I remember telling my nephew that I was doing some oil painting and he replied that I had always painted. Well yes, except for a gap of 40 years when I didn’t. Around 2006, I was still living in France and I was invited to join some Wednesday painters.
If I put pictures on the blog, I’ll have a record of some of my work.
‘Anemones’ was the first of my Wednesday paintings. It was small and quickly done in time for the group’s art show. Then I painted a larger version for summer use in the fireplace. Later a vase of anemones hangs at my sister’s house. And much later, in another time and place, the anemones reappeared in the background of another living room.
The bridges of my two worlds can be hung in either direction. The Pont Valentre is the 12th century bridge in Cahors with the reflection of the Golden Gate bridge in California.
Just for fun, I put myself in the paintings of more renowned artist’s works.
Sometimes I paint from other artist’s works for practice although I use them as a starting point, not making a copy. I’m a fan of Eyvind Earle and he has been my inspiration for several paintings.
And lots of florals
Odds and ends
French Polynesia 2021
After all the planning, postponing, paperwork, and Covid testing, we finally arrived at the Papeete airport to the sound of four musicians and the mixed floral scents of the evening combining to smell like cotton candy. We wound our way through passport check and another Covid swab as the musicians played on. Then out into night air of 75 degrees and smiling taxi drivers voluntarily directing us to our shuttle to Fare Suisse.
4am and the roosters start crowing. They were walking around the hotel grounds, the neighborhood , the downtown streets, chickens laying eggs in the landscaping… They are called red junglefowl and are on all the islands.
We bought SIM cards, visited the market to admire the food, fruits, fish, pearls, clothing and crafts. Passed the ferry and cruise ship docks, lunched on poke bowls at the Urban Cafe, then after a toes-up at the hotel, we headed out in another direction for the park along the sea. Bandaged blisters, changed shoes, and out to a delicious seafood and taro risotto dinner at MaruMaru. Papeete is the administrative center for the islands and a pleasant city.
November 11 Our hotel keeper shuttled us to the Aremiti ferry for the crossing to Moorea. Clear skies with clouds hovering over the oddly shaped volcanic peaks. Next stop Moorea Beach Lodge — palm trees hanging over turquoise water, thatched roof bungalows at water’s edge. We walked past a psychotherapist office on our way to lunch at Le No Stress bistro. The patients should go there instead. Tuna tartare with green papaya (looked like raw onion, surprise!) Fresh cod with pumpkin… yum
Day 3 in Polynesia — I am disoriented where it looks like the tropics, but sounds like France with a few words of Tahitian: “Ia orana” in greeting, “mauruuru” for thank you. And the outgoing friendliness of being greeted by strangers with eye contact and a smile. Most of the other guests seem to be French speaking. A ray swam by as we were having breakfast on the communal terrace. We went out to snorkel but found few fish in the shallows of the coral outcrops. Tony has been researching the numerous causes of coral death on Moorea. Out of our swimsuits and back on our terrace we can see great schools of fish passing. Hmmm…
Lunch of poisson cru at Fare Club on a terrace built over the water. Lots of fish at the edge and more swarming in as someone tossed a piece of bread into the water. The cafe overlooked the idyllic Intercontinental hotel bungalows, closed during the pandemic, then permanently, near the site where Club Med burned and was abandoned.
Walking back we were intrigued by all the holes beside the road. Tony speculated that they were land crabs, then confirmed it by spotting crabs darting into the holes. The special of the day at the very next restaurant we passed was “crabe de cocotiers”. Very local! Later we learned they were not the same crab, just a coincidence. The land crabs are not edible; the others are delicious.
Downsides of paradise? Roosters, and burning rubbish. There are flowers everywhere — gardenias, frangipani, and hibiscus to tuck behind an ear, lantana naturalizes like weeds, overwhelmed by the odor of bonfires of brush and trash. Pew.
Saturday already. Reception never opened at the Moorea Beach so we left without paying for breakfasts. Taxied to the airport for our flight to BoraBora. Air Tahiti looked at our passports and vaccine cards and handed over boarding passes. Easy peasy. At the BoraBora airport, we picked our luggage off a cart and wheeled it onto the shuttle boat to the mainland.
