June 15, What a glorious morning! Tony and I were drinking our coffee looking out the window and spotted birds in a rosebush. Binoculars showed they were fluffy young orioles. We had spotted their well hidden nest in a banana leaf and were pleased to see the babies had hatched.
Moving outdoors, we next spotted a mother quail warming her chicks under her wings. We watched until mama and papa quail led their scurrying flock of babies away – more numerous than we could count, two dozen?
We checked on the towhee nesting in the center of a tree fern. She was still sitting on her nest. Birds were twittering in the garden and we were delighted to share the magic of new bird life. We had been gone for the month of May leaving the garden as an undisturbed sanctuary for the birds. Before we left, we had three hummingbird feeders that were active morning and night with several birds at a time. By May there are plenty of flowers. We filled the feeders when we returned, but the hummingbirds have ignored them, content to find their own flowers.
This is the biggest crop of cherries ever produced on our Stella cherry tree. Usually the robins eat them all. This year they seemed so interested in eating the berries on an enormous fuchsia called Lechland Gourgon that the cherries were left alone.
January 7, 2019: an early morning flight from Sonoma County airport—close by, easy parking, then a wait in Los Angeles for the flight to San Jose Costa Rica. We were an hour late but our shuttle driver was waiting to drive us to the Hotel Grano de Oro a favorite from our last trip. And we arrived before the kitchen closed so we could fill our stomachs with memories—hearts of palm salad, rabbit, tres leches cake.
Next morning we found an ATM, SIM cards and our rental car, and hit the road. Too many people in San Jose live behind barbed wire, most of them looking like they have nothing to steal, but as someone told us along the way “people will steal things just because it’s easy”.
We drove to Naranjo for a coffee tour, arriving with enough time for lunch before the tour so we decided to walk to town… and back, canceling any calories. Good coffee, interesting tour, but we bailed early to be sure we found our resort before dark. Driving is slow in Costa Rica, hilly windy roads , one lane bridges, lots of trucks, bad drivers either pokey or reckless.
Tony had stayed at Chachagua 20 years ago, turns out it is listed as 1000 places to see before you die.
We took a morning hike with Diego, an ace at spotting birds and animals. He demonstrated that termites were good to eat … by eating termites. Ick. Tony also did a night hike with Diego and his 10 year old son who was as sharp-eyed as his father, pointing out 14 kinds of frogs. Another day Diego found us howler monkeys, an iguana and a hummingbird nest. There were five sloths that the guide could recognize by name. Sophia was the most elegant because the guides could catch her and give her a bath. “A rolling stone may gather no moss” but sloths do. They have a whole ecosystem living on their fur. There were toucans and other birds at a feeder by the outdoor restaurant.
We took a day trip to the iguana bridge in Muelle to revisit another memory. Yup still there.
Checked out and headed to Jaco. Although we were retracing our route to Naranjo, Waze routed us on more picturesque roads up to the cloud forest and through spectacular hilly agricultural land. It must be Costa Rica’s produce belt, very prosperous. The highway to Jaco was much like going to Santa Cruz on a holiday weekend. Where the traffic slowed there were fishermen beside the road holding big fish for sale. Jaco was cheek to jowl with tacky souvenir shops, fast food, hotels, graffiti, prostitutes, weedy vacant lots — hundreds of ways to wreck a nice beach. Okay my good humor was restored by the best.pina-colada. ever. In a fresh pineapple shell with a hibiscus!
We dropped off our rental car and next morning a van picked us up for the taxi boat to the Nicoya peninsula avoiding a car ferry and hours of dusty road. Surprise! No pier. Fit young men carried our luggage on their shoulders as we waded through the surf. We stopped once to negotiate through a long line fishing line which extended for a mile or more. Then we slowed again to enjoy the dolphins surfing in the wake of the boat!
Ylang Ylang was another repeat, as beautiful as we remembered. A troop of capuchin monkeys entertained us outside our room along with a wedding on the beach.
There is always lots of tropical fruit and salads, but this resort has some lighter alternatives to the typical rice, beans, meat 3x a day. Our tummies are ready for a break.
There is a sea turtle reserve on the beach. Volunteers gather the eggs and place them in an enclosure so they aren’t stepped on. When they hatch, they set them out on the sand for their walk to the sea. Too bad we were never there on the right day.
