14 December 2007

Seeing is Believing

Having an eye go bad is pretty scary business. It's even worse when you get a cataract in one eye and it progresses very quickly.

Pat had known that she had a minor cataract problem. Then in early '07 we both noticed that her vision was getting really bad. Our regular optometrist told her that the slight catarct had rapidly clouded to a major cataract in less than a year (uncommon.) Together, we went to an appointment with an eye specialist and were dismayed to be shown that her vision had degenerated to 20:60, in her right eye, WITH glasses. Without glasses, she couldn't see anything, functionally.

The suggestion was to replace the cataract-damaged eye lens with a man-made plastic lens. They now do this with orthoscopic micro-surgery and it sounded like a simple procedure.

As of today, there are several different classes of lenses available for implantation and we had a difficult decision to make. The old-time type of lenses are fairly rigid, fixed focus critters. That means that you get one range of vision in focus: usually long distance is in focus; medium distance is a little fuzzy; and, close up (reading) is just a mess. The up-side is that there have been thousands and thousands of them implanted with a very low problem rate.

An alternate is a newer design that is soft/flexible so that the eye muscles can warp the lens and give the patient acceptable distance, mid-range and close-up vision. Even though they don't always give the patient perfect vision at any of the distance ranges, many people throw away their glasses completely if both eyes receive the soft implants.

Since Pat only needed a single lens replaced, that meant that she would positively still have to wear glasses (for the untreated eye).

So: more proven design; single eye repair only; probability that the old design will be around for years and years (in case a repair/replacement is required in the distant future) -- we selected the older design.

I was expecting quite a big deal for the ultrasonic disintigration of the old lens, removal of the many pieces, insertion of the new lens, positioning, and repair of the incision. They told us that the entire procedure would take 3 hours, including recovery.

So, I'm thinking, "This will take less than an hour in the operating room."


While Pat was being prepared for the operation, the nurse said, "Yes, the Doctor will take about 10 minutes to complete the procedure."

Ten minutes!?! Incredible.

And that's how it went. From when they rolled her toward the operating room until the doctor came out to tell me the procedure went perfectly, only about 20 minutes ticked away. (There was some time eaten up for the anesthetic to kick in.)

There was a bit of angst for both of us as we worried what the results would be. Pat had 3 kinds of eye drops to endure, every 4 hours and she said that it felt like there was a foreign object caught under her eyelid.

The next day, we were at the doctor's office for a post-operative check up. The nurse flashed an eye chart up on the wall and asked Pat to read the smallest line possible. She hesitated a second and then ripped through the little bitty letters at the bottom of the page. 20:20 vision!

Three hours out of our lives and Pat goes from barely being able to see with glasses to perfect vision without glasses. Wow.

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07 December 2007

Gotta get in the Spirit!

We returned home Monday evening from our recent visit to Costa Rica and now its time to get into the Holiday spirit. We need to put the outside lights on the house and get the tree decorated this weekend. With the temperature going back up into the 80's today, I felt John and I would need a bit of help to get us motivated to bring down all the decorations from the attic. The Dancing Elves did just the trick!

Click on the link and enjoy!

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29 November 2007

The Bridge

We’ve been staying in Atenas at a bed & breakfast named Ana’s Place. This joint is in the most run down part of town down at the bottom of a hill; but, the entrance is tucked back up behind a bunch of plants. If you are not determined to find the place, you’ll see the unattractive buildings at the end of the road (a dead end) and you’ll quickly turn around, assuming that it couldn’t be down there.

But it is. Once you turn up Ana’s driveway, passing through the huge iron gates, you’ll round the bend and see an imposing, beautiful mansion of a place with perfectly manicured gardens and lawn. Opposing stone stairways curve gracefully towards each other, rising from the parking area up to the porticoed grand entry way.

The great front door was open and we walked into a reception area. A young lad welcomed us and began to escort us to our cabina out in the back, in the real gardens.

Eden. Unreal. Tropical birds were going off, butterflies were making out, gardenias were in riotous bloom and the air was tauntingly touched by that fragrance. And, there, reigning over all, was a gigantic red, yellow, blue & green parrot.

We were in the Jaguar Room which means we occupied ½ of a cabin about the size of a shotgun shack, nested in among the greens of this manicured jungle. The room was just “O.K.” with a suicide heater for the shower’s hot water and a prominent sign admonishing us in 4 languages not to put any toilet paper of any sort into the toilet. It is not toilet paper here. It is “papel higenico” and it belongs in the little waste basket. Eeeek.

Aside: I didn’t know what a suicide shower was either until Pat filled me in on this distinctly Tico bathroom accessory. Here’s how they got their name. Between the wall and the shower head sits a little cylindrical box, about half the size of an old time Quaker Oats box. That is what makes cold water into hot water as fast as it can flow through the device (allegedly.) Running out through a hole knocked in the wall are two 110 volt wires that disappear into the side of “the device.” In ages past, you’d get the water running into the device and out the shower head, and then reach over to a BARE KNIFE SWITCH (are you paying attention – you’re wet and standing in a shower!!) to power up this evil machine. Oh yeah. Let me. Get it? Suicide Shower?

O.K., they’re safer today because the knife switch has been replaced by a circuit breaker switch over far enough from the shower that you’d have to be Yao Ming to touch the switch and the water pipes at the same time. Oh, I almost forgot. To control how hot The Beast makes the water, you have to adjust the flow volume. A trickle of flow is too hot for comfort; a "reasonable" (Spartan) flow is about right; and, a healthy, drenching flow doesn’t quite make it all the way to “hot.” Can anyone guess what happens when you are enjoying a “perfect-temperature” shower and somebody flushes? Oh, buddy!

Pura Vida. I’m not going to let little things like simple electrocution and keeping a bucket of poopie paper in my room affect my attitude.

We got some pretty fine French Scotch (no kidding) and settled in under a big outdoor cabana, near the pool and sipped our way to nirvana. We also had a great time listening to some obviously well-to-do 30-somethings sit around the pool and sagely solve every world and family relationship problem that has ever burdened man’s soul. ‘Em were some REALLY smart folks, if they didn’t say so themselves.

