Monthly Archives: August 2017

Oaxaca Mezcal Producers Court Sociedad De Mezcaleros on Central Valleys Visit

Over the past two years, mezcal’s star has reached new heights with each passing month. The incidence of its Oaxaca producers and exporters, acting upon knowledge of the pending arrival onto their turf of American and Canadian mezcal aficionados and connoisseurs, has been nothing short of remarkable, at times droll.Bartenders, Bar Owners Included in Sociedad de Mezcaleros Tour of OaxacaIn March, 2013, the secretive Sociedad de Mezcaleros embarked upon a major sojourn into the heart of Mexico’s agave producing country, a region so climatically suited to the growing of maguey, that some of Jalisco’s tequila producers have stepped up their pirating ways in trucking off multi-ton trailer loads of Oaxacan piñas.The first wave of mezcal aficionados to arrive for the tour was an entourage of bartenders and bar owners, closely followed by architects, journalists, photographers, and those whose mere curiosity about the Sociedad had been too hard to resist. Almost all of the Sociedad members had hailed from the American northwest, an area of the U.S. which, judging from the interest generated in the community of mezcal producers and their marketing arms, will soon overtake New York City as the country’s spirits and cocktails trendsetter. In fact, La Carta de Oaxaca and Mezcalería Oaxaca, both based in Seattle, have been at forefront, doing more than their fair share.

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Oaxaca Mezcaleros Come a CourtingNo less than six stakeholders, part-owners of an up-and-coming brand of the beverage, swooped down on Oaxaca, coming from their homes and offices in diverse corners of both Mexico and the U.S., to converge upon their new found land of gold, to meet, greet and court. Now to be fair, a specific date had earlier been set for a visit to their palenque. But they otherwise spared no late night energy in tracking down the spirits aficionados and imbibing with them, each to his fullest capacity. Whatever food and watering hole the Sociedad recommended to its flock, the mezcaleros were sure to follow.——————————A recent trend in not only Oaxaca, but also in other Mexican states, has been the emergence of young attractive women on the mezcal scene. Some are distillery employees hired to market, promote and ultimately sell. Others, and not to take away from their sometimes involvement in day-to-day distillery operations, are front (wo)men, members of families which have either been palenqeros, or have invested in the purchase of an existing mezcal operation. Using sex to sell alcohol is not the exclusive right of breweries.Now once the group had had an opportunity to personally meet Mademoiselle X at her family’s palenque, it didn’t take long for them to begin texting her, advising of their whereabouts for the duration of their visit, and suggesting a further rendezvous or two – notwithstanding that at least for this tour member it quickly became obvious that Mademoiselle X was not the one to consult with questions of a technical nature relating to mezcal, its production and its sale. To her credit she readily acknowledged that she was a novice, with a lot to learn. But the señorita tan güapa was up to the task at hand, and she both fit and fulfilled her job description to a tee.——————————Señor Y was in a different category, and while wooing was no doubt part of the game plan, he played his cards well, coming across as and indeed being more of an educator and genuine host than a wolf pouncing on easy prey. He, as was the case with our distillery conglomerate, had previously booked a date with the group. But Señor Y managed to finesse a way to not only extend contact with the barmen and the rest, but also set up a meeting with Mr. Journalist and Master photographer / videographer, a brilliant and calculating move which will likely pay off in spades, much more so than how the Group of Six and Mademoiselle X approached a marketing opportunity.

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More Diverse Activities of Sociedad de Mezcaleros in Oaxaca than Exposure to ExportersThe Sociedad de Mezcaleros is a living organism, continuously changing through adaptation, meeting the needs and desires of a growing and thus increasingly diverse interest group. On earlier excursions the focus was largely exploratory. This new itinerary was not entirely void of some of those past exceptional experiences: revisiting memorable distilleries with a view to rekindling acquaintanceships with their colorful palenqueros; relaxing at and enjoy the higher end fare of well-known downtown Oaxacan restaurants; fulfilling the yearnings for a return to favorite roadside eateries; and of course showcasing emerging adventures.The March, 2013, tour of Oaxaca by those intrigued with the Sociedad de Mezcaleros, succeeded in delving yet further into the related worlds of agave and mezcal, both directly and indirectly, nevertheless leaving a plethora of avenues unexplored. As Sociedad presidente cryptically concluded in his trademark fashion, “you bet we have much more in store for both neophytes and seasoned mezcalytes alike, but those details are for another discussion; and don’t forget those producers who didn’t get their hands on our group this time.”

