Costa Rica? I thought you said 'Costco'! travel blog

Market day on the Pan Am Highway in San Jose ..... It's...

Eminem & I missed morning minyan so we did a quick Shacharit...

We were pretty sure that it was the local shul based on...

A photo of Iglesias de San Rafael in Zarcero. Affiliated with the...

Nice young couple advertising for a divorce lawyer (I think? My Spanish...

Another lovely young couple

Topiary treasures of Zarcero

Zarcero is also known for its local cheese

The dinosaurs of Zarcero

The elephants of Zarcero

My Topiary wife

Hands down the best Topiary person in town

On the road again.... headed for San Carlos

Almost mist it!

Cabinas la Hacienda restaurante in San Carlos

A restaurante with a view ....

In fact, a view of Volcan Arenal

Restaurante critics

Try the Arrozzo con Pollo - simply delicious...

.... or the Fajitas con pollo with refried bean dip (oh, we'll...

Iguana: Costa Rican 'chicken of the tree'. It's what's for dinner!

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Springs Resort and Spa

La Fortunate guests at the resort take a tour of the grounds

Thermal pool

On their honeymoon

Posing for the 2016 Swimsuit edition of Life Underwriters Illustrated

Thoroughly poached, the resort staff ask him to please leave the thermal...

Undaunted, he just goes to one of the other five thermal pools...

Moody volcano

Arenal flora

Arenal flora

Arenal flora (Mikey's favourite, for some reason)

Arenal flora

Arenal flora

Arenal flora

Arenal fauna

Monkey see, Monkey topiary


As we enter our second month here in Costa Rica, we're beginning to fall into an easy routine. We're up, so let's eat!

Breakfast on the deck overlooking some of the pools was much more and much nicer than the contInental breakfast we were expecting. Scrambled eggs with pico di gallo, rice and beans, and some chicken con spicy hot pot concoction fuelled by a couple of cups of Costa Rica's best coffee was a treat.

So was the wonderful catch up on our sleep that we all enjoyed, after a bourbon tasting by the pool party last night.

But we had serious business to do today. An assault on the much maligned Costa Rican highway system. The drive from San Jose to our home at Arenal Springs Resort & Spa Eco Lodge ("ASRSEL" to those in the know) varies from 81 km -123 km in distance and from 3 hours to 7 days in driving time depending on how many slow moving trucks you get behind.

Not to say that all trucks move slowly here. A fun thing to do is monitor your heart rate while avoiding an 18-wheeler loaded with picante salsa from the picante salsa factory down the way that comes screaming downhill around the latest hairpin curve in the road heading straight for you.

I know I enjoyed that a lot.

Also, they're all hairpin curves. All the time. I actually think we just went in a five hour circle today, to tell you the truth, and that they just put up different names signs in an effort to fool us as we re-enter what is in fact the same little town every half hour or so at the completion of each lap.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself. The first fun was getting out of San Jose on the General Cano Highway - also known as Highway 1 or, in legend, the Pan American Highway. This is not a huge problem once you get past the choke point - toll booth where you fork over a 100 colon coin in return for a souvenir piece of paper that says:

"Thank you for wasting the last half hour of your life in this traffic jam.

Sincerely, The City of San Jose".

In the realm of it's a small Jewish world: Eminem got into a chat with his new buddy, Joe Hartfelder from Virginia Beach, VA., as we were packing up our car to leave. Joe was doing the same and his car was parked right next to ours in the hotel parking lot.

Turns out that Joe's good friend Ariel just married some guy from .... Edmonton (Aaron Slawsky as it turns out).

We took this as a sign and, knowing we'd missed morning minyan today, we headed for the first shul we could find so that Eminem and I could get in a little davening.

As we entered the teeny, picturesque town of Zarcero, it looked like we'd hit the jackpot, as the shul was located in the centre of town on Calle Estado de Israel. Funny name for the shul, mind you: "Iglesia di San Rafael". Iglesia being the Spanish word for synagogue, I think.

Built in 1895, the Iglesia occupies the upper half of Parque Francisco Alvarado. From the front entry steps you have a commanding view of the hills and mountains surrounding the pretty little town, as well as the Topiary Gardens directly below that were built in the 1960's and that have been maintained ever since by Evangelista Blanco. (I think he is still the Gabbai at the Julio Eglasias Synagogue, but I could be wrong about that).

After shul, we were hoping for a nice kiddish lunch of roasted roadside pollo. As opposed to roadkill pollo. About an hour later, after climbing up, down, and mostly through the mist shrouding a particularly torturous stretch, we literally stumbled upon and into Cabinas la Hacienda Restaurante in San Carlos for a late lunch. It was a tasty kiddish lunch enjoyed by all.

For starters, there was the amazing view we had across a broad valley from our precariously perched picture window-side table (minus any window, mind you) to the peak of Arenal Volcano, our destination today, but still off some distance.

For starters of another kind (namely, appetizers) we could have had one of the many ginormous iguanas that were shaking the treetops just below our window-side vantage point. Iguanas: Are they Costa Rican squirrels? Or just "Chicken of the Tree?"

Instead, we had a pollo variety pack: Grilled, wth rice, and in the form of fajitas. With a soupçon of tilapia fish thrown in for good measure. Simply delicious. And without that fun iguana after taste.

Leaving the town of Naranjo de Alajuela earlier this morning, we decided to take a "shortcut" to get to Zarcero. Maybe two or three kilometres at most. I left most of my teeth on that patch of potholes and ruts and rocks. I dislocated my shoulder three times swerving to miss at least a few of them (unsuccessfully).

And, of course, driving at the lightning speed of (maybe) 3 km/hr meant that we got through the shortcut in just no time at all. Some shortcut. Some crazy Garmin GPS mishegas is what it was. Somewhere Mr. Garmin is laughing his head off. I hope it's in hell and his GPS can't get reception so that he just has to recalculate for eternity.

Kudos to Mikey and Colleen for excellente navigating and route planning. Despite the nasty efforts by Mr. Garmin to steer us off-road (maybe even off planet?) the two of them combined to get us where we needed to be today. Colleen scouted out the journey overnight and planned our davening and topiary excursion in Zarcero.

Mikey double and triple checked (and doubled and triple doubted the veracity of Mr. Garmin). His diligence paid off big time as he directed us with ease through the town of La Fortuna and up,to our simply exquisite stop at ASRSEL for the next three Noches.

I will let the accompanying photos do the talking for this little piece of heaven, in the shadow of Volcan Arenal.

Spanish words I have mangled today include such phrases as "I don't speak Spanish " which, in my gibberish efforts, must mean something like this: "No se habla Español or whatever it is you're saying so please forget that I started off this conversation by saying Buenos Dias to you and pretend that I'm a deaf mute - it will be better for both of us that way".

Although I did learn how to say my room number in Spanish. That'll come in handy at the swim up sushi bar in the thermal hot springs pool here.

Buenos Noches and Feliz Navidad to all.

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