2017 Plans, Starting With Coffee

I was talking on the phone to one of my sisters the other day, and she asked me perfectly normal question: “So what are your plans for the new year?”–or something like that.

For one very confusing moment, I had no idea what to say. I mean, I realize that, yes, we have turned a page on the calendar. I even made a resolution regarding how to (hopefully) be a somewhat better human being. But that’s not the same as plans.

For some reason it felt like a confession of something not very noble to say that I don’t really have any plans.  But I mean that in a good way, if you get what I’m saying.  An expression of contentment.  I have nothing to fix because nothing is broken.

Is that terrible?  I know in my heart that it isn’t, but it’s a 1st World cultural thing:  you need goals.  You need plans.  If you aren’t going somewhere–well.  How dare you?  Let me clarify:  this is NOT said sister’s attitude, nor is it the spirit in which she asked the question.  We were just chatting.  And then I got to… hablando sola.

When I sit down and make a list of what I actually plan to do this year, this is what I come up with:

–In 2017, I plan to wake up every morning.  Early.  Early enough to see the big dipper on the horizon in the south, then watch the sky fade from black to gray to blue.  Roosters, then monkeys, then parakeets.

–I plan to drink hot coffee in the mornings.  A glass of red wine in the evening.  In between, plenty of water.  I fully intend to eat far more plants than animals, and that most of the animals will be fish.

–I plan to surf as often and as well as I possibly can.  It won’t be as often or as well as my heart asks, but I plan to be ok with that.  I know my options.  For five cold years I couldn’t surf, ever.

–In 2017, I plan to feed my cats twice a day.  Religiously.   And pet them and pester them and sing them silly songs.

–I intend to go to work 5 days a week, and remember that this alone makes me lucky.

–I plan to be a good wife.

–I plan to visit my granddaughter.  She isn’t my biological granddaughter, obviously, because her mama wasn’t my baby, but I prefer to define things by what they are, not by what they are not.  She will learn to sit and crawl and probably walk.  I have no plans of being a stranger.

–I plan to look at the sky every night.  Search for certain stars or watch the moon.    On dry nights I may lie for a while on my back on the ground under the sky.  Me and the Milky Way.  Because I can.

–I have a hammock, now, and I intend to use it.

–In 2017, I plan to turn 47.  I feel fine about that.  Next year I plan to turn 48, and I’m not afraid to say it.

–I plan to pay attention to poems, to dreams, to wind direction.  If I can get those things right, the rest will follow.

These are my ambitions.  My goal is to be warm.  My plan is to be content.  On both counts, I am fully self-confident.

December 26, 2010: Barbara’s roommates speak with Bill on the telephone

On December 26, 2010, not having managed to locate Bill for four days, and now sick with fear about what might have happened to Barbara, Bill and Barbara’s roommates decided to call Bill’s family in North Carolina.  They gathered around the computer and punched the number into skype.

An older gentleman’s voice answered the phone.  They identified themselves as Bill friends, and asked if he knew where Bill was.  “Sure!” he answered pleasantly, “He’s right here.  Would you like to talk to him?”

They said yes.

I wasn’t part of this conversation, but have heard about it from several of the people who were.  The roommates say that they confronted Bill directly about Barbara, asking what had happened to her.  According to them, Bill laughed at them for suggesting that he killed her.  He made jokes, as if he could read their minds, about putting her in the board bag and throwing her over a bridge.  Then he hung up the phone.

This is the last conversation that Bill had with any of his former room mates.

* * *

Four days later, an investigation of the home by the OIJ revealed evidence that we are all familiar with, removing all doubt about whether or not Barbara Struncova was still alive.

The whereabouts of her body and of the board bag are an ongoing mystery.


Barbara Struncova November 7, 2010

Barbara Struncova
November 7, 2010

December 23, 2010: Money discovered missing

On the morning of December 23, 2010, the owner of the tour office where Bill worked woke up to discover that his company’s bank accounts had been frozen due to unusual activity the previous day.

At some time on December 22, 2010,  during hours when the shop was closed, several thousand dollars were charged to Barbara Struncova’s credit card at the tour center.   Security cameras confirm that directly after these charges were made, Bill Ulmer withdrew a large amount of money in cash at the ATM across the street from the shop, using the corporate ATM card that was in his possession.  He reportedly withdrew roughly $5,000–part of this money belonging to the tour company, and part of it belonging to Barbara Struncova.

