146. A Beautiful Reunion

Saturday 2/3- Many of you who know me know that once upon a time I was in the military. During a deployment to Iraq nearly 17 years ago (Ugh, I really feel old after saying that!) I got close to 2 battle buddies who I hope will be in my life forever. We were all young girls from MN in a military field where very few women end up and we formed a tight while trying to keep each other as sane as possible during a tough 18 months far, far from home. After the deployment we all ended up back in MN, but only saw each other about once a year. Despite not seeing each other very often, when we do get together it’s like no time has passed and we can step right back into our friendships without any problems. The last time I saw these gals was shortly before we moved down here, and ever since then we always talked about when they would come visit us. That was finally happening!

We have been working on planning this for a while, and today was my & Ramie’s day to get the house ready for visitors; Katie & Jamie would arrive tomorrow! I don’t know about Ramie, but I know that us 3 girls have been looking forward to this for a long time! Once the house was all clean and prepped for guests and I put in a few hours of work for the tax prep job to prepare for my week off (I don’t mind working that job on a weekend morning for a few hours), both of us spent the rest of the afternoon working on the blog. We’re falling behind and at the time didn’t have any ready and waiting like we usually do, and you guys are expecting a post tomorrow (by the way, it’s the Christmas one that we had to finish writing for you to read)!

Just a single flower

Sunday 2/4- Neither of the girls live very close to the airport back in MN, so they both had a very early morning today. We got a message from them at about 8:30 saying that they were boarding the plane, and now the countdown was on. Activate Vacation Mode!

Katie                      and                       Jamie

They booked a direct flight from MN to Liberia airport, which is about 5.5 hours in the air, but the down-side to flying into Liberia is that it’s about a 5+ hour drive from Liberia to Uvita instead of the 3.5-4 hour drive from San Jose to Uvita. When all is said and done, though, their travel day is ultimately shorter at about 12 hours than when we fly out of San Jose, have a layover somewhere in the US and all that extra wasted time. Our travel days usually clock in at a minimum of 18 hours. Should we trade airlines and fly in and out of Liberia? Maybe! Unfortunately, Sun Country (which is what they are taking) really only flies here during high season. Well- if the need ever arises, we might be looking into it!

With a 5-hour flight plus a 5-hour drive, they wouldn’t make it to our house until late this evening, so our day was still mostly a normal day.

I spent a couple more hours finishing up some tax returns and we both spent some more time working on the blog. This afternoon Lowell, one of the co-owners of the shipping company that Ramie helps at, was having a birthday party and he asked us to be there. We hung out with Loren and Nancy and Randall and Jessica for a couple of hours at the party and ate some really good catered BBQ for a late lunch/early dinner before heading home to relax and wait for the girls to get to the house.

While we were at the birthday party, just before 3pm we got a message from the girls saying that they had landed and were in the line to go through immigration. Bienvenidos a Costa Rica mis amigas!!

The girls finally got to our house at about 8:30; they hadn’t eaten all day so we started by making eggs for dinner- the easiest quickest thing I could make for them, and we started catching up. After getting some food in their stomachs, they unloaded all of the goodies that they brought down for us, and Ramie & I had a mini-Christmas checking out all of the stuff they had muled down for us. We stayed up late talking about their travel day and so many other things. We were all quite tired and it was already late so we decided to hit the hay, but we would have plenty more time to chat and get caught up over the next few days.

All 3 flowers together again!

Monday 2/5- Today would be a much-needed low-key day. It would give the girls a chance to sleep in and start out the vacation slowly. We still had to firm up our plans for the rest of the week but we had nothing planned for today. We started the day with coffee, as is necessary in our house, and then moved in to the necessities- grocery shopping, the fruit stand, and getting some fresh fish from the fish market for dinner one night this week. We decided on Mahi Mahi, but we also had some tuna at home from Ramie’s fishing trip, so I’d cook some of that up for them to try too.

