Saturday, December 15, 2007

sun enough to melt the ice

Surfing. The word conjures up glorious rides on long, gently breaking waves sparkling and curling over the head of any surfer gutsy enough to hang out in the tube. They carve languid lines along the wave and tear up the curl with the greatest of ease. When they are done they make their triumphant exit from the water, beautiful beach babes scented with coconut and ylang-ylang greet them with back rubs and pina coladas. the reality of this kansas boy varies a bit from this version. My surfing (although improving each time) consists of burning up the shoulder muscles attempting to get through the primary breakers near the beach. Simply getting to the calm of the swell just beyond the break for a chance to relax and feel the ocean roll beneath me (not to mention the pelicans gliding by) feels like a victory. From here, it's a matter of seeing a wave I might have a chance with. Then paddling like mad. If the timing is good, the wave picks up the board up and for that moment I'm moving as quickly as a bootlegger and as lightly as the air around me. Next, stand up quick and for the next few moments yours truly feels like the golden god of surfing. This feeling is soon followed by a fall from heaven into the massive water that is crashing over my head and salt water cleaning out the sinuses and an underwater disorientation that can only be solved by following the leash up to the (thankfully) bouyant surfboard while another wave crashes on my nearly drowned cabeza. Although there is no gaggle of senoritas waiting ashore, there is one senora bonita who squeezes my hand and tells me how proud she is proud of my attempts-no matter how feeble. Tuanis, mai!
Laying on the beach or floating in the pool overlooking the ocean with the sun on her skin and a book in her hand is Kendra's speed. The surfing is to be tolerated not attempted. We are soaking up these last few days of sunshine before we depart for the cold Midwest. Just wanted to prove it, so here we are, truly enjoying pura vida. Ken finished her pina colada before the picture was snapped.

mi casa es su casa

Some of you faithful readers have asked about the house we live in here. Our friends Jake and Julia who split their time between Ojochal and Kansas built it. They just finished it and it is now on the market. If any of you are looking for a sweet second home in Costa Rica or just want to skip outta the states and settle in sunny Central America, let us know. This house sits on a beautiful piece of land with mature coconut, avocado, mango, lime, banana and plantain trees. Sugar cane too. The mural upstairs is an orginal by “LOS MARABLES”. This way the hibiscus bloom all year ‘round both inside and out. The toucans, hummingbirds, and ocean view add the icing on the cake.

food for thought

We just finished our last painting project. We made this sign for the Mennonites that sell baked goods, goat milk, yogurt, cheese, etc. in our village every Friday. We traded them the sign for their goods and everyone was happy. George and Joel beamed when they saw the sign and said “This really means a lot.” Over the last 9 weeks we’ve used our art making abilities to bridge cultural gaps, create beauty and inspiration where it didn’t exist before and instigate conversation and connection.We now see our painting as a skill worthy of bartering and trading. Painting has rewarded us with overnight beachside stays, cafeteria meals, cinnamon rolls, beer, and respect in our community. In fact, tonight we are dining in a sweet little french joint because the woman who runs it saw a little drawing in our sketchbook and was willing to trade a meal for it. All proof that not all artists starve.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

animal crackers

Our nephew Will was excited to see the picture of the scorpion so we thought we better take it up a few notches and keep him impressed. He’s only 3, but we want to keep our cool reputations. Here are some more animal pictures. These were all taken on our last big adventure around the country. The monkeys were super tame, we fed them bananas and plantains. It was thrilling. Its really impressive how they swing with such ease from branch to branch by their tails and long arms. Their little hands were unbelievably human. FIVE FINGERS! The crocodiles were under a bridge we drove over. Eerie. They look so prehistoric. There were about a dozen of them, basking in the murky water to catch some sun. And possibly waiting to catch something/someone else? The iguana was so photogenic, we wondered how many other people have shot his portrait? And last but not least, the giant beetle was caught in our house last night by Uncle Aaron. He heard the buzzing of the wings from upstairs and went down to investigate. He choose to use the coffee pot over the usual “creature trap” for optimal viewing. Now who’s impressed?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Canela Lee Zuleta Harper

