Monthly archives of “August 2010

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Costa Rica : Arenal

About ten years ago, when I was a wee lass, I went to Australia and New Zealand. It was terribly exotic, and yet I realized that everywhere looks a lot like somewhere else. Cities are cities, deserts are deserts, seasides are seasides, and as my globe-trotting mother’s dear friend "Aunt" Ruthie was known to say: "You’ve seen one church/pyramid/wonderoftheworld, you’ve see them all." Wise woman.

And yet somehow, Costa Rica was different. Yes, it was one part Spanish-speaking Hawaii, one part run down Caribbean island, and one part monotonous scenery a la Pennsylvania, but it reminded me of so many places, it became uniquely itself. (And we only visited 2 destinations in our short week there.)


pc: sej

Our first stop was La Fortuna de San Carlos at the base of Volcan Arenal. It was reached by a beautiful and challenging three hour drive through the mountains. The pic above was taken when our driver (I didn’t say it was us being challenged…) stopped halfway at one of those restaurant/rest stop/gift shop type places that’s an oasis in the midst of nothing but hillside farms. As we enjoyed our first Costa Rican cerveza (because this was vacation…), we watched weather roll in unnerving quickly, and soon were happily driving along in our first Costa Rican monsoon. This was followed by unhappily napping along, as we struggled to stay awake, and not miss a single grazing pony. This did not so much happen, but I woke up in time for a first glance at the faraway volcano. It had promptly disappeared again by the time we got to the town of La Fortuna.

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The "elusive" volcano proved to be a running joke for the 3 days we spent near Arenal, as it was consistently visible despite our constantly being told that we were lucky to see it. I know this must actually be true, and not local lure, because of the number of people on Trip Advisor who spoke of entire weeks spent in Arenal without seeing it. Yes, it was clearest in the morning, and in the afternoon after a rain, but the clouds moved so quickly it was always being covered and uncovered.


pc: sej


We stayed at Hotel Mountain Paradise a few minutes outside of town, and it was a beautiful boutique-y place. (Search DiscerningDilettante on TripAdvisor to read my opinions on the hotel itself.) The rooms are little casitas facing the volcano, and the grounds are amazing. The flowers and the birds there alone made the entire trip. Next time I might upgrade to the Arenal Nayara down the road, or downgrade to the Observatory Lodge or the Treehouse, but this was a great middle ground for a first trip.


Our first evening was spent at Eco Termales, which it was lovely. It’s not large, but it’s peaceful (even when it got more crowded as the nite went on), and the drinks and food were some of the best we had in CR–simple, well-prepared fresh ingredients that weren’t trying too hard. And I know I would have been disappointed to go to Tabacon in the evening and wonder what it actually looked like! Even at Eco T, I really longed to see what birds and animals were making all the noise in the trees. When at Eco Termales, I recommend the smallest, hottest pool with the waterfall and misters, a mango daiquiri, and having dinner early—most people chose to eat right before leaving, and so we had nearly the whole place to ourselves for the last hour.


pc: sej

Our second day featured a visit to the Arenal Hanging Bridges with our awesome guide Javier. Our trip to the Hanging Bridges taught me that there is a such thing as too much Trip Advisor, as I knew what Javier was going to tell us before he said it. This made my visit to the rain/cloud forest kind of anticlimactic. But the bridges and scenery were beautiful, and not nearly as scary as I’d imagined. And the fact that we saw almost no wildlife made me feel less guilty about all the times we go birdwatching at home and see nothing. I mean, if Costa Rica can disappoint then obviously NY can.



pc: sej

We spent our third day at Cano Negro wildlife refuge, with Javier again, and we saw some neat things, but to be honest it felt very Nature Sighting 101 on the Jungle Boat Cruise. Animals you think are going to wow your face off, are not necessarily all that exciting once in a tree 30 feet away doing their thing. [See Ruthie’s Law above.] Sadly, I’m guessing I could be on safari in Kenya and be like, yea that zebra is just like the zebras I saw [insert zoo/wildlife preserve] when I was 6.


Sightings included some caimans, lots of howler and white-faced monkeys, tons of egrets and herons, kingfishers, lizards, and more cormorants that I could really stand. Several of the other couples on the tour (we were lucky to have a small group of about 10), had been to Madagascar, etc. and were still excited about birds we literally have in our backyard! Birding, I thusly determined, is all relative–I should confess to acting terribly jaded and disappointed until we saw an Amazon Kingfisher, the cutest little green bird that I fell in love with at the San Diego Zoo’s aviary.


pc: sej


I was sad to leave Arenal, (the blow was softened by a hilarious driver who played hip hop and pop mash up videos that kept us entertained for close to 2 hours en route to Tamarindo)–I simultaneously knew that we barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do there, and was amazed by how content I was to just sit on the porch or in the pool and watch the birds and clouds roll over the volcano, and wish we could stay another week…


pc: sej

If you love details like I do, you can read them all over at TripAdvisor.

