Costa Rica

Jon, Hethyr and Garr Pletsch
at Casa Mariposa in Nuevo Arenal

September 15 - October 22, 2007



Pura Vida!

We will be updating this blog daily (or almost daily) with various news and pictures from our housesitting adventure at Casa Mariposa.  We are eternally grateful to Chris, Deneene and Wilder for letting us stay in their beautiful home, and we wish them the best of luck giving birth to their little Tico in San Jose!

You may reach us by email at (Jon) and (Hethyr) while we are temporarily residing in Costa Rica.  Our phone service at the house will be questionable, so please email rather than calling to keep in touch.

For more information on the Bell-Bross family and Casa Mariposa, check out their blog at

And as long as we've sucked you in, we'll sneak in a plug for Hethyr's business, Everyday Gourmet Colorado.  Spread the good and tasty word...


monday, october 22


4am came awfully early.  We loaded our stuff into the taxi and headed to the airport.  Despite a fairly crowded and hectic environment and a few power outages, we made it to our gate in plenty of time to catch our 7am flight to Houston.  Everything went smoothly from there, and we were back in the Springs before 5pm.  It was cool and sunny and smelled like autumn.  We were all happy to be home.

So our adventure has ended... it was a great experience, and we have no regrets.  We will miss Costa Rica, but it won't be long before we see it again.  After two trips there in the last seven months and one more on the horizon five months from now, we officially have Costa Rica blood running through our veins.

¡Adiós and Pura Vida!



sunday, october 21

The western region of Costa Rica has received more rainfall this month than any month in decades.  More rain fell in the first five days of October than all of October last year (and this is typically the wettest month anyway).  This has caused intense flooding and devastation over hundreds of square miles.  Landslides are washing out and closing roads, including parts of the Pan American Highway (the major highway in the country).  As of yesterday there had been eighteen reported deaths.  A National State of Emergency was declared by the president last wednesday... and as of today, it is still raining.

We had above-average rainfall in Nuevo Arenal, but the elevation is much higher there and the risk of flooding is minimal.  But as you can tell from the map, Liberia is in the Guanacaste Province on the western side of the country.  So it has experienced quite a bit of its own flooding and road closures.  Liberia is where we were supposed to go today to catch an early flight tomorrow.  Well, we didn't want to find ourselves driving in the middle of nowhere in the rain only to be turned back by a missing section of road.  So this morning we contacted Continental Airlines and paid to change our flight plan so we can leave from San Jose instead.

With some very gracious help from our friends at La Perla Negra Hotel, we made a reservation at a place in downtown San Jose called Hotel Kekoldi.  So after breakfast we bid adiós to the Caribbean and headed out in our hunk of crap Suzuki Jimmy.  The drive to San Jose was pleasantly uneventful and took less than four hours.  We had a tough time finding the hotel because the roads here are mostly unmarked, even in downtown.  But eventually we made it.

Hotel Kekoldi is actually really nice and cozy.  It only has a few rooms and a great open-air garden area.  They also have a television, which we haven't seen in almost six weeks.  We watched the Simpsons in Spanish.  We'll have a quiet night here at the hotel and leave for the airport at 4:30am tomorrow (yikes!).  If all goes well we will be in Colorado Springs twelve hours later...


saturday, october 20

After breakfast we drove about 13 kilometers south to Manzanillo.  It was a fascinating drive along the coast.  There are hotels and bungalows and restaurants and bike rental shops all along the way... but everything is very much in the modest and colorful style of the area.  The road is broken and riddled with potholes that our terribly decrepit rental car could barely handle.  There were dozens of people on bicycles, which is probably the best way to get around here.  And some of the beaches that we passed along here had quite a few surfers and sunbathers and small boats, although nothing that was especially crowded.

The road ends at Manzanillo.  At this point there is nothing but untouched jungle and coastline to the south, and Panama is only a few dozen kilometers away.  You have to walk or boat if you want to continue further.  We parked at the end of the line, right alongside the beach where a small river dumps into the sea.  We took off our shoes, crossed the river, put our shoes back on, coated ourselves in bug spray, put the leash on Garr, and started out on a trail into the jungle.

