Some time last year I realized that I had never been to Upala.

For that matter I did not know anyone who had been to Upala . . . at least nobody who ever went there deliberately as in, "Today I am driving to Upala, can you tell me the way?".

A huge majority of guests will ask me "how long does it take to get to Arenal?" or "which way to Arenal?" or "what is the fastest way to Arenal?" or my favorite, "which way do you like to go?". I mean 1000's of guests have asked one of those.

But "can you tell me the way to Upala?". Never once.

Now I know plenty of people who have "come from" Upala. A couple of our staff and some former staffers "come from Upala". But nobody goes there. My imagination of course, over the years, constructed this vision of a ghost town somewhere near the Nicaraguan border . . . devoid of population except perhaps 3 or 4 grandmas waiting for their kids (our staffers) to show up at Christmas or Easter. There might be one bar, one church, one overgrown soccer field with banana trees growing in the goal areas and one street with a sign "Alajuela 100km". This was my vision of Upala until I decided enough is enough and I will be the first to say "Today I am going to Upala!".

Which is what I did and guess what?

My vision was pretty much accurate. Although there is also a quite nice little regional hospital in town too. I found Upala and I found it to be delightful!

Anyway . . . in the news today is word of an even more remote journey that is now being made possible thanks to Chief Nutjob of Nicaragua, Ortega.

Finally a road that is really less traveled! In fact never traveled.

I see a road trip on the horizon . . . from today's news at Insidecostarica.com:

Costa Rica Building A Road Parallel To the San Juan River

Almost a year later after the discovery of an alleged invasion by Nicaragua of Costa Rica's side of the San Juan river, raising an international incident that is currently before the International Court of Justice in The Hague (ICJ), Costa Rica is building a road parallel to the river so that residents and police do not have to use the river.

The road stretches some 120 kilometres on the south side of the river.

There is no question that the river clearly belongs to Nicaragua. But, the south bank of the river is Costa Rican territory and Costa Rica has the right to navigate the river, both a source of friction between the two countries for more than a hundred years.

The gravel road will connect the communities of Los Chiles and San Carlos in the province of Alajuela and Sarapiquí in the province of Heredia. Those communities never have been connected with each other by land.

The road stretches from Los Chiles to the Delta Costa Rica, just ahead of the Isla Calero, the area of the current conflict, alleged invaded by Nicaragua.

Once finished, hopefully by next year, the road will be passable by four wheel driver vehicles all year round.

"The idea is to continue to enable border and isolated populations that have only have had contact by the river", said Francisco Jimenez, Minister of Public Works and Transport, and ensure the movement of police and other authorities.

The project will cost ¢7 billion colones, will be 14 metres wide built on a 50 metre wide right of way and will include storm drains. Six bridges will be constructed to allow traffic flow.

The money will come from the emergency relief agency, the Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias (CNE) and the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (Conavi) - transportation department.

Asked about the possible paving of the road, minister Jiménez was candid in his response, "highly unlikely in the short term".

The residents of the communities of La Trocha (Los Chiles) Tiricia (San Carlos) and Trinidad (Sarapiquí) have something in common that they never had before, the movement of large machinery everywhere, equipment hired for the job

Reports from the area say farmers and those living in isolation in the area are stunned to see this type of movement in the area, the only big machinery they ever saw was dredges, now the area is filled with loaders, trucks, bulldozers, graders, compactors, etc.

The road building work is being carried out in 12 to 16 kilometres section, with some of the sections already finished.

You must admit it is sorely tempting

"Those communities never have been connected with each other by land.". How many places left on earth can you make such a statement about?

I tasted a naranjilla yesterday for the first time.

It seems to fall into a category of truly marginal fruits (but then I'm not a pejibaye fan either which I also consider a bit marginal which is close to a sacrilegious statement to a Tico). Pejibaye, jocote and tacacos (a local MUST in Olla de Carne) all seem to be vegetables living on the fringes of society and to that I must add naranjilla . . . which springs in very odd ways from a giant spiky thistle like weed.

And the only one I've tried was so tart I literally jumped after tasting too much in one gulp (maybe 1/4 a teaspoon :-). Now perhaps it just means I haven't properly acclimatized to CR fruits but it seems to me the only reason people grow tacacos for example is that they DON'T grow IT.

IT GROWS and then someone had to make a recipe to put it in . . . because frankly nobody can argue how marginal a tacaco is. And it doesn't matter WHAT you put in Olla de Carne.