Exploring Gold Country And The Central Valley

Located at the geographical heart of California, the Gold Country is also central to the state’s allure as the land of overnight success. Long before the gilded world of Hollywood took shape, this was a real life El Dorado, where a thick vein of solid gold, known as the Mother Lode, sat waiting to be discovered.The Gold Country is largely rural, despite being the birthplace of modern California with the Gold Rush of 1849 and the designation of Sacramento as state capital.

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Before the miners arrived, this quiet region, located on the far fringes of the Spanish colonial empire, was sparsely populated by members of the Miwok and Maidu peoples. With the discovery of gold flakes in January 1848, however, the region turned into a lawless jamboree, and by 1852 an estimated 200,000 men from all over the world were working in the mines. But by 1860 most of the region had fallen silent again, as the mining boom went bust.A few years after the Gold Rush, the region experienced another shortlived boom. The transcontinental railroad was constructed through the Sierra Nevada Mountains by low-paid laborers, many of whom were Chinese. In the early 20th century, the Central Valley became the heart of the state’s thriving agricultural industry, which today exports fruit and vegetables worldwide.

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Stretching for more than 100 miles (160 km) north to south, the region’s landscape is ideal for leisurely hikes or afternoon picnics. The Gold Country also offers one of California’s best scenic drives along Hwy 49. The route climbs up and down rocky ridges between pastoral ranch lands, lined with oak trees and crossed by fast-flowing rivers. Many of the picturesque towns it passes through, such as Sutter Creek, have survived unchanged since the Gold Rush.

California Dreaming – Central Coast Bound

When it comes to heading out on a relaxing, scenic adventure, there’s no question that the eye candy California’s Central Coast offers is the stuff that California dreaming is made of. But even the most stunning of scenery can take on a whole new look when it’s amplified by an extraordinary ride.So you can imagine how excited I was to get out of Fresno and the Central Valley for a few days, put the top down, crank up the XM on my Bose audio system, and test out my new Chevrolet Corvette along the sunny, mountainous shores of Santa Barbara. Sure, I’ve been to this charming seaside area dozens of times, but not in a convertible like this.As I tested out my six-speed manual transmission and glided up the traffic-laden highway in my Atomic Orange Corvette – out of Fresno and toward my destination – I was sure that the charm of this Mission-era town and the coastal communities just outside would take on a whole new charm.A VERY quick 250 or so miles – and I arrived at my destination. It felt like I was worlds away from Fresno. The Spanish architecture of Santa Barbara, with its tell-tale adobe buildings, gives this beachside community a beautiful and historic charm. The Red Tile Walking Tour is one I definitely recommend – it covers 12 blocks and shows off the Court House, Mission Santa Barbara and the gorgeous Stearns Wharf, which extends out into the bay for prime beach views. But for me, it was all about the drive. So after a quick check-in at my hotel, I was once again behind the wheel of my Corvette, heading toward Los Padres National Forest.