Our guesthouse owners are Nir and Tiare. Tiare met us at the boat and stopped at the grocery store for us and again at a fruit stand so we could eat in our bungalow because rain was expected. Correctly. We are installed in our room overlooking the tropical garden with the lagoon beyond. This is our tropical bathroom. The shower comes out of the statues hands.
We have been staying close to home during a monsoon!
We have been to the hardware store and back to the grocery store to see if the boat had arrived with eggs. We snagged the only carton left — 20 eggs, 3 of them broken, shrug. Dinner at BoraBora Beach Club.
Snorkeling at Matira Beach today. Walks around the point. We put off the Lagoonarium to avoid the mobs of cruisers on Tuesday, but Windstar has not arrived, presumably cancelled due to lack of passengers. We saw a Renault Twizy electric car which looks like the perfect vehicle for life on a small island.
Nir has a carved turtle from a bankrupt hotel that needs refinishing. Tony offered advice but perhaps we will come back to do the work (that is, we would come back, Tony would work) TBD.
Footnote: Tony is advising on the restoration which is underway and the turtle has been cleaned and looking better and better.
Tony’s birthday! The Aranui and Paul Gauguin are both in port. Nir gave a garden tour for us and Corey and Serbina from Canada. Tasted star apple and sapote, smelled tiare and ylang ylang… lots of exotic fruits and woods, many varieties of palms, jack fruit, bread fruit….
Lovely dinner tonight at Le St James restaurant. The salad with hearts of palm for a starter was the only disappointment as the hearts of palm were totally dissimulated. Tony’s spiny lobster was a handsome specimen, my mahi-mahi in a coconut crust was tasty. Nir made reservations, securing a sheltered table right on the water, an introduction to Anthony the maitre’d, and a birthday alert, which the restaurant acknowledged with two glasses of Champagne with our crème brûlée and ice creams. We watched the fish and the departure of the Ara Nui with a lovely breeze and perfect temperature.
Thursday a Windstar cruise arrived along with the Andromeda, reportedly with Yuri Milken and Mark Zuckerburg on board. I mistakenly thought there would be crowds of cruisers. In reality, our day of snorkeling at the Lagoonarium was postponed until tomorrow for lack of participation. We wandered the shops of downtown (lots of pearls), listened to a heavy duty Polynesian band greet the cruisers,
had a snack of fresh squeezed pineapple juices and a croissant in a simple cafe ($29), and watched the trucks unload the cargo boat — piles of goods to stock Chin Lee grocery store and boutique, bags of mail for the post office, etc. Three large city workers climbed onto their JCB with lunch from Chin Lee—sodas, baguettes and spam!
Friday, we were the ones to cancel the lagoon tour as skies changed from grey to downpour, back to grey then thunder. Picnic, anyone?
Nir drove us to the shuttle boat to take us to the airport for our 20 minute flight to Raiatea where Raymond met us with his boat to Fare Pea Iti on Tahaa. Our bungalow is spacious and built in “authentic” Polynesian style, in quotes for the artificial looks-like-thatched-roof and without the beautiful tropical wood that Nir used. The bungalow is a bit of a disappointment as is the water which is murky brown. Two teak trees with huge leaves are growing in our patio. There is mosquito netting surrounding the bed. This has been Camelot where it only rains at night — perfect for breeding mosquitoes. Both Deet wipes and Off spray have only a short effect. I’ve taken refuge under the mosquito net but find it cuts the breeze.
Beautiful weather, blue water, tropical vegetation, damn the mosquitoes! Here we are on a tropical island that grows coconuts and pineapples and has a rum distillery. Worst pina colada ever, kind of a rum float. The Parisian owner is proud to be one of the two best restaurants on the island. We are on half pension (breakfast and dinner) and evidently we eat lunch here too as we have found nowhere else. We are enjoying the local food. Tropical fruit, croissants, yogurt, coffee for breakfast. Tuna carpaccio salad for lunch, tuna for dinner with black and white rice and cauliflower dauphinois, and guess what for dessert? Banana splits! Teah is our chef. She is very sweet inquiring worriedly if we enjoyed each dish, then beaming her smile when we assure her it was delicious.