Once we were home from this first set of chores, we discussed the plan for the rest of the week and figured out what we would do each day. After we decided which tours and excursions made the final cut, Ramie got to work on getting the info, pricing, and booking what he could. Instead of staying at the house for the rest of the day, Ramie recommended going to the waterfall for a swim and a quick ride in Dusti. It would still be a relaxing afternoon but we had plenty of time to spend at the house so we might as well take this opportunity to go play somewhere else while we had it. Skye even got to come with us for the fun! We spent about an hour and a half swimming and playing before heading home to relax in the pool before it was time to start dinner. 

Later that evening while we were hanging out and settling down, Jamie surprised us with a craft project that she wanted us to do together. You see, one of the “themes” to girls weekends that we spent together back in MN is that there was usually some type of artsy craftsy thing that we’d do. We’ve done the paint and sip classes, we’ve done our own projects, all kinds of different things- but almost always some activity like that. The tradition continues!! 

The project for this week wasn't anything quite as exciting as what's in the gif above, we'd stick to something a little less graphic. The project for this vacation would be crocheting sunflowers. Both Jamie and Katie have a basic understanding of crochet, but neither of them have much experience. As you guys have seen, I’m a little bit of an expert at the subject and know how to crochet well so I started by doing the first one quickly to get a hang of the pattern and an understanding of how this was going to work. THEN, it was my turn to be a teacher and worked with each of them individually to teach them how to do it. There may have been some drinks involved, as there always are with girls weekend projects, so you can probably imagine how this project started out. There were so many laughs, maybe a little bit of frustration, but all in all, we had a good start to this. We’ll see, though, if it all gets finished before they leave next Sunday morning. 

OMG the struggles!

Tuesday 2/6- Surprisingly, even after our crochet shenanigans last night, everyone was up fairly early this morning. We spent the morning relaxing at home because this afternoon they wanted to do the coffee tour. Deiner’s tour started at 2pm and we decided to take them on a Dusti ride via one of the scenic routes to the plantation, so we left around 12:30 to give us time to explore and make a couple of scenic lookout stops.

Of course, the coffee tour was so much fun and Deiner, Emilio & Rita are such great hosts, that we decided to have dinner at the plantation as well. Rita and Emilio made a delicious typical Costa Rican meal including our favorite Chicharrónes. As always happens when we visit the plantation, the moonshine and Baileys were shared and enjoyed by all (well, the Baileys was enjoyed by all, that moonshine can pack a punch if you aren’t used to it!) We left the plantation around 5:45 just as it was starting to get dark but made it home before it was completely dark. 

Deiner once again was a great tour guide and makes the tour a lot of fun!

The sunset from Deiner's office 

Wednesday 2/7- Today’s plan was for another somewhat laid-back day. You can't come to Costa Rica without going to the beach at least once, so this morning we would introduce the girls to the secret beach. They are both kind of like us and would prefer to steer clear of the crowds of people at the more popular tourist beaches, so the secret beach sounded great to all of us. We started with our long walk from river to river and when we got back to where the truck was parked, we sat around in the shade for a little while before Ramie, Katie and I headed out to the water for a swim. After the long walk in the sun, Jamie was sunned out so she may or may not have taken a cat nap in the shade while we were swimming. 

Once we all had enough of the beach and were mostly dry, it was time to go check out the little beach town of Dominical. The girls were interested in some authentic souvenirs and we figured that Dominical was probably one of the better places to find some. After seeing ours, they were interested in seeing some of Michi’s paintings. We started with his art stand first and then walked the cute little beach road looking at what the rest of the vendors had for sale. Unfortunately, nothing caught their eye so we went back to Michi’s paintings where they each picked out one they liked. Fortunately, he has a large selection of unframed canvases so they could roll them up and they would fit in their suitcases. Now that we had worked up an appetite, it was time to find somewhere to eat, so what better place to stop than Fuego Brewing for some drinks and brunch. Afterwards, it was back home to get the salty, sandy ocean off of our skin and cool off in the pool and later, for dinner, I cooked up the fresh fish that we had bought.