And that would be a cool segue into a little blather about philosophy … but first I gotta tell you about The Bridge.

We’ve been corresponding with some folks in Atenas that write a little e-publication called “Atenas Online.” They have a section that cites neat things to see and do around Atenas, so we decided to look up some of some of these attractions.

  1. Nope, Rick’s Internet Café does NOT have a Steak Night or a special or steak anything on Thursday nights. Once again, a waiter looked at me like I was from Mars. (Maybe it was the huge Caballero hat and bright yellow size 3X tropical shirt parked above and below a wildly bearded head. Ya think?)
  2. There is a Railway Museum just east of the little village of Rio Grande and there is a breathtaking old riveted iron bridge spanning the biggest, deepest chasm around these parts. It is worth the walk of about 500 meters up the old rails. This bridge towers 345 feet above the raging Rio Grande. Vertigo is the order of the day as you look out over the unguarded stone ramparts. I wasn’t brave (crazy) enough to walk out on the “no–railing” deck of the bridge. I’ll bet that will get your head swirling. Go if you get a chance. The Railway Museum is only open on Sundays so we can’t give a report on what treasures it holds.

Just a quick backtrack -- overall, Ana’s Place is worth a visit. The ambiance is wonderful. The food is gourmet and, of course, the coffee is to die for.

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27 November 2007

The Bank

What a grand Tuesday we were having!

I was awakened by my lungs trying to suck my CPAP face mask up in through my nostrils. Then I became conscious enough to realize that I had finally popped my lips apart and inhaled vs., the usual explosion of air, accompanied by the most god-awful palate rattle ever emitted by a human-ish creature – the usual occurrence when parting my lips while hooked up to the infernal breathing machine.

“Hey, the machine quit. The power must be off,” I said, figuring that I might as well wake up Pat with the news, since I couldn’t awaken her with the vile sounds of my rattling palate. Just then …

“Pot!” came the voice of Vinicio at our bedroom door. “Johnny wants to talk to you.”
{ASIDE: I gotta tell you . In Spanish, Patricia’s everyday name, Pat, sounds exactly like somebody shouting for a cooking vessel. There is no end to the passive-aggressive fun I can have with this!}

Johnny is our really good Tico lawyer and we had set up an indefinite meeting with him for this week so that we could do all of the paperwork required to set up a bank account here, to be used for the pending house construction project. He was asking us to be at his office in ½ hour – no later – so that he could meet with us prior to a court appearance for some other client.

Race race race. No showers today. Can we do it. Pant pant pant.

The phone rings. It’s Johnny. The power is off at his place, too, so we might as well not come over since he can’t print out any of our documents.

A few minutes later the power came back on and we decided that it was now or never for Johnny.

We actually arrived just a few minutes after his imposed ½ hour deadline. He answered all of our questions, gave us all kinds of really official looking documents with purty-colored stamps and seals all over them (Ticos love colored stamps and seals – and some of their paper currency is considered the most beautifully colored in the world. No kidding.) We paid him and were off.

Had breakfast in a super little soda / panderia in town.

{ASIDE: For those of you unfortunate enough not to know what a “soda” is, they are very tiny “restaurants,” usually with 10 or fewer chairs or counter stools, and they serve a delicious, nutritious, balanced, typical Tico meal that will fill up an empty belly for less money than a burger & fries. For $3 to $5 you can eat and drink Coca-Cola with enough calories for a full day. Really amazing places. Do NOT rob yourself of this experience by going to McDonalds or Taco Bell when in Costa Rica.}

Since we had all of the official documents finished for our Costa Rican corporation, including all of the correct powers-of-attorney (not what they really call them here,) why not go get Vinicio and open up a commercial bank account.

Lesson 1: Know that doing ANYTHING important at a Tico bank will involve a lot of time. And, you DON’T have all of the proper papers, no matter what your attorney or anybody has told you. There shall be something that you’ll have to go elsewhere to get.

In our case, it was the fact that Vinicio (Corporate Treasurer) had brought the requisite utility bill that showed his post office box number, and not the verbal description of the physical location of his office. Now, lemme ask you … would you rather have, “Box 238,” at the Correo (Post Office,) as an address for service of documents or would you like to live with the Tico version of a street address: “100 meters north of Billie’s Pharmacy and 200 meters west of Our Lady of Something-or-Other Church”? Well, the bank wanted the “100 meter” thing.

{Aside: The government has announced that they will give all of the streets in Costa Rica a name over the next few years, so everyone will eventually get a “house number on a street,” address instead of the physical description based on landmarks, as they have used for centuries.}

But, the banker agreed to get started on the paperwork and we could go get a proper utility bill. Two and a half hours down and not finished.

And, oh yes, they were having trouble with the computer hookup to the national registry and couldn’t verify that we really were a corporation, even though they were holding a plethora of stamped, notarized, embossed, be-ribboned, signed in triplicate nationally official documents. Nah. But they hoped the computer would finally answer “in an hour or so.” Ya, right.

So we diddled away a delicious hour partaking of Tico BBQ ribs with all the trimmings. I’m in heaven.

We sauntered back to Vinicio’s and picked up a bill with a descriptive address on it.
Back to the bank; hippity hop inside; where is everyone?
Lunch, I guess. For a l-o-n-g time.

At 2:10pm, (no, I’m not kidding) our banker gal came back to see us. O.K., all the paperwork is there …. but she can’t find Pat’s business card that we’d given her earlier …. did we have another. Sure, everyone carries dozens of business cards with them on vacation. Hope she doesn’t need more than one more.

Typity type type. Our banker is burning up the keyboard on her PC. Typity type. I guess I’ll go over to stand in line to change some dollars into colones since the exchange rate is going the wrong direction and is expected to tank over the next few days or weeks.

That took a half hour. Not bad!

Typity type type. Wow, they’re really into paperwork at this bank.

Well, since we already have the new account number, maybe Vinicio should go over, get in line and make our first deposit.

