Thursday, June 26, 2008

variation on 'unclean' women (see next post), or planting with the moon

I was telling Moreno, the local purveyor of all things good including information, stories and intelligent conversation, of my consistent inability to grow a certain plant. He asked me when I was sowing the seeds. I told him I’ve tried at the new moon, the full moon and in between. I’ve tried sowing it dry and sprouting it, I’ve tried in sandy soil and in loam, it’s not happening.
“But when in your moon?”
“You know, there’s a time when women can’t make bread or mayonnaise.”
He blushed.
“What? . . . You mean my period? What, I can’t make bread or mayonnaise during my period?”
“No, it doesn’t work.”
I laughed. Where does such an idea come from? Is it somehow related to the BriBri / tribal belief that sets women apart at this time (and gives them a break from the ordinary)? Periods must be the antithesis of pregnancy, does this make them anti-fertile times and so unproductive? I would have thought it the opposite. I tried it; the bread is just as fine, the plant still doesn’t grow.

cacao farm, or cultural homogenization

We took the kids to a cacao farm yesterday. The farm belongs to an indigenous family and they farm their hectare organically, of course. They have cacao, coffee, bananas and platanos. The mother, Petronila, led us through the process of bean to chocolate, which the kids, living here, knew quite well. (For the process see earlier post on Cacao.) What was more interesting was her sharing of the indigenous BriBri way of life. What she shared was related to the cacao, as food source and medicine: cacao was taken at every meal, the cacao paste and the cacao butter were used on the skin to nourish and protect and both were taken medicinally.

If one cut oneself one should take some cacao, rub it on the thing that did the cutting and then pack it into the wound. For example, if you cut yourself with a machete you rubbed the cacao first on the machete and then on your cut. I’d heard before that chewed cacao leaves were good for cuts and stings. This involving the offending item in the cure is interesting – it elevates the treatment from first aid to folk medicine and adds a twist to the doctrine of signatures. Suddenly one is aware of the consciousness of all items, regardless of whether or not they are sentient. It indicates the consciousness level of the person who has been cut: they have a direct relationship with what cut them and in order to heal they need what harmed them. Everything has power to harm and to heal – and this removes the whole victim mentality.

Pregnant women could not step over weapons or hunting or fishing equipment, nor could they eat the flesh of jaguars or eagles, nor could they touch blood. To do so would create problems with the child.
During their periods women were “unclean” and could not be touched. They did not participate in the general household tasks: cooking, cleaning, preparing food. During this time they had to eat from special leaves formed into bowls which had to be kept outside – if anything or anyone touched these leaves, or anything belonging to the woman they would get parasites. In general if anyone touched an unclean person they would get parasites.
After childbirth the women were also unclean and had to leave the village for a month. They would make a special shelter in the forest and wait for the shaman. During that time they would eat cacao with herbs and rub cacao paste and cacao butter onto their skin and that of the baby. When the shaman came he would bless the woman and child and she could return to the village. But she would still be unclean for another month. On her return her family would bathe her with herbs and rub cacao onto her skin. The shaman would visit the family and perform a ceremony with cacao and herbs. For a month the woman had an unclean mouth and could not talk to anyone, every afternoon she had to go to the river and clean her mouth and the baby with herbs. This ritual would ensure that the baby was healthy and free of any bad spirits.
And then our storyteller added: in 1965 the missionaries came and told us that Jesus had died to save us all, the blood of Jesus made us all clean. After that women went to the hospital to have their children.
Religion got the BriBris. And by religion I don’t mean their own spiritual understanding of the world. I mean western organized religion. Religion and alcohol got the BriBris. It’s odd how the story is the same the world over. That they go hand in hand marching into tribal communities for the last, what 5 centuries? That the people become shameful of their nakedness and cover up – the mother and her beautiful daughter were wearing more clothes than I’ve seen in a long while, covered neck to ankles in synthetics. That communities become divided between those who get the new faith and those who get the new drug. That trust in their medicine slips away and is replaced by blind faith in someone else’s pills. Old ways of life, centuries old, fall away in one generation. That which harms you no longer has the power to heal you, instead the doctors a day’s travel away can heal, but they need something in return, and suddenly within a generation a people go from an integrated, harmonious, sustainable lifestyle, to one where money must be earned.
The land that gave freely before now belongs (what a concept) to someone else and the people must move: there are indigenous reservations. These reservations are home to the ‘poorest’ people in Costa Rica. Forty five years ago they needed no money, now they are the poorest, least educated, most alcohol dependent and unhealthiest segment of the population. When a way of life disappears so radically – the way one prays, thinks, communicates, eats, raises children, maintains health it leaves an enormous hole and into this space comes church or alcohol, or both. Is it progress? Is it really what Jesus would have wanted?