This is why we came! It’s a glorious day and Raymond, the Polynesian Capitaine, took us to a coral garden. The “motus” are little islets scattered around the main island. We anchored near one where a family had built a palm shelter to spend Christmas and New Year. Only a few years ago, the law decreed that the motus could only be owned by Polynesians to prevent exploitation by hotel chains a la Bora Bora. And Raymond was enthused about the good side of Covid — a year’s rest without tourists and the coral is recovering! We brought our own masks and snorkels and were loaned fins by the resort — Tony and I and Cedric and Leila from Nantes. Raymond taught us all the security signals, the okay sign, a hand wiggle for halfway good, thumbs up to surface, side of hand on head for shark, sign of the cross for big shark. The plan was to swim out to the reef, then drift back over the coral with the fish. I didn’t get far before swimming out of my fins. Oof. Recover fins, find a break in the coral to stand, set off again to catch up, lose fins, repeat. Picture me as a little girl playing grownup in my mother’s high heel shoes. Raymond returned to check on me, but it was silly to continue. I told him to go ahead and I would drift back from where I was in a magnificent coral garden of my own. It was fantastic! All sizes and colors of fish— transparent, yellow, electric blue, multi-colored, black and white stripes and polka dots— darting through the diversity of coral — a fantasy from National Geographic.
Reunited we motored to the resort’s motu. Raymond left us to swim while he fetched our lunch and Tony spent his time gathering a rash shirt full of coconuts and starting to split one on a sharp stick. I took a very long film of his efforts until Raymond returned and showed us all the tricks of the trade. We drank the coconut water, grated the meat on a special blade on a stand, wrung the milk out of the gratings onto our fish, the final squeezes produce the coconut cream. Squeezed limes over all. According to Raymond you can eat the grated meat but it is only good for decoration on cakes not for taste. What a lovely day. All the reasons we travel.
Politics: there is no taxation in French Polynesia (perhaps reparations for atomic testing?) On the other hand there seems to be a desire for independence and resentment at being governed by France in spite of all the obvious benefits of schools, roads, health care… There is a strike about wages of course but also vaccine resistance. There is currently a fine of 1500 euros for unvaccinated persons with contact with the public, yet the vaccination rate is just over 50%. The strike has cut the fine by half. Muslims are not resident. According to Pascal, Muslim women’s rights are not compatible with the Polynesian respect for women, particularly old wise women.
Curiosities: Taha’a is one of five islands with enough fresh spring water for its population. BoraBora uses all its spring water plus rainwater plus desalination. Faucets for sinks are often room temperature, neither hot nor cold, with hot water available in the shower. There is no hospital or dentist or garage on the island of Taha’a. Cargo arrives two days a week. Mostly it’s DIY with plenty of fruit. Another downside of Covid: our resort needs maintenance. There were no tourists for a year, and no material deliveries. Finally a partial delivery arrived with wood for part of the dock. Pascal plans to close for two weeks now that materials, and tourism, have resumed. However, There are five bungalows and only two are occupied. All food is kept in the refrigerator: sugar, tea bags, coffee, bread…
Monday and it appears that we have a full crew of employees. Vanilla tour today at the Vallee de la Vanille. The plant is an orchid that reproduces easily from cuttings using another tree for support and shade. The vine is pinched regularly to increase foliage and flowering. Three years later it flowers and each flower is hand-pollinated and nine months later each flower produces one bean. The beans are dried slowly in the sun for two hours a day over two months. Each bean is massaged, one pressure up, one pressure down daily for x days. That is why they justify the price of $300 for 500 grams at the source! Denmark is the largest market in the world for vanilla. We bought a small bag of beans which should last indefinitely in a glass jar and a container of vanilla powder for lazy cooks (our lodge uses their powder for crème brûlée, ice cream, cream sauce for fish, etc). Vanilla beans are also recommended (not by me) for flavoring rum, coffee, sugar….
Our guide drives with her left hand at the top of the steering wheel ready to wave a greeting to every single passing car, bicycle, and pedestrian. Life on a small island. This is the most rudimentary island we have visited. Most houses are quite basic, sometimes neat with hedges of hibiscus, sometimes junky with burn piles and old cars. Lots of coconut palms and piles of coconuts for copra. We also visited a wood carver from the Marquesas islands, working mostly with rosewood that his family delivers, one cubic meter box at a time, the maximum the sailboat will accept.
Tuesday we walked into the village of Patio: mayors office, Mormon church, two supermarkets side by side. There is major work going on to improve the port. I’m speculating that it might become capable of docking the smaller cruise ships. Interesting to see how people live. Lots of junk cars so what can you do with one? It must be very expensive to have it hauled off the island.