Another 40 minutes. Things are really flying along around here!

Typity type type. Now banker-girl is on the phone ripping off a bunch of technical stuff in Spanish, and, Oh, god, Pat is rolling her eyes.

“What?” I want to know.

“Well it sounds like their system took all of your information but it refuses to take mine. She’s entered everything 3 times and now the home office is working with her over the phone trying to get it in,” says my bride.

By this time, we’re worried about getting out of the bank in time to pick people up after work, etc. So, Vinicio and Pat both work on our banking pal and she agrees, finally, to give us all of our paperwork, bundle up her copies, send them to the home office, “and let them figure this out.”

She got my vote.

Lesson 2: Ya better not have “Houston” as your city of residence because the computer system at the bank refuses to recognize it. Put in some other town name & BANG – it goes right through. Just not Houston. So there.

We cruised outa there by 4pm, the proud owners of a new corporate checking account.

We be ready to roll!

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26 November 2007

Finding Minor

Much of the purpose of this trip to Costa Rica was designed to get everything squared away so that construction of our little garage/apartment can begin on our property in Atenas.

We just couldn’t stay away from Atenas, so the first spare moment we had we drove over from Alajeula and walked all over our weeds (the only thing on our little lot.)

A meeting had been set up with our Architect/Civil Engineer/Construction Manager, Minor. In really good English, he had told me earlier that we should be at his office in the City of Grecia between 2:30 & 3:00 pm. Easy.

We had a great meal at a soda in Atenas and decided to strike out for Minor’s office in Grecia, a reported 10km away, about 1:30. Sure, we’d get there early but we could kill some time playing tourist around that mountain town.

“I think it’s up this way,” said Pat. Off I drove. And drove. “Maybe we should ask that guy.”

We pulled over and asked somebody at another soda and found out that we’d gone 4km past our turn-off. Back we buzzed and at exactly 3.9km, there was the described yellow flashing light. Drive drive drive.

“I don’t think this feels right,” quothe Pat. We stopped next to an old woman. We asked (in Pat’s perfect Spanish) if this was the way to Grecia and she looked absolutely baffled by such an impertinent question. Then she sucked it up and said, “Yes, this way will get you there.”

Lesson 1: “Get you there,” as a direction, contains no mention of “how long” it will take to get “there.” Don’t ever take a route that is described as “get you there.”

Pretty soon the road turned into something akin to the surface of the desert after the Battle of El Alemain. Progress was dropping from 50kph to 40, to 30, to …
“A bus!” I shouted with joy. And it was stopping to let people off out here in the wilderness.

We pulled up next to the stopped bus and asked him how to get to Grecia.
“Well, this will get you there but there are a lot of curves,” he said, tracing a great number of spiraling circles in the air. “But the main road is just back there with the sign to Palmeras.” We turned around. The clock is running, in case you haven’t guessed.

{Aside: Really regular-intelligence people usually remember to bring road maps with them when traveling around unknown roads in a strange country. It takes real brains to bring THREE maps in our luggage and leave them all back in the room.}

The “correct” turn-off was one of those roads that we had seen and wondered if we were supposed to go this way or that. Dropping down down down and then climbing virtually straight up (ox carts used to do this?!?) proved that some real engineering had gone into our Daihatsu engine. It never blew up once, even though any sane person would never put any engine through that kind of test. Up and down. Up and down. Potholes as big as a 500 lb bomb crater. “This road will get you there.” Tick tock. The clock is running. Maybe we should try to call Minor to tell him we’d be there at sundown.

Zoom zoom.

“This doesn’t seem right,” she said, again. Oh god.

“There’s a truck!” It was a farmer unloading grain or manure or whatever it is that you need a bunch of in the middle of nowhere and comes in huge burlap sacks in Costa Rica. We pulled up and Pat did her usual heroics with the Spanish language. Our farmer guy knew that we should go exactly 2km back and turn left. Unbelievable.
We went back and right where predicted – there was a road that we’d missed seeing the first pass by. We went up and down; up and down; up and down. The little engine really had a tough time cresting a couple of the hill tops. Through one little village after another.

Finally … Grecia. Our destination.

Earlier in the day, Minor had given me really clear directions on how to find his office: “We’re 1 block south of the Bank of Costa Rica which is on the northwest corner of the city park in front of the big church. Easy. (Not the real directions but close enough to convey the simplicity I was planning on.)

There’s the bank – the sun is over there so that’s west – let’s drive over there, uh, no – then it must be up there – uh, no – call Minor.

Minor and Pat talked on the phone and I made turns. Pat called out landmarks and pretty soon we’d seen every square inch of Grecia. We turned a final corner, headed back for the town square and Pat said, in English, “Oh, I see it!” Huh? Where?
We parked and walked to a corner where a hair salon and travel agency resided. I still don’t know what the heck she saw, but there was Minor to greet us. I looked up the street and there was the Bank. South? This is south? The sun is setting in the north today? Arrrrghh!

Lesson 2: Carry a compass. You never know when the Earth’s axis is going to flop over or the magnetic north pole is going to become the magnetic south pole so you’ll want to be the first to see evidence of this stupendous event.

We’d traveled probably a total of 50km to get here. On the way out of town, we spotted a sign, “Atenas – 10km”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. How’d we take half the afternoon to make the trip?” I wimpered.

We took the turn, hopped up and down a few little hills, bounced over a river, past the site of the horrible land slide that took 14 lives last month (an awful & awesome sight, still today), up one last incredible grade and we were … 1 block from the corner of our little street in Atenas. Sheesh.

Lesson 3: Since there are no street names and VERY few road signs once you get off the Autopista (Pan American Highway) take somebody with you that knows the way, the first time you go somewhere, “just down the road.”

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25 November 2007

Making a "new" car a "used" car

Yep. Another wonderful trip to Costa Rica. But this one had some twists.

We left Houston on a drearily dark day with storms raging around the greater metropolitan area. Fortunately, at the international airport, the rain was light and the expected Thanksgiving crowds were strangely absent. We breezed right into parking; straight through bag check-in; and, went through security with zero waiting – we were the only people in line.

