Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas = Summer in San Ramon, Costa Rica

While there’s something charming about a white Christmas, it’s way overrated. I barely escaped a week of snow and ice storms in Upstate NY to return to the mild weather and festive Latino scene here in San Ramon.

San Ramon welcomed us back as family and our neighbors and friends shout their greetings as we walk the streets of San Ramon. After 6+ years here, I feel accepted as a Ramonenese (San Ramon person) and more like a visitor in my home of origin.

This year all the trees in the central park are decorated with lights as local businesses each adopted and outfitted a tree to decorate and make a beautiful nighttime glow in the center of town.

Last week, cultural festivities kicked off with a performance in the big Church of Handel’s Messiah by The Costa Rica National Symphony and National Chorus. Although this isn’t my kind of music, the acoustics were awesome and a good time was had by all. Like many cultural events here, it was free and open to all supported by the Ministry of Culture. When a society doesn’t support an Army and war… music, art and theater can be funded and given to the people.

As a former restaurant owner and cook, my first shop at the farmer’s market/feria makes me feel settled into my life here. For between $7-8 we bought the best fruit and vegetables money could buy at any price. Bill Gates could not get healthier and tastier food than this! At 10 times the price in New York State, the taste comparison would be a joke. Papaya, pineapple, bananas, spinach, broccoli, peppers, carrots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, cilantro, limons, fresh cheese, coffee and more … will become a bounty of delicious meals. The Friday and Saturday market is also a cool mixing of all strata of San Ramon and the interaction with the local farmers is a great way to mark another week. Of course a bottle of Guaro (the local liquor) and a few beers will add inspiration in the kitchen.

To enjoy the festivities, exercise keeps this 52 year old energized and light. We go to the outdoor swimming pool on a regular basis to keep fit and indulge guilt free in food and drink. The pool was built for a national competition some years ago and donated to the City of San Ramon.

At the pool only half the people swim; the other half are women just catching the rays with lots of skin hanging out. Whether you’re male or female, it’s hard not to be blown away by how beautiful and sexy the women are here in San Ramon. The Latinas present themselves in a way that hardly resembles the intellectual, sweatshirt clad females in my Ivy League first world home. It’s impossible not to notice and be inspired to keep returning to exercise in the pool.

Happy holiday season to all! Maybe I’ll see you here in San Ramon to share summer. I’ll return in April for a spring visit to Ithaca NY to see friends and family. This rhythm seems to be working well.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Reverse Blog ... Ithaca, NY ... Winter Wonderland!

I will be heading back to summertime in San Ramon, Costa Rica in a few days. My tradition for the last 8 years has been to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family in Ithaca and NYC and then leave as winter begins. Each place has much to offer, but the cold, darkness and snow are better to be enjoyed from a distance.

My house in Ithaca is ready for winter. My tenants, Cristian and Josh, allow me to feel mostly burden free when I am gone. I live in the City of Ithaca in the Fall Creek neighborhood, just 2 blocks from Ithaca Falls, a monstrous natural wonder. Winter is funny as ice formations shine while the water flows loudly.

Downtown Ithaca had a festival this week with huge ice sculptures on display. Activities like this get people to come out of their houses and forget how cold it really is. I love my friends and neighbors here but from my perspective, it seems crazy to spend 4 months isolated, freezing etc. when summer is beginning in San Ramon.

I am returning to summer in San Ramon with kids on vacation until mid-February. Families are taking vacations at the beach. Most importantly, the rains have stopped and endless sunny days in the mid 70's await me.

I'm looking forward to buying loads of fruits and vegetables at the farmers market and eating healthy, local and light. We will swim daily in the outdoor pool downtown and top off the day at a bar/restaurant for some drinks and dinner. Reverse sticker shock is a treat as everything seems so inexpensive compared to the USA, Canada or Europe.

Somehow I smile and laugh more and life has a simplicity that gives me a healthy perspective. I'm ready to return to my Costa Rica home and hear the birds and sounds of the cool Costa Rican street life.