And let me just tell you... we were IN THE FREAKIN' JUNGLE!  We followed a muddy trail for several miles through incredibly dense rainforest.  There were lots of crabs, lizards, ants and spiders.  Everywhere we looked, there were huge webs with some really nasty spiders lying in wait.  It was an intense and nerve-wracking hike... not like a walk on a trail in the Colorado mountains.  It's amazing how vulnerable and out of our element we felt, completely surrounded by sights and sounds and smells that our basic primal instincts told us were not to be messed with.  As Axl Rose would say, "Bienvenidos a la jungla, bebé."

An offshoot of the trail led us to a small and rocky beach enclave.  We poked around here for a bit, checking out the beautiful and interesting shells, rocks, crabs, snails and trilobites that make their home here.  At one point we were startled by the wild shrieks of some howler monkeys, probably no more than 50 meters away.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, howler monkeys are considered the loudest land mammal... their voices are deep and ominous like Jabba The Hut.  I swear we could FEEL the vibrations of their howls.  It was intense, to say the least.

After returning safe and sound from our hike, we ate a late lunch at Chile Rojo, a little open-air Thai cafe across the street from some Rastafarian beach vendors.  We hit the beach for an hour or so, playing some frisbee and standing in the surf watching the waves crash ashore.  We went back into town for dinner but didn't have the energy to stay in town after that.  Tomorrow we plan to leave La Perla Negra Hotel around 6am and drive nearly all the way across the country to Liberia.  We fly out early on Monday and return to Colorado in the late afternoon.  I will blog one final time in the next couple of days...

Hethyr on the trail

Jungle canopy

Jon and Garr on the beach

Huge tree

The work of leaf-cutter ants

Jungle trail




Garr on our private
jungle beach

Beach snails

Flat leaves

Big spider

La Jungla!
Hethyr and Garr


More flat leaves



friday, october 19

We woke up pretty early thanks to the heat and humidity, and we had a great breakfast of bread, pineapple, papaya and watermelon.  Then it was time to hit the beach.  We walked across the street and down the beach a little way, then spent the next several hours swimming, picnicking and getting sunburned.  There was almost no one else in sight.

As anyone who knows Garr can attest, he is a source of incredible amusement and entertainment.  Well, today was no exception.  Despite the fact that he has never willingly or purposely swum in water in his nine years of life, he loves the beach and loves playing in the shallow surf.  But today Garr proved that an old dog can learn new tricks after all.  With Hethyr and I out in the ocean, Garr actually tried to swim out to us at least a dozen times.  And the waves here are pretty big and powerful (a few kilometers down the beach is a popular surfer spot).  So Garr would swim toward us and get pounded by a wave, and then either ride the wave back to shore or resurface and keep swimming.  If he kept swimming, he would soon get tossed like a pancake by another wave and then body surf back to shore.  And he couldn't get enough of it!  So eating bugs is no longer his only talent.

After washing off the sand, salt and ocean funk, we headed into Puerto Viejo to meet up with our new friends from San Francisco, Chuck and Amanda.  We ate a swordfish dish at the El Dorado that honestly was one of the greatest meals we have ever eaten (two swordfish-rice-veggie dishes and four beers... 24 dollars).  A local band was playing some tropical Reggae Calypso music, and the whole scene could not have been any sweeter.

After the band finished, the four of us headed over to Maritza's.  There was another local band playing here, and the place was absolutely ALIVE.  The dance floor was full of Rastas, Ticos, Hippies, Gringos, Backpackers... young, old, black, white... speaking Spanish, English, Patois, German... you name it, it was in that room.  And there was just an incredible sense of free-spirited and uninhibited energy and joy... the kind that can only come from the common knowledge that everyone, despite their background or race or age or nationality, had discovered this little slice of heaven that no one else in the world seems to know about.

Amphibious Garr

Amphibious Jon


Band at El Dorado


thursday, october 18

Chris came by the house yesterday around noon to greet Ron and Jane and say hola to the house and the animals and Vinicio.  By a little after noon, Hethyr and I were packed, so we headed out in Chris's car for the four-plus hour trip to San Jose.