The plane was lightly filled so we were lucky enough to have the center seat empty between us. Minutes after takeoff, the plane burst through the grey and into the bright sunshine. Here we come … Vacation!

As we got off the plane, we were surprised to be met at the gate by Manrique, Pat’s cousin, who is in the travel business and knew how to get us through Customs and the airport in record time.

Manrique drove us to the off-airport Toyota Auto Rental office where our reserved rental car was ready for us. A brand new little 4x4 with 10km on the odometer. Simple paperwork and walk-around got us on the road, following Manrique to La Casa de Vinicio, his father’s house.

The greeting at curbside when we arrived at Vinicio’s was that especially warm Tico welcome that is one of the nicest things one can experience. Vinicio parked our rental car up tightly between a tree and the house so that, “They’ll have to steal that tree to steal the car.”

A grand evening with family and friends followed and then we retired early.

Sunday morning, more family visits started again at 7am. By 9am, many people had come in and out, passing the rental car. Maritza, Vinicio’s wife and Pat’s dear friend, served us all a typical (huge) Tico breakfast up above the house in the “Ranchito.” (A little retreat area up at the top of their property where the breezes blow and the view is breathtaking.)

We had finished breakfast and were relaxing in the early summer breeze when Vinicio’s phone rang. A friend was driving past the house and was calling to say that “the car in front of your house has been broken into!” We all ran to the front street.

Sure enough. The brand new rental car sat there amid a pile of broken glass “popcorn.” I think that it was now classifiable as “used.” Broad daylight. Sunday morning. In a quiet neighborhood. Sheesh! There was “popcorn” all over the interior, accompanied by a large rock, sitting on the floor, beneath the broken window. Missing from the inside of the car was only one thing: the faceplate off the radio. Nothing else. They broke in for nothing. But what an inconvenience THIS would become.

After cleaning up the mess, Vinicio called the Toyota Rental people and they said to just bring the car back to them. With the wind pounding through the gaping hole, Pat and I drove back to Toyota. When I took the lead, speaking in English to the Rental Agents, it seemed like they didn’t know what I was talking about or perhaps they just didn’t know much at all. A slightly more “in charge” type finally walked from behind the counter, took the keys from me and walked out to the car. He got in, looked around and asked in perfect English, “So what’s wrong with this?” Also in English, Pat burst out, “Well the window is gone – they broke into the car and stole the face off the radio!”


We went back inside and there were many minutes of frantic phone calls, in Spanish, all of which Pat (clandestinely) understood. The “responsible guy” started in about a police report. We had to have a police report. They couldn’t do anything without one.

Pat exploded in Spanish and the startled look on the Agent’s faces was “precioso.”
(In Spanish) “So we have to take the car all the way back to Vinicio’s, wait for a police report, bring the car back here and then exchange it?!?”

“Well that is only if we have a car to replace it,” said the Agent.

I couldn’t translate what Pat said next, but after the Agent got his heart restarted, we suddenly were told that the replacement car would be clean and ready for us, brought over from the “downtown location” and available within 3 hours. All we had to do was get a police report.

We left with the car and went back to Vinicio’s.

When we arrived, the police were called.

“Well, the futbol game (soccer) is on TV. We can’t come for a half hour. You better call us back to remind us.”

Lesson one: They’re watching a soccer game. They’re busy, thank you. Don’t bother me now.

My first experience with the unique functionings of Tico government. Wow.

We didn’t have to remind them. About a half hour later, two officers showed up on Policia (Ministerio de Seguridad Publica Delegación Cantonal Fuerza Publica Alajuela) dirt bikes and were standing, staring at the broken window when we got outside. Both Pat and Vinicio launched into a big explanation.

The “boss officer” asked for a piece of paper. Vinicio went into the house and got a sheet of blank, ruled notebook paper and a large book. The officer took these. Using Vinicio’s book as his “desk” he wrote down all the details that he needed (on the blank paper!) folded it up and put it in his pocket.

“I’ll go back to my barracks now and fill out a report, get the stamp on it and bring it right back.” “I’m almost back,” he wisecracked as he rode off with is amigo cop.

Lesson two: Bring your own paper and writing surface. The police carry neither forms nor clip boards.

Our Seguridad gentleman was “almost back” 55 minutes later. I guess that is really fast around here.

Nonetheless, the required paperwork was a pleasant surprise. The Official Form was a piece of letterhead, with a Xeroxed header giving the date, time, officer’s names and approximate location, followed by a dozen ruled lines. At the bottom is a place for a rubber-stamped official seal and everybody’s signature. In the header boxes and in the ruled lines, was a hand-written rough description of what the officers observed. Nothing more. No shutting down the highway for 8 hours while CSI does a full investigation with lasers, GPS, measuring wheels, AutoCAD drawings of the site, video, 10.2 megapixel photographs of several hundred different views of the crime scene, DNA swabs, special sprays to detect blood and absolutely not a single news helicopter in the sky. What’s the matter with this country? ¡Pura Vida!

Wait wait wait. Wait until the appointed hour when the Toyota people promised our replacement car. Eventually, we called, at the beginning of the quoted time span and were told that it would be ready in 15 minutes. It would take longer than that to drive to the rental office.

Away we went. On arrival, we bounded into the office, ready to get the new car and we were met by a fresh face that we hadn’t seen before – and nobody else.

“We brought back the damaged car and we’re here to pick up its replacement,” I started.

“Huh?” said the clerk. “I just got here and nobody told me anything.”

Oh, cripes.

After much explanation by Pat, in Spanish, and plenty more time on the phone the new guy told us that the car would be there in 15 minutes. (15 minutes must be the Tico version of “Real soon now.”)