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The vivid beauty of this 24-mile scenic drive through the mountains, along the coastline and the Channel Islands was definitely a whole new experience in a high-performance convertible. My Corvette not only hugged the twists and turns of Highway 33 like a champ, its good looks even had other drivers doing a double-take. On the edge of Los Padres National Forest is the town of Ojai (an Indian name that means “nest”) so I decided to stop and grab a bite to eat. This quaint community is chock full of art galleries, adorable shops and cafés.Next stop before heading back to Santa Barbara for the night – Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. Located along Highway 54, about 25 miles north of Santa Barbara, this place is great for camping, boating, fishing, hiking – you name it. But I was bound and determined to find a little place called Cold Springs Tavern, a secluded restaurant and pub off Old Stagecoach road. I’ve heard from my friends in Fresno that it’s impossible to find, and I’ve tried several times – but thanks to the OnStar navigation in my Corvette, I bypassed part of the highway at Kinevan, and ran right into Cold Springs Tavern. The food and atmosphere at this old stagecoach stop-turned-bar-restaurant was every bit as good as they say. (Try the Game Chili and Onion Rings!)After heading back to the hotel for a good night’s rest, I was ready for another adventure in my Corvette. On to Solvang I would go, just 35 miles north on the 101. Each time I pull up to this Danish village, I’m always taken aback by its charm. More than half of the town people claim Danish descent and it’s more than apparent in the architecture: thatched roofs, wooden storks, windmills and cobblestone sidewalks. I spent the morning walking around, visiting shops and – of course – sampling the goodies at the bakeries! But it’s not all about Dutch flavor. This is very much Cowboy Country, so you’ll find a lot of great horse ranches nearby. Alisal Guest Ranch, just three miles from downtown, is a great place to stay. No TVs in these guest rooms – just outdoor cooking, campfires and horseback riding.

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After lunch, it was on to the Old Mission Santa Ines, established in 1804. This Franciscan mission is absolutely beautiful – and it’s just a short drive from downtown Solvang. I continued on to Nojoqui Falls County Park to check out the 164-foot waterfall. Luckily, I still had plenty of hiking gear and a change of clothes packed in the back of the Corvette, so I decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the park. It was well worth it.Before ending my two-day excursion and heading back to the Central Valley, I continued along through the rolling hills in my Chevy Corvette to the “Valley of Flowers” near the city of Lompoc. I can tell you, the nearly 20-mile-long flower field made for an absolutely stunning drive.While there were many places yet to explore: Pismo Beach, Morro Bay, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, and Hearst Castle, it was time to head back to Fresno. Perhaps next weekend, I’ll be back in my Corvette, heading out for another coastal journey!

(Sestina) – For the Valley of Mantaro of Peru (Now in English and Spanish)

The Valley’s disclosure of blossoming has comefrom ancient mountains gorgeous with Spring.Ringing, my body’s a-dancing today, and in my mindkind winds unfold. A desire for the remote far winds….Fading I see rainbow’s pedestal, a burning sapphire,stones like opals, cover the mountains’ sunsets.Is this home of Thine the last? If so it is the best!As if an only daughter, she is nowise fair.’Tis but a path, the last; hast thou, I take her road.Here in the valley, comes sprouts and dust from kings,kings: breathless wonderment, immemorial beauty–;between the sunsets and the solitudes, an eternal splendor!Beauty’s never long asleep–it is thy guarded friend!Strange and dreamy are the stars thou followest.Strange and dreamy, are the stars over thy Valley.Is this home of Thine the last? If so it is the best!As if an only daughter, she is nowise fair.’Tis but a path, the last; hast thou, I take her road.I saw the condor: in the valley, but a few nights past,fast she flew, spilt into music, her winds of darkness;dreaming things I have not known, I stood alone,the moon hath set to mutiny, inside these old white bones,so their silence passed my world, tenderly, yes I stoodstrange oh tender enchanted thoughts–enchanted me!Is this home of Thine the last? If so it is the best!As if an only daughter, she is nowise fair.’Tis but a path, the last; hast thou, I take her road.Speak, for I wish to hear thy silver voice, moonlit.Moonlight clear, mystical, within my farthest dream,yet, in Thine eyes I see far tears! And I hear thou sayith:’I am spirit, ye but flesh, listen thou, what sayith thee?I say to ye: what have you done to my mountainsand my stream, it is now the shameful flow’r.’Is this home of Thine the last? If so it is the best!But I could not speak to the silver voice, moonlit,

