Saturday, December 22, 2007

Copito: 2006-2007

Yesterday I woke up an buried my dog, Copito, in his favorite snoozing spot next to the driveway in the shade of the tropical dry forest. It was pretty emotional for me and I wept like a widow as I chiseled away at the dry, caked soil with my pick-axe and shovel in the cool, early morning just after daybreak, before the heat of the tropical sun kicked into broil.

The day before, my wife received a tearful call from her very upset sister while we were in Liberia, relaying the news of Copito's death. He had been attacked by a pack of three large dogs on the beach in front of my father-in-law's restaurant. Copito only weighed 10 kilos and had never been in a fight before. He was low-hanging fruit for the bloodthirsty pack. A group of teenagers tried their best to fend off the attackers with sticks and beer bottles. But the pack proved too tough for them and when they finally relented, Copito's body lay broken, bloody and lifeless in the sand. My other dog's immediately began to howl in mourning. Their compadre had fallen.

It was upsetting to all who witnessed the grisly event. Guests at the restaurant were appalled. Little kids were crying in fear of the pack of dogs, the turmoil of the fight and the sounds of ferocity and death. My family was upset because, "...it could have been a little kid!"

The teenagers called the cops. The owner of the dogs was located. He was apologetic and gave my wife's nephew 20,000 colones ($40 US) in good faith as recompensa (compensation). Whatever. There's no dollar amount you could put on Copito's short, happy life that could make up for his death. Especially the manner in which it ended.

Upon my return to the beach, I got the whole story and saw the bitten thumb of one of the teenager's who got too close during the fight. I went to visit the owner of the dogs to recover Copito's body. He's the caretaker of the Ecotel in Playa Hermosa - a shithole of a backpacker "hotel" on the beach. He's European. He's been here in Playa Hermosa for 16 years and knows my family. His voice was shaky and he was expecting a confrontation. I was calm and listened to his story. He was a dog lover. He was very sorry. He normally was the one to walk the dogs on the beach and when he walked them he had control of them. But, apparently, a couple of his guests were out walking the dogs without his permission and the dogs, being without their master, went berserk.

I told him that I didn't want any trouble, that what had passed was in the past, that all I wanted was Copito's body so I could bury him. The whole conversation took place through the wire mesh of a drive gate. He retrieved the body in a black trash bag and flung it over the top of the gate. I took it, thanked him and left.

Whe I returned I found out a little more about this guy. And now I feel I was probably too nice to him. He's had problems with the law before - police and immigration. Immigration shut down the Ecotel because the caretaker was working without having residencia - a big "no, no". I also found out that he has about 25 dogs on the property. This, too has caused him problems with the law and neighbors. He's pretty much holed-up on the property. No one likes him, respects him or associates with him.

Yesterday evening one of the dogs that killed Copito showed up at the restaurant while Carla and I were walking Laila on the beach with my remaining two dogs. As the dog ran toward us - a Black Lab - one of the waiter's at the restaurant was screaming, "El es el perro quien mató Copito!!!" ("He's the dog who killed Copito!!!"). We froze. My tiny little dog Madona, went right at him, barking and snapping. I expected the worst. But the Lab turned around and left as fast as he had arrived. We continued our walk as I pined in my mind, "This isn't over yet..."

I inherited Copito from my sister-in-law when he started spending nights at my house after she had her second kid and couldn't really take care of the dog anymore. But more than that, he liked hanging out with Garcia and Madona, my other two dogs. They quickly became an inseparable pack. Until day-before-yesterday.

So, "Cheers!", to you, Copito. I loved you buddy. Hope it's nothing but milkbones and bitches where you are now. ¡Pura vida!


Monday, December 3, 2007

Murcielagos

Spanish for "Bats". I've got quite a view living in my attic and have been trying to get rid of them in a humane way. I love bats. They're harmless and they keep the bugs down. But I don't like their guano in my house.

On his last visit, my Dad brought down a black box that emits high frequency noises that are supposed to drive the bats, well, "batty", so they'll leave and find another place to live. I placed the box in the attic and it's been chirping away for about 10 days now. The only thing it's done is make the bats move further to the eaves where they're out of reach of the noise.

So I ventured up into the attic yesterday to move the box closer to they're home in the eave over one of my balconies. I made a second trip up to take some pics. The bats are pretty cool looking - black with big ears, dog faces and... tails!!

Here are some pics. Anyone know what kind they are? Or a good way to make them leave and find a new place to live?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Costa Rica Survival Kit

My clutch is acting up on my pickup so I took it in to Super Sevicio first thing this AM to have it fixed. I have a client from Chicago arriving this afternoon with $4 - $8 million to spend, and I am showing him properties all day tomorrow. But alas, I was thrown a curve ball in the form of a bad auxilary clutch pump that will need to be replaced, but will not arrive from S. Jose until tomorrow - which is precisely when I need my truck to show my client properties. Arghhh!

It's more embarrassing than anything. I'll either have to use my client's car, or rent one. Using his car is easiest, but most embarrassing. Renting at car involves a tiny ballet where I'll pick up my client in my truck and drive to Super Servicios (which is on the way to the properties I want to show my client), drop off the truck and have the rental delivered there. I can then drop off the rental and retrieve my pickup on the way back, and head back to Hermosa with my client. Sounds simple, but what can go wrong, will go wrong.

I'm typing this as I sit at a table in the Liberia Mega Mall (more like a mini-super) waiting for the Universal store to open. I need to get ink cartridges for our Cannon fax/scanner/printer. The yellow cartridge went on the fritz yesterday. We have a guy who refills old cartridges for a quarter of the price of new ones. But I think the old cartridges we have have run their course and I need new ones. I thought the store would be open at 9AM, but curve ball #2 was thrown at me - the store won't open until 10 AM.

So I figured I'd blog a bit at a table in front of the yet-to-open coffee kiosk to pass the time. I'm thinking of putting together a Costa Rica Survival Kit. Waiting is a pastime here, as well as power outages, car problems, computer systems being down, etc. So I was thinking the kit might include:

- 2 good novels to read while you wait (recommended reading: War and Peace, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).
- A flashlight to illuminate the novels during the power outages.
- Extra batteries for the flashlight to withstand the duration of power outages.
- An inflatable pillow for taking a nap after you've finished the two novels while waiting.
- A fifth of Ron Centenario (rum) for the next day of waiting.
- Bottled water to rehydrate after polishing of the fifth of rum during the next day of waiting.
- Beef jerky to go along with the bottled water.
- Sunscreen in case you're waiting in the sun.
- Ziploc plastic bags for your cell phone and wallet in case you're waiting in the rain.
- A collapseable umbrella in case you're waiting in the sun or the rain.
- A butane lighter in case you need to start a fire to keep warm or finish your novel because the extra batteries for the flashlight are spent.
- A machete to cut fuel for your fire and/or defend yourself.
- Insect repellent (2 cans or bottles).
- A basic First Aid Kit for when you're out of insect repellent and/or get burned by the fire and/or slice yourself with the machete.
- Zip-ties (you can always find a use for these).
- Duct tape (same as for Zip-ties).
- Deoderant (you figure it out).
- A clean, "Have a Nice Day", smiley-face T-shirt.
- Fast patch tire repair kit for the flat you'll get on the way home after you're done waiting.

I'm sure I could sell a million of these things.

Store's open. Gotta go!

Pura vida!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dia de Gracias

Spanish for "Day of Thanks", or "Thanksgiving". It's a uniquely gringo holiday that was officially declared a national holiday by President George Washington in 1789 just after ratification of the US constitution. (It should be noted that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving also, but it falls in October and wasn't declared a national holiday until the 1950's, or something - copycat slackers!).

U.S. expats have only a couple of holidays (other than Xmas and New Year's) that even appear as blips on the expat radar - there are just too many Costa Rican holidays to be taken advantage of. The two big blips on the radar are Thanksgiving and Independence Day. Labor Day and Memorial Day are remembered only when one can't reach a friend at work by phone, or when an auto-reply via email stating that the person will be out of the office for the holiday. To self: "Ohhhh, right, it's Memorial Day." St. Pat's Day, Valentine's Day, Groundhog Day, Secretary's Day, Boss's Day (and any other Hallmark Holiday), etc., are lost. Father's Day IS usually observed, as it falls on the same day in Costa Rica as it does in the U.S. Mother's Day, however, is a different story - different day, and the fourth most important holiday after Xmas (Navidad), New Year's (Ano Nuevo) and Easter week (Semana Santa). Mommies RULE here in Costa Rica.

So I was invited by a fellow expat to a T-giving gathering. Apparently, her house and kitchen were too small so she decided to host it at my partner's much larger house. Besides, he had a swimming pool and a killer sunset ocean view.

Naturally, I wanted to bring a dish, so I asked my friend what to bring. I was told that she was short of pies. GREAT! I LOVE PIES! My favorite Thanksgiving pie is a sweet potato pie. I searched the internet for the right recipe based on my previous pie experiences with my ex-wife's family's cooking - black folks from the south side of Chicago, only a generation removed from the Mississippi delta and The Great Migration. Good southern cookin' (what white and black folks up north call ‘soul food’)!

I found a recipe for a Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie (a little flamboyant, but I like to mix it up every now and then), printed the recipe and headed to the grocery store with my list of ingredients.