But soon, around the corner came the car. They closed out the old contract (only now, at this point, because, well, you know, they were REALLY busy all day with all of those other 2 customers they had,) and wrote up our new one, did the walk around with us on the replacement car – and we were off. {Note: This replacement car was the identical make and model, but was far from new. Maybe they didn’t want to risk getting another new vehicle “inaugurated”?}

Lesson three: Always buy ALL of the insurance from the rental guys in CR. I can’t imagine what we would have gone through if they had needed payment for this broken window and the missing radio faceplate. We’d probably be writing this from the Grey-Bar Motel.

More later.

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17 October 2007

We'll be in Costa Rica after Thanksgiving...

We have finalized our plans for a week's vacation in Costa Rica after the Thanksgiving holiday. While we are there we will spend some time with our good friends in Alajuela and spend a couple of days in Atenas at Ana's Place. Here's hoping the rains will end by then and we'll be able to enjoy sunny days and clear starry nights.

We have some business to take care of with our attorney and we're ready to get the construction started on our property in Atenas. John is still working on floor plan samples for our builder. Carolina will hire someone (as soon as there is a break in the weather) to cut all the weeds on the property for us. Our builder is currently working on getting the soil samples so he can get the building permits from the city. He will also make the arrangements for electricity, water and sewer connections.

We are hoping to start construction in early January and have it finished before the rainy season starts in April. It will sure be nice to have our own place to stay at when we are in CR and I know the rest of the family will enjoy it for vacations as well.

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13 October 2007

Tragic Landslide in Atenas

For those of you curious about the landslide in Atenas, Costa Rica, I found this published in La Nacion on Friday, October 12, 2007. The graphic has a map inset in the lower left showing the area of the mudslide. The location of the tragedy is in Fatima de Bajos Cacao, located to the west of our place in El Cajon de Atenas.

Today's reports indicate 10 bodies have been recovered and 4 are still missing. Here is a link to a large scale topographical map of the Atenas Canton located in the Alajuela Provence.

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22 September 2007


The other day, I saw some Tiger Repellant Spray on sale at the hardware store. I bought it and brought it home. Later, I sprayed it all over my back yard. Ever since then, there have been zero tigers in my Houston, TX., back yard. This proves that the Tiger Spray is an effective repellant of tigers.
An Old Story

Last week, there was an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show dealing with autism. Oprah's guest brought up the topic of infants and the Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR) vaccine. The drift of the show was that there are sufficient grounds for worry about the MMR vaccine causing autism that parents should not allow their children to receive this vaccine.

Looking into the available, professional, published literature, from a large number of trustworthy and peer-reviewed sources, this fear appears to be scientifically groundless.

There are many amateurs and lawyers out in the world that are doggedly pursuing this issue but none that I can find have any proper science on their side.

Measles, mumps and rubella are all serious childhood illnesses. Fear of MMR, creating a wave of parents refusing the inoculation, caused an outbreak of rubella in the U.K. this summer that had multiple fatalities. It doesn’t seem like the risk of getting these diseases is outweighed by any evidence of MMR dangers – in fact, there is “no contest.”


I do take issue with the preservative still used in a few vaccines that might be injected into your children (and you.) The chemical in question is usually called thimerosal which is (unbelievably) the scientific name for Merthiolate – the antiseptic banned from over-the-counter uses in 1990. Thimerosal was formerly used in the MMR vaccine and there was some inconclusive investigation that it was thimerosal, and not the MMR vaccine, that was causing autism. After looking into this angle, I’m going to say, “Probably not,” but I sure don’t like thimerosal for other reasons.

As you can see from the following link, the U.S. government has pretty much decided that thimerosal is safe and not that bad; but, then they’ve simultaneously pushed to have it removed from most children’s vaccines. Huh?


I’m going with my own interpretation. Thimerosal is a super-poisonous mercury salt. Mercury is bad in your system. Nobody REALLY knows what mercury might trigger nor do they know what human conditions or weaknesses might be particularly susceptible to mercury’s actions. So, a). bad shit; b). unknown dangers; c). give it to infants?


Bottom line -- I’m not concerned about the MMR vaccine, as long as it is a modern batch that does not contain thimerosal.

And, I’m going to ask any doctor about to inject flu vaccine or hepatitis vaccines to certify that they do not contain thimerosal (many of those still do.)

Isn’t it amazing how little we know about things, even in 2007?

Have a pleasant day.

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"Telenovelas" or TV Soap Operas in Spanish

Our Spanish instructor reminded me of a technique for expanding one's vocabulary by watching soap operas on television in Spanish. I had forgotten what a great tool this can be. I relied on Costa Rican television when I first moved there to get used to listening to Spanish. The overly dramatic soap operas or telenovelas (think, television novels) give you the ability to associate tone, voice inflection and the gestures on screen to the words you are hearing.

As a result of her suggestion, we started to "Tivo" all the episodes of "Salomé". John has really been enjoying the commercials because they frequently have written words that he can associate with the sound. The story of "Salomé" is overly complicated, so I do step in and translate a word or two when it looks like he has trouble grasping the gist of the conversation.

The amazing thing about this technique is that you don't even realize how much you're learning, because your brain is just soaking it up the same way we learned to speak English when we were two years old. Eventually the day comes when you can actually start saying some of the words and phrases you've heard in a conversation with someone. John is doubtful that this will actually happen for him, but I know that it will, just like it did for me so many years ago.

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14 September 2007

Spanish Lesson #1

Classes started Monday evening and we have about 20 students. Our "profesora" is from Argentina.

Her name is Myrna and I think she will be a better instructor for John than I can be. It quickly became apparent to her (and a couple of other students) that I'm a "ringer" and already speak Spanish.

This class is a college level course and its really geared to speaking the language. Myrna gave us some tips on a great web site tool at the University of Iowa. This actually shows the anatomy of the mouth and vocal cords as vowels and consonants are spoken.

I did learn an interesting bit of trivia from Myrna. The double "LL" in Argentina is spoken like the soft "G" in English, such as found in the word mirage. So instead of pronouncing "silla" as "see-ya" for the English word "chair", she says "see-sha". She did promise to try and pronounce the double "LL" like a "y" since this is what we will hear most often in the Spanish speaking world.

Today is Friday so I'm going to have to push John to start his homework this weekend.