We were so thrilled to see our dear friend Erica Harper in San Jose and meet her partner Marco and their new baby Canela. Canela is Spanish for CINNAMON. What a sweetheart. She was born at their home on Nov. 12th. We are in awe of Erica for having her baby at home...not to mention she did it standing up! Gravity and sound vibration should not be taken for granted!
It was really inspiring and grounding to see how they are living their lives. Erica and Marco are both artists and make a living doing street theater-circus performances. Think unicycles and juggling fire. Their performances are complete with costumes and social commentary. They also sell crafts and jewelry that they make. Beautiful. Stellar examples of living with creativity and integrity.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


Many things have been dismissed as unnessessary in these parts.These folks get by just fine in their seemingly primitive approaches to taking care of business. The same holds true for milling. No hulking buildings with their steel teeth and hydro electrics chomping away at the jungle. Instead, a couple of young men take petite nibbles on our surrrounding trees. Using only an extended chainsaw fixed with a jig, these dudes slowly but steadily (and neatly) mill los arboles of our area. The planks are mostly used for concrete forming in all the building done here. The operators of these saws are all lean, incredibly strong, and evidently deaf as ear protection seems to be a thing for the weak. ouch. The younger helper pictured here was last seen helping us out with the mural at his school. We were a bit surprised to see him sweating so hard on an early saturday morning. So much for Saturday cartoons!

Frutas y Queso

While we were staying at Zancudo Beach, we did some sign painting in trade for a couple free nights at the cabina we were staying in. There was a produce truck that rumbled through this one road town selling fruit, vegetables, cheese, homemade rum, etc. People hang signs out by the road to signal they want "Willy" to stop. Here are a couple of our favorites.

miles and miles

We've been out of the blog loop as we were travelling around the country for a week without the computer. Our friend Chris Kuhlman from L.A. met up with us here and we rented a car and made some tracks. We were so impressed by the diversity of the landscape. Being 'down south' in Ojochal for 6 weeks in the humidity and warmth has been great, but the mountain air of Monteverde was WONDERFUL. We finally got to wear long sleeves and cuddle under a quilt just like all our friends and family back home. Our adventures were numerous. Here is just a tiny glimpse of the landscapes we travelled across... we saw agricultural expanse, coffee plantations, cloud forests and even two active volcanoes. Looking through the binoculars from the base of Volcan Arenal we could see boulders rolling down the hillside, spewed from within...the sound was like a grumbling and rumbling we've never experienced before.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving in the Tropics

This was the first time in 6 years that we didn't spend Thanksgiving with Aaron's family. When we talked to Grandma Gladhart she said there had been snow flurries and ice in Kansas. It was 80 degrees here and we were barefoot. We roasted a chicken we had gotten from this really inspiring, beautiful farm here. It is a bio-dynamic farm, which is a method of organic farming that integrates and emphasizes the relationships between soil, plants, and animals. This chicken was the best we have EVER eaten!

Our meal was very simple yet delicious...roasted chicken with garlic and rosemary, sweet potatoes, and a new recipe I call "Costa Rican Ensalada" which is just chopped tomato, avodado and cucumber with lime juice and "Chilero" our new favorite hot sauce. The food was completely local with the exception of our Chilean and French wine. Did we miss the traditional feast? Not really, though I did make up some devilled eggs in honor of Grandma Gladhart to keep that tradition alive.

We spent the afternoon playing cards, painting, and putting on a shadow puppet show. It was nice to spend the day alone but we did have one visitor. This scorpion! It was about 4 inches long, not including the tail. Its one thing to see these enshrined in a cast resin belt buckle or bolo tie, but ON THE WALL?!?!? Aaron calmly got out the "creature trap" which is an empty plastic bowl and the cardboard backing from a notebook. To date, he has extracted giant grasshoppers, roaches, spiders, centipedes, bats and scorpions with it. Just because we aren't scraping ice doesn't mean we don't have our own issues...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

1 cerveza. 2 cerveza.