The drive was incredible.  We headed to the Lake Road, on through La Fortuna, then southeast, climbing up through the rainforest clouds.  Nuevo Arenal is at about 2800 feet above sea level and San Jose is about 5000 feet, so the drive was mostly uphill.  We cut through thick jungle and coffee plantations, passed by waterfalls on one-lane bridges, and bypassed a dozen or more small towns and villages.  We stopped once at a roadside shop specializing in queso palmito (Costa Rica's version of Mozzarella cheese) and bought some palmito, brittle and coconut cookies.

We arrived at Chris and Deneene's temporary San Jose residence after dark.  It was great to see Deneene and Wilder and meet Deneene's mom, Diana, and of course introduce ourselves to the ten-day-old star of the Bell-Bross family, little Sage Anaya.  He's a great-looking guy, all nine-and-a-quarter pounds of him.  We didn't see him do anything but sleep for the twelve hours we were there.

After catching some z's in the living room, we said our goodbyes and thank yous to the family and caught a 6am cab to Poas Rental Car.  We hit the road around 7:15, just in time to drive through San Jose during morning rush hour.  The best way to describe the drive through town is probably this... HOLY SHIT!  About half of the four million residents of Costa Rica live in the San Jose area, and they all drive like their ass is on fire and there's a bucket of water at the next exit.  We had to pass right through downtown on our way out of San Jose, so we had quite an adventure navigating through the chaos and doing our best to figure out which stop signs to obey and which ones to ignore (seriously, some of them are supposed to be ignored).

Not too far outside of San Jose, we began the long decent through the rainforest clouds towards the eastern coast... past Ticos clearing brush and weeds with machetes, past local "soda" shops (general stores and eateries run our of people's homes), past hundreds of acres of banana plantations (including the Del Monte, Dole and Chiquita processing plants), past houses on stilts... and three hours later we were in Limón on the coast of the Caribbean.  Limón was the first city we have encountered in Costa Rica that is noticeably poor.  There were mountainous piles of garbage on the side of the streets and ramshackle buildings and dilapidated shanties for businesses and homes.

We hung a right and headed due south, eventually emerging from the stink of Limón and getting rewarded with an incredible coastal drive.  For most of the next 50 kilometers, we had a thin strip of jungle, a white sand beach and the blue ocean water on our left-hand side.  Almost all of the eastern coastline is like this, and almost all of it is untouched.  Big resorts and marinas have not yet invaded this beautiful area.  There are a few small towns and some local hotels and bungalows, but this is still a pure, primitive, solitary place.

Ninety percent of Costa Ricans are light-brown skinned and consider themselves to be white, and ten percent are black.  Those ten percent are almost all here... many of them are dreadlocked Rastafarians, often speaking a unique Spanish-Patois language, smoking ganja and wearing the red, green and yellow Rasta colors.  The town of Puerto Viejo has one paved road and maybe a dozen dirt roads.  It is an eclectic mix of local Ticos and Rastas, some American and European expats who came here to drop off the face of the earth. and backpackers and tourists from all over the world.  It is uncrowded, friendly and laid back, and it almost feels like having travelled back in time.  If I had to guess, I'd say this is what it was like to visit Jamaica's coast many decades ago before million-dollar homes and resorts moved in.

We arrived at La Perla Negra hotel around noon on Thursday and gave Suzanne (who helps run the hotel) a ride into town.  It is about a three-minute drive or a twenty-minute beach walk away.  We had an incredible lunch of fried fish (red snapper, we think), fried plantains and rice and beans.  We went in on two kilos of live lobster with Suzanne to cook later for dinner, and we bought some mangos, bananas and star fruit at a fruit stand.  We headed back to the hotel, then to the beach for the rest of the afternoon.  Garr was as happy as a pig in slop.  He bolted up and down the beach and in and out of the warm surf... and Hethyr and Garr and I were nearly the only people on this incredible black sand beach as far as the eye could see.

As the sun set, Hethyr went back into the hotel kitchen to help Carlos prepare dinner.  She made an incredible pico de gallo side dish (mango, banana, pineapple, garlic, onion, sweet pepper, celery and cilantro).  Carlos grilled the lobster and prepared rice, and we ate this INCREDIBLE dinner with the proprietors and some employees of La Perla Negra Hotel, drinking wine and listening to the ocean waves crashing ashore a couple hundred feet away.

