Costa Rica is not a "shopping country" except for the 3 weeks before Christmas when everyone has an extra month of pay to spend on the kids or on major appliances or mattresses. Christmas is a delightful and happy time of year here due to that 13th month of pay known as an "aguinaldo" (a legal requirement of all employers in Costa Rica).

The rest of the year there is no so called "disposable income" (what loony came up with that phrase?). As Costa Rica is a very "local environment" everyone tends to buy things locally. Since there are not that many stores and nobody has much money this tends to save a great deal of unnecessary expenditures (well except the month of December).

If you are a visitor to Costa Rica you should be aware that there are very few uniquely Costa Rican items anywhere in the country . . . but you may want to think about adding these to your itinerary to help support local folk (make sure stuff is made in Costa Rica).

There are plenty of souvenir shops but none like this one. In San Jose just north of the center you'll find a lovely shop called the Namu gallery - about 40 mins from here. They collect and sell only indigenous art from groups like the Borucans and the Maleku. Their sales help support these indigenous communities. Namu is a one of a kind in Costa Rica and is doing the right thing.

You can also visit Boruca - about 5 hours south of Alajuela (easy to get to, drive past Manuel Anatonio) and a spectacular visit in a beautiful village where most of the folk are somehow connected to the selling of intricately carved and painted masks and the police station is shuttered closed. You need a 4*4 to get to the village but worth the effort.

You can visit the Maleku if you travel to Arenal as do 80% of our visitors but nearly nobody goes another few km to the Maleku reserve. The Maleku can organize tours for you that your hotel can hook you up with to visit things like poison dart frogs, medicinal plants and a "museum" (really a twig hut but a great visit where you may be able to find a necklace made from Gar fish scales). The people are wonderful and need your support . . . they make some art such as rain sticks, iguana covered drums etc.

You may not have heard about the Chorotega? Yup right on your way to the northern and central Guanacaste beaches near Santa Cruz - distinctive pottery in pre-colombian styles.

You can visit the Bribri in the Caribbean zone . . . take a day trip to Yorkin (if your trip includes Puerto Viejo or Cahuita), a delightful indigenous group - and the largest in Costa Rica . . . the trip is by dugout and they make chocolate, bows and arrows as well as the occasional painting (which you should snap up because their output in nearly zero).

Many tourists also visit Sarchi, the home of the wood workers of Costa Rica just 30 mins from the Pura Vida Hotel. You'll find all kinds of local wood stuff and things like our famous rocking chairs (very good for pondering about peace) and ox carts and such. If you go, try and visit the last authentic waterwheel driven oxcart factory still run by the nearly octogenarian Alfaro brothers - find the big church/giant oxcart and wander around about 300 meters north and west of the church and you'll see their ancient factory. Make sure to leave a small donation in the box for using up their time showing you their wonderful ancient contraptions.

Finally, there are more but you'll also find interesting things in some hotel gift shops - look for locally produced items - often wood but sometimes some nice ceramics - in particular the famous PEFI ceramics (also at the Pura Vida) made by the daughter in law of Don Pepe Figueres (the guy who established modern Costa Rica and no doubt pondered peace in our time after he abolished the army in 1948 while sitting in a famous Sarchi rocking chair). You may have to work on these things but they'll be worth it :-)

For people moving here, we advise stuffing a container with good plumbing and electrical stuff. If you do not use it you can always sell it. Such items are expensive here but over the last couple of years have become more available. A few things like 3-way dimmers are impossible to find and some products seem to be being dumped here (such as safes where the keys don't work).

For housewares we recommend Cemaco - a local chain with branches around the country - good quality and selection. For gringos in need of a Home Depot fix, we have a smaller chain called EPA (3 stores - Escazu, San Pedro and Heredia - and growing) - but still most home fixit stuff is bought at little ferreterias on most town street corners. These little stores are troublesome if you don't speak Spanish and you need to describe a plumbing fixture to the runner who seeks such things. However, we highly recommend trying to support the local economies which is what we use local people and local businesses if we are going to build something.

For furniture we have most stuff made now through a local expert carpenter in our village and a guy with a shop in Sarchi (the woodworking capital). It is also good to be on good terms with a local welder - we have 2 or three we know - one who makes beautiful windows and doors. For kitchen stuff, there is a commercial kitchen supply house in Pavas called TIPS - they have the best selection and anyone can buy there. There is no real diferentiation or discrimination - if you can find a wholesaler you can often buy small amounts at wholesale prices.

