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.).

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