Pura Vida! Animals I’ve Never Seen Before

Anteater

The animals of Costa Rica are vastly different than the ones I’ve encountered in the United States. Now granted, I haven’t been everywhere, in every state of the union, but these animals seemed very exotic to me.

The very first animal I saw after arriving in Costa Rica, was down on the beach. This little guy is an anteater, and he was moving very slowly in the intense heat, hiding from the sun under the leaves of the tree.

Iguana

Shortly after that I started spotting iguanas, a vast variety from very small to rather intimidatingly large. They are perfectly suited to the surroundings, able to survive in the heat and eat the fruit from the trees heavy with mangoes and cashews. They look prehistoric, the descendants of dinosaurs. Oh, and they hiss. Even the little ones will let loose with a warning hiss. Some have spines, others don’t. This one was by far the most exotic one I spotted.

We decided to treat ourselves to a tour of the Corobici river. It’s a wide river that moves very gently and provides the opportunity to spot many varied kinds of wildlife. The boats are small, with minimal chances for shade, so wear a hat and lots of sunscreen. And, fair warning, the bus that carries you from the resort to the river travels for an hour and a half along a seriously rutted old road, causing a lot of jolting and shifting around. Backs and bottoms were sore, and more than one person felt queasy on the return trip after a day in the unrelenting sun. But if you can brave the rough transport you’re in for a delightful treat.

Howler monkey baby
Capuchin monkey

Unlike the parrots, and toucans you find in the tropical rain forest of western Costa Rica, the Guanacaste area hosts completely different animal species in their tropical dry forest. They say there are three varieties of monkeys there, but I only found two: one of the loudest animals on the planet, the Howler monkey, and one of the smartest animals on the planet, the Capuchin monkey. Both are intensely curious and if you stay still, they’ll eventually creep out to take a look at you.

Nine foot crocodile  in the river
Crocodile waiting for an unlucky monkey.

We also saw crocodiles along the river, some in the water, some on the shore. It was a great reminder that you’re in their world, not sitting at home watching it on television. There are signs on the boat warning tourists to keep their hands and feet out of the water at all times. After seeing these two less than a mile apart on the river, I totally agreed. I was lucky to get a picture of the crocodile on the bank. He was so well camouflaged I had to have him pointed out to me, and since I never did see him with my own two eyes, I pointed my camera where their fingers were aimed, and took a chance. I think I’d easily miss him until too late if I were wandering through the forest on my own. CHOMP

Turquoise-browed motmot

There are many beautiful varieties of birds in the tropic dry forest, but all the parrots and parakeets hid from me that day. I did catch sight of a Turquoise-browed motmot, which I’d only ever seen in drawings before.

Further down the river our guide stopped the boat with excited gestures toward this bird. We all dutifully took pictures, but I have yet to find the name of this little beauty. The guide insists they’re very shy and was pleased for us to see it in the wild. If you can identify her for me, I’d be deeply grateful.

It was perhaps the best vacation of my life, filled with luxury and adventure, pleasure and laughter. Yes, all-inclusives are a little spendy, but given the wealth of opportunities to explore, and the fact that except for tips and souvenirs you never need your wallet, I think it’s comparable to most other vacations. Our vacation package contained a non-stop round trip airline ticket, which made things even better.

All-Inclusive Vacations Rock!

 PURA VIDA!

“Pure life”, or “Enjoy the good life”, either definition explains the local phrase. It works as either a greeting, or a parting phrase, and can be sprinkled liberally around your conversations, much as Uff da, works in Minnesota. It must be accompanied with a smile, which isn’t difficult since you’re wishing such good fortune on people when you say it.

Riu Guanacaste in Costa Rica offers a wonderful experience, starting from the minute you enter their open air lobby and register for your stay. The resort is beautiful, decorated with fascinating local arts. This is a driftwood planter, and the greenery grows from small burlap sacks tucked into nooks and crannies.