The grocery store I go to in Coco is well stocked and caters to gringos as well as ticos - one can procure rice, beans, eggs and lomito, as well as specialty items like horseradish, pickles, wasabe peas, Chilean wine, Kentucky bourbon and Oreo cookies. But, alas, upon an exhaustive search, I could not find a sweet potato, nor squash, pumpkin or yam hidden in any corner of the market.

Time to improvise (a daily occurence). I started thinking... my wife makes this great soup with a bunch of quartered tubers cooked together in a broth with meat and fresh herbs. I remembered that one of these tubers tasted sweet. So I conversed with a few people in the produce section and we were able to narrow it down to a camote (cah-MOH-tay). Camotes aren't the same size as sweet potatoes - in fact they vary widely in their size from small to medium. So I grabbed what I thought was about equal to four large sweet potatoes (I was baking two pies), then grabbed another camote just in case.

Camotes, for me (leftmost in the photo, followed by yucca, tiquisque and platano duro), are uniquely Costa Rican. And as I looked at my list, I got a hankering to make a few more substitutions of the tropical persuasion. I substituted rum for the bourbon and a chocolate pie crust for a regular one. The brown sugar became azúcar con caramel (sugar with caramel). Everything else stayed the same: raisins (soaked in the rum), milk, eggs, salt, cinnamon and vanilla. My 'Bourbon Sweet Potato Pie' was now a 'Rum Raisin Camote Pie'.

I had to be in the office the morning of Thanksgiving, so Carla volunteered to peel, cook and mash the comotes, and soak the raisins in Ron Centenario, so that I would have a head start on cooking when I returned from work.

When I arrived at our house at about 12:30 PM, she was just finishing up the mashing of the camotes. One thing struck me immediately - camotes are light green when mashed - not the brilliant-orange carotene color of a sweet potato. Whatever! I measured the camote to be about 6 cups - about 3 pies. So I doubled the ingredients, but tripled the eggs and rum. After mixing all together, I had enough for three pies. The mixture was became a light chocolate brown, which looked great against the dark chocolate pie crust. Holding back on the azúcar, vanilla and cinnamon (canela) was a good decision too - not sickeningly sweet or spicy.

45 minutes after placing the pies in the oven, I had two very handsome deserts. I garnished them with a floret made of whole almonds (the flower petals), with a chocolate covered coffee bean in the center of the array of almonds (pistils/stamens). Nice!

The pies were a big hit: exotic enough for most, but not too far of a stretch of the imagination for the hard core gringos (half these people have been here for 5 years or more and still don't speak Spanish, and never will). The on-the-fly recipe adaptation made a good story for everyone for whom the word ‘improvise’ has become a daily mantra (i.e. everyone).

So I'd like to share my recipe with all of you gringos back home who, on the chance you can locate a camote, might want to amaze your friends with an 'exotic' recipe.

To make one Rum Raisin Camote Pie:

1 cup packed raisins
1/2 cup rum (or to cover the raisins)
2 tbsp. melted butter
Enough camotes to make between 2 - 3 cups of filling (peeled, cooked, mashed)
2 eggs lightly beaten
2/3 cup azúcar con caramel
3/4 cup hot, whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon (canela)
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 (9") chocolate pie crust (Keebler makes a good one), or you can make one out of Oreo's)

Soak the raisins for at least an hour in the rum. Stir the melted butter into the mashed camotes. Stir in the eggs, azúcar, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and milk. Fold in the raisins and rum.

Turn the filling into the pie crust. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F. Lower the temp to 350 degrees F and cook for another 35 - 40 minutes until the pie just looks right (or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean). Garnish as you wish (use your imagination). Cool before serving.

Happy Turkey Day! Pura vida!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Laila Davina




I took these shots of Laila almost 3 weeks ago (31 October). Laila continues to amaze all of us.






El Verano

Spanish for "The Summer". Summer has finally arrived here in Guanacaste after one of the wettest winters on record. A few weeks ago the central and northern Pacific coasts, and the Central Valley went through about a week of seemingly-never-stopping rain. The abnormal rainfall was a direct result of hurricane Noel's rampage through the Caribbean. The counterclockwise motion of the storm sucked warm, moist Pacific air overland where the it cooled and dumped enormous amounts of rain on a good portion of Costa Rica.

In my 'hood, the roadway portion of the iron bridge over the Rio Tempisque between Guardia and Comunidad was submerged for the first time that anyone can remember since its construction (in 20 years). The median river level of the Tempisque at the bridge is usually about 10-15 meters below it. If you can't imagine a river rising 15 meters overnight, see the phone pic at left taken by a passerby just before the river overtook it. It was awesome!!

It's quite amazing the bridge is still standing. Large uprooted trees slammed into the upstream side of the bridge damaging some structure and knocking down bridge railings. The flood completely gutted the Restaurante y Bar Cocodrillo, which is still rebuilding. It stripped the steep banks of the Tempisque of any and all vegetation. Huge trees that once stood on the banks no longer exist. When the inundation abated, debris hung to the bridge structure below the road, including giant trees and logs. One of my friends who owns a business next to the Kokodrilo, and who experienced flood damage, told me that the river rose 3 meters in one hour at one point during the night! It caught a lot of people off guard, including his security guard, whose car parked behind the building was completely submerged.

In Filadelfia, which actually sits below river level for most of the year, ostensibly protected by earthen dykes on the perimeter of town, over 1000 people were left homeless when one of the dykes caved in and a good portion of Filly was submerged.

Last week the rain stopped and things are much more pleasant. The leaves have begun falling as if someone suddenly flipped a gigantic power switch on the electro-magnet holding the leaves to the trees. The landscape will now brown out rapidly as the trees shed their chlorophyl solar panels in order to conserve energy over the long dry season. There's more good news too: the drought-stricken aquifers in the area have now been replenished and water shortages should be less of an issue this year. Ojala! (We'll see!).

Stay dry! Pura vida!

Friday, September 21, 2007

La Luz

Spanish for "The Light". But in Costa Rica it also means "The Electricity". The other day a grua (flatbed) towing a lancha hit the overhead electric cables that cross the street in front of our office. The boat was too high on the flatbed to pass underneath. The driver was going too fast for the guys on the boat to lift the cables up over the bridge of the lancha to avoid hitting them, causing some minor chaos when the cables got hung up on the bridge. (I use the word "chaos" loosely - it's an oxymoron here because every day is somewhat chaotic with regard to maintenance of any sort of infrastructure, and you just get used to it). The cables didn't come down, but after the mishap, they crossed the street at a lower elevation. In other words, there was less clearance beneath them after the comical collision.

About an hour ago, a large truck attemting to pass beneath the sagging cables finished the job. There was a bright flash and a loud bzzzzzzztt outside the office as cables snapped and a transformer blew up. I looked up from my desk to see a live wire fall, just missing coming down on the head of a man crossing the street. To my amazement, he didn't even flinch. I jumped up to get a better look. The live wire was resting on top of my pickup parked out front. A concrete telephone pole whose support cable had snapped was bouncing against the cross cables running at 90 degrees to another wooden pole right next to it. My pickup was directly in the path of the concrete pole's trajectory if it were to fall! The offending truck was making a very fast getaway. The driver was clearly very experienced at maneuvering his vehicle. I sensed this was not the first time he had found himself in this sort of predicament.

Traffic into and out of Coco came to a grinding halt. Horns began to blow. Motorcyclists weaved through the snarl, threading the needle to one side of the fallen cables. The rain poured down in buckets as it has been for three days now, and continues to do so with no end in sight until November. I think I have mold growing out of my ears now, it's been so wet. We are without power and internet, of course.

My secretary called Coopeguanacaste (the electric company in our area) to report the incident. The person on the other line said she would need to transfer the call. After a few minutes, she came back on the line to tell my secretary that there was no answer at the extension to which she was trying to transfer the call. My secretary asked her if it it would be too difficult for her to get up, walk over and tap the person's shoulder sitting at the extension to which she was trying to connect. The lady got the message.

A few minutes later, Amnet (one of the cable companies here) showed up and began work on the lines. The wooden pole across the street had snapped in two. Again, to my amazement, they were able to hoist the fallen cables high enough using ladders as supports to start the flow of traffic again in about 20 minutes. I was then able to move my pickup from it's precarious position.

The power has just come back online. The internet's up. We're back in business! Took about an hour. Unbelievable! A record not only for Costa Rica, but even for Chicago or Cleveland, I would say.

But the day's just begun...

¡Pura vida!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Carros II

The morning at Inmigración went well on Wednessday. The afternoon was a completely different story.

I had not only flown to S. Jose to get my cedula, but to recover my pickup from the taller in S. Jose to drive back to Guanacaste. I had to be in S. Jose anyway, and I saved the cost of having the truck sent back on a flatbed. I also wanted to have a talk with the manager at the taller.

I hailed a cab at Immigration and gave the driver the name of the taller. He said he knew where it was. He didn't, and we ended up on the wrong side of town at another taller. After putting him on the phone with the taller to get directions, the next 25 minutes were spent zig-zagging through town in horrendous traffic, on potholed side and backstreets all the way to my final destination. I had no idea where I was. I told the taxista this. San Fancisco de Dos Rios, it was called. The taxi driver offered to wait for me so that I could follow him to the autopista leading back to Guanacaste.

Of course, I arrived at the taller at lunch time and there was no one at the taller. The taxi driver didn't want to wait around, so I paid him and he took off.