For appliances we have a duty free purchasing area at Golfito in the zona sur - a long way from here. few people recommend this anymore as it is too far and the prices are not much different to places like Pricesmart in Escazu. All the gringos have a Pricesmart card - good prices on things like fridges, generators (yes, some people need them), dog food, rice and bulk stuff like that. An finally for our guest building a house in Dominical, yes we have a Walmart here - it is in Escazu and is disguised as a Hipermas store so nobody gets upset. It is a vast and sad place. I think the better options are above.

Finally when buying things that need fixing like lawnmowers and such, get it from the local store - they need the money more than you and they love fixing things. Every town has a fixit shop and they will fix almost anything you can think of. We just recently found a place for example that will put wheels back on suitcases.

I sometimes equate Costa Rican bureaucracies to the evolution on the Galapagos Islands . . . if you run into a blue footed Booby, you should not be unduly surprised.

This is something we send all our guests:

If you are arriving in the evening we advise not renting a car that night - take our free taxi to the hotel - driving in the dark is no fun in countries WITH great drivers and good signage (and Costa Rica has challenges with both).

Ask that rentacars be delivered to the hotel the morning after your arrival at the breakfast table and picked up on your last night if you like. You can hand us the keys and your bill can be faxed to the hotel that night. In the morning we call you a taxi at any time - it is usually here in 2 or 3 minutes. Make sure rental car quotes in Costa Rica always include the mandatory basic government insurance (cannot be declined in Costa Rica), taxes and car delivery to the hotel or at minimum a free shuttle. Recent internet quotes neglect to include that - usually adds $10 to $20 a day. Also check that your credit card covers car rental CDW in Costa Rica (most US ones do, many European ones do not). CDW does NOT remove the mandatory basic insurance (whatever your internet quote may say - this is a quirk of Costa Rican insurance only) but it will reduce the cost.

Of course many guests still go ahead and find "great Internet quotes on car rentals". This is one of our guests this week for example:

"Thanks a lot, that gives us one more day on the beach. Our car was from (International named car rental company name deleted) for a total of $199."

I asked if his original quote included insurance?

"An insurance charge of $38/day was added on."

"We didn't know about that mandatory charge until we got to the car. $20/day of insurance was mandatory, and $18 was optional. The $199 was for a week. It looked like all cars for 7 days and under had the same charge."

As I try to explain to some guests before they get here, the "total charges" for most of the quality rental outfits are all about the same for a similar car. I just don't think it's right for you to get to a rental counter thinking you have a tab for $199 and discovering it is $339 (with mandatory insurance of $20 a day). Make sure your quote includes this!

The second blue footed Booby that may follow for some is "won't my insurance work in Costa Rica?" or "are there other insurance companies in Costa Rica?".

The answers are no, no, no and no. First you ain't in Kansas and second for reasons of our unique evolution, Costa Rica nationalized insurance many years ago as a favor to the people of the country not trusting them with the financial wizards of independent insurance. So insurance here (for now anyway) is sold only by the government - an agency known as INS. This will change as CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) gets implemented but for now there are no options. And there is only one price for a specific car . . . so you can't shop for insurance when there's only one shop.

The final unique Booby of my tale is known as "what if you have an accident?". Well let's hope you bought all the mandatory insurance (no options there) and you bought the optional (what I call "zero deductible" insurance as about 80% of renters eventually decide to do). You may choose to carry the CDW insurance on your credit card which will save you a few bucks, euros etc.

But if you have an accident the whole road often stops for you. Literally. You first call your rentacar company (if you have no cell phone, do not worry borrow one from a gawker - there'll be many, or the person you hit if they don't feel too badly about it). Then you or they will call INS and you must move NOTHING until INS arrives. Even if you are blocking the main trade route to Centro America! Move nothing cause the INS person must determine fault and who will pay.

If you were at fault, INS will pay. If they were at fault, INS will pay.

We spent 5 hours behind an overturned beer truck accident once on the main highway to Nicaragua wondering about the discussions ahead of us about whose fault it might be and who should pay.