We took Garr for a nighttime walk on the beach before bed.  It felt like we were the only people for miles.  We almost were.

Agricultural hillside in central Cost Rica

Farm in central CR

Roadside vendor

Old bridge

Garr playing on our beach

Family portrait

Mangy beach dog

Garr frolicking

Jon looking beachy

Black sand

Hethyr racing Garr

Restaurant in Puerto Viejo
where we ate lunch

Puerto Viejo


Road to La Perla Negra

La Perla Negra Hotel

Hotel pool

Hotel restaurant

Beach view from hotel

Dock with trees
growing on it


wednesday, october 17

We will miss…
the lake. the garden. the pineapples. phoebe. fresh milk. vinicio. the goats. bamboo. the hammock. fresh natilla. axion soap. tom’s bakery. calvin and idgie. the color green. turkey gobbles. la jungla. our friends. our neighbors. listening to the rain. papayas. volcanoes. moya’s pizza. howler monkeys. the rancho. the quad. lizano salsa.

We will not miss…
flying cockroaches. humidity. mosquitoes. the water pump. spiders. power outages. ants. guiselle at super compro.

Today we leave for San Jose to spend the evening and night with Chris, Deneene, Wilder and baby Sage.  Tomorrow we drive a rental car to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean coast to hit the sand and soak up some sun for a few days before returning to the States.  I will blog again as soon as possible (from the beach!).

We take great comfort in the fact that will return here in March for Lavapalooza Dos.  So this is not a final Adiós!

Hasta luego, Nuevo Arenal y Casa Mariposa.  Hasta pronto.


tuesday, october 16


Monday morning went well.  We did laundry, vacuumed some spider webs out of the ceiling, packed a little, cleaned, and finished some other miscellaneous preparations for our housesitting hand-off.

Ron and Jane arrived at Casa Mariposa around 3pm, driving from Liberia to the house without making any wrong turns (props once again on the directions, Chris).  Ron and Jane are retired from their educational professions and are extensive world travelers.  Their connection to Chris and Deneene is that their daughter-in-law, Laura, is a friend of Chris's from college.  By a completely remarkable coincidence, Ron and Jane live in Colorado Springs.  So the four of us had the opportunity to eat a Cajun dinner together in the Springs a couple months ago, so we were not strangers to one another when they arrived.

Hethyr and I had fun giving them a tour of the house and property.  Ron and Jane were very excited to see it in real life after religiously following this blog for the last month (somebody is reading it!).  The dogs, cats and goats approved of their presence, and we soon headed into town to have dinner at Maverick.  We all ate the coconut shrimp with mango-pineapple sauce, and it tasted as good as it sounds.

This morning (Tuesday) was hectic, to say the least.  Vinicio and Marianna came around 7:30 (Marianna cleans the house on Tuesdays)... Miguel showed up around the same time to meet the people who were pressure-washing the house and walkways... and the pressure-washer Ticos showed up shortly after that.  It was quite a crowd and commotion, a definite anomaly compared to the typical quiet, solitary mornings that usually occur here.  Efran came by to give us our daily liter of milk, and he brought both Hethyr and I a gift wrapped in banana leaves and tied with a flower.  What a nice guy.

We headed into town with Ron and Jane and did what we could to familiarize them with Nuevo Arenal... dropped off trash, bought propane, bought piña bread at the bakery, shopped at super chavez and super compro and the carnicería and the general store, hit the bank, ate at the German bakery with Tom, went to the ferretería, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.   We were back at the house by mid-afternoon and spent the next few hours teaching them the various duties, cautions, quirks, and comforts of Casa Mariposa.  There are several of each.

Ron and Jane will do just fine here.  They have a great attitude toward the adventure they are embarking on.  We have no doubt they will be diligent and responsible, they will enjoy themselves thoroughly, and most importantly they will shower the animals with love and affection.  We wish them the best.


... Be well, Terry.  We are thinking about you ...

