Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sabado en Montezuma

Halloweén is not a tico holiday but in gringo pockets it´s celebrated with some enthusiasm. The gringos dress up, the ticos put clothes together differently or wear a hat backwards - somehow the costume part has been translated but not the significance.
There was a Halloweén party on Saturday, Saturday because there are more people here on the weekend. All day the talk in the town was of the party, from about 3pm children trooped down to Chico´s Bar for coloured balloons and candy: the kids were gringo and young.
Chico´s was hosting the party with prizes for the best disfraces. It rained hard on and off all night, we went down but not into the bar, instead joining the throngs of ticos outside watching. Occasionally a gringo in costume would walk through: there weren´t many costumes and I saw only 4 guys en disfraces: mostly it was girls wearing as little as possible to make the point; a blackcat, 2 witches, a mermaid (she won the prize) and 2 fairies. The local school was serving food, the arroz con pollo was good.
Ticos stand and watch. We bought our drinks at the supermarket and we watched too. There´s a lot to see in Montezuma on a Saturday night: people talking, drinking, smoking, the rain pouring, 2 of the local drunks lying wrestling on the street in front of the bar. One had fallen over and Loco, the other, was trying to get help to have him lifted. No-one wanted to help being more interested in watching them. Finally Loco fell over too and both grappled and wrestled for a long time. Cars drove round them, people circled, dogs sniffed. I asked Randal if no-one would pick them up. He said no, why should they, the men like to drink, they fall down, that´s their life. It sums up a lot about tico culture. A country of individualists who exist side by side, love gossip, but prefer to remain hands off.
Later the cops turned up in their postman pat van and manhandled the less cohesive drunk into the back seat. The cops here are old and fat and enjoyed pushing the drunk around. They then had a brief argument over which of the 5 would also get to ride in the car. The youngest lost out and had to walk the 50 metres back to the tiny station. The rest got in the van and sat with the lights flashing for a couple of minutes longer. The smell inside the car must have been bad: 5 grown men in a Tracker but I´m sure the light show made it worthwhile.
The music in Chico´s was awful - that commercial bump bump stuff that fills dead places. The dancers could do very little with it. A group of young men formed a mosh pit but that was squashed by DJ Ocean in his pirate outfit. Of the 4 guys in costumes, 3 were pirates, the other was a sailor.
We sat drinking, smoking, watching, I was waiting for something to happen but everyone else seemed content with sitting in the streets talking and looking. Ticos spend an enormous amount of time sitting and watching. Muy tranquilo. We left about 2 and walked back along the beach.
Now it´s Sunday morning. I´m downtown waiting for the internet cafes to open. The mermaid, who´s Canadian is sitting nearby, she works for a tour company. Loco is lying across the street sleeping and yelling " Estoy Loco, si, si" in turns. I´m a little goma but not bad, Randal is walking the dogs. It´s hot, later I´ll go for a swim. Life is good in Montezuma.


Last weekend I saw 2 robberies in Puntarenes. The first I didn´t know I saw: I was sitting across from the two English women who´s bags were taken. I was directly opposite them practising my sitting and watching - but I wasn´t watching with intent so I missed the moment their things were taken. I saw the before and after pictures - calm to frenzied hysteria, weeping and holding of heads. A tico family nearby were laughing - not maliciously but more of embarrasment from the intense emotional display.
The second robbery I did see. I was waiting for the bus at the beach. A cripple walked by, his left side deformed and contorted, a stump in place of his left foot. He was carrying a pair of Keen sandles. At first I felt pity for his condition, then I saw the sandles and thought he must be selling them for drug money. I thought it must be an obvious choice to become an addict in that situation. Just then two men came running by and I thought oh they must have stolen something. They ran to the cripple, took the sandles from him and the younger man put them on his bare feet. They shouted at the cripple then left.
Can´t always believe what your mind tells you your eyes are seeing.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I've been feeling a need to do something creative, school isn't satisfying that part. I found an interesting place online and have set up to visit them:

looks interesting huh? Looks like the kind of place one could disappear into.


