Friday, November 30, 2007

थिस इस कूल

दीद यू क्नो यू कोउल्ड ट्रांस्लितेराते यौर टेक्स्ट इन्तो हिन्दी? इ सुप्पोसे आईटी वोर्क्स बेस्ट इफ यू अच्तुअल्ली राइट इन हिन्दी. इ'म अफ्रैद तो से, अस मच अस इ लोवे मी सोम बोल्ल्य्वूद, इ कान्नोत अच्तुअल्ली राइट इन हिन्दी. तेरे यू गो.

And baby makes 14

This comes as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows me, but it did come as a surprise to me. A while back, we took a feral kitten in, had her spayed, and took care of her for a friend who was supposed to pick her up. That was two months ago. I guess it goes without saying we are keeping her. Without further ado, meet Phoebe:

She looks like a cross between Kiki, our tortie, and Olivia Finnoula Siobahn P.G., aka Kitters. If anyone is thinking about adopting a feral kitten, know that it can take a LONG long time for them to come around. These are not kittens that pounce and purr as soon as you bring them home; rather, they run and hide every time you enter the room and look for the easiest way out of your home. However, every day that Phoebe gets a little closer, rubs on my legs (marking me as her own); every little step is a huge milestone. This morning she let me pet her on the head and tail. That is big!

My mother, who used to head up a cat shelter, was concerned about this kitten when I first mentioned we'd be adopting her out. Since she was slightly older (about two months), she was really past the point of what cat specialists usually think of as the time frame for socializing a feral kitten. However, I knew that life for a cat on the streets of Costa Rica is not good (many are poisoned, shot, etc., or run over by cars, and otherwise have to hack it out on their own), so I was determined not to give up on her. And this morning I was rewarded by being able to pet her head. Only briefly, of course, and after months of much patience and kindness. Even our three-year-old son knows that he must be extremely gentle and quiet around her if he wants to win her over. I think he will. It's just a matter of time.

So if you're wondering about the title, that is 9 dogs and 5 cats. I never thought I'd have double digit animals, though I have always loved having animals in my life. Living in California, you have to basically fill out an affidavit sworn in by an attorney and two witnesses certifying that you will hand over your firstborn should any damage ever be done by a kitten you might want to adopt, when renting from a landlord who left the same carpet on the floor for the last 20 years, because he really cares that much about his house. Bah. When I was going to school at UCSC, I was advised by someone at the housing department to "leave my precious pets with my parents," never mind that I was a "returning" student (aka, all grown up with no place to go) and my singular parent lived 3,000 miles away. That really made me laugh. I thanked her for her help and sought a place on my own. The only place that would take me, esposo (then-novio), two cats and two Chihuahuas was a guy who rented a trailer in the Watsonville sticks. And I was more than willing to take it, when the guy renting an ex-crack house right near downtown Santa Cruz said we could move in the former garage if we wanted to. (Of course, we took the "apartment." It didn't get much better than that; how could we refuse? The other people who lived there made it the most wonderful place to live, actually, with the exception of Crazy Chris and her boyfriend and their crazy dog.)

We have a big, beautiful new home here just outside of Grecia now, and the landlord had not a single problem with us having 9 dogs and (at that point) 4 cats. He even said we could convert the dog pen in the back into a chicken coop (though I don't think I will after all -- keeping chickens can be heartbreaking if you really love them as pets). Can't complain. Life is good.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I really hope they weren't waiting for Marianela

Sometimes you get random, odd text messages on your cell phone down here. The other day, I got this one:
Mae llevamos a Marianela ala boda loquiyo

(Spelling is theirs, not mine. I'm just the messenger.) Which roughly translates to, "Dude, we're taking Marianela to the wedding, you crazy guy." I hope they all had a good time. Sounds like they were in for one helluva party. And I hope no one else was waiting to pick up Marianela. And esposo wonders why I don't answer my phone when I don't recognize the number. Ha. I get more wrong calls than I do right ones!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

And just in case you were wondering...

Yesterday's ami du jour was a salamander.