Efran and Hethyr

Creatively-wrapped gift from
Efran and Rodrigo

Phoebe looking off the balcony

Garr trying to be Phoebe

Calvin welcoming Ron by
sleeping on his clothes

Ron and Jane

Hethyr, Miguel, Lyn and Jon



sunday, october 14

I'm going to take just a minute to talk about the side door.  It's about 10:30pm right now, so it is pitch black outside and a little bit light in here.  The side door is thick glass, so bugs are attracted to the light but can't make it in.  So we end up with a bottom-side view of HUNDREDS of bugs.  There are big moths, little moths, lightening bugs, spiders, lizards, mosquitoes, gnats, beetles, and lots of creatures I can't even begin to identify.  There is often a big frog or toad (like the one in yesterday's pictures) that will sit at the base of the door and have a feast.  The side door has introduced us to all sorts of crazy things we didn't even know existed.

Anyway, today was a work day.  With Ron and Jane coming tomorrow, we spent the day preparing for their arrival and our departure (although we don't leave Casa Mariposa until Wednesday).  Hethyr gets the big fat gold star of the day for painting the staircase and door trim over the course of about seven hours.  Sleep will come easy tonight.

So we are finally ready to show you the BIG SECRET PROJECT!  It is a gift for the Bell-Bross family and for Casa Mariposa.  I hope I haven't hyped it up so much that it can't live up to expectations.  Anyway, Chris, Deneene, Wilder and Sage, we hope you like it.  You can check it out RIGHT HERE.


saturday, october 13

Yesterday was a bit of a trying day.  The water pump (AKA - thorn in our side) greeted us bright and early in the morning with another problem.  This is how the water works here... a well is drilled down to an aquifer... every other day or so we manually turn on a pump that pulls water from the aquifer to a water holding tank behind the house... the water is gravity fed from this tank to the house and through a water pressure pump... this pump keeps the pressure in the pipes around 40 psi, which thus allows water to come out of the faucets normally.  There have been several instances of the water pump kicking our ass since we arrived here.  Without Miguel's plumbing skills we'd be screwed.

Anyway, long story short, the pump was not holding the correct pressure and had a couple more leaks, so Hethyr and I had to go into town to buy plumbing parts at the ferretería (hardware store).  We hopped on the ATV and drove to town in the rain.  We hit the bank, both supermarkets, the farmer's market, the ferretería, dropped off our recycling, and ate our favorite shrimp, pineapple, papaya and guava pizza at Moya's (that part of the day was good!).  The ATV was overloaded with groceries and PVC pipe as we drove back to the house under more rainy skies.  We were pretty exhausted and soaking wet and muddy when we returned to the house, barely beating the setting sun.  Miguel came back over and got our water running decently well again.

Without a doubt the highlight of the day came from Garr, our ruthless and relentless bug hunter.  For several weeks there has been evidence of a mouse living in our midst, although we had yet to specifically see or hear him.  But as Hethyr sat in a rocking chair working on the laptop Friday evening, the elusive rodent made his fateful decision to dart across the floor and scurry directly underneath Hethyr's chair.  Hethyr barely had time to react before Garr had the mouse locked in his mighty jaws!  He supplied it with a quick, efficient, bloodless death that would make a black-ops Marine proud.  Adiós, ratón.

So on to today... Hethyr spent most of the day cooking food for Chris and Deneene, Ron and Jane, and various neighbors.  I did chores around the house, sorted out some logistics for our last week of travel in Costa Rica, and wrangled some goats.  Yep, Sparkle and Spin escaped their pen again.  (How the hell do they do it??)  Hey, if nothing else, I have learned to wrangle goats here at Casa Mariposa.  That's resumé material.  And it's worth mentioning that Sparkle and Spin are incredibly sweet and loving.  I would not have guessed that goats liked to be scratched behind the ears, or that I could actually get emotionally attached to a couple of farm animals that live in a pen.  I even forgave Spin for trying to eat my pants today while I was replenishing their water.

Hethyr and I also worked some more on the secret project... I swear you are SO CLOSE to finding out what it is!  Maybe tomorrow or the next day, if you behave.

That's about it for now.  We shall blog again mañana.


Toad peeping in the house

Peeping toad

Garr kissing Spin


Sparkle and Spin, planning
their escape

Phoebe soaking up some sun