Como siempre, les deseo "Pura Vida" mis amigos,

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30 August 2007

Spanish 101

We registered to take Spanish classes starting September 10th

at the local school district's Department of Community Education. I am already fluent in Spanish after spending seven years in Costa Rica, but I never actually studied Spanish in a classroom setting. I took three years of French in High School and this was a terrific foundation for learning Spanish through the "school of hard knocks".

Once I got to Costa Rica, I found the best instructors were my Tico friends (Gracias Maritza), the newpaper, television "novelas" and radio. I even learned to write some pretty decent Spanish.

The class we are going to take starts with the very basics and it will be a good foundation for John. Since I will take the class with him, we'll be able to work on the assignments together and I can help him along the way.

There are a total of six Spanish course levels and I'd like to see us take a class every semester until John has mastered the language. He already has the Rosetta Stone course and he can use this to supplement his classroom instructions.

This should be a lot of fun for the two of us.

"Hasta luego mis amigos"

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18 August 2007

Welcome to the world Nicholas V...

Our daughter Mary gave birth to our 10th grandchild, Nicholas V this week. Both Mom and baby are doing great.

Here is a great photo of Nicholas V with Mom & Dad.

The photo on the right is of Nicholas III, Nicholas IV, and Nicholas V. The twins are being held by the proud papa's parents so they can get a first look at their new baby brother.
John and I are planning a trip to go meet the newest addition to the family very soon.

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15 August 2007

Chris & Jen Exchanged Vows!

Our son, Chris, married Jen, the love of his life this past weekend. They are now in Costa Rica on their honeymoon and plan to take in sights at Poas, the Arenal Volcano and the Playa de Manuel Antonio.

Talk about a small world. Last year, when we told Jen we had bought property in Atenas, she got so excited. It turns out that she actually spent time in Atenas a few years back and has very fond memories of Atenas and the Costa Rican people.

It was great to be able to spend a few days with the family in California and get a break from the heat wave here in Houston.

The wedding was beautiful and we'll all have memories to last a lifetime.

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17 July 2007

Our little wonder dog... Tripaw'd Greta

We spoke with Greta's doctor late yesterday and she updated us on the pathology report on the tumor. The pathologist grades malignant tumors on a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 being the most invasive, with the most likelihood of reoccurring. In Greta's case, they rated hers as a 1 to 2 and further indicated we should not expect to see a reoccurance since we amputated the leg.

The good news is Greta has adapted to the limb loss better than we have.She gets tired easily since the left foreleg hasn't built up the muscle strength to support her body yet. She is able to jump up onto just about everything she could before the surgery. She is still a little leary of jumping down, which is a good thing. The last thing she needs is for her to break the left leg trying to get down.
We'll be going back to the doctor on Friday to get the stitches removed. These pictures show how much of her body they had to shave. She has an 8" to 10" incision you can just barely see in the photo on the right.

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12 July 2007

Tripaw'd Greta - What a difference 24 hours can make!

What a difference 24 hours makes. Greta's system is back to normal and she ate a normal dinner last night too. I am amazed at her resilience. She slept much better last night. She did start whimpering around 3 AM, but overall we both got a good nights sleep. The first in days for all of us. She yelped in pain a little while ago when the doorbell rang and she took off RUNNING with our other two dogs. I think she thought she still had four legs. Her mother, a 15 yr old Boston named Holly, and her 5 yr old Jack Russell brother Randy, seem to be very curious around her, but they are leaving her alone to heal.

I read up on the Fentanyl, and the patch that she received is the lowest dose available and its only supposed to be effective for 72 hours. We were told to remove it on Friday, but since she's already had it on for more than 96 hours, I suspect its beginning to loose its effectiveness.

Last night, while we were watching TV, I caught her jumping from the floor into Dad's lap. I think we are on the road to recovery and this is not going to slow her down a bit. We're thinking of renaming her "Tripaw'd"

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11 July 2007

Greta's Leg Amputation - 2 days after surgery

We picked Greta up from the hospital yesterday afternoon and it has been rough on all of us. She hasn't stopped whimpering. I cuddled her most of the night, and it seemed to have helped some. The vet put her on the fentanyl patch that comes off in a few days. She is also taking an anti-inflammatory pill once a day. I'm concerned that she refuses to eat anything. She is drinking water and she has actually gotten up and walked on her own a few time. I wonder if the whimpering is a side effect of the drugs, or is she really in a great deal of pain. I have confined our other 2 dogs to the kitchen and I'm keeping Greta with me in my office until she gets to feeling better.
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08 July 2007

Greta's Leg Amputation

Back in early June we noticed our 11 year old Boston Terrier, Greta had a growth about the size of a nickle near the elbow on her right front leg. We took her to the vet about a week later when it became the size of a quarter. He suggested we watch it for a few days. We went back when it didn't go away and the vet referred us to a soft tissue specialist for animals. Now, 4 weeks later, it is the size of a golf ball and as hard as a rock.

It turns out she has hermangiopericytoma. It is a form of cancer, but treatable. The treatment options are surgical removal with radiation, or leg amputation. John and I have struggled with this decision for a week now and we've had several discussions with the veterinary specialist. Since this tumor is located on her elbow, it may be very difficult to remove it all during surgery. This is the reason radiation would be recommended with any surgical procedure. Recovery could be very lengthy due to the extended muscle damage and radiation to the joint. Radiation would be 3 times a week for 6 weeks and there is no promise they can get it all. Greta would have to be under anesthesia for each treatment. The only sure way to know the cancer is totally gone is to amputate her leg. We talked it over at length, weighed all our options and I've cried a lot. We think her best chance at a happy pain free life is to amputate her leg. The surgery is scheduled tomorrow morning and if there are no complication, she'll be able to come home on Tuesday. This has been such a difficult decision since she isn't in any pain with this tumor. I just can't imagine what will go through her head tomorrow when she wakes up from surgery and finds a leg missing. Sort of "what did I do wrong that made them cut off my leg" or "why did my mom let them do this to me." Who knows what they think.
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25 June 2007

Open for Business

Our son and daughter-in-law, Dennis and Lara just opened the doors to their new BatteriesPlus store.