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At last, a bath.

Before I get going on the before/after bonanza, a little background on my long-awaited bathroom renovation:


Four amazingly short years ago, in 2006, I moved back to LI from LA to re-inhabit my childhood home that had been passed down to me from my grandparents and my mom. In a bit of a pickle/temper tantrum, I had chosen to stay in LA to finish school and avoid the looming responsibility of said house, which I was too attached to to sell and too post-adolescent to actually want to live in. So for several years it had been loaned/rented out to friends and people found on Craigslist.

Needless to say, upon my return the place was a shithole. But I got lucky actually, those years of being a rental could definitely have gone a lot worse.

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Sadly, it was a downhill decline for my poor bath even after I moved back in: water damage, mold, failing pipes, carpenter ants, ugly eighties design–the poor thing was just ravaged, and I had zero dollars to fix it.

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After 3 years of feeling helpless, I found the good people at CDCLI through the HUD website, and my 4 years (including one year of applying for and waiting to start their program) of the simple dream of a working sink and a shower with walls became a reality in 4 days of work.


Here you can see some bathroom Befores:

We lost the wall behind the tub during a Thanksgiving Day emergency when the original 50-year-old “hot” knob decided to start spewing water…


That classy inner shower curtain is hiding the other missing wall, this one lost to a carpenter ant infestation. We tore the wall down to take out the beam they had made a massive nest in.

This picture, if you can believe it, makes it look much better than it was, though you can get an idea of how the wall behind the toilet was also rotting away due to repeated water damage from the leaky sink.



Monday : Gutted bath
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New plumbing, tub, concrete board – the works!

Tuesday : Tile DSCF0399
Concrete board and dry wall finished and tile begun…

Wednesday : Electric and more tile

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Hump day: While tiling continued in the bath, the electrician came to switch out our  so not up-to-code old-school fuse box, and install new outlets. We also got a sweet new exhaust fan and an outlet in the bathroom!

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Moving all our crap away from every outlet was practically impossible.

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Love my classic white hex tile floor, but quickly realized I’ll hate cleaning it.

Thursday : Grout and fixtures = finished!
My first look – pardon the table lamp plugged in until we got halogen bulbs for our new wall sconce.

I worked with CDCLI to supply some materials courtesy of my awesome and generous boss Felicitas Oefelein of FO Design, and my own penny-pinching ingenuity. As we collected more and more bathroom reno-related items, our office/craft room became a storage facility.

Kitty helping me lay out tiles.

Above you can see my attempts at deciding on accent tiles the weekend before they started to work. Using basic Home Depot grade subway tiles (~$0.80/sq. ft.) with a bit of mosaic accent tile was a great way to do something beyond a contractor-grade basic bath without spending a ton.

The accent I wound up falling in love with was a glass and stone mosaic that, because this is how my life works, was discontinued and nearly out of stock at Home Depot. After trips to 6 stores, I had hunted down exactly 6 3″x12″ pieces (and sadly this was all from the first 2 stores), so I decided to have our contractor cut down each piece into 2″ x 12″ pieces so they would reach around the bath. At $8 a piece this was probably for the best, as this accent wound up being a $50 splurge!

But I love the blending of modern and classic these give the room; it helps to bridge the gap between the traditional white subway tiles and white hex floor tiles, and my super-modern (super-affordable) Ikea vanity.


Better than I ever imagined…

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After the After
Like most renovations, this one’s lingering on the brink of done. We still need a kickass medicine cabinet—I’m saving up for the biggest mirror as I can buy. I’d also like to install a cubicle track for the shower curtain as an upgrade from the $8 target tension rod we through up there. And there might be a really awesome wallpaper taped to the wall to “try out.”


Ed. note: For the reno purists out there, we did salvage the original hamper, and I’m hoping to give it a fresh coat of paint and install it in the storage closet or master bedroom. It’s an awesome original piece, but so not a good idea for a bathroom—dirty items, humidity, you get the idea.

Also, this entry will be launching a side blog about the slow road to renovation on my childhood home over at Surburban Archeology. Not really having a clue what I want this blog (much like my real life) to be about, I might be posting things in duplicate, or there may be more detail over there. We will see where it goes….