I'm moving into Sabine's sometime within the next month. It'll be better - more room, more light, more life. Thirteen horses, chickens, ducks, quail, a parrot, 3 dogs, 3 cats, 7 rabbits and 2 guinea pigs; banana, mango, coffee and avocado trees and sugar cane; three fields, stables and a pond - long sigh.

hallowe'en do

John and Clayton had a dyslexic hallowe'en party on Friday the 13th, these are my mofogos (mother freaking gringos).

developing nation

what does that mean? Developing from what to what? Aren't we all developing nations? The Costa Rica of today is very different from that of 2 generations ago: isn't that true of most places though?
My school teaches english, it also teaches the cultural norms, expectations and lifestyle of the US. I've been concerned at the cultural imperialism since I got here, but is that fair?
I think so: last week we held a large school assembly, the parents clapped dutifully after each performance, but the most enthusiastic and genuine applause was for the 2 pieces (out of 15) which were tico. The relief at seeing something familiar was palatable.
The two kids in my class who have the healthiest homelife are also the most racist and resistant to change.
People send their kids to the school so they learn english, so they make more money, so they have better lives. That's not wrong, it makes sense. But what is the cost of developing a nation? How much of the culture gets lost along the way?
We just celebrated Culture Day - it marks the anniversary of Columbus' 'discovering' Costa Rica, but Columbus himself is not celebrated, rather the tico way of life is. It's not a big holiday, there's indigenous costumes, campesino costumes and that's about it. I can't see what the tico way of life is, they don't seem very sentimental about their past or their heritage. The guidebooks say there's not much culture here, rather a shocking thing to say of a country, but in a way it seems to be that there is very little emphasis on culture. Perhaps it's that the dominant racial mix is of Spanish origin and therefore still fairly new (Columbus landed in 1502). Perhaps it's that much of the population still lives a fairly campesino lifestyle: exsiting on a small parcel of land with chickens and cows, cold water and no phone. Culture is a luxury reserved only for developed nations?

back to it

Seems like I got stuck on the phantasy of Montezuma for a while there. Isn't it strange how tropical beaches have the unerring ability to capture your energy and send you into sleep? But life continues.
I've been sick with some sort of flu this week and haven't enjoyed it at all: something about the idea of having to walk while sick and drenched with sweat frightened me. I'm okay now, it's become grippe, a plain old cold.

The weather is marvellous today and has been for weeks. This is the rainy season, the dreaded October but there has been very little rain. Wonderful for us but not so very good for the forest or for the farmers. The wind has been coming from the north, the Caribbean, pushing all the rain clouds back over the Pacific. From my classroom one can watch the daily tussle between the ocean winds, the kids and I cheer for the north wind because it means outdoor recess. What shallow ecological beings we are. December 1st marks the beginning of the dry season - or at least the transition to dry, I wonder what will happen then if it doesn't rain now? The top of the mountain is bathed in clouds, I think that's called horizontal precipitation, so there's moisture but that's not enough. I'm sure most species can survive a dry wet season: one does think a lot more about climate change when living in an endangered zone.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It's been a month since I really wrote on this, and you know how that gets: too much to say and none of it relevant to the moment.

We had our first week off and went to Montezuma. I want to live in Montezuma. Not only is it incredibly beautiful, but it's a tiny, friendly place dominated by hippies. I spent the five days there with a delicious array of locals sitting on the beach eating coconuts and gazing at the ocean. It was paradise. It's very hot there and one sweats constantly. Anything is too much to wear. The locals don't wear much. There are monkeys in the trees, there are waterfalls, there are fantastic banana milkshakes. There is a small 2 roomed schoolhouse on the beach. I have to say it, the place really needs a waldorf school. I considered moving there to begin a non-profit organisation dealing with the horrific amounts of plastic trash on a couple of the beaches that come from the cruise ships. I'm still thinking about that. Montezuma was so lovely I went back the following weekend. People recognized me, I loved it.