Petronila came down from the mountains when she was an adult, there are still Bribris living in the mountains, there is still a shaman. Am I being a social luddite? Is my own bias against organized religion colouring my thinking. Sure. Is it better to have western medicine – no more “unclean” women; better to put new chemicals into bodies, the earth, the water; better to wear more clothes; better to have money; better to have an “easier” (note: not simpler) life with more time to devote to church and recreation drugs? Better to be educated in a school; better to learn reading and writing and someone else’s history? Last year we had an indigenous boy in the school. His family was illiterate, he had no sense of letters or numbers: the symbols were only that. He drew beautifully, his ability to observe nature and replicate it either in sound or on paper was stunning. He was different in a school full of different, unique, international, free children (post:Different, 2007). He was quiet, serious with a weight of awareness around him that was so out of place in school. He had no idea that he couldn’t do what the others could and was proud of everything he did. His mother became sick and they returned to the mountains; the medicine the doctors gave her had failed. I was sorry for him to go, I’ve never seen a child be so conscious of leaving classmates, but glad that we weren’t going to strip him of his abilities and self belief, replacing it with what our lifestyle requires us to know.

I asked Petronila if she would teach me what she knew. She looked at me blankly, “I don’t know anything about the medicines now.” I asked her if she had thought of writing down her stories, she said the university had books on BriBri traditions. I will try again, I will ask her if she will tell me and I will write them down. 1965 wasn’t so long ago was it?

miserable, except for the chocolate

It’s been raining for 3 days. It’s cold. I did my laundry on Sunday and none of it has dried which means I’ve been wearing damp clothes or dirty clothes since. My towels are damp. The electricity is on and off. The mosquitoes somehow have flourished. I have some mystery raised blister rash which is incredibly itchy and is spreading over my arms and hands. I have a cold with a racking cough, despite consumption of copious amounts of raw garlic. But I do have a big bag of organic chocolate crumbs.

conversation over coffee

“Last week I woke up with bat shit in my hair.”
“Yeah?, . . .yesterday I woke up with a tick on my top lip.”
“Nasty. This morning I woke up with a dead gecko stuck to my chest.”
Okay Shaun, you win. Jungle life.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Solstice passed with a delicious yellow moon caught in the branches of the fig. It was dark by 6:20, making a difference of one hour of daylight between the winter and summer solstice. I guess we’re only 8 degrees north of the equator. I spent the day thinking of family and friends and wishing them joy in their living and peace in their being.

nitrogen fix

Just finished my nitrogen delivery.

When I lived in my cob house I had a composting toilet, basically a bucket and a big bag of sawdust. It worked beautifully. I haven’t tried it here, though think about it often; I know several people with pit toilets, but as yet haven’t quite finished the loop on that one. And it is a loop: I really think it all started going downhill when mankind stopped dealing with its solid waste. To remove what every other living thing contributes to the soil and plants which feed us, and instead to dump it, treated or not, into our water takes us so far out of the natural order, sets us apart in such unhealthy ways. Yes, I could go on. In cultures where the loop is complete and waste is returned consciously to the land – well let’s just say the vegetables grow bigger. We have a septic system here with a leach field so somehow something is returned, but not much.

I don’t eat meat or fish and I eat from the garden mostly with grains and legumes added. I don’t take medication of any sort and I’m not a drinker, so what I could ‘contribute’, is certainly compostable. Maybe that’s the project for my upcoming 3 weeks off school. I already have an outdoor bathroom, it’s not such a stretch.

Unless there’s a guest, no one pees in the toilet. The boys just wander off for a moment in the garden, I on the other hand have a series of rotating buckets. Just before dusk the bucket’s contents are diluted with an equal amount of rainwater and fed to the plants in rotation. The nitrogen, potassium, calcium and trace minerals, the trace garlic, ginger, chili and whatever else is present directly benefit the plant and I feel good about contributing, and saving the water that would be wasted in flushing. The only thing I’m careful of is not splashing leaves or stems, if it’s too strong it can cause burns under sunlight. The buckets get a vinegar rinse and are left to bleach out in the sun: sunlight is an excellent bleach.
The average household flushes the toilet 14 times a day and the average flush takes 11 litres of water. That’s a lot of water. I keep hearing how the next oil crisis will be a water crisis, let’s start saving now and helping out our plants at the same time!!

While I’m about it, we also compost all our toilet paper, just add it to the compost pile along with everything else. We use unbleached, biodegradable, recycled paper, goes right in, perfectly simple, completes another part of the loop. Why flush it, what a waste of carbon. Offset your carbon footprint – compost your toilet paper!!!!!!!!

In many cultures – Costa Rica included – people don’t flush paper, instead there is a little bin or bucket beside the toilet into which all the paper goes. When it’s full some people burn it (I guess that’s not so bad if you put the ash in the compost), most others bag it and it goes to the land fill (is that carbon sequestered?). If the bin is emptied regularly there’s no smell, and really there’s no mess (fluids evaporate quickly even in this humid climate). It makes perfect sense to compost it. Try it for a week. Be part of the cycle.