My new blog

I started up a new blog today, Costa Rica Photo of the Day. You know how I love to take pictures of everything under the sun? I thought this would be an interesting way to have an online photo journal. Hope you like it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Big Lizards in My Backyard

(Thanks to the Dead Milkmen for that title. I'm showing my age.) Today esposo managed to get a shot of one of the iguanas that inhabits the area in, around, and on top of our house:

It was hanging out on the roof, making the dogs go crazy. When I saw it, I thought, huh, that's not nearly as big as I thought it was. So esposo took some pictures, it took off, and I went back to work.

Then I heard The Littles going nuts again, and looked out of my office window. What I thought was a giant shadow on the back wall was actually a much bigger iguana, crawling about halfway up the stone wall, sort of staring at the dogs and not really in any hurry to go anywhere. As compared to the first one, it was HUGE and almost completely black, with nice cream-colored spikes on its back. It's beautiful. We chased the dogs away, esposo went to get the camera again, but then the iguana thought better of hanging out on a wall all day and took off down the drain hole. So, since I don't have a good photo of him yet, here's one I borrowed from Wikipedia, only our iguana is a lot darker.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On Residency, Scorpions and Boing-Boings

On any given Monday, all kinds of weird and random things can happen. For example:

Residency: I have a resident I.D., known in Costa Rica as a cedula. It expired on December 16 two years ago, but due to a backlog of cedulas that needed to be processed in immigration, combined with the fact that their whole computing system broke down and then needed to be overhauled, a one-year amnesty was put in place. Then another one-year amnesty when that one expired. So, thinking that my cedula would finally expire for real this year, I went down to ARCR in San Jose yesterday to see about getting them to help me with the renewal process. (If you are a member, they charge you something like $100 to do all the running around for you, and if you like to wait in lines all day with a three-year-old, you can save the $100, but if not, you may think it is well worth it. I do. I think it is worth even more, to be perfectly honest!) The extremely nice woman there informed me that 1) I should be carrying a copy of the decree around with me at all times, just in case; 2) I should also be carrying a copy of my entire passport to show that I have been in Costa Rica for at least 3 days during the time my cedula was supposed to have expired; and 3) they are likely to pass another amnesty again (any day, in fact), because the backlog still has not subsided. So, no new cedula for me any day soon. The reason I wanted to get it taken care of was so that I could leave the country and not be hassled when coming back in, and also so that I could apply for a loan at the bank for my new car. Neither of which should be a problem. Hooray!

Scorpions: Mondays are our mini-play days at Gymbo Fiestas in Santa Ana (in case anyone out there with young kids wants to join us!). For once, we were set to be on time, which was unusual, given that we are never on time and also that we now live about 45 minutes from Santa Ana. On the way out of the door, though, yet another house guest was sitting in the door jamb, waiting to strike one of the dogs on the nose. You guessed it: a scorpion. I think now that we have encountered one house guest per day since moving in here. As I was screaming for esposo to "squash it, squash it!" son was going, "Mommy, let me see it!" It was a big one, too, usually we get the little ones, but this was a good 4-5 inches long. Esposo was afraid that if he stepped on it, the goo would get on his nice shoes and also that it would jump up and bite him (though I don't think scorpions can jump). A phone book was finally settled on, and I can assure you that dropping a phone book and then stomping upon said phone book will surely squash a scorpion as flat as a pancake.
Edited to add: As soon as I finished writing this post, what I do see but Boris cat not three feet away from me playing with a half-dead scorpion! Ugh! They flush well, too. Scorpions, I mean, not cats.