Living in Costa Rica has freed me from the paralysis we experience in the U.S. that can come from having too many choices. We feel it is our right to get to decide between 20 kinds of peanut butter or 3 aisles dedicated to morning cereals. Not in costa rica... and i mean right down to our beer. There are basically 2 choices: Imperial or Pilsen with Bavaria(strangely, this Germanic sounding cerveza is brewed right here) coming in a distant 3rd. Seriously. 2...Every cafe, bar, and convenience store in the country has a Pilsen or Imperial sign hanging out front, lit up like a beacon in an otherwise black jungle night.
You could do worse. I know I have at the Replay simply with a Pabst. These beers are refreshing and usually ice cold no matter where you get them. They are the beer you reach for following an afternoon full of mowing in July. Ken and I have gotten into a little habit after finishing up a day's work of painting at the school. We move on down to the neighborhood mercado for the goods. Then, we slowly make our way up our winding, axel- breaking road home sipping on Pilsens and munching on bags of locally made plantain chips(our favorite new food group.)
Sooo... the next time any of you beauties tip back an Oatmeal Stout or Boulevard pale take one attentive gulp for your poor, deprived friends in the tropics. salut!

Mosquito Coast

Last week we went to Zancudo Beach for a couple days. For those who don’t speak Spanish, ZANCUDO=MOSQUITO. Thats why our legs now look like we have chicken pox even tho we don’t. HOWEVER, our time at the beach was really sublime.

Zancudo is a very remote village. In order to reach it, a ferry ride across a river on the most ramshackle jalopy of a ferry is required. It was wonderful...driving onto this rusty steel float with no choice but to trust we would slowly float to the other side. We made the voyage with one other passenger; an older white haired Costa Rican man and the barefoot ferry “captain” who steadily poured quarts of oil into the sputtering motor. White egrets flew by our side.

Passing by hundreds of rows of palm, banana and coconut trees, we navigated long muddy roads full of potholes and occasional oxen.

We rented a cabina that had originally housed banana farmers near the border. It was perfect... living right on the beach. Our quarters included a lovely mosquito net around the bed which made sleeping extra dreamy, an indoor and outdoor shower, equipped kitchen, hammock on the porch, and more.

The Golfo Dulce “Sweet Gulf” rolled us gentle waves and it was really ideal for swimming, as well as sea shell collecting, sunbathing, walking and bike riding on the sand. At night we could see the phosphorescent glowing of creatures in the sea and beautiful moonlight reflecting on the water.

We collected lots of driftwood to paint on. Old oars, pieces of boats, soles of shoes, etc. We ended up getting work painting a bunch of signage for the fruit & vegetable delivery truck which we did for trade...we got a couple nights stay free at the cabina. A great deal for everyone.

One night we ate at a tiny authentic Italian joint “PUERTA NEGRA” with with our new friends Edwin & Maureen. The owner/chef “Alberto” had just spent a month renovating after returning from 2 months in Italy to find Mother Nature had moved into the restaurant. Because everything is so open to the elements here, its not hard to imagine this happening. But obviously he did not forsee the bamboo growing several feet and strangling out other vegetation; nor did he expect to find dozens of bats, numerous scorpions, and FOUR BOA CONSTRICTORS living inside his place.

Our time at the beach was really rejuvenating and reinvigorating. So much so that we returned to Ojochal and said "yes" to another job at the school. We’ll proably need another get-away after this...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