At this time no one knew where Bill had gone, only that he was last seen sitting at a bus stop.

On this day, six years ago, the owner of the tour office where bill worked was the first person to suggest that Bill had harmed Barbara and fled.  It seems obvious now,  but at the time, shock and disbelief stupefied everyone.  Both Bill and Barbara were gone and no one knew the whereabouts of either.

Bill and Barbara’s room mates went into their bedroom.  To their horror, they found all of Barbara’s things in their places, untouched.


Bill Ulmer: arrested in June 2015 for using a passport belonging to his brother

Bill Ulmer: arrested in June 2015 for using a passport belonging to his brother

Read other days:

December 22
December 26


December 22, 2010: Bill Ulmer disappears without saying goodbye

On the afternoon of December 22, 2010, 17 days after Barbara Struncova was last seen, Bill Ulmer also disappeared.

He was last seen by a room mate, sitting at a bus stop with a small back pack and wearing long pants–a sure sign that someone at the beach is headed out of town.  The surprised room mate asked him where he was going.  Reportedly flustered, Bill replied that he was waiting for the private shuttle bus to the capital because he needed to pay the driver directly in cash for a client transfer.

That was Bill’s last conversation in Tamarindo.

The shuttle company, when contacted, reported no pick-ups in the name of Bill Ulmer, but they did report the pick-up of a white foreigner named “Steve York” at that spot, at that time, on that day.  Curious that Bill has a cousin by that name–one who has never been to  Costa Rica.

barbara at the beach

Barbara at the beach. July 2010

Read other days:

December 21
December 22

December 21, 2010: Bill returns from “looking for Barbara”

On Tuesday, December 21, 2010, Bill Ulmer returned from “looking for Barbara” to his home in Tamarindo.  Whereas he stated that he was going to look for her in the Caribbean and/or in Jaco, he was seen surfing in Malpais which is near neither place.  (Bill and Barbara’s friends did not  know where Bill had been “looking for Barbara”–the fact that he was actually surfing in Malpais came to light in recent years.)

The most peculiar part of Bill’s “search” for Barbara is that, although “the search” was unsuccessful, he came back in a much better mood than the one he left in.  Room mates remember that he seemed “happy” for the first time since Barbara “left” him.  Strange, for someone who spent days unsuccessfully searching for a missing person who was so close to him.

But, six years later, we all know why he felt so much relief.  He had a plan in place to vanish, too.

Read other days:

December 16
December 22



December 16, 2010: Bill Ulmer goes to “look for Barbara”

At some point between December 15 and December 17, 2010, Bill Ulmer went to “look for Barbara.”  He threw some things in a backpack, took an old sleeping bag, and left.

To some people, he said he was going to look for her in Puerto Viejo.
To others, he said he was going to find her in Limon.
He mentioned Jaco as well, which is nowhere near either of those places.

For years I wondered where he went.  Of course he wasn’t really looking for Barbara.  He knows perfectly well where she is.  So why the story about searching?

Now we know:
Bill went on a surf trip to Malpais.  A mutual acquaintance saw him there.  They chatted in the water, and Bill mentioned, before he paddled on, that he was going back home to the USA for Christmas.

This is the only mention Bill made to anyone about the trip that he indeed did make to the USA a few days later.

cut 4

Read other days:

December 12
December 21

December 12, 2010: Barbara’s 4th roommate returns home and finds her missing

On December 12, 2010, the 4th of Barbara Struncova and Bill Ulmer’s 4 roommates returned home from a visit to the USA. She was aware that while she was gone, Barbara had left Bill in an uncharacteristic manner, and that Barbara still had not contacted anyone.  Everyone was very worried about Barbara, but nobody wanted to ask Bill too many questions.  He seemed furious about the whole thing, and not one bit concerned for her safety, wherever she was.

In the kitchen on her first morning back, Bill told this roommate that Barbara left him with one of the Czech surfers– an old boyfriend named Martin–and that the couple had gone to Panama.

Although this made no sense at all (none of the Czech surfers were named Martin and all of them had returned to Czech Republic), no one had the gall to cross-examine Bill.

Barbara’s friends were afraid that something had happened to Barbara after she left.  Still, no one imagined that she never walked out the door.

Read other days:

December 7
December 16

September 20, 2008 Barbara Struncova with friends on the night before she left for Costa Rica

September 20, 2008
Barbara Struncova with friends on the night before she left for Costa Rica