Costa Rica’s Christmas Light Festival.

BCR FloatThis was the BCR float (Bank of Costa Rica)

Every year on the second Saturday of the month of December, Costa Rica celebrates “El Festival de la Luz”. Literally translated it would mean “The Festival of the Light”. The festival is relatively new, it was organized for the first time in 1996 by the Municipality of San José. Since moving to Costa Rica my family has this tradition of going every year, I took a point and shoot camera and snapped a few pictures so I could share with you all. Bombetas

Usually the festival kicks off with a fireworks show, this year we got  a great view!
After the fireworks, the parade starts.  The floats start off at La Sabana (Translated: The Savanna), which is a well known urban park in Costa Rica. In the 1930’s the government decided to locate the country’s first international airport thereLa Sabana International Airport continued to work for  44 years, until the inauguration of the current Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela.
ICTUnder The Sea ManThis float was by the ICT (Costa Rican Institute of Tourism) With sea Men creatures and all! 
We usually stay by La Sabana park, where the crowds aren’t that crazy. Farther down the street the bands, and cheerleaders, mesh together with the floats. Forming the parade’s true starting point at El Gimnasio Nacional (The National Gym). El Festival de la Luz is very popular, seeing as it is the only time of the year when there is a parade, and I feel like it marks the beginning of the christmas season. You seriously want to have Christmas shopping done before el Festival de la Luz! Shopping centers get really congested after it, and sadly I made this mistake this year.
Kids ClimbingThese kids climbed the fence to get a better view. 

CrowdsMany families attend the festival with young children, who are drawn by the bright lights…
Santa One little guy that I spotted that seemed particularly young, and enjoying himself immensely is this one right here:
Super Baby  His dad would raise this him over his head, so he could get a good view of the floats. This little guy kept making me laugh as he wiggled around trying to dance to the music that was playing. I mean, did you see the Santa outfit, too? So cute!
Claro que si. Claro’s (a phone company)  float

We usually only stick around long enough to view all the floats, and then head off to a little restaurant near by to eat something. The parade isn’t that long, it starts at el Gimnasio Nacional and ends at la Plaza de la Democracia. (Plaza of Democracy). It’s a fun event to attend and really gets you in the holiday spirit!

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The California Blog: Black and White Californian Beauty.

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I’ve been experimenting with black and white photos a lot lately after seeing some of the works by Ragnar Axelsson . I think he is a brilliant photographer, and if you have’t see his work, I highly encourage you to check it out! I’ve felt really inspired and impressed after seeing his work. Ragnar Axelsson’s photos truly show a story told by the people. I don’t pretend to have any photography that could rival his own, but you have to start some where, right? I thought I’d share a few of my photos with you guys. I’ll have a better put together post next week!

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The first one was taken from an overpass at Santa Monica, the second photo was taken at Huntington Gardens.

Don't Fear The Brave IN The Belly Of The BeastThese guys are called Chinese guardian lions or Imperial guardian lions and  were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits in China through 206 BC-AD 220, and are still popularly found at entrances today.

Town Hall B&W MPM Hidden Darkness MPMPalm B&W MPM Hotel TimeDo you guys prefer black and white photography or color? Do you have a favorite photographer? Let me know in the comments below! 

The California Blog: Santa Monica Sunshine.

Ruig Family RelaxingOne of  my dreams is to be able to travel around and photograph the things I see. A lot of these places I wish to see are those wonderfully exotic looking and untouched by man type locations. Nothing but the raw beauty of the earth. But then, I have a few random places that are completely touched by man that I wish to see. One of them, which I think is the most random one, too, was Santa Monica. Maybe I didn’t wish to photograph it as much as just experience it. I took a few pictures while there. I was so happy to finally see this cool pier.  I snapped this picture of a family sitting peacefully on a bench amongst the chaos of loud performers and crowds of people. The man in particular seemed to be so relaxed as he gazed upon the view.

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Santa Monica is a beachfront city in western Los Angeles, it is bordered on three sides by the city of Los Angeles. The Santa Monica Pier is a 100-year-old landmark originally built on September 9th 1909, to do none other than carry sewer pipes over the  breakers. MPM Productions Santa Monica Ocean View Pier

MPM Productions Santa Monica Beach From AboveSanta Monica’s beach is very different from the beaches you’ll encounter in Costa Rica. For one, the beaches in Costa Rica have palm trees and flora right up to the sand. Even the sand is different, though. Here in Costa Rica it’s very soft and fine. Little bits of shells finely crushed here and there which gives it wonderful colors and textures. Santa Monica’s beach, though wonderful in it’s own way, didn’t have the soft silkiness that Costa Rica’s beaches have. MPM Productions  The Beach

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Another observation could be that there are a lot of people no matter where you go in Cali. Not that Costa Rica is particularly empty during the more busy touristy seasons, but it’s most definitely not as crowned as Santa Monica was. 