When the taller re-opened after lunch, I examined the invoices. They were marked "CANCELADO" ('CANCELLED"), as I had transferred the money from my bank account to the taller's bank account the previous day. I was impressed! A guy drove my pickup around the front of the taller as a MOPT crew (Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transportes - the equivalent of the Dept. of Roads and Transportation) was cordoning off the road in front of the taller to begin road work. There was now no access to the taller and I had to inspect my car across the street with heavy machinery whizzing around me in a deafening cacaphony. I received driving directions at the same time. I got into the Bolero and took off with only a modicum of confidence in the direction I was heading.

To make a long story short, it took me about an hour to find my way to the autopista to Alajuela that then leads to Guanacaste. I stopped for directions three times. On the first stop at a Chinese grocery, a guy drew me a map that appeared quite good. I had a bit more confidence as I got into my pickup to start it. Whiinggginngiinggingg!!! The starter would not engage. It had the same problem it had when I brought the pickup into the taller. I was pissed!

I called the manager. He said he didn't know anything about a problem with the starter and, therefore, had not fixed it. But he had test driven the truck, hadn't he? Yes, but the starter had worked every time (it's an intermittent problem). But he had talked to the German taller hadn't he? No he hadn't. The German was in the hospital with dengue when he tried to contact him. He had never gotten instructions to fix the starter, as I had assumed he had.

I was able to rock the car until the starter engaged and the motor turned over (Rocking the car had some effect on the centrifugal force needed for the starter to engage). The chino-tico's map turned out to be way off; the directions too (surprise!). I stopped at a restaurant and received more directions. They were off too. Or maybe it was me. I stopped at a Texaco to diesel up and asked for directions there. That guy just plain gave me wrong directions in a malicious and sadistic attempt to get a laugh at my expense. He's probably still laughing.

I then did what I should have done from the beginning: I went on instinct. It wasn't long until I found my way to Alajuela.

The pickup was running great but for the starter issue. I stopped for a six-pack of Pilsen once past Alajuela, on my way up into the mountains to San Ramón. The truck traffic that snails its way through the mountains wasn't too bad. But as I wound down some of the hillsides, I noticed that my stick shift would pop out of 4th and into neutral by itself if I didn't keep my foot on the gas. The pickup wasn't doing this before I brought it into the taller. No biggie, I just kept my hand on the stick shift.

When a steer bounded out of nowhere to cross the highway, I hit the brakes. The car wasn't slowing down as fast as I anticipated. I applied more pressure. No effect. The car was slowing down, but barely. I put all my weight and muscle on the brake pedal and downshifted. Thankfully, the big bovine mutant made it to the other side of the road before I plowed into him. The brakes weren't doing this before I brought the pickup into the taller. This was a biggie!

I made it out of the mountains in into the province of Guanacaste as evening approched. At about Cañas, it was getting dark. I turned on my lights. But I noticed the road in front of me was still dark. I hit the brights. They worked. I switched back to my lowbeams. They didn't. This was also a biggie. I still had about 100 klicks to get back home at it would surely be pitch black in no time. This meant that I would have to drive with no lights on, or with my brights on.

I waited until I could wait no more and hit the brights and the gas pedal at the same time. Oncoming motorists were infuriated, honking horns, screaming, and hitting me with all of the halogen illumination they had. (NOTE: In Costa Rica, people drive with their brights on until you flash your brights at them to signal them to switch to low-beams - they don't switch as a courtesy. It is assumed that all motorists are comfortable driving with high-beams in their face, unless noted otherwise).

I wasn't sure which was worse: driving with no lights and not being able to see the road in front of me (or be seen by oncoming traffic), or driving with my brights on and being blinded by the high-beams and KC's of the angry, oncoming motorists.

At some point, I encountered an ambulance ahead of me. I was able to pull along side of him, get him to roll down his window and ask him to escort me to the next bomba (gas pump). He caught on quickly and hit his emergency lights. I switched to my low beams and followed close behind him to the bomba in Filadelfia.

Of course, it was now about 6:30 PM and there were no mechanics to help me out. I now had no choice: it was high-beams and pedal-to-the-metal until I arrived at home.

By the time I made it home, I was exhausted. I took my new cedula out of my wallet, looked at it and reminded myself that at least half of the day had gone well. I cracked a cold Pilsen. Not a bad day afterall!

¡Pura vida!

Residencia

Spanish for "Residency". I flew to S. Jose on Wednesday to meet with my immigration lawyer at the Departamento de Inmigración to obtain my cedula for residencia. I had a 10:15 AM appointment and my lawyer was on time. But, as I fully expected, Inmigración wasn't. All in all, the process went smoothly. I was called up once to confirm my information and present bank deposit receipts for the processing fees (which my lawyer had already obtained for me by transfering the money I had transferred to him, to the Immigration Department's account). I then went back to the waiting room to await being called up for my picture and fingerprints.

While in the waiting room talking to my lawyer, a commotion broke out next to us. I rubbernecked right to see the end of a bank of waiting room chairs tilted up in the air and about to fall on the heads of the row of people in front of it. A guy with lightning reflexes caught the leg of the upended bank of chairs before it came crashing down on women and children.

Apparently, an elderly and very portly gringo had sat down on the end seat with no one else sitting on the row of chairs as counter balance to his enormity. He took a roll onto the floor, face down, when the bank of chairs teetered up and wasn't moving when I went over to see if he was alright. Eventually he grumbled, "I'm OK", and 4 of us in waiting helped him back to his feet. He spent the rest of the time I was there waiting in a standing position. My lawyer whispered to me, "Only in Costa Rica".

After 15 minutes or so, I was called back for my picture and fingerprints to be taken electronically. After that I waited another 15 minutes until my cedula card was handed to me. I am now VERY PROUD to say that I am a "Residente Permanente" ("Permanent Resident") of the Republica de Costa Rica!

¡Pura vida!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Terneros

Spanish for "calves" - baby cows!! My father-in-law somehow got the bright idea to purchase them and board them on the family fincacita (small farm) where we live. They're holed up in the unfinished house of my brother-in-law, a living ruin that the jungle reclaims a small piece of every day. It's now the barn. These things stink to high heaven. And one of them, who apparently was used to the company of people, moos all day and night out of lonliness. I really don't mind the noise, but the neighbors have made a few comments about not being able to sleep.

I'll be honest: I get hungry every time I pass them. My dog, Garcia, gets the same craving. The difference between us is that he's willing to act on his craving, while I supress mine. The other night I received a frantic call from my wife telling me that Garcia was attacking one of the little bovine mutants. I grabbed my flashlight and took a leisurely stroll out to the house/barn, secretly hoping that he had killed one and we'd be eating veal for the next month. When I arrived, the little Holstein's head was covered with blood. Garcia had gone for the ear!!!

This didn't really surprise me as he was raised on "chucharitas" - the dried pig's ears pet shops sell as jerky chew toys for dogs here. Apparently, even though it belonged to a living cow - mutant domestic cousin of the swine - and was still attached to it's head, the veal chucharita was just too irresistable and thus, fair game.

The damage wasn't severe and the bovine mutant no worse for the wear and tear. So Garcia got a scolding and a feined spanking as I winked, "Nice work!" at him. ¡Pura vida! ¡Puro sabór!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Sangrando

Spanish for "Bleeding". I'm bleeding money right now. Just got the call from the Mahindra agency in S. Jose and the "dolarosa" is $1600 for a new turbo plus mano de obra (labor)! They're charging me for oil and filters that were replaced by the German before the pickup was sent to S. Jose - they've never been used!!!!! To boot, they don't know when they can send the pickup back on a grua. Could be Saturday or Monday, or not.

This wouldn't be a big issue if not for the fact that I have to be in S. Jose at the Dept. of Immigration on Wednesday the 12th to obtain my cedula for residencia at 10:15 AM - and pay my lawyers (more bleeding). There's a chance that the car may not be back in time for me to drive it there. So I'm now in the process of getting a flight to S. Jose (more bleeding) so that I can appear at Immigration and then collect my car at the agency to drive back to Guanacaste. It's the safest bet. If I miss the appointment at Immigration, God knows what will, or will not, transpire afterward.

In Costa Rica, Murphy's Law is the only law that is enforced. There is no other option than to abide by it. ¡Pura vida!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

La Frijolita

Spanish for "The Little Bean". We nicknamed Laila Davina "La Frijolita" (pronounced free-ho-LEE-ta) while Carla was pregnant, and the name stuck. The little bean gets more and more cute every day. Reminds one of the important things in life.

I shot off a round of pics this AM after her bath. Breaks my heart leaving for my office every day. I'm now an owner of Better Homes Real Estate in Playas del Coco, Gte., Costa Rica. Aside from having to pry myself away from my wife and daughter every day, I'm loving life. ¡Pura vida!

Carros

Spanish for 'Cars'. Cars are luxury items here in Costa Rica due to their high cost - and the high cost of gasoline, though diesel is much less expensive. Cars cost more here because every single one is imported and the import duties can run very high. A $50,000 car in the US can cost as much as $80,000 here. Needless to say, there are a lot of beaters around. You drive your car into the ground - sometimes literally - as happened with two of my brother-in-laws the other night.

They were on a reconnaissance mission to recover my father-in-law who was out on one of his multi-day "fiestas". He was intoxicated and was having car problems himself. He called my brother-in-law to come get him. My brother-in-law, in turn, called his brother and the two left on their mission together. My sister-in-law told the second to bring his cell phone just in case. He opted not to. Within 15 minutes of their departure, my father-in-law called my sister-in-law after trying my brother-in-law, sans cellular, to tell him that the car was OK and he didn't need a ride. With no way for my sister-in-law to contact my brothers-in-law, they were on their own.