Just picked the first ripe tomato from the garden. This is the sole tomato on a long spindly volunteer plant that must have come from the compost. We have a compost pile but we also feed kitchen scraps directly to beds and individual plants – it all breaks down so quickly with the humidity and heat, and countless insects. It’s a brave little tomato this one, rather scarred, not the prettiest, it certainly would get passed over in Safeways, but it made it: the plant fulfilled its genetic task, from that one lucky seed came, well I’m not sure, probably 80 to 100 others. Almost seems a shame to eat it. It was seeing the little volunteer in a bed of bromeliads and ornamental taro that inspired me to try tomatoes in the cottage garden. And now the first generation are heavy below fruit and the second generation are coming along nicely behind. I’ll get a knife, this moment must be savoured. Yep, very nice.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I've been tagged

Kanak, who has a great blog,, tagged me. This is a new one for me, there are rules :) here they are:

Link to the person who tagged you.

Post the rules on the blog.

Write six random things about yourself.

Tag six people at the end of your post.

Let each person know they have been tagged
by leaving a comment on their blog.

Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

here are my 6 random things:

I type with two fingers;

Pacha Mona means earth monkey which is my chinese horoscope;

my favourite food is dried dates;

I'm beginning to find multi-tasking pointless;

I'd like to be a full time gardener;

the other week I ate a tick - I thought it was a chocolate crumb, it tasted foul.

the blogs I'd like to tag are:

allotment underground

the greening of gavin

urban subsistence living

indoor gardener

urban homesteader

La Ferme de Sourrou

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I’ve stopped drinking coffee. A couple of weeks ago my stomach hurt after the second cup, it was an ominous kind of hurt and I decided maybe I should lay off. I’ve built a bit of personality around the whole coffee thing, but it’s just a front: I’ve found it useful as a teacher to have one obvious foible. That way the kids don’t waste time inventing more spectacular issues and they can alternatively use their energy to try to help/convert you or dismiss you as some typically flawed adult. When I’m in the UK I just drink tea so really I’ve only been a serious coffee drinker for 11 years. That said the day after I stopped I had an awful headache that lasted all day. And I’ve had curious flashbacks to various coffee houses, some of which I only ever visited once. And I’ve actually experienced several nasal hallucinations of freshly brewed java; I’ve asked others if they could smell them, all but one were indeed my own invention. This is quite strange for me.
I’ve been looking for differences. I don’t have more energy, but I have a different energy and would now categorize coffee energy as something dark and heavy, like a double lined curtain which keeps out light but makes you feel quiet and comfortable. I’ve replaced coffee with a hot mixture of ginger, lime and chili all from the garden – ridiculously healthy and tasty, the chili gives heat to the throat which kind of feels like caffeine. Another difference is that I’m thirsty all the time and must be drinking almost 3 liters of water a day. I will drink it occasionally, I had a cup at Shaun’s on Sunday (she makes a delicious espresso, chocolate, orange oil blend), just to prove to myself I’m not addicted, but short of the subconscious flashbacks and hallucinations, () I’m not consciously craving it. My compost will feel the absence of grounds.


I feel oddly buoyant. Trying to locate the source of such lightness: I ate a lot of fruit salad today; the week is half way through; it’s a full moon and the datura is ready to open; I had a good conversation with the snake man; someone suggested a new mange cure? Perhaps it’s a combination of all coupled with me getting home in time to feed the chayote and tomatoes. Whichever, it feels good.
It appears the yellowing chayote is a lack of nitrogen, I dismissed this before because I do give a fair amount of nitrogen to the plants – but it’s worth a try so they got more today. We’ll see.
I was telling the snake man about the beautiful salmon coloured snake I saw the day my camera died, he thought it might be a bird eating snake and the picture in his book while not as glorious a colour, was a match – plus the snake was waiting at the foot of a tall skinny tree with two very obvious birds nests. He was telling me snake stories – one of the locals was bitten by a coral snake, he was found on the road still holding the snake. They took him to the clinic and but when the snake started thrashing around they kicked him out and someone took him to the hospital in Limon, by then he was having convulsions. They ended up taking him to San Jose and hospitalizing him. He dismissed himself the next day and came back on the bus. He should be dead, but he isn’t. The locals kill all snakes on sight, dangerous or not. The expats seem naive (myself included) and tend to believe they can just move the snake out of the garden. But they are territorial creatures and tend to come back. I like snakes; I used to carry around garter and gopher snakes when I found them. It is very difficult for me not to touch those I see here, but it’s different: a gorgeous bright yellow snake, not so very big, so easy to pick up, sitting so still on a tree would in all likelihood kill me with its bite. That’s a big part of being in Costa Rica for me: it is possible to die here. Sounds so stupid and so simple, but life becomes different when death is present. I know this is stupid – car crashes and the dangers of urban life exist everywhere I’ve lived to date. But elsewhere death is hidden, here it’s clear, it can be found hanging in the bathroom, lurking below the bed, lying on the dark path. Death is present daily, vultures circle overhead, the smell of decay comes from ditches; today a street dog chased down and tore apart a chicken in the school yard in front of all the kids. After they spoke of all the blood, then returned to their drawings and schoolwork. This afternoon I found the back of something furry, maybe a raccoon, perhaps a peccary? below the carambola (good for the soil). One becomes aware of life here because one is aware of death.
I told the snake man I was always worried about the dogs getting bit: I live surrounded by jungle on 3 sides and the river on the 4th; the dogs are romping about in the undergrowth daily. He told me it takes a lot of energy for a snake to produce venom and they don’t give it up so easily – if the dog accidently stood on one while running through it was highly unlikely the snake would use venom. He thought that even if the dog attacked the snake it might not use venom, or not enough to kill. It’s highly unlikely the dogs will attack a snake, given the sidelong glances and sideways jumps that happen if they see a vine lying on the ground. This is great news. There are no jaguars so close to human habitation and the crocodiles were long since hunted out of the river; the dogs are at the top of the food chain, snakes are the biggest threat.
The mange treatment is something called green oil and is a mixture of sulphur, citronella and camphor. It smells quite good and it’s an oily green fluid. I hope it makes a difference; it’s the first thing I’ve tried that he hasn’t licked off. Right now he’s hiding under my bed. Unfortunately the smell will alert him. He has allergies to dog food and wheat and is prone to skin problems, it’s not unusual for me to slather him with odd things and he hates it. He’s become very good at deciphering my concern – if I look at him in any way suggestive of checking out his skin off he slinks under the house. It’s almost to the stage where he won’t come near me. If I take him to the vet she gives me antihistamines which work great as long as he takes the tablets but I don’t want him taking antihistamines all his life. He eats well; meat, veg, grains, fruit and a daily multi-vitamin, but something is missing. Lady J has no skin problems, she hasn’t even caught mange.