We know how much went into making this dream a reality and we want you to know the rest of the family is behind you 100%. We are so proud of you both.

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19 June 2007

Jenny, our Honor Grad!

On June 16th, Jenny, our youngest, graduated with Honors from UCSC. She now holds a degree in English Literature and is about to start her working career with a charitable organization.

Congratulations Jenny, we are so proud of you!
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20 May 2007

So much for starry nights...

The Texas Star Party (TSP) was a great idea, but Mother Nature didn't want to cooperate. We had some great skies the night we arrived, but the clouds and rain moved in on Monday. Wednesday found us still dry inside our tent, but the grounds were getting pretty muddy. The weather prediction showed no relief in sight for a week so we took advantage of a brief break in the rain to pack up our gear and hit the road. We left the TSP looking for drier climes and settled on a cave. Actually, we drove to New Mexico Wednesday afternoon and went to see Carlsbad Caverns on Thursday morning. Carlsbad claims they have 350 days of sunshine a year, we just happened to get there on one of the other 15 days. Lucky us, but we didn't see a drop of rain in the caverns.

Here are a couple of the photos John took inside the cavern.

We took a leisurely pace on our way back home, stopping in Fredericksburg and San Antonio for some good food and a little shopping. Needless to say, the dogs were sure happy to see us pull in the driveway Saturday afternoon.

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11 May 2007

The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas

Star Gazing in West Texas...

We are on vacation, headed to the Davis Mountains and the darkest skies in North America. We will be joining hundreds of other star gazers at the annual Texas Star Party where amature astronomers gather to spend the nights looking at celestial objects in the night sky.

We'll be pitching our tent and camping for the week. These photos are from last year but we'll post more when we get back.
Now, all together, sing....

The stars at night, are big and bright,
deep in the heart of Texas,
The prairie sky is wide and high,
deep in the heart of Texas.
The sage in bloom is like perfume,
deep in the heart of Texas,
Reminds me of, the one I love,
deep in the heart of Texas.

The coyotes wail, along the trail,
deep in the heart of Texas,
The rabbits rush, around the brush,
deep in the heart of Texas.
The cowboys cry, "Ki-yip-pee-yi,"
deep in the heart of Texas,
The dogies bawl, and bawl and bawl,
deep in the heart of Texas.

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06 May 2007

A Change in Lifestyle...

We've decided we need to get in better shape. We plan to have an active lifestyle once we make the move to Costa Rica and we want to be fit. This means we intend to eat healthier. In January we changed our diet and started cutting out a few of our favorite things: sugar, white flour, potatoes, pineapple, bananas, tortilla chips and junk food in general. We've both lost 15+ lbs, but its slow going. They say slow is better. It will take us more than a year to get to where we want to be weight wise.

The second part of the plan is to get more exercise. We started out by walking the trails along Buffalo Bayou. This is a series of both paved and dirt trails stretching across 15 miles here in West Houston. There is an entrance to the trails about a ½ mile from the house. This is a favorite haunt for walkers and bikers. Since John's favorite form of exercise is cycling, we decided to buy me a bike so we could both ride.

Four days after we bought my bike, John tripped! He didn't trip exercising, he tripped over the handicapped curb at lunch one day. The x-rays showed a hair line fracture at the tip of the leg bone, where it joins the ankle. I suspect he also cracked the orbital socket bone of his right eye too. But my "tough guy" John, passed on getting medical attention for it. (See John's eye in photo with granddaughter Cali)

Needless to say, this put a crimp in the exercise plan for a short time. After 3 weeks of rest and being chauffeured to and from work, the doctor gave him the go ahead to get rid of the Velcro leg brace. The plan is to get back on the bike and ride with me this week.
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13 February 2007

The end of another wonderful trip draws to a close

The time has just flown by again. I can't believe its time to pack up and return to the States tomorrow!

Monday we made the trek back to San Jose to see the Audiologist and picked up John's hearing aid. He now hears so clearly that we plan on getting another hearing aid for the left ear on our next trip.

After the doctor visit we checked out new SUV prices with a couple of local dealers to get an idea of what to expect when we move. The taxes run about 40%, so a small KIA or Nissan is going to run over $32,000. We've done a little research and, unless the import tax laws change, it will make more more sense to buy in Costa Rica rather than import a vehicle from the States.

Once again Maritza & Vinicio opened up their home to us for the past week so we decided to give them a gift. We purchased a wireless router so Maritza could use her laptop anywhere in the house and not just in Vinicio's office. Little did we know how difficult it would be to install! We finally broke down on Tuesday and got a local tech to come over to the house and configure it for us. Turns out ICE (the national Costa Rican Telephone & Power company) has a different way of providing DSL service than the States. This information will come in handy when we have to configure one for ourselves when we make the move. Would you believe the tech only charged us $12USD for a house call?

We spent our last day in our future hometown, Atenas, getting to know the area a little better. We had lunch in the little open-air restaurant, Tipico Camario, located across from the park. You can just barely see the steps to the restaurant behind the blue car in this photo.

After lunch we did some people watching and took a few more pictures. Take a look at this beautiful blue sky that is so typical of a summer day. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Atenas and taking every hi-way and bi-way we could find. We found some interesting sights, but many roads were just gravel roads to nowhere. We are headed back to Texas tomorrow to get back into the daily grind.
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11 February 2007

A Busy Weekend...

We left Trogon Lodge Friday morning and took a leisurely drive back toward San Jose so that John could make his appointment with the Audiologist in the afternoon. We found state-of-the-art hearing aids cost half of what they cost in the States! John went ahead and placed an order that we will pick-up on Monday. Friday night Marco and Carolina took us to dinner at a wonderful resort near Alajuela called Xandari. We managed to get a table on the open balcony with a fabulous view of the Central Valley.