About 3/4 of the way to their destination, the rear wheel of the 1994 Toyota 4-Runner came clean off the wheel hub. They narrowly missed colliding with oncoming traffic and finally came to rest a few inches from a large tree on the side of the road. No one was hurt, thankfully. They, and the other motorists, were very lucky. The big tree couldn't have cared less. Trees always win in challenges between themselves and cars.

My car stories have not been quite as dramatic, but close (see ¡Pura Mierda! posting in August). My pickup is still at the taller in S. Jose. The German here in Sardinal couldn't fix the smoking/oil leak problem after changing every filter and gasket the pickup possessed. He had to put it on a grua (flatbed) and send it to the Mahindra agency in S. Jose. Total cost for everything was about $320 and I still had the problem.

The agency worked on the pickup for another week before they called the German, thinking he was the pickup's owner, to give a synopsis. The German's wife called me to tell me to call the agency. Of course, I called at lunch time when no one was available. But after lunch I was able to talk to the manager. The good news was that the engine was fine. The bad news was that they had narrowed the problem down to the turbo. They would need more time to disassemble it to determine if they could fix it. 4 days later I received a call from the agency. The bearings were shot. I needed a new turbo.

Now, in Costa Rica, raiding cars for parts is common practice. Frequently, a taller (repair shop) will take your car's newer parts and replace them with older or refurbished parts. Car batteries are favorite targets. Alternators and compressors are also highly sought after. My paranoia was elevated and I began to question the agency's motives in my mind. I mulled over a few possible outcomes:

a. The turbo could be sent to an independent turbo lab, disassembled, and repaired. This might save considerable cost. But it also involved getting the turbo out of the pickup and from the agency to the lab, then back to the agency and into the pickup - a logistical nightmare here in CR. Then there were issues with warrantees (which are a joke here anyway insofar as trying to get anyone to adhere to them).

b. The agency could be lying to me. They could be telling me that they were putting in a new turbo, but might be putting in a refurbished one (maybe even my own refurbished turbo) and selling it back to me as new.

c. The agency could be telling me the truth and might actually replace my old turbo with a new one and honor some type of warranty.

I told the agency to wait until I called them back to begin any work. I had my secretary call labs to see what could be done to salvage the old turbo. In the end, taking into account logistics and unknowns, as well as the fact that my car was in S. Jose and I was here in Guancaste and could not look over anyone's shoulder, I opted to go with the new turbo. That'll run me another $1200, plus mano de obra (labor) at $100, and a trip for the pickup back to Liberia on a grua at $60 (which is less than 2/3 of what it would normally cost - the only number I was happy at hearing). So I'm looking at about $1700 total! AND I haven't had my pickup for nearly 3 weeks now!

But that's another story... My business partner graciously leant me his 1998 Hyudai Galloper in the mean time. It has no A/C, which isn't a big deal for me. I barely run it, preferring to drive with the windows down. But my partner had just put a brand new engine in it and I couldn't drive it over 2500 rpm's. Not too big a deal, but I was nervous and kept checking the oil, which would need to be changed after 1000 kms. on the new engine, which already had 400 kms. on it. Details! The bottom line was that it meant that I would not have to spend more money renting a car in the mean time. Cool!

After driving the Galloper for 2 days, the power steering began to go. It was almost time for the oil change anyway so I figured I'd bring it back to the German and he could fix everything in a day. I called the German. He had contracted dengue fever (a mosquito-borne disease that is epidemic here in Guanacaste right now) and was in the hospital. I would have to wait. You may ask, "Why not bring it to another taller?" Good question, but if I did, it would nullify the German's warranty. And my partner wanted him to fix the power steering at no charge because he felt the belt was loose because the German either didn't put the right one on or didn't tighten it enough when he put in the new engine.

I've been driving the car for another 5 days now. The German is in S. Jose having blood workup done. The power steering is now completely gone. My biceps are bulging. I decided to stop by his place this morning anyway to see if one of his mechanics could fix the problems without the German being there. I left my baby's Graco car seat strapped in the back seat as a clever ploy for sympathy. It worked!!! It was the first thing the mechanic noticed and the candle flickered and burned above his head. He had an infant of his own and would have the work done this afternoon (which translates to tomorrow afternoon). Pura vida! Good enough! I can ride my motorcycle for a day - if it doesn't rain (yeah, right).

So here I sit, waiting to hear from the Mahindra agency in S. Jose on the final damage (cost). They call it "la dolorosa" here, Spanish for "the painful" - quite accurate. What's also painful is that these taller's don't accept credit cards. So I have to make a special trip to the bank and transfer funds from my account to their account, then send confirmation of the transfer to the taller via fax. Once the funds hit their account, they put my sorry-ass pickup on a grua and send it back to me.

I really need to sell a large property right now for a fat commission. Please visit my website at http://www.betterhomescostarica.com/ and contact me directly as soon as you can!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

La lluvia

Pronounced (YU-vee-ah). Spanish for "the rain". It's sunny today, but it's been raining alot lately. We're feeling some of the effects of hurricand Dean, which is spinning/drawing more precipitation our way. The landscaping I've planted around the house (plants I collect from various lacales) is taking off. My orchids are loving the humidity, as are the various molds growing on the roof eaves of La Casa Jungla. I'll wait until the dry season to repaint with anti-hongo paint...

Heavy and steady rains transform everything here. Temperatures are cooler at night - I have to actually pull the sheet over me now in bed - and the landscape is an indescribable verdant green. It's a green only found in nature and one is constantly aware of it's presence as one moves through it. The color green changes as the light changes throughout the day. The grass on the side of the road is nearly 8 ft. high. The rivers and creeks are swollen. The beaches are cafe-colored from runoff - runoff that brings alot of trash with it that ends up washing up on the beach. It's a shame, but until someone makes trash worth money here - especially plastic - this will continue.

We're coming off of the Mother's Day holiday in Costa Rica - the biggest behind Xmas, New Year's and Easter (Semana Santa). The actual 'day' was last Wednesday, but the national holiday (we have 13 official holidays here) was celebrated this Monday. So what ended up happening is that everyone took an 8 day holiday. Interesting to note that Mother's Day is a national holiday, but Father's Day isn't. I asked one of my tico buddies, "Why?", and he replied with a grin, "Well, everyone in Costa Rica knows their mommy, but knowing daddy is significantly less common."

My truck is in S. Jose at the Mahindra agency being "worked on". The German in Sardinal couldn't fix it so he sent it on a grua to the mother ship last Friday. It's still leaking oil, even from the muffler. I am dreading the news of what this will cost to fix. In the mean time, I'm driving a '96 Hyundai Galloper that my partner has leant me. It has ants inside, but the new diesel engine purrs like a kitten...

Laila Davina continues to grow in spurts and amaze us with her daily changes. They do grow up fast! She's shopping in Liberia today with mommy and grandpa, fighting off some of that cabin fever. Life is good. ¡Pura vida!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

¡Pura Mierda!

(Pure shit!) Carla and I had our first wedding anniversary on Sunday, 5 August. When you live in "paradise", it's kinda hard to find a reason to leave home. Not to mention the fact that Laila was simultaneously celebrating her 4th week of existence in this mortal world, and portability of an infant weighs in heavily on any travel plans.

Carla suggested we get out of Playa Hermosa for awhile and head down to Tamarindo to do some shopping and have a nice dinner. Great idea! So we packed a couple of bags (both of them for Laila), fed the dogs, loaded the stroller and car seat into the pickup and motored down the road to Tamarindo. The roads there have recently been paved and the trip down was smooth as a wet banana leaf. We had a wonderful day!

But that smooth, wet banana leaf was pulled harshly from beneath the tires of the pickup on the way back to Hermosa. I noticed white smoke coming from my tailpipe in my side-view mirror. We were driving through a steady downpour at night. We were approaching Filadelfia. Curious.... Hmmmm.... Then.... No power or acceleration.... yet the diesel engine was redlining! I pulled over to the side of the road and killed the engine. The engine didn't die!!!! It was revving high and black smoke was pouring out of the exhaust pipe engulfing the truck in noxious gas. I thought the truck was on fire! Carla and baby exited under a flimsy umbrella in the downpour a safe distance from the percieved inferno.

I popped the hood to take a look. Oil everywhere, engine and fan cranking! I had no idea how to stop the motor! A guy on a bicycle appeared from nowhere. He said I was experiencing and inversion and that I had to yank the fuel line. NO WAY!! So he loosened up the pumping mechanism on the fuel pump that allows you to pump air from the fuel line. His methodology was reverse - he was allowing air into the fuel line. Praise Shiva!! The engine finally died!!

By this time the police had arrived. They were as clueless as I was. The guy on the bike filled them in. I checked the oil level. NONE!! The cops offered to head down the road to get a gallon of oil for me to see if the car could be restarted. I gave them 10,000 colones and they came back with a gallon of oil and a receipt for 10,000 colones (the change was pocketed). I didn't care. They can barely afford their own gasoline.

I poured a gallon of oil into the engine where it promptly exited below the truck onto the roadside gravel on which we were stationed. ¡Pura mierda! Carla called my father-in-law. I called a flat bed. The flatbed arrived shortly before my father-in-law did. My family moved safely to his car - ¡Gracias, por dicha! (thank goodness!)