simple banana flower dish

Banana flowers are dark, powerful looking flowers, heavy and serious. Dark purple petals hide inch and a half long creamy flowerets which become the bananas. Hoards of black bees hover around these creamy flowers which are revealed one petal at a time in some exotic secretive tryst. The whole flower can be eaten but must be soaked in a lime / salt water bath for at least 4 hours first. Harvest with the banana, or cut earlier (when the bananas are 2/3rds grown) for a larger flower.
Preparing the flower
Banana flowers are horribly horribly sticky and their snotty sap will turn everything a dark brown, so unless you are naked in the kitchen, take care! They will also destroy cutting boards and render knives into gooey gluey nightmares, be warned!
Remove stem. Cut on a wet plate with a wet sharp knife. Holding the flower at the base slice as you would an onion, scrape the sliced flower into a bowl of salted lime water as you go, stopping often to wet the knife. Wash the plate and knife immediately after finishing. Wash hands with soapy water.
The recipe
Prepared banana flower
An onion
Turmeric, ½ teaspoon
Ginger, inch and a half, or to taste
Garlic, 4 cloves or to taste
Coriander, teaspoon, or to taste
Good sized lime
Coconut milk, 1 cup
Oil for frying, salt to taste
Heat oil and fry spices and garlic stirring constantly, until the smell is unbearably good. Add chopped onion and banana flower and stir to coat, cook for two minutes then add coconut milk and lime juice and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes until onion and flower are softened. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

warms the cockles

Waiting for a download today, and for my laundry, I had some time to browse blogs. I’m happy to see so many sustainable / eco-viable / alternative homesteading/organic gardening blogs online, quite a community! It would be so nice if there was some collective of such blogs. I know there are directories and online communities: blogcatalog, tribe, folio, blotanical for example, but to have an online home for sustainable blogs somehow tied in with other eco-sites and resources would be great. At least for me. It’s great to see so many people thinking about alternatives and putting their thoughts – and ideals – into practice.
Rather on the same note, though from a different perspective to be sure, was an article on rising fuel costs. Riots and demonstrations, strikes and blockades in Spain, France, South Korea, India and Scotland. I can’t help but feel this is a positive step forward in changing attitudes and looking for alternatives. I hope so. I understand that for those lorry drivers it doesn’t present itself as positive, but in the larger picture the more pressure people feel in the current paradigm, the more pressure to find alternatives, you know?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

chayote blues

Something bad is happening to my chayote. This whole chayote business has been an ongoing test for me. First I couldn’t get any seeds, and then they wouldn’t sprout and then wouldn’t take and now my pride and joy which was doing ever so well snaking up a pretty pyramidal bamboo trellis is turning yellow and dropping lower leaves, like every lower leaf. It’s gone from a shiny green pyramid to a naked tangle of vines and higher leaves. I’m at a loss. It says in the books it grows best at middle elevations but that it will grow anywhere. It looked at first like only leaves with insect damage were turning, but no, they are all going. I think I’ll lose it. Sad. The vines supposedly live for 5 years or so, maybe it’ll come back, I hope so, I am very fond of the plant, fonder of the plant than I am of the fruit which takes the skin off my hands when I peel it.
Other than that the garden is coming along. Despite rain I managed to transplant the second generation of tomatoes, 3 melons, the jackfruit and a couple of papayas. I’ve sowed the third generation of pumpkin. And today I finally got a cucumber with a nice supply of healthy looking seeds. The red bananas I harvested three whole weeks ago are finally ripe and almost ready to eat, I think I’ll wait a couple of weeks before I harvest the next bunch, there’s no sense them hanging in the box when they could be hanging on the plant. I took three more pineapple which I’ll dry, they smell fabulous and I’m so enjoying the last batch I dried.