Our last morning at Ylang Ylang, a howler monkey was calling his tribe together. What fun to watch them assemble and listen to their howls on our way to breakfast. We said our goodbyes to John and Gillian with whom we shared a table for the last three nights. Gillian is in charge of the Global Government to Save the World, tbd. She has our vote.
We gathered at the beach for the water taxi. Unlike our arrival they put our suitcases into plastic bags. Ah ha, we are taking two small boats instead of the large one. Now that we are experienced travelers and since our names were first on the list, we cleverly grabbed two seats in the back on the shady side under the fly. Off we go with two 200hp Suzuki outboards. Ahh, we chose the wettest seats! I used Tony for a windshield, but he was soaked with salt spray. One woman lost her hat that the captain recovered with a quick u turn. Then he stowed all our backpacks and bags in a dry compartment for us. With our cameras safely stowed, we paused to watch a pod of pilot whales frolic, hump, and feed.
We picked up another rental car a complementary upgrade to a RAV4, less rattling than the Ford eco sport. Unfortunately, we didn’t question whether it was 4WD. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. After an exceptional tuna poke lunch, we were back on the route to the wilds of the Osa peninsula. Plantations producing palm oil make us worry about its future.
We were watching the clock wanting to arrive before dark. GPS announced “you have arrived at your destination “ out in the middle of nowhere. Checking with boys along the road, they gestured to keep going. Sure enough we had to cross a couple more narrow one lane bridges with no guardrails and drops into an abyss and ford the two streams that were mentioned in our emails. Did I say we didn’t have 4WD? Nevertheless, we were safely arrived at Lapa Rios before dark.
We entered the eco-resort through a big open air dining room/bar/reception with a central spiral staircase up to a viewing tower.
From there, down a long steep trail with lots and lots of stairs to our room which was rustic/modern, spacious, with a mosquito netted king bed, indoor/outdoor showers, ocean view deck with lounges and a hammock. The wall and wing walls closest to the trail were solid stucco for privacy. The other walls had low bamboo wainscoting with screens to ceiling height. Although it is described as a thatched roof, the material is actually synthetic. Natural materials deteriorate fast in the rain forest. Even the newer walkways are Trex for practicality. The mosquito netted bed seems more decorative than necessary as there have been very few insects.
Dinner was good but quite ordinary.
5:01am: We woke up laughing at the jungle sounds with lots of howler monkeys, then bird calls. Up and out, ignoring our thermos of morning coffee which was already delivered, we climbed the stairs toward reception, stopped at a seating area, and OMG! scarlet macaws! That is our reason for being at Lapa Rios which literally translates as a river of scarlet macaws. We were determined to find them in the wild and this lodge was a big splurge to insure that it happened. One pair was feeding in a tree, another did a fly-by for us, several more pairs flew by. We ate breakfast on the terrace watching macaws and green parrots. Heading back towards our room after breakfast, we heard a squawk, and stopped under an almond tree where at least three macaws were feeding and dropping shells on us. Up close. Bird watching is easy when they are large, brightly colored and noisy!
I washed out our lightweight salt encrusted clothes and their dampness hadn’t changed overnight. Is it possible to dry clothes in the rain forest? Yes, one hour of sunshine and all was dry. Temperature around 90 degrees today with a gentle breeze; night temp 75 with a breeze plus ceiling fans (no a/c). Our drinking glasses condense a surprising amount of water. Every meal of the trip has been open air. We are so close to the equator that there is no provision for enclosed shelters.
Tony went on the night hike — frogs, toads, insects, a sleeping tanager, a sleeping iguana … ho hum.
5:24am day two: we are overlooking the Golfo Dulce which is actually a tropical fjord backed by an amphitheater of jungle. The monkey chorus starts at dawn so we can enjoy the sunrise as the birds wake up. We saw a spider monkey as well as the howlers, a squirrel monkey, and capuchins so we have now seen all four species in the country.
Later, at the beach, we watched the brown pelicans feeding, surfing the waves, and practicing their touch-and-goes. They are capable of graceful water landings unless they grab a fish and land arse over teakettle.