We finished painting the murals at the escuela today. Its amazing how just one week at a place can give you so much insight that you feel like you could possibly write a pilot episode for a new sitcom. This one would be called “Academic Anarchy” and it would be based on the antics and behavior of the children and teachers at Tortuga Escuela; the elementary school in the village of Ojochal.
The atmosphere of this school is pure mayhem. Think about that Michelle Pfiefer movie, Dangerous Minds in terms of the level of disrespect for the teacher, but without the threat of violence. The length of each lesson taught ranges from 1-5 minutes on average. A few times a week it seemed the teachers were feeling quite energetic and would indulge in an approximately 8 minute long-winded sermon of knowledge. Perhaps sermon paints the wrong image. These children don’t sit still. These children never shut their mouths. Truly. Their mouths are open for shouting, screaming, talking loudly, or to receive the endless stream of candy, suckers, gum, chips, etc. they eat DURING CLASS. Before you imagine their brownbags or lunchpails stuffed with such riches, I’ll tell you exactly where they get them. Across and down the road from the school about 50 yards sits a “Pulperia” a tiny convenience store for food, water, beer, etc. These kids wander endlessly in and out of their classrooms ALL DAY and buy snacks. They holler answers out which are strangled by suckers. Yesterday “Alexis” was eating an ICE CREAM CONE during math! But of COURSE the kids do this... SO DO THE TEACHERS! Its a sight for us to see such feasting...we who were only allowed to even chew gum in class on special days...As we paint right outside the classrooms, the artificial fruit breeze wafts into our expectant yet chaste noses.

The woman who cleans the school at the end of the day sweeps up dustpans FULL of wrappers and debris. The kids DO NOT use the trash cans. Wrappers are strewn upon the grass and collect along the chainlink fence in the schoolyard.

As a result of this steady sugar intake, you can imagine the high voltage energy (and the resulting crash and emotional turmoil their parents get to live with later.) Think back to the classroom climate of those days in elementary when there was a substitute teacher. Conjure up the most unruly, smart-ass misbehaved kids. Now think about the energy level of the last day of school before christmas break. Add to that the high pitched fervor of the last day of school for the year. Multiply that by 10. Add in the fragrance of artificial tropical fruit flavor. hmmm. this really BARELY begins to explain.

Yesterday, after FIREWORKS were lit off IN THE CLASS I thought what a shame it was my parents weren’t cognizant of this fine educational brother the pyrotechnic could have flourished here. He would have never had to drop out of 10th grade! When the ping pong games began and balls were bouncing on the floors, we sorta began to lose it. We were yelling cusswords, (they don’t understand English) singing super loud, and laughing maniacally. No one noticed.

The kids were our audience while we painted. They watched us for six-and-a-half DAYS. They watched while we painted the Costa Rican "coat of arms", the flag, and the village emblem. They watched us paint the bathroom doors. They watched us paint two 12' long walls. At first we felt guilty for being such a distraction. HA. Now that cracks us up. We were so self centered to think the teachers were giving the kids permission to watch us for hours. The truth is, the teachers LOVED that we were were there to distract. That meant more freedom for them. I mean, those short lessons really wear a guy out. So, with us providing hours of entertainment there was time to walk to the Pulperpia for snacks, to socialize.... friends walking by need not keep walking,.....come on in! What’s happening? Pura vida...... We witnessed many many lengthy conversations conducted between passersby and the teachers...sometimes the teachers were mid-lesson and would see a friend walk by, and stop to shout out, halting class for a quick chat.

Perhaps our sweetest memory of one of the teachers is when he asked some of the boys to wash his motorcycle. During class. During a rainy afternoon. This is the same teacher who would chat it UP on his CELL PHONE during "class".

As we paint the last stripes of the Costa Rican flag on this fine establishment, we salute each and every student and teacher. Thank you for granting us access to your walls, your customs, your sugar coated school...

Friday, November 9, 2007

living the dream

Last night I was visited by a strange dream in which there were 5 huge birds... in my mind they were Quetzals the sacred Mexican bird known for its colorful plumage and powerful presence in Mayan mythology. In the dream they each had one peacock feather on their backs. Very colorful. This morning, Aaron and I were driving down the road to leave our village for the day and a very colorful bird almost flew into the truck window. We pulled over to the side and got out... there were FIVE BEAUTIFUL TOUCANS perched in a tree-top!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