School began again and it was much more pleasant: the kids and I seem to have established a baseline of expectations and behaviour. The curriculum is more interesting this block too, thank dios. We at last began the reforestation sessions, I'm grateful for these albeit short classes - after all that's why I came here. I'm experiencing the ideal versus real quandry I seem to experience everywhere. Seems a bit early this time.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


Montezuma is a tiny place close to the tip of the Nicoya Penninsula. The tip itself is a reserve: Cabo Blanco, there are other reserves both private and public to the east of Montezuma. The town itself is tight against the gulf with cliffs behind - it will be difficult to develop it further.
At some point in the last 20 years European and North American hippies flocked to the town: they have since bought up or opened many of the hotels, restaurants, bars and shops, creating a strange business population of dreadlocked and tripped out bronzed but bleary eyed individuals with odd Spanish accents. There is a younger generation of tattooed and dreadlocked entrepreneurs selling jewelry and suchlike on tables along the two streets.
There is surf - not the pounding surf of the Pacific: the waves break too close to the shore for any real surf tourism, but enough to keep most people out of the water and enough for a few local ticos to practise their moves on.
The place has a laid back and easy atmosphere - four days there was enough to recognise a lot of the locals and for them to know at least the dog by name. The three town drunks are very obvious and seem harmless enough being basically out of it by 11am and sleeping on the street each night. The street dogs are friendly and happy to escort anyone to the beach.
I love it. The two room schoolhouse sits on the beach, there's no glass in the windows. Most everyone has screens for windows with wooden shutters. That's what I want. It's hot and incredibly humid, one sweats all the time, moving or not, and it's quite enough to sit in the shade with a banana smoothie and watch nothing in particular.
I made some friends and spent much of my time sitting on the beach or at the waterfall in the shade of trees listening to street Spanish and eating coconuts. It was beautiful.
I went back a couple of weekends later and fell very easily into more of the same. There's a farmers' market on Saturdays where the local hippies gather to buy organic veggies and home made goats cheese. Their kids run around in oversized clothes with messy hair and little dogs. Can you imagine?
The beaches close to town are clean, but the ones facing east are strewn with plastic trash which looks like it came either off ships or from the tourist towns across the gulf. The trash is 'clean' but awful: plastic bottles, flip-flops, pieces of foam board, horrendous. I'm sure there are grants available to clean the mess and I'm sure there are foundations in the US and Europe who would support clean beaches, after all the beaches form part of the reserves.
How about I begin a non-profit in Montezuma cleaning the beaches and open up a big recycling project there to deal with the trash? I could live in a tiny place with screen windows and wooden shutters with bananas, mangoes and coconuts outside my window and get woken by howler monkeys at dawn. Would that be enough? God yes.

Nicoya Penninsula and Montezuma

month's absence

I've been off-line for almost a month. A combination of central american bureacracy, electrical storms and termites have kept me out of touch with the outside world. I've had no other reality but this. Lots has happened in this time, it may not be possible to say exactly what. It's good to be back.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Never really was an Eden

Yesterday at school a six year old girl got beaten up by 5 other girls, aged 6 to 8 years. They trapped her, stood on her, kicked and beat her with sticks. No other children stopped them or got help. No adult saw. The girl who got beaten was found crying outside her classroom door too embarrassed to go in. The others were suspended, but turned up at school today. We all talked to our children about the attack. In my class the first reaction was to beat the bullies. An eye for an eye seems to be the way here.

Last week in Las Juntas, a town at the bottom of the mountain, there was a murder. Two men with machetes arranged to fight in the town centre, 6:30 in the evening. They chose the main street outside a furniture shop. They were fighting over the wife of one of the men. The killer lost his left arm below the elbow and was hacked in the head and right side. He pulled a gun and shot the other 3 times. He was taken to hospital and will go to jail for, probably, life. He and his wife have 3 children. There was a crowd watching. Nobody tried to stop it, nobody called the cops. A tico friend of ours was there watching. When we asked him why he didn't do something he said it wasn't his business, by way of further explanation he offered that tico men are very jealous. They were about 15 metres from the fight. The body lay in the street for 5 hours until detectives arrived from Puntarenes. The bullets went through the man and into a "really nice" car. The next day the owner of the car drove it around town so everyone could see.