night monkeys

There are night monkeys in the trees. Sounds like a children’s story. I can’t find much information on night monkeys, they are not supposed to exist here, but are reported on the Panama Caribbean coast and we have unbroken forest, in strips, between here and there. The locals of course know they’re here. They are grey with buff bellies and white, owl like faces and exist in small family groups, and they’re nocturnal. But there they are darting away from my flashlight. I wonder why they’re nocturnal, what pushed them into the darkness? Smaller than the other three monkey species that live here, and eat the same foods, perhaps competition pushed them ‘underground’ high into the canopy. There are plenty of flowers that open at night for the bats, perhaps their favoured food? Right now they are in the cacao trees. This explains why I can’t get hold of any cacao to make into chocolate, the monkeys and squirrels are getting there first. Oh well. The fig by my house is dropping fruit, a steady thonk thonk of fruit hitting leaves from 40 feet up. The area smells of fermenting fruit. Unfortunately these are not the figs we eat, though maybe I should try one. I’ve started eating the fruit of the swiss cheese vine after I saw how greedily the pregnant spider monkey devoured them. There are a couple of vines that reach down almost to the ground with fruit within my reach, I’m not taking them from the monkeys who would never come that low. My mum had these vines all over the house when I was a kid, tied to mossy sticks. I had no idea then that one day I’d be eating the berries which taste like a mix of pineapple and banana.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

ginger beer

I used to have a ginger beer plant but I didn’t make the beer often enough to keep it going. This recipe uses yeast and it’s super easy, quick and makes good ginger beer.
For a 2 litre bottle:
I cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon yeast
Juice of one lime
A good 2 inches of ginger, grated
Put it all into the bottle and add enough water to give a good shake and dissolve the sugar, or at least mix everything up. Add more water leaving a good 2 inches of space. Cap tightly and put somewhere warm for 24 hours. Check after 24 hours – if the bottle is hard the beer is ready, if not leave but check regularly. When the bottle is hard put it in the fridge to stop the yeast. Alternatively you can allow it to become ever so slightly alcoholic. (Be warned it will explode when you open it.) Open slowly and enjoy.


It was a day for fruit: 3 pineapples, cherries and a big fat soursop. The soursop is slightly bigger than an American football and a lot heavier. I heard it fall with a satisfying thud and got to it before anyone else could. Strange fruit. It’s a pretty tree, like a laurel, with shiny green leaves and odd flowers with thick custard coloured petals which come straight out of the trunk. There are 3 outer petals which open to reveal two more sets of three within. I’m not sure what pollinates them but did see one positively pulsate with custard coloured beetles the other day, the like of which I’ve never seen before. The fruits are green with short soft spikes. Inside there are a very juicy series of fleshy envelopes most enclosing a pretty, shiny, black flattish seed which is toxic. The trick is to remove all the seeds. Soursop can be eaten as is and it’s very tasty, but it’s so big that unless one throws a party, it can’t be finished. Luckily it makes a good jam and a nice sorbet. I’ll make jam in the morning.
Between rain and the garden being full of ants today – when they move they really do move – I didn’t get much done except the weeding and twisting chayote tendrils round trellis. Picked some pumpkin leaves for dinner. I’ve cleared away all the first generation pumpkins and the second generation is still rather young so I’m without flowers for the first time in 3 months. The leaves are great though and I use them just as I would spinach or chard. The leaf stalks are hollow and look just like penne pasta. I have to use them like that some time. I also picked some ginger.
I’m going to Mr Eddy’s tomorrow and made him some ginger beer. Mr Eddy is an older Jamaican who went to university in England and now runs a couple of cabins from his front yard by the beach. He has a great garden: mango, avocado, cinnamon, lime, orange, lemon, manzana de agua, black pepper, lemongrass, citronella, malanga, cassava, sugar cane, ylang-ylang, jasmine, datura, juanilama, pineapple, papaya, coconut and I’m sure I’m forgetting others. I saw him at Moreno’s yesterday and he said he was looking for a gardener. I’m interested. I don’t think I have time but I’m interested. Mr Eddy knows a lot, it would be a pleasure to learn from him.