Am I beginning to grasp it?

Please advise?

After awhile in a country with few signs and no road names . . . . someone wanted to know where the veterinary hospital UNA was to be found. We know the place well so we provided the usual directions:

Who Says We have no Signs

UNA is maybe 1/2 km east of the REtieve of Heredia which if you are not a car driver is useless information but is how I find it.

Another way to find it is about 3 km east of Amazon.com*** which if you are not an Amazon fan sorely dissapointed when he first found the building and learned of its true purpose is also useless information.

This location is somewhere between INBioparque and Alajuela and if you are not an INBIO fan or resident of Alajuela, this is also useless information.

This road (that it is on) connects to the road that becomes two ways going north in the evening rush hour between the psychotic Uruca/Hospital Mexico intersection where my life was once severely threatened by two buses out to crush me. If there were 6 lanes going north it would not help on a Friday evening. Do not try this on Fridays :-))

The above intersection (of the Una road and the Uruca interchange northern exit) incorporates a French car dealer - Renault or Pewjoe (as my dad used to call it) maybe . . . so if you are French and a fan of such cars it is possible you would be close to figuring out where UNA is?

Bus Route Says "Heredia by the Highway"

***The Amazon reference relates to the fact that in a country with no road names and pretty much no deliveries Amazon, though having a large building here does not do any deliveries here.

A message board newby here asked the question: rent or buy when you first move here. During the first week after arrival in Costa Rica we gained 4 lawyers and lost 3.

Bugged

"You need a bank account." My brand new lawyer du jour tells me.

"OK, no problem I'll get one."

"You need one with Banco Nacional because that's where I bank."

"Why does that matter?"

"Well first you have only been in country for 3 days, so you can't open a bank

account."

"That then is likely an issue?"

"Yes. But I know the people at BN I will walk you there. We will bypass some

things."

"Are there other banks?"

"Yes. But not like BN . . . "

"I see, why is that?"

"Because you need to give me the check."

"The whole thing?"

"Yes."

"Do you know about escrow?"

"Yes, I used to work in the US. But we do not need it."

"I see. You know I have only known you for a day?"

Outside BN

"Yes, you need to trust me."

"Of course I do." Grinning from ear to ear and then some.

"It will be easier with BN as that is where I have my personal account."

"You will deposit my check in your personal account?"

<"Yes, it will be easier."

"If I did this normally how long would it take."

"6 months to get started. But this is quite normal."

"I see."

"The good news is that as I am the attorney for the owner you are buying from,

as well as your attorney, it will be even easier."

"Yes it seems we have some luck with this transaction all around. I get to open

a bank account bypassing the rules, we get to share the same attorney on both

sides of the deal and I can do the whole thing without escrow."

"Yes. We can close tomorrow or maybe Monday."

"All I need to do is trust you?"

"Yes, absolutely."

Civic Duties

Now you know one reason you were advised to wait 6 months before buying anything . . . the second reason is that after some months or years of living here the above conversation between a buyer and his lawyer will seem entirely normal to you by then.

For the last few months the kitchen of the Pura Vida has been hosting a series of special dinners . . . these dinners are usually taste and recipe tests for the upcoming opening of MEKoNG Asia Fuasion, a new restaurant in Escazu (not necessarily at the Pura Vida). Below is a test menu to look at plating and presentation . . .

Fried Shrimp Wontons (Cantonese)

Deep fried shrimp wontons on wasabi mayonese – a great first course to share with friends

Green Papaya salad with Fresh Fish of the Day (Thai style)

There’s many ways to do this dish. This is our Thai version with dried shrimp – topped with a delicious grilled Robalo (you may know it as Snook) fresh from the co-op at Tarcoles on the Pacific.

Lemon Grass Beef (Vietnamese)

In Ho Chi Minh City this would be a “salad course” – cold rice noodles topped with stir fried beef.

This will be stir fried like many Mekong dishes on our special 90,000 BTU woks soon to be brought in from Beijing

Banh Xeo – Our Signature Crepe (Vietnam)

For the moment the only authentic Banh Xeo – pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and more in a crispy rice flour crepe – perhaps something to share for a first course.