Ocean view standard room

We were thrilled to be able to take our eleven-year-old granddaughter with us, and our room faced the ocean, visible past the beautiful grounds. We had two beds, a large closet and chest of drawers, a modern bathroom, and most importantly, air-conditioning. The bathroom included a bath, and two sinks in front of a long mirror. Tucked in the closet was a programmable safe, large enough for passports and a really small lap-top. A mini refrigerator was stocked with mixers for the four large bottles of alcohol suspended above it. I wish I could tell you what kind they were, but we are not drinkers. Except for the Imperial beer in the fridge, we didn’t drink in the room. But for those who do, there’s an ice machine on every level.

Angie was one of our favorites!

The staff are professional, very helpful, and extremely pleasant. Whether you are enjoying stretching exercises on the beach, playing water volleyball, getting a lesson in scuba diving in the pool, touring the kitchens, enjoying a beverage at any of the bars, winning at Bingo, or eating your fill at any of the eating facilities, the staff of the Riu Guanacaste make your experience enjoyable.

Roxana Herrera Aroya with my wife.

We were particularly fond of the main buffet which provided fresh fruit, and a wide variety of delicious local dishes. The cheese bar called me, while my wife enjoyed the fresh fruit more. Our granddaughter explored the ever changing dessert table after every dinner. If you’re lucky, you’ll be placed in Roxana Herrera Aroya’s area, and be served by a pleasant young man named Christian.

My granddaughter and me

One night my granddaughter and I broke from tradition and tried the Japanese restaurant. Also served buffet style, we enjoyed delicious sushi and a Peking duck. The noodles were delicious, as were the delicate desserts. I especially enjoyed the delicate flavor of the mandarin orange ice.

Let’s face it, it’s fun to dress up, and from five o’clock on through the night you’ll find almost everyone has donned their long shopped for, and finally found, resort wear. The unmarried and looking crowd show off their finery by walking along the main path down to the beach, hanging out at the open air bar, or by crossing the street to attend the casino or discotheque (opens at 11p.m.)

Kid time on the main stage

Every night there is entertainment on the main stage, beginning with a segment of games, songs and dances where kids participate and compete. This is followed by another half hour of American, Canadian, or Central American songs performed by local talent.

Performing Rolling in the Deep
Go, Greased Lightning, go!

From around 8p.m. until 10ish, a different show is performed each night of the week, and is repeated throughout the season. This year we were treated to a magical night of a tribute to Michael Jackson, and an exciting version of Grease.The dancers are very professional, and they get the crowd going. By the time they got to ‘Greased Lightning’ the audience was singing right along.

Snorkling, a first!

 If you take the tours (for which you pay extra) you might find yourself zip-lining, or soaking in volcanic mud baths, or traveling up and down the river in search of wild animals. A wealth of opportunities are available. I, at the age of 57 and being significantly overweight, enjoyed my very first snorkling experience. Paddle a canoe, or ride a ski-do. Ride a horse along the beach, and listen to the Howler monkeys in the trees.

And the animals! Oh the animals of Costa Rica are magnifico. Tomorrow I’ll be sharing photos of some I was lucky enough to capture on film. Pura Vida, until then.

Costa Rica, Baby!

There are many things an author can do to improve their skills. Some of them include being positive, diligent, and keeping your butt in the chair. Those are the things that keep us writing.

But what about the depth and breadth of our stories? For that you need to interact with people and places new to you. Meet people from other cultures, and cheerfully learn from them. Visit other lands and see how your world and their’s differ. Embrace the similarities between peoples, and celebrate the unique qualities of every culture you can. Be an ambassador for your country, but more importantly, gather friends from around the world. Share stories, explain jokes, try new things, and push your comfort zone until it expands willingly.

In other words, travel.

My wife and I (I just love saying that) like to save our money and go somewhere every year, when possible. With the economy the way it’s been lately, that’s been easier said than done. But we found out about *cue heavenly choir* all-inclusive resorts. In the past, we’ve always been conscious of costs, constantly monitoring our remaining resources and anxiously going cheap to be sure we can cover everything.