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her marvel, phenomenon, in her a farthest dream.She comes, no longer silent, yet fragrance to thy heart,what wouldst thou have me say? ‘All is fine from thy throne!’Ah no! Ah no! I say to thee, your eyes are part of Paradise!Ah yes! O goddess, alter-flame of the world, do not despairblinding sight has caused thy heart to ache and rain,yet your stars return to thee, your beauty, scarce it be.Is this home of Thine the last? If so it is the best!My heart is lost into the central valley of her delight,O thou relentless satiety, pass the ramparts of my soul.And she spoke to me again, with her silver moonlit voice,’Come forth with me, O prince!’ she said, ‘for far adventures wait.Thy heart is warmer than the light, drowned in contentment,go, and do not abandon me, ye footsteps I will see,tell Christ you cannot leave, cling onto my arms, please!’She is something beyond, far beyond, these human hours.Here in the valley, comes sprouts and dust from kingsyet, in Thine eyes I see far tears! And I hear thee say:’…tell Christ you cannot leave, cling onto my arms, please!’Note: in a Sestina, one often can feel (if done correctly) the creation of a rolling musical effect, almost like rolling down a hill, or mountain into a valley, which this was the effect I chose, and tried to produce in this poem. No: 1931 8-8-2007.Spanish Version(Sestina):Para el Valle del MantaroEl florecimiento del Valle se ha manifestado viniendodesde magníficas montañas antiguas con la Primavera.Tatareando, mi cuerpo es un baile hoy, y en mi mentevientos suaves se revelan. Un deseo por los remotos vientos lejanos…Decolorándose veo el pedestal del arco iris, un zafiro ardiente,piedras como ópalos, cubren las puestas del sol de las montañas.¿Es este mi último hogar? Si es ¡es lo mejor!Como un hijo único, este es bello de todas formas.’Este es sólo un camino, el último; ¿lo tomas?, yo tomo su camino.Aquí en el valle, vienen brotes y polvo de reyes,reyes: admiración sin aliento, belleza inmemorial–;¡entre las puestas del sol y las soledades, un esplendor eterno!¡La belleza nunca extraña dormir–este es tu amigo cauteloso!Extrañas y soñadoras son las estrellas que seguisteExtrañas y soñadoras, son las estrellas sobre tu Valle.¿Es este mi último hogar? Si es ¡es lo mejor!Como un hijo único, este es bello de todas formas.’Este es sólo un camino, el último; ¿lo tomas?, yo tomo su camino.He visto al cóndor: en el valle, sólo unas noches atrás,rápido él voló, rezumado en música, sus alas de oscuridad;cosas soñadoras yo no conocía, estuve solo,la luna preparó el motín, dentro de estos viejos huesos blancos,para que sus silencios pasaran mi mundo, tiernamente, sí estuve extraño,oh suaves pensamientos encantados–me encantaron!¿Es este mi último hogar? Si es ¡es lo mejor!Como un hijo único, este es bello de todas formas.’Este es sólo un camino, el último; ¿lo tomas?, yo tomo su camino.Habla, ya que deseo oír tu voz de plata, iluminada por la luna.Clara luz de luna, mística, dentro de mi más lejano sueñotodavía, ¡en mis ojos veo lágrimas lejanas! Y te oigo decir:’Soy espíritu, tú sólo carne, escuchándote decir, qué dices,yo te digo, qué has hecho a mis montañasy mi riachuelo, porque ahora es sólo una flor vergonzosa’.¿Es este mi último hogar? Si es ¡es lo mejor!

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Pero no podría hablar a la voz de plata, iluminada por la luna,su maravilla, fenómeno, en su más lejano sueño.Ella viene, nunca más silenciosa, aun la fragancia al corazón,¿qué me harías decir? ¡Todo está bien desde tu trono!¡Ah no! ¡Ah no! ¡Te digo a ti, tus ojos son parte del Paraíso!¡Ah sí! O diosa, pira-altar del mundo, no te desesperesla vista cegadora ha causado a tu corazón dolor y lluviaaunque tus estrellas retornan a ti, tu belleza, escasa es.¿Es este mi último hogar? Si es ¡es lo mejor!Mi corazón está perdido en el valle central de su placer,O tú, saciedad implacable, pasas las murallas de mi alma.Y ella me habló otra vez, con su plateada voz iluminada por la luna,’Ven adelante conmigo, ¡O príncipe!’ ella dijo, ‘por aventuras lejanas espera.Tu corazón es más caliente que la luz, ahogada en la felicidad,ve, y no me abandones, tus pasos yo veré,dile a Cristo que no puedes irte, agárrate de mis brazos, ¡por favor!’Ella es algo asombroso, mucho más allá, que estas horas humanas.Aquí en el valle, vienen brotes y polvo de reyes,todavía, ¡en mis ojos veo lágrimas lejanas! Y te oigo decir:’¡…dile a Cristo que no puedes irte, agárrate de mis brazos, por favor!’Nota: En una Sestina, uno a menudo puede sentir (si es hecha correctamente) la creación de un efecto rodante musical, casi como rodando por una colina o montaña en un valle, efecto que escogí y traté de producir en este poema.# 1931 8-Agosto-2007.