mural madness

This is our neighborhood equivalent to 7-11. no big gulps but they've got ken's favorite new beverage, rompopo. it's akin to eggnog and comes in individual size drink boxes that (if you were lucky) you got to take on field trips in elementary school. sometimes they have rum in them, so that's a bit different than my elementary years. this place also carries necessities like t.p., strong smelling laundry detergent (to fight mildew), chips and candy of all kinds that kids constantly chow on, cans of tuna, refried beans, and tomato paste. there's a small, somewhat questionable shelf with produce like pineapples, garlic, avocado, yucca, and chayote. these are all a bit limp but you take what you can get. propane tanks are also available. if you're feeling lucky there's a pinball gambling device that participants can win some colones from. completing the kwik shop experience...a form of lottery ticket.
young and old from around the neighborhood can be found here at all hours of operation, lazily going through the motions of conversation... but mostly just quietly munching on snacks from within while chillin' at this little table under the covered front.
the kids watched in amazement as we painted this mural and would shout out the names of items as soon as they were identifiable on the wall. the parents and adults mostly nodded in approval with knowing grins. The owner was so happy that we had chosen his place of business as a canvas. He kept beaming and saying "mucho mucho mucho lindo". Very, very, very pretty.
Today we began painting at the elementary school where we have been asked to make various improvements to existing paintings as well as new murals. What an incredible day. We're not sure if the kids got to hang out with us all day because it was a "learning experience" for them, or if they always get to run amok on the playground and in the road, but we got to share some really amazing hours with the kids. The school is paying us as well as feeding us breakfast and lunch. rice and beans. rice and beans. It goes without saying that their "cafeteria" is NOTHING like the one you or I ate in at school. It is so primitive and raw that it really makes us aware of things in the States that are underappreciated as well as wasted. Ah, the importance of getting out into the wide open world from time to time to experience what is beyond our comfort zones.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

fruta y hormigas.

Fruit and ants. Beyond the coconuts, pineapples, mangoes and bananas are many varieties of fruit that remain nameless to us. The unfamiliar become familiar and we now eat granadilla, cas, pejibaye, and more. We buy these mysterious gems at roadside stands and carefully slice into them, investigating their interiors. The beauties pictured here did not taste as good as they look. They served their purpose as a still life subject for a little sketchbook watercolor painting. The ants aren't quite as discerning and quickly covered them as they posed. The ants come from these crazy little towers and eat anything and everything sweet. And I really do mean anything and everything sweet.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

deep blue sea

So I may be from Minnesota the land of how many...16,000 lakes? But I've never REALLY gone fishing. I think I had my nose in a book or was content to sunbathe while my uncles, cousins & grandpa were out baiting hooks. So I was truly initiated into this patience provoking past time last week. We went out on a boat, into the ocean blue with our friends Jake, Julia, their friend Eduardo, his girlfriend and son. We were out on the water for hours. We saw a sailfish, which really does "sail" across the water with impressive speed. We saw flying fish fly, manta rays leaping and bouncing into the air, playful elegant dolphins who surrounded our boat with an intriguing attitude, and HUMPBACK WHALES!!! We got within about 20 meters of the see water sprayed out of their blowholes was awesome....and then to see their backs break the water's surface and their tails flip above and back under. What a gift. So back to the fishing.... we used fresh sardines to bait the hooks, and whole shrimp. I gotta say, these are much more appetizing than nightcrawlers or worms. But not appetizing enough for the fish i was trolling our friends pulled in red snapper & mahi mahi, I pulled in nada. nothing. zilch. The only bite i got was one enormous yank on the line that chomped off both my hooks AND my sinker. Dang. As my friend's fish piled up in the ice cooler, I consoled myself with knowing that we had just discovered this r-e-a-l-l-y great little fish market...

Friday, November 2, 2007

fountain of youth

ken was telling me about this man, who lived to be 117 years old. everyday up til the bucket got kicked, he went skinny dipping in the nile river(that's in egypt for those who struggle with geography.) the same guy got remarried at 99... to what i'm sure was a spicy honeymoon. point is these falls, which are a short walk from our house are my nile. everyday, naked in the spring water is the restoration the spirit needs to face another day of pura vida. i might even settle for seein' 115. this little spot is eden. moss growing over stones under a constant mist and calm pools to relax in away from current... here's to tan lines.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

pipa for you. pipa for me

the coconut tree is my new favorite invention of god's. not only are they beautiful as they wrap the beaches, but i can walk up to any tree, anywhere down here and, with my trusty machete, whack a little pipa(young coconut) or three off for my beloved and machete technique improves daily. i have promised ken to keep both my thumbs. i'm tellin' ya'll this stuff's almost as good as a route 44 cherry limeade... its meat, juice, and milk are chock full of electrolytes, minerals, and other life givers. pacific islanders call it the treee of life. not only does this little tree feed and provide income for a 1/3 of the world population, it also contains healing qualities in its oil.oh,'s self propogating.that's right, a coconut hits the ground and without much effort sends roots down and sprouts up. how else do you reproduce all alone on those deserted islands? people, this technique is wasted on us. still takes two to tango.