On the way back to our bungalow from dinner, I counted the stair steps: 219. We saw spiders, frogs, and a vine snake. (Don’t use the handrails without looking for snakes, spiders, insects, monkey poo, etc .) When we arrived at our room, we discovered that housekeeping had locked us out. No phone service here. Tony hiked back to reception and on his return, he met a guide who alerted him to a coiled fer-de-lance poisonous snake. Tony came back for his camera and hiked the trail again for a photo. (55 floors climbed working off his beans and rice.) Actually dinner was a bbq on the terrace with ceviche and salads, grilled mahi-mahi, chicken, or beef.
Day three: a windy morning and a glorious sunrise. We were up and out for the early bird tour: macaws, toucans, parrots, parakeets, vultures, fregate birds, herons, snowy egrets, ibis, tanagers, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and a blue morpho butterfly, all before breakfast. This is one of the last primary forests left in Costa Rica. The guide told us that when he was a child, he would capture parakeets for his pets from their nests inside termite mounds. That is now forbidden although his children are intrigued by the possibilities. Our guide also gave us a demonstration of the tattoo fern. Along with the spores underneath is a waxy substance, if you place the fern on a dark surface and give it a slap, a silvery image of the fern is left.
We asked a workman if he knew the name of the skinny snake we had seen. No, but he knew the boa constrictor that had just been spotted — about 3 meters long and the diameter of a football. Tony rushed off to find it; I opted for hammock time. What a sloth! When Tony found the guide he was starting a medicinal plant tour, so Tony joined it. Hmmm, he left to find a boa constrictor and didn’t return. What, me worry?
At dinner, reception approached us to verify that we were leaving in the morning. “The only problem is that we noticed you have a flat tire. Shall we change it for you?” Yes please.
Off to the cloud forest, we wound and climbed and reached 10000 feet. What a diverse country. Then we turned off toward our hotel, missing it the first time, not believing the narrow dirt track was our road. Tony is a good driver, but I was quite terrified by the drop offs especially when we would cross patches of road that had broken away. It was nine long kilometers to San Gerardo de Dota where there was quite a large group of resorts along a babbling trout stream once we arrived at Hotel Savegre. All meals were buffets, a bit disappointing. We hiked for awhile along a 4wd track that was uninspiring. We had drinks in the bar that looked like a ski resort with fireplace and bundled up guests, then dinner and back to our room to build a fire of our own, poking our heads outdoors to see the lunar eclipse. Early the next morning we failed to see the areas main attraction, the elusive Resplendent Quetzal.
We drove back to the Grano de Oro Hotel in the capital city of San Jose, dropped off the car, and went in search of a chocolate shop. The neighborhoods were all a bit dodgy and when we arrived at our destination, there was no chocolate shop to be found. Costa Rica is an enigma, professing to be green and ecologically minded, and then we pass a stream strewn with garbage and debris and stinking of sewage. Sometimes it is paradise; sometimes not.
Our first trip to Australia was based on a wedding invitation with extra time to see what we could of a country the size of the United States. We flew to Sydney for starters and spent a few days wandering through gardens, museums, beaches, markets, shops…
The ferry to Manly beach gave us a great view of the iconic opera house.
There were fish too — a market to rival Pike Place! This is one of many vendors.
My favorite shopping mall in the whole wide world — the Queen Victoria Building
The Museum of New South Wales had some incredible modern aboriginal art
and a flat white
A message on a garbage truck that we saw along the way:
Next we flew to Adelaide, walked through their botanical garden, and had lunch with a display of whale bones in a museum with a tribute to Douglas Mawson, polar explorer and mineralogist.
Next morning we were up early to meet the bus to the ferry to Kangaroo Island. The reservations seemed complicated for reasons we didn’t understand until we arrived. We couldn’t take a rental car on the ferry although we could rent a car on the island. Then we found out we were not insured to drive between dusk and dawn! Ahh, it’s all about kangaroos on the roads. Accordingly, very few restaurants were open for dinner. The locals mostly drove 4x4s with ‘roo bars.