Thursday 2/8- Surfs up dude! Both Jamie and Katie were interested in trying surf lessons and had asked us months before they came down here to find a good instructor. Ramie had done his research and actually found a gal who has been in Costa Rica for a few years but was also originally from MN and owned a surf shop here in town. Of course, why wouldn’t we book with her? I had no desire to take lessons and Ramie would prefer to try to teach himself, so today we opted to be the paparazzi for the morning and just play out in the water while they were doing their lesson. This instructor holds her lessons at Playa Chaman, which is part of the National Park and a very good beach for beginners since the waves are small but consistent. Unfortunately, the original MN girl instructor ended up with some other non-surfing commitments and Noah, one of her Tico employees ended up giving the lesson today and did a great job. The lesson was scheduled to be about 2.5hrs long, which originally I thought seemed kind of short, but let me tell you that 2 hours was plenty long! Jamie & Katie were both getting worn out by the end of their lesson! Ramie & I hung out in the shallows cheering them on and snapping pics and video, trying our best to get some shots of each of them actually getting the hang of it. Both gals were able to fully stand up at least a handful of times. Good job ladies! When we had a good amount of photos and videos, Ramie and I took our boogie boards out and played in the waves watching them & the experienced surfers who were sharing the beach just off to the side of where Jaime & Katie were having their lesson. By the time the lesson was done they were ready to get home and shower to get the salt water out of their noses, sand out of their swimsuits and hermit crabs out of their ears. 😉 There would be no hanging out at the beach after this exhausting lesson today! 

Completely exhausted

For dinner tonight we went to Mirador Don Roger for a sunset dinner, but they were still so worn out from the morning that not a lot of conversation was had. I think 2 days in a row of the beach, first secret beach the day before and surfing today and all of the sun is really wearing them out. We got home and chatted for a little while, but all headed to bed around 7:30 because we were all exhausted. There would be no crocheting of sunflowers tonight!

Friday 2/9- Today's adventure started early, so it was a good thing we went to bed early last night. We had to be on the road a little bit after 7 for the hour-long drive to Sierpe for a mangrove boat tour departing at 8:30. We scheduled a private boat with a captain and guide who took us down the river and into the mangroves to look for wild animals. We spotted boa constrictors, squirrel monkeys, white face monkeys, howler monkeys, a baby cayman (crocodile), bats, Macaws, an owl and so many other birds. The captain tried to find some larger crocodiles and a sloth but both of those eluded us today. After the tour we ate lunch at a little restaurant overlooking the river before heading home for the day where we chose to grill burgers for dinner. While today was a long day of “doing stuff”, at least it was laid back riding in a car and on a boat and not so active like the days at the beach.  

Baby Crocodile

Bats all lined up 

Saturday 2/10-Today was the last full day of fun with Jamie and Katie, their time here has gone by too quickly. Today we had plans for a big adventure that would truly be an all-day event. For the past couple of months, Deiner from the coffee plantation has been asking us to go with him on a cacao tour at his uncle's farm that is located about 40 miles from the coffee plantation. Much of the route is back-roads through the jungle & mountains. BUT, as you’ve heard in all of our other stories about driving here, 40 miles here isn’t like 40 miles in the US. This would not be a short drive!!

We were told to meet Deiner at his coffee plantation at 8:30 this morning. Since it would be a long day, Ramie had asked Ray earlier this week if Skye could come for a playdate with Izzy for the day. It's been a while since they have gotten together, and Ray and Wesley were more than happy to watch Skye for the day. While Ramie was bringing Skye to her play date, us girls got a cooler together with some snacks, water and essentials for the ride. Everyone going on today's ride would be taking their ATVs; we’d be driving through mountains with small villages and towns along the way. Emilio would drive his ATV and lead the group, followed by Margot (a friend of their family) who had a side by side and took Rita as her passenger; this was Rita's very first time ever riding in or on an ATV, so a big adventure for her too! Next in line would be Deiner with his brother-in-law Juan Carlos on Dieners new ATV, and bringing up the rear would be the 4 of us in Dusti.

At a little after 8:30 we were just leaving the plantation and were ready for our adventure. It's the dry season and we knew that meant there would be dust, so we came prepared. Little did we know just how much DUST! We originally started the drive just wearing our sunglasses but after about a mile it was already time for all of us to put on the dust masks and goggles! For the next 3 hours we followed along, trying to keep some distance between each other to avoid some of the dust, but even keeping your distance wasn't really working. 