Boing-Boings: They sell all manner of things in the intersections of city streets here. Everything from newspapers to stickers to cell phone accessories to car floor mats, you name it. Toys are especially popular, particularly around Christmas (and we all know it comes earlier every year, Costa Rica being no exception). Last week, while driving home from San Jose, we saw a guy selling what son calls "boing-boings," for lack of a better word. They're these rubbery ball-koosh-things on the end of a rubbery tether that are sort of like a modern-day ball attached to a paddle toy, and the ball part blinks when you hit it against something. Son was sleeping in the car and had had a terrible day, so I knew it would be something fun for him. Of course, the little blinky thing inside broke about an hour after we got home. And then the boing-boing ball went flat. So it sat on a bench, looking very sad. Yesterday, when we got home, esposo let the dogs in the house (as we usually do) so that I could pull the car in the driveway. As soon as I did and he'd let the dogs back out, I noticed Numi-monster had something in her mouth. It was the boing-boing. She was chewing it, and by the time I got to her, yelling, Numi, No, Give that back! Stop it! the whole while, she had swallowed it. Entirely. I mean, the thing is like the size of a fist, and the rubbery tether is another good six inches long. We called our vet back in Ciudad Colon immediately, and he said actually not to worry, it's amazing what big dogs can swallow and "pass" (a good word for "crap out later"). Basically to give her olive oil four times a day for the next couple of days until we either see it, ahem, pass, or she starts vomiting and getting lethargic (meaning that it's stuck in there somewhere and she will need surgery to remove it). Let's all hope for the passing of the boing-boing, shall we?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Okra and Friends

I found okra at AutoMercado the other day. Real, fresh okra. I had to tell Amy, who I know loves okra, probably even more than I do. I made vegan gumbo with it, and it was sooooo freakin' good, I ate way more gumbo than I should have! If you want the recipe, let me know. It's actually really easy to make. In Spanish, okra is called quingombo (yeah, I probably spelled that wrong!), which sounds a lot like King Gumbo. If you think okra is slimy and disgusting, you've probably never had the fresh stuff or you've overcooked it.

Fresh okra makes a mighty fine King Gumbo!

In other news, here are a couple more pictures of our never-ending trail of house guests.

This little big gecko was in son's bathroom, probably hiding from Kiki the Terrible.

Here's a little possum that was probably trying to get to his house in the big fig tree behind our house, when the dogs ambushed him into the razor wire on top of the fence. He was fine, though, didn't get cut or anything, and was gone as soon as I turned off the porch lights.

Social event of the year?

Yesterday we went to the yearly Women's Club Bazaar. You might be surprised to see me say that it's the social event of the year. (And you'd probably also be surprised to know I was once a member of the Women's Club! And probably the youngest one at that! Ha ha ha!) But there are people that I haven't seen for about a year, and pretty much every Gringo in Costa Rica shows up at the Bazaar. It's usually a great place to get used books in English, though not so much for me this year (though I did pick up an Isabel Allende that I haven't read, plus a very old tome by Arthur C. Clarke). This was the son's year, as I got 16 books for him. It looked like someone had just donated all of their son's books that he'd outgrown (think snakes, lizards, bugs, etc.), so I bought pretty much all of them. Plus an extremely cool pop-up book about Egypt, and a giant volume of classic poetry for children. And Where the Wild Things Are (though last year I got most of the books Dr. Seuss had ever written). All for $14. Not bad.

The problem is that everyone else comes for the books, too. So as soon as the doors open, a mad rush of people (think Macy's on Black Friday) swarm straight to the book section, packing in between boxes of books like sardines. It's insane. And I got there just a few minutes after the doors opened, and already most of the books had been picked over. My friend D. was there with son E. on his back, and I noticed he also had a copy of Where the Wild Things Are, and I was thinking to myself, Damn, he got a good one! Then I saw there was another copy -- hooray! So I snagged it. The line to pay for books was ridiculous, and as I was trying to get my bag o'books from where I'd stashed them, a woman in line started bitching at me, thinking I was cutting her place. I wanted to slap her, but space wouldn't permit it, so I said instead, I'm just getting my books, lady, settle down. Grrr... Sometimes I really can't stand people.

Well anyway, Lord knows I don't need anything else to read! I have books to last me until retirement. Happy for me, son has my love of books, and was over-the-moon ecstatic when I showed him the big bag of books I'd procured. (On a totally side note, I was once talking to a friend about the only Waldorf school here in Costa Rica, and we got to discussing their policy on reading. It seems that they actively keep kids from reading until they reach a certain age [7 or 8, I'm not sure]. My friend thought it was fine, because kids shouldn't be pushed into reading before they're ready, but I thought it was a crap pants idea, because kids should be allowed to read when they seem ready. Two sides of the same coin, I guess. That one thing decided for me that I would not send son to Waldorf, and we'd keep with the homeschool agenda, because he loves his books and he's already started asking me what certain letters spell. I can't see the logic in telling him, Well, kid, you're not 7 yet, so I can't tell you! That seems absurd.)