Just another blue footed Booby kind of day, Berni

This is an interesting rural web site Rural Costa Rica. In particular because it contains a nice discussion on Costa Rican Spanish Costa Rican Spanish Guide. For example:

Tico

noun, adjective

'Tico' is what Spanish speakers often call Costa Ricans, instead of the formal costarricense. Costa Ricans also refer to themselves as 'ticos', so the terms is by no means pejorative. The popular explanation for the nickname 'Tico' is the common usage of the '-itico' diminutive suffix in Costa Rican Spanish.

and

¡Upe!

interjection

This is what Costa Ricans shout when they're at the door of someone else's house. It is simply a word to signal their presence in leiu of a doorbell

As the women's group states on their home page:

"The Santa Fe Women's Group welcomes you to Rural Costa Rica. The Women's Group, a dedicated group of 19 women from Santa Fe de Guatuso in Costa Rica's Northern Zone, has a number of different projects and activities that show what real Costa Ricans are all about. The group has executed projects in biogas and reforestation, and is pursuing possibilities in a rural tourism initiative in Costa Rica's Northern Zone to take advantage of the natural beauty of the Guatuso region in a responsible, sustainable way."

A biodigestor at work in the community.

The web site has no map and the area referred to by the women's group doesn't really exist on a map . . . the community of Rio Celeste is usually thought of as a waterfall rather than a particular place people live . . . but these are merely the challenges of a rural adventure in Costa Rica.

If you'd like to visit the area they will point you to this phone number 506-2479-7062 - Christian speaks English - more info can be found here Costa Rica Rural Tours - he can be reached by email at christian@costaricaruraltours.com. If you need a connection to explore the efforts of a number of rural associations in the area - he represents 12 of them - contact him directly. He can set up tours to Rio Celeste area - a full day trip - either with a guide they will send to travel in your car or a van for a bigger group.

If you need transportation to the area we can help you at our other web sight :Insight Costa Rica

A returning guest asks about tippage in CR. In particular should he tip for short taxi rides or long tours.

First it should be noted that both tipping and bargaining are not natural parts of the local culture. We get a lot of guests who have had a totally different experience in their own culture e.g. wacko reaction from a New York cabbie they once stiffed or when traveling e.g. making a deal for a rug in a Moroccan market or bargaining for a deal in Tijuana on a stuffed local zebra.

You see the locals don't really tip very much. Taxis are generally inexpensive and used a lot for short trips and a 2000 colone 10 minute trip usually won't get a tip. Buses are very inexpensive and almost never tipped by locals.

Locals also don't like to bargain or "make deals" . . . if they have come up with a price for something, they actually hope to get THAT price. This ain't Tijuana.

However there are a couple of ways you can get a "deal" . . . nearly everywhere will give you a deal for cash - from 5% to 15% depending on the product or commodity or how far you are from civilization. But you have to ask as it usually won't be offered (well except in gee gaw shops in Jaco).

Also many folk will give you a discount for volume . . . buy 5 or 10 of something and you may be able to make a bargain. But only if you are talking to the owner . . . Costa Rica is a country of very small businesses and thus there is a strong likelihood you ARE talking to the owner.

These thoughts were triggered by a question about tipping $5 for a 10 minute taxi ride to which I replied "John, oh please don't do it . . . you'll cause massive local inflation . . . a 10 minute ride from the airport costs $6 or $7 . . . or about 3000 to 3500 colones. If the driver is a suicidal maniac tip nothing at all and let him know what you think of his driving prowess cause nobody locally will tell him he's an idiot cause they'll get tied up in bad chi and negative quedar bien.

If he's a nice guy tip $1 . . . if he goes out of his way i.e. lends you his cell phone or hand gun, stops off at a bar for a round of drinks for everyone in the car, actually stops at traffic lights, allows old ladies to cross the road and such . . . he gets a $2 tip . . .

As for a "transfer" to Arenal . . . there is no expectation of tips on a big bus . . . if the driver got a few bucks from everyone he'd be a very happy person though. Particularly if he drove well, didn't overtake concrete trucks on blind bends, used actual signals like turn signals, didn't take short cuts on bridges that swayed a lot, actually stops at traffic lights, little old ladies etc.

If it was a tour as opposed to a transfer then that's a different matter. Same goes for trips in small vans where you're likely to get an engaing and interesting driver . . . a good driver/guide could make the Arenal trip into an excellent adventure. Then maybe $5 or $10.

Well IMHO, Berni

Heading south from the Pura Vida Hotel . . . this week we asked our manager if she's cover while we played hooky in the jungle . . . heading south in "The Beast" we dropped quickly around the bottom of San Jose (recently rated #80 out of 81 municipalities in Costa Rica) and out to Cartago. At Cartago we got lost (always happens) but 15 minutes later are heading up into the cloud forests along the Cerro de la Muerte. The cathedral at Cartago is well worth a visit so when you get lost why not take a minute more to drop inside - this is the scene of a million "pilgrims" walking to Cartago on August 2nd each year - not to be missed if you are in country then.

