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


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


"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


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.