So I saw about a bazillion people I had not seen in ages, and quite a few I'd seen only a few days ago! As I was waiting in (yet another) line for coffee, I saw a woman who's been in France for an age (lucky dog, you!), and she was mentioning something about having this luscious-looking carrot-coconut cake. I said I had to pass, I'm on a diet. And then she said something that really made me laugh: Why? You're not fat! Yes, I am fat! I'm awful! I said. No, you're solid! Ha ha ha, S., that's a good one! Now there's a euphemism for fat -- solid!

Besides books, we bought munchies at the international food court, son got a handmade kid's guitar, and we also picked up quite a few herbs for the new garden from the Ark Herb Farm. And it was again cold as could be (the little weather thing down there says 68F, but I don't believe it for a minute!), so I bought a used sweater. Another friend was a coffee volunteer, and she has the car we're thinking about getting, so I asked her about it, and of course she loves it. She said to check it out in the parking lot (or car park, probably, since she's a Brit), and I did, hoping the while that no one would think I was going to break into it. All in all, a fun day.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Freezing my butt off in Costa Rica

Ok, it's final: I do not think esposo or I will be able to tolerate the Canadian winters (sorry, Mom). Yesterday a cold snap blew through the Central Valley here from Nicaragua. That's right, Nicaragua. I always have imagined that Nicaragua must be one of the hottest climates on Earth, because when Nicaraguans first arrive in Costa Rica, they stick out like a sore thumb, bundled up as though they've just landed in Alaska, while the rest of us are in t-shirts. Don't tell me global warming is a big myth. The weather has not been right here for at least the past year. Something is going on.

Anyway, we froze. I think the papers said it got down to 17C in the city (which I think is in the 50sF for you Norte Americanos). Brrrrr.... If it was that cold there, it had to have been twice as cold up at El Silencio Lodge where esposo is the new head chef. We went up yesterday to drop him off, purportedly for a several-day stay to start training staff, etc., and it turned out the building was still behind schedule, so we just had a look around and came back home.

Going up into the cloud forests is always colder than one might imagine. I had on a jacket and seriously wished I had gloves (speaking of which, Mom -- can you send a pair of Isotoner driving gloves?). Esposo says they call the rain "horizontal," because the wind makes it blow nearly sideways. My feet were freezing (silly me actually thought about wearing flip-flops because I usually do, and my hiking boots have been destroyed; thank goodness esposo talked me into borrowing a pair of his shoes!), and at the end of the day, killing me from wearing shoes several sizes too big.

However, the place is beautiful. I mean, beyond words beautiful. The photos on their website do not do the lodge justice. The website pictures of the guest cottages look like shacks, but in reality they are just gorgeous. Everywhere we walked, we spotted amazing plants, like wild orchids just growing out of the side of a hill, and wild raspberries that are surprisingly sweet, akin to alpine strawberries. There was a plant that produced a berry of the brightest blue, a blue very rare in nature. The wildlife up there is also supposed to be amazing, but of course yesterday was too rainy and cold to see much of anything. The river was raging, though. Esposo says the water has been lab tested and is purer than any in the country.

We stopped in to see esposo's new kitchen, and it's just amazing! The dining room tables are made by artisans in Sarchi, and I want one for our next dining room table. They are inlaid with handmade mosaics created from photos of flowers taken at the lodge site. Very nice. Before we left, we stopped at the little commissary where a couple of local ladies make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the whole construction crew every day, and had gallo pinto and hot black coffee (son had two big slices of locally-made cheese and orange "drink" instead). (A side note: If you use dry beans down here, you must always make sure to wash them and pick through them for rocks. For some reason, if there is one tiny rock to be found in ten pounds of beans, I will chomp down on it, as I did yesterday, and I'm pretty sure I cracked my tooth. Agh. I usually only buy canned beans for this reason, although the best thing to do is to buy organic dry beans and cook them yourself. That's because commercial growers use a big cake of some type of aluminum phosphine to kill bugs that infest the beans. Aluminum is one of those things often connected to Alzheimer's disease, and personally, I do not want to get Alzheimer's if I can avoid it. So always eat organic beans. And don't eat anything cooked in traditional Costa Rican aluminum pots -- very dangerous. And I should start taking my own advice. Getting off soapbox.)