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Our new friend Jenny had drove us to the beach, and spent the day with us, I think that made the whole day that much more fun. Sunshine, laughing, walking around the beach, and checking out stores on Third Street Promenade.MPM Productions Under an Umbrella MPM Productions Ocean ViewingMPM Productions Santa Monica with Seagulls

This was a short one, but I hope you enjoyed it none the less.
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When you think of traveling, do you prefer to see the nature, or perhaps more of the cities? Leave a comment below. I’m curious to know where you’d like to visit, or what cities. 

An Astounding Rainforest Brimming with Wildlife

DSC_1231DSC_1312      Life has been hectic for the past week, but I’ve finally found some time to dedicate to the blog. It has been incessantly pouring here in the Central Valley and there has been much flooding which is common. What is not common is to see a river suddenly surge. Downriver from the river we visited in one of our posts “A Waterfall Paradise”, a sudden river surge swept a bridge away that connects the Central Valley to the San Carlos plains. This area suffered a major earthquake several years ago and I feel the river’s surge had something to do with it. The people of this area depend on tourism and with all these catastrophes, they have been seriously affected economically.

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This is a type of rodent known as the Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata) it is found in Central and South American rain forests.They mainly feed on fruits and seeds, and are important seed dispersers.

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This is also an Agouti(ah GOO tee), but unlike the one pictured above, this is a baby. Usually one to four babies are born in a nest of leaves, roots, and hair.

We visited Carara National Forest about a month and a half ago, before the serious rains set in. Many people pass the forest on their way to Jaco Beach or Manuel Antonio. It’s about a kilometer after the Tarcoles River bridge, whose crocodiles have been featured in several documentaries and everyone stops to gaze on them from the bridge. Not many people visit this forest, but it’s been one of our favorites due to the animals we saw. One word of caution; be prepared to sweat, it’s hot!

I have often wondered what people think when we visit these places, due to the comments they make like “Oh, you did it.” I guess I don´t look like your typical nature lover. I guess we sometimes surprise people with our willingness to adventure and explore. The truth is I love being in touch with nature, but at the end of the day I need a decent room and bed to sleep in. But life wouldn’t be interesting if we weren’t willing to break out of our little bubble, would it?
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Here are some tips when visiting Carara or most any rain forest in Costa Rica.

  • DSC_1283Take sunblock and a hat
  • Insect repellent is a must
  • Take a raincoat, one of those cheap dollar ones that come in a small packet is most practical. In Carara it was so hot we didn’t use them, it would of been like being in a Turkish bath
  • Most national forests give you a map upon entering, but some don’t. There are posted maps at the entrance of those parks who don’t give maps, so a iPod or phone with a camara is handy to take a picture of the map for reference.
  • Wear closed shoes. You want to protect your feet from insects like ants etc.,poisonous plants, and snakes which are abundant and common here. Rubber boots are a good choice.
  • Stay on trails. It is not uncommon for people to get lost in forests here. The day before yesterday two people were rescued from the Braulio Carillo National Park after spending several days there, because the rescue teams couldn’t enter the park due to bad weather.
  • It gets dark very quickly here, so plan accordingly. You don´t want to be stuck somewhere in the dark. Nightfall comes between 5:15 and 6:15 depending on the time of year.
  • Binoculars are good to have to spot animals, birds, and orchids in trees.DSC_1271
    this is the jungle
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Can you spot anything?

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There he is! He’s a baby Cane Toad. You can find many types of frogs at Carara, though! Some of the more well known are the Poison Dart Frogs, or the Milk frog.

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Though it looks like a butterfly, it is actually an Urania Swallowtail Moth (Urania fulgens).

Carara National Forest is handicapped accessible part of the trails have been cemented and do not have any grades to them. I could easily see a person in a wheelchair getting around. It’s a beautiful forest, Agoutis and Scarlett Macaws abound, so if your on your way to the Southern Pacific beaches I would recommend making a stop.

