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.