As we were heading back home on a very narrow, windy and winding mountain road in the clouds and rain, we noticed that traffic was stopped. Esposo got out of the car to see what was up, and I insisted that he take the camera (remember when I said take your camera everywhere? You never know!). He walked up ahead, where a truck was in danger of sliding off the road and down a steep cliff. Fortunately, a couple of other truckers had winched the sliding truck and were in the process of pulling it back up on the road. In fact, they were short a few winches, but the guys in the pickup ahead of us (construction workers from the lodge, in fact) had some in their car and went down to lend a hand. It took about 45 minutes of sitting in a cold car in the rain (did I ever mention the Haunted Hyundai has no heater? or air conditioning?), but they finally did get the truck back safely on the road, and we were on our way.

Traffic backs up on a windy (and winding) mountain road.

The blue Isuzu truck is in danger of sliding down a perilous cliff.

Have no fear, though, other truckers lend a hand!

The view out of my car window as we sat waiting for the truck to be pulled back on the road. The beauty of the cloud forest!

Later that day, we went in search of a vegetarian Asian soda in Grecia's central market that esposo had heard about years ago, and actually were able to find it! In the words of RR, delish. I had a fried rice and salad combo, with egg rolls on the side, and esposo had noodles with egg rolls. We shared everything with son, of course, who seemed to like the noodles best. The people that run the place are quite nice, and esposo really hit it off with them, talking about being a vegetarian chef in Costa Rica, and giving some random customer advice about the various ways in which one can cook tofu. That is one of the things I do like best, when random people can share ideas and discuss things that interest them. It's something I thought was wonderful about Portland, Oregon, where honestly, I have never met more friendly people in my life. Anyway, if you're a vegetarian in Grecia, stop by this place, it was quite good and inexpensive (all that food with drinks was about $8).

And I have to say, it was a good day. I didn't even have to use my A.K.

More house guests

Here's another fella who really seems to like our house. I put it outside of the fence twice, but it kept making its way back to the patio furniture. So I left it there. I figure it'll leave when it leaves.

I've also seen the dogs chasing a BIG iguana, who runs the length of the back fence and into a drainage hole in the yard. My guess is that he's about 18 inches or so long (tail included, of course). And he's fast. So I haven't been able to get a picture of him. But neither have the dogs been able to catch him. We still can't figure out where he's coming from or why he runs inside the yard, when there is nothing but coffee fields just outside the fence. Maybe he's playing with the dogs.

Speaking of coffee fields, here is the view from our backyard. You can see all the way to the mountains where we used to live on the other side of the valley. Right now, the only things back there are sugar cane and coffee fields, with some banana and other trees scattered around. But it looks like a new development is happening on the right side, about a mile or so from here. I don't know if you can see it in this picture.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Family portraits

In case you've ever wondered what we (esposo, son and I) look like, here are a few family portraits son and I created, thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Society and NY Zoos.

This one is me, the Ibex-ho-octo-flam-tiger.

Here is esposo, who turns out to be an Ibex-ele-fro-at-rattlesnake. (And, dear? Our son gave you those ears, not me!)

And last but certainly not least, here is our son, the Pea-ele-conda-cra-fly-crocodile.

Genetically speaking, if esposo and I both have Ibex horns, son probably should have them also, but those peacock feathers must be a recessive gene. Like his blonde hair, I suppose.