California’s Central Valley Is a Petri Dish for Clean Energy

A Fresno patent attorney wanted to know the most pressing legal needs of clean energy companies in the San Joaquin Valley.Her emailed question made me think. The industry remains in its infancy but likely won’t dawdle in Huggies for long, especially if petroleum prices continue upward as analysts suggest. Oil-price.net still lists $99 barrel on its one-year forecast, and pump prices continue to climb.In my response to this attorney, I included concerns of solar, energy efficiency and biomass industries.”Land use is a big deal,” I wrote. “I have heard that because of increased difficulties getting federal land secured, solar companies are moving to get private land deals. So far those are with municipalities and small solar operations, teaming them with wastewater sites (big electrical users) in hinter-ish lands.”I also mentioned potential interest by Westlands farmers looking for a new source of revenue for farmland due to restrictions on irrigation water. Hundreds of acres of parched and dead grape fields and orchards greet passers by in this incredibly fertile sun-drenched valley.My co-worker Sandy Nax, who was also my compatriot on the now mothballed Fresno Bee business desk, says the Central Valley is a veritable Petri dish for clean energy with its abundant sun, wind in the Sierra foothills, methane rich dairy waste and bio-plant-rich farmland.

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Should a series of studies prove correct — that clean energy will produce scads of jobs nationwide and in California — I believe a large role will be played by those bitten by the powerful American entrepreneurial spirit. I told the patent attorney to keep an eye on start-ups, especially those related to water and biomass.For instance, the more than $800,000 fine levied on two biomass plants in Merced and Madera counties by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently will likely worry folks in that industry. The Fresno Bee’s Mark Grossi called it “one of the state’s largest air-pollution fines in recent history.”Biomass defines the process of burning woody material and ag waste to generate electricity. Emissions are a part of that as they are for biogas from methane.Another sector worth a look, perhaps from an attorney’s perspective, is construction. Net-zero homes, the passive house movement and others will likely become dominant features of the new home market. A part of that is retrofits, something we’re quite familiar with at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization.The practice of auditing buildings and upgrading systems that show inefficiencies is gaining converts and consumer interest. Some big players are starting to do this elsewhere. For instance, the Empire State Building is now a model of efficiency after a massive overhaul.I was talking about the status of the clean energy movement with Valley hydrogen power expert Gene Johnson, and he said the best bet for change is talking up the subject to our young people. “Education is the key to this whole thing,” he said.I convinced him to be one of the potential speakers in a program we’re working on with Valley high schools and colleges to prepare students for clean energy and entrepreneurial opportunities. Gene is one of those amazing people who can inspire people after 5 minutes in his presence. For example, he decided he wanted a hydrogen powered car so converted a glossy yellow Chevy SSR to run on the clean burning fuel.Gene’s pretty optimistic about the future of clean energy. “Once people see food and gas prices going up… they’ll realize self-sufficiency is the best way to deal with it,” he said. Gene’s definition of self-sufficiency is pretty global and refers to the United States being able to produce all its own energy, from multiple sources.

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Sandy and I keep up with news, and on the subject of clean energy and energy efficiency it looks pretty good. Our hope is that this industry takes off in the next couple of years. That may be optimistic, but things are definitely happening.The jolt of federal stimulus money didn’t hurt. But it’s limited. In fact, we’re working on a couple of stimulus grants that sunset in the next 12 months. So we are biased — a bit.We were heartened by a post on grist.org by Bracken Hendricks and Jorge Madrid with the Center for American Progress in which they called “clean energy technology one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy and it is projected to grow to $2.3 trillion by 2020.”They also said American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the official name of stimulus money) sustained the nation’s fledgling clean energy industry when it was struggling due to the economy and global competition.Nice to hear. I put a comment on their post saying as much.