We decided to head back to Coco and drop the truck off in front of my office to deal with it the following day. I rode with the flatbed crew. The rest of the family followed. We unloaded the truck in front of my office. I paid the men, and we all headed across the street to Pollo Parillero for some fried chicken an a laugh. The night ended quite calmly after all of the calamity. We all made it home safely and had a good night's sleep. I would meet my father-in-law at the office in the morning and we'd hook a rope up to the tow loop and he'd tow me to the taller - tico tow truck.

The next day, I arrived at the office at the agreed upon time. No suegro (father-in-law). I tried to open the office door. It was bolted shut. I didn't have the key. My secretary arrived. She didn't have the key either. I called my partner to confirm whether or not he had bolted the door. He had. The doorknob that was supposed to be replaced last week was in his car in San Jose, which was at the taller for repairs. He had bolted the second lock as a precaution. Great idea! But only when everyone else has the key to the lock!!!!!!

The two cups of coffee I had before I left for the office hit me like they usually do - no other laxative even comes close! The urge hit me like the shits hit Jeff Daniels in "Dumb And Dumber". But I couldn't get into the office! I started looking for a trash bag and a bush. I've never pinched up my butt cheeks so hard in my life! I was sweating, but not from the increasing heat that was pounding on me as the morning sun took on attitude. Still no suegro...

My wife calls. Suegro is at the house instead of the office. I tell her to tell him that I'm at the office and he needs to drive there. My partner shows up with the keys. I sprint to the bathroom and deliver the payload - from the door to the crapper in a single, flowing and unbroken motion. Ahhhh.....

Suegro arrives. We talk. We decide to check out a few talleres before towing the car. We end up settling on a German in Sardinal. But he's full. We'll have to wait 'til tomorrow.

Today we towed the truck to the German's shop. The rope broke when suegro dowshifted on an incline and bolted forward. We tied it back up, made it up the hill and arrived at the German's taller where the pickup rests peacefully right now.

More to come, I'm sure.... ¡Pura mierda!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Laila Davina

The name of my new daughter (pronounced LIE-la, not LAY-la). She arrived on Sunday, 8 July, 2007 (3.42 kilos/7.5 lbs.; 49 cm./19.3 in.). Carla started having contractions at about 3:00 AM. We left for Liberia Hospital an hour later and arrived at 5:00 AM. At 11:06 AM, she was born. The whole experience was quite wonderful.

As I stated in a previous blog entry (Doctores, Clinicas y la Farmacia/Nov. 2006), Costa Ricans enjoy great healthcare at a very reasonable price. Even so, many of my gringo friends were shocked that we would have a baby in a public hospital and not a private clinic. I wasn't worried. And I wasn't disappointed. The service and atmosphere was bright, courteous and very professional. Total cost: $0.00.

After checking into the Emergency Room, Carla was taken to a private office where her paperwork was processed. It took about 15 minutes before she was wheeled to Maternity. We had both been sick with the gripe (pronounced, GREE-pay), or cold/flu, for two days and hadn't slept much for two nights. Now, we were on our third sleepless night. I waited in the sala and tried to catch some z's by reclining on a row of bucket-seat chairs - very uncomfortable. At about 10:00 AM I could hear Carla's labor pains. It was for real! She was having our baby!

One funny thing I noticed: I went to the bathroom because I had to blow my nose. There was no toilet paper nor a paper towel to be found. So I searched in another bathroom. No luck. I blew my nose in the sink and washed up. On my way back to the waiting room, I noticed people who were visiting patients or checking in, arriving with rolls of toilet paper in plastic bags. Didn't register right away. But then the lightbulb flickered and illuminated: toilet paper and towels get ripped off! So it's B.Y.O.T.P. at the hospital! Hilarious!

At about 10:30 AM I was awoken abruptly from my REM sleep to the call of, "Mike!". It was one of the nurses. The moment had arrived. Carla was moved from a private waiting area to the birthing room. A female doctor greeted me with a smile. She was egging Carla on, telling her to "Get angry and push! Get that baby out! Blame it on him!" After a few minutes I could see Laila's head, then the big push and her head was out, another Herculean effort and her shoulders appeared. Then the rest of Laila followed as the doctor performed an effortless catch-and-release onto a cloth covered table in a single, unbroken flowing motion reminiscent of a pro outfielder fielding a grounder and throwing it on the run to the infield in stride. It was poetry.

Carla was beat but incredibly relieved of the burden and pain. I broke into tears. It was overwhelming. Words can't describe that feeling, so I won't even try. I took some phone video of this newly arrived life form while still in a dream state (I had left my camera at home after Carla told me that they would refuse me entry if I had it - the doctor told me she was wrong. I was too happy to be bummed). After cutting the cord, cleaning up a bit, and placing a baby bracelet on little Laila, I followed the nurse to the Nursery where Laila was further aspirated, given a Hepatitis B vaccination, a vitamin injection, measured, weighed and then swaddled. I brought her back to the birthing room where Carla was still being cleaned up and attended to. She had done it with no drugs, no epesiotomy and no crying. Not bad for a woman of such small physical stature (she was back at home the next day too). ¡Muy pura vida!

I exited to the waiting room where some of my family had arrived. The hospital only grants access to two family members at a time (excepting the father). So I showed the phone vids to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. They were impressed. The baby was "big". She didn't look like a newborn. She looked like a person. I must say that I had to agree with them. The kid looked a month or two old. They were allowed to visit Carla one-by-one. I went to a soda across the street from the hospital to make phone calls and suck down a mango natural. It was a happy day!!

Carla and Laila were then wheeled to recovery and we all followed. The baby immediately started nursing. We left them to rest and I exited the hospital the happiest man on the face of this Blue Planet.

It made the toilet paper run I was about to go on seem like something incredibly special. ¡Pura vida!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mr. Spock Sighting

Mr. Spock was sighted next to my father-in-law's house on the beach frolicking in the coconut palms with - a girl squirrel!!! You go boy!!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dia de la Luz

"Day of the light". In other words, the day you're born - when you first see the light. El dia de la luz for little Alaia is supposed to be somewhere between the 13th and 17th of July. I took this pic yesterday as Carla was waking up. Needless to say she can't wait for el dia de la luz.

Today I also found out from my lawyer that my Costa Rican residencia has been approved. It's a big day!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

¡Ladrones!

Thieves! They stole Mr. Spock! Who the hell would steal a squirrel!

¡Mas Pura Vida!

I'm still trying to get custom interior doors for my house. I visited a cousin of my father-in-law's a couple of weeks ago to get an estimate. The idea was that he would be less expensive than someone else. But, apparently, when he saw THIS gringo drive up he changed his mind. He quoted me the gringo price. ¡Pura vida!

My pickup is on the fritz again - solenoid and/or brushes in the starter. I was able to start it yesterday morning by touching my jack rod to the starter to spark it. It then turned over. I dropped the car off at the taller in Liberia and spent the rest of the morning at a restaurant with a WiFi connection so that I could at least send and receive email. I called at lunch time to obtain a progress report. They still hadn't gotten to my truck yet. The battery on both my computer and handheld were out of juice, so I couldn't work. So I had a pizza and a couple of beers at another restaurant and caught some news. ¡Pura vida!

I ended up back at the taller around 4:30PM, drained from the excrutiating boredom. The news was bad - they didn't have the parts. They would have to be sent from S. Jose the next day. On top of that, they weren't sure the parts would work with my starter (I have a 2005 Mahindra Bolero DX Turbo-diesel. It's a joint venture between Peugeot, who makes the engine, and Mahindra of India, who makes the rest of the car and assembles the components in India). Apparently, Mahindra puts different starters in each model and changes them each year. So I'm sitting in my office in Coco today, with no Internet, awaiting more inevitably bad news. ¡Pura vida!

In the mean time I'm using La Chula (Honda NXR Bros 125 motorcycle) for transportation. I love riding the bike, but it's raining now, and toting computer equipment around on it is problematic. Not to mention the fact that I have to pick up some large items that won't fit on my bike. They'll have to wait. ¡Pura vida!

¡Pura Vida!

It's been awhile, again, since I've blogged. Lately, the curve balls have been coming fast and hard. The internet is down again, so I'm typing this offline. ¡Pura vida!

The other day I went out with my boss to meet with the owner of a 33 hectare finca (farm) who wanted to sell it. He sent me directions and, based on them, I thought I knew the general area in which the finca resided. One of his reference points was "... from the main entrance of the Ellerstina Polo Club, proceed 1.4 kms. to a school on the right." I'm familiar with the Polo Club. So we showed up at the entrance and proceeded to the school. The school didn't exist. It then dawned on me that there were two entrances to the Polo Club. Could the secondary entrance be the main entrance in the mind of the owner? Of course it could be! We doubled back to connect to the dirt road that lead to the secondary "main" entrance. We were now late for the appointment. ¡Pura vida!

I dialed the owner on my cell phone to confirm my "entrance" theory and tell him we would be late (not a big deal in Costa Rica). But there was no cellular service in our area. Then my boss tells me that he forgot to put gas in his SUV in the morning and that we were very low on fuel. Could we make it to the finca? I doubted it. We tried. We were on fumes when he remembered his propane tank. We switched to what little propane was left in the tank and doubled back to Comunidad to get gas. I finally got a cell signal and connected with the owner to explain. But the signal in his area was weak and we were cut off over and again. After several cut-offs and broken-up conversations, I was finally able to communicate our situation. He offered to drive out to meet us at the Do-It Center - not far from where we gassed up, but about 25 kms. from where the owner was - and lead us back to the finca.