A little bit of history on the "mountain of death" can be found on Wicki here: Cerro_de_la_Muerte

We dropped by Jorge Serrano's Quetzal Paradise to check it out for a tour of animal rescue people we will be hosting next year. Jorge was not in but 2 of his sons showed us their spotless and rustic jungle lodge: Quetzal Paradise .

It is best to be there early in the mornings for Quetzal sightings on jungle walks they have from the lodge. From there we continued south to visit with friends at the Borucan indigenous area. Boruca is a tiny artisanal village that is the center for delicious wood carvings of masks representing creatures from the jungle and past lives of the Borucans.

If you are following me on a map you'll now be about plumb center of Costa Rica heading south on the only road to Panama towards San Isidro . . . just before San Isidro is the delightful birding area centered on San Gerardo de Dota . . . good idea to take a break and drop off the clouded highway at San Gerardo and maybe visit one of the lodges run by the Chacon family. Continue south past San Isidro also known by the name of one of the founders, Perez Zeledon. To visit Boruca continue south on Route 2 (route numbers are only on maps not on the roads themselves so don't bother keeping an eye out for them on the road too often).

You can turn off at the tiny village of Terraba which is part of the Borucan reserve. Or you can continue on the 2 another 20 or 30km and turn at the sign that says "Boruca 8Km". Once in the village it is easiest to go to the "museum" - a small display area where villagers bring their masks to display and sell. You can ask to visit the homes of those who display and you'll maybe see some more stuff you'd like. There is no "gringo" accomodation in the village but there are some rustic cabinas behind the bar - no sign, just go to the bar and ask. If you visit in December there is a riotous festival that starts December 30th and drinks its way to Jan 2nd celebrating the attack of the conquistadors among other things.

Head out of Boruca now as you're not stopping overnight back down to Route 2. Oh, did I mention a 4WD is essential?

Go around the loop and back north up the coast for those following me on the map and stop and the "fancy tile fish bus stop" and turn inland to our friends Daryl y Donna at Shelter from the Storm . Probably nay certainly the best appointed villas in all of Costa Rica. And most pleasurable Innkeepers . . . stay a few days or if you want to keep on our nutty schedule "4 days and 3 nights" stay just 2 nights. Make sure you eat at Exotica - funky on the outside, wholesome and creative dishes on the inside - just a great way to end your first day!

The next day you maybe take off at one of the local beaches - ask Donna and Daryl which they like. Rested and relaxed on day 3, you have a mere 1 hour drive to the famous Manuel Antonio and stay with Rebecca at Mango Moon Hotel .

This road is nearing completion . . . for years the barrier to travel to the Zona Sur (everywhere past Manuel Antonio to the south) was this bone jarring 50km of gravel, dust and dirt punctuated by pot holes. Today - nearly a superhighway . . . if you blow through it quickly you can do it in 45 minutes but like us you might want to renew an acquaintance with Dominical - often called the surf capital of Costa Rica after its huge and impressive beach and surfer waves. But not being surfers you may want to skip it too - we dropped in and found a couple of nice bits for the hotel and a lovely Toucan painting that is now in our Orchid Restaurant.

Turn into Manuel Antonio (they forgot to put up a sign) but turn left a bit past the "airport" on the biggest road you can find. Drive into Quepos and up the manuel Antonio park road loaded with 50 or 100 smallish hotels and turn right at mango Moon 1/2 way up past Barba Roja.

Park up - if you left early from Uvita and Shelter from the Storm you'll have time for the nice little park. Don't leave anything in the car or it won't be there when you get back. And make sure you hook up with a real guide at the park entrance who can show you things you'll never see on your own. If you took a little picnic he or she could show you some tiny tiny beaches perfect for a couple on a romantic getaway. Of course you may have to share it with giant red grasshoppers or a family if Capuchin monkeys.

That night ask the hotel for their best dinner recommendation that night and retire with your room with a view of the Pacific. The next morning you're on the way back up north . . . we liked our Kayak trip in the Damas mangoves just north of Manuel Antonio a few years back but today we had no time for that. We did stop at the Rainmaker cloud forest reserve about 30km north of Damas and up about 10km of bumpy road but the gate was closed so maybe skip that idea. Particularly problematic was there was no way ti turn around so we had to drive backwards on a very bad dirt rutted potholed track till we could find enough space to make an 8 point turn with our "Beast" the 4WD 4Runner.