Single Mom Traveling: Central Valley, Costa Rica

The phrase ‘single mom traveling’ does have a lovely ring to it, but upon my daughter’s birth, I was utterly devastated by the thought that it would be impossible to continue my traveling ways with my child. But like the seasons- thoughts, possibilities and people change. After a year and a half of settling into motherhood, I discovered that traveling as a single mom with my nineteen month old by my side, was not impossible after all. Our very first trip was to Costa Rica for 35 days. We visited five different locations starting with the Central Valley, then on to the Caribbean Coast, the Northern Central Valley and finally to the Pacific Coast. We encountered many hours of travel, new places to adapt to and unforgettable memories.I think that traveling remains in a child’s psyche and shapes their character in a conscientious and positive way. I saw it first-hand how truly positive the experience was for my daughter Natalia and I plan to continue traveling as much as we can. Natalia was ecstatic when we would finally arrive to our new destination after hours of travel. She would check out our new home and say “Natalia’s house” and we would both gracefully ease into every new destination and travel situation that we encountered.The Central Valley was the first place we settled for seven days. I wanted to see where in Costa Rica we would possibly like to settle down for a year or two in the future. I would be teaching and dabbling in real estate and Natalia would be getting a bilingual education and basking in the sun. I was pining for the beach, but I did not want to limit my options to just the beach. Most of the jobs in Costa Rica are in the Central Valley and I wanted to get to know the Central Valley first hand so that I could compare my experiences once I ventured out to the coasts. I also wanted to see what would be more enjoyable as well as practical for the both of us, with a good job market, good schools and a kid-friendly atmosphere. I would then decide on the best option for my toddler daughter- discovering life and growing, and for me- a teacher, world traveler and fun-loving single mother.The Central Valley is a massive area with many cities including San Jose, Heredia and Alajuela. When I was researching these cities, I was getting advice from people and from the internet to avoid them. I have never been to Central or South America. I did not want to overwhelm myself with a big Central American city, while I would already be overwhelmed with my small travel companion. If I were traveling single or with friends, I would gladly check out the big sprawling cities, but with a child, I felt that I should be more low-key. I wanted a homey small town feel with a two bedroom place and a kitchen so that Natalia and I would get acclimated to living daily life in the Central Valley like the locals.We chose a small village in the country hills called Pan de Azucar which means ‘sugar bread’ in Spanish. Pan de Azucar is in the outskirts of a cozy little town called Atenas. Atenas has a central park in the center and is surrounded by quaint family run businesses and restaurants called Sodas. Atenas has a simple cathedral, Tico-style residential homes and rolling mountain ranges in the background. It is a mellow town, with kid-friendly shops, including a candy shop, toy shop and a delicious bakery right across from the park. It had treats that Natalia loved to eat, like the carrot bread. Atenas also boasts that it has “the best climate in the world”, which was the deal breaker for me. There is something very wholesome and exclusive about the “best climate in the world” and I wanted me and my baby girl to experience it.After many dedicated nights of research, I found a cozy two-bedroom house on-line through a comprehensive website that rents vacation homes by owner. In my opinion, when staying for longer periods of time and traveling with children, a home type of environment is the best option. The property where we rented our house is Japanese owned and is called ‘Casa de Megumi’. In Spanish and Japanese, it means ‘House of Blessing’. ‘Casa’ means house in Spanish and ‘megumi’ means blessing in Japanese. Finding a Japanese run vacation rental in Costa Rica was a great coincidence for me because of my recent Japanese-oriented past. I lived in Japan for a year and a half, was pregnant in Japan for five months, and it was the last place I traveled to before going to Costa Rica. Since I have a profound fascination with all things Japanese, Casa de Megumi was automatically kindred to me. Moreover, once I got to know the earnestly helpful owner of the property, Hisano Bell, a Japanese woman from Yokohama, I knew in my gut that Casa de Megumi was the right place for us to start our Costa Rica adventure.