We passed a watermelon stand, saw sweet potatoes and taro in gardens, lots of mangoes starting to ripen, papayas but no pineapple. We walked along the road exchanging waves with each car, and greeting all the bicycles and pedestrians with “Io rana” (aloha).
Back at our lodge the cook is picking up coconuts, tossing one at the bunches of nuts to see if any more are ready to fall, then wheelbarrowing them to a big pile where they will be collected to sell as copra. Tony is doing his research. Copra is combustible and can carry a toxin into the food chain — organic untreated is not safe to use.
Bad news/good news from Pascal this morning. Tomorrow’s flight has been canceled. Air Tahiti cannot strike because they are a monopoly, but the firemen are on strike so it wouldn’t be safe to fly. This is our least favorite resort. Their beach is murky brown, so if you want to swim or snorkel you must pay them $65 to take you to the motu. We have done all the activities of interest and are ready to leave. Pascal made an effort on our behalf and has found a fisherman who we can pay 25000 pacific francs to take us to Huahine, our next destination.
Our favorite Capitaine Raymond will take us to Raiatea. Along the way he made an abrupt 90 degree turn and cut the motor. Dolphins!!! Our fisherman and his colleague were waiting and we were pleased to find a huge waterproof bag for our luggage and a roof for sun protection.
Beautiful sunny day with smooth turquoise water in the lagoon, then rougher seas beyond in ultramarine. We were slammed by the waves before he moved us to the back. Otherwise, it felt like multiple spinal compression fractures ahead. He put out a fishing line for trawling and told us stories of the biggest fish he ever caught — a five meter long blue marlin that took five hours to land. We offered to help but didn’t catch a thing. An hour and a half trip was actually 2 ½ hours of pounding on an uncushioned bench. Tomorrow he is taking passengers to BoraBora which is twice as far. Ouch.
Friendly arrival at the pier of the Lapita Maitai Hotel with gardenia leis. Very attractive hotel and best of all, great pina coladas.
The myna birds breakfast is at the same time as ours. A cat prowls the outdoor restaurant too, but doesn’t intimidate the mynas in the least.
Paradise!?!? It’s lovely here, mostly mosquito free, lots of visual appeal, etc. On the other hand, we have chosen an expensive place to read a book. The excursions on offer have become repetitious, as has the food. The fish is delicious for lunch, appetizers, mains…. Perhaps we scheduled too much time, and, there is still the Air Tahiti strike and no alternative for getting back to Papeete. We walked into town, souvenir shops, snack bars, supermarket, pharmacy for band-aids for Tony’s fin blistered toes.
Lunch restored my good humor. Tired of fish, I looked at the burger menu and found a black bun burger with duck breast and chutney. Yum!
Snorkeled off the beach and spotted lots of tiny electric blue fish, larger yellow ones, black ones, combinations of stripes and spots…
Saturday night in the big city. We went to Happy Hour at the Huahine Yacht Club, a fancy name for a local dive. Prime time for a mostly local crowd. It has been a pleasure to hear Tahitian music everywhere. Watched the sunset over a maitai and beer. Then a plate of curried shrimp and swordfish with vanilla sauce and, o happiness, green beans. Vegetables have not been abundant. Apologies to Fishwatch, but the swordfish was really a treat. And nothing seems to be overfished here. The locals just fish for their own use, not export.
The South Pacific is the ultimate honeymoon destination. All we want to do is lounge around naked although contact with another sticky body is less appealing.
Monday we flew to Papeete and were met by Therese from Fare Suisse. We dropped our bags and headed to the hardware store for pros where Tony was happy to find nearly everything he needed for woodworking supplies to restore the turtle.
Time for lunch, but we were in an industrial area and found nothing appealing until we were back in the neighborhood of the Urban Cafe. While we waited for lunch, Tony went behind the bar to tune up their espresso machine and hey presto, we ended up with a very good caffe latte to finish. P.s., they are looking for a barista.
We had barely left when the rain started. First a little, then a lot, then jumping puddles, then a torrent rushing down the driveway to our hotel. Shoes and clothes to try to dry in high humidity.
By dinner time the rain had stopped. We went back to the MaruMaru restaurant which we knew was both tasty and close. I repeated my order of shrimp and taro risotto, Tony had a good lagoon fish and three scoops of ice cream that was so good he had to know how they made it. The chef was proud of his PacoJet machine and invited Tony to see it. O happiness! Do I hear jingle bells?