If the snow doesn't limit our travel plans, I should be home in San Ramon very shortly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Our (Quasi) Secret Hot Springs

My friend Jimmy, Janet and I all realize we have to keep some things a bit of a secret. While my recent blog shared Playa Samara as our favorite beach and 2-3 day excursion from San Ramon ... the hot springs is our most popular day trip and even better overnight stay. We talk about our favorite hot springs and while we enjoy sharing it with newcomers, we also don't want it to get over commercialized and overrun.

Just an 1 1/2 hour drive from San Ramon, near Ciudad Quesada, is this magical and relaxing place. I have visited about 15-20 times in the last 6+ years. After checking in, you hike about 10 minutes down through the jungle on a stone path and on handmade bridges until you hit the pools. The setting, the hike and the water immediately slow down your mind and relax your body. Within minutes, aches and pains are gone and you feel fresh and clean.

The hot springs consist of 5-6 different areas each one successively hotter than the last. The pools are in a natural setting of forest plants and trees carefully developed and maintained by one family for decades. The hot springs are open from 7AM until 9:30PM . I think it's best to catch both the day and the night. The sounds change and the experience shifts when the sun goes down.

There are drinks and cerviche available at the springs. But, after sitting in the springs for hours, driving home the same day breaks the mood so an overnight is recommended. The restaurant up by the rooms is excellent. We love the Corvina -Sea Bass with garlic sauce (under $6) after a long day of soaking. They literally blow the flavor out the exhaust of the restaurant and we've never been disappointed. In the morning, there is a complimentary breakfast which includes fruit, gallo pinto, eggs, and coffee. The service is friendly and welcoming.

There are a few well known (and more expensive) hot springs near La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. Among these are Tabacon Resort (, Baldi ( and others. Tabacon is beautifully tiled, landscaped and requires little walking. I find what is gained in comfort takes away from the powerful natural environment and few locals consider this a native experience. For less than the price of daily admission for two at Tabacon, we get a hotel room, great breakfast, dinner and 2 days at the springs.

So with a little bit of research, we hope the people who will really appreciate this special place will find it. It's hard not to feel the power of our (quasi) secret hot springs.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Personal Funny Globalization Anecdote

I don’t consider myself a funny person but in San Ramon, making people smile and laugh is held in higher regard than showing how smart or knowledgeable you are.

The other day my Chinese friend Kenneth asked us to take a look at a property he owns and try to help him sell it. Kenneth speaks no English (although he plays excellent English music at his bar Sol Naciente) and I speak no Chinese. Our mini global group got in the car and Kenneth and I did the talking … him speaking Spanish with a Chinese accent while I spoke Spanish with my North American one.

My San Ramon friend who was with us couldn’t stop laughing at the 2 of us. He said listening to the 2 of us speaking our non – native Spanish, was hilarious and surreal. He said he had never heard a Spanish conversation quite like the one between Kenneth and I.

In this Globalizing world, you have to just dive in and connect with different people with whatever tools you have in common. I’m sure there would be less conflict in this crazy world if people just tried to communicate in their imperfect ways. As the world gets smaller, laughter between people from diverse cultures is a step in the right direction.

On a recent trip to Ithaca, NY I had the good fortune to see and hear the Dalai Lama. One of his main messages was that national borders have become obsolete and that “we are all brothers and sisters.”

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Bargain Airfares to Costa Rica

While most of my blogs are about the people and places of San Ramon and Costa Rica, the first step to discovering Costa Rica is getting there. I just got an email from American Airlines with some of the best fares I have ever seen. As of yesterday, there were still seats available for travel between October 1st and December 6th from many U.S. destinations at these crazy round trip prices, not including taxes:
Newark to San Jose, Costa Rica at $188.00
Orlando To San Jose, Costa Rica at $148.00
Washington, D.C. to San Jose, Costa Rica at $209.00

Follow this link to the American Airlines website for more information on the Costa Rican air fares sale:

And when you land in Costa Rica, come visit us in San Ramon.... Follow this link for directions:

Pura Vida and hopefully I'll see you soon in San Ramon, Costa Rica.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Samara Beach.....Playa Samara

While many foreigners are buying up land and houses at the beach, my San Ramon friends always share their wisdom of living in San Ramon (the mountains) and vacationing at the beach. There is some special connection between Samara and San Ramon for many Ramonense (San Ramon folks). Many families from San Ramon also have houses at Samara and the standard joke is during Christmas or Semana Santa you can find more of your friends in Samara than at home in San Ramon. After experiencing over 50 Costa Rican beaches, Samara is still my favorite one to spend a few days.