How can such a thing happen? With machetes, in the street, people watching? How far does machismo go, and is this really machismo? Why choose the town centre, did they believe someone would stop them? The boys in my class think nothing of fighting, of hitting first, or back. Use your words doesn't really register with them, even sitting afterwards and talking, the what could I have done answer always seems to be 'hit him harder'.

Monster returns

Monster's back. I saw him outside with the moths on Monday night. I recognised him instantly: missing one antenna, scuffed wings - tell tale battle scars. I hurried by him, hoping he was just passing through. On Tuesday morning he was fighting with Norah and Tita, scudding across the floor on his back clacking madly. I swept him out and shut the door. On Wednesday morning Norah was making this awful noise, a kind of hysterical chuck chucking sound. When I rushed out the shower I saw monster clinging to her neck while she in a panic was trying to bite it, but couldn't reach. Now there were two of us panicking. I knocked it off and smacked it with the broom, sweeping it outside and off the porch. I know I didn't kill it. He'll be back. As I look around the room I now see another one above the sink. It's impossible that such a thing can exist.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Somewhere in here . . .

There's a scorpion somewhere in our house. It stung Kris on the morning of her birthday last Wednesday. She got out of the shower and wrapped her towel around her and it was in the towel. It got her arm of all possible things. She shook the towel and the bugger fell on the floor and we haven't seen it since. She thinks it was 5 inches, the same colour as the wood. I've been shaking things constantly ever since and stepping gingerly while peering and squinting at all shadows. The sting isn't bad - no worse than a bee, it's more the idea of finding one somewhere it shoudn't be. I found this bug in my classroom and this mushroom behind my classroom last Thursday.

Un ladron

Theft is very common here: too many tourists with too much stuff and too many ticos with nothing. Gringo houses get broken into all the time and we lug our laptops, cameras, passports and money around everywhere. Last night someone came through Katy's kitchen window and took her backpack. She was lucky, she was upstairs and her dog started barking and they got scared and ran. They went right past her TV and DVD player, her and my computers were upstairs. She came downstairs to find her front door open and her keys on the outside, the ladron was in the process of locking her door when he ran. Her stuff was scattered on her driveway - her teaching supplies anyway and the contents of her wallet. Her ipod and her credit cards were gone. Barbara and I stayed over and this morning we went to the police station to report the theft. The police took notes, but did nothing. While we were there the hotel which is across the road from Katy's called to say that they had also been broken into - the thief stole a pair of sunglasses but left Katy's cards and her backpack. The cops looked pretty pleased with themselves. There has never been a violent crime in Monteverde and the thieves tend not to smash or destroy property - it seems they just jimmy windows and doors. Katy's landlords will put bars on the kitchen window tomorrow.