We drove back and finally arrived at the finca. He gave us a tour. It was unremarkable. No views anywhere. But it did have some teca (teak) planted that would be worth some money in, say, 8 - 10 years. I decided to open list the property anyway. He signed a contract and explained about the many resorts that were going up on all sides of his finca. He showed us a road on the map that would eventually be part of the "Ruta Sol" (Sun Route) - the costal highway that will run along the Pacific in some century. The road in one direction terminated at the Carretera Interamericana (Interamerican Highway - Rt. 1). We shook hands, hopped in the truck and started out of the finca.

At the turn out of the finca, my boss and I decided to "explore" the future Ruta Sol. We would hit the Interamericana and run some errands in Liberia on our way back to Coco. Great idea! Not! After 45 minutes of driving cattle trails, we ended up dead ended at a river that was too deep to cross, but breathtakingly beautiful. I tried to get a GPS reading. The batteries were too low on power to run long enough to acquire a sattlite. Nothing left to do but turn around and head back. ¡Pura vida!

On the way back we encountered a souvenir ranch. The lightbulbs went on over both of our heads and my boss swerved the caked-with-mud Toyota into the parking area. BEERS!!! It didn't look good for a few minutes as the place was under renovation and nothing appeared to be open. After making a little noise, we were able to find someone who could help us. She said they had beers. But she didn't know the price! So she had to call someone who did. They tried to gouge us for the gringo price. My Spanish flowed effortlessly and I made a couple of jokes that were overheard on the other end of the line while she was on the phone. The price came down. I reached into my pocket to pay. She had no change. We ended up paying more than the gringo price. ¡Pura vida!

But at least now we had beers!!! and began to joke about the day's events. We found another bar on the way back, bought 4 more beers at a great price (though they were a little tepid) and blasted back to Coco. All in a real estate agent's day's work. Pura vida!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Garobos

I think I spelled it correctly... For most of us an iguana is an iguana. But for ticos there are two types. An iguana is a green iguana, like most you find in pet shops or on posters and T-shirts - and the ones that Nicas love to kill and eat. But a garobo is a spiny iguana. They're a bit more aggressive too. All iguanas are territorial and the males will defend their territory to the death.

Anyway, the morning malais at the dog bowl this morning changed up a bit. The dogs were sleeping. In their place were 4 big garobos - and a squirrel, Mr. Spock. All eating the dry Ascan dog food nuggets in near perfect harmony. Mr. Spock was dwarfed by his fellow dinosaur dining partners but it didn't seem to phase him.

Unfortunately, my phone memory was too low for me to snap a picture or video clip, and my camera was in the safe closet. By the time I had made room, Madona had scared the garobos off and Mr. Spock was high up on the sliding screens.

Something tells me I'll have another opportunity for a future post.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ardilla

Pronounced ar-DEE-ya. Spanish for 'squirrel' (See March blog "Mr. Spock" and February blog "Mascotas"). I'm surprised to be writing this, actually. If someone would have told me a few months ago that I would have had a pet squirrel, I would have asked them what they were smoking. But this little guy has really captured our hearts, and the hearts of many members of the community.

Spock is an adolescent now. We're waiting for his testicles to drop and for him to join the wild community of his kin. As I type, he is free to leave any time he wants. He's up in his favorite papaturo tree next to the house taking a siesta in the shade of the tangled tree canopy, escaping the heat. Normally, he'll spend the afternoon in a tree next to my in-law's house at the beach where my wife goes to escape the heat in the afternoons. Its quite amazing, but he never ventures far from either our house or my in-laws'.

Spock slept in the house rolled up in a washcloth in a plastic ice cream container up until a few weeks ago. I still let him in sometimes to sleep in the crease on our bed between the headboard and mattress. It's amazing to watch his sleeping positions change - very human: stretched out in a line on his side, flat on his back with his feet in the air, flat out on his stomach in the "splat" position (pictured above on a bar rail), or bunched up with his feet tucked below him and his tail along his back.

But I figured I'd better get him used to sleeping outside in his natural environment. So I bought a steel bird nesting box for him to sleep in. He likes it. He also likes to sleep in an abandoned bird nest in the papaturo tree next to the house. The nesting box makes a great travel case too. Spock usually crashes at dusk. If we're on the road or at the beach, I just place him in the box in the car with the windows cracked and put the box on the balcony with him in it when we get home. He also likes to curl up in the map pocket on the back of the passenger seat in my pickup. Or in my lap rolled up in the hem of my T-shirt. Or in my wife's purse (pictured above).

Spock's day begins at sunrise when he descends from his tree or the box on the balcony to molest the dogs. He usually starts at the dog bowl, munching nuggets with Garcia and Madona. We leave mangos, banana, jocotes, mariñon, fresas, naranjas, uvas or piña on the armrest for the leglift on my universal gym also. He eats alot. He rarely eats the same fruit two days in a row, however, self-rotating his dietetic intake. He also loves yogurt and cream cheese!! After breakfast he'll make his way up to our bedroom balcony to climb the sliding screen doors until we let him in to molest us in bed. If we're eating breakfast on the porch below, he'll boing between us for awhile. He also plays this game where he grabs your wrist with his whole body then flips underneathe your hand and kicks and bites your fingers on his back - like a cat would do when you tickle its belly. Eventually he gets tired and comes to rest on my thigh or spreads out on the edge of the table.

As the day heats up, he'll siesta in a tree, on the balcony, on the universal gym or on my (if I'm at the house), or my wife's shoulder. The dude loves riding in the pickup. He plays with the flexible Costa Rican flag I have suction-cupped to the windshield, boinging it up and down with his forepaws as he stands on the dashboard, garnering many puzzled, "no, it couldn't be" looks from oncoming vehicles. Or he'll ride on my knuckles on the steering wheel, digging the carnival ride round and round when I make a turn. Or he'll stretch out on my shoulder or on a headrest. But his favorite spot is on my thigh, stretched out in the cool stream of the A/C, looking like some kind of rodent superhero flying through a slipstream.

Mr. Spock is extremely portable. I can walk around town, go into stores (we take him grocery shopping on occasion - big hit!), or hang at a watering hole or restaurant and he always remains close by, though he likes to shoulder hop sometimes, which freaks gringos out - "What is that thing, a skunk?". I bite my tongue so the words, "Did ya pick up a book before ya got on the plane!!?" don't erupt from my pie hole. After the bleeding stops, I give them a very scientific and biological reply: "No it is not a skunk, though we have them here too. This is a variegated squirrel. He's about 3 months old. Variegated squirrels range in color from brown with a black stripe to white with a black stripe. They eat fruit, not nuts and are found throughout Costa Rica and much of Central America." They usually follow up with, "Does he bite?". And I reply with the lie, "Yes. ATTACK, MR. SPOCK!!" (There's a big difference between a traveler and a tourist. I can't stand tourists and enjoy torturing them as often as I can.)

I was at the barber in Liberia the other day for a haircut and left him in a tree on the street outside the barbershop door. After about 10 minutes of play, he came hopping through the barbershop door and, to the amazement of some of the customers, climbed up my leg to my shoulder, then hopped onto the shoulder of the non-flinching barber where he remained during the rest of my haircut, occasionally molesting the earlobes of the barber, throwing him into giddy schoolgirl laughter. The kids in the shop were beside themselves. It was hilarious!

I suppose once he finds a girlfriend he'll return to the forest. I hope he visits once in awhile. I will surely miss him if/when he goes.

Agua

Water. We're at the height of the dry season, just before the rains. Though we did receive rain on a couple of days and nights very early in the month - highly unusual for that time of year for the amount of rain that fell. It's incredibly hot right now - 40 degrees Celcius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) mid-day. I love it!!

The first rains of the winter (invierno), or wet season, here in Guanacaste usually begin between now and 1 May. Things green up in about 2 weeks. The transformation is rapid and mind-blowing. The landscape turns from dry brown to verdent green, seemingly, overnight. The transformation is especially obvious on the mountain and hillsides which haven't seen water since December of last year. It's a bit different in the green valley where I live, over the aquifer. The trees here are able to tap into it and remain green year-round. Two worlds, existing side by side.

But how long the aquifer will be around remains a question here in Playa Hermosa. Uncontrolled development, illegal wells and a leaky AyA (Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados - the water company) distribution system have been taking their toll.
The ICT (Instituto Costarricence de Turismo - Costa Rican Tourism Institute) recently directed AyA to cut water to Playa Hermosa in order to accommodate the water demand of resorts around the Polo Touristico (the Papagayo Development Project that encompasses all of Bahia Culebra). They pulled rank. That left a lot of people in new million-dollar homes without water. Imagine spending all of that money and not being able to take a shower, flush your toilet or - God forbid - fill your swimming pool! The proverbial shit hit the fan, the gringo community got organized and petitioned the CR Supreme Court with tico signatures (gringos can't vote but are entitled to water; ticoc can vote and are also entitled to water). A mandate was passed directing AyA to deliver water to every resident of Playa Hermosa. Simultaneously, several scandals ensued involving AyA officials and heads finally began to roll. Beaureaucrats were reassigned to different positions and a new AyA director was appointed in Liberia.

Then a new project was announced for delivery of water, not only to Playa Hermosa, but to Playas del Coco and Playa Ocotal - the Coco Water Project. The water will be brought in from the large Sardinal aquifer. Though the money for the project is supposedly in escrow, no one is holding their breath.