It’s raining. A nice warm rain that’s heavy enough to keep the mosquitoes down but not so heavy as to be oppressive. Okay, I was wrong about the mosquitoes. They are bad right now. Whenever we have rain then 5 or 6 dry days, they come in hoards. It’s best if it rains each day – the rain washes out the eggs and larvae from all those millions of breeding pools tucked between bromeliad leaves or inside heliconia flowers or half coconut or cacao shells discarded by squirrels and monkeys, coatis and agoutis on the forest floor. Five or six dry days are long enough for the adults to develop and then we suffer through another 5 or 6 days before they start dying off. I’m peppered with bites and right now dotted with my own blood and various body parts where I’ve slapped them into oblivion. I can barely see the dogs through the clouds of whining blood hungry little nasties. And yet I know they have to live too so I continue to slap the ones I can reach and allow the rest to be. I’m not so bothered by the bites. I’m less bothered by the bites than the smell of insect deterrents. I got a couple of hours weeding in this morning and I’d like to rake, but the leaves are too wet and the grass too long and I shan’t put myself through damp hours of frustration .
Oh dang. House cleaner ants have just arrived. An invasion up over the deck. Dozens at the moment, soon to be hundreds, probably thousands. I shall have to evacuate. I do appreciate house cleaners, they do just as they say – flush every insect, lizard and scorpion from the house, eating those they can and chasing the rest. Hmm. I wonder what to do. The kitchen is full of intoxicating smells, a pumpkin pie (last of the flour) is in the oven and I harvested 3 pineapples this morning and they are in the dehydrator. The house smells of pineapple and pumpkin and pastry. I wonder if the ants will get into the dehydrator? I could stand it on a stool and put the legs of the stool in bowls of water. They could come along the power cord. Let’s hope they are just carnivorous. Time to go.
I arrived back just as they were leaving. They left in a line, carrying creamy somethings. Some were held aloft by three ants all working incredibly well together fairly trotting along, 18 legs between them and not one tangle or scuffle. The big soldiers carried their prizes below them. At first I thought that somehow they had gotten into my rice and was preparing myself to wrest each grain back from them – it’s my last kilo and you can’t buy brown rice for love or money right now. But, no, these were definitely whiter and lumpier than rice. I followed the trail backwards and discovered a wasps nest in the roof I hadn’t noticed before. Oops. The wasps were buzzing around but weren’t doing anything, I wouldn’t really like to see an ant / wasp battle. I saw ants kill a scorpion once and it wasn’t pleasant: the stuff Hitchcock grew fat on. I guess the wasps will just start over again.

Friday, June 06, 2008


Ah, so nice to be home. Mondays and Tuesdays are my longest days, I don’t get home til after 5, which leaves a scant 40 minutes or so before the sun sets. Just about time enough to check the garden, water where necessary, move seedlings, flick grasshoppers off things and wonder if I should be killing them instead.
Now it’s dark, the dogs are eating coconut from the shell (they come running when they hear the tell tale sound of coconut shell on concrete) and I’m waiting for the kettle to boil and thinking if I can wait to open the pineapple. I think I can. I want to dry it and will have more time tomorrow. It rained last night – thank goodness. After all that rain we had last week we’ve been dry for 3 days – it was a very welcome change until I discovered that the pipe that feeds the sink and shower had somehow come loose and emptied two water tanks. Bucket baths from the overflow tanks for three days. The tanks aren’t yet full but there was enough for a quick shower this morning. A hot shower is a wonderful thing and something to be appreciated. In Guanacaste I lived without for 9 months and here it can be off and on. The feel of hot soapy water on tired, sweaty skin cannot be underestimated. In trying to live a more conscious life I think showering and eating are the times when I might manage to be fully present in the moment – for a moment. It’s a good exercise for me as it’s so easy to get lost on some track of thought and time to slip by unawares.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

what about the garden?

It’s been raining the last week or so, I haven’t had a chance to work, but yesterday was nice. I cleaned out the last of the pumpkins and mulched the patch with a thick layer of leaves, then compost then more leaves. I want to put peppers in there but my peppers are an inch tall at the moment so the bed will have a chance to rest a little. I’ll add more leaves and nitrogen until the peppers can be planted out. I have carambola coming! This is the first time the tree has fruited so I’m very happy. I was sure the flowers had come to nothing and was looking at the yam vine that is snaking through the tree wondering when that will flower and suddenly my eyes adjusted and I saw a cluster of young fruit. My jaw actually dropped, it would have been funny to see. The carambola or star fruit in other parts of the world are rather watery, very sour yellow 5 sided fruits that I don’t enjoy very much as is. But they make a great jam. Very happy to see them. Across the path from the carambola is the soursop and she has a few fruit and several flowers, happy to see that too. More jam. Hmm, if only I had bread . . . . My tomatoes look great and are setting several nice clusters of slightly larger than normal cherry style tomatoes. The plants have tipped over so that the bottom 8 inches or so of stalks are horizontal and they are sending out roots, the rest of the plant is upright. I’m not thinking of adding supports unless the fruits end up against the soil. I have more baby tomatoes which will soon be ready to plant out.
The chayote is working steadily up its trellis. I built a larger trellis behind for several other chayote I picked up. The first trellis has the big dark green variety, the second has small green and white varieties. I’m sure they’ll cross pollinate.
I have about 6 pineapple which I propped up with bamboo yesterday, the stalks aren’t strong enough to support the fruit which seems odd, but the plants look healthy enough. There are two more in the ornamental garden which I’ll pick tomorrow. The red bananas I cut last Sunday are still hard, it’ll be another week before they’re ready, though I might make a curry with a few of them.