Tom Yum Soup with Kafir Lime Leaf (Thai)

The traditional Tom Yum from Thailand or Laos, is both hot and sour from a variety of interesting ingredients such as lemon grass, chili pepper and galangal – one sip may be enough to get you hooked for life

Brocolli Beef by Wok (Cantonese)

Stir fried in the wok, our best cut of tenderloin of beef served with a perfect jasmine rice

Lemon Ginger Lemon

Our fusion lemon bars from the MEKoNG garden lemons in Alajuela, a little ginger gelee served with a lemon vodka ice

This is a tale from Day 3 of our taking possession of the Pura Vida and amended on Day 42 as we discover reality. I explained this to Colleen today, a guest who had observed something similar.

Returning to “Day 3” or so of our new life. I wander down to the kitchen - it is 11pm, I turn the lights on. I notice something small had died in its tracks half way across the kitchen. I also notice a trail of the local tiny gray ants has found its next victim - the small dead thing. About 200 of these tiny ¼ sized ants had picked up the dead "insect thing" and were "walking" it back to where ever tiny ants take their prey. I watched and wondered about this automatic and so natural system. The simplicity, the elegance of the solution.

200 tiny grey ants here and another million or so

somewhere under the house. The wonder of it all. I learned later these ants are known as ghost ants from a local Costa Rican bulletin board on Yahoo.

On Day 3, that was my view of the "ultimate solution" at Pura Vida Hotel. It is now day 42 and my views have changed on a lot of things . . . not least is the efficiency of the tiny gray ants. It started a few nights later. It culminated a few nights ago - the great gray ant reassessment.

It happened as I watched the abject failure of the usual 200 ants to deal with a lumbering giant of a beetle who had crawled out of the primordial swamp. This followed numerous gray ant failures of a lesser scale. My Hormigas, as they are called here, were bloody failures at their job. I needed swift execution. I needed immediate removal of the carcasses that landed in the Casa. If reinforcements were needed I expected the jungle telegraph to assist. If 200 Hormigas was not enough, I wanted to see 300 or even 1000.

Whatever it took to get the job done. After all, there were another million or so under the house sitting in lounge chairs listening to our Cuban CD's. Where were they when you needed them???

One possible advantage of these little grey ants are so small is that it doesn't matter too much if you step on a few. The mess is not noticeable. However with failure after failure the trails of these little idiots were growing.....200 Hormigas near the green sofa working on a brown beetle, another 200 working on a very large Hormiga of different specie near the dining table. Another 200 under the Fax machine dispensing unsuccessfully with a black thing of no identifiable specie.

The old Casa in 2002

These trails start to add up.... worse they take so long to get the job done when there's only 200 per carcass! Leave them to do it their way and a big bug could take 3 or 4 days. Then there's the "walking on them thing". How many do you end up walking on when their trails start to resemble the London underground train system? Something didn't feel right about all this. My Hormigas were just not cut out for the job.

This is why they are no longer a "wonder" - in the short space of 42 days, they are now persona non grata at Casa Jubb & Chu. Of course, it really won't matter a hoot what the Casa government thinks about their presence. But I have a new mission and it is to seal the entrances. I realize the futility of this since the windows here are never closed. We have the perfect temperature day and night of about 75/68. We have screens on most things yet the small gray ant is of a perfect design. It was built to penetrate the smallest mesh made by man or womankind (I do, however, have grand hopes for nanotechnology). I know my mission may be pointless, but it was important to put behind me some of the naivete of a newbie in Costa Rica.

The main Casa today

I actually now believe we may be reaching full détente with the Hormigas because I now realize it matters not if I can keep them out. What I am keeping out is the bigger bugs they are seeking. With nothing to carry around, no night time exercise regimen so to speak, the little buggers don’t even want to launch an expeditionary force inside. Their scouts report back to base, "Nada at the Casa" and off they go searching for other 6 legged things to play with in the gardens.

Only Day 42 and I feel like the Hormigas and I have reached the proper accommodation.

We needed to replace an electric hot water tank with a bigger one. For our own security we had two different guys measure the space needed (it lives in a crawl space under the Casa with a very limited height we call the Cavern after the old Beatles fave gig).

Both of them, of course, came up with different measurements so we took the one most likely to fit (hey, you tell me). They ascertained the appropriate meterage/height and we bought the big new unit from Suplidora in Alajuela (p.s. this is south of the Agonia church by 200 meters and is a Surprisingly Good local electrical supply house).

The following Monday morning bright and early Suplidora delivered the tank. Of course it was too tall. So we commenced chipping away at the concrete of the "basement" to make it deeper due to the likely difficulties in raising the house. This then required we lay concrete in the "hot water" pit. As raw concrete tends to get Very Moldy we laid some left over tile in the new pit the next day. Small digression.