Off the mountain

This is the first time in my life I haven't travelled more than 5km in any one direction for a length of 5 weeks. Does that make sense? It was time to get off the mountain. Last weekend was a three day event and we bounced and jostled down the mountain and north to Playa Hermosa which is on the Pacific side and about 40 minutes from the border with Nicaragua. It was a beautiful ride through rainforest and meadows with horses and cows: the Nicoya penninsula to our west and the mountain ranges to the east. It didn't take too terribly long, maybe 2 hours from the bottom of the mountain.
This is an interesting country. People say that CR has less disparity between the rich and poor than any other Central American country. It's hard to believe that driving through. We passed grand haciendas with manicured lawns and wrought iron fences often a stone's throw from corrugated iron shacks with no doors or windows. People sat on stoops watching traffic while dogs and cows scratched around beside them. There was a middle type of house with glass windows and sometimes grills that were painted in pastel shades.
We got to Playa Hermosa and checked into the hostel which turned out to be a terrific apartment on the beach, it slept 10 but we 4 had it all to ourselves. We slept on double beds on the veranda under mosquito nets and were woken by howler monkeys each morning. Playa Hermosa is a quiet place, several gringo apartment blocks, a few restaurants, two mini-supers and aschool. There were many joggers out on the beach in the early morning - mostly Europeans though it also seems to be a popular tico resort. Lots of families. The water is warm and clear, plenty of fish. There seems to be a high unemployment rate though - there were always 15 to 20 drunk tico men scattered along the beach nursing on Imperial cans. The earliest we saw drunk was around 7 in the morning and we saw one guy so wasted we thought he was dead. He was lying face down and covered in sand, his shorts were half way down his bum. One of the dogs went over and sniffed him and we saw he was breathing. That was around 4pm. And the tourists jog by. The hostel owner told us to keep everything locked up. Theft is an everyday part of life here and I can understand why.
The owner was an interesting guy, I would like to hear his story someday but wouldn't like to ask. He's French Canadian, in his 60s and an old hippy. He lived behind the house in a cage. If he hadn't have been there I would have taken a picture. It literally was a cage - a roof and timber frame but the walls, windows and doors were chain link fencing. It was one room, I presume there was a bathroom somewhere else. He had 3 fridges, a microwave, a TV and a mosquito net over a board. His clothes were hung from the fencing, not much, maybe 4 tee-shirts and a couple of pairs of shorts. He had 6 big male dogs. He told us they didn't like each other and so he kept them in 2 groups and walked them seperately. He asked us to save all food scraps for them. His area stank terribly of dog shit.
But the house itself was great, all wooden with a sunken shower and full kitchen.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

There are horses everywhere in Monteverde: 'parked' downtown; running halterless along streets; wearily carrying tourists; munching grass in between houses. Today we got a shot riding to a hot spring fed by the Arenal volcano which is fairly far from here. Just beautiful. It was a little way down the mountain and noticeably hotter, we rode through a dairy farm which had brahma cows rather than the fresians and jerseys we have up here. The horses here are ridden western style which I haven't tried before but it was a blast. We trotted and cantered a little, brilliant.


I often see milk being transported this way but never seem to have a camera ready. I went to the cheese factory today to pick up some milk - they have a huge red tap in the shop part, but I didn't have a container and they wouldn't sell it to me in a bag, so I just had a glass instead and went to the super. The man there was just switching churns so I filled my bag there.

Friday, August 11, 2006


As if to prove a point, just as I was posting the second to last entry, this monster flew into the house. After much rushing around and high pitched squealing, Norah and I managed to catch it in a glass. It'll probably chew through the tumbler by morning. I think it's a cockroach. My housemate tells me that cockroaches are cleaner than our mouths are after using listerine. How terribly interesting.

the calico cat and the trash bag pup

We have a kitten and a puppy, there's no need for TV. Norah followed me home - well for at last 10 steps before I claimed her as my own. She was tiny, bedraggled with a huge hard belly. The first night she threw up and her puke squirmed with half a dozen spaghetti like worms. Horribly gross. She had her second dose of worm medication this morning and now looks positively svelte. Tita is our pup who was found in a garbage bag by the town petrol station. They are now fairly well adjusted and spend their days catching bugs and wrestling each other into frenzies of fur and spittle. It's actually wonderful entertainment.