birds in paradise

There are so many beautiful birds here! Ticos (locals) keep parakeets and parrots as pets in the yard. Hummingbirds seem practically common, as they flit around from flower to flower in the yard. Unfortunately it is also common for the birds to fly straight into the glass windows, as they see the reflection of the jungle and think there is wide open flight space. Yesterday this little green bird lay stunned on the ground for awhile and it eventually hopped to its feet and onto this flower I extended towards it. Eventually it flew off. Last night we saw a flock of parrots flying from tree to tree, looking for the perfect perch for the night. Aaron saw a toucan a couple of days ago, and we are looking forward to more sightings, as our new rule is "Don't leave the house without the binoculars".

futbol frenzy

costa ricans, like most countries south of the border are nutty for soccer. its on little junked out televisions with any kind of rabbit ears coming out the top that will provide enough reception to yell for their favorite team. our little village, ojochal, is no different in its enthusiasm. the second evening of our living here brought us across a night game between ojochal and a neighboring community. although, the town has sporatic electricity through out most of it, the field was lit up with cheap lights on telephone poles. there is also a smaller covered field, so practice can still happen despite the rain...another testament to their love of the game. so we yelled for ojochal along with the drunks under the shelter that's set up between the field and the town grocery. this seems to be most hoppin' joint in town. at any hour after sundown, you will see a steady stream of jovial men(only men) moving between the grocery store buying pilsen or imperial(the only two beers that exist in costa rica- for they are costa rican beers) and the rain shelter. bikes, motorcycles, 4wheelers, trucks, and rubber boots are pulled up beside this odd little social mecca, rain or shine.
after our ojochal's noble loss, we were headed up the winding,muddy, hole- filled road that leads to our house. our head lights came upon a place in the road that was extra messy and a hand came up followed, weakly, by a head. luckily the condition of the roads are so poor you are forced to move slowly because there was no other way of seeing this man lying inthe mud in the dark. through jake's spanish and both of our support, we surmised this dude had broken his ankle inthe dark and was waiting inthe middle of the road for his friend's to return. he was mad with pain as we got him off to the side. a truck load of partying soccerplayers came by and tried to help only to be pushed away(rudely i thought) by this guy's "friends" who had shown up. they quickly loaded him in and drove off into the night. we followed soon after. the hill is now affectionately called hill of the broken leg. another night in the life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Immersion into the New

Shouting out to all our friends and family over the sound of pouring rain on the roof. We're living the good life in Costa Rica. We've been here since October 12th and have had some incredible adventures already. We flew into San Jose, C.R. and immersed ourselves in the city for a couple of days until our friends Jake and Julia met up with us. The Central Market was our favorite place.
Pungent, fragrant, flavor, noise, crowded, dirt floor, raw meat, chicken feet, spices in every earthern hue, leather shoes, piles of fruit, spray painted blue flora next to vibrant ginger blossoms and cascading birds of paradise...chihuahuas in cages...the stench of piss....the freshness of cold blood sausage... aluminum cups adorned with roses...blocks of cheese....cones of sugar...heaps of empty straw Christmas armed virgen Mary....wide eyed wise men...bundled chamomile...herbs and potions bottled and hanging in rainbows...clatter and clamor of the lunch crowd...cacaphony of conversations...synching with the blink of christmas lights...reflecting in mirrors...the energy and pulse conjuring the magic and madness of a carnival...
Our awe, amazement & curiosity propelled us down narrow crowded corridors, around in circles...our appreciation for this scene saturating and blurring our senses.