While there's much more of a scene in Tamarindo and Jaco, I prefer vacationing in Samara.

The opening a few years back of a new bridge has shortened the ride and in 3-3.5 hours, I'm in a different world...a beautiful one. While development has overwhelmed many of the Pacific beaches, Samara retains much of it's magic even though you can see the development emerging on all the hillsides.

Luckily, we've made friends with locals who rent us a 1-BRM oceanfront apartment for a very reduced rate. This starts us off right with the constant sounds of the waves, a breeze, and a nice outside sitting area to eat drink and take in the expanse of the Pacific. Two hotels I'd recommend are Casa Valeria if you're on a budget and the new Treehouse Inn if you can splurge a little. They are both oceanfront which makes the time in Samara more dramatic and inspiring. A block from the beach the heat is intense and not the same sense of magic.

Samara is a beautiful crescent white sand beach, the perfect distance to walk it's entirety. If it's morning or afternoon stop at Restaurant Sheriff for breakfast or a refreshing smoothie. This simple beachfront spot is a great place to take in the scene and feels like the unofficial center of town.

The beach is filled with surfers, mostly beginners learning to ride. Beaches like Malpais/Santa Teresa at the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula seem to attract more experienced surfers, but it looked like a smiling group of learners. I prefer to just bounce up and down in the waves and ride them in when the right wave comes along. There is a natural joy playing in the reminds me of the carefree summer days at the Atlantic beaches of my Brooklyn youth.

Walking the beach at sunset is THE daily ritual that shapes my open schedule. There is a daily soccer/futbal game on the beach which is fun to check out. The SUN is strong in the middle of the day so be careful and make sure to use sunscreen and cover up ..... The middle of the day is a great time to get lost in a good book in a shady location with a cold drink.

Going out at night for dinner after sunset and maybe a drink at bar Las Olas afterwards completes my mellow days at the beach. Although most restaurants are much more expensive than my meals in San Ramon, I enjoy the variety and it's part of being at the beach. Many of the restaurants are on the street leading down to the beach. Shekina Restaurant is a new choice and a good one with enthusiastic owners, good food and a pleasant outdoor dining area. If you're looking for a change from Costa Rican fare try the Italian restaurant in Hotel Giada. The pizzas and pastas are very good and the Italian owners have done a good job here for many years.

I've taken my mother, sister, girlfriend and others to Samara and they all smile when they reflect on their experience. As we drive back to San Ramon, I feel satiated with sun and sea. When the first cooler breezes hit me as we near San Ramon, I feel grateful for my 3 days at the beach and happy to be returning to my home in San Ramon.

Go to the Samara Beach website for contact information and listings


Friday, August 3, 2007

My Favorite and Only 99 Year Old Friend

Wow! Great Great Grandma Inez just celebrated her 99th birthday. She has 5 generations all around her and stands about 4ft. 9 inches of beauty. In this era of botox and plastic surgery, her wrinkles are her loveliness and her mind is 100% clear. She enjoys Janet and my visits and when she hugs us, she holds on and doesn’t let go.

While seniors in the USA live in retirement communities, assisted living and nursing homes, Inez lives in the same neighborhood where she grew up in downtown San Ramon. Women are the glue in Costa Rican culture with Mommies the stars, Inez is a matriarch for the ages. She told me she has 6 children, 22 grandchildren, 45 great grandchildren and 2 great great grandkids. The childless 52-year old man that I am stands amazed … I guess the 2 of us balance out populating the planet in some wild way. As we hung out on her porch, lots of family walked by composing many generations shouting their affection.

Both of my dead grandmothers were born in 1900 and lived until 95. I could feel my grandmas Sonia and Rachel’s energy nearby when I visit with Inez.

