For it is likely to repeat itself – just not here? April 11th is the celebration of the Battle of Rivas (actually the second battle of Rivas on April 11 1856) that made Juan Santamaría one of a very few Costa Rican national heroes. Cuba has just one or two - like Jose Marti and Guevarra - why so few?

There is a statue of Juan Santamaría in the central park of Alajuela, his hometown. He was killed (though historical reports are conflicting) the last time anyone attempted to seriously invade Costa Rica. The expedition in 1856 was managed by a lunatic called William Walker with backing from some of his southern US friends. Their (though funnily enough not Williams' original) goal was to set up a slaver confederation of Central American states as time was soon to run out on slavery in the US.

William Walker was merely a charismatic fool with grand ambitions and I am guessing a tiny dongle (make me President or Emperor of anything, pulease). Walkers' army made up of disillusioned US gold prospectors from San Franciso steamers and the Nicaraguan army marched south and were defeated at La Casona. You can visit a "replica" (the original was burned by poachers) at the Santa Rosa park in Guanacaste. The very same park used by Ollie North and his crew of retired CIA "farmers" to supply the "contras" fighting in Nicaragua in the 1980's. With the support of Cornelius Vanderbilt, President Mora's Costa Rican troops (numbers vary between 3,000 and 6,000) pursued Walker's troops to Rivas in southern Nicaragua and defeated them there.

Unfortunately unsanitary water (caused most likely by stashing dead bodies in wells, a known poor sanitary practice) caused the death of many of the Costa Rican soldiers and the subsequent cholera epidemic wiped out 1/10 of the population of the country when the remainder returned.

A hundred years later, in 1955, another failed (though not terribly serious) attempt to invade from Nicaragua was actually precipitated by Costa Rica and ended at the Santa Rosa park too. No other attempts will ever be made.

A hundred years later, in 1955, another failed (though not terribly serious) attempt to invade from Nicaragua was actually precipitated by Costa Rica and ended at the Santa Rosa park too. No other attempts will ever be made.

Because the time for such behaviour has now passed?

Ready for dinner, just not this one

Innkeeper, it should be noted that the following dinner scenario, played out on the afternoon and evening of February 22nd, is not what you would have expected the morning of Feb 22nd.

So please do not let this tale dissuade you from pursuing the noble art of Innkeeping :-)

We Wok Alot

We were already full and had guests wait listed so we sent some folks to the Buena Vista some days previous. Just our first indicator that we'd be busy tonight. We are a tiny hotel with a private restaurant so there are limitations. We have 6 rooms/casitas with a capacity of about 20. Many nights we serve dinner on request and with advanced reservations.

Dinner service is usually a fixed menu for the night - we go to the market that afternoon and select what we like personally. Of course we make space for those with dietary issues or those that must avoid more meaty things (the veggie folk). We cook everything fresh from the market.

Feb 22nd started with the delightful Adamson couple who will need to eat again tonight (they ate last night too). They'd also wanted us to take them with us to the farmers market this afternoon but one of them is sick and won't be going. Dinner planning needs to avoid any ingredients from last night. The Adamson's need to get to their flight to the Osa at 6:45am the next day. And we need to make them 2 breakfasts to go. Off we go with Mr Adamson to the excellent Plaza Ferias (farmers market) in Alajuela at 3pm.

The Pura Vida Hotel Pad Thai - mmmm mmmmm

The gentle Germans are coming back and, we must remember, do not eat any fish. There is another component of my wife's Venn diagram for the night. They were with us 2 weeks ago so my wife must avoid any dishes from their meal of 2 weeks ago as well as the fish.

On returning from the farmers market with a ton of fresh veggies and produce we start unloading and processing the food for tonight's dinner service. The Gentle Germans do not like getting up early and insist they only need 1 hour at the airport the next morning, I insist otherwise. Some discussion ensues as we work behind the scenes on food and Venn diagrams. They are to leave at 5:30am. Oh, we need to make them 2 more breakfasts to go.

The Stadlanders have booked 2 rooms and the parents have already arrived - the kids come soon. 6 persons altogether in the Katydid and Volcano rooms. They need a late meal on arrival later tonight but there are complications - they do not like mushrooms and 3 of them are also vegetarian. So we need to cook a late meal when the kids get here, right after cooking our 3 course gourmet dinner for the Adamsons and the Germans who don't like fish. A nice grilled chicken over a fresh salad from today's expedition to the farmers market with a delicious mango passion fruit dressing for 6 persons will be served. My wife is working up the vegetarian option in the kitchen.

Cacao fruits near Cahuita- then to Belgium then back to Pura Vida - ready for tonight's dessert

Shaunie, the single booked in the Rain Forest, emails us from her pod that her plane is delayed by snow in California (!) but she will be in late and needs a late meal. This is fine except we seem to have run out of tables. She doesn't care what she eats (oh thank you thank you Shaunie, we worship the ground you walk on) which is good as we have no food ready - but we do have a really nice chicken soup pretty much ready to roll. So chicken soup with a fresh ciabatta bread from the market does the trick.

Alba, making flowers in the restaurant

The 3 course gourmet dinner for the Adamsons and the Germans is an asian salad with stir fried pork belly, a marvelous Pad Thai with chicken from a recipe found in only 2 places in Costa Rica (both of which are my wife's recipe) and a poached pear with Belgian dark chocolate orange white wine sauce. This dinner on its own sets new challenges. The chocolate stirring alone takes forever if you want to avoid a pasty gooey mess.