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I’ll be away visiting my family for awhile and my daughter will be doing the writing   and managing part of our blog for me, until then!
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When In Costa Rica Do As the Costa Ricans

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“When in Rome do as the Romans”, is one of my most used sayings. Why? Because to successfully live somewhere other than the country, region, etc. you were born in, you must learn to do things as the natives. If you are not flexible enough to adapt to this, you´re going to have problems.

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Social etiquette is different all over the world, what might be polite in one country is impolite in another. I have often observed my fellow Americans blunder through situations, in which, if they had observed what Costa Rican etiquette called for, they would had been better off. I´m not free of guilt in this sense myself, introductions being one of them. I have often tried to back track to correct my blunder.

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In Costa Rica it is important to acknowledge a person before you get into a conversation with them. As I stated in an earlier post, it is customary to say “Buenas” (Good Day) to anybody you are going to address, be it a storekeeper or someone your going to ask for directions. When I walk my dogs in my neighborhood, I will often pass guards, people walking for exercise. etc. who will say “Buenas, even though I have never had a conversation with them. I in return say “Buenas” back.

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If you see a person fairly regularly but are not socially connected a “Que tal?” ( how is it going?) is said, to which the other person answers “bien y usted” (good and you). An example of one of the people I say this to, is the guy that stamps my parking ticket every Saturday when I go to the farmer´s market.

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Running into a person that you know is more complicated. If you both are in a hurry a “Hola, como esta?” (Hi, how are you?) is called for, to which a “Muy bien, gracias. Y usted?” (Very good and you?) is answered. If you have time you can answer “Bien, gracias” (Good, thanks). If you stop to talk, be prepared to ask about any family member you know of that person, especially older parents or someone that is sick.

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I could probably write a book on this, because there are many subtle changes in many of these introductions, depending on the degree to which you know someone. This is just a rough outline. My point is, acknowledging a person is important in Costa Rican society and will open people if done.

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I´ve included some pictures we took at a farm we went to see with my husband. When we entered, there were some workers cutting a sick tree and tall grass. Upon leaving we noticed the dead Fer-de-Lances, killed with the workers machetes. The Fer-de-Lance is an aggressive snake. It will bite cattle (which they had in that pasture) and is often killed because of this. I had my doubts as to if these were False Fer-de Lances, which aren´t venomous, or the real Fer-de-Lance. Unfortunately, the False is often killed because it is confused with the Fer-de-Lance.

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Food is always offered when visiting someone, especially in the country, Costa Rican etiquette again. The tortillas were made by the farm´s caretaker´s wife. The corn was grown by them and the sour cream that we poured on top of the tortillas was from a neighbor´s cow. Something very simple but very good, due to the quality of its ingredients.

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The English, Gold, and My Mother´s Hometown

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I once told a lady that I knew the story of myself, my parents, and their ancestors, and when I was done she said “Wow, you could write a book on that.” I had never thought my family´s history so interesting, but today I have decided to tell a small part of it. Although I was born and raised in Chicago, I am one of three daughters of a Costa Rican girl, who had a dream that reached beyond the borders of the little town and little country she was born in. My mother was born in Atenas.

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 Atenas is cited by Forbes and National Geographic as one of the best places in the world to live, due to the longevity of its inhabitants. My grandmother had 4 or 5 siblings that lived to their late 90´s.  The University of Florida came to study the inhabitants of this small town, who by the way were all related to some degree, and came to the conclusion that there is a gene that is passed from mother to daughter  and her descendants. It is also passed from mother to son, but a son cannot pass it to his descendants.DSC_0467

My mother who died at 37, unfortunately was not one of them; I believe she died from consequences of a genetic disorder called hemochromatosis which she inherited from her English ancestors. In the early 1800´s the politicians of Costa Rica established commercial relations with England. The planting of coffee, as a major export at that time, was one of the results of this relationship. Another  was the establishment of a gold mine in Atenas, by the Anglo Costa Rican Economical Mining Company in 1834. A gentleman ?,( I have often questioned this) named John Jenkins arrived in Costa Rica to work as a smith for this company, who was my mother´s great-great- grandfather. I have often kidded with my aunts that he was probably the last of the pirates, given he was from Cornwall and the extreme wealth he acquired supposedly as a smith. He married a woman, whose family was involved in politics at the time. He also had an affair with a relative of hers and thus my mother´s great-grandfather was born, Jose Carlos. Even though he was illegitimate, he was recognized by the Jenkins family,  went on to be a diputado (senator) and made his own fortune in cattle ranching.