Inez’s sister is still alive at 105 and lives directly across the street. She swears that drinking Guaro every day is her secret. (Guaro is a clear liquor made from sugar cane and is the national drink of Costa Rica in the same way that tequila is the drink of Mexico.) I have a few shots myself every day and it has helped me retain a Pura Vida Costa Rica vision of life for the last 6 years.

Inez somehow went to the University of Costa Rica to discover a bigger world, rare for a woman of her time. She became a teacher and taught in El Empalme for forty years, which strangely is where I have my organic coffee farm. She rode a horse 45 minutes every day to get to work while I make the 8-minute drive on a regular basis. She earned 75 Colones a month as a teacher. That was when Colones had real value!!! (The current exchange rate is about 500 Colones for $1.) 5 Colones isn’t worth squat today, but then it was paper money rather than a worthless coin.

Her husband was part of the Costa Rican Revolution in the 1940’s whose leaders were from San Ramon. As she shared her story, an alcoholic female neighbor passed by and Inez went in the house to get a loaf of bread to give her and said her style is to still try to help everyone when she can. I jokingly asked her if she had a boyfriend these days but she told me she didn’t want the obligation.

Her vision is fairly simple. If you have enough food to eat, your health and family around you … it’s reason to be happy and not obsess on more complex desires. This joy has consistently revealed itself to me in San Ramon while in the richest country in the World, people often focus on what they don’t have.

Inez is a beautiful woman/person in every way and I’m proud to call her my friend. It’s pretty easy for me to whine about what I wish was different. A visit to my 99-year old friend Inez, keeps life in a healthy perspective.

Friday, July 13, 2007

My 7th Winter (6 years) in San Ramon, Costa Rica

Winter is clearly a relative global concept. Here in San Ramon, winter means temperatures in the 70’s …. fresco. After 25 years of New York State winters … snow, freezing temps, days without sunlight … I’ll take this anytime.

Without freezing temperatures and extreme swings of light and darkness, there are 2 seasons in San Ramon with little variance of hot and cold. There is basically 12 hours a day of both daylight and darkness year-round. The winter is characterized by a few hours a day of rain most afternoons….while summer has months at a time of sunny days with no rain.

My Ithaca, NY life has darkness at 4:30PM in December and 9PM in July which puts a real strain on my body and emotions. I feel healthy and balanced here. My summer visits to Ithaca, NY are now totally exhausting by 8PM and I try to avoid winter visits for obvious reasons.

Many Ticos prefer the winter season here as everything is lush and intensely green with plants and other species boldly alive. For travelers, it’s a good time with fewer tourists, lower prices and less competition for hotels and other activities.

The winter strategy of locals is to wake up early, wash and hang your laundry by 8AM and then proceed with your errands and other outside projects. When it starts to rain at 2 or 3PM, it’s time to go home and take a nap to the sounds of the raindrops hitting your roof. Very peaceful … tranquilo.

When the rain stops, there is electricity and freshness in the air. I don’t know how to quantify it but the evening air is charged and inviting. Time to change into your nicer evening clothes and join your friends at Rincon Poeta ( or another favorite restaurant.

It is a joyful experience to see my friends and neighbors and enjoy drinks and dinner together in San Ramon centro. San Ramon has retained the local boca (small plates) style of eating, which helps me not gain weight. For between $1 and $2, I can enjoy fish, chicken or shrimp and salad. Janet and I rarely spend more than $10 for all the guaro, beer and bocas we desire.

Tomorrow … Another Day In Paradise.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Guide to San Ramon

Check out my new Guide to San Ramon's hotels, restaurants, shops and things to do and see. Here is the link:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The World is Flat

Living here in Costa Rica in Spanish allows me to be right in the Tico culture. It also tires me out by the end of the day. Like many ex-pats, having some great reads in English is a nice relaxing treat. As a New York Times devotee for most of my life, I easily devoured The World is Flat by Times writer Thomas Friedman.

I recommend The World is Flat as a must read for anybody wanting a big life that sees the possibility to utilize the whole world no matter where you are geographically. People no longer have to be in the same location to share information and collaborate. You no longer have to be a huge corporation to have an impact on people all over the world. An individual person's creativity allows growth, not just the amount of money one throws at a situation. This book basically describes our International life and the life of a blogger (as well as many other situations).