All covered up

Despite the clouds of road dust, we enjoyed the amazing scenery along the way. We stopped in a small town along the way for anyone who needed to fill up with gas, and just before we got to the waterfall we’d be swimming at, we stopped for a beer at a small convenience store high on the top of one of the mountains. It was only a few more miles before we arrived at Julio’s house (Julio is Emilo’s brother). We were introduced to a few members of the family before we were told to start the machines back up; it was time to go swimming in Deiner’s private waterfall. 

These pictures just don't show the amount of dust we were driving through, and honestly, I kept my phone put away for most of the trip because I didn't want the sheer amount of dust to damage it.

The adventure continued when we turned off the “main” mountain road and started heading down a smaller side road, eventually we turned off this small road into an old banana field and onto a path that was just wide enough for the ATV’s to get through, was very steep and had some tight switchbacks that may have required backing up and going forward a few times to actually be able to make the turn. Eventually it ended in a small clearing where we parked the machines; the rest of the trek was on foot down a path into the jungle. It only took a few more minutes before we were at the waterfall. 

Heading down the steep road. You can see just how dusty Dusti is in this picture

With the ATVs parked above, we walked down the trail to the waterfall

We are so happy we get to jump in the water to wash the dust off. 

It was amazing! We were shown the lower shallow pool where we could swim if we wanted, but we decided to hike up another a trail to the upper waterfall where there was a much deeper pool to jump into. Rita and Margo stayed behind at the lower one while the rest of us climbed to the upper. This wasn’t just your regular hike, though, for me it was reminiscent of the terrifying hike to Nick’s waterfall about a year ago where I was the most terrified I’ve ever been. This one wasn’t QUITE so bad, and much shorter, but it was definitely the 2nd worst hike of my lifetime! Fortunately Julio & Juan Carlos were there to lend a hand in some of the steepest and narrowest parts of the trail that may have otherwise left me frozen with fear, crawling on my hands and knees, or turning around and going back down.

By the time we made it to the upper pool where we could jump in, we all wanted to get the dust off of us so badly that we stripped off the outer clothing layer and dove in. Unfortunately, I don't think we have any pictures of ourselves covered head to toe in the dust that we had experienced on the long morning drive but in one of the photos above you can kind of see that Ramie was wearing a dark gray shirt and by the time we were finished with our ride, his shirt was a lightish tan color with a dark gray stripe where is seatbelt was. It was much more visible in person! Anyhow, when we made it to the falls, I was the first one to jump in and boy did it feel good!! Katie was next, then Ramie, and Deiner. Juan Carlos doesn't swim but he sat on a rock at the edge to cool off. Jamie decided to stay back out of the water up here because she didn’t want to risk climbing back down the hill soaking wet, so she hung out with Julio and was our paparazzi while we were swimming. We spent a little while swimming in that pool before we hiked back to the lower pool so that Jamie could join us in the water. The dip in the waterfall was refreshing and so needed before we continued on with the rest of the day! 

By now it was about 1:00 and we were told that our lunch was almost ready. Deiner rounded everyone up and we made our way back up the path to the ATV’s, us girls changed out of our wet swimsuits and into some dry clothes, and then took a short drive to Julio’s cacao plantation. Once we arrived at what we now know is Finca Las eFs (on FB & IG) we were greeted by the rest of Julios family and then shown to a table where his wife Miriam (Rita's sister) served us a delicious chicken lunch with so many traditional fixins and sides. Of course, being family, the 2 plantations aren’t so different and Julio brought out their version of the moonshine and Baileys too. Here, their Baileys has a slightly different spin on it and is made with their own chocolate. It was really good! 

On a side note, we mentioned above that Emilio and Julio are brothers, but what we didn’t mention is that Rita and Miriam are also sisters! Yes, two brothers married two sisters! It's something that they like to tell us and other people that they meet, I suppose it's not very often you hear of something like this. I mean, could you imagine having the same cousins on both sides of the family? Maybe it makes big holiday gatherings easier to coordinate? Anyway, as we ate our lunch the family was speaking to us, in Spanish of course, (thank you Deiner for translating) and telling us about growing up in the area, what it was like and their life in general. It was a lot of fun to hear about what life was like 50 years ago here in the mountains of Southern Costa Rica when Rita and Miriam where little girls. 