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Hisano became like a travel guardian-angel for us in the Central Valley. Even before we arrived to Costa Rica, Hisano and I were in constant contact. She had all sorts of provisions made for us, like getting our groceries before we landed. When I sent Hisano my gorcery list, I forgot to put coffee on the list but Hisano provides local Costa Rican coffee for her guests; I did not even have to worry about that. On the evening we arrived, we enjoyed a traditional Tico meal that Hisano arranged for us with the cook at Casa de Megumi. Hisano’s thoughtfulness was endless. She would even drive us into town occasionally and offer knowledgeable travel tips, like where to exchange money for the best rate. That is what I call Japanese service and hospitality. The Japanese people pride themselves on how well they serve others. When I was living in Japan, I learned a lot about providing sincere quality services to my clients, students and anyone I chose to help, paid or not. These same qualities of good service that I observed in Japan were the same qualities that Hisano shared with us. The coincidence of Casa de Megumi was a true blessing.Come to think of it, more coincidences followed at our stay at Casa de Megumi. I view these coincidences as omens or as indications that even though I was traveling to an unknown land with a child all alone, these omens were like familiarities along our journey, to make us feel secure and like we were on the right path. I am a huge fan of Paolo Coehlo’s philosophies and I am spiritual, so for me the pleasant coincidences at Casa de Megumi were magical and welcomed at every step.On the Casa de Megumi property we stayed at Casa Verde, a pristinely clean and newly remodeled two bedroom house with all the amenities, access to fertile gardens with avocado trees, magnificent central valley views and a sparkling pool. Hisano lives in Casa Grande, the other house on the property with her family. I was totally enamored by Hisano’s mother. She is an elderly woman with graceful mannerisms and always dressed in traditional Japanese regalia. Natalia and Hisano’s dog, Jon-Jon were pretty much inseparable during our entire stay at Casa de Megumi. It felt like we had an automatic pet upon arrival and it was heartwarming to see my daughter creating a bond and caring for an animal. She had many more opportunities to be in contact and care for animals throughout our trip in Costa Rica. Animals and pets are part of an integrated and populated mix in Costa Rica. Kids love animals and that is one major reason that makes Costa Rica so kid-appropriate and fun.One of the perks of staying at Casa de Megumi was getting to know Hisano’s family and having the traditional Japanese dinner at Hisano’s house. Hisano prepared an array of tempura, miso soup and mochi for dessert. Hisano offers this unique hospitality to guests who stay at Casa de Megumi for three nights or longer. It was a an exquisite treat to be in Costa Rica in the tropical mountains, having a traditional Japanese meal with a Japanese family, overlooking the vistas of the lush central valley- an experience of a life time really.Another striking coincidence at Casa de Megumi was when I was looking for a trustworthy and good- hearted babysitter to care for Natalia, while I would be out interviewing or working at home. Hisano introduced me to Stella. As soon as she said the name ‘Stella’, again it brought up Japan in my mind. My delightfully dynamic Australian roommate in Japan was named Stella. Stella took great care of me when I was pregnant for the first five months. She went with me to every doctor’s appointment and to emergency rooms in the middle of the night if I thought there was something wrong. She was always watching out for me, buying delicious food and always being there for me and my little bump during our fun and crazy times in Tokyo. It was a striking coincidence to hear that Natalia’s potential babysitter in the Central Valley would be named Stella.The Costa Rican Stella was not only Natalia’s babysitter but also the cook at Casa de Megumi. Stella makes traditional Tico meals with rice, beans, salad and a protein and an incredible vegetable soup. When guests at Casa de Megumi don’t feel like cooking, they can order a casado from Stella. Her food was fresh, authentic and made with love. After eating Stella’s homemade food, meeting her and spending some time with her, I knew she would be great with Natalia. She conveniently lived across the street and she would come over with her grand-daughters and care for Natalia while I was out interviewing or busy working at home. When Stella was unavailable, her daughter who was also coincidentally named Natalia and who was also a single mom, came to help out. Having Stella and her family over and getting to know them, instantly made me feel part of the community in Pan de Azucar. We were getting to know the locals and it made the adapting process familiar and easy.Natalia and I would go out for long walks along the country road and we would meet the local farmers and spend time with them while they grazed their cows. At first we would get timid waves but eventually the locals got used to us taking walks, snapping pictures at every turn and going to the few markets in the village. We also took the 80 cent local bus on occasion down to the town of Atenas. After a while the faces on the bus became more familiar and friendly, and easy to converse with. Everyone was extremely helpful on the bus. If I had too many bags, Natalia and the stroller, people would carry my stroller in for me so that I could settle us in quickly and be on our way. On the whole, people in the Central Valley love children and are extremely respectful, helpful and tolerant of mothers and their children. I would have to say, the majority of venues in Central Valley that we visited were child-friendly. In my experience and from what I have read, mothers traveling with children are a priority in Costa Rica. Natalia and I felt very welcomed and cherished in all the parts of Costa Rica and particularly the Central Valley.I had one great concern before going to the Central Valley with Natalia and that was, should I rent a car? I did a lot of research that said a car is not necessary. This may be true if you want to stay in one location, like the beach town Samara, where everything is accessible by foot or by a bike ride, but in Atenas, a car was definitely necessary. I was a little weary of this because of the serpentine roads that are at times unpaved or inches from cascading cliffs. For a single mom with a 19 month old in the back, it did leave a little lump in my throat. After all my research, I decided to ask Hisano about whether I should rent a car. Renting a car in Costa Rica can be quite expensive because of the insurance, which is usually as much as the car rental itself. Hisano said that maybe the better and more economical option would be to just hire a driver; and she recommended her driver Carlos. Carlos was extremely reliable and a total blast to chat and tour with. It was actually more economical to hire Carlos and his car than to rent a car and it was an ideally comfortable situation for us. Carlos took us everywhere our hearts desired, equipped with a safe car seat for Natalia. I spoke both Spanish and English with Carlos because he is bilingual. He is a local and has immense knowledge of the area. He gave us impromptu tours and treated us to some very good ginger candy.