Saturday we went shopping with Maritza for souvenirs and took a drive up to Zarcero (dairy country) for lunch. While we were there we took some of the topiary photos you see here. Sunday we spent some time in the central park of Alajuela and then we went for a drive with Vinicio & Maritza stopping for dinner along the way. After dinner we went to meet Maritza neice's husband, Minor, who just happens to be a builder. We took a look at his portfolio and discussed what it will take to build our house in Costa Rica. At first we would like to build a detached garage with a studio apartment upstairs that we can live in while the actual house is being built. Minor is going to work up a proposal for us so that we'll have an idea of what it will take to make this happen.
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09 February 2007

Trogon Lodge in San Gerardo de Dota

Thursday we took of to drive up into the mountains along the Pan-American Highway that leads to Panama. Carolina had told us about some cabins that are owned by her friends so we decided to check it out. Trogon Lodge is located in San Gerardo de Dota, a steep valley near "Cerro de la Muerte," Costa Rica's highest peak. The lodge itself is located at an altitude of 7,000 feet in the middle of an incredible forest of oak trees and jungle vegetation with a river flowing through the property. This area is called the "Cuna del Quetzal" (Cradle of the Quetzal). Here is a picture of this magnificient bird.

The lodge also hosts an aireal canopy tour. This peaceful scenery is really beyond description. After sunset the temperature dropped down several degrees to perfect sleeping weather. This is one place we'd really like to go back and spend so more time.

We arrived in time for lunch and a woman in the office said we needed to hurry over to the restaurant for lunch before they closed and she would send the manager over later with a key for our cabin. When the manager came to our table he gave us our key and told us about their services, rates and invited us to go on the Quetzal hunt Friday morning at 6:15 AM. I kept looking at this man, thinking that he looked familiar to me. He said his name was Lio and to ask for him if we needed anything during our stay.
As soon as he left the table, I told John I felt I knew Lio and I'd be right back. I found Lio in the kitchen and I asked him for his last name. When he gave it to me I realized this was the same Lionel I had worked with for 4 years more than 30 years ago. When I gave Lio my last name he suddenly recognized me too. We had such a good time catching up on each others' lives and remembering all our old friends. It really is a very small world!
This morning we met with Lio and several other lodge guest to go in search of the elusive Quetzal. We spent 2 hours searching and were about to give up when we ran into another guide that had just spotted a pair looking to build a nest.
We managed to get a good glimpse of the pair, but the photos we took came out too dark. If John can work some magic with PhotoShop we will post them here later.

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08 February 2007

Our own little piece of paradise

Well, its official, we now own a little piece of Costa Rica. We met with our attorney yesterday evening and Carolina signed the documents to transfer title to us. It will take about 2 weeks for the property to appear in our name in the "Registro Nacional de Costa Rica".

While we were with the attorney we went ahead and set up a Sociadad Anonima (the equivalent of a corporation) in the name of "Heger y Wegner S.A." This will make it easier for Vinicio to act on our behalf until we actually make the move.
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07 February 2007

Volcan Irazu

We did a little sightseeing today and headed out toward Cartago and the Irazu Volcano. Irazu is the highest volcano in Costa Rica. There have been at least 23 eruptions since 1723. The most recent was from 1963 to 1965. It showered San Jose and the neighboring towns with ashes for about 2 years.

Here is a view looking down into the crater. Its about 300 meters deep with a diameter of 1,050 meters.

It was such a clear day you could actually see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.

Later in the afternoon we went to the Jade Museum in San Jose to view acient Costa Rican arts and crafts.
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06 February 2007

Altitude 2300', Latitude 84.27.728 W, Longitude 9.59.275 N

We had an uneventful flight down to Costa Rica yesterday. Once we arrived we picked up a rental SUV and a Garmin GPS with maps of Costa Rica. This morning we went up to our lot in Atenas and using GPS we were able to plot our exact location as follows: Altitude 2300', Latitude 84.27.728 North, Longitude 9.59.275 West. The exact altitude may be a little off, but its as close as we can calculate with the tools we have.

Costa Rica has a very interesting way of giving directions and addresses. Most streets don't have names and you almost never see house numbers. All addresses are given in measurements from known landmarks. So, using the Tico method our address will be something like this:

100M Este de la Escuela Fatima

Costado Oeste de la Plaza de Futbol

El Cajon de Atenas, Costa Rica

Once the house is constructed we will have a south easterly vista of the surrounding hilltops.

After our visit to Atenas, we took a drive to the Pacific coast to see Playa Jaco. Along the way, we stopped at the Rio Tarcoles to see the crocks.

Playa Jaco turned out to be a big disappointment from the beach it was many years ago. Now it's a dirty little tourist trap with lots of grandious plans to build big hotels, golf courses and condos for the tourist industry.

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02 February 2007

Mi Chunche en la Cocina

Since some have you have enjoyed a meal or two at our place, I thought it might be fun to create a cookbook of some of our favortie recipes. If you look on the right side you will see a link to the recipes I have posted so far. If you have any recipes you'd like to share send them to me and I'll get them posted for you.
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Learning to speak Spanish

Yesterday John installed RosettaStone's language learning software for Spanish (Levels 1 & 2) on his laptop. This is supposed to be the best language learning course on the market. This should help him learn to speak, read and write in Spanish in a relatively short period of time. Even though I'm fully conversant, I'm hoping I'll be able to use the program to "bone up" on my writing skills.
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19 January 2007

February Trip

We are headed back to Costa Rica on February 5th to handle the title transfer on the property we bought in Atenas.

We recently found out a company called SmartWays has teamed up with Garmin to provide GPS navigation in Costa Rica. We plan to test their system while we are there. If it provides decent routing, we will see how we can license the software for our own Garmin StreetPilot.

We plan to visit some of the local nurseies to see about planting fruit and shade trees while we are there. We are in the middle of the dry season, so we may have to wait until the rains pick up again in April or May. It'll be nice to have the trees in the ground and producing fruit by the time we build the house.

This trip will be longer than our last visit, so I'll have time to show John some of the other areas of Costa Rica he didn't get a chance to see last time. We'll be headed home on Valentine's Day.
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