Head north and maybe stop at Bejuco - a lovely deserted beach - we brought our picnic lunch from M. Antonio and a nice balkery - proscuitto and french bread . . . mmmmm!

Keep going north to Jaco - stop for gee-gaws or keep on going . . . head inland near the crocodile bridge at Tarcoles and then on in the long slog up to the meseta centrale behind concrete trucks doing 10kph and often at least once stopping for an accident (everyone must stop on this road sometimes for an hour while they sort out which insurance company is to pay). I thought you might like to know that while sitting in line with endless other drivers waiting for the crunchy decisions to be made that there is ONLY 1 insurance company in Costa Rica - the government :-)

Continue on up the windy road past the gringo retirement haven of Atenas (very nice I might add) and on to Route1 towards San Jose . . . get off near the airport (200 meters after the airport exit to Alajuela) and you'll be back at the Pura Vida in 4 days. Your last day will take about 3 1/2 hours but depends how many digressions you make (it takes us a day).

Have a great trip - if you are tight on time you'll find this itinerary wont wear you out and you'll get to see quite a bit of the country. Thanks Daryl, Donna and Rebecca for your hospitality!

A nice couple from Barcelona showed up late last night "on the fly". They just landed on the Iberia flight from Madrid (the only jumbo that lands in Costa Rica), snagged a car at the airport, found us in the guide book and drove the 10 minutes to the hotel without getting lost. 2 or 3 accomplishments all in their first evening in Costa Rica! They headed for bed with the statement, "We'll need some ideas tomorrow morning! Buenas noches."

We get quite a few guests landing at the airport with little idea what to do . . . but this couple had two basic destinations in mind at the breakfast table the next morning. First the Caribbean and then the Southern Zone or south Pacific side of Costa Rica.

So we spent the next hour in the garden plotting out a route on a map. Two maps we recommend the National Geographic which has all the parks and indigenous areas marked nicely - this works well if you are visiting parks and such. The other, perhaps better map, is the Toucan map of Costa Rica - it has very good road markings as well as points of interest and some good town maps.

The route started from Alajuela heading across the top of San Jose (best to avoid San Jose on weekdays and definitely not a place to get lost in at night). The road goes through Heredia (a bit convoluted there) then up to San Rafael (caution: there are 47 San Rafaels in Costa Rica) and then over to a road that on maps says the number 32.

Just as a point of reference (or lack thereof), it should be noted that the number 32 or any numbers that show on Costa Rican maps are rarely to be found on Costa Rican roads. If you are expecting signs, numbers and such they are few and far between but that's part of the adventure. Personally I hate GPS (in Costa Rica as you miss a lot of good bits to get lost in) but do recommend a cheap compass when you get turned around in a barrio somewhere you don't know the name of.

If you are trying to follow this route on a map . . . look for San Jose heading north from Tibas and then "westish" towards the big road in the direction of Guapiles. This route (#32 :-) will lead you into a cloud forest, through a big tunnel (well actually a small tunnel but big for us) and you should be careful as visibility can drop down to nothing in a cloud forest.

This is the main highway to the Port of Limon so there are lots of fast big rigs on this 3 lane road coming at you though they are usually slowed to a crawl by slow big rigs overloaded with things like concrete blocks. There ARE times when such impediments to progress can be appreciated and driving in a cloud forest is exactly that circumstance. Slower is better.

After Guapiles you are now coming down the Caribbean slope and a complete climate change. Cold mountain air is being subsumed by very warm and very humid tropical goop. You'll gradually notice the transition but soon get used to it like you lived there all your life (maybe). You'll pass through Siguirres without even noticing it (but you should because you need this turn off for a very interesting and different route back).

The road now flattens past pineapple and bananas everywhere and eventually to the Port of Limon (this town is best avoided - this week it was voted 81st worst town in Costa Rica . . . it could have been better except there were only 81 towns in the survey).

The road south (assuming you are still following me on a map?) skirts around the bottom of Limon town and eventually cuts right towards Cahuita and Puerto Viejo (we have a few Puerto Viejos too, this one is known locally as Puerto Viejo de Talamanca). You will notice you are now very Caribbean as you pass through a bit of a dump south of Limon and in an hour or less you'll see the Cahuita signs on your left (take any one of them - its worth a brief visit even if your hotel is not to be there this night).