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Upon graduating from high school, my mother decided she wanted to go to the United States to study business. This was some unheard of in the 1940´s. Women were supposed to settle down and have a family. If you studied, you studied to be a school teacher. Also the cost was great, sending your children to the U.S. to study, was the equivalent of an American sending their children to Switzerland. But somehow my grandfather gave her permission, with the condition she would go with her elder sister. Her elder sister was not too keen on the idea, but eventually ceded.

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After finishing her studies in Kentucky, she went to visit some friends in Chicago. There she met my father, fell in love, married him and had my two sisters and myself. The rest is a story I will tell another day.

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I often go to Atenas just to see where my mother spent her childhood. My aunt told me once that she had a happy childhood there, to which I was much relieved, because she suffered much in her struggle to overcome cancer as an adult. It is a peaceful town.  A new wave of immigrants have come to settle there, seeking the fountain of youth, due to the publicity I have mentioned before.

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I´m sorry if I have bored my followers with the story of my family, but I would like to dedicate this post to my children,  nieces, and nephew, so they know where they have come from, and also to my mother, who died 41 years ago on August 17. I have included pictures of Atenas, for those who follow us for my daughter´s photography.

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Dancing in the Rain at Tapantí National Park.

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“Life´s not about running away from the rainstorm, but learning to dance in the rain” is what I suddenly thought when we were caught in a heavy rainstorm in the Tapanti National Park. Our outing had started with a beautiful sunny day, but this being the rainy season, I knew our day would involve rain at some point.

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The Tapanti National Park sits alongside a series of parks that form the largest continental protected wilderness area, extending from southern Costa Rica into Panama. I love going there, the vibe of the forest is totally different from the forests in the Central Valley. The road to the entrance of the park is about 2 miles south of Orosi on 224, look for a sign. Once on the dirt road, (which is pretty good shape) if you come to a town, in less than a mile, named Rio Macho, your on the right road.

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If you have never visited Costa Rica, you may be wondering why I´m giving these odd directions. Not many things are marked here, roads, streets, towns, etc., so the only way to give directions is to say “So much from this place” or “When you see this turn left”. A tip on Costa Rican etiquette, when you stop to ask for directions; first say “Buenas” (good day), then proceed to ask for directions. When the person is done giving you directions, smile and say “Gracias”. I’d say it’s worth your while being polite on this point, you don’t want to be wrongly sent to kingdom come because of your lack of manners.

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As we entered the park, we were greeted with Morpho butterflies, but were unsuccessful in photographing them. They are more elusive than other butterflies. Oncidium orchids over hung the road. People here call them “rain of gold” because of their abundant golden flowers.

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Something I find fascinating and were also hanging over the road, are the nests made by Oropendula birds. Oropendulas belong to the blackbird family and nest in colonies. They´re about the size of a crow, so their nests are somewhat big and hang from trees.

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The park has several paths for hiking, we decided to go down the “Sendero La Catarata” path. The day was so sunny I left our raincoats in the car thinking it wouldn’t rain for awhile. The path has views of a very large water fall, I´d say it´s at least 100 meters long.

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As we wound down to the river, we crossed over several creeks.

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The river was a beautiful blue color with clear water.

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We climbed through the rocks up the river and as we were taking pictures I could hear thunder in the distance.

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But since the weather has been funny, I thought maybe it won’t rain too hard. When it did start to rain, we slowly began to make our way through the rocks to the head of the trail. I am somewhat weary of rivers here, especially if I’m in a place where I can’t easily get to the shore. During certain times of year the rains are torrential here. They usually start up the mountains, so even though it´s not raining where you are at, the river can suddenly rise. I’ve been witness to this, so look for signs as to how far the river has risen with the rains from the day before.

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As we walked along the path to our car, the heavy forest shielded us from the rain. But suddenly we could hear the heavy downpour approaching and began to run to avoid my daughters photographic equipment getting wet. At some point I was left behind and was met with the torrential rain. I don´t think a raincoat would of even shielded me. Why I began to run, I don´t know, maybe because we are taught to run out of the rain. But at some point I thought “What is the point? What am I running from?”. I stopped, looked up into the trees and enjoyed the rain falling on my face. This is when I thought, “Life is not running away from the rainstorm, but learning to dance in the rain”. This is something I have tried to apply in my life. Instead of fighting, finding something positive out of the moment.

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I continued to trudge back up the path in my water logged jeans. As I neared the end of the path, I could see my second son coming toward me with an umbrella he had gotten out of the car. We both began to laugh at the absurdity of it
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