4 inch grasshopper

It's been a good few days since I updated. Not that nothing's happened, quite the contrary - I've had my first 5 day schoolweek and my first experience of digestive track disasters, but the storms have been big and the internet interrupted.
It has been beautiful this week - the storms have happened off the mountain we've had the fireworks illuminating the sky and providing outrageous sunsets, but not the rain. Indeed it has only rained one day this week: everyone looks confused.
The absence of rain brings dust - enormous whorls get picked up by wind or passing traffic and thrown casually and generously about. I now realise this is yet another way to get worms: eggs from dried dog poop swirled up and shared liberally. Perhaps not, but counting the ways to pick up intestinal issues is a popular pastime around here.
We made the mistake of going to the Butterfly Gardens. I say mistake because we got there too late to wander around the enormous netted garden full of gloriously coloured flying flowers, and ended up instead in the scary insect house. There are a lot of really big weird things here. My last taxi driver was carrying a hercules beetle around in his cab: a 6 inch long beetle with enormous horns. There are a couple of scorpions and two large and seemingly harmless tartantulas and cockroaches as big as a frog. The nastiest thing though - apart from bullet ants, are the vampire beetles which carry parasites in their intestines. When one gets bitten the parasites get passed and lie dormant in their new host for 20 to 30 years, at which point they suddenly double the size of the victim's heart causing cardiac arrest. The cheery note pinned next to the thankfully dead specimens said not to worry as only about 10% of the victims actually died. Nice. The beetles themselves are fairly big and very easily recognized. I will watch for them.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

down the mountain

This was taken from the road to Monteverde looking down towards the Gulf of Nicoya and beyond to the Pacific.

Friday, July 28, 2006

beetles and butterflies


An armadillo and an opussum meet their end on the road to school. The vultures and the ants stand ready.


None of us really wanted to go to a 2 hour dance class after Faculty meeting, but then none of us wanted to walk home in the rain. We went to the class. It was in a brightly coloured room packed with about 35 women of all ages and sizes and exactly 9 men (we knew because the instructor had to count them). The instructor himself was very pretty and when he stood on the stage to show us the hip movements and tucked his shirt into his trousers there was an awful lot of nervous giggling from the women. It was a great class with the very beginnings of salsa, meringue, bolero, cha-cha and the local and more folksy cumbia. We sweated like we do everyday, but it was more fun to be sweating to music. Gradually over the course of the class people dropped out and sat down, there were about 15 of us left by the end. We're going back for sure next week.

One of the interns is a professional dancer and she's offereing 'stretch, strengthen and relax' classes twice a week. We began yesterday. Everyone had forgotten the strengthen part and I for one was totally shocked when the opress ups and lunges came. We'll be so buff by the end of this, for sure.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

milky milky

I buy my milk at the supermarket. It's in a fridge round the back, a fridge with a great big churn in it. Above the fridge is a box of plastic bags. There's a tap at the foot of the churn and you fill the bag with milk. Double bagging is best, otherwise you stand the chance of losing milk in a trail through the vegetable section. The milk is delicious, but I'm hoping to get my milk from the cow across the road soon.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

gringos a go go

This is the only evidence I’ve seen of anti-gringo feeling, it’s on a lamp-post tucked away down a very quiet road. It’s fitting that the word ends in the sign for colones.

This area was bought in 1900 or thereabouts by a Tico gold company, a mine existed here until the late 30s when it became too expensive to run. By that time a very small community of farmers had grown around the miners, when the mine shut the miners became squatter farmers. In 1950 a group of Quakers from Alabama bought the land from the mining company and arrived along the oxen trail which led up from the lowlands. They were dairy farmers but milk doesn’t keep and so they began to experiment with different cheeses.

In the 70s conservation began and more gringos came to study the land. The influx of whites grew and today Monteverde receives more than 200,000 tourists a year. The resident community numbers around 5,000. The tourists have an enormous impact. Most stores take dollars and the bank provides accounts in both dollars and colones. I have two accounts which makes sense as the value of the colone drops slightly each day against the dollar, today for example there are 513 to the $. Monteverde is the most expensive part of Costa Rica, land prices are rising all the time. There is a house for sale in Monteverde, nice place going for $2.4 million. I get paid the going rate for Tico teachers - $5,000 a year. You can tell who’s not going to be able to afford to own homes in Monteverde. Last night I paid $3 for a pepsi, I was fairly shocked, but then again I was in a café which served braised chicken livers on a bed of wilted spinach: not exactly typical Tico fare.

Hotels abound here, restaurants, tourist offices, really there are too many competing against each other. This has been a slow year, numbers are down and the businesses are suffering. Almost all the business here is locally owned so the gringos have a very direct effect on the local economy.