All that changed when our daughter won a contest and we ended up at Riu Guanacaste, in Costa Rica. Once we’d presented our photo ID’s, we locked up our wallets and passports in the room safe, and never worried about money again until just before leaving. Gifts, souvenirs, and tips were all we spent money on. Everything else had been prepaid. Talk about relaxing!

Now, I’m a self published author, and retired school teacher. My wife is also retired. Our income is not great, and I won’t lie, the resorts can be a little pricey. That’s why it’s important to book early, and get a good travel agents who will look for upgrades. We travel non-stop from our snowbound hometown directly to Costa Rica. No switching planes, and far fewer chances for lost luggage. The hassle factor is less than a three. The shuttle is there waiting for the plane, and within an hour we were checking in at the resort, sipping on fresh mango slushies in the very sultry air.

Thus began a vacation unlike any I’d ever known before. I felt as if I’d stepped onto the Love Boat, or Fantasy Island. Everything was exquisitely clean, the staff professional, and the accommodations, while not luxurious, overlooked the grounds leading out to a full sea-view. It was a major upgrade from our typical hop from one over priced hotel room to another.

From early in the morning until late at night, planned activities for both adults and children were available, led by friendly staff members. We were encouraged to stretch on the beach (which we declined) and to tour the kitchens (which we happily joined). Water volleyball had it’s own cove in the huge swimming pool, as did a corner that was used every morning to give free scuba-diving lessons. Bingo, an entertainment we haven’t had time for lately, offered small bottles of local rum, t-shirts, and coffee mugs to daily winners, and it was free! You only get one card, but that’s usually all you need.


And then there was the food, and the drinks, and the entertainment, and too much for me to include in just one post. So I’ll see you tomorrow, same bat-station, same bat-channel. POW. And yes, there are bats in Costa Rica, little tiny ones that prefer mangoes to blood.

Book Review Friday – Slow Dance in Paris

If you’re looking for a gentle lesbian romance story, this is it.

Mary Wright’s Slow Dance in Paris follows the adventures of Sophie, an unsophisticated young American fresh from high school in the early 1970’s. Confused about a sexual liaison she has with a hippie after smoking hashish, unsure if she’s been raped or not, Sophie puts everything behind her. She’s finishing a grand tour of Europe when she meets a pair of charming lesbians. At their invitation, she goes to her first ever gay bar, where she dances with Genvieve, a fascinating woman who captures her imagination.

Is Sophie gay? She’s had attractions to girls before, but has also chalked up two boyfriends in her past. Although unsure about her orientation, every time she’s with Genvieve the young American heroine finds herself drawn closer to the exotic world of lesbianism. However, just after they begin a tentative relationship Sophie must move to another town where her school is located.

Separated by kilometers and the restraints of job and school, Sophie is drawn closer and closer to the idea of being a lesbian, even as the differences between having a girlfriend as opposed to a boyfriend become embarrassingly clear. People who were friends treat her differently, and she finds herself restricted in ways unexperienced by straights. It makes her uncomfortable, but she soon forgets everything when held in the strong arms of her new lover.

Eventually everything builds to a head as Sophie deals with an unwanted pregnancy, a mail strike, and massive guilt over her choice to have an abortion. Will her burgeoning relationship with Genvieve continue to grow if the Parisienne learns the truth, or will Sophie’s choices lead her back to the world of heterosexuals and so called normality?

Slow Dance in Paris is an easy, gentle read, one that takes you into the mind of a young woman during a time when women’s liberation and gay pride were still in their infancies. The city of Paris, and the surrounding landscape are artfully captured by the author, who deftly weaves them into her story as characters in their own right. If you’re looking for a lighthearted romantic story, spend some lazy afternoons curled up with Mary Wright’s Slow Dance in Paris. You won’t be sorry.

Authors Abroad


Vacation time, a chance to write, or is that wrong?

The long winter is finally over (or ending, depending on where you are), and many people are planning or already going on vacation. Sun seekers from all around the world congregate in favorite locations to socialize, relax, reconnect with their families, and build memories to last through the next fifty weeks, if not a lifetime.