keep it local

I’ve been reading the Via Campesina website, which thankfully can be found in English. It’s good, what else to say, it’s an international peasant movement campaigning for healthy and positive land reform and a return to food sovereignty and sustainable practices.
I’m almost out of flour and I won’t buy any this month to see how it goes (see earlier blog: Food Choices) I made cornbread and while it’s not as tasty as the cinnamon and raisin bread, it’s fine. I just have to work on a recipe I like. As for the lentils I’m switching to white beans (I found a Costa Rican supply) and liquidize them for a more soupy style dogs dinner. We’ll see. It’s more work and requires more gas and electricity – it’s all a balance isn’t it? The gas I’m sure isn’t local, I have no idea where the closest source is, I don’t even know what propane is actually, need to research that. But I’m not going to give up propane. All electricity in Costa Rica is generated by hydroelectric plants. I don’t know, one could go on and on. Let’s just start with grains and legumes.

small animal notes

This morning I awoke to find a Leaf Nosed Bat hanging from my mosquito net. He was beautifully enfolded inside his wings, wrapped around him in true Dracula style, hanging from two toenails. The flap on his nose was almost as big as his ears and he was such a dark brown to be almost black. He was about 3 inches long. I thought to move him and when I began to lift the net to let him out he watched me with the shiniest beadiest black eye. I’ll wait to dusk when he’ll be happier. How he got inside the net I don’t know.
There are many baby lizards around at the moment. I was finding perfectly white round single eggs all over: under the bed, in the shower, behind the dishes on the shelf, everywhere solitary white eggs. Now there are little lizards exactly like the adults but ½ the length of my finger, including tail. They are a little dopey and easily caught in would be dangerous situations; getting swept up with the dust or crawling into rain jackets and appearing again on a sleeve on the ride home. I wonder what the survival rate is? Enough, there are a lot of lizards.
Something is eating my soap. It’s a very nice seaweed soap and I don’t want it eaten. I even put it away in a soapbox and some cheeky rodent, I presume from the tooth marks, got into it and ate a lot last night. It must have some good fat in it. I remember making soap with a seventh grade class and while it was curing some mice got into it and ate a good ¼ of it. We had used coconut and olive oil. Well, someone has blue sudsy poop out there in the jungle.


It’s 5am on Sunday morning. In the big fig there are a flock of parrots, maybe 20 in all, making such an incredible racket. They are Red Lored parrots, mostly a bright emerald green with red foreheads and blue and red wing trim. They live in pairs within a greater flock and spend all of their time 30 to 40 feet up in the trees. They are comical and agile birds for the stocky, compact frames and the pairs seem to argue and bicker much of the time. Such a different picture from a single parrot in a cage. I didn’t realize they were canopy dwellers, I wonder how it feels to be a canopy species kept so close to the ground in captivity? Perhaps for captive bred birds there is no recollection of their natural state.
In the other big fig, further down are a pair of Slaty Tailed Trogons, cousins to the famous Resplendent Quetzal. The slaty tailed have orange beaks, dark emerald heads and chests and back fading into gray and a bright red belly (females are dark slate grey and read). They are inspecting a large termite nest. Trogons often nest in active termite mounds, the mounds providing excellent shelter and the termites providing a steady, handy supply of food.
Below them, perched precariously on the tips of banana leaves are a family of Tropical Kingbirds. It’s a new family, the young recently emerged from the nest and their parents are still feeding them. The Kingbirds are in the huge flycatcher family, and are among dozens of yellow breasted birds in this area. The kingbirds are quite small, about 6 inches and very vocal. They build beautiful covered nests, a mess of twigs and leaves slightly bigger than an american football with a igloo style entrance and a covered porch. If you walk within 8 feet of the nest the parents will call you repeatedly from close by on another tree trying to lure you away. They stay very close to their nests.
On the lawn are a pair of Variable Seedeaters. These are among my favourite birds in the garden. Very small, maybe 4 inches and the very sharp bright birds. The male is all black except for a tiny dot on his wing and the female is a dark brown. They flit to and fro singing very sweetly a series of random notes. They eat seeds and insects, and spend most of their time close to the ground. Their nest is a very simple, very thin walled cup – you can see light from one side of the nest to the other, and they build about 8 feet up in the bushes and trees.
Before me on the table is a vase of flowers, heliconias, seemingly hanging motionless in the air is a Long Billed Hermit feeding from them. He is about 4 foot from me. Hermits don’t mind distractions. They are so exquisitely balanced from their long arching saber like beak to their long straight drop down tail. The plainest of hummingbirds the hermits have a different sort of charm, intelligent, curious and actually I think rather friendly given their name.
Across the way I can hear the Montezuma Oropendolas. This is another favourite. They are big birds, 20 and 16 inches tall with naked blue and pink facial patches and a lemony yellow tail. The tail is about all I ever see of them as they stay in the thick of the canopy in this garden. But one knows they are there by their vocalizations – an incredible series of whoops, yips, brrips and an amazing noise like branches falling made by the males. The local flock is about 15 birds, I think, it’s difficult to count.
The parrots have gone, now I can hear other bird noise beyond the river but I don’t know who’s calling. I have a bird book, so far in the garden I have made checks beside 57 different species of birds. The boys who are avid birders have many more.