Beware: Gas station scam

Watch out for this one: You pull into a station, tell the guy to put 10,000 (or whatever amount) in the tank, assume he's done what you asked for, give him the 10,000, and take off. Only you later realize he hasn't put barely anything in (because your tank is still just off empty), or you take a quick peek at the pump and it only reads 8,000 (which is what happened to us in Grecia a couple of days ago -- I'll get the name of the station and post it later). Luckily, esposo saw that he'd shorted us a couple of thousand and told him so, so he had to fill it up, being Costa Rican, as he was, making excuses the whole time. "Oh, gee, I didn't notice, sorry about that..." Yeah, right. Sorry you didn't get to pocket the extra $4. So check that the pump is on 0 when you go to get your gas (another scam is that they use a pump that already has a few thousand on it, don't zero it out, and you get shorted that way -- the Shell station in Escazu that got blown up was famous for that), and make sure they put in the amount you asked for. And then get your gas at a station that's reputable, especially near where you live. After all, gas costs the same in this country no matter where you buy it, so make sure you're getting what you pay for.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The new house

We've moved in, mostly. Boxes are yet to be unpacked (but getting there); the piles of clothes that need washing seem endless. But I like this house. I like the quiet (except for that asinine dog o'mine, Cheska, who barks at anything and everything the first week or so in a new house). I like the room. Even the lack of closets doesn't seem as big a deal as I thought it would be.

We actually had someone already living in the house when we moved in. A little bat of a species I haven't been able to identify was flying all over the place. We think it must have gotten in one day when they were airing out the house, and then couldn't find a way out. While esposo and I were trying to figure out a way to humanely catch the bat and release it outside, Kiki caught it and esposo had to get the tiny thing out of her clutches. We put the bat in a cat carrier with a baby blanket last night, and left the door open, and when it had flown out and roosted in a rafter, we thought it was going to be okay. But then this morning I noticed it was barely hanging on to life; its wing was damaged and it could only hold on by one foot. I put it back in the baby blanket and covered it up, and a few hours later it had crossed over the rainbow bridge. Poor baby. It was really a sweet little thing. I feel so sad. I wish we could have done something for it, but I guess it wasn't meant to be.

Ripe with photo ops

San Jose is just ripe with photo opportunities. The following, for instance, taken yesterday as we drove around doing errands. Ok, yes, some people may think you're crazy for taking pictures of them pushing their broken down mobile, but I say, who cares? Take your camera everywhere, you never know what you might find.

Here's a gigantic hole that covers most of the width of the street just down from Interlink, where we get our U.S. mail. Nice, huh? You could lose a small car in there. Definitely a bicycle or a young child.

Here's a fella in nothing but shorts and sunglasses being taken from the paddy wagon to the police station that's just kitty-corner to the Interlink office. Esposo says the guy was probably drunk.

Heading out of beautiful Cinco Esquinas and into La Uruca to get back on the highway toward Alajuela, we saw these poor guys pushing their brokedown ride during work traffic in the rain. That had to suck. (And do my eyes deceive me, or is that another Haunted Hyundai?!?)

When I worked as a schmuck on the morning news, we always ended the newscast with an upbeat story so that people could try to forget we'd fed them a load of shit for the previous 29 minutes. Here is that upbeat photo, then: my cat Boris, who finally came out of hiding and is now enjoying the new palace.

I'm back!

Didya miss me? Yeah, yeah, you probably didn't even realize I'd dropped out of cyberspace for a few days. We've moved into the new house, and Amnet came and hooked up the digital cable and cable modem. Since three other families were stealing sharing our cable at the last house, we weren't able to get digital there, and I missed it, even though I don't watch t.v. all that much. Ok, I admit it: I like the Christmas music on DMX! There, are you happy?

I am happy. The cable modem is three times faster than the ADSL provided by the ICE, so if you're considering whether to get one over the other, I'd go with cable. Although I had nothing but trouble from the Cable Tica service, honestly. I'd go with AMNET cable if there is a choice. One thing I'm not too happy about is that they insisted we get a "new" modem (rent it monthly, of course) because it was upgraded and blah blah blah... well it turns out it's the exact same cable modem I already bought from Ament a few years ago. I'm gonna have to fuss about that on Monday. Or esposo will. Probably the latter.

I have other things to tell you, but I'll post them separately. In the meantime, here's some good news: my rangers in Virunga National Park over in the DNC are going to be on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper! Woo-hoo! Hopefully that will get them the financial and political support they need to save these last remaining mountain gorillas. (And I did write Mr. Cooper suggesting he do a story on the rangers, though I'm sure a lot of others did, too.)