But we did see wallabies and kangaroos!
and a koala
A funny bird the pelican, it’s beak holds more than its belly can
and cockatoos, which can strip the siding off a house
and Remarkable Rocks
Then back to Adelaide and the flight to Perth. Our arrival at the Alex Hotel was greeted by shouts from the wedding party and other California friends. We only had time to say hello and goodbye before they hit the road while we made our leisurely way south. Yallingup had a charming old fashioned hotel with parrots and a beautiful beach. Our route included a sawmill, or two, of course. Dwellingup sawmill was a listed monument exclusively because of its age. We found another more modern one in Denmark with bags of banksia pods that were being shipped to Milan as material for high heels on shoes.
Arriving in Denmark WA, the site of the wedding, we found a charming upscale village, beautiful surfing beach, lots of restaurants, breweries, vineyards, lawn bowling for the wedding guests… It was our favorite part of Australia.
The bride and groom were duly married and a good time was had by all.
We don’t have a name for our garden as a whole, perhaps “Bronze on Gold” to combine our last names (Br and onze) and address.
Visitors often ask the size of the garden, surprised to learn that it is a scant acre. We name bits and pieces of it to make it easier to describe locations.
The area around the mailbox has recently been planted with dwarf conifers. Naturally, that southeast corner has become our Pacific Northwest garden.
Beyond the Pacific Northwest is the Rhododendron Garden for obvious reasons.
The Horseshoe is the section along the road between the ins and outs of the semi-circular driveway. A juniper hedge lines the street; a myrtle hedge has been newly planted facing the house. A path meanders through the middle.
The Entry Garden surrounds the front door, of course.
Through the side fence is the Zen Garden with shade, a few azaleas and a ground cover of baby tears.
Tucked behind the Guest House is our Herb Garden which is currently in the throes of reconstruction.
The Pool Garden wraps around the seldom used swimming pool.
Named for its dominant tree is the Olive Mound
The Sedum Garden is waiting for a staircase to the treehouse before the planting can be completed. Entry has been through a hole in the floor via a steep ladder.
Another mound is the New Zealand garden which includes a few immigrants.
The North Garden is hopefully a temporary name for a newly planted area that gets more sun than its name implies.
Tony’s Experimental Garden contains a collection of oddities that may or may not acclimate to life in Sebastopol.
The Orchard is becoming more ornamental as it transitions from a purely productive space.
The White Garden is a miniscule space, small enough to enforce the “whites only” theme (not in a racist sense).
The Digging Dog garden is composed mainly of plants from a nursery of that name. It was planned to be a red and purple garden inspired by The Old Vicarage in East Ruston, UK. The occasional yellow and white flower keeps the theme from being obvious.
A bit larger flower garden was dug out, lined with stainless steel gopher “proof” wire and planted for a Cutting Garden although a Cottage Garden might be more accurate.
The cleverly named Vegetable Garden:
And finally, the final home of plants that are no longer loved, or thrive on neglect — The Alley aka Trail’s End.
Copa Airlines flew us from San Francisco through Panama City to San Jose, Costa Rica. Our taxi driver lamented the traffic delays due to a bridge project. The route took us past rudimentary “homes” that were only sheets of tin for roofs, and through a better neighborhood with grates at the windows, high fences, and coils of razor wire. According to the taxi driver there is not much crime, but some people like to decorate their homes like that.
We had a walking tour of the city with churches and statues and the market.
Perhaps these street vendors were nervous immigrants suggested to be from Nicaragua. The woman in the pink shoes reacted rudely and vociferously when I took a photo. We never found out what they were selling.
The original airport was close to the city and has been re-purposed into an art museum. The diplomats lounge had remarkable bas-relief carvings of the history of Costa Rica.
There were some well carved cedar wood sculptures as well of Costa Rican women. So many babies being pushed in strollers by very large women. Seemingly in these sculptings from 2015, the ideal female form is built for fertility and childbirth.
Our 20 year old tour guide said there was no abortion because Catholicism is written into their constitution. She thought there might be places to find birth control. Overall, we were discouraged by San Jose as it’s suggested to be a “better” part of Latin America. Sigh… our hotel was really excellent however and we highly recommend the Grano de Oro.
Leaving the city, we drove five hours to the Nicoya peninsula. The last stretch of the route was miles of unpaved dusty road where we couldn’t keep our cloud of dust from drifting over the clotheslines that we passed. Montezuma was the end of the road. We parked our car at the El Sano Banano where a driver authorized to drive on the beach transported us and our luggage to the Ylang Ylang resort. It was a tropical paradise. No cars, only the noises of the waves and the jungle, the perfume of frangipani and ylang ylang flowers…
and good food.
