the day with us, along with Chico, pointing out all the sights as we tour around and giving us insights into the culture, economy and politics of the country. First stop…San Juan del Sur. This is a small fishing town which is popular with bathing beauties, beach bums and surfers. There are a number of small hotels and cafes along the beach and has a growing tourist area. On top of a hill, just outside of town, there is a huge statue Christ of the Mercy that overlooks the harbour. It was built by a very rich Nicaraguan gentleman who had cancer and promised to build the statue if he survived. You can drive up part of the way but near the top you need to climb a steep hill to reach the top but the view is amazing. San Juan del Sur The statue is 24 metres high and when the clouds are soaring above when you look up it feels like you are moving as well. Christ of Mercy Driving in Nicaragua is a real treat as the main highway was only recently completed and is in much better condition than any in Costa Rica. There have been significant improvements to life here after the end of the civil war between the Sandinistas and the Contras….remember Ronald Regan and Oliver North. Daniel Ortega is in his third term as president which is against the constitution but life still goes on. Traveling from San Juan del Sur, en route to Rivas, we pass Lake Nicaragua which is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. It is also the only lake with bull sharks which apparently swam up the river from the Pacific Ocean and became acclimatized to the environment. We also pass Isla de Ometepe which is an Indian word from Ome (two) and tepeti (moutains). The island was formed by two volcanos rising from the Lake: Concepcion which is an active volcano and Maderas which is not active.   You can see the steam rising from Concepcion on the left. Isla de Ometempe The wind was blowing like crazy and there were large waves and white caps on the lake.  Conception volcano There are a number of windmill developments along the lake which is a perfect set up with the huge winds that blow here. This development is a joint project with a Spanish company. Windmills on Lake Nicaragua On our way to Rivas the guys are kidding us that we have to ride bicycles through town. We were a little apprehensive as the temperature was around 35° C and much too hot to do any cycling.  Boy were we relieved when we found out that we are taking a bike cab with William doing all the work. Bicycle ride in Rivas Rudolpho is from Rivas and William is a buddy who took us on a tour of the town. The market is crammed with all sorts of street vendors selling everything from food, clothing and souveniers. The work is hard and William was soaking as he pushed us across intersections, up small hills and had to stop occasionally to avoid running into people or other cars. I asked Rudulpho if the bicycles had right of way and he laughed and said” who ever gets there first”.  market in Rivas Passing this church with the doors open William recommended that we go inside and take a look. It was certainly worth the stop. Even in this small town the church is very beautiful and ornate. Church in Rivas We are starting to get hungry by this time and we stop at a wonderful restaurant not far from town (sorry didn’t get the name). Chico and Rudolpho recommended the 12 oz steak but neither John or I thought we would be able to finish it so instead I ordered Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken) and John had the grilled Mahi Mahi. There was probably enough food to feed 10 people.  The currency in Nicaragua is Cordobas , with 24 C to $1 US and each dish was only around 200 C which is approximately $8 US which was a great deal for the great and plentiful plates.  John tried the local beer Tonya which is light and has 4.2% alcohol. Next stop Granada which is a main attraction due to it’s colonial buildings and historical importance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granada,_Nicaragua One of the highlights is a horse drawn carriage ride through town. Rudolpho arranges it with another of his pals and comes along to help with the language issue and highlight some of the spots. These horses await right next to the central park which is  a feature in almost all the towns. There are a number of souvenier stands,  hotels and outdoor cafes all around. horse carriage in Granada Nicaragua is predominantly Roman Catholic and there are a number of churches and cathedrals in every town.  This is one of the oldest churches in Granada. Catholic church in Granada All the houses in Granada are built side by side with large beautiful wood doors with ornate gate fences and little windows so you can see who is at the door before opening….similar to the peep holes in doors in apartment buildings. Inside the richer houses there are a number of rooms and a grand court yard in the centre with colourfull plants and occasional water fountains. The homes are all painted different colours and may identify the family living inside. Colonial homes in Granada After a long day we are getting tired and head off to check into the hotel and Rudolpho heads back to Rivas by bus. We are staying at the Hotel El Almirante which is a lovely new hotel with a lovely courtyear with a pool, bar and restaurant. http://www.hotelelalmirante.com/  Hotel courtyard in Granada John decided to take a dip in the pool and relax a bit in the courtyard. John relaxing in Granada We had tacos for dinner at one of the cafes near central park as we were all still stuffed from lunch and then it was off to bed where we slept like logs. A wonderful day’s adventure and looking forward to tomorrow.

Happy New Year from Costa Rica

According to one zodiac prediction – “Women under the sign of the snake do well in housework but are irritable” – so I am definitely not a snake. You’re going to have to think about that!! http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/social_customs/zodiac/snake.htm

It’s Chinese New Years….the year of the snake and a great excuse for a cookout. Actually any excuse will do but this one is as good as any.

It’s a full house with a couple of new folks, mostly Canadians from Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and a few from Louisiana. It takes a little while before the new guests  get themselves settled and everyone tries  to make it a little easier by showing them where to get the freshest seafood,  the wonderful variety of fruit from the local stands and the delicious bread from the Tico  bakery. Then there’s  the decision to be made about taking  a tour to the volcanos, ziplining, horseback riding or just taking it easy, at the pool or  the beach which is right across the street. In the afternoon everyone gravitates to the pool and the major decision then is whether to have a beer, margarita, pina colada or just a glass of wine. It’s so tough here in Costa Rica but if you make the wrong choice you can change it the next time.

So while a group of us were lounging by the pool and chatting about the new year we  decided it was time to do another pot luck. The main rule about a pot luck is make it easy and stress free. Usually everyone makes something and there is a ton of food and this was no exception. The menu included: watermelon salad, pad thai, pot stickers, grilled mahi mahi, asian chicken, mango with black beans, potato salad, cauliflower and fresh strawberries stuffed with cream cheese. Holy smoke that is a lot of food for about 13 people.

Gord prepared the pad thai in his extra large wok  using tamarind paste which is sold all over Costa Rica. Tamarind trees grow every where  and  you can see a number of  pods littering the path on the way into town. In Coco, kids will sell the paste and the little plums from the trees which they use to make a sour drink that is very refreshing.  In Thailand it is used in the cooking combination: hot – chili peppers, sour – tamarind, sweet – palm sugar and salty – fish sauce, for the well known rice noodle dish. You can easily get most of the asian ingredients for this dish including the fish sauce, tofu, bean sprouts and sesame oil.

pad thai

Another wonderful dish was the watermelon salad (la sandia ensalada) which also includes feta cheese, onions and parsley. There is a truck that drives around Coco selling the melons fresh from the fields (3 for $1 US) or you can get them from any of the fruit and veggie stands.

Watermelon Salad

If you have read some of my earlier posts you will know about the mangos that grow in the trees across the street that are eaten by monkeys and people. I love mangos because they have both a sweet and sour flavour (if that’s possible),  are incredibly refreshing and will go with just about anything from fish, pork and chicken.

mango salad

Another of the plates was the fresh strawberries filled with cream cheese. Strawberries is one fruit that is not easily come by here but these looked absolutely amazing.

strawberries

We set up a number of tables in the rancho and everyone brings their dishes and digs in. I was going to take more pictures of the food but I was afraid I wouldn’t get any if I kept going.

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During dinner all you could hear were comments like “this is so yummy”, or “wow I need to get this recipe” and “is there any more?”

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After dinner we usually finish off the vino and tell a few jokes, some of which are a little cleaner than others.

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A toast from John and it’s time for bed after a long and exhausting day.

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Kung Hei Fat Choy !!