Monday, June 6, 2011

Home Away From Home

A female Howler Monkey eating the leaves of her
 favorite food source, the Cecropia tree.
   Early morning bird song filled the air. The Howler monkeys took it upon themselves to play alarm clock...their howl could wake the dead! With all the sound effects, this was no leisurely stay in bed kind of vacation. But the veranda on the back of our friends house outside of Tilaran, Costa Rica, was beckoning to me by first light anyway, so who really wants to sleep in? As soon as it was light enough to see, I would go sit on the veranda and let a rich cup of Costa Rican coffee bring me to life. The tile floor was cool under my bare feet and there was a fresh moist breeze coming up from the river at the bottom of the slope behind the house. What a great way to start the day!
 There was nest of little royal blue swallows in the eaves where the veranda roof meets the house. They were taking their flying lessons under the cover of the roof, just inches above my head. Swooping and diving their mother would take them through the paces one by one. As the week progressed, we saw less and less of mom and then she was gone altogether. The babies flew back to the nest repeatedly looking for mom and breakfast to no avail. It was kind of sad watching the three of them sitting there outside their nest all bunched up together, looking so forlorn... but eventually they took off to find their own breakfast.

  I love many things about Costa Rica, but I think one of my favorite things is the pace of life. It seems unthinkable to be in a hurry... there is always plenty of time to get things done. No need to dash here or there, where would you go in a hurry anyway? The roads are terrible, even in the dry season, there are sharp switch backs and hair pin curves, and pot holes that would swallow a car, so you definitely won't be speeding.... Getting out of third gear was often something that we commented on while driving, "Wow, I just hit forth...uh, never mind... had to downshift for the curve". But more than that there is just nothing to get in a hurry about. There is no movie theater to worry about missing a showtime, very few restaurants, no work to go to, ("gringos" can't work in Costa Rica, so if you are there you must have another way to support yourself), so there is no reason to worry about where you have to be, or what is on your "to-do" list. If you don't get it all done today, there is always tomorrow. It is really very liberating not to have too many choices about what a day will hold. It really allows you to experience what you are doing rather than working through things in rapid succession trying to get done.

Plants grow on everthing that will hold still,
even on the clothesline!
  Laundry is an all day affair. Wash and then hang to dry, (which may never happen, it is after all the rain forest...). There is no sense in starting another load until you are very sure that the one you are putting on the line is actually going to get dry. So, with the wind blowing the clothes and your hair into tangles as you try to hang them out, you find yourself physically slowing. You hear the birds, feel the warmth of the sun on your neck. With a contented sigh you sit down to read while you watch for the moment in time when the clothes are dry and you can take them off the line and start another load.

Mangoes are in season and
growing everywhere.
  Shopping takes forever as well, since you have to visit every shop in town to get what you need. There isn't a one stop shopping mentality in Costa Rica... Veggies at the open air market, meat at the carniceria, dried beans and butter at the "Super", hairspray at the beauty supply shop, Tylenol by the individual pill at the pharmacia, the ferreteria will have your dog food and seeds for the garden and knee high rubber boots. Of course at each of these places you are going to chat with the counter help or the proprieter and probably run into at least one other person at each location that you will stop and share news with. So shopping is going to take up another day... and so goes all of life, no way to hurry, so you just have relax and allow "Tico time" to have its way.

  With no place to go and nothing to do by stateside standards, one might ask, "What is the attraction?". For some people probably very little, unless you are at the beach or in San Jose where it is pretty much like living in the states. But for others, myself included, it is the sweet fresh newly made oxygen from the rainforest, the lush green of everything, dotted with vibrant colored flowers and birds, the rolling hills, and constantly changing weather, sunny and 75 degrees one minute, a deluge the next. I am happy to be able to enjoy the simple tasks of daily living while taking in the wonderment of a place that is literally teeming with life. I like the idea that I am just one of many living things that share this place, and that in the scope of things people play only a small part in the overall scene.

  Since we lived in the area we were staying in, we basically just moved in and started living. Our dear friends the Hemmingway's made us feel right at home and we so much enjoyed being in their company again! We spent time in Tilaran, (the nearest town), and in Sabalito, (the pueblo where we used to live). We visited friends and spent long periods of time laughing and talking. Sometimes things seemed so "normal" that I had to remind myself that as comfortable and content as I felt, I wasn't at home. I was going to have to leave and go back to the states. Sigh...