Tony was fascinated by the effect of the Bliss laser lights, and subsequently bought several!
Our next destination was Finca Luna Nueva, another eco-resort near Mount Arenal. We had a day pass at Tabacon resort and we were lucky enough to have clear views of the volcano. Wow!
Just like in the old movies with a swim-up bar. 🙂
Tropical vegetation and numerous waterfalls and pools warmed by the volcano.
Back on the road, we spent some time at the iguana bridge, buying hats, hanging out with the iguanas and feeding them bananas, very cool.
I’ll skip the photos of the bumpy road to our next stop, Maquenque at Boca Tapada. Trust me, there were lots of melon-sized boulders in lieu of pavement. At the end of the route, we parked our car and met a little motor boat to take us across the river to our resort. Again, no cars. Now we were on the bird route and the dining room was open air with feeders of papayas and bananas attracting birds.
We loved our accommodations, rustic from the outside, civilized inside with a king size bed, indoor and outdoor showers, mini-bar and all, up 65′ at the height of the birds and the howls of the howler monkeys. A surprising number of guests in ground level cabins expressed their fear of heights.
We spotted the eyes of lots of caymans in the ponds on our walk into our jungle home after dinner in the lodge.
A river tour took us up to the Nicaragua border. What a remote area. The residents know their medicinal plants and first aid as they are hours from a hospital. Supplies arrive by boat.
Border control and the police station seemed fairly relaxed. Everyone in the countryside was friendly and helpful and proud to show us their country.
Time to leave again along the bumpy road, past the “sustainable” pineapple plantations (that have removed the habitat for the native macaw parrots) then cross country to the Sarapiqui region. Our last resort was surprisingly close to a major highway, but we were not disappointed when our afternoon walk brought us into close proximity to the elusive howler monkeys — whole families traveling through the trees. Our host advised us not to stand under a monkey as they drop “things”.
Our resort, Hacienda La Isla, was also a cacao plantation and the Belgian owner Jean Pierre gave us a tour of the growing and history and preparation of traditional hot cocoa.
We stopped at a modern chocolate factory on our way back to San Jose,
where we enjoyed one last night at the Grano de Oro hotel eating our favorite foods of the trip.
There’s Glenys. She was there too, but usually on the other side of the camera.
The pool was installed before we bought the house. There was an enormous hedge of escallonia on two sides, for privacy and a windbreak, presumably.
The prior owners pruned the escallonia by laying plywood on top of the 12 foot high hedge and pruning side to side and back and forth over its 50 foot length. Do not try this at home. Recently (circa 2013) sections of escallonia were dying. We declared it unsalvageable and, with help from Graton day laborers and a friend, removal started, roots were dug out, wood was chipped and earth re-leveled.
The hedge had been so thick that we didn’t know there was a wooden fence in the middle (nor corrugated plastic under the roots). The oldest plants were closest to the pool and branches had layered to form a second row on the other side of the fence. We decided to save the newer section. It didn’t look too promising, but perhaps it would be faster than establishing new plants.
We covered the bare earth with rice straw for the winter while we thought about landscaping. The poles are potential Italian cypress.
Along with the vertical spikes of Italian cypress, we decided that balls were a theme: balls of boxwood, mounds of euphorbia characias, tufts of festuca, clumps of sedum ‘autumn joy’, and a sculptural sphere.
It all came together when the rocks were added, but that story is told in another post. The escallonia is healthy again. The euphorbia are the stars of spring, the boxwood structures summer and winter, the sedums brighten autumn. . .
and we are content with the rhythm of the four seasons.
We took the overnight ferry from Plymouth England to Roscoff France then a taxi from the port to the train station. Surprise! The train station was locked. It was a small station and only opened when a train was expected. So we walked around and waited and read the notices on the doors including the one that said in effect: Due to the train strike, the only service today will be an afternoon train. Ouch! We would miss our connection to Paris. I had already chatted with a British couple from the ferry who were taking a walk around Roscoff. They were returning to their car and I asked “Would you be going to Morlaix?” Response: “Could do.” They squeezed us and our big bags into the car and delivered us to Morlaix where we caught our connection. Relying on the generosity of strangers often works.