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The places that Natalia and I both enjoyed in the Central Valley were the Doka Estate Coffee Plantation and Butterfly Garden, and the renowned Zoo Ave. At the coffee plantation we took a tour, learned about coffee production, ate a delicious traditional Tico lunch and after lunch we visited the butterfly garden, all for under thirty dollars. Natalia loved the Butterfly Garden and she was very well-behaved and attentive when mommy was indulging in all the coffee knowledge and in all the coffee. Carlos even gave Natalia chocolate covered coffee beans. I know this is not as tolerable in the US, but in Costa Rica I have spoken to people who mix a small amount of coffee with milk and give it to their toddlers on occasion. I thought ‘when in Rome…’ and allowed Natalia to enjoy some coffee treats. I associate it with allowing Natalia to drink chocolate milk once in a while. She experienced no adverse reactions just a purely good time.Zoo Ave is another place that fascinated us both. It is not a traditional zoo but a very large refuge for local rescued animals. Zoo Ave is high in the mountains with exotic animals like pumas, monkeys and sloths and thousands of exotic plants. Natalia took a long nap after discovering all the animals while I sat and took in the sights and jungle sounds. Across the street from Zoo Ave is a well-renowned resort called Resort Martino. I researched and visited the resort and it seemed pristine. Resort Martino is kid friendly, fifteen minutes away from the airport and another great option to consider when staying in the Central Valley with kids.The Central Valley of Costa Rica was truly a picture-perfect first destination to settle in before hitting the beaches. The Central Valley had many fun activities that kept us busy discovering, but in a relaxed atmosphere at Casa de Megumi, which was safe and perfect for my daughter. In the afternoon, I would go on a few interviews in Heredia and Alajuela or we would take an excursion with Carlos or we would play at the pool. In the evenings, we would have our neighbors over or settle in for the night having dinner, skyping with our loved ones, bath time, story time and bed time; just like at home. We would wake up in the early morning and go straight to the hammock to take our time waking up and to take in the sounds of exotic birds and roosters, to be enveloped in pure nature and to enjoy the best climate in the world. Pura vida.Our next stop was Manzanillo de Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast. This was the second part of our Costa Rica journey. A kindred spirit of mine came to join us on that leg of the trip and I will get more into that in the upcoming third part of this article series called Single Mom Traveling: Manzanillo de Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.