Next day, equipped with umbrellas, we went shopping at Carrefour and Parfum Tiki. Long walk, broken by a stop for a milkshake on the terrace of California Burger. We don’t have so many wild chickens in California. Back out to Champion supermarket where we made a lunch of sushi and radishes. Then an excellent dinner at Kozy Restaurant — pretty presentation of tuna carpaccio with twists of cucumber, cherry tomatoes, flower petals, soy sauce under and a touch of mustard sauce with black and white sesames on top. Mahimahi for Tony and pintade for me. Exceptional!
And now it is the first of December. The bamboo tree is decorated and instead of Tahitian music it’s Christmas carols with breakfast accompanied by the drum of a rain shower. We canceled our car rental for today, exploring in the rain having lost its appeal. When the sky cleared we went to Pharmacy Paofai where we received negative Covid tests for a bargain $19. Walked around the harbor admiring the yachts of the mega-wealthy and more modest boats that had traveled from France or San Diego, all over the world. Lunch was well timed with poke and smoothies and another brief downpour.
Eat, walk, eat, nap, eat, read, sleep, repeat. We are ready for home.
Dinner at Meherio began with happy hour at the port, pina coladas with a view in a zoomy bar, perfect temperature, light breeze, delicious evening. Then upstairs to the indoor dining room, also zoomy and practically deserted. Tony, always in search of veggies ordered a pumpkin salad for a starter and a Pacific fish salad for his main. The first salad was in an eye-popping 2 foot long dish that fed both of us. His main was in the same kind of platter, but he was on his own while I ate shrimp and scallops on asparagus risotto. So good! The price was the same as little cafes, but the service, presentation, and ambiance were far above normal. We even had a half liter carafe of Viognier wine that was a bargain for Tahiti.
Fare Suisse is the other plus in Papeete. They are so accommodating offering a free shuttle to and from the airport and ferry. Beni bakes three kinds of bread for breakfast plus fruits, yogurt, ham, cheese… and at night he offers pizza or fondue. Hard work all day managing 25 rooms. Flights to the US leave at night and they offer a toilet and shower for those of us hanging out. Recommendable clean, functional place to stay within walking distance of city center.
Tony was sitting on the terrace when he heard a surprised “Hello Tony!” It was Marylin, the owner from Fare Pea Iti on Taha’a who was on her way to Bordeaux for holidays with family. We stayed so long we now recognize people from other islands!
Negative Covid tests from the local pharmacy, and we are headed home.
Birds in the garden
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.
Costa Rica — Bird Watching for Dummies — January 2019
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.
Bronze on Gold or Name That Garden
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.
Costa Rica – February 2017
Off to Costa Rica.
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.
It was a birthday celebration for Leila and her mother, so they rented a castle in Spain, as one would, and invited some friends. Yes, we accepted.
The drive through the Pyrenees was spectacular.
GPS presented some challenges for each new arrival. The road to the Castell de Llaes is evidently regarded as unpaved. It’s on a hill, of course, and here is our first view.
It’s a rather steep approach. Ingrid is already uphill from the parking space and up the first switchback. Don and Mary have the last switchback ahead.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to carry our bags thanks to Leila who was running the gondola.
We spent lots of time cooking, eating, and drinking. Here is part of the crew having aperitifs on the terrace. Mary, Jane, Leila, Richard, Ingrid, Brian, Tony, Roger, Glenys . . .
Tony and Jane preparing shrimp.
And then Jane made tarts.
Peruvian friends arrived and cooked an amazing Peruvian lunch
Eventually, we ventured out to see the sights
and replenish supplies at our favorite wine shop. An exceptional Rioja at 1.60 euros per liter. Bring your own container. We do wish they had a branch in Sebastopol!
fruits and vegetables
Lunch, shopping, sight-seeing and we are heading back to the castle
in time for dinner.
Our host joined us
Richard appeared pleased when his girlfriend arrived.
But apparently Henrik didn’t like their matching shirts. He was usually more cheerful.
Evenings found us watching the weather with Richard taking fabulous sky photos.
I hope the birthday girls had as good a time as we did.
Thanks Leila. I wish we could add the soundtrack of Caroline singing in the chapel and the tinkle of the sheep bells.
Escallonia, part 1
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