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.