I checked with "ourguywhodoessuchthings" later the next day to see how it was going. He told me he had made the pit EVEN bigger so he could put the heater on a platform and he was busy fashioning a new platform out of recycled floorboards from the remodeling. It was taking longer than expected. I hadn't expected this part but it seemed to be the right thing.

Later I asked how it was going as guests had just arrived and there seemed to be no water anywhere except in the pit itself which was now brimming with the stuff (dripping water) and our guy is slopping around with electrical cables ankle deep in water.

Nonchalantly he opined "we have a small problemito" and that I "should not worry". I have learned that such responses are indicators of scale varying between the bite of a single fire ant (0) and loosing part of your torso to a Caribbean version of Jaws (10). I never know quite what to make of small problemitos . . . so generally I over react just in case I need to fend of Jaws in the next 10 seconds.

He explained that Many Years Ago whoever had done the plumbing had managed to pull it off with electrical conduit for the water tube (the pipe in his left hand) and it was of a different diameter to the water pipe (in his right hand). I could see he had a point. For a moment I thought perhaps we could "meld" them in some way as I had seen remarkable adapters in use with different sized water pipes used by the municipalidad. He said no, but he would need to revisit the subject (he never tells me when).

The next day 3 guys are under the Casa marveling at the creativity of their predecessor by maybe 15 years. They are not there later so I peek under the casa and into the new hole. Bits of pipe, valves of varying shapes, cut offs and so on lie haphazardly. I notice a large amount of plumbers tape in use

which always makes me nervous as I suspect it is a solution to a common problem with cross threading caused by those who claim a modicum of plumbing expertise in our neighborhood (everybody).

I find our guy again and ask where the Induni people are today. FYI Induni is a local pump store that does decent plumbing of pumps. Our water heater is located next to the water pumps in the same under casa cavern we had just excavated. Induni allows us to call them for water heater issues because (I think) the heater is so close to the pumps and they really don't trust us not to mess up the pumps. These are things that go through stupid gringo minds sometimes. Apparently, this is SUCH a simple job we do not need to call Induni in on this . . . and this is how it is explained to me many hours of work later.

I find our guy much later finally as the work day is ending and dusk is creeping up the Itikis valley. I ask him how it is going. He tells me "It is going well". I hold back the obvious question "do we have any hot water in the Casa yet?" for another day. I know it to be a bit too pre-emptive a question.

One of our construction experts

The next afternoon two guys are under the house - my guy and his plumbing assistant looking at some Rube Goldberg combination of tubes and a pipe with a "little appendage you can diddle with". I know enough about plumbing to stay well clear of such appendages.

My guy explains that it seems we have one too many valves - the new tank has its own valve and the old plumbing has its own valve which I am guessing is one valve too many. Unfortunately my guy had already gone to Induni, but being Saturday they were closed or didn't have the part that would allow us to discard the extra valve.

He explained that though it took a day to figure this out, he had made a command decision and would install the pipes with both valves. Later that day as dusk descended across and down to the Itikis river we get the news that connections had been made. I didn't want to ask about the electrical conduit issue anymore . . . I was in need of a hot shower!

We learn of this as we are driving home with supplies and my wife is given some additional information by phone which is how "my guy" lets me know about not such great news (he knows it is far safer if he tells her and then she finds better moments to let me know about them).

She explains as we park the Chariot up by the casa that things may not be all they seem. Yes, she says we have everything connected now (a couple of weeks later)! My stupid gringo mind puts this data together into a linear accelerator and I see nothing but hot water spinning out the end of the machine. Yes, she says, it is connected but there is an issue with the timer.

It seems we have 2 timers, one that is built into the new machine and the old Intermec timer which was how we managed the on and off timing on the old machine. We had left specific instructions to use the old timer because it was reliable. It seems that the combination of the two timers meant that the machine was now somewhat unpredictable and it "was just a small problemito" according to the relayed report from "my guy". He had somehow become bemused by a kind of electrical moebius strip of two interconnected timers talking to each other and shutting on and off in unpredictable ways.

"So, does that mean we have hot water this weekend or not?" I pondered. We think the answer is "some of the time but we are not sure when".

We have didled with the timers BTW, unfortunately our electrician appears to have pushed the new timer inside the new machine through excessive pushing of its buttons while trying to gain control of its brain. Sometimes you wish you had taken plumbing instead of economics in school. Then I'd know the real function of plumbers tape.