An environmental effect too. The roads create a huge amount of water run-off creating erosion and slides further down the mountain. Water usage is on the increase so much so that some areas don’t have water during the dry season – incredible for an area that receives over 100 inches of rain a year. Buildings go up anywhere, anyhow without any planning or permits. Each little section has its own antiquated septic system. Water from laundry and shower goes straight into street drains. It’s a huge challenge. We have gone from an agricultural society to one based on eco-tourism and yet serving the tourists is destroying the environment. The balance has not been struck. I feel like an abuser myself trying to leave as little impact on the land as I can, but knowing that my presence here has the potential to tip the scales.

If the Quakers hadn’t come this might have remained a very sleepy agricultural area. Sooner or maybe later the forest might have been stripped away as the demand for hardwood lumber, particularly mahogany, rose. There might have been conservation attempts. But instead the Quakers immediately set aside protected land and it was the visiting scientists who began to buy land and raise awareness internationally of how important this area is. Without the gringos there would be no Monteverde.

This is a multi-lingual cosmopolitan area. While I understand the sentiment I’m growing more aligned to a global approach to land and nationality. Maybe there are gradations of gringo, I hope so.

rain and sangria

According to the tourist guides this is the rainy season. But people here say, “oh wait ‘til the rains come”. They usually say this when I’m standing drenched after a torrential downpour, feet caked in mud and steaming gently under my plastic see-through poncho. Thus far I’ve smiled weakly and kept my mouth shut. But Friday was different. The rains began about 2:30 just as we were walking home from school. It had been a warm day after a night of rain. It started lightly with pulses of heavier rain. Barbara and I had gone for ice-cream – volcanoes actually, 2 scoops of local ice-cream topped with condensed milk, ground coffee and whipped cream.

We put off leaving as long as possible, but there was no sign of slacking. Ponchos are cleverly designed to direct all the water that falls on you to your lower third. Within 50 paces we were squelching mud through our sandals and weighed down by the 20lbs of water which was slowly creeping up our skirts. We got to Barbara’s house and I continued knowing I had a good 40 more minutes of walking. However as luck would have it I met Kris and we decided to have a coffee and wait for Katy. Our evening plans were to see some flamenco.

The bar we were meeting Katy at was the flamenco bar. We ordered coffee, hung up our raingear and wrung out our skirts. We sat by the open doors and watched the rain bounce off the tourists. The dampness had crept up to my thighs but the coffee came with cookies. Katy came and we chatted. The time passed, the rain didn’t. I wanted to go home and put on dry clothes, Kris left, Jesse arrived. Chico the owner brought us some sangria to try. He was experimenting and we tried a couple of samples. The dampness didn’t seem so bad anymore. It got dark, Barbara and Michael arrived and the flamenco didn’t show up. We drank more sangria and Chico put on early MTV videos. The interns arrived and we began ordering pitchers of sangria. All 7 new teachers arrived in Costa Rica together, we began the fairly serious business of bonding from the first night. A collection of people thrown together in a strange country soon develop a trust and fondness for each other. We shared stories, the typical ones: first kiss, first drinking experience, first taking of the parents’ car. It was great. I was really the only one who knew the 80’s music clips, but that was okay. The rain got so hard the bar was shaking. It finally stopped just before we left. My clothes had dried, though my sandals still squelched.

They chose to spread a fresh layer of dirt on the road Saturday morning. It was warm and sunny. Saturday afternoon the rains began and we slid home on the layer of mud which coated all the old mud. Kris found that the horse shit which litters the road gave better traction but my flip flopped feet didn’t seem to fancy it so I continued to slide all the way down the hill. On Saturday night, after more rain we headed back out to see a vibraphone player. Walking up the hill was a long and slow process as every step forward was balanced by a slide backwards. Though I have to say we were progressing so slowly I didn’t break into my usual drenching sweat. We were slow but not so slow as the taxis and quads which were wheel spinning and slipping in the mud. The night became clear and windy. And even though the taxi drivers refused to give us a ride home – knowing that the road was just slippery mush, we made it home quicker as the 3 hours of windy weather had dried the mud somewhat. Rainy season will start soon. I’m scared.