The question for writers becomes: Should I write while on vacation? Exotic locales can help the author stimulate creativity, suggest plots, unveil fantastic settings, observe great characters for sketches, and get to a shared place with the likes of Hemingway and Anais Nin. In other words, a writer’s dream, nay, euphoric fantasy.

However, most authors are on vacation with their families. Those same long suffering loved ones who put up with burned dinners, one-sided conversations, and long rambling discussions about your characters or plot with ridiculous questions that can’t be answered (what would you do if you were on the moon and an alien was…). Your spouse, children, parents, grand-children and/or grand-parents are the ones who’ve waited a long lonely year to regain your attention and be loved and appreciated. They know you’re a wonderful person, they just haven’t seen much of you lately.

So do you write, or is that wrong?

I don’t know. I’m asking you. Really, what would you do?

As for me, I spend time with my family and leave the writing until I get home. I may not have the immediacy, the immersion into the fantasy of world travel, but I write down what I remember when I get home. If I have a brilliant idea while traveling, I’ll take no more than fifteen minutes to jot the idea down in a notebook, otherwise every minute of vacation time belongs to the people I love.

I’m not saying that’s the way to become a successful writer, but I know it’s the way to build and strengthen a happy family. Although I will admit to a small part of me wishing I could be two people, the one unattached and able to revel in the writing possibilities that arise when away from home, I’m much happier being part of a supportive, understanding family who deserve the best of me while on vacation.

Shape Shifters Race the Night

If you haven’t yet been caught up in the Midwest Shapeshifter series, now’s the time to find this delightful urban paranormal fantasy thriller with a side dish of hot romance. Or is it a hot paranormal romance with a side dish of fantasy thriller? Either way, the work of Deb Elliott is highly entertaining, and well worth your time and money. I was lucky enough to interview her yesterday about her exciting new Shapeshifter series.
Genta:  Thank you, Ms. Elliott, for this interview. I have so many questions about the complex characters you’ve created, both inside and out of law enforcement.
DE:  Thanks so much for taking the time and interest in my series and the main character!

Genta:  First of all, congratulations on DJ Jesseray, one of the more complete women detectives I’ve encountered lately.  Can you explain DJ, give us an idea of where she came from and what she’s about?

DE:  DJ’s as real a character as I can make her. She has highs and lows, triumphs, quirks and doubts.  She’s a woman of the upper Midwest, raised with those values and in a loving family; humor and people are important to her.

Genta:  Is she based on any people you’ve known? If so, what traits were most important? Will they recognize themselves in DJ?
DE:  Yes, she’s the amalgamation of several people I know; she’s persistent, loyal, observative; inwardly emotional, yet outwardly logical; self-aware, and stubborn. None of us have that quality! J

Genta:  DJ, in both animal and human form, is a highly sexual character. Those are some pretty hot sex scenes you’ve written. Is there more hot sex coming up in your next book?
DE:  Not as much, as the sexuality is in keeping with what drives of the story.  Since the books follow her life, the things that take up and demand her attention will reflect that. I’m a great believer in verisimilitude, and not just sex or violence for the sake of sex and violence.

Genta:  The other characters in your books are notably memorable. There’s sweet Jordan Burke who doesn’t understand what’s happened to his former partner, but loves her nonetheless. I particularly like Tiny, the FBI agent who becomes her closest friend. I also love Tristan, the British white lion shapeshifter DJ is linked to following a mating ritual that saves her life, and Joseph Amundsen, occasional polar bear and head of the North American Pack Strike Force. Will you tell us more about them? Who is your favorite, and why?
DE:  I like Tiny best, simply because he gets to have so much fun at DJ’s expense, and yet, he has his human moments, when he can be kind of a jerk and still be supportive too.

Genta:  When did you start writing? What made you begin?
DE:  Fifth grade. I started writing poetry, but I became a bibliophile as soon as I learned to read; I think that reading goes hand in hand with writing for most of us who do it. As an adult, I started writing a romance when I started teaching, but teaching is practically 24/7 while the school year is on, so I had to give it up. Then, when writing became my focus as a profession, I needed more extraverted hobbies for a time to balance out that side of my nature. Finally, I realized that work was never going to completely satisfy my deep urge to create, and that’s when I really started to get serious about writing fiction.

