The Rancho on the Hill
The traditional palm hut in Costa Rica is called a Rancho. Made of Teak logs and Royal Palm fronds, it is an amazing feat of traditional engineering. Ours was made by a crew of itinerant Nicaraguans. Total cost for the Rancho - about $1,600.
Rancho - Ready to Move In
For somebody from Alaska like me, part of the romance of Costa Rica is the idea that you can live comfortably in a house with no walls! The workmanship in the Rancho is amazing. Even during the hardest tropical rains, not one drop comes through the roof. The roof on my house in Seattle leaked more than the rancho does. Naturally, the views from the Rancho are pretty amazing.
Views from the Rancho
The beach across the street is pretty much deserted - and it goes on for about 15 miles. Buster enjoys a well deserved jaunt in the afternoon.
Buster at Playa Guapil
An Interesting Week
This last week was quite eventful. First, we had a visit from the Army Ants! Fortunately, I had just seen a Discovery Channel special on army ants, and knew something about what to expect. Army ants are nomadic ants that have no permanent home. They roam the countryside in groups often exceeding one million ants, and eat everything in their paths (mostly insects). Costa Ricans actually welcome the ants, as they clean out all of the household pests that you would never be able to reach with conventional means.
Our first intimation that something was up was a swirl of ants in the corner of the rancho, I had just been bragging to my friend that I had vanquished the leaf cutter ants that had been stealing my ornamental plants. As I walked outside the rancho, I was astonished to see about 10,000 ants sweeping in over the plywood half wall behind the kitchen.
A River of Ants Flow in Under the Zodiac
As the ants arrived, it was as if an invisible gong had been sounded - everything that flew or crawled was scrambling to get out of the way. As we watched in amazement, the ants grabbed the small cockroaches and beetles and literally carried them away on their backs!
Army Ants Cleaning the Kitchen!
Apparently they come through about once a year - and people just go over to their relatives houses for a day until the ants are done. Sure enough, we went out for dinner and when we came back there was no sign of them - they had disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.
A Snake in the Rancho!
Later in the week, we were awakened by Buster making a commotion at about 6 in the morning. There on the floor of the rancho was a snake! I had been looking for snakes for months, but this was the first we'd seen on the property. Having studied snakes in college and kept them as pets, I was loath to kill it until I knew what it was. So I managed to capture it and put it in a terrarium for examination.
John with Cat Eyed Snake
It turned out to be a harmless Cat Eyed snake that preys on frogs. I took it up to a serpentarium (snake zoo) that had been recently opened by an American herpetologist nearby. He confirmed my classification and identification of the snake, and took us on a tour of his zoo.
John with Rare Dwarf Tree Boa
I got to check out his private collection, including an exquisite little dwarf tree boa, only collected a couple of times in Costa Rica.
Valley of the Rainbows
The valley behind the property is an amazing rainbow factory. Whenever there is mist or a light rain in the hills, rainbows appear. Some people prefer this to the ocean view! You can see why this is the house site of choice.
African Palm and Rainbow
The Valley Obscured by Clouds
Finally, it was my birthday last week, and I celebrated with my friends and neighbors!
John with his Tico Buddy Rodolfo
If you want to have a good party, have it with Costa Ricans! We grilled prawns, carne asada, fresh pineapple cake, and danced until the wee hours of the morning!
Fishing and Swimming
With my friend John in town, it was time to go fishing again. One of the challenges of fishing in this area is that there are no bays or inlets - just a long stretch of beach al least 20 miles in length. This means launching through the surf - a challenge in any boat. Fortunately the Zodiac is one of the best boats for beach launching - which is why they were used by the special forces and SEAL teams for many years.
The Lovely Beach Launch Site
Our launch site was a little beach to the south. Partially protected by a rock reef, it allowed us to get in and out with some degree of safety.
A Nice Sierra Mackerel
We caught small bonito (a kind of tuna) and several large Sierra Mackerel - which put up a great fight, and made a great ceviche that night!
One of the best things about Costa Rica is the incredible swimming holes up in the jungle. When it's hot down on the beach, we seek refuge in the cool forest and swim in a variety of lovely pools.
A Swimming Hole in the Rainforest
One of our favorites is up a dirt road about 2 miles. The drive is always interesting, because you'll never know what you'll see on the way up.
Toucans, Anteaters and Crocodiles
Chestnut Billed Toucan
Last time we went up to the swimming hole, we encountered this magnificent Chestnut Billed Toucan, the largest toucan in Central America.
Our Friend the Tamandua
Speaking of interesting animals, we also ran across this Northern Tamandua crossing our driveway, a lovely little golden anteater. He was trundling across the road, and then climbed up a tree to check us out. Cute as a Teddy Bear - but watch those claws!
Crocodiles on my Mind....
Crocodile in the Shade
Here is a picture of a young crocodile from a friend's pond we visited a couple of weeks ago. Costa RIca has three diffent kinds of caimens and crocodiles.
A few of the rivers in Southern Costa RIca still have populations of wild crocodiles. The crocodile is truly a magnificent and dangerous beast, growing to the enormous length of 20 feet. They are truly living dragons...
Whenever we cross the Tarcoles River, we stop and look down at the crocodiles.
Hangin' out with friends
A large crocodile is quite capable of eating just about anything.........
Come on in..the water's fine!
Wilson Botanical Gardens
Tucked into the Talamanca Mountains in the south of Costa Rica is one of the most famous botanical gradens in the world. The Wilson Botanical Garden was the life's work of an American couple who spent years building the gardens, and they are buried on the grounds.