In the mean time, AyA hand delivered notices to all residents of Playa Hermosa stating the following:

"The AyA would like to inform you, that as a result of the high temperatures lately, and the accelerated rate of construction in Playa Hermosa, the demand for potable water has now surpassed the supply."

"Given this situation, we have implemented a WATER RATIONING PROGRAM, in order to assure that all of our clients will have potable water every day, although we cannot ensure a continuous, 24 hour supply."

They then went on to describe three water rationing zones in Playa Hermosa and the times at which residents could expect full water pressure.

I'm on a well that draws on the same aquifer that AyA currently uses to supply a portion of the water in Playa Hermosa. I am worried that the aquifer will not be able to replenish itself and will be depleated to a point where the salt water from the ocean will begin to make its way into the aquifer - an environmental disaster. The Coco Water Project will alleviate the draw on the Hermosa aquifer. The Coco Water Project needs to happen now! I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It's the only thing I can do.

Pura agua! Pura vida!

I'm Out!!

Haven't blogged for awhile and miss it. I've immersed myself in the real estate business which, as it turns out, just like in North America, is a 24/7 business. I really love it, though it takes a lot of time away that I would normally spend with my wife and "kids" (Mr. Spock, Apellido and The Virgin). As I write this, I realize I've been using the real name of my squirrel, Mr. Spock. And since I'm the only resident of Hollywood with a squirrel, I've pretty much given my identity away. So I'm coming out.

My name is Mike. I work for Better Homes Real Estate Costa Rica in Playas del Coco. I have a pet squirrel named Mr. Spock who continues to amaze us and just about anyone who we encounter. I have two dogs. If you've been following this blog, I've given pseudonyms to my pets. The real name of 'Appellido' is Garcia (named after Freddy Garcia, ex-Chicago White Sox pitcher). 'The Virgin's' real name is Madona. 'Hollywood/Deadwood's real name is Playa Hermosa, Gte., CR. 'Center City' is Liberia. I may disclose my wife's name in a future blog - or not. We're still deciding on a name for our expected daughter. It'll come...

There, I'm out!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

¡Calientisimo!

REALLY HOT!!!!! We're still a month away from any sort of rain and the days here have been akin to living in a blast furnace. The wind kicks up dust everywhere. The interior of my pickup has a fine coating on all surfaces (I like to drive with the windows down). The grit is in my teeth now. Even La Casa Jungla is hot. Much of the canopy that provides us shade has fallen, even where we live in the green zone. The mountainsides look like Tucson, AZ. It's hard on the dogs and even Mr. Spock moves slowly come mid-day. I thrive in it.

The ocean is a deep blue. The kind of blue you can only find in nature. Its contrast against the dry mountains is dramatic, both visually and psychologically.


I took the picture(s) above over the weekend while hiking a 75 hectare (185 acre) finca I am selling overlooking Bahia Culebra and The Four Seasons in Papagayo. Horses would have been a better idea. Went through a liter of water in an hour. But this place has God's view! All that wet up against all that dry. And all that sky!

BTW: If you're interested, it can be yours for $5 million ($6.66/m²). It's one of the last of its kind. Please post a comment here with your contact information and I'll send you more information.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mr. Spock

So Mr. Spock, our pet squirrel, has become somewhat of a celebrity here in Hollywood and the nearby surrounds. If someone would have told me three months ago that I would have a pet squirrel, I would have pretty much assumed they were off their medication.

Mr. Spock has proved to be extremely portable. His favorite ride is in my wife's purse. We can take him anywhere in this thing. He was with us in the doctor's office at the beginning of the month for my wife's last ultrasound, unbeknownst to the doctor. We take him to restaurants and bars and he's the star. When he's tired, it's back in the purse.

He digs rides in the car. He likes to ride on the headrest and will do amazing 4-point runarounds to all four of the headrests, pinging off of them like a superball. He does the same at my favorite local watering hole. He'll run across the shoulders of everyone sitting at the bar, then run back at lightning speed. He licks condensation from beer bottles and drinking glasses. He's curious about everything right now. His head is in everything! This goes over hugely!!

Mr. Spock is a chick magnet, much to my wife's displeasure. But she digs him just as much as I do and I always manage to get a smile out of her (followed by the wagging finger).

At the house, his favorite piece of playground equipment is the sliding screen doors. He'll go up and down these things all day long. He loves hanging upside down and eating or cleaning himself. And he loves taunting the dogs out of their reach.

When we're dozing in the hammock outside, he prowels the treetops high above us, playing with branches and tasting just about everything he encounters. When he's tired out, he makes his way down and snuggles up in the hammock with me or my wife.

Mr. Spock is at the office with me now as I type. He digs the fabric of my office chair and is making a game of running around, up and down, and then doing some sort of trapeze thing with the cord I use to secure my sunglasses around my neck. He's swinging almost above the keyboard now. Now he's sitting on my left hand as I type.

Pura vida!

Friday, March 2, 2007

La Pequeñita

The latest ultrasound taken yesterday at 5.1 months of pregnancy confirms that we have a little girl growing in the quickly expanding belly of my lovely wife. The pics tell the story. We're now leaning toward Alaia Davina for a name.



Monday, February 26, 2007

El Chapernal

Yesterday my father-in-law stopped by the house with his SUV packed with my mother-in-law, very-pregnant sister-in-law, her son and his cousin and invited my almost-very-pregnant wife and I to visit a finca near El Chapernal - a ranchito with cabinas, horseback riding and a restaurant/bar. El Chapernal wasn't our final destination, but since the finca didn't have an address (nothing here does), El Chapernal was the nearest well-known landmark that you would give someone to tell them where you were going. Our final destination was a river that flows year-round where we could toss back a few Pilsen's and take a dip in the spring fed pools to cool off. We're at the height of the dry season here in Guanacaste. Everything is parched and dusty and the idea of copping some suds and shade while soaking in a river pool immediately appealed to me.

So my family - my wife, two dogs and Mr. Spock, the squirrel (who now thinks he's a dog), piled into 'El Tonka' (my pickup's name) and followed the rest of the tribe out of Hollywood, through a nearby town that we'll call 'Nicaraguita' (Little Nicaragua) and down some killer dirt roads to the finca.

It amazes me how short a distance one needs to travel to find the old life of Guanacaste. Ranchitos, teak and pochote farms, little pulperias, kids on bikes, and entire families on a single motor cycle were common sights. The forest and landscape seemed to change every kilometer, depending on its proximity to a river or its elevation above sea level. We crossed no less than 7 rivers, all of them dry. I was reminded why I came here in the first place. The hustle and bustle Hollywood's tourist beach community seemed lightyears away. I cracked a cold 16 oz. Pilen and took in the sights - while eating a considerable amount of my father-in-law's dust as he motored in front of me.

We finally arrived at our destination. The owner of the finca was a cousin of my father-in-law on his mother's side of the family. So he had no qualms with borrowing my Leatherman to cut the barbed-wire fence so we could pull in under the canopy next to the river.

The micro clime of a river forest is markedly different than everything else around it. Trees stay green year-round and grow to unfathomable heights and enormous girths (and it is illegal to cut anything down within 60 meters of the river bank). The leaves of the forest floor crunch loudly under one's feet. The evaporation of river water cools the air making the temperature perfect. The sounds of parakeets echo in the forest. Several small spring-fed tributaries gently flowed down the hillsides into the river in soft, soothing trickle tones. I cracked another beer (putting my empties back into the 6-pack ring to tote out with me).

My wife's four-year old nephew was naked within seconds. My father-in-law was recounting to me stories of his childhood in this place as well as the childhood of my wife. The dogs were in heaven with the cool, swimable - and drinkable - fresh water. Mr. Spock raced after them along the banks of the river, then would dart toward my wife at the last second, climbing up her leg and torso to perch on her shoulder, flickering his tail while gurgle-grunting. He's getting pretty good on his legs now. He even knows his name and comes when called.

So we spent a couple of hours enjoying the river and each others' company, then motored to a finca that my father-in-law owns off the same road. Apparently, he and the family had a house there at one time. He recounted bathing my wife in the river across the road that ran between a beach town on the coast and Nicaraguita - at the time, a major thorougfare. He built a house overlooking the road. But the municipalidad let the dirt road deteriorate under the truck traffic. One rainy season, the river jumped the road and the road became the river. Two years later, the house lay in ruin, the new river erroding it's foundations causing it to eventually collapse. A couple of walls and the floor slab - and a limon mandarino tree - were all that remained. It was kinda sad. But my father-in-law didn't seem too upset about it, so I wasn't going to let it ruin the day. Pura vida!

We hopped back into the trucks and motored back toward El Chapernal to hit the restaurant/bar there. When we arrived, it was closed. My father-in-law asked me where 'Apellido' was (one of the dogs). I pointed to the bed of the pickup. He started laughing. Apparently, 'Apellido' jumped out of the bed right after I put him in it before we left his finca. He had been running behind both of us for the last couple of kilometers trying to catch up. We were laughing like hyenas! He was panting like a cheetah! Back in the bed and it was off to Costa Blanca for some pizza and more beers.

After some pizza, my mother-in-law and I moved to some stools at and overlook, talked for awhile, fed the pisote that was wandering around the resort grounds and took in a fantastic Papagayo sunset while my wife chattered with the rest of the tribe.

It was 'tuanis' (the best, excellent, killer, etc.).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blah...

Things around the house have calmed down a bit now and I'm concentrating on my work. We finally got a new well pump and I am now much more clean and well kempt - and less cranky.