This blog item is not about the destinations - that you can find in tour books easily. It is about a route for 10 days so apologies if you wanted more (email me for that). The road then continues south and eventually dumps into Puerto Viejo and points south. There are a couple of things you could do going further south - one is to drop down to Panama for a few days to the Bocas del Toro (only about 3 hours south) but if you do that I'd leave the rentacar at your hotel and taxi to the border (and one heck of a bridge) at Sixaola. Be aware this area can experience devastating floods in the high rainy seasons.

Another trip we'd highly recommend is a day or two in the Bribri village of Yorkin - your hotel can tell you how to find this trip. You'll drive past the village of Bribri and then take a dug out canoe upriver to Yorkin. This is a delightful indigenous visit - they even have a little lodge now if you'd like to stay and experience a lovely people or you can return the same day.

Continuing our 10 day itinerary, I'm going to assume you made it to Puerto Viejo and maybe stayed with our friend Wendy at Cashew Hill Lodge and perhaps stayed day 2 and 3 there. You'll need a few more days to stay longer on the Caribbean and will kick yourself that you couldn't but come back next time.

Now head north back past Limon (there's a great canal route, not road to Tortuguero just north of Limon). Head to Siquirres again and cut across the mountains to Turrialba (Route 10 - hmmm like you'll find that number anywhere?). Here's an optional overnighter we'd not miss - the excellent Casa Turire would make a nice 1 or 2 day stopover to see the Irazu volcano, lake Cachi area, the Orosi valley, the precolombian ruins and such in the area. We'd suggest day 4 and 5 in the area.

Day 6 will find you heading west to Cartago (stop at the cathedral) and then south on the famous Cerro de la Muerte (sometimes known as the Pan American highway) and the scene of the 1948 escape of the wife of Don Pepe Figueres who was busy taking over the country with a small insurgency of 2000 folowers to right a bad election.

You might stop a few hours at San Gerardo de Dota (but you don't have time to birdwatch the amazing Resplendent Quetzal that inhabits this beautiful region). Keep going south to San Isidro and perhaps drop by the delightful indigenous region centered on the village of Boruca (needs a 4WD).

Keep on going south turning at Palmar and the strange perfectly round pre-colombian stone globes. Turn right at Chacarita and meander down the little road to the super nice one horse town of Puerto Jimenez. There's lots of places to stay but you'll be tired so try Nico's Black Turtle Lodge - rustic tree houses for the night of Day 6 and 7.

Day 6 will take you maybe 10 hours of traveling if you skip San Gerardo! You don't want to miss a sunset paddle in the Golfo Dulce . . . absolutely a treat for kayakers of all sorts of shapes and sizes.

For the adventurous you'll want to go to the end of the road at Carate (most people say that Pueto Jimenez is the end of the road but adventurous types say it is 2 hours further across some rivers and loads of dirt roads and tracks). You'll maybe stay at Lana's Luna Lodge where they'll REALLY take care of you . . . and let them show you the way into Cocovado - one of the most bio-diverse areas anywhere on the planet and still barely touched by humans (see above - 2 hours past the end of the road . . . plus when the dirt track ends drive another 20 minutes into the jungle.)

That gives you Day 8 and 9 in the jungle with pecaries, sloths, lovely ant eaters and a trillion species of bugs. Again not long enough but our visitors from Barcelona wanted to see both sides of the country in 10 days. Which you can't really do!

So day 10 is taken driving back from Carate - its a tough 10 hour adventure up the coast road through Palmar Sur, Uvita/Ojochal, straight through Quepos/Manuel Antonio (assume you are following this on a map of Costa Rica?).

Its then another grind into San Jose at least as far as the airport and your last night and a delicious gourmet dinner at the Pura Vida Hotel in Alajuela.

Thus we'd recommend a stopover at Uvita (well that will make it an 11 day journey except you gotta stay 2 nights at our friends Daryl and Donna and the amazing hospitality, ludicrous humor and 180 degree views of the south Pacific at Shelter from the Storm ). Or if you wanted to also visit the famous Manuel Antonio you'd want to spend another 2 nights there perhaps at Mango Moon .

OK, so to do this lot you can't easily stay 2 nights at every location and do this trip in 10 days. It's so hard to get a feel for a place in an overnight stay so you'll need to cut some corners somewhere or maybe just do the rest on the next trip.