What a different world. I guess I'm old as I can remember living in a world without the internet and cell phones. When I traveled in Europe at the age of 17 in 1972, I used to mail aerograms to family and friends. They took about 10 days to arrive and were totally obsolete by the time they did. In a way, my travels in the 70's allowed me to really remain in my experience.... cut off from my familiar world....but in another way, the reality of living in Costa Rica is much easier now. I can keep in touch with family and friends, do business with internet banking, etc...

It's been amazing and fun for me to have readers from all the continents.... 25+ countries and growing. There was the nice note from Australia from a woman who had the same magical feelings as me about San Ramon a decade ago. She googled the bar/club Secretos and ended up on our blog and website

The funniest and biggest contrast was seeing that we have at least 1 reader in Baghdad. San Ramon and Costa Rica, a country without an army could clearly be the ultimate fantasy for someone living the violent insane life that exists in Iraq. It would be a total pleasure to find a home for someone in San Ramon after they survived the war in Iraq.

Life no longer needs to be a black and white choice of one thing or another but can be your own melange of what works for you. Enjoy the book, The World is Flat, and more importantly enjoy opening up your mind to how rich and global your life can be.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Drinking The First Organic Coffee From Our Farm

It still seems way outside probability that I would ever own an organic coffee farm in Costa Rica. From my roots in Brooklyn and Ithaca NY, this has been a long journey in many ways.

This year, we have over 50 lbs. of coffee to enjoy and share with friends and family. We've been told a few hundred pounds of coffee is just a few harvests away.We turned the farm organic this year, lessening our yield while we learned about the plants and trees on our hillside acre. The banana, plantano, limon, orange, mango and other trees are trimmed and next year we should have a larger coffee yield and make better use of the fruit which shades the coffee.

The good news...the quality of our coffee is excellent. We brought our picked coffee to my friend Martin Rodriquez who is both an organic coffee farmer and also has a small roasting operation. Whereas with the San Ramon Coop, which mixes coffee beans from many local farms, Martin could keep all our beans separate and it is always fun hanging with Martin. Martin roasted it a little darker than normal as we discussed and the flavor is excellent with hints of chocolate and a rich full body.

Brewing our first crop of coffee from our farm has been a daily treat.

Our farm has the highest altitude coffee in El Empalme. It is a classic pueblo, with a school, church and very simple way of life. Our neighbors rarely seem stressed and have taught me a lot in terms of prorities and what's important.

While we enjoy our coffee, our people are working at the farm to make it an even better place in the future.

Life's a trip. You just gotta make room for what life might bring your way.... even the improbable possibilities.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Riteve : Costa Rica Car Inspection

Costa Rica has a national system of annual car inspection called Riteve. Having a current Riteve sticker allows you to drive confidently and legally. It is a common experience which makes me feel like I really live here. Both of our 2 experiences at Riteve were weird and notable.

While many people think moving to Costa Rica is about living in a country with no army, ecotourism, seeing lava at Volcano Arenal, surfing at Malpais/Santa Teresa or doing the canopy tour at Monteverde ..... getting your car inspected is more indicative of day to day Costa Rica life.

The process starts out impressively smooth and logical as you make your Riteve appointment on the internet choosing place, date and time. We did our first inspection in Alajuela. They said our emissions didn't pass the test, but that was the least of our issues. By the time we had worked our way through the inspectors' paces, one of the technicians destroyed our brakes. We had to drive home using the handbrake to stop. Last week, we decided to go to the Puntarenas Riteve for our second inspection. This time an inspector destroyed a line that held the car's power steering fluids. We drove home with the steering wheel barely working. On a better note, a technician allowed us to re-do one of the tests 5 times until we finally passed.

In a different culture I might have complained or written a letter to right the wrong. That seemed like a waste of time here.

Many people pay someone to take their car for inspection. I'm beginning to see the wisdom of not going through this process.

Once again patience and a sense of humor are a virtue in navigating aspects of Tico life.

Cerveza, por favor...Gracias!!!