Genta:  Do you have any advice for those just starting to write? What keeps you writing when your back aches, your eyes strained and your fingers cramped?
DE:  Put fingers to keyboard, thumbs to phone, pen to paper, mouth to recorder (whatever your preferred method) and do it – and I’ll be the first to admit, at times, especially when there’s a lot of stress in life, it’s tough to do. As Anne Lamott says, though, “All first drafts are shitty.” And she’s right. Also, get input from other people, people you trust, who read a lot, and listen to them.  You can’t grow as a writer unless you are willing to take feedback, a lot of it, especially when you first start out – and use that input to influence how you approach your stories. 

What keeps me writing? The deep drive to create, to connect through stories and characters; the knowledge that if I don’t keep doing it, something in my life just isn’t as complete and joyous as it needs to be.

Genta:  Who were the main influences on your writing? Which authors inspire you?
DE:  Jim Butcher (character development and action), Barbara Kingsolver (fabulous prose and description), J. D. Robb/Nora Roberts (building real-seeming, well-rounded characters and gripping plots; setting the scene), Stephen King, especially his early stuff (developing a character’s personality in a single small paragraph and setting up and maintaining tension).

Genta:  We’ve read Race the Night, and I literally absorbed your second in the trilogy, Bring It Home. When will the third one be released, and what can you tell us about it?
DE:  It should be released sometime this spring/summer; I’m waiting on the cover.  I’ve been blessed with a fabulous cover designer, but I have to respect her needs and schedule. We both have full-time day jobs, after all.

Book 3, Triple Threat, is DJ’s introduction to working for the FBI; it takes place in central Iowa, which is where I grew up. In this version, she literally is under a triple threat, and one of those threats is not only to her health as a shapeshifter but also to her reputation as a law enforcement professional. She meets a new love interest, too.

Genta:  Have you written any other books? Where can we find them?
DE:  I have two other books; one is my freshman effort that’s waiting for revisions.  Since it’s 130,000 words, those revisions are a fairly massive undertaking, and so it’s on the back burner in the depths of my flash drive.  It’s a swords and horses fantasy with dragons and man-eating monsters. Working title: Lady of Snows. Eventually, it will be a trilogy.

I’m also drafting the first of another more classic fantasy with evil magicians, unicorns, trolls, goblins, orcs, wargs, etc. This one has two young men as the protagonists, one a bastard prince with a shadowy past and the other a journeyman priest out to rid the world of evil magic-doers.  I’m about halfway through drafting that one. Working Title: Valorian’s Quest

Neither of them is as yet ready for publication.
Genta:  Ms. Elliott, thank you for your time and thoughtful answers to my questions. I’ll be watching eagerly for the release of your next novel.
DE:  Thanks very much, Ms. Sebastian for your time and wonderful questions!  Best wishes! 

Book Review Friday – Bring It Home

Bring It Home (Midwestern Shapeshifter)Bring It Home by Deb Elliott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

She’s returned home to her parents, lost her fiance and house battling vampires, and dodged offers to join either the FBI or an international paranormal policing agency. However, instead of being allowed to grieve in peace DJ Jesserey finds herself once more in a battle against the forces of evil. Her father, the local sheriff, is receiving a disturbing number of missing person reports, so DJ goes on the hunt and discovers a ruthless group of rogue shape-shifters. Forced back into action before she’s ready, under the compulsion of her first moon mating, and once again defending unsuspecting humans from paranormal dangers, DJ Jesserey must succeed, or innocent people will die.

Vivid characters, quick pacing, excellent writing, and the occasionally hot sex scene will keep you turning pages late into the night. The second of author Deb Elliott’s Midwestern Shapeshifter series, Bring It Home is easily also a stand alone novel.

Excellent read for a weekend. Grab yourself a copy and enjoy. Buy it from Amazon here: Bring It Home

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