If you have questions and need help with an itinerary idea, just email us at The Pura Vida Hotel - we'd be happy to give you some insights into what may work for you on your next tropical adventure.

Yesterday we were invited to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Escuela . . . and the unveiling of another donation from Fundacion Educar - but a little different one this time - an art piece called "Remembranzas de Tuetal Sur". The story of a remarkable influence on the children of our village is told on the foundation web site. But it would have to be a much bigger web site to tell the real story and it will be years before the real story plays out in the lives of children who were not held back by being poor.

The Educar Foundation (Maryland, USA) is the brain child of Jim Locke who decided to help some kids in Costa Rica - today 1000's of kids have been touched by the work of the foundation.

Our small school was built 20 years ago thanks to the vision of a small group of residents who ignored the local school officials who thought the village would never amount to much. They convinced a local farmer to part with some of his finca for a pittance so the kids of the village could go to a "local primary school". They scraped a few hundred dollars (in colones of course) to build a school house. The bathroom would have to wait.

By the time Jim Locke discovered the school it had a few classrooms, two bathrooms and about 250 kids in what most would agree a very poor neighborhood. Like most everybody in Costa Rica, this didn't mean their kids were hungry but it did mean some parents often had little work and there wasn't a computer or a book to be seen in the neighborhood.

There was however something interesting going on at the school . . . situated between the Caja clinic (EBAIS as it is known in every village of Costa Rica) and the church. 3km or a mile or so down the road some of the kids were coming out of the bad barrio (known as the Infernillo by all around it) and showing up at school every morning in uniform. There was and is a high rate of teen pregnancy and some families with big problems unable to provide supplies for their kids or an evening meal. The school, Jim observed, despite the poor neighborhood and some questionable parents from the Infernillo was well disciplined. The neighborhood was quite rural and yet somehow the school had managed to snag a full time psychologist (unheard of in rural schools) to help the troubled kids. The neighborhood was known for youth problems and yet the kids in the school were polite and very well disciplined. The neighborhood was dusty and unkempt but the school was spotless.

Today, the school is still spotless and orderly . . . there are over 350 kids, more bathrooms, a covered sports/assembly area, twice as many classrooms, a library well stocked with books, a computer room with 26 PC's and a trainer to maintain them and teach the kids. Much of this came through the foundation and organized into a teaching tool by another remarkable individual . . . the director, Senor Humberto Soto. Mr Soto leads an excellent team of teachers and assistants finding new ways every day to manage meager resources (such as a government allowance of 30 cents for lunch) into appetizing meals for the body and the brain.

The 20th Anniversary of the school had some unusual guests of honor - the business charge d'affaires, Peter Brennan, from the US Embassy who spoke about the strong connection between the US and Costa Rica. Also invited was the artist who designed the statue, Ruth Moreno who engaged us with her tale of how the village is intertwined in her art piece.

The village is named after the Tuete bush a rather weedy looking thing that is constantly under threat from neighborhood gardeners who mistake it for the weedy thing it looks like. Two Tuetes are known to be in protected captivity (as a result of these continued assaults on the village mascot) - one at the front of the school and the other in the Pura Vida gardens. Maybe the school officials who originally ignored the pleas for a new school 20 years ago knew something about Tuetes?

The next step in the evolution of the village may be the addition of a sports field and perhaps a small road around it to create a village center (and perhaps slow down traffic at the school). There is the beginnings of a plan . . . something that has made no progress in 10 years . . . and has no funding. The village and the school may bring this forward? A first step at "centering" the idea may have come at this 20th anniversary event - the arrival of the "Remembranzas" below (with "Mr Jim" as the staff and kids know him being interviewed at the ceremony):

On this day of the 20th anniversary there were a number of visitors who were surprised by what they found at this little primary school in a so called "poor village". Our guests who come visit the school most weeks of the year bringing a book or maybe a bag of books for the library are also surprised by what they find. Loud and clear the message goes out around the world that Costa Rica has achieved one of the highest literacy rates and then I explain . . . "they did it without books" (another tale on this subject is here: "what is literacy in Costa Rica?")

Well they are doing it without books in most schools here through the creativity of the teachers, the drive of some good directors, a pretty decent infrastructure and in a few cases the additional support of Fundacion Educar. As Jim Locke puts it when asked "Why Costa Rica?"

He replies simply, "Costa Rica will do something with my investment."

You'll be welcomed too on your next visit.