Friday, March 23, 2007

House Construction and Renovation in San Ramon, Costa Rica

Building or renovating a house in Costa Rica is a wild adventure, a very different process than a non-native might expect. Janet and I are pleased and proud to be nearing the completion of the renovations to our house in El Empalme, just outside San Ramon.

The community of El Empalme, with possibly the best ocean views in the San Ramon area and it’s friendly people, has been a fabulous discovery that has been the source of many joys and an equal amount of lessons.When we found this house, we knew this was a special site. The near total renovation put us through many highs and lows.

After one year and some false starts with more than one contractor, we found our crew: Christopher, Guillermo, Jose Angel, and Victor. From that point on, things rocked on all fronts. Our crew did great work and together we created a fun work environment with trust and respect in all directions.

The house is looking and feeling great. Check out our listings page at for more pics and info.

Getting to this point had many moments of disappointment, frustration and different realities. We started this project with a clear advantage over many people who move to Costa Rica with the dream of building their dream home. I have lived here in San Ramon in the community for over 5 years and Janet has worked as an architect, real estate developer and construction manager for over 25 years. This has been a super-challenging project for both of us.

With bulldozers and hyper development transforming Costa Rica and challenging it’s infrastructure and resources … we feel strongly that preserving existing houses and neighborhoods is where our priorities and energy lies. And, we are very proud of what we and our team have accomplished.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Back in San Ramon

It’s a relief and pleasure to be back in San Ramon after 3 weeks in snowy, freezing New York State. My body was stiff, cold and never really relaxed in the cold winter weather. But more than that, the vibe is so different in my 2 hometowns. Life in the USA feels under pressure 24/7 in some way that you can’t quantify but certainly affects everyone there. My first day back in San Ramon it felt like someone took the pressure out of many aspects of life. My daily walks to town keep me balanced and living life at the proper pace. It is easy and normal to return to Pura Vida …

The daily 80-degree weather overwhelmingly affects my mental and physical well being. My neighbors and friends are not rushing around and their greetings and smiles are real and infectious. The nearly 4000 ft. altitude, daily sunshine and moderate temperatures make life easy to embrace.

Eating fresh shrimp, mussels and fish in my favorite restaurants for under $2 a plate nourishes me. For under $5, I returned from the ferria/farmers market with a total bounty of fruits and vegetables; a quality not available at any price in the USA. I got 4 cantaloupes for 75c, 2 pounds of vine ripened tomatoes for 19c, a pineapple for 60c and similar juicy bargains on mangos, spinach, papaya, etc.

Our contractors did a great job while we were away and our ocean view house is looking good and ready for sale. It was reassuring that Christopher and the crew’s actions matched their words ..working hard and working smart. This has not always been my experience in Costa Rica and we’re happy to have people we can trust.

The final word is that it’s hard to explain the differences but easy to feel them. With all the money, privilege, and material possessions in the USA, my friends and neighbors in San Ramon smile more and take the time to enjoy life and each other. I thank my lucky stars that fate brought me here and immersed me in this wonderful culture.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Taking a Break from San Ramon

It is time to take a break from San Ramon and experience New York City and Ithaca for a few weeks. There's lots of snow on the ground and it's cold, dark and a little scary. I had fun with my 8 year old nephew Daniel in Brooklyn who seems to enjoy hanging with his uncle. I managed to eat Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Mexican, falafel, pizza, bagels and lox and every other ethnic food favorite that defines the New York culinary scene. Walking the streets of NYC and looking at the people is a fun contrast to San Ramon and Costa Rica. Topping the days off with reading the NY Times and living in English was nice for awhile. Did I mention how cold, snowy and expensive it was here?

Manana, I return to San Ramon. We left our crew to work while we were away. There are 4 contractors renovating a house, a Nicaraguan family improving the farm and Rosario and Ivania cleaning and watching our property. And then there's Oscar who drives by the farm on his tractor many times a day and makes me laugh and smile whenever we connect.

For now, my life in San Ramon and El Empalme is full to the max with work and transformation. My life in the USA is pretty much a vacation and a break from responsibility and decisions. The balance is always shifting and both lives and cultures nourish me yet also make me crazy ... kicking and screaming for the other. I feel pretty lucky but also kinda brave to live this big life.