The Hales will be arriving soon. They would like a late meal too. Except they have gluten allergies and can't tolerate dairy. Hmmm OK we know how to do that . . . but their plane lands in the middle of dinner service. I envision a surreal Chef Juggler morphing from Alice In Wonderland with a Rabbit's ears, a chef's hat and Mario Batali rubber shoes.

Gustavo calls in the middle of the chaos in the kitchen. His timing is exquisite. He is coming to visit the Stadlanders at 7:30am tomorrow morning. So we need to make 6 more breakfasts to go for the morning. Best do that after the various dinners.

The food chart for this dinner service.

  • 2 market tours/1 cancelled
  • Don't serve dishes from a dinner on Feb 10th.
  • Avoid ingredients used in the big dinner Feb 21st.
  • 3 vegetarians (not vegans) as late meals
  • 1 no gluten
  • 1 no dairy
  • 3 late meals we prepared for
  • 1 no mushrooms
  • 1 late meal we did not prepare for
  • Must avoid fish.
  • Cook everything without gluten.
  • No dairy ingredients.
  • Make 10 breakfasts to go (for who?).
  • Who the hell is Gustavo?

Actually that was a cake walk. The following is an actual email from a guest some time back. I keep it handy any time I think "geez, that was a complicated dinner service!" Names have been removed to protect the innocent bystanders, all text has been retained for posterity. I think I shall request this on my tombstone as my "Innkeepers Epitaph". It is soooo good I think I shall hold off the planned cremation:

"Hi sooo here is the info...arriving on flight us airways #356 from phoenix,Arizona at 7:20pm in San Jose...would love a pickup at the airport of course, thank far as a meal at ur restaurant...if that is friend is open to anything u guys feel is good except for veal, she says...myself--verrrry simple, a large vegan raw salad with, for example, raw lettuce/salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers (not green plz), carrots, a few different kinds of avocados, cilantro, and for salad dressing just fresh orange and lemon/lime juice with some olive oil and sea salt and pepper...honestly if I only get 3 things off that list it would b avocados, tomato, and lettuce greens, anything more will just make my smile a little bigger thank u!!!!!

One last thing and if this last request is too much, plz don't worry about it---while at the market if u could pick up a few extra, ripe avocados, papayas, mamey's, guanabanas, and cherimoyas, that would b verrrry appreciated and not only would I pay for everything but I also will tip whomever $25 US for doing that extra shopping...again I don't want to inconvenience anyone, soo don't worry if its too much to ask...thank u for everything! Very much appreciate it. Oooh and p.s. if its possible to get the green papaya salad made that I saw listed on ur sample menu without sugar (maybe honey?), That would b awesome as its one of my favorite dishes...could eat that and that big salad with pleasure!!

Again my friend is not vegan and will eat whatever u put in front if her (except veal) if it taste good . . . wishing u all at Pura Vida Hotel a wonderful day."

We do not get mail in Costa Rica.

We do not send mail in Costa Rica.

This is a conceptual model that could have saved the US billions last year in cost overruns at USPS. Sometimes it is the simple ideas that count.

A new gringa in town had some meds mailed to them from "up north" and they had not arrived in a couple of weeks. "It was mailed in a first class envelope," she exclaimed! I am presuming she believed that "first class envelope" had some meaning in a country that doesn't use mail.

Banana Delivery

I suggested (though too late to be of any real service) on our local message board, "personally I would not send anything important or unimportant by mail. And I have asked nobody send me anything by any express service e.g. Fedex as the extrication process is beyond my tolerance levels."

I'll get to that another day. Or at least why it is I have a peculiar response to the statement, "Fedex has a package for you."

I do like the idea that Costa Rica has a mail service modeled after normal mail services . . . you know "counters", "lines", "commemorative stamps" etc but there the resemblance to normalcy stops. It's like walking into a store front from 'Men in Black'. They look normal but what goes on behind the wall is from another planet.

Fire Truck, Guanacaste

A year before I discovered Kindle, I had subscribed to WIRED magazine knowing full well the vagaries of the Costa Rican postal service. I had presumed that with a real postal box and a real post office (here in Alajuela) and a magazine nobody locally could give a hoot about, I might have a chance. I was OK with the magazine being a month or two late as the likelihood of the technology I was about to read up on was likely to bypass Costa Rica anyway. 3 of 10 issues arrived at my PO Box that year. My wife and I discussed this at renewal time. Her patience with me was demonstrated by her actually agreeing to renewing the subscription - fortunately for me they invented the Kindle just in time.

The US Postal Service seems to have decided that the solution to their financial problems is to focus in part on increasing promotions for junk mail. It just goes to show you that our, near useless, postal service is less dysfunctional that that of the USPS.

Heck, could it be possible that Costa Rica is in fact a model of what the USPS could become years from now. When a tourist asks me "how is it possible to run a country without mail?"

"First," I reply, "let's run a test."

"OK," they say wondering what the mad innkeeper might propose next (as they already believe the previous conversation is bordering on the surreal).

I stop the next staffer walking by and ask, "when was the last time you sent a piece of mail?"

The answer is always, "never".

"So you see, I have definitively proven you do not need a postal service for a country to function. Ask anybody you meet the same question."

You can see more of how it works by clicking here (it ain't pretty but it kind of works).