Mr. Spock continues to amaze us. Never thought a squirrel would make such a great pet, but he's really got personality. He travels with us just about wherever we go, even on the motorcycle. Today, my wife is in Center City and he's hitching a ride in her shoulder bag to do a little shopping. The Virgin continues to be fascinated by him, and he digs the attention that he gets from another furry, warm body. Appellido continues to give him his unconditional indifference. Glad Mr. Spock isn't a monkey!

Had to finally buy a new cell phone the other day. My Motorola V300 bit the dust. I took it apart to clean it and found corroded guts. The elements are hard on electronics here. I was not able to get my phone pics off of it as the phone continually crashed when I tried to drag and drop the files onto my computer. Kind of bummed.

Of course, the day wouldn't have been complete without a curve ball being thrown. On my way to Center City to purchase a new phone, my pickup started making noises. I pulled up to the taller (I think they're going to reserve a spot for me with my name on it) and had them take a look. The A/C condensor went. So the pickup's been at the taller for the last 5 days. Am motoring around again on my motorcycle, hoping the truck will be ready in the next couple of days.

My wife continues to expand in girth, approaching her 5th month of pregnancy. Last ultrasound indicated 80-90% that we will be having a girl in July. We'll know for sure on 1 March. I'm leaning toward Isabella Maria for a name. But that will change 50 times by July.

I had metal worker who specializes in custom iron gates, rejas and verandas make a security enclosure for the space beneath the stair in the house so I can lock up valuables. He did an excellent job on it! It's more beautiful than the stair ballustrade. He's doing a proposal for a veranda on our wooden balcony.

We picked up some leftover landscaping on the cheap from one of my wife's aunts a couple of weeks ago. The plants have been sitting in front of the house since then. I'm hoping to actually get to digging holes this weekend. I also want to buy some pots in which to plant some of the palms we scored so I can move them around the outside of the house.

It's been hot and windy lately. The fires are burning everywhere. I noticed on my ride in this morning that a couple of wooden telephone poles were the latest victims of these "innocent" conflagrations. One was nearly burned through at the ground. It has probably fallen by now as I type. Someone's without power. Nothing new.

Well, back to trying to make some money so I can buy some furniture and baby stuff.

Pura vida!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Arañas

"Spiders". Until I can get a new well pump, I'm relegated to the bucket and a garden hose for bathing implements. But today I decided to use the bathroom in the "casa blanca" next door (there's a water tank for the house that may have enough water in it to get us through until I can get a new pump). It's and old typical Guanacaste house made of pochote wood that was moved from a finca near the beach town up from us about 30 years ago. Pochote wood is imune to insect infestation. It's a very simple house. Somewhat elegant in it's simplicity. It also has not been occupied since we evicted the squatters in early December.

Soooo... when I began to lather up in the bathroom with the garden hose running at my feet, I was somewhat startled by the immensly proportioned tarantula that jumped out of his/her cozy and formerly dry residence in the shower drain. He stuck to his neutral corner of the shower and I was able to finish washing up without either of us getting too stressed.

Nonetheless, I think I'll be bathing "chingo" in front of the house tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

La Monita

"The Little (Girl) Monkey". I awoke this morning to the sounds of my dogs barking ferociously at something in the jungle in front of the house. I could tell by the sound of their barks they had something cornered. I went to investigate. Apellido had a female congo (howler monkey) by the throat on the ground and was shaking it to death in his pit bull jaws. How and why the monkey was on the ground I do not know. A large male was overhead in the trees, howling and irritated as he watched what was transpiring below. When Apellido saw me, he immediately released the monkey and headed for the shade of the porch. I was mortified and absolutely furious!

The monkey was in bad shape with puncture wounds around her neck and God only knows what kind of internal damage. She wasn't breathing very well. She had vomitted. I wrapped her up in a towel and put her in the back seat of my pickup. Carla grabbed Mr. Spock and we jetted to the vet in the next town over. We arrived at 8AM. The vet's office didn't open until 9AM.

I went to the dive shop across the street. The owners of the dive shop adopt a lot of animals and I was sure they would have the vet's cell number. Unfortunately, the owners weren't there and were unreachable. I explained my situation to one of the dive masters and he managed to dig up a number from a folio with the word "Vet" next to it. I connected with a 'veterinarian' who said he no longer worked for the office in front of which my pickup with the dying monkey was parked. He was very sorry. Yeah, right! I suddenly realized why he wasn't working there anymore.

The next 45 minutes were the longest 45 minutes of my life. I spent them helpless, leaning over the dying monkey in the back seat, petting her head, talking to her in Spanish and English, snugging the towel around her, encouraging her to hang on. Her tiny, little perfectly shaped, silky smooth, black hand with equally, perfectly shaped black finger nails was wrapped around my index finger the whole time. I watched this poor primate go into shock as she fought to breath. It was horrible. I watched her last gasp for air, emitting a small bubble of blood and saliva through her nose on her final exhale. Her eyes were frozen open. Her grip went limp. She was dead.

The vet never arrived - she was in Center City for the day. I'm not even sure there would have been much she could have done anyway.

I've had some pretty bad days in my life, but I can't remember one as bad as this in the last 10 years, except for one upon which I will refrain from elaborating. My domesticated animal had killed a wild one, one more noble than he. A primate. An animal that reminds us of ourselves when we look at it. I'm conflicted between the love for my dog and the love for all that is wild and untamed. I am riddled with guilt - the death of this monkey is my fault. But more than anything, I'm just plain sad. Really sad. The experience has profoundly affected me.

On top of that, I'm at the taller again - third time in a week. The "McGyver" (Mah-GHEE-ver, down here) they implemented yesterday on my pickup on an oil hose that was producing a small leak didn't take. So I'm in the waiting room typing this as I await yet another attempt to stop the slow, oily hemhorrage on my afflicted pickup. At least the leaks are getting smaller. I haven't showered in two days as my well pump is out and I have no water pressure. The lot I thought I had sold yesterday is now too expensive for the buyer. The deal fell through.

Crappy day. It's not even noon. But then, it's not 4 degrees F either.

P.S.: The vet just called. I have to come back to pick up the dead monkey as she has no way of disposing of the corpse. Didn't think the day could get worse, but it just did.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Mascotas

The Spanish word for "pets". If you've been following my postings, you already know that I have two dogs. Now it's dos perros y una ardilla (two dogs and a squirrel). A kid from the 'hood found a baby variegated squirrel the other day and sold it to me for 1000 colones (less than 2 bucks). He was in OK shape, but not perfect. He had a bad eye infection. The puss had frozen the lid shut on one eye. I cleaned the little guy - whom I dubbed "Mr. Spock" because of a crease in one ear that is reminiscent of a Vulcan ear - and began to apply the eye drops the vet gave me for Apellido's numerouse eye infections. After the second day, all was well, both eyes open, gracias a Dios.

Mr. Spock (pictured at left, click image to enlarge) eats, sleeps and chirps. The local squirrels here look like a negative image of a skunk - black stripe down the back and tail, mixed at the head, white everwhere else, sometimes golden brown. He's incredibly cute! We feed him milk from a syringe. He sleeps curled up, wrapped in a wash cloth that I've placed in a plastic gelato container. He's as good as an alarm clock. At 7AM every day, grumpy and hungry, he emits an ear piercing chirp that you'd swear was the siren of a home alarm system. We pick him up and play with him in the bed for a few minutes of exercise on his shaky legs in the AM before feeding him. Then it's back to sleep until the next home invasion.

Mr. Spock accompanied my wife and I yesterday to watch a dismal Bears Superbowl performance at a local watering hole. I was going to rename him Urlacher when the Bears won. Alas, he shall remain Mr. Spock - until next season.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Less Curve Balls... But They're Coming

Took the 10 AM bus to Center City today to reclaim my pickup. They did a nice job cleaning the engine. Looks like I won't have to rely on my motorcycle afterall.

Am lining up a tree cutter to trim some branches that are interfering with our telephone hookup on the new poles. The ICE engineer was out again a couple of days ago to resurvey. He believes we can skate by with a combination of tree trimming and a couple of extra light guage poles. They want to hook us up on Monday!! Not much time to prepare. The ferreterias in our immediate area are out of the poles, and they all close at 12 PM on Saturdays here in Center City. Too late now.

Am also having my junk yard dogs return Monday AM to clean up the mountain of trash the squatters we evicted from the house next door to us in December managed to manufacture over they're term in the house. Apparently, it was too difficult to walk to the main road to dispose of their trash bags in the two privately maintained 50 gal. oil drums at the mouth of our private road. Nevermind one of the squatters worked every day in the mini-super that hosts one of the drums in front.

So Monday is shaping up to be a crazy day with lots of last-minute antics - lots of curve balls. Am chanting now to prepare...

While lunching at my favorite tico restaurant in Center City today, I discovered an unprotected WiFi network, so I'm checking email, blogging and downloading virus updates, as well as some program updates. Every now and then you get lucky. But then, luck favors the prepared. Revel in it!

Must sign off and get back to meet with Negro, my Nicaraguan tree expert. This guy's amazing. The other day tree fell on the bodega housing the restrooms for a local bar, blown over by the strong Papagayo winds blowing us to pieces right now. Luckily it didn't fall far and struck a major structural member, sparing the bodega. This guy butchered the tree in a matter of minutes, climbing other trees - barefoot - to secure lines to shift the fallen tree's gravitational dynamic as he worked through it. It was art!

Pura vida!