   We visited Volcan Arenal with friends, endulged ourselves at our favorite restaurant on that side of the lake, and took leisurely drive through the backcountry, but for most the first week and a half we just hung out and enjoyed the simple life.

   A few days before I had to come home, I hugged everyone good-bye, wiped the tears from my eyes and my husband and I climbed on the 7 a.m. bus to San Jose. In all the time I lived in Costa Rica, I never spent more than an hour in San Jose. Just long enough to get off the plane and catch the bus to Tilaran.So we decided to spend my last few days seeing some things in that area. We stayed in Hotel Cristina in downtown San Jose, near Parque Sabana (the Costa Rican version of Central Park). The hotel is very nice, and as we found out during our stay, is frequented by Americans who travel down to Costa Rica for elective surgery and dental work. The private sector medical practice in Costa Rica has very good doctors and dental specialists from all over the world who practice medicine there and cater to Americans who are looking for affordable elective surgery. Interesting...

A careta that was on display in the showroom
at the cartea factory in Sarchi.
   We took a day trip one day, got a taxi to the bus terminal, took a bus to Grecia, took another bus to Sarchi, where we strolled through town taking pictures and touring the careta factory. A careta is a colorful wooden cart that, not too many years ago, would have been seen bumping along behind an ox and driver as it carried produce from the field or families to church. Today, in most places they are primarily used in parades and for other festive occasions. Although where we lived in the mountains, there were still many people who use them daily for farm work, since their wobbly metal banded wheels easily cover rugged terrain. At the factory we got to see the artisans painting the traditional kaleidoscopic patterns on wagons, plates and other souvenir type items that would later be fore sale in the shop.

A little waterfall in the
 botanical garden

  From there we took a taxi to the Else Kientzler Botanical Gardens. The gardens were lovely, with tall stands of Eucalyptus and teak trees and flora and fauna that represents a good cross section of plant life from Costa Rica and othe parts of Central America. There were also plants from places as far away as Brasil and Mexico. Then it was time reverse the process; taxi, bus,bus, taxi to end up at hotel Cristina in time for dinner. All in all an interesting and happy day!
   The next day was Saturday, which is our Sabbath, so we spent it resting and strolling around Parque Sabana. In the afternoon we went for a walk to Mercado Central, which is the central marketplace in downtown San Jose. It has hundreds of little shops, lining the brick pedestrian walks. This place is not for the faint hearted or directionally challenged, since it is a virtual maze of indoor venders and shops selling everything from herbal remedies straight from the rainforest to bootlegged first run movies. There are many dark little rabbit trails that will take you who knows where, and curious little restaurants that are so small that only three or four people at a time can be served. The curious part was that the floor of the restaurant was furnished with rickety little tables and a very tiny service area, then above our heads in what had to be very hot and dark conditions was the kitchen. The food was delivered via a make shift dumbwaiter that literally dropped the food from the ceiling!
  The walk from the hotel to the Mercado and back was about 7 kilometers, I had worn flip flops, not realizing how far it was, so by the time we got back to the hotel I had blisters. It was quite an experience and except for a blister or two we made it back to the hotel without incident.
  The next day was a taxi ride to the airport and the flight back to the states. I was leaving my husband in Costa Rica to spend another week visiting and hiking, while I return to the states to care for our homestead. It has been a wonderful and peaceful trip, I'm just sad it is over...
  Now that I'm home and feeling some better, I have caught up on some of my mail backlog and have been planning my next mail art mail out while I try to tame the weeds in the garden and harvest the remaining spring garden produce. Until next time I'll see you in the mail!

Lobster Claw flowers

A banana flower being pollenated
by bees.
A red passion flower. I had never seen red ones before!

A local "soda" and internet cafe

A mural on the front wall of a tienda
(a Tico style stop and shop)

The Tilaran post office


  1. What an interesting read! Sounds like an absolutely lovely spot and the photos are great. Would love to visit Costa Rica sometime after reading this....welcome home.

  2. Thanks Pamela!Costa Rica is well worth a visit.If you do decied someday to make a trip, I would suggest you make a bee-line to the Guanacaste Region in the mountains.The temps remain between 65-80 degrees, there is a lovely breeze, the rain forest, lush vegetation, vibrant flowers and birds, anfd several volcanoes. It is the best of the best!