School began in a flood of blue t-shirts and chatter. I have a class of 12, from age 9 to 11: fire rats and fire oxen. There are 4 girls and 8 boys – this ratio is fairly common throughout the school, being a private school it is culturally appropriate to place the education of the son higher than that of the daughter. Over sixty percent of the students receive scholarships: some are sponsored by North American families, others are helped by the school’s fundraising activities. Over ninety percent are local, I have two native English speakers in my class though both have spent almost all of their lives in Central America.

The children are charming, their English is incredibly poetic – beautiful is a common word, or rather vutifol. We will be working a lot with pronunciation. Jose Andreas each morning greets me with, “it is a pleasure Ancel”, while holding my hand and looking along his nose, eyes slightly closed like the count from some early talking movie; Catalina, my one faculty child never stops talking; Eduardo who’s father was killed hunting iguanas grins at me shyly and Daniel my ‘bad’ boy pretends to be aloof. They are great kids, I think I’m really lucky. Having no Spanish may or may not be a blessing. I have very little idea what they are saying amongst themselves, but it means I can’t cheat and they have to hear English. I did however squeak out a little Spanish on Thursday and immediately Michael said with perfect seriousness, “English please” – it must have been a phrase they heard a lot last year. Funnily enough their last teacher had some Waldorf experience – there are definite inklings of Steiner ed., in their mannerisms. My two native English speakers have Waldorf connections also.

I work closely with the other 4th and 3rd grade teachers: this has proven to be the bigger challenge (surprise surprise) – not because of who they are, I have fairly major crushes on both, but because we have completely different perspectives on pedagogy. I am very slowly managing to stop looking horrified and they are very slowly managing to accept my elaborate board illustrations outlining how everything is connected. They talk in state school jargon; personal narrative, writerly lives, baseline literature, and I don’t talk. They are both great teachers. Very interesting.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Bridge

We are a good 20 minutes walk below Santa Elena, sometimes it's nice to take a taxi. Getting a taxi here is quite a process and relies on the machismo of Tico men. There's a bridge which must be crossed and on the phone you can hear the office asking the drivers who will do it. Inevitably a voice will ring out after pauses and low muttering "I will do it, I will cross the bridge". Fifteen minutes later we hear the taxi struggling up the hill and the driver gallantly opens the door for us. Crossing the bridge can be done several ways - some creep across, some speed, others pause - one driver edges backwards. Their heads are always held slightly higher once across as we make the climb to town.
I'm trying to make friends with the taxi drivers. No one has a street address here, my address for instance is often 'across the road from casa de Maestra Gina'. It pays to be known. So in terribly broken Spanish I introduce myself, say what I do and where I work and ask as much "Como se dice . . ." as I can get in. And it has other benefits too: my fare is usually half the price of what the gringos pay.
Becoming a local is important. A cafe which puts on a great Caribbean evening every Thursday with thumping reggae, mango on the menu and Cuba Libre - a heavy on the rum cocktail, has two prices: local and tourist. It's the difference between paying $4 for dinner and $1.60. So we introduce ourselves to the waitress (who comes from Santa Rosa) and the cooks and the DJ. On the way home the taxi pauses before crossing the bridge. I offer to get out and walk the rest, it's really fine, you don't have to cross. But the machismo kicks in - no, no, of course I'll cross.

Santa Elena

This is Santa Elena, the 'town', maybe 3 paved crossing streets on a hill where life all happens. Santa Elena is mostly Tico, there are a few hotels on the fringes and tourist shops, but here are the banks, the bus station, the church, the vets and the supermarcado. The roads are filled with dogs, buses, trucks, people, taxis and horses who all battle for position and supremacy. Sideroads drop down into ravines which lead back up into residential areas. Men and boys perch on the sidewalk talking and watching, tourists struggle with backpacks and vertigo and teenagers slouch by on their cell phones.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

morning traffic

road from my house