Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Last December, Erin donated her ponytail to Pantene Beautiful Lengths. Today, Lauren did the same and had nine inches of pretty hair cut that will be used to create wigs for women who lose their hair to cancer.

I picked the girls up from school so Lauren could wash and dry her hair, and then we went to the salon where Kathy measured and carefully cut the ponytail. We love Lauren's new, sporty 'do. It suits her just fine! I'm very proud of my sweet daughters and their giving spirits.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pefi’s pottery

We hadn’t lived in Costa Rica long before I started hearing about Pefi in conversations with new friends and parents at the girls’ school.

“We’re going to Pefi on Thursday.”

“Did you get new Pefi?”

“I love the monkey Pefi in my kitchen!”

Not just a destination or a thing, Pefi is a person—a cheery, sprightly artist named Cecilia Facio de Figueres who goes by her sweet nickname, Pefi.

There aren’t many very well-known artists in Costa Rica, but Pefi is one. She paints on canvas but is best recognized for her work on pottery. Her unique designs are always bright and whimsical, commonly including flowers, fruits and funny little monkeys who peer over pineapples and around edges of watermelon slices and bananas. Buying a piece of Pefi’s art is like a rite of passage for expats living in Costa Rica. I have friends who have a lot of her work, and I’ve teased them they need to have their pottery collections insured!

Visiting Pefi’s studio, Diseño, P.F, and home in the hills is a lot of fun. About a half-hour from our house, Pefi’s place lies on the other side of San Jose, off the beaten path. Her home isn’t hard to find once one knows how to get there, but this is a trip that is handed down from expat to expat, because once you’re off the highway it’s quite a drive up the long and twisting, one-lane, unmarked road through the woods to her house and workshop.

And what a fantastic place she has. Set on a beautiful, tranquil mountainside, Pefi and her husband live with their twelve dogs in the home she and three others built 33 years ago.

I’ve been to Pefi’s place several times, but Dan hadn’t and I really wanted him to meet Pefi and see all of her work (other than the couple pieces of pottery we already owned). My friend Joelle called Pefi and asked if she would do us the big favor of letting our two families visit on a weekend (when the studio is normally closed), and in typical Tica style, she was kind enough to accommodate us.

It was such a pretty day the morning we visited. We enjoyed talking with Pefi, shopping all by ourselves in her studio, and even getting a personal tour of her home. She told us how she and her mom, who is in her eighties, have painted together for much of their lives. Additionally, I never would have guessed that this sweet, unassuming lady is the sister-in-law of a former President and daughter-in-law of a former three-time President of Costa Rica.

As Pefi’s business has grown (she has even designed a mug for Starbucks in the US!) she has hired artists to help her with the pottery. So how can you know for sure you got a Pefi original? Check the bottom of the pottery—all the artists have a symbol on the bottom to indicate their work, and Pefi’s trademark is a cute yellow butterfly.

We have just a few pieces of Pefi’s work and my goal is to have enough serving pieces for entertaining. Before we move back to Ohio I hope to have a specially-designed platter made just for us. One of the great things about knowing the artist is she’ll create whatever we commission her to do. I love having this one-of-a-kind artwork from Costa Rica, but purchasing it from a local artist who is also such a terrific person makes it even more meaningful.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bravo for Barva! A day-trip to the volcano

It’s been hot in the valley, and our family’s been longing for cooler climes, so we were enthusiastic when Dan’s friend Danny and his girlfriend Julieta invited us and our friends the Reidys to be “adverturers” (as Danny dubbed us all) with them on a trip to Barva Volcano. The route to Barva is very poorly marked, and since Costa Rica is a country with very few street signs and nary a helpful map, we knew that traveling with a couple of friendly Ticos was a great way for us to see the summit and have a lot of fun, too! I spent the day before our trip packing our stuff and preparing food for a barbecue to follow the hike, and by the next morning we were ready to go.

Though only about 14 miles north of San Jose, Barva is one of the lesser-visited volcanoes in Costa Rica. It’s part of the Central Volcanic Cordillera, along with the towering Irazú and the popular, neighboring Poás Volcano—all three of which look over San José and the Central Valley. Barva is a complex volcano with numerous summits, and we can easily see the three main summits from our house. These summits—like three bumps on the mountaintop—give Barva the nickname Las Tres Marías (The Three Marías).