With our bellies full it was time to learn about cacao and how they make their chocolate. They started with everything from cutting the cacao pod, tasting the raw seed inside, fermenting the seeds, roasting, grinding and eventually 100% pure natural chocolate with no added sugar or flavors.

Cacao pods still on the tree

Fermenting the cacao seeds
For those of you that have followed us for a while, this roaster may look familiar. Emilio and Julio each have a machine and they can roast coffee or cacao
Roasted cacao 

Cooling the beans
Crushing the outer husk from the beans

Similar to coffee beans they have to "fly" the beans to remove the husks and get the cacao nibs from inside
Grinding the cacao nibs the first time

Grind them a few more times and you can see the cacao nibs becoming chocolate

After the demonstration, we went back to the table where we were served chocolate, cake, more baileys or moonshine, and some chocolate candies that they are trying to perfect, all, of course, made out of chocolate made right here at the plantation. Everything was so delicious! 

Fresh hot chocolate

Very delicious homemade goodies.  The 2 big balls were filled with moonshine!

There was also a puppy here that Ramie was convinced he was going to smuggle home in his backpack.

By now, sadly, the day was coming to an end. We were each given a package of today's fresh cacao nibs (the roasted & crushed cacao seeds) and we all purchased some fresh chocolate to take home. Before we could leave, though, the family wanted to get photos with all of us and we were happy to oblige. Julio made a comment about how smiley all of us girls were and how great of a day today was. At one point Julio was talking to Ramie and told him that we are now a part of their family, we will always be welcomed back, and their door is always open! We love the Tico friendliness and we do truly hope to be back to visit them in the future! It was 4:15 or so when we looked at the time and we had a long (very dusty) ride back home so it was time to hit the road. We had to get going so we didn't have to spend too much time driving in the dark.

Riding into the sunset!

We took some short cuts on the way back, stopping for gas one more time in the same small town, in case anyone needed it, and quickly got on the road again. We made it back to the coffee plantation after dark, I think around 6:30. Emilio offered a beer to wash the dust down and Ramie was happy to accept one, however he drank it quickly since we told Ray that we would pick Skye up around 6pm. Hugs were given and goodbyes said and we finished the ride arriving at our house right around 7pm. Ramie quickly changed out of his dusty clothes, jumped in the truck and went to pick Skye up. The total trip today was 80.6 miles. It was a long day but I know that Ramie and I will someday go for a ride back there again!

Here is the total route (A) is our house, (2) is Don Emilo's, (B) is the cacao plantation
The girls and I stayed home and cleaned up our dusty stuff from today, plus we still had to do laundry and the girls had to pack their suitcases. I don't think any of us wanted to go to bed since we knew this was our last night together and it will be a while before we all get to hang out again, but we were also all tired and were in bed a little after 9:30. Unfortunately, all of the sunflowers did not get completed during this trip.

Sunday 2/11- Up and at em! The shuttle driver will be at the house at 7am to pick up Katie & Jamie for the  long drive back to Liberia. I made them breakfast and some coffee and they slowly gathered their belongings and moved everything to the front door. At a little bit after 7:00 the driver was at our house. We said our goodbyes with hugs and away they went. The week went by so quickly and we did a lot while they were here. I really hope they had as much fun as we did this week!

The rest of our day consisted of cleaning up the house, doing laundry and catching up on all of our regular things that we put off all week, which also included writing this blog so we didn’t forget all of the fun details. We did get a message once they arrived at the airport; they finally got to see a sloth that they had been hoping for. Along the highway at some point someone was helping a sloth who was trying to cross the road.  The shuttle driver stopped for the girls to see and they even got an up-close picture of it. A sloth was one thing they really wanted to see while they were here that we weren’t able to help them find, so I'm glad they got to check that off their list.

Until next time ladies! Thanks for a fun and adventurous week. You’re welcome to come visit again any time!

Taken 4/12/2007- we were just babies back then!

Pura Vida!