saturday soundtrack

I went into town this morning. It was a beautiful morning, sunny yet cool and my bike is finally good to cover the 18km to town and back. I also have the gift of music (some dear friends sent me an ipod!), and that makes so many things better. It was a quick ride into town, this is low season so the road was quiet. I passed by beautiful golden beaches and super blue ocean. The two brand new 5 star hotels – the first ‘luxury’ hotels on the coast not counting the floating ones that put into Limon – are slowly and unfortunately coming together. There are already enough SUVs in this part of the world, and while I know that change must come there are levels of change are there not? Strangely they decided to build these luxury places in Cocles (named after the cutlass sword and home to at least one shipwrecked pirate vessel). Cocles has two parts – the main surf beach and another lower key local part with the local public school, market and soccer field. This is where the hotels have gone up next door to each other in very small lots. They look very crowded, and are across the road from one of the biggest rubbish dumps this side of Puerto. I wonder how they will market the hotels, I think they will attract rich San Josians: I think 5 star hotel goers from the States would be sorely disappointed in the locality, and size of the pool. Who knows? I don’t think I’ve ever been in a 5 star hotel, what do I know.
I got into town as Los Fabulosos Cadilacs were playing – a perfect soundtrack to Puerto: latino reggae calypso regaton fusion. Real rondon. Town was quiet and clean this morning. It really is pretty, the Caribbean lapping right against town, kids of every colour boogie boarding, the odd wandering pig, the dreadlocked streetmen, the bewildered peeling tourists, the highly clothed indigenous and the barely clothed ticas. It was Saturday so farmers market was happening but it was after 9 and they were already packing up.
I bumped into a welsh friend in the internet place. She left the UK 2 years ago to travel Latin America. She came here last June and stayed, she doesn’t have plans to return home. We talked about family, lifechoices, life here. It is always nice to connect with her, her perspective has a ring of familiarity and sounds clear and stable.
I ended up having lunch in café rico. Café rico is one of those places from a novel. It’s an old ramshackle structure with cane walls almost overgrown with mango, almond and heliconias. There are books to be exchanged – the typical mix of counter culture, sustainability pamphlets, tourist guides. There are 3 enormous dogs lying around and there is a pall of hash smoke one has to fight through to get to the hole in the wall counter. Today very loud Led Zep was competing with some heavy salsa from the neighbours. Rick himself was there, a Robert Plant lookalike with a mountain of graying blond curls, surf shorts and camo vest. He was stoned and talking loudly on the phone to some counter culture friend, “hey man, to hell with the system . . . do it, just do it man, the world’s heating up, there’s no time left . . .”. At café rico one can order pot from the menu. I had a veggie burger and some really tasty fries.
It’s a small community and on my way home I waved to familiar faces: French, Californian, indigenous, tico, Jamaican, Nicaraguan. I passed a stunning group of big black women, maybe 3 generations walking along the road. Big black women talk while they walk and they talk in a group, meaning they don’t get out the way for no man, nope, not even a bus. I came round a corner and there they were, maybe 8 of them spread 2/3rds of the way across the road, kids of all ages dangling from them or following along all looking up. I saw the backs, big black shiny broad beautiful backs with dark dark hair tied up above in an incredible concoction of bright rainbow colours. They were wearing sarongs and the material clung tight to their shapes. So beautiful to see these women, so strong in themselves and in each other, such a reflection of humanity or what humanity could be, their ties to one another so easy and tight. I see their strength in their backs, the way they hold their heads, their gazes, the smiles of the younger women and the steady looks of the elder. To come round that grey rubble road and see such colour amidst the jungle green makes me catch my breath. I passed them and looked back and smiled, one of the kids waved, I know him.
Saturday soundtrack:
Elvis Crespo, ‘Pintame’
Kumbia Kings, ‘Boom Boom’
Los Fabulosos Cadilacs, ‘Calaveras y Diablitos’
Matisyahu, ‘Sea to sea’
Bob Marley, ‘Sun is Shining’
Brooklyn Funk Essentials, ‘Istanbul Twilight’
Led Zepplin, ‘Babe I’m gonna leave you’
Tupac Shakur featuring Talib Kwell, ‘Fallen Star’
Thomas Mapfumo, ‘Hansvadzi’
Ricardo Lemvo y Makina Loco, ‘La Milonga de Ricardo en Ch-cha-cha’