The start of our trip took us through twists and turns of small mountain towns; it’s like a maze traveling to this volcano which sits in one of Costa Rica’s national parks. Eventually the pavement ended in Sacramento and the road conditions worsened—really bad, even by Costa Rican standards. No longer just dotted with typical potholes, the steep trek was now rocky and filled with deep ruts; it would be crazy to attempt the route from here without a 4WD. The roads were extremely narrow, making it a major feat for two cars to pass each other. We had a couple of unnerving passes that required us to pull in our mirrors and hold our breath as we just made it by the car heading in the other direction without a scratch.

Although the roads were awful, the views were terrific. We passed by dairy farms and lush, green coffee plantations which were a nice change from the brown of the valley (since we’re in the end of dry season). And wow, the panoramic views of the valley—including our own town—were great.

Eventually we arrived at the entrance to Braulio Carrillo Park, which pretty much consisted of us parking on the side of this dirt road with a few other cars. We left our coolers in the car and trusted a cute little kid to keep his eye on our stuff for a small fee. Theft is not uncommon in Costa Rica, and paying someone to watch your vehicle is very typical in rural areas as well as in the cities—we call the guys “watchers” and give them a few hundred colones for their help.

Our group of nine had a snack and walked the short distance to the little green station where we paid our entrance fee and received a map. Ready to move, we headed off on the Cacho de Venado (stag’s antler) trail. Because of its elevation, Barva—like Poás and Irazú —is often chilly and wet. We were so lucky because the skies were clear and the weather beautiful for our hike!

Barva hasn’t erupted in centuries and has a very different look and feel from other volcanoes in the area. Highland forest covers the summit and lichens, moss, and vines blanket the trail in a variety of greens. The area is rumored to be home to many animals and birds such as the Resplendent Quetzal, which is one of the coolest birds in CR. We heard many bird calls during the hike but the forest is so dense I couldn’t spot a single bird.

We steadily continued along the path. The Cacho de Venado trail joined up with the main trail, and from here the journey became progressively harder as the trails changed and the air became thinner. There was a lot of uphill hiking at this point and it became an effort to climb. In the final 200 meters—when everybody was really hoping we’d almost arrived at the crater—we found steep sets of steps. Whew! We were so motivated at that point to get to our destination, and I was so proud of the girls for keeping on—we travelled at least three miles and up many inclines on the hike. At the highest point we’d reached about 9500 feet.

Finally we made it to Laguna Barva, the inactive crater filled with rainwater. This is the third volcano crater we’ve seen in Costa Rica. (Yes, we’ve been to Arenal—the mother of the volcanoes here—but couldn’t hike at the crater because it’s active.) The lagoon isn’t as pretty as the one at Poás, but it was still neat to see and a good place to rest for a few minutes before beginning the (much-easier!) return to the park entrance.

By the time we got to our cars it was mid-afternoon and everybody was really hungry. We headed down the mountain to the beautiful mountain village of San José de la Montaña, about 9 kilometers south of Sacramento. Danny and his brothers fell into an amazing real-estate deal not long ago and bought a fantastic cabin there, right on the mountainside amidst a towering pine forest. We all grabbed seats on the wide porch to relax; the view was great but even better was enjoying the peaceful setting and cool, fresh air—especially knowing it was noisy and hot in the valley.

To see what all we ate, you’d think it had been days since our last meals: loaded burgers, chicken quesadillas and kebobs right off the grill; pasta salad; watermelon; chips; chocolate dessert and brownies. Yum!

Danny’s brother Alejandro stopped up and we all talked and rested while the girls ran around playing hide-and-seek and spitting watermelon seeds off the porch. We had such a terrific time that it was bittersweet to get home early that evening from yet another memorable adventure for us here in Costa Rica.

¡Pura aventura!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Divinely inspired shopping?

Just about every time I leave the house I see something interesting or that a typical American would find unusual, funny, or even flabbergasting. Most commonly these events involve lunatic drivers, pedestrians, bikers, or guys urinating on the side of the road (you wouldn't believe how often we see this). Today, there were some interesting characters out and about, but one rather ordinary-seeming fellow sticks out in my mind.

As Erin and I were preparing to walk out of the grocery store, this man on the other side of the sliding glass doors stopped, crossed himself with his eyes closed, and then somewhat reluctantly entered the store. And I wondered—what was that about, anyway? Was he nervous? First-time shopper? Looking for a little guidance to find the Sardimar gourmet tuna filets in olive oil (because I could have told him they were nowhere to be found—I tried!)? Going in for a job interview? I don't know, but he seemed to be seeking some comfort from God for this particular trip into the supermarket. Hope it all went well, muchacho!