Wilson Botanical Gardens
Here a few photographs of the extraordinary plants in the garden.
As I was walking along one of the trails, I was startled to see a large bird with an iridescent blue head sitting on a branch only a few feet away from me. We played hide and seek for almost half an hour, as I tried to get pictures of him in the dark forest.
The Blue Crowned Mot-Mot
Down in Golfito
We made a run down to the duty-free port south of us - Golfito - to buy a refrigerator and stove. Its a large natural harbor that used to be used by the United Fruit Company to load bananas back in the imperialistic days when the UFC controlled much of this part of the world (bananas then, oil now - deja vu?).
While we were in Golfito, I saw the coolest boat ever. It is a freighter designed to carry yachts to different parts of the world. It must be 300 feet long. The stern of the freighter sinks into the water, and other boats can be driven up inside of it.
Yacht Transport Ship
Drive your yacht into the ship, go to some jet setter parties, and your boat will be in Costa Rica before you know it (Paul Allen take note!)
The Construction (and the Fun) Begins!
Construction has started on the guest house (main house to come later). The first load of gravel comes up the driveway in a dump truck....almost makes it....it starts to spin its bald tires...and then goes backwards and rolls onto its side with a enormous crash!
Dump the Mack!
Oops! Fortunately (and amazingly) the driver is unhurt. The whole load has been dumped - a free load of gravel for the driveway!
The twisted dump truck lies squarely across the driveway. Gasoline is dripping out of the tanks and onto the undercarriage.
There is only one thing to do - call Eddie Chinchilla! Eddie is the heavy equipment baron that you call down here when things are really screwed up - he has the reputation of being able to get anybody out of any really bad situation. A good name to have in your wallet.
Eddie trying to right the truck
Even the Chinchillas are stymied for a while - they work on it for 2 hours and finally are able to get it upright. I turn to my friend and say,
"I bet they're going to try and start it - and drive it out of here". "
No way!" he says... but of course they do.
It finally starts in a cloud of smoke and they limp it off back to the contractor's yard. We see it the next day hauling a load to somewhere else.
Like Seattle or San Francisco, Costa RIca has its share of earthquakes. The house is designed to withstand a 7.0. In Costa RIca, virtually all houses are built with concrete block. Very rare in the US, this requires an enormous amount of labor in the form of masonry. Here labor is cheap. The result is an incredibly strong house that stays cool in the day due to its thermal mass.
The Guesthouse Foundation
There are 6 laborers working 12 hours a day. The foundation is built out of #5 rebar and concrete - like a fortress. At least as strong as US standards.
The New Baby
Through a series of Lemony Snicket-like unanticipated events. a parrot has entered our lives. No name picked out for her yet, but we think she is a Red Lored Parrot, and she requires a lot of love and attention. Feeding three times a day, with whole wheat bread soaked in baby food and milk. Squawk!
Baby Red Lored Parrot (Amazona autumnalis)
Finally, Buster has a lot of responsibility guarding the rancho, supervising the workers, chasing the 600 species of birds, and holding off the coyotes. But sometimes a nap just has to happen. An old pair of hiking boots make the perfect pillow.
Are We Relaxed Yet?
brings one of the most popular holidays in Costa Rica, Semana Santa (Holy Week).
The country comes to a standstill, everybody takes at least a week off, and many families come down to the beach to camp or stay with friends.
When you offer a ride to a Tico....
When you offer a ride to a Tico, be careful. You may end up taking their whole family! I offered a neighbor a ride to a party on the beach, and 17 people ended up jumping in the truck...
Ticos Love to Dance....
Celebrating Semana Santa
Costa Rica is a fascinating coutry in many ways. While Catholic, there is a clear seperation of church and state. Ticos are very tolerant and quite liberal compared to other Latins. Most Ticos celebrate Semana Santa (a religious holiday) by going out and dancing with friends!
Obligatory Fishing Update
The hard fighting Toro ("The Bull")
We took the Zodiac out fishing the other day, and had quite a catch. Sierra, Roosterfish, Giant Needlefish, and this fine Jack Crevalle, known as a Toro to the locals because it fights like an enraged bull when hooked.
When we brought the boat in, I also took my first unintentional swim! Surf launching is always exciting, and this time a wave came up behind us and dumped me out of the boat! A little wet, but no harm done.
Buster vs. The Giant Weasel
The Giant Weasel (Grison) in his Burrow
One morning Buster was making a commotion on the little hill below the rancho. He kept sticking his nose into a hole, then jumping back and barking like crazy. Finally, I went down to see what was up. To my amazement, there was a rare giant weasel called a Grison sitting in a burrow. Sorry I couldn't get a closer shot, folks, but I didn't want to have my face torn off by a giant weasel the size of a pit bull...
Arrival of the Sloth
The Two Toed Sloth Makes an Appearance
I was having a cheeseburger under a mango tree the other day, and heard something up in the branches. Who should appear, but a large Hoffman's Two Toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni).
The World Looks Better Upside Down...
These sloths are rarely seen during the day, as they are nocturnal. Strictly arboreal, they are ill suited to travel on the ground and try to avoid it at all costs.
A Treefrog in my Cornflakes
A Treefrog in my Cornflakes
I got up yesterday and grabbed the cornflakes. Put my hand in the box and pulled in out in a hurry when I felt something large and moist. A rather sleepy and somewhat annoyed treefrog emerged from what had clearly been appropriated as a nice dark bedroom....
Seattle Friends - See you May 19-29th!