It was a rainy week without good photographs. This one looks bright:
We stayed at La Villa des Artistes in Montparnasse, eating at Wadja across the street, wandering into a Celtic street festival, strolling through the Luxembourg gardens and the Jardin des Plantes, the Tuileries, the Pantheon to see Foucault’s pendulum and the tombs of the great thinkers, the Bois de Boulogne and Frank Gehry’s new building . . .
The train took us to Cahors and a rental car, then to stay with our friend Ann.
Puy l’Eveque was looking charming in spite of gray weather.
A pleasant week in the Lot then on to Biarritz during a roaring 20’s festival, and Bayonne, Hendaye, Espelette
The poster was actually in Oslo, but we will use it as a transition to the UK.
We flew from Copenhagen to Gatwick England — long queue through the foreign passport check, a long walk to the rental agency, then a very slow drive around London, and finally on our way for pleasant visits with Craig and Carolyn in Solihull, then Kate and Nigel in Uphampton who we would see again in France.
Cornwall gardens were the focus of the British part of our trip and we had found a B&B run by descendants of the founder of Glendurgan, a garden dating from the era of the plant hunters in the early 1800’s. It was lovely to wake up to views of the garden and to walk through it whenever we wished. Negotiating the narrow roads with high hedgerows quickly became tedious and we limited our excursions to nearby sites: Trebah, Penjerrick, Bonython, Bosvigo…
Massive Tulip tree, with the old woodsman for scale.
Maze, well maintained but pruned short, according to EU regulation, so no one would become lost—no wonder the Brits voted to leave the EU.
We drove to St. Ives to the Barbara Hepworth museum. Her sculptures and Tony’s were strikingly similar. Tony was awake that night mentally sculpting unfinished pieces. At the museum we requested a recommendation for a coffee shop. The locals at the “Art Cafe” included an artist and poet who gave us a guided tour of the St. Ives Arts Club, and Martin Turner of the old music group Wishbone Ash. It was a pretty, serendipitous day.
We dined at a pub in Falmouth, a city with a rich sea heritage, and chatted with two local men: “Do you have a boat? Most Americans who come to Falmouth come by boat.” They might have confused us with the owners of the yacht, Paraffin. “No, we arrived in a rented Vauxhall.”
On Kate’s recommendation, our next stop was in Padstow, an old fishing village when Tony had visited over the past 40 years. Now it’s been gentrified and is ironically also known as “Padstein” because the chef Rick Stein has transformed numerous buildings into hotels and seafood restaurants. Good food and lodging by the sea on a busy holiday weekend.
Next stop, Two Bridges, a country hotel in the moors of Dartmoor that Tony first visited in 1971. The ancient miniature oaks of Wistman’s Woods, (home of the Stannary Court since 1305) had always been surrounded by primroses, but in four visits, never seen in the bloom. Because the primroses were in prime throughout Cornwall, we thought we’d see a big show. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a primrose to be found; they have been replaced by encroaching grasses–climate change perhaps….
Then to Plymouth for a day and the overnight ferry to Roscoff, France.
(Sidenote: our credit cards had been blocked while we were making reservations. According to the bank, one of the sites we were using was “trending for fraud”. I am guessing that would be Brittany Ferries with all the refugees looking for a means to cross the channel. Hard times.)
On the day of departure we received an email that the hotel workers were on strike in Oslo and our hotel was relocating its guests. Norwegians on strike! Our new hotel was in a residential neighborhood where the compensation was discovering the Kampden Bistro which was so good we ate there three times. Here is Tony playing super hero after a beer, or two.
Lots of building was evident – a very fancy area of apartments with docks on the waterfront and lots of Teslas. We were also surprised the increase in ethnic diversity since prior visits and by the contrast between the apparent wealth and beggars on the streets.
We walked tranquilly past the royal palace and later saw a fortress of fencing and security and an American flag — it was our U.S. embassy with a guard shouting at me that photos were not allowed! What a contrast to the royal palace!
The highlight of the city was Vigeland Park with its statues of people in real life.
From Oslo we took the overnight ferry to Copenhagen – lovely trip leaving the fjord at sunset, and at breakfast we caught sight of Elsinore then docked in Copenhagen.