We'd made plans to go visit with kossack, Alice Olson in Nosara, an hour and a half or so south of Avellanas. She had very kindly extended an invitation in the comment thread of Adios Gringolandia, which we were happy to accept. We were looking forward to meeting her and mining her 20 years of accrued local wisdom. We had no idea how we were going to get there though. We were thinking chicken bus. I had a 90 pound suitcase.
So there we were in Avellanas, stuck in a cabina way out in the jungle, coping as best we could with isolation and limited transportation resources and haunted at night by banshees from hell – or their sonic equivalent in an ill-conceived tin roof. We had picked up a cheap cellphone in Tamarindo and gave Alice a call in Nosara. Here's the good part: she told us not to mess with the bus, she would come get us. Kossacks to the rescue. If you knew the roads here, you'd admire her heroic gesture as much as I do, though you'd have to go some to appreciate it half as much.
Realizing that we'd never be able to describe our location sufficiently for Alice to drive right to us (even if we knew where we were, the directions would be convoluted – turn right at the giant palm with the blue iguana then left at the huge crater just past the tangerine tree and before the giant strangler fig – Ticos aren't big on street signs), we arranged to meet her at a (somewhat) nearby restaurant with the help of the owner of our cabina...who actually knew where we were.
Alice reminded me of any number of kossacks I have met over the years: smart, spirited and as good-hearted as she can be. Her husband Mike is an equally impressive individual. Bright, kind and easy-going, he is an accomplished bridge player, among other things. He teaches beginner classes to aspiring bridge players in the area. He described, with modesty and in some detail, where he and Alice fall on the spectrum of bridge players. Most of it was lost on me but what was clear was their passion for the game and their considerable knowledge of it. They obviously derive significant enjoyment and satisfaction from it. That's a great thing. More power to them.
Their condo in Nosara is beautiful. Built to catch the breeze, it is at the second-story level of a building on a steep hillside where it overlooks a lush garden profuse with bougainvillea, hibiscus, orchids, palms in great variety, and most interestingly to me, a cashew tree flush with ripe cashew apples (I never knew, that cashews grew on 'apples.' They do, they grow right out of the bottom of the fruit as though an afterthought). The fruit is somewhat like a persimmon in that you have to catch them at just the peak of ripeness or they are mildly to extremely astringent. Astringency or no, they are quite beautiful and a sight incongruent with my previous half-baked notions about where cashew nuts come from.
A cashew growing out of the end of an 'apple'
View of the Olson place
They had a pool behind and above the building up a very steep hill which I never saw because they didn't have an escalator or a ski lift. They said it was nice though and they were honest about everything else so I'm sure it is. The steps were very steep, straight up almost.
Alice is a wonderful cook and fed us like royalty. We were allowed to do almost nothing while she and Mike handled it all. Alice, if you haven't gathered by now, is a bit of a dynamo. She told us tales of her political activism going back to her days as a McCarthy delegate, She was also an early advocate of gay rights in North Dakota.
Alice worked for a number of years at Sarah Lawrence College where she one day received a call asking if she was Alice Olson of North Dakota. She did not remember the individual calling but the individual remembered her and remembered Alice challenging the ND Democratic Party to adopt a Gay Rights plank in their platform in 1976. She invited Alice and Mike to her lesbian wedding where the Olsons were honored guests, all because this person remembered when Alice took a stand. In her speech at the reception following the wedding she expressed her gratitude to Alice for her act of bravery and kindness all those years ago, and honored her, most appropriately, for being the person she is. I hope Alice won't mind my telling you that as she told this story she became very emotional. It was obviously as touching for her to remember and relate as it was for me to hear. I'm glad there are people like Alice Olson in this world. I just wish there were more of them.
Oh, and Alice is a fan of Hunter, so shoutout to Hunter from Nosara.
Alice felt a little sorry for us I believe. Here we were a couple of bright-eyed and clueless greenhorns fresh off the boat in 'paradise.' She immediately set about cluing us in and helping us out. She made our lives so much easier than they otherwise would have been. She took us to see a house in Nosara that we might have rented except for timing, it wasn't available yet, and that isolation/transportation thing again. It might have worked, it wasn't as isolated as the place in Avellanas, but it was a moot point since it was rented till some time in May.
Our hosts, Mike and Alice Olson
On our second day in Nosarra, Alice took us to the local art fair, which was small but interesting. There were people there selling homemade breads and pastries, arts and crafts of various kinds and some nice original art, including the paintings of Nathan Miller. I like his work a lot. I like the graphic, stylized approach and how he mixes the real and the fantastical in his imagery.
Nosara artist, Nathan Miller
Nathan's Howler Monkey
There was also a booth manned by people from the new recycling operation. All their goods were handmade from recycled goods.
Recycled goods from Nosara
Daniel with the mysterious stone spheres of Nosara
Mike and Daniel near the Olsons' new home site
An orchid at Alice's place
Daniel and I also took a little trip to the beach.
Daniel enters the Pacific for the first time
One of the things that Alice did for us was to scour the net for leads on a place for us to rent. She located an apartment in Puntarenas, called the owner and negotiated our reservations for us. And then, as if that weren't enough, she volunteered (once again) to drive us all the way there – a good three hours, over half of which was on, shall we say, challenging roads.
On the road to Puntarenas
We saw the Taiwanese Friendship Bridge again and became acquainted with the charming port city of Puntarenas.
Once more over the Friendship Bridge
Our apartment was perched just above, and I mean just above, the main drag. We were able to sit on our porch and breathe in the fumes and soak up the ambiance serenaded by the raucous evening traffic, and I have no words to express just how raucous we're talkin'. Chaotic and cacophonous might be better words.
A location designed for tranquility
There was apparently a wreck somewhere just up the road a ways, complete with ambulances, cop cars and snarled traffic. They ended up turning the access road than ran under our awning into a traffic lane so they could deal with the overflow. There were motorcycle gangs, Mack trucks and buses. It was charming.
Watching the cops go by
So, anyway, we enjoyed one lovely evening in Puntarenas waiting for the traffic noise to abate, which it never really did. We caught out of there first thing next morning and bused our way back to San Jose to regroup.
Stay tuned for the next installment of OPOL and Mijo's Costa Rican Adventures wherein I will tell you about Palmares and maybe even